Hurting a Friend to Learn

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I don’t like keeping secrets. Sure, I have my little garden of personal information that I wish to keep private, but keeping things that would be best shared with those concerned is another story.

See, I believe that I am an intrinsically good person. Why do I dare affirm that? Because all my life I dreaded to tell a simple lie. Living while knowing that I have hurt someone is unbearable to me.

It was very unpleasant to have to tell my parents that I was going to some girlfriend’s house and then having to tell them a made-up scenario for our activities, while the truth was that I went out to a church basement party or to a gay boy’s house, as for my social sake I couldn’t have missed the event. My parents would have thought that for sure I would’ve gotten pregnant.

All I wish for is to always live in my truth. With all the liars and pretenders out there, I want to make a point that I can be trusted and that I do live in transparency.

Well, oops, I made a mistake. Some mistakes can definitely be worse than others, like driving drunk and killing someone must be pretty harsh on one’s conscience. Some are smaller incidents, but all mistakes have in common that they were done, and they are part of the past so they cannot be undone.

I was recently re-reading Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. One section was very enlightening. While elaborating on the prosecutions that followed the Russian communism invasion, he was saying that many people who were responsible for many deaths kept claiming: ‘‘I didn’t know, I am innocent.’’

Yes, before the events and as they were going on, many people weren’t disclosed sufficient information to know exactly what the impact of their actions was going to be. But as it happened and after, they were forced to face the repercussions and that is where a change in attitude became necessary. At first, they didn’t know, but then they knew. So now what? How will they react as they now know what consequences their actions had?

It is not so important as to whether the person was innocent in the first place, as what matters from this point of view is how the individual will take responsibility for what has been done.

Like my friend V. was saying, ‘‘Sometimes, you have to commit harm to someone you love to learn from the mistake.’’ Oh, I did learn indeed.

See, interpersonal relationships can be complicated, as most people have varying boundaries of what they find acceptable or not. Where is the line that should not be crossed? I have had as many exclusive relationships as I was involved with couples who were open. I am very much used to feeling free in my friendships.

So I had a nap for a couple of hours at the end of a night with a friend of mine, who also happened to be… my friend’s boyfriend. Oh, and I wasn’t a bachelorette myself. But I didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, we shared some healing massages, yes, there was proximity, but clothes were kept on and no spooning occurred. My soul was clear and honest. There was no sexual tension within me in this whole act! I have no trouble in having a sensual moment and in controlling my animalistic impulses to not let a drop of desire shape within me.

But who cares? How can my friend check whether or not that was true? However clear I am within me, she won’t get a lie detector to verify what I am saying.

The most important thing I learned in that incident is how sacred the bed now seems to me. The bed is a place of intimacy for lust and sleep, two things I normally don’t share with just about anyone.

From that moment on, even if someone just wanted to nap in my bed I felt like saying: ‘‘Sorry, it ain’t your territory, a male already peed all around it.’’ I wouldn’t share my underwear with anyone, well I’ll keep my bed private too!

Great, Vanessa, you learned a lesson, that’s what life is: experiencing stuff and evolving through it. But when the male with whom I shared that pleasant nap said: ‘We won’t be saying this to our partners, right? F***, no one else in this world understands how these beautiful healing moments can be shared without making it sexual or a betrayal,’’ I totally agreed. ‘‘Of course, naturally, I wasn’t going to shout it out.’’ That’s when I had a reality check and thought: ‘‘F***. Now I have a secret. Oh no, oh no…’’

Right then is when the real mistake started. Instead of facing what I had done and being honest to my loved ones, I felt ashamed that I crossed a boundary that I didn’t initially realized existed. I kept it in and told no one.

I thought the event in itself was insignificant enough for the harm that it could do, as the other partners were jealousy-prone types. I thought that by learning properly from the experience and never doing such thing again, it would make it okay.

Like V. continued saying: ‘‘It is not humble to believe that you can decide for others what they should or shouldn’t know. By not telling the truth, you kept from them the tools that would enable them to take decisions for their own lives. Only they know what is or not acceptable for themselves.’’ Right on, so well said.

My friendship with the girl continued to grow, but I guess that there was always a distance maintained by the gap caused by this secret. The night that I slept over at her boyfriend’s house, clever as she is, she had a dream that we had intercourse. When she wanted to be reassured that we didn’t do such a thing I would say ‘‘no, no, that didn’t happen.’’ I didn’t lie, but I didn’t completely say the truth when she offered me a chance to do so.

Months later, she learned that her partner had actually fully cheated on her. She asked one more time if something ever happened between me and him. I was tired of feeling like such a hypocrite as I wanted to help her feel better in her break-up. Instead, I was perpetrating harm and adding to her pain.

Wasn’t I doing exactly what he did to her by not being honest? So I told her the whole story. I feel extremely sad for contributing to her sorrow and for losing her as a friend, but so relieved to not be holding on to any information anymore.

It did put me in a weird place to extract these old skeletons from the closet, to put myself back in that past moment and to remember how my own relationship was crumbling apart.

I don’t want to clean up something after leaving it dirty for so long. The dirt solidifies. It’s so much better to just deal one thing at the time and keep none for later. So for now, I have done what was most appropriate, there is nothing more I can do. I guess I just have to wait and see if she’ll forgive me. I hope so, for I promise that I won’t do it again!

Photomontage of Element by Stephen Crosby, Tears of Change by Rose-Lynn Fisher and illustrations by Vanessa Serhan.

Vanessa Serhan is a brunette multi-disciplinary artist working and designing in Montreal.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

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‘‘From the way that people have always talked about your heart being broken, it sort of seems to be a one-time thing. Mine seemed to break all the time.’’ ~ Heather O’Neill, Lullaby for Little Criminals

The other Friday, I met with my friend to hang out and we had a lot to talk about. She told me about what happened with her since the last time that we saw each other. She had slept with a young man and the two became a little more than cordial, but when she left to visit Toronto she never heard from him again. I was furious when she told me. “Why do guys act like this?” I said. “It’s like everything’s good and all of a sudden they disappear.”
“I know that I shouldn’t have given it to him in the first place,” she said. “But I like sex!”

Why it is the woman who should withhold sex, even if she feels like it? Unfortunately, I have found that there are a lot of assholes out there, a large number of which are disguised as great guys.

They say that three’s a trend. In my case, the last three boys I have been involved with have all pretended that I didn’t exist afterwards. And all of those guys were friends of friends and seemed like good guys upfront. Clearly, I was mistaken.

The first guy was my friend’s roommate. In August, I went to her birthday party and ended up spending a lot of time with him on his balcony. It was raining outside, and I was still hanging out, putting off going home in the rain without an umbrella even though I lived two street corners away. He kissed me after everybody left. And one thing led to another…
When I left the apartment the next morning, I felt pleasurably high because it had been months of abstinence. When I went home, it was still raining, but the warm drops felt good.
We spoke a week later after we both came back to town. He gave me his phone number so that we could meet each other later that night. I tried to contact him a couple of times, to no avail.
The next day, he finally wrote me back, blaming his allergies and the fact that his friend was heartbroken. ‘‘Even the girl at the pharmacy laughed at me this morning.’’ I accepted his excuse. A day later, I hadn’t heard back from him and our time was running out. I had to leave Montreal and so did he.
Slightly pissed off, I confronted him (something I usually avoid doing on the Internet, but hey, I was tipsy and frustrated). He repeated the same excuses over and over again. I told him that I understood, but that we only had two days left to see each other. He never answered, and has been travelling around the country ever since.

I met the second guy at a college bar in London, Ontario. Kevin was the friend of a friend of a friend, and he was sitting there with a nice shirt on (somewhat a rarity in the small-scale city). We spoke for a bit and he didn’t waste any time to flirt with me. He gave me a glass of beer, we danced, and he held my waist. I was practically sober but the attention was appreciated. I remember thinking that it was too easy to be true, and unfortunately it was.

After two hours of sweaty dance moves, I wanted to leave and so did he. We left the crowded bar and on the street, he asked me if I wanted to come over. I took a few seconds to answer because I wasn’t sure. And frankly, I should have said no. When it comes to boys, my new rule is: when in doubt, say no. But at that point, I felt like I could do with some company, so I said yes.

The apartment itself should have been a warning sign. It was a total bro pad, with tacky posters of New York City adorning the white living room walls. There were no books in sight, and when I see none, I always think about that brilliant John Waters quote: ‘‘If you go to somebody’s house and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.’’ An excellent piece of advice.

Anyhow, I was sitting next to Kevin on his couch, and we were having a good talk about sports, our lives and languages. He was telling me that my English was excellent, better than a great number of Anglophones, despite it being my second language. He probably said that to get into my pants. Again, I should have left, but I stayed. We went to his bed. It was nice to feel his body warmth, but I didn’t want to have sex with him. When he started getting more intense, I stopped him in his tracks.

“I would prefer not to sleep with you. Last time I slept with someone it didn’t go down so well.”
“But I want you,” he said.
So I gave in. I shouldn’t have. I gave in because his dick was hard and the blood flow was rushing to his head, making him lose focus. He wasn’t even good in bed.
The next day, I left bright and early. ‘‘You’re gonna call me, right?’’ I asked insecurely as I was leaving, to which he nodded. But he never said yes.

A couple of hours later, angst grew on me and I intuited that he would not call. I started playing “Fuck and Run” by Liz Phair over and over again. It comforted me in my sadness. ‘‘I didn’t think this would happen again, with or without my best intentions,’’ she sings. Sigh. I felt silly and regretful, but it was over with and there was nothing I could do but wait. I wasn’t that much into him, but I still needed to talk to him again. I realized that I can’t do one-night stands anymore. I need to see the person again to have a sense of closure. But he never called.

I hate when men suddenly ignore women, especially if they said that they’ll call or that we’ll hang out. It pisses me off even more when they push for sex, and then pretend that they don’t know your name. I’m not saying that people should marry everyone they sleep with, but being respectful and honest goes a long way. As my friend Roseline said, ‘‘they’re not able to realize that their acts impact others.’’

The third man initially rejected me, as if the red flag wasn’t large enough. But a month later, back in Montreal, he added me on Facebook. Clearly puzzled, I accepted and started an online conversation because I just didn’t get it. We chatted for a bit, he told me that I was funny and he invited me out for a drink.

I went to meet him at his place and we talked on his couch. We were both a little shy, but my shyness is manifested in more chatter. We were wondering where to go so I suggested a bar up the street for the dim lights and the good music. We had two beers, and we each paid a round, which was another red flag. When the waiter came with the second round, I counted 1,2,3 in my head before taking my wallet out. I looked at him and he was looking down.

Most women I know think that men should pay on first dates. A philosophy teacher once told my class that men should pay on first dates because of women’s inherent biological intuition. If a man pays on the first date, it shows that he can provide and can be trusted for the long term. A theory I adhere to.

But back to the date. Our conversation was flowing. He was smart yet cynical, and highly attractive. I was asking him questions, trying to pierce his mystery. We left the bar, smoked a joint in the street and he held my hand because I was having trouble walking in my heels after all of this. It was romantic.

We hung out in his room under a red light, talking and kissing. Because of my two previous experiences, I didn’t want to sleep with him on the first night. (And thank God I didn’t.) I told him that the two guys I had previously slept with didn’t call me back.
‘‘Poor little one,’’ he replied with a smirk on his face. I could not interpret whether this was empathetic or misogynist, but I thought that he understood how I felt.
He was sweet and sexy and held me for most of the night.

The next morning he told me that he didn’t sleep well.
‘Why?’’ I wondered.
‘‘Because you were in my bed,’’ he replied with a smile.
He was in bit of a grumpy morning mood. I was annoying him simply by touching his face. I finally got him out of the bed a little after noon. I asked him for a coffee and told him that I would be on my way because I had a friend to meet and I was already way behind schedule. We sipped coffee and orange juice while listening to an up-and-coming electro band. We kissed for a good two minutes before I left.

I went home with butterflies in my stomach. Two days later, I was still thinking about him and so I asked if we would see each other again before my departure to Ontario. ‘‘Let’s hang out when you’re back,’’ he said.

I was coming back a month later, and our future date seemed like a distant dream for all of October. I spent the month obsessing about him, stalking him on social media, re-playing our date in my head over and over again. I felt sick many times throughout the month, as if my body was telling me that something was wrong.

I didn’t feel any trust. I was suffering from his indifference and from my romantic ideals. I was holding on to something that didn’t exist. When I’m playing ‘‘How will I know?’’ by Whitney Houston over and over again and I’m singing it at the top of my lungs, I know that I’ve gone too far.

I complimented him on his blog via Facebook chat once. He replied two days later, brushing it off, not saying thank you. Then, three weeks later, I wrote to him because I was coming back to Montreal. I just mentioned that I was in town. No reply.

Love mixed with social media obviously adds to the lethal cocktail of dating in 2014. The entitlement generation I am a part of ignores each other more often than not and fails to make plans (or cancels them) on the regular. Friends do that to friends, lovers do that to lovers, and strangers do that to strangers. So that’s also part of the problem, and it’s not only about women. Two of my guy friends recently protested when I spoke about the issue. They said that things like this happen to them as well.

Eventually we connected and he replied that he was willing to out for a coffee. I answered and tried to arrange a time, but he never agreed.

It becomes stressful to communicate when you witness the object of your affection online on Facebook. Talking to him too much could kill things quickly, but not talking to him could lead to nothing at all. I’ve had endless conversations with my best friend about how e-communication is tricky. Online chat traps us. ‘‘What should I type next?’’ we wonder to each other in various states of despair.

The problem with silent treatments is that it drives the other person insane. It happened to me a couple times before, and in most cases, I’ve had the opportunity to put guys back in their places. They have apologized because they have realized that their behaviour was stupid. They came to understand that silent treatments are awful. Indeed, they are a form of psychological violence and manipulation.

A couple of nights ago, I was watching a panel on the CBC. They were talking about how ‘‘women are afraid of coming forward’’ after being assaulted. I would argue that it’s the same with women who have been wronged: they are afraid to speak up.

If they do, they will likely be portrayed as crazy, sentimental and manipulative. I have been discouraged to speak up many times. My friend Kyle told me not to write to Kevin and to ‘‘spend your energy on your new guy.’’ Look how that turned out.

On the one hand, it is true that spending energy on a loser is a waste of time. On the other hand, if nobody speaks up, everyone keeps treating each other like garbage and the world loses its humanity, one cold heart at a time.
Too many people prefer to pretend that everything’s cool or to ignore each other when they could be having a 10-minute conversation instead. It only requires a little courage and balls, something that many guys seem to miss. As Lily Allen sings, ‘‘forget your balls and grow a pair of tits, it’s hard out here for a bitch.’’

That being said, I’m conscious that not all boys are like this. I know that there are many wonderful men out there who know how to treat women like human beings and I have plenty of them around me.

That being said, it’s difficult not to be pissed off and sad. As always, I end up taking time off to be properly single, but loneliness creeps back in. The need for affection and intimacy strikes back.

Whatever happens, I’m going to take things slowly now. I don’t want to feel too invested, fooled or heartbroken for someone who can’t even care to reply. I know that I’ll eventually meet someone, but at the same time, I’m under no false impressions. I know that a good man is hard to find.


Photo: Olivia Palermo and Johannes Huebl for lifestylemirror.com

Losing Monica

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On November 18, 2013, we lost Monica. And I say lost, not as a colloquial term to avoid referencing death, but because that’s what it felt like—that one moment my brother’s beautiful, talented, kind-hearted girlfriend Monica was there, and the next she wasn’t. Gone. Lost. Never to be found.

I’ve been fortunate in my life, in that up to this point I had never really felt grief. Sure, I had experienced sadness—for lost friendships, missed opportunities, a difficult breakup—but I had never truly known what that all-encompassing, suffocating, painful grief felt like. I continue to be blessed with the love and support of all four of my grandparents, and my friends and family are in good health. It almost seemed like for the first 27 years of my life I enjoyed a sort of innocence—that I was blind to, and sheltered from, the harsh realities of loss.

In some ways, especially at the beginning, grief brings people together. Clichéd though it may sound, when you lose someone, you also lose a bit of yourself, and leaning on those around you helps plug the hole and stop the flood. I probably have never felt closer to my immediate family than in those first few days after losing Monica—at the very least, it had easily been a decade since we had all spent that much uninterrupted time together. My tears were their tears, and there was comfort in our shared sadness. And sometimes even through heartbreak, there are smiles—my younger siblings, Noah (now 6) and Leila (2), helped bring light to the darkest moments with their innocence, their laughter, and their love.

I was (and still am) touched by those friends and relatives who came to the funeral or visitation, who called or sent an email, or who reached out to tell stories of their own. I was grateful to my boyfriend for being the rock that I needed, and to my colleagues who picked up the slack, no questions asked. I also found a friend in Monica’s sister, who I had not met prior to her passing, and who I remain friends with to this day.

But when the dust settles, when life goes on for the people around you, grief is isolating and lonely. Everything seemed to be a constant reminder that I was no longer just Emily, that I was also now Sad. Returning to work after a week, finding my coffee mug in the exact place I left it and my computer still on, I felt alone and resented the normalcy that percolated around me. I found it hard to concentrate, and even harder to make small talk or sit in a meeting. When I heard people complaining about home renos or the weather or a subway delay, I wanted to scream, “Don’t you know what REAL problems and REAL sadness are?”

I was angry and fragile—like if someone pushed too hard, I would turn to dust and disappear. I hated to see people having fun. As much as I remembered and valued those who were there for me, I became fixated on those who weren’t. I was spiteful when people would ask politely how things were going and then shift uncomfortably in their seats if I told them the truth, or shared too much for too long, or—heaven forbid—cried. I know now, and probably deep down knew at the time, that this was unfair, but in my weaker moments it didn’t matter. To me, I had the right to be sad whenever I wanted, in whatever way I wanted, and that it was selfish and mundane to expect to talk about work or Christmas shopping when I had just lost Monica.

There were times when I too felt selfish, and guilty. Monica was a beloved member of my family, but I had only known her three years and she wasn’t someone I saw every day. Compared to my brother Jacob, or to Monica’s sister, parents and lifelong friends, I had hardly known her at all. I often asked myself if I even had the right to be as sad as I was, if perhaps in my grief I had claimed something that wasn’t mine to take. I had, after all, gone back to the office after just a week. I moved in with my boyfriend, had dinner with friends, even ran my first half marathon. On the outside I had resumed my life, even if in my heart I still felt Sad, Sad, Sad.

In time, I realized that to survive, I had to be gentle with others, and with myself. It was ok to cry, to wonder why, to miss Monica, but I also had to know that I couldn’t expect others to be sad alongside me all the time. I reminded myself that there’s no shame in accepting that things weren’t ok, but that running or working or having fun didn’t diminish her memory and didn’t mean I cared any less. Slowly I’ve also started to remember Monica, not just grieve her. She was a knitter, and I’d always wanted to learn, so I took a few classes—putting it mildly, knitting is not for me, but it helped me reconnect with the notion of Monica as a real person, not just someone we had lost.

It’s been a year now, and after losing Monica, I’m now on the journey of finding Emily. I have learned that grief can be erratic. It is confusing and completely non-linear, but it is mine and it is part of me, whether I’m alone or not, through the days that feel normal and those that don’t. I know that not one day has gone by where I haven’t thought about her, or missed her, and I know too that time may not, ultimately, heal every single wound. But, I’ve also learned that though there is so much pain in loss, there is beauty and even laughter in remembering—whether it’s something kind she did, a joke she made, a story she told, or with the scarf I’m (unsuccessfully) trying to knit.

This article is dedicated to the beautiful Monica Post (August 31, 1992-November 18, 2013), and to my courageous brother, Jacob Abrahams. I love you both.

Off-Limits

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I am from the second biggest city in Canada, and yet it often feels like a village.
Many people I know (including my best friends) become friends after a while, even if they used to evolve in different circles, and many people also date or sleep with each other.
It becomes normal to know so-and-so’s ex-boyfriend and some of the people they slept with.
It’s not only like that for others though, it’s also like that for me and my good friends, and sometimes the burden becomes heavy and the past remains too present.

Last weekend, I went to a house party at some guy friend’s place. There is one that I used to date, but we are just friends now.
The night of the party, I was getting back from my best friend’s place in the countryside. We had just spent two days without electricity under bad weather conditions.
I came back to Montreal on a rainy evening, but that wasn’t going to stop me from going out.
I wore my best weather-appropriate outfit (no easy feat, considering that I had only brought one pair of pants). I was in the mood to meet new boys that I could have some good conversations and some fun with. Hey, that’s also what vacation is for when you’re single. (Summer Lovin’, anyone?)

I arrived at the apartment early to catch up with my friends, discussing my life in Ontario and theirs in Montreal, talking blogs, art and life. The boys all commented favourably on my shoes and one of them looked at me from head to toe. ”Nice outfit,” he said. I was beaming from the compliments: it is quite rare and always lovely when men comment clothes. I was happy to come early so I could chill with the boys before people came in droves. And boy they did. A couple of people at first, and then the apartment got packed. The little yard was filled with various kinds of hipsters, some with beards, some with caps, some with side ponytails. There were some people I knew, some I barely did, and some I didn’t. But as my friend said the next day, I am a social warrior. So once again, I tried to talk to everyone, remember their names, and make an effort to hold a conversation. But that being said, sometimes socializing completely exhausts me.

I was feeling a little bit under the weather because of the evening’s dampness and the effort require to socialize with strangers. That night, I was constantly looking around for a beautiful boy to meet, and it was starting to make me dizzy. It was around then that I started talking to a very tall and handsome boy, coincidentally a good friend of my friends. We talked for a long time and the more we did, the more he was becoming someone I could actually picture myself with beyond one night. He was talking to me, and I was saying: ”you’re right” after he spoke, agreeing on his vision of things. He is a screenwriter. Like me, writing is his daily bread. He is also lanky and an introvert, traits that I have found endearing in boys since high school. Because I am outgoing and outrageous, I need a man to calm me down and hold me tight.

I wanted to offer him a beer, but somebody stole the two left, and so we shared a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
We went outside to smoke a joint, one that I had kept safe inside of my wallet, waiting for a good moment.
I got my bag from my friend’s room and went outside. We smoked, and then I tried harder to seduce him. I approached his face and kissed him close to the lips. Nothing happened. I backed off, puzzled.
”What’s up?”
”Nothing.”
”I’m sorry.”
”It’s OK.”
”Why don’t you respond?”

He told me that he was too close with the other guys and so he could not do anything with me.
”What are you talking about? I’m done dating this guy, we are only friends and the other guy, nothing ever happened, we are just friends!” He didn’t wince, but rather tried to explain.
Just to confirm the fact, I asked: ”so you’re kind of off-limits?”
”Yeah.”
He kept talking to me, but I was mad, sad and heartbroken. I left right then and there. I was walking fast and probably not in a straight line.

A few blocks down the road, I heard my name. Two of my favourite theatre buddies were on the other side of the street. We were very excited to be seeing each other again. We hugged, we laughed. It’d been a while. They told me that another friend was having another party, and it happened to be on my way home. I stopped for a few minutes, seeing one my best gay friends and making a new one. I left with a renewed sense of happiness and wholeness.

I was walking home when I saw newspapers already delivered on stoops. I took one, thinking that it would make my dad happy. He always goes out on Sunday mornings and buys it. It was 4: 30 a.m. when I made it home. I left the paper on the table and I went to bed. My dad was very surprised when he first woke up at 6 and saw the paper delivered to his table.

The next day, I went to yoga to feel alive again and then back to my friend’s place to grab my forgotten umbrella. We chilled outside, we listened to music, we shared poutine. I realized how happy I was to have him in my life. We decided to go out to the park with his other roommate to meet other people. My best friend came to meet us there with a dog she is looking after. We all went for coffee on an outdoor terrace. The light was beautiful and their presence was calming. When we were ready to go, the boys went home and me and my BFF walked in the opposite direction. Finally, I could tell her the story, and it felt incredibly liberating.

Upon hearing it, she said:”it must have been terribly awkward.”
”It was fucking awkward,” I answered.
”What can I do?”
”Nothing,” she said.
”I know,” I sighed.

She has also destroyed relationships because of sex and touch and many other of my friends have. Last year, two of my best girl friends slept with somebody I had previously slept with (one an ex-boyfriend). It did hurt a lot, and I felt like I was replaceable. Upon talking with my friend, I realized that maybe it was the best thing that nothing happened. I usually go with the line ”bros before hoes” anyway, and it sums up the ”best” way to react to the situation, although it’s more complicated than that. This story generated good conversations with my best friends. Many of us are fed up of being limited by our past or our social circles. Many of us are also fed up with dating people that are bad for us, and want to find that special person by expanding horizons. But it also underlined once again that friends are the most important, really.

Another of my best friends met her long-time boyfriend on the Internet in order to break the vicious circle of people-that-know-people.
Yesterday, I was coming back from their place with friends.
I told them what happened.
My guy friend said: ”I am especially wondering what he said to his friend so that he would reject you like that.”

I’m still wondering what my friend said to my late-night crush in the course of their friendship. I’m still wondering if I’ll ever make the guy that rejected me change his mind.
I doubt it. I know that I have to move on. Still, rejection is though.
I was hurt in many ways (it was especially hard on my ego), but hey, it won’t be the first time.
I’d rather keep my friends than my pride.

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Photo: from i-D Magazine’s archives. Model: Lily Cole.

Beyond the Grain

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The art affected me almost instantly. We went to the gallery to support Adrienne, a Toronto-based artist who was exhibiting the work she completed after spending a few months in Syracuse, New York. She left to take part in the artist residency program and came back with a large body of work, most were pieces painted on wood bearing feminist and lesbian messaging, the lines in some designed to look like vaginas. Some of the pieces were colourful and abstract, while others were subdued and sad, exuding a feeling of loneliness and loss.

It was the latter that inspired us to buy a piece, our first real art. As we stood in the gallery two summers ago tipsy off complimentary wine, another friend offered to give us a tour. She was familiar with the work and had a way of describing the paintings in a manner that made you fall in love with each one. Not that the work wasn’t great in and of itself, but the stories played a quintessential role in our decision to buy the art. There were these intricate details behind each of the works that resonated deep within me. Story after story, I felt myself admiring each piece in a new way.

But when we came to the one we would buy something stopped both of us. The piece contains five pieces of wood, each one found somewhere in Syracuse, assembled in such a fashion to create one larger work. At first glance, all you see if the five pieces of wood, but upon further inspection it is clear the grain is actually painted on and stained. It is a work of five paintings of wood, painted on wood, against the grain. It is an illusion and a lie. It is control and chaos. It is beautiful and dark. It is haunting.

I loved it before I knew the story, but I loved it after I knew the story more. Adrienne felt a deep isolation in Syracuse. A college town, she was there on off months when almost everything was closed and no one was around. The town, my friend described, was broken and lonely, a series of abandoned homes with nobody to love them. Adrienne was staying in a room in a house that was shoddy at best. One night, she noticed a perplexing repair. It was painted wood, maybe along a floorboard, but whoever painted it had done so against the grain. Adrienne couldn’t understand why someone would do that; make such an obvious mistake. She felt like it summed up her trip perfectly.

TJ and I had just returned from a trip our selves. We had left Toronto for Saint John, New Brunswick in a hurry upon news that a dear friend of mine had been in a horrible accident. The ATV she was a passenger on had flipped and landed on top of her, crushing her beneath it. She was alive, but the accident left her paralyzed from the waist down. When I heard the news I was devastated. I could not stop crying and I called everyone in tears, TJ, my mother. It was hard for me to breathe. Shyla and I had been friends since middle school and she was like a sister to me. I felt like I was mourning her. I felt like she was dead. The news hit me so hard I had to keep reminding myself that she was alive.

Seeing her meant going to Saint John, a town that sounds to be much like Syracuse. On the way to New Brunswick we got delayed at the airport in Montreal. I cried into TJ’s lap for what felt like hours, devastated that we would arrive in Saint John too late to visit Shyla in the hospital. I hated the airline. I hated the feeling I felt in my stomach, this horrible knot of despair that turned and coiled until I felt so sick inside I thought I could die.

By the time we made it to Saint John it was pouring rain and midnight. The cab driver asked what we were doing in town and when we told him, he already knew of the accident. It had been all over the news. The scenario of seeing her in the hospital played out in my head over and over like a broken film reel with missing frames. The emotions were so strong they overrode the images. I couldn’t see her smiling in my visions. I couldn’t see me smiling in my visions. I saw only unparalleled sadness. I felt this sense of complete and utter loss even though she was alive.

Visiting hours were over and so TJ and I had little else to do but waste time in Saint John until we could see her in the morning. We grabbed an umbrella and decided to check out area. It was so late and we were exhausted, but we thought we’d better grab a drink somewhere down by the water and experience a taste of the town while we were there. We were also hungry, but nothing was open. Saint John is a port town, a place for cruise ships to stop through. But it felt like a ghost town, the rain sinking inside our bones and forcing us to confront the shiver we felt inside.

We weren’t able to see Shyla in the morning. She had a rough night and barely slept, finally resting her eyes some time after the sun had come up. So TJ and I decided to explore Saint John in the daytime. Even in the sunlight, the town felt desperate. The buildings and houses were so old and evidence of a fire that wiped out half the town many years before still remained. Nobody was around. In a coin and collectibles shop, old men talked about wars of the past. We walked down streets that were so empty we could hear our footsteps on concrete. It was a place without many sounds. As a city girl used to the noise of the streets, the silence disturbed me. I don’t remember hearing any birds.

When we finally saw Shyla, the experience was hardly the depressing scene I had been imagining and instead she possessed this unworldly acceptance of the accident, of her fate. I never saw her cry and she never once looked like she might. Everyone else, including me, was a total mess, but Shyla was calm. She knew something we didn’t yet. She knew that everything, including her, would be okay.

Back at the gallery, our experience in Saint John still haunted us. While our visits with Shyla turned out to be beautiful, the town itself had left scars on our souls. It felt like the painting knew this, that it recognized this inherent confusion, this suffering and intensity that we had experienced in the days leading up to our visit to Saint John, and the kaleidoscope of emotions that came with it. Some people don’t understand why we purchased art that reminds us of something so depressing, but the work continues to speak to us each day, forever its meaning just slightly evolving. These days when I look at it, it reminds me not to take things for granted, that everything can be taken away from you. Whether it’s in a minute or gradually over the span of a few months, you can lose things you never knew you could lose.

But more importantly, it tells of the power of turning something painful into something meaningful, and of seeing the beauty beyond the grain. It inspires me. It reminds me that everything is going to be okay.

Four Girls, a Car and a Flood

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My best friend was turning 25 years old on April 10th this year, and to celebrate, we left to her mother’s cabin situated between Trois-Rivières and Quebec City.

The plan was to drive from Montreal early on Thursday morning with my three closest childhood friends, and then two other cars packed with other friends would come in, one at a time, one on Thursday night and the other on Friday night.

Gab had told me to meet her and Raph at the grocery store at 10, after me and Gab each got out of our distinctive yoga studios.

My class ended at 9h30, I changed and I went down St.Laurent to the grocery store.

I arrived there, I came, I saw, I shopped and I waited outside for a good half hour.

I ran into an acquaintance who told me that the girls had been out partying the previous night.

Oh dear, I thought.

Gab was supposed to come by car so we could carry the groceries and leave, but she arrived on her bicycle. She hadn’t been home.
I was quite frustrated to be stood up in the middle of the street by my best friend, who was in charge of the whole operation.

‘‘I’m so sorry Lili, I know it’s what pisses you off the most, when people keep you waiting’’.

As I sipped ginger kombucha and waited a little more, Gab stormed into the grocery store and came out with another box full of food.

We hailed a cab, putting the groceries in the trunk. Because Gab was cycling, I was alone in the cab, chatting with the cab driver as usual. We were in a sea of orange cones, with works happening on Rachel St., among others.

In the cab, I called Raph again.

‘‘Yes, I’m leaving soon!’’, she made clear, before her phone died.

I can never be pissed off at Gab for too long, and as soon as we went back to her place and had breakfast, I wasn’t angry anymore.
We sipped coffee and talked, and she told me all about the previous night.
She also told me that our friend Elyse was really drunk by the end of the night and was being over-the-top, so they left her at the bar.

I was really worried about her, so I called.

”Elyse? Are you okay?”

She replied with the most cavernous voice I’ve ever heard.

-No… I’m sick.

-Okay. Drink a lot of water, dress up, maybe take a shower. We will be there in about half an hour, I’m calling you back when we are on our way.

-Okay. Thank you Lili.”

Gab said:

”Lili, you’re gonna be such a good mom.

-I know.

-You know, right?

-Yes, I’ve had a lot of practice to say the least!”

In the meantime, we were still waiting for Raph. She arrived in an a sporty outfit and sneakers, her long mane tucked into a ponytail.
She rushed in and told us about her night: she had hung out with a good guy buddy of hers and they did drugs, MDMA included. ”It was way too much fun!”, she kept saying, to my disapproving eyes.

Me and Gab looked at each other in complicity.
‘‘Raphie!’’, we said as we told her not to banalize the situation, since she is prone to like more toxic, performance-enhancing drugs. This always worries us.
Raphie still had work and packing to do before leaving Montreal, which made us a little impatient due to the lack of consideration. Finally, we were ready to leave.
I called Elyse again, who agreed to wait for us outside.

She still had dark makeup on her face and was crying and holding a pillow.
”Oh boy,”, we all said when we realized that the girl had indeed a terrible hangover.
She embarked into the car in the back along with her miniature greyhound dog Sigur (as in Sigur Ros) on her lap.

Raphie had to send papers for her taxes and so we went to the pharmacy on Mont-Royal ave.
Me and Gab went out to grab coffee as Elyse stayed in the car. I gave Elyse and Gab their respective coffees, and sat in the passenger seat. But by the time that Raphie went back to the car, Elyse started feeling like throwing up again. We made it onto a side street, where Elyse found a narrow lane to throw up in. It was so bad that it was funny, and we all laughed about the situation. After she did her deed and fell better for it, we left for real.

Being four girls on the road, we felt that we were inside an episode of Girls, and we indeed talked about the TV show exhaustively. Raphie and Elyse processed to explain thoroughly who the four characters were to Gab, who never watched the show.
Of course, we were all awarded a character that fitted with our personalities. The girls decided that I was Hannah.
-I see you as the main character’’, said Raph.
‘‘Yeah, me too, I see you like a main character’’, said Gab.
‘‘Yes!’’, I replied.

We all erupted in laughter. But it made sense, given her knack for storytelling and writing, and her sometimes kooky personality, Hannah was the character that suited me the best.
Basically, we all wanted to be Jessa, the cool girl. The role was awarded to Raph. It was especially fitting because of her long hair, what she had done the previous night, and her tendency to not always know what she wants to do, but having fun while at it. She is also the most mysterious and travels a lot. Sometimes, she hurts her friends and looks down on people, but that is also because she is fiercely independent.

Shoshana was awarded to Gab because she’s funny, is a very good friend, can be silly but at the same time has a head on her shoulders. She is simple and down-to-earth.

Marnie was Elyse since she is the one most likely to doubt her feelings. She likes to experiment, but is not always happy. She has the most beautiful body of the group, and is a go-getter.

We were listening to amazing up-and-coming bands like the Allah-Lahs, Mac Demarco or Blouse in the car, courtesy of Raph’s iPhone. It was the perfect breezy soundtrack for our escape.

Gab gave plenty of coconut water to Elyse, but she could not drink any. ”It makes me want to throw up.”
But then hunger stroke her. ”I want poutine!”, she kept saying.

As we were driving through the countryside, we went to a little snack bar held by a tiny blonde lady.
It was typical countryside Quebec, a white and blue wooden shack.

We asked her to take a picture of us with an iPhone, and she didn’t know how to use it. It was not the best picture, but it was a funny moment in time.

We had poutine sitting on plastic benches while Sigur was chilling outside.

After poutine, we wanted beer, so we made a quick stop at the gaz station to buy a multipack of beer.

We made it to the countryside, and when we pulled onto the tiny road leading to the house, there was already a flood in the making. We passed with the car feeling as though it was a boat. We barely made it on the other side.

We went into the house, put the stuff into the fridge and cracked open a beer. Even Elyse had one, and we proceeded to play Scrabble.

We went outside and talked to the elderly neighbour, Jacques, who was a lovely man, and he told us that around that period every year, there was floods, especially on top of the farm fields.

A little later, Jacques came back, waving through the window.
‘‘Whose birthday is it? She’ll be surprised’’.
When Gab came back from her walk, he gave her a small treasure hand-made wooden chest in wood.
‘‘I have a lot of time on my hands in the winter,’’ he said.

We left the countryside to go to Gab’s mother place, in a small town near Trois-Rivières. It was luxurious compared to the damp cabin. Two of our friends (a couple) came to meet us and we had plenty of amazing food, wine and even a gluten-free cake.

The next morning, I was the first person to wake up in the house. I slept badly with Raph on a inflatable mattress.
I went upstairs and had coffee with Gab’s mother, who is like a second mother to me, and whom I haven’t seen in ages. I was taken care of with coffee and breakfast, and it was lovely to hang out with her and her boyfriend in the morning, catching up before we became a group again.

Around twelve, we went back to the countryside and this time, the water levels were dangerously high.
Jacques told us that when our other friends were to come by, he would pick them up on his pick-up truck, as it could wreck a car completely.

We started drinking early and played games of Scrabble and Monopoly. We also went for walks, watching the geese come back and the snow melting, creating rivers.

There was a huge snowbank in front of the house. Raphie was walking on top of it when she got stuck, up to her waist in the sticky snow. I tried to help her to get out, but I was stuck as well. Gab came to help, and had her head into the hole. She could barely breath when Raph got her out. I became frozen and panicky. Nature had too much control over us. I went inside for a bit, recovering for the nature but feeling that whatever happened, my girls and I had each other’s back.

Later that night, people came from Montreal, eager to party but we were exhausted.

We could now barely get out as there was snow and water everywhere.
We were stucked in the cabin, like we were on an island in the middle of a lake.
It was surreal, to be confined to a small house consisting of one large room.
We were eleven colourful, loud and unique individuals sharing the space.
We had dinner together (Mexican food!) and played games, until it was too late.
We had an argument since some people wanted to sleep and some wanted to party, and we were crowded in a small space. It was difficult to fall asleep that night, because there was nowhere to go.

I ended up cuddling with my gay best friend, breathing deep, finally able to fall asleep.

The next morning, a couple left early, but not before we were able to call the trailer to tow the car.
We were lucky that Jacques knew the guy working there, since otherwise they would not have done it.

They left, and then we had breakfast as a group of 9.

We then went outside to watch the river go by and talk, coffee in hand.

Most people left, and then we were, the four girls once again. We were happy to be together, because it was exhausting to be as many for hours on end. It felt like coming home. It underlined the fact that we were an amazing team.

We finished cleaning and packing up, and we had Jacques drive us to our car.

He kindly kissed our cheeks and said goodbye. He said that he was lucky to have been around young and pretty girls all weekend, that his friends would be jealous.
He got back to his dirty pick-up truck and went back to his normal retiree life.

We left in the sunshine and stopped for gas and M&Ms on the way back. Two kinds, peanuts and pretzels.
We were happy to be the four of us again, snacking away, and dreaming about an eventual road-trip. The conversations were flowing, and we were all on the same track. Whatever happens, nature catastrophes or arguments, we know that we always get each other.

We went back to Montreal completely out of touch with reality, to the point where we were surprised to see a black man. I went back to my tiny apartment, crawled into bed and slept away, in my own little boat.

Photo: Lili Monette

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Saying Bye For Now

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I wanted to send a Facebook message to my best friend Patti who was moving earlier that day to Ontario, but was unable to as it seemed she had just taken her profile down. I was surprised for a second, but then it made so much sense. I had done the same on my own move out of the province, so I calmly took in my impressions of the meaning of her ‘erasement’ of social networks. Going off the radar for the people who knew her might just be a necessary compromise to enable something even greater to take place in her : change.

When reconnecting with people after I came back and reappeared on the net, a friend asked : «And how was that [living in Toronto for a while]?» It took me 24 hours to sum it up in a few words, only to realise that my time lapse was my in construction break. Yes, just like it could be seen on a website. I and every little cell I’m composed of were like : ‘‘we’ll come out of the closet soon, but for now, let us make your mouths water with expectations, as you are so impatient to take a bite of us. But don’t look while we’re changing from an old skin to a new one, we don’t know what you might glimpse at as we’re not hidden by the protective layer of our integument filtering what comes in and goes out in sight…’’

The certainty of people waiting at the door to see how I’d turn out was merely a fantasy, not something I accounted for a reality. How easy it is to think you have disappeared from every one’s memory, even the ones for who you’ll always keep a spot in your heart? ‘‘Will they even remember my name?’’, I’d ask myself. People do forget some stuff. They forget that they wanted to call me for a while, they forget that they had planned to visit me. But that’s what goes on anyways, far from them or not, as soon as I’m not part of their habit anymore. Don’t take it personally, that’s the modern way! To run out of time…

As I was in this period of discovering the hidden truths within myself, I remained very close and connected with my friend Ivy, who was walking in a parallel line to mine, making more or less similar changes happening in her life. We felt the need to keep connecting, not counting the minutes of our phone conversations when the craving to speak with someone who shared a common language arose. This enabled us to distantly witness how these changes were respectively happening in our lives.  She was doing so while still running into the same faces that had been familiar for long and while also making new connections according to her ever-evolving frame of mind.

I, on the other hand, was in a position of erasing everything and anything that I no longer wished to be in my surroundings and that, in every layer. I could make changes in my diet and the people that I met simply knew me with my new reality. No one could go like ‘‘but we’ve eaten this many times! It won’t kill you!’’
That’s right. It will not kill me (right this second). But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about what I want, now. 

Being somewhere where the old you is not known allows you to, instead of saying ‘‘no, I don’t want to do this anymore… don’t wish to wear those anymore… don’t want to go to these places anymore…’’, to simply have positive and informative statements.  Being like ‘‘Hey! That’s what turns me on! I just learned this new thing… Want to go to this place I heard of?’’ without having to justify your new point of view.

In both of our cases, a lot of alone time was necessary so that slowly, we could build our personal culture.

So when I noticed Patti’s page no longer existed, I wondered what kind of mindset she was in. Was it a peaceful relief, leaving a social chapter behind to focus on a new way of interacting, of relating? I questionned a lot what Patti had been going through for a while and her choices. Still, I was kind of thankful for not knowing the details motivating these decisions that she kept in her heart: this way I could not judge her. Only she knew what was best for her, it was none of my business. And wasn’t she in the best of all paths anyways?

Finding only you to support yourself makes you look deep into your eyes. Slowly you learn how to hold the stare.

When I see the ones I love after a moment of separation, it becomes obvious to them that they are not facing the same old friend entirely. For sure, they are ever-changing too, but getting out of a comfort zone accelerates transformations. They may or may not acknowledge it, but they will stare in an iris with new stains and lines narrating the stories of unknown faces and places. The body they will hug will be transformed by new thoughts and concerns. The hair texture may change too. What about the voice? Is it softer, deeper?

I know we are in constant change as cells divide without the need to consciously command them to, but being exposed to a new environment encodes many new things in our evolving DNA and lets us hear the voice of our free will to develop our capabilities further and in the process, to diversify.

If I see that person who was away from me for a while, I welcome into her new life chapters. Her experiences will also benefit me if I listen closely. I will intergrate some of her knowledge.

But if I am unsure and feel on edge with this person I once thought I knew and don’t recognize anymore, well too bad! Change and chaos are what life is. So flow with it!

*Names have been changed.

Nessa, back in Montreal, was shocked when someone made her realize that all she ever speaks with, writes with, shares ideas or shoots interrogations at the world with are the same 26 letters arranged, or not, in assembles. Alas, that realization didn’t help her scatterbrained intellect to find center.

Photo: Juliette Leblanc. You can see more of her work here: http://julietteleblanc.tumblr.com/