I wasn’t that drunk. Slipping and sliding on patches of slush in my going-out boots, my hand clutched the crook of her arm. It wasn’t to steady myself, but to bring her more firmly to me somehow — to tether her in a way that would make it easier for me to say what I wanted to say. I’d never been the one to confess feelings for anyone before, let alone another girl.
I wasn’t that drunk, and I didn’t need to be clutching her the way I was, and when I finally had the words in my throat, I let go of her elbow and grabbed onto a nearby lamppost. “I had a huge crush on you freshman year,” I blurted, “and I’m sorry, but you’re pretty perfect, and anyway it hasn’t been a thing for a while, but I thought you should know.”
There were several lies here. It was true that I had spent a couple weeks of freshman year gazing at her profile pictures on Facebook and thinking furiously of clever things to say to her at parties. It wasn’t true, however, that my little crush was a thing of the past.
I was enamored with her in a way I recognized bleakly, with a distant, distracted sense of foreboding at what I was doing to myself. There are a lot of stories about unrequited love and how it all works out for the better if only you have the courage to tell her. Let’s be objective about this, though — what proportion of those stories are about straight girls who find themselves crushing on other straight girls? Of those, how many stories are about girls who end up sharing a common room? We weren’t the type of suitemates who might as well be strangers, either — we went to meals together, studied together, watched TV together, pregamed together and went out to the Street together. We were even starting to adopt the same sense of humor. I wanted to kiss her with a wild sort of desperation. What proportion of those conventional wisdoms, advice columns and PrincetonFMLs account for that?
“I had a huge crush on you freshman year, and I’m sorry, but you’re pretty perfect, and anyway it hasn’t been a thing for a while, but I thought you should know.” I was drunk but not that drunk, I had let go of her arm in favor of the lamppost (which had a much smaller potential for breaking my heart), and I couldn’t look at her. I thought I had feigned enough sloppy intoxication to get away with cramming my hands into my pockets and fixing my eyes on the building to the left of her head. My months of loving and lusting, angsting and worrying, drunken crying and anonymous (heterosexual) fucking had steeled me for what I knew she was going to say. I don’t even remember what she said to me in response, just that it was kinder than I’d expected, and that she told me not to apologize. And when I mumbled “I kind of hope I won’t remember this in the morning” as she fished for the keys to our room, she had the grace to say nothing but “okay.”
I’m going to venture a guess and say I could’ve handled my little confession better. There were, of course, endless opportunities for me to tell her sober, to make a joke out of it, even perhaps to be confident and tell her seriously. Instead, I had wallowed, letting my secret run me straight through alcoholic mania into anonymous boys’ beds and, more mornings than I’d like to admit, onto the couches in the waiting rooms of UHS and CPS. I’ve never been one to deal with personal revelations or struggles too well, and she had come along at a time when my confusions were at their height. This particular secret exposed the raw, nervy viscera of everything I’d been grappling with, from my sexuality to my self-worth.
There are only so many times a girl can delude herself into being the Other Woman, the booty call, the one-night stand or the “I’m not looking for a relationship” girl before it starts to eat at her self-esteem. By the time I made my little confession, I was sure that the objects of my affection were never going to surprise me for the better, and even more sure that I would be swallowing unrequited feelings for a long, long time. I also couldn’t even bring myself to fathom the idea that I might be queer. I was pretty sure after a decent number of sexual experiences (heterosexual and not, satisfying and less than) that I liked girls and boys in equal measure, but the thought of being anything but a straight girl didn’t bring me any more certainty or confidence. It still doesn’t.
My not-that-drunken half-confession didn’t suddenly release a stream of good vibrations that lifted the cloud of self-hatred I carried. It just made me better at grinning and bearing it. After all, we were becoming so close, and it was unfair of me to put her in that position just because I couldn’t keep my feelings secret. I grinned and bore it through the rest of a year spent becoming better and better friends with her, which turned out to be a lateral move: She became less perfect as I got to know her, and as I got to know her our friendship somehow became more physical and less frustrating. One drunken Saturday night, months after my sort-of confession, we made out on a dare in a room full of people. I didn’t collapse into a sobbing drunken heap. What would’ve been wrenching therapist fodder just months before ended up another story for Sunday brunch.
I guess there’s a lesson in here about honesty, but I prefer to think instead of smoothing jagged edges — of babyproofing. The next summer, after a heterosexual fling that teetered on the edge of a full-fledged relationship had fallen apart, I realized I had never been brave with her — not in the way that matters, anyway. I had written my confession with her embarrassment in mind instead of my own; it had all been built around her way out.
“I’m sorry, but you’re pretty perfect, and anyway it hasn’t been a thing for a while, but I just thought you should know.” I’d protected myself. I hadn’t structured it as a real confession that might have merited a real rejection. My half-confession wasn’t bravery: It was resignation, the finish of a conversation I’d already started and ended with myself. Ellipses at the close.