Falling Through Doors

Nov
06

Crushin’ & Cryin’

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My first real, heart stopping, gut wrenching, nausea inducing crush was on a boy named James. James was a person I hardly knew, and hardly ever came to know. We were in grade eight, thirteen years old. Middle school (in our case, grades six to eight) was an awkward place to be a human.

All of my remaining memories from those years are pretty crap:

  • a girl named Bridget approaching me out of nowhere and berated me for wearing my white Kurt Cobain sunglasses—a pair of which, she informed me, she had procured before me—and that I was pathetic in my attempt to copy her;
  • a popular girl named Samantha holding forth to anyone who would listen about the tingly sensation experienced when she touched herself “down there”;
  • an older boy—admittedly a friend of mine—named Paul hitting me over the head with his tenor saxophone in band class during an uncharacteristic outburst after ‘Mack The Knife’, and the revenge I exacted the next day in which his upper lip made contact with the metal spout of the water fountain and he spun round at me as hissed through a bloody mug, “Fucking Bitch!”, and I fled to Miss Jean’s modern dance class, from which I was promptly extracted by Principal Notte and taken to the office where I had to explain that it was an accident, that I had merely hoped to get his nose wet, and that I was devastated to have hurt my friend;
  • my mind wandering in Miss Morgan’s French class as I idly traced the title of the text book—Horizons—onto my note paper, and her discovering it when I’d only gotten as far as HO, and her losing her shit and demanding I see her for detention while she was on bus duty after school, where I went to talk to her while she stood in front of three lines of kids waiting for busses two, three, and five respectively, and when I got there she asked me if I knew what that word meant, and when I tried to deny any foul play she lifted me off the ground by my jacket in front of three lines of kids waiting for busses two, three, and five respectively;
  • three rounds of hepatitis B shots;
  • the first time changing a pad at school, and making sure to do it during class time to minimize the risk of anyone else being in the bathroom, and coming out of the stall to see my friend Katrina standing there and her saying smugly, “I know what you were doing,” and me feeling embarrassed until she told me that she, too, had her period, and we henceforth became even better friends and strong allies for nearly the duration of our three years in purgatory;
  • the keyboarding teacher’s poisonous coffee-and-cigarette breath which in retrospect, although foul, matched his whole recent-divorcé-oversized-plaid-sportsjacket-and-sneakers-and-drooping-moustache chic (to his credit, he forced me out of my shockingly self-destructive habit of using the caps lock key—a quick double-tap of my pinkie—every time I was in need of a single cap);
  • having to play the second alto saxophone part of ‘Silent Night’ in the Sidney Santa Claus Parade in December, and my fingers nearly freezing, and then going inside expecting relief but instead encountering the crippling pain of thawing extremities, and then the next year thinking I’d figured it out by cutting the fingertips off my gloves only to discover that that, indeed, did not work and all I was left with was frozen fingies a ruined pair of gloves;
  • and a not-very-smart kid named Luke who managed to make my life hell in a number of ways in grade six, so many in fact that he warrants me breaking this list and giving him a few paragraphs of his own.

Luke was a boy blond. He bullied, he acted out in class, he said mean, stupid things to people, and with the bizarre confidence and coolness that is often unfairly bestowed upon the unintelligent—he once made an art project which he hung on the wall of the grade six wing that was a drawing of his Fila-brand high-top, the page emblazoned with the phrase ‘Luke the studly raper’—he was popular and cocky. Much of class time was taken up by his antics, the teacher scolding, negotiating, punishing, ejecting. In seventh grade woodshop each student fashioned a cedar box which, once complete, we varnished, careful—as per the teacher’s suggestion—not to spill any in the interior and ruin the rich deep scent that would be stored in the darkness within forever, or at least until Luke was caught pouring varnish inside each of the drying boxes. He would walk past me saying things like, “Hey Alison, you’re so flat the walls are jealous,” which I of course knew was a ridiculous thing to say, but became tiring nonetheless. I was an easy target, quiet and shy and always on the honour roll, and therefore disliked by—or at least invisible to—many of the school’s cool, masturbating glitterati.

Luke also happened to go the same karate dojo as I did. He was one belt above me (I was yellow with three tips and he was orange) and his class was directly after mine on Wednesday evenings. After class one Wednesday—I can’t recall now if it was the Wednesday that the sensei’s apprentice, Dave, broke wind during an inner thigh stretch, the room full of preteens doing all we could to both remain silent and make sense of an adult doing such a thing in such a public setting, or if it was the Wednesday I finally got to spar with Justin, an overweight child older and larger than I, who would begin giggling each time he was struck and was therefore an ideal opponent—I went downstairs to the coat room and sat down to put my on shoes. I was bent over, tying my laces, when I saw them: Luke’s raper Filas haphazardly flung into a corner. Earlier that day I had been walking beside the school at lunch time when I was clocked in the back of the head by something solid and rough. It was hard enough that it stunned me, and when I turned around I saw Luke running away around the corner of the building. A fist sized rock lay near my feet.

I pulled on my coat, grabbed the sneakers and went out into the night of the parking lot. I made my move right away, knowing my ride would pull up any moment. Beside the dojo was a dense hedge of trees at least ten feet high. One after the other, I lobbed Luke’s shoes into the hedge and trotted down to the curb where my father would be waiting. I felt glib. I felt proud. The entire drive home I relished in imagining the fallout: Luke searching for his shoes, his confusion, his pathetic barefootedness, possible punishment.

At home I changed and ate dinner with my family. Sometime at the end of the meal—in our house this meant the point when everyone had finished eating but me, and I would be sitting alone at the table well beyond the period in which the others could be expected to stay seated and wait—the phone rang. I knew who it would be. I sat and ate a rice grain and waited. After a minute, Mum covered the mouthpiece with her palm and said, “Alison, it’s Luke’s mother. She wants to know if you took Luke’s shoes after karate.” I looked at my mother and said, “Yes, I did. I took them and threw them into the hedge beside the dojo.” I told Mum about the rock at school earlier in the day, and she returned to her call and repeated the information into the phone. That’s all I remember. My parents weren’t angry, and as far as I can recall, from then on the worst was over when it came to that schmo.

Luke, as it happens, was friends with James. One might think that this would have been a deterrent, but it wasn’t and here’s why: James was a hottie. He was tall and, unlike most boys at that age, had developed as quickly as the girls. This meant he was borderline muscular and his voice had dropped (rumour had it that it had broken in grade five but who ever dared confirm such things). I can not remember the first time I saw him, and I while I had many classes, year after year, with the vile Luke, I never had any with James, the very fact of which may have helped fuel my little, barely pubescent fire—the myth of James remained unbroken. The only times I saw him were in passing in the halls or school grounds, or else when I found an inconspicuous vantage point from which to privately observe him capering with his posse. The crush began sometime in grade seven and seemed to last forever. I had no interest in anyone else. In late grade seven a new student joined my class. He’d moved from Ontario with his family and his name was Josh, and during his first weeks I would often look up from my schoolwork to see him look away from me, a deep blush promptly spreading up from the neck of his t-shirt and swallowing his ears, cheeks and forehead. We talked, and then we hung out a few times, but that was all. He eventually became friends with the group of boys that included Luke and James and we didn’t speak much after that.

One of the aforementioned vantage points from which I could observe not only James but also most of the school population and the ways in which their respective dramas unfolded, was in the foyer near the main entrance to the school, where the Lunch Box and the Lunch Box Jr were located. The Lunch Box was a shop run by the student council, of which I was a member. We worked in various shifts throughout the week during lunchtime, and sold vital goods like ice cream sandwiches, skittles, cans of pop, and potato chips. The Lunch Box Jr was on the other side of the foyer. It was a repurposed utility closet whose door had been replaced with a Dutch door and from which we sold cup noodles only. Even with the upper door opened wide, it was a near toxic fuggy hotbox of dehydrated meat smells and MSG, and the rest of the day one’s hair and garments would be infused with a soupy sodium perfume.

It was at the Lunch Box towards the end of grade eight that James and I finally began talking. When I served him, we would exchange a few words, and soon I noticed that he would hang back if I was busy, waiting for me to approach him to take his order for Cool Ranch Doritos or Ketchup chips or whatever. We would talk in snippets about classes, about the Pixies, plans for summer, and once, how underrated the Empire Records soundtrack was. After lunch, I would arrive five or ten minutes late to class—we were permitted time to close up properly—with a pocketful of wine gums or something, and at the earliest opportunity would share my bounty with Katrina and gush to her about the depth of James’ and my having both recently seen Clueless, or whatever else had come up that day.

Nearing the end of grade eight meant finally approaching our liberation from middle school, and the right of passage would be marked with a dance called the Grade Eight Farewell. This in no way meant our cohort would be parting ways; rather, we would all begin the following September at the high school eight hundred and fifty metres up the road, where we would run out our final four years of public education and perhaps to begin seeing each other, for better or worse, in a new light. I vowed to ask James to the Grade Eight Farewell. It was a necessary risk, a move to achieve closure on this ongoing, unrequited crush. My mum bought me a simple, pale green sixties-style shift dress and we found some nail polish to match. I chose a pair of chunky white sandals and the total effect was to my estimation glamorous and adult, a fitting testament to having outgrown the confines of the place. A couple of weeks before the Grade Eight Farewell I heard that James was already going to the Grade Eight Farewell with someone and when, crestfallen, I told Katrina about it, she told me that indeed she was the one with whom James was going to the Grade Eight Farewell.

I don’t really remember much of the Grade Eight Farewell itself, except that I felt good in my dress, and I felt bad when I saw James and Katrina together. She wore a plaid skirt with a baby tee, cardigan and white knee-highs, à la Cher Horowitz. I think I had one dance with James, but that might be a rewritten memory, an intruder that has taken hold within my recollection of the evening in order to help me forget, even a little, the pain of betrayal, the pain of being infatuated with a near stranger, the pain of the senselessness of the prototypical love emotion. In retrospect it seems almost comical, imagining such young children going through such crises.

The following year at high school, the landscape of social relationships continued to mutate, continued to become more and more complicated as we, as awkward humans, learned more about the complexity of our emotions, learned more about what it felt like to hurt and to be hurt. I made new friends in higher grades, learned to deal with future ill-advised crushes, learned to go my own way, and, after falling somewhat deeply for Paul Rudd after multiple rewatchings of Clueless, adopting Cher’s perspective on high school boys and holding it close:

“I don’t want to be a traitor to my generation and all but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, come on, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants and took their greasy hair and covered it up with a backwards cap and like, we’re expected to swoon? I don’t think so.”


[I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity in some instances I have changed the names of individuals and places, and I may have changed some identifying characteristics and details.]

 

Oct
15

Leaving Young Love

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In the months before I moved from Vancouver to Montreal I got a little bit fat. Not super fat, not elastic waistbands fat, but fat enough that when I got together with Brooke, an old friend of mine, for coffee, she made a wristy sweeping motion with her hand and said, “Don’t worry, hon. We’ll do something about this.”

I was twenty-one, had been living with my boyfriend, Neil, for three months, and had recently quit smoking. Quitting smoking is something that has accompanied me through most stages in my life. I quit at least ten times before it finally stuck when I was twenty-seven. I don’t think the not smoking was the only reason for the gain. I think it was the first time in my life that I was properly depressed, although I didn’t know it at the time because I was young and didn’t know any depressed people. Actually, I knew one depressed person, and it was my ex who told me he was gay before running into the middle of Main Street, and when I darted after him he ran from me and I ended up chasing him through the east-side streets for ten minutes until his knees gave way beneath his pain and he wept on my shoulder as we sat on a bench in a bus shelter many blocks from where we started, catching our breath. All to say I didn’t recognize the signs in myself, which in retrospect included my job as a supervisor at Starbucks—at which I’m now certain eighty per cent of the customers must have been depressed, especially the one who always ordered a venti non-fat half-sweet two-and-a-half-shot extra-hot white chocolate mocha with extra whip, but I don’t count them because I didn’t know them personally, and only differentiated between them by what they ordered, and having one’s identity reduced to a coffee order can make anyone seem depressed—as well as long stretches of time spent motionless in the living room recliner, crying in the shower indefinitely or until Neil would come home and find me, and a mounting sense of being psychically wedged between two invisible places.

I told Neil I was moving one Tuesday in June when he came home from the docks at Granville Island with a fresh salmon. He was filleting it in the kitchen and singing Wilco to it—Theologians, don’t know nothin’—when I soundlessly rounded the corner and blindsided him.

“I’m moving to Montreal,” is what I said.

“What?” is what he said.

The fish just gaped.

Neil put the knife down, for which I was grateful. “So you got in?”

I nodded.

“When did you find out?”

The truth was that I had known for some time, hence the psychic stuckness, et cetera. I had applied for a transfer to two BA programs: one local, one not so local. I was undecided about my preference, but had chosen to trust that once I was accepted, I’d know which was right. The real truth, now that I’m older and I can see more clearly, was that I knew all along I would choose to move away. I got into both over a month earlier, but hadn’t known how to tell Neil. Now, it seemed, I knew.

“A few days ago, maybe a week?” I said. “I mean, I heard from UBC last month, but wanted to hear from Concordia before I made up my mind.”

“And so now you’ve heard.”

“Now I’ve heard.”

The moment soon became less intense and the betrayal in his face melted. He congratulated me, he hugged me, he took the halved fish out to the balcony and barbecued it.

I knew I had hurt him. I remember coming home from work the following day and seeing fresh scabbing on his knuckles; I remember finding the crushed drywall just inside the bedroom door, beside the photograph of the two of us at Jericho beach, sunglasses and freckles, wrapped in each other’s bare arms.

In the weeks before I left, the early summer built to critical mass and I packed, and as I packed the weight started to slip from me somehow. I was shedding: old clothes, sad face, flailing young love, mystery fat.

*

This rapid and merciless departure of mine, in which I gave my safe-bet boyfriend four weeks’ notice, is the first of the reasons that I found myself, six months later, standing at the front door of his house—their house—Christmas hanging like frostbite in the air. I stood before him weeping, weeping like an infant weeps, weeping until I was breathless and soundless, until strands of drool entered the equation.

I was home for Christmas, my first semester finished, my first six months at a distance of five thousand something kilometres conquered, and for some self destructive and borderline psychotic reason we—Neil and I—decided that this would be a good first stop. I would spend a night at his new place in Vancouver before carrying on to my parents’ home on Vancouver Island.

He watched me cry for a moment before pulling me into the hallway, where he watched me for a moment more. When the door clicked shut I managed to pull myself together enough to wipe my eyes and chin and look back at him. I had assumed he would have wept along with me, that we would have mourned the loss of us in tandem, handing each other tissues and blowing our noses, chasing closure, healing in solidarity with one another. But he was not crying, just looking at me with that horrible pity–concern–fascination gaze reserved for victims of disfiguring accidents and certain species of zoo animal, like the depressed penguins who just stand around on greyish mounds of not-enough snow. The house was dim, and the grey from the winter day outside made it grey inside as well.

I was a depressed penguin.

Distance had disfigured me.

“You’re looking good,” is what Neil said.

“Is she here?” is what I said. When I looked at him I felt like my face was sliding off. I needed a tissue.

“No,” he said. “She’s back tomorrow night.”

“Can I please have a tissue?”

“Yes,” he said, “of course. Come in.”

*

I left Vancouver in mid-July, found Montreal hot and sticky, found a place to live on rue St Marc on the seventeenth floor of a concrete high rise called Le St Marc. It had a dépanneur, a sauna and a pool on the ground floor, and my one-bedroom had a balcony looking across to another apartment block, to the left the mountain, to the right a slice of the city skyline. I painted the place in shades of orange and eggshell, and when the movers arrived with my stuff, everything particle board was partially ruined.

“It’s in your contract,” said the guy. “We don’t cover Ikea shit.”

I went back to Ikea for yet more torture as well as a bed, a sofa, and a bookcase I was determined to fill with classic literature tomes, Norton anthologies, poetry volumes, a comprehensive Shakespeare set. I had been self conscious about my diminutive book collection ever since I’d brought a guy called Dom home when I was nineteen, pre-Neil, so I chose a not-bottom-of-the-line bookcase that would live up to my expectations.

Dom was a customer at Starbucks who ordered a grande dark while talking on his cell phone, always dropping the thirteen-cents change into our tip cup that was variously emblazoned with slogans like Tippers is as tippers does and Tip! In the name of love. Into his cell phone he was always saying things like …not synergy, but something like it, …I said boardroom three, not four; we need to be able to hook up the Playstation, and …fine, fire him. None of us had any idea what he did for a living. All we knew was grande dark, Boss suits, and the face of a man not older than twenty-three. In retrospect, him asking me out must have been an act of colonization, or perhaps in response to a dare. He didn’t want to go out, though. He came to my apartment with a rented video and we ordered in. He snooped openly, looking in my closet and appraising my wardrobe, rummaging through my makeup kit with abandon, scrutinizing the titles on my small bookcase, most of whose shelves were lined with CDs and framed photographs.

“Is this all your books?” He picked up a used copy of The Bell Jar and I was embarrassed by how poxy it seemed in his well-manicured hands. It was among other predictable titles such as Catcher in the Rye and Little Women, as well as my first-year lit and art history textbooks.

“Yes,” I said, and then: “But I’m hoping to build my collection. You know, as I progress with my studies.” I cared about what he thought in the same way I guess all young women trapped in such a power imbalance cared what older guys thought.

Dom only raised his eyebrows and put the book carelessly back on the shelf, horizontal and spine to the back. We watched the video (Playing by Heart—he kept watching me to see when I would figure out the quite contrived twist in that film) and kissed briefly on my couch and he never called me again, just continued with his obnoxious patronage in the coffee shop as if nothing had ever happened.

*

In his cold grey apartment, Neil cooked me dinner. I sat at the table in the kitchen and sipped the red wine he poured me. He served me lentil stew and a green salad of mesclun in a balsamic drizzly thing and we sat and ate it surrounded by the sounds of our own eating and the rain that had begun to fall on the eaves outside.

“How’s Montreal?” he asked. “How’s your program going?”

“Cold, and fine,” I said, scooping a little crème fraîche onto my lentils. They were hot and warm and coated the inside of me. I needed this. I looked around at the minimalist space and couldn’t tell if its emptiness was curated or just lazy. There were a few chipped enamel mugs and dishes around the kitchen, and the living room had only the recliner and coffee table from our old place, and a small sofa covered in a charcoal cable knit blanket. Drying the in the dish rack I saw the old green enamelware colander that had been my grandmother’s, then mine, then ours, and now his. And hers. Its enamel was chipped and I soon realized how perfectly the place was decorated. Their home was classy and adult and nothing about it seemed temporary. The dish cloths had been acquired to match the colander, the napkins too had a subtle stripe of the same green. I started to cry again. Neil got up from his chair across the table and sat down beside me.

“You’re really hurting,” he said, and I hated him for it.

*

Classes began and I bought books. My shelves filled gradually and so did my time: there were parties in warehouses in the Mile End, cheap casual concerts on the Plateau, and as the temperatures dropped, fondue nights at new friends’ apartments. In late October I was invited to the birthday party of someone named Jasmine whose mother had once been a neighbour of Neil’s. Neil had given her my number and, I suspect, suggested she invite me. I walked up to St. Joseph Boulevard and knocked. The door swung open and Jasmine said, “I’m so glad you made it.” She was tall and thin with a short shaggy bob, and was wearing a skirt and moon boots. The party was vaguely Napoleon Dynamite–themed, and the film Cry Baby was for some reason playing silently on the TV in the background. I talked to a few people, but my shyness begat an immense wave of homesickness that left me leaning against the dishwasher watching people, and then crying quietly along with Johnny Depp.

At home after the party I dialled Neil before I even took off my coat.

“I can’t really talk now,” is what he said.

“What?” is what I said, except I wasn’t just saying or asking, but was also accusing and shaming a little as well. “Why?”

“I was just heading out.” I could picture his non-phone hand gripping his hair, channelling the tension back into his own scalp like a gruesome closed-circuit.

“Ok. This late?” After a pause and some static spanning a continent, I said, “Do you miss me?”

“Of course I miss you,” he said.

There was more silence. Silence on the phone just sounds like distance, like each kilometre, each highway, each prairie and glacier and tiny hick town, all grinding up together into static, into one spannable, manageable, and maddeningly audible thing.

“I love you,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

I hung up the phone and threw it hard at the sofa, where instead of bouncing it lodged itself safely between the cushions.

*

My friend Brooke had always referred to Neil as Mr Safebet: How was your hot date with Mr Safebet last night? What would Mr Safebet think of you having that fourth tequila shot? How wild is Mr Safebet? She called him this because he was quiet, his overall air of bookishness accentuated by his freckles, his ever present thick-rimmed glasses and copy of something written by James Joyce or George Saunders or David Foster Wallace. Plus, he had a good job managing a coffee shop on Commercial Drive. She also didn’t think he was that good looking. He wasn’t unattractive, he just wasn’t a six-three hottie with his own landscaping business, double dimples and the brooding gaze of James Dean like the last one.

The last one had been Richard. At a Frank Black concert, he handed me a matchbook with his number scribbled inside. We dated for about two months, which, in a bizarre turn of fate, ended up being just enough time to meet each others’ grandmothers once, and then comfort each other through the grief resulting from their respective deaths, less than a month apart. Within the final week of our brief relationship he both burned himself with a cigar butt in a profound and immature expression of grief (a non-smoker, he’d bought the stogie especially), and told me in a restaurant that he didn’t see the point in reading books. I tossed a twenty on the table when he was in the bathroom and left forever. I never told Brooke about the burn or the book thing, which is why she continued to hold Richard up as a bastion of suitable boyfriends.

Neil was a safe bet. Moving in with each other had jettisoned me into a sphere of domesticity I wasn’t yet interested in. I became trapped in a strange orbit in which there were mutual decisions to be made about utility providers and fresh fish to be filleted every Tuesday. In terms of plummeting back to a recognizable reality, my re-entry strategy was a subconscious one but effective: I moved quickly and the relationship burned up in its own atmosphere.

*

Even when it got dark outside, and night encroached on the Pacific time zone; even when we had watched a movie together, sitting on opposite ends of the sofa; even when he said, “Do you mind sharing a bed tonight?” and we got undressed and covered ourselves in his blanket—their blanket—and lay side-by-side, noses and hip bones and toes pointing up toward the ceiling; even then their home was cold and hard. The lamps shone sterile bluish-white. The sheets smelled both flowery and bleachy—industrial. I thought to myself how easy it would be to use the power that resides in the arsenal of all young women, to trap him into showing me the emotion that so far he hadn’t shown me on his own. I thought how easy it would be to slide my hand across the space between us.

I did nothing though, of course, because I am not an animal. I was lying in another woman’s bed. I hadn’t been able to bring myself to ask whether or not she knew I would be staying the night there. Something told me that she did, that this visit was probably the result of discussions and arrangements and compromises and bartering, and this made me feel even farther away, even more on the outside.

“I need you to know that I was devastated when you left,” he said. He turned his head toward me after he said this, and the way the light was creeping in from the city outside it was difficult to tell what he was really saying. I could see, somehow, the wet blueness of his eyes, always something new-looking about them without his glasses, something almost new-born.

“Are you asking for an apology?”

“No, I just need you to know that. I know what it looks like. I guess I just didn’t know why you left, besides the obvious reason why you left.”

“Does it matter why?”

“No,” he said. He slid his hand across the space between us and took my hand. “Are we friends?”

“For tonight only, I think,” I said. I didn’t take my hand away, and eventually we were both asleep.

*

The first snow came in the final week of November. When I stepped out onto my balcony in the morning it was the first time I felt that seizing inside my nose, the fibres crystalizing. It frightened me and I emailed my professors, saying I wouldn’t make it to their classes that day. There were moments when I thought I might have been in over my head with the winter thing. Other moments I marvelled at the beauty of the silent white blanket that had taken hold of the city, the traffic soundless, stresses muted. I took night walks alone. I refused to buy boots and would come home with my Chuck Taylors soaked and stiff and ease my feet into a tub of warm water. Learning to enjoy the cosiness of polar living felt luxurious.

The week of the first snow is when the call came and he told me he’d met someone.

“I can’t help it. I’m in love with her,” is what he said.

“In love?” is what I said.

Afterwards, I took the elevator down to the first floor, letting my bare feet drag along the carpet in the hallway. I shuffled into the dépanneur and bought a litre of red wine and a pack of Benson and Hedges. I spent the evening on my snow-covered balcony, staring at the dark mountain and smoking half a pack.

Jul
13

Current Status: It couldn’t be less complicated

IMG_1154I’m not sure what it says about me that I sat down today to write a post about marriage, nor that it was inspired by my recent discovery of the phrase shredding for the wedding. Ok, so I do know what it says about me. But whatever. (FYI I’m currently eating something called Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter straight from the jar, so…)

Eight months ago I had been living in Melbourne for four years and had no concrete intention of leaving: I had an apartment in my favourite part of town; a contract in an air-conditioned cubicle with a view; a musician boyfriend, Nick, with whom I shared a bed, a Volvo, and household duties; and a temperamental tabby kitten we’d rescued from a storm drain and named after a fictional gangster. I called my mother fortnightly, and used words like fortnightly.

“So Mum, I was wondering: Is it important for you – I mean, in terms of you feeling complete with regards to the gamut of possible and even likely life experiences – to experience one of your kids getting married? What I mean is: Is it important to you and Dad that I get married and that you get to experience the wedding that would inevitably take place in such a scenario?”

“Are you getting married?”

“No.”

“Then no. Weddings are overrated, and really, Alison, who needs a husband?”

I was reminded of the day in the sixth grade – when I was eleven years old – that Darren Richardson walked up to me at recess and asked if I would like to start going out with someone called Shaun Downey. He pointed across the foyer to a blonde boy eating string cheese and looking down at the untied laces of his Reebok Pumps. It was my first week out of elementary school and I knew neither of these boys. I told Darren to tell Shaun that I would have to think about it. When I got home and explained the situation to my mother, she said: “Alison, tell him no thank you. You’re eleven years old! You’ve got better things to do.” At school the next day I walked up to Shaun and told him, “No thank you. I’ve got better things to do.” Shaun and I would continue at the same schools for the next five years and would never speak again.

“Right. Good,” I said to my mother. “Good to know. I just thought I’d ask, just in case.”

One day, two cubicles down, a young woman got engaged. The girls in the office bombed her desk: streamers, sweets, balloons defaced with wobbly Sharpie sentiments like He put a ring on it and Mrs Man’s-name Man’s-surname. Environmentally irresponsible, I said under my breath to the expanse of my glorious view. The woman was ecstatic, and I was happy for her. She dined out on the proposal details for weeks. She began looking at shoes and dresses and she talked about them, too. One day, she jokingly threw around a phrase that made me cringe, one that had to do with achieving an ideal weight and figure before exchanging vows. That evening I called my mother and rolled out the above overwrought line of questioning.

Earlier today I was staring at my reflection – red faced and panting – as I ran intervals on a treadmill with an incline of 2.0 in a windowless fitness facility, my engagement ring refracting a pleasing spectrum from the overhead fluorescent tube lighting. I took it off and slipped it into the secret pocket in the waistband of my shorts, the one meant for house keys and primary-coloured electrolyte gels.

Six months ago I knew I would be leaving Melbourne. My contract with the view was going to be cut short, and it was time to renew my visa, the cost of which was so heartbreakingly astronomical that Nick, Furio, and I looked into what it would cost to move to Canada.

“Do you think we’ll get married?” It was January and 42ºC and Nick and I were side by side, melting into the sofa we would soon sell to our friend Tito. It would be one of last things to go, its disappearance the first in a series of events that would spin nine-month-old Furio into an existential conundrum.

It has never been something I saw myself doing. As evidenced by the above dialogue, my mother stressed to me from a young age that a woman doesn’t need a man, and that it’s better to be happy and alone than with someone and unhappy. Through my twenties I was often single, often for years at a time, and while I embraced a life of spontaneity, adventure, selfishness, and self reliance, I always felt I would end up alone, and this always seemed like a bad thing, especially as more and more friends moved in with their partners, got hitched, and even had – gulp – babies.

“Yes,” Nick said. “I always thought we would I guess. Do you want to?”

Packing up the first home you make with someone is an astoundingly intimate act. So intimate, in fact, that you end up wanting to marry the person.

“I think so. Yes.”

My mother’s reaction when I told her about the sofa conversation was understandably abrupt.

“So you are getting married?”

“I think so. Yes.”

Once we got to Canada, Nick took me for a French meal in downtown Victoria, then to Dallas Road at sunset where he began with, “Well, we’ve known each other a long time…” My parents gave us their engagement ring. It’s beautiful and they chose it in 1979 and split the cost, and the continuity of it is meaningful to me. I’m almost used to wearing it now, almost used to saying “Yes, I’m engaged,” and almost used to removing it before showers, washing dishes, and going to the gym. For cookie butter, however, I keep that sucker on.