The first night I kissed a woman was clear and cold. The wind smelled of snow, and as we walked the paths of Boston's Public Garden, the streetlights making the frost around us sparkle, we kept our hands shoved deep in our coat pockets. Her coat was a brilliant emerald green that seemed to glow in the light. It matched the color of her eyes.
That coat was the first thing I'd ever noticed about her, a week before. We'd met online but had traded no pictures. I'd done plenty of online dating but never before with another woman. She was much more experienced but knew enough to be careful with my shyness. Finally, we'd agreed to meet in a coffee shop. Leaving the train station to walk the few blocks there, I'd spotted a woman in that beautiful green coat, golden hair tumbling in waves over her shoulders. I'd never seen her before — and yet. Somehow I thought it was her. I walked to the coffee shop half-hoping, half-knowing it was her. And half-wishing it wasn't. That my life wasn't about to change.
But then the coffee shop door opened. And the woman in the green coat walked in.
Then, a week of coffees and drinks. Each time we'd met, I'd gotten nervous and rambled to her like a friend — then pretty much turned and ran as soon as the date, or whatever it was, was over. I hadn't touched her. She hadn't touched me. Just: ramble. Run. The night before, we'd finally had dinner together at a hippie-ish Tibetan place where nothing cost more than a few dollars and the wooden tables were beat up. When she sat down at the table, she'd slid her coat off her shoulders and revealed that she was wearing a silver sequin top slit down deep between her breasts. I stopped drinking my tea. I'm pretty sure I gulped. She grinned, and I got the point: we weren't just friends. Could I please get over my nerves, already? But at the end of the night, I ran again.
Now we stood atop a little stone arched bridge in the garden. It could have belonged in a fairy tale. Might have had a billy goat beneath it. She took her hands out of her pockets and rubbed them together, then turned and faced me. Close enough that I could see how the wind had made her eyes water, her eyelashes glisten. We were going to kiss — I could feel that we were going to kiss — and though the wind rushed cold around me, time stretched.
She looked up at me. Those eyes. Then she said, "There's something about me you should know."
And she told me her father had sexually assaulted her. For years.
There was a time — right after the day the Access Hollywood tape came out in 2016 — when it seemed like we might finally be ready to pay serious attention to the prevalence of sexual assault in this country. When it seemed like ignoring it might actually, for once, hurt someone other than those of us who live with it in our bodies.
Typing that now, though, seems almost naïve, with President Trump in the Oval Office and Clarence Thomas still sitting comfortably on the Supreme Court.
I listened to her talk. We didn't kiss then. Mostly, I was quiet, watching her. I asked some gentle questions when it seemed like she wanted them. Afterward, we walked around the park for a long time. Eventually we did kiss, and I remember the surprise of how sweet her mouth tasted and how full her lips were — but mostly I remember her words. My quiet.
And my shock.
Because while she spoke I realized that I'd never considered this part of dating women. That dating women — statistically radically more likely to be sexually assaulted than men — would mean navigating the memories they carried in their bodies. And navigating how to carry mine.