My parents would try to make it better by buying me little treats or whispering in my ear how special I was in my own way. My father would take me for walks, just the two of us, holding my hand so I wouldn’t get lost. We’d stop off in Chinatown to buy some special dumplings or pastries filled with barbecued pork or red beans or whatever. My absolute favorite were the buns filled with a sweet custard. My dad would buy two and let me eat them all by myself. He never said a word about saving one for my sister or my mother. He would buy two, along with a bottle of sweetened soy milk, hand me a bun and the bottle while he held the other. When I was done with the first bun, he would hand me the second and smile in pleasure as I gobbled it up. I invariably ended up with a stomachache after finishing the two buns plus the bottle of milk, but it was worth it. We’d walk home with bags bulging with food, but no custard-filled buns. Those were mine alone, and I dearly loved my father for making that treat exclusively mine. It didn’t take away the sting of my sister’s beauty, but it helped mitigate it.
I grimace as I think of him. Even though it’s been nine years, I still ache to see him again. He was my confidante as well as my father, and he listened to me better than anyone else ever had. He would look at me, focusing his entire attention on what I was saying. No television, no radio, nothing to distract him. Sometimes, if a problem was especially tough, we’d hop a bus to Chinatown and buy some buns. Strolling through the heart of Chinatown, we’d eat, drink soy milk, and talk about my problems. I spoke mostly Taiwanese with my father, as he preferred it that way. My father was patient and wise, telling me exactly what I needed to hear. It may not have been what I wanted to hear, but it was invariably what I needed to know. He never pulled punches with me or tried to sugarcoat the truth, for which I was grateful. I knew that if my father said something, he meant it. I appreciated that quality about him.
“Rayne! I need ten copies of this yesterday!” Alicia tosses a pile of papers on my desk, a scowl creasing her fat features. Everything about her is round from the bun of gray hair on her head to her cheeks to her body. Her cheeks are so fat, they push her eyes into slits. I look away as she has a morsel of tuna melt clinging to her lower lip. I briefly entertain fantasies of telling Alicia off, but I tamp down the irritation. I know much of it is residual from Libby’s emails, so I try to let it go.
“Not a problem,” I say, standing with documents in hand. I walk over to the copier and punch the proper buttons. It collates and staples for me before I can even whistle a happy tune. I detour to Alicia’s office and drop it on her desk. She just grunts at me before turning back to her work.
“How are the invoices coming along?” Sandra, my supervisor, is at my desk when I reappear. “There were a couple last week that you were late on.” Because the counselors didn’t get them to me until after the deadline, I want to say, but hold my tongue. Sandra doesn’t like excuses.
“It won’t happen again,” I shrug, but don’t apologize. I have already decided that I’ll email Alicia once a week for the invoices, saving a copy in my send folder, which is known as covering my ass. She’ll hate me for it, but I don’t care. I don’t like being chided for something that isn’t my fault.
“Good.” Sandra nods before returning to her desk. Since her desk is in the room just off the ‘foyer’, I can see her firing up a movie on her computer. I can only assume the director is doing the same. I do a slow burn, but manage to keep my mouth shut. I work on the invoices for the next couple hours, making sure everything is up-to-date.
“Ready to go?” I look up to see Quinn smiling down at me. I look at my watch and notice with surprise that it’s four o’clock. Since lunch is only half an hour and is considered part of the work hours, anyway, I get to leave at four even though I arrive at eight-thirty.
“Yeah, just let me close down my computer.” I point and click until the machine is finally quiet. “I have to stop at the bathroom, too.” I pull out a comb from my purse as soon as I have locked the door and work on repairing my hair. After touching up my face and unbuttoning two buttons on my shirt, I am ready to go. We decide to walk to the 500 Club on 17th and Guerrero, which isn’t far from where we work. It’s a dive, but a comfortable one where two women on their own won’t receive too much undue attention. Quinn stares at the giant neon martini sign out front, but doesn’t comment. It is her first time at this fine establishment.
The night is a disaster. We start out by exchanging the usual information—families, friends, interests, etc. We talk about how Quinn is adjusting to work. She fears that the kids don’t respect her because she’s so young. I joke that they don’t respect her because they don’t respect anyone, which puts her at ease. I tell her about ‘the girls’, and she tells me about dabbling with a R&B band. There is electricity between us, but the conversation is strained. I keep flashing back to what Paris said about Quinn, and carefully watch her for signs of craziness. I tell her the drama that is my sister’s wedding, and she’s appropriately appalled. When I tell her that I’m doing it for my mom, she follows it up by asking if my mother is ok with me being gay. After I finish choking, I let her know that Mom is fine with me being bi.
I should have known better than to open that can of worms. It’s a touchy subject among queers—bisexuality. It’s an argument I’ve had one too many times, and definitely not good first-date material. Quinn is unsettled by me being ‘a fence-sitter’ as she terms it, and I take offense. I am tired of defending my attraction to both men and women, but I’m also used to it and have no problems doing so. Besides, the way she was drooling over Paris when she met him makes her a tad bit hypocritical in her outrage against bisexuality. She trots out the old line about bisexuals just wanted to fuck everybody who moves, and I remind her that bis have not cornered the market on promiscuity. I let it slip about Moira and immediately kick myself murder is not the best topic for a fun-filled first date. Quinn declares that Moira was a whore and that she wouldn’t have died if she hadn’t been fucking around, which sets me off in another direction. It’s hard for me to believe that someone in this day and age, especially in San Francisco, would still be of the opinion that a girl who sleeps around deserves to die. Quinn protests that I’m twisting her words around, and we’re off to the races.
I remind her of her reaction to Paris; she calls it social training. I tell her that’s bullshit, that her reaction to Paris was primal, not conditioning. Her voice rises which causes a couple patrons to look our way. I smile and wave to them before turning back to Quinn. I press her to admit that she wants Paris, which she steadfastly denies. I am losing my attraction to her. She’s still good-looking, but her issues are a turn-off. I hate political lesbians. I wonder if she’s even attracted to women sexually or has simply decided that it is the PC thing to be. I ask her bluntly if she’s had sex with a woman yet, feeling more like an older sister than a potential lover. When I find out she ‘just discovered’ she was a lesbian two months ago, I have to refrain from running away. I don’t do virgins any more as they are too much heartache.
The night only goes further downhill from there. She talks about her lesbian group who keeps telling her that her feelings for men will fade. She is not a dyke, but a lesbian. Gay, if I prefer. She does not eat meat and tries not to wear leather. I am getting a headache from listening to her. I inform her that I stopped believing in the patriarchy because it wanted to keep me barefoot and pregnant. I quit hanging out with religious people because they told me everything I held dear was a sin. I stopped marching for feminist causes when they frowned at me for wearing lipstick and a miniskirt. I quit hanging around with lesbians because most of them were so damn politically correct without a shred of humor. In other words, I am fucking tired of being told what to do—by anyone. I wish I had a cigarette, but I wouldn’t be able to smoke it inside, anyway. Damn California state laws!
“What’s wrong with being sensitive?” Quinn asks plaintively. “I think it’d be a better world if we just cared a bit more about each other.”
“Telling me I can’t wear lipstick is not caring. It’s patronizing. Did you know that NOW does not want women to know their fertility drops by fifty percent when they are thirty-five because NOW feels that would put too much pressure on women to have kids at an earlier age? That’s another reason I left the patriarchy—they always thought they knew what was best for me and wouldn’t give me all the pertinent information. I’ll be damned if I allow a group of women to withhold important facts for my own good.” My cheeks are flushed, and it isn’t because of the alcohol. “I better go.” I stand up, causing the bartender to rush over. He is a tall, dark drink of handsome with plenty of tats and both his ears pierced.
Quinn begs me to give her another chance with Mr. Bartender hovering over us. We order more drinks and wave him away. I check out his ass as he walks back to the bar. I reluctantly sit back down, but neither of us have much to say. I could be sitting next to Paris on the couch watching bad reality television. Instead, I’m stuck here with the original poster girl for PC lesbians. I’m surprised she isn’t wearing flannel and Birkenstocks. The bartender brings us our drinks, and Quinn asks me if I mind going outside to smoke. When I raise an eyebrow for her un-PC choice, she falls all over herself explaining and apologizing. I am tired of the dogma, so I take her outside. The place isn’t busy, and we’re in no danger of losing our table. We pick up the conversation about being attracted to men as well as women after I bum a cigarette off her, and I can’t understand what the big deal is. Sure, there are a lot of shitty men, but there are a lot of shitty women, too. I should know—I’ve dated most of them. Gender is not a guarantee of goodness.
We both smoke as we talk. Quinn tells me how her mother had a boyfriend, and her father put her mother in a coma when he found out. She never recovered and died three days later. Quinn was fourteen when it happened, and her father wasn’t even charged because the police couldn’t find enough evidence. Even though she begged to be placed with her aunt, the courts gave her back to her father. He was old school and raised Quinn with a firm hand. They lived in New Jersey, and she counted the days until she graduated from high school and moved to San Francisco to attend SFSU. She never saw him again as he died of a heart-attack last year. When I commiserate, she asks if loved my father because she had never loved hers. I say that I loved him more than anybody in the world.
“Then at least you had that.” She is quiet, contemplating the end of her cigarette. “I knew the lesbian who died, you know. I met her at a rally last month. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. She wanted to sculpt me. I-I heard rumors about her, but I never believed them. Not until I went to her studio early one day and caught her with another girl. I had just made up my mind to sleep with her. Isn’t that funny?” Quinn laughs, but there isn’t any mirth in the sound. “You asked if she deserved to die. She shouldn’t have fooled around like that.” Something about her flat affect chills me. I am getting goosebumps, and it’s not just from the brisk night air.
Here is another person affected by Moira, negatively, it seems. What was it about that woman that both attracted and repulsed? If I ever doubted that there is a thin, almost nonexistent line between love and hate, the last few days have convinced me that it’s so. I am not in the mood to talk about Moira, but I can’t pass up this opportunity to question yet another disgruntled would-be Moira-lover. As delicately as I can, I inquire if she had been at the party Saturday night. I hadn’t seen her, but it doesn’t mean she wasn’t there. She mumbles that she hadn’t been invited, but her eyes don’t meet mine. She is hiding something from me, but I don’t know what it is. Again, I marvel at how small the world is. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon and all that. She tells me that she never saw Moira after the debacle at Moira’s studio which was about two weeks ago.
I ask if she saw who the other woman was. Quinn replies in the negative. Moira had slammed the door shut before Quinn could get a good look. All she saw was long black hair. She is morose, not at all like her cheery work self. I am itching to dig for more dirt, but one look at Quinn is enough to let me know that she has closed the bank of information. We finish our cigarettes and go back inside. The bartender is giving me the eye, and I can’t help giving him the eye in return. I like bartenders for some unknown reason, and they like me as well. Quinn is moving lethargically, which makes me wonder if her cigarettes are laced with something else. That’s stupid because if they were, I’d be affected as well. Before she can sit down, she’s fallen on her ass. Turns out the girl is on a diet which really is code for she’s borderline anorexic/bulimic, which is something I have difficulty with. A girlfriend of mine in high school killed herself after years of struggling with anorexia, and I still mourn the loss to this day.
Quinn faints, so I ask the bartender if he has any food. He gives me a sandwich he was saving for his break and won’t let me pay for it. I get his number as well, which I stuff into my pocket. I force Quinn to eat the sandwich, then she races to the bathroom before I can stop her. This is not my idea of good times on a date, and I curse myself for mixing work and pleasure. I follow her into the bathroom, but she’s locked the stall. Once she’s done, she cries on my shoulder as I helplessly pat her on the back. I’m not the nurturing type, so I don’t know what to do exactly. After washing her up a bit, I take her home in a cab. She doesn’t live far from the bar, but neither of us has a car, and I don’t trust her to be able to make it home on her own foot power. Once I get her to her apartment, she promptly bursts into tears and almost faints again. When I press her to eat something else, she tells me that she’ll just throw up again. She’s defiant, but sad as she stares me down. That does it. I tell her she’s right. I can’t force her to eat, but I don’t have to watch her acting stupid. I make her call a friend before I leave because I don’t want her death on my conscience, but I’m not babysitting her any longer. I muse about my love life as I walk home.
I have the worst luck when it comes to dating. My last girlfriend was cheating on me though I didn’t discover it until well after we’d broken up. One of my boyfriends decided he preferred boys to girls after we’d been going out for a few months. Another ex-girlfriend of mine decided that she, too, preferred boys to girls and dumped me as well. I am rarely the dumper for some reason that continues to escape me. Paris says it’s because I’m a sucker for lost causes and don’t know when to give up. I think it’s because I see the potential in someone, therefore clouding my ability to see the person as s/he really is. Whatever the reason, the longest I’ve been with someone is a year, and that was my girlfriend in high school—Claudette—who killed herself after losing the war with eating disorders. I’m sure a psychiatrist would say that my difficulty with relationships now has to do with that traumatic event. I consider returning to the bar to flirt with the bartender, but reluctantly decide to save it for another night. Dealing with Ms. Psycho has drained me, and all I want to do is curl up and go to sleep.
“Hey, girl,” Paris coos from the living room as I walk in. “How was the date? Come in and dish.” He pats the couch invitingly, but I wave him off and slip into my bedroom. I strip off the shirt I’m wearing which is covered with blood and snot from taking care of Ms. Fingers-Down-Her-Throat and pull on a nice burgundy button-down that stops well above my navel. I feel like being dressy, even if it’s only for Paris. I fluff out my hair and return to the living room where I sit next to Paris. He is looking at me, eager to hear the gory details.
“It was the worst date I’ve ever had,” I groan, shutting my eyes, hoping to block out the memory. I recount the tale, leaving out none of the grizzly details. Paris’s eyes are round as I tell him the sordid story.
Paris shakes his head at my horrible luck of finding a closet het with an eating disorder. We exchange glances. Paris had been good friends with Claudette as well, and neither of us deal well with people who have eating disorders. He was so right about Quinn as much as he wished he hadn’t been. I need to get laid, damn it. My ex-girlfriend had left me six months ago, and I’ve only had one or two one-night stands since. I tell Paris about the bartender, the only perk of the night. Paris asks if he swings both ways—only in the Bay Area!—and I retort that I’m not going to find out just so I can lose another conquest to him. Paris massages the back of my neck as we talk. I am grateful as the tension of the day seeps out due to his skilled fingers. I wonder if it will be weird at work between Quinn and me, but there’s not much I can do about it if it is. I’m certainly not quitting. I resolve to remain friendly but aloof, which is probably what I should have done in the first place.
I hate eating disorders to the point of revulsion. It’s not something I talk about with Paris because he struggles with eating issues of his own. Intellectually, he knows his worth is not based on a single number, but emotionally, the scale dictates his moods. If the number is higher than the day before, he is sulky and starts crash-dieting. If the number is lower, he is giddy and his eating spirals out of control. Fortunately, he stops well short of obsession. For me, I usually ignore the pressure on women to be thin, but it does niggle at me, especially when others such as my loving sister point out my excess weight. Because of her dictum that I lose ten pounds by her wedding, I am more conscious of my body than I usually am. It’s always lurking in the back of my mind that I could stand to lose a few pounds. The only things that stop me are my love of food, my disdain for the claptrap that goes along with losing weight, and the knowledge that I will be playing my sister’s game if I consciously try to lose weight. But I also know that I feel better about myself when I weigh five pounds less. I don’t know if that’s rational, however, or if it’s just a number I randomly chose.