Quinney + Rayma
My sexual awakening was the movie Moulin Rouge.
Not Nicole Kidman, not even Ewan McGregor, the whole movie. Flare, mystery, and France, all topped off with music by Beck. I learned my one and only love language1 in that film, my passions and deepest desires. Moulin Rouge wasn’t just my favorite movie, Moulin Rouge was my childhood movie. While my classmates were wearing thin VHS tapes of Aladdin, or Sleeping Beauty, or Mulan – No Rouge, I was dissecting a French, neoclassical-inspired film about a writer’s love affair with a consumption-riddled prostitute.2 Like a musical number that opens in fortissimo, my expectations of romance had nowhere to go but down.
Really, I just liked hearing my mom sing all the songs at the top of her lungs… and Nicole Kidman’s exposed breasts… and Ewan McGregor’s beard.3 At eight years old I was out looking for love – nameless, faceless love. Not trying to “love and be loved in return,” but looking for anyone to love me, preferably a red lipstick seductress with blue eyes.
While striking out to find the love of my life from Kindergarten to fourth grade, I acquired some tools. With a stolen yellow legal pad and a brown crayon, I watched Moulin Rouge on repeat, taking notes.
WHY DOES CHRISTIAN GET GIRLS:
-Can talk to girls
I already had singing on my fifth-grade resume. I grew up with Mama G and her kitchen radio. To bolster it further, I learned how to play guitar.4
Handsome, I could not control. Even at seven years old, I had big, sweaty hands, bird’s nest curly hair, and an unfortunate combination of my mother’s hooked nose and my father’s broad one.
Friends never came easy. Rather than sitting by myself at lunch, I decided to break the bullying barrier that was the cafeteria gender line. Most people learn what women like in their first serious relationships, or from their sisters, or not at all, I learned at lunch time. I learned what girls didn’t like; how boys looked at them, or how their fathers talked to them, or how male teachers made them put sweaters over their spaghetti straps. Like a reverse Jane Goodall, I jotted down my daily notes on this advanced species. I took note particularly of their complicated relationships built on things like trust or shared interest, rather than proximity or athletic prowess. Hanging out at lunch became hanging out after school which became practicing kissing on the only boy in the room. Not quite the romance I was looking for, but it crossed off many things on my list. Now all I had to do was be creative.
That’s when I met Quinney.
I was singing in the music division of the Environmental Club – all mother nature and recycling. It was awful, but I was going for an earthy, granola-type creativity, and my sometimes-kissing friends were in it. We had just learned a song, and as the new kid, I was put on the spot to sing the chorus by myself, hands sweaty and long frizzy hair bouncing off my forehead. I wasn’t just twelve-year-old JT anymore; I was Christian singing “The hills are aliiiiive, with the sound of music” to my bohemians, 20, teenage girls. My eyes were drawn to one particularly short girl, two years older than me with blond hair, blue eyes, and red lipstick. She was encouraging me with the brightest smile I’d ever been given. But she was in high school. Impossible, Inconceivable, Unattainable.
I saw Quinney here or there for two years, until my first day of high school. As I walked into my first class, show choir, the only freshman to audition and get in, the only football player, the first Glee generation man of the Westlake choral department, I was tackled. Blushing and enwrapped by a tiny junior, I sensory overloaded on Quinney’s aura. Her hair was shorter. She still had those beautiful blue eyes highlighted by dark eye shadow. She had a little more acne near her inviting smile, and a yellow sundress replaced her Jeans and Sweater. Her pulsing energy emanated into the missing parts of me left by unknowable turmoil, filling my longings for belonging and anguish for attraction. I would do anything for her at that moment. I was completely hers, without her even asking.5
I had changed too. Newly braces-less, I’d accessorized my body with football muscles and tough hand calluses. My long frizzy hair was gone too, replaced by tight hair-sprayed curls. I daydreamed about our romance for the rest of the day, pulled along by a workman’s bell.
BELL RINGS: BIOLOGY
Our love would be subtle and natural; with the right water and sunlight, we’d create something for me to tell stories about. First, we’d exchange looks as dance partners, expanding into long conversations, me listening like I had in the lunchroom.
BELL RINGS: ENGLISH
Then we’d kiss under Friday night lights,
BELL RINGS: HISTORY
and I’d change my Facebook profile to a picture of us, goofy and flattering.
BELL RINGS: FRENCH
Then she’d graduate and wait for me to go to college with her in New York.
BELL RINGS: MATH
She’d learn to change the world,
BELL RINGS: FOOTBALL PRACTICE
and I’d learn to capture her essence in eternal words.
PRACTICE ENDS: DRIVING HOME WITH MY MOM
We’d travel the world together and our moms would be best friends,
LYING IN BED AT NIGHT
our first born’s name would be Finnegan.
“I just want to be friends,” Quinney said as I leaned in to kiss her after one of my football games. Plucked out of a daydream, like Alice but falling in reverse from the realm of Cheshire cats to tea with her mother. A silver lining: in my experience girls liked to kiss their male friends… like, all the time. So, like a puppy in need of a cuddle, I followed Quinney to lunch tables and parties feigning ignorance. “Hey Quinney, where do I put my lunch tray,” or, “Hey Quinney, what’s the difference between Vodka and Tequila?” Each adorned with a tiny, soft hand on my shoulder, or sometimes face and a soft and soothing, “Awww, JT!” I’d get girlfriends and she’d hoot and holler and gossip with me. She’d get boyfriends and I’d get quiet and detached; old enough to apply ancient double standards and too young to understand their implications.
Her name was Samantha, friends called her Sam for legal purposes.6 We met at Freshman orientation, and as smooth as an eighteen-year-old can be, I asked her, “What does it take for a small-town Ohio boy to get you to be his date?”
I don’t remember her response, but to my understanding it was affirmative, and I was under the impression that I would be taking her to a party that night.
I went to Sam’s dorm room at the agreed upon time. I knocked on the door, Justin Timberlake cologne filling the hallway. Sam was getting ready with a friend. She looked stunning. Her skin was sunkissed, her hair spun in tight curls down her shoulders, and I attempted to divert my eyes from her clearly exposed cleavage.7 Seeing her in that moment reminded me of every girl my brothers took home from college, or meeting Quinney for the first time and like then, I was a little boy with sweaty hands.
I escorted Sam and her friend to the party. Sam laughed at all my jokes and responded to my unabashed flirtations. For the ten-minute walk across campus, I was feeling extremely confident under my “adult” button-down and skinny jeans that were way too tight for my corn-beef-fed thighs. Although Sam was responsive to me, the real star of the journey was her friend, who at the time I thought was named Nevaeh.8 Neveah was hilarious. She made fun of my “adult” shirt and my tight pants. She busted my balls like we’d been friends since grammar school. I learned in that conversation that she was Jewish and from Boston, qualities I learned to appreciate in my upbringing.9
Sam, Naveah, and I arrived at my first college party; I tensed like a fist about to fly. The setting simply unsettled me. I’d been to parties before, but this was different. Your first college party is a lot like losing your virginity – you will be sweaty and very disappointed at how little you feel. In my case, both were also over very quickly. I left Sam to get some cheap beer, and when I returned, she was locked in the passionate embrace of a baseball player, tongues tied. In that moment the Oberlin Baseball team became my enemy. Miller Highlife in hand, I swore to God almighty that, like the English and the French, I would war with the Baseball team for one hundred years.
That’s when I started crying. When I saw Sam with her new man, I felt the weight of every girl who ever cheated on me and every bully who ever called me fat.10 I set the unopened beers down on the most disgusting table I’d ever seen and walked out of the house. As I walked across the lawn, past all the fake-indie trust fund kids smoking American Spirits,11 I felt a tap on my shoulder. Every cell in my body wanted to be engulfed by Sam’s emerald green eyes. It was Nevaeh. A pit dropped in my aching heart. So much so, that I didn’t wipe my eyes of their self-perceived weakness. Who cares if Sam’s friend saw me cry? If anything, maybe Nevaeh would tell Sam and I would get a second date out of sympathy.
“Hey, I’m really sorry about Sam,” she said in a surprisingly calming voice.
“It’s fine, not the first time,” I sniffled in return
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, you seem like a nice guy.”
“Thanks, Nevaeh,” I said while turning around towards my dorm and the sweet embrace of mind-numbing marijuana.
“That’s not my fucking name.” She spat. She had one of those tones where you can’t tell if the person is kidding or actually mad. I turned around, pissed that not-Neveah made me late for my date with Lady Mary Jane.
“What’s your name?” I asked in a reciprocal tone.
“Rayma?” I questioned with a smirk.
“Yup. You got it,” she responded with a middle finger.
After that night, Rayma was just a person I saw in the hallways, and Sam was the girl who would drunkenly apologize to me every weekend. Then, Rayma became a regular in all my classes, as we were both fans of Classical Literature and History. Then she was eerily absent for a whole semester, and there was a Rayma-sized hole in all my Latin classes.13
When she returned from a semester abroad, Rayma just became my best friend. I wish I had some sweet story about how she mended my fists after a fight, or that I avenged the murder of her father, but I don’t. I usually just let my hands heal on their own after fights, reminding myself to not get in any more fights, and her father is very much alive and well. I just found myself watching movies in her apartment, and as her companion at parties, I would spill my beer on her shoes, and she’d yell at me. She became the envy of all my girlfriends and my partner in beer pong. We drank peppermint tea on her porch in the cold Ohio spring, smoked weed in my apartment, and crammed for exams.
Quinney and I are sitting in my car. It’s 10:00 a.m. on a July Saturday morning. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat and my body is tight and already beginning to become sweaty. Even though it’s been years since my daydreams, I flex my arms and chest every time I see her head turn towards me in my porifera. The windows are down, Hozier is playing, and I have no clue where we are going.
“It’s a secret,” says Quinney after telling me to turn right onto Columbia Rd. “If I tell you, then it’s not a secret.” She is smiling and her eyes are so blue. I think she might be a goddess as she commands me to turn left on Lorain Rd. We’d been off and on friends for some time; it’s possible I missed her joining a coven and learning the warped ways of the Willow.14
Quinney gives me a few more directions while Hozier pours honeyed Irish harmonies in my ear, lulling me into a soft and ridiculously horny peace.15 We park the car and I take my backpack out from the trunk. Before I even look up, Quinney grabs my hand and starts leading me down a winding and muddy path through the Metroparks. Her tiny fingers interlock with my giant ones, combining our hand sweat. We talk about our relationships with our siblings. I can’t stop thinking how her fingers in mine look like a baby. I think of Finnegan again. Every five or ten seconds her hand slips off mine, her thumb stroking the side of my palm, and I feel a chill down my spine.
“With my Mid-Youth crisis all set and done, I need to be youthfully held, ‘cause lord i’ve never felt young.”
One night, Rayma and I transformed into fake indie kids smoking American Spirits16 and talked about moving to Ireland. There was no forgery in our enjoyment. I had stopped at Rayma’s apartment for a smoke after breaking up with my then-girlfriend. I was drowning in self-doubt until Rayna said the only thing I needed to hear, menthol on her breath.
“Are you sad that it’s ending, or are you sad that you hurt her feelings?”
Fuck me running, I thought. I’d never conceived a breakup like that. But then again, I’d never had a Rayma in my life. “You remind me so much of Quinney sometimes.”
“Are you friend-cheating on me?”
I laugh until we cry.
We run through the edge of the woods, Quinney releasing a jubilant pixie giggle. We are met by a clearing of trees and mud and bud light cans. The river doesn’t look like I’m allowed to be there. Men like me don’t belong in such beauty. Bearded and giant, the clearing holds grudges against my ancestors who drained the rivers of its fish and forest of its living lumber. Men like me don’t belong with Quinney either, but neither of us belongs to the other. I belong to an abusive seventeen-year-old girl that gave a scar on my eyebrow that my brothers despise. Quinney belongs here, an elven magician who converses in the babble of the brooks and the chirps of the cardinals.
When we graduated, our Classics professor gave us Evil Eye pendants to protect us from the raging Coronavirus. I bought us matching necklaces.
My biggest fear is separation. Adulthood provides a million problems, but geographical detachment presents itself debilitatingly. I text her:
Me (10:00 p.m.): RAYMAAAA
Her (10:05 p.m.): Yesh?
Me (10:05 p.m.): How are you feeling?
Her (11:15 p.m.): I’m ok. You?
Me (11:16 p.m.): Wanna facetime? I miss your face. Want to talk about the good times with my Rayma.
Me (10:00 a.m.): RAYYYYMAA
Me (1:00 a.m.): Miss you buddy.
Me (1:15 p.m. –drunk): Why are you ignoring me?!
Me (6:30 a.m. –hungover): I’m sorry I’m being over needy. I know that can be a problem for you. Love you.
Her (11:50 p.m.): It’s ok. Just not feeling great. Love you too.
I’m over communicative; she is properly anxious. This creates friction, and sparks loneliness. I get mad, and she gets nervous. We don’t talk, and the circle rages on.
“I’ve never shown anyone this place,” Quinney says, pressing her tiny frame against my hip, “isn’t it beautiful?”
You’re beautiful, I think. As an eighteen-year-old, I recognize that Quinney isn’t beautiful like the girl I took to prom or the women in the porns I guiltily watch. No, Quinney is beautiful like this Eden she shared. Our relationship will never be sexual, I decide.17
She shaped me over the years. She’s not an artist; she didn’t chisel me chunk by chunk. She’s the river, gently breaking down my sediment an atom at a time. She understood our ecology so early. We made sense to her, like the path to Eden that I’ll never remember.
“Did I tell you I’m moving to Ireland for school?” she said.
“I’m so proud of you. Man, you have to come back to see me play at Oberlin.”
We take off our shoes and dip our hot feet in the cool stream.
At my core, I am terrified of losing Rayma as fast as we found each other. When you don’t have a pinpoint for why someone comes into your life, how can you know in what way they’ll become a stranger? Drunkenly, I once told Rayma that I would never leave her side. “Where I go, you go. Where you go, I go!” I said a few times with the breath of at least ten double whiskeys.
Maybe that wasn’t kind of me. Maybe I should just be happy that she’s in my life rather than worry about her leaving it. She’s going to hate reading this, but I know she’ll read it.
Despite my neurosis, Rayma is my best friend and closest confidant. There is a high likelihood that she will be in my wedding, and if our mothers had their way, I would be the bride, and she the groom.
We are sitting at a bar in Lakewood, Rayma and I. We live in Cleveland now, space, dissipated, friendship as strong as can be. Quinney walks through the door. I get up and she hugs me, her little arms wrapped around my waist.
“You must be Naveah!”
I laugh until I can’t breathe.
1 A nauseating combination of physical touch, acts of service, and quality time, but only if the quality time is secret and brief, preferably behind the back of a Duke.
2 I have, in fact, always been a pretentious prick.
3 Yes I understand the Oedipal mixology of liking a movie because of boobs, beards, and my mom’s belting.
4 Unaccompanied music is always garbage, unless you are in a barbershop quartet, but my head is too big for those cute little wicker hats.
5 Knowing she’d never ask.
6 The person-this-story-is-about’s name has been changed for legal purposes.
7 Ever the proper hillbilly gentleman.
8 I know that doesn’t sound like a real name, but I have a white trash family where naming your daughter Heaven backwards is romantic.
9 “As close as you can be without actually being Jewish” –An Oberlin Classmate introducing me at Shabas. My mom loves Fiddler on the Roof.
10 At least ten if I can trust some of my earliest memories.
11 Ah American Spirits, the healthy cigarette.
12 Rayna’s name has not been changed for legal purposes.
13 Usually filled by someone who was much better than me at Latin.
14 Willow trees always make me think of witches.
15 For being an effeminate man with an angelic voice, Hozier has the uncanny ability to transform me into a sexual being. Go listen to “In a Week” (feat. Karen Crowley) and tell me you don’t envision the warm body of someone you love pressed against you post orgasm.
16 The healthy cigarette.
17 Four years after she did.
JT Godfrey is a writer and humorist in Cleveland, OH. A Cleveland Native, JT writes about his unique rust belt experience, dissecting themes such as masculinity, heartbreak, and love. An Oberlin College alum, JT found his passion for writing while performing comedy and reading sad books. In everything he writes, JT attempts to scribe familial storytelling traditions and communal acceptance.