It’s More Fun When We’re Co-Conspirators

Welcome to Blog Anything, in which Riese and Laneia take turns writing about whatever the fuck they want to. They will be writing as if they’re writing for their tiny personal blogs and not for a giant website, because otherwise they will get really self-conscious and never write anything at all. Today’s installment was the piece Laneia read at Fister Spit, A-Camp‘s feelings-inducing staff reading.

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CONTEXT, Y’ALL: Parts of this originally appeared on But Can She Dance as a short series of letters written to my ex-husband — letters he was never actually supposed to read (and didn’t) because that wasn’t the point; the point was processing. Emma was the first girl. You all have an Emma, probably. Emmas rarely end well, but for a while — for a hurricane of time — they’re everything.


A lot of the boys at Matt’s house would fuck me and I’m too stupid to realize that’s not a good thing. I want to let Ben, but I know I don’t have the guts to do it. We’re listening to Dashboard Confessional because I always pick the music. I look around and know that I need to go, but this is better than leaving. This is when I pretend that everything’s going to be fine.

We’re listening to Iron & Wine’s “Naked As We Came.” I’m high, lying on my back on the living room floor. You’re standing by the back door, smoking a cigarette with a beer in your hand. Your forehead’s resting on your right forearm, which’s pressed against the wall by the door. You’re singing along and crying because you believe that’s us. I’m singing along and crying because I know it’s not.

I lose the ring you gave me, though not on purpose. You’re only mildly offended, since you didn’t pay for it yourself. I reorganize the pantry because I can’t reorganize anything else. Sometimes you do things, like tie a red bow onto the kitten’s collar, and that makes it a little better. But most of the time you just exist. And I stay. Because staying is better than leaving and I’m pretending this is normal.


We’re on our way to Lake Tahoe. I hate camping. Everyone knows this and no one cares. I’m in The Tahoe with Emma and her boyfriend; you’re following in my car. Jason’s driving is making me nervous but we’re not allowed to smoke in The Tahoe. They call it The Tahoe. I’m eating Twizzlers and staring at her hair.

We weren’t touching when we woke up this morning. It seemed like we were both very careful not to touch. I wanted to press my body against her back and wrap my arms around her waist. I wanted to wake her this way. She offered to let me shower first. I declined. I wanted to watch her get out of bed.

I thought about the night before. She turned on the water and got a towel from the closet. I wanted to stay there, in her old bedroom. Her parents’ house smelled like a cabin full of clean clothes and fireplace memories. The staircase leading up to the second floor was narrow and steep. It was hard to navigate quietly last night. I wondered what she would wear.

I checked my reflection in the mirror over the dresser. I could smell her shampoo.


There’s a caravan of us. I’ve never been to the lake. I wish you weren’t with us. I’d thought I wanted to be with Ben instead of you – not that I have the choice – but then last night happened. I realize I don’t know who I am anymore. That’s dramatic.

We stop at a gas station and you disgust me. Every boy there is acting like a brain-dead monkey. Emma looks at me and knows I’m miserable. We buy more Twizzlers and smoke behind the building.

You hate me now. We’re doing this for them. We’ll pretend everything’s fine, that this is just a bump in the road. I tell you that Jason’s driving is making me nervous. You ask if I want to ride with you the rest of the way. You smell like an ashtray. I’d rather walk.

We’re back on the road. Emma and Jason fight because she knows about my irrational fear of mountain highways and she’s trying to help. He hates me. It’s mutual. I smoke a cigarette in The Tahoe.

We’re at the campsite. No one is happy. Emma holds my wrist between her middle and index fingers and pulls it down to her hip. “Do you want to leave?” Yes. “Are you hungry? We could eat.” I’d love to eat. “We’ll take The Tahoe.”

We’re going to drink beer while the sun’s still out. It’s her idea of rebelling. I’ll do whatever she says. “You’ve never had gazpacho? You’ll love it.” I’m embarrassed. We order the beers triumphantly. She complains about Jason, I complain about you. We’re feeding on cucumbers and tomatoes and anger. There are giant salmon-colored flowers painted on the walls. We had to walk up stairs to get here, too, but the restaurant doesn’t smell like her parents’ house. I still don’t want to leave.

We’re back in The Tahoe. If I see you again I’ll probably die. She knows about Ben. We think this is about him. It’s not.


Emma and I take a walk around the campground to smoke because no one wants to smoke in front of other people’s parents. Our drinks are in large insulated cups with uncomfortable handles and gas station logos. I feel out of place. Emma says that as long as we don’t throw our cigarette butts on the ground, no one will notice we exist.

She’s talking about things that don’t matter, like water skiing and souvenirs. I ask her to tell me about Utah again. She has the same three stories and I’ve memorized them all.

We’re sitting on a bench that’s somehow overlooking water, which makes no sense. I must be turned around. The setting sun is brighter than our sunglasses can shield and she’s telling me the one about her dad and the boat. She’s not looking at me and I’m glad because I feel instantly ugly when we make eye contact.

I never want to walk back but I don’t want to stay here.

You’re sitting at a picnic table, feigning charm and likability. When Emma and I walk up, everyone looks slightly disappointed and judgmental. Maybe I’m projecting.

Jason motions for Emma to sit on his lap and for no real reason at all I think I might throw up on everything that’s ever been. She obliges. It’s just me now.

You and I make eye contact briefly and I put my cup in the dirt near the camper. I’ll wash my face and drink some water. You’ll hand me a plate when dinner is ready and I’ll pretend to care.

The sun will be gone for hours by the time I realize it’s not Ben, it’s her.


Emma and I are sitting in collapsible chairs beside a fire we didn’t build. Everyone else is either asleep or just not around. You’re passed out in the tent because of course you are. I’m angry at you for, among other things, not being able drink the way I can — I feel superior to you in that way; in a lot of ways. I check my phone for texts but Ben hasn’t sent any. I must not have service here. She asks if I want to have an affair with Ben — if I’d actually do it or if I’m just flirting. I tell her I don’t know, and that’s not a lie. I don’t really know anything now, about myself, because the entire exchange with Ben is so unlike me that I think I must never have known me. Like I’m scared of myself, too scared to even tell anyone that I’m scared. I feel nervous; the feeling of not doing something, as opposed to anticipating it or dreading it. An uncomfortable silence with words.


The four of us share a tent. Emma and Jason have a cot and an inflatable mattress; we have sleeping bags. It’s a sizable tent. It’s theirs. I feel weird being in the same space with them like this. Jason makes me uncomfortable anyway, so this isn’t new, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve had so much to drink that I fall asleep without deciding to.

You and I are the only ones still in the tent when I wake up — the only ones still asleep period. This is embarrassing. Sleeping late makes me feel like a child, lazy. Emma is grinning from a picnic table when I crawl out the flap. Jason is talking in a voice loud enough to reach the main road, maybe even the lake itself. Some time between salmon-colored flowers and this moment, she’s moved on. Yesterday is behind her. Before I’ve stood upright and completely exited the tent, I grip my resentment tighter, like it’s a tangible thing and letting go would invalidate the work I’d put into crafting it the day before/for the past four years. I hope you don’t wake up until I’ve found the coffee.

Her hair is like another person. Today it’s two braids. I ask if she’s showered. “Jason’s parents won’t let us use their shower, no.” I think this is ridiculous and selfish and unnecessary. I suddenly understand so much more about him.

I’m annoyed with her. It’s more fun when we’re co-conspirators, when no one can get into the club because it’s a closed-door policy. We have a closed-door policy with everyone all the time. It’s one of my favorite things about us. But then she climbs down and sits beside him again and I cross my arms over my chest and get back to practicing my dramatic breathing and short answers.

We leave the lake.


I’m sitting across from Emma at the poker table in the garage. You’re out of town. The CD is skipping and I need a reason to get up, so I do. I’m finding the one I think she likes — the one without any Grateful Dead — and she’s getting another drink. I sit back down and light a cigarette and decide how I’m gonna say this.

“Ok so, sometimes, when I… um… when I masturbate?
I think about you?
Sometimes?”

“Oh” she says.

“Just sometimes though.
Like it just happens I don’t know why.
It’s not like I plan it? Is this weird?
I mean does this sound crazy?
You can tell me if you think this sounds crazy.”

“No it’s not crazy! Laneia I love you!
You’re my L my Laneia.
I would never think you were weird or crazy!
You’re my best friend. I love you.”

“Ok, god.
Ok!
Really?
I don’t want you to feel weird I just, like I just thought I should tell you? I don’t really know why now. I just-”

“-I think about you too sometimes, actually. I think it’s normal.
I mean, we’re best friends and I love you. You know?
Like it’s totally normal.”

I’m taking a drink now. If this drink could be endless I’d never have to say anything else. But it isn’t, and I do.

“Oh ok great. Great!” I start crying. I believe her — that it’s normal — like I believed her when she’d told me the reason I only ever watched the girls in porns was because I was imagining myself as them, not because I thought they were hot, or because I was bisexual. Or gay.

We sit there with the word “great” hanging between us and take long drinks.

I say “It’s just like, we’re best friends. I’ve never had such a best friend, you know? I just love you and I don’t want to freak you out.”

“You’re not freaking me out! I promise. Is this what you wanted to tell me? This is the thing?” Everything else will come out of my mouth without the benefit of a rehearsal or a second thought.

“Sort of. Yes.
I was just thinking… ok… blah! Jesus. Ok I’ve never kissed a girl, and I really feel like I should? Like it’s a thing I should do before I die — but I don’t want it to be just anyone? But how would I even find someone to ever kiss? Right? Ugh I don’t even know what I’m trying to say.”

“No it makes sense.”

“Like we’re best friends and I don’t even know what you look like topless. Isn’t that weird? I know everything else about you, but I don’t know what you look like without clothes on. It just seems weird. I mean I know it’s not weird. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah! No that makes sense. You’re right — it’s weird. I can take my shirt off. Is that what you wanted? I’ve never kissed a girl either, actually. I mean I know you know that, I’m just saying.”

“You would?”

“I would what?”

“You’d take off your shirt?”

“Yes! Of course I would! It’s not a big deal. I have basically no boobs at all. I get what you’re saying — we know practically everything else about each other but that one thing.”

I realize I haven’t been breathing, so I breathe. Emma asks if I would take off my shirt if she takes off hers. I hadn’t considered this step. Would I? Jason’s been asleep inside on the sofa for at least an hour, and suddenly he seems more real. How fast can two girls put their shirts back on after hearing a doorknob start to turn?

“Do you want me to? I mean yes, I would. I will.”

She says ok and takes off her bra first. I’m following her lead. I think to myself that this is probably how she does it for boys, too, and then I can’t stop thinking about it — that I’m seeing a thing only boys get to see. Her t-shirt makes a small pile with her bra on the table. I hold mine in my lap. I’m trying not to stare until I remember that the whole point is to look. She laughs a little, but not at me — just at this, I think. I ask if we should kiss.

“Yeah ok. Should we stand up?”

“Probably.” We’re the same height, so everything on me is about to meet the same thing on her, and I wonder how I’ve never noticed this. We’re standing topless, three inches apart in the middle of a dark garage on a cul-de-sac in suburban California and I don’t know where to put my hands.

“Where should I put my hands?”

“Where do you want to put them?” I play back kisses with boys, but from the other side. Do boys get to put their hands wherever they want? I remember years of being a thing boys did things to or decided on. I’d thought I was making decisions then, but the only decision I’d ever made was when it would stop, and even that had failed a few times. No one had ever asked me where they should put their hands. I wonder how people ever know how to do anything. I decide on her lower back because that’s all I can remember.

The kiss is hesitant for one full second before taking on a life of its own. My hands are in new places that I didn’t decide on and my final fleeting thought about boys is that they don’t feel like this.


We’re sitting across from each other at the poker table in the garage and I’m telling you what happened that night with Emma, but not in detail, and not in its entirety. I leave out what we weren’t wearing and how she’d pushed me against the wall. You ask if it was different from kissing boys and I say yes, it was. I don’t say that when I unbuckled her belt and unbuttoned her jeans that her first words were, “I haven’t shaved in a few days,” and that I’d replied, “It’s ok neither have I,” and how actually that was the moment when it had been the most unlike kissing a boy. You ask if I’d wanted to have sex with her and I say I don’t know, which is a lie. I don’t say that when I’d asked if she wanted to go upstairs, she’d nodded against my lips and reached for her shirt and you were the last thing on my mind.

You ask if Jason knows anything, and I make you swear on your life that you’ll never say a word, ever, because no, he doesn’t. I don’t say that it wasn’t until after Jason had woken up on the sofa and asked if she was ready for bed and I’d held Emma’s face to mine behind the pantry wall and out of his sight one more time before parting ways in the kitchen and walking upstairs behind them, when I was alone in our bed in the dark and they were asleep in the guest room down the hall, that I’d realized I didn’t even know what I would’ve done with her if we’d made it up the stairs without him.

Avatar of Laneia Nicole

Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and she thinks you're fucking rad. She has two kids, two dogs, one Megan, some personal essays and a lot of emails in her inbox.

Laneia Nicole has written 329 articles for us.

42 Comments

  1. Thumb up 16

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    I know I finally told you at last Camp how much reading this piece piecemeal on But Can She Dance meant to me years and years ago when I first stumbled on it…but thank you again, Laneia. For this. For everything.

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    This is really beautiful and heartbreaking. I had a visceral reaction to it, and it brought me back to the beginning of my own journey. Thanks for posting it. I wish I could have heard it read up on the mountain.

  3. Thumb up 34

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    “Do boys get to put their hands wherever they want? I remember years of being a thing boys did things to or decided on. I’d thought I was making decisions then, but the only decision I’d ever made was when it would stop, and even that had failed a few times. No one had ever asked me where they should put their hands. I wonder how people ever know how to do anything.”

    I love this part, among other parts
    because I love this whole thing

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      +1
      I must have read those lines ten times over. I’v never been able to clearly articulate that moment when you realise that you’ve been object instead of subject in your own life for so long you didn’t even know it any more. Laneia expresses this so beautifully.

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      This was my favorite part. I love this entire piece because it communicates something that was really prevalent during my questioning stage: knowing that something is wrong but not knowing what to do about it. The years of mucking through the cognitive dissonance and ineffable, inexplicable emotions, grasping at meaning but not having the words to articulate it. The last line about not knowing what you would even do with her once you made it upstairs really drove it home for me. Acting straight for me was precisely that: acting. Society had handed me a script at birth and I was really good at following my cues and saying the words I was supposed to say, but it all felt like a role that I was playing. Every gesture was empty, every promise was hollow. Departing from that script for the first time and realizing I had never taken agency over my emotions or desires was terrifying because for the first time I didn’t know what to do (or where to put my hands). In some ways, I’m still there. This piece is beautiful and gave me major solidarity feels. Thank you, Laneia.

  4. Thumb up 13

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    I had to read this a second time. Had to. Actually this is probably the 5th time in total if you count it’s previous iterations, but the second time in this form – all at once. I have a headache from willing myself not to cry in this room surround by these people I work with on a daily basis who could not comprehend the feeling of this.

    They aren’t tears of sadness. More tears of being thankful that these things happened and that they, specifically, happened to this person, who happens to be the only person who could corral these words together to be on this page here and now.

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    I read this once and I think I stopped breathing. I read it a second time and the breathing wasn’t any easier. I tried a third time, just to see if maybe I could get through it and still find a way to breathe…. It didn’t work. This is beautiful.

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    Jesus. Mother. Fucking. Christ. How do you do it? How do you keep writing things that find their way deeper and deeper into my heart? My soul, even! And I fucking love that you do! I am forever in awe of you! Jesus. Mother. Fucking. Christ.

  7. Thumb up 4

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    oh, laneia. i will never have the words to say how perfect this piece is, how much it means to me, how much all your words and your whole being means to me. but please know that you move me in ways that are indescribable and i love you, and your voice (both literal and metaphorical), and your story and your existence oh so very much.

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