It was at the end of a month-long trip through Central America that I kissed a girl for the first time. We were walking on a dim path through the hostel property in the swollen forest of Isla de Ometepe, buzzed on Nicaraguan beer and marveling at the difference in our pronunciation of words.
She was British, and I was American. We had been sitting next to each other only a few hours before at a weekday party thrown by our hostel, El Zopilote. She was overly friendly to me, tracing her hand on my arm before I realized what was happening. Unfamiliar with the tipsy motions of queer flirtation, I wondered if she was already drunk.
She stumbled into me and suddenly, we were off the path. Her hands cupped my hips, and my hands were in her hair. We kissed, and I thought, ‘This is happening! This is happening right now.’ I was caught in the moment’s buzz, like the cicadas that had been humming through my night on the island. She matched the air, warm and sticky with humidity.
Before that night, I had come out (if you can call it that) quietly and softly to a few friends only a month before. I was conscious that I had a pending crush on a female friend, and I thought longingly about her legs when I couldn’t fall asleep. I kept noticing women and non-binary people in my classes and work. Noticing the light hairs on their necks, noticing the freckles on their shoulders. I was anxious and confused. I had a boyfriend, who I loved, and “queer me” seemed like a person behind a mirror: vividly present and completely inaccessible. I couldn’t think about what being queer meant, what possibilities were open to me, or what lay in the space between knowing I was queer and acting on that knowledge. Until that moment in Central America.
My trip was meant to be a vacation to Costa Rica with my boyfriend. The journey went mostly according to plan: we haphazardly drove our rental car through swerving roads in Los Quetzales National Park, stayed with an uptight raw vegan on a workaway in Chimirol, splashed in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and goggled at an iguana crossing the road in Puerto Viejo until it was unexpectedly mowed over by a school bus. Exciting, with hints of chaos.
My boyfriend needed to return home before I did, so I set myself up with a different workaway at a farm for the trip’s remainder. During our weeks traveling together, my boyfriend and I fought and laughed through many absurd and stressful situations. We also found time to discuss a topic which had been prodding at my mind for months: non-monogamy.
“There are parts of myself which I’m still learning about,” I explained. “If you’re okay with it, I would like to access those parts of myself.” I didn’t explain explicitly what those ‘parts’ were, because I myself was not yet sure.
We discussed for several days, coming up with rules and boundaries that suited us both. I had never considered non-monogamy before. Even just a few months before, I had also never considered the possibility I was queer. Our trip gave me courage I hadn’t embodied previously. If I could weather weeks without electricity or running water in the tropical forest, travel for a month out of a backpack, and narrowly avoid stepping on a scorpion, I could have conversations about the things that mattered.
In the days before his departure, I was roiled by anxious energy. A pressure within my stomach told me I needed to continue disrupting my own well-organized system.
I ditched my original plans to work on a quaint farm with a reassuringly bilingual website, throwing my mother into complete panic. A coworker told me that Nicaragua was beautiful and cheap. I spontaneously booked a bus ticket to Granada and accepted the fact that for the first time in my life, I didn’t have an itinerary.
Which is how I ended up nuzzling the neck of a girl in a hostel on an island in Ometepe, wondering when the mirror version of myself had slipped out of her confines. The girl pulled away and took my hand.
“I wasn’t sure,” she laughed, “if you liked girls. I just guessed.”
‘I wasn’t sure either,’ I thought.
We watched as a group of drunken hostel dwellers approached, stumbling towards our secluded spot.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” she whispered. We climbed the rickety stairs to a small tower that people used for sunset watching.
With each step I thought how this was still happening: ‘this was still happening.’
The next morning, I took a picture of myself after I woke up. I needed to lock away an image of “queer me” in my phone, to remind myself that I didn’t only exist behind a nonexistent mirror or hidden in the overgrown forest of Ometepe. My face looked the same as it had in every other selfie I’d taken on the trip, but with a deeper blush.
Was it a result of the humidity, or was it the glow of sweet acknowledgement that I had gone off my own internal itinerary once more? I wasn’t sure, but I had plans to meet the girl for breakfast shortly. I tucked my phone, and the picture, into my locker and walked down the path towards the kitchen.
Header photo by Ivana Cajina.