Another night at Divine Divas and by now I was no longer scared. I hosted the monthly drinking session before we went out to the club, me and the international collective of dykes who I’d met through the university LGBT society, of which I was now the women’s officer. #37 lived around the corner from me and she was only studying in Edinburgh for a term, which was just my luck, especially as it took me till late November to get my act together with her. Back at my place after closing time we made out like whoa against the wall in my bedroom before moving to the bed. My first night with a woman and the next night I was off to the St Andrew’s Day ball with #36, who’d bought me eye-shadow and nail polish for the occasion, I kid you not. (He also took me to the opera, something I’d never experienced before and haven’t since.)
I honestly don’t remember what happened over the next couple of weeks: whether #37 called things off because of #36, whether I did for similar reasons, or whether we both got sidetracked by academic pressure. All I know is that I finished things with #36 anyway, and then late on the night before my twentieth birthday, I finally finished the essay on medieval Spanish something or other that had been driving me crazy for too long, and went round to Hermit’s Croft where she and her flatmates were celebrating Christmas early. #37’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who disowned her for a year when she came out to them, and she had never had Christmas or birthday presents. I remember the rainbow flag in her bedroom and the fact that she was uncharacteristically wearing a skirt, and when she walked me down to the entrance of her building it took us a long long time to say goodbye, things were getting kind of hot.
There was my birthday: a dyke takeover of the Mission, and then there was Joy, the next night, where I referred to her as “ma petite amie” to some French people I met, and kissed her in full view of some women I knew from the scene, which was tokenistic – look, I’m really with a girl, I’m not just a tourist! – but also, whatever, when I kissed her I meant it. And then there was one more night left before she moved back to the States. We drank a bottle of wine in my room. I was nervous but I also felt safe with her.
Lying together in my single bed, she told me secrets. She was more open than anyone I knew, intense without being needy. After she left for good in the morning, I inhaled the pillow, I wanted her scent to stay with me. For a couple of years, I’d get phone calls once in a blue moon, in the middle of the night. She never seemed to pay attention to time zones but it was always exhilarating to hear her voice.
My sister gave me a hologrammatic photo frame at Christmas, and a couple of months later she told me she didn’t want to hear about me being with girls because it was gross and disgusting. My flatmate Katrina had taken a picture of #37 and me holding each other on my bed; she thought we looked sweet together. I put the picture in the frame and kept it there for a long time.