I was 6 the first time the issue was brought to light.
My mom was giving me sharp tugs at regular intervals, reminding me that we were running late for school.
“C’mon Quinnie. Almost there, okay? Just a little farther,” she half-heartedly encouraged, though we both knew my first-grade legs would move no faster than their current rate. A drizzle I hadn’t noticed began to pick up, and my mother uttered a quick “Zut alors!” under her breath as she tried again to pick up the pace. “C’mon honey, we’re so close, I promise, you can do it.”
We turned a final corner and the school yard finally came into view. She urged me forward, saying, “I’ll see you after school, okay? Now go run to class,” but I clung to her arm in the increasingly weighty rain. Pulling her down to hear my small voice well, I asked a question I was too young to truly fear asking.
“Mama, is it okay to…” I paused and glanced at a group of girls being ushered into the school building as I spoke, my friends, and I wondered if my question would even make sense. “Is it okay to kiss your friends on the cheek?”
I hastily added context, “Just as friends, not like a boy, obviously, but just because we are best friends, is that ok?”
My mom just stared back through the thin sheet of water between us.
Then again, in fourth grade. A bright late-May sun compelled us to sneak down to the cool underbelly of the jungle gym, Maggie and I. We weren’t supposed to be down there, and we giggled a little with innocent fear. She folded a tangle of black curls behind her ear, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself.
I went in to give her an uncomfortable hug, despite the heat, and almost instinctively gave her a quick shy kiss on the cheek.
A flash rain started just then, and as I pulled away to see her recoil from me, kids started running to join us under the dark side of the brightly colored structure, forcing us farther from the edges where little bits of rain found their way in. She made a weak attempt to whisper among the recent sea of shifting children, saying, “Quinn…”
She struggled to continue the sentence, so unknown and… disgusting were the words she had to ask. “Did you just kiss me?”
A thousand thoughts ran through my head, and while confusion was present, her reaction made shame preside over all. I swiftly tried to change the narrative, No Maggie, I would never, I would never. I soothed her worries, I calmed her fears, It was just a hug, I swear I didn’t, I didn’t. I questioned the both of us, Why would I even do that?
We laughed together at that last comment, and this time she pulled me in for a hug, an apology and forgiveness all at once. I couldn’t help myself from adding one last comment, a solidification of my innocence in her eyes: I assured us, Ew, that would be gross, while she nodded in agreement.
Finally the rain stopped just as quick as it had started, and from the safety of our perch below the jungle gym, we watched the remaining puddles instantly dry.
A few more years passed by without consequence, until another rainy day in the spring of 2018. As I did homework at the kitchen table, my mom’s soft footsteps came closer from her office, and she came into my peripheral vision. I watched from the corner of my eye as she went to the kitchen window and looked out over the foggy city below. It had been raining for weeks, and while she didn’t mind the weather, I knew she missed sunnier days. She opened the window to let some fresh air in, and moved to grab a glass and get some water.
I tried to focus my mind on the page in front of me, my pencil scratching the surface of my worksheet, but she kept pulling my attention back to her. She would turn towards me as her glass filled from the fridge, opening her mouth for a moment before changing her mind and twisting to face the fridge again, until finally the comment she had clearly had on her mind broke the room's soft silence like a gunshot.
“Quinn, honey, you know that it’s… okay if you’re gay, right?”
A different kind of silence hung in the air this time, so thick it was suffocating. My focus was everywhere and nowhere, on the glass, filling much too quickly and much too slow, my mother’s glasses hanging precariously at the tip of her nose, and the window. I wanted to close it so badly, I hated watching it, knowing it was letting in tiny raindrops, ones too small to notice until they collected onto your now-soaked window ledge.
I answered obnoxiously, like the question was ridiculous. “Oh my god, mom. I’m not gay, okay?”
She responded timidly, but persisted, “Okay, but if you were, you know that we would accept you, right honey?”
The window would not stop letting water in, and now it was dripping from the ledge onto the kitchen counter. It wouldn’t be long before it would be everywhere. Tapping my pencil anxiously, I finally had had enough and pushed back my chair.
“Ooookay mom, got it.” I couldn’t have moved any faster to the window. Practically slamming it shut, I guaranteed her retreating figure. “But I’m not, you know. Gay.”
I was thinking about all these as I pushed the door open and exited the store with her, arm and arm, right into the pouring rain. We just laughed and ran under nearby scaffolding, where we checked to make sure the flags we’d drawn poorly with makeup on each other’s faces hadn’t washed off. My finger traced the side of her cheek, along the edge of the semi-neat stripes there, pink, purple, blue, and she smiled at my touch.
My other hand tangles itself with hers, and she asks lightheartedly, “How are we supposed to get to your house?”
I start pulling her back towards the rain, despite neither of us carrying anything that will protect us even remotely from the sheets of water crashing down. “We’ll have to run, I guess, ” I reply, and that’s all it takes to get her sprinting with me down the avenues, rain coming at us from every which way, gasping with laughter the whole time.
Eventually we come to a stop, too tired to keep up the fast pace, and she leans against me, grinning into the shoulder of my soaked shirt. I looked down into her eyes and kissed her cheek carefully, feeling her smile.
“Is this okay?” I ask, and she nods back at me happily. Finally, I looked up into the sky and let the rain cover my grin.
It’s more than okay.