A Touch and Go of Don’t Know What to Say
I’m on my bed, sipping a cup of lukewarm, twice-steeped spiced orange tea, and feeling an abundance of emotions. In short, a typical Saturday night. Two months and nearly three weeks in this new year, and it seems to me that all I’ve done is traded in my old, worn-out feelings and replaced them with shiny new ones that still need breaking in. I map out the months and pick out the moments worth keeping, until my landscape of memory resembles a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream after all the brownie bits have been scavenged out. A blender from a Twitter poll. A 3 litre box of wine. A wrinkly registration form with three ticked boxes. A pole with a taped-up handmade rainbow flag. A hand smeared with mustard after a steam burn. A crooked green bowtie.
In a way, I feel akin to Asterios Polyp, the protagonist of the graphic novel of the same name. At the beginning of the book, his apartment gets struck by lightning and gets consumed by flames. Asterios hurriedly puts on his shoes, grabs a stainless steel lighter from his bedside table, rummages in his dresser for an old watch, and ransacks his bookshelf to find a swiss army knife. He grabs three things — three memories: the health of his father, the hope he had as a child, and the love of his ex-wife. Our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie croons. I pick up leaves and discarded papers from the sidewalk. I save ticket stubs and receipts from restaurants and libraries. I fish out letters from the trash and keep others from going in the bin. I stick them all in a black scrapbook that’s almost bursting out of the elastic keeping it in place. I keep Hansel-and-Gretel-ing my way back, because as much as I yearn for a fresh start, I can’t stand the thought of letting go.
Bedraggled and sopping wet, Asterios stands behind the counter of a Greyhound bus station. He holds up a fistful of dollar bills and asks, “How far will this take me?”
Exactly two weeks ago, I was just leaving a Denny’s after polishing off a plate of an All-American Slam (toast, sausage, bacon, hash browns, scrambled eggs). The play I was working on, Eurydice, closed that night. After a lot of “lasts” (last preset, last quick change, last time unlacing and lacing up shoes, last load of laundry), letters, hugging, holding back tears, laughter, watermelon cubes, spicy radishes, and dog petting, the night was finally coming to a close. I didn’t want it to end. I was huddled in the trunk of a friend’s car as she drove me (and everyone else) home. I thought about the last time I sat like this (prom night, 2014; with the curls of my then-boyfriend’s hair splayed on my lap, over my long, fussy teal gown). I thought about how far I’ve come since then. I’m not ready, I pleaded. I don’t want to start over, not again, not now not now not now.
We only have one show left, I lamented, earlier that night. We get to do the show one more time! He beamed, radiant, still in his street clothes. Should I tell him now, that his back will bleed over his yellow polkadot shirt? Should I whisper now, about his joke about How To Tuck in a Shirt three hours before he’ll whisper it to me, as I tuck in his shirt? Should I smirk now, at his green bowtie that will always remain crooked? (Should I remind myself, again, of the dangers of: making promises and feeling special?)
Asterios first met Hana at a faculty party. He was centre stage — the life of the party — while she avoided the spotlight. They could not have been more different.
Asterios’ angular, clean-cut lines soon dissolve into Hana’s impressionistic sketchmarks. They fall in love. They get married. Their marriage doesn’t last.
In Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, our protagonist Toru Okada wonders:
Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one person to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?
With each new crush, I am growing to realize that love is nothing more than the biggest leap of faith. I have a fuzzy memory of doing trust falls in sixth grade and worrying that the person behind me won’t be able to support my weight. That day, none of us got hurt because none of us dared to fall. Eight (nearly nine) years later, I am still afraid of falling, of crushing someone with my weight. Like Asterios, I’m terrified that our etchings of this universe will never fully coalesce (like oil and water, like angles and curves) — that we will never fully see eye to eye. Like Toru, I’m constantly paranoid that there will always be a realm within them that will always remain untouched by me (like pulling a magician’s trick handkerchief, never knowing when it will end) — that I will never fully understand them. And what is love but saying fuck it to both those worries, trusting that they will quell your anxieties?
Asterios arrives in Apogee, where he answers a Help Wanted sign at an auto repair shop (despite knowing nothing about auto repair) and rents a room at his boss’ house. In the stillness of his crisp blank slate, he returns to thoughts about Hana. He reflects on the moments that brought them together. The events that brought on the end of their marriage. The love he still harbours for her.
In between the first ironed costume and the final delicate wash cycle, a boy with the most radiant eyes I’ve ever seen read the card I gave him and said what I wrote was beautiful three times (beautiful, beautiful, beautiful — like a mantra). He pulled me close and held me in a tight hug. I thought about confessing so many things that night. I come two hours early each night to finish my ironing early in the hopes of running into you in the green room. I linger in your dressing room too often. I fix your bowtie even when it’s not crooked. You are the most radiant person I’ve ever met, and I don’t want to let you go just yet. I can’t even remember what I ended up replying.
Asterios fixes up an old, solar-powered caddy and starts driving. Out of Apogee and into the highway, past speeding cars and valleys and factories. The car putters on, until it breaks down in the middle of a snowstorm. Undeterred, Asterios gets out of the car, and trudges on in the snow to a well-lit house. He rings the doorbell. Hana answers the door. Freezing, he stammers: “H-h-h-hello, D-d-daisy.”
I knew there was something special about this radiant boy from the first moment I sang with him. Like Hana, the moment I saw him (as in, really saw him), I felt like I was staring into the spotlight. I have never been the type to try and grab the spotlight, yes, yes, And I’m tryin’ not to cry ’cause there’s nothing that your mind can’t do, yes. I didn’t want to throw away my shot this time. I couldn’t. Fast forward a week after I saw him perform for the first time, four days after he talked to me for the first time (“I can’t find my wedding ring”) — I asked him out.
It took a bolt of lightning, a Greyhound bus, a job as an auto repairman, a family of three in Apogee, an injury to the eye, a lot of research on solar power, and a snowstorm before Asterios took the first steps in talking to Hana again. Fuck it, Asterios probably thought, I’m going to learn how to fix this beat-up car so I can drive across the country to tell my ex-wife I miss her and I still love her, or something!
It took me two complimentary tickets to Stephen Sondheim’s Company, a mix CD, singing along to First Date / Last Night from Dogfight, and a nighttime car ride (in a non-solar powered vehicle, sorry Asterios). Fuck it, I thought, I’m going to be vulnerable for the first time, and if it works out, it’ll be amazing, and if it doesn’t, I’ll survive, or something!
I looked straight ahead…
…and took the leap.
Photo credit: All rights belong to David Mazzucchelli and Pantheon Books / CC BY-NC-ND