"Brown Shoes" published in "Early Embraces," edited by Lindsey Elder, Alyson Publications, CA.
By Rita Schiano
When I was 11 years old, I had a pair of brown leather high top shoes. I liked them particularly because they had a thick zipper up the front instead of shoe laces. They were very different, unlike the the black dress shoes most girls wore with their navy blue uniforms at Our Lady of Solace Grammar School. One day at school, my friend Jack Palantino called them lezzy shoes. I didn't know what he meant by that, but I remember it hurt my feelings when he said it.
I liked Jack. He lived in the house next door and often we would talk to each other at night via our walkie talkies, he in his bedroom and I in mine. We would hide under the covers, talking in hushed voices so our parents wouldn't hear us. That night, I asked him what he meant by lezzy shoes.
Through the crackles of the short wave reception he said, "You know, the kind Lezzies wear." I didn't know and I felt too embarrassed to asked him. So the next day while sitting on the steps outside Fisher's Market waiting for the school bus, I asked my friend Lucia Farone what Lezzies were. She told me. I never wore those shoes again.
Freshman year of college my roommate Linda introduced me to Pat—a friend from her hometown who had transferred into the sophomore class. Pat was unlike any woman my age I had ever met before: she was smart, cynical, artistic, and she liked shock value. She especially liked shocking me.
Pat always talked about this woman Kate whom she knew her freshman year at Oxford College. They had been lovers. Pat talked on and on about Kate and their relationship. I remember fidgeting as I listened to her— crossing and uncrossing my legs, my arms; lighting cigarettes from butts I had just finished. Pat observed my nervousness and laughed, amused by something she knew that I didn't know.
But as she talked, I remember thinking again about those brown shoes, and the people Lucia told me about who wore those shoes. And what they did. What Pat and Kate had done. And I couldn't stop thinking about Pat.
* * * * *
A few days before semester break, Linda asked if I would give her a ride home. She lived in Hamilton, a small town en route to my hometown. I told her that would be fine. I called Pat and offered her a ride home, too.
I dropped Linda off first. A lucent full moon hovered as I pulled into the driveway at Pat's house. She opened the car door, then leaned over and kissed me on the mouth. It wasn’t a long kiss, but I can still recall the feel of the tip of her tongue as it traced my lips. She laughed as she bounded out of my car, closing the door without a word. With a stunned look on my face, I watched as she walked up the driveway to the side door of her parents house.
I guess I drove home to Utica. I mean, I don't remember driving the 87 miles at all. Yet, there I was sitting in my mother's driveway—the ashtray filled with cigarette butts. Certainly all the signs I had gone from point A to point B. But all I could remember about that last few hours was the feeling of Pat's mouth on mine and a stirring between my legs I had never felt before.
It’s not that I was a virgin. I had kissed and fondled and had been fondled and kissed by many boys and men throughout my teenage years. I had had sex with Rick and with Patrick, but with them I never felt more than discomfort and boredom. Sex seemed to be more a of mental event rather than a physical one.
But Pat’s brief kiss on my mouth that night encompassed my entire being. For the remaining ten days of semester break, all I could think about was that moment in the car when Pat's mouth touched mine. And how would I react when I saw her again.
* * * * *
I moved into a single room that second semester. When I had finished unpacking, setting up the stereo, and arranging the furniture, I called Pat and invited her over to see my new room.
"Great," she said. "I'll see you in a few minutes." I had to remind myself to breathe as I awaited her arrival.
As she walked through the doorway, I wanted to rush into her arms and feel her lips again on mine. I wanted to feel her arms around me, her breasts pressing against my breasts. Instead, Pat walked to the desk and seated herself on top of it.
"How was break?" she asked nonchalantly.
Filled with longing for you, I thought. "Okay," I answered. "How was yours?"
We both rambled on about nothing of significance. I wanted to talk about that moment in the car, but I was afraid. I needed Pat to take the lead. After all, I thought, she's the lesbian.
Oh, really? I countered myself. And just what are you? I didn't know.
* * * * *
It was Spring Weekend and our fathers were invited for a formal dinner and dance that Saturday night. I wore a black evening gown with lace sleeves and bodice. Pat's gown was red, low cut as was mine. I was also wearing a handmade, beaded necklace that didn't match the elegance of my gown at all.
Pat had made the necklace for me—dental floss strung with multi-colored beads. The day she finished making it she said, "Turn around so I can fit this to your neck." She, then, tied a knot in it. The necklace fit like a choker and could only be removed by breaking the string. She laughed, knowing full well that I would never break it. So I walked around wearing this outward sign of her affection for me. I was uncomfortable about it, but I wore it.
After our fathers left that night, I invited Pat to my room for a cup of tea. She kept telling me how drunk she was and I kept telling her how sober I was. She sipped her tea and I found myself staring at the cup, wanting to be that close to her mouth again. It had been two months since that kiss and we had never talked about it. As I sat there looking at her empty tea cup, I found myself running my fingers along the rim, touching the spot from which she drank. I looked up at Pat’s face. Her eyes were intently focused on mine, and without giving it another thought, I reached out to her, taking her chin between my thumb and forefinger and gently kissed her lips.
I led her to my bed where we lay together for hours kissing, touching. As our passion grew more fervent, we slowly removed our clothing leaving a pile of evening gowns, silken slips and lace bras on the floor. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I followed her lead—touching her breasts, kissing and licking and sucking her nipples, tentatively exploring her warmth, her moisture with my fingers.
At one point Pat pulled back. "How can you be so calm! I wasn't this calm my first time with a woman!"
This time I laughed. I was exactly where I wanted to be and doing what I had secretly longed to do for years. For the first time, sex was more than a mental exercise. With Pat that night I learned the difference between having sex and making love.
The next morning as I lay with my cheek against her soft breast, I wondered what ever happened to those brown shoes.