Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Woman in Search of Women Part 2

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I'm a woman, sure, but I don't know fuck-all about courting women. At least I don't think I do. Is it really all that different from flirting with a guy? In my limited experience, sometimes it's vastly different and other times flirting is flirting, regardless of sex or gender identity.

Still, for a brief moment my nerves win and I wonder what business I have driving through the dusky evening, steering in the direction of the bar & grill at which my Tinder match and I had agreed to meet for drinks.

She was smart and funny - via text, anyway. And bisexual, which was a relief. I was tiptoeing into an unfamiliar universe and loathe to piss off anyone who could potentially perceive me as some kind of lesbian tourist. Besides, it wasn't tourism. I've always been attracted to women. As far back as I can remember, I've been intrigued by women. My upbringing simply didn't allow for the curiosity to even manifest as a conscious thought in my head. Can it be tourism if I'm open to buying a house in the region?

Sexiness is subjective and those who land on my sexy spectrum generally do so for reasons difficult to define but that rarely have much to do with appearance. Intellect and humor are the tits and ass of my world. Which is not to say that tits and ass don't hold sway, because tits and ass sway beautifully, it's just that it's possible to do without them, but without intellect and humor there is nothing. And then there is the way one carries oneself, a combination of the physical and that mystical essence of a person that make them so uniquely them. A certain tilt of the head, a gentle tucking of hair behind an ear, biting a lip while deep in thought, the sway of hips while walking, how she looks when she's listening to me tell her something. Eye contact is everything. She looks away, looks back, tucks her hair behind her ear, bites her lip, then laughs. Looks away again. This exchange of physical-ness is equally as important as the actual conversation, sometimes even more important.

I pulled into the parking lot, checked myself in my mirror one last time and walked into the bar.

Woman in Search of Women Part 1

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About a year after my divorce I ventured onto Tinder and clicked the box that prompts both men and women to show up in the videogame-esque dating app that allows you to indiscriminately swipe people in and out of your life based solely on appearance. As I live near a city smack in the middle of the enormous rectangle that is Pennsylvania, pickins was slim. Penn State is located here, so while it is a college town, I was 37 at the time, which, for me, ruled out a large percentage of the collegiate population, although there was a brief but certainly educational dalliance with a sexy Argentinian grad student.

Bernardo was an invaluable acquaintance as I attempted to rediscover my sexuality amid the smoldering wreckage of my divorce. But it wasn't strictly a physical thing. About a week after meeting him my beloved dog Max died. Bernardo allowed me to cry on his couch while he studied. He'd serve me tea, occasionally adjust the blanket he'd draped over me and play M. Ward's Hold Time album on his turntable, the perfect soundtrack to debilitating grief.

If I thought quality available men in the area were lacking - on Tinder, anyway - women (seeking other women) were nonexistent. Profiles like "Power of God blesses me every day. Constant work in progress, getting closer to who I want to be every day. Love pizza, my cat, tequila slammers and dancing but not necessarily in that order lol" left much to be desired.

I'd almost decided to delete the app when I saw her. Cute thirty-something blonde, director of something that involved advocating for children and a smattering of photos revealing she also liked to play in the great outdoors. Attractive woman who spends her worklife concerned about the well-being of children and also likes to get outside and have some fun? Fuck it. Let's give this thing a go, I thought and swiped right.

Blood Red Sentimental Blues

The fucked up thing about it is that because I was the one who initiated divorce he indisputably became the heartbroken victim. My broken heart, although equally savage, is constantly written off as my choice.

"You're the one that wanted the divorce," is the glib response when I express valid hurt over a devastating outcome related to the end of my marriage and life as I knew it.

I didn't choose divorce. Who wants divorce? Isn't it considered the worst possible outcome for both people involved in the relationship? It's the worst thing that ever happened to me, the hardest thing I've ever experienced. Divorce eventually became the only option. And if you don't get that, if your knee-jerk reaction is that I "didn't try hard enough," then you don't understand how relationships work. It's a stupid, offensive statement.

So maybe I'm not as far along as I should be in the grieving process. Maybe I will never get to where some people think I should be at this point in time. Maybe I'm just fuckin' nuts. Regardless, no two divorces are even remotely alike and what I feel about the end of my marriage and the divorce that took its place is my response to my own very personal experience. His experience, even though it's in relation to the same divorce, is not even a relatable experience. He's struggling through his own divorce experience that, from my vantage point, doesn't resemble mine at all. No one else will ever know the intricate ins and outs and myriad fucked-upness that seem insurmountable to me a lot of the time. There is no timeline for what you're supposed to feel and when you're supposed to feel it. Just try to survive to the end of the day and call it a win. I lost today.


Ride Your Pony Thank You Jesus

A motorcycle thunders past my living room window and Billy Idol's "Mony Mony" lingers in the air like smoke, instantly calling forth air-conditionlesss summer MTV marathon memories from my pre-teen years.

Ride your pony. Ride your pony, Idol's top lip violently curling heavenward.

Humidity hangs as heavily as the perpetually wet beach towels decorating the side porch railing. Dory, Nemo and the Paw Patrol gang, official flags of summer.

Feel all right, I said yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...

Feels like rain. Smells like rain. Looks like rain. Air like the bladder of a pregnant woman, forced to release a deluge on this little town tucked in the rolling green hills of Central Pennsylvania. A tired breeze filters through the window in place of Billy Idol's growl and sends a tumbleweed of black dog hair silently skimming across the wood floor.

I think, once more, of the vehicle I try not to see parked near Serge's house every Friday night and Saturday morning. Divorce in a small town. Motherfuck. I have an intellectual response and an emotional response and they usually reside at opposite ends of my response spectrum, my ultimate response falling anywhere in between based on various interchangeable life circumstances including but not limited to my stress level, alcohol consumption and the time of month... In other words, my reaction to the soul-constricting circumstances divorce faithfully serves up is a pull of a slot machine lever; Some days I'm all cherries, baby, the champion of divorce! Other days... Eh. Not so much. But I'm ridin' that pony, getting back on the fucker every time I fall off. It's all about the kids.

Later. After the rain. After stumbling onto a treasure trove of chanterelle mushrooms while walking in the woods, Cory stops the car in the middle of the country road we're rolling over. Wordless and shirtless, he hops out and begins picking black-eyed Susans he will present to me with a shy grin so I can fill the giant mason jar sitting atop the kitchen table he built me from wood he also scavenged from the side of the road.

Me, in the passenger seat, watching him in the rear-view mirror lope through weeds and wildflowers. I pop wild raspberries we just picked into my mouth, one at a time to make them last longer, and think strange thoughts about them. Raspberries; nature's finest jewelry, I declare to no one as I peer at the dozens of delicate caviar-like pouches of juice that comprise a single raspberry. It really does look like a precious stone bauble that might adorn the hand of an aging wealthy socialite. Strawberries hog the berry spotlight most of the time, but raspberries have always been my favorite. Strawberries can be cloying, the good girl of the berry world, all straightlaced and churching. Raspberries are their sassy cousin. Zingy. Church? Girl, please. We goin' clubbin.'

On the way home, chanterelles, raspberries and black-eyed Susans jostling for space in my lap, I spot another one of those "Thank you Jesus" signs that dot the yards of Jesus lovers across the land.

Thank you Jesus.

The only time I've ever uttered the phrase with the straight-forward sincerity the sign conveys is when offering a thank you to the universe at-large after a negative pregnancy test in my teens or a narrowly avoided car accident, but never from a place of genuine gratitude to the lord and savior of scriptural times.

Thank you Jesus, I whisper to myself. And I smile.

These People Know How to Party

I invited my former husband over to my backyard to enjoy some beers and toast s'mores with our kids several evenings ago. Serge lives three doors away. As in; his house, a house, a church, a house and then my house. This guy I've been clocking some time with was also enjoying our backyard fire pit with his boy, who shares a daycare class with my Charlie, so the seven of us - three adults (allegedly), and four kids - made for an interesting get-together.

Clocking some time with... Hahaha. I'm such an emotionally corrupt pussy. The word 'boyfriend' lodges heavily in the back of my throat every time I go to introduce Cory or speak about him to someone who is unfamiliar with his presence in my life. I had "boyfriends" in high school and college, but now? I'm an oldish broad with three kids and various and sundry life baggage-ness. Is boyfriend really the right term for this kind of post-divorce, solo-mom-of-three-sometimes-meets-up-with-solo-dad-of-one liaison? And shit. I'd feel squiggly calling him my boyfriend even if it was a word I felt completely comfortable flourishing like a gift bottle of wine during those social instances when an introduction requires the relationship elaboration.

I've experienced women pleased as punch to brandish the term like a weapon, stabbing you in the face repeatedly: My boyfriend this and my boyfriend that and while I don't begrudge them giving the word a workout worthy of a CrossFit sesh, it ain't for me. All boyfriend usage rights have long since expired for yours truly, probably around the time I pushed my third child into a snowy world in a 100-year-old farmhouse one cold March morning. Congratulations, it's a boy! Also? No more boyfriends for you, lady! So, what's left? Partner? Ugh. Manfriend? Hey everyone! I'd like you to meet my manfriend! Nah. It's best to let people wonder who this man is in relation to my life, especially since I spend most of my time pondering the same damn thing.

Cory? He don't care what I call him, just so long as I call him. He seems to dig me. God knows why, I mean, have you read this website? But, God bless his rangy ass, he digs me. Not because of some phony show I've put on in an effort to impress. He just enjoys my company, batshit craziness and all. And the other night we both enjoyed Serge's company. Serge is a charming sonuvabitch and he was in fine form that evening. I believe Cory hoofed it down the street to our local distillery no less than two times for emergency beer supplies and I think we all know that the amount of beer consumed directly correlates to how good a time was had...

I dunno. Life is weird and sad and bad and magical and heartwrenching and unbelievably fuckin' beautiful.