My semester in France was off to a great start. I was learning more and more of the language, and I was well-liked at school.
I soon found out I was particularly well-liked by a certain boy.
Yes, my friends assured me, as they handed me a drawing he had done of my name and face. They pointed him out to me across the courtyard. He was definitely cute.
Johann and I had our first date at the indoor public pool. Despite our communication challenges, we had fun. He was quiet and intense, but he seemed romantic and sincere, like he was actually interested in me, not just in seeing how far he could get with me.
That's not to say he didn't have moves, though. Near the end of the date, as we sat in the hot tub, Johann turned to me, looked me in the eyes, then gently hooked his pointer finger underneath my chin and pulled my face to his.
A week later, he wrote me a poem about this kiss. This guy was smooth.
What was this strange new world of cute, teenage boys pursuing me and kissing me and writing me poetry? Was I this attractive in the U.S.? Were the standards different over here? Was I being rated on the metric system?
I was pretty sure I didn't date back home because I was so busy, or because I was buzzing around my French teacher too much, but maybe those were just excuses. What if I didn't date because no one wanted to date me?
I realized I didn't feel pretty in the U.S. No one told me I was ugly, but no one really pursued me either, and I often had facial acne that I was really self-conscious about. And yet, I had seen some pretty aesthetically-challenged students at school find boyfriends and girlfriends. If they could do it, so could I. Maybe I had been friend-zoning boys in my league without realizing it.
But what was I doing on a date with a guy anyway? Wasn't it just two months ago that I had willed myself into accepting that I was probably gay, fated to have a gay wedding?
Two weeks before I had ever heard of Johann, I wrote this in my journal:
"My host dad has a great CD collection. I'm listening to Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. 'Cecelia' makes me think of [the wedding guitarist]. She was something. . . It also makes me think of dancing in the kitchen with my future husband and daughter."
I think the trauma of the move to France, and also this brand new idea that a high school boy would actually pursue me, reset me back to a default, straight-girl vision for my life.
"It's nice to have someone adore me; it's new."
Johann and I became boyfriend and girlfriend, and though I was excited about that in a way, over the following weeks, I couldn't nail down exactly how I felt about it from day to day.
"I am confused about what I want. I'm not in love by any means, but Johann is perfectly fine."
A bunch of us wound up at a house party one night, sitting on a couple of couches in a friend's spacious bedroom. The coffee table in front of us was covered with shot glasses, drinking glasses, and various bottles of alcohol and mixers. Everyone was drinking like a seasoned pro, except me.
The consequences for drinking alcohol back home were just too high. A Minor in Possession meant my school would suspend me from sports and school activities for six weeks and kick me off Student Council altogether.
Now that I could drink alcohol with impunity, I wasn't sure how I would react. But, I reasoned, I was in this country for Science, for Anthropology! So I dove right in. I took a "pull" from a bottle, which burned my throat and turned my stomach.
I tapered off and contented myself to watch everyone else drink instead. They had fun, and they were all pretty classy about it. None of my friends had a driver's license yet, so most of them were expecting to see their parents in a few hours for a ride home.
There was one girl who drank a little more flamboyantly than the others, or maybe I was just paying more attention to her. My friend, Inès, whose name I have changed. I shared a desk with her in one of my classes.
"No one loves me," she told me one day, with a pout. She believed it. None of the boys were coming after her, apparently.
"The problem isn't you!" I told her. "You're great, and pretty, and funny, and sweet." She looked down at our desk and shrugged. My inability to reassure her with mere words was frustrating.
Now, at the party, she was hyper and giggly but always careful to laugh with her lips tightly closed or a hand over her mouth.
Later on, as we all started to crash, a few of us migrated from the couches to a nearby bed nestled in the corner of the room. Johann sat with his back against the wall, I sat with my back against Johann's chest, his legs on either side of me.
Inès lied down on the bed at a perpendicular angle to Johann and me so that the top of her head touched my thigh and she faced away from me. I loved having contact with both of them at the same time, Johann behind me, cuddling me, and Inès in front of me. I started to play with her hair, as girls are known to do. I ran my fingers through it for a long time. I pretty much forgot about Johann.
Inès turned to face me at some point. She told me I had a beautiful smile, that I was pretty, original, natural, charming. . . She was pretty tipsy. My eyes bore into hers. I smiled and thanked her.
Eventually, we had to break it up. Everyone kissed one another on the cheeks and hopped into their respective rides home.
Before heading to bed, I wrote about the party in my journal, about how Johann was cuddling me, how I found myself wanting him to touch me in other places.
"But actually, the whole night, I had my eye on Inès. I'm sleeping over at her house next Saturday, after drinking, and I'm pretty sure I'll try something. She's just so nice and pretty and cool. I'm really attracted to her."
Next weekend, at another party, I tried rum and orange juice. I liked that a little better, though I still couldn't bring myself to drink enough to get drunk, probably because rum and orange juice is not really a thing. These teens could legally drink, but that didn't make them professional mixologists.
Inès's mom came to pick us up, and the whole way to her house, my mind and body were swimming with intention. What would happen between us tonight, I wasn't sure--I had never studied this area of sexology, I had never chatted online late at night with another woman. I didn't know how to begin, or what to do, but I knew I wanted to do something.
We went upstairs. She showed me her bedroom and a bathroom where I could change into my pajamas.
As I changed, I meditated on this powerful, new feeling. I couldn't wait to be in bed next to her. I wanted to play with her hair some more, touch her face, reassure her that she was indeed attractive, this time with more than words. I wanted to employ my body, my hands, the nearness of me to communicate firmly, unflinchingly, that I liked her, that I really, really liked her, that she made me feel like being loving, like taking care of her, doting on her. I wanted to lock eyes with her and smile. I didn't know what we would do, but I knew it would be carnal. Delicate, and gradual, but carnal.
But then I saw her, in her bedroom, standing in the most juvenile, unsexy, faded and pilled Disney character pajama set I could have ever imagined. I was completely thrown. She was clearly not expecting to be seduced tonight. The whole idea no longer seemed appropriate.
My wordless, carnal intentions vanished easily into the aether, and we climbed into bed to fall asleep next to each other as friends. That side of myself, the as-yet-unnamed bisexual side, fell asleep, too, and stayed that way for the rest of my time in France.