The more I try to define the term, the more it slips from my grasp.
It happened again. It happens about twice a year. I dreamt about the woman I was in love with a long time ago, a woman I now consider part of my inner circle, though we seldom talk, and I see her next to never.
In the dream I was being shunned by her; the overwhelming residue left upon waking was one part shame and one part heartache. But that’s how dreams work—they seem to be less about events and more about working through the complexities of emotion. I assume what drives this dreaming is an unrequitedness—if we can call it that—and the maelstrom that dizzied me in San Francisco some 15 years ago.
What I remember about those years is abstract: cocktail glasses glowing pink, disco balls, soft lips, a flannel of fog rolling down the hill into the Castro, the screech of a subway car’s breaks. By the time I took a different woman home from the Kilowatt—the go-to smoky bar for AC/DC, tattoos, and hook-ups—I had already wrung my heart out in the Twin Peaks Tavern when this woman I loved finally told me she was tired of my inability to commit and my inability to leave my bore of a boyfriend. There in the upstairs alcove of the cruelly coined Glass Coffin, I cried and begged. As if I had the right. As if she only deserved half a relationship.
But I took home that woman who meant nothing because I had never been able to consummate the love affair with the woman I actually loved. And by consummate I do mean have sex. Though I loved a woman to my very core, I was not able to accept the sexuality of life as a lesbian, with her as my partner. I would have spent my life with her in every sexual position, so long as I didn’t have to commit the act, so long as I could still have sex with a man. Romantic love. Sexual love. Hindsight says they were not the same thing.
But I won’t call it bi-curiosity. This was never a game. And if it ever was, unconsciously, it was a kind of Russian Roulette. I got hurt; she got hurt, though we’ve all more or less healed even if dreams suggest otherwise. And this was never a kind of minstrel show. I have always despised when women pose as lovers before the lens of the male gaze.
I thought if I just did it, then maybe I could spark something pleasurable. I could see the Kilowatt from my bedroom window, which looked down on Sixteenth and Guerrero where the same crazy guitar guy would serenade me every night with the Batman theme song. I would roll out on Friday evening, enter the bar’s time-travel portal, get vodka-sloppy, chain-smoke, stagger home to my futon, ears ringing, and then shuffle across the street in the morning to cowgirl up to the western-themed brunch place hoping that bacon, eggs, and bloody marys would make the hangover slide out of me.
That different woman—the pick-up—pulled me by my arm out of the bar, letting any greasy rocker guy within earshot know where she was going. I led her through my metal gate and up the marble stairs to my flat, each of us with our own agenda, each a little drunk and adrenaline buzzed. Then I took her into my room. But this is not about what happened next, nor about gratification. This isn’t the story of a one-night stand, really.
It’s about choosing. I had another opportunity, years later, to rekindle something with her, and I again chose a man, the one I ended up marrying. She lives with her wife in another city. I live with my husband and 6-year-old son: the perfectly-formed puzzle pieces completing my picture-perfect life. My family that I could not, would not sacrifice in the mental game of what if. The woman of my dreams was in my wedding. I have a photo of her and her wife holding my infant son. All, it seems, is as it should be.
Yet I will dream of her again months from now when I least expect it, and I’ll be left to wander around in a haze all that day, forgetting the names of my students, putting my son’s cereal box in the refrigerator, and so on. And I’ll wonder, again, whether I ever understood those years in San Francisco. Was I bisexual? Am I bisexual? The more I try to define the term, the more it slips from my grasp.
And sometimes a first kiss is really the first in a line of last kisses. For example, the woman of my dreams and I on the steep incline of Union Street’s hill and how I felt completely off-kilter from the uneven footing, and off-kilter and wild in those nightclubs where we made out against the wall. San Francisco, where the trees leaned down from the groves of Golden Gate Park to ease me through my trip as I sweated out the sweet poison of psychedelics. Where I danced and smoked and loved and wept and fucked: San Francisco—cable cars chugging down California Street in the rain, cups of sangria sloshing to the music of a North Beach street fair—where the cast of my adulthood was made and where I thought I figured out what sexuality means.
Sonia Greenfield was born and raised in Peekskill, New York, and now calls Los Angeles home, where she lives with her husband, son, and slightly feral dog. Her poems have been published in a variety of journals including The Massachusetts Review, The Antioch Review, and Rattle, and her work can be found in the 2010 Best American Poetry. She also writes fiction and essays, and her prose can be found in Mamalode, PANK, the Monarch Review, and the Bellevue Literary Review. She teaches writing at USC.