I met a girl once while I was sitting on a bus bench trying to decide if I had enough money for a cup of coffee and the bus ride home. I remember being terribly depressed, I felt awful about everything I was as a person and I didn’t know what to do about it. A girl sat next to me and we nodded at each other. I remember I immediately thought she was high as a kite, something about the way she stared at me so wide eyed made me feel like I was missing out.
We chatted; she showed me the beat up guitar that she had just purchased at a pawnshop. She was so proud of it, so proud that she had saved up seventy-five whole dollars to have a guitar of her own. She played a little for me, she stroked my face with her calloused fingertips, then she took my hand and held it softly like a small animal.
Her fingers stroked mine, she outlined the tips of my badly manicured nails and she radiated contented awe that made me blush. She told me that I was every feminine thing she wanted to be but didn’t know how. She kissed the back of my fingers and I trembled.
Buses came and went, we sat without speaking, holding hands for a long time. Older queer people walked by us and smiled the way you do at young couples. When it began to get cold she invited me to have a cup of coffee with her at her apartment. We sat together on her old plaid couch; her two cats curled up in the small space between us and I felt at home.
That was more than a decade ago and I’ve forgotten many things since then but I remember her hand and her awe. I remember she made love to me as if she might break me. She wasn’t high as I’d originally thought, she was just one of those people who lived half already out of this world. She spoke slowly and chose her words with great care.
She admired my undone eyebrows and smudged eyeliner, my chipped nails and wild pubic hair. The entire time she examined and loved my body she explained how powerful I could be if I learned how to manage and wield my femmeness like a weapon.
After we made love we lay smoking in her messy bed, she told me about dancing at her first powwow a few years before and I told her about reading my poetry for the first time. We talked about music and I wrote down the names of my favorite poets for her. She called me her African Queen.
After that I only saw her rarely, and when we met on the street she would cup my face and kiss me tenderly. She would hold me at arms length and look up and down my body with a mix of fondness and lust. We spent hours kissing on her couch, reading together, playing girlfriends. Over time she would spend less time talking to me as her drug habit took over.
The last time I saw her I wept. She looked terrible and gaunt. The roundness of her face that I had been so enamored of was gone. She explained that her parents had found out she was a lesbian and disowned her, she’d lost her apartment and had to pawn her guitar. I let her hold me in her scrawny arms while I cried on the street. I got myself together and asked if there was anything I could do for her and she was quiet for a long time. Her response was simple all she said was, “Stay a queen beautiful, just stay a queen.”
We both knew how that story was going to end. We said goodbye and walked away from each other forever. She did not grow up to be a famous folksinger songwriter. I heard from a mutual friend about her OD.
I survived. I’m 35 years old as I write this. I made it through everything and grew up to be a queen.
Shannon Barber is an author from Seattle. She writes things both true and false. Most of her time not writing is spent commuting and crocheting. To read more of her work visit her at www.shannon-writes.net.