When We Finished
by TRACY WAN
The caveat is that the feeding hand gets bitten, but no one warns against the bitten hand that keeps on feeding. It’s a process I was largely unfamiliar with, having never been the type to linger, having built up immunity against the very idea. Most of what we think of as virtuous — patience, tolerance, forgiveness — depends on stasis. To forgive, you have to stay. And I’ve always despised still life: a shark’s death.
But it’s almost June and the air is intimate, pressing tightly to skin. When your body temperature approximates that of the breeze, there are few movements that feel necessary. Of those that do, few are sharp; everything is covered in a sleepy gauze. If we close our eyes, it’ll be morning again.
In summer mistakes don’t feel real. Everything is equal parts possible and impossible; attainable without consequence, and forgettable in the same way. One day I returned home from the lake with a mild sunstroke, and found out he was sleeping with a girl — much in the same way he had been sleeping with me for the past two years. Intimate, pressing tightly to skin. She was the one who told me.
I laughed to myself, and wondered why I was laughing. Was it because I did not expect this life? Was it that I knew this would happen? Nothing made sense except the fact that I had to leave, be in a space that was not decorated by his clothes, a space in which I could degenerate and reconstitute as someone who would survive this. I grabbed a bottle of whiskey, put on lipstick.
Around midnight I came home and told him to come over. I wanted to throw everything he owned out of my window but couldn’t; I wanted to slap him, but held his face in my hands. He cried while picking up his things, but it was then three a.m. and I wasn’t feeling cruel, just devastated. It is almost impossible to retain anger in its purest form; it takes years to be able to speak the body language we covet. The hand that was bitten keeps on feeding.
When he asked me why I let him stay, I replied: to remember that we once gave to each other. He cried more. I kissed him – salty. In the tar dark he whispered I’m sorry and I said treat my body like it’s yours for the last time. He misheard: Like the girl I was with last time? I don’t want that. But he did. This was the proof. This was the fruit.
I cried when we finished, without moving, the tears falling ripe onto his face. It pooled with his into a dark puddle across my pillowcase. We slept with his knees folded into the small of my own: a first. I shifted away upon wakening.
It takes a rare degree of mastery to untie knots with the same grace and speed at which you secure them. This is because the knot is usually what we desire, far more than its dissolution: in shoelaces, ties, most boating situations. It’s a skill, something to learn as a child and practice frequently. Knotted, things stay together, and they do not part lest we want them to. The sheer numbers of this life dictate that we are more often apart than we are together; only endeavour, and will, bring people to each other. They separate effortlessly.
In life we “tie the knot” happily, willingly, but when the relationship nears its end, these bonds “dissolve” and “fall apart” — responding to a force that is bigger than us, or so it would seem. We rope ourselves in when it’s good, but are cast away by circumstance when it’s not. I watch this happen weekly. “Things just didn’t work out.” “I don’t know where it went wrong.” “We did all we could.” This was not a narrative that I was going to accept for myself.
As my relationship ended, the most common advice I received was to make a clean cut of it. In other words, violently pull yourself away and tend to the wound later — at home, in the company of friends, sad music, dairy products. This did not appeal to me for several reasons. For one, sad music played the role of any music in my life, which was going to be unremarkable. Lactose intolerant, I also found french fries to be a far inferior wallowing food than ice cream. As for friends — I didn’t believe in breaking up in their company, since I didn’t really fall in love in their company. Intimacy where intimacy was due.
When you make a clean cut, the sacrifice is always a part of yourself. I did not want to emerge from this with a phantom limb — after all, one with a proclivity for devastating music should not be expected to recuperate quickly. The alternative, I reasoned, would be a gradual, self-dictated breakup; so that by slowly slipping out, I could loosen the grasp in time to make it out unblemished. This’ll be like kicking a caffeine habit, I thought, the dynamics of which I was painfully familiar with. If a relationship is formed through an accretion of time with one another, then it can be taken apart in the same way.
Hours before the discovery that led to our dissolution, I had booked tickets for us to Montreal — where he lived, and where I was from. We were going to spend two weeks together before I began my internship in Toronto. Those two weeks were allocated to moments we were going to share — brunch at a favourite restaurant where the owner knew us by name, trips to the mountain at sunset, lying awake in a bed that I left him when I moved. When all that became no longer viable, I stared at the tickets until my eyes lost focus. Time seems to fall to half its rhythm in solitary. What was I going to do?
And, true to the constitution of anyone struggling to kick an established habit, I said ‘fuck it’ and went anyway. If choosing the structure of this breakup was something I wanted for myself, I wasn’t going to give up two weeks in my favorite place in the world — even though it had shifted during my own earthquake.
When the métro slowed to a halt at my best friend’s subway stop, he reached over to grab me, and kissed me on the cheek. We had spent the previous six hours fluctuating between touching and not touching each other, unsure of its degree of consequence and regret. In many ways, the end of a relationship (should you opt for the one I did) mirrors its beginning: every decision seems more crucial and paralysing than the last, every gesture ripe, almost fermented, with meaning. The first night we met, at the same subway station, I leaned over to kiss his cheek, and his mouth had met mine. He was nervous, the same way I am nervous at this point in time, two years later. This time, I wasn’t going to kiss him. This time, I didn’t want to get closer.
“I’ll call you every day,” he said — in the way that boys do, revealing, without a doubt, that they did not believe the rules of the universe applied to them — “You can pick up whenever you’re ready. I want to know what your days are like and how you are. Every day. I love you.” It seems hypocritical, but isn’t, in the same way that hurting yourself does not imply a death wish. Advocates of clean cuts hate this. They want to throttle him, pull him from sight. I just wanted to touch his face, the very instinct that I’ve felt since the day we met.
I took a step back.
“I’m going to go. Before this gets complicated, you know?”
Tracy Wan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Montreal. She twitters here. You can find her website here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
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