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Picture me, splayed on the bed on top of Liz. I’m wearing a pink thong, she’s still in her jeans. She spanks me; I deserve it. She spanks me again. My breath flees my lungs, a flock of geese taking flight. Flying off, towards the moon.

Two perfect spanks. If you had any idea how often I’ve thought of them.

The first time I saw Liz was at a Ukrainian restaurant in the East Village called Veselka, in late August. Twinkling city lights, the feeling you could be anyone, do anything. Nights stretching on forever.

It was the summer of 2015. I’m tempted to say that I lived on the Upper East Side, but I didn’t. I lived in East Harlem, a gentrifying interloper. The building’s owners lured us with the washer and dryer, the dishwasher, the roof deck. Our apartment was on 100th street. Everyone knew the Upper East Side ended at 96th. But I still couldn’t believe I could take the subway to the East Village. My mom had moved all my stuff from my Long Island house to Harlem over the summer while I was a counselor at Seeds of Peace camp in Maine.

Seeds of Peace is a camp for kids from areas of conflict. We do all the normal camp things, like swim and boat and play sports, and we also sit in circles and try to heal war rifts. Usually, the counselors fall in love with each other.

Before dinner in the East Village with my counselor friends, I turned in a circle around my Harlem bedroom. My purple comforter, all my things, here in Manhattan. I couldn’t believe it. I blasted music, smoked a bowl, blow dried and straightened my hair. Hadn’t learned to love my curls.

Hair straight, I busted out the door, freed in the city. Euphoria danced in my blood. I soared amongst the star-glinted skyscrapers. Knew I couldn’t stay this high, that the air was too thin, that I would crash. I just didn’t know when. I stalked down to 96th street, over to 2nd Avenue, the night bursting with possibility, the ground getting farther away.

I rode the subway to Union Square. Alive and alone and free. All last year, the whole lonely year, I had to walk fifteen minutes to the train on Long Island, wait for the Long Island Railroad, ride fifty minutes into Manhattan. Then take the subway wherever I was meeting someone. Now, I could be downtown in twenty minutes. The 6 train roared through the dark tunnels. I strolled from the subway up the stairs and into the night. Practically skipped eleven blocks downtown on Second Avenue.

Up until now, I yearned for Manhattan. Now I had Manhattan, or Manhattan had me. Dreams and lights and life.

And, Veselka. A big bright restaurant, famous for perogies. 2015. My camp friends.

Liz sat at the table, glittering. I slid into the seat next to her.

“I’m Sara,” I said, and shook her soft, cold hand. 

I knew everyone and she knew no one, so I was able to bequeath kindness upon her. I felt witty, smart, pretty.

Desirable, or desiring. I desired Liz. Her smile felt like a big tunnel of light to fall inside. Her cheeks dimpled when she smiled, all the lights of the city in her big brown eyes.

“I have a girlfriend,” I said to her, at one point. I did have a girlfriend, her name was Osnat. My heart hurts to think of her now, because she lives in Israel. Our homeland under siege. I’m not in love with Osnat now.

I loved Osnat then but the way I loved her was tender, different from the present electric desire crackling through me for Liz. Osnat and I had been counselors together at Seeds of Peace that summer, and now she was traveling somewhere. We were dating long distance.

“Can we exchange numbers?” Liz said, as we were leaving.

I didn’t text her, because I had a girlfriend. I’m not texting her, because I have a girlfriend. I repeated this to myself.

Soon it was the end of September. The Brooklyn Book Festival. Fall leaves erupting in yellows and oranges and reds.

When recollecting this Saturday for this story, I imagined that Liz had volunteered at the Brooklyn Book Festival and I merely attended. But that wasn’t right, I was the volunteer, how could I have forgotten this?

How had I wound up a volunteer? I don’t remember, maybe through my unpaid internship at a famous literary magazine. In any case, I stood at a booth with other volunteers I didn’t know. Osnat and I were still together.  She’d recently stayed with me in between travels. Held me in the morning in my bed on the Upper East Side (Harlem), my foam mattress, my purple blanket. When I awoke one morning, Osnat said, “I watched you sleep and thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe this is my girlfriend.’” Osnat spoke with a Hebrew accent. I felt a twinge of violation (she watched me sleep?) and a twinge of validation (she wants to watch me sleep?) Now she was traveling again.

I stood at a booth wearing a Brooklyn Book Festival volunteer t-shirt. Liz appeared, alone, carrying a tote bag, moving towards me. I floated towards her, as though in a dream. A table draped in white cloth stood between us.

“Sara. You never texted me,” she said, standing in front of the booth, in a flannel and a skintight pair of jeans. Blonde curls hung around her face. Her dimples like home when she smiled. She seemed lit from within, somehow, able to conjure a sun in me.

“Because I have a girlfriend,” I said. Inviting a courageous lightning bolt of joy. I perceived Liz move imperceptibly closer to me. So it had been just the right thing to say.

“I’m so glad to run into you. I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again.”

I looked deep into her eyes. How could meeting her feel so much like remembering? Like this had all happened before?

She unfolded her program, lay it out on the table.

“Do you want to go to an event with me?”

So when my volunteer shift ended I texted Liz, we met by the entrance to the park, beside a wrought iron fence. We walked together to a bookstore, our hips bumping. The leaves crunched beneath our boots.

At the bookstore all the seats were taken so Liz and I crammed in the back. A well-known author held court at the front of the room, discussing kink.

“Kink isn’t anti-feminist! Kink is empowering!” The famous author roared while the whole bookstore screamed. Liz clapped too, I thought about her tying me up. Something about the image didn’t work, she’d probably want me to tie her up.

I’m texting you this time, I texted her on the subway on the way home from class. Then we were in a restaurant, at a bar, floating in each other’s arms. She got on a 3am train with me, got into my bed. I straddled her and held down her wrists.

“Let me know if this is starting to feel unfair,” I said, “because I have a girlfriend.”

“It’s starting to feel unfair,” she said.

I told myself it wasn’t cheating, because though our pelvises ground together, we did not kiss. Our clothes stayed on. We fell asleep side by side. Innocent.

In October, Osnat came to the US and stayed with me in New York. I held her in the dust drenched slats of morning light, brought her home to my parents’ house for Yom Kippur.

“I’m so glad to meet an Israeli,” my grandfather, who is now dead, said to Osnat. “You must hate the Palestinians.”

“I don’t,” Osnat said. “I’m for peace.”

This was 2015.

I did love Osnat. She called me a slut in Hebrew, I forget how to say it now. Later in October, Osnat went back to Israel.

I don’t remember if Osnat and I discussed staying together. I know we broke up. I know Liz twirled and flipped and spun through my mind.

My girlfriend and I broke up, I texted. Do you want to come over for dinner?

A date with Liz, three Ebola cases diagnosed in New York City. A dark and cold November night. Me, hyperventilating on the stone tiles of the kitchen floor. I’d die from Ebola, I knew it.

I’m on the way, Liz texted.

I pulled myself together, off the floor. Put salmon in the oven, broccoli, baked potatoes.

Liz at the door, in a gray sweatshirt and jeans. I should have read the signs. She stood apart from me, while I moved closer.

We sat on the couch, our plates on the coffee table. The salmon was pink inside, we took a couple bites and I had to put it back in the oven.

“I’m really scared about Ebola,” Liz said, while we waited for salmon round two.

“Me too,” I said. “I just finished having a panic attack on the floor.”

Finally the salmon was done, but Liz didn’t want hers. “I think the raw salmon might give me Ebola,” she said.

“It might,” I agreed. “We’ll probably die soon. We should just try to enjoy tonight.”

I put on Blue Is The Warmest Color. I had roommates at the time, but in the memory, we had the apartment to ourselves. I leaned over and kissed Liz. She kissed back, her lips chapped and dry. We made our way into my bedroom. I held her hips and pushed her on the bed.

“I’ve never had sex with a girl before,” she said. Breathed in, looked around my room. She breathed deeply a couple more times. “Not without male supervision.”

I sensed there was something there, but I did not probe.

I lied on top of her, opened her jeans, tried to change the cadence of her breathing. We both held our breath and waited to see how I would do. It became clear that I wasn’t doing anything for her at all. I pulled my vibrator out from its drawer and turned it on, held it between her legs.

“Whoa,” she said. “That’s way too much.”

But then, something redeeming. Me in a pink thong, on top of Liz on the bed. She spanked me once, and then spanked me again. Two perfect spanks. I lost my breath, geese flapping at the moon, the multiverse in all its spectral colors.

She didn’t sleep over that night. She didn’t text me the next day, but then again, I didn’t text her either.

Hours passed like coins falling. Then days, fighting like moths for a weak flashlight beam. Finally I texted her with no response, tried again. Liz pulled back, getting further from me while I moved closer.

Finally, she texted me. I’m apartment sitting on 83rd and 3rd. Want to visit?

The real Upper East side, I thought.  

I fled to her apartment through the cold night on my expensive bike, flew down Second Avenue, stumbled to the door out of breath and freezing.

She answered the door in sweatpants. I should have noticed the downward slope of our trajectory.

She sat far away from me on a velvet couch, offered me some of the Chinese food she was eating. The TV was on, MSNBC or CNN,  reporting murders somewhere in our city.

I looked over at Liz, wondering if I could bridge the vast chasm between us. I attempted conversation. She told me her depression was flaring up.

“If I’m on medication, can I really be me?” she said. I stared at her face, wanting her dimples to reemerge. Wondering how I could make her love me. Or if I couldn’t, how I could ever find someone who would.

 She hurried me out the door with a chaste hug.

Want to go on another date? I texted.

I think we should be friends, she responded. Honestly, I need to date someone who will tell me I’m crazy when I say we’re going to die from Ebola.

In March Liz invited me to her birthday party, I read it as some sort of sign. I spent the night before in a man’s bed, David. A beautiful Jewish man, a lawyer in New York. Everything my Grandmother would have wanted. But I was gay, wanted women, someone soft and curvy. Someone who smelled and looked and talked like me.

Liz’s birthday party in the park, a drag party, I dressed like a man and said I was Justin.

I ignored Liz all day. Spent the day telling all her friends I was in love with her.

We drank whiskey from flasks, stumbled into the Union Square Starbucks, I stood behind Liz in line for the bathroom. When she went in, I tried to follow.

“We can’t go in the bathroom together Sara,” she said.

Where are you? I texted at midnight.

This doesn’t feel like a text a friend would send, she wrote back.

April, the cruelest month. I gathered my friends at a karaoke bar, drank my face off. I wanted Liz, followed her into the street, into a taxi.

In the taxi, Liz on my lap, she bent down and kissed me. I drank her kiss like I was drowning. Liz giggled, peeling off into hysterics that seemed psychotic.

“Can we date now?” I said.

“No,” she said, sadly. “We can’t.”

Outside the taxi, she fell away from me. I didn’t see where she went. I was left with nothing but fallen coins, dying moths.

Did I still love myself? My propensity for raw salmon, the embarrassment with the vibrator, the night at Veselka?

But I had those two perfect spanks. I had, It’s starting to feel unfair. I had, You never texted me. I had the night at Veselka, that perfect night at Veselka, with Liz sitting and glittering and smiling at me.

Veselka, rainbow in Ukrainian, our homeland under siege.

“Can I have your number?” she said, that night, while she was leaving. Here she is again, said the universe, at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Here she is. Here I am, walking from the train to the restaurant. That morning, the sun streaming in, she slept in my bed. We went to get brunch with my roommates that morning, while I was still dating Osnat. Liz and I ate off the same plate.