I met Stephanie at an event somewhere on campus in our various roles as political organizers. It was important in college to be involved in something, no matter how little influence we might have on the world. A part of us knew it was a game, but we dove in headfirst with all the energy and enthusiasm of youth, and the skill of the same. We argued with each other mostly, because yelling about language was more accessible than having real conversations with people who came from different worlds. It was easier to discuss the nuances of feminist literary theory than it was to organize the Walmart employees, who just ten years earlier had lost well paying jobs at the now abandoned factories.
She had long brown hair with hints of red that felt like autumn. Her face was round, her hands strong, and she intimidated me instantly. Everyone knew she was a lesbian, and she had a friend with a shaved head. I was toying with my sexuality, as all of us were, and I tagged along to write letters, raise money, and stare at this woman who scared me and drew me in at the same time. But she flirted with me when I wasn’t paying attention, and we slowly began to spend more and more time together.
One afternoon I told her I was getting attached to her. We were walking and laughing and it felt like a natural thing to say. It was as close as I could come to saying I think I’m falling for you. I think I might love you, or at least want you. You make my heart do strange things, and I think about you far too often.
She smiled at me and shook her head. Don’t do that she said. Don’t ever get attached to me.
This was not all my love for all my life. This was not, I long for you too. And yet, there she was, still holding my hand as we walked through the falling leaves on a chilly afternoon. She smiled and she laughed. She leaned in closely to me, and at that moment I decided I wouldn’t mention it again. I had no illusions that my feelings might change, not that I really understood them, but I was sure that talking was the problem, not doing. Not being, or acting, because all of those things were easy. She didn’t tell me to go away. We were together, not separated by slow words and the post office, and I suppressed every urge I had to work something out with words.
The first time we climbed into bed she was on the phone with an ex-boyfriend. It’s not a romantic story, and even now I’m amazed at my nerve and her response. I was lounging in her room, like I had learned quickly to do, and she had been on the phone for nearly twenty minutes. She mouthed apologizes, but made no move to hang up. I finally stood behind her and wrapped my arms around her. She smiled at me over her shoulder and let her body fall against my own. When I slid my hands beneath her shirt she did nothing, and when I undid the button on her jeans she sighed as she wiggled out of them.
Before we ever kissed I knelt on Stephanie’s floor, my mouth between her thighs as she struggled not to give anything away to the man on the other end of the receiver. When she finally mumbled her goodbyes, we crawled to the couch where we lost the rest of our clothes. I’d like to say we made love, and maybe we did, but what I remember is that we fucked. We fucked and we fucked, hours slipping by with our young bodies somehow pushing us on through orgasm and recovery, until finally we were simply done. I held her and kissed her, and she caressed my face without saying a word. I choked back all the sweet things I wanted to say, and somehow I managed to let her smile be enough. I desperately wanted her words, but somewhere within me I knew that her breath and her skin were all she had to offer, and they were a far greater gift for it.
And so suddenly I had a relationship with no words at all. We saw each other most every day, we fucked hard and often, and we took longs walks and attended lectures and concerts together. We ate together, studied together, and did all the things that couples do without ever once mentioning that fact at all. For a long time it felt precarious, like it might fall and break at any moment, but as the months went by it was simply what it was.
It was love without words. It was a relationship without boundaries, and it was in fact a fragile and tactile thing, that while nearly impossible to destroy with action, could be brought down with a few simple words that I held in my throat each time they pushed to the surface.