Monday, January 28, 2008

Mice and manimals

To provide a little context, my suitor bears the name of a medium-sized carnivore, and while he blames his draft-dodging, naturalist parents for this, I couldn't help but notice some physical resemblance to his namesake. Thankfully, his looks are more intriguing than freakish, and I appreciate a little chest hair and a healthy bite.

This manimal is a musician, another one. As usual, I assumed I wouldn't adore the sound his band produces, but they’re doing fine without me. Plus, I seem doomed to date short, touring musicians, so, that up to that point, everything seemed normal.

He called the day after we’d first met, twice. First to argue about who picked up whom, and then to arrange to meet. Not knowing much about him (nothing at all, actually), other than his ability to make me laugh, I thought it best to begin with an easily escapable afternoon encounter. Thinking that if we met for a casual beer, we could opt to continue into the evening or simply escape with a politely believable excuse and without awkwardness. It's a technique I learned from a master, another short musician I dated and occasionally re-encounter.

When the time came, however, he was tied up and asked if we could meet later in the evening, negotiating a "nine-thirty neighbourhood bar date." He said the “d” word, and he said it with confidence. I panicked. I'd been in pleasant denial thinking that at worst I might make a new friend, and at best we might identify some common ground and arrange a real date, sometime later, more than five days after breaking it off with the previous candidate. This guy, I realized, plays hardball. We'd be stuck together, consciously and uncomfortably assessing our compatibility. If it didn't go well, someone was going to feel like a wanker.

When I hung up with him, there was a sweet voicemail invitation waiting from a film-maker I'd met months earlier. Coincidentally, he happens to be named after a common plant. I called my mom and told her I was officially, though perhaps not happily, through with the Moroccan Jew and have inadvertently found myself mingling with flora and fauna in his wake. One at a time, I reminded myself, and began carefully selecting the kind of outfit that says: If I look this good in these crappy clothes, imagine how hot I'll be when I try.

On my mother's advice, I checked to make sure I had enough cash in my purse to cover an escape taxi, and some consolation drinks should I meet with my girlfriends later to commiserate. Save for some coins, my wallet was empty, so I ran to a bank machine just before heading out to meet him.

Anxiety was building because not only did I have to admit I was on a real date, but I'd agreed to meet at a place with some foul shui. I've endured more than a few awkward moments at the resto-bar, and I prefer to blame the venue rather than my own inability to learn from experience. Still, I was willing to give it another chance.

With fifteen minutes to spare, the ATM ate my bank card. I prayed as I ran to a friend's house to beg for sympathy and some cash and continued on my way. I was feeling off my game, sideswiped by fate and $20 in her debt. It was all she had on her. I could only hope that chivalry would pay for what friendship could not cover.

I was torn between wanting to arrive a few minutes early to physically recover from the sub-zero temperatures before he walked in, and not wanting to seem too eager. Deciding that Canadians consider red cheeks and the sniffles inevitable rites of winter passage, I got over it as best I could, and went straight away. We arrived at exactly the same time. I kiss-kissed him, as is customary in Quebec, and began peeling and unravelling woollen layers from my head, neck and body, to reveal my carefully planned attire.

The manimal was very sweet and did and said everything he could to make me comfortable. Still, I was a little anxious, and both talked and drank too much and too fast. I saw him notice my depleting pint, and only then did I realize I was way ahead of him. Way ahead. Resorting to deep breaths rather than gulps, I recovered. Conversation soon flowed faster than ale. We laughed for nearly an hour’s time before I saw my recent ex’s friends settle into seats not especially far from ours. A second, lesser bout of panic set in. I rationalized. I’d never been to this bar with him, so there was no need to worry he might show up. Right?

Losing myself in conversation, I enjoyed the fun-loving doofus' company (and I say that in the kindest way). We shared more drinks, decadent snacks and I laughed like a fool, a drunk one. He laughed until he snorted, and then he laughed some more. I appreciated his humility, his exquisite humanness, and the ease of the encounter. Then, I noticed at the table to my left, a familiar perfectly shaped head with soft, thinning hair, crowning an ever-tasteful collared shirt and his favourite wool sweater.

I had no idea how long he'd been there, his back to me, barely out of earshot. This is the kind of fun I never had with you, I thought. The shortcomings of the new candidate before me were tannic, as were the few but sublime merits of the other, and I felt a little corner of my heart chip off and lodge itself in my throat. I cursed feng shui once again.

I stumbled back into the conversation and struggled to maintain focus. Think of the awkwardness in terms of minutes rather than severity, I coaxed myself. This is no big deal, I told myself. I am here with a sweet guy who is trying really hard to be great, and I should enjoy that for what it is. It was a pep talk.

At that moment, he leaned in, his eyes wide, and blurted, "What the hell is that?" He was looking right at me when he said it, and I felt a wave of insecurity rush through me. I was terrified of the possible answers. "Oh my god, is that supposed to be there?" I turned my head to my right shoulder, the one that seemed to have captured his attention, and there it sat. A little grey mouse was clinging to my sweater, also wide-eyed, and looking back at me. Seconds later, as I registered what was happening, it ran back down my body and slipped through a crack between the floor and the wall. My date and I stared at each other, mouths agape.

He later confessed that it had been sitting there for a while. Having briefly dated a girl with a pet rat and another with a snake, he'd assumed the mouse was mine. Why else would it be there on my shoulder looking at him, while I remained unaffected? For minutes he'd silently debated whether he could be into a girl who would take a pet mouse to a bar for a date and fail to address it. Although I was probably flaky and weird, he thought, I was cute enough and he'd give me a try regardless.

The now manic waitress, who witnessed the mouse's escape down my back, apologized profusely, cancelled our bill and offered us anything more we could possibly want, so long as we kept the incident private vs. public. Oops.

Ultimately, my date determined that the mouse was a good omen, and a sign to leave the bad feng shui and ex to contend with each other. We donned our many layers of warmth and wandered off into the chilly Canadian winter's eve, returning to our natural state of red cheeks, runny noses and not a significant worry in the world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Requiem for his moon, not mine

Nighttime on the canal with no one around, at the edge of the city on a floating pier, we had a late picnic of sushi and beer under the full moon. I had been thinking about how interesting it is that people from such different places can meet by chance and get along so easily, so well. How was it that I was able to invite a near stranger, a traveller, to stay with me for nearly two months, and not regret it? Luck perhaps, or instinct, or necessity. Or, good looks. We talked of choices and chance, and life philosophies.

He told me of a night a few years earlier when he'd suddenly realized that he would never walk on the moon. It was a thought he hadn't had since he was a child, but as that child, it was what he'd most desired and somehow it had transformed from a dream to an impossibility. With that realization, he cried, he said, and did for hours. He mourned for all the decisions he didn't make, for terminal inaction. His relationship with the moon was condemned to be the same as nearly everyone's.

Every decision we make is to the exclusion of something else. Not making a decision is, in a way, also a choice. I knew exactly what he was talking about. As time passes, our options and priorities change. As I reflect on decisions I have and haven't made in my time so far, some of my choices seem to make more sense than they seemed initially, and others less. One by one, little by little, though, certain routes were more attractive than others, and here I am. Somehow, I ended up this person. Me. A single twenty-nine-year-old, living on my own 2000 km from where I grew up, wishing I hadn't had a cappuccino so late at night so that I could just stop thinking and go to sleep.

Without suggesting that the alternatives would have made me any happier, I know that my life could be very different right now. I believe, for example, that I could already be married and possibly even divorced and remarried. I might even have children. I could be working nine-to-five and making a very competitive salary with benefits. I might be an investigative journalist or photographer. I might be fluent in five languages. I might live in Buenos Aires.

Ultimately, I didn't choose those paths, and I wonder if they ever really were an option for me, up to now. Such choices require a certain amount of conviction, and whenever I seem to get very close to one of the above, I buy a plane, train or bus ticket instead, and let my absence decide for me. Does that make me an escapist? Perhaps. But, when I think about it, missing out on any of those things does not affect me nearly as much as wishing I'd have been this independent and motivated sooner. I've never wanted to walk on the moon, and everything I want is still within reach. For that, I am thankful.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Me, Mom & Polish Sausage

There are some things you should never tell your mother.

I've learned this lesson late in life. I am not talking about the obvious stuff. Generally, I avoid telling her anything that might cause her to worry more than she already does. Why would I want to make more work for myself? As it is, she panics when I get a headache, something about tumours and microwaves.

Last summer, for instance, when I was injured by a bicycle-ramming pervert in a city park, I just didn't mention it to her. Though I was tempted to tell her -- particularly when I mused that the remaining scar on my knee is a perfectly shaped "p" for "pervert"-- I resisted. She wouldn't understand how I could make light of the incident. She would want to think that was the worst thing that's ever happened to me, and it would bother her that apparently it's not.

The year before, some drunk opened fire in my direction during Easter weekend celebrations in Honduras. I knew immediately it would be one travel tale she would never hear. It remains a favourite of mine, primarily because I didn't die, but I know my mother, and she would stop listening before I even got to the part about life mimicking TV, when my friend yelled, "Hit the ground!"

No. These stories are kept in the same box that I keep my how-I-accidentally-lost-my-virginity account. Now that I have been an adult for nearly twelve years, everything else is fair game. I've really opened up to her about my dating and sex life, likely for no greater reason than to see her squirm, and she has become a true, albeit reluctant, confidante.

When a new guy I was dating avoided having sex with me, I called my mom. She suggested that perhaps he was just a little old fashioned and was taking it slow, that he was probably very sweet and respectful. She also said that any nice woman should take at least six months to get to know a man before jumping into bed with him. When I was done laughing, I mocked her until she hung up. Since then, she's redefined her idea of a "slut" because she doesn't want me to be one. You can imagine the pleasure I took in informing her that it wasn't that the guy was taking his time, it was that the anti-anxiety medication he was on had triggered some sort of erectile dysfunction. She muttered something about cows and free milk, and I said something about how practice makes perfect, and she let it go.

Still, she has become quite comfortable with the idea that, if not the degree to which, I am a sexually active woman. Perhaps I overestimated her level of comfort, but I definitely took it too far this Christmas. Mom, I am sorry.

We had a few last-minute groceries to pick up before settling in for the holidays, and as we pulled into the carpark, I recalled how much I used to hate shopping with her there. It had little to do with her, aside from her love of kielbasa, and everything to do with the deli counter staff. When I was sixteen, he was in college, and I had already nurtured a two-year crush on him. When I was in college, he became the deli guy, and every time I came home to visit, my mom would take me to the grocery store and have me stand in front of him and talk about Polish sausage. I would blush, he would smirk, and my mom was never the wiser.

He has since moved on, perhaps to bigger and better deli counters, and so I thought I might finally be able to tell my mom my story. I began gently, and tested the waters.

"Mom, you are comfortable with the concept that your daughter has sex, right?"

"Pfft!" she said. "By now? I'd certainly say so."

"OK, well I have a funny story about the deli guy who used to work here."

She tried to remember him.

"You know how you always bought his sausage? Well, he was the first guy I ever gave a blowjob, and so, in a way, he gave both of us sausage. Ha!"

That was my punchline. What was I thinking!? It's not even funny. She'd had been less disturbed had I defecated in the aisle. It threw me off my game, and I regretted bringing up fellatio. It was too much for my sixty-year-old mother.

"I thought you were comfortable with me having sex," I said, cringing.

"I said I was comfortable with you having SEX!" she yelled through her teeth, "but not..."

At first she couldn't bring herself to say it, and eventually she hissed and spit the words, "...not ORAL sex with the sausage guy!"

Her delivery was perfect and, momentarily, I forgot that I regretted telling her the story. Then, with a cruelty of which only mothers are capable, to punish me, her next sentence began with, "You know, your father and I..."

I didn't stick around for the verb. Even as I escaped down another aisle, I could hear her cackling in victory. There are some things you should never tell your mother and, likewise, your kids.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

For a brighter f(l)uture

The sun rose and set every day this week. I am sure it must have. Someone would have told me otherwise. I wouldn't know though, not from the artificially induced gloom of my bedroom, or from under my millefeuille bed of blankets. I watched the goings on of outside from the comfort of my bed, filtered through my laptop via online news sources. It was an important week, like most weeks, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

My horoscope arrived via email and, to my relief, at least promised me a future. Some people emailed, others called to check in, but I didn't actually see or touch another warm body for three days. I wouldn't have known so many days had passed if it wasn't for a call reminding me of a friend's birthday party. I hadn't bought a gift.

The last interaction I remembered was ordering in. I knew I was falling ill, and decided to treat myself to a giant hot chicken noodle soup cure. The delivery man, like all delivery men, got lost in my building, and I ventured out in my pyjamas to find him with only that one thing on my mind. So I left the safety of my apartment, used the last bits of my stamina to run down three flights of stairs, and realized suddenly, coldly, that I was locked out. Mine is not a merciful god.

I shivered in the frosty entrance and buzzed the concierge. When she finally answered, she seemed unwilling to understand my predicament. We jostled the conversation between French and Spanish, both muffled through the fog of my fever, and finally reached an agreement. She would lend me her copy of my house keys, but she wouldn't like it. The deal seemed fair to me.

Nearly a full week later, I've come to.

I'm a few pounds lighter, totally exhausted, and all that has seemed to change is that crying is now en vogue for U.S. presidential candidates.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Amalgam of select grandmotherly advice for general health

I'm not going to drink my pee.

Three movies, one and a half novels, an entire clove of garlic, a full tablespoon of cayenne pepper, a teaspoon of ginger, honey, five zinc lozenges, one vitamin C tablet, several litres of water, one litre of pure cranberry juice, chicken soup, two ibuprofen, all-day bed rest, and a steamy hot Epsom salt bath later, and I am finally functional again. This hodge-podge recipe for health, inherited in bits and kisses from a thousand grandmothers, contains all known elements that might purge my clammy, pale, virus farm of a body of this nasty seasonal flu.

I didn't even cheat. No vitamin-sucking coffee or black tea, and certainly none of those delicious minty chocolates my mother sent me, no matter how much I wanted my mom at my bedside, would tempt me to risk my sure-to-be speedy recovery.

Still, I knew I was missing a key element, a little TLC. Halfway through the day, I stopped ignoring my phone in hopes that a friend would give me the sympathy I so craved. Relieved to hear the loving voice of a best friend on the other end, I let loose with my whining for only a minute or two, and sweetly, she listened. Then, with a lilt in her voice she suggested I drink my pee. Some people's grandmothers somewhere have been recommending the practice as a cure for eons, and if it was good enough for Gandhi...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sudden tryst death

Be it a creak, a rattle, a slow swoosh, a click or sudden snap, no other sound will catch your attention, force a pause, or shift the nature of your actions quicker. You know the signature of your own front door better than any other sound in your home, and you are conditioned to hear it, especially if you live alone. Save for the dog and cat, he lives alone.

That's why, when I opened the first of the double doors this morning, its click and creak catapulted my stomach into my heart. Most of me preferred a clean escape. If I am ever to confront this incompatibility face-on, I wish not to do it with smudged make-up, yesterday's clothes and morning breath. And, I'd definitely prefer see it through on neutral territory, and not surrounded by his things, his history, his everything familiar. The rest of me was reluctant to acknowledge the impossibility of creating a healthy, balanced tryst, though, so I consoled my palpitating little heart with possible justifications for this situation which had me running.

I'd wakened alone in a bedroom that wasn't mine. It was my second night in his bed, one beyond decorum. The one was cuddly and warm, innocent and uncomplicated. But today, the sun was up by the time I realized there were only three of us sleeping there, the dog, the cat and me. My pride crumbled, the dog snorted and stretched, unaffected. The absentee had slipped away so quietly that not even his codependent pets noticed; he was that careful. If only I could manage the same. Thanks be that the bedroom is nearest the main entrance, my exit.

It should have been an easy feat. I mean easily executed, not to suggest it could be done with emotional ease. I gathered my things, wrote a short note (to salvage some pride), and regretted my decision to stay at his place that one awkward night too many. All the while, I could hear my mother sucking air through her teeth and saying "it's better to know sooner than later." The note, penned to prevent future awkwardness, and to imply that I understood that this would be the friendly end, read: Good morning! Sorry to run you from your bed. It was comfy, though...

I added the exclamation point to imply that I was still cheerful. And the ellipses, because I didn't want to believe the tryst would end so gracelessly.

Sure we are incompatible. His interests aren't mine, and he didn't venture forth to find common ground, instead he stood his own, and waited for me there. He phrased questions to assess my familiarity with the things he already loves, and with each substandard response, I felt pushed farther from either of our comfort zones. Our senses of humour are not entirely shared, nor are our definitions of moving, intriguing or profound. The schism led him to another bed, and me to the exit. To his creaky, clunky double doors.

I consoled myself that perhaps he simply couldn't sleep, and resorted to the lullaby of a late night film. Or, perhaps my own unresponsiveness left him feeling uncomfortable. Maybe I pushed him out of his bed. The last he'd touched me after all, was to deliver an unsolicited back rub before I rolled away, wished him sweet dreams, and he wished me the same. Maybe I could, after all, preserve a portion of my pride. I was willing to adopt all fault for the privilege.

I clunked and creaked my way out the first set of doors, and I knew he must have wakened; anyone would have. I knew that in the adjacent room, in front of the television, he remained still and quiet and blameless. This would be his chance to intercede my clumsy departure, to suggest a next meeting, to explain his behaviour or ask about mine, to make it better. Or, he could let the tryst die a sudden, merciful death. I dislodged the heavy lock of the front door from the frame, tripped on the rug in the entry, pulled my hat over my ears and stepped out into the cold. I closed the final door behind me, aware that he would likely wait a few moments before checking to see that it was shut tight, allowing me time to add my footprints to the few that already marked the snowy sidewalk, and turn the corner.

I looked back briefly, to reflect on from where I'd just come. The impressions of my heeled winter boots in the fresh snow, so distinctly feminine, marked the only trail from his doorstep. Like for those who came before me, I knew it would never lead anywhere but away.