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Is This Seat Taken?

By Melissa Giberson

PROMPT — Who am I today?

Pointing to the empty stool, the well-dressed gentleman asks if it’s free. I gesture for him to sit as I say, "Yes." He orders a white wine after congratulating the bartender on recently getting married. He’s no stranger here. The bartender offers him the same wine as last time. Soon, the man reads from the paperback he brought, and I angle my laptop slightly to the left, presumably to give him more room, perhaps wanting some privacy. He says he isn’t looking. I’m embarrassed, but quick to say it’s fine. He asks if I’m a writer. “Yes,” I say.

“What do you write?”

“Memoir,” handing him a card with an image of my book, Late Bloomer, on it.

“I’m a late bloomer too,” he says, without adding context.

“I think we’re all late bloomers in one way or another,” I say.

“How do you write about yourself, share your private stories with the world,” he asks. “I couldn’t do that. You’re very brave.”

He asks many questions, fascinated by my story of having a late-in-life sexual awareness that ended my marriage, choosing instead to live a more authentic life. He asks how I made such a difficult decision. He says it’s challenging speaking with men, that they tend to want a quick physical relationship while he prefers conversation and connection. He asks how I “knew” and then, “Are you afraid you’ll never meet anyone who loves you as much as your ex-husband did?” I agree that my husband loved me. I don’t tell him my marriage was emotionally empty.

“I’m with a woman who loves me as much, if not more, than my husband once did,” I share. “We have a connection.”

I don’t say that during my marriage sex was challenging and while I enjoyed the physical act, I also avoided it and seldom sought it. I enjoyed the pleasure of release but the lack of emotional connection left me lonely and longing for something more. I don’t admit that sometimes I engaged in sex because it was my duty as a wife, feeling as if I were merely a body, that being intimate didn’t bring me to feel any closer to him.

He asks if religion played a role for me. I tell him no. He talks about attending a Passover Seder once, how another guest said, “What is this?” but was blown away when a young person asked, “What does this mean?” I wonder why I never thought to ask myself that.

The man offers to buy me a drink. “No thank you, I don’t drink.” He laughs at why someone who doesn’t drink would sit at a bar for a working dinner. The waiter places the man’s dinner on the glossy bar top. I pack up my computer and put my winter coat, hat, and scarf on, cautious not to accidentally hit him in the tight corner. We say goodnight, each expressing appreciation for the lovely conversation, him adding that he’d like to read my memoir and come to the book launch. “I’d like to see you there,” I say, and make my way to the door.

Outside, I zip my coat higher and pull my knit hat lower. The dark streets are slick from the rain and dropping temperature. I walk home wondering if I could have explained that when I first kissed a woman, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced in all my forty-four years, in a way he could understand. That a part of me woke up that I never knew existed. Could I possibly have told him about the times she and I kissed for hours, how my knees buckled when she planted that gentle kiss on the back of my neck? How could I tell a stranger at a bar that my slightly muted sex drive with my husband burst into a lit-up libido once I discovered my same-sex attraction?

I think about Vivian, my partner—the softness of her skin, the curves of her body, the shivers I get when I trace her lines and kiss the length of her back. How my body comes alive just as much when I listen to her respond to my touch as when she’s touching me—as though our bodies are one.

Could I have adequately explained attraction to him? Likely not, but it reveals itself in all the ways I miss her when we’re apart. I walk the rest of the way home, wistful we’re so far apart tonight, grateful for knowing who I am now.


Melissa Giberson has published articles in Kveller, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, Highly Sensitive Refuge, and The Boston Globe. She received an Honorable Mention in the Memoirs/Personal Essays category of the 91st Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and her essay, “Art is the Antidote,” appears in the anthology, Art In The Time of Unbearable Crisis (June 2022). Melissa’s debut book, Late Bloomer: Finding My Authentic Self At Midlife (She Writes Press) was published in August, 2023. Melissa is living her authentic life with her partner and their two cats; together, they split their time between New Jersey and Provincetown, Massachusetts.


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