story / Maggie Craig
illustrations / Sierra Joy
I spent that summer covered in sweat and bruises. I was two months out of college, working at a bike shop in the West Village, and thinking I was cool as shit because now I was living for real. I’d planned an open mic night at the HUB and one of my bosses, a loaded Richie Rich boy-in-a-man’s-body, bought bags of ice and cases of fancy beer to convince the three punkish baristas from down the street to come. Daphne, Helena, and Cedric: they stood in the back and didn’t participate, but stuck around after and brought some of their friends by to drink the free booze. We were sitting in a circle in the middle of the sidewalk and complaining about the shitty music thumping out of Casa de la Femme when Daphne suggested that we play never have I ever. I thought I’d be done with that shit when I got out of college, but Daphne was a total babe and I kind of liked her, so I was all about it.
At the very least the game gave me the chance to let everyone know that I was a lesbian; I’d just decided that subtly (or blatantly) letting people know that I was in the all girls’ club would make my life whole lot easier—that way the boys didn’t bother and the ladies knew where I stood. And it was just so easy to say, “Never have I ever slept with a man,” and endure the following gold star comments. A week later I would chop off all my hair and start to wear flannel button downs with the sleeves torn off.
I was sitting outside of MOJO a few days after the haircut, on one of the rare occasions that I had worked an early shift. Daphne was getting off too and said that we should go get beers at Radio Bar. I agreed, but thought that she was kidding because it was two in the afternoon. Turned out she was serious, so we went and I sipped on a whiskey while she told me all of the trials and travails of her past relationships. As the day drew on it seemed like she didn’t want to leave me, which was strange because I’d never experienced attention like that from someone I was actually interested in. And so began a year and a half of misery and torment, spotted with some of the most beautiful moments of my life, like the shadows cast on the sidewalk outside of MOJO, even today when Cedric and Daphne and Helena are long gone, when I take my usual break at five or six and stare off at the concrete that’s mostly shadowed but occasionally speckled with golden light.
Daphne was moving home to Maryland in three weeks, but we started spending almost every day together. She’d been sort of seeing this mechanic at the bike shop but they weren’t really dating and she was also still hung up on this crazy dude named Owen who went to all of the punk shows at 538 Johnson—where Cedric lived—but I didn’t care. I was falling for her and she kept giving me just enough attention to make me think that maybe she liked me back.
Three weeks: She invited me to an art opening at this bar called Brooklyn Fireproof. I biked to Bushwick after work and wondered where the hell I was because I’d never been to Bushwick before and the streets were dark and empty and choked with potholes and this bar was in the middle of fucking nowhere. But the place was packed. Daphne and Helena showed up and got free drinks right away from the bartender because he was a friend of theirs. They went outside to smoke and I noticed that Daphne’s lips were blood red and her skin pale in the bar’s blue outdoor light.
Three weeks: We all went to see The Big Lebowski in that park on the river in DUMBO and she was sitting in front of me so I told her she could lean back on my legs. Her shorts were short enough that when she lifted her body to sit on my feet I could feel her bare ass cheeks on my toes and it had to be a sign that she liked me or she would’ve moved, right? But after the movie she said she was going to the mechanic she was fucking’s place in Queens so I decided to meet a friend at ladies’ night at Metropolitan, where I could find some random girl to make out with. We biked together to Williamsburg and she seemed mad when I left her, pointing her toward the bridge to the other borough, and for countless days after that I tortured myself—why didn’t I ask her to come back with me to hang out at my apartment? Why didn’t I even think of just asking her?
Three weeks: I sat in a tattoo shop for a couple hours, watching Daphne’s back piece get colored in. She asked me if I wanted to come with her and at the time it seemed like it would be the most amazing thing ever. When the tattoo was finished Daphne was sore and said she deserved a fucking drink, so we got margaritas to go from The Turkey’s Nest and went to McCarren, where we sat under a tree and watched the people walk by. I worked up some courage and told her how I was kind of broken, how I’d go to lesbian bars and queer parties and get nearly blackout drunk—or completely blackout drunk—and I’d take a girl back with me to my apartment and I’d forget her name but still give her my number even though I knew I’d never text her back. I had never really talked to anyone about this, about how acting like that tormented me, but I still did it anyway and I didn’t know why. Daphne didn’t seem to judge me for it. Our arms were pressed together. It was humid and our skin was clammy. My whole body and soul felt charged with electricity and I knew then, if I hadn’t known already, that I loved her.
Three weeks: Me and Daphne and Helena got matching unicat tattoos at a fundraiser at Fireproof. Daphne left early because she had to open MOJO the next day. She texted me an hour later to say I could come over if I wanted to hang more, but I didn’t see it until I got back to Bed-Stuy because I’m an idiot and I never check my phone.
Three weeks: She was housesitting in the West Village for her last week in New York and asked me to come over to watch a bad movie and get takeout from Pies and Thighs. The whole thing was so fucking awkward. I sensed that she probably liked me, but she was being so weird and distant that I couldn’t be sure. After the movie she went back in the bedroom to pack and didn’t say much, so I mumbled a goodbye that she didn’t even hear and left.
Everyone went over to the house on her last night in town. Cedric and Helena and Richie Rich and the mechanic she would sometimes hook up with and the other one who had a crush on her and Owen the psycho punk dude and a few other friends. We decided we’d stay up until sunrise. Eventually Owen and Daphne went into the kitchen and they were talking for what seemed like forever. I crawled out to the fire escape to listen to the early morning sounds of the West Village. Eventually the curtain pulled aside, but it wasn’t Daphne, it was her friend who had called me out for being a gold star during the never have I ever game.
When I asked where Daphne was she rolled her eyes and said that her and Owen were fucking on the roof. Suddenly the whole world felt swollen, like it was about to burst, and I was tired and the taxis below were already blaring their horns even though it wasn’t even six in the morning yet. So I left, I just left.
Maybe it could’ve ended there—Daphne went back to Maryland and I never heard from her again. But no, we were fated to torment each other—two fucked-up people fucking each other up even worse.
Can you glean the middle from the beginning and the end? Flash forward two years to Daphne’s stoop in Bed-Stuy. We had finally started dating after a year of back and forth and insane behavior that was even worse than those first three weeks. I like to think that we were really great together. At the very least, I know that when we said we loved each other, we both meant it, if maybe not in the same way. But in the end I fucked it all up, and she let me.
Flash forward two years to her stoop in Bed-Stuy. I’m just starting to feel human again after my first real heartbreak. I’m finally able to talk about how it all ended, and she says to me:
“You have this way of breaking things when you sense that they’re ending. Instead of just letting it happen you shatter everything into a million pieces, which is fine—no really, it’s fine, because that’s who you are—but then you have to pick everything up and put it all back together and sometimes…. Sometimes you miss some things and then it’s just not ever going to be the same again.”