No Chinook Chapter 9
No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.
When I woke up in my own bed the next day, it didn’t feel like home. I missed Kate’s body; her slow breathing when she slept, her arm draped across my chest, her leg weighing down on mine. I missed her sheets, her ceiling, her bed. Walking around my apartment felt like purgatory. I’d been out so long I barely registered that my fridge was empty and all my clothes were dirty and my fish was dead.
Considering what happened the night before, I slept remarkably well. It wasn’t that I wanted to sleep alone or that I didn’t want to run down every street I could to look for Kate and Ray. It’s that I knew exactly what was and wasn’t hopeless. There were exactly two things that could have happened. Ray showed up drunk and looking to end his bereavement, or he showed up in and at his best. Kate either left so that she could formally reject him without the public drama, or they got back together. I wasn’t an idiot. It’s not like my mind hadn’t been on Shawn for most of the week. God knows how much she thought of Ray. It was hopeless to try to stop it. It wasn’t hopeless, however, to crash and dream.
Even though I could think about the two of them reconciling, and even though that seemed like the clearest reality, it still hurt just about all over. I still had her nail marks on my back, and I still had her voice in my head. When I poured my coffee, I could hear her voice, telling me to make it stronger. When I cooked my breakfast, she would suggest burning the bacon just a little more. I hated it. I wanted her to be beside me, tugging on my shoulder, leaning on the counter, kissing my cheek and grazing the back of my ass with her thigh. I wanted her there, at my place, telling me that she found my pictures fascinating and my bed snug. I wanted her to be with me, but she wasn’t, and more than likely, she never had been.
I sat back down on my bed and I cried into my hands. It was pathetic, but it’s the truth. I didn’t have to wonder how she could do this to me because it all came way too easily. She called me and said she needed me because I was fresh in her life, unaware of her recent drama. It had all been coincidence before that point, but she knew I wouldn’t reject her.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Kate had copied something I’d seen back in high school almost to the letter. Josh Randle had dumped Amanda Winters a few times before she shaved her head, and during one of their breaks, we all saw her going around with Matthew Sharpton pretty much the next day. They were inseparable for about a week, and then she got back together with Josh as if nothing had ever happened. I remembered Amanda telling us that Matthew was like a week of beautiful weather in the middle of a deadly winter. We all wondered why she didn’t stay with the nice guy, but wondering never got any of us anywhere. People do what they do. They love who they love. Reason, as I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of times, has just about nothing to do with it.
What this did was remind me of the night Kate threw her bracelet in the lake, and how unoriginal I found her sense of revenge and drama. I felt I’d lived through far more than Kate, and she was just now catching up to feeling things I’d experienced years before. And at that moment, finally, my spectrum crumbled. The last week’s worth of events had cracked the seams and tattered the edges of my theories, but sitting on my bed in my filthy, empty apartment confirmed its destruction.
Kate was probably the most interesting person I’d ever spent that much time with, but there was absolutely no pattern that defined her. And now that she’d vanished with her ex-boyfriend, there’s really no accounting for any kind of pattern.
People are happy when things are good. They’re unhappy when it’s shit. Sometimes, they do something about it. Sometimes they go back to the asshole that caused all their problems to begin with. Their position in life has nothing to do with anything. It was unfair, but it was irrefutable.
What it came down to was perspective. Even though I couldn’t picture Kate right now, I could only imagine that she was happy with whatever choice she’d made. Shawn could be anywhere, and he was probably happy.
My phone rang in the living room. It had to be work. I hadn’t even bothered calling in sick. I banged my shoulder against the door on the way out and looked at the phone. I saw Shawn’s number, and for the first time in over a week, I felt I could pick up and talk to this man.
It wasn’t that I needed or even wanted him. It was that he couldn’t touch me in the state I was in. The one advantage to being freshly heartbroken is the shell surrounding one’s vulnerability.
“We’ve got to get together and talk,” he said, in that way he used to when he wanted to make it seem pleading but really knew I would give in eventually.
“I don’t know, Shawn,” I said. “I really don’t see any reason to see you. I mean, if you want to talk about things like closure and acceptance, then, well, I’m really not that guy. I’m not going to get over this no matter how much closure you create. No matter what happens, I’ll probably think about what happened between us and talk about it to new friends and girlfriends and boyfriends until they’re really damn sick of it.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked. It dawned on me that I hadn’t really been like that with Shawn. I hadn’t been neurotic in the way I was with other people. I hadn’t been as open, either. I was always putting on my best when he was around, and it was as if my fantasies happened in parallel relationships off in other regions of the universe.
This needed to be illuminated. There was something about the brunt descent into sadness that brought the release of truth. “I guess you never really got to see the part of me that does that,” I said. “I really don’t get over things. It doesn’t matter if they were good or bad. If I love someone, even if it’s ridiculous, it stays with me. That probably makes you happy, knowing that I’ll still be talking about you years after you’ve forgotten about me.”
“Who said anything about forgetting you?” he asked, which was sweet, but empty to me in the present circumstances.
“Whatever, Shawn. It’s not like any of this is important anymore.”
“What’s gotten into you?” he asked, even though I could tell he wasn’t actually asking me at all. “Right, of course. Kate.”
“What about Kate?” I asked. “She has nothing to do with you and me.”
“Yeah, she does,” he said. “She has just about everything to do with it.”
“Do you know where she is right now?”
“Well, she’s not with you, right?” he asked like he already knew. “So where is she?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “And why do I have a feeling that I didn’t need to tell you that?”
“What I’m saying here,” Shawn said, his voice firmer than usual, “You need to listen to.”
“What is it, Shawn?” I asked, remarkably smarmy. “You know where she is? Well, I know where she is. She’s with Ray. Am I right? Did they get back together? Did she fucking use me, Shawn? I figured it out. It took me exactly two seconds to piece it together. I’m not going to get hit with this drama. I’m not in suspense, and I’m not having fun. I’m fucking heartbroken. But that’s how it goes. Fuck the spectrum, you know? It was just naïve and childish justifications for my shit life. That’s it. That’s all it was for me, and that’s all I was for her, and that’s all I was for you, and I’m pretty fucking sick of it all and I’d like to be left alone.”
Shawn cleared his throat. I could hear him sitting down. I could hear the motion in his breath. He asked, “Are you done?”
“Are you going to make things worse?” I asked. “Because if what you have to say just makes things worse, then I don’t want to hear it. I think I’ve got things pretty fucking wrapped up here, and it makes a nice succinct little story to tell at the bars in Europe to strangers with backpacks, and I don’t want any more.” I don’t know what it is about telling someone off, but I felt fifteen feet tall. “So will it make it worse?”
Over the phone, miles away, wind, water, and a hundred thousand people between us, Shawn said, “I love you.”
“Well shit,” I said, and dropped the phone. I dropped the phone, and didn’t pick it up until I could take a few breaths and lean my head against the nearest of my boring, white walls. I heard him saying “Are you still there?” because there was no noise between us.
With my hand I clenched the phone so hard it felt like it could break in my hand. I said, shivering, wanting to slam my head through the wall, “Yeah, I’m still here.”
“Good,” he said.
“You know, Shawn,” I began. “There were so many times I wanted to hear you say that. Really, I’m serious; there were times I wanted nothing more. But even then, even those dark nights on your patio when you held me, even those mornings in your sheets, those days in the park and at the movies, you were never really with me. But what I really wanted was to escape everyone else’s cheap declarations of love.”
I thought of my last week with Kate.
Then, I thought, I’m finally seeing Shawn as a man. He wasn’t a cute boy for me anymore. He wasn’t something I wanted to hold. He was a man, and that kind of proclamation deserved attention, if only from my own epiphanies. I didn’t know what it meant, that I’d switched his station in my mind. I didn’t know why he was suddenly a “man.” But he was, and I wondered if maybe that meant I was over it.
I said, “I wanted you to be mine, you idiot. I wanted nothing mucking up that great thing we had, for it to be that perfect kind of love. My greatest regret about all of this is that I probably loved you, too. But it really doesn’t matter now because there’s no going back to that nice idea of love with you. You’ve ruined that, and that’s all there is.”
I hung up the phone. It was probably the most dramatic thing I’d ever done to someone else.
For the next few minutes, I had trouble doing anything but soaking in the air around me. I felt paralyzed to the point where breathing drained energy. I couldn’t quite see more than a few feet ahead of me, and I focused on nothing. My mind was in a blanket of euphoria and I felt textures not altogether known to me. I felt way too solid, as if there weren’t actually moving parts inside of me. It was completely different from every other feeling I’d ever had. And after a few minutes, I got up and left my apartment to get some fresh air.
It was overcast, and I could feel it in my chest. Maybe it’s just Calgary with its messed up weather, but it’s always affected my mood. As I walked around fairly aimlessly, the low ceiling limited my thoughts of Kate and Shawn. I like to think that at some point, I would have found all of this to be pretty horrible. This feeling of responsibility washed down on me, bringing with it both the gravity of what I’d done and levied some greater control. It was my fault that Shawn ever had any sort of emotional conflict with Mark. It was my fault Kate didn’t fall hard on her own ass when Ray walked out with someone else. And it was my fault for believing their stories so blindly. I never really knew about Mark or Ray, but I went along with it anyway because of what I wanted.
Still, my spectrum was destroyed, and something new needed to take its place. What was left was a sky of opportunity, a blank page torn from a blank book. I finally understood that it wasn’t about what we get to have in life, or how happy we can be, or any of those fucked-up inhibitions people use as excuses for why they don’t think they’ll ever hook up with the people they have pathetic crushes on. It wasn’t about any of that anymore, because the last three weeks I bagged a hot art teacher who had a perfectly good boyfriend, and had amazing sex with a gorgeous blonde that even knew my lame past.
None of this made me feel good, really. But it kept me from feeling bad, and that would have to be enough for now.
Good memories of Shawn and me flashed through my mind, and I liked that I could still focus on the fact that there were moments of happiness between us. For the most part, Kate’s brief foray into my life had been unbelievable, but I couldn’t help focusing on how well I’d performed. I made them both laugh and think and feel safe and satisfied. In so many ways here, I felt like I was coming out of this situation feeling better about who I was.
I sat down on a half-melted pile of snow at the corner of a stranger’s driveway and pulled out my phone and called Shawn, feeling better about everything.
“I’m sorry,” he blurted out as quicky as he could. “I’m so glad you called back.”
“Shawn,” I began. “It’s fine. It’s all okay now.”
“Why?” he said, not sounding sure of anything. “I mean, what’s happened?”
I was calm. “Nothing, really. Listen, what are you doing this afternoon?”
He was suspicious, but hopeful.
He said, “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” I laughed. “I just told you, everything’s fine now.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Shawn, my ass is getting numb from sitting on this pile of snow in front of a house I’ve never seen before. I would like to come over to your place, but if you don’t want me to I’m sure I could go find somewhere to bury myself for the evening.”
“Is it that you don’t want to be alone right now?”
Shawn didn’t get it, but that was fine. It was no longer his job to get anything about me. I said, “Sure, lets go with that.”
I got on the subway and listened to Kate’s voice in my head. My eyes were open this wide now because of Kate. I was feeling something powerful that I could not explain. Perhaps it was the feeling Carly had on her bike, leaving town. Perhaps it was the feeling of the dog left on the edge of town. I didn’t know exactly what form of freedom it entailed, but I knew I was at least in the right country.
I wondered if it was possible that I was going through the five stages of grief, and that I was planted in denial. At first I discounted it. I was ridiculous for analyzing myself as being in denial when I felt so clear, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured this might be the case. I hurt in so many places, but it had nothing to do with regret or bereavement.
The thing was, I may have felt that I had been in love with Scott and Kate at different times, but I had never really been in love with either. I wasn’t lying to Shawn over the phone, but I certainly didn’t love him entirely. There wasn’t any moment where I was completely aware of what was happening. And while there was obviously a period where I thought I could trust Kate, that period of time wasn’t terribly long. It simply wasn’t long enough to warrant any sort of unexpected trust.
While the train sped by black walls and lamps, I looked at nothing and knew that I was probably over-thinking everything, just like I always did. Still, it was the process of seeing every angle and getting every idea that brought me to this strange place. Any self-respecting neurotic would be pissed at both of my lovers, but I sat here only disappointed in who these people turned out to be.
I climbed the stairs of the subway and felt my phone vibrate. While I was underground, Kate had tried to call. There was a message.
“Scott, I need to talk to you. I know it sounds stupid and I sound stupid and you probably won’t like it, but please, call me back when you get this so we can get together and talk, okay?”
She must not have been expecting me to have pieced everything together so quickly. I leaned up against a brick wall and called her. It was freezing, but I didn’t think the call would last very long.
“Hi,” I said, as cold as I could.
She sounded embarrassed already, as if she’d run over my dog. “Hi Scott. I have something to tell you.”
“I already know,” I said. “A guy at your party told me.”
Silence, then, “I guess that’s why you left, huh?”
“What good would staying have done?”
“I guess you’re right,” she said. “Scott, I’m so, so sorry.”
“So you’re back with him? He’s moved back in?”
“It’s…” she paused, searching for the right way to break it to me gently. “It’s going slowly. But I love him. I know that makes me sound weak. Look, most of the time I do a pretty good job of staying tough, but I love him.”
“I get it,” I said. “You don’t have to explain it to me.”
“You were amazing though, Scott. Please don’t take this as anything against you.”
“Kate, I’m not mad.”
She sounded bewildered. “No offence Scott, but I don’t really see how you wouldn’t be.”
I said, “I guess because I never figured it would work out to anything real anyway, you know? Knowing that you’re totally fine ditching me without an explanation just certified it. It’s not about me being in your league or anything like that. I just never saw us together. Frankly, I was never really all there, either.” I paused, deciding for once to let guilt dig in further than it had to. “I mean, I didn’t leave you at a party with your ex boyfriends’ ex boyfriend, but it’s not like I didn’t think about Shawn.”
“I know,” she said. “I could tell when you were. And when I brought him up, it was like I caught you or something.”
“I’m not forgiving you Kate,” I said, getting back to the short and the sweet. “It’s not going to be like that. We’re never going to be friends, and I don’t really want to ever see you again.”
“Scott,” she tried to say something, but I just kept going as if I’d rehearsed it.
“I’m not sorry I met you Kate, and I’m not sorry I met you again. I’m not sorry I went dancing with you and paid attention to the kind of beer you liked. I’m not sorry for giving up a whole week of my life so that you could try to get over a guy you’d just get back together with anyway. I’m not sorry I made you laugh and that we had fantastic sex and that I cooked you just about everything I know how to make. I’m not sorry about any of that, but really Kate, but I’m not sorry that it’s done, either.”
“Scott, I’m sorry,” she said, and I could tell she meant it because I could hear her voice quiver. “In so many ways you’re better than he is. I wish I could tell you all the reasons.”
“There aren’t any reasons, Kate. At least, there aren’t any reasons that matter. You made your choice, and that’s fine.”
“It’s that final, huh?”
“Yeah, it is,” I said, feeling like I’d just stuck myself in a state of denial. “Goodbye.”
“Wait,” she insisted. “I want to tell you my job.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” she said. “Because it means something to me to tell you.”
I wanted so badly to have the courage to say no, because doing that would show her that I would really be able to move on. But I knew I would never really be able to anyway, and what could be more temporarily final than fixing in this last little puzzle-piece?
“Sure,” I said, “Tell me.”
Kate told me what she did for a living. In my head, her image changed, parts of it becoming cemented. The words she said held incredible weight, but I had no cargo ship to hold it all. Some of it fell. Some of it crushed me. Some of it helped.
“I’m still sorry,” she said. “But that’s the best I can do to make you understand.”
“Kate, I want you to listen to me.” I thought of it all, and what it really was. “I’m not mad at you. There are worse things to be than a vacation from the storm.”
She didn’t really comprehend that, but it was okay. Just like her, after a while, everything I said I was saying for my own sake. She said goodbye, and I didn’t expect to ever hear from her until we met again.