Joyland

Montreal |

Today is Cool

by Julie Mannell

edited by Kathryn Mockler

I think each time I try to kill myself I don’t actually want to. I emailed Jude through his girlfriend Audrey because Jude had sworn off the internet for a year or so, since he left Montreal for New York. That was a while ago, that was before he left New York to go live with Audrey and her family in Toronto. Jude and I had conducted a weird sexual experiment two years ago where I told him how to convince girls in the University Students’ Association to fuck him. It never failed. My success rate at getting Jude laid imparted me a tremendous confidence that was quickly followed by a complicated jealousy and then I fucked him too. I fucked him. I fucked him on his bed. I fucked him on his chair. He picked me up, digging his fingers into my ass cheeks, and I let him fuck me on top of his dresser, knocking his pant drawers shut with my ankles. It didn’t turn into a romance. He had Audrey. He still has Audrey. I emailed Audrey and I told her to tell Jude I was wanting to kill myself again. She said she would and asked for my phone number and asked if I wanted to talk to her about it, which was considerably kind considering I was weirdly reaching through her to her boyfriend whom I had weirdly fucked two years ago.

 

The act of killing yourself is pretty desperate in itself. Just saying you want to kill yourself, the utterance, the threat in the utterance, makes you an abuse, not the words you say, you yourself are an abuse. When I closed my computer I wondered if I’d abused Audrey.

 

I never asked to be born anyhow. The situation was these two people, let’s call them my parents, decided they wanted to give birth to someone and I ended up being directly implicated. Sometimes I think about how my grandfather died. Frequently I involuntarily flash back to the time my father died. I often recollect this thing my aunt, the nurse, told me. She said that usually when someone is sick to the point of insufferable discomfort and permanent unhappiness the hospital will just pump them full of painkillers and it is the overdose that gets them in the end. How can you be sure something is permanent when forever hasn’t happened yet?

 

Montreal is so vapid these days with people flaking constantly, never accountable for the consequences that come with being inconsiderate towards others. I’m not sure if it is a geographical or generational issue. Also, I can be biased. I grew up with farmers and factory workers in a small town in Niagara. I can be judgmental; the friends I made at McGill are different than those I grew up with.

 

I am a lot of things.

 

I’m the best girlfriend. I’m the worst girlfriend. I try to be a good girlfriend, but my boyfriend’s never happy. At most he’ll allot me an automatic confirmation of “I love you,” or “you are beautiful,” but they sound like the pre-recordings on answering machines.

 

The movie crushed me and I asked, “What are you thinking?”

            “Nothing,” he answered.

He sat up in bed, sweating, perhaps a dream, “What are you thinking?”

            “Nothing.”

I slip into a nightgown with a lace hem complimenting my thigh, “What are you thinking?”

            “Nothing.”

            “But this,” I pull it up towards my navel and point my left toe.

            “You are beautiful,” he laughs, “I love you.”

 

He isn’t bad. His name is Lachlan and he has cool hair and interesting things to say about music and history. He’s the kind of boy other girls get jealous of. He’s the kind of boy who is nice and who looks good in photos and comes from money and doesn’t have working class problems. He’s the kind of boy you can appreciate when you have working class problems, and you’ve had the bad boyfriends that are born of the problems of your class, and you aren’t the prettiest, but he is so awkward with women that you know it’s a kind of miracle he stumbled across you and didn’t have the experience to know that he could do better. Sometimes I feel like such an asshole for complaining. He’s the kind of boy whose family has more homes than he can count, including a summer mansion on an island in the Laurentians.

 

I met his parents there. They were the kind of people who fussed over their sons, and fussed over the state of their houses—what to buy and what not to. His mother was almost overly eager to be my friend. She asked if I shared her opinion that they ought to invest in a third boat considering the age of the other two. I told her I thought it was smart to buy a new boat, just in case. I said it like it was something I’d considered and knew what I was talking about. Lachlan’s family was so rich and handsome. His mother gave me a fur coat to wear when the night got cold. She introduced me to her collection of eccentric hats. His father cooked me a steak and complimented me on my rural Canadian accent like it was something he was a part of now that I was a member of their family. They fussed over the wellbeing of their unemployed but artistically gifted sons. “Aimless,” said the mother, beneath a feathered boudoir cap and amaranth wig, “I worry they are aimless but now is the age for discovering yourself.”

 

They bought another boat. Then they took off on the boat and left us alone on the island together.

 

When they were gone, we began drinking, and Lachlan’s brother Lennox kept poking fun at my thick rural Canadian accent and how it became thicker as I got drunker. At first it seemed so innocent; we played Scrabble. Lennox won and Lachlan lost and I ended up in the middle. The evening fell behind the hills across the lake until sky and water were one.

 

Earlier that day, before his parents left, battery acid had spilled on Lachlan’s favorite shoes. I watched him sit alone on the dock, barefoot, pouting. His mother swore that she would buy him a new pair. “They are only shoes,” I suggested. It seemed unreasonable to get worked up over anything when you get to live in a mansion on an island, let alone shoes that had no sentimental value other than looking kind of cool. His mother retorted, “No, I understand, he’s just like me. We both care about our things. For us things have emotions.”

 

These people thinking I had no feeling for objects confused me; I’ve always thought of myself as quite sentimental. My relationships with objects were the only aspect of the visit that left a bad cloud over me as Lachlan’s girlfriend. I wondered about the childhoods of the families that cried over physical things and justified temper tantrums over stuff breaking.

 

We still played Scrabble, and Lachlan lost after having an already terrible day with the shoe travesty. He drank until his eyes went blank and sociopathic. It was a look that started fights, fights that may as well have taken place between me and a pile of bricks. He looked about as smart as a pile of bricks. I asked him to slow down. He said he’d stop. He disappeared. I caught him sneaking whiskey through a reflection in the window between the kitchen and the outdoor dining room. It didn’t really shock me. He looked like Daniel, Ryan, Brad . . . all of my old boyfriends from my old life, the small town life where drink was sport. I poured his glass down the drain and he expressed regret—for the booze being wasted, not for him lying to me.

 

I was pretty fed up by that point. I stole the bottle of Wild Turkey—I remember buying Wild Turkey because we’d read that's all Sinatra would drink at Capote's black & white ball. I hid the bottle in the pocket of a bathrobe in one of the forgotten upstairs bathrooms. I locked myself in the darkness of one of the west wing bedrooms. I realized I had no real friends who I could call. Montreal had become so insipid. My sadness would bore them. The threat of sadness would be redundant. My sadness is not special.

 

Lachlan came up to my room to offer me salt and vinegar chips as his penance. I tried to reason with him. I tried to explain to him my life story and why I was upset and why it was scary to be on an island, in a mansion, with no friends, no cell service, and a drunken blank face that resembles every terrible ex-boyfriend I’ve had to change my locks over. Never try to reason with the drunken blank face. At one point, I became so frustrated I began to hit myself in the head. "Why do I always love the fucked-up addicts?" I said out loud to no one, to myself and stupid brick-head slumped in on himself in the corner. Lachlan was from a good, well-to-do family and had an education and still he was like this. Every time I am in a relationship with someone like this it always somehow feels my fault. So I began to punish myself: smashed my head with my fists repeatedly. Awoken from his stupor, as if the thuds on my skull were a primordial alarm, he grabbed my wrists and pulled me onto the bed. I backed away from him and cried in a corner on the floor. He said to himself, he said to himself about me, while looking out the window as the sun rose, "Why do I keep doing this?" Then he calmed and nursed me back to bed.

 

He woke up confused but somewhat sober, the innards of his eye resting on a peripheral lash.

 

I can be very mean and unforgiving when I’m scared and alone in a mansion on an island. I was very mean and unforgiving of his drinking and his stupid attempts at hiding the drinking and his grabbing me. I reminded him of the night’s dramatics while we were under the blanket, both of us curled inwards like snails hiding in shells. I didn’t leave out a detail; every fingerprint and stray hair was accounted for. He cried when he heard about himself the way I told it to him.

 

This wasn't the first time this sort of thing happened. Earlier that week he’d gotten drunk, accused me of costing him a fortune, and broken up with me. In the morning he'd forgotten he'd broken up with me and I just sort of decided not to remind him.

 

After the island was my birthday: a celebration of the most radical thing I ever did by accident. My birthday cast a thick emotional weight over what would have otherwise been a normal day. I spent the whole afternoon watching Orange is the New Black, waiting for Lachlan. Checking the clock. Wondering what was up. When he finally appeared at my doorstep I found out he'd been in the park hanging out with Mara and her dad. Part of the problem was Mara—he follows and fumbles after her. I can tell he's in love with her, at least more than he's in love with me. He can't even muster the words to say why I am more worthy of his love other than to kind of mumble, "She's flakey." 

 

The other problem was his great love for her dad. I have spent years trying to recreate my own father through various mythological representations. At 25, I have no idea where my father is or what he thinks of me. Science tells me he’s decomposing and thoughtless. Lachlan's being with Mara's father on my birthday reminded me of a void I often imagine lives inside myself and makes all my experiences somewhat incomplete. 

 

He acted like I was being a melodramatic baby and maybe I was, but this was Mara, and this was Mara’s father.

 

“Look, he’s funny and he likes me, and he was in town, and he wanted to see me. My thinking was I’d stop in the park and have a few beers and you would have time to get dressed.”

 

I wish I had a father Lachlan could meet and get excited about. I wish I could be flakey like Mara and sort of cruise through life with a trail of boys and friends and family members all excited for what was to come next.

 

“Mara is excited for your party,” said Lachlan, like he was awarding me a badge.

 

After I expressly begged him to not get drunk at my birthday party, he did. He screamed at me until I wanted to crawl inside my own stomach. Then he broke up with me again, and again the following morning he'd forgotten he'd dumped me. We went for brunch. 

 

We tried to have a calm and measured phone conversation. It began with him dumping me because "We both just make each other miserable." I feel like he does terrible things and then blames me for holding him accountable and then blames me for the guilt he feels for being so terrible to me. I explained that there is a difference between us. I am always held accountable for everything in life: payments on bills, rent, fixing broken objects. His family's money relinquishes him from any and all accountability because all of his needs are taken care of. He is able to obsess about wants or objects. Wants are different from needs. 

 

Earlier in the year, after I’d been fired from a retail job for speaking French with an English accent, I put forth the suggestion that we move to Toronto where we might have an easier time finding work, even as a barista or whatever.

 

Lachlan responded, “If I left Montreal for anywhere it would be New York.”

“I don’t have my citizenship. I’d have the same problems there as I do in Montreal.”

 

"I think we have different interests."

 

I suggested we probably have a different definition of “interest”. Moving so that I can have a job and shelter and food is, for me, not an interest, but a necessity. For him it meant that I wasn’t a true bohemian.

 

I also brought up maybe moving in together so that I could pay less rent while I search for a job. He replied, "I think we want different things." Again, he misused “want.” 

 

I began to wonder when I had ever truly been allowed to want. It was like a skill I’d never been taught. When I was very little I had wanted to stay a virgin until marriage because that is what the church had told me I should want. I had wanted to have a big Victorian house with a bunch of daughters because I’d watched Little Women on repeat. I aged out of religion and into an economic crisis. Life taught me to skeptically want and slowly urge towards the likeness of whatever small desire I had, while keeping that desire a private secret. If the desire was private and it failed, then I wouldn’t be publicly disappointed, make a spectacle of my disappointment, and be embarrassed all the more forever have wanted anything in the first place.

 

In the world of Lachlan, if somebody wants a boat—just for the simple fact of wanting a boat—the thing materializes on the shores of a private island. Their dreams are possibilities. The wants are magnetically attracted to their money.

 

As the measured conversation continued, he said that I needed to take a more active role with his friends because I keep him from them with my crazy jealousy.

 

Mara was the big one. She'd never been anything but nice to me, but I had an idea that she'd stolen my life from me. I'd seen the way Lachlan hawed over her, disappearing into back rooms to share secrets with her. I used to do that with Jude before he followed Audrey. Then there’s Liv. Liv was my best friend until she abandoned me for Mara. It was slow. They worked together and then started hanging out after work. Eventually we didn’t see each other as much. Liv stopped calling me to tell me about her romantic prospects or mental health. Where we were once confidants—now Mara was the keeper of her secrets. I did not want to be friends with Mara.

 

In the winter, Liv had made plans to move in with me. She said, "I'm very serious about this if you are." I said I was also, but expressed concerns about the last time we lived together, when her bulimia had revealed itself as particular and controlling: where I left my books, how I organized the cupboard, what I ate, and who came over—she said these were all very triggering for her disorder. In retrospect, she did other things that bothered me. For example, she would throw parties and then leave the parties to have sex with her boyfriend and I would be stuck playing hostess to strangers. There were a few times I had to ask professors for deadline extensions because I was "sick" when really I was busy listening to her cry about frivolous things like what name for her new cat would most impress her then-boyfriend. I did care and I didn’t. I thought I loved her and that was what you do when you love someone. I’d assumed the feeling was mutual

 

Why had I stayed friends with Liv for this long? She uses phrases like "Maid of Honour at each other's wedding" and "you are like a sister to me" and I've always longed for that kind of best friend. I’ve never had a “best friend” relationship with my mother. She lives faraway and was why I had moved so far away. My mother used “daughter” as in “you are not like other people’s daughters” as if by some deficiency I was not and never could be her daughter. I didn’t exactly disagree with her. I felt annoyed because she was the one who chose for me to be born in the first place. If she wanted a different daughter then she should’ve had a different husband or an abortion. Familial words have always had a strange power over me. Liv had used them. A person should never tell an orphan they think of them as family unless they really mean it. It’s sick. It’s a basic social law. It’s like how you don’t visit the SPCA unless you are really looking for an animal of your own. Don’t call a girl your sister. Never call a girl your sister, never.

 

I hadn't heard from Liv for a month, so I called to confirm the living arrangements. "I didn't think you were serious," she said. "I've made plans to live with Mara and Siobhan and those girls." Liv disappeared with Mara into their secret world and then, months later, magically reappeared at my birthday party as my "best friend of seven years." 

 

All of our friends, Lachlan’s and mine, had come to my party. Some even brought me presents. We all sat around a wooden table on the bar terrace. Everyone talked about how great I am. Everyone put on a great big parade of what big liars they are and I smiled because I am a liar too. I love Lachlan. I love Liv; she is like my sister. It’s nice your dad is in town, Mara, and so on.

 

Cathleen is Lachlan's friend who says she has schizophrenia. She speaks in a high voice and is fond of giving advice to others. She gets all preachy at me about emotional and physical turmoil, as though she's lived through things she assumes I haven't. Once, while drunk, she wrapped her legs around Lachlan's waist very sexually, very much in front of me, on my bed, in fact. I'm not sure if she was trying to make me jealous or, more likely, probe how inhuman, unfeeling, and irrelevant Lachlan is as a silly plaything/chew-toy for girls to paw at innocently. The innocence comes from it being Lachlan and not the act itself.

 

Cathleen used to be best friends with Mara. At my birthday party, she also drank too much and kept trying to be my instant best bud, kept trying to share her secret hatred for the other guests to see if maybe her feelings would match mine and we could be friends. Friends through hatred, or something. She thought we could be close like sisters and Cathleen told me she’d always wanted a sister. She’d been ripped off by Mara’s friendship with Liv and, like me, had no place to live. I didn’t want to live with Cathleen. I didn’t want to hear her talk about mental illness, like hers is the same as mine. I wasn’t yet ready to covertly embarrass myself with another girl. I also didn’t fully trust her with Lachlan. “Lachlan is like my brother,” she’d said and I knew, because I used to say the same thing about Jude, when a girl says a boy is like a brother it means, in its own twisted way, that she would fuck him. I didn’t want to be friends with Cathleen. I didn’t want to be friends with Mara. I didn’t want to be friends with Liv anymore. I kind of loved Lachlan.

 

Moses is Lachlan's socially awkward friend who knows a lot about stuff. He disappears for months, upsetting Lachlan—who has no other real male friends—and then reappears as if nothing has happened as if he'd been there the whole time. I suffer the consequences for Lachlan's misery because of the reckless nature of Moses’ disappearances. When Moses is gone, Lachlan sticks to Mara and then drinks and then fights. When Moses comes back, him and Lachlan sit in a room and talk about outer space, or British New Wave, or war. Things between us are more peaceful.

 

Moses could not make it to my birthday party. Things were becoming insufferable. I knew I needed to suck up my anxieties and reach out to my boyfriend’s friends because I loved Lachlan and I wanted him to love me. My want was a need this time.

 

I thought a surprise party might remedy everything.

 

Lachlan’s birthday is only a month after mine and Moses swore up-and-down that he was coming back to Montreal for good this time. He would be here for July. He would come to his surprise party.

 

I ordered Lachlan’s present a month in advance with my own birthday money because I was nervous I would have nothing left come July 1st. The beginning of the month is always the worst time. I had a dream of his present and then had to Google search to make sure the dream present was a real thing that I could buy. I ordered a custom pair of pajamas that looked like Scotty’s uniform on Star Trek. I have hated Star Trek ever since I was little, when I decided rice was made by putting a cheese grater to Captain Picard's bald scalp—a gross but captivating idea that’s stayed with me. I thought the gift would matter more if I got Lachlan something he loved but I hated.

 

Next, I organized an event on Facebook that was secret and invited all of his friends. His friends got very into the plan. I knew I had to involve them because they are so flakey. I had to make them feel like they had some small ownership in making the event happen, otherwise nobody would have shown up and Lachlan would have been more depressed and that would have been my fault too.

 

“We shouldn’t say anything about his birthday all day!” said Moses.

 

“That’s so mean! Let me at least send him a text,” interjected Cathleen.

 

“Can’t wait!” Liv remarked, speaking to me for the first time since my own party.

 

The day before the party, Mara said she couldn’t make it. She was taking a bunch of our friends on a trip to Boston. They had just decided that day. Mara is awful. I was grateful that at least three were still supposed to be coming, and I hoped they would actually make it because somehow, in the big mess of all of these people and their weird hang-ups, Lachlan’s loving me, and my worthiness of a boy like Lachlan, rested on people materializing at this party. I had to manufacture Lachlan’s childhood, like his wants could still magically unfold before him, as if the party could prove I was an adequate girlfriend, and lover, and person, somehow.

 

That day, I baked his favorite vanilla confetti cake and made the frosting bright blue: his favorite color. I covered it in dinosaur sprinkles and wrote "Frak" because he loves Battlestar Galactica. I purchased a special tiara for him to wear and those birthday kazoos that unravel when you blow in them. Cathleen picked them up beforehand. She promised that at the very least her and Liv would be there. Nobody had spoken to Moses, but Cathleen said she would find him and drag him to the party if she had to. Cathleen really, really wants to be my friend.

 

Finally, I curled my hair with curlers and put on the pink and white "present dress" that is his favorite because it makes me look like ‘50s kitsch, and it also makes me look like a present, which I guess is what privileged boys find sexy. Maybe it has nothing to do with privilege. Maybe it’s just nice to have your girlfriend wrapped up for your birthday.

 

When I arrived at his apartment, he was slumped over a coffee table littered with empty Pabst cans. “Nobody remembered my birthday,” he said, staring darkly into the carpet. For a moment, I marveled at the innocence of his heartbreak. There was a genuine sweetness in the fact that he felt comfortable enough to share with me his shame, however misinformed. Was I to him what Liv was to me? He was revealing a deep unfulfilled want and I felt incredibly terrible that I couldn’t tell him the surprise I’d planned with his friends behind his back.

 

I held his hand and told him that we were going on a silly adventure. We walked down St. Laurent Street, passed little shops, and then through Chinatown. He kept guessing at where we were going, first it was the seedy bars, then it was ritzy bars, then it was any of the ridiculous flashy restaurants with mechanical cats waving at us through blinking windows. I walked with him, hand in hand, all the way to Old Port where we stopped in front of a fancy steakhouse and I said, “I know steak is your favorite.”

 

The meal cost me my rent money. The Star Trek uniform had cost me my birthday money, a lump sum of $50 mailed from the grandmothers. I had hoped I’d gotten it right. “I’m sorry,” he said, “this is perfect, and I love you, and you’re beautiful. I’m just really upset and miss my friends.”

 

I told him I was taking him to another bar, a bar that was our bar. We didn’t talk the whole bus ride. I looked at him looking out the window. I reached to hold his hand, and he responded by gripping mine but kept his face towards bus stairs and then the sidewalk, a cement necropolis for stamped out cigarette butts.

 

When he walked in, the cake illuminated Cathleen, Liv, and, miraculously, Moses blowing kazoos. “Happy Birthday!” they shouted, and then told him all the details of the scheming we’d been up to.

 

Mara texted him a photo of herself in Boston holding a sign that said “Happy Birthday Lachlan.” Liv just kept talking about how great her new apartment is and how we should come over and use their grill. Moses got drunk and said I was the best girlfriend ever, though he said it while Lachlan was outside having a smoke and couldn’t hear. I studied Lachlan through the window. I thought that he was beautiful. I hoped that he was happy and I hoped that he loved me. I wondered if spoiling children was a form of abuse because their parents just gift them incessant joy before they, these little people, have really had a chance to earn or appreciate it. If excruciating happiness is the default to a child’s world then there is nothing left but a devastating fall. Reality alone was his rock bottom. I wondered if the adult life of the spoiled was really just a second life where nothing is a surprise, not even a party, so you just kind of wander through moments jaded because everything that is good has already been given to you. Lachlan was spoiled but he wasn’t bad, and he looked so precious through the window, and I was the best girlfriend ever, and I hoped he knew it, and I hoped that he loved me because I loved Lachlan.

 

After the party, Lachlan and Moses set off firecrackers in the park, and we ran away from the police. Then Moses used Lachlan’s bathroom, had a beer, and eventually left us alone.

 

Lachlan was drunk but not as drunk as he’d been on my birthday, or at the island mansion. He put his head into my lap and began to bawl like a newborn. He threw a temper tantrum and said that I had done a horrible thing, letting him believe his friends were too busy for his birthday.

 

“You make me feel bad. I feel worse than I’ve ever probably felt in my life.”

 

“I’m sorry,” I pet his head like he was a cat.

 

“How could you make me believe that none of my friends cared about me? I was sick all day. This is the meanest thing you’ve ever done. This is the worst birthday of my life.”

 

He was sober enough to not dump me, but I felt dumped on and sat, dumbfounded, for nearly an hour, as he told me that I am an awful person who does awful things to people, and he was talking about himself when he said “people.”

 

I barely slept that night. I can be very mean and unforgiving when I’m scared and lonely in a relationship after throwing an epic surprise party. His apartment was different from mine: he had good knives, organized in a straight line in his kitchen drawer, his windows had blinds that were purchased, measured, and installed by someone other than him, his couch was new and his table was new—both designed to appear old but function like new, as they were.

 

In the morning I was furious. I kicked a scuff mark into his wall and threw the cake tray across the kitchen floor. I called him spoiled, entitled, a brat. I told him Mara would never fuck him or blow him or love him the way he wants her to. He said nothing.

 

Saying nothing is Lachlan's most annoying tactic. He'll let me talk and not answer. Instead he makes me watch him be blank, indifferent, unmoved. Sometimes he makes me watch him not-speak for 20-45 minutes. When I yell at him to say something, anything, he will simply rebut, "I don't know what to say" or excuse himself to get a glass of water or visit the washroom. Then, when he would return, the conversation was over. I was the bad guy for yelling and name-calling. The loudness of my frustration always makes me the bad one.

 

But then there are other ways he makes up for it, to be fair. He brings over his vacuum when my apartment is infested (it is always infested). He helps me clean when the mess becomes too much. He pays my rent sometimes if I’m in a bind. He brings over groceries and always foots the bill at the end of the night. Am I being inconsiderate?

 

When we have sex it is always the same. I make the first move, never him. This makes me feel undesirable and unwanted and ugly. He barely goes down on me and it makes me believe my genitalia is disgusting and revolting. He goes slow on top of me until I make myself experience something like an orgasm. Then he pumps at me, frequently pulling out too far and then painfully jabbing me with force in a place somewhere outside of my vaginal opening, but still in a sensitive part around it. I feel more like a prop, a flesh-light, than a person. He can do this for hours without cumming. He can do it until I am raw. His failure to cum feels like a failure on my part. I go to pee and by the time I am back he is smoking a cigarette, talking about other things, as if the sex never happened.

 

We didn’t have sex after his party, obviously. We hadn’t had sex in a while. Neither of us had really felt it towards each other. I kind of excused a lot of the sex by remembering his lack of experience. Talking about it always seemed to elucidate his sensitivity to everything, anyhow, I couldn’t even bring it up or make it better by pointing to parts of my body or making delicate suggestions. I felt neglected. My body felt neglected. I began to be embarrassed by my body. My body itself was a confession.

 

"I love you," I'd say.

 

His robotic response, "I love you too."

 

"Why do you love me?" I’d ask.

 

He would look like he’s thinking, then say, "I just do. Just the little things that you do that I can't define."

 

"What do you love about me?"

 

"Everything."

 

"Like, what thing? Name a thing. Name everything that you love."

 

"Everything. I dunno, your face, your body, you're smart and funny and the funny smart things that you say."

 

He didn’t know me and therefore also didn’t know what to love about me. I was his girlfriend. I was just there.

 

Days after Lachlan's spoiled post-birthday meltdown, and the consequential near-demise of our relationship, I bought him breakfast at Beauty's and then we stopped at a bar without a name. He had a beer and I had a Caesar, extra spicy. We were waiting for the exterminator to finish killing the spiders in my closet and the cockroaches in my kitchen.

 

Lachlan went to the Rialto with Cathleen to watch a world cup soccer game. I went home to vacuum dead bugs, then fix my cover letter and resume for a prospective paid internship with a company through YES MONTREAL: YOUTH EMPLOYMENT SERVICES. 

 

A job counselor suggested I find a passion for "data entry" and, consequently, I had found within myself the exact opposite. She asked why I couldn’t move into my boyfriend’s apartment since he had money and we’d been together a while.

After leaving the office I made an appointment at the TD bank to consolidate my student debt. Any talk with banks stresses me out. I hoped it would be fruitful, the consequences outweighing the concerns. Maybe I could be optimistic. Perhaps there was some way to wraggle free of this rut.

 

Mara texted me. She invited me to a "grill night" at her and Liv's new apartment where Lachlan and I could eat her grilled meat. It would be a good idea, I thought, the invitation was one of good faith, for her to have Lachlan and me at the apartment she shared with Liv and other girls. Still I couldn't help conceiving it as anything other than an elite treehouse I'd been exiled from because there had been room for other girls, and none of those other girls was me. 

 

So I met up with Lachlan at the new place where Mara pattered about, offering us little cheese biscuits and wine with ice in mason jar glasses, and she took us into her living room, explaining that it had come with the grand piano. I made an effort. I played "Ode to Joy."

 

Cathleen was bizarrely giddy; like me, she'd been shafted from the girls’ treehouse, and she was giddy to shit-talk everyone. From her bedroom she sent me text after text asking about how pretentious the table setting was and what pathetically desperate outfit Liv was sporting and whether or not their couch was vintage or Ikea. She caused my phone to beep so much that I turned it silent. I didn’t really want to commiserate, but I told her they were being okay and their couch used to belong to Mara’s grandparents.

 

I’d wanted to get to Mara's place on time. Just, even, to make amends for Lachlan, just for Lachlan because I love Lachlan.

 

I did arrive on time. As soon as I entered I knew it was a bad idea.

 

The mess of cardboard boxes and girls’ pretty duvets and girls’ little makeup bags and girls’ tiny couch pillows made me hyper-aware of the meaning of my exclusion. The meaning folded in on itself in multiple layers condensing loose annoyances and reasonable grievances into sedimentary loathing. My exclusion meant having to stay in my current apartment that I couldn’t afford, not just because of the steak dinner I’d bough Lachlan, but because I couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t get a job because of Quebec and language laws and life as an Anglo in this city. Also Lachlan doesn’t want to leave Montreal and I love Lachlan. Having to live alone and everyday face my loneliness in a much shittier apartment than theirs, a shittier but more expensive apartment that I couldn’t afford—them not inviting me to live with them—was an affirmation of my loserdom and arriving at this apartment for a visit was, in its own way, a humble acceptance of that loserdom, admitting that I was inferior. Visiting was a way of saying that I need them because I am lost without them. Visiting was a way of saying that everything was cool between us, and that would be a lie, that especially would be a lie.

“They are trying so hard to be grownups. They are thinking about putting blinds on their windows. Fuck,” I texted Cathleen.

 

“OMFG ROFL,” she responded.

 

I ran to the bathroom after quick hellos. I needed to pee and collect my thoughts. When I calmed down and entered the living room, everyone was gone. I awkwardly wandered around the apartment, the different half-assembled bedrooms, the kitchen with its somewhat ordered knives that unevenly jabbed into a wooden vessel. I spotted Liv’s cat and tried to pet her, but she turned on her belly and aggressively scratched my wrist. She didn’t like me anymore, not like how she did when Liv and I lived together. I could hear Lachlan laughing. I followed the laugh to a hidden back porch where he had disappeared with Mara.

 

I felt abandoned. I marched out onto the patio and sat between them. I gave Lachlan the stink-eye, which infuriated him. I intentionally tried to belittle him.

 

He said, “I like to explore abandoned urban decay.”

 

I responded, loudly, “Yeah, now that you have an audience.”

 

I made everyone uncomfortable.

 

Liv acted like the pretentious nitwit she is. That narcissistic, self-involved debutant excused herself to “work on things.” “Work on things” meant drafting a business plan for some juvenile idea for a vegan bakery that she’d been plotting to co-found. The plan evidently had to be drafted on the rare occasion of my visit. My darkest self wished she’d realize she wasn’t interesting or smart or strangely beautiful enough to be the soulless social climber she so desperately aspired to be. I wished she would understand that her desperation was evident to everyone around her. I wanted to be the one to tell her. I wanted to watch her cry about it.

 

So this was the apartment: walls, windows, and two porches, but at what cost? I mean rent was cheap, but at what cost? What did the cost of the apartment say about my value? Why was there so much at stake in these wood floors and popcorn ceilings?

 

When my snide comments had angered Lachlan enough that he, in typical fashion, excused himself to the bathroom, then it was only Mara and me. Mara, I guess, had never done anything directly wrong.

 

Sometimes I think that I am in the business of creating dangerous messes.

 

Mara and I discussed the many reasons we were sick of Montreal and the conversation itself revealed the differences in our childhoods. Her light concerns were about dreams unrealized, my heavy concerns were merely preoccupied with survival; wants vs. needs.

 

Then I said something, and it came out like a rambling confession, she turned to me to watch me say it because it was important and it was weirdly eloquent and it grew out of some deep gut place where I’d had it written all along, written inside of me on the internal surface of my skin, I said, “The problem with people here is they make choices based on appetite and not hunger. Every choice is grounded in personal preference and self-indulgence. People here, our friends at least, make powerful transformative decisions with possibly gargantuan ramifications for others, and they make those decisions as if choosing ice-cream flavors. They can just hide behind their parents’ wealth and, because of that wealth, no one is ever accountable for their actions. If there is no accountability, it makes the pain they cause somewhat unreal and so we are all just holograms of feelings that aren’t really feelings, the feelings are just space, all of the people are just space. Anglophones who can somehow stay in Montreal after their degree is over anyhow.”

 

I didn’t say it in an accusatory tone, but it was meant as an accusation. It felt like the first time, in a long time, that I had really spoken. I’d maybe never spoken a real word in my life until that moment.

 

“You’re really smart,” said Mara. “I’ve always admired your ability to see through things. I’m so happy we’ve become friends.”

 

We were quiet. Then we weren’t. We talked about how much we both hate Liv’s stupid cat, my monologue drifting beneath the conversation.

 

Mara served me grilled avocados and sausage. Lachlan returned and he hates avocados but he picked at my sausage and touched my leg like nothing had happened.

 

Liv eventually came back but didn’t converse. There was maybe, I guess, something to be called conversation, but it was like non-conversation about stupid superficial things she’s too stupid to actually really consider.

 

She’s never seen a beautiful thing in her life, I realized, and now she has this tacky girly apartment to show for it.

 

I watched the rehearsed elements of her pointedly relaxed stance.

 

Then I watched Lachlan watching Mara who looked towards the skyline that set behind many roofs pointed like chins on heads tilted upwards.

 

Cathleen’s rampant texts felt violent, but she meant them as comforting with “it’s always like that,” or “Mara and I have been having difficulties in our own friendship,” or “if you need to talk I’m here,” and more intensely, “talk to me if you need someone.” Cathleen so gravely needed someone to say that she wasn’t being crazy—that Mara’s a snaky bitch. Cathleen needed someone to need her need.

 

I took Mara’s plate.

 

“Thank you,” she said.

 

“Thank you for dinner,” I responded as I brought the dishes inside.

 

I introduced myself to a faceless roommate whose name I didn’t hear. I put my dishes into the sink and then, with quiet purpose, walked out the front door, down the steps, and onto the street. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I just walked away and kept going.

 

I started to run at the corner. I ran down Avenue du Parc. I thought about how I originally saw us, Lachlan and I, the weeks after the first time we kissed: two tiny, long-haired fairies picking flowers for each other inside of a bubble.

 

There was no soot on my hands, but I could feel the weight of the labor of the men back home. I could feel every fruit my grandfather ever grew, and watered, and canned for other people to eat. I could see Mara and her very lively father eating the pears in the park on my birthday while I waited. Also, Lachlan’s family sitting and eating my dead grandfather’s pears. I could see the very educated parents of Lachlan, and others I know, drinking ice wine and discussing the ice wine and the ice wine having come from the soil where my father is dead and buried.

 

I got it in my head—not that I had to die, but that I had to legitimize my sadness in some kind of concrete way. It was a sadness that could not be translated into the language of Lachlan or Liv or Mara or any of those people. The sadness was not a word. The sadness was an action. I needed to hurl myself into the void or else I’d just be another allegedly sad person standing on the outside looking in.

 

I wrote a long sprawling letter absolving everyone of any responsibility, explained that it was my life, a life that only I could live and therefore would always fail to accurately communicate to anyone other than myself. Sick to the point of insufferable discomfort, I thought. Permanent unhappiness, I thought as I laid the pages of the letter in a straightish line on the floor. I don't want to be canned and distributed, a product that can be bought. I want to be frozen and sweet, like a fallen pear when late autumn frosts the orchards in the place where I was born.

 

I drank and drank alone in my bed. Permanent unhappiness. Nobody seemed to have noticed I was gone. Insufferable discomfort. I swallowed fistfuls of Clonazepam, Benadryl, Gravol, and after that it was just simple wishful thinking.

 

Not really. I cried. I cried and I hoped to God that what I was doing was going on some great infinite adventure. I understood it was selfish, but my sadness was illegitimate without the act to affirm it. The feelings weren't real unless I died. 

 

Lachlan called about an hour and a half in and said, "I'm sorry baby, I'm sorry."

 

"It was too much. It was all too much."

 

"I know baby, and I'm coming. I'm coming home."

 

By "too much" I meant my grandfather's gargle right before he died with his mouth open like a toothless cave, my father in the ICU with his spine as some sort of Jenga game for people with PHDs, the way I was a daughter to my mother and the way I wasn’t a daughter to my mother, my landlord telling me that I had to pay my rent (rent I'd spent on steaks for Lachlan's birthday) or I'd lose my apartment, the early morning threat I'd received that Bell was going to shut off my internet, Lachlan’s continuous and relentless rambling drunken threats to leave me, how easy it was for people to just leave me, the student loans—a consequence of my ever dreaming of acquiring an education for myself, Mara's indifference, Liv's betrayal, my father again and my father again and my father—everything he is to me in his forever absence, the many nameable exes: Daniel and the aborted pregnancy, Ryan taking off in a car, Brad saying I wasn’t special, what I’d done to women with Jude, Jude wanting Audrey, Jude not wanting me—all of it was too much on top of that pathetic girlish Montreal treehouse membership and its prosthetic-affirmation of eliteness. 

 

I fell asleep under a quilt stitched by my grandmother and awarded to me when I was born. I was awoken by Lachlan stumbling over my pages of embarrassing wants and wishes, my suicide notes.

 

"I love you," he said and then burped and then hiccupped in my ear. "I'm sorry," he said. He couldn't stop burping in my face. I turn downwards; he’d left footprints on my suicide notes.

 

As I stayed silent on the bed with my head still on the pillow, I could hear him snoring on the couch, the formidable and final stroke of indifference to my existence. Maybe he would recycle my suicide note. Probably, he would just toss them in the garbage.

 

Cathleen, who is easily unnerved and perhaps appropriately so, had a feeling. I don’t remember sending the words that gave her the feeling. She had asked in one of her million texts how I was doing. In my drugged up stupor I accidentally betrayed myself. I texted back, “I’m going to kill myself.” If you text someone that you are going to kill yourself then people get a feeling that you are maybe trying to kill yourself. Cathleen got the feeling so she called 9-1-1 while running to my place. I awoke to a paramedic shouting in my face, "YOU WILL DIE!"

 

In the ambulance, they—Lachlan, Cathleen, the paramedics—just wanted to keep me awake.

 

I tumbled between conscious and unconscious until I came to, discovering that I was in the hospital. Horrified, I screamed for Lachlan, a severe Nurse Ratched-type threatened to tie me up and restrain me. The only thing worse than failing at suicide is having your limbs trussed to a gurney while you’re forced to confront your failure by being alarmingly and annoyingly alive.

 

They released me the next day. They'd given Lachlan my phone, wallet, and keys. All I had was a dress and flip flops and, because of all the fuss I'd caused with my shouting and yanking out my IV over and over again, they refused to let me use their phone. Pay phones don't work the way they used to, or maybe I was too high to make a collect call, or maybe the operator had it out for me. 

 

I didn't know where the fuck I was. I wandered until I recognized the corner of Berri and St. Denis. I still had bandages from places they'd stolen my blood right out of my veins and they hadn’t removed the stickums the doctors used to spy on my heartbeat. This was maybe the hottest mess I'd ever been. I was so high that I kept wandering off the street and into oncoming traffic. I felt like shit. I had failed at dying. I tried to reimagine it as a post-modern resurrection. It was an arrogant thought, but I needed something, and I was just trying to get by, just trying to get home. 

 

I don't know how—I seriously have very little memory—but I got all the way up to Parc and Fairmount where a couple saw me waddling in the street with the white square band aid inside my elbow and hospital bracelet. They asked if I was okay and vowed to get me home. They are the kind of nice people who Oprah should give cars to.

 

Lachlan was at my house. At first he was relieved to see me. Then he almost dumped me for trying to kill myself, but then he didn't because I politely asked him not to. He fed me a sandwich and pizza as I drifted in and out of consciousness. Most of the rest is a blur. I kept trying to load a TV show on my computer and then passing out before I could press play.

 

The next day Lachlan and I went to YES MONTREAL: YOUTH EMPLOYMENT SERVICES where I applied for a job and Lachlan looked at jobs too. While we browsed prospective opportunities, Lachlan’s mother texted him that he should only apply for jobs that speak to his passions. Lachlan and I both share a lack of enthusiasm for data entry.

 

On the way home I could barely stand but still pretended to be happy. Lachlan left me in bed where I took the last remaining Clonazepam, two Benadryl, and two Gravol.

 

I woke up today with texts from Lachlan that said: "Hey bb, how are you doing? I love you and if you are asleep I hope you have only good dreams and that the TD Bank meeting goes well."

 

Today the money from a job I worked in March came through and I was able to fill a small envelope with my rent money. I met with a man at the bank to consolidate my debt. He told me I have to cancel my internet and Netflix and everything so that I will be viable for debt reduction. I have to prove that I am really really poor.

 

I purposely didn’t tell the banker, an observant but monotone, serious man with a suit and an earring, about the trip to the island. How much does it cost to buy an island? Montreal is an island.

 

My phone dings a text from Cathleen, in good faith, to hang out, but I am embarrassed and don't want to bond over our mental illness. It isn't something I'm proud of or want to make friends through. 

 

I haven’t responded to Lachlan's kind texts. I have a missed call from Jude. I have an unread email from Audrey. I think Liv is with Mara. I don’t care. I care a lot.

 

The scary part is that I think I would do it again. All of it. The scary part is that I think I would do it again, and again, and again, forever, whenever I get the chance. People will leave me. I can sense them gathering themselves to do so already. I am an abuse. They will confide to each other, they loved me then left because I am an abuse.

 

Today is cool, sunny, alive with pedestrians, and I’ve been alone, and, somehow, still alive, with Band-Aid scabs here and there. Sitting on a bench, I watch couples holding hands, birds singing in the trees, children playing in the fountain. Summer is disgusting. Today is cool though. Keep thinking it to myself, today is cool.