YOU I REMEMBER
I still fantasize about you and your many iterations—a sunburnt face, a sweat stained hat, asking me sincerely if I wanna chill—so no, I wouldn’t call myself an adult. But I’m thirty-one now and you’re however old you are and I think that must mean something.
The day after my Dad died you sent a bouquet of assorted exotic flowers to the house with a card addressed to my mother. You’d only met my Dad once, but the card said you thought he was a pretty cool guy. I thought about you Googling flower shops in Prince George from your apartment in Toronto that I hadn’t actually seen and then arbitrarily picking one and asking them over the phone about delivery charges. I wondered if you’d accounted for the three-hour time difference when you called, if you somehow remembered my parents’ address, or if you had to look it up.
Do you remember when we met? It was July and the air was choked and hot from record forest fires sweeping the whole northern interior of British Columbia. The fan didn’t work in the Generator Cabaret, or maybe they just didn’t have one, either way, we were flushed and sweating. You bumped into me in front of the smoke machine and said, hey, I know you, you’re Tasha, and I felt nervous. The DJ kept accidentally replaying Temperature by Sean Paul and shouting his DJ name like he was afraid we’d forget it. I forgot it. I keep calling him DJ Windswept in my head for reasons I can’t explain.
We were out that night with the whole team of limnology student researchers. It was a Thursday and the university was, for the most part, not in session, so the Genny wasn’t exactly bumpin’. But you being you, feeling adventurous after a particularly languid day sampling algae from Tabor Lake, snuck a homeless guy in through the back door. You named him Jeff, and then proceeded to buy him a lot of warm beer. Jeff let you borrow the sling from his arm when you dared him to grab my ass in front of the stage, which he did, he really, really did. You flung your head backward and laughed. I watched your Adam’s apple bob up and down through the thin, wet skin on your throat, and forgot for a minute what it was like to live in a three-bedroom house with a dying man. I punched you in the arm that was in the sling and you clutched it in mock pain, pulling the sleeve of your t-shirt up to reveal your large sugar skull tattoo, at which point we both knew I’d be yours.
Or maybe that was a different you. Yes, that’s right. Not you you, but the you I met in high school, before any of it, when we were both working at Nechako Meats. I was well-spoken and exotic looking so I worked at the till, but you were tall and skinny and your eyebrows were too big for your face and customer service, so you worked in the back. I liked how the bush of them met in the crease at the top of your nose; it made you look young yet dastardly when you smiled. Dastardly is an aesthetic and word that has always been attractive to me. So that day I walked back behind the glass and into the room with the slicer in it to get something and told you I didn’t have a ride home when I actually did. You drove me on your fifteen-minute break in your orange Jetta and said that you didn’t want to be a virgin anymore. I said, me neither, and you said nothing.
And you’re right; you were very clear with me from the beginning. You said, in your three-person dome tent at the Purden Lake Camp Ground, after the wine coolers and the quick friction of sex, that you didn’t want me to be your girlfriend. I said that was cool, I didn’t want you to be my boyfriend. I totally meant it, but we both knew I’d be yours.
The thing is, it’s 3:38 in the morning and the power’s gone out across the city of Montreal. I’m awake and not in my bed because I have bedbugs for the third time this year and the awkward lumps in the couch are making my back ache right in the spot where the bites itch. A snow storm is blanketing the entire eastern edge of the country; which means the already tentative classes of my third and final attempt at an undergraduate degree are cancelled, and the exterminator won’t come until tomorrow between 9:00 A.M. and 10:00 P.M.
I’m scratching up and down my arms rhythmically until they ash under my nails, and staring at the power bar on the top right-hand corner of my screen. I’m cold because this blanket is actually a rug. I’m sick because I ate too much cheese too close to lying down. It’s too dark to sleep. The heaviness of the exposed brick in the living room makes me miss my bedroom window and all of the strangers that stare into it from their bedroom windows and you.
You weren’t actually there for this but when I was thirteen I went with my parents and little sister to the double feature at the Park Drive-In Theatre. I don’t remember what the first movie was, although it was probably kid-friendly because the first movie always is, but the second movie was The Blair Witch Project. Two things about that night have stuck with me. The first is the final scene in The Blair Witch where they’re in the house/cabin or whatever and the girl finds her friend in the basement with the light of her flashlight and camera. He’s just standing in the corner, you see, with his back to her and his face pressed into the place where the two walls meet. She keeps crying Michael, Michael, but he never turns around.
The second thing was that the night was so black after the movie and the road back into town wound around and over Garvin Canyon so many times that I thought we’d end up back where we started. There are no streetlights that far out and no traffic either. All of the aspen trees caught the white in the headlights as we drove and then whipped away behind us which looked eerily just like the scenery in the movie. My sister, seated in the front bench between my parents, a precious nine-year-old, broke first. She started sniffing back tears while my mother squeezed her tiny, pink shoulders. Even my Dad’s hands were shaking as he turned the brights on and tried to follow the invisible curve of the road. In the back seat, I pressed myself against the fogging window and pulled the shoulder strap until it locked tight against my chest. It was the second-most scared any of us ever were.
Anyway, I digress. Do you remember that time we had sex in the company van outside of the Coast Hotel? Out of necessity of course; piles of our fellow sales associates were drunk and passed out on our beds in both our rooms. It was the end of the summer after I’d dropped out of my first attempt at a degree and the start of my first real job.
It had been a long day of leadership training, maybe fourteen hours. I was straddling your lap on the bench of the back seat with my shirt off when you told me about your ex-girlfriend, the one that gave your best friend the hand job on a snowmobile once. You looked right at me and said that I’d restored your faith in women. I said, I can’t believe we’re finally doing this. You said, We could have been doing this the whole time? I said, Yeah, definitely. You said you’d told Scott that you thought there might be something happening between us and Scott said, No man, she’s like that with everyone. Later, I told you that my dad was sick and that I was adopted and had never/would never meet my biological parents. You said you’d never slept with a black girl before. I said, me neither. Then the sun came up but the windows were steamed because of the sex. The pulp mill had made the air quality bad so we couldn’t really see out anyway.
Of course the longest I ever spent with you was doing a gig planting trees in northern Alberta, two years after my Dad died, and one year after my mother had officially gone crazy. Two and a half months total, me and this you. The only time we ever actually worked together was the very last day. The camp supervisor put our two crews on the same cut block so we could push late and close the contract. The sun was close to setting. You had black dirt coming out of your nostrils and a band-aid on your left cheek. It started to rain and you lamented, in your adorable Australian accent, the difficulty of trying to flirt with me while looking like wet Nelly. You could make anything funny.
Back in camp, around the fire, with the rest of camp, and after our millionth beer, I drew a purposely ugly picture of you with a black permanent marker on a little piece of damp cardboard. You laughed and put it in your wallet and I said no, don’t, but you said you were going back to Australia, the motherland, and we weren’t going to see each other for who knows how long. And then I said I was tired and ready for bed and left, but you didn’t follow me.
At this very moment, I’m resigned to the way snow builds up in piles when I’m not looking and the fact that I may never sleep. I think it might be getting light out now, not that I can see through this brick, it’s just a feeling that I have. My mother has posted a link on my Facebook wall to her latest, favourite psychic medium’s website, even though it’s been six years already since my Dad died and I begged her to stop. My sister wisely took Dad’s ashes with her when she moved to the Yukon to teach high school History with her also-teacher-boyfriend. She is crazy busy now and never returns my calls. There’s twenty-two percent battery left on my computer.
I want to know what you look like and where you are.
Outside of my apartment, the wind is sucked through the thin corridors of the city so hard that it screams.
That reminds me, there was once a you that didn’t matter. The one I met in a Blockbuster Video when we were both, like, twenty-two. I was looking for the movie Fear with Mark Wahlberg, and you were with your tall white girlfriend looking at me. Your tall white girlfriend caught you and whined that she didn’t like any of the movies near me.
She caught you staring again and stomped off into the Action section of Old Releases.
She caught you again and ran out of the store. You followed her.
I came outside and you were sitting on the curb by my car, which was the only one left in the parking lot. Even then the popularity of video rental stores was waning. I sat down beside you and we watched fully loaded logging truck after fully loaded logging truck head past us down Highway 16 West. You said you were sorry and that your girlfriend was being a real bitch. I said, you know I don’t know her, right? You took that to be a challenge I guess and stood up. At that point you were still trying to be a good guy. And maybe you still were but then I stood up too and licked the roof of your open mouth.
Back at my furniture-less apartment, when you couldn’t get it up, I told you my dad was sick and I was considering moving back home. You said you were sorry about that and kept looking around like your girlfriend might be hiding in my closet or behind my drapes. I made them myself with old Mickey Mouse bed sheets.
At the door, on the way out, you said your name was Mark— not that I asked.
But that wasn’t the last time I saw you. No, the last time was two Septembers ago in Toronto. You lived near College and Spadina, which meant nothing to me, I don’t know Toronto at all, but it sure meant something to you. You’d finally given into the fact that you were balding prematurely and had shaved your head. You wore Wayfarer Ray-Bans and a thin T-shirt and short pants when we went to that bar, Einstein, even though it was evening and getting chilly because fuck, you’re cool. Which is why I had to make up the story about flying across the country to see a different Childhood Best Friend and not just you.
I finally saw your apartment that night and even met your roommate and also, unfortunately, his parents the next morning because he was in the process of moving back home. You introduced me and my day-old clothes and un-straightened hair and said, this is— for a moment you forgot my name. You laughed and explained that you really did know me, that we’ve known each other our whole lives, but you just weren’t good at thinking in the morning. The parents and I laughed but the damage was done.
You went with me as far as the bus that goes to Pearson International Airport because I asked you to. On the trolley to the bus a schizophrenic woman came up to my face and yelled that I was an idiot! and that she knew what me and Obama were up to. You leaned your head on my shoulder, said you missed my dad. Then you put on your Ray-Bans and rested your hand on the inside of my knee. There were only a few round white clouds overhead and everything was bright again. I pressed my fingers onto the tops of your fingers and thought maybe we were in love; that you were mine and I was yours.
Another time on the bus to that same airport, I saw two small children, a boy and a girl, eating from clear bags of five-cent candy. The little girl spilled her bag out all over the floor of the bus and started crying, and with no hesitation the boy cried too, even though his candy was still in his hand, intact. And I realized back then, on the trolley, with you, I had only been pretending.
It’s 7:00 A.M. now. A mouse just snapped in the trap I set behind the fridge and won’t stop squealing. I’m hungry, my nose is running, and I think I have to pee. These are honest sensations entirely unrelated to the thing about the mouse.
The psychic lives in Nova Scotia, I’ve discovered, and his name is Russell. My mother says in a private message that she’ll be cashing in her RRSPs and flying there to see Russell at the end of the month. It’s 4:00 A.M. her time, so I guess she can’t sleep either.
Russell’s website has a picture of a t-shirt with the word Psychic! written on it that ripples like it’s blowing in the wind. Not this wind, of course. This wind would tear it to pieces.
Maybe it’s that I don’t know anyone here. It’s hard to make school friends atmy age and I’ve yet to find a job. I’m not qualified, they say. I have a long resume and too many first years of a degree. I come across as uncommitted—insincere.
Alright, okay. I’m up and shivering, heading toward the fridge. If not now, when?
I need to move the fridge to get at the trap. It’s heavy, of course, and when I pull on it, the fridge lifts up a little and comes towards me, and in the moment that I feel its weight against my palms I get this flash-like premonition, a blue blight across my vision: the fridge falls on me, and I lie there, splayed beneath it, my breath short and fast as a pinwheel. I can’t scream because my chest is crushed and bleeding and all that comes out are squeals that nobody hears but me. I let go of the fridge and it thumps back onto all fours, safe and still as ever. I run back to the couch and crawl under my rug.
My laptop is almost dead. The mouse squeals have begun to fade. But the wind, the wind is deafening.
I wonder if you’re even listening to me anymore.
Well, if you are, I should tell you that I lied. The last time I saw you was actually a year ago, at your 24th birthday party in East Vancouver. You were skinnier than any other version and living in a house with five other guys. One lived in a closet in the basement and paid $30 a month rent. The other four were in the same punk band. At the party I met your best friend, who was one of the four in the band and also really into Oxy. He told me he knew someone I used to tree plant with back in the day. Turns out he was the boyfriend she cheated on with Devon Folke, the eldest of the five famously handsome, big-dicked Folke brothers. He said, she went tree planting and cheated on me, and I said, well yeah, but with a Folke. The look on his face made me think you and I weren’t going to work out.
Which is not to say that I wasn’t trying, because I was. I had taken the weekend off from work at what was to be the last in a long line of bookstores, bought three frozen pizzas for my mother to eat, and driven the nine hours down from Prince George to surprise you. But you were so surprised that, standing in your kitchen, with everyone friend you’d ever known and me, all you could say was, hey you, and then you patted me on the back like I was just that one person you sometimes talked to after psychology class, which I realize is how we met, but still. Eventually we played Cards Against Humanity and you got drunk and took enough pills to forget that you weren’t all that into me. You kissed my neck and said you were happier than you’d ever been and that you were definitely going to shave off your beard for me. You told me life isn’t easy. You told me you only fucked other girls because you were afraid to sleep alone. When I had to take out your penis and hold it for you so you wouldn’t piss yourself under the flickering light of the basement bathroom, you retracted your earlier statement, insisting that this was actually the most miserable you had ever been. I texted my sister over the sink while you puked in the shower just how bad it all was and she said, whatever, I told you this would happen.
At around midnight there were fireworks outside which was weird because it was mid October and nobody had any idea why the sky was lit up. You missed it because you’d already passed out in your bed.
At 4:00 A.M. I woke up to your hot breath and your ex-girlfriend, now your current girlfriend, sobbing against the bedroom door, saying, just fucking let me in.
I think sometime in the haze of tonight, as I was counting the darkly shaded bricks on the wall in front of me, I had a dream about you, the same dream I usually have, where we take that road trip up the Alaska Highway to Liard River Hot Springs that we always talked about but never did. We rent a car and a room in the lodge (which is there, I checked), and stay for what feels like three nights. On what I would say is the second night, we sneak out of the lodge and into the hot springs and find that spot my friend Jackie told us about, the spot where she claims she lost her virginity to that French guy. It’s easy enough for us to find because of the overhanging log that she carved her name into. And we carve our names right over top of hers and it’s just like that time we had sex in my sister’s bed because fuck her miracle life.
It ends in different ways each time, this dream. We’re never where we want to be for very long. The important thing is that you always cry. You always beg me to stay.
I’d like to say I never knew that it was wrong, that you tricked me somehow, just like the elderly Quebecois landlord of this apartment, but you didn’t. Really, I knew we were garbage from the moment I told you my dad was dying.
I was twenty-four and you were nineteen. You went back to the States over Christmas break to see your parents that didn’t approve of me for cultural reasons. I texted you from a particularly stained corner of the emergency room. Doctors said my Dad would most likely be dead within the month. You loved the Seattle Seahawks and you knew he hated them, so two days later you texted back, well, I hope he’s around long enough to see the Seahawks’ championship parade ;) . You were too young and far away from all of it and me, I knew that, I did.
And I swear I still know it, but I’m wavering.
I’m thinking that I live alone, and tomorrow, which is actually today, I’m going to have to find the strength to move my fridge, find the small body of that mouse. Then I’ll look it in the eyes, because somebody should, and pry it out from the tight pin of the trap.
I never told you this but when he first got back from treatment in Vancouver my dad asked me to kill him. He was in the hospital in Prince George and the radiation had made his face swollen and soft like he’d been stung by hundreds of bees. He waited for my mother and my sister to leave the room, which they did frequently, together, loud and teary and trembling. He said through his teeth that if I didn’t do it he’d pull the tubes coming out of his chest and hands up and around his neck and do it himself. He said, Tasha. He said, please.
I never told you that because you were never there when I needed you the most.
And so you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing all of this up then. Well, I figure it’s because this is me and you we’re talking about here and enough time has passed that we should both be able to say it doesn’t hurt like it did. And because each year passes like the one before, seasoned and un-apocalyptic, so now everyone we know just wanders around and into each other, remarking endlessly on how old we’ve all gotten, how tired we all are. Because for a one-time fee of $299.99, a man named Russell can talk to our dead. But mostly it’s because of the old bedbugs, and the new city. And because I can’t sleep either; I’m too afraid to close my eyes. There’s just one percent of battery left on my laptop and you know what? I’ve been wandering too, shoulder first through crowds, trying to knock into you hard enough that you stop and look at me, just like I always hoped, smiling that smile of yours that’s equal parts patient and condescending and saying just loud enough for me to hear, okay, Tash, okay.
Soili Smith is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing-Fiction at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. She is originally from northern British Columbia, where she still lives and works in the academic off-season. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland Magazine, Anthropoid Collective, and Soliloquies Anthology. She is an editorial assistant at Cosmonauts Avenue.