Faded brown hardwood floors, smooth from us walking on them. You always wore ankle socks and skinny jeans. Your ankles showed. Always. You could be quiet or very loud. I could be quiet or very loud. And we were always in an opposite mood. I was quiet, you were loud. I was loud, you were gone.
I never liked house music. Or techno. Or all that shit that you played too loudly at 4 o’clock in the morning. I came out and talked to you quietly. And you’d yell and gnash your teeth and squeeze my shoulder and turn back to your loud, tooth-gnashing friends.
I leaned on the inside of the bedroom door and listened to you and your friends talk about clubs and bars I’d never heard of. I pictured dim dance floors lit by glowsticks and strobe lights. I pictured a stop-motion of you dancing with your eyes closed and your mouth slightly open, a syncopated flow of movement to a heavy, grinding engine.
I lay in bed and heard pieces of words that burst out of the white noise of conversation. They painted my dreams bright, uneasy colors, like neon signs on a rough come-down. I would wake up cotton-mouthed and nervous to a silent apartment, bodies strewn across the sofas and floors. Their hands held broken wine glasses and empty beer cans. You were in the kitchen, slumped over a table of five-dollar bills and tiny plastic bags turned inside out.
I wanted to be loud then. I wanted to scream at you, scream at the kids littering our floor. But I didn’t want to wake you. So I picked up the empties and threw out the garbage and left you a note, saying I’d be back.
I would sit in the cafe across the street and watch the faces that had been on our couch and our floor emerge from our door. They wore sunglasses, and baseball caps, and shielded their eyes from the sun when it was sunny. They were pale and shuddered at the light and warmth that sank onto them from the sun.
And eventually your face would come out, safe behind massive round sunglasses.
Your face, pulled taut, tired of smiling, would poke out of the doorway and bid an emotionless goodbye to other faces, pulled taut, tired of smiling.
By three O’clock, everyone would be gone, and I would climb back up to the quiet chaos of an empty battleground. You would be sleeping on the bed, or taking a bath in that beautiful clawfoot bathtub we had. And I would lean in and kiss you, tasting chemicals and cigarette smoke and something else, ineffable and inimitable. Like cherries and rubber.
And you would pull me into the bed or the bath. And suddenly the empty bottles and the cigarette butts and the broken glasses and the vomit and the blood and the tears all around us disappeared. We did terrible things in that terrible place. Beautiful, terrible, violent acts of love. They washed away the tense, strung-out ugliness of the night, leaving just you and me and the soapy water that separated us.
But there are limits to love. It dwindles and fades and then the separation grows to more than soapy water. First different couches. Then different rooms. Then different beds, with different people. And then it wasn’t a life we were sharing, it was nostalgia. Nostalgia doesn’t make for a thriving relationship.
Nostalgia sets in like a mould. It spreads on what exists then consumes it, overtakes it, until it is unrecognizable. And you, she, became unrecognizable. Her cheeks sunk in, her lips grew thinner, her ribs jutted and her teeth chipped. She was a before/after poster.
And yet, I couldn’t see it. I was blind with nostalgia. I was blind to the pain and disappointment she was causing.
I would sleep through the house music night after night, and watch the gaunt faces from the cafe. Sunglasses and fedoras poured out of our apartment door every morning. Well, every afternoon.
Then one night you kept me. You asked where I was going and I had no answer. You snared me. You promised no house music.
We danced to David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and you told me to open my mouth. I did. You put a little capsule of beige powder on my tongue, then kissed me. I swallowed, and tasted the chemical nostalgia, more than I ever have.
For an hour, I assumed that you, she, had given me Ajax; something that tasted like the real thing without any real effect.
Then, like a tide of warm water, the drug washed over me. It made me smile, and my eyes closed in a moment of rapture. I sank deeper into my chair than I’d ever done. My eyes flicked left and right behind my eyelids. And where were you? You were close, tired and frowning. And we had nothing in common. You had a promising career in drug intake ahead of you. I had a craving for sensual indulgences.
Neither worked out.
You pulled out before you reached the deep end, and I ended up tugging on my dick fruitlessly until I fell asleep.
We tried fucking. We tried anal. We tried oral sex and handjobs. Four hours, and we were done.
And we tried kissing. But we weren’t kissing, were we?
We were fighting a silent and secret war. One that even we didn’t know about. Each lip that touched was a balled fist, an act of war, masquerading as acts of love.
We hated ourselves and we were slamming each other’s faces, our mouths, together as though it could recreate what we didn’t know we had lost.
And when she left I was still looking for a reason. I hadn’t noticed that she wasn’t pulling me into bathtubs. I hadn’t noticed that the house was no longer overrun by brightly coloured children. I hadn’t noticed that my trips to the cafe were less and less frequent, and less and less voyeuristic.
“Where do you draw the line?” you asked. “Where does a relationship end?”
And I couldn’t answer.
Nicholas Mathewson is an absent father and full-time student of Journalism at Concordia. He was born and raised in Montreal, where he lives currently. He has been interested in literature since his father read him “The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway, after which the exploration of relationships with oneself and with others in stories gripped him. He likes to take long walks in Montreal; it is a beautiful city to get lost in.
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