Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening Queerstories. This week, Nadine Chemali is a writer, researcher, and social worker who tweets prolifically, @femmocollective. She’s written for publications like SBS Voices, The Big Issue and The Guardian, and has spoken at events like Melbourne Writers Festival and Brisbane Feminists Festival. This story was performed for Bleach Festival on the Gold Coast in November 2020.
I’m telling a queer story that involves love, love with a man. On some level, it makes me feel less queer. Maybe I should tell a story where I was queerer, more queer. My queerest story. But I wanted to tell a tale, and this is one that still makes my heart ache some days, but I’m no less queer for it.
Finding love in the ‘90s was so different to what it is today. New Farm Coles had a queer singles night on Thursdays. One banana meant something ad a melon meant something else. I was part of the first generation to find love on this new thing called The Internet.
In a place called MSN Teen Chat, I, NikitaFairy, met one of my lifelong loves, Lotek. It was 1997, there was no Facebook, no Insta, no MySpace, no Twitter, no Tumblr, not even Friendster, which some of the older ones here will remember. You communicated via messaging services with these cute things called emoticons where you sent a tiny picture of a teddy bear with its arms as a hug. I hugged Lotek a lot. His real name was Nick and he lived in New York City.
Chatting to Nick daily was part confessional, part diary, a huge part of what we now call self-care. I would rush home from uni every day to see if Nick was awake yet, to tell him what I did in my theatre workshop and who I was crushing on.
He became my collaborator, my conscience. I learned all about his dad, a Japanese migrant that married the Lebanese woman who birthed him, his life, his friends, and what New York was really like. They filmed that Angelina Jolie movie, Hackers, at his high school, so I watched it so many times for that second where you could see him in the background.
When I had my first real kiss, it was with a girl. And when I lost my virginity with her in the car at the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, overlooking the beautiful Brisbane skyline, Nick was the one I went home and told. When I tried ecstasy for the first time on my 18th birthday, Nick talked me through my come-down on Tuesday.
We joked about running away to Vegas and getting married, we had all the makings of the perfect relationship: Friendship, care, understanding. He was one of the first people in the world to see my now-all-over-the-Internet boobs. No, not a photograph that was developed by the old creepy guy at Kmart, but the 1998 version. An image of two round globes, my tits, placed on a scanner and uploaded to an email, which took 45 minutes to send. That photo still exists, by the way.
A few times we did a thing called “cybering”. I like to think of it as Dial-Up Masturbation. It was kind of like sexting, but with one of my scanned boobs up on his screen, a lot of one-handed typing, the other down your pants, and a lot of, “Oh, baby, yes,” and some imaginary instruction.
Nowadays when I sext someone, 90% of the time I’m probably cooking dinner or gardening, but back then it was a real thrill. Back then when it used to take half an hour to load one jpeg. Having a real live person there talking sexy things at you was real turn on.
When Virginity Girl broke my heart, I went home and waited for Nick to wake. That difference in time zone was hard to navigate. It meant many late nights or early mornings. I wrote him a very dramatic, and poetic teen angst-filled email that read:
I wish we were closer. I wish we were neighbours. I wish we were roommates. Bed mates. People that slept naked together. I wish I could roll over in the morning half asleep, feeling you warm, pressing against me, bare skin and bones tight together as we drift to sleep.
I went to bed and woke to a reply.
“She dumped you, huh? Well, get your punk ass here already.”
So, I did.
We met and I think we immediately fell hard, but we were both scared. We were too young for the intense thing we had built online. We were embarrassed about all the “cybering” we did, so we did that thing where we became like siblings and pretended we’d never talked about going to Vegas or getting married, or even sex.
He got a girlfriend, and I was dating everyone. We would hang out together, and I have such vivid memories of 3AM karaoke in Queens, and him holding my hair as I decorated the gutter
A year later, I left New York and returned home, and things for Nick and I would slip back into our confessional, deep, safe love from afar. We were in love again, reporting daily, talking dirty. We switched back and forth between this cycle a few times. One would visit, the other would leave. We went to the Guggenheim on my 21st birthday, and we were inspired to walk into the first tattoo parlour to get matching Warhol tattoos, like you do. We did this until 2007.
With a marriage in Australia in tatters, clutching what was left of my heart, I landed at JFK. I’d hoped he would pick me up, but Nick didn’t do airports. He hated them. He hated hellos and he hated goodbyes. The following day, I called husband, Brooklyn to Brisbane, and I asked him if we were a couple. He told me he didn’t know. He didn’t have an answer. I needed to know, so I set a deadline. I told him he had until Tuesday and if the answer was still, “I don’t know,” then, I knew we were over.
What happened the next day was some romance movie shit that Nick and I had joked about over many, many years. I took the subway to 86th Street and I wandered to Central Park to meet him. As I ambled towards the spot behind the Met where we had met at so many times over the years, I looked down and there was writing on the path, lyrics.
Strange you never knew….
Fade into you….
Lyrics from the 1993 Mazzy Star song, Fade into You were written in giant chalk letters on the path. I followed them to the meeting spot, and there was Nick, goofy grin, holding a hand-picked flower and a giant, warm, fresh pretzel; two of my favourite things in the whole world. I cried, a lot.
We spent the day holding hands and hugging, talking and laying out on the grass. We walked down to the Nue Gallery, so I could see these giant portraits by Klimt of his impossible love, a woman named Adele Bloch Bauer. They had this love that spanned ages. They slept together but were never able to be a couple.
On the way home, Nick asked me, “Comin’ to mine?” I shook my head. I really wanted to but I had to wait and find out what was happening with my marriage. I was scared; scared to throw away what I had spent years building back home for a fleeting chance with this man I loved for so long, scared to kiss him, scared that everything would go wrong, and that I would be left with absolutely nothing. Nick texted that night.
“I’m glad we didn’t do it, punk.”
“Yeah?” I replied.
“Yeah, you got your thing with him, and I have been in a mess with a girl, and her sister, and no amount of Ajax is gonna clean up.”
So, Tuesday rolled around, and I called my husband. I asked him again, “Are we a couple?” He was silent. He didn’t know. That was enough for me, I had my answer, and I hung up sobbing, my heart aching. I really, really wanted to call Nick.
Whenever I had an existential crisis, I fuck someone new, and, failing that, I masturbate and cry. But this time, I fucked everyone
The next month I didn’t see Nick. It was a blur. My days looked like they were out of a Sofia Coppola movie, you know, those long lingering shots with sun bursts and lens flares. But my nights were like electric neon lights and powdered substances, and all kinds of abject bodily fluids.
Everything degenerated into some sort of hard, desperate groping, followed by some sort of festival of insertion. I became an advocate of fucking whoever was around, wherever I fell.
Sex. Sex is funny, but not, like, in that hahah-clown-shoes way, more of a weird, “What the fuck just happened?” way. Even when its excellent, there is this small part of you that refuses to believe that it really happened. This part of you that kind of giggles at the absurdity of someone putting their something in your something. You press your food hole opening against their food hole opening, and somehow it feels amazing.
When the Festival of Fuck finally ended, I called Nick.
“Finally! You asking me on a date?” he said.
I said, “It’s a date, and you better get dressed up.”
After dinner, we walked back through the East Village to my door, and I asked him up. He was awkward. He said he really needed to get back to Brooklyn, work the next day and all that. I was so disappointed. I really thought this was it, this was going to be the moment we could finally hook up, ten years in the making.
He did kiss me, long and slow, and he said, “It’s not the right time, you need to get back home.” And he meant Australia, and he was right.
He called me on the way home to check that I was okay. I thanked him for not coming in, for not taking advantage while I was vulnerable and hurting. He explained that if we were ever to happen, it shouldn’t be when I had just left my husband and he was trying to break up with sisters.
He came around almost every day for the next week. We did all my favourite New York things: Parks, bocce in Washington Square Park with old Italian guys, pizza from Stromboli, hotdogs that were definitely going to give me salmonella.
“I hooked up with Tim again” I said.
“What? Any good?”
“Not really. Filled the gap though.”
“I get it.” He said. “I fucked the sister again. What am I doing?”
And we laughed. With that, we were back to normal.
When I was leaving, I did one of those silly, extravagant things. I bought him an Xbox so we could play Call of Duty together online, and he was genuinely touched; not because of the Xbox but because no one had ever paid attention to him eyeballing something like I did in the Virgin Mega Store. For me, it was a no-brainer, he was my best friend. It definitely made things a little weird. I think he realised how much I truly actually loved him. He didn’t know how to thank me, so I told him to shut up and punched him in the arm.
The night before I left for Australia, my pals threw me a going away party and Nick didn’t show. I bawled in bed that night and all the way back to the airport. I was overwhelmed with what was ahead, and I was disappointed with what I was leaving behind.
As I checked my luggage in, I see this guy – my half-Japanese, half-Lebanese friend – holding a giant pretzel and a puzzle book. He’d come to the airport. He hugged me hard, and I waved as I boarded but he had already walked away. I assume he was crying because I am amazing and adorable, but he probably wasn’t.
I opened my puzzle book and the front page said, “Yo punk, maybe next time, love you. N.”
I haven’t seen Nick again. We played video games for a few years, and the world changed. I still call him every single New Year’s Day, no matter what, just to just check if he’s alive. Last check-in he was, and he hasn’t dated sisters again. Maybe next time.
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