No, I don’t think so.
You look so familiar. You didn’t go to Pearson High School?
I am shaking my head, No.
Well, here’s a drink anyway.
I don’t drink.
I’m holding the beer out to you anyway.
I am lifting my hands in the air, my palms towards you as if to say, What do you expect me to do with that? Then I bring my lower lip up into my upper lip hard, which I just recently read means I’m pursing my lips, or some people would say that. I mean, I think this is different because I know that the skin between my nose and mouth is bulging out and, by the way, I am actually blinking back tears right now because the reason I do not drink is that my grandmother and my father and my little sister all have heavy drinking problems and that brand of beer you are waving at me happens to be consumed by the case by my family. Not that I am sad about their alcoholism, I am sort of over it, okay, so I cannot really explain the tears. Maybe you should just get away from me?
I’m lifting my arms up like, Hey, Whoa, Sorry, Sorry, in each hand a beer dangling from its neck and here comes some guy looking towards the bar and the crazy mob trying to order and I’m taken with, like, Christian good will, or maybe it’s despair, or maybe it’s one to fight the other, and I hand out the beer to him and he’s like, What the fuck? Thanks, Boss, and he grabs my shoulder and actually he must work out or something because, Holy fuck, his hand is seriously strong and Ow, Ow, Ow, he’s drunk too so he’s all off balance and I think he’s trying to hold himself up on me, Shit, so I’m patting his hand and saying, No problem, and he says, What? because of the music and maybe his gratitude or surprise, so I say, No problem, again and then it’s, Ow, Fuck, like he’s trying to climb up on my shoulder so he can put his ear to my mouth and I twist because, Jesus, the pain, man, and I say, I said, No problem. He kisses me, then lets me go.
You look so surprised that I laugh despite my alcoholic family. The left half of your face smiles followed shortly by the right half. Did he go to Pearson? I ask.
Now that’s funny.
Did I hurt your feelings?
No. No. That’s Brian. I dated his younger sister, Julia, for three weeks. We were in love.
Best three weeks of your life.
It was hard when it ended. Actually.
Was Julia your first?
First breast. First girl I felt up. She had an inverted nipple on the right side. Every set of nipples I’ve encountered since have been a disappointment.
I have never been felt up.
Why would you do that to me?
You lied about Brian.
But not about Julia.
I know how much men like to be a woman’s first.
I don’t know what to say for a second and I want to look at your breasts.
You’d find these disappointing, though, I say, my hand tracing and back-tracing a line between right nipple and left.
Both normal, then?
But your breasts are on the table.
I lean forward and rest my breasts on the table. Look at that.
You’re a joker.
Yes. I will laugh after the first time we have sex, too, which will be in—I check my watch—less than thirty-six hours. You will orgasm prematurely.
Damn it. I’m sorry.
I will not laugh at the orgasm, though, and the sex will be pretty good—not great, though, never great the first time, not for me anyway. What will make me laugh is how badly you feel and it will make me feel, well, grateful that you are considerate, but a little worried that you may never have the kind of swagger in the bedroom that really turns me on, at this stage in my life anyway.
You were going to tell me about the first person who felt you up.
If not now, sometime soon. It was traumatic for you, wasn’t it?
Happened at a party in Diane Offson’s basement. Alex Mansfield did it. Got chip grease all over my shirt and bra. He did not stop when Diane’s mom turned on the lights and asked, What’s going on down here? and stood with her hands on her hips looking straight at us. Straight at me and Alex, who had one hand down the collar of my shirt and the other right on top of it, his hands working like he was playing with Play-Doh or a stress ball.
That doesn’t sound so traumatic.
You won’t think so when I tell you, either, and we’ll fight about it. It’ll be the hottest day of summer and all the city’s lights will be out, its power down.
Hunh. Still, what was traumatic?
I liked Alex, but I didn’t want him feeling me up at a party in front of my friends and one of my friends’ mothers.
Then I will tell you about when I was in high school and my friend and I went to a punk show, then crashed at this guy’s apartment where he forced us to give him blow jobs.
And I’ll get that it was rape?
No. It’ll take us having a daughter before you understand that.
But then you will ask me—tell me—to straddle your face.
Here it comes.
And pretend that I’m forcing you to suck my dick.
And you’ll expect me to understand that even though some guy raped you, raped in quotation marks, that now you want me to pretend that I’m doing the same thing that he did because in a different context it turns you on.
Fuck you, quotation marks.
I don’t understand that and I’m not sure I will.
You will, but it will be, like, fifteen years from now.
Right, when we have a daughter.
Could I get you a soft drink?
Right now, I would just like you to go away.
But I won’t go away.
I’m being annoying, aren’t I?
You’re cute, though.
And that thing with that guy hanging off you, you handled that well.
What should we talk about?
It is super-loud in here.
True. The music’s okay, though.
I love the Pixies. Where else could you dance to the Pixies?
The Smashing Pumpkins?
Okay, sure. They’ve got some decent songs, though. And wouldn’t you rather listen to them than, I don’t know, Usher?
Oh, the DJ’s playing that song by the Roots.
I don’t recognize it.
You don’t know this song? With Erykah Badu?
I shake my head.
Don’t you listen to music?
I listen to music nearly constantly.
How have you not heard this?
I don’t really listen to the radio? Just albums.
Well, get this one.
I will. I’ll be listening to it on the way home from my grandmother’s funeral, late at night and a little drunk, driving alone in the dark to my mom’s place.
That will be when we are broken up?
The first time, yes. And when this song comes on, I’ll think about how now you interrupt me, whatever I am talking about, and in a second will walk me to the dance floor, your classic-looking, bold red dress swaying.
I stand up and grab the beer bottle out of your hand and hand it to someone nearby.
I won’t remember this part.
He hasn’t touched it, I tell them.
Is that true?
You haven’t touched it.
I’m too focused on the fact that you are holding my hand to notice that the person you gave my beer to holds it in front of their chest for a few seconds before they lift it to the light to see where the beer comes up to—how much beer is in the bottle, you know? Am I saying that right? They’ll check to see that no one has taken a drink then shrug to their friend who will make an I-don’t-know face. They’ll smell the mouth of the beer bottle as if it would smell like my mouth or like anything other than—
Here’s the chorus. I love the chorus. I put myself in front of you and place your hand on that soft, concave stretch between my hip and my rib cage.
And hold my other hand.
I sing along with Erykah.
I am close enough to hear that you have a beautiful voice, or to think that I hear that you have a beautiful voice.
My voice is not beautiful.
Come on. Hey, don’t stop singing. I like the feeling of your breath through my shirt.
Even though it’s so hot in here?
And the sound of your voice.
I put my head against your chest. Is that better than my breath?
My heart is beating too hard and too fast. I. It’s like. I’m embarrassed like a teenager dancing with a boner.
Don’t ruin this by being crass. The force of your heart is like a miracle. I worry that you maybe have a problem, but the rhythm is regular and strong. There is nothing wrong with your heart the organ.
But my figurative heart?
Over the next few years you will have trouble committing to me.
And the story you will tell about it—
Story? You think I’m lying?
No. But in a few years, I will read Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories and his phrase, The truth about stories is that that’s all we are, will really influence how I talk about—how I think about—truth in quotation marks or the way we tell truths about ourselves to other people. Your story, your truth about why you have trouble is related to your parents and their divorce.
It was hard on me.
I know. And it will explain and be used to excuse your coldness.
I don’t know if—
Shh, here’s the chorus again.
You sing against my chest and the vibrations are gorgeous. It reminds me of being a child, before my parents were divorced and they would have people over and I would hear my father’s and mother’s voices as vibrations, their words unclear, but their feelings and their identity somehow clearer without the confusion of words.
Like they were singing.
When we have children and we start visiting with friends after our children have gone to bed, I will wonder if they hear us talking and singing the same way.
Baby don’t worry, you know that you’ve got me-ee.
When she’s a teenager, our oldest daughter will tell me she hates my voice.
And you will not speak to her for a week.
Which will make a point.
But be deeply irritating.
Why for you? I won’t understand that.
Because what kind of example will that set?
Can’t my feelings be hurt?
Let’s talk about something else. Like, when do we start dreaming all the false dreams? All the lovely fantasies?
Well, the song ends.
With that fantastic fast drumming by Questlove.
You will make some comment about “Stairway to Heaven” and school dances.
And you’ll laugh.
I will introduce you to the friends I came with and you will introduce me to the guys you came with, but mostly we will sit on two stools we will be lucky enough to find free and we will talk over the music until our throats are sore. I will tell you what I do—work in a library, study book history and religion.
But not theology. Like, you aren’t becoming a minister or priest or whatever.
No. And you will tell me what you do—work in an art supply store. Play in a band. We will go get falafel across the street with the friends I came with so they can make sure that you are okay.
An okay person.
And not too drunk to be sensible and kind. We will fool around at my apartment until sunrise.
But we won’t have sex—I’m not complaining.
No we will not have sex, not until the second time we see each other, which is soon anyway, and then a few times every day for a week or more.
And you will come.
Plenty of times. But tomorrow morning, when our lips are sore and we are tired but exhilarated, you will tell me that you want to move to the country and raise peafowl and many children.
We’ll have four kids.
But no house in the country. And no peafowl.
Those are lovely fantasies.
They could be lovely realities.
What about what happens long term? Like the end.
So the end of us is when one of us dies?
Do we have to talk about this?
I guess not. But that’s pretty cool. Impressive, I mean. Like, that’s commitment.
Yes, it is.
We should be grateful.
I am grateful.
I am too.
I will be sad when it happens.
Wait, sad to leave or sad that I’m leaving?
We said we weren’t going to talk about it.
Not now. Let’s just enjoy the song. Here’s the chorus again.
I love you. I will love you.
And I will love you.
What if none of this happens?
That’s possible, too.
Toronto, June-July 2016
Emoji sequence: Erin Tee of Kappamaki Design
Story: Lee Sheppard