The Last Time

drunk girl

The last time I touched cocaine was January 31st. Had I have known it would be my last time, I probably would have done things differently. I would have picked up an eight ball instead of a half and stayed awake all weekend. I would have thrown some sort of epic going away party for the dirty little habit that had taken up much of my twenties.

I had quit before, but was easily seduced back into its familiar arms. Cocaine promised to take me somewhere better than where I was, to a version of reality where I was happier, where I could forget about the depression and anxiety that plagued me, the things that robbed me of my confidence and grace. I wasn’t as sad as I used to be, or at least I didn’t think I was, but I still had this shadow that followed me around. Cocaine was like sunshine in comparison, and so I always returned. But something felt different this time.

It wasn’t so much that I was sick of the drug. There’s a reason I liked it for so long, a reason I was late for so many parties, and then, once I got to those parties, why I was always one of the last ones to leave. There’s a reason I spent way too much money on it over the years, an amount I don’t particularly care to calculate. I was just sick of me being on drugs and I thought about this as I put on my shoes and headed to the party. But later, after a few bumps in the bathroom, I pushed the thought away and my night turned into a blur like all the others before it.

I woke up on February 1st and, as I began putting the pieces together from the night before, I realized I didn’t want to be that girl anymore. I replayed the night’s events over in my head thinking, was I the only girl high at the party? There used to be more of us. But over the years, people trickled off. Some quit. Some went to rehab. Some disappeared. It used to be that cocaine was everywhere—or at least it felt that way. Sometimes when I was trying to do less I would tell myself I’d only do it if someone offered it to me, knowing that it would indeed be offered to me a some point in the night. Life felt glamorous like that. I felt like a woman from a rock and roll memoir, a wild child. I felt like I had a secret that made me interesting, which is such a cokehead thing to believe, that doing coke makes you interesting. It doesn’t.

If it was a rock bottom, it was a quiet one. There were worse lows scattered across the half a decade I spent dancing that line between a bad habit and an addiction. There were nights that ended with intense fights, and others with minor interventions. There were nights I don’t remember, and scars I don’t have stories for. I have been high in the presence of people I should not have been high around in situations I should not have been high in. On occasion, I bought the drug instead of doing something more responsible like paying bills or buying food. Once or twice, I found a baggie in my purse at work and did just the tiniest little bit, to even out. One time I rubbed it on my teeth as my boyfriend sped down the highway. I just wanted to feel alive, you know? And coke made me feel alive.

Plus, aside from this, it didn’t really cause that many problems in my life. I held down a job and progressed in my career. The friends who did coke with me also had 9-5s. They were artists and teachers and engineers. We paid for our drugs with pay cheques earned the good old-fashioned way, at corporate jobs or through freelance gigs. We looked after each other. We had fun. We laughed a lot. We danced. No one got arrested. No one died. And no one seemed to mind that I was high all the time, so I didn’t really mind either.

In fact, I looked forward to it. When I first started doing cocaine I didn’t want it to become a problem, so I’d make myself wait until 10 p.m. on Friday night before I did my first line. I thought this little ritual proved that I had willpower and restraint. But after a while, I stopped waiting for 10 p.m. Then I stopped waiting for Fridays. After a little while longer, I had three dealers’ numbers saved in my top 10. I was hooked. I loved doing a quick line before I went out. I loved the way it felt riding the streetcar high through the city. I loved a quick bump before a quick fuck. I loved doing it while I was getting ready to go out somewhere, with the record player spinning as I put on some eyeliner, stopping to do bumps between drinks. It was one of my favourite routines, the act of getting ready. The act in itself.

I didn’t realize it had become such a crutch, filling a void alcohol didn’t fill anymore. I was used to coke, and I felt more like myself when I was on coke, or at least more of the self I wanted to be. I felt confident, sexy and smart. It made me social and outgoing. I thought it made me fun! This is exactly how I used to feel about alcohol. Except I didn’t realize that it had taken the place of alcohol, because the alcohol never stopped either.

I’ve been playing the part of the party girl, though perfectly cast, for far too long. Coke was helping me to maintain an image I’m not so sure I want to maintain anymore. When I came to that February morning, I knew it was time to stop hiding under a veil of powdered confidence and liquid courage. It was time to say good-bye.

In like a lion, out like a lamb. That’s how this felt to me. And maybe this means my story is a happy one and that I got out before things got too bad. Still, it’s been harder than I expected. I crave it almost every weekend, talk about it too much, and find myself yearning for it, especially after a few drinks. I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to delete the numbers in my phone, though I have stopped responding to text messages from business-savvy dealers. I’m aware that temptation is a dangerous mistress. While I have no intention of indulging, there is comfort in knowing she’s just 10 digits away. Like the ex-smoker with a pack of cigarettes on the top shelf of the pantry, I keep it just out of reach. Just for now. Just in case.

Fall’s Phantoms (Win Some, Lose Some)


We go through different phases in life. I believe in astrology, which I’m aware some people might find totally foolish. I’m not one hundred per cent sold on everything astrology tells me, but generally, I believe it explains a lot of the emotional upheavals people are going through and where they are situated in the sentimental calendar. I was reading an interview with Katy Perry in Elle Canada yesterday, and it totally synced with my current state-of-mind.

‘’I don’t know much about planetary phases, but I looked it up. In fact, the Saturn return is described as a bracing cosmic wake-up call, when youth’s charms fall away to reveal adulthood’s sobering realities. I think it’s a very important time, when you kind of let go of childish things and accept the wisdom that comes with age, ‘’ she explains. ‘’That’s where I am now’’’ (p. 123)**.

Word. I felt exactly at the same place right then, as things are moving quickly, dissolving and reforming under a more adult perspective. There has been a lot of change in my life this year: I graduated from university, I was employed at new jobs, moved to a new apartment by myself, and started yet again another school. Right now it’s pretty much autumn and while I do enjoy crispy leaves, it is a period of the year where I always feel reminiscent. The topics of nature, identity, phantoms, costumes and the dead come back every year, like haunting thematic musings. In 2013, I met a heap of new people, rekindled old friendships, and stayed true to my old friends. As I usually keep my friends forever, I got confused and frustrated recently when I lost a friend. She didn’t die, we did not have a cat fight or insulted each other over the phone. It wasn’t highly dramatic, it was a low blow: she simply deleted me from her Facebook friends.

To further explain, I’ll get to the bottom of the story. I met my friend, Diana*, in a South London bar where we were both working at in the summer of 2009. We instantly bonded over the fact that we were both Canadian, around the same age, and had a lot in common. Plus, she seemed like a lot of fun and as it happens in some encounters, we were instant friends. I was twenty-years-old, she was twenty-three. We partied tons and we loved to dance. She had this habit of going AWOL in the middle of the night, leaving me worried and trying to call her to no avail. For example, I remember an instance on a boat party where my then-boss (a terrible man, which I just started to realize then) offered her some cocaine and she subsequently went missing. I tried calling her hundreds of times, to no reply. I stayed up all night and ended going home along two Spanish girls on the top storey of the double decker.

Mine and Diana’s conversations often revolved around boys. She kept me captivated with her stories of lovers since I was in a long-term relationship at the time. We went to St. James’s Park  in the daytime when we initially said goodbye: she was returning home as summer had ran its course and I was staying a little longer in London, but was on my way out as well. She was bummed out by the fact that another friend we were working with didn’t pay much attention about her imminent departure. As we sat on the lush grass, her speech went to sad to sassy as she told me about her next move: running the marathon back in Canada.

When we saw each other a year later in Ottawa, much had changed, mostly my relationship status and her just-graduated one, but our friendship remained intact. We met at a Scottish pub to speed-date: she was between meetings, hence we had to catch up quickly, right under a three-hour slot. We had a beer and the most gigantic nachos platter I have ever eaten (there were still nachos left!). We talked about one of our favourite topics again; boys. My London boyfriend had morphed into a Montreal husband and that exact summer, we broke up as he went back to Britain. She kept asking me questions, as if she was shocked that the breakup happened so suddenly, while simultaneously being very receptive of the whole story and, like any great girlfriend, totally supportive. At the opposite end of the spectrum, she was in a  happy new relationship with a boyfriend who seemed loving and available: they were both going to England for graduate school. She was beaming and I was genuinely happy for her. We splitted ways and I went to see another old friend in G-Town (or so I like to call Gatineau, Québec).

When I came back to visit London last summer, it was exactly three summers after we first met, and we were very excited to see each other again. She was still calling me ‘’babe’’ and letting me know that it was important to hangout before my forthcoming flight . We met on the steps of the fascinating St-Paul’s Cathedral, coincidently right next to the first hostel I’ve stayed in upon my initial meeting with the city at nineteen, fresh off the boat. She hurried to meet me and took me straight to meet her colleagues from a posh law firm outside of a pub (so much for one-on-one girl talk, I thought). Those people were glossy, smart, powerful and posh but somehow flirty and false. As we left, she had to bike home, so I took the Tube to meet her at the South London abode she was sharing with her younger brother. It was hilarious moment: as I was looking for the place, I heard my name from above: she was screaming from the third floor. After I made my way in, I met her brother (very handsome) and we all had a drink (‘’those beers were left by my friends who came to visit’’). The plan was to go to a bar in West London where my friend James, a British boy I met in Montreal and whose family I was staying with, worked  and could get us free drinks at. The brother wasn’t too keen on going out, since he had been looking for work and going on too many mad benders, but a little convincing from both of us went a long way. We bought beer, drank on the way and finally made it to the bar. The bouncer checked my name off the guestlist and we drank solid drinks and danced the night away, getting increasingly inebriated. I told my friend ‘’I like your brother’’ to prevent a future fight and/or to make things clear at that dizzy moment in time. Things started going sour when everyone was drunk: me and the brother kissed as Diana was into an engaging conversation with another fellow. She went AWOL and we looked for her everywhere. Her brother kept calling her, to no avail. We made it to their place on the deck of a night bus around 3:30 AM, as most people were coming home from partying, inebriated, tired and happy. We smoked weed out the window, kissed and went to bed, lovingly.

We woke up the next morning, both very enthusiastic about the prospect of breakfast. We got dressed, ready and out to find a restaurant. As we were walking down the road, we ran into Diana, who was in the most terrible hangover haze ever. She told us that she went to the boy’s place but that nothing happened: she did not sleep with people anymore, she was okay, and that was it. She was sipping on a gigantic bottle of water and carrying two tabloid magazines as hangover transit reading. She redirected the breakfast quest: she argued that we should all go to this pub that did Mexican breakfast, so we walked back and up the road. The place was weird and fun in many ways: it was a huge industrial pub with a little kitchen dedicated to Mexican delicacies, and the food was indeed very satisfying. I had a chicken and avocado sandwich, and while it was flavourful and filling, it was also the absolute worst food to eat elegantly in front of a boy I fancied.  We walked back to the main road, and the brother bought us blue slushes at the Tube station, which was a very refreshing idea from Diana, especially in the sweltering  heat mixed with summer smog. I hugged them goodbye and made my way into the Tube, feeling a little worse for wear.

A few short days after, the day before my takeoff, was full to the brim with emotions, action and adventures. After meeting with my ex-husband in Regent’s Park, whom I hadn’t seen for two years, I hung out in a Notting Hill mansion with friends and then made it to Diana and her brother’s place around 1 A.M, as he managed to convince me to come back to spend my ultimate night with him. I had a feeling that maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do but genuinely, I liked the guy. I also wasn’t aware of any objection from the part of my friend,  so I went ahead. The next morning, as I was about to leave her a note that was mostly saying: ‘’I love you and goodbye’’, I intercepted the brother’s phone (‘’you received a text!’’) to unfortunately glance at it and see ‘’WTF Lili was here? It goes both ways’’. I blushed and felt terrible. Since I suddenly felt like an intruder in their living space, I instantly told him about it. ”Don’t worry”, he said. The conversation switched on the topics of girls: they could sometimes be too catty and manipulative. He replied: ‘’yes, and they say things like ‘’it goes both ways…’’’’.

We parted ways at a South London station. We hugged goodbye for a long time, and, just as I stepped down on the escalators, I started sobbing. I went back to James’s place to last-minute pack (stress! silly girl!) and pick up my luggage. After I said goodbye to James, I took a bus to Heathrow, in which I cried again. I was feeling simultaneously sad, exhausted, happy, blessed and bummed about my four fabulous months in Europe coming to an end and the imminent going-home scheme that was already in motion. London is home now, just as Montreal is home, and it felt like home all over again last summer, as I was strolling down roads, lanes, parks, markets, neighborhoods and spending fun-tastic time with a plethora of fabulous friends. I didn’t feel like quitting my dreamy European life just yet, not for the second time around. Not surprisingly, I cried all over the British Airways flight home again, exhausted from an emotional overload, sad about coming home to the same old life style, and slightly drunk on free white wine. I switched my attention onto happier and sillier mediums, such as episodes of Absolutely Fabulous and American chick flicks, and then my dad’s jokes as he picked me up at the airport. The next day, I wrote to Diana, telling her I was home safe and sound and also that I was sorry for any harm I could have had done. I hoped for an answer.

I really believe in sisterhood, so seeing the ‘’Add Friend’’ icon the other night was a real shocker. The fact that my friend decided to put a virtual blow on our friendship seemed too much for me to fathom. It seemed absurd, as if she would have to ‘’kill’’ someone to eliminate danger, and since her ties with her brother are blood-related and necessary, she decided to ‘’kill’’ me. I was very hurt, my solar plexus started burning like a gunshot in my heart. If there was a sudden silence, I was to go on a quest for answers, so I decided to write her a last note explaining, simply, that I wanted to talk to her about it and most importantly, that our friendship meant a lot to me. The message was seen, to no reply, thanks Facebook for letting me know . There is a limit to what a girl can do, and indeed, there was a limit to her love.

I took my courage out and about and into my heart again. I decided to let the weight of that relationship drop,  with the ghost that goes along with it. Of course, it will always remain an unfortunate mystery, and one that might unveil one day, but I believe the moon phases have now changed. There is enough love inside of myself and into every amazing person  in my life to stop looking for it where it’s evaporated. There is a t-shirt that my friend  was wearing to class this winter that comes to mind as this story ends: it said ‘’hi hater!’’ in the front and ‘’bye hater!’’ in the back. Well, that kind of sums up my state-of-mind now: if you can’t be a sister, then bye, hater!

*Names have been changed to protect the author’s friends’ identities.

** p. 120-121. Hudson, Kathryn. Elle Canada. NO. 148, October 2013. Toronto, Canada.

Photo: Old Ladies, 2013. By Olivier Gariépy.

Lili Monette is a born-and-raised Montrealer and an artist by DNA and by choice. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Theatre and Development from Concordia University and can be found around the world entertaining people and gathering stories.

Reading Between Blurred Lines


Like everyone else on the internet, I was privy to the twerked-out orgy performed by Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. It was impossible to ignore Hannah Montana grinding her nude vinyl panties up against the offspring of the dad from Growing Pains. I’m generally not familiar with Top 40 music, but Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s date-rape anthem “Blurred Lines” has gotten my attention, and not because of its catchy beat.

As someone who has been caught between the blurred lines of consent, I found the entire PR stunt to be disrespectful towards sex in general. Miley Cyrus’ lolling tongue made a mockery of what adolescents are taught about sexuality, as they lay immersed in the world of pop culture. There was nothing blurry about what Cyrus was inviting onto that stage, as evidenced by the media’s claims that “she’s grown up,” and that “she’s coming into her sexuality.” To me, there was a disconnect between Thicke’s song and Miley’s dance moves.

The message behind Thicke’s latest hit struck a chord with me. I was taken advantage of (or “date-raped,” in therapeutic terms) one night, several years ago, by someone who thought he was showing me a good time. For some reason, he was under the impression that I wanted him – bad. I’ve since played the night over and over again in my head, trying to identify signs and signals of being attracted to him that I may have given off without realization. I am friendly and polite by nature, hence why I probably spoke to this friend-of-a-friend at my hometown’s local bar as if he were an actual human being. The bottle of wine and pitcher of beer didn’t hurt my sociability either. From my perspective, the offending guy must have thought he was playing it cool, giving little to no indication that he wanted to have sex with me. I refused his offers to buy me drinks, and I shamelessly kissed an old classmate in front of him as a (possibly misunderstood) message that I wasn’t available. This is why it was a shock to me. This is why I didn’t see it coming and why it affected me so strongly.

I thought I had made it clear.

Apparently, not clear enough.

My own blurred lines of judgment came at the end of the night, when we ended up alone. I could have run inside, slamming the door in his face, but my alcohol-soaked brain didn’t present that to me as an option at the time. Honestly though, just because I shared a cigarette with him at the end of the night did not mean that I wanted him to touch me, let alone stick his penis inside me. In what world does a borrowed cigarette translate to “please fuck me roughly in a local public park”? From my perspective, I was drunk and brushing him off. He, however, was reading in between the blurred lines, and assuming that I was playing hard to get–an outdated game if there ever was one. When I confronted him later about it, I made sure that he knew that this was not what a positive sexual experience meant to me, and likely to any other young woman put into that situation. His perspective and Robin Thicke’s are not at all different.

I am bothered by the fact that establishing these murky boundaries has become common practice. Why the games? There should not be a blurred line between you and your sexual partner in sight. Both (or all) parties involved should have clear ideas about what’s going to happen between the sheets (or on the floor, table, rooftop, etc). Clarification is key. I don’t see Thicke’s song and dance to be an issue of disrespecting women, but one of understanding one’s sexuality. It’s about getting the balls to tell someone how you want it–or don’t want it. If a girl grabs you, it’s entirely possible that she’s doing so in order to steady herself after drinking too much. Don’t assume that she wants to “get nasty,” be a man and clarify what she wants. There’s no shame in asking questions; I actually find it very sexy to discuss what you want and need from a potential sexual partner. Clarification shows a degree of respect, which is an integral part of one’s sexual experience. I don’t know when it became un-sexy to be upfront.

There should be no blurred lines surrounding a sexual encounter, because between them can lie confusion and potential danger. Although those blurred lines got me “date raped,” they have also helped me come to terms with forgiving my attacker. I still found that VMAs performance offensive, however, and have been left disappointed that this is the message being sent to younger generations. I hope everyone can see what this performance for what it was–a PR ploy. And it worked. And for that, we as a society should hang our heads a little.

Ellen Fielding is a Toronto-based writer, artist, and live music enthusiast. She has a deep love for architectural history and often reflects this in her work.

The Balcony-Loving Stranger


You went back to your family’s house while they were away since it was closer to the bar you were at. You were drunk. It’s a random night (Monday) after a friend’s concert and a mismanaged man situation (classic).

You would not allow yourself to fail since current popular culture values performance over well-being. When you were dismissed, refused and ignored, you became vulnerable to your core and you had shivers of unworthiness and self-disgust running through your spine. Sometimes, this anxiety turned into infernal insomnia, which slowly killed your rest time and your usual cheerfulness.

The morning after, you woke up and decided to take care of yourself, which was the sensible thing to do and the only way forward. You were clearly conscious that the wild years of oblivious drinking were over and that your friends were busy individuals working weekdays. You stayed home alone and drank green tea and coconut water in the hopes of getting some sort of glow.

When there was a happening, you dressed up and you hung out with your buddies in large groups. You possessed a deep dissatisfaction about your current situation, which translated into the dangerous moments where you sashayed through the mostly familiar crowd, looking for a handsome stranger for love at first glance.

It happened quickly. Your common sense was now useless: your ideas about taking it slow since you wanted a long-term relationship were frozen like your flirtatious smile. Your worries about whether or not the novelty boy would turn out to be an asshole fell out of the window. The midnight magic and cocktail-filled evening took an unexpected toll.

You saw him casually sitting there looking sharp and regal in a crisp denim shirt. He said, ‘’Hi, I’m Paul’’ and you went on chatting about your individually exciting lives.

You took a liking to him instantly. He possessed the perfect balance of warmth (he talked about going for an aquatic date), charm, looks (tattooed to the bone, hair slicked back, dapper shirt) and intelligence. Within an hour, you both started to feel exhausted by your talking and your working hard during days. You suddenly remembered the night, Thursday, which meant that you had to work early the next day.

You told him that you wanted to leave with him so that you could smoke a spliff on his balcony before heading home. Of course, you knew that this offer was a terrible white lie and a very old-school party trick. You knew full well that “one thing leads to another”. You got to know each other intellectually a little deeper on the balcony and then literally deeper physically as you climbed into his bed. You took off your strapless evening dress and slid under the sheets. You smiled as he entered you, and you were feeling euphoric after the act, when his body was slowly recovering. You were happy, you were excited, it had been a while since you experienced a satisfying sexual flow.

You left quickly the next day. You went home to shower and you rubbed yourself clean. You felt him under your skin after washing and you knew right then and there that you were hooked.

You wrote him an online message two days later asking him out. You were walking the fine line between hope and despair but you decided to try your luck on the former.You subsequently saw him twice on his balcony where you talked your heart out. Your thoughts were slowly sliding into the ‘’falling in love’’ category. He was career-driven like you and you loved his reckless ambition. He seemed ready to conquer the world and you hoped that he would be ready to conquer you too.

You did not fancy spending much of your precious time worrying, but you did it anyway since you were dealing with a raw human need for contact as well as an emotion overload. Your story became an itch you could not seem to scratch off and you asked yourself needy questions as to why he did not get back to you yet. You checked his Facebook status, blinking, as if it would have changed since a couple of days ago, when he wrote that his phone was broken. You peeled your eyes, making sure that his relationship status was still intact and his authenticity for real. The truth that you didn’t want to hear was simple: he was not into you because he could not make time for you in his workaholic lifestyle. You were barely a distraction interfering with his goals.

‘’Women walk around thinking ‘we.’ And their vision of ‘we’ is me… and my dick!,” you remembered Samantha Jones saying with verve and anger in Sex and the City. You agreed, you thought too much about both of you together as some dreamy ideal. You cared so much, but all he seemed to care about was chatting, cumming and sleeping when he was in your presence.

You were such a people-pleaser. You were trying too hard to be eloquent, charming, sexually satisfying, and you knew full well that you worried too much about what people think, although you always denied it.

You gradually reached your limit. You could not be using so much headspace on a man who did not care. You knew that you needed to let go, even if holding on seemed much more convincing.

You were learning to be happy again. You decided to accept the harsh reality: you knew that he could not commit. Your heart was wounded again, but you knew how to get back on track. You told yourself that you would keep living and chill the fuck out (badass advice to your insecure self).

At last, you were filled with an inner peace that you forgot about a little while ago, when you became obsessed with finding a cure for loneliness: you mistook self-love with a balcony-loving stranger.

* Sex in the City, Season II, Episode 12. Written by Candace Bushnell, created by Darren Star, produced by HBO.

Photo: Christy Turlington by Steven Meisel. Vogue Italia, 1991.

Lili Monette is a born-and-raised Montrealer and an artist by DNA and by choice. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Theatre and Development from Concordia University and can be found around the world entertaining people and gathering stories.

The Disgruntled Server, Issue I: The Health Foodie


I softly whimper into my pillow. It’s that time in the morning that the majority sleeps through. I’m not sure why it’s me that’s awake lying here in a sea of pillows still slightly buzzed from the evening prior. Memories from childhood cascade through the brain to add to the self-guilt of it all. What would my mother think? I decide next week will be one of lemon water and good behavior. I write a seven-day checklist to post on my fridge– exercise! H2O! sleep! Is it for dignity– a good life– or a forfeit to what’s considered proper? Will I actualize these plans once the hangover passes?

I’m 28 and I work as a server at a restaurant. It’s not where I imagined myself five years ago, or where I imagine myself forever, but for two years since moving to Toronto I’ve paid rent by serving health foodies gourmet veg dishes, fresh juice, and all the wine. It’s a great time with great coworkers, but here is an occupation that does drive you to drink.

At this particular restaurant, the primary demographic of customers, or “custys” as we call them, is somewhat of a walking cliché; a niche, if we’re being polite.

People are consistent in coming through our doors wearing overpriced loungewear and an elevated sense of self-satisfaction. They are a combination of type-A professionals, people who don’t need to work for a living, yogis, and undergrads living like high rollers on mom’s credit card. Those who can afford to throw down twenty grand on spiritual gurus in India l-o-v-e  us– you saw that movie Eat, Pray, Love, right? We’re the back-to-reality follow-up. What I might call “entitled,” they might call “enlightened.”

Though the menu is vegan, about 85% of our clientele is not vegan, nor do they care to be informed on what the diet fully entails. That’s okay, it’s nice to see people dipping their toes into a new, well-meaning cuisine; however, when you’re working 4-5-6 nights of the week, the shenanigans of fluffy feathered health nuts with surface-level proficiency will wear on mental motors.

These are people educated enough not to want to put garbage in their body, but not interested enough to explore sights beyond their own self-worth and alkaline levels. After two years, I’m still shocked on how blissfully blah some are okay with being when it comes to acquiring information beyond buzzwords and newspaper trends. Sometimes I feel we ain’t nothin’ but a bandwagon.

The cliché custys are funny ones– servers are privy to a unique glimpse into the animal kingdom. These people aren’t so much funny in the way you’d get on together in real life, but funny in the way where you’re just not sure how they make it in the real world.

When the table of PR girls ask for “real milk” for their coffee, I provide a lax “You mean cow’s milk?” reply. I’m met with strained facial muscles and a confused awkward silence. I have no ill will to non-veggers, and I realize I may come off as a little sassy, but I can’t help but feel some amount of responsibility to instill just a wee mental note for later. And besides, didn’t the whole “Drink Milk” campaign get outted 10 years ago? I like to think they’ll go home and utilize Google. (I promise I’ll never bring the sass outside of these walls­– nobody likes a know-it-all. And when people are genuinely curious and kind about the menu, I will give them all the respect. I’ve had some pretty precious moments with first-time custy exchanges.)

Three seats down, the tiny yoga instructor with the groping boyfriend is about to begin the usual circle of demands that will keep me buffering from the bar to their table for the next 40 minutes. They tip well, so I’ll be sure to grab that extra side of Himalayan sea salt somewhat promptly. A woman at the table of twelve writes a list of her allergies in which I must present to the kitchen. Her naturopath says she can’t eat the color red. She and I go through the menu in full and she’s not really getting it. She asks about cross-contamination with fish. Sigh.

It’s around this time when I start fantasizing about the glass of red I’ll enjoy an hour from now. There’s something about busying around at the wake of night chatting up strangers, dancing between orders, cash, the kitchen and the door that makes going home to sleep immediately afterwards next to impossible. This adrenaline rush requires remedy.

My coworkers and I almost always gather post-close to unwind after a hard night’s work. Though the bulk of our clientele remains somewhat of a running joke, we do make the point to acknowledge the righteous folks who were awesome to serve. The good people make it worth it. Still, the big picture and the defeatist in me thinks people who dine out-of-home are the ones who should be required to take that silly Smart Serve test.

However, this stint as a lowly minion is a reminder to we servers to check ourselves– keep it real, ya know? Who knew an $8.90/hour job could be such a lesson in humility– a non-institutionalized education in humanities.

Sometimes there are many nightcaps / too many nightcaps after work. Shit gets black. I realize the incline of booze intake I’ve experienced since starting serving and bite my lip. Our mornings are not exactly in demand, and there’s a certain means of survival involved when you’re subjecting yourself to all walks of the general public every day of the week. In the first season of the television show of Bored To Death, George Christopher (Ted Danson) says to Jonathan, “Men face reality. That’s why they drink,” while sipping chardonnay in a bathroom stall at a party. We servers– even those of us in the health food bizz (shhhh)– can relate. It’s not so much a means of facing reality, but more of a buffering process.

Custys come and go– and so does our sanity– but when you get to work alongside artists, actors, writers, graffiti kings, and future entrepreneurs, it’s the close-knit camaraderie between coworkers that’s the real saviour. A few drinks are simply the celebration. And with this, I conclude: the circle of [a server’s] life.

Iris Wolfe is a writer from the East Coast living in Toronto. She’s into Scandinavian sensibilities, migrating towards cosy perches with red wine prospects, and using her estranged psychology degree as a touchstone. (or sometimes not) She’s often found biking, writing short stories, or wiggling around in the comfort of her own home. People are usually surprised to discover her affinity for good hip hop.

The First Time’s Always Free


Of course I wanted her. I knew it before she was lying across the table, pale white and thin. I knew it before I got there, she was the reason I was there after all, veiled loosely under an excuse for a party, hidden behind the music. I had heard her name a lot recently and she crept into my thoughts so intently it was as though she lived there briefly, floated away sometimes with wings like a moth, leaving a trail of powder behind.

The first time I saw her was in his eyes. He sparkled with a glow, an infectious energy, as he talked in circles about her and the way she tasted, so harsh yet sweet. I felt water form in my mouth. She normally held different company, but we found her often in dark bars that year and before long she knew all our friends. She knew where to find them on Fridays, then Saturdays, then Tuesdays, then whenever. She’d call when you were tired in bed, trying to read magazines and fall asleep, but she always offered something greater and she was so enticing, like black lace and bad decisions always are, that it would take hardly an argument before you were lacing up high heeled boots and going to meet her wherever she may.

That particular night, she kept me waiting.

That particular night, something inside me told me not to go, but I didn’t listen. My conscience, maybe, said, “She’ll change you, you know?” and I knew but I didn’t listen. I was 23 and drunk off Jack Daniels. I wanted her so badly. I had heard what they said about her, nothing good, but I needed her. I was sad. I wanted company. I wanted danger. I wanted a new secret. My old ones had become someone else’s.

I had become someone else, though I’m not sure who entirely. That night, I wasn’t wearing much at all and it was sometime in the winter though if it was December or February I can’t be sure. I remember though, because I forgot my mittens there. Ones my grandmother had knitted me when I was 10 years younger. They were so warm and fuzzy and comfortable, the way things always are before they change.

When she arrived, I was warm inside. I was wet inside. I was anticipating her so much I was almost too eager. I was almost turned on. I had romanticized her for so long I expected love right away and when I found it, I knew it wasn’t the right kind of love but I let myself fall for her anyway.

There’s a certain kind of person she attracts and I was her, the lost young girl, the one who wanted excitement and didn’t think she had anything to lose

My friend rolled up the 50 between his fingers and was telling some story about something, I kept thinking he would pass it to me but then he’d throw his hands up with expression and I would jump. I watched him re-roll it tighter, he lowered his head and I watched him take her in. I studied his movements, his motions, his reactions. Then, finally, he passed it to me.

I paused to examine her for a second as he pushed the CD towards me. All noise and conversation fell to the background. Would she be like I imagined? Perfect and pretty. I had expensive tastes, but the first one’s always free.

I bent over and I inhaled. I felt her go through my head, through my thoughts. I closed my eyes and felt the rush of warmth run through me, down the back of my throat, I felt the chill and the thrill and I hated her immediately. She was even better than I imagined. I knew I should have listened to that voice, but it was too late now. I was in love. Isn’t this what I wanted? Some new kind of salvation?

I could have stopped there, should have stopped there, but I didn’t. There’s a certain kind of person she attracts and I was her, the lost young girl, the one who wanted excitement and didn’t think she had anything to lose. The kind of girl who needs secrets like they’re currency. I fell so hard for her I saw her all the time. I saw her on weekends and weekdays and everyday, then slowly I saw more of her than I saw my actual friends. I saw more of her than I saw anything. My friends would invite me places but I would show up late because I would be waiting for her, so they stopped inviting me. Some nights it was only the two of us. I discovered a loneliness I didn’t know possible. A loneliness so great, I knew I had to leave her.

I didn’t want to. I loved the way she made me feel, it was a way nothing or no one else could. Like I could be anywhere or I could be anyone. After so long, I only felt like myself with her. I was so tired by the time I had to leave her, I couldn’t remember what I was like or who I was before we met. At 25, was I the same girl I was that cold winter night when I grabbed my jacket and my money and headed to a party practically bringing a signed goodbye card along for the ride? I suppose it didn’t matter now. Now it was time for me to write her a goodbye note, for me to say goodbye.

Like all good lovers, it wasn’t easy and sometimes I still miss her. It used to be I’d go places where I knew she’d be, but now I don’t go to those places anymore. Will I get over her the way lovers do? The way time lets loves fade away, become distant memories, where you only remember the good parts? Will she ever let me be? She filled a void, but left a scar.

I know I don’t want her but I can still taste her sometimes.

Alice Morrow is a writer, sometimes. She mostly just takes pictures and wastes time in Toronto.