The Morning After - Story #5

Sunday 9:10 am March 7

I never thought that I would be the kind of person I am today. My mother would not be proud. The first train of the day still hasn't arrived and I've been waiting for over an hour. I'm standing on the subway platform wearing precisely the same clothes from the previous night. Strangers keep looking at me. My hair is flat on one side, my shirt is untucked, wrinkled; my tie is loose and half on. I smell of sex and alcohol. It's blatantly obvious to everyone around me that I'm on the morning-after ride of shame.

I step on the train and take a seat beside an old lady. She's wearing a white floral Sunday dress. She's probably on her way to church to pray for my sins. I graciously smile at her. She judgmentally shakes her head and gets up to find another seat. Self-righteous old hag. A happy couple sitting across from me giggle at her antagonistic gesture. I respond by shrugging my shoulders. They continue to laugh for a bit, but eventually lose interest and go back to “being in love”. Condescending pricks. Near the subway doors, there is a small group of white teenagers. They are all wearing pants that are at least 4 sizes too big and flat brim baseball caps tilted to the side. The most obnoxious one of the bunch is wearing one of those “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirts. They all approvingly nod at me. Obvious virgins.

If I had taken a cab, I could have avoided all this. Truth be told, I'm too cheap for that. I'd rather save the twenty dollar cab fare and essentially “face the music” – or in this case, the judgmental and condescending/approving looks from the Sunday morning subway commuters. I loathe each and every single one of them. But still deep down, a part of me craves this ride; like a sort of self-inflicted penance. I know it would have been wiser to cut my losses at last call and head home, but instead I kept going. The rush of the night was just too tempting; somewhere in the last twelve hours I ended up here. Again.

Sunday 7:40 a.m March 7

I wake up in a cold sweat. I'm fully naked. I'm laying on an uncomfortable white futon mattress. There aren't even sheets on this futon. The pillow that I'm resting my head on is stained and has no cover. I look up at the ceiling and notice stars painted on them. This is all very unfamiliar to me. I need to get a better sense of what exactly is going on, so I look around. The room is decorated with over-exposed photographs, self painted art and empty wine bottles. This isn't my bed and this certainly isn't my room. I feel someone next to me and I turn to them for answers. I find a mascara-drenched stranger snoring beside me. Her saliva is running down the side of her mouth and her face is completely covered by all her hair. I don't recognize this individual. She, too, is completely naked and also smells of alcohol and sex (in all likelihood, both my doing). I wonder exactly who this stranger is. As I fully start to awaken, the night that preceded this morning slowly starts to come back to me. I begin to recall being introduced to this stranger by a friend of a friend of friend. I recollect complimenting her on her style and disarming her with my witty words (the benefits of being a writer). She was fully impressed and engaged by my pseudo comedic intellectual banter. I also remember leaving the club with her. After that, the rest of the night is lost to me.

As I lay staring at the ceiling, I wonder to myself how I got here. I contemplate waking her for another round, but her smell and unfamiliarity turn me off. It's probably better to just leave. There's no point in waking her and making an already awkward situation even worse. Although, judging by the smell of cheap wine that emanates from her side of the bed, even the Santa Claus parade marching band couldn't wake her. Some Bolivian marching powder probably would.

As she lies there fast asleep, I mentally plan my escape route. I need to make as little noise as possible while making my exit to ensure I don't wake her. She's curled up away from me and her back is towards the door. I shake her a little and softly whisper, “Hey, are you awake? I'm going to get going”. She mutters something incoherent under her breath, but she doesn't move from her fetal position. She's still completely passed out. Excellent. I let out a sigh of relief. Goodbye hugs and kisses are definitely not in order. In fact the exact opposite is to be expected after this type of escapade.

With as little movement as possible, I lift my naked body from her cheap Ikea futon. My feet hit her cold apartment floor. I stumble a little. The little light through her bedroom window allows me to locate my clothes. Her bedroom looks like an entire section of Value Village exploded in it. Either that or she was recently homeless and hasn't had the time to purchase a new wardrobe. Or pillow covers. Or bed sheets. Or self-respect. I'm half proud and half disgusted at my behaviour. I gather the rest of my things and begin to get dressed. I quickly and quietly slip on my clothes from the previous night. I turn my underwear inside out. It's important to maintain good hygiene at all times. Although, this certainly is a weak attempt at best. My shirt and pants are completely wrinkled and smell, of course, of alcohol and sex. I don't have time to properly put on my tie. I just want to fast forward this morning and get the fuck out of here.

As I slowly tip-toe around the maze of clothes on her apartment floor, I can’t help but wonder how many of these nights she has had. Judging by the Costco-sized box of condoms she openly had resting on her bookshelf, one too many this side of an S.T.I. I really should be more responsible and make an appointment at the clinic. I've been putting it off for some time. I've been going in there four to six times a year for the last three years. The fact that front desk attendant knows my name is actually quite disconcerting. Part of me is scared to find out the results, but I do it anyways to give my life some semblance of structure and responsibility. I've either become my best self or my worst self. Earlier in the night I was certain I was my best self, but at this point in time, I am definitely the latter. I am the person my mother never wanted me to become. I lie to myself on a nightly basis, convincing myself that the pursuit of pleasure is akin to the pursuit of happiness, or even remotely close. My dreams and goals have been substituted by emotional numbness and one night stands. Dear Jesus, I'm sorry.

Just under a decade ago, I had a different idea of love and relationships. I used to be the kind of person that went to dinners and movies and glow-in-the-dark mini-putt. I use to even cuddle after sex. I believed in great conversations and lifelong connections. I was the kind of person that never slept with anyone on a first date. There was even a time when I believed that love came before sex. Eventually... Inevitably, someone broke my heart and I lessened my expectations. Now, several heartbreaks later, that whole concept of love before sex seems utterly ridiculous. If I slept with someone for the first time and they told me they loved me right after, I would consider them a stage five clinger. I would think they malfunctioned emotionally and be inclined to block them from my BBM. And none of my friends would blame me. We would all laugh and scoff at this stranger and their misplaced ideals of love and sex. When did I become so desensitized to this city life that it's become easier to sleep with a stranger than to ask them to go see a movie?

As I walk out this stranger's door, I have a small moment of self-reflection. I don't have many of these anymore; I don't want my old self to meet my new self. Somewhere between that first broken heart and now, I convinced myself that my old ideals were na├»ve, and that these new ones were more realistic. I began to live for the nights I can't remember to try get over a past I can't seem to forget. I felt that a collection of these nights would somehow fill the void that someone had left behind. I think to myself, maybe I should crawl back into bed with this stranger. Maybe this stranger will bring promises of old times, of teenaged romance, of pillow conversations and movie dates. I will have a one night stand with her and wake up the next morning in love. I will inform her that I never have this type of evening, and she will say the same. But this stranger is emblematic of the problem. The problem is, for one reason or another, I believe that these nightly escapades will end in meeting the kind of girl who is not the kind of girl that partakes in these nightly escapades. Maybe I should have just stuck to my Catholic school upbringing and kept going to church on Sundays. If I did, maybe this old lady would not have switched seats and instead she would have shook my hand. Maybe I'd be in a loving relationship instead of turning away the right girl for the wrong one in lieu of chasing the cool. Maybe I wouldn't be emotionally numb and actually have someone to hit golf balls with in the dark. Maybe then, Jesus would actually be my homeboy just like that t-shirt read. Because deep down, I know I won’t meet my personal saviour at any after-hours venue, but – inexplicably – I still keep going.

Chasing the Cool - Story #4

Sunday 12:30 a.m. 20**

We stood around, occasionally lifting our glasses to cheer our adventurous and amazing lives. We knew nearly all of the people in the place – and the ones we didn't, in all likelihood, didn't matter. It's different on this side of the velvet rope. “Him” from that band shook my hand and struck up a conversation. I approached “her” from that magazine and gave my congratulations. From across the room, “them” from that play raised their glasses at us and nodded their heads. We all made our rounds, exclusively acknowledging each other's existence as if we all belonged to some secret society that outsiders were oblivious to.

A decade ago, this isn't where I imagined myself. I grew up in the suburbs. I went to a Catholic school. I wore a uniform. My house didn't have picket fences, but it was close enough. I was raised just like most people. Go to school. Get good grades. Get into a good university. Get a good job. Find a good girl. Get married. Have kids. Buy a house. Live a good life. But somewhere between here and there, the concept of good was lost to me. Living in the city changes a person. It changed me. The city wakes you up from the slumber of the suburbs.

Hey Lorenzo, see that girl that just came in with the hot wannabe model? Isn't that the girl from the other week? The one who just broke up with Keith? Don't you sorta know her?” said my friend, suggestively elbowing me in the back.

I knew exactly what he was thinking. It ain't no fun if the homies can't have none. Target acquired. We made our introductions. With these types of women, you don't have to be interesting or even witty. They could care less about getting to know you. They don't want to discuss politics or hear your thoughts on life or religion. No one here is genuinely out to connect on any level deeper than hellos and goodbyes. They more so want to be impressed by you. You must be armed with subtle and occasional name drops. This battle is won by convincing them that spending time with you will increase their importance in this modern day night timing empire. Let them know why you are who you are. Own your status in life. Everyone, in one way or another, is just chasing the cool.

As we got further into our vain conversation, she motioned to her friend and made some snide remark about someone standing by the bar.

Poor girl. She'll never get a drink looking like that.”

I turned my head to join them in their ridicule at the expense of this clueless outsider in hopes of sealing our awkward morning agreement. But when I did, I was caught off guard. To my surprise I recognized their verbal assault victim. She was wearing a blue t-shirt that didn't match her faded torn blue jeans. She had flip flops on, as always. I looked at her and caught her eye. She smiled at me and waved.

You know that girl?” the fake-breasted quasi model asked me. My friend gave me a look I recognized. It was the “just-say-no-and-please-don't-fuck-this-up” look. But all the feelings from that night came rushing back. Her friendly blue eyes were still locked on mine from the bar where she stood, unserved. She began to walk towards me. I weighed the decision in my head and in my heart. Continue my conversation with this conventionally beautiful but obviously shallow person and win the admiration of my friends, or leave it all behind and talk to the girl with the flip flops. She, a couple of weeks back, had stolen my heart for the night. Although I woke up disappointed to a post-it note goodbye, I knew eventually our paths would cross again. I couldn't really blame her for her abrupt and seemingly careless departure. I'm sure it was a confusing and somewhat difficult situation for her, given my metal heart reputation. I'm sure in her head, she thought that's what I was accustomed to and what I wanted. Typically, she would have been right, but there was nothing typical about the fate-less night we shared. Connecting like that with another human being is rare in this city. Talking about anything other than what you do and who you know is rare in this city. Real conversations are rare in this city. Truth be told, anything real is rare in this city.

As she came closer to me, the night we shared began to come back to me vividly. I remembered how I fell asleep beside her and didn’t feel alone. How we talked about everything and anything. How she actually cared about my thoughts and aspirations, but failed to expect anything more. I remembered how warm her body felt next to mine. But all of that was weeks ago, and this moment was now. She didn't belong here with these people. She didn't know “her.” “Him” didn't shake her hand. “Them” didn't nod at her. And realistically, we made no sense together. Not in this city. Not in this life.

Hi. How are you?” said the girl in the flip flops, innocently.

I'm good,” I responded, rudely and to the point.

Listen, I had an amazing time the other week. I'm sorry I just left like that. I just didn't know if you felt the same and I didn't want it to be weird if you didn't. Do you have a second to talk?”

I hesitated for a moment as my future conquest looked at me semi-disgusted for even knowing someone that didn't “belong.” I did feel the same way. Ordinarily, one night stands have a way of making someone feel lonelier than ever, but it was different with her. I felt something. I knew deep down, I had come across something tangible. Something with texture. Something real. But for one reason or another, these words came out of my mouth: “The other week? I don't know what you mean. I'm sorry, I'm really busy. I really don't have time to talk.”

I turned my back to her and went back to business as usual. In my periphery, I saw her walk away with her head down; not with embarrassment so much as a half-expected disappointment. Life isn't filled with first chances, yet alone second ones. I'm a glutton for this self-inflicted, superficial, substance lacking existence. I chose a life of wannabe models, lonely evenings and rap video dreams.

I got the look of approval from all parties. I've always hated people that lived with no significant meaning. I always thought that a life like that would be the death of me. But there I was, in this hip Toronto bar, with these hip Toronto people; yearning to impress and dying one premium vodka sip at a time. The city might have woken me up from my suburban sleep, but I'm still only half awake – shaking hands, nodding heads, completely devoid of substance in this fake empire. I gave up something real to impress people that could care less about me. I've been so busy toasting this life away with “him,” “her” and “them” that I failed to realize that chasing the cool never kept anybody warm.