1. If he doesn't call you in a week, he's not interested.
Janis isn't going to do the dating thing. A lot of people don't; dating's kind of old-fashioned. She thinks she's probably going to not-date until college, and then she's going to slut it up all over the place, and then she's going to find one guy who really gets her and they'll settle down, probably in New York, probably in one of those loft-style apartments with cherry-wood floors and a kitchen made of stainless steel and furniture from Pier 1. They'll both be busy with their careers, but they'll grow old together too, and since it'll be the future, they'll probably have a robot servant to clean up after their dog.
But then Michael Purdy comes up to her after group one night, when she's trying to beat the second level on the Ms. Pacman machine they keep in the rec room at the Prospect Center (for LGBT youth and their allies), and it's a little awkward because he'd cried earlier, during group, and Janis had been rolling her mental eyes to herself and thinking he was an attention-whoring douche, and now here he is in front of her, looking all uncomfortable and breathless as he asks does she want to maybe hang out sometime or whatever? But despite having a very low tolerance for emo, Janis is a sucker for sweet brown eyes behind thick-framed glasses. She glances at him and doesn't say "no" out loud even though that was the first thing that popped into her head. Instead, she licks her lips and looks back at her game just in time to see her little pink-bow-wearing friend get munched by a posse of ghosts. Then she sighs and scrunches her face up and turns back around to smile at Michael. "Okay," she says.
They go to the mall and it's spooky because both of them are passing, so it's like they're undercover in the land of hetero privilege or something; people give them tolerant smiles and put extra whipped cream on their grande peppermint mochas. "What the fuck," Michael says under his breath, after the beaming lady behind the Starbucks counter has whisked herself away. Janis widens her eyes at him as she takes a sip of her drink. It's fucking fabulous.
They look at phones at the Verizon kiosk for a while and then the sales guy says "hey, we have this great couples plan, saves you bunches on texts and calls to each other," and Janis puts her hand over her mouth (because "saves you bunches") and Michael says "oh, cool, thanks" and meets Janis's eyes and then both of them are laughing. They walk away fast with the sales guy's confused gaze on their backs. "I am so creeped out right now," Janis says. "You don't even know."
Michael grins at her and takes her hand. "I kind of like it," he admits, and by then they're standing in front of this enormous glowing Gap ad, and it seems surreal but also completely normal when Michael leans forward and kisses her. The world doesn't stop. No one's even looking at them. Michael tastes like coffee and peppermint.
They hold hands all the way through the mall and outside, to the bus stops, and then somebody says "woooo, tranny love," and there's a whole chorus of snickering and when Janis looks around, she sees Raffi standing there with a bunch of his asshole friends, and he's all bright eyes and stupid knit hat, spitting on the pavement and watching her, like go ahead, say something, I dare you.
She rolls her eyes. "Aw, baby," she says. "That's sweet, but you're kinda young for me." She shrugs and then tugs Michael away from them, over to the busses waiting on the other side of the street. "Ignore him," she says. "He's just this messed up kid my family knows. He...has trauma or whatever."
Michael nods and shrugs and changes the subject, but he lets go of her hand to dig out his bus pass, and he never does grab it again.
2. You're allowed to have one boyfriend and 86 crushes.
So it's weird because even though Michael decides he's gay right after the date, which was technically Janis's first-ever-date, Janis is not put off boys altogether. She'd kind of thought she would be. She'd kind of gotten herself mentally ready for it, sitting at home the next afternoon with the curtains pulled, watching movies like A Nun's Story and The Trouble With Angels
and thinking about maybe devoting her life to God. But first of all, a) Janis is an atheist, which is the natural result of having been raised by a woman who believes in multiple goddesses and insists on worshipping buck naked, but also b) she can't stop thinking about kissing.
She thinks about kissing the girls in The Trouble With Angels and then, when she finally decides to do some actual schoolwork, she thinks about kissing the guy who's holding up the pyrometer in her physics text book. And then she thinks about kissing Chuck Bass, which is pretty much the end of doing schoolwork or doing anything requiring rational thought for the whole rest of the day because oh my god, YES PLEASE. Kissing, it turns out, is totally nice and Janis wants to do it a lot more often, hopefully soon, hopefully TODAY, hopefully with her head tipped back and some boy's big hand pressed against her flushed face, his thumb stroking tenderly over her cheekbone, his other hand creeping up toward the soft curve of her breast. She texts her friend Margo (who technically is Lois's friend from the Global Action Puppet Theatre, but who Janis has co-opted on account of Margo is only nineteen, which makes her the Closest Person to Janis's Age Who Has Ever Come Over to Their House1, and thus Janis's friend by default):
do you think if I move to NY and straighten my gross teeth and get my surgery that Ed Westwick will make out with me?
Then she flops back on the couch and thinks about stupid Michael's stupid fingers on her stupid cheek, just the backs of them, all light and careful, and then her phone hums on her belly. She thumbs it open and squints at the screen. It's a return text from Margo, a single glowing word:
1Poetical hyperbole, obvs.
3. Don't get stuck thinking there's only one soul mate
for you in the entire solar system.
After Michael Purdy, Janis goes on kind of a binge. She dates:
Jordan Allende (aged sixteen, member of the aspiring
hip hop group
The Trans MCs and co-leader of the speakers board at Prospect)
Brad Dale (aged eighteen, Kali-worshipping attendee
at Janis's mom's
Mabon Celebration -- "Not optional, missy, so don't you even start" --
owner of a large iguana named Deathly and the entire collected works of Trent Reznor)
Haley Chan (aged sixteen, frequent poster at the
Lady Gaga fanforum Janis made
as a sophomore media arts project and owner of many sick-as-hell pairs of boots)
Frank (aged ???, guy who works at the deli on
Fourth, who'd said "hey baby, looking
fine" when Janis and Margo were over there getting mochaccinos this one
time and Janis was feeling a little scandalous)
By the time the dating binge is officially over, Janis has learned that a) the strangest people can turn out to be stealth Republicans and b) she is not into dudes who are religious and c) she is not a lesbian. She has also learned that d) just because your mom is a polyamourous pagan doesn't mean she isn't also a bizarre throwback who apparently got her parenting skills from the nineteen-fifties and also e) if you say you're dating whoever the hell you want to date no matter what age they turn out to be in real life because you are almost seventeen years old already, jesus, you will definitely still end up grounded.
4. Spending time apart strengthens your bond.
Being grounded when you are also homeschooled is pretty much like being in Abu Ghraib, which is a terrible, inappropriate exaggeration but also seems true on some fundamental level which you can only really understand if you are yourself a homeschooled-by-lesbians teenager with a half-decent social life you've worked really hard to develop and are now being forced to watch dwindle away to nothing, as though friends are something anybody has the right to withhold, as though things aren't messed up enough for Janis as it is. Her mom took away her phone. Who takes away your phone? She keeps reaching for it and then realizing and then feeling the loss all over again, just like a missing limb.
"AAAAUUUGH," she says, the ninety-fifth time this happens.
"Oh, Lord," her mom says, covering her ear with her palm. She glares at Janis, wincing a little, because she's sitting maybe only a couple of feet away from Janis, because on top of being weird and isolated, Janis and her mom are also poor and the apartment they live in sucks and is tiny and has only one bedroom, which you can't spend any time in because for some reason it doesn't get heat. "You need to keep it down, girl," Janis's mom says after a second. "And you need to find something to do before I find you something to do." She gives Janis a meaningful look.
Janis sighs. She gets to her feet and throws her hands up in the air and then stomps into the kitchen, which is not so effective on account of the kitchen is right over there, maybe eight or nine steps away from the couch where she'd been sitting. But still.
"I'm going on Facebook," she says. She pokes their computer on and doesn't look at her mom, and there are a couple of seconds while her mom is probably thinking about saying no and the computer ticks and groans itself to life and then her mom sighs and scrubs a hand down her face. "Fine," she says.
Janis grins. It's the most minor ridiculous win in the world, but it's still a win. She opens up her Firefox and clicks into Facebook and the grin stays on her face until she's all logged in and sees that there's literally no one online because of course all of her friends go to school like normal people during the day. She sinks a little lower in the chair and then she leans forward and lets her forehead thunk against the bottom of the keyboard, and above her the computer goes beep-beep-beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep because her head is on the spacebar.
"What are you doing to that computer?" her mom says.
Janis sits back up. She keeps her eyes on the screen. "Absolutely nothing," she says.
5. No man wants to turn into your best friend.
The second floor of the hippie house smells weird, something like nutritional yeast and garlic-scented oil and a hint of fried potato under all the rest, cooking smells that have drifted up the stairs from the big old kitchen and gotten stuck in the curtains and the furniture there. Janis used to think it was gross, a gross smell, too strong and too weird, just like the food the first few times she and her mom came over for dinner here and her mom said if you don't like it, just fold it in your napkin and a LOT of stuff ended up in that napkin. Like, a LOT.
But now she doesn't mind it so much. She's used to it, probably, and also it reminds her of Lois, and Lois is awesome, so.
Anyway, it's all dark on the second floor because everybody's down in the living room, where the TV is, crowded in anxious and sweaty on the couches and the floor and wherever they can fit, eating vegan nachos and watching the results come in. Janis was there for a while and it felt like being in a rollercoaster during the climb to the top, when everybody's breathless and grabbing each other's arms and clinging on like that could save you, laughing and waiting and terrified. The polls say it's going to happen but what if the polls are wrong? So they're here to get the news together, no matter what, and that's...you know. Good. Or whatever. Janis hates rollercoasters, though, and if she was ever going to get in one it wouldn't be with her mom, who would probably climb out and try to wrestle it onto the safest possible track with her brawny lesbian arms before Janis could ever be in the smallest amount of danger.
So they're down there and she's up here, lying on the floor in Lois's room staring at the yellow christmas-tree lights Lois hung in a bunch in one corner of the ceiling, the hood of her sweatshirt pulled up over her head, her hands curled into fists in its pockets. She thinks that maybe being grounded for so long gave her mental problems or something. She feels like an astronaut who just got back from outer space, like everything is startling and loud and strange.
There's a creak of floorboards in the hall and then a rustling at the door. Janis tilts her head toward the noise and squints into the shadows, already scowling because she thinks it's probably Lois or her mom, come to try to cajole her out to join the others. Weirdly enough, though, it's Raffi.
"Hey," he says, uncertainly. He has his dark hair squashed down under a knit hat, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans.
Janis rolls her head back the way it was and frowns up at the ceiling. "Hey," she says.
Raffi scuffs the toe of a sneaker against the dusty floorboards, then sniffs and then comes in, settling himself cross-legged on the floor next to Janis's knees. "So," he says. "I hear you're dating thirty-five year olds now." He's picking at the loose threads around the edge of the hole in the knee of his jeans, not looking at her, but he's also sort of smiling.
Janis huffs. "I hear you got suspended for lighting a trash can on fire." She tilts her head his way again, eyebrows raised.
The rest of his mouth gets pulled into the smile, too. "Maybe," he says.
Janis lifts her eyes to the ceiling again, mouths maybe up at the cluster of lights, going for sarcastic. She's grinning, though, and she has no idea why.
Neither of them says anything to each other for a while. Downstairs, the news people are saying things about exit polls and state-by-state results and Janis can hear Jiao singing the "yes we can" song as she wanders from room to room. Outside there's traffic noise and the distant sounds of other parties, people's music and people's voices in the cold autumn air. "I went on, like, one date with that guy," she says finally. "And it was totally awkward, like I don't think he even knew I was trans and he kept trying to get me to come back to his apartment so I could pet some puppy he supposedly had there. Like I would ever fall for that."
Raffi wrinkles his nose. "Creepy."
Janis nods. There's another comfortable silence. After a minute or two, Raffi sniffs again. "I'm sorry I was such a douche that time at the mall," he says. "I didn't know it was your first date with that guy."
Janis shrugs like the whole thing was no big deal but this kind of is a big deal and her chest is all warm and she's smiling again. "Whatever," she says. "Thanks, though."
Raffi shrugs too, his eyes on the hole in his jeans, and then he scrunches his whole face up and lies down on the floor abruptly, his head sort of next to Janis's. He digs an iPod out of his pocket, sticks one of the headphones in his ear and holds the other one out to Janis. "Listen to this," he says.
Last year, before Raffi went all crazy and started being a giant asshole, they used to do this a lot. Raffi's awesome at making playlists and he always knows what's going to be good before anybody else has heard of it. Janis takes the earbud from him now, tilts her head a little in his direction and sticks it in her ear. Raffi shifts a little closer.
Downstairs, Mo's having an argument with somebody, her voice loud and incredulous and pleased, and it sounds like Lois is letting Jiao help out on the drums. It's getting late. The results from the west coast are probably going to start coming in soon and that means they should really go back down there and hang with their crazy ridiculous family in case the world changes or whatever, but the more Janis thinks about it, the less that seems like something she wants to do right now. The lights on Lois's ceiling are twinkling and yeah, the first song on Raffi's playlist is weird and downtempo and just kind of there, but that's how Raffi gets you, is what Janis remembers; if you sit still long enough, if you just listen, it's going to get really good.
Notes:The last image is Alison Bechdel's, from Strip #517: "in the bleak midwinter". All other drawings are actually photos from a variety of google-found places which have been photoshopped by me; if you recognize yourself here...um. Sorry?
All advice in the section headers borrowed verbatim from Cosmo magazine and MSN.com.