I’d never liked sex with men. Men were hairy. Penises frightened me, huge and swelling sausages, veined and imposing. I had no desire to have one inserted into any of my openings, which made for a shitty romantic life with men. And the first few women I slept with turned me off in different ways. They were damaged psychologically – bipolar, schizophrenic, dissociating. One, Susan, kept me up all night on the phone as she lay in the dark traveling in her head to a world where she relived her children taken from her by the courts, being raped by her ex-husband, and beaten by her father. I stayed on the phone afraid for her life knowing she’d attempted suicide long ago. Every so often she’d float back to some semblance of reality to say into the phone line, “I’m scared, don’t leave me.” We’d had one date, in which we’d held hands in the park in summer. I could feel the warmth of her soft palms rubbing against the lonely skin of my hands. Maybe I would have fallen in love if things had been different. She was a sweet human being with very pronounced scars across her wrists. I’d met Susan over the internet in 1995.
I’d found so many scary, disappointing, and sometimes tragic women through internet dating sites. I felt on our dates as if I should have handed these women bottles of Prozac instead of bouquets of flowers. Or present them with gift certificates for ten sessions of electro-shock therapy. They still did that in the 1990s, I learned from yet another date, one who’d had it done to her due to own severe schizophrenia and depression.
Some women were not so psychologically damaged, but many were emotional disasters; perhaps I fit into that category at the time, with my own stock shares in lonely and needy and codependent; or if mental and emotional facilities were for the most part intact, I’d be hooking up with political, dry, and humorless lesbians, lacking romance, lacking makeup, lacking what I felt at the time were the things that made a woman attractive, like flattering clothes, a little lipstick, a figure that needn’t be perfect, but shouldn’t be square and squat like a lumberjack.  I could not find the femininity or the sanity that I desired in another woman.
The political lesbians were the hardest for me. They didn’t eat meat. These sexless creatures were convinced Tofu tasted as good as hamburger. They didn’t buy cars any bigger than Toyota Tercels. I imagine they orgasm now over the 21st century hybrids. They didn’t wear makeup. Most of them didn’t have much of a job, if they had a job at all. Broke. Writing letters to the editor. Talking radical. Looking like hell. Eating seaweed. I had to buy dinner so they could eat a decent meal.
This is how I viewed my first few female lovers: fucked up, destitute, or sexless.
I had no idea yet of what lesbian community meant, of the various ways of being a gay woman in America. It would be years before I came to appreciate our diversity. I was a loner still, answering personal ads on my computer, a dial-up modem relentlessly hissing in my bedroom like an angry cat, as I dreamed of that elusive beautiful sane woman, the one wearing lipstick.
In the mid-1990s, Match.com and other pay-to-find-your-lover sites did not exist. Internet dating was still free with AOL or Yahoo, or any number of homespun dating websites for women. It was through such sites that I was discovering the lesbian version of Prozac Nation and the Anti-Maybelline Brigade. Yet this dating method was also how I met Melissa. Her internet handle was Janbradi@aol.com, the spelling a variation of the TV character named Jan Brady, the-never-good-enough middle sister of the 1960s sitcom, The Brady Bunch. I was thirty-two and Melissa was twenty-five, so I teased her that she was so young she’d only seen the series in reruns. Melissa countered by tagging me with a nickname that stuck, “Grandma.”
We’d emailed each other several times for weeks, and then took the next step: speaking on the phone. Her voice was gruff and husky, and I was expecting a manly, dykey-looking woman to show up when we met. We played the internet dating cycle: after the series of emails and phone calls, and the growing confidence that the other was not an axe murderer, we’d set a public meeting to see what we looked like. Internet dating was ass-backwards; humans are sexual beings attracted first physically, pulled by the lure of pheronomes, and when that kind of attraction is established, we dig further to find out if we could love the soul, the interiority of the person. But internet dating fucked it all up and turned dating on its ugly belly. We learned about the interiority (maybe) first, and heard perhaps a voice before we met to see if there was the pull of passion, the chemical romance, the potential for panting and sweating and losing one’s breath at the sight of her. These were the early days of internet dating and posting pictures was not a regular occurrence. And a picture was not always a great indicator of what a person looked like: sometimes women would post pictures of how they looked before they’d gained fifty pounds or before they’d gone gray or shaved their heads. Some people love that, you know, a shaved head, but I like a good head of hair.
I agreed to meet Melissa, despite the dykey-voice and with no picture available, because she was funny and didn’t sound crazy. Sanity had become quite the aphrodisiac for me. We planned to meet in Northampton, Massachusetts, one of those lesbian meccas of legendary proportions, nicknamed Lesbianville, U.S.A. It remains a city where women can actually hold hands in the street.
Northampton lay midway between Melissa’s home in Connecticut and mine outside of Boston. Melissa had said she was attractive, but I didn’t believe her. I’d been meeting a lot of non-cute women who thought themselves quite to-die-for, as noted. I arrived at a bookstore in the middle of town. It had little tables set up for drinking coffee, perusing books, and, apparently, for meeting a strange woman from a Yahoo.com dating site. I watched every woman who walked in alone. It was good to sit in that bookstore and see the diversity of a lesbian community for the first time. I noticed pretty tomboyish women wearing jeans and men’s tee shirts. I loved their short, spiky haircuts that contrasted with their delicate features. Other women had long hair and preppy skirts or girlish slacks or pseudo hippie tie-die shirts. I would have mistaken them for straight in another setting. Others fit my image of the stereotypical manly looking “dyke,” but even they had a light in their eyes or a womanly smile or an alluring swagger. Still, it would be years before I would take in the diversity of lesbian community and understand its loveliness in every guise. This was my first taste, which I tucked somewhere in the back of my brain.
“Cindy, is that you?” I looked up from my table and in front of me stood the first drop-dead gorgeous lesbian I had ever met. I don’t know how she recognized me. Must have been those pheronomes, or maybe I’d told her I’d be wearing tight jeans and a tank top (like a hundred other women on the block.) Melissa had wild, brown curly hair dropping past her shoulders, extraordinary bright blue eyes, a slightly large nose that made her look sexy, and a perfect huge, white toothy smile. She had applied her makeup expertly. Her body was strong and athletic. She wore lipstick. Her lips were full and alluring. She didn’t take Prozac. No one’s eyes could shine like that on Prozac. Wow, what was she doing dating on the internet?
“Yes,” she confirmed. She continued to smile.
For the next six months, we found every cheap motel room inside and outside of Northampton in which to have our affair. The sex was joyous and energetic, glorious grinding and probing tongues. And always, she had that beautiful face with the bright eyes to stare at and that athletic body to wrap around my own.
One night Melissa brought shrimp cocktail, white wine, and candles to one of our motel rooms. She made it a surprise, whipping out the goods after taunting me that there would be no food. She was attempting to be romantic, and I thought something beyond euphoric sex was happening between us. Her eyes sparkled in the little fires of the candlelight. We ate shrimp dipped in red sauce sitting across from one another at the cheap motel wood veneer table. Our legs entwined beneath it. Later in bed she would slide and push her naked body over mine in perfect rhythm until I came screaming. Then I used my fingers and my mouth to make her come, more than once. I could only come once. But I could come hard. We laughed the next morning when we heard the man coughing in the next motel room, wondering what he might have heard from our room the night before. We started screaming: Yes, we’re lesbians in here!
On a sunny and frigid Sunday morning in early March, with piles of snow on top of a motel dumpster and heaved against the lower wall of the motel’s first floor where our cars were parked out back, I kissed Janbradi goodbye. I had to return the key to the office before checkout. This required I walk all the way around the motel building then back to the car. We’d gone cheapo for this affair.  As I walked back to the car in the late winter sunshine, I saw Janbradi still sitting in her own car, with the window down, and the car motor running. Smiling at me. Damn, she was a knockout.
“I thought you’d be long gone on the road back home,” I said.
“There was something about last night, something about us,” she said. “Hey, do you want to have breakfast with me?”
This was different from what we normally did, which was head home in our separate directions.
I hopped in Janbradi’s car, we sat across from one another at a table, ate blueberry pancakes and eggs over easy and stared at one another. Again I wondered if this was more than sex. Could the internet have brought me a real relationship finally? Perhaps I’d found beauty and sanity and true romance from AOL.com? Hey, people do win lotteries, get struck by lightning, get elected president, although never anyone I know.  I wish I could recall the conversation we had at breakfast that morning but I do not. I have no doubt it was light and didn’t run too deep because Melissa, at twenty five, did not want to plunge into murky emotional water. And I did not push her there because although I wanted her, I wasn’t truly in love. Her allure was in the fun we had, the great sex, and in the fear that I’d found the singular healthy and gorgeous lesbian that existed on planet earth. I didn’t want to sit at my pc again listening to that frustrating hissy modem while I waded through another batch of crazy women.
We carried on our affair for another three months. Melissa wanted to explore sexually with me, wanted to try new things in bed, and frankly, I was still quite in the vanilla category when it came to sex. Not that I am any kind of S&M or acrobatic lesbian sex goddess now, all these years later, but I’ve expanded my repertoire to include sex toys and sixty-nines and a few other tricks that drive the women mad. (I imagine some of my readers laughing and thinking: still vanilla. Okay, fine.)
I didn’t like any penetration at that time, not even a woman’s finger, and this became a point of contention between Melissa and me. She wanted to penetrate me with her fingers, saying that was “real” sex. The humping and oral sex we were doing was too “easy.” She wouldn’t let up. As gorgeous as she was, the pressure was pissing me off and I did have a temper. One night on the phone I’d had it with her constant haranguing on the subject and I said, “You’re pissed off at me just because I won’t let you stick your fingers up my cunt? What the hell is up with that?” She was quite offended by my use of the c-word. She went silent and later wrote in an email that I should watch what say and how I say it to someone I profess to care about. I knew we were done at that moment. You can tell when you’ve killed something with just a word. I could feel the heartache in my soul. All that beauty would be vanishing from my life. She was sexy and fun and brought me more joy than I’d found to that point with anyone.
We ended up meeting once more in May of 1995 at a Motel 6 in Chicopee, Massachusetts. She treated me poorly and I felt sad. I ended up with diarrhea from being so upset. This is how my body works, or doesn’t. She apologized the next morning and held me close.
We never saw one another again. My final email (at least in my head, I did write something to her):
Dear Janbradi,
I remember
shrimp cocktail in candlelight
you waiting in a car to ask me for breakfast
because there was something about last night,
you said,
the snow six inches deep, about us,
you wanted to keep with you.
sun shining in a motel parking lot,
before the c-word and the diarrhea
and that moment when we knew it was over.
When I hear Greg Allman sing “Melissa” I think of her. When someone quotes that most famous of Jan Brady lines, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” I think of her. I’d slept with my first gorgeous and healthy lesbian. I’d finally enjoyed sex. I was still wracked with stereotypes that I’d internalized from a homophobic society and upbringing, and I would struggle with them for years, but Janbradi@aol.com brought me a new vision for the first time: lesbians could be healthy, sexy, and vibrant. Lesbians could be anything. Lesbians could be everything.

© 2011 Cindy Zelman


Filed under Nonfiction

17 responses to “Janbradi@aol.com

  1. I am always blown away by Cindy Zelman’s brave, direct, no-holds-barred writing. So much searching and pain and exploration in so little space.

  2. Thank you, Faye, for reading and commenting. I so appreciate it. :-)

  3. Powerful, lady! Very powerful!

  4. Cindy,
    Startling from the first word; impossible to turn away. I’m glad to be introduced to your writing.

  5. Faye Snider

    This is a terrific piece, Cindy. I so appreciate your ability to write about intimate and difficult experiences, which both confront our differences and engenders empathy.

  6. Thank you for your comments!!! :-)

  7. Dana Collins

    I thought that this was a bold and engaging piece! I love how it deconstructs stereotypes of lesbianism through a journey in the first person perspective. However, I would like to point out that at one point it does contribute to a different stereotype. As a vegan, I just can’t help myself from chiming in and saying that tofu/non-meat-eating does not equal sexless/bland! This is where the saying, “Vegans taste better” comes from. http://www.eatveg.com/veglovers.htm

  8. Cindy Zelman, I love to read your writing! So much truth and honesty. It is a pleasure to read your well crafted pieces.

  9. Cindy — that was wonderful. You are a true story teller.

  10. Hey, everyone, thanks so much for reading. And for your nice words. Dana, my apologies for the vegan stereotype. I certainly don’t mean to create such. It’s hard when I generalize about a particular period of my life not to stereotype what was hard for me then. However, I have no doubt vegans taste better. :-) Thank you for reading!

  11. Kassie

    Such honesty… Love it, Cindy.

  12. Michelle Hampton

    Boy am I glad we met. This is a wonderful honest piece. Thank you for sharing it.

    I especially loved finding out you have opened your mind a bit. Toys are fun, though maybe a bit plain vanilla. Of course, vanilla is good too. :)

  13. I’m so glad I checked back in here to find comments from Kassie and Michelle. Kassie, thank you for the kind words and continued support. Michelle, I’m glad we’ve met, too. Maybe I’m a little more than vanilla now. Maybe I’m a hot fudge sundae. Nothing fancy, but a step above vanilla. Hey, where did I put that cherry? LOL.

  14. estela

    Thank you for this beautifully honest piece, CIndy. I’ve enjoyed it more than once!

  15. Hi Estela, I better keep checking back here if I’m going to find such sweet comments like yours. Thank you so much. :-) Cindy

  16. Deb

    That was awesome!! I gotta go dig out me toys now! :-) As usual, you made me laugh, you taught me some things, and you made me want to know more.

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