Midnight Messiah Part 2 - Hashtags

2:22 a.m. May 1

There aren't many moments in one's life when the best course of action is to get into a vehicle with a virtual stranger, but this is definitely one of them. I can't remember exactly what happened or how I got here, just bits and pieces... like a waking dream. But it's the middle of the night, and getting in her car sure feels a lot safer than wandering the city streets, faded and tripping out on my own thoughts. I should have never taken those pills from someone I'd just met. #LessonLearnedNeverTrustAnyoneWithaFunnyShapedHead

“Did I call you?” I ask as I enter the old red Ford sedan.

“Ya, you did.”

She smiles, shifts from park, and drives. She doesn't say a word and neither do I. We had only met once before and had barely exchanged words when we did. I don't know exactly why I called her, or why she even came. I can only guess it was partly because at the time I wasn't myself and she probably felt it was her Christian duty. Needless to say, I'm embarrassed. The last thing I want is to be judged - especially by someone who I asked to help me with my research on religion and redemption. #Irony. The only thing I can do at this point is damage control. I know the less I say, the better; obviously the drugs haven't completely left my system, so trying to play it cool and stay silent is not as easy as it sounds. Sooner or later, when your mind has been compromised by narcotics, your thoughts bear arms and begin to hold your reason captive.

“Where are you taking me?” I ask. But before she can answer, the drug induced jabbering takes over once more. I start with my Star Wars comparative theory on how the relationship between Darth Vader and Luke mirrors the stereotypical upper middle class coming of age struggle.

“You see Darth wanted Luke to join the Dark Side and when Luke didn't, Darth cut off Luke's arms. You get it? That's like your dad wanting you to go into the family business and when you refuse he cuts off your arms. Well, metaphorically of course. You get it?” If she didn't know I was high before, she definitely does now. So much for impressing her. It's bad enough that she knows I'm under the influence, now she also knows I'm a Star Wars obsessed loser. There goes any chance of sleeping with her. #HighSchoolAllOverAgain.

When I finally manage to shut up for a second, she breaks her silence and asks, “Do you trust me?”

I nod. She momentarily turns her gaze away from the road, looks at me, smiles, places her hand softly on top of mine and says, “You're going to be okay.” Even in my current state of paranoia, for one reason or another, I believe her.

I continue my pointless blabbering for a few more hours. Finally, after driving for what seems like forever, she parks the car on the shoulder of the freeway. I can't help but wonder just how far away from the city we've actually driven. We're surrounded by trees in the middle of nowhere. She gets out of the car, quickly makes her way towards the guardrail and hops on to the other side. She stops for a moment, turns towards me and motions for me to follow. I do.

On the other side of the rail there's a narrow dirt trail in the midst of all the green. I fight my way through the bushes, branches and foliage to keep up with her. It's difficult. She's moving swiftly with a familiar ease. We eventually reach a clearing that extends towards a cliff side overlooking a small rural town. She takes a seat on the edge. Having a phobia of heights, it takes me a minute to gather enough courage to take a seat beside her, but inevitably, I do. We sit there for a while. I continue to talk, she continues to listen. Just as dawn begins to break through the horizon she looks at me intensely and asks, “Do you believe in fate? As in 'meant to be?' In the idea that everything happens for a reason?”

“When it's convenient,” I respond. Finally sobering up and becoming aware of the situation, I ask, “Why did you take me here?”

“Do you remember what you said to me when you called me earlier tonight?”

“Of course I do.”

I have no idea. At this moment, I'm practically sober and I can barely remember how I got here. So remembering anything that took place in the height of my drug frenzy is nearly impossible, yet alone something specific I said over the phone. I'm not even sure, why of all people, I chose to call her. But she ignores my response and continues as if I had answered with complete honesty - she seems to have a keen sense for the truth. #TheBenefitsofBeingaFormerAddictAndDealingWithRecoveringJunkiesOnaWeeklyBasis

“I don't think you meant to call me. When you called the first thing you said was that you loved me and you continued along those lines for awhile.” She playfully laughs. “I meant to stop you but you were determined on professing your love for whoever that call was meant for. I was about to hang up but then you said something that made me believe that you accidentally dialing me was meant to happen. You said you needed me to save you. That no one else in the world was capable of saving you but me. So how could I refuse?”

I didn't know what to say. She was right. I meant to call someone else entirely. Part of me is relieved that I had called her instead of that other person, but part of me is embarrassed - mostly because, in all likelihood, I didn't necessarily mean saving in the existential sense of the word but more so in the literal. I was in a chemically-perpetuated hallucinatory state at the time. Cats were pawing at my shoulder. Voices were in my head. I really thought I was going to die. #CocaineOxyAndGodKnowsWhatElseIsOneHellOfaDrug

The truth is, I don't really need saving – I was just high as a motherfucker. I don't have any of the intense reasons behind my drug binges, like the junkies she regularly deals with. But a huge part of me is compelled to impress her which probably has a lot to do with her short blue denim miniskirt and long legs that my eyes are glued to. #Haven'tGotLaidInaWhile I want her to think I'm profound and not just some upper middle class recreational drug user that was never molested by anyone. #ChildhoodTraumaEqualsArtisticDepth She already knows I'm a Star Wars dork. I can't have her discover that I'm also just a malcontent little bitch who's having a hard time with a breakup, and not actually the tormented writer she seems to be expecting. So who am I to ruin this moment with the minor details of the truth? So for the first time in the entire night, she's the one that continues to talk, and I'm the one that doesn't say a word. Surprisingly, my silence somehow begins to connect us in a way my earlier words never could. She starts sharing a piece of her past with me.

“You know, my father took me here when I was a kid.” She stands up, looks towards the horizon and continues, “He was a photographer. We moved around a lot. We would end up in all sorts of places, on all sorts of adventures. He told me we were chasing the perfect photograph. That it was somewhere out there waiting to be captured. One month we would be living out of a motel somewhere along the east coast looking for old shipping boats, the next, trespassing on a half constructed, seven-hundred-foot, skyscraper, taking photographs of industrial beams. Then one night we stumbled onto this place. I was ten and at the time it seemed higher than any place I'd ever been. We sat together on this same spot, watching the dawn break. That night the edge of the cliff seemed to extend to the end of the world. I remember being cold and just wanting to go back to the warmth of the car. I remember being angry at my father and finally asking him why we couldn't just live in one place. He held me and said that nothing would ever be this beautiful again. He told me that he wanted to show me the beauty before the damage is done. At the time I didn't know what he meant. I couldn't appreciate just how amazing the view was that night. I didn't notice how fresh the breeze was. How it smelled like the innocence of rain drops and wild trees. How it would probably be the sweetest smell I'd ever know. I didn't understand that being brushed by the wind and being held that high above the earth was my soul being touched by beauty. That same morning my father died of a heart attack. All he left me was his camera. From that moment on, this place became my spot – my solace. I come back here a lot, sit for hours, just looking out at the world, waiting to capture that perfect photograph.”

Old shipping boats? Waiting to capture the perfect photograph? Truth be told, I have no idea what the fuck she's talking about. But I'm a sucker for emotional scars (in all likelihood to make up for the lack of my own) and there's this feeling of thrilling tension between us that I haven't felt in a long time - a sort of shared understanding that only two kids plotting their next piece of mischief would know. I'm not sure if its good or bad but it's one of those rare feelings in life that makes you take notice of the moment, makes you feel like you're really there, like you really exist. And she's pretty fucking hot, so I make my move – I lean into to kiss her.

“What are you doing? I think you're missing the point. That's not why I took you here,” she says as she gently pushes me away. “Rome is burning and yet here you are wasting the best days of your life. Can't you see that? You claim to live in the moment, but are you really? It's not live fast, die young. It should be live fast, die alone. I used to be like you, so caught up in how fucking great everything was in the past that I couldn't fully appreciate the beauty of now. Just look at the world. Everything is backwards; everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the major media destroy information and religions destroy spirituality. We're all so desperate to feel something... anything... that we keep falling in to each other, mistaking good times for actual substance. We're all blindly numbing ourselves towards the end of days.”

I'm pretty sure the last part of that is a Michael Ellner quote. Where the fuck do I find these girls? If I wasn't lost for words before, I definitely am now. I don't know if that was some rehearsed, recovering junkie-injected, diatribe she regularly feeds people to sway them towards a drug-free lifestyle. Some spiel about how all of us poor souls lacking in the presence of Jesus in our lives are all missing out on anything really worth living for. But her passion is paralyzing - not only in speech, but also in belief. I know I won't be attending Sunday masses anytime soon. But being up here, sitting beside her, overlooking what seems like the edge of western civilization and watching the dawn set fire to the clouds on the horizon, you can't help but see the world from a different perspective. You begin to embrace the meaninglessness of your life and the insignificance of your problems. Before tonight, I never really understood why junkies always thanked Jesus for saving their lives. But it's all starting to make sense. It's not necessarily about religion or Jesus. Rather, it's the idea of surrendering yourself to something greater, an inexplicable higher power beyond your control. That something out there greater than yourself exists.

We sit there for a little while longer and eventually make our way back to the car. We drive back to the city in shared silence. She drives me home and we exchange hugs. I don't know what to make of the evening. It's a rare night for me to connect with someone on that level and not - at the very least - make out with them. I know I should be thankful for the new life perspective she's provided me with tonight. But I'm still me - I can't just one-eighty overnight. I still need to know what she found so unappealing about me that at the height of our emotional intercourse, she decided to push me away. So I ask, “I don't think I'm crazy here, but I thought we had a moment back there? I thought we were really vibin'. What's the deal?”

“It was the Star Wars thing.” She laughs. #SuperCute “I'm just joking. Maybe if we met in a different life... I'm with someone and we're very happy together.” #ChallengeAccepted

Midnight Messiah – Part 1 (Story #16)

8:00 p.m. April 20

“...And I know it's hard, but bad things happen. That's life, and you just have to learn how to deal with it. I thank God every day that I'm alive and I can still live. So I make up for my mistakes and take it one day at a time. I found Jesus and he saved my life. My name is Brooke and I'm an addict.”

All the people in the room stand up and clap encouragingly. The woman, barely out of her mid-twenties, smiles at the gesture and steps down from the wooden podium. One by one, she exchanges handshakes as she makes her way through the crowd to the back of the church room where the complimentary donuts and coffee are provided. I just happen to be standing there enjoying a free Boston Cream.

“Excellent speech,” I say to her.

“Thank you. I've seen you here the last couple of weeks, but you never share.” She glances down on the piece of paper stuck to my shirt “Dylan is it? Funny, you don't look like a Dylan.”

“Umm...you got me. That's not really my name.”

“It never usually is,” she smiles and continues, “and you look a little too...” She pauses, “healthy to be an addict.”

I think she just called me fat. “Can you keep a secret?” I ask.


“You're right, I'm not an addict. I'm just here to do some research for something I'm writing” The free food was an added bonus but no need to inform her of that. She already thinks I'm fat.

“Interesting. What's your piece about?”

“Redemption and Religion. I never quite understood the correlation between Jesus and kicking a bad habit. And I figure no one can be more of an expert on the subject than someone like you. If you have some time maybe you'd like to grab a drink or two and I can ask you a few questions? Help me with my research. Drinks on me, of course.”

“You do realize that I'm a recovering addict right? I don't think drinks would be the best idea.”

We laugh and exchange numbers. I finish off the last of my cream filled donut and leave as I see her gather up the attendees in what I'm sure is a “praise Jesus, I'd be dead without him,” prayer circle.

12:05 a.m. May 1

It's around midnight and the drugs, alcohol and paranoia are beginning to take hold. I'm held up at some party in an obscure, dingy basement apartment on the lower east end, somewhere between Broadview and Pape. I'm here with a childhood friend, Terrell, who ironically is the same person who introduced me to the Narcotics Anonymous group I've been attending for my research. He was, at one time, a drug counsellor. But at this very moment, he's tucked away in a corner under some blinking Christmas lights that hang above the entire place, fiercely and manically crushing and mixing a remarkable amount of OxyContin with other substances. He's a mad scientist busy at work - no one quite knows how to mix narcotics together like a former drug addict.

After he finishes, he makes his way towards me through the sea of people, who are drinking and talking. He takes a seat between me and some stranger with a funny-shaped head that I've been chatting up for God knows how long. He offers a tray full of his alchemistic concoction to both of us. The stranger politely declines his offer. Good, more for us. We both blissfully inhale and fall back into our seats staring at the flashing, out-of-season lights. My skin warms, and suddenly I'm raving and jabbering at this poor guy sitting between Terrell and I, saying something like, “I feel good - do you feel good?”

I turn towards Terrell and he's stroking the fabric of this misplaced stranger's sweater, asking him something like, “Is this cashmere?” But before he can answer, Terrell starts laughing uncontrollably and shouts aloud, “Dude, this is the way to live!”

“Calm down man,” I say.

I turn my gaze towards this stranger who has unfortunately found himself seated between us. He's got a phony smile and his eyes look nervous. He's beginning to make me nervous. What if he leaves and reports us to the cops? What will happen then? Or maybe he wants to jack us of our substances while we're under the influence? Either way, it goes without saying that I can't just let him leave. Wait, oh Mary Magdalene, did I think that or say it aloud? Was I talking? Did he hear me?

I smile at him. He's still silent but noticeably a lot more uncomfortable. I glance back at Terrell and he's still laughing like a hyena. I think I better have a talk with this stranger. I'll explain to him that we're good guys, just out having a good time. That we're not avid drug users – there was a purpose behind our evening's drug binge. That we were actually on an essential post-existentialist journey and the only vehicle to reach that destination were these illegal substances. Then he'll understand and we won't be imprisoned. It makes perfect sense. I mean, I really can't blame him. I would have a look of absolute fear, too, if my sweater was being stroked by a six-foot-three black man delirious on God knows what chemical mixture.

“Listen here man,” I say. “This here is Terrell and he is a guru of music. Don't let his racial...” But before I could finish, Terrell interrupts and firmly grabs the poor guy's arm.

“You're not racist are you?” asks Terrell.

“Oh, god, no sir!” shaking his head.

He just called Terrell “sir”. We're screwed. Terrell's gone and done it. There's a look of absolute fear on this poor sap's face. He's sure to rat us out to the cops now. I wanted to shut Terrell up and reassure this guy of our fun-loving yet philosophical journey. But at this point, I've also become completely overcome with laughter. I'm helpless. I can't seem to get any words out. Nietzsche be damned!

The poor guy is squirming in his seat. He finally builds up the courage to get up and attempt to leave. He says something like, “You guys are cool but I gotta' go. Here, my treat.” He proceeds to buy his freedom from Terrell's demented clutches by handing him some free pills and then swiftly disappears around the living room corner.

Terrell immediately crushes the pills with the butt end of his lighter – again mixing them with God knows what. He commences to snort the powder, and I follow his lead. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I feel light brisk brushes from behind me like cats gently pawing at my shoulder. I frantically look around but there's nothing there.

“Did you feel that?” I ask aloud.

I don't know what was in those pills but I went from humorously paranoid to dangerously twisted. Somehow, I don't think this is what Kierkegaard had in mind. I start to feel exceedingly detached and estranged from reality. I'm seeing and hearing things. Maybe it's the lack of sleep combined with all the extracurricular activities that I've turned from habit to routine. Or maybe it's my conscience finally speaking to me. Or maybe it's just those Goddamn pills that funny-shaped head motherfucker just gave to us. Whatever it is, it's beginning to take hold. I'm trying to keep it together in the midst of falling apart, but I'm clearly unravelling. I'm tripping the fuck out.

Time is moving in snap shots: One minute I'm sitting on a couch attempting to calm myself down. Now I'm standing in front of a marble sink splashing water onto my face. Then on my cell phone, frantically panicking to someone on the other end. Now I'm in a moving streetcar - half awake - on my way to God-knows-where. And finally, I'm aimlessly walking the city streets.

Where am I? Why did I get off the streetcar? Why am I walking on this particular street? Did I have a specific destination in mind? I somewhat remember having a reason for being wherever I am now but I can't for the life of me remember right at this moment. Then, out of nowhere a car pulls up slowly beside me. The windows roll down and a soothing voice from inside the vehicle says, “Thank God I finally found you. Get in.”

Haikus, Hipsters and Morrissey (Story #15)

12:30 a.m. April 16th

It's been several months - almost at the half a year point. You've had many break ups but never has any of them hit you this hard. You keep telling yourself that you will get through this like you did the others in the past, but you really don't believe it. In the name of moving forward, you should be trying to meet someone new and forgetting about her, but instead you downloaded The Smiths' “Louder Than Bombs” album and listen to it nightly as you write melodramatic poems and post them under pseudonyms on Okcupid.com.

You are trying to keep it together in the midst of falling apart, but it's definitely not working. A clear sign of that is that your poems don't even rhyme. Instead, the words “dark” and “tormented” are unnecessarily overused. You're at an obvious low point in your life and your only comfort is the fact that it probably can't get any worse. You're just going through the motions and trying to keep some semblance of a career together.

Tonight, you find yourself standing outside a stylish Japanese restaurant-turned-nightclub in the heart of the city's “creative” district for a lame ass pseudo cool, pseudo work function. Surrounding you are the same miserably fashionable people who are at every party and who you are pretty sure know who you are, but who have yet to acknowledge your presence (possibly because they read your online poetry). In all fairness you intentionally ignore them as well. You're not quite sure why you do this, it's just the way it is. You've come to accept this and have practically embraced it as social norm.

Everyone, yourself included, is standing outside the unspoken designated smoking area, loudly expressing their mutual disdain for this party and this trendy club. Yet here you all are, as always, crowded around in the cold, pretending not to know one another. You've grown to hate these functions. You only attend them for two reasons: to network and to take advantage of the open bar. The first of the two reasons is somewhat misguided since the guest list for these events always chronicle the same names, thereby nullifying any valid expectation of supposed networking. In front of you stands a flock of your peers, heavily engaged in deep, shallow conversation.

“God I hate these parties,” loudly scoffs Monica, a freelance photographer who recently had a collection of her photographs published in a national publication south of the border.

“I know exactly what you mean,” says one of her new-found minions, eager to validate her statement.

“There's never anyone worthwhile meeting in these events.”

“I know right.”

No one says anything to disagree. The two of them take the silence as a cue to continue their condescending back and forth discourse of the people that currently surround them. Until recently, Monica hadn't done anything significant and was actually one the few people you could stand. But apparently with new success comes new attitude. But you are not at all unfamiliar with the tone of their statements, since it's often the sentiment of anyone who is marginally successful. The lack of defence to Monica's obnoxious attitude is increasingly getting you agitated. Although, secretly, you hope to one day be on the opposite end of that exchange – the snob not the snubbed.

Fear of being deemed a hypocrite or, worse, an outcast, you have, in the past, never let anything of the sort bother you. In fact, you have once or twice been deluded by the thought that those statements refer to everyone but you. You have been guilty of saying “who invited that guy,” or “they just invite anyone these days,” as though you bear any importance or credibility.

But tonight, for one reason or another, it is bothering you. Maybe it's because you've finally come to a point in your life where self actualization, like Maslow once promised you, has finally occurred. Or it could be that nightly Morrissey influence on your “dark” and “tormented” soul. You decide that you're going to write a Haiku about this when you get home. You are going to call it “The Dark and Tormented Hierarchy of Needs” and post it under “Contemporary Maslow.”

In the midst of your newfound existential awareness you, decide to muster up some courage and say something.

“If you hate these parties and no one here is worth knowing, then why the fuck are you here?”

Imagine complete silence within complete silence in a Buddhist temple during a vow of silence - that's what it sounds like at this very moment. Instead of being celebrated for asking/stating the obvious the crowd of people decidedly pledge their allegiance to Monica by treating you like a fifteenth century leper. Monica breaks the silence by ignoring your question and recounting a story of her run in with a marginally famous celebrity. The crowd cheer her on with their questions of validation.

“Dude, why would you ask her that?” you hear a guy from behind whisper to you.

“Well it's the truth isn't it? I am so sick of these people not saying anything. I just don't understand how they can put up with that bullshit. She used to be nice. Whatever happened to treating others the way you want to be treated?” Oh yeah, you also rediscover your Christian moral rectitude.

He laughs. “Don't you know that's been reinvented? In our line of work, the categorical imperative, the golden rule, is now to treat others as if they were about to become incredibly successful. Want to go inside and grab a drink?”

You agree and a few moments later you are standing at the bar and your new friend is handing you a drink.

“Hey thanks for saving me back there,” you say gratefully.

“It was my pleasure. Besides I've been eyeing you at these parties for some time now and was looking for an excuse to introduce myself.” He seductively places his hand on the small of your back and hands you a napkin with the words, “my place or yours” written on it. Caught off guard at the gesture, you step back a little (just a little – after all, you don't want to come off as a homophobe).

“I think you may have gotten the wrong impression of me. I'm afraid I'm still one of those old-fashioned guys who still only prefers the company of the opposite sex.”

He laughs and insists, “Oh, come on now. You're fashionably underdressed and your jeans are tighter than mine. Not to mention you're at a fashion party, for God's sake. Don't play straight with me!” He squeezes your ass to emphasize his point.

You step back even further. “Sorry dude, I don't swing that way.”

He is offended and the claws come out. He becomes all homosexually cliche and the pitch of his voice becomes increasingly higher, yet strangely, also more confident and intimidating. “Well, I don't know what all that attitude was back there with Monica, cause honey, you're not successful or gay enough to be that difficult. What a fag!” He laughs at you one last time and trots off.

At the start of the evening you were sure that you had reached a new low in your life. Well, a gay guy just called you a fag. You stand corrected - NOW, you've hit rock bottom.

You hear the people around you giggling. You are super embarrassed for several obvious reasons, the main one being that you were just called a “fag” by a gay guy. Quick to defend your manhood with its societal correlation with heterosexuality you attempt to make conversation with the next available member of the fairer sex.

You spot your target. She's wearing large hoop earrings, a beige Chloe Sevigny baby doll dress, worn-in ankle boots and a pair of unnecessary non-prescription eyeglasses. You walk over to her. The two of you exchange introductions and begin to converse. You attempt to impress her by stringing a collection of intellectual words together to describe some random nearby observation. You don't want to sound pompous, so you're quick to toss in a pop culture reference and you also curse, just to let her know you've got a rebellious side. You recall a recent observation by Klosterman and you decide to make it your own.

“What's with the people at these parties? In the past, I was capable of differentiating homeless people from hipsters. Currently, it seems implausible. Now, it's hard to even tell the difference between hipsters and retards. Take for instance that guy standing by the DJ booth wearing the grey sweat pants with the brown Florsheim Imperial Westhaven wing tip shoes, the bow tie and the straw hat. Either he is mentally disabled or he is possibly the coolest fucking guy you will ever meet.”

This formulaic combination of random observations, big words, pop culture and cursing makes you seem undeniably witty. She laughs and it seems you may have won her over. She strokes your arm and -with a compliment- your ego as well. Suddenly, you feel her mouth pressing up against yours.

“Do you mind if we slow down? I think we click,” you say to her when she finally unattached her lips from yours.

“Worried about Jennifer?”

Jennifer is the girl that you dated right after Jessica. You know, the girl that you shared with Patrick – the Devil's three-way girl.

“Oh you know her? We're not together anymore,” you respond.

She stops any seductive progression and looks at you anxiously. “So you're single?”

“Is that some sort of a problem?”

You'd think that would be more of an incentive to move forward. After all, you just charmed the shit out of her with your words and you already began writing a new poem in your head entitled “the one: the girl in the beige baby doll dress.” This poem you had envisioned posting under your actual name on possibly your own website.

“I'm sorry I don't hook up with unattached men.”

You are unmistakeably let down. For one reason or another, in the midst of the dark swirling chaos, you saw white picket fences with this stranger (probably because you're in a super emo state and undeniably pathetic. Poems... really?).

And as if you couldn't make things any worse for yourself, before she walks away you manage to blurt out, “I really like you. Didn't you feel the chemistry? I thought we had something special?”

She looks at you bewildered, as if you're some sort of stalker/serial killer/middle-aged, untalented emo singer. I mean, realistically you can't really blame her. You just imagined the next forty years of your life with a girl you literally met ten minutes ago. But she genuinely seems nice (with the exception of being the possible founding member of Ashleymadison.com), so she takes pity on you and leaves you with the following resonating words:

“Next time you're shopping for a life-long partnership, I would recommend you refrain from narcissistic places, people, and professions. Just saying.”

Rabbit Hole (Story #14)

5:30 a.m. February 3

And that concludes our emergency broadcasting test system we now return you back to the regularly scheduled program.

3:40 a.m. February 3

Fuck it. I line up the eight ball she just handed me in three straight, perfectly parallel lines. I suggestively motion to her, giving her first dibs (or in this case, first snorts). Even in this type of situation, momma taught me right - a boy's got to remain a gentleman; ladies first. She smiles gratefully as she arches her back and smoothly grazes her nose to the glass tabletop. In one sweeping motion the white powder invades her blood stream like an army of mercenaries out to seek and destroy. With her pupils dilated, she tilts her head to the heavens letting out one loud gasp. She turns back to face me, kisses me on the cheek and playfully says, “Your turn.” What a sweetheart.

I inch closer to the table and prepare myself. I do the same, but I take two lines to her one. I raise my head to the heavens like she did a moment ago, shutting my eyes in euphoric escape, enjoying this ever-fleeting moment. I open my eyes, awakening from the anesthetic matrix to re-enter the world with a distinctly sharper view of “reality.” Praise the lord. Who needs salvation when you've got coke.

I wipe my nose and clear my nostrils of any possible residue. I turn my focus back to my future conquest. She looks at me, clearly disappointed, and says, “Is that all you have?” Greedy bitch.

I blankly stare at her, completely immersed in my own private elysium. She tangles her legs with mine and continues talking – something about where I should go to score some more blow. I can barely make out what she's saying. At least I think that’s what she’s going on about. I hear her words, but my mind has drifted far from the sectional couches occupying the corner V.I.P. booth of this particular after party's after party.

I've been out with little miss 'Chyna White' a few times now. Each time we've gotten together has been the same as the last: loud music, spilled drinks and existential anesthetics. I don't know if I can label what we share on a semi nightly basis as dating. Rather, it's more a collective numbing of pre-existing emotional scars. What I like about the whole arrangement is the fact that she doesn't ask me about mine and I don't feel the burden of hers.

At this very moment, she's practically sitting on my lap, stroking my thigh. Mentally, I'm almost entirely absent from the present events. The only thoughts that anchor my mind to the tangible world are 1) Damn, her voice is incredibly annoying, and 2) I think she's wearing the exact same outfit she was wearing when we first met a few weeks back - a ridiculous brown faux-fur coat bottomed off with black pleather leggings. She is relentless with the talking. It's absolutely aggravating. Why won't she just shut up, even if it’s just for a minute? She's beginning to kill my buzz. From somewhere nearby, I hear a familiar voice.

“I think Vince has some. He owes me. Why don't you grab. He's just over there talking to that doucher from that talentless band.” Patrick to the rescue.

Miss 'Stardust' smiles, ever so satisfied and says, “I'll wait for you here baby”.

I get up, walk over to this Vince character, and do as Patrick suggested. I negotiate. Ten minutes later, we make our way to the men's room and conclude our business exchange. I return, means to corporeal liberation in hand, to find this fake-fur-wearing, yay-snorting trick straddling Patrick. I sit across from them and watch her tongue carnally meet his ear lobe. Patrick looks at me apologetically. She notices, stops and culpably smiles. She lifts her body from his lap and walks over to me.

“You're not mad are you baby?”

I can't really say that I am. I'm not surprised at Patrick or at her. I honestly don't even care. I met her just a few weeks ago – right after my break up. She's nobody to me. Recently, the days have become long and the nights even longer. I just need somebody to pass the time with – someone to fill a temporary vacancy. I am indifferent to the immediate situation. Moments ago, I was barely mentally present; it would appear that I have now reduced my status to audience.

She mimics her performance with Patrick, placing her tongue in my ear and seductively straddles me. Patrick laughs. She gets up, procures three shot glasses and a nearby unattended bottle of vodka. She takes a seat between us, fills each shot glass and says, “To life's empty lullabies. Cheers!”

We down one shot, then another, then another. When the bottle is empty, she rises from her seat and makes her way back to Patrick's lap. She whispers something in his ear. He nods, grins devilishly and leaves the party. Trouble. Minutes later, she makes her way over to me, sits, places her hand on me, enticingly suggesting that I follow Patrick.

“Let's make this night unforgettable,” she whispers.

She grabs my hand and leads me out of the club to where Patrick has just hailed a cab. The three of us get in. We arrive shortly after at his current place of occupation – a financial building on King and Bay. It's four in the morning so it's completely deserted. He slaps the face of his I.D. card against the security panel of the door. We take the elevator twenty-one floors up.

“We have a lounge on this floor reserved for executives. Lorenzo, did Vince hook it up?”

I hand him the little baggy. He lines it up on a nearby table.

“Ladies first.”

She inhales her allocated portion, gets up and starts dancing; she is as tempting as ever. Patrick and I watch as we heighten our feelings of competence by lowering our sensibilities. She begins to slowly undress and salaciously touch herself.

Patrick turns to me and whispers in my ear, “now isn't this better than Cranium with Jessica and her lame-ass friends?”

He walks to her and begins kissing her body. She looks at me and draws me over with her finger. For a moment, everything ceases to exist as my mind replays the last year. It's been almost two months since I've seen or even spoken to Jessica. I try to put her out of my mind. I try to fill the void she left behind with continual movement, but eventually life slows down and everything catches up. In those few moments, everything seems to come crashing down. I've been through many break ups, but none like this. Our failed union seems to mirror all my past crimes – reopening every emotional scar.

I've never handled anything close to heart very well. In fact, I've typically done better avoiding dealing with anything emotional altogether. When that subway train left that station two months ago and took everything I knew with it, I decided to strip my life of any thoughts of the last year. I metaphorically burnt all the mementos of 'us' and I've held up alright. But at this very moment everything seems to have caught up to me. Inevitably, my soul has adapted and has built up a tolerance to my regular fix: the combination of night timing and emotional anesthetics. I need something stronger than the regular dosage to numb my current fever, and tonight might be it. But there are certain lines in life that you don’t come back from once you’ve crossed. The first time is always the hardest, but after that desensitization takes over and what once seemed momentous – good or bad – eventually becomes routine. Sharing the girl you’re sort-of-currently-dating with one of your best friends is one of those moments.

I take a deep breath. I’m hesitant. Then the weight and agony of the last year and experimenting with this 'forever' business come crashing down, which is enough to shake me back to now. To this reality. My life. So I say to myself, fuck it. This is my reality. This is my life. Fuck forever. Fuck destiny. Fuck careers. Fuck 50 inch flat screen TVs. Fuck dishwashing machines, luxury cars, PVRs and MP3 players. Fuck zero trans fat snacks, low cholesterol and full dental coverage. Fuck Clue and Cranium nights. Fuck low-interest loans, three bedroom condos and dinner parties. Fuck vegetarian meat substitutes. Fuck substance and  fuck finding myself. Fuck wasting my time righting this week’s imaginary wrong. Fuck Sunday morning mass. Fuck the future. Fuck hesitation. Fuck it all. Because when there's nothing left to burn, you might as well set yourself on fire.

I chemically numb the last of my moral virtue and dive soul first into the rabbit hole.

Bad News From The Stars - Story #13

About 16 Years Ago

I stood still underneath the tree as the wind passed, blowing autumn leaves down to my feet. I watched him in silence load the last of his things in the trunk of the car. He shut the car door and started the engine. He came back out and made his way towards me. He leaned in close, shook my hand and said, “Lorenzo. A man should always love a woman more.”

I wiped a tear from my eye and said, “Goodbye dad”.

Friday 7 p.m., December 18, 16 years later

I run down the stairs and through the turnstiles, hurriedly showing my monthly subway pass to the TTC worker. I try not to push through people to keep some semblance of civility, but it's a feeble attempt. I almost knock over an old Jamaican lady carrying several bags of groceries. I apologize. She kisses her teeth at me and in Patois, resentfully curses my mother's name along with mine. I apologize again, but I hastily keep going down another flight of stairs. I hear the heavy sound of the oncoming train as I make my way down. I briskly rush for the subway doors. They instinctively close on me. I sigh loudly but no one is around to hear it. I'm going to be late. Again.

The next train arrives several minutes later. I calmly get on and take a seat. There is a copy of the daily “Metro” paper next to me. I pick it up and read it to pass the time during the long ride. After reading the sport's scores and a quick synopsis of the current celebrity gossip, I flip to the horoscopes. Mine reads, “Taurus, make a conscious effort to control your emotions. Don't react to unjustified provocations. The main danger now is that if you go too far you might not be able to turn back.” Bad news from the stars.

I arrive an hour and half late. As I approach the Manulife Center, I see her standing outside with her arms exasperatedly crossed. She's angry and rightfully so. I was suppose to meet her for the 7 p.m showing of the new James Cameron film and it's now 8:30 p.m. Over the last few months she's become increasingly irate with me, starting daily fights over the most trivial of things. I've started to grow tired of always having to defend myself so the last thing I want for this night is to be the cause of yet another fight. I just want to enjoy each other's company, argument free. It's been so long since we've had a carefree night. We use to have them all the time. We use to never fight. We use to smile and laugh. We use to talk for hours and fall asleep happy. We use to be a lot of things, but that all seems like an eternity ago – in another life.

I make my way towards her with my excuses and reasons. “I'm so sorry I'm late. I just got stuck at work and couldn't get out and then missed the damn train.”

She looks at me with minimal disappointment. “It's fine. All the shows are sold out and there really isn't another movie I want to see anyways. Do you want to grab a bite instead? I've been dying to try that new Japanese place on Queen.”

I agree to her suggestion. We casually walk back to the subway. We get on the next train and take a seat beside each other. She barely talks to me. The train makes a couple of its routine stops and still, not a word. I decide to break the uncomfortable silence, “I heard this new movie is suppose to redefine the cinematic experience. I'm really sorry we missed it.”

I turn to her and eagerly wait for her to say something back. She looks at me and angrily responds, “I don't care about the movie... I know you've been cheating on me.”

I wish I can say that her accusation completely caught me off guard but unfortunately they've become rather routine. One minute everything is perfection and the next she finds some little thing to momentarily justify her fears of me straying. She yells. I comfort her. She cries. I comfort her. She apologizes. I comfort her. Rinse and repeat. Defending myself has become my new found occupation over the last few months. The two of us keep doing the same thing over and over but to our failed expectations, the results are the same each time. I guess collectively, we've become Albert Einstein insane.

Before I can even comfort her for tonight's “Lorenzo is cheating on me” session, she continues to berate me further with the same accusation. I attempt to calm her down, but it's without success. A couple sitting across from us looks away and pretends not to overhear our conversation. With each passing subway stop, her accusation becomes more infuriated and her tone grows louder and louder. Each time I attempt to clarify the situation, she raises her voice, as if speaking over me would somehow prompt a confession. I grab her hand gently but she violently pulls away. She begins to yell at me, loud enough that people couldn't help but pay attention to the situation. A different, bag-less old lady judgmentally shakes her head at me. I continue to stand there in silence. The less I say, the angrier she becomes. Her accusing attitude eventually turns vindictive. She begins to verbally assault my character, arming herself with anything and everything I have ever done wrong.

Months ago, I didn't understand what brought about her sadness and anger, but as I stand here, tonight, it starts to become clear to me that she's no longer content with “us”. We used to be so passionate for one another. Then some time passed and “Us” became convenient and boring, but I enjoyed the stability. I've always rejected the idea of low interest mortgages, Sunday morning masses, water cooler discussions, PVRs and 2.5 kids. I hated the concept of monogamy and monotony. I've perpetually lived like everything in life had an expiration date. I've preferred to keep a comfortable distance, because nothing and no one had ever been worth the risk. But with her, Friday night movies and “Cranium” activity dinner parties grew on me. She made me want to tuck my Oxford white shirt into my pants, put on that suit and tie and seek out a corporate career. She made me want forever. She was my exception. But she couldn't see any of that. All she saw was the monotony that “Us” had become. “Us”... “I” was not making her happy anymore.

I pull her in close, hold her for a minute. I can feel her tears running down the side of my face. Just as the train temporarily stations into the next stop, I pull away and whisper to her, “Your instincts are right; I did cheat.” I let go of her and take a step out of the train. She looks at me – heartbroken, but relieved. She remains on the train as the doors once again instinctively close. We shared everything. She was the closest person to me in my life, but literally in a couple of moments, all of that was gone. As I stand still on the subway platform, the train slowly departs from the station and it takes everything I know with it. That's the last time we would see each other.

I didn't want to let her go, but I had to. I wanted to let her know exactly what she meant to me. How much I love her. How she's everything to me. How I started to read horoscopes because she believes in them. How although I wasn't the best boyfriend by any stretch, that cheating on her was never really an option. How she's all I ever needed and wanted. How she saved me from a directionless life of 6 a.m. last calls, pseudo friends and jaded hearts. How I had been occasionally stopping by jewelry stores on my way home from work to look at stupid rings. How although I'm not religious, she's my personal Jesus. How my pursuit of happiness ended with her, but just took some time adjusting to. I wanted to do all of these things, but instead I told her what I knew she wanted to hear. I lied to her. I increasingly saw it on her face over the last few months; she had grown tired of the life we built. She had started to miss the excitement of our old lives that had been replaced by stability of this new one. She needed a justifiable reason to leave. So I gave it to her.

We all seek out the love we think we are worth. She had been hurt before. She came from a past that didn't allow her to believe in happiness and forever. She had learned to grow comfortable in the idea of being emotionally numb. I wanted to save her. I wanted to be everything she was to me, but she just couldn't accept what we had. I had to give her a reason to seek out what she felt would make her comfortable. A man should always love a woman more, so I let her go.

High School Letters and Radiohead - Story #12

November 17

A couple days later she sent me this response:

To: lorenzoraymundo@hotmail.com 
From: JessicaT*****7@yahoo.com
Subject: 'Let Down'

Dear Lorenzo,

I know that you’ve never intended to let me down, but you consistently do. It's so easy to talk about happy endings, but if a person can't deliver, if that person keeps making the same mistakes… well, eventually I guess you just have to say fuck you. Or words to that effect. You say you don't want this life – all I ever hear about is how you're meant for something greater; how you want something more, something with substance. Yet it seems to me that you don’t. Not really. Talk is cheap - actions are choices. I'll admit that you're noble in belief, but you're so weak in action. I need something tangible, something I can believe in. You should have chased me out of the club that night. You should have fought for me.

But okay... let's give it one last try.


November 14 – Sometime after midnight ('No Surprises' playing in the background)

I feel guilty. I technically didn't cheat on her, but the feeling is just the same. It has me acting outside of myself. It's been a couple of days since we've seen (or talked to) each other. She refuses to return my phone calls, and the text message ratio is easily 5 to 1. As a rule of thumb, I generally like to keep said ratio heavily in my favour, but with Jessica, that rule has been completely abolished, and I've pretty much been reduced to stalking her as my only form of contact.

I'm at a dead end. In one final move of desperation, I decide to send a high school-esque “you’re-the-one-for-me-I’m-sorry-I’m-such-a-douche” letter.

To: JessicaT*****7@yahoo.com 
From: lorenzoraymundo@hotmail.com
Subject: 'Karma Police'

Dear Jessica,

I don't even know where to start. I guess I'll start by saying something I never said nearly enough: I love you.

Growing up, my parents never said those three words to each other; I thought that I’d be different, but I guess I'm not. I try not to be like them, but somewhere along the line you slip into what you know. I'm sorry about that.

I'm also sorry that we haven't been happy for a while. I don't remember what went wrong between us, or the exact moment everything changed, I just know that it did. One minute we're laughing and planning the rest of our lives together, the next we're here – in this place – filled with anger and resentment. It seemed like it all happened in the blink of an eye; our smiles turned into fights, our laughs turned into scowls. I don't know if that’s my fault or if it’s yours, or if it's just how things go, but I guess it doesn't really matter because this is the reality of us... this is where we are.

I also have a confession to make. I met someone the other night and came dangerously close to crossing that line. I don't know what combination of thoughts of you stopped me from going farther, but something did. I do these things - coasting along life, acting a fool and making the same mistakes. I don't know why. Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm just not built that way. Maybe I'll never change.

I have this recurring dream that I wake up in the twilight of my life in this habitual but unfamiliar place. In a conventional home with a two-car garage, surround sound and a yard with a garden filled with dead flowers. There is a faint whisper of children making breakfast that echoes through the hall. I can hear them from where I lay... barely awake, sleep still dormant in my eyes. I get on my feet and hastily make my way to the shower, aware that I'm behind in my daily routine. I put on an ironed pair of pants, then the suit jacket and shirt to match. I pick out a tie from my vast collection, inhale deeply and fall back onto the bed. I let the sheets and the dark thoughts birthed by the paradigm of mediocrity consume me for a brief, but seemingly eternally fading moment. These introspective thoughts do not escape me – they are buried for the time being, but are carried deep in my pocket until the day that I can muster the courage to act upon them.

I walk down the stairs. There are old photographs of the undying ghosts of what once was adorning the walls. They greet me with an unforgiving torment – haunting and mocking my very existence. I turn a blind eye to them and keep walking. I jump on a train, drink a hot cup of coffee and read the paper. I sit in a box, underachieving for half my day, and return home when the sun turns dark. I go back to sleep and wake up to the same day. Every day.

For so long I've had this dream, and for so long I’ve fought against anything remotely close to it. But then I met someone. She was totally unexpected and, truth be told at the time, undesired. I wasn't looking for her. I wasn't searching. It was totally random. It just happened. She smiled at me and I smiled back. We would lie in bed for hours like idiots, staring at each other. Just smiling. She wouldn't say a word and neither would I. The next thing I knew, I felt at home in that silence. It's a cold, unwelcoming world out there – full of artificial and expressionless people. I was so fearful of being lost in that passionless routine before she found me. The thought of coming home to her makes that routine bearable. Desirable, even.

I don't know if I believe in 'the one', but if I did, I have this feeling that she might be it. She's completely spontaneous and enigmatic, but in a way that is absolutely disarming. She is you, Jess.

I used to be impenetrable - nothing could touch me. Then you came along, and, in that instant, my heart was beating outside of my chest, exposed to the world in all its fragility. Loving you was unexpected and undesired, but it has been the most powerful, profound and agonizing experience of my life.

I wanted so badly to protect you... to rescue you from your past, but in the end you needed to protect yourself from me. I’m the one who ended up hurting you. I know it's been a while since we knew how to be happy together, and it’s become increasingly obvious that maybe we just can't be together. Maybe you're right. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I never really took the time to understand you. It's true, I don't know how to be with you right now, and that scares the hell out of me. But I have this feeling that if we give up now, we might get lost out there and never find our way back to that comforting silence.

I don't know what the future holds or what's going to happen between us. I don't have any logical reason to give this another shot, but God damn I can't stop thinking about you. I miss coming home to you… and we knock the boots pretty well, that's gotta count for something right?

Please call me...


P.S. I've been drinking and, in hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have had Radiohead's 'Ok Computer' album on repeat while I wrote that letter.

Last Call for Sin (Story #11)

Saturday 4 am, November 11

There are certain moments in life wherein the choices you make alter its course forever.

Saturday 1:50 am, November 11

My personal Jesus is standing in the back of the line waiting to use of the bathroom. At any half-happening venue in the city, women always have to wait about three times longer than men for the exact same purpose of relieving themselves. I’m not really sure why this is, though I’ve often wondered what it is women do in there. I suspect that it’s because men urinate upright and all the hardships associated with peeing sitting down cause this major delay in bathroom time, but who knows, really.

I'm standing by the exit with her coat tucked under my arm. I contemplate the obvious outcome of the situation. For a brief second, I reconsider my decision. I turn my attention towards her, studiously looking her up and down. She flashes me a flirtatious smile from where she stands. There’s no turning back. It's over; I don't stand a chance. She's armed with witty banter, seductive smiles and questionable motives. Not to mention, I’m completely powerless against her short mini skirt and long legs.

I'm fidgeting with my BlackBerry, pretending to look busy while I wait for her to finish. Twenty minutes later she comes out, smile and mini skirt perfectly intact. She swiftly makes her way towards me. She grabs her coat from the security of my arm, lightly kisses me on the cheek and asks, “So what now, stranger?”

I take the last sip of my vodka soda. Maybe it's the combination of alcohol mixed with my tolerance for Jessica's dramatic and unwarranted blowouts that provoke something inside me to change... to regress. I swallow that insecure, unsure, idealistic love fool with that last sip of vodka soda. I ignore any semblance of my newfound moral rectitude birthed by my change in relationship status, and divert back to the pre-Jessica version of myself – confident and composed.

I suggest that she accompany me to an after-hours spot located under a hair salon that, twice a week, housed designer- collared-shirt-tie-wearing weekend warriors. I intend to be one of them and invite her to bear the same label.

I mean fuck it. Why not right? She's dope, her outfit could cure cancer and everyone knows in an after-hours, there are no games; true colours come out, especially with the help of a small group of Columbian guerrilla mercenaries. If Red Bull has wings, then Cocaine has a strap-on jet pack. All one really needs is to have a small segment of the rebel forces fight their way into any girl's bloodstream, and you’re guaranteed that she will be a lot “friendlier.” Buy a girl a drink, you get a conversation. Buy a girl a ring, you get a minivan and a mortgage. Buy a girl a couple lines, and at the very least you get a blow job.

I place my hand on the small of her back, guide her out of the club and into a cab idling by the curb. We get in. I'm decisive. She's nervous. I'm relaxed. She's antsy. My demeanour is calm, while hers is in frenzy.

Noticing the change in her attitude I ask, “Are you game?”

She tensely responds, “Can we go somewhere else? Maybe get to know each other a little better? I'm not really an after-hours kind of girl. ”

“Really? What kind of girl are you?”

“I just... go with the flow. I know I came off a bit strong earlier but I wasn't bullshitting you. I don't just typically approach random guys and talk about the alignment of the stars.”

“So was that whole cosmic approach reserved specifically for me? ‘Cause I'll have to admit it really did weaken my resolve.”

“I don't know - It just felt like the thing to say. I don't plan things, but I also don't chase the night. Why don't we go to my place and hang out?”

“Actually, that sounds like a better plan.”

“Good. But I don't want you to get the wrong idea. We're going there to hang out. We're not going to have sex.”

“Oh... okay?”

She laughs and attempts to win me over by adorably saying, “I have old records.”

Sold. We settle into her place half an hour later. She brings out a bottle of wine, lights a stick of incense, sparks up some green and spins 'Low End Theory'. We discuss politics, religion, music, life, love and Star Wars... everything and anything without pretentiousness or over-intellectualizing the conversation. She brings out old photo albums of her friends and family. She starts to confide in me about personal events from her past. She even shows me some teenage dance she did during her high school years that won her a local talent competition.

She's completely random, but in a way that catches me off guard and makes me smile. I only met this girl a few hours ago but she acts like we've known each other for years. It's 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning and without a shred of fear she invited me back to her place for reasons outside the typical after the club norm - sex. For all she knows, I could be a psychopath, a date rapist, a talentless hipster, a child molester, a murderer, a Nazi, or one of those bible quoting freaks – all equally menacing. But for one reason or another, she’s determined to get to know me and not just hook up. I guess her astrology-inspired discourse earlier in the night was genuine.

Naturally, I'm a little taken back. It's been awhile since I had dared to talk to anyone of the opposite sex. I've spent so much time in the last couple of months making my failing relationship with Jessica my vocation that I've forgotten the excitement of raw human interaction.

Before meeting Jessica, I spent the majority of my adult life frequenting all the 'wrong' places in hopes of accidentally running into the 'right' girl. That's what most of us do. Do we really expect to find the kind of person that doesn't frequent clubs in clubs? As blatantly idiotic as that sounds, that's what I did. But tonight it seems that I may have found her. Old records, serendipitous conversations, a genuine aversion to the nightlife, short mini skirt and long legs – summon one of those child molesting bible quoting freaks and we're ready for our nuptials.

We step out to her twentieth floor condominium balcony and both lean against the ledge. From where we stand, I can hear the faint whispers of Tribe's 'Bonita Applebum'. We stand together, on the edge of her balcony and watch the late night city traffic. She leans in closer, playfully nudges me with her elbow and smiles. I smile back. She stares at me, silent. The moment is transcendent. It's the height of decadence. She wants me to kiss her, but I don't.

She is absolutely magnetic and she seems like the girl I've been waiting to accidentally meet, but there's only one problem – she's not Jessica. Earlier in the night, I was sure she was the obvious wrong choice that I was willingly prepared to make, but now she is turning out to be the right decision. Ironically, the right decision is not the one I crave tonight. I require a short term fix; an impermanent form of retribution. I'm looking to cheat, not fall in love. I already have some screwed up version of love waiting for me at home.

I'm so tired of the weight and responsibilities that come with this being-in-love bullshit. I want the freedom of not having to justify every single interaction I have with the opposite sex. People are so quick to cast off sex without love as an empty experience, but as empty experiences go, it's definitely the most fulfilling. I should really go through with it and let the cards fall where they may in the morning, but for some reason I just can't. Damn you mom and damn you Catholic upbringing. I guess legitimizing Jessica's behaviour and accusations will have to wait another night.

“Honestly, you're really dope but I haven't been completely honest with you. I need to tell you something...”

But before I can even go into my in depth emotionally rooted monologue about how amazing she is and that I'm actually a scumbag in a committed relationship, she interrupts, smiles and contently says, “I think I'll hold on to this moment right here. Let's not ruin it by chasing the night.”

She walks me back into her apartment and guides me towards the front door. She opens it and I hesitantly cross the threshold. I look back at her one last time. She walks over, kisses me on the cheek, slips a card in my coat pocket and whispers, “Satisfaction is the death of desire.”

Cheating Hearts (Story #10)

Saturday 1:50 a.m. November 11

Old habits die hard. I guess I'll always have a soft spot for fast women.

Friday 11:50 p.m. November 10

I'm here with a mixture of her friends and mine. We're all standing a few feet away from the dance floor having a lively time, drinks in hand, our backs to the bar. The DJ drops the next track, fire! It's that song you can't help but want to get your dance on to. I'm a little tipsy and a little lifted – the perfect combination. It's shaping up to be a good night, and it couldn't have come soon enough.

The last few months have been rough. I'm starting to question this whole relationship business and whether I’m cut out for it. I know that I have a tendency to romanticize situations, but I never imagined that being in love would be this emotionally taxing. I can't even remember the last time we went out and actually had a good time. The constant fighting is beginning to not only affect my personal life, but also my work life. The majority of what I have accomplished and who I am as a person can be directly attributed to my self-confidence – or what is contemporarily referred to as 'swagger'. I have never been the best at anything, but a word of advice: believing that you're the best is often better than actually being the best. I've landed numerous jobs over more qualified candidates because of the image I project. Lately, however, I've been losing a lot of clients and – along with them – my career momentum. I guess having a person you care about whole-heartedly question your worth regularly has that affect. Now I finally understand why girls with daddy issues used to desperately seek my approval through mildly emotional connections and reassuring words. It's hard to grow as a person when you're so focused on obtaining approval in all the wrong ways from all the wrong people.

I'm in a great mood. This mixture of alcohol, good music and great friends are clouding the issues that Jessica and I have been having. Dear Vodka, thank you. My friend Dave and I are having an intoxicated (yet surprisingly profound) conversation about the inexplicable modern social phenomenon of fashion recycling. For obvious reasons, I'm on the pro side of the hipster twenty-first century eighties fashion movement. He's arguing as a third party observer, that skinny jeans and undersized jackets are not as cool on guys as hipsters seem to think they are. Basically, he believes that I should buy clothes that actually fit and avoid looking like I shrunk everything in the wash. I think that he's just never heard of a tailor. The entire conversation is ridiculous but we have fun laughing at ourselves.

Amidst our laughter and our absurd debate, I get a firm jolt in the back. I turn around and tears are pouring from Jessica’s eyes.

Sobbing and angry, she screams, “Who the fuck was that girl?!!”

The music in the bar is painfully loud, but Jessica's voice still carries over it, catching most people's attention.

Half-embarrassed and half-confused, I attempt to calm her down, “Babe, what are you talking about?”

“Don't pretend. I saw! Everyone saw! That blonde girl who just walked by! She smiled at you and you smiled back!!”

It feels like the DJ has stopped the music and we've become the main attraction. I look over at my friends, who look just as confused as I am. I'd like to say that this is the first time this has happened, but this public reenactment of a 'Dawson's creek' episode that is my girlfriend has become fairly routine. I've become well-acquainted with the judgemental head shakes from strangers and pity-filled looks from friends.

Completely confused and completely embarrassed, I begin to defend myself from her outlandish and unfounded accusations, “What girl? I didn't smile at anyone. If anything I was smiling at what Dave said.”

“You're a fucking liar!!” she dramatically shouts at me (again).

She throws her drink on the ground, shattering the glass into pieces. I grab her arm, but she violently flings it away. She storms off in a fit of rage. I grab my coat from the nearby ledge with the intention of chasing after her like a pathetic pussy-whipped puppy.

As I put on my coat, Dave grabs my shoulder and says, “Dude, you know I'm not one to ever interfere with people's relationships, but she's killing you with this shit. Let her go.”

Dave, a friend I met at university, was not soft spoken by any means, but is definitely the last person to ever get involved in anyone's personal life. His motto has always been the less personal attachment the better. I think for a second. I love her and I don't want to lose her. I'm at a crossroads. Deep down, I know Dave is right and that something’s gotta give, but I'm so caught up in making this relationship work that I've lost sight of what the right thing to do is anymore.

Attempting to justify my behaviour, I say, “I know this sounds totally corny and lame, but that girl is my life.”

In the past I would have burst out laughing at the idea of those words coming out of my mouth in that sequence, but here I am acting a scene straight out of an eighties John Hughes movie. At least I’m dressed for the part.

Surprisingly, Dave didn't laugh. Instead he says, “Maybe that's the problem. I'm not a relationship expert, but I believe that if you love someone, you should make them a part of your life, not your entire life.”

And there it is; words of wisdom from my drunk, emotionless, tailor-free, old university friend. It’s enough to shake me out of my 'Inception'-like dream state.

Maybe realizing that I'm semi-awake from the bad dream that is Jessica, Dave says, “Why don't we go outside for a smoke.”

I don't even smoke, but I agree. We exit the club and make our way to the unmarked, designated smoking area. We don't say a word, we just occasionally nod our heads at each other. I guess this is the guy version of consoling. We stand there for what seems like an eternity. I'm sad, admittedly, but also relieved. Several head nods and a few cigarettes later, an unconventionally beautiful girl makes her way to us. She takes out a cigarette from her burgundy pseudo-vintage fringe purse and motions towards me for a light. I look around to see if Jessica is in sight. The last thing I need right now is to give her more fuel for her madness. She's nowhere to be found. I take out a lighter from my pocket and casually oblige the stranger's request.

“Do you feel that?” she says as I lean in closer to light her cigarette.

“Feel what?”

“The intimate moment we just shared. It feels a little like it’s been lived before. It's a little serendipitous, don't you think?” she responds.

“How so?” I ask, confused.

“Well, it doesn't look like you even smoke, yet you just happened to have a light just when I needed one,” she says as she waves her hands and arms pointing to the sky intending to prove some sort of cosmic connection between her statements and the act of lighting a cigarette.

“I don't think that's slightly serendipitous at all. Just good timing.”

“Are you sure? You shouldn't be so quick to cast off these transient life moments. You have to embrace them when they happen.”

“Oh really? And why is that?” I ask, suddenly curious.

She smiles, leans in close and confidently whispers in my ear, “Because no matter what, these moments right here,” she says as she points to the both of us, “May never happen again. They're literally once in a lifetime.”

She takes one last long drag of her smoke. She tosses it to the ground, crushes it with her brown worn-in ankle boots, then confidently and seductively says, “You're cute and this has been entertaining, but let's skip all the bullshit. We both know where this is going...”

Temptingly bewitching. She’s right, I do know where “this” is going. Although not any time recently, I have been here before. In fact, I’ve been here many times before. “This” and her are the life I swore off the moment I said those three problematic words to Jessica: I can commit. I have never cheated on anyone, nor have I ever entertained the thought. As 'friendly' as my past might have been, I have always maintained a certain code of ethics. I've always judgementally looked down on those who cheat. My first experience with love/commitment ended with someone betraying my trust in that way. Since then, I’ve sworn off relationships and have had an indubitable disdain for cheaters. Yet here I am, seriously considering an offer from this charming seductress.

I love Jessica. I really do, but she's probably halfway to Africa by now, and I just don't know how much more of this I can take. When we first got together, she made me realize that my 'live fast, die young' attitude didn’t really lead to any sustainable happiness. She made me want more out of life. I gave up the late night parties and easy women in lieu of board games and fixed-rate mortgages. I let go of my past to build a future with her. But right at this moment, standing outside this trendy dive bar, in front of this girl, it started to all make perfect sense to me – I'm not the problem. Sure maybe at first, but it takes two. She knows my baggage, and she's aware that as hard as it might have been, I've moved past it. I left it behind, but she hasn't moved past hers; her father abandoned her when she was young for a new family, and she's never gotten over it. As it turns out, she has the biggest daddy issues of them all and, unfortunately, the help she needs is far more complicated than reassuring words and strong emotional connections can provide. She needed a father, not a boyfriend. She carries her history around like a contagious disease, infecting everyone emotionally close to her. When she started to tell me about her past I was determined to save her from it, but at the end of the day, I'm the one that ended up needing saving from her. It might seem insensitive to think about myself given her disturbed history, but sometimes you just have to save yourself. This unconventionally beautiful girl with the fringe purse and charming words might not be Jesus, but tonight she's my personal saviour.

Self-Worth (Story #9)

“How you gonna win when you ain't right within...” 
- Miss Lauryn Hill

Saturday 7 p.m. September 17

In writing, this is what we call blatant foreshadowing.

Saturday 3 p.m. September 17

We've been officially dating for a couple of months, quickly approaching three. I'd like to say it's been perfect, but unfortunately we didn't ride off towards the sunset - apparently it’s not always rainbows and lollipops after 'I love you's'. It hasn't been all bad, it’s just been 'bumpy'. I feel like it's my fault, being that I am a recently retired 'man of the town' and in turn am a recovering commitment-phobe. Relationships are a hard transition for most people, but for someone like me... well, let's just say 'hard transition' is the euphemistic term. Both she and I doubt my ability to be domesticated, but I guess when you love someone all you can do is keep trying. One way or another, we're still waiting on our promised happy ending.

With my eyes attentively focused on the single lane country road, I ask her, “Babe are you sure we're going the right way?”

“What does the GPS say?” she answers my question with a question.

“It says keep going... but I have no idea where we are.”

She laughs and says, “Just keep going. I told you - I grew up in the country.”

“It just seems like I've been driving forever,” I say as my nerves build up in anxious anticipation; today is the day I meet her mom for the first time.

“Relax, her house is just a few more kilometres,” she reassures me as she turns up the radio to the tune of “Metal Heart” by Cat Power.

A few more kilometres turn out to be over an hour. I've been living in the city for the last decade; aside from attending a few long lost high school friends’ birthdays and weddings, I haven't ventured out much. But even in my time away from picket-fenced yards, minivans and early marriages, my cub scout navigation skills have never been in question until this moment. I have absolutely no idea where we are. Thank God for GPS's.

We finally get off the single lane regional road (the country equivalent of a highway), and turn down a dirt road that winds around a cliffside and overlooks a small lake. I slow down and cautiously cruise around the narrow path, mildly fearful for our lives. I drive over a wooden bridge that slopes down like a black diamond snowboarding run, and miraculously arrive safely at her mother's house. She told me she grew up in the country, but I had no idea how literal she being. I wonder how her mother manages to get in and out on a daily basis. I park my car beside a hitching post. True story.

We step into her mother's little country home, and settle into her childhood bedroom. Her bedroom isn’t at all what I was expecting. It reeks of lemon Pine-Sol (or is that Pledge?), and is about as welcoming as a hospital room. On an old dresser stands the only photograph - her as child. There are no posters on the wall nor are there any teenage keepsakes. I look around in silence for a while, not sharing my observations. Eventually we unpack our bags and I inevitably get properly introduce to her mother, who greets me with the all too familiar 'I've-heard-about-you-and-your-tainted-past' look.

During the last several weeks I've been introduced to many of her friends, who for one reason or another, have greeted me with that exact same look (hence my acquaintanceship with it). I'm not saying their opinion is false or unwarranted, but I would love to know who exactly spread these [truthful] rumours about me. It's bad enough being dragged to dinner party after dinner party and constantly have to partake in social events that no poor soul under the age of forty should ever have to be subjected to. I don't care that Colonel Mustard killed Madame Rose in the library with the candle stick. Board games should have more clearly defined age parameters: 8-14, 40-death. But that, combined with the under-the-breath talks about how I'm the wrong guy for her and the constant disapproving looks... it really makes it hard for a boy to stick to life-altering changes.

We make our way to the living room and sit across from her mother on the plastic-covered couches. Her mother asks me the routine new boyfriend questions: future plans, intentions, interests, and so on. I don't typically have a hard time getting in the good graces of the fairer sex, but like board games there is an age limit to my appeal. Nevertheless, I do my best to switch gears and battle my tarnished reputation. In just under an hour, I finally (sort of) win her mother over with the little charm I have at my disposal. Well, maybe not win her over, but I’ve done well enough that she informs the two of us that she'll prepare dinner and knock on Jessica's door when it's ready.

As Jess and I are sitting on her bed talking and waiting for dinner, my phone beeps, boldly announcing a text message from an old 'friend'. Jessica peeks over as I view the message. It reads, “hey! long time no talk. let's get together tonight for the usual”. She looks at me in disbelief. Her eyes start to water, and without a second thought she says, “I knew it. I knew you couldn't change. Just go!”

Understandably confused, I say to her, “What do you mean just go?”

In a fit of unexplainable madness, she opens her old dresser and starts throwing my clothes on the floor. Clothes that I had just unpacked not even an hour ago.

I walk towards her and attempt to calm her down. I try to tell her that I hadn't seen my old 'friend' since she and I had started dating. But she won't listen, there's no reasoning with her. She just continues to frantically throw one piece of designer clothing after another, each one violently flying through the air like meteors in a doomsday movies. She even begins to mutter insults at me under her breath.

I'm at a loss. I don't know what to do. I'm trying my best, but nothing seems to be good enough. I'm beginning to question whether she and everyone else are right. Maybe I’m not the person everyone thinks she deserves. We're cut from different cloths, and since we've “officially” been together, I've been continuously reminded of that. Everyone questions what she sees in a guy like me. Jessica isn't like the typical girls I’ve grown accustomed to dating; she's not impressed by social status, money or looks. She craves substance and - all criticisms aside - it's evident from meeting her friends. Their unfriendly looks towards me are really nothing more than concerned faces. Truth be told, I can't really blame them. My dating track record (if you could even call it 'dating') has not been so impressive as to inspire adoration and approval from her loved ones. My previous success with the opposite sex was primarily a result of my social novelty and the company I chose to keep. Real connections were something I had been deprived of for some time. But, compared to the past male figures in Jessica's life, I would eventually come to learn that I am practically a saint.

Her biological father abandoned her at the age of ten to start a new family, and of her many past boyfriends, she would only say that some had been less abusive than others. Whenever I would probe deeper, she would respond by saying, “It's not something that I like to talk about.” There is a place in Jessica's heart that I haven't been allowed to see. In all honesty, it’s worked out well because thus far I’ve been too afraid to look. But there have been times at night when I caught a glimpse. She would awaken me with her nightmares, pleading with “Chris,” the ex, begging him and his friends to stop. I have yet to ever let on or discuss the episodes the morning after.

After being kicked out by her father, Jess sought shelter with her mother, who at the time she barely knew. Her mother was an alcoholic and had a string of failed marriages. She stayed for as long as she could, but found it too difficult to live amidst her mother’s drama. She escaped to the city not even a year later and found momentary solace with a heroine injecting DJ boyfriend. That is until a few months later, when he decided to make ends meet by sharing her with paying friends.

She and I met a couple of years after that; by that time, she’d learned that trust was a commodity she could no longer afford. Even now, after all the changes I've made, she remains skeptical of my intentions. I guess after all that she's been through, she finds it hard to believe that any man - even me - could be different from the rest she’s known.

We began talking about building a future together. I made the long country drive to meet her mother, attended the weekly dinner parties and even purchased a couple of board games with one day having the objective to host my own Clue-and-Cranium night. But for some reason, it just wasn't enough. I would eventually subdue her doubts, and she would subside from her fit of CdG and Buckler tossing rage. But within the months to come, she would have many more of these sporadic madness-filled fits. And, like an idiot buying into Hollywood ideals of love, I will keep trying. Her further skepticism will only fuel my vocation to make this relationship work. In the months to come, I will try harder and harder to prove the falseness of her mistrust of people, of men, of me. Yet the more I attempt to convince her that I'm different from all the men from her past, the more I will begin to lose confidence in myself and begin to think that I will never be enough for her. Eventually, in trying to prove myself worthy of her, what I will fail to realize until it's too late is that what she truly doubted was her own self-worth. In her mind, she will never be good enough to sustain any meaningful male relationship. Every man, myself included, will always just be another guy waiting to break her heart.

Her mother knocks on her old bedroom door. Dinner time.