The next month flew by as both of us impressively ignored our inevitable goodbye. But we aren’t there quite yet. We still had time to enjoy, time to push these feelings away.
When Jas and I returned to Chelmsford, we came dressed in rainbows and glitter, ecstatic to attend Essex Pride. This is no exaggeration when I say, this day was one of the best days of my life. Spending my first Pride ever with the love of my life set the bar a little too high for later on, especially summer of 2017, when I’d been too sad and lonely to go to Pride at all.
As I’ve mentioned before, Jas and I haven’t really had any issues or anxieties about hand-holding in public. But being here, surrounded by love and hope and understanding, I realized that any more than hand-holding was a tad outside my realm of comfort because of those fears many same-sex couples are likely familiar with. It was precisely this absence of fear at Pride that made itself visible to me.
The human brain can be so sly sometimes, tricking you into thinking you have no fear. Maybe I believed that Jas could take every fear away from me, but now I know that love doesn’t work like that exactly. She gives me security, not fearlessness. Letting myself dive into us, though, that’s the scariest things I’ve ever done. And one that I’m most proud of. We sat on haystacks, drinking water and listening to live music. We took some of my favorite pictures of us on my Instax film camera, and it felt nice to kiss her, publicly, with no fear at all.
After having memorized the performer list, Jas and I went into the tent and wormed our way toward the front, knowing Jo and Bradley of S Club 7 were up next. Now, for all my American readers and others unfamiliar with S Club 7, let me explain how I understand it:
Basically, we have a singing group of 7 people, at least 3 of which are pretty useless. They were super popular with kids in the 2000s. They have their own movies?? Maybe a TV show too? I think they’re popular in the same way that people in their late teens-to-mid-20s today will always remember the entire High School Musical soundtracks.
Anyway, Jas LOVED S Club 7. One year, for Children in Need (Or was it Red Nose Day? Or are these the same thing?) they did a reunion performance and Jas insisted we watch it together. So at this point, I’d memorized a good handful of their songs (including but not limited to: S Club Party, Bring It All Back, and Reach) and had been pretty pumped myself to see them perform.
We were not disappointed!! Their set was an absolute blast of joy. Literally everyone there knew all the words, and this was my first time in a sweaty crowd of people singing and dancing with the performers. The pure joy of it all had my heart racing. After getting pumped up with some of their classic bops, they slowed the show down and said we should “grab someone special” to dance with for the next one, which was “Never Had A Dream Come True.” What came next was an unexpected wild ride.
Jas turned to me, placing her arms on my shoulders and clasping her hands behind my neck. The notes of the song barely began to settle in before I saw Jas’ eyes glisten with unshed tears.
At this point in our relationship, Jas had only cried in front of me three times (unlike me, who has freely cried in Jas’ presence an uncountable number of times). Once, because of an anxiety attack, and the other two because of anxiety attacks induced by daddy issues. As far as I knew, these things were not culprits today.
I pulled her close, ear-to-mouth close, asking her what’s wrong. She had trouble explaining, not unusual for her when it comes to helping me understand her emotions. She’d gotten overwhelmed with this moment. The realization of seeing some of your childhood heroes just feet away. The realization of our goodbye just a few short weeks away. Those realizations wouldn’t let her go. I’d just stood there, holding her for a moment while the tears broke into sobs. Couples danced around our stillness. It’s like we became frozen in this moment, just the two of us. And I would’ve kept us frozen here longer if I had the ability too. I’d take any frozen moment if it meant I could stay longer. Happy, sad, it didn’t matter. The realizations were getting to me too. I just wanted her. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I wouldn’t be ready in the two weeks we had left. I wanted this to last forever.
It couldn’t. Today, we broke. We laughed and we cried, our tears confessing of how we’d secretly been counting those numbered days, how scared we’d been to reach the last one. We made the effort to enjoy the now, to remind ourselves that this wasn’t our end. But it didn’t stop the long gazes on the train or tearful moments in the kitchen late at night.
But forward was all we had.
The next day, we took a couple-day trip to Ireland. The hotel we booked supposedly ran a shuttle to and from the airport, but after stumbling amongst the dozens of buses coming and going for over an hour, we booked an uber.
We also embarrassed ourselves by reporting to the front desk that the electricity in our room wasn’t working. As it turns out, some places require you to insert the hotel key card into a little pocket mounted on the wall, which activates the electricity. Super nifty eco-friendly thing that Jas and I were too uncultured to recognize before we made fools of ourselves. After mastering electricity, we picked up some brochures from the lobby. We had two full days to spend here and no idea what to do with them.
Day one became a hop-on-hop-off bus tour in Dublin. Lots of people in the city asked where we were from, which was nice because I thought people would be asking me that a lot in Jas’ hometown, but no one really seemed to care. I’d spent almost two whole months there, but nobody asked where I was from. Maybe we just looked really lost in Dublin. Or maybe the mix of accents between Jas and I sparked confusion in the locals.
An older man asked if we’d like him to take a picture of us near an old building that now served as a museum. After he snapped the photo, he stopped to say how beautiful we were. My throat closed up with the forced smile on my face. There were lots of people walking around the city before noon, but I still held my breath a moment longer.
He handed the camera back to me as he turned to Jas. “No offense to your friend here—both gorgeous girls—but you could be the next Miss World.” I exhaled as he stepped back. Something about this comment, the extra step of space he gave us, the graying her visible under his beanie, the gentleness in his eyes that reminded me of my grandpa—relaxed my shoulders.
Jas laughed at his compliment, looking to me. I smiled too. She could be the next Miss World.
“You ladies must have very lucky boys at home,” the man remarked.
And with that, this entire exchange became a test.
What did you think of Dublin?
How was Ireland?
Did you enjoy your trip?
It all came down to this test, this man, his response. Pass or fail.
“I’m her girlfriend.”
The man looked between the two of us in a matter of seconds with a smile. “Aha! So you know what I’m talking about,” he nods at me. “Next Miss World.”
I smiled, looking to Jas and taking her hand. “I know what you mean.”
On day two we took a van with roughly ten people to a day-long trip in the Wicklow Mountains. As the only two people who opted for walking in the mountains instead of horseback riding nearby for a couple hours, Jas and I got pretty comfortable with our guide, which was nice, considering the slow pace we required. (Note to anyone reading this: Converse are not hiking shoes.) By the time we got to the top of the mountain (which our guide pointed out was technically just a large hill), the temp dropped from 60 to 30 (Fahrenheit) and clouds bruised the sky above us. The guide ushered us back down, fearing a rainstorm, but when we returned the temp had spiked back up and the sunshine beamed.
When we rejoined the group, the guide drove us along the mountainside. We stopped at the convergence of mountains where a stream trickled down into the valley, and ancient stone bridged the crevice of water. The guide said this bridge was in the film, P.S. I Love You.
We walked across the mountaintop, towards the edge where we could overlook the valley. Below, a grand lake pooled between mountains, dark in color. It swooped in a U shape at one end, and flattened out, stretching straight across between the mountains at the other. Foam bloomed along the straight shoreline. It resembled a literal pint of Guinness beer, and ironically supplied the beer company with water, the guide informed us.
The lake was only just one tiny part of all we could see from here. The land unfurled before us in jagged shapes jutting from the Earth, crashing their hungry limbs through blankets of clouds. But it wasn’t all violent. Some of the land rolled shallow, swooping low and high in gentle dips and curves, content in its deep shades of green.
Jas and I stood near the edge, before the mountain fell towards the valley, and turned away from the world behind us. I held my phone in front of us, taking a series of my all-time favorite selfies.
I saw the world reflected behind us, laid out there on the other side of the world. On this day two years ago, I didn’t know about all this. I didn’t know about these mountains or these valleys or this lake. I didn’t know how the land reached up to the sky to take what it wanted. Two years ago, I would’ve never pictured myself in a place I didn’t know existed.
I saw the woman in front of me. Her hair flew around in the wind, falling out of her ponytail and tickling my face. The weight of her hand on my shoulder kept me anchored as I fell into her eyes. Two years ago, I was just a girl from Middle-of-Nowhere, Michigan. I lived my summer days sweating in my non-AC home, saying my hobby was reading even though I hadn’t read a novel since going to college, and trying my best to convince myself that something bigger was on its way.
I wasn’t ready to be that girl again. I wanted to keep being me, the real me. The me who loves, who loves with everything I have. The me who lives, and isn’t afraid of it. The me who laughs until my ribs hurt. The me who takes more risks, who makes fewer agendas, who creates and destroys without any expectations from the outside world. Maybe if I kissed her a little longer, I could take the real me back home.