Nina defied death. I guess I should say defies because to my knowledge, she’s still kicking. She was a reckless, spirited genius, a gorgeous alcoholic.
I had been in Portland for almost two months exactly. My roommate, Stacy and I had driven down the Alcan in August, two days after my twenty-first birthday. We were staying on our friends’ couch, a couple from Alaska, ’til we found a place of our own. Two dogs, one cat, six bikes and four people in a single bedroom on Division. Stacy and I didn’t know much about the bar scene in Portland so we spent the summer nights biking back and forth between the two closest bars: the one with 75 cent “buckets” of PBR and the lesbian bar, The Egyptian Room. Sometimes on our way home we’d drunkenly circle around and around the roses of Ladd’s Addition, losing ourselves in the maze. We thought it was romantic. Its beauty, its novelty, was not lost on us.
We ended our nights at The E Room a lot. They had fairly cheap drinks and “we didn’t have to worry about guys”. Whatever that means. I was straight then. Not like I identified as straight really, but in my head the thought of touching someone else’s vagina kinda grossed me out. I remember we’d sit at the bar and I’d be anxious that all these lesbians could smell it on me that I wasn’t one of them, they’d make fun of me, or worse maybe they’d hit on me.
So on Halloween night we had been given tickets to an employee party at The Montage. It was a great party. Free drinks, flame throwers and other performances, lot’s of people. But we didn’t know anyone and everyone was in masks besides. We decided we wanted to go somewhere more familiar and took a cab to The E Room. After we got our drinks I went to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror I decided I didn’t feel comfortable in my costume (“heterosexism”- I was dressed butch with a black eye). I washed the gel out of my hair and the make-up off of my face and then dried my hair with the electric hand dryer. When I came out of the bathroom Stacy was pissed. She was upset that I had taken my costume off because she still had hers on (she was a Greek goddess). I tried to explain to her that my costume didn’t match my gender presentation like hers did and that I wasn’t being a poor sport I had just been wearing it all day, even at school. It didn’t matter, she ended up leaving me at the bar. I was hurt that she left me, but I wasn’t going home early, not on Halloween.
By the time last call came I was pretty drunk. I asked someone for a cigarette and went outside. After a few drags I remembered that I didn’t smoke anymore and held out the cigarette asking who wanted it. A tall woman with a skate board raised her hand and trotted over to get it. She said her name was Nina. The man she had been talking to followed her over to me. We chatted for a bit until the man said he had to get up early and walked off. He had been covered in blue yarn. When I asked what he was she wrapped her arm around him and proclaimed proudly, “He’s Tangled Up In Blue! It’s genius right? He didn’t have a costume when I picked him up!” It was good, I had to admit.
So Nina and I were standing alone watching the other drunk people stumble out of the closing bar. I can’t for the life of me remember how it happened but suddenly we started making out there on the sidewalk. I remember standing with my fingers hooked in her jean pockets, eyes closed thinking: this is weird, this is different, this is what it feels like to kiss a guy. I had made out with girls before, I had even had sex with women. But it wasn’t like this. I hadn’t felt desire or passion or pleasure, not until this moment. She pulled away from me, her eyes were green like mine. “I gotta go” she said. And she skateboarded off into the night.
I stood there stunned. What the fuck just happened? The bar was closed so I made my way home. I walked down the middle of Clinton St. because I was afraid of the unlit sidewalks. It was like someone had just unlocked some secret part of me. I just kept gasping aloud, “I’m gay…? I’m…gay. Oh my god, I’m gay!?”
Halloween had been on a Wednesday, so that Friday I went back to the E Room hoping I’d run into Nina again. To my surprise she was there playing pool with some people. I was nervous, but I walked over and said hello. She seemed glad to see me. I assumed the people she was with were her friends, but when they weren’t paying attention she pulled me into the bathroom and told me that they had followed her there from some sports bar. She asked me pretend we were going home together so the aggressive bull dyke would stop trying to get in her pants. I was happy to play the part. But then as we were plotting, the scary dyke burst into the bathroom angrily and got up in my face “Are you taking Nina home tonight???” she snarled. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do, I had only been a dyke for like two days. Nina grabbed my hand and said “Yeah, she is.” The scary dyke huffed out of the bathroom and Nina and I grabbed our things at the table and bolted for the door tripping over our stuff and laughing. We ran to my car and I gave her a ride home. She told me she had a crush on me and we made out again. She said she wanted to take me on a date. I was elated. I was gay. The world suddenly made sense.
Nina was not the kind of woman I would ever date now, but how could I have known my type? She was intensely beautiful. Dark hair in some weird freak haircut I can’t even explain because it won’t sound hot, and it was. She had piercing green eyes, not just because they were beautiful, but because she had this way of looking at you like she knew the secret of the universe and was just waiting for you to hurry up and realize it too. Her body was tall and medium sized, but she had a good hand full of ass. A very nice ass. She was a poet, a lyricist. She would take me to open mics where she would animatedly rattle off pieces about the cops or peace or fucking or abuse. None of them were about me. Actually, I’m pretty sure I was just a place holder. Someone to get drunk and go on adventures with. She would grab me by the waist and kiss me obviously on the MAX. She would shout at anyone who didn’t approve. She was always picking fights, stealing, and dropping her bottle of whiskey out from underneath her jacket at the wrong moments. But the bus drivers, the bartenders, the strangers, no one cared. It was like she was immune to getting in real trouble. I enjoyed being her sidekick. I fought the urge to tell her I loved her.
One night at an open mic at a dive in Northwest we got kicked out. Her for leaving empty liquor bottles under her seat, me for writing “N, YOU ARE THE HOTTEST BITCH EVER! LOVE, J” in a bathroom stall. I didn’t tell her it was the first time I had been kicked out of a bar. It was probably just her first time that week.
I also hadn’t told her that I had never dated a woman before. She was actually the perfect first woman to go gay for. The sex was like training wheels because she was always so wasted that if I messed up or didn’t know what to do she wouldn’t remember it in the morning. Still, I don’t know how she didn’t pick up on it. I remember the first time we had sex. It was the first time I had made a woman come, or seen a woman come for that matter. I remember being breathless. I told her that it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She must have thought it was just flattering pillow talk. We had been sleeping together nearly a month when I confessed that she was my first. She was weirded out and if things hadn’t started to fizzle between us, they definitely did after that.
Eventually I got tired of dealing with her drinking. Our dates weren’t fun anymore, it was just me babysitting a twenty-eight year old drunk. Trying not to get kicked off the bus before we got home, trying to avoid her puking on my carpet, making sure she didn’t sleep through her alarm and get written up at work again. Plus I had developed crushes on two of my classmates who I had more things in common with anyway. I stopped calling her on the weeknights, she stopped calling on the weekends. Our last date was seeing Tori Amos at the Schnitzer. We ran into one of my crushes from school and she could tell I liked them.
After that night she just kind of disappeared. I saw her a year or so later and we exchanged numbers. We talked about getting a drink together sometime. I wanted to sleep with her again out of nostalgia, but we never did end up getting that drink.