Memoir: “The First Night”

by: Addison Bell

He had told me to meet him in front of our building. I could sense that he was there already, but I was inside standing in front of the bathroom mirror with the lights turned off.  This is what I did when I was nervous: stand in the darkness and breathe slowly, calmly. I do not know why. It was an escape, a brief period when everything stopped. When I could just be still.

I could not see anything, but I could perceive my reflection in the glass. I bent towards the mirror, and whispered to the stranger, “This is it.”

There are two entrances to the building, both in the lobby, each at different ends. He was standing on the side that faced Clifton. I walked slowly to the glass door, took a deep breath, and stepped outside. It was a late March night. Everything was still dead, but the air had slight warmth to it, emitting the sense of promise. He looked up and I looked down and then we looked at each other, and I forgot to breathe. There was a brief moment when our vision locked, and I read his eyes: a touch of sadness, but a hint of hope. The wind picked up, and the naked tree branches trembled over the streetlights.

He said, “Hi.”

And I said, “Hello.”

We started walking. There were—there are—no butterflies in Chicago during March. But there was a flutter of them inside me, flapping around and hitting my walls like bullets. I kept sneaking peaks at him when he was not looking, because I wanted to memorize him like a picture. Every time I would look at them there was a pang of want, and then a butterfly would strike hard.

He wanted to walk to North Avenue Beach. I had been living in Chicago for the past five months, but I had never walked down to Lake Michigan. We were both at the same college and lived in the same dorm. That was one thing we talked about: living so close to each other and not knowing that possibility was right down the hall. He told me that he had noticed me all year, but never said anything.

I revisit this night, the first night, often, but I cannot remember what exactly was said. But I do remember the immediate infatuation, how we both listened to each other as if what we were saying was the most important thing in the world. And I remember that we walked slowly because we didn’t want the time go quickly.

He wanted to take me to a spot that he often went to, a spot that was hidden from public view. The city was doing construction and there were fences barricading certain parts of the land that overlooked the lake. But we did not care. We found an opening and walked closer to the water. I had brought a blanket and I laid it on the ground.

We were on our backs, our faces under the sky. I felt his warmth and his hair smelled herbal, a mixture of mint and musk. We talked about life and nature and music, about loneliness and the dangers of thinking too much. I told him of my fears of accepting myself and of my worries of rejection and ridicule. The year consisted of me telling people that I was not gay, a year of denial and self-loathing. He told me that he had dated girls in high school, like me, but that it never meant anything. We had girls that we loved, but a love that is shared with a sister. We both had never been with a boy, but we both admitted to always being curious.

It was getting colder and we took off our sweaters, using them as blankets. The wind picked up from the lake and shook the trees nearby. The moon reflected on the water, making the horizon glisten. I felt his finger flirt with my hand, and I could feel my heart pounding under my chest. I flirted back. He took my hand. It was firm and secure, and the skin between his fingers was soft as chalk.

Nothing was said; the connection was enough. This was an intimacy that I had never felt before. It felt true and right: it was as if our hands had never worked before, but now they were fulfilling their purpose.

We adjusted our bodies so that we were on our sides facing each other. I could feel his breath on my lips and I was taken with a longing that I had never experienced before.

“I haven’t really kissed anyone before,” I said. “What if I’m bad?”

“You won’t be, I promise,” he murmured.

There were no stars that night. The blackness of the sky mirrored the lake, each two identical abysses. But when we kissed, I pictured thousands and thousands of stars that beaconed us in the right direction. Our hands became familiar with each others’ bodies, our arms fitting around one another like blankets. It was what we were made to do, our bodies and souls. It was what we had been waiting for and had at last received. And in that moment, all of the pain and torment of hiding ourselves from the world subsided, and a feeling of infinite elation took its place.

I moved my mouth to his ear and whispered, “This is it.”

Addison Bell is a senior at DePaul University where he is studying English Literature. He is the President of Oxfam DePaul and volunteers with Oxfam America, an organization dedicated to ending world hunger, poverty, and social injustice. Follow Jacob on Twitter @boy_1904 and on Tumblr: colourmegreenwich.tumblr.com.

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