Monday, March 21, 2005


The clipping was yellowed, naturally. Fifty years had passed since it was first published, but the ink hadn't faded. Surely this clipping was, somewhere, preserved on microfilm and will outlast all those it mentions. It will outlast me.

My mother showed it to me, my grandmother's obituary. Her cousin had found it in his own late mother's scrapbook, my great-aunt, the sister of the victim. He brought this clipping and two bottles of white wine for dinner. My mother, who is turning sixty next year, laid her own mother to rest five decades ago.

The deceased was a stylish young mother of three, sister to several, wife to one and lover to another. She expired in a car accident with a man she may have loved, not my grandfather. The obituary said the driver of the car was unharmed, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.

I thought about my mother as a child, hearing adults debate her own mother's death, and all their questions and suspicions. I think about my grandmother's life on public record. Her marriage, the birth of her children and her death, all dates without detail. And, I wonder why my mother's cousin brought the clipping. Is it because my mother had so little opportunity to share my grandmother's life that she must resort to preserving her death?

The driver who killed my grandmother, whether by accident or intention, is likely to still, every so often, think of her. I am sure he's thought of her, his young mistress. The mandolin player. The beauty. If he is guilty, I wonder if his failing memory has offered him peace in his final days.

I've heard he still drinks tea in the town we have all since left, the town with the public records of my family's births and deaths. The same files that have, or will, inevitably record his own.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Angst and the male model

When I think of my childhood bedroom, I don't think of my first one. Not the small one with the haunted closet. When I think of that room, I think of the terrifying attic hatch in the ceiling, just outside the door. I think of the Michael Jackson poster that came alive every night after Thriller was released - until my mom took it down because I was driving her crazy. I think of the face that surely hovered just outside my second story window. This was my first bedroom in the old, wooden sea captain's house my parents bought when we moved to the Maritimes.

When I think of my childhood bedroom, I think of the second. The one with baby blue and pink floral wallpaper and the white four-poster bed. The wallpaper I peeled from the walls, to paint them a deep burgundy red, and the bed was destined to be burnt in a house fire.

A stack of dog-eared teen magazines leaned against my night table. I flipped through the pages, imagining the lives models lived. I read articles about anorexia, and advertisements for feminine hygiene products. This was before I learned to resent the term, "feminine hygiene".

Most of my time, however, was spent pouring over relationship columns and sighing at pictures of young couples flirting and pillow-fighting in highly fashionable clothes.

"Would I ever have a boyfriend?" I asked myself every odd day, alternating with "Maybe I am a lesbian..." every other.

Either way, I was certain I would never land a mate like the dreamboat, bedroom pillow-fighter. I would never drive a jeep to the beach with my best girlfriend to pick up sun-kissed surfers for soda dates. I concluded that it just wasn't in the stars for me - though the magazine horoscopes continued to insist that it was.

By my sweet sixteen, I realized I wasn't a lost cause. That was right about the time I also realized that I had shapely legs. The same legs all the women in my family have - possibly the only thing we all have in common - which they'd referred to as "chicken legs". Male attention and its messengers came and drifted, and I finally felt deserving of the dreamboat of my destiny.

As it turned out, I waited another 8 years.

There he was, in a smoky bar, in a foreign city. His friend snatched me from the dance floor and introduced me. He offered to buy me a drink. I accepted, even though I didn't think he was good-looking or charismatic enough. I followed him to the bar to make sure he didn't add anything to my cocktail, because I didn't think he looked trustworthy enough either. Nevertheless, it was my first night in a strange city, and we enjoyed talking over the loud, and terrible, music. He gave me his cell number, and my friends giggled. He said he was a model. This did not work in his favour. My friends, however, insisted that I call him.

I didn't.

Several weeks later, I bumped into him at PS1, an arty party in NYC. I made a lame excuse about why I hadn't dialed him, and gave him my number, to take the edge off an uncomfortable interaction.

He called.
I didn't call him back.
He called again.
And, again.

Each message was sillier than the last. He was humble and persistent, and funny. If it wasn't the humour that finally suckered me in, it was his persistence.

We dated for a few weeks. Partied. After a while, he wasn't funny anymore. He was actually a little boring. He didn't clean up after himself. He wouldn't allow me to engage him in debates. He didn't read. I'm not saying he was illiterate, but there were no books in his house - just magazines.

But, he was hot. I discovered that not only was he not lying about being a model, he was actually quite successful for a stint. After weeks of my pestering, he showed me his portfolio, and the leather suitcase full with magazines bearing his pretty face. There were high fashion mags, par-for-the-course fashion mags, underwear shoots and...oh my gawd...oh my magazines.

Teen magazines.

There he was, immortalized in a teen magazine, pillow-fighting with another model.

There, in a mediocre apartment in Spanish Harlem with a retired 20-something model, the destiny the teen magazines of my youth foretold, was fulfilled. My adolescent life flashed before me.

Had I known this truly was my destiny, countless embarassingly angsty poems would never have been composed. Had I known, I'd have been able to read YM magazine without 5 lbs (of self pity) to lose in a weekend.

He broke my thoughts with the question, "So, what do you think?"

I wasn't on his page. I didn't know what he was asking. So, I just stared at him.

He took the cue and popped the question, "I guess what I am asking is, do you mind dating someone who is not university educated?"

This was not a question I expected. I looked at the carpet of magazines that blanketed his livingroom floor. It was clear he'd spent much of his life looking pretty. This had not been my experience.

I thought, "Yes. I do. I know university isn't for everyone, but you could at least pretend to read the newspaper, or pick up a book. You could talk about something worth debating. You could maybe clean up the kitchen, it's disgusting. Can you just disagree with me sometimes? I'll like it. Gawd, being the smart one in the relationship is soooooo underwhelming."

I said, "Do you mind dating someone who isn't a model?"

There we sat. My horoscope, the photo spreads, they didn't tell me what would happen next. I looked to the cosmos for an answer. Nothing.

Then, I thought of Neil Armstrong. He realized his dream when he first stepped onto the moon. He knew he couldn't stay there forever, nor did he want to - it would surely kill him. He also knew that he'd never return. But, at least he can say he's been there. And now, so can I.