I write this as that all too familiar nagging loneliness that accompanies each midnight I spend alone slowly approaches. I sit with my carefully curated playlists and much less organized thoughts: insomnia coerces me to ponder questions like why I’ve never been in love, and why the embrace of potential partners promptly perishes upon my opening up emotionally. I usually end up using my various miserable attempts at acting with my heart to justify what appears to be a laissez-faire or blasé attitude toward dating. I am neither, really. My interest is piqued by an intimate relationship not because I think I would be happier with a commitment but because I would like to definitively say that I’m happier alone; whether or not this is true remains to be seen. Sometimes I call myself a piece of shit until I fall asleep, other times I tell myself I have yet to meet the right person. Either way, I wake up on very little sleep and go about my day without once being disturbed by anything to do with relationships until, of course, midnight rolls back around. Twelve. One. Two. Three AM. Writing hours. Thinking hours. The perfect time to convince yourself that it’s not dramatic to think you’ll die alone.
There are eight months of accumulated emotional tension relevant to the events of this story. To put it succinctly so I can elaborate another time, never in my life have I seen an overwhelmingly negative first impression blossom into so much. Like plaque in an artery, the build up would eventually force us into action or we would suffocate each other with the peculiarity of our relationship.
A few days before was our first kiss. I met her after work and we walked over to Granville Island. I moved with the bumptiousness of a ‘50s made-man: both because I had just finished my summer term strongly but much more because she was recently single. She was adamant we take the blanket out and sit under a very wide, low hanging pine tree. I pointed out that guys tend to piss on or near trees so we ended up on a patch of grass nearby. I fished the cookies that I’d baked for her out of my suitcase--I had just taken the ferry from the Island--and we got to our normal talk. We bounced from topic to topic and intricately woven throughout the few hours of conversation were flirtatious glances and innuendo. Finally, I was strategically positioned to make a move. She was sprawled across the blanket looking right through me. After months of conversation, I took a moment to indulge myself in the unparalleled and mythic beauty of the woman lying in front of me. Dark, just shy of shoulder length hair contrasted with the bright red backdrop provided by the picnic blanket we had been lounging on. The detail of her brown eyes illuminated by the stray god rays creeping through the conifer behind us; their depth communicated through a piercing gaze that sent the tempo of my heart prestissimo. And taunting me was her gentle movements to accentuate the fullness of her hips.
What really forced me to pause was the orange that she had balanced on her forehead, temple and then her deeply distracting ass. Lying there in front of me, at an angle she knew would force me to really commit to any slick scheming was someone who I was comfortable around. Someone who over the prior eight months had come to appreciate the insecurities behind the unwavering ambition and eccentric self-indulgence that lay at the heart of my character: an exterior meticulously contrived to communicate mystere, (over)confidence, wit, and just a hint of dangerous intrigue. The perfect image to draw attention to myself but intimidating enough to dissuade people from attempting to interact with me--perfect from a distance and too preoccupied with myself to be bothered by people trying to get to know me. Here lies this woman, on our red picnic blanket, who over the preceding eight months had inspected this character facade and decided to poke, pry and prod me with questions until she knew exactly who I was and why I’d become so efficient at evading any further emotional questions.
She had her own propaganda to push. She certainly wasn’t the sweetest person who wanted to be kissed over and over on the cheeks, spontaneously hugged tightly on the SkyTrain and have her hand held while trailing behind our group of friends--or while too drunk on her birthday, or while waiting for the last molecules of acid to disappear from our brains. She’s an emotionally detached, real life baddie with eyes for A$AP Rocky and bemusingly, Harry Styles.
I kissed her. Lightly caressing her butter-soft lower lip with mine.
After the briefest of pauses she kissed back though not returning the finesse of mine. She gripped my lip with her teeth and pulled me into her and we got a little carried away. Her crop top had started riding up so I tugged it back in place, kissed her on the cheek, looked her in the eye for no longer than a moment and shut my eyes tightly while facing away because I was overwhelmed. Following this exchange were several minutes of me blushing and stuttering like a waterlogged engine. All of a sudden I was no longer slick and in control, rather I was vulnerable.
Beneath the bluffing, we are very alike. If she also had insomnia then the same troubles would
keep us up at night.
The Second Act
Downtown Squamish is an unremarkable place. The initial urban planning must have only consisted of an uninventive checklist of obligatory activities for residents and passersby.
Serviceable park with playground? Check.
Public Library? Check.
Local Microbreweries? Check.
Pathways to very domesticated nature? Check.
Handful of local restaurants? Check.
Handful of corporate chains? Check.
This certainly was not the place for the Young Ethnic Minorities--Sarah, Ayo and myself--to have a meeting for mushroom-motivated mind melting. At around eight PM we ambled to the other side of town because the other two needed gummies. We saw one or two cars on the road during our ten minute stroll, a typically busy Squamish weekend, really. After settling on Sour Patch Kids we quickly scoffed down three quarters of the Ziploc bag. We were missing a member of the expedition so the leftovers were left in a denim pocket and promptly forgotten about. We decided we would take a second, more colourful, lap around town before walking back to my house which was an hour or so away as a lucid pedestrian.
We looked suitably ridiculous for the odyssey we had chosen to undertake. I was wearing still new white on white Air Force Ones with white tube socks, a bright yellow oversized hoodie and black trousers with an Azure charm hanging from my belt loop. I say charm but it was a crucifix, or, “my boy, JC,” if you were to ask my very excited amygdala. I’d forgotten my phone at home but I had my camera on me to blurrily document a very vivid experience. Ayo was in grey checkered suit pants that may as well have been mine and reclaimed converse. The shoes were an off-white from being bleached clean after a year or two of arduous service in the rain, clubs, and a few house parties. The neon orange laces complimented the maroon sleeves of his hoodie. Sarah was wearing biker shorts, my forest green sweatshirt and a denim jacket. The disruptive zig-zags of my little brother’s boonie hat really tied the whole fit together. This may simply be the shrooms talking but everyone else in Squamish was wearing all black. Grey and black if they were feeling whatever passes as fashionable in a town of 15,000 people.
Within a couple bites the other two were whining about the flavour. Fair enough, it did taste like dryer lint. Just after finishing our respective shares of the excitable fungi, Ayo walked off to relieve himself in the woods. I took the opportunity to take Sarah into my arms for one last time before the world became much more vibrant. We held each other tightly before I loosened up briefly to tell her I was happy she was here--with me, not Squamish necessarily. She said she was happy to be there and thanked me for inviting her.
Ayo hovered back into frame and we started our mission of aimless wandering. Sarah soared through the arbitrary levels of the trip: from 10 to 15 to 30 before myself or Ayo had noticed any effects. It was her first time so we just played along. After hitting 31, she just laid down in the middle of the road to, I guess, appreciate the asphalt. “Sleep anywhere! Like a Disney princess,” she would repeat regularly for most of the trip. By the time she was on the ground and I had started taking very poor photos, a wave of serenity and euphoria overcame me. I was happy. After all, for the second time in three weeks, I was on hallucinogens with the two people I was closest with in the world. Is there more to life when you’ve just finished your 6th straight semester of courses and desperately need to decompress before starting your final two terms in the personal hell of a city you inhabit for university? That being said, I still don’t know which Disney princess sleeps in the street. Mine, I suppose.
Sarah led us towards the very caucasian concert a few blocks away. Now, the cacophony of foreign sounds was not at all appealing to my ears which were firmly tuned to generous helpings of rap, R&B and, more recently, afrobeat. Her, “Maybe country is lit,” was met by two deathly glares. To be frank, my body always screams “flight” when I see a crowd of white people with their hoods up. The country music and psilocybin added a sense of urgency to the situation. We walked away from the caucasity into a playground nearby. I sat with Sarah on a wide horizontal tire swing, though it was so heavy it may have just been a seat. We weren’t talking about anything particularly relevant to the motifs of the rest of the night but it was comfortable. She was easy to be around and her presence elevated every experience for me. Ayo was staring either off into the darkness of the mid-August night or at a stationary swing. Regardless, we were all clearly on drugs at this point and while deciding if it was time to start walking home, Sarah felt her stomach turn. She stumbled just out of sight. I walked over to rub her on the shoulder and keep her hair out of her face. Nothing came up but she felt better and I felt useful. We started walking home.
Just before leaving downtown the most significant motif of the night had materialized. We’d just circled the town a 2nd time. The park was where we had been dropped off by my dad and the route home took us past the Shopper’s, i.e. the end of downtown. In good company, shrooms enchant the world. Every stimulus of your senses is worth a second, third, and fourth thought. Is the street lamp across the street slowly strobing or are you just blinking too long? Is “dripping” an appropriate descriptor for a beat you heard two years ago? Has it really only been an hour and a bit? Has it already been an hour and a bit?
Squamish had been undergoing significant redevelopment in the years I’d been off at uni. Much of the old town was being demolished and replaced with condos and townhouses. They were, quite literally, restructuring the area into a bedroom community to accommodate overflow from the mess of a housing market in Vancouver. Now this long march home was the one, prolonged, moment of our trips being synced. We were all mesmerized by the prefabricated structures. We theorized that Squamish was the result of someone playing SimCity and creating a “perfect” small town.
Our admiration slowly turned to anxiety as the identical rows of townhouses all blurred together and we began to feel our legs tire at the sight of walking through suburbia much longer. Our cheer and enamour returned quickly at the sight of the cutest bus stop I have ever seen. The pole with the schedule and sign looked like they’d been scaled for an elementary student. Even the bench was smaller than usual. We pretended to wait for the bus briefly. Beyond those superfluous details, the rest of the slog was rather uneventful. Right up until we crossed the highway.
We were playing our ethnic music rather loudly as we walked behind a commercial area so when a marked squad car creeped to a halt behind us and rolled down his window. What we were not expecting was for him to put on his reds and blues and stop. This chubby white man hopped out of the Enforcer and waddled over to us. I think he forgot his hairline in the car. He asked for our IDs before beginning to explain the situation. Sarah handed him a credit card with her name on it because she forgot her wallet. Ayo had his wallet out and in his hands but only handed the cop a student ID. When asked for something government issued, Ayo just said he had nothing on him. My Service Card was on the bottom of the pile.
Apparently we had been reported for peering into cars and testing door handles on Mamquam road. By, “we,” I mean the two black males in hoodies--myself and Ayo. Sarah was not mentioned in this “report” at all because 10 minutes after being pulled over, another two Enforcers parked across the street and then a fourth and final car joined the fray. This time the officer was a woman. The first officer told us the description of the perpetrators, “a... uhhh... someone in a yellow hoodie... and uhhh... someone in a white hoodie as well.” He seemed certain of himself and who am I to question the racial sensitivities of Squamish’s RCMP. Keep in mind, the stakes were very, very high for the three of us because Sarah still had a couple grams of an illicit substance in her pocket and we were still tripping. After the yellow hoodie comment I had to turn away and look at the floor to stop myself from laughing because I was very aware of what shitness was being perpetrated towards us that midnight.
The two officers shared a look. Mr. Man had gotten to my ID.
“Oh you’re from here?”
“Yep,” I replied while rotating my focus to his face.
You could hear the gears clicking in his head as he came to realize that not only was my address in Squamish, it was in that part of town. The one with the homes of the bourgeoisie. Needless to say, they wrapped things up pretty quickly from there and sped off in the direction of my house. If only I could see him lift off the throttle to cruise past the largest, newest house on the block. I only got to feel smug for a couple hundred metres before succumbing to a waterfall of tears.
After finally making it home, I clumsily hobbled up the front step and, with a light drizzle down my face, fumbled the door open with the ocular precipitation turning my vision to a colourful haze. I tried ushering the other two in so I could be alone but they’d already sat down on alternating steps so I sat with them—behind Ayo and next to Sarah. Neither had seen me in a state of such turmoil before and while I knew at the time that it was drugs driving my plummeting state, I couldn’t quite find my way out of a seemingly endless loop of the same thought: “No matter what you do with yourself, how many degrees you get, what you wear, how big your house is, you will never transcend your profile. You are what they see you as.” I was a mess for an indefinite amount of time. Everything felt awful except having Sarah’s arm around me and her chin resting on my shoulder.
Rest in peace—herein lies the veneer of my emotional austerity.
Eventually we restarted the jokes and made it to my room upstairs. Ayo was gassed and looked like he had come down already, Sarah was just comforting me; I was still in tears but no longer in a bad mood. I came up last and still had 30 or 40 minutes left on my trip. What an enjoyable time I had. I was constantly clearing my running nose while staring at the closet and fully appreciating the greatly exaggerated patterns in the grain of the wooden doors. I was laughing at absolutely nothing and started feeling like I had to be outside again.
Ayo either didn’t want to leave the room or didn’t want to leave the room with two individuals experiencing the most wearying of afflictions: sexual tension.
Sarah and I had our first kiss maybe three days prior after eight and a half months of being a little more than just friends. My usual aloof efficacy was swiftly replaced by blushing, stuttering and a general failure of my typically suave wit.
This hot tub scene was always going to be difficult and regardless of his reasons, I’m very glad Ayo stayed in the room.
I went out first to open up the tub, turn on the jets and otherwise set the mood before calling Sarah out. I was in a rather jovial spirit as the last traces of intoxication left my body with the occasional full bodied shudder. Picture a penguin popping out of the water.
We started chronicling our very complicated history soon after adjusting to the artificial spring. A tale of repressed emotions, unconfessed feelings, physical distance, pain and patience for both of us. It was all very intimate, no wonder her mans hated hearing my name. We were sorting out all of these unspoken feelings while exploring each other in an entirely new frame of reference with salacious glances and careful, probing touches across the unfamiliar landscapes of our bodies. Who had always been a marble statue on exhibit behind glass was now present and intimately interested in reaching back out for me. Now I’m sure all my friends will call me concieted for this but Sarah and I are gorgeous and it is very fair of me to say that if we had a sex tape, you would be extremely interested in viewing it for... research purposes.
The Game was Rigged from the Start
I’m having a torrid time deciding on the right metaphor for our relationship.
I have a note recorded on August 28th—the day I started the writing hot tub scene—saying that we’re like a city with one exit. Countless paths to an inevitable outcome. It works but I’m leaning towards a building code violation. A tower with one fire exit and no hydrant out front. What we had was absolutely perfect until something went wrong. When the fire engine came by they could only put out so much of the fire, just enough for us to escape but the tower was always going to be reduced to ash. We built what looked and felt exactly like a relationship but with no way to extinguish the inexorable fights, what we really had was a death trap.
A predetermined outcome does seem apt—I should listen to myself more. Is this why you loved to prance around reciting my horoscope?
It’s strange watching the most extreme emotions you’ve ever felt for someone be replaced by nothing. I was upset and in a shambles from Boxing Day to the New Year but now I’m just relieved. I’m sleeping at normal hours for normal amounts of time, eating regularly and all the stress in my life is about the things that should be stressing me out: graduating, working, relocating. If I’m writing again I must be feeling something but thus far I just haven’t been able to decipher what it is. It’s more this nagging sensation that I should be angry or upset; maybe contemplative and reflective; I should certainly feel heartbroken right? My first love and all. I’m tempted to say relationship but that implies a reciprocal arrangement. Surely she’s worth being sullen over. I mean, you read the first section; I was entranced and in a loving and, of course, lustful stupor.
"You know, it's funny; when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags." - Wanda the Owl, BoJack Horseman
I remember feeling so happy with you, Sarah. Not “happy” as in I couldn’t find a synonym but as in the goal. The end of the pursuit. The calm tranquility of swaying with the tropical breeze in a hammock tied between two coconut trees. Happiness as in the pursuit of moral philosophers. You made me feel so loved. Appreciated. Valued. Seen.
Then the opposite.
Not—even? only?—after the break up
but sometimes on the same day.
It’s not that I ever felt that you hated me nor that I would ever blame you for what happened between us, it was the ambivalence of it all.
The “I don’t knows” are what sent me into a spiral.
“Do you want to cuddle?”
“Do you want to talk?”
“Do you want to be left alone?”
“Do you regret coming to see me?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
You had an answer for if we should end the relationship and it would have been so much easier if you had led with that.
I’ve been trying to decide what to do with the playlists I made. Jenna said I should listen to them so I have been. I really dislike the alternative songs now. I suppose it makes sense, I only listened to them because of her so they’ve gone back to sounding like every other alternative song. Most of the songs I still really enjoy. They’re brilliant playlists and I’m proud of them.
I remember singing more with her. I don’t think I'm particularly good at it but she enjoyed it so it became a habit. I think the hardest part about going through them is that I’m just singing along now and not to you. Trippy came on and that’s what kickstarted this string of words. I don’t know if I can see us meeting somewhere in between anymore. I don’t know if I wanna talk. I don’t know if I’ll regret seeing you whenever that inevitably happens, I still don’t know how much of what we fought about was really me doing something wrong. It pains me that you can’t even tell me because the very (in)convenient amnesia associated with your new meds.
When we agreed to end things i was so certain it was just a pause while i got through school and she figured out what was going on with her mental health. It’s not that the relationship was going to be the thing that made me happy but it marked an important milestone for me and i was so proud of myself, especially because it was with her. the ambition, long term plans both individually and as a couple, the moments and love that we shared had me feeling like i had found something worth holding on to with everything. i gave so much of myself to make things work. too much. i lost myself in that relationship and that’s on me. i don’t know if she saw things the same way. four times we broke up. Fool me once, shame on you. fool me four times and i’m either an idiot or blinded by love. i feel like i deluded myself: getting through school and thanking you in my thesis preamble, denver III in 7 years—i even have a reminder.
Not that they’re completely out of question, they were always unlikely but looking back at it all. We were so messy that there was never a future there unless some serious adjustments were made.
I’m never able to tell this part without a quiver in my voice but I remember being so happy. I was excited to go about my days because I got to talk to her all day. It all seems so far away now. I’ve tried to come up with my favourite memories to break up this incessant whining but everything is soured. It was never our relationship, it was yours. In spite of all that, I still don’t blame you at all. I let myself get run over and over and over. It’s hardly like I didn’t realize while it was happening because I wrote about it. You sent me that letter at the end of it all. It took you a while to come to terms with actually letting me read it because you thought I would see you differently after you told me what you did. I didn’t realize the extent of your troubles with jealousy but otherwise? I learned and inferred every self-realization you had and had spoken to Jenna about them at least a few weeks before. I was happy you could speak the words for yourself but I knew.
My (First) Love,
I loved You through all of it. Then it took a toll.
Intimacy and distance.
The distance of intimacy. Our mutual affinity failed to translate into mutual affection. I knew going into the relationship of her struggles with mental health and I made a commitment to always make attempts to understand and work around those issues. I fulfilled that commitment to the best of my abilities and I’d hope that she would agree. In this relationship I was very affectionate. It’s the little things that keep people close: the goodnight / morning texts, the random compliments, the sensible reply times. The little things are also the easiest to notice when they go missing. I never stopped responding because my feelings had changed. I was despondent because I was depressed and engulfed in a life that did not feel like my own. I was stuck in a place and on a path that I could not control until the next year and it weighed heavily on me. She never checked in on me. She mirrored my dejection then turned aggressive--not even my depression could be my own. It was her relationship after all. Of course I apologized profusely but looking back, I’m not so sure I should have. I dropped the slack but she didn’t pick it back up before lashing out.
“Neglected” is a very strong word for what happened in that fateful month. I have a whole ass life to live and that is and always has been my priority. I thought our relationship was good for me and I was wrong. I hope it was good for you because the love was lopsided. I finally found the courage and words to tell you I was depressed and you didn’t comfort me. You were upset with me that I didn’t tell you sooner when I was always just so thankful that you did tell me when you were having difficulties. I finally put the puzzle pieces of lack of enjoyment in life into a word and you said with no inflection in your voice that you wanted to end things.
I’m not drooling over you anymore.
How could I?
I thought I would always love you in a way that transcends the romantic and I was wrong. For once.
Tell me how you feel about me.
“I don’t know” just won’t do.
It's the Little Things
You, the person I most wanted to be impressed, didn't hype my photography, left my writing under-appreciated, my fits were just “nice” unless I looked like I let the internet dress me. You said you didn't want to inflate my ego even more when you knew every insecurity behind it. You were terrified I would think I was too good for you and you took your insecurities out on me. I see you, Sarah. I don’t blame you--you were probably right.
It’s the little things that hurt the most to look back on. Sarah never played with my hair until I fell asleep in her arms. I even asked and the most I would get is a half hearted couple minutes. She never woke up early to make me a little breakfast. However many times I asked, it was too much to want a back rub after giving her countless full body massages. I went out of my way to make our weekends together special whilst all she had to do to impress me was show up.
I fell in love with you because as much as I despise being told everything will be alright, I believed it when it came from you. I fell in love with you because you’re kind, caring, considerate, comforting, courageous, compassionate, capable of so much
I felt tethered to you but it was more than that; I felt like we’d always known each other; like we’d just gotten to catching up after wandering for a lifetime or two on our own.
Suspicious, not attentive. Consistently inconsistent.
I wanted so many times to tell you I felt taken advantage of but I stopped myself because it was always so difficult to even get you to acknowledge my feelings.
You told me and encouraged me to be more emotional. When you didn’t like what you saw you
criticized my feelings and repeatedly pushed me—implicitly—to stay silent when things weren’t working for me.
I was scared of you.
I told you I was and you assured me I shouldn’t have been but, like a politician up for re-election, your actions ran in opposition to your words.
The validity of my concerns was based entirely on your perception of them.
I’m crossed between we never had a chance and there was always a slim chance with us. I’ll go with the latter because retroactive determinism is interpretive laziness. With everything we learned--and didn’t learn--about what a relationship ought to look like from our parents and her subsequently awful taste in men, the odds were not in our favour. Regardless, we wandered into the casino of comforts armed with misguided ambition and fallacious faith in each other. Blissfully unaware of what was to come, I wagered my sanity on the off-chance that things might just work out. I frittered away my declining mental health on an us that never had a chance.
I’m listening to the playlists again and
they don’t feel right. They feel incomplete but I know they’re not. They feel like they’re all about me doing everything I could to be with her and her not doing the same for me. That’s how it was. Wasn’t it?
I thought, maybe I’m angry or upset. Things ended on a good day for us but they ended because of too many bad ones.
Did I make you want to leave again?
Do you never want to speak again?
And is it my fault?
And if you leave me will we meet again?
-Sean Leon on 2017
You have too much power over me through no fault of your own but I need to feel like I’m in control again. I’m (still) scared of you.
Congrats on the move but I have no intention of seeing the place beyond getting my chain back.
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"Create, Don't Hesitate"