Thursday, December 13, 2012

For Thomas, Who I Might Have Married

Thomas looked exactly like the man I never knew I should be marrying.

We met on a popular online dating website. I was attempting to prove to myself that I still had lady parts and something left to give in a heart that was mourning my curly-haired, neurotic ex. Meeting men in Toronto was proving to be impossible. In theory I knew that approximately half the city was made up of them and indeed I saw such creatures wandering its streets. But lassoing one into a date or even a relationship, if indeed I was ready for such a formidable beast, seemed just beyond my grasp.

We met on a chilly May day. I was reluctant to don what I thought was the requisite alluring feminine aura. I’d been happily clomping about in Doc Martens and frumpy outfits since my break-up, packing on a couple of insulating pounds and trying to broadcast an off-putting sexlessness. And so for Thomas I wore not only a shirt but two sweaters, a jacket, and a voluminous scarf. I arrived at the date sweating profusely.

We met at a rickety coffee shop in a rough-looking but quickly gentrifying area of Toronto. It was the kind of place that abhorred matching chairs or indeed matching anything in the name of authenticity. An appropriate mix of 90’s indie classics, classical music, obscure 60’s soul, and various tinny bands from Brooklyn played on the stereo. But if the café was in (albeit artful) disarray, Thomas couldn’t have been a better match.

Tall and lanky with pleasantly square features and adorable licks of wavy brown hair, he was the very manifestation of my dormant WASP-y dreams. He wore boat shoes like me. His information studies masters and well-paying archival job were suitable compliments to my English literature degree and book publishing job. He was taking French lessons; I was studying Spanish. He was tutoring a young man; I was mentoring a 16-year-old girl. We both ran, enjoyed reading literature, had an interest in Internet memes and local politics. The fit seemed too good to be true. I cringed the entire subway ride home, convinced that my multiple layers and rusty flirting technique had killed my chance at landing this unicorn.

And yet he texted me three days later, iPhone to iPhone. We met for patio drinks in the same charmingly dilapidated area of Toronto. Fairy lights were strung amidst the low-hanging trees. I wore a pair of high-waisted jeans to try to prove that I had lady parts.

We squeezed into a wooden bench in the corner, our fingers wrapped around pints of honey-coloured beer. I noticed with appreciation his lean, tanned forearms. He was caustic, intelligent, mild-mannered, politically correct. I liked his easy manner and lightly carried sense of privilege—it seemed a perfect fit to my upper middle class upbringing complete with French camp, horseback riding lessons, private school education, foreign travel, and Victorian literature. I was already dreaming of our future combined earning power and intellectual ambition.

And yet Thomas was more than just the living embodiment of my upwardly mobile dreams. For our third date we aimlessly wandered in a field under the stars, a gold champagne bottle in tow. He revealed his troubled family history. I was touched by his candor; I fell a little bit in sympathy. We loitered awkwardly in the playground and after a long glance launched into a passionate kiss. We moved soon after to my empty apartment—I moving into a sublet before departing for extended travels in Mexico and beyond.

Thomas was the perfect compliment to a summer of decadence, which I filled with lazy afternoons on the Toronto Island beach, biking trips along the shore, and more Korean melon popsicles and platters of Ethopian curry than any person should eat. He would often show up at my door at 1 a.m. and I’d fetch him a glass of water before leading him to my candle-lit room. We saw outdoor theatre, kissed in fountains, ate greasy eggs and sausage at my favourite new mis-matched diner up the street. I drew emotionally closer to him while mentally detaching from my home. The contrasting sensations were oddly pleasant, perhaps because he was keeping me rooted while I was in such a transient state.

But our twosome wasn’t just a stopgap; I noted the hallmarks of a real relationship. He introduced me to his friends, wasn’t moony about his exs, listened to my emotional outpourings, and was frank about his feelings for me.

And yet I felt no compulsion to stay in Toronto. I was too terrified that I would wake up one day in my 30’s still vying to get into the latest hot brunch place, plotting to see the hot art exhibit, and tearing up the artisan beer list at the Victory Café. Even if that future included a lovely feminist husband and two precocious children I felt that the general flavour of my life wouldn’t be that drastically different.

I had the knawing feeling that although I’d briefly lived in Japan and traveled to Cuba and Italy I still didn’t have a sense of how other people lived and thought. Toronto, to me, meant being firmly ensconced in a life where your Twitter influence was paramount, gossiping about local politics was a sport, and you’d better have at least one obscure hobby such as crochet or pinhole cameras. I decided that I couldn’t be married to such a precious milieu forever.

On our last weekend together he gamely attended my goodbye party and made small talk as I pressed my cheek to his. I felt proud of this tall, handsome man who stood by me as I was ready to leave him. He brought me shawarma while I packed and he dried my tears as we sat in the local high school’s bleachers and watched the Bathurst streetcars whistle by.

As the bus approached to take me to the airport the next morning I whispered “I love you.” He looked at me, startled. “I love you too,” he said. And then added, perhaps because the situation seemed so absurd: “I really do.” I boarded the bus and pressed my hand to the glass door as I pulled away.

The culture shock in Mexico City was far worse than I anticipated. Nothing made sense, from the language to the indecipherable bus system to the taco stands offering every organ imaginable diced and fried for your pleasure.

Thomas provided an invaluable source of support. When my schizophrenic superintendent tried to break down my door, Thomas was on the other line. When I fell into a period of depression that kept me mostly indoors, foggy and paranoid, Thomas was a reassuring face on the other side of the screen. And in turn when his grandfather died I tried to provide whatever support I could. But as my sense of trauma passed and I tentatively began to enjoy my new home and its temperate climate, friendly people, romantic culture, and incredible fresh food.

This experience was heightened by the presence of my best friend, a tough-looking but courteous man who whisked me off to weekend getaways in the country, the punk rock market El Chopo, Peruvian restaurants. I began to conflate my sweet new life with his presence and even developed genuine feelings for him. And my sense of trust and faith in him became so overwhelming as to confuse my plan to return to Thomas and a normal respectable life. The temptation of now, with its blue skies and swaying palms, late-night tripa tacos scarfed down amid plumes of smoke, and lazy informal Spanish lessons, tempted me with the promise of continued decadence.

I realized with increasing dread that Thomas, once the embodiment of happiness, was perhaps not what I was looking for at all. I didn’t want to renovate a Victorian semi together. I didn’t need us to take a romantic trip to Europe. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have our morning coffee every day while listening to CBC. These things would mean I was my parents, who did all of those things though perhaps with a lot more explosive emotion, which I much hoped to avoid.

It is hard to reconcile my BBC-listening, The New Yorker-subscribing, vegetarian Indian-cooking, yoga-practicing self with my new love. He has told me that I complete him, while I feel totally lost. But I came to Mexico to disappear into a new experience, so perhaps that’s my version of feeling complete.

What I’ve ultimately realized is that I don’t want my perfect compliment. Instead, I want to be myself alongside someone who can induce the unexpected and uncomfortable.

It is easy to be Canadian Bronwyn and much harder to be Bronwyn that goes to Colombia for Christmas, who speaks Spanish, who learns salsa, who Couchsurfs, who is optimistic about a future that looks totally foreign, in every sense of the word. And who believes that love can last a lifetime because it’s no longer in a stranglehold of convention but is defined by a desire to enjoy the strangeness of possibility. This promises a lifetime of struggle and misunderstanding, but hopefully growth, challenge, and endless new horizons too.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

What a beautiful, honest, inspiring post. Thank you for sharing it.

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