Four Times Labels Mattered & One Time They Didn’t

Aug 3, 2016 | 2016 Summer - Labels, Articles, Poetry

By S.H.G.

I meet you through a mutual friend. She’s only in town for a few days so she invites us both out for lunch to maximize her socializing time. I’m a little standoffish towards you but I can’t really help it – new people make me nervous. Still, you laugh at my jokes and grin at me over the rim of your coffee mug and by the end of our meal I gather enough courage to ask for your number in case you want to hang out again sometime. You spell my name wrong in your contacts and I’m too embarrassed to correct you so it stays that way until you find me on Facebook several weeks later, after we’ve gotten together for coffee at least twice. “Why didn’t you tell me, silly?” I’m embarrassed again, of course, and I explain that my name is spelled oddly and it’s been spelled wrong so often that at this point I never bother correcting people, but after you change the label in your phone, you look at me with suddenly serious eyes and say quietly, “You deserve to have your name spelled correctly.”

You have a boyfriend. When my own dating history comes up, I admit to my bisexuality without a trace of the sheepishness I once had. You don’t flinch. It’s a relief. As our friendship continues to grow, I invite you and your boyfriend to a party. On the day of the party you text me to tell me that, if at all possible, I shouldn’t mention my orientation to your boyfriend. “He wouldn’t understand. The only male friends I have that he’s ever approved of are homosexual. He’s just… protective.” I dress as feminine as possible that night, and even though he never asks me about my labels, I still feel like I’m lying to him. If he did ask, I know I would lie, and that feels just as deceptive. He’s cute, for a jock, not usually the type I’d go for but his face and personality are both charming. For as protective as you’ve made him out to be, he has no problem leaving you with me to go flirt with my neighbor, a bleach-blonde tennis semi-pro. You pretend not to notice and so do I.

You’re over at my apartment and we’re baking cookies. You pad around my kitchen barefoot, a glass of wine in one hand and a spoon in the other. The picture you paint is achingly domestic. You’ve insisted on doing most of the work. Now, you impatiently grab one of the still-cooling cookies and taste it, and a strange look crosses your face. When you won’t tell me what’s wrong, I manage to push you away from the counter and break off a piece of my own to try. It tastes horrible, way too salty. You’ve gotten to perusing my kitchen for what you put into the batter, and finally you hold up the culprit. “Why do you keep your sugar near your salt? I thought this was sugar!” “It’s literally labeled, you dope! The sugar is right behind it. This is why reading labels is important!” We giggle until we slide down to the floor, side by side on the black and white tiles, shaking with laughter.

You show up on my doorstep one warm April night with a bottle of Jose Cuervo in your hand and a wicked grin on your face. Your job was really stressful this week and when you tried to tell your boyfriend about it, he tuned you out. He just pisses you off sometimes, you tell me after the first margarita. He flirts with other girls, sure, but he just does it to make you jealous, he would never cheat on you, you say after the second. You are sick and tired of being the only one who gives a shit in this relationship, you slur after the third. As I’m gently dissuading you from starting on a fourth, you try to kiss me. I won’t let you, even though I’m aching to, even though I’ve been into you from the first day I met you. You have a boyfriend, you are in a relationship. You fix that label before you come to me.

We don’t speak for three weeks, and sometime during that period I decide it must be over, this friendship that could have been more. I expect radio silence and that is what I get. For three weeks. Then, out of nowhere, you text me and ask me to meet you at your place. You look like you have been crying for weeks. It turns out, you have. All of your ex-boyfriend’s belongings are gone from your apartment. You asked him to leave and he did, but you are still scared, nibbling chapped lips in between telling me that you want more than friendship with me and that you aren’t quite sure how this changes how you see yourself. “I’ve never felt this way about another woman before.” We can figure out the labels later, I assure you. For now, we finally kiss.

SHG is a Southcoast-area theatrical stage manager who spends most of her free time on the internet or chasing drag queens around the Boston/Providence area.

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