Marta was the first lover I wooed with words. I was 17, she was 22, we were both counselors at a Catholic girls’ camp. I kissed her within the first week, and separated as we were, as propriety necessitated, we would send our preteen charges back and forth between our tables at meals, all these little, tanned, summer-stink cupids unwittingly bearing messages of our love.
I would spend the meal half minding my kids but mostly patiently tearing rough hewn letters out of cheap paper napkins. “T,” “E,” “A,” “M,” “O,” I would tear; it was shorter than the English equivalent and given Marta’s central American heritage, the Spanish was appropriate (I realize now that if you rearranged the letters you could spell “o meat” and “a tome,” both far less apropos).
We spent that summer crushed in the haze of our forbidden love. We would escape the nuns’ gaze whenever we could in Marta’s cocoa-colored mustang. We’d make out in fields, on the beach, in the shed next to the lawnmower. I was in love with her, and she with me. I was her first lover, male or female; she was just one in a litany of mine.
I was in love with Marta, but mostly I was in love with the drama of my love. The clandestine nature, the inherent hush-hush quality of our love, the girl-mouthed murmurings of rumor, the scandal when, at summer’s end, I was summoned into office of Sister Mary Something, the very formidable and uniformly iron-colored head nun, and quite pointedly Not Asked Back. (I had, I suppose, been the snake in the ass that ruined Marta, heretofore a perfect camper).
I loved Marta, her short black springy hair, the tiny mole on her upper lip, the way her skin variegated from espresso at her tan shins to café au lait at her never-seen-the-sun breasts. I loved her stalwart blocky body. I loved her short-fingered hands and how she could manipulate my tiny petulant clit into making me come. I loved her liquid smile, and her meticulous dress, her cropped bark of a laugh, and her intelligence. Her hairy pussy, her umami must.
(When I think about it now, Marta had in common much with C, the previous love of my life, and Donny, the real love of my life. Like C, she was dark and handsome. Like Donny, she was highly analytic. Like both of them, she had that fussy organizational sensibility that made her compulsively straighten the world.)
Mostly, though, what I loved, when I think back and am honest with myself about it, was the incipient potential for high drama. I was, especially between the ages of seventeen and thirty, a drama junkie. What could possibly be more explosive than a relationship with a woman? Not much, to my narrow thinking. And certainly, my love for Marta was satisfyingly dramatic. There was the aforementioned iron nun’s censuring me. There was my parents’ finding us in flagrante delicto, all tangled tan limbs and the lingering waft of aroused pussy, in my family’s living room. There was, too, the inherent drama that our love would, at the summer’s close, become long-distance.
When the summer ended, the week before I started my college Freshman year, I went to visit Marta in New York. Her parents lived in Hell’s Kitchen, just a few blocks away from the theatre district, in a low-income high rise (not city housing, I’d later revisit the building when I fucked this crazy jazz pianist who also had an apartment there). We went to see West Side Story and we also saw Blake Edwards’ 10. We didn’t reenact Tony and Maria’s singing on the balcony, but we did fuck to Ravel’s Bolero, spilling Chilean red wine all over one another’s bodies, and licking off the rivulets that pooled in our female crevices.
It was tasty and it was hott and it gave me a wicked yeast infection.
At the end of that long lost weekend, I bid Marta a tearful good-bye, but not before I told her that if she were a man I’d marry her. She told me that she didn’t believe me, that I was started school (she was off to study microbiology in grad school at some giant Midwestern corn-fed football institution herself), and that she loved me. We promised to write.
Write we did. We separated out the emo from the bawdy with a predetermined method of drawing red borders around the envelopes that were stuffed with smut. I wrote Marta long, leisured letters of Sapphic love, tracing her body in elliptical loops with my penned tongue, and then licking the envelope shut. I wrote and wrote, and she did too.
I stopped reading the letters about a month after school started. The drama had lost its luster, and I had rediscovered the forgotten territory of the priapic. There was too much to do, too much to think about, too much to fuck to let myself dwell in the faraway land of Marta’s loins, and so I’d get the letters, feel a strange drop in my stomach, and then throw them away.
I haven’t any of Marta’s red-bordered letters today. I haven’t her quotidian letters either. When I broke up with her, in a small cabin of the Swiss Inn Motel, I did it without a lot of drama, She cried, I cried, but it wasn’t dramatic. I’ve never heard from her again, and why would I? I was just the first person who broke her heart. If she’s lived long and loved well—and I hope both to be true—there have been many more, and many whose hearts she has broken. Maybe, as I have, she has written words to her lovers, drawing them closest when separated by distance.
And maybe, as I have, she has learned that words can go unread, a silent languishing, a small not signifying death, and give meaning even in their invisible stillness.