• Lily Nobel

The First Gay Girl I Ever Met was Named Julia and She Called Herself an Artist

The first gay girl I ever met was named Julia, and she called herself an artist. She was an artist, I guess. She dyed her hair red; told everyone that was it’s natural color, had a long, thin nose, and was, as I phrased it once to my cousin, “an aggressive vegan.” I didn’t like her because she was talented, self-righteous, and a liar. I didn’t like her because she was clever, beautiful, and (more or less rightfully, as I saw it), self-centered. Her energy seemed to flow straight upwards and she was too smart for all of us and her handwriting was messy in a smart way and she had freckles on the backs of her hands. She was too mature for all of us from the moment she stepped into the sixth grade art class that kids who were in the wrong place at the wrong time took and drew a realistic eye on the whiteboard in blue expo-marker and scribbled her signature in the bottom right corner. She said eating one egg was as bad for you as smoking six cigarettes. She cut strawberries into tiny roses with a tiny knife. She raved, standing so close it made me dizzy, about the dry, mealy rice-flour vegan cupcakes I had been obligated to make for a class party. I prayed the seating chart would place me next to her in seventh grade advanced language arts class.

She labeled herself as pansexual, and so I called myself pansexual too. Attracted to all genders. Hearts not parts, she would say, and so on and so forth. I hated the flag, even then, but she had a pin of it on her backpack so I tried to appreciate the mushy clash of the colors. Broad stripes and warm blue, it promised, as she promised, warmth, acceptance, and a smug sprinkling of exclusivity. I don’t know if Julia ever dated anyone, girl or boy or not, in middle school, but then I saw her only as eternally single and perpetually complete. Looking back, I don’t think she had any friends. Then, when I was quiet all the time and the shortest kid in my class, I thought she was more real a person than I could ever be. I wanted her confidence-- there were a lot of pieces of her I wanted, but I wanted her confidence-- so I took her flag when she offered it to me and declared myself open a long time before I even understood attraction. Now I wonder: did she really know herself there, under that bold everything-confine? Or was she like me, gleefully grabbing the first answer to a question she felt like she should be answering?

The last time I saw Julia’s face was a year ago, I think, in a pastel-toned photo posted to an Instagram I’d asked my cousin to look up out of what I’d rather call a fleeting curiosity. She moved to Hawaii the summer after eighth grade, and I hadn’t even noticed at the time. Everything was supposed to be new. She wasn’t the only thing that glowed all night anymore. We, after everything, were just acquaintances. I don’t think she ever knew my last name. But I remember in all the shades of red, in every cutting detail, the time we drove home from a friend’s birthday party at an arcade together. The sun had been sinking and everything was either orange or grey and she convinced everyone in the car to take a sip of helium from a balloon, dangling over the back seat to pass it to others, but sitting next to me. I was too scared to talk-- I was so shy then, and I was only shyer next to her. It used to make me sick to think about being a person. How could I go through and choose everything about myself? How would I know which things were the right ones to pick up? And how did she know everything, every word, every place, every answer already? How did she laugh without being scared others wouldn’t? She took a video of all of us losing our minds, giggling at vicious high-pitch, in the car, and she always kept the camera tilted slightly towards herself.

I wonder when she deleted that video, or if she ever did, or if it was lost when she dropped her phone out of the emergency exit on her plane to Hawaii, or whether it was lost when her plane to Hawaii, against a backdrop of lavender sky, crashed into the sea. Or something equally dramatic. An ending with fireworks, but not fireworks, because those are too mainstream.

I don’t know why I remember her so well; we never even talked much. I doubt she remembers me. But scratch that, I know exactly why I can write her down in so much detail-- one never entirely forgets the first girl they fall in love with.

My name is Lily Nobel (they/them), and I'm a 16 year old author and poet living in Boulder, Colorado, writing the surreal and unsettling-- in other words, quite a lot of love poems. I started writing because a fourth grade teacher told me I was good at it and kept going because it turned out to be my favorite thing in the world. Having finished my first novel a few months back, I'm on to my second. Additionally, I'm perpetually lost in an infinite cave system. Kindly send a telegram if you have any ideas on how to get out.

Cover image by Isi Parente @isiparente