By Jane Barnes
Bilinda left her apartment every day with a purple scarf on; in the winters, it was alpaca, and in the summers, a floaty gauze, like a breeze against her neck, against the A/C. Wasn’t that something to do with her too? Back in the day, she probably called herself in public “AC/DC” which meant alternating current. Hats off to Edison. There she was – straights said – on the fence, their first question when she announced herself (nothing about her said straight, said lesbian) was, “Which do you prefer?” “I have no preference,” Bilinda said, patiently.
Bilinda clung to the sliding scale of everything, swinging out over the canyon of fluidity – a term she was finding had a lot to do with her. Her name was really Bilinda, what kind of name she didn’t know. Was it Southern? If it were Southern it would have another name with it, like Bilinda Lee. She wanted to match her perfect 3.0 Kinsey, and her 3.0 life, which had many things bi about it: 1) bipolar, 2) bisexual, 3) bicoastal, 4) bilingual, 5) bi whatever-else.
Because the moment of crossing was itself erotic. The confusion was sexy. And the off again, on again mode of flex was itself familiar. Bilinda had come out a number of times: at four years old, probably bi, attached to the five-year-old blond-drenched fraternal twins across the street. Then bi again at twelve in word and deed (desiring Mary, the Roman Catholic girl, who loved her back); then straight with the football heroes of high school, and later in San Francisco where she lingered on a college friend’s bed to “philosophize.” Later in New England, erotically obsessed with an asexual friend, was so painful that she promised to find herself a “real lesbian,” a bona fide lesbian, who turned out to be Laura. This decade-long relationship broke up; Laura asked Bilinda: could she accept herself and the other woman both? No, absolutely not, Bilinda answered, foreseeing endless drama: complications, competition, haranguing over time spent with Laura. No thanks.
But now she borrowed Cheryl’s iPhone 6 to text Henry, who was still Gone Missing at almost two. Henry was gay and smart – the kind of pal every girl needs. They’d agreed to meet at her place on Saturday. What would they do for amusement? The weather report mentioned a shower at mid-day, otherwise overcast. The clouds looked dirty, then gave way to mist. It was July 4, and maybe her favorite and close-by Mexican restaurant would be open; two calls provided no answer.
What could they arrange? Well, since Henry was not strong in the idea department, they might have a picnic on her bed in the residence, with the medium sky blue bedspread, the tablecloth a fresh white towel, and on it bowls with the food she could bring up from the dining room or bought from Shop Rite: a large egg-salad sandwich, fresh tuna for other sandwiches (with four slices of bread), milk and raisin bran for “dessert,” and apples, oranges, her last handful of blueberries. Ice cream in the tiny freezer.
So, having had her most recent relationships with women, Bilinda now found straight and bi men exotic – since if her own range or spectrum or gliding scale – what turned her on the most – was the unfamiliar, that was erotic to her. So she hardly noticed women these days but hadn’t had good luck with the men at the residence, though her eight years there might have given her many opportunities. Despite Ivy League degrees, their schizophrenia or stroke complications had taken over, or the bizarre side effects of antidepressants (head straining upward and turning away, for example), but she was “only” hypomanic, and four pills a day scared away her anxiety (that she could be killed at any minute), her depression (this dull life leads nowhere), and stabilized her (which means kept-it-somewhere-in-the-middle).
Bilinda was aware of meditation, practicing Transcendental Meditation for thirty years, but lately after the practice was taking three-hour morning naps. A miracle of calm for this hypomanic. And now Henry was exactly one hour late. What did it matter? Since Bilinda was a writer, she sat down to write. Never mind Henry, who was either struggling on his ride on a few buses on this holiday, had slept in, or just plain forgot. (Note: slept all day.) Meanwhile the sky had turned to powder blue.
In her early twenties Bilinda had her own sexuality, rediscovered in the French writer Colette’s Claudine books, four or five in a series, whose heroine loves women and men. Then there came the bipolar, bisexual Virginia Woolf, and, well, anything SHE did was kosher. And reading Sappho gave ancient encouragement, while the New York writer Jan Clausen had written about apples and oranges, and as of 2015 Miley Cyrus and a few other pop goddesses were open with their lady loves, the paparazzi grabbing video of her and her model girlfriend making out furiously in an underground garage while leaning against a cement pillar
And as to religion, Bilinda had studied, somewhat deleteriously, Buddhist thought, the Tibetan variety, and had sat, side-by-side with Laura, her wife who could sit still for hours. Bilinda was endlessly restless during the teachings, her legs a bit thick and impossible to tuck under her. She writhed in pain; her knees almost went out. But she stuck to it: she was “in” for balance. Or was this extreme? Extremes. The title of her first poetry collection. And putting a brave face on, “The In-Between,” her second collection, as yet unpublished.
She’d had five loves, two of them happy – one of these with a bi man, and one with Laura, a lesbian. The bi man had been a friend for over six years before they began an open relationship. Laura had had a previous relationship with a “lesbian,” who left Laura for a man. Would Bilinda do the same? Laura decided to chance it. Several pleasant years went by. Laura was actively hunting for God and Bilinda gamely tagged along – after all, it was a worthy goal – but Bilinda had already found him/her, quietly, simply – not that she wasn’t a sinner; get her on the wrong side (un-lateral bi-lateral) and she was a bitch.
Two-fifteen P.M. and Henry hadn’t yet appeared at her residence. Cynthia promised to announce his arrival on the intercom then send him up. But Bilinda already knew he wouldn’t appear: she was ready to eat at least the egg salad sandwich. Not much drama here, not like her previous crazy life. In her late thirties, she stopped drinking, after her hypomania switched into full mania (doing things, not just talking about them – shopping for three hundred dollars’ worth of cotton shorts, or twenty dozen cans of chick peas, fifteen issues of Dentistry Today, filched from her orthodontist’s waiting room). Then, she found out she was bipolar – such a 21st century word. Before that, she was manic depressive, which sounded of the echoes of institutional halls, the clank of steel doors clanging shut. Et cetera.
Bilinda had written many novels, memoirs, stories and poems. Sanity made her impatient, and she was fidgeting now. Would Henry show, or had he fallen asleep; he’d had the flu, and his medications were making him drowsy? She texted Page, a mutual friend, to discover she had the wrong number, corrected it, and now saw that the day was quite sunny and cooler. Simple things stood out: a red ceramic cup, the ivy climbing down over the airy sound of the air conditioner.
It was rather like smoking pot; internal cannabis, and she would think, “I’m a little high today,” which translated into Caution: non sequiturs practiced here, hunger for one project after another (mending this tear with needle and thread). She was still capable of over-industry: Magic-gluing the loose strap on her sandal. Reading the Sunday Times Magazine, which had a different look every week.
Out the window the clouds were taking on cumulus, child’s storybook-fluffy shapes in the blue sky. Bilinda has not made a pass at a woman or man in years. Now it was men, especially liberated men, she hankered for. There was Will, whom she felt she could just lie down on, but when he lost weight, he’d thrown out some kind of ballast, and he wasn’t big, ole sturdy Will anymore. And then there was Gene, half African-American, half Jewish – what a lovely combination, runneth over with irony, and those plump lips. After two or four conversations with Gene, she made the mistake of handing him her phone number. “What’s this?” he said, folding the tiny paper and sliding it into an open slot in his billfold. “My number,” she said.
She might as well just have shot him. (Coward.) But she had little hot dreams of him at night, just one or two, and in her mind had lain with him on an unmade bed after sex, flushed and feeling so femme to his butch. And she’d never slept with anyone trans of any sort (transitioning, not transitioning, having whatever was or was not changed Down Below). Possible.
Bilinda looked to her books: where was Violet le Duc, lesbian, with her thousand-page autobiography, Bastard, or the American Berthe Harris, lesbian, with her book called simply Lover? And the Village resident on Patchen Place off Sixth Avenue, Djuna Barnes, who had written Nightwood, that exotic, strange novel? Virginia Woolf’s portrait looked down at her from the wall, and Colette’s too (herbs, cats, the Left Bank, women of a certain sort, of the equivalent in men).
As to bisexual male writers, there is the nonfiction Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, the international Tony award-winning star of TV’s The Good Wife and subject of the documentary The Polymath. What about Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men, edited by Robyn Ochs and H. Sharif Williams, not to mention Catullus, Herman Melville, Horace, Wilde, Gore Vidal, Malcom X., and Michael Chabon.
And what was she? Asexual? Maybe just by default, mind you. Bilinda said to herself, it’s hard work coming out four times, but I am simply naming what’s going on inside of me, and if I should find a person of any gender who makes me swoon, I will be the first to let myself swoon, even get into bed with such a person, and if we just cuddle, well, fine; if we go farther, it’s because a flame has been lit. Nothing then would not be changed, nothing was not in the process of change.
Bilinda thought, “We are what we do – not what we label ourselves; so let the language change too. Fashion new words for new states of being. Words, the most fluid thing of all, did crystallize one’s state of being. For the moment.” She was at peace with the quiet afternoon, and okay with all the names she’d had, for Bilinda, like many, was also passionate for words: like the writer she was, and for the act of being itself, which bowed to the dictates of the body and the heart. She liked all the naming she could write down, for the act of being was, itself, emblematic of this subtle pleasure some others, in their confusion, called “confusion.”
She went down for dinner, and then watched The Good Wife, and went to bed. Slept like a rock. Occasional dreams. Another time, depending on her own changing, she might discover him. Her. Him. They would meet at the border, this much she knew.
Jane Barnes has finished a poetry manuscript covering 25 years in 250 short poems called “The Inbetween: Poems 1982-2007.