I saw her today. She didn’t see me. Well, maybe she did, but it wouldn’t matter because she doesn’t know what I look like and considering how things turned out, I doubt he ever mentioned my name. It’s unsettling to be close to someone you know so much about and feel so tied to, when she has no fucking idea who you are.
It happened only once before this. It was early December (or was it late November?) and I was getting off the subway when she walked out of an adjacent car. I remember thinking nice hair, whoa, look at those gams—then realizing who I was staring at. She looked a lot like her Facebook profile photo, which is something I really admire. I always look and feel like someone else, and it’s never the same person. We were in his neighbourhood, so I thought she might have been on her way to his apartment and I panicked. I stood shivering at the corner in front of Second Cup until she passed his door. Only then could I think It’s okay, he’s with me now. But I didn’t really believe it. How could I? What starts in a bathroom stall rarely ends with happily-ever-after.
I used to tell this story as if we were innocent, as if it was all bound to happen and there was nothing either of us could do, we were just that connected. I don’t tell it that way anymore. I knew I was in trouble the day I realized I could love this stranger, this perfect Adonis body wearing a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club T-shirt who talked about Hemingway and smoked and had a slight smirk when he was listening closely. The truth is that it could have stopped there, but all I cared about was the possibility of getting closer.
We were supposed to meet, once. A group of us were celebrating at a pub, a day-long affair with cheap pitchers, and he invited me to see some bands he thought I’d like. He said I would finally get to meet her and a few of his friends, the people he would tell me about when we first started drinking alone. But she didn’t show up. I saw this as permission to whisper just a little too closely, brushing my lips against his lobes; to let him hold my hands underneath our table. The absence of her was our beginning.
Outside, he grabbed my sleeve and said, “I’m really attracted to you.”
I said, “you have a girlfriend.” I left him at the corner.
She seemed taller today. More confident. Happier. After all, it’s been almost two years. No one stays destroyed for that long and if she has, it’s a hidden destruction that has faded into just being another piece of who she is. Who I am. Her hair is longer and shinier. She has this great big smile and always looks directly at whoever’s speaking. A girl who makes steady eye contact. I like that.
He stopped saying her name some time between my kissing him on the corner of Bathurst and College after four litres of red wine, and the night we found ourselves in a bathroom stall in some forgettable west-end bar. The first time I had ridden home warm and smiling, the next time I had walked home crying, thinking of the unmentionable. He called me from a payphone the next day to see if I was okay. Later, he told me that he couldn’t touch her anymore. Not after me.
She stood and talked with her friends until a seat opened up while I slunk to the back of the streetcar. I wondered, does she still hurt sometimes? Does she wake up some nights with her heart racing? Does she know that at one point, he wanted to propose to her? Does she ask herself why it fell apart? Does she ever talk about him? Or me? Does she really have no idea?
We were out with a friend taking pictures of buildings, trash, and bits of urbanity for an assignment. It was sunny and we had to squint. While our friend explored an alley, he said to the pavement next to me, “you’ve got me all messed up.” He called me darlin’. That’s what the singer of a band we love calls his girls. So when it happened I never asked him what he said or how awful it was; I let him come to me when he thought he could. We saw bands and had sleepovers, and when we went out in the mornings sometimes I could still smell myself on him and it was the sweetest secret. We read to each other and struggled with our stories. Our fights felt like the deepest wounds and he always knew what I was feeling before I did.
One night, soon after it happened, we were lying in bed and he told me about her coming to get a few things. He said while he hugged her goodbye that he had a moment of panic, worrying that his sweater smelled of me. He was never really mine.
When the streetcar reached University, I was the first to pull the wire and shuffle onto Queen. I watched her get off and walk west with her friends. I imagined myself calmly telling her that I understand, and that I’ve been there. That when he told me he wished he could be with me on New Year’s Eve, I knew he was kissing someone else, but I had needed something other than truth. That when he stopped inviting me to his apartment I knew it was because it pained him to look at my eager face and not love me back. That when it was finally over I ran away to Nova Scotia, hoping that breathing would hurt less there, but I spent all my time crying and drinking and vomiting behind pretty Halifax houses while listening to Maximo Park’s By the Monument.
As she got farther and farther away I wanted to shout can’t you see me? I wanted to apologize. I wanted to plead for recognition and redemption, but I didn’t say anything. Every connection comes with a price.