Sept 26, 2005
It occurred to me recently – and
what an alarming realization it was – that I’ve never before sat myself down
and decided what I wanted in my life. I never made a plan. Or at least not consciously.
With one exception.
I drifted into things – law
school, even marriage in a certain way (though it’s hard to characterize
marrying a man I’d clapped eyes on for the first time a mere month before as drifting). You know what I mean – doing what was
expected of me – the old familiar path of least resistance.
But the events leading up to the
marriage were anything but ordinary or expected. Looking back, it probably seemed more like a blitz attack to the
I was very young, in a new town,
determined to succeed at law school and equally determined to stay unencumbered
of any man. (I’d been left chastely at the altar by a gay man not that long
before – long story -- I’ll get to it
someday.) This was all about career, all about me. (It’s been kind of a theme throughout my
life. I never seem to tire of the
Because I have always been
pathologically early for everything, I left for my first day of classes just
before 7 a.m. I caught the Richmond #6
at the end of my street, and I took at seat in the one of the singles on the
left side of the bus.
One seat ahead of me across the
aisle was a young man resting his face against the window, obviously sleeping.
This was a convenient state of
affairs if one is after an opportunity for unimpeded staring so I was in luck
and saw absolutely no reason to look a gift horse in the mouth. I settled in for some serious covert ogling.
He was in his early 20s, shoulder
length brown hair, a nice face and a body that would make Michelangelo
I smiled the grinchy smile I
always do when I’m feeling especially smug and pleased with myself.
I continued my avid scrutiny as
unwholesome scenarios played out in my head.
He started awake after the bus
hit a pothole and stretched rather fetchingly. Nice and slow. Did I mention
that it was a sleeveless T-shirt? The
view was breathtaking. A rower’s
body. Mother of God. I’m only flesh and blood.
I didn’t look at him again after
he woke up.
As I’d hoped, we were both
getting off at the University Centre. As he stumbled yawning out of the bus
behind me, I turned to him. “Excuse
me. Do you know where I can get a
(Note to women: Yes!
It really is that easy!)
“Uh, over there…” he gestured.
“Would you please show me? It’s my first day on campus and you look
like you could use a coffee anyway.”
I didn’t give him much of a
chance to refuse my invitation and Canadian boys are too polite to say no.
So for the next hour over coffee,
we talked. He laughed at all my jokes,
I ogled him to my heart’s content (subtly, I hoped) and flirted
shamelessly. Then I got up.
“Look, I have to go. I’ve got a
class. It was nice to talk to you. We’ll probably run into each other
again. I’m a caffeine addict, which is
a good thing because 3 of my classes are at 8:30. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”
Oh, I’d be seeing him all
right. If he were straight, he’d be
scouring the campus. I may have been
out of practice, but the art of seduction is like riding a bike.
You never forget how.
I walked to class with the same
grinchy leer that had crept across my face in the bus.
The next day, I arrived at the
coffee kiosk and found he’d beaten me to it.
I later learned that he didn’t have to be at school at all that day and
could have been home sleeping instead of loitering around the food court at
7:30 in the morning.
We had too many coffees and wound
up talking for another few hours about music, politics, books, etc. (I didn’t
have a class that day till 10:30) and I found him really interesting, with a
quick wit and a gentle, accepting nature.
He told me he was just out of his first relationship, which had lasted
for some years and culminated in cohabitation.
He found out she cheated on him and they broke up. An attempt at reconciliation had
failed. He seemed shell-shocked by it,
like he was not really taking it in. It
He was very smart and had a sense
of humour that resonated with mine. He
was so smart, in fact, that I had the uneasy sense that he could see the person
beneath the persona. That he’d been listening to more than the words. I’d never got that impression from anyone
It scared the shit out of me.
I invited him over to dinner the
Moments after he arrived, I
opened the bottle of wine he’d brought and we sat on the couch. A few moments of smoldering glances later,
he got up and walked to the window.
“I’m not good at the casual
thing,” he said.
Was I hearing this
“I’m not either,” I said
lamely. “I never do this sort of
thing,” I continued, knowing that from his perspective it was fair to assume
that I did exactly this sort of thing at every available opportunity. I
certainly seemed comfortable enough with the whole idea.
So what now? Appear to be an abandoned slut or stick with
the truth and reveal myself as a desperate sex-starved shut-in? Even though it upped the pathetic meter, I
opted for the truth and confessed. “I
haven’t even had a date in a year and a half.”
He didn’t seem surprised.
“Ah,” he said. “But why me?”
I stopped, suddenly awkward. I never imagined I’d have to spell it out.
He got up and walked to the
“Look,” I improvised to his
back. “You’re leaving for B.C. in a few
weeks and I just started law school. We
don’t really know each other. It can
hardly be a permanent arrangement. I
don’t want to do the long distance thing.”
In what universe do
women need to argue about this?
I was stumped, suddenly tripping all over myself.
“So let me get this straight,” he
mused. “You’re beginning a new phase of
your life in a city where you don’t know anyone. You’ve been single for what amounts to forever, it’s beginning to
worry you and I’m leaving the province in a few weeks.” He turned and gave me an appraising
look. “I can do the math, you
He stared at me for a minute,
shook his head and laughed softly to himself.
“And you figured I’d be easy,” he
“Well, yes,” I confessed. “I was rather hoping that you might be.”
He laughed again, this time out
loud. “You’re really honest, aren’t
“Oh God, no. Hardly ever. But this time I’m telling the truth. I didn’t realize you’d find it insulting.”
During the pause in conversation,
I stooped to outright “c’mon mate, you’re only human” enticements and whatever
reservations he may have had vanished.
As I hauled him off the couch, I kicked over the bottle of merlot onto
my new white carpet. He hesitated.
“To hell with the carpet,” I told
him as I dragged him towards my brand new boudoir (wondering how thick the
walls were in this building and muttering “FINALLY! FINALLY! under my breath.
Suffice to say that I good time
was had by all – an extremely good time.
The kind that makes you smile for 3 weeks.
I had stupidly used no birth
control – yes, unsafe sex. I should
have known better – I did know better.
A glimpse at the calendar a few moments later indicated that the wisest
course would be the morning after pill. I could not afford to compound what had
been a reckless choice with neglect and potential disaster.
I took a dose from a package I
had obtained against all rational expectation as a gesture of defiance, during
an extended period of chastity my friends were cruel enough to dub the
“Marathon of Hope”. Still, I could deal
with see the pills unused – it amused me to keep them around for comic relief
as a pithy observation on my social life.
It was better than needing them and not having them. I was glad enough of them now – and thank
God they weren’t expired.
My first thought after downing
the pills was to get him out of my apartment.
It had been quite delightful but I had every reason to expect that the
next 24 hours were not going to be pretty and I didn’t feel up to entertaining
during the process. I really didn’t
want the indelible picture on endless replay in his head the next day to be me
throwing up. I had to get him out of
It hit me faster than I’d
expected. I made a lunge for the toilet
and started throwing up with a vengeance, one hand trying to hold my hair out
of the mess while the other was waving him away.
“Please. Just go. I’ll call you.” I was hit with another violent wave of
nausea a when it was over, I was hunched, sweaty and shivering on the bathroom
floor. This was not the lasting
impression I wanted to leave in any lover’s memory.
I heaved myself to my feet.
“Please go. I need to sleep now.” My knees wobbled fiercely and I clutched
for the wall.
With admirable reflexes, he shot
an arm out to catch me.
“Let me do this.”
He sat me down and washed my face
with a cool cloth. He started a bath,
then picked me up and laid me gently in bed.
He carried me to the tub when the water was ready (not as romantic as it
sounds, as I was spectacularly ill again as soon as we hit the can). He washed my hair with infinite tenderness,
dried me off and tucked me into fresh sheets.
He brought me tea and lay beside me stroking my hair until I fell
While I slept, he got the red
wine stain out of my white carpet and cleaned the kitchen.
How could I not fall
for this man?
The next 48 hours were a crash
course in ballistics using vomit as a medium.
He stuck around for the duration and looked after me.
I’m happy to report that during
those periods when I wasn’t vomiting, I managed to find the strength to, well, you
know and the fact that I was sweaty didn’t seem to put him off at all.
As the days hurtled by, I found myself in a fog of
confusion, need, longing and anxiety. I
began to care deeply for this man in a very short time – and that alone scared
the hell out of me. When I examined my
feelings and tried to dismiss them as infatuation, all I felt was an abiding
certainty that I needed him in my life, as if he were an element without which
I would be less than my authentic self.
It wasn’t supposed to lead to
It was supposed to be a fling –
nothing more. Not only was he
unabashedly on the rebound in a major way, he was leaving a few weeks later for
B.C. – one of the strongest factors in his favour at the outset. I was just starting law school. Neither of us was in any position to assume
new romantic ties.
Prior to this, I was very brutal
when ending things (and platonic things were all I was used to) – I simply
vanished. I did not want to get
involved and a declaration of love sent me fleeing even before the words
crumbled to dust in the speaker’s mouth.
Looking back, that seems utterly
reprehensible and caddish of me -- but at the time I didn’t know what else to
It wasn’t deliberate – does that
count? I thought the men involved were buddies – but apparently they thought
that if they only worked on me more, I’d fall for them (or at least
succumb). And they’d go on working at
it -- with me utterly oblivious -- in two cases for some years without a scrap
of encouragement, until they couldn’t stand my cluelessness any longer and made
a move on me.
On these occasions I was
completely blindsided. I didn’t see it
coming. And I invariably responded by
grabbing my coat and walking out without a word.
Then I vanished – completely –
from their lives. I didn’t give it a
second thought. The phrase “I love you”
provokes in me a “fight or flight” response that invariably leads to
On every occasion except this.
My romantic past had led to some
harsh nicknames, “Ice Queen” being the least of them. Try having your bedroom widely known as “The Dead Zone.” I had refused proposals of marriage and some
excruciatingly tempting invitations to sin without hesitation. I had resisted emotional blackmail, attempts
at manipulation, pleading, pity and appeals to give it a try. I was impervious
to every weapon in the male arsenal and my armour didn’t have a single dent in
And then -- before I even saw it coming -- he destroyed
all my defences with the one tactic I’d never encountered before: kindness.
I was helpless in the face of it.
I could tell he was a good man:
it shone from him. He was far more laid
back than I was, and although he rolled his eyes a lot, he managed to endure my
frenetic company. We laughed
constantly, conspirators right off the bat. He valued my opinion – and I had an
opinion on everything. He treated me so
carefully, didn’t take anything for granted, listened to every word I
said. I knew that when he looked at me,
he knew who I was. He saw me.
I didn’t have to pretend I was
anything else – and he wouldn’t have let me get away with it if I tried. He didn’t push to change me or save me, not
overtly. In a world I’ve always found exhausting, he was sanctuary. I think that at first, and for a long time
after, he was just watching me. He said
it was like living in the eye of a hurricane.
Don’t get the idea that the fact
that he was smitten made him a pushover.
He saw right through me from the first day we met and he called me on it
every time. (He still does.) He had more
integrity than anyone I’d ever met.
And his mind was a
He treated me as if I were
something infinitely precious. I
remember relaxing into it slowly, waiting for him to put a foot wrong, taking
my time until I could figure out if I could trust it. And he waited.
It took years.
But these days, he asks me what
he means to me and misunderstands when I say “safety” – though even that word
doesn’t properly conjure the sense of what I mean. He hears “safety” and regards it as a pejorative thing – a place
of convenience as opposed to a place where there is no fear.
I find the peace of having one
place in the world where I don’t have to keep my guard up to be such a reprieve
– and I think he doesn’t understand how much that means to me. He takes it as a slight – he would like to
be valued for other things and sells us both cheap by what he imagines that he
But in this, I have a vast and
existential guilt. For this, for the
hurt I’ve caused, there will be an accounting.
He tried everything to keep us
going, to help us reconnect. And I just
grew complacent, believing that he would always be with me.
It amazes me how egocentric I was
in endorsing this bit of wishful thinking.
Believe it or not, I was even
more superficial and self-absorbed all those years ago than I am now. Hard to imagine, eh? The Beloved took on the impossible task of
civilizing me and I’m not exaggerating.
With the devotion of a dedicated anthropologist, he spent years
struggling to prove to me that other people do, in fact, exist. Despite the strides I’ve made in this
regard, there is plainly much more work to be done.
This whole relationship is about
missed chances, of potential squandered.
That fact has held us both frozen in place for the better part of the
last decade – eight years of walking on eggshells in a weird kind of stasis
where nothing much is said, but you could drown in the subtext. And since each
of us has a different point of reference for analyzing that subtext, it’s not
surprising that we don’t seem to understand each other.
I want to yell “Do over! Do
over!” but it’s way too late for that now.
At this point, it’s is not about
not loving someone, it’s about being able to live with them. I know he loves me, as I will always love
him. But we are so different and I
can’t bear what I’ve become to him.
I want him to look at me and see
more than guilt and trouble and need. I
want him to remember who we were. He
says we need distance to figure out if we can do that. Or if there’s a point to it even if we
But as I said, I know I have
I miss him every single day. He believes that I don’t think of him at all
and instead I obsess over it. Despite
the humiliation, what I mourn most is the waste of it all. I don’t think that has ever occurred to
Our courtship was certainly
unique -- I smile to remember it all (yes, that grinchy smile) – and I think
that over the years, our connection has only become more entrenched and
unseverable, like roots entwined around a tree.
Looking back, it seems a simple
case of being swept off your feet, but I dislike the analogy – logic dictates
that you wind up on your back.
Don’t get me wrong: that was definitely part of it. At first, the biggest part of it.
But the rest of it?
The feeling of belonging? That sense of recognition?
That took me completely by
Till next time,