Oliver didn’t remember what it was called. The library. With the old books. Made of squares. You know, the Binachinene.
“The Beinecke?” I suggested to the man who would one day become a Yale tour guide. Forgive him: it was the beginning of our first year.
Yes, he said, that one. But, long after the confusion of our first year, we kept joking about the Binachinene. Pronounced with five syllables and an untraceable European accent.
There was a lot of confusion that first year. I met Oliver because I was the stage manager for a play that he was acting in. It was utter chaos, and we grew very close very quickly. We stayed friends. Got breakfast together most mornings. (I’m still irrationally fond of the Saybrook dining hall.) So, the logical next step seemed obvious: I am girl. Close friend is boy. Boy and I have fun talking to each other. We even have a stupid inside joke about a rare book and manuscript library! One morning, walking out of the Saybrook dining hall together, I decided it had to be done. I hesitated long enough that we had reached the bathrooms. He had his hand on the door handle, and I’m pretty sure he was about to go poop when I announced, “I have developed some feelings. In your general direction. They are mostly positive.” Proof that romance is not dead.
He looked at the floor. Thanked me for my honesty. Asked if we could talk about it later, probably because he still needed to poop.
We did talk later (in the Saybrook dining hall, of course). We stayed friends. Sometimes I wonder if he had figured it out before I did: at that point, I knew that I liked girls, but I didn’t have any idea about how to act on those feelings. Dealing with boys seemed easier. The rules were clearer. And why couldn’t I like girls and boys? Bisexuality is real, after all. But, slowly, I realized that, at least right now, it just isn’t what I have going on. (Sexuality is fluid, gender is a social construct, we’re all figuring things out all the time, you know the drill.)
Just under a year later, an impulse not unlike the one I had outside the Saybrook bathrooms gripped me while I was working in Sterling. The sudden need to express a feeling, regardless of the consequences. Two boys were working across from me, and at one point they got up and wandered off, holding hands. I would be home in a week for Thanksgiving — I could wait to tell her in person. But I just couldn’t. Seeing those two boys and the ease of their connection broke something inside me, or maybe finally put it together. I shoved all my books into my backpack and rushed out of the library and into the night.
I ended up on one of the hard stone benches outside the Beinecke. At night, it was private. Quiet. Nobody else would be walking around there in the dark and cold. Safe. I called my mom. I told her the thing that now seemed so obvious to me, the same thing I had kept carefully out of sight for so long. She was surprised: surprised at what I had told her, surprised that I told her over the phone, surprised that she hadn’t seen it coming. It was a long, surreal conversation. I cried. It was hard.
Eventually, it would get better. A couple years later, I’d tell my mom that I’d been on a date with a girl, and she would exclaim with delight and want to know all about it. But that moment was in the distant future. The day after that night at the Beinecke, I just felt weird. I saw Oliver that day — we were building the set for a production of Macbeth (I was the stage manager, he was acting; some things don’t change).
“I came out to my mom last night.” We made trees out of cardboard and duct tape while I told him about how difficult it had been. Somehow, he said all the right things. He didn’t even ask what, exactly, I had come out as. He just let me know, quietly, unobtrusively, that my feelings (whatever they were) were real, and that I was going to be ok.
There are a lot of arguments about why coming out is good or bad or unnecessary or a vital means of making progress toward LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance. I’m not going to rehash them here, but whatever your stance, coming out is a weird ritual. After arriving at a profound piece of information, you offer it to someone who might have had no idea that they were going to learn something new that day. Coming out is inviting someone to see something that they didn’t even know to look for.
I can’t say for sure why I ended up outside the Beinecke on that cold night in November 2017, but in retrospect I think it was a good choice. The Beinecke is such a unique and puzzling building. You’d never guess its contents or purpose from the outside. It’s a blank white monolith, a three-dimensional piece of graph paper. But if you set aside the time to go inside, it’s wonderful. Soft golden light filters through the marble squares. There are endless shelves of beautiful books on display, and even more available for you to read and hold if you fill out a form a couple days in advance. Dazzling, unexpected knowledge, just out of sight.
Oliver and I have remained friends. We have long, rambling conversations. Ours were the kind of dining hall conversations the admissions office loves to tell prospective students about: spontaneous, wide-ranging, playful — erudite, even. We talk about phonemes, the ethical dative, Latin, Biblical Hebrew, podcasts we’ve heard, plays we’ve seen, painting, invertebrates. Other friends have been curious about my friendship with Oliver. Our personalities are so different, they say. We’re like one of those pairs of unlikely animal friends — two mismatched critters being nice to each other, for reasons that only they can understand. I’ve struggled to explain what is so obvious to me, the thing that others can’t see that makes this friendship make perfect sense. I think it’s our ready exchange of knowledge, the willingness to fully commit to talking about an obscure or complicated topic. We talk about ideas more often than we talk about feelings, but I think that’s just the language we’ve chosen to express all the things that go unsaid: the mutual support and enthusiasm, the joy we take in plunging into the unknown together. Forever learning from each other.
I went to Masquerade this year, and it was an overwhelming experience. Suddenly separated from the people I’d come in with, I was adrift for a moment when a very excited someone materialized at my elbow. It was Oliver, similarly lost and thrilled to run into a friend. We kept bumping into each other that night, and eventually, exhausted, we left together. My feet hurt. His feet hurt. It was time to go. Even as we staggered back across the New Haven Green, he was eager to explain why his feet hurt — something about the type of leather his shoes were made from, and how there are different kinds of leather and also did I want to hear about a tour group of philanthropists and animal rights activists who, upon learning that he was a linguistics major, had asked for his thoughts on “animal languages”?
I did. And I always do. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Beinecke, and I don’t know when I’ll be back. But I do know that I can always find that special Beinecke feeling of being surprised by new knowledge, of passing precious pages to someone I know will handle them gently. Because even when the Beinecke is closed or far away, the reading room at the Binachinene is always open.
Lina Kapp | email@example.com