I remember the day I grew up. It was cold, the three year old boots I could not afford to change if I wanted to, soaking through a double layer of socks slowly; like death by a stationary car. I stood on a curb waiting for the light to turn from green back to red so that I could wait for it to turn green again; I didn’t want it to change on me mid-crossing. Montreal drivers are fucking insane and though depressed, I was not yet begging for death. That was when it hit me: maturity. Like a brick through a window on the night before Christmas.
“I need to start thinking about what I want my life to look like, rather than what I want others to think it looks like.”
All roads have to lead somewhere; if not then we’re all just wandering, aimless and lost. That was what I meant when I asked, “What do you want from this?” What I wanted to hear was “You. Every part of you. The ones you dare to show, but especially the parts you tirelessly hide from the world. I want you.”
But you sat there, pale-faced in the blue hue of a 1.5 apartment lit only by a laptop screen. And though you sat motionless, pondering on the weight of my question, I could see you inching back slowly; your mind miles away, running like a dog alerting a sleepy village about an impending fire. Slowly, delicately, you came back to life: “I don’t know. You seem like a cool chick. I’m just trying to get to know you.”
It was my turn to freeze, to delve within the well of my bottomless mind and retreat into the pits of the uncertainty I had been presented with. I was 19 and in my first year of university, following two years in an all girls Catholic boarding school that had only further instilled principles Disney had imparted 18 years before that. My belief in love was akin to that of a 5 year old: When a man and a woman love each other very much, they get married and have a baby. No tidbits for what would happen in between. No warning about hookup culture and nth wave feminism. No map, no GPS, no self help shelf. I only knew I was lost because I knew there had to be a destination. I only gave into that realisation when I gave you permission to lead me there.
If I could give first year college me a piece of advice for the rest of her 3 years there, it would be: stop asking people “What do you want from this?” and ask yourself, “What am I doing here in the first place?”
I get bored with “Hi”s and “How are you”s. But I do like the short-lived gratification of liking someone who likes me back. Is that sad?
Lately I’ve been walking around paranoid, as if all the men in this city know about my singlehood, my availability, like it’s some kind of shame. The only reason I stay is a somewhat complicit knowledge of their shame: this town is small enough that half of these faces are familiar. I know their wives, some are new fathers, that guy definitely has not stepped on the grounds of MIT let alone graduated from there.
I like the randoms. The slightly weird and off kilter. The ones that call out how slim the pickins are and interweave correctly spelled three syllable words with unexpectedly curt four letter ones. Make me clutch my pearls. Be interesting not just interested. Improvise. Don’t tell me I’m beautiful. I know that. Well, not always, but when that’s the first thing you say to me having never even met me, it is suspect. Believe it or not, we are not all here for one thing. Or maybe we are.
It scares me how comfortable I am in this world. How witty and fearless and uncompromising. I came because I wanted to try something different, only to discover men are the same virtually as in reality: my english is good so I must not be from here, why would a person with my academic credentials need this?, where do I live and can you come over to fuck me. I stay because I need to constantly remind myself that men are the same virtually, as in reality, as they are everywhere.
“It’s like, you suddenly find yourself two pages away from the end of, like, the most amazing book you’ve ever read. But, like, you don’t want to finish. Even if, like, it means, you’ll never know the ending.”
Somewhere in between: not good enough to pursue, not bad enough for insecurities to rely on.
Like Becky with the bare arms
I flow like a free-spirited mess of mould and sweat, wading through grasslike streams of people, weeding through good ones and bad ones like a pile of unsorted candies, different blades, different colours, same taste, different coloured tongue.
We all need a crutch, a signifier, an identifier that makes us authentic. And mine has always been the ability to morph into the being of every group within which I find myself. To compare this gift to that of a chameleon would be reductive; it isn’t an animalistic urge to protect myself from danger. Or maybe it is. But it doesn’t come naturally, it isn’t innate. It was learned and mastered, over years of quiet observation of a world I still do not fully understand, but feel an inexplicable urge to control.
You become authentic not because you stop caring, but because you care too much about the world around you and the people who make it up. Forget make-up. Authenticity lies in making others believe you are bare, with a box cutter in your left back pocket. It begins with small hints of self-deprecation, half-truths of things most would want hidden but you shock with your willingness to share. It lays the foundations of subtext that speaks volumes: “I trust you, so you should trust me”, “I am myself, and so should you be”, “Who cares, everyone does, but you should care less about me”.
You become authentic because people perceive you as such. They become comfortable, let their guard down, sharp side-eye softens into slow gazes. Warmth melts demarcations of personal space. Touch soothes the emptiness none of us are born with, but is spun into our souls by stories of the world we’re born into. My authenticity inspires while inwardly, conspiring to scan every aspect of your being and absorb it into mine. I’m authentic because I pander to your ego and feed it till its reflection bloats beyond the contours of my shadow.
Your eyes looked at me and, for the first time, I was brave enough to look back. But I saw nothing. No laughter, no lust, no fear, just a blank stare. It was as if my words had emptied you and, in that moment, all I wanted to do was take them back and fill me again with the love I had been stupid enough to profess. Because at least then, I would still have you. At least then, with my eyes closed, I could still pretend like there was a chance. A piece of you that I kept, like a secret, impregnating me with shame but also hope.
I call it the day you died. There is something slightly sinister about the sense of pleasure I get, knowing that I zapped the lights from your eyes like the black hole into which the static supernova disappears once a TV is switched off. It was like I had stabbed you and you sat there with your eyes open; shocked, alive but afraid to move. The few words you spoke were measured. I should have known they would be your last. To me, you were a world of possibilities. But I never imagined one of those worlds would be without you in it.
Something in you died the day I told you I loved you. But all I could do was sit and wait to see if you would ever come back. Powerless. I have always suspected I was broken, but I never knew how much till the day I broke the tension with the truth. It struck you like a tumbling boulder about as ineloquent as my delivery. It stung me like an ant bite, the pain reverberating long after, without the courtesy of a bruise to remember you by.
Weird. But just the right amount. Enough to be interesting while circling the rim of creepy.
I walked in 34 minutes late, only to realize I was 26 minutes early. Immediately reaching for my beacon of security, I call E. He’s on his way, he says. He’d had to get a haircut. He doesn’t need to explain. I immediately know why. Who are these people? They market themselves as misfits, but I have never felt so out of place. Or maybe somewhere over the past few years, I became normal without realizing it. They know each other well, but I know no one. I’m desperate for a smile, some validation. I see a familiar face and wave, vigorously. Too vigororusly. I can only assume the faint flicker of fingers was accompanied by a smile because, in the dim glow of the cafe, the left side of her lip twitched almost imperceptibly. Does it count if I want to be a misfit? And doesn’t that in itself discount their right to claim the word? So I mirror their disinterest. I pull out my laptop. The internet doesn’t work. No problem, I’ll simply distract myself with food. I’m a successful millenial with a decent bank account, afterall. I forget I am lactose intolerant and wolf down a brownie. The sick feeling in my stomach masks the twisted sense of insecurity I feel, being a room where everyone is most certainly cooler than me. I though I was past this. I want to be back in my room, binge watching stand up comedy on Netflix and dreaming my way to world domination. But I stay, and I listen and I leave.