Spring 2012. My first week living alone has Neil written all over it. He was the first boy I had ever had in my bed. My bed which I mentally owned, which I came home to, night after night as an adult child, which had pillows and a comforter and a matching bedside table that I had paid for. The room and the bed went for 550$ a month. It was a room in a house that was falling apart, but I didn’t care because it was mine to fall apart in. The cockroaches were mine, the spider webs were mine, the sinkhole driveway was mine—even the sun that hit the window at exactly at 5pm was mine. I always thought I would look back and remember everything as being mine. I left my mother’s house believing that nothing in the world could ever hurt me again. Today, I try to hold on to this still. I say it a few times. I shut my eyes, I think of all the things that supposedly belonged to me, all the things that could never cut me, even if they tried—my kitchen, my frying pan, my toothbrush, my breast, my left ass cheek—and all I see is “property of Neil,” written in big bold letters. I think of my life before Neil: I am twelve, I am fourteen, I am seventeen, neurotic because the world is round regardless of where you’re standing from. Now: I am nineteen, I am twenty-four, I will one day be one-hundred. The world is squared. We lay down our elbows crushing the pavement, trying to get back up. All this because Neil was round, all this because Neil was squared, all this because Neil was everything I had ever wanted.
Scarborough was small. Everybody who lived here came from somewhere else. We all migrated to the same parks and the same bars and the same waterfront. This is what made it so special: nobody wanted to be alone, or everybody wanted to be alone but only metaphorically speaking. The bar down my street was the bar down everybody’s street. And every night, some runaway woman-child found herself doing blow in the bathroom stall, giving an old man direction towards Kennedy station, crying over a mountain of roadkill. Sometimes, that girl was me. I saw Neil my first night out. Thick brown hair, skin like a caramel cone, shoulders like a treehouse. I was in love with him like a matter-of-fact.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were stalking me.”
“What if I was?” I said, also as a matter of fact.
“What are you drinking? Gin? Vodka? You look like a whiskey girl. Firebomb whiskey. You’ve got that whole wild hair, hysteric mannerism thing going on.”
“I like beer.”
“Alright, alright. I like a good curveball, let me look at you.” Neil cupped my face, signaled the bartender a pitcher, something light and slightly crisp. He led me him through a crowd of old men and young men. Only a few women; many little girls. Everything felt sticky and delicate. The combination of sweat and alcohol and youth. We found his friends in a booth in the back room. They cheered when he walked in. He was a kind of a prophet. Everyone gathered to hear what he had to say. I didn’t like beer. But he had a lumped belly, so I assumed he liked beer. I squeezed in the booth, glued to him by the hip, drinking the beer quickly, forcing it down my throat.
“Slow down, Champ,” he said, bringing me in a chokehold and keeping me there. “I haven’t stopped thinking of you. I go to sleep and there you are. You have taken possession of my mind, woman. How are you settling? Where have you settled? Have you met Clay? That’s my buddy, Clay.”
I told him I hadn’t to please him. He liked to be heard. He liked to bring people together, always for a celebration, always for the sake of being together. He was notoriously known for this. Clay, I recognized from the week before when I was visiting the city and getting familiar with its people. Clay was somehow connected to everybody, he worked with at-risk kids, he volunteered at the youth homeless shelter, he sold blow for less than regular street price. In comparison, Neil was eerily beautiful. In that, his beauty could terrify a woman, steal her from herself. He gave Clay a kiss on the cheek, then, he leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the mouth. I decided that he was in love with me too.
“I was thinking about what you told me last time.”
“That guy—what happened to you in high-school.”
“I just wanted to say that I feel for you.” Neil pressed both thumbs on either side of my forehead, “You’re strong and unstoppable—nothing and nobody can touch you. You’re a wolf.”
“You’re a wolf. Say it. I’m a wolf.”
“I’m a wolf?”
That night, we stretched on his bed. His bedroom was smaller than mine, furnished by a desk, a bed, and a miniature window. The floors were possibly carpeted and possibly hardwood. It was impossible to tell over all those books, and the clothes, and the towels he kept so perfectly spread. There was a wall covered with notes and letters he said he wrote. They were each folded in half and pinned shut. He had a map of Canada that hung over his bed. Little red dots to signal places he’s been, or places he thought of being, or just places. Neil told me he’d been in love once and that it was like being locked in a burning vehicle. He had a wonderful smile while he was remembering. He got naked in front of me as if putting on a show. As if undressing to show me what being in love had done to him. Underneath his left breast he had two large cuts. They might have been from skating, from getting bruised in the rink but he ignored them and began jerking off. I kneeled in front of him and held him in my mouth. He drew a line on my head and took it from my scalp.
“Are you sure? It’s the good kind.”
“How did you know?”
“It’s a small town.”
“It will make you feel better.”
I’m not entirely sure what vibes I must have given to suggest that I had not been better. If this was another story, I would tell you how we met: hotel party, downtown Toronto, lots of cocaine, cocaine on my forehead and cocaine on his midriff. Then, we kept bumping into each other like a thing of serendipity.
The next morning, I examined the tissue underneath his breast. Of course, we were up all night, avoiding the obvious questions, Where do you work? What did you study? Where do you see yourself in five years? But I learned that Neil was interested in writing, that he had learned to write from composing letters to his previous lover, the burning car lover, and had been interested in philosophy. “I think love is something you can physically feel, not necessarily from touching. We have these micro receptors that allows you to feel the love around. Right now, I can feel you hugging, I can feel you all over. Anyway, writing is like jerking off.” I was standing in the room moisturizing my skin. “You can feel me from all the way there?” Neil dug his index finger into a baggy and stuck it up his nose. He walked over, dug in the bag, then, with that same finger, he dug into me.
He grabbed a contraception box from his dresser and threw it at me as I dressed. “Safety precaution.”
“We used a condom.”
“I’m on the pill.”
“Yeah, but you’re going to miss it today. When do you usually take it? In the morning? It’s already evening.” Neil walked over to me, put me in a second chokehold, “Come on, baby.”
We lived down a long road from each other, Neil and I, and went walking to my place that evening after we had finished drinking. We saw a man stroking a tree with his arms. It was an odd sight, something like a vivid photograph that had been photoshopped, except it was actually happening. Then, a homeless man came out and showed us his fingers. I could tell he was homeless because he smelt like grass covered in piss. Neil reached out to him, said, “Ted, fucking eh, my man.” Reached in his pockets and took out three cigarettes. We had spent the night fucking, then dancing, then snorting. Now we were smoking with a homeless man. He was sticking his tongue out at us.
“People get hungry and eat their own fingers,” he said. “Look at this, look at this—see that? All fingers. I got all my fingers. Neil brings around sweet things and doesn’t starve. Who’s this? Lady with fingers.”
Neil wrapped his free hand around my neck. If I had choked and died at that very moment, I would have died happy. “My girl,” he said giving Ted the rest of his cigarettes. A 5$ bill. “Where’s all your fucking money, man? Buy yourself something nice, eh.”
I think I was once a weightless body surrounded by weightless bodies, a little push and I’d float. My mother said I am unusual, not what she had hoped for. Not a person that could belong to somebody else. Not hers, certainly not hers.
I saw Neil every night that first week. He sat on the edge of my bed. Asked to hear a poem. Nibbled on my ear. Told me that the world was open and that the world was like an apple pie. “Have you ever stuck your dick in an apple pie. I mean, if you had a dick, I mean.” Around his friends, he would look at me from across the room and wink. Pet me on the forehead whenever I said something to impress them. He felt good. Everything about him felt good. He was kind of like a blank canvas. Every day with him was like starting over. I liked it because I needed a lot of starting over. I needed a new chance for all the ones I had blown up. My mother couldn’t look at me anymore. I had done something. It didn’t matter now—nothing mattered anymore. I was sticking my dick inside of an apple pie.
A month went by and I saw him less. Then, two months went by, and I saw him when he felt like seeing me. Then, three months. Every night was the same. He sat on the mattress, his belly squeamish on the bedspread. His shorts, always hanging around his waist. He smelled like ice, though his skin was perpetually soft and pink from the booze or from the heat. He spoke hysterically about the puck and the skates, how his face smashed the glass seven times during the game, leaving a smooth finish on his left cheek. I had never been to any of his games, but he recounted them vividly. I’d sit in the corner of the room, or on the porch where we often sat after a long week and imagined him, lost and slow. I heard he was great, unstoppable on the rank, but something about the way his fingers jazzed made me believe he was probably just messy. He said the impact always got him going and he needed me to relieve some stress. He stressed easily, since his convocation, since the divorce at home, since his dad began sleeping on the sofa. He’d beat himself off to regulate his serotonin levels. He’d tell me shit like this when we were sexting. Always I answered, “Neil, Neil, Neil,” and he’d say, “yeh, yeh, yeh.” I’d nod and adjust myself to fit where he wanted me, between his leg in a doggy position, knees and arms bent, arched back, ass sticking out. I’d check his rolls to see if he had been hurt. A couple scratches underneath his nipple. A bruise on his neck. I’d press two fingers and he’d grabbed them, pop them in his mouth and began to chew. We were sweating. The air conditioning had been broken all spring, now the end of July, his chest hair glued to my breast.
On my birthday, he came and sang to me. He had a terribly awful singing voice. But he loved to sing. He poured liquor down my throat, stretched in his underwear, sang a dramatic lullaby. He sat up and cried about dying, said, “When I die, all the shit I have inside of me will boil and I’ll explode. It will be a natural death.” He talked and talked and talked. When he was done talking, he vomited. I heard him, I always heard him: I’d press my ear on the bathroom door, listening to his groaning. Getting a rush from it. I would help him brush his teeth and he would fall asleep on top of me. I was so happy I wanted to die. The thought wasn’t an active or physical one. It was more of a pornographic thought. It stemmed from a place of internal stimulation. The more I thought about it, the more aroused I became. I went about my day and waited for Neil to show. When he did, I was certain I was coming closer to death so I fucked him certain I would die. I would snort another lizard. I would be resurrected.
“Okay, baby, it’s time.”
Neil gave me the contraception pill and fell asleep. I flushed it down the toilet, took a sleeping pill instead. My bedroom walls had princess characters printed on them. The princess looked like dinosaurs or pornstars or firemen. I took a third sleeping pill. Neil tossed awake, sticky from a dream, “Hemingway blew his head with a shotgun.”
“Plath burnt her head in an oven.”
“Fucked on blow.”
“Neil, Neil, Neil.”
“Do you miss your mom?”
In the morning, I woke up, and he was gone. I never saw him again. He might have gone back to his room on the second floor of his parents’ house. That’s where I believed he took me and kept me, ate pieces of me so not to eat his own finger. I felt like something was missing. In search of me, I began walking around my house first. Everything in it felt distant from what they were supposed to be. The fridge became a walk-in shower. I’d open it night after night to clean myself, stand in front of it and freeze because I was perpetually hot. I missed him. I stayed awake from missing him—drank a lot from missing him. I even saw Clay, sometimes for the street discount, most times in hopes he would transform into Neil and I could live another day. They both had split opened faces. In that, you could see inside of them by staring directly at their forehead. I even considered fucking Clay to feel Neil inside of me—he was growing inside of me. I could feel him, doing somersaults in my belly. I looked everywhere, behind the park, at the Bluff, on Highland Creek—Scarborough had become larger overnight. When I looked up, I noticed the sky had disappeared too.
Summer 2013. Maggie and I moved to a sizable apartment on Morningside and Military Trail. There was a large hole in the oven door, so we often ate cereal. We told stories of what might have happened for the oven glass to crack so largely. My favorite scenario: it gave birth to an explosive banana bread that broke through from the inside out. I like to think I was a banana bread who broke out of her mother’s house. The faucet in the washroom didn’t work, so we brush our teeth in the kitchen sink. Maggie majored in psychology and neuroscience and said that I had matured emotionally since last spring. When we talked about moving in together, she offered to make our home alcohol-free, but I had gotten better at drinking and drinking had never been my problem.
Her boyfriend was this tall African God who spoke multiple languages. He fixed everything around the apartment except the open oven. It became symbolic of our friendship. When she couldn’t sleep, she’d get in bed with me and I would hold her, I would rock her between my breast and kiss her behind the ear. I had gotten better at sleeping, but sometimes I hurt myself in my sleep. We needed each other. Not in a way that was desperate or out of bound or even sexual. It was realizing that loneliness was overwhelming, overtly fetishized, that people who craved it were most susceptible to internal organ failure. It was better to open yourself up to the world.
I worked a serving job that kept me in check. The job was demanding. The people were needy. I got exactly two minutes of solitude per day. It excited me, and it made me crumble. I kept busy by writing. I kept writing so not to think. I wrote these long poems, wrote about a boy who moves his furniture every Sunday in accordance with the sunset. I once said to him, “Feng shui?” and he replied, “Sanity.” I often thought of that boy’s mother, but I didn’t know why.
I took on a few passing lovers, but the walls of my inside had lost all sensation. Fucking felt like breathing. Breathing felt like nothing. You only know you are breathing because you’re not dead. I once brought a lighter to my vagina to see if I’d feel anything. The doctor said it might be PTSD.
Maggie said it might be lack of arousal. “Maybe you’re having a hard time relaxing. David does this thing before we have sex, he gives me a full back massage, we’ll like, be together for an hour before we dive into foreplay. It’s like pre-foreplay.”
“That sounds like a lot of work. Should sex even be worth that much work? I mean, my introduction to it all was fucked up. I was doomed from the start. I don’t remember ever even enjoying it. I remember wanting too, roleplaying myself too. The entire thing is literally overrated.”
“You just haven’t found the right guy for you—wait, are you doing girls now? You just haven’t found the right human for you.”
“Do you not watch porn?”
“Porn is not what ruined sex. Romantic comedy ruined sex. Nicholas Sparks ruined it. I can absolutely promise you at no point do birds begin to chirp in the middle of sex. Fucking Titanic. Sex is literally disgusting and bloody and mostly painful. You don’t get an accurate, authentic, organic representation of sex anywhere but in porn. Maybe also on HBO, but, less so.”
“The sex you’re having is hardly considered sex. Do you even want to have sex with any of these people? I worry about you sometimes. That sounds really numbing.”
“Was there porn in Shakespearean time? Romance, courtship, that entire thing was also fucked up back then. Porn’s recent. Porn’s like reality TV but scripted.”
Maggie continued tossing the salad in our kitchenette. She cut slices of cucumbers with a lot of malice, I wondered if she had been suffering in silence. “I think David and I will get married. I think he’ll propose after graduation.”
“You should probably start watching porn to regulate your expectation of all of that.”
“You need to go see a doctor.” Maggie grabbed my hand, pressed it against hers. “I need my maid of honor to have a working vagina in case I need to pawn you off to one of David’s brothers, who are all rich and handsome and probably African royalty.”
“I did see a doctor. My vagina’s perfect. All psychological.”
Everybody outside of our apartment seemed broken. If not broken, poor. You could tell from the ashy elbows or cigarette teeth. Now, loneliness felt foreign. Like something I had to actively reach out for. That’s the problem with solitude, I thought, as I was giving myself a time-out, walking around the mall, having had just finished drinking a bottle for the sake of drinking. You go out looking for a place to be alone and you find crowded malls and crowded parking lots, and movie theatres and resto-bars. You stay home to be alone but you find furniture, casseroles with people’s name written on them, televisions, books, magazines. You get so beaten up and that’s when it happens. Solitude is that emotional response to the lack thereof. Not a physical space or an abstract thought. You gotta stop looking for it to fall into it. Romance, sex, destruction. I liked drinking by myself. I liked being in a public space having had just drunk my water weight. I was fine like this—I was in my head like this. I looked up and Neil was standing in front of me, his thick brown hair, thick as ever—his mouth madly trembling.
“My, my, my,” he says, “my, my, my.”
Now I’m thinking I’m drunk and hallucinating, that the world is spinning, that my head has just been cracked open, “Neil?”
“My girl,” he says.
“My girl,” he says.
Neil had friends. He had people who loved him. They grouped around us, cheering him on, or I was in such a state, I felt like an animal getting eaten alive by a pack of stupid wolfs. Then, I had been airlifted by a pack of wolf and went bar to bar until none of us had anything to show for. Until Neil, who had a weak stomach and a large throat, began to vomit on the sidewalk, and then vomit in the parking garage. I had forgotten how bad he was at drinking, how much blow he needed to stay wired, how much discipline he lacked.
Now we’re in the backseat of somebody’s car, Neil and I, and he pulled a bottle of wine from somewhere, which terrified me, so I reached for the bottle and I drank most of it because I instantly remembered who he was. Then, all I felt was fear. I couldn’t remember where the fear came from, but I flinched when he offered himself to me. I tried to remember being terrified of him, but all that I remember was saying his name repeatedly to anchor myself back to reality, Neil, Neil, Neil.
The car stopped, and he pulled me out on the street. We were alone underneath the moon, and I felt actual solitude for the first time. It was equivalent to getting your blood sucked out of your veins, like a fatigue that was nauseating, like feeling the wind blow through your body, feeling it fuck you from your belly and coming out of your back dimples, feeling the air pass through, knowing that there is a hole in the center of you, a sick solitude, like you could die from being alone.
I could tell we were on his street. I recognized the elementary school and the cracked trees. The way he held on to me terrified me. But it wasn’t the holding that held me in place. It was the fear that if he let go, I would be overcome by vertigo, and I wouldn’t wake up from it. He began to kiss me, and I pulled him towards his house. He lifted me slightly, then, my back was pressed on a wall. He was going for my neck. He was going for my breast.
“Why can’t we just go back to your place?”
He pressed his mouth to my nose and began to suck on it.
“Do you fantasize about fucking on a school ground?”
I couldn’t get a word out of him, so I let him fuck me. It was conveniently warm that night, sticky. While he was inside of me, I began to miss him. He had been tender. He had been electric. I was in so much pain I began to hurl. Then, I became afraid hurling would hurt his feelings, so I began to moan. When I was moaning, I could tell he liked it, so I began to laugh. I laughed until it was over.
Back at his place, we stretched out on his bed and I sang him to sleep. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Neil, happy birthday to you.”
The next morning, I asked him if he missed me, and he told me that he hadn’t stopped thinking about me all year. I asked him if he ever loved me, and he said love was such a strange concept. I toured his bedroom to re-familiarize myself. The bed was now pushed on the side of the door. The desk now faced the window. The walls were still covered and pinned by the same letters.
“Is it over with Elizabeth now? I heard you guys got back together end of last summer.”
“Love is such a strange concept.” He said again. “I can drive you home. We just need to stop at Shoppers and get you plan b. I didn’t use a condom.”
“If I take it—will you stay?”
Back at my place, I took the pill and he got in bed with me. That evening when I woke up, he was gone. Maggie and I cuddled on our living room floor, staring at the popcorn ceiling, saying nothing at all. There was a dark spot on the ceiling, like a dried puddle—with enough pressure, the ceiling could fall and drown us both.
“I think David’s breaking up with me,” Maggie said, fighting back a crack cry, gasping for breath. “He said he’s feeling depressed, and he needs to work on himself.”
The phone rang and it was Neil. It was early in the morning, late at night. A friend of his was on his way to pick me up. He needed to see me and it was urgent. I rolled over and kissed Maggie on the mouth, “Neil needs me,” I said.
When we arrived, the house was empty. We went through the backyard, guided by the fire pit, smelling the wet grass. Neil’s parent had installed a beautiful campfire last summer. We often sat around and drank, heard stories of growing up in a multicultural city, of Ted pissing on the tulips in the front porch. This August had been balmy and damp, full of pollen and moisture. I found Neil on the kitchen floor—his vomit spilled on the tiles. I wondered for a minute what it would feel like to lose him permanently. I felt a sense of relief, like, coming out of a burning vehicle and only later realizing it was a burning vehicle.
“Neil? Neil? Neil?” I said, again and again, but all I got back was the echo of my own voice. I looked behind me and his friend was gone. It was just the two of us again. I reached for him, I pulled on his hair, I lifted his arm.
Neil tossed and rolled over, “What are you doing here?” he said, swinging his arms so hard, he got me on the nose. “Fuck you,” he said. He rolled on top of me, bit on my ear, “Sorry,” he said. We laid like this for a moment. After some time, ten minutes or so, he rolled on his side and kicked me in the stomach.
I thought about crying, but I had forgotten how. I imagined myself suffocating underneath a mountain of plywood, I imagined myself like a baby bird being driven over, like the road kill on the streets, like that epic romance blue blues from the movies. But I laid there, next to him, thinking that if I died tonight, it would be an incredibly lonely way to go.
The friend came back and picked me up from the floor. He offered to drive me home, but I insisted on walking. I let myself out from the back door. I walked up to the driveway and sat on the curb. When I moved out of my parent’s house, all those months ago, I sat on the grass and hoped my mother would come after me. I waited for an hour—I waited until I knew for certain that nobody would come.