The Saturday Rumpus Essay: Jefferson St. Apartments


I went to this party in the spring of 2011. It was a stupid party. I’d fucked a goalkeeper the night before; I was working my way through the men’s soccer team in an effort to make my best friend jealous. I wanted her to ask me to be her girlfriend. Which, by the way, worked, but that’s really not what we’re talking about here.

It was one of those bleak parties where everyone is there because it’s the best thing going on, but everyone is also wishing there were something better. And I was so ready to start my lesbian life, so this whole drunken teeming mass of heterosexuality was a big yawn. But I was still trying to play the cool straight-girl card, and seem like I had a life outside of writing papers for my dyke friend. Given the choice, I would’ve permanently installed myself in her lap, but who’s asking. So, for now, I’m straight. Aloof. Nothing gay here folks. So I let myself get dragged to this party, although, to my credit, wearing a sweatshirt and flip-flops. I ditched the girls I came with almost immediately, then just sort of chilled on the front porch. Some guy gave me a beer and we talked baseball. It was relaxed. The girl who sits on the porch in a sweatshirt drinking cheap beer is usually a safe bet for party conversation, a relief from the sweaty drama inside. I’m not saying I was a priest or anything, Dr. Drew with the addicted masses. But I was casual. Like I said: chill. It’s the girls decked out in dresses and perfume who are the wild cards at parties. They’re the ones who could just as easily rock your world in bed as throw up in your mouth, or cry when you don’t ask for their number, make a scene. I should know because I’ve been the wild card an undignified amount of times. But tonight I’m thinking of my impending lesbianism, and I’m low-key.

So I talk to baseball boy for a while, then hang out with this cheerleader in the bathroom. Not like it sounds. I think we talked about makeup and maybe her face rash. At some point since coming inside from the porch, I’d kissed one of the male soccer players. I maybe should’ve noted that earlier. Anyway. It’s only like 11 p.m. but I feel very gay and bored, and cheerleader is about to leave with her boyfriend. Do any of us want a ride? I do. Soccer player does, too. He asks will I go home with him. I say, sure. It may seem an abrupt transition from feeling gay and bored, to going home with a man, but that’s how I made most decisions back then. Just, “sure.”

We arrive at his apartment and I think, wow, this place is shitty. I just had a whole different view then. I was still thinking that’s how the world worked: you get good grades, you graduate and get a good job, you live in a good house. It’s all good. So I’m judging him, but thinking, whatever. He’s a guy; guys live in shitty places. And he was Irish. A lot of the international guys would live together like sardines, or little boys in orphanage beds. They had families and pretty things back home; why waste money on the tired American dream.

As we approach the stairs to the back door, Benny informs me he lost his keys. I’m still chill though. It’s breezy but not cold, and I’m wearing that sweatshirt. I think he expects me to go into girl dramatics, but I’m content. I could go back to the party that was a bore or I could go to my dorm and stress out about being in love with my best friend. Neither option is appealing; I’d rather sit on shitty apartment stairs with an Irish kid. May as well. Sure.

I offer him my phone to call his roommate, who doesn’t answer. He starts to scroll through my phone and calls random people who may be with his roommate, thick Irish accent going, “Yeah hey, this is Benny, calling from LB’s phone…” Great. I’m sure no one will put two and two on this one, realize what little sluts we are. Oh well. What do I care. I’m almost a lesbian.

The temperature drops some and he leads me around to the front so we can wait in the little enclosed part by the doors. We settle in to wait and maybe make out when a guy and a dog come in. I sort of sit and smile. It felt like the waiting room at an auto shop. I’m just here to get my oil changed y’all. Basically. But Benny makes conversation with the neighbor, whose life is clearly his dog. Locked out? the neighbor asks, then tells us we can wait in his apartment if we want, he was about to roll a blunt, we’re welcome to join. Benny is all, Great! And I’m like, okay. The fun just continues. I am definitely not about to get high with two strangers and a dog but I’m game to watch them smoke each other out. Maybe they’ll kiss; that’d be an interesting twist. It’s amazing what lesbianism does to your appeal with guys, and I’m not talking in a porny way. I mean the guys who don’t even know, which was all of them at this point in my life. All night Benny is monitoring my reactions, expecting me to go into hysterics about the lost keys or be prissy about him getting stoned before we hook up, baby how can we really connect if we’re on different levels. He’s impressed that I’m such a good sport, and doesn’t realize it is because I just do not care. He gets stoned, he’ll get sleepy, then we won’t even have sex. Perfect. I’m saving up all my hysterics for my best friend the dyke, who I think I am in love with. Watch out. I keep thinking how she’s probably out some place being gay and awesome and I’m stuck here with Thing 1 and Thing 2, shaving years off my life with secondhand smoke. The guys light up and I sit off in the corner and pet the dog. I could be texting, but I’m not in the mood for my friends to know how low I’ve stooped, and Benny has appropriated my phone anyway, getting ahold of the roommate.

I’m still thinking, these apartments sure are shitty.

The roommate returns, we say our thank yous and goodbyes to the neighbor and walk next door. Once inside, Benny becomes fixated on showing me his favorite Mumford & Sons YouTube clips, and I’m like, yep, you’re high. But I go along with it, and I’m relieved he isn’t pawing at me. His roommate starts fucking an exchange student in one of the bedrooms, and I simply can’t believe what I’m hearing. Like she is so loud it’s pornographic. I barely know Benny and now we’re suffering through awkward city together. At one point the others take a break and while I’m in the bathroom, this girl comes in just to chat, asks me if I’m a virgin. I’m so afraid of her enthusiasm. Stoned Benny in the front room with his little computer is starting to seem appealing. I’m pretty sure this girl is about to invite me to a United Nations orgy, so I regretfully inform her on the state of my hymen, then recommend to Benny that we transition to his bedroom. We kiss a little, nothing crazy, and my vagina is thrilled to be left alone.

I wake up eye-level with Catholic bracelets, those kind with the saints. He has them lined up on the windowsill, right by the bed. Jesus and Mary inches from my face. I turn over and it’s like I fall into a pit of Irish perversion. Oh, okay, so you’re a morning sex kind of guy. Horniness is just emanating from him, and though the mechanics are dull to me, I’m still fascinated at the spectacle.

Girls seem to whip out the dirty talk at random, maybe because we just like to talk. It’s a rare guy though who just lays it on you during a one night stand. Benny is a man crazed. Pussy this, pussy that. His mouth is moving and I cannot even keep up with the obscenities, and the accent besides. I want to call a time out just so I can send a mass text to my friends, “Little Benny talks filthy in the sack!” but duty calls. It is broad daylight and we are sex machines.

As Jesus and Mary watch from the windowsill, I swallow Benny McKay’s jizz. I do it without disgust; I really don’t mind. I’m about to cross over into lez land, I may as well end my straight girl sojourn on a high note. “You are so fucking hot,” he moans, while I swipe the back of my hand across my lips. And I think, yeah. Sweatshirt girl.

Benny and I don’t have cars, so I have to sit on the front steps and wait for my friend to pick me up. Seat of shame, the bright morning warms my face. I see the neighbor. He’s in dress clothes, going to work. We don’t talk. Odd that a businessman would live in these shitty apartments, I think. Maybe he spends all his money on weed, and the dog.

A few years later a girlfriend wants me to move in with her. I graduated in good standing but I’m broke as fuck. Gone are my younger illusions of stable jobs and nice houses. We have sex all over the apartment. As I eat her out on the kitchen floor, it passes through my mind that this apartment is so grand. I could live there with her forever. Only $300 a month if we split the rent, and less if we get a third roommate. I clean while my girlfriend’s at work, and the apartment looks amazing when I’m finished. Friends stop by and we sit out on the landing by the splintery stairs. They smoke while I paint my nails and it’s so magical to me, this lovely apartment and the life inside it. The walls pulse with our love. It is beautiful because we are. She has all these shelves of books and our art everywhere and wine always in the refrigerator. She worries about the apartment though. The chipped paint, the stained tile, the break-ins and drug busts that litter the neighborhood. Is my apartment shitty? she asks. Oh, no, baby it’s perfect, I reassure her. And to me, it was.

The relationship goes sour, we never move in together. She breaks her lease, can’t stay there, reminds her of us, she says.

The next year I’m sitting in the sun reminiscing with myself to pass the time while I wait for my skin to burn. Benny comes to mind and I laugh. I hadn’t thought about that night in so long. I remember being locked out, the way we sat on the splintery steps. Pause. My brain flits to being at my girlfriend’s, everyone smoking. It’s the same landing, I realize, say to myself, it’s the same. It was always the same. My mind is on overload, meshing the two halves of my existence. Before I ever created a world with my ex, I’d been in that apartment, watching Benny smoke a joint, contemplating my latent homosexuality.

My girlfriend lived in the shitty apartments. I was blind to it the whole time we were together, so willing was I to discard my past, to ignore the chipped paint and the lies she told. I saw what I wanted to see. Once upon a time, happily ever after. We squinted our eyes and crammed each other into acceptable versions of ourselves. Relationships and buildings are the same it seems. Our perspectives bend and embellish, the run-down domicile is one year shitty and shameful, the next a sacred heaven. A person is one day your breath and soul, and another, just some girl you used to date.


Images provided courtesy of author.

LB Johnston is an MA candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. Her work can be found at The Fem, Loud Zoo, Sinister Wisdom, and elsewhere. More from this author →