The selection is from chapter 7 “Bohemian Rhapsody” and it’s here that the author begins to explore herself and life as a young queer woman
I had wanted to live somewhere different, where I didn’t know a soul. When I moved to Vancouver, I thought a new address and new province also warranted a new handle. I tried “J.T.” on for size. Nobody else really picked up on it, but I wanted it to catch. How did k.d. pull it off? In lower case, no less! I was heavily into J.D. Salinger at this point too, so initials were necessary, as I was a writer and making my mark at Cockroach. Shannon saw through the transparency of my name immediately. On the first day I met her in the backyard, she said flatly, “J.T.? What’s your real name?” She pressed until I caved, and I was never J.T. again with her.
Shannon proved my fraudulence a few times, not with a mean intention—more so out of her sage experience with strife. When she let me tag along to a sweat lodge with her, it became clear that I was some eighteen-year-old rather privileged schmuck, dumpster diving for fun, sitting in a sweat lodge with a group of women who were faced with real demons, addictions and loss. I was shiny and unscathed. Shannon would become my “older sister” in a sense—free to tell me where and when I was going wrong and being a dork.
On the flip side, she guided me to a place she had already discovered years ago and took me to my first gay bar, the Lotus Club, where they had lesbian dances every Friday. It was like I had to earn my stripes with Shannon, and I was willing. We drank Okanagan pear ciders and took in the crowd. Although I was taking it all in, in huge gulps, I played it cool with Shannon at my side, and I expressed interest in a woman with kinky hair and a laugh that boomed over the music. Shannon said her name was Cherry and she was a carpenter or something. And Shannon assured me, “She’ll never be interested in you. You’re just a pup.”
Shannon turned her attention to Angelina, a femme she’d been chasing for months, who wore spurs on her cowboy boots. I was left nursing the last of my cider and decided to chat up this Cherry. I said really doorknob things like, “If you married Don Cherry, you’d be Cherry Cherry. Or, if you married right fielder Darryl Strawberry, you’d be Cherry Strawberry.” Yeah, pathetic! But Cherry made eye contact, drank her Bud and politely blew cigarette smoke over my head.
“You’re Shannon’s roommate?” she asked me.
“Yeah. Shannon says you’d never sleep with me because I’m just some young pup.”
Cherry smiled. “Well, Shannon doesn’t know everything.”
We obviously talked longer than that, but I have no idea about what. Salt-N-Pepa were drowning out most of our yelled words to each other, which was probably a good thing for me and my conversation starters. Cherry bought me a Bud, and I took that as a good sign. I was ready for anything. Angelina and her spurs left the bar early, Shannon pouted, and I told Shannon I was going home with Cherry, for sure. Shannon didn’t believe it (nor did I), but it happened.
In her grass-green Fiat Spider with the top down, Cherry and I cruised through Vancouver’s East Side. The September air was clean and electric, but the car was so tiny I felt like there wasn’t enough space for my beating heart. Her hand slid between my legs, and I reciprocated. We drank more beer at her house, a spartan rental with creaky wood floors and limited decor. I didn’t care— I wasn’t there for decor. Cherry put on groovy mood music, just like they do in the movies (Natalie Merchant, I think?).
She had been up since six that morning and was ready for the sack. I had been ready for the sack for years! Cherry’s mattress was on the floor, and our doubly smoky bar clothes were piled in a quick heap. I felt her up and down, bones, skin, kinky hair—it was happening. I had moved from a dormant gay to Yes I Am! This was better than a silly high school diploma; I had graduated into a real, practicing lesbian.
Cherry and I didn’t become an item. This was okay with me, though; a one-night heavy-petting session fulfilled our needs. I was undeniably grateful for that one smouldering night, and every time I saw Cherry at the Lotus (where she was a fixture), I’d quiver a little, remembering those bony hips and her experienced tongue.
Excerpt from Free to a Good Home: With Room for Improvement, by Jules Torti (Dagger Editions, 2019)