One day, I met a boy.
He sat perfectly still on the curb, despite the rain, which bounced off his shiny lavender platform boots. The water ran in rivets down his pink and teal streaked hair and stuck his baggy black clothes to his body, which clung to him like a baby koala to its mother.
At first, I was afraid — I thought he might be on drugs, in another world from the cold and the wet, which to me seemed the only reason he could sit there without reacting to his surroundings. But then he shivered, a quick jolt from the frigid air shooting through his body, and in that instant, his hair flicked away from his forehead, and I saw his eyes: They were unclouded, the bluest blue I had ever seen and the most fiercely intelligent. I realized he must have been lost in thought, absolutely absorbed in his own mind.
I looked up at the underside of my red umbrella, the fading light making the maroon canopy a dark space.
Purposefully, I strode to the edge of the 7/11 parking lot, toward his seat on the curb, fully intending to give him my umbrella. (The walk back to my apartment would only take several minutes anyway.)
Suddenly, there was a squeal of breaks and a flash of light, and a golden sports-car swerved into the parking lot. The passenger door opened upwards — this was most definitely a car that did not belong at a 7/11.
“Harley, get in!” a voice giggled from inside.
The movement which followed surprised me more than anything leading up to it thus far: The boy on the curb flicked his legs into the air, spinning on his hands on the curb, in a move like a breakdancer and was, in a flurry of spectacular motion, standing tall in his lavender platform boots. There was a moment in his gymnastics in which his hair once again floated out of his eyes — water droplets spraying everywhere in slow motion — but this time… they met mine…
Can you remember the first time you ever saw ice? No, not ice… the blue part of a flame, the hottest part, closest to the tip of the match…
He ducked into the car and was sped away from me forever. Or so I thought.
Saturday night and colored lights flickered in time with the music in the club. I was dancing alone, which is quite a feat for any woman in a packed club — constantly having to turn down and push away potential partners.
I like dancing alone.
Then, I saw him.
He stood off to the side, in a black suit, black bow tie, white shirt and pink biker gloves. His footwear was normal today — I may not have recognized him if we hadn’t made eye contact. The corner of his mouth quirked up at once — not in a flirtatious way like the other men around me, but in a playful way. An intelligent way. A way that said: we should Talk.
I immediately made my way over.
“Who are you?” I asked.
I realize looking back that this was not a normal way to start a conversation, but his answer wasn’t normal either.
“I’m Moriann’s boyfriend,” he stated matter-of-factly and took a sip of his drink. (Which I found out later was not alcohol, but sparkling water with a strawberry stuck on the rim.)
“Oh,” I hadn’t been sure what I was expecting. Then, “Is your name Harley?”
He snorted, almost spitting out his drink.
“Sometimes. Not really. It’s honestly not important.”
I frowned, brows wrinkling in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Sometimes my name is Harley. Sometimes it’s Zeus or Cali or whatever Mariann feels like. She chooses random names for me all the time. Names don’t really matter anyway, so I don’t care.”
I frowned deeper. “Uh, I think names kind of matter…”
“How so? If my name were Montague or Capulet it wouldn’t change a thing. I’d still be me. I’d still be Mariann’s boyfriend. People who are too picky about their names are exhausting.”
“I’d rather someone know who I am — my essence — than my name.”
“I guess you’re not wrong.” I didn’t fully get it, but I wasn’t worried about it either.
“So you’re not going to tell me who you are?” Mariann’s boyfriend quirked up a pink eyebrow.
I grinned, “I’m extremely curious about you.”
He swallowed. “That’s a bad sign.”
He rolled his eyes, “Didn’t you hear? I’m Mariann’s boyfriend.”
“Using another person to define your identity is cheating. You have to be more than accessory — it may take effort, but it’s necessary. Why can’t we be friends? Aren’t you gay anyway?”
Mariann’s boyfriend laughed, “I’m not gay! I’m a straight, cisgender male!”
I blinked. Surely…?
“Seeing that I have dyed hair and like pink doesn’t mean you know my gender, gender identity or sexuality. You need to check your assumptions. Assumptions go both ways.”
I shrugged, “I guess you’re right. Sorry.”
So Mariann was a woman after all? And: So straight, cis people can be wrongly mistaken for trans or gay? And it’s still a rude mistake?
I felt my hair prickle on the back of my neck and spun around.
A petite woman with split-down-the-middle half white-blonde, half dark-red hair and grey eyes grinned too widely at me. She was wearing the most flashy expensive clothes I had ever seen. Though she was short, she had rippling arm and back muscles. A tattoo peaked out at the edges of her shoulders.
“I see you’ve met Astrid!” Mariann gestured to her boyfriend as though she already knew me and was here with me to introduce him.
“I’m Mariann. What’s your name?” she asked me warmly.
Mariann’s boyfriend rolled his eyes. (He must have grown bored with the subject of names.)
“I’m curious,” I said.
She laughed. Her laugh was like silver bells.
“Okay, Curious. Are you ready to get out of here? Astrid and I could use a new friend who isn’t boring.” Her eyes flashed lightning.
I nodded, too intrigued to argue.
I expected us to head for the exit door, but instead followed Mariann and Astrid up a flight of steps to the roof of the club. The air was cold.
Astrid kindly gave Mariann his jacket — or so I thought. The two of them actually shed the top half of their clothes, revealing matching tattoos that stretched across the entirety of their torsos.
Mariann shivered from the cold. She had to yell over the wind.
“OK CURIOUS!” she shouted, “TAKE IT OFF AND DIVE!!”
She laughed at my shocked face, “It’s the landlocked version of a polar bear dive!” She grabbed my arm and hauled me to the edge of the building. I tried to escape — no thanks, no death today, but she was too strong.
“Look,” she laughed as frightened tears streamed down my cheeks.
I looked over the edge. Barely visible in the edges of the city lights, an abandoned mattress was sitting under us in the ally.
No — it wasn’t an abandoned mattress. It was a random king sized bed!
“Yeah, I had it put there this afternoon,” Mariann said, “Take of your clothes and dive!”
I was terrified. Absolutely terrified.
But for some reason, something in me snapped, and I felt myself pulling my top off, right in front of Mariann and her boyfriend — these strangers with whom I had some odd unspoken connection.
Mariann took my hand. Her boyfriend took her other hand.
We stood on either side of her, our clothes strewn around in the dark on the roof of the club. And the three of us jumped together.
We fell with an epic bounce onto the kingsized bed in the ally. The fall bruised us, but we all laughed to be alive.
Mariann and her boyfriend had a soft moment that caught me off guard. They kissed, gently. Then Mariann turned her attention to me. She reached into a pillow case and pulled out a change of clothes. She pulled them on in the darkness — a silk purple cocktail dress with artsy folds and blue platform heels. Her boyfriend pulled his on too — black dress shirt and pants with purple suspenders that matched her dress.
“Sorry love, I don’t have anything right away. Let me bring the car around and we’ll get you changed.”
They left me alone in the dark. I couldn’t even follow, afraid of being seen by the club patrons, whose raucous conversations still rang out.
Five minutes stretched as long as they could — my mind raced: what if they abandoned me? What if they never come back? What if I die here in the dark?
Suddenly, there was a squeal of breaks and a flash of light and the golden sports-car from the 7/11 was right in front of me.
“Curious, get in!” the same voice from the 7/11 echoed, but it was for me this time, taking me away from my fear and pulling me back into belonging, into the light.
The car was disruptively small. I was squished up against Mariann’s boyfriend; his arm wrapped around me to keep me from sliding around. Now, everything was in perspective. I felt his heart pounding just as mine was from the excitement of our earlier ordeal. A situation that surely would have bothered me an hour ago now meant nothing to me.
These people lived differently. These people understood me. Not because we were in any way similar — not in a conventional sense anyway. We just… didn’t like to be trapped. In other people’s expectations or perceptions or norms or forms of entertainment. We didn’t mind being alone.
Of course, we did. Mind being alone. But that was the whole point. We could be ourselves — by ourselves — without having to adjust to another viewpoint, and also be seen. Be no longer alone. It was like Mariann’s boyfriend said… we understood each other’s essence.