The Autobiography of Solange Boas

By Leslaureate (aka Amy G.)

©2003-2005 All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author.

A NOTE TO MY READERS: As a reminder, this piece has taken longer to complete than I anticipated. One major reason is that I've tried something new for me – a different voice than what I am accustomed and it's out of my usual comfort zone. It is complete in three Acts/Parts. I'll have Act Three posted in a few days/week of one another. Please bear with me and wait until you read the entire work before you send comments/feedback. This was a challenge for me and I hope you enjoy it.


1984 - 1990

That was my last journal entry, other than some scraps of paper here and there, but nothing that I kept, yet alone kept in any type of organized manner. Other than those few scraps, I have only my memories and a few pictures to memorialize the rest of my life. I guess that I was tired of journaling. Writing my thoughts and feelings at that time only seemed to exacerbate the pain, instead of relieving it. I tired of staying in that dark place that I so often described in those teenage and young adult journal pages, and after Gretchen dumped me, nothing seemed to have changed.

Maybe, too, I thought it was too juvenile to maintain a diary after my mid-twenties. Also, given that I long abandoned my aspirations to be a writer, I didn't see it as necessary. That, or maybe I just got out of the habit. I, for one, never thought a journal would come in handy down the road when I sat to write my memoirs.

So, my story will continue, but only with what I can dredge up from the far recesses of my mind rather than contemporaneous notation. I think I have more accurate memories of my adult years than the more tumultuous teenage years.

* * *


I stood in the front doorway looking into the empty living room and wiped away a tear as it fell down my face. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that it would come to this. How could it? When you're with someone for over four years and are madly in love, you think only of the future – not D-I-V-O-R-C-E, as Tammy Wynette would sing.

I believed in forever. Not an empty apartment that I once shared with the woman I thought was the love of my life and which was once our home. What I thought to be our mini Shangri-La.

"Hey Sollie. Everything's loaded. C'mon, we should get going," I heard Barb speak. I was oblivious to all around me and I didn't even hear Barb come up from behind and stand by my side.

"Yeh," I answered softly. I grabbed the door knob and could not let go. "God! There are so many memories here. It's hard to let go."

"It'll take time, but you need to go and start some new ones." Barb hugged me from behind and turned me around to walk out. Barb closed the door behind us and then led me to the loaded small rental truck, which held the remainder of my life as I then knew it. I opened the passenger side door, but before I stepped up into the cab I turned to look one last time at the apartment complex that Gretchen and I had called home for the last four years.

'I only hope the new tenants have more happiness and love than we ended up having,' I thought to myself. I wiped away more tears and climbed up into the truck cab. Barb slid into the driver's seat beside me and started the truck's engine. I stared directly ahead as we drove away. It was too surreal of a feeling to look back.

Barb helped me unload my last remaining possessions from the truck into my new apartment. With each box I carried inside, I thought of my uncertain future. I had a revolution going on in my life - a complete upheaval of all things I thought to be safe and certain. I placed the last box onto the kitchen counter and ran my fingers through my short dark curls. Barb walked up to the other side of the breakfast bar. I smiled weakly at her.

"Do you want me to call Judy and have her pick up something for us to eat on her way over or do you just want to call for pizza? We need sustenance before tackling the boxes to put everything away." Barb asked more out of concern of my recent eating habits, or lack thereof, than her own appetite.

"Sure. Pizza's fine, but could you see if she'd stop and pick up some beer and sodas? I'll pay her back when she gets here."

"Don't worry about it. She's the only one of us with a good job." Barb smiled and waved me off as she turned and walked into my bedroom to call her lover and the local pizza parlor.

I didn't know how I would have survived without Barb and her new girlfriend, Judy. They were my support and anchor throughout this hellish nightmare. If I needed to get out and be around people, they let me go over to their house and just sit there watching television without pressuring me to talk about anything if I wasn't in the mood. Barb was the one to convince me to get out of the old apartment as soon as possible to escape the memories and for me to start fresh. Left to my own devices, and despite knowing better, I knew I'd probably still be sitting there wallowing in self-pity had it not been for Barb.

The rest of that night and part of the next day we unpacked and put away most of my belongings. The new apartment looked so sparse. I hadn't yet replaced most of the items Gretchen took, nor had I put anything on the walls. I planned to use my time off over the weekend to shop for furniture and other household basics. I needed a bed the most. I let Gretchen have the bed – it only held memories for me. I bought a futon and had been using it as a dual couch and bed. Mom and Dad gave me some money for many of the new purchases I needed to make, and Colette, Jackie, and Sandy all chipped in and bought me some dishes and tableware. I was making as clean of a new start as I could.

My family was very supportive of me during this difficult period. As accepting as they had been years before, their support, love, and understanding exceeded my expectations. After Gretchen and I came out I had, in a number of ways, tried to separate myself from them because of my sexual orientation. I thought that I was too different and shared little with these straight people. But my break-up brought us closer together. I realized that other than our sexual preferences, we actually had quite a bit in common and that we loved each other a great deal. I regretted those few years of lost time. I had spoken to them on a regular basis and attended all obligatory family functions, but I let my own sexual orientation stand in the way of a close relationship with them. It was I who wasn't accepting, not them.

I soon settled into my apartment and fell into a routine at school and work. The graduate program took up most of my time. Between my class schedule and working as a TA, I really didn't have time for another job, or anything else for that matter. But I needed the money, so I got a part time job at the bookstore I worked at during college. The new manager was very accommodating to my class schedule. It also gave me a break from living, breathing, and sleeping academia.

It was a strange transition at grad school. I had to adjust to studying and working with people who had been my teachers only five months before. But, many were now my peers.

Because of my hectic schedule, I didn't socialize very often. I did hang out with Barb and Judy and, on occasion, with a few of my fellow grad students or co-workers. I tried to start dating about six months after grad school started, but that was a dismal failure. I wasn't ready to date and get to know a new person. I still missed Gretchen terribly and no matter how hard I tried not to, I couldn't think of anyone else. Despite her extreme shortcomings, no one could compare to her. Those few poor women I went out with experienced just how emotionally unavailable I was. I do feel bad they were victims of my indifference.

My indifference wasn't confined to dating. It should be of no great surprise, but I had an extremely difficult time trusting people. If I didn't feel safe with someone, whether it was a friend, co-worker, acquaintance, whatever, I avoided them like the plague. I was very content in my little self-constructed world.

The second year of grad school was not much different than the first, with the exception of having even less free time because I was working on my thesis. Once time came around, I didn't apply to any Doctoral programs. I needed a break and I wasn't certain if I really wanted another three or four more years of school and to have to research and write a Doctoral thesis.

Instead, I took a part-time position at a local junior college teaching a few classes in History 101. I also enrolled in a program to get my teaching certificate so I could teach in secondary schools. During grad school I discovered how much I really liked teaching – to spark a light with my students was a thrill. I also found it very fulfilling to share with others all the things I found so fascinating. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that is what I really wanted to do with my life. I knew my career options were limited, but I didn't expect to actually enjoy teaching. So the question for me then became at what educational level did I want to teach – secondary or junior college?

Once I obtained my teaching certificate I also moved into a nicer apartment, namely a larger apartment than the matchbox I had during grad school, in hopes of reflecting my new grown-up status.

At two years post-Gretchen, or "PG" as I called it, dating remained a foreign concept to me. I was still too shell-shocked. But, because I had more time on my hands, I did get lonely. Most of my friends were in relationships and had their own lives to lead. I had to find different ways to amuse myself. Thank goodness for the introduction of VCRs and video tapes! I watched a lot of movies and TV, and read a great deal. I also found that videos on VH-1, MTV, and the Country Music Channel made great background noise when reading.

After about a year of this routine, I got to a point when I realized that I really wasn't very happy. In fact, I was very honest with myself and admitted I was downright miserable. My self-constructed world was far from utopia. I remember during one of my more "sad days" I went for along walk on the beach in La Jolla. It was a beautiful sunny day. The sun glistened off of the water as it creeped beneath the horizon. At some point I stopped and sat on the sand watching the waves break near the shore. I reflected on the events that happened in my relatively short life. I was perplexed about what to do; what changes I needed to make.

I don't remember how long I sat there before I finally stood up and resumed my walk, hoping the movement and fresh air would clear my head. I thought of the early days with Gretchen, how deeply in love we were and all of the fun we had together. I still missed Gretchen in a terrible way.

It was as I was walking that I came to realize that it wasn't so much Gretchen that I missed, but more the "us"; the loving relationship; the simple fact of having someone else around that I loved and with whom I loved doing things.

It finally dawned on me that I hadn't only constructed my own little world, but had built a prison around myself, and I only allowed a privileged few in for visiting hours. I was scared. I admitted to myself that I had raised walls so tall and thick, no one could penetrate them and hurt me again. I felt I was blindly stumbling through life as an observer, and not an active participant.

As awful as Gretchen was to me at the end, I realized part of the problem was that I idealized her and put her on a pedestal both in my heart and my memories. I wouldn't let anyone else compare to her or the love that we shared.

Despite all of these realizations, the bottom line was that I was afraid to take the risk of putting myself out to the world, letting someone else in and loving again. What's the famous quote? 'Tis far better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.' I had not been willing to do that. I had fallen into complacency and it wasn't right, at least not for me anymore. I thought I had been content, but I was not at all happy.

After these "aha" minutes, I turned around and walked back to my car. I had a new resolve. It was time for me to pardon myself, so to speak, to end my prison term and be free again.

At first I took baby steps. To test the waters, I went out dancing with Barb and Judy or with a few other friends. Barb and Judy also took me to a professional women's mixer that met once a month. After a few months, I let go of the Barb and Judy crutch and started to venture out more on my own.

Given the fact that my dating skills had been stagnant since high school, where I had minimal experience to begin with, I was lost. I was in my mid-twenties and was absolutely clueless how to date as an adult. My few forays into the dating world while I was in grad school could hardly be called experiences to draw upon. I observed a lot, I asked my friends and siblings many questions, and I had a lot of trial and error before I became comfortable with my new social self.

And so I embarked on my first real adventures in the life of lesbian dating. From what I was told by my straight friends, apart from gender, there weren't many radical differences between straight and lesbian dating in the mid to late 1980s. I found there were a few different nuances and rituals. It's been so long for me now, since I last dated, that I can't say if it's the same.

I think that casual sex may have been more rampant then, especially in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. But with the proliferation of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and the appeal of twelve step groups and self-help books, women began to take things slower and got to know one another more before hopping in the sack. I don't know how many of my friends and acquaintances lived their lives under the auspices of one acronym or another from the mid-1990's – the early 21st Century – SCA, SLAA, AA, CODA, Al-Anon, NA, MA, GA – I felt I was trapped in an alphabet ending in 'Anonymous'.

But, I'm both offtrack and getting ahead of myself.

I do still vividly remember the first few times I met a woman for a drink, or coffee, or dinner, after I decided to 'climb back on the horse'. I really did feel like a teenager again, Then, if I went on a second date, or if it was a really good first date, and it came to that time at the end when you don't know whether you should give a hug or a goodbye kiss, I was so unsure of myself and so afraid I'd act like an idiot. And let us not forget the more alcohol influenced dates when a quick kiss good night could easily turn into a passionate make out session, and, on rare, occasion, a night (or several) of unbridled passion without substance.

Now don't judge me here. I wasn't a "ho", nor was I a saint.

I did get into a few short term relationships over the years, but I was never "in love" and it was still nothing like it was with Gretchen. And, to my own dismay, I did still both consciously and subconsciously compare the object of my potential affection to Gretchen. I think the longest one of these relationships lasted six months. That was with Connie.

Connie was absolutely drop-dead stunning gorgeous. I swear she could have been a model. (I know you're asking yourself how I got together with all these beautiful women. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. I still pinch myself sometimes when I think about it). She was 5' 10", long legs that didn't end, deep blue eyes, and long dark brown hair. She sold car phones. This was when car phones were actual old fashioned type telephones that were somehow wired with a huge transmitter thingy in the trunk. It wasn't even a cell phone. It was nothing like the tiny phones that we have now.

I did really care a great deal for Connie. The problem was that Connie had a bit of a drinking problem. I didn't know it at first. It seemed like we all drank a lot back in the 1980's, especially during the ritual 'getting to know you period' once two people started to date. For me, a drink or two loosened me up and helped take the edge off of the initial nervousness. But, after a month or two passed, that's all she wanted to do – activities that revolved around alcohol. If we went to the theatre, she had wine at dinner, cocktails before the curtain went up, cocktails at intermission, and a nightcap at the bar on the way home. When we went to a Padre's baseball game, she'd have me help her get enough beer to last until the end of the game. They only sold two beers at a time to a person and sales ended in the Seventh inning. She wanted to be prepared for those late innings.

For the most part she was a happy enough drunk. But, she could turn nasty, especially if she "blacked out". Never really being around alcoholics before I didn't know what that was and couldn't understand why she'd get so mean and then not remember most of the evening before. Conversations, and even making love, were lost for her.

I eventually got tired of competing with the booze, and that's when I broke-up with her. I heard years later that Connie got sober for awhile but relapsed and eventually was killed in a car accident. She was the drunk driver. When I heard about her untimely death I thought of all those times she drove after we had been partying and I was very grateful we both survived. Neither of us had any right to be driving and we should have called a cab. But, for the grace of God or a higher power, or rather incredibly good luck, we lived.

Even apart from Connie's addiction, I never felt that click of two hearts becoming one. I cared for her. I did love her. But I was never "in love" with her.

Before Connie, there was one relationship that only lasted a few months. That was Angel. And believe me, she wasn't one. Although she could look angelic; a cherub face surrounded by blond hair, with full red, pouty lips; she was the devil incarnate. We steadily dated for a few weeks and then both agreed we wouldn't date other people. Suffice it to say I am the only one who honored that agreement.

Angel, apparently, had commitment issues. She dated and slept with other women from the day we met to the day we broke up almost three months later – the day I discovered she was seeing two other women. Angel's lies did create a dent in my already tenuous ability to trust, but not the crater created by meteor Gretchen.

Oh, and don't let me forget Vicki. Now she was a piece of work. I gave up trying to figure that one out. We met somewhere in between Angel and Connie. We never were lovers. We dated for a couple of weeks and I think we may have kissed once or twice. Vicki was still hooked on her ex. We agreed to just be friends, but then she went psycho on me.

We had made dinner plans for a Wednesday night, but earlier that day Barb called me very upset at something. I rang Vicki, explained the situation and before I could ask, she voluntarily suggested we reschedule dinner for another time. Vicki assured me it was no problem and that she understood completely.

So Barb came over to my place to talk about what troubled her. In the course of the two to three hours Barb was there, Vicki called at least four times. She may have called more, but I finally turned off the ringer on the phone and answering machine.

When Barb left, I called Vicki back. I was livid but managed to keep my anger in check. I calmly, but with an edge in my voice, asked her what was so important for her to call so often. She started crying and asking why I hadn't come over, that she needed me there and I didn't show.

I was absolutely dumbfounded and confused. Had I completely dreamed our earlier phone conversation? No, I was certain it took place. I relayed our phone conversation from earlier in the day back to Vicki and asked if there was a problem with rescheduling dinner, why didn't she tell me – she should have said something. She then went off on me. "I'm always there for you and I needed you tonight. What type of friend are you? How can we become more if you can't be there for me as a friend?" I'm sure you can get the gist of the rest of her end of the conversation. After trying to reason with her and explaining I'm not a mind reader, she hung up on me.

Suffice it to say, that was the last time I spoke to Vicki.

After I ended my relationship with Connie I wondered if I'd ever have a relationship like I had with Gretchen and whether I'd love that deeply again. I really wondered if I had found and lost my only soul mate or whether I ever had one to begin with, yet alone find another one.

My circle of friends changed over the years as well. I was, and still am, friends with Barb, although not nearly as close as we once were. After a few years we spoke on the phone every few months, but rarely got together in person. By the time I started teaching at the junior college, she and Judy were no more. She met Leslie, whom she claimed was her soul mate. They had the "real deal", what I wanted but couldn't seem to find.

Apart from socializing my life really centered on my career. As I said I said previously, I received my teaching credentials and accepted a full time teaching position with a local school district. My victims were high school students. I subjected them to the torture and horrors of Advanced and AP History, US Government, and Sociology. I was back in the environment I had so desperately wanted to escape years earlier. The irony was not lost on me (or my family, as they have continually reminded me over the years).

I really loved to teach. I can't say this strongly enough. Teaching was definitely my calling. It wasn't only when the kids had an "aha" moment and grasped whatever fact, concept, or idea I was trying to convey or when they had a brilliant moment of independent thought. No, it wasn't just what I taught them, but what they taught me. I learned that adults are far too often too serious and controlling and aren't nearly playful enough. The kids perpetually reminded me to keep the playful side as well and to maintain a youthful exuberance and attitude. They also reminded me of one of my "adult lessons", that not everything was doom and gloom or the end of the world as teenagers are apt to think.

I was young and idealistic. I took risks and did things that could have jeopardized my career. I wanted to bring change. Not only to "the system", but to the way these kids thought and viewed the world. My goal was to expand their minds. I tried to get them out of seeing things in black-&-white, but to instead see the grey areas as well.

The school where I taught was in a middle- and upper-middle class neighborhood; and, well, to be blunt, a very white neighborhood. Most minorities were bussed in as part of a "magnet school" program, San Diego's answer to integration. I tried to get my students to face prejudices and to look at and see issues in other ways than what they were previously taught. For awhile I even employed the "blue eye, brown eye" exercise that was somewhat popular at the time. I'd separate the kids by eye colour, gender, or hair colour and give rights and privileges to one group and deny them to the other. The exercise worked and most of the kids understood what it was like to walk in someone else's shoes, if even for one or two class periods.

While this exercise was considered "appropriate", I walked a fine line concerning students' sexuality, and sexuality in general. Remember, this was still the late 1980's. I included sexual identity issues in my curriculum as well. Some students confided in me and discussed their own orientation struggles. I knew I was walking in a minefield, but I gave the best advice I could under the circumstances. After struggling through it myself, how could I not empathize and want to give them what I didn't have available to me when I was their age?

I worked within the system and tried to do what I could for these kids. And, in exigent circumstances, went outside of the system. Over the course of my entire career I was able to actually become the faculty adviser for a gay youth organization on campus and "come out" without fear of repercussion.

In working with these students I realized how blessed I was that I had an accepting family. I thought that what happened to Kurt was reprehensible, but that was tame compared to what happened to a few of "my" kids. It broke my heart. Some had the holy hell beaten out of them by a parent – the person who helped create them and given the responsibility to protect them from harm's way. Some kids were literally thrown onto the streets once their family discovered their "secret". Of these, some were fortunate to find alternate housing through relatives or families of friends, but there was a small minority that stayed on the streets and had to drop out of school. Remember, I taught AP and advanced classes – intelligent kids bound for college. Yet, their bright futures were taken away or placed out of their grasp.

I'm sad to say there were students who couldn't deal at all. I did attend more than a few funerals over the years. When that happened I felt that I was a failure, that I somehow failed this kid. I second guessed myself as to what I should or could have done differently so that the precious child would still be alive. Despite going to counseling on my own and discussing teen-age suicide in my classes, it never really became easier to deal with when it happened. How could it?

I am on my soap box once again and am speaking of the course of my entire career. I guess I was considered the "cool" teacher. But, back to the time line.

After teaching for a few years, and after one day being called "old" by my freshman class, the realization that it had been ten years since Gretchen and I graduated from high school hit me hard. I suddenly felt old, especially once I realized that also meant that my ten year high school reunion was coming up very soon. There I was, 27 years old, almost 28, and I suddenly felt ancient. Despite knowing the answer, I wondered where had the last ten years gone and what did I have to show for it. Jeez, I was starting to sound like my parents!

My Mom soon gave me the invitation to my reunion. It had been sent to her house as my last known address. My immediate reaction was to ignore it and throw it away. I was terrified to go and "accidentally" run into Gretchen. Even though it had been over 5 years since we broke up, I still was not ready to see her again. I surprised myself to discover that wound was still too deep.

I didn't know what I should do. There were a few people I had gone to school with and thought about every now and then, especially Kurt and DJ, but I couldn't decide whether seeing them was worth the risk of running into Gretchen. I vacillated back and forth for over a month- yes, I'll go - no, I won't go – yes, I'll go and have a good time – no, I won't go because if I do I'll be miserable.

I asked all of my older friends and also my siblings what they suggested. Some friends suggested I should go just to laugh at the way people had changed and to see who all ended up "coming out". Colette and Jackie told me to go and have a good time, that I'll probably regret it later if I didn't go; but Sandy said I'd be bored and would just get drunk after realizing I have even less in common with these people now than I did back then. Barb and Leslie suggested, in a rather forceful manner, that it was time for me to face my demons head on and take the bull by the horns; and along with every other euphemism they could think of, that it was time for me to finally put my past to rest. That's one thing about those two, they are big on using metaphors and euphemisms. (I guess that's the pot calling the kettle, eh?)

I think what finally made me decide to go was, ironically, fear. Pure unadulterated fear; fear of not knowing what had happened to Gretchen and fear of not taking the risk. I was, yet once again, tired of being afraid.


A week before the reunion weekend was scheduled to take place, I called an old acquaintance, Tess, who was listed as an RSVP person on the reunion committee. I confirmed that I would, in fact, attend. We asked the perfunctory questions to catch up with each other's life for the last ten years and I gave her the information she needed from me for the reunion. I internally debated whether or not to ask her if she'd heard from Gretchen or if she even knew whether or not Gretchen was also going to attend the reunion.

Tess had been on the cheerleading squad with Gretchen and I remembered they had occasional contact with one another after we graduated. She was aware of the nature of Gretchen's and my relationship, but she had yet to mention Gretchen's name during the course of our conversation. That lead me to believe that she knew we had broken up, therefore leading me to further assume she had contact with Gretchen within the last several years.

Deciding it would be better for me to be as prepared as possible before I actually showed up at the reunion, I finally asked the question.

"Hey Tess, do you know if Gretchen's coming?"

There was a moment of silence before I heard a response. "As far as I know, she hasn't yet contacted us, so I don't know Solange. . . Listen, I ran into Gretch a few years ago and I was really sorry to hear that you two broke up. She didn't go into details, but she did say she screwed up and screwed up badly."

Damn! I was still going to walk blindly into the lion's den. But, my curiosity got the better of me. "How was she? Do you know what she's doing these days? I haven't spoken to or had any contact with her in years."

"She was doing well. This was about four years ago. I almost literally ran into her during an intermission at a play at the Old Globe. We didn't have a lot of time to catch up, but she said she was working for an ad agency up in San Francisco and was doing well. She was down visiting her family. I have heard some things more recently about her through the grapevine. From what I heard, she's doing very well for herself."

"Was she with anyone?"

"She was there with her Mom and another woman, whom she did introduce, but I don't remember her name. I don't know whether the woman was a friend of hers or her Mom's. The woman did look older than us." I could tell by the guarded tone of her voice and inflections that she was starting to feel uncomfortable and didn't want to hurt me with any rumours or innuendo, so I left it at that.

Although I RSVP'd, over the next week I continued to internally debate whether to go; and if I went, whether or not I should bring a date. I soon abandoned the date idea – I didn't know what to expect and I didn't want to subject anyone, especially someone I wasn't serious about, to the probable boredom or melodrama that I anticipated. My anxiety was getting the better of me.

The reunion was scheduled over the course of a weekend at a local hotel on Mission Bay. On Friday night there was a Happy Hour Mixer at the hotel bar that was open to anyone who wanted to attend; on Saturday was the paid semi-formal dinner and dance; then, to wrap it up on Sunday, was an open picnic intended for families at the Bay.

At the last minute I decided to go to the happy hour. I still needed some resolution of the mystery of Gretchen's attendance and figured it would be better to find out sooner rather than later. I quickly dressed in jeans, a light yellow oxford blouse, a tan blazer, and brown loafers. I figured I was going to get all dressed up the following night, so go comfortable to the mixer.

I arrived at the bar and was directed to a cordoned off area decorated with blue and orange balloons, our school colours. There were already a few people there, none whom I recognized. I sat down at a table and ordered a beer from the passing cocktail waitress. I took a deep breath. After a brief while, a few people I knew and recognized and few I knew and didn't recognize joined me and we were soon all engrossed in reacquainting ourselves and finding out about others with whom they had contact.

Before I knew it, I realized it was 10 :30 pm and there had been no sign of Gretchen. Nor had anyone there, except Tess, had any recent contact with her. I had a reprieve. I suddenly felt very tired so I said my goodbyes, told everyone I'd see them the next night, and headed home to bed. I was relieved, but remained anxious because I still didn't know with any degree of certainty what would happen at dinner the next night.

Despite the good time I had at the mixer on Friday night, I truly dreaded going to the dinner on Saturday and again almost changed my mind and stayed home. I knew I had to walk through the fear. So, I took a shower and got ready. I'm not one to wear dresses, so I opted for a dressy crème coloured pant suit instead.

I arrived at the hotel, parked the car, and leisurely walked through the hotel lobby to the banquet hall, following signs with blue and orange balloons that lined the corridor. As I walked toward the registration desk I examined each person I passed, not recognizing one of them. Tess was at the table and quickly checked me in and handed me my name tag. Unfortunately, it had my very unflattering senior picture on it. My only consolation was that most senior pictures are not very flattering, so I wasn't alone.

I walked into the banquet room and headed directly for the bar line. While in line I saw a few people I went to elementary school with, a few others I sort of hung out with in junior high, others I had met the night before, and a few I had never seen nor heard of before. I paid for my beer and went in search of my table. When I found it I was relieved to find some elementary and junior high school mates and their spouses or companions already seated at the table. There were only two empty spots at the table, so after asking if it was available I sat in an empty chair to the left of a woman I didn't recognize. I think I would have remembered her because she was one of the most beautiful women I think I ever laid eyes on. While Gretchen and Connie were stunning, this woman put their looks to shame with a more natural type of beauty.

I glanced at her name tag and didn't recognize the name or the picture. Unless I was so fixated with Gretchen at the time, surely I would have remembered meeting this Keeley Martin. Other than a little age, she looked almost the same as her senior picture. I glanced around the table saying hello to everyone and was introduced to the partners and spouses of my former school chums. I then introduced myself to my neighbor, who introduced herself as well.

It was hard not to stare at her, she was that beautiful. I dreaded being rude or making her uncomfortable. She reminded me of Meg Ryan with brownish blond short hair and sky blue eyes.

We spoke almost exclusively to one another while we waited to be served and throughout appetizers and our salads. She had my undivided attention. I seemed to have tunnel vision – everyone else at the table ceased to exist. But, I had to keep reminding myself she was straight. Although I had hoped she'd been flirting and not just being friendly, my "gaydar" hadn't gone off and she gave no indication to the contrary.

She told me she was raised in a Navy family and she transferred to our school at the beginning of our Senior Year. She had gone to another high school out of state and couldn't remember how many places her family had lived before moving to San Diego. Her Dad had shipped out on a West Pac as soon as they moved here. She didn't have a lot of time to hang out; she worked after school and on weekends. All of her free time was spent studying.

"I don't know why I never really got to know anyone. I guess I was pretty invisible," Keeley said with regret as we were eating our salads. I saw the pain in her eyes. "You know, I remember seeing you around campus even though we never had any classes together."

"Really?" I asked surprised.

"Yeh. Didn't you hang out with that cheerleader? Oh… what's her name?" she asked rhetorically, looking up at nothing as she tried to remember.

"Gretchen?" I volunteered softly.

"Yes! That's it!" she said, excited to have the memory come back to her. She was oblivious to my silence and sudden change of demeanor. "You know, I always wonder whatever happened to people like that. You know, the real popular ones. Like whether they have lots of kids, gained lots of weight, become models or actresses, or become politicians, scientists, or checkers at the grocery store. When we're in high school, people like that seem to have a charmed life and seem to have it made. It's not until after we graduate that us mere mortals realize that life is an equalizing factor and the popular people are not the superheroes or immortals we made them out to be. They were and are probably just as miserable as the rest of us." She took a breath taking a bite of her salad. I was amazed she could say so much seemingly in one breath. I also noted that she didn't seem to include me in 'that group'.

"Pretty accurate assessment, I guess."

"Did you stay friends with her after graduation?" She asked innocently, taking another bite of her meal. I guess the rumours about Gretchen and I didn't get completely around. Either that or she was baiting or playing me. I decided to try to play it cool and honest.

"Yeh, we . . . um, went to college and lived together. We split immediately after graduation."

"Oh!" she said, then "Ohhh!" realizing the meaning behind what I said. She was sharp. "I'm sorry to hear that. I went through a break up last year with my college sweetheart. I know how painful that can be," she said understanding.

"I'm sorry to hear that. How long were you together? I asked, playing with the food on my plate with my fork.

"We met when we were juniors, so about six years. She really broke my heart," she answered softly, but with a mischievous look on her face.

It took a few seconds for what she said to hit home with me. My eyebrows suddenly raised in recognition. "Can't live with 'em and can't live without 'em." I responded with a knowing smile.

"True, so true. Or as a friend of mine once said, 'Can't live with 'em, and can't kill 'em, otherwise you end up in a smaller place where they're uglier, meaner, and you can't get away from 'em,'" she laughed.

Oh my! While I did have my hopes up, I didn't really imagine she could be family as well. The thoughts of the possibilities from this new found information flooded my mind, and hormones, causing my internal temperature to rise. I'm sure a blush enveloped my face. I needed a brief escape. Seeing that her drink was low I asked her if she wanted another. She answered affirmatively, asking for a glass of chardonnay.

I went and stood in the bar line and soon heard my name spoken. I turned around and behind me stood a woman I recognized, but for the life of me I couldn't place her name. I quickly glanced at her name badge and as weird as it sounds, a flashback swept over me and I saw in my mind's eye the young woman I knew over ten years ago.

"Janie! How the heck are you?" I finally greeted, pleased to see her. I always liked Janie. She was petite and shorter than I, standing at about 5' 3". She had long, straight dark blond hair and was wearing a simple, but very pretty dress.

"Great! And you? You ever get into psychology?""

"I'm doing well, thanks. And no, I thought about it, but the college I went to had a lousy psych program, so I ended up with a degree in history and then got my Master's. I now teach at a high school with the type of brats we used to be. How about you?" Man, I forgot about that, all my science fair projects involving psychology and my hopes of becoming a psychologist.

She looked embarrassed. "Actually, I was hoping to run into you tonight."

"Really? Any reason in particular?" I asked curious.

"I remembered the science fair projects you used to do, especially the one in the tenth grade. I didn't realize how much of an affect it had on me until after I started college. It . . . well, you . . . made such an impression that I majored in psychology and I'm now finishing up my Doctorate. I was hoping to see you to thank you for giving me the inspiration and courage to take that path." She looked like she was about to cry. I know I was. I was dumbfounded and rendered speechless.

"Good for you Doc!" I congratulated her and gave her a hug. By that time I had moved up to the front of the line, so I gave the bartender my drink order, including one for Janie. "Wow! I really don't know what to say Janie! I'm speechless, touched, surprised, and humbled. Thank you for telling me. You just made my night! Hell, you may have just made my life!" I said not knowing whether or not to hug her again. She solved my dilemma by giving me a quick hug.

"My pleasure," she smiled.

I saw the bartender place our drinks on the bar in front of me. I paid for them and picked up the two drinks, then stepped aside to allow her to take hers.

"Thank you and congratulations again! I know you'll do well and help a lot of people!" She thanked me in return and promised to stop by my table later and I told her I'd do the same.

I returned to the table and placed the drinks down and sat back in my chair. I must have still had a look of surprise or disbelief on my face because Keeley asked me if anything was wrong or if something had happened while I went and got our drinks.

"No, nothing like that. Thanks for asking," I chuckled and proceeded to relate to her my encounter with Janie. "I can't believe that happened!" I concluded in amazement.

Keeley placed her hand over mine as it rested on the table, gave it a light squeeze and looked into my eyes. "Well, Ms. Boas, believe it. Good things do happen to good people. You're on the upswing of the karmic cycle tonight, so be grateful and enjoy it while it lasts."

Looking back into her eyes I saw nothing but sincerity and kindness. I didn't know it at the time, but I later realized that it was at that moment that I fell in love with this virtual stranger. She had enchanted me and placed me under her spell.

"I do believe you're correct Ms. Martin. I am very grateful," I smiled, not moving my hand or breaking eye contact for fear of losing the strong connection I felt between us. I think she felt it as well because she didn't move either. It wasn't until our entrée plates were placed in front of us on the table a few moments later that the spell was temporarily broken.

For the rest of the dinner, the entire table engaged in group catch-ups and reminiscing. I occasionally turned and looked at Keeley. I'd give her a smile and she'd smile back. When we finished our meals and coffee was being served, most of our tablemates left to mingle, have a cigarette, or use the facilities, leaving Keeley and I completely alone for the first time that evening. The DJ started to play some dance music and the increased volume made it difficult to have a conversation. I knew one thing, and that was I didn't want to lose the opportunity to talk to and see this woman again.

"I've really enjoyed meeting and talking with you tonight Keeley. I was wondering if you'd like to meet for coffee or a drink sometime?" I asked trying to appear sure of myself, although I felt like Jell-O inside.

"Why, Solange Boas! Are you asking me out on a date?" she teased with a hint of a Southern accent.

"Well, it's extremely difficult to talk in here with the music and I do enjoy your company," I rationalized, trying not to look at her. I finally did and saw the look of amusement on her face. "Yes, I guess I am," I admitted.

"I would really like that," she smiled. She reached beside on the other side of the chair away from me and picked up her purse. She opened it, reached in, and pulled out a pen, a business card, and a blank piece of paper. She quickly jotted a phone number on the front of the card and then slid it over to me along with the paper and pen. "Here's my home and work numbers. Fair is fair, may I have your number as well?"

"Most certainly!" I quickly obliged, jotting down my info, then returned the items to her. I placed her card in my wallet and she put the paper and pen back into her purse.

"So," she said, breaking the nervous silence that fell between us, "are you going to the picnic tomorrow?"

"I don't think so. I went to the Happy Hour last night and am here tonight, so I think I've fulfilled my reunion attending duties for the next ten years."

"Do you have any plans?" she asked coyly.

"No, not really," I answered not thinking. Then it dawned on me where she was going. I'm quick, but sometimes not that quick. "Why, Keeley Martin! Are you asking ME out?" I grinned.

"Yes Solange. I do believe I am."

"Then it's a date," I smiled.

We sat and watched the dance floor fill with more people. She stood, removed her blazer, and placed it on the back of her chair, exposing toned and tanned arms coming out of a sleeveless top. This was the first time all evening I'd seen her stand. I quickly took her in. She was svelte, not too skinny. She stood a little shorter than me. Her top showed the generous curves of her breasts. I quickly took a drink of water to wet my suddenly dry throat. It was evident that she in some manner worked out.

I think she caught me appraising her, but if she did, she covered it well and didn't embarrass me. "Do you like to dance?" she asked.

"Yeh, I do." She came around my other side, grabbed my hand, pulled me up and led me to the dance floor. We danced together with a group of other women whose dates or husbands didn't want to dance. It was like nothing changed in that regard since high school.

As we danced I couldn't stop myself from watching the beautiful nymph dancing before me. I smiled from the sheer pleasure she seemed to be experiencing. She knew I was watching her and held eye contact with me. Although we were surrounded by other people, she playfully danced with me. She was a very good dancer and moved well to the rhythmic beats of the music. She finally broke the eye contact as she suggestively danced around me. I didn't care if anyone noticed and it certainly appeared that neither did she.

I was completely and totally smitten. I was feeling my hormones rage in a way I hadn't felt in a very long time. The emotions that started to run through me made me feel like I truly was in high school again.

After awhile the music stopped and the head of the reunion committee, Grace Morton, stood at the podium. We returned to our seats to rest our feet and get a drink. I needed to cool down (in more ways than one). Grace then gave out awards for who traveled the farthest to be at the reunion, etc. After she finished, another committee member that I didn't know read a list of names of classmates, faculty, and staff whom had died since graduation and asked for a moment of silence in their honor and memory. I had heard over the years that a few of the people named had passed, but I heard two names that caused me great sadness. Kurt and DJ.

I had lost contact with both of them during my sophmore year of college. I knew DJ had hit minor stardom a couple of years earlier when he became a cast member on a critically acclaimed network television series and had a few national commercials. I was extremely proud of him and pleased that he was able to live his dream.

I learned later that night that both DJ and Kurt died from AIDS related diseases. Although I was very saddened to hear about Kurt, I wasn't that surprised. I always wondered given his sexual proclivities whether or not he'd survive the plague that attacked the gay community from the late 1970's to early 1980's on. But I was quite surprised to hear about DJ. Although Gretchen and I always suspected he was gay, we never had it confirmed.

"Are you ok?" Keeley asked concerned. She noticed the look on my face after the names were read.

"Yeh, just surprised to hear Kurt's and David's names. DJ was so young and had so much to give. He was just hitting it big in his career. I was so proud of him when I read an article in People magazine about him last year. It's such a waste. . ."

"I remember him. Were you two close?"

"For awhile. He was really a great guy. So was Kurt. Kurt and I kind of flirted with each other in Junior High School. We all hung around together at times throughout high school."

The DJ had been playing music for a few minutes, and then put on a Billy Joel song. "He's right. The good do die young." I raised my water glass and gave a silent toast in honor of my two fallen friends.

Although I was sad, I didn't let the bad news spoil the good time I was having. I spent some time speaking with Tess and Janie, introducing them to each other and to Keeley. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch. When we were finally kicked out of the room by the staff after midnight, Keeley and I decided to call it a night. We skipped going into the hotel bar where many of our classmates congregated for last call.

We said our goodbyes and walked together through the lobby and out into the parking lot.

"Where are you parked?" I asked once we were outside.

"Over there," she answered, pointing to our left.

"I'm over there," I said pointing in the opposite direction to our right. I turned to face her. "Thanks for a great evening tonight. I had a really good time with you," I said shyly.

"Me too," she said pulling me into a close hug. Surprised, I put my arms around her and hugged her back. I don't remember anything else feeling so right. It seemed like it wasn't nearly long enough when she pulled back and gave me a gentle kiss on my cheek.

"I'll see you tomorrow," she said releasing me and turning to walk to her car.

"'Til tomorrow!" I agreed.

As I walked to my car I realized that Gretchen had never shown up that night. I was really glad for more than one reason.

* * *

Mind you, back in the early 1990's there weren't too many coffeehouses around San Diego. What few that did exist weren't considered to be "cool" places to meet. It's not like it is in the 21st Century, where there's a Starbuck's on every corner. The alternative was to meet at a bar or go out to eat at a restaurant. No wonder alcohol was so prevalent in the gay and lesbian lifestyle back then. There simply was nowhere else to go where we could be ourselves and feel comfortable expressing our sexual orientation. Ah, but I'm off on another tangent.

The next morning I called Keeley to make plans for later that day. We agreed to meet at one of the few coffeehouses in Hillcrest at 1:00 pm. Neither of us really wanted to go to a bar and I didn't know if I was up to either waiting a few hours to see her for dinner or make a fool of myself because I was so nervous at lunch. I hoped that if we got along this afternoon that we could always go grab an early dinner later, assuming she didn't already have other plans.

When I arrived at the coffeehouse she was sitting at a small table in the back. She waved to me when I walked in the front door and stopped to look around for her. I saw that she already had a cup in front of her so I motioned that I would get something for myself.

When I got to the table, she greeted me with one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen. Not knowing whether to hug her in greeting or just sit down, I saw she didn't move to stand up, so I sat. An awkward silence momentarily fell between us.

"I had a really great time last night Keeley. I'm very glad that we met." I finally broke the silence.

"Me too. I certainly had more fun than I thought I would and I owe it all to you. I only decided to go a couple of days ago."

"I'm very happy you decided and that we were placed at the same table. I almost didn't go myself. To be honest, I dreaded going at all."

"Why's that?" she asked curiously.

"I . . . um . . .I didn't want to run into Gretchen."

"Ah. . . ," she said knowingly and dropped the subject, instead asking me about my family.

We talked for the next two hours, the time passing quickly and unknowingly. She told me how she went to Cal Berkeley on an academic scholarship. Graduating with a BA in English, she was working as a travel writer for the largest magazine in San Diego. She dreamed of broadening her horizons and working freelance.

Sharing our college experiences, we cried from laughter at some of our exploits and raged in righteous indignation at the injustices we fought against through our respective Women's Centers.

We spoke of our families; likes and dislikes of movies, books, and music. We found that we had a lot in common from our tastes in music to our love of sports and the theatre. I shared more about myself in those two hours than I had in weeks of dating some women. It felt very comfortable to share myself with Keeley. She felt safe to me.

After the two hours she stood and excused herself to use the rest room. I asked her if she wanted another drink; she asked for an iced tea. In her absence I went and got our drinks refreshed and then sat observing the room full of people I hadn't noticed given my focus was completely on Keeley.

There was an eclectic mixture of people – many college students studying despite the noise of conversations around them; groups or pairs of women of all types, sizes and varieties; and some pairs of men as well. As I looked around I casually acknowledged a few women with whom I was acquainted.

As I waited for Keeley to return, I couldn't remember having such an enjoyable time just sitting and talking to another woman. I was excited and was on Cloud 9. Not only was Keeley beautiful of body (she did tell me she worked out at the gym a few times a week), but she was beautiful of spirit and mind as well. She was extremely intelligent and had a wicked sense of humour.

She returned to the table and sat down as I was silently praising her attributes. She thanked me for getting the tea and I said "De Nada" and just looked into her beautiful blue eyes.

"What?" she asked laughing uncomfortably.

"Your name suits you well," I simply stated.

"Thanks. . . I think," she said uncertain of what I meant.

"Your name, it means 'beautiful' ".

"Really?" she asked surprised. "I knew it was a variation of Kelly, but not more than that. And your name? What does Solange mean?" she asked looking at me, leaning with her elbows on the table.

"Dignified or Earth Angel. It's the name of a Saint. I think she was a shepardess and was killed by her Master, or something like that."

"Well then, your name suits you as well."

"Thank you ma'am," I smiled shyly.

"And is this a hobby of yours? To know the meaning of names?"

"No, not at all. Your name intrigued me, so I looked it up on Prodigy and while I checked yours, I checked mine as well," I admitted as I shifted uncomfortably.

"Ah, a fellow lover of knowledge." She smiled and leaned in closer. "So, are you a sophist?" she asked conspiratorially, lowering her voice, but still smiling.

I looked at her very puzzled. "I've been called a sapphist before, but I can honestly say I don't think I've ever been called a sophist. It's good . . . I hope."

"Yep, it can be good. It means a wise person or a philosopher, but can also mean one who may have fallacious reasoning."

"Ouch!" I said, dramatically grabbing my chest. "I think you just stabbed me! And how, pray tell, do you know my reasoning is fallacious?"

"Well, I don't know for sure, and not to seem sexist against our own gender, but you are human and a woman, so your reasoning must be fallacious somewhere," she teased.

I sat back in my chair and laughed. "I see. So I guess that equally applies to you as well!" I teased. "Well, it seems I may have met my intellectual match . . . or, perhaps, my superior!" I quickly added seeing the expression of amusement on Keeley's face.

"Something tells me, Ms. Boas, that you can give me a run for my money," she answered impishly. "Hey, are you hungry?" she asked suddenly.

I glanced at my watch and saw that it was rapidly approaching 4:00, and I didn't have any lunch. "Famished."

"Do you like Japanese food?"

"Love it."

"Sapporo's!" We suggested in unison. Surprised, we both started to laugh. Sapporo's was a tiny Japanese restaurant located about a block away from the coffeehouse. We left and walked to the restaurant. As we approached we saw that the line was out the door. The restaurant had only five small tables inside and two picnic tables on the outside patio in front. We took our place in line and looked at each other knowing that we probably wouldn't be able to eat there.

"You know, I live pretty close. Do you want to get the food to go and take it to my place to eat?" Keeley suggested as we neared the front of the line and it became more apparent we wouldn't find a table. I answered affirmatively. We stood in line discussing the various menu options and specials. When it was our turn to order, Keeley insisted on paying and refused to take any money from me. Despite my objections, she said I could pay "next time". That's always a good thing to hear on a first date. My confidence soared and I think I smiled like the village idiot.

I grabbed the bag with our food once it was ready and carried it as we walked back to our cars parked by the coffeehouse. Keeley gave me her address and directions so we could meet at her apartment. I offered to stop and pick up some beverages at the convenience store across the street, so she took the food bag from me.

I was lucky and found a parking place in front of her apartment complex. As I walked into the complex, I saw there were only 8 units, 4 upstairs and 4 downstairs. It was very cute and well landscaped. I glanced at the apartment numbers and saw Keeley's unit was upstairs, towards the rear of the complex. I carried the bag up the stairs and knocked on the open door. Keeley invited me in as she placed some napkins down next to the bag of food on a small dining table.

I walked through the doorway and saw that while her apartment appeared small from the outside, it was rather large inside. As I walked in there was a rather large living area with a fireplace and the dining area and kitchen to the right. To the left was a short hallway which I assumed led to two bedrooms and a bathroom.

Keeley welcomed me in and instructed me to place the bag on the dining table. After separating two beers from the six pack, she put the rest into the refrigerator, and then asked me to sit down in a chair at the table. She soon joined me and we dug into the food bag, opening the Styrofoam containers to find our respective meals.

We started to eat our dinner and easily slid back into conversation. "Sol, would you like to tell me about Gretchen?" she asked unexpectantly.

I was at first taken aback by her question. "Isn't it terribly gauche to talk about ex-girlfriends on the first date?" I teased, a bit uncomfortable.

"But it's not our first date. I'm counting last night, so it's our second date," she smiled, maintaining eye contact. "Don't worry, I'll play fair. You tell me your story and I'll tell you mine. But you have to go first," she tried to reassure me. I guess she saw my ambivalence and quickly added, "Listen, our pasts are a big part of who we are today. Without them, we'd probably be completely different people at this particular point in time. So, I'd just like to know how it is you are who you are today. That, and I really don't believe in secrets. I've learned over the years that even the things that one may think are innocuous and trivial can come back and bite you in the ass from an unintentional omission."

I hesitated to answer at first. I was in awe of this incredibly intelligent, insightful, and beautiful woman. "That's something I'm not particularly fond of myself – secrets that is." I finally uttered.

So, over the course of dinner I told her the loving and lurid story of Gretchen and how she broke my heart. I went on and also told her the Reader's Digest version of my entire "checkered" past since then, not holding anything back. She sat eating, but very attentive, trying to keep eye contact whenever possible and occasionally asking questions.

At one point I noticed her eyeing the egg roll that was still on my plate. "Are you going to eat that?" she asked innocently.

I looked at her appalled and playfully growled. "Whip me, beat me, call me names, make me feel cheap – BUT . . . do . . . not . . . mess with my egg roll!" I made my point. She laughed and pretended to be sufficiently chastised.

I finished the remainder of my story as we finished dinner. Keeley cleared the table, threw all the containers into the trash, and told me to sit in the living room while she finished cleaning up. I grabbed two beers from the refrigerator and carried them into the living room and sat on the couch, placing the beers on coasters on the wood coffee table.

I sat and silently watched Keeley finish straightening up. She mesmerized me. I was feeling things I don't recall ever feeling before, even with Gretchen. In some ways I felt cleansed. I had told her the short version of my life over the last ten years and she didn't kick me out or run away screaming. I had pretty much stripped myself bare and, so far, she didn't criticize or judge me. I felt safe. I thought I was either extremely brave or completely stupid for opening myself as I had. I placed these thoughts on the back burner. Now was not the time or place to analyze, but rather to enjoy.

She soon joined me and sat on the other end of the couch. "Thanks for sharing that all with me," she said sincerely. "I really appreciate your honesty."

"You're welcome. And now . . ."

"It's my turn," she finished my sentence. She picked up her beer, took a gulp, then began her story. She told me how hard it was to constantly move around from city to city and state to state and to have an absent father most of the time while growing up. How she knew she felt different from other kids at an early age, but didn't know exactly how or why until she came out when she was a sophomore in college. She had a few fumbled experiences and then met her ex, Alexis, during her junior year. Her parents were Southern Baptist, so it was difficult and scary to admit her sexual orientation to them. They didn't disown her, but it took time for them to accept her as the daughter they raised and loved and putting their religious beliefs and judgments aside.

She also spoke about her relationship with Alexis. While Alexis had remained faithful to Keeley, she had somehow fallen out of love and needed to move on. Like myself with Gretchen, Keeley didn't see it coming.

"I'm sorry, but I just don't get it. Maybe it's my naivete or lack of experience in long-term relationships, but I've never understood how someone can just fall 'out of love'," I ruminated. "I mean, I can see people growing apart or changing to where it no longer makes sense to be together, but to just, boom, 'fall out of love' with everything else being the same just isn't logical to me. I just don't understand."

"Nor do I Sollie, nor do I," she sadly agreed, turning her head to gaze out the side window into the evening sky.

We sat in silence. I observed her profile and how inviting the nape of her neck looked to me. My emotions were in overdrive, as were my hormones. I wanted nothing more than to take her into my arms, kiss her silly, and erase the sad expression on her face. I scooted over to her and put my arm around her shoulder. With my other hand I moved her head to face me and cupped her cheek. She looked into my eyes and I saw the sadness disappear from her eyes and be replaced by desire. What seemed ever so slowly, we both leaned in until our lips met in a gentle kiss. I then put soft kisses on her forehead, nose, and eyes. I couldn't help myself and returned my lips to her glorious ones. What started out as gentle and sweet quickly turned into passionate and demanding. Our mouths opened as the kisses deepened and our tongues explored.

I felt like all of the strong feelings I experienced since meeting Keeley the night before were pouring out through my lips and mouth. I wanted her to share in the intensity of what I was experiencing. I pulled her closer to me. I remember thinking she couldn't have been close enough unless she was actually under my skin. I felt no fear or embarrassment. I only felt the burning desire and deep connection between us. I just wanted my kisses to convey it all to her. I'm fairly certain she got my message and was trying to convey the same to me.

She soon laid down on the couch, pulling me on top of her, our legs entwining – our thighs between the others legs. I'm embarrassed to write what we did that evening – I'm blushing as I even think about it. I think Keeley would hunt me down and shoot me if I shared the particulars of that fabulous evening. I was taken to places I'd never been before, and so had she. We exposed the most intimate pieces of ourselves to the other that night, each intuitively knowing that everything in our individual lives had changed completely.

I know some of you may be thinking that we moved way too fast and didn't do "the healthy thing". You may be right. We didn't act with our heads, but instead with our instincts, emotions – our hearts. We explored - we touched almost every part of the other's body - both giving and taking pleasure. I don't think I'll get into trouble to say that Keeley had the most exquisite body I have ever seen. She was both muscular and soft in all of the right places. And, despite her tan, she had the softest skin I had ever touched.

Everything was so loving and tender, it was almost a guilty pleasure – as if I was somehow undeserving of such a beautiful and unique experience. As I lay holding her in the early morning hours, I was thankful I was on summer break, but also saddened that this feeling would end once Keeley had to leave in a few hours to go to work. I shoved that thought aside and fell back to sleep, relishing the feelings of love and contentment that permeated my heart and head.

I awoke a few hours later to a set of sparkling blue eyes looking at me. Keeley was lying on her side watching me, with the most content expression on her face that I had ever seen.

"Good morning," she smiled. I sleepily turned over onto my side to face her. Our lips were only inches apart.

"Morning," I whispered groggily, closing the gap and giving her a gentle kiss on the lips and then lay back down. Her eyes twinkled. I think we both felt the awkwardness of "the morning after" – that feeling when you wake up and don't know how the other person will react; whether they feel regret or ecstasy.

"You are even more beautiful when you sleep," she stated softly, wiping a curl of hair off of my face. The tenderness in her voice and the look in her eyes erased any fears I may have had. She closed the distance this time, putting her arms around me, pulling me against her and enveloping my mouth with her own.

She didn't have to work that day. I think we finally got up to get something to eat sometime in the mid-afternoon.

Keeley and I were basically inseparable after that night. We spent a part of almost every day together. We went to Mission Bay to fly kites; we explored all of the antique shops and used book stores on Adams Ave; we would lounge in our sweats or shorts and watch movies. We just seemed to fit together – two halves making a whole.

We also talked. My God did we talk! But we didn't just "talk", we communicated – we heard and listened to what the other had to say and respected the other's view, even if we disagreed or individual perception differed. We discussed all sorts of things: politics; religion; sports; our dreams, hopes, and desires; and anything else that came up in the course of our conversations. We even spoke about our feeling about "marriage".

Although "commitment ceremonies" were becoming popular at the time (keep in mind folks, this was 1990, long before same-sex marriages were legal like they are now), neither of us believed in them. We didn't necessarily believe in the institution of marriage, period. We both had seen too many long term relationships, both gay and straight, go to hell in a hand basket once the couple stood before their God, friends, and family to say "I do". We both believed that commitment was in the heart, not a piece of paper. We did believe, however, that a ring did symbolize commitment – it just need not be put on in the course of a ritual ceremony.

We effortlessly passed the early critical points in our relationship with flying colours – one month; three months; six months. We had proclaimed our undying love for one another early on in our relationship, I think it was only a couple of weeks. Despite our desire to be with and our love for the other, we were two independent women who cherished our own space at times. We had both been hurt in the past, so we were in no rush to live together. We both agreed we didn't want to move in together too hastily.

I introduced her to my family within a month. They adored her and adopted her, making her feel as welcomed as I knew they would. We spent Thanksgiving with my family and decided to spend Christmas with hers. Her Dad had long since retired from the Navy and her parents had moved back to Arkansas years ago. So, for some masochistic reason I decided to spend the holidays with Keeley's Southern Baptist parents on their turf south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Despite Keeley's assurances, I was extremely anxious from the situation. Upon our arrival I found that Keeley was right and my fears were unfounded. Although it was a bit uncomfortable at first, her parents welcomed me into their home and into their family.

I also saw where Keeley got her good looks. Although Keeley had pulled her family photo album out on many occasions, the photos did not do her parents or her siblings justice. Her parents were striking and their looks certainly were not fading from age. I may have been prejudiced, but while her three sisters and brother were very attractive themselves, their beauty paled in comparison to Keeley's.

Two of her sisters, Mariah and Moira, and her brother, Kelvin, had moved back to various parts of the South years ago and each spoke with a unique Southern accent. Her youngest sister, Jodhi, still lived in San Diego and I had met her previously. But because the three of us San Diegans were in the minority, it was proclaimed that we were the Yankees with the weird accent.

That entire trip was a bit of a culture shock for me. I had never before been to the South, except to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Nor had I ever spent much time in a rural community. Her parents had moved back to the small town where they were raised. It was definitely a slower, more relaxing pace than in the city. Everything in the town, except the one town bar, closed by 8:00 pm when the main street turned into a ghost town.

I also learned where Keeley got her sense of humor and fast wit. The entire damn family was like that. That clan was dangerous! I had to stay on my toes and keep my senses sharp to catch their subtle zings. Half of the time I didn't know what hit me.

Her family members were also very willing and were quick to share embarrassing stories of Keeley's childhood, much to her dismay. From the moment we arrived her brother Kelvin kept calling her "Poop". The daggers of ice from Keeley's glare each time he said did not escape me and I feared to ask him the reason for her pet name. After dinner one evening my curiosity got the better of me and I finally asked why. It was as big of a mistake as I thought. He explained that Keeley had pooped in her pants one day in kindergarten because she didn't want to use the school bathroom that didn't have doors on the stalls. Although her brother was younger, he branded her "Poopy-pants" and as time passed he shortened it to "Poop".

Her older sister Moira then quickly added to the tears of laughter coming from her family members by reminding them of when Keeley got a tad too bossy with them and some neighborhood playmates. When her parents confronted her with her behavior, in all of her six year old glory said, "Hell yeah, they're stupid!" She not only got to experience the displeasure of tasting a bar of soap, but apparently got "a lickin" as well.

Keeley tried to be a trooper as they continued to tell stories. She pouted and interjected objections and her side of the events. But then she got even. Her escapades were tame in comparison to those of some of her siblings.

By the end of the night my stomach hurt from laughing so hard. When we went to bed I teasingly called her "Poop". I was told, in a tone of voice I never wanted to hear another time, that if I ever wanted to "get any" ever again, I would, in no uncertain terms, never call her that again. Given the expression on her face as well, I never did again.

Upon our return to San Diego, we settled back into our double lives, splitting time at both our residences. By the time our one year anniversary approached, we were both tired of living at two separate abodes. I also knew that I didn't want to live without her by my side and me by hers. I knew, without any doubt, that she completed me – that she was my soul mate. For without her I'd exist, but with her I was alive.

Being the hopeless romantic I am, I wanted our anniversary to be very special and loving. We rented a cabin at Lake Arrowhead and planned to spend our entire anniversary weekend by ourselves. That did interfere with a few of my plans, but I quickly improvised.

I had arranged with the property manager and a local florist to have a dozen long stemmed roses and various other flower arrangements delivered and placed in the cabin before we arrived. I volunteered to be responsible for the food, so I packed the cooler with all of the food, including shrimp and a very special bottle of champagne for the dinner I planned to cook for Keeley on Sunday night. I was also able to sneak a bag of various sized candles and candle holders into the car without her knowledge. The most important part, my gift for her, was carefully packed in my suitcase.

We arrived at the cabin shortly after dark on Friday night. I carried the cooler and she carried our bags. Keeley unlocked the door with the key that had been mailed to us. Once she opened the door I saw that the Property Manager had done me good. The flowers were strategically placed around the living room and a fire was burning in the fireplace. I could tell the fire was started shortly before our arrival so we apparently just missed the person.

We had learned of the cabin through a co-worker of Keeley's. It was simple, yet more beautiful than reflected in the brochure pictures. It was definitely a condo more than a rustic cabin. As we walked into the entry way, the living room was to our right, while the foyer led farther down to a large dining room area and kitchen on the left. Off the foyer to the left of the door were the stairs leading to the second level.

Keeley stepped inside, looked around, and then stepped over to the roses which were in a vase on a table in the foyer. She picked up the card and looked at me. I had placed the cooler down and told her to go ahead and read the card. She opened the envelope and quickly read the card.

"To my love, my life, my future . . . Happy 1st of many Anniversaries", I had dictated to the florist.

She put her hand over her mouth in surprise, then quickly turned around and threw her arms around me.

"Thank you," she whispered before giving me a kiss that made my toes curl. "You arranged all of this?" she asked, momentarily coming up for air.

"Unh huh," was all I could get out as her mouth again enveloped my own.

After a few minutes, she released me from her grip, leaving me breathless. We agreed we should get settled, so she carried our bags upstairs to the bedroom loft, while I carried the cooler into the kitchen and began to unload its contents. She walked into the kitchen a few minutes later carrying the bags with the rest of the groceries. She placed the bags on the kitchen counter and turned to look at me, her hip resting against the edge of the counter.

"There's more, isn't there? What else do you have hiding up your sleeve?" she asked inquisitively.

"I'll never tell either way." I answered, continuing to place items from the cooler into the refrigerator.

"I'm scared, very scared," she muttered as she began to empty the bags.

We had three nights and three days of doing whatever we wanted, including doing absolutely nothing if that's what we so desired. We took full advantage of the down time. On Saturday I think we only got out of bed to get something to eat and use the restroom. Well, on Saturday evening we did take full advantage of the large Jacuzzi tub and the fireplace.

Sunday morning we had a leisurely breakfast and went outside for a short hike. We came back and laid on the bed and tried to take a nap, but were unsuccessful until after we were again sated from making love.

I awakened to Keeley's head on my shoulder and her arm wrapped around my stomach. She was beautiful lying there asleep and looked so innocent. I slowly and quietly extricated myself from her, threw on a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt, and quietly made my way downstairs to prepare the anniversary meal I had planned for her.

By the time she came downstairs an hour later, I had a fire roaring in the fireplace, the living and dining rooms were aglow from candles, and the champagne was in an ice bucket on the dining room table. I was in the kitchen cutting vegetables for salad and putting the final touches on the shrimp scampi when she leaned against the doorway with bed head and sleepy eyes. She looked absolutely adorable and completely irresistible.

"Hey sleepy head," I greeted as I cut up the cucumber for the salad.

"You've been busy." She observed sleepily.

"A little. Want to wash up? Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes."

"OK," she answered, dragging herself up the stairs.

By the time she came back down looking refreshed and awake, I had our meal on plates set on the dining room table and the champagne poured into glasses.

"Wow! You really are something! This all looks beautiful," she complimented as she sat in a chair at the end of the table and then leaned over to give me a kiss.

"Thanks! Anything for you honey," I said.

We leaned back into our chairs and I raised my champagne glass to toast. She raised her glass as well. I was so nervous – I hadn't really practiced this part of my plan – so I wasn't sure exactly what I should say. In my hesitation, Keeley began to speak, our eyes glued upon the other's.

"To the best year of my life so far, with the woman I absolutely love and adore, and to the many more years I know that will follow. I love you with all of my heart Sollie," she toasted tenderly.

"I love you too Keel," I responded softly. We gently clinked our glasses together and then took a sip. We leaned in and kissed again before we sat back.

We were in no hurry, so we ate our dinner at a leisurely pace. We reminisced how we first met – our first weekend together, and the various comic mishaps we had experienced during the past year, although some didn't seem so comical at the time.

When we finished, she offered to clear the table and do the dishes to allow me a chance to cleanup as she had before dinner. I ran upstairs and went straight into the bathroom. I washed up and brushed my teeth and hair, then went into the loft area and changed into another pair of sweats and a clean tank top. I went into my suitcase and pulled out the small box containing Keeley's present, and slipped the box into my sweats pocket.

I had cleaned the kitchen as I cooked, so Keeley didn't have many dishes to wash. When I came down the stairs she was laying, waiting for me, on some large pillows she had placed on the floor in front of the fireplace. The room was awash with light from all of the candles I lit earlier and the roaring fire in the fireplace. The light danced off of Keeley's dark blond hair. From one angle I had walking down the stairs it looked like she had a halo. I had to pause momentarily and I took a sharp breath – I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the sight. At that moment I literally felt my heart swell from the love I felt for Keeley. That feeling went down to the very core of my soul.

"Hey! Come over here," Keeley softly directed after she turned and saw me on the stairs. I walked down the rest of the stairs and across the room to her, laying down next to her. She handed me my glass of champagne and gently kissed my lips. I put my free arm around her and pulled her close to me, gently kissing her on the top of her head.

"Happy Anniversary sweetheart," I whispered into her ear.

"Happy Anniversary to you too," she kissed my collarbone where her head rested. "I've got something I want to give you." She tried to sit up, but I held her firmly in place.

"Me first," I whispered as I released my grip, placed my glass onto the floor, and shifted so I could look at her face. She looked at me with love and anticipation. I slipped my hand into my pocket, pulled out the box, and handed it to her.

She sat up, ripped off the wrapping paper, opened the small box, and pulled out a jewelry box. Before opening the box, she looked at me curiously, as if asking me what was inside. She raised the hinged top, revealing a gold ring inlayed with tanzanite and Australian opals. Her eyes grew large and she gasped. I can't believe she actually gasped when she saw it! I'd never heard anyone gasp like that before, and as nervous as I was, it brought a smile to my face.

"Oh my God, Sollie! It's beautiful!" she cried softly, tears began to fall from her eyes. I took the box from her and pulled out the ring. I took her left hand, placed the ring on her ring finger, then took both of her hands into my own and looked her in the eye.

"Keeley, I love you more than I could ever imagined loving anyone. You make me happy; you make me laugh; you make me feel complete. I want nothing more than to be with you and . . . to live with you. Will you? Will you live with me and be with me?" I managed to choke out as tears fell down my face.

"Oh God Sollie! I love you so much. Yes! But on one condition…" she answered cupping both sides of my face with her hands.

I was suddenly very scared and even more nervous. "What's that?" I croaked.

She reached behind her and grabbed a small wrapped package that had been hidden from my view. "Open it," she softly instructed as she handed it to me.

I tore open the wrapping paper and found a jewelry box, much like I handed her. I quickly opened it and found a gold band, with sapphires and diamonds set in a channel setting. She took the ring from the box and put it on my left ring finger.

"You have to accept and wear this," she spoke finally.

I was speechless and I'm sure my eyes were as big as saucers as hers had been moments before. "Yes! Of course!" I exclaimed, taking her into my arms and kissing her passionately. We were both too excited and relieved to be gentle. That came much later, hours later, after we finally made it upstairs to the bed.

* * *

Within the next month we started looking at houses to rent. Despite our commitment to one another and having basically lived together for the past year, we wanted to actually live together under one roof for awhile before we bought property together. We'd rent out my condo until we decided what we wanted to do. After searching for three weeks, we finally found a craftsman style house in Mission Hills. It was rather large, it had four bedrooms, but it was perfect for us. We could each have an office and there would also be a guest room for when her family visited. This was almost my dream house. The backyard was large, almost another lot, and faced west. It would catch most of the sun in the summer and was perfect for entertaining.

The real beauty of the deal was that we were able to get an option to buy clause in the lease. If, after the year was up, or if the owner decided to sell before then, we could purchase the house, with all of the rent credited toward the down payment. The owner also agreed to a rather low purchase price for a house of this type. That was perfect for us and was too good to believe.

It's true what they say about actually living together as opposed to cohabitating in two separate households. It is very different and does take an adjustment period. Things that didn't really bother us when we were at the other's apartment now infuriated us, now that it was "my" house as well.

During that first year living together we bickered over how messy I was, how she wouldn't take the trash out, relatively trivial things. We finally came to various compromises, as well as learning to accept some of the other's idiosyncrasies.

I guess Keeley's Southern roots began to affect me, because I really started getting into country music. Although I still loved disco and 80's dance songs, I started listening to country almost exclusively. A gay country dance bar opened not far from our house and we soon became regulars at the 7:00 pm dance lessons on Tuesday and Thursday nights. After a month we were both more than proficient at line dancing, two-stepping, and even waltzing. Barb and Leslie and some of Keeley's friends often joined us. We also made many new friends and acquaintances.

Despite our initial overindulgence into country dancing, we realized we needed some alone time as well and cut down our escapades at the bar to once a week. We also made sure to save one night a week as "date night". We tried to keep things fresh.

We did buy that house when the year was up on the lease and fixed it up more to our tastes. I sold my condo – I found I didn't like being a landlord. Keeley's freelance career took off and she was soon able to quit working at the magazine full time, just writing for them freelance as well. And me, well, I was still teaching and loving it.

One year turned into another, then another, and all of a sudden we were together for over nine years. As I write about this time period now, I wonder how I can encapsulate all of the years of happiness into only a few pages, yet alone paragraphs. I'm finding it to be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible. It's like running into someone whom you haven't seen in years – "Oh yes, Keeley and I are still together, madly in love and are very happy. I'm still teaching and she's writing." But, as we know, life is so much more than that few sentence synopsis. Too much is left out.

For example, you wouldn't tell your friend, "Well, I regressed and got too sloppy and didn't pick up after myself, leaving it for her to do for awhile, so all hell broke loose and we fought until I finally ate crow and apologized." Or, "She had a freelance job that required her to travel a lot for a few months and we were both miserable and I was resentful and hurt because I sometimes thought that she seemed to think that her job was more important than me or our relationship."

You usually don't hear these types of things in that type of conversation. But, the fact remains, those things, and others more serious and more trivial, did happen, I just don't want to bore you with the details. It was because we were still madly in love and communicated with one another that we were able to get through the darker times. It took a lot of talking, yelling, mutual respect for one another, and a few 'I have to leave the house for an hour to calm down. I'll be back'.

I learned over the course of the almost ten years we were first together that the fantasy isn't meeting the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, but rather it's in living together happily and 'forever'. I never really realized how much hard work it is to stay in love and be happy. But I'll tell you, the rewards more than make up for the sacrifices. I was more in love with Keeley as when we first met, almost ten years before.

part 3

Return to the Academy