She tells me that she’s met someone and I flinch because I don’t want to hear it. I am truly happy for her, her first boyfriend at 28, lord knows she’s waited long enough, but still. And then this:
“I really feel like the universe is, like, rewarding me for the hard year I’ve had, you know?”
Of course, the ever-benevolent Universe. As if she earned the relationship, like a badge. As if I too could find a husband if I only learned how to build a fire, read “The Secret”, cut gluten, whatever. Why am I the only person who understands that it’s all a distraction until the miracle happens? Until you find yourself at the right place, in the right time, with the right person, who is also at the right place and in the right time? But no one wants to hear that. Just like they don’t want to be reminded of all the shitty human beings who found the sweetest, most generous lovers, without ever filling out a personality test or questioning whether their treatment of other people is acceptable by basic human standards. Newly ignited pheromones don’t respond to reality checks.
“No one deserves it more,” I reach over and squeeze her arm with the smile that is expected of me, but with a stomach hectic and hot. She is already different. The flickering of her gaze less frenetic, the movement of her hands more elegant as they manipulate the cup and spoon, her chin looking rounder, airbrushed, her whole being settling into the calm that comes with being wanted, that comes when the tension of waiting is released.
“He sees me, you know? Like really sees me and gets me.”
Were her arms always so delicate, her veins a powdery line as if painted by Monet? The more limpid she gets, the more I feel my body overheating. Am I talking too much now, nervously prattling on while she sits there in peaceful reverie? Is that when happens when you are loved? Do you lose the need to make noise, to take up space?
When the clock releases me, I leave the restaurant and let my eyes get wet. I text Taz while standing at a red light.
I shoulder the door of the Metro station open, but it doesn’t yield until a benevolent man behind me adds heft with his broad, ungloved hand.
“Bonne journée, madame,” he offers as he passes me on the stairs.
How could he tell I was a madame under all this down jacket? I stamp my boots and dig in my pocket for my pass. I clang through the wicket.
As a madame, a woman of a certain age, a leftover in the sea of marrieds, couples and the perpetually engaged, part of me is irritated because I may have brought it upon myself, that my negative thoughts manifested themselves into reality. I believe I will be alone, therefore I will be alone. Other, more philosophical parts say there is a lesson to be learned here, that I am the common denominator in all these failed relationships, so the key to redemption lies in me. Neither is particularly true or comforting, but these are the things you have time to think about when you’re single, when you want to feel as if you’re doing something to change your destiny. The self-help sections of bookstores would fall into ruin without us.
I stand on the platform and begin loosening the scarf. Mr. Madame smiles at me. He had better not offer me a seat. My phone pings again.
So I’d like to think that I’m not one of the crazy bitches, but I don’t want to be lumped in with the other single woman around me either. I don’t like their observable sadness. The way that disappointment has cleaved their hearts open, like a glacier that slowly, agonizingly slices through a mountain over millennia, the erosion not visible to the naked eye, but leaving behind a steep valley, undeniably filled with rubble.
I also don’t like how my single girlfriends are becoming more demanding as the years pass. As if, having been denied a husband and children, they are now taking their payment in everyday comforts. Constantly asking for what they want with aggressive specificity, as if they have become the glacier now, heavy, unavoidable, cutting.
“Can we have a table closer to the wall?”
“I don’t like this rabbit after all. Can you bring me something else?”
“There’s a thread hanging off this cuff, can I have a shirt that’s obviously not falling apart?”
The metro doors swish closed behind me and I lean against the warm vibration.
Were they were always like this and I didn’t notice? Is that why men shy away from them (is that why men shy from me)? Or was it the pressure of unfulfilled expectations that turned them into hoarders of attention? “How rigid!” they complain when the waiter refuses to refresh a coffee cup. “How pretentious,” they mutter when they are not enthusiastically welcomed at a posh boutique. “Why can’t everyone be open like me?” they moan and clasp a corner of forehead.
I launch the stupid candy app on my phone and begin flicking the jewel-bright wrappers up and across, no strategy other than the luxury it provides of allowing me to think my thoughts without having to look directly at them.
Am I like that too, but I just haven’t noticed?
No wonder they seem to suffer from chronic migraines. And so much talk about what they ate, what they’re about to eat and what they want to eat later (“but only if I go to the gym this afternoon!”). One complained the other day, “I have to watch my waistline, girls! I haven’t met my husband yet!” Stripped of the naughtiness of sex, they have transferred their sins to those of the plate. The only thing that makes them blush now being the two desserts shared over dinner last night.
(Except Susaye. I love Susaye. She still eats with gusto, heaping salt, fat and sugar on every meal. The only survivor who isn’t wasting away, but is growing thick and ruddy of cheek, ready to sink the lifeboat in a blaze of melted cheese glory.)
Mr. Madame looks up from his device to smile at me a second time. He’s a medium-attractive man with a nice nose, but with terrible hands. His nails have been bitten down to specks — either that, or the flesh of his fingertips are growing up and around them. Not hands that you want touching you. And anyway, he has that searching look about him, as if his gaze could throw ropes, flailing in the space between, wondering if I’m the someone he’s been waiting for, another drowning soul in need of a lifeline.
The frantic explosion of digital candy on my screen is interrupted.
People say that all the time, don’t they? “You never know when it could happen” and “you’re never too old for love!” But if love happens again now, at this age, it won’t be like before. I am not like before. That pristine idea of love, that makes every moment impatient with expectation, that makes every touch feel like the first touch, is no longer possible, not with what our bodies know, with what our minds have touched. If love happens again now, it will be a collision. Two ships crashing and not passing in the night. Unexpected, chaotic, the shattered planks of previous relationships strewn at our feet, our limbs jellied by this new exertion.
At least at first.
And definitely not with those fingers. I take another glance at Mr. Madame before the doors open at my stop, just to confirm. Yep, that’s a no. I collapse the game window and ride a sluggish escalator back to the surface.
But until then (if ever), I am a woman of a certain age who keeps company with the likes of Taz. My brother’s best friend. The groomsman to my bridesmaid at his wedding. My ride to residential Ville Saint-Laurent every Sunday afternoon for the admiring of new purchases and the ceremonial after-dinner holding of the baby. A patient suffering from the collapse of masculinity to my over-solicited and no-longer-amused therapist. Taz, who thinks that I want to hear about how the girl he banged last night squeaked when he yanked on her ponytail or about the new porn site he found with “hot chicks who look like real lesbians”.
I wait for the traffic light to change, my hair swirling with the snow, the smell of this morning’s shampoo being pulled into my nose. From anyone else, I would recoil and run away from his proclamations.
“Portuguese is not a language. It’s gibberish. And Italian is overrated. Greek is a language. Why? Because you have to be smart to learn it. And there would be no Latin or Cyrillic alphabet without Greek.”
From his inability to show humility.
“Poor fuckers never got laid in high school, but I did, because I don’t care about people’s feelings.”
I try not to take his bait. But honestly, the crazier his declarations, the more delighted I am to see how he will surprise me next. Because he will. As I get older, people are becoming more predictable, more boring, so with Taz, I let it all go because he is nothing but surprises. And I have always been susceptible to any man capable of delivering the kind of teasing remark that renders me speechless. A man who understands that teasing is a way of discovering your boundaries — like how a blind person uses touch to determine the topography of a face. A way of determining where your sense of humour ends and your wounds begin. Give me a gentle jibe over a “What do you do for a living?”-style conversation any day.
And he’s not all bombast and noise. It’s just hard to see his tenderness under all the noise. I have also seen him soothe my nephew with his off-key singing of what-I-think are modified rap songs. I have heard the pride in his voice after his niece called to say that she’s on the honour roll (“Again! Smarter than all those rich brown kids in Dubai!”).
Pushing my front door open, my glasses cloud and I lift my nose out of my scarf. I press the tip of my right boot against the back of my left, but pause.
And there was that one time.
It was that time of year when you start to seek out the sunny side of the street. A sweater day. Perhaps it was spring, when a warmer light makes you hopeful that, yes, spring will indeed return. Or it might have been fall, when you chase every last ray of light before the darkness of November descends. Either way, it was definitely the end of something and the beginning of something else. A day when my jangled nerves needed reassurance. We were walking to no place in particular, talking about the usual things, when I stopped our progress with a question, “Why do I do this to myself every time?”
That’s when it happened.
His heart (usually pulled up and forward) softened inside his chest, creating a spot on his chest where, I felt, my head could fit perfectly. His shoulders (usually contracted around the chip formed by a childhood spent in close quarters and with little money) rolled back and he grew in height, perhaps only by a millimetre or two, but it seemed like a thousand feet to my crumpled self.
“Because you have the biggest heart in the world,” he said and then dropped his chin.
I slid a hand behind his neck and the tension that usually electrified his posture slackened. His back curled down towards me, I placed a kiss on his cheek and thanked him for listening.
But whatever had softened inside of him did not trigger a total surrender. Instead, the electricity snapped back on, Taz stumbled through a bland response and started walking once again in our original direction, not even looking back to see if I was following.
It felt like the kind of moment that your horoscope breathlessly forecasts every now and again. A before/after moment that gets elevated in your timeline, that becomes the first pin on a narrative arc that changes the trajectory you woke up to, the kind of moment that actually makes you think you could write poetry.
But it didn’t become that moment. It fell back into the regular timeline, resurrected only because earlier today, he complained about spending his whole Sunday alone, watching football and smoking, and whenever he talks about his melancholy Sundays, I think about that moment from many months ago, and how if he had stayed instead of walking away, his Sundays would be spent with me, perhaps still focussed on football and getting a good buzz, but bookended by a slow wake-up, skin on skin, warm leg tossed over warm leg and an even slower falling-asleep, my nose nestled against the tender spot behind his ear, his long fingers taking me with him when he rolls over.
Finally slipping off one boot and then the other, my stocking feet shuffle out of the vestibule and into the apartment, quiet, light filled.
Taz doesn’t even believe that he can have a relationship anyway. “It’s going to take a tough woman to take me on.” So Taz, like so many others, goes for what’s easy, for the sylph with swollen lips and sleepy eyes, the ones who know that showing up is enough to raise the flag, the ones who don’t demand pleasure in return because seeing a man’s will demolished by desire is enough to ease the ache of youthful uncertainty.
What the actual fuck am I doing?
-— — — — — —
We are sitting in the new coffee shop halfway between my workplace and his, watching through the front window to see how Montreal is dealing with the first blizzard of the season.
“The muffin was nice.”
“What is it?”
I know what flavour it is, but I like how he pronounces it “ahh-range” instead of “or-range”. I blame it on the Greek, the muscles in his mouth more adapted to the contractions of that other alphabet.
“But the coffee is fucking terrible,” he impatiently flicks the espresso cup away from him and leans forward, his face getting closer to the windowpane. White dots flash under his nose, the light catching the facial hair that his razor could not reach.
“It does have a certain taste…”
“…of ass. It tastes like ass,” he looks over his shoulder at me to spot my reaction.
My shoulders shake with suppressed laughter. So much of his happiness relies on the reactions of others that I sometimes like to withdraw my amusement so that he’ll work harder to get a laugh out of me the next time.
“It does taste like ass,” I pop a chunk of his muffin into my mouth.
“Not that the taste of ass is always bad, mind you,” he pulls his muffin closer to him and out of my reach.
“It depends,” I swallow my bite. “On whether or not you are expecting to taste ass.”
He laughs big and loud, but immediately silences himself with the last, too-big piece of chocolate ahh-range muffin.
A blue and white bus pulls up to the stop outside, the black tires shredding through the snowbank.
“I like how you frame things,” he balls up the wrapper and jams it into the espresso cup, turning away to signal that it’s time to go.
“If you listened to me — ever — you would remember that I’m in academia. Framing things is what I get paid for,” I let my paper cup of half-finished espresso fall into the garbage bin by the door.
He opens the door and a dusting of snow rushes over the threshold to meet the tips of my boots, “Consider the possibility that may be why I never listen to you.”
“It’s a shame that you don’t, buddy. Because I see right through you.”
It’s true though. I see him ever so clearly. Taz tells you everything with his body. After decades of being obfuscated by the words of men, of thinking that I could believe what they said, here is a man who telegraphs his true intentions in the sweep of his gaze, the purse of his lips, the pleading tilt of his head. I understand him in a way that I have never understood any man before.
And you know that Taz has never had that searching look. Not even when he was a baby.
“Stop pretending that you know everything just because you’re a sociolologist,” he holds the door open to let me pass first.
“That’s what I said! Stop being such a fucking snob and put on your hat, it’s cold.”
Some days, I want to scream at him for not being easier to like, for not understanding that we are two soldiers from different countries fighting similar wars and that he should be nicer to me. We are, both of us, victims of misinterpretation. Too often told that we are frightening, too much, too honest, the both of us always exactly who we are and yet criticized for not being who they want us to be.
I want to scream, “How can you not see what’s happening here?”
Maybe I feel all this more acutely than he does because I was conditioned by my mother to be aware of the needs of others, to make others happy and comfortable, while he, the first-born male was only taught to rule, to be catered to. Maybe he does feel something, but it gets lost in the churn of anxiety, bitterness and anger that he is constantly stirring. Maybe because it would only add to the churn.
So the curse of seeing is mine, but I don’t have the optimism of youth to create a veil. Perhaps if my inside came wrapped in another outside. With smaller hips, larger breasts, heart-shaped lips.
One Sunday, I came through the door of a family party wearing a summer dress. Taz made no effort to hide his seeing. He noted the sheen of my nails, the fall of my hair and the roundness of my thigh as I walked over to him. When Taz spoke my name, his mouth filled with the smoke of his approval, slowing his speech so that the syllables sounded like a groan. But then he spent the rest of the party loudly trying to set me up with another buddy. “Steve, Steve, this one is for you. I know you like the curves!”
How I wish Taz came equipped with a different inside. Or, even better, I wish that I felt differently about him.
We stand at the bus stop, waiting for the next 80 to pass and take us back to our respective places of work. His video production studio. The office of the journal that I edit.
“You’re the one who went to art school, I think that makes you the snob. Or are you just a little boy who likes to make noise?”
He rolls his eyes and reaches over to free my coat collar, his long fingers unrolling the green wool, “At least they taught me how to dress myself at the school I went to.”
I tug on the zipper of his faded winter jacket, revealing the rip that’s been there since last year, “Really?”
He pulls me into a tight hug instead, pressing my mouth against his shoulder so that I can’t speak. I try to bite him.
“Not so chatty all of a sudden, eh?” he laughs and tightens his grip.
He should have finished in art school. He should have made art. But that was before we knew him, when he stretched canvases eight feet high and eight feet wide, his wingspan feathering every inch of it with paint. Those paintings must have been so pure, shot through with the excitability he was born with. The paintings still exist, we know that much, but no one has ever seen them.
“You know what? I think I’m gonna walk,” Taz takes a step back just as the bus sidles up and walks away before I can wave or say goodbye.
Hanging from a strap, I watch his coat disappear behind a Morris column. I try to spot him again as traffic lurches forward, but the speed of the bus and his pace are synched against me. Just as one angle of view opens, Taz is immediately swallowed by a new angle created by a passing van and a telephone pole.
I turn my eyes towards the front of the bus, towards the flickering of brake lights and turn signals instead.
To be honest, I don’t think he would have survived as an artist anyway. I don’t know how he survives from one day to the next, when everything sets him off, when he can barely stand to feel someone’s bag touching his elbow in a crowded restaurant.
As for me, there are days when I feel so fragile, when a stranger’s wrist collides with mine while walking on the street and I worry that it’s been broken, that the shatter will travel up my arm, splintering bones into fine toothpicks, fragmenting my shoulder blade, flaking the bone apart like flint. But on some days, I feel like a giant, 7 foot four inches, my footfalls crumbling the earth. These days sometimes intersect with days when he is kind to me.
— — — — — —
On a Friday, I am sitting in my turret of an office, the sky so clear you could almost believe it wasn’t winter outside. I am listening to a friend describe how hard it is to fall asleep every night when her husband is working overseas, how she hasn’t had a decent night’s rest since he left.
I want to scream, “Do you know who you’re saying this to?”
I try to sympathize, but it isn’t always natural with friends who had have a relationship since the beginning of time. Their “hard times” like a temperature spike, cooled by the loving hand of their spouse, whereas I feel like I’ve been nursing a low-grade fever for the last 20 years with no meds.
“I wish I could be like you, babe. You never suffer from insomnia.”
“Winter babies are like bears. But I know how hard it is to miss someone,” my repertoire of expected responses never empty.
I do, sometimes, wake in the night, but always suddenly, as if bumped by a ghost. It’s usually happens around 3am. Susaye thinks it’s an overactive digestive system and suggests liver pills. But it hits lower, woken by a desire to talk to someone, touch someone, if only shin to shin. And when that happens, it sets off a ripple that trickles into my day. A day in which I am doomed to be aroused by every man I see, every one of them suddenly beautiful in some small way. Days when I want it so much that I can hear my teeth clacking together with the force of it.
“Girl, we need to find you someone. Get. On. Those. Apps!”
“Oh, love, the apps are not for me. I don’t sell well in 2D.”
“I don’t know that anyone does, frankly. What about Taz? Anything happening there?”
“Oh, no. We’re friends, you know that, stop asking, woman.”
“I swear, one day, when they discover a new sexually transmitted disease, that boy is going to be patient zero,” she snorts and then clears her throat to sound more upbeat. “But… but… you know, none of that means anything, if he wants to be with you, all of that shouldn’t matter. Maybe you’re the one who will teach him how to be a man, how to stop playing his stupid little boy games.”
I laugh and drop my head, as if she were standing in front of me and I was trying to redirect away from my blushing. I do think I can save him sometimes. Of course, I do. Not in that idealistic way that 25-year-old girls think they can turn a child into a man. But from the perspective of someone who could also use a little saving herself, someone who needs a nudge towards more earnest desires. I could bring him some peace, he could bring me relief. Is that so wrong?
“They’re all a fixer-upper at this age. Nothing is easy anymore.”
“Was it ever easy? All I know is, you deserve someone amazing, girl.”
“I know, I know, thank you.”
So why Taz? Am I drawn to him because he’s the only available man in my circles? Am I drawn into his presence because he’s just another iteration of every childish, but entertaining man I have ever dated? Do I really hate myself that much? There have to be better options. Relationships are breaking up every day, there are more candidates coming into the pool, right? I chuckle and think of Susaye’s novelty mug that reads, “My soul mate is a dog. That’s married to someone else. In Japan.”
Or am I doing it to keep myself on the continuum of wanting, loving and losing? To make sure that I don’t fall into a moment of wanting no one and end up forgetting how to want or why we want. Am I still here because it’s the only way to keep me human?
— — — — — —
On the day that a miracle happens, you expect the whole day to be shot through with magic, like gold thread through a plain scarf. The tourist you stopped to help with directions. The green light you missed. Deciding to walk to the pharmacy. Every decision gradually building towards the epic moment when time and circumstance collide to create what was thought improbable. Every one of those moments alive with anticipation, even if you don’t know why, just something deep inside of you resonating all day, somehow knowing that something amazing is about to happen. Thank goodness I bent to tie my shoelaces just then — I would have missed this if I had left 30 seconds earlier! But it doesn’t happen that way. The day in which a miracle happens looks like every other day, bullshit moments included, until it… doesn’t.
It is three weeks after Christmas and it’s snowing again. He calls me on Sunday morning to tell me that he’s up for a new job, one that will free him from “being everyone’s bitch” and “make everyone my bitch for once.” As I wash my sink smalls, piling wet coffee cups, spoons and snack bowls on the rack, Taz is breathless with promises to “get my shit in order”, stop drinking so much, maybe buy a real coffee machine and get more furniture, “the kind that doesn’t come from IKEA even”. But by the time I see him, the snow still falling after 8 hours, our bodies swathed in duvet, sitting in the car outside my house, about to leave for Ville Saint-Laurent, other pains have found him.
“I told her that I didn’t want anything serious with her from the beginning,” he raged, the tips of his eyes reddening. “From the beginning. I told her every time we went out. But BOOM! When I tell her, four weeks after, four weeks after our first date, you understand, FOUR weeks after, when I tell her that it’s over, she says I’m heartless, HEARTLESS, that I strung her along. That I. Strung. Her. Along. Heartless, fuck that shit. So I’m the monster again. Me. For being honest!”
When he gets this agitated, all of his limbs twitch, as if the uncertainty is being exorcised from his body like a demon. I imagine that all of his ancestors had this shake when faced with hunger, poverty or danger, but for a Canadian-born son, it’s the state of his soul that gets him shaking. First-world problems with old-world reactions.
“Then she starts yelling at me in public, because it takes hours for me to answer her messages. She should have known, she screams at me. Like I have nothing better to do! I work in a studio all day… fetching shit, building shit, prepping shit, like I have time for this? These 20-year-olds think everyone is attached to their phones. Some of us have to work for a living! Why can’t I get a normal girlfriend like everyone else? David at work, that fucking farmer, it’s a miracle that he can put his pants on every day, you should see his girlfriend, so beautiful, smart, good job.”
“I thought you said that you didn’t want a girlfriend.”
The unremarkable-ness of this conversation frees me to watch the frost forming on the inside of the car windows, one frozen line splintering and then exploding into a crystal flower, the petals clean and white on the glass. Even now that he’s not talking, the car continues to fill with the exhaled heat of his emotion. I ball my too-cold fingers into my palms to keep them warm.
“How can your hands be cold?” he ticks the heating up a notch.
“And maybe stop dating 20-year-olds.”
“What the fuck does that have to do with anything? Why can’t you take my side on this? You’re supposed to take my side on this,” he smacks the dashboard, but I don’t know whether it’s out of frustration or because he’s trying to poke the heating system awake.
I wince, “Calm down! How am I not on your side right now? I’m trying to get you to see another perspective. I’m not your girlfriend, Taz, I’m not here to agree with everything you say. Especially when you’re wrong. Can we just go to my brother’s house, please?”
He twists the key in the ignition with a sneer, “God knows you always have to be right about everything.”
I squint at Taz, as if trying to recognize my friend under this sudden crust of hostility, “And God knows you can never be wrong about anything.”
His foot pumps the gas to warm the car faster, more gradually, each surge of the pedal matched by an upswell in engine rumble and a twitch of tendon in his jaw. I try to tell myself that he’s just projecting his frustration, that he doesn’t mean to be so derisive, that if I try kindness, maybe make a little joke, that this ridiculous discussion will de-escalate.
“What I’m trying to say, is that twenty-year-olds have different relationship goals. Most of them, anyway. And most of them don’t have the maturity to manage…” I poke him in the belly. “This.”
“Are you calling me fat, right now?”
Or you could be totally wrong, girl.
“No. I’m saying that you are difficult. But while we’re at it, 40-somethings won’t make you feel like shit for getting older. And for being less. Svelte. If that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Your brother married a 20-something.”
“Because he’s older and he wanted babies and he’s willing to put up with a lot. And wait a second! Aren’t you always making fun of how dumb and immature Tara is? You whistling a new tune, now? Put on the defroster.” My chin points to the whitened windshield, now covered with a lush field of ice flowers.
“Yeah, okay, whatever,” the tendon stops twitching. “But 40-somethings won’t do what 20-year-olds do, you know?”
“We are obviously talking about sex.”
“What else is there? 40-year-olds don’t do the same stuff in bed as 20-year-olds,” he turns a little in his seat to face me, the teasing tone now back in his voice.
Taz wants to play. I do not.
“But you know what’s nice about 40-year-olds? They’ll do stuff in bed because they like it and not because they want you to like them. You should really try it sometime. Women with fully developed self-esteems are fun.”
“And you know I can’t have regular sex anymore, right? It takes a very particular person to…”
“Regular sex? What the fuck does that mean? You know what would help you get a girlfriend? Try having sex with someone you actually like. You don’t like any of these women. You are hate-fucking every single one of them, but you do it anyway and convince yourself that you’re looking for love. You’re not. Stop trying to tell yourself — and me — otherwise. Fuck this. I’m going home.”
I jam my fingers back inside the gloves and get out of the car.
“You say that you want to get your shit in order. You say that you want to start this new job with a new attitude…,” my voice continues to spill out of me. The engine cuts, the driver-side door opens and closes.
“Stop walking away… You’re walking too fast.”
“I can walk as fast as I like,” I snatch a shovel from where it leans against my mailbox and compulsively shuffle the white powder on my already mostly clean walkway, trying to sweep away every flake as it lands, ready to shovel away the concrete and tunnel to the other side of the world if I have to.
“Hey! How come you walked away from me? Hey! You never walk away… Hey, hey!” his voice like stones rolling over stones. Taz puts a leathered hand on my sleeve to stop my scraping.
“I’m not going through our usual debates with you anymore, so here’s the short version. Lust is not love. Not all women are relationship chasers. You are more than your dick. People are not currency. Wait for the second marshmallow. Does that cover everything?”
“Are you mad at me?
“Sometimes, maybe just sometimes, not everything is about you.”
I toss the shovel aside and move towards the door, eager to get inside and cry.
“What’s wrong?” the tone tender.
He is too close, but there is a comfort in the closeness, the blurring of features, the loss of depth perception, the sudden feeling that maybe he’s miles and not millimeters away. At this proximity, there is nothing for my fear to latch onto. He balances my chin in the palm of his hand.
“Taz, why do you always ask ‘what’s wrong?’”
“Because there’s always a problem. And I seem to be the root of every one.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what,” his eyes droop at the edges. Tiny white diamonds dot his tuque, nose and cheeks.
“Don’t make me want to comfort you,” I press my fists into my eye sockets, eyeballs aching from the press of tears and desire.
“And why would that be so bad?”
“Because I just yelled at you for being an asshole and you deserved it.”
“You know, I’m not like your hipster friends, I don’t have the clothes and the jeans with the fucking rolled-up cuffs, but I do have feelings.”
“Oh, I know you have feelings, everyone knows about your feelings, but I do too, you know. What do you know about my feelings, Taz?”
“You’re always telling me how you’re feeling, believe me. Women and their fucking feelings all the time.”
“Then figure it out, asshole.”
Standing two steps lower, he and I are the same height. This is the first time I can look into his eyes without having a table or a counter between us. My teeth begin to chatter. Taz grabs my arm and pulls me towards him.
Is he going to bite you?
But his mouth is softer than I expected, the first contact more tenuous. There’s even a quiver in his cheek that my hand flies up to abide. Upon realizing that I am kissing Taz, that we have been kissing for seconds, many, many seconds, my first impulse is to push him away. I was wrong. This is wrong. He is too mean. He is too sexually experienced for me. He is too damaged. I am too damaged. I don’t like his face. He’s losing his hair. He will be disgusted by my belly. He will blow up my life. We will have to face cooing family members, my brother, the revisionist, taking credit.
“Hey,” Taz, gently.
And that’s when I feel myself soften, feel as if his words have pressed a button deep inside of me, releasing a spring that I didn’t know I had, that’s always been there, that was put there by whoever made us, in the early, dark days, on a whim, but he told no one, kept the pleasure of the secret to himself, kept the pleasure of being the only one to recognize the moment when that button was pressed in others, the button that gives us release from working, eating and sleeping, that others might refer to as “love”, but it isn’t. There is no word for that feeling of the rigid spring finally uncoiling, the rings of rust sending up red dust as the tension of a thousand years finally unravels. It is too sublime a feeling for words. How could I describe what is different after? What replaces the frequency of tension in the body? Where could I even start? A sudden expansiveness in the chest, like the pooft of the lifejacket inflating from the inside. The surprise in discovering that it was there all along. The shock that you didn’t suspect it. Almost upset that no one ever told you before. The thought that maybe they did, but you wouldn’t have been able to understand. Tears mingling with snowflakes on my face.
“Don’t cry. Please. I don’t know what to do.”
He pulls my arms around his chest and I squeeze, the air whispering out of our puffy winter coats as our bodies draw closer together. It feels like I’m playing the accordion, his shoulder blades the two halves, treble and bass, spreading and contracting with quick inhales and exhales.
“You’re doing it,” I reply and let him hold the full weight of me.