Excuse Me, Can I Still Get "Cookiecutter Suburban Soccermom" If I Have A Wife Instead?
“But I feel like it’s not a joke.”
These words had slipped off my tongue almost without me noticing. I was shocked for a second, but there was no aftertaste of regret.
It was a six-hour drive from Geneva to Boston. We were on our way to the Head of the Charles Regatta. I had known for a while what was going to come of this trip, but I was too scared to admit it. I was falling and I was falling hard. I tried to resist, but it was undeniable. It was something I was running from my whole life, but clearly, it was inescapable. These thoughts were annoying at first, like a buzzing around my head. I’d swat my hand, hoping the wind from the movement would force it away. But somehow it would keep coming back. That’s what it was like, trying to avoid it. But there was no way in hell I was getting out of this one. It wasn’t until this trip to Boston together I finally decided to say something. I’ll never forget the drive there. BK and I drove down the Mass Turnpike passing our teammates down the road, holding hands listening to songs with subliminal messages. Songs like the Jonas Brothers “Just Friends.” BK accidentally slipped and said, “for now” under a muffled breath as we rolled into a rest stop. I peaked over and just responded with a shrug, holding back the confused excitement that radiated throughout my body. I don’t particularly know how to capture this moment. It’s too special for words. Really this whole story is too big for words. We had not spoken about how either of us felt, we just sort of knew. You know the feeling when you’re just so sure of something, it’s just painfully obvious.
I’ve known since I was eight years old that something was always different about me. I’m a tomboy, grew up with two older brothers, played with the boys in my neighborhood, an athlete, charming and likable. Everyone always joked with me about it, but I didn’t understand it. Maybe I didn’t want to. I didn’t like it, but BK did. Being an athletic girl from a young age at a Catholic school where everyone judged you for anything that wasn’t girly was a particular pain. So, I stuck with hanging out with the boys. We got along better anyway. Not me and my brothers, though, they were probably the only two boys I didn’t get along with growing up. Having age gaps of eight and twelve years was a little much, but they were older brothers to me nonetheless. “Liz,” they would say, “playing sports is for dykes.” Until the recent years, we made fun of each other constantly, grappling with nicknames like “Elizabitch.” Okay, to be honest, that one still comes up.
Let me start by telling you where I started just a little bit ago. I was eight years old when I figured it out. I clearly knew something was different. Looking back on it now, I totally had a crush on my camp counselor. I couldn’t stop staring, I just didn’t understand. I didn’t get it until I was around eighteen.
The drive to Boston completely threw me for a loop. “Oh my god, we literally left an hour later than them and we already caught up to them on the highway.” BK completely called me out for my led foot and anxiety pushing us steadily along the turnpike. To be fair, I’m not a slow driver, so we did catch up to our friends pretty quickly. We passed them. We passed them laughing so hard, holding our hands up nice and high for them to see as we sped by. But it was a joke, right? We’re just really great friends, having a really great time, right? At the top of our lungs on the thruway, we sang out our hearts to every song that came on the radio. We’d make eye contact and immediately look away. A feeling of ease rushed over me, I felt like a little kid getting a lollipop after doing a good job, so innocent and clean feeling. Just pure joy.
I knew BK looked right through me, but I knew it felt the same way for her. In this moment I knew I was about to give up the life I had always pictured for myself. I wanted “cookie cutter.” I wanted a big mom van, taking my kids to soccer, dropping them off at school, coming home to my husband. But now, that is not the life I see for myself anymore. In this moment, I started asking myself, “Do I want to be happy or do I want to take the easy way out? Do I want to settle for something that’s considered normal?” I decided I don’t really care about sexual identification or labels; I care about happiness. That idea of a “cookie cutter” got smaller as we kept driving.
You know that feeling you get when something bad happens? That feeling of panic that rushes over your body when you get in trouble for doing something wrong. You get all hot and you can physically feel the blood rush into your head and the sweat pushes itself out of your pores. It’s sort of like going into an exam you thought you were prepared for and then you get it back, and it turns out you failed. That desperately hollow feeling in your stomach when you get to the top of a roller coaster and it suddenly drops. You feel like you’re suffocating and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. Those were the feelings I felt with BK and what it felt like accepting the fact that I was falling in love with a girl. But at that point, I just didn’t care.
I never expected it. Falling for someone again. Let alone a girl. I was having a great time being on my own, I was aloof, and she loved that. We talked about that as we continued our drive. But there was something missing for both of us. I didn’t know that void was about to be filled so soon. BK wanted to understand every little thing there was to know about me. “Do you talk to all of your friends like this?” she asked as we chatted down the highway. “Maybe.” As we FaceTimed my best friend Sophie during the ride, BK later told me she studied the way Sophie and I spoke to each other. There was such a thoughtful look on her face, now I understand it as the, “I’m trying to figure out if she actually likes me, or is just affectionate towards me because we are such good friends.” It was that look someone gets in class when they have absolutely no idea what the teacher wrote on the board and explained for an hour, therefore they are lost in their own thoughts. There is nothing you can keep from BK that she won’t find out, whether you like it or not. That is what she was doing at this very moment- figuring me out. I still hadn’t figured myself out, so I had no idea why BK was trying to do it!
I guess I could tell you how I really figured some of it out, at least that I was gay. It wasn’t one of the many instances throughout my lifetime where people tried to determine my sexuality for me; like when I was at a picnic with my team and gained myself the “gay alter ego nickname, Wes,” for simply wearing a fedora (proudly bought at Gap Kids). That was one of the moments where I turned red in the face and the summer air suddenly turned into a sweaty, hot pit of fire. It wasn’t when I was about fifteen and my grandmother told me if I didn’t stop playing sports and start knitting I would turn into a “dyke.” Nope, it was the time I fell for my pair partner on the women’s rowing team. I hated it for a while, I was confused and scared. We were a part of the same team, the same boat, same sex. I didn’t know what to do. But I liked the idea of us.
We made it to Boston. We stopped at the Head of the Charles course to watch some practices on the Charles River before my race the next day. We ran into a friend of mine, Katie, who we took to the grocery store. “Well, you see, everyone on our team thinks we are dating, but it’s honestly just a joke,” I said confidently. I could tell BK was uncomfortable with what I just said. I grabbed her hand and kept making the joke that yes, we were in fact dating. “I’m not surprised you guys have that joke going at school too! You and Sophie would always say that over the summer, but we knew that wasn’t true.” I could see BK’s mind going a hundred miles an hour, she looked sad. I brought Katie to where she was staying, BK and I said good-bye, and headed to her home in Arlington. That’s where we would be for the weekend.
Rain was coming down faster than my windshield wipers could get it off when we pulled up to her driveway. We ran out to grab our bags from my car after she introduced me to her family. Once again, we were laughing about something. But there it was again, this time, from BK. “Yeah, because everyone on the team thinks we’re dating, but we’re just kidding.” The words just slipped when I leaned over and said, “But I feel like it’s not a joke.” This is a blur but all I remember is looking across at a big, smiling face as she proceeded to bang her head repeatedly against the back of the seat, laughing and giving me the most nervous laugh I have ever heard. We spent the rest of the night planning out how this would work. After all, we are on the same team, we’re pair partners and we’re girls.
The rest of that weekend we laughed and tried to keep this from our teammates who were in Boston with us, but we were too excited and too in love to keep it in. The moment they saw us together, they immediately knew something was different. The confidentiality of our relationship lasted about as long as us just being friends. To be honest, the team knew before we did; we didn’t even need to say anything. The emptiness I had felt before was filled. Instantly. Over the last decade or so, when I started to think more about my own sexuality, the thought of it made me uncomfortable until I was fully capable of understanding who I am. Bridget made me come out of that internalization. It was only until recently that I was able to accept myself because Bridget made me understand that being gay essentially gave me the ability to love who I love and be the happiest I have ever been. And that’s something to be proud of.
By: Elizabeth Houston
Artwork by Casey Meyers