Updated: Oct 24, 2021
Following “Meet Cute, Taylar,” this post is part of a series about how my friendships are love stories, and the way many loves become friends.
February, 2020. The streetside windows at Firecreek Coffee face train tracks. On especially cozy afternoons, I’d sit on one of the window stools there, order a whiskey chai, and watch as trains rumbled through light snow. As flakes melted across the glass, I liked to trace their shadows into my journal. Usually I wouldn’t suggest a first date in a place I like so much, but according to his profile, he was visiting from Colorado, so the risk of bumping into him there again was low. I arrived early to read.
His smile was bigger than I expected. He was bigger than I expected; I must have skimmed past the part of his profile that said 6’5”. In February in Flagstaff, everything about him seemed warm: the flushed face--a foot above mine--, the wide grin, the jacket. The sky was a bright blue; later he’d tell me that he was mesmerized,--how the light caught in my eyes and reflected off my glasses.
He told me stories about growing up, about being a leader in the conservation corps, about being a snowboarder and a lifty, about how the White Mountain Apache trace their relations through their grandparents’ clans--his grandmother’s: Eagle. I told him about the books I loved, about how I moved to Arizona to follow my sister, about my pen pals:-- how my grandmother gave me a stationary set for my 16th birthday.
What I love about writing letters is their tangible trace of a relationship, that they’ve flown the distance between people, and that they carry your smudges to another’s touch. What I said, though, was that it’s like touching another person’s hand, “because of the finger oils.” We laughed louder than the music and espresso machine and main street. And I was sad he was from Colorado.
The next day, I got Korean food with my date/friend R. They offered to drive me home, but I was convinced I could catch the last bus. I didn’t.
As I stood at the empty bus station, the ground already frosting beneath star-strewn dark-city skies, T called me, and though we’d just met yesterday, we talked the whole hour it took me to walk home from downtown, telling secrets and joys and fears, leaning into each other’s voices. Already, he was planning to visit again.
Four days in Colorado, then he was back. A six hour drive. I finished a presentation on colonialism in Palestine for my evening class, changed from heels to flats, and hopped into his truck: Clifford the Big Red Dodge.
We met his friends and went out to celebrate his birthday at my favorite bar in town. My friends call the Green Room the sketchiest bar in Flag, but it’s where all the lifties work as bartenders, and local Indigenous metal bands play the back stage, free music up front. Maybe it’s sketchy, but it’s fun. And though we only got one drink each--me running on no sleep, no food; him driving me home--the night was fun too.
We exchanged cards. A birthday card for T, a Valentine’s day card for me,-- and he read me a penciled poem from his notebook. “Every day with you, is a powder day,” he said. I felt my heart fluff like a fresh foot of snow.
For those of you who don’t ski/snowboard, just know that being compared to a powder day is the highest praise a person could receive. And since that day I’ve always owed T a poem.
He went back to Colorado. I went back to the daily toil of grad school. Sometimes we’d call. Sometimes he’d text me. One night, late, I got a string of drunk texts from him. All evening, men had been buying him drinks, and he wanted to tell me that he felt beautiful, and also that he loved me. Maybe we use the word “love” too lightly, but why should it be heavy?
Then it was March, and the lockdowns began.
Originally, T planned to stay with friends in Flag, but once he saw how lightly they were taking the restrictions, he said he might just live out of his truck in the woods for a few weeks instead, before going to stay with family. "Or you could stay with me," I suggested.
My roommate, a professor of religion, had moved out a week beforehand, and there's no way I was going to let someone I knew sleep in their truck in a pandemic in April at 7,000' elevation. So, for ten days, making sure he didn't show any symptoms, he stayed with me. R checked in with me: "How are things going?"
"I've become a queer stereotype," I answered. "After three dates with someone, I asked them to move in with me!" Of course it wasn't really the stereotype--it was the circumstance--and our third "date" had been a long walk, during which we'd discussed what we'd want or expect out of a relationship. I explained that I'm aroace (aromantic and asexual), and that I'd be comfortable with him dating others while dating me.
I think the joy of queer relationships is that they don't rely on stereotypes or scripts, but rather demand very open communication. Queer loves aren't just brave; they're also honest. This was the first time I'd really felt that I knew myself and what I wanted well enough to articulate it, and that I trusted my own boundaries enough to ask the other person what they wanted. Instead of making assumptions about what the other person should do or desire, we were able to talk about it.
While T stayed with me, we went to a petroglyph-swept cave overlooking the Grand Canyon, clambered through the ice-toothed mouth of a lava tube, and read through a few of my poetry collections. One evening after dinner (homemade risotto and white wine) we laid on the floor as shadows fell through the window, and talked, holding hands, until dark.
I often joke that I have a "backlogged emotional processer": it can take me a few weeks to feel something. T does not have this problem. He feels things fully and immediately in a way I wish I could. T cried while I read nature poems from Deer at Twilight and The Late Poems of Wang An-Shih, cried while watching a short film about elderly runners, cried while laughing...
After he went to stay with his family elsewhere in Arizona and I called him to say that I was moving to Virginia to stay with my family for the summer, he cried again. He also had the courage to tell me that he'd realized physical affection was something he really wanted out of his primary relationship. So we re-categorized to friends. Not much changed, even as the rest of the world changed.
Over the summer, we called each other. One evening, after a BLM protest, I sat on the balcony for nearly two hours, listening to him and watching fireflies drift through the trees across the lake. Oftentimes, we'd leave each other short voicemails, a poem or sweet message. A passage from one of the spiritual/environmental books he was reading. I sent him sloppy embroidery pieces in the mail.
In the autumn, when I moved back to Flagstaff, he came to visit me. We drank black tea outside, and he gave me a purple bouquet and one of his Southwest Conservation Corps hoodies. It fell all the way to my knees, so I cropped it above the pocket.
I'm not a very affectionate person. I try to be, but even when I feel like I'm being clear about my feelings, people often tell me that I seem cold, or bored of them, or even like I'm hiding some dislike. I've heard this from friends, from a man I worked with and admire, from dates, from my sister even (yes, the one I followed to Arizona). This perceived coldness may be in part because I'm not physically affectionate, and will sometimes cringe when people go in for a hug. The hoodie is one of my favorite gifts. It's the type of hug I can accept with ease.
It's the type of gift that makes me aspire to give more, in the ways I'm capable of. More voicemails, and letters, and hikes (someday), and more love stories, too.
Earlier this year--when I moved up to Washington--T sent me the link to a playlist for my road trip; he remembered that I liked his music when we drove to the Grand Canyon. The playlist is titled "You," and its description reads: "feels like powder days."
He’s got a smile like Krishna’s mouth--it’s got
the light of a whole universe
inside:-- the universe a garden,
and he’s a gardener, cultivat-
ing the good in people, and in trees, which
he’ll spend hours beneath, enchanted
by pine needles shifting
overhead. I read poems,
and he weeps. We kiss
in the depths of an ice-rimmed lava tube, and
his smile kaleidoscopes our headlamps
--stone walls becoming
the world’s iridescent navel,
papered with meltwater
pages of poetry,-- and dark blooms in refracted