Restricted Movements

By Liz Baudler

There was a tow-zone sign in the space I pulled into, just briefly, to drop her off. I would have parked somewhere else, but looking down the street, rows of car doors gleamed in my headlights. I pushed the gearshift forward into park and turned to look at the girl I had spent the evening with. Her milky skin glowed even in the shadows, and occasionally a bit of light would strike the top of her cropped, glossy black curls. She had an alert, attentive face with eyebrows that would raise slowly when she wanted to know something, not that she would tell you what it was she wanted to know.

We had not spoke once on the twenty-minute ride to her apartment, except when I hit a pothole so hard we both bounced up in our seats and I said “sorry, sorry”, compulsively. Yes, the dancing was the most fun I’d had in years, but we hadn’t touched once in three hours and shared only about two hundred words. As the bassline pulsed around us, my eyes had been sneaking glances at another, older female couple as they spun into each other, their hands draping languidly over the other’s palms. They grabbed each other around the waist and swayed. Occasionally one’s head would rest on the other’s shoulder. One day, I said to myself, I would like to dance like that. Tonight wasn’t that night. We’d just met, and something, maybe my own terror or some unconscious signal, told me to give this girl space, to let her explore, to not interrupt, to stand back and watch, like I had done with the various cats of various friends. I did, and by the end of the dance, I felt, somehow, that we had stepped closer; though no one’s arm had reached out towards anyone’s shoulder, we were dancing together.

So there we were, my date and I, watching each other in the shadows of my Monte Carlo. Given how the rest of the evening had gone, I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to say anything. Which left me to say something, except that I had no idea what to say. First of all, I had never been on a date before. My previous and only relationship had been a blossoming friendship with no real dating involved, and no one else had given a shit since. There’d been a few girls I’d admired, but no one enough to ask out for coffee. The only reason we were here at all was that speed-dating had helpfully informed us of our “mutual interest”, we had communicated solely over Facebook message, and she was the one who suggested the psychedelic dance, to which I’d said yes, and immediately started wondering why we weren’t going out for coffee, like any other potential couple.

Then I’d arrived forty minutes early, in the rain without an umbrella. I’d contented myself with a Pacman machine thoughtfully programmed for continuous play (I lost about 50 times), and at 6:55 I walked over to the building where the soiree should be held. There was a disco ball shimmering close to the ceiling, and colored lights flashing against normally gray walls. Funk blasted throughout the first floor, which bummed me out, since I thought “psychedelic” meant spins of “Her Satantic Majesty’s Request” and “I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In”. But that was a minor issue. It was 7 pm, the dance was supposed to start, and the dance floor was…empty. Even a security guard felt compelled to ask me why I was there.

I took out the copy of Antigone that I had helpfully shoved in my purse in case, I don’t know, things got boring, sat at a table far away from the disco ball and strobe lights and winced. When my date finally arrived at 7:30, the dance floor was still filled with shadows.

At this point, awkwardness was crippling my little stomped-upon heart. My date had given me a cursory glance and glided out to where the music beckoned. I just wanted to curl up into a ball under one of the tables and will myself to disappear.

But I didn’t do that.

Instead, I decided the frustration and incompetence and empty dance floor were good for something. I bounded over the concrete floor in my sock feet, shaking the hair I hadn’t bothered to put in a ponytail since it looked nice for once. I shook my arms and legs free of the desire to shrivel, kicking my feet up and down so rapidly I probably looked like I was riding a bicycle in midair. Truthfully, I could never even master the Electric Slide, but I didn’t care. The dancing was something to do, something to throw myself into, to forget about the unspeakable horror of the evening.

Occasionally in this first ten minutes, I glanced over at my—was she a date at this point? We had barely said hello. She danced the exact same way, arms thrown up into the air shimmering over her head, her curls quivering as she leapt. Clearly, she didn’t care that I couldn’t dance. When we finally gasped for breath after our brief bout with Terpsichorean possession, she asked me if I wanted to dance in her music video the following weekend. She was a folksinger, and a damn good one. It beats me how she made this decision so quickly, let alone that I said yes.

So now we were in my car. The date had ended. We were at that point in the script in a mostly unscripted evening.

I don’t even remember what I said. One of those comments that lays everything out and yet establishes nothing, along the lines of, “Well, that was fun, you’re a really good dancer,” and then she would have said, “Yeah, I had fun too, thank you,” or if she had been feeling a little bolder, “You’re a really good dancer too,” and I would have blushed slightly because I’ve forgotten how to accept compliments, and been like, “Thanks…” and then would have said, “I’ll see you next weekend,” because we had already made plans for next weekend, I’d be dancing in her music video, and then, “Have a good night,” and she would have said “You too”, and gracefully exited the car into the misty evening, leaving me to ponder our mostly wordless date and what it had meant. We followed this script to the point where she had her hand on the handle that if pushed one push further, would have opened the car door.

But she didn’t do that.

She reached across the center compartment and gave me a one-armed hug. As I was not expecting this gesture, the result was frankly pathetic. The most I managed to do was to cup my hand around her left shoulder. There was a good foot of space between our chests. It was sad, this hug. It conveyed so many things I did not want to convey—that I had not had fun, that I did not want to see her again, and while I knew the first was totally false, I wasn’t sure about the second and I wanted to leave my options open and not squash them with a tepid embrace.

I blamed my car. The separate bucket seats, the giant knob of the gearshift, and the immobile, blobby, center compartment all served to make any affectionate reach questionable and misconstrued. A further awkwardness piled up on all the other awkwardnesses of the evening. This will not do, I thought. No matter what I think of a person, a goodbye hug should be a goodbye hug. She hadn’t yet turned back to the door. Her arm still lingered on my shoulder, the back of my hand still brushing the tips of her curly black hair.

Suddenly we found ourselves with breasts pressed together and our foreheads forming a kind of arch. Well, it had started out as a better hug. Some part of me that likes to slap its little forehead whenever I mispronounce words or talk too softly at parties was squeaking, “But…all I wanted to do was give you a real hug…no, no, not this, not this, I didn’t want THIS, I promise!”

Our lips twitched closer together and our arms wrapped tighter, and then we kissed. I was proud I had remembered to kiss with my lips open (I’d had trouble doing that all the other times I’d kissed), but then instantly regretted it. Within our second kiss, she had stuck her tongue in my mouth. And having never opened my mouth while kissing other people, you can bet I’d never been French-kissed before, not even as a joke.

 

***

When our lips met the first time, no, in the second when we’re bending toward each other and impact seemed imminent, the phrase, “here we go,” resounded in my head. This quickly catapulted itself into, “Oh, here we go again.” Is it official, now that it’s the second time in my life I’ve made out with a girl? Is this what it’s going to be from now on, despite the lack of any evidence to the contrary? Is it more official now that I have her saliva in my mouth?

For someone so woefully inexperienced, I didn’t have any of the problems one normally has in this predicament. I didn’t think I was going to swallow her tongue, or choke on it, or bite it off. Her breath wasn’t even bad. I’ll admit I was confused—I may have ended up licking her teeth at one point, which didn’t seem right to me. At some moments my tongue just sat there like a lethargic alligator in the sun as hers swirled around my mouth, trying to rouse it. Eventually I licked back. I did, however, have the reaction to all this that it seemed everyone else in the world had 5-7 years earlier than me—that this, especially the teeth-licking, was not exactly sexy.

But we kept going, I kept licking her teeth, she my gums, our lips crashing into each other, and she wasn’t pulling away in horror. In fact, she was pressing into me more, the kisses becoming throatier, deeper. I worked my right hand free of the curls of her body, reached over for the dangling keys, and turned off the running engine. My eyes cast downward, I saw her stomach stretched taut over the gearshift. Meanwhile, I was basically upright, maybe a little canted her direction, in my stiff bucket seat. I took a breath, swallowed.

“Um, is the gearshift getting in your way?”

We broke apart for a second, investigating how far we’d traveled from our original positions. She looked down and laughed. Only then did I unbuckle my seatbelt. She snuggled against my stomach. Every window in the car was foggy, which still did not stop me from flinching every time a pair of headlights flashed by. Well, I was already pulled over. Could you be arrested for making out in a car? Would it be worse since we both had breasts? Most crucially, how would I call my mother to inform her that the Chicago Police had brought me in for A. Making out on a darkened Lakeview sidestreet in what was technically her car, and B. with a girl, no less, when I had told her that some professor had invited me to a reading and I’d be home late?

As if it had the answer to everything, my crotch began tightening and tingling in a familiar manner, though one I rarely felt when there was an actual human being two feet away from me. Who—and maybe this was just more paranoia or god forbid, lust—kept glancing over at the glowing glass door of her building, and then at an open parking spot diagonal from where we currently sat.

Though I tend to ring up large monthly bills at Dunkin’ Donuts and bookstores, have books I’ve never opened and clothes I’ve never ripped tags off of, and my writing keeps getting pushed to later and later in the day, I still hold firmly to the belief that I am good at denying myself things I want. Perhaps even a little too good at it. Or actually, maybe it was the fact that I knew I didn’t want this, didn’t want to be the kind of girl who had sex on the first date, that made me not give in to either of these signals. Or maybe it was that this would have been not just any old sex, but you know, the first time I’d have sex. Or maybe that I would have been home way too late for any excuse to my hopefully slumbering mother to sound plausible. Or maybe inadvertently becoming the kind of girl who makes out in a car was enough for me. Or maybe it was because I was parked in a tow-zone.

We went back to pressing our lips together instead, the paranoia bubbling up through me now, scarcely calmed by her stroking my back. At some point—I had learned for the first time this evening that I couldn’t go too long without saying something, no matter how inconsequential it was—I pulled my slimy face away from hers and in that squeaky voice that belonged to the part of me now hiding under a table going “I CAN’T LOOK!”, I said, “can you tell I’m not very good at this?”

There is only one good response to that question, and my date had it. She giggled, yes, but then she went back to kissing me as if I had never said anything at all.

***

I hadn’t heard that old song, “At Seventeen” until a few weeks ago. I heard of it on a list of the 50 most depressing songs, so I had heard nothing good about “At Seventeen”. Yes, it sounds like it should be playing in an elevator full of hula-skirted women. And perhaps it is the slightest bit depressing. But I am fairly sure a wise person once said that truth is depressing. Janis Ian, by the way, later came out as a lesbian. You can sort of tell when you listen to a song that like. How many misguided young women invented a lover on the phone with a husky voice and a 5 o’clock shadow, not knowing they really wanted someone with a body like their own? But everyone knew. Especially the boys. They marvel at how quickly you can read a book, that you know the name of the actress who played Princess Leia without ever having seen Star Wars, but they never ask you to Homecoming. You turn eighteen and you think you were just waiting this whole time for something to happen and now it will. And it does, but not what you expect.

One day a girl comes along and dances with you in a forest preserve. She kisses first your cheek and then your lips. She leaves you two months later. You were going to have two children and live in a log cabin by the lake. She never stuck her tongue inside your mouth, but that doesn’t matter. You never thought you were worthy of it in the first place, and the second time seems like it will never come. You wrote of this first girl in your journal that she seemed like she might be the one and only, and that was before the two of you even admitted to liking each other. It is official. No one will ever want to kiss you again. No one will ever want to call you their girlfriend. It took you 18 years to have the first relationship; it may take you another 18 to have the second.

You will go gay speeddating and no one will like you. You will go to a gay coffeehouse and listen to a folksinger strum her homemade dulcimer and sing a song about how no one gets told they are gay or anything and you want to talk to her so bad you get in your car to leave when the event is over, then get out muttering to yourself, “carpe diem”. But you don’t. You see her walking away down the street ten feet ahead of you, and you don’t run after her. You call up your friend Dan and leave a mawkish message about what a coward you are and how this girl too, seemed like the only girl you’d ever want to go out with. A few weeks later, you place an “I Saw You” in the Reader for her, with the title “Didn’t Wave at New Wave” (the name of the coffeeshop). You admit this to no one until years later.

You grow out your hair and start volunteering at a lesbian event at a feminist bookstore. You read at gay poetry readings, always mentioning that you are single. Your hopes not high, you go gay speeddating again. And there is a girl there with curly black hair and glasses and a big lopsided smile who asks you if you like music. It is the folksinger, and according to the email the event organizers send a week later, she likes you.

***

We were parked in a tow zone, and thus, we never left my car. When this “nonsense”, as the Victorian gentleman in me was already clamoring to call it, had stretched for perhaps twenty minutes glowing green on my car’s dashboard clock, and our passion was winding down to mere squeezes and strokes, I said, in a-soon-to-be-immortal phrase, “I should probably go.” Meaning, of course, that I’d love to stay, but really, I have good reasons for going, I have to be at work in a suburb an hour away from here at 9 am tomorrow morning, and if this goes any longer my willpower will shatter as well, so I should PROBABLY go.

And she said, in a distant voice, and another-soon-to-be-immortal-phrase, “Yeah, I have a lot of homework.” Meaning…well, god knows what. I wanted to have sex with you and that’s not what we’re going to be doing so I feel silly now? I don’t know what you think of me though we made out in your car for a third of an hour? I suddenly just realized you were only giving me another hug to be polite and I took it completely the wrong way? Or maybe she actually did have a lot of homework. Somehow it sounded believable. I did too. She finally pushed open the door she’d meant to push open so long ago, we wished each other good night in soft voices, and I drove away slowly, my elbows balanced on the steering wheel so I could hold my head in my hands. I was now the sort of girl who made out in parked cars, who had gone from hopelessly single, unattractive and naïve to at least attractive enough to French-kiss, singleness confused and abashed into the dark misty world outside of my slowly rolling Monte Carlo, and still naïve.



One Comment

  1. Sissy Van Dyke wrote:

    Great story, Liz. Very realistic, although it made me a little sad, like the song, “At Seventeen.” Yet, the “still naïve” at the end leads me to hope that the character will eventually be less tentative and “carpe diem” or, better yet, “carpe noctem.”

    Reply