Friends With Benefits

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It was a feisty summer evening in 2011. It was around ten and I was with my best friends sipping cheap beer and chilling endlessly at an infamous park in my hometown, where I have spent an inordinate amount of time. As it is often the case in big gatherings, our crowd kept getting larger. A small group of people that I did not know arrived. Of course, as I always spot the cutest person first, he instantly caught my eye. He was black, beautiful, dressed pretty well and he seemed funny for some reason. He was instantly nicknamed the ‘‘blipster’’ (black+ hipster) by my best friend.

I was twenty-two at the time and I was sporting huge glasses that people either loved or hated. He said ‘‘I love your glasses’’, and I responded: ‘’I love you!… well, your outfit’’. We both laughed, but I felt a little awkward. We talked for a bit, and he asked what I would be doing later. He took my digits as we were off to different bars. Like many these days, this is a relationship that started by text messages. He came over to meet me and subsequently, we made out on the dance floor. We left the bar as it was closing, quite drunk and full of juvenile energy.

We were heading back to my apartment on bicycle, and on the way, we tagged a warehouse building in the Mile End. I wrote ”Lili loves you”, my classic and silly tag, with hearts replacing the ”i” dots. A couple of days later, he tried to find the tags we did to no avail. It seems like those tags were the product of a single encounter and that they disappeared into the city landscape pretty quickly, just like the possibility of being a couple.

I was living in Mile End at the time and there was a couch on my front porch. He used to smoke cigarettes in the morning, a trashy hangover gesture. He used to call me from outside ”come on baby, come over here!”. He made me laugh and it was comfortable and fun sitting next to him despite the foul smell.

After a couple dates though, I came to realize that he wasn’t boyfriend material. I felt that we had good conversations, sure, but not the most enlightening ones. Also, the sex wasn’t working, and it was tedious to get his member up and running. He became heavy or annoying at times, and I realized that I did not liked him like that. I especially recollect one afternoon when he tagged along with me and my friend to the Mount Royal and I felt that I had to take care of him. I thus ”broke up” with him shortly after this, and enhanced that we would never be more than just friends.

A couple of weeks later that same summer, I ran into him outside of a bar in the Plateau. He was going elsewhere. ”Do you want to come with me? I was going to this other bar. I’ll buy you a drink if you come!”. I agreed, but in a friendly manner only. I did not realize then but my PMS was taking over so I was moody and highly sensitive that night. I did hold his arm at some point while walking, while simultaneously clearing the fact that we were just friends now. How to send mixed signals, basically. I was also wearing my chic black cape dress and being a little princess-y. When we got to the bar, his friends were gone so we had a beer and talked. We were both feeling quite knackered and he was living around the corner at the time. He told me to come over, but I did not want to for obvious reasons. I ended up staying the night, but I slept in my fabulous cape dress. I woke up drenched in sweat in the summer heatwave. I left his house before collapsing from sweat or being obliged to take my dress off. I stopped by my godfather’s to give food to my cat that he babysat at the time. Evidently, I had my period.

Fast-forward one and a half year, he invited me out for coffee. We might have looked like a couple as I ran into one of my college friends, but I was actually on a break with my then-boyfriend at the time. He invited me to his place to drink wine. I still found him insistent and I did not want to go, especially since I was at a weird place relationship-wise. We left it at that, and we barely talked for a while. He texted me sometimes, but I made it clear that I was in a relationship with somebody else. I heard about him sometimes. For instance, the following summer when I was in Germany, he took a German class with my best friend.

A year and some months later, I was working the cloakroom at the venue I work in. I turned back to the counter and I saw him standing there, a black panther shining in the night with a neon yellow beanie like a signpost. He was with one of his friends, a small nervous girl who I initially mistook for his girlfriend. I asked her if she was, and he came back at the same moment. I guess my question kind of showcased a jealousy and a puzzlement at his romantic situation. He came back to talk to me twice and after last call, he tried to convince me to go to an after-party. Being exhausted and having something the next day, I declined. He took my number again. He asked ”if I text you, will you be answering?”. I nodded in agreement.

The next morning he texted me that he was really happy that he had seen me again, and that he had forgotten how honest and good-natured my smile was. We texted a couple times. He subsequently invited me out for diner on Valentine’s Day. Being single but not desperate, I thought it could be fun to spend time with him to rediscover our relationship under a different perspective. We went to this insanely decorated restaurant, with an incredible array of weird objects. We came back to my place to smoke a joint and he tried to come closer. I felt noxious and I kept pushing him away. ”You know, your’e like an old friend, it’s just weird, I don’t want sexual contact. You can hold me, sure, but that about it for tonight”. He tossed and turned and was sweating so much that he decided to leave. He was not mad, just annoyed I guess,as he wanted to have brunch the following day. That was a good sign, I thought. He did not necessarily want to sleep with me.

We have realized that we are a little more than just friends, but at the same time never to be lovers. He loves touching me, although he respects my boundaries. I can massage his shoulders and give him long hugs. We are very different but there is a kind of fun tranquility when I am in his presence. He expresses himself best through music and images, while I can and write, read and talk endlessly.

‘‘That’s why I love hanging out with you Lili, you’re so fun and alive and you talk constantly, you always tell stories… I’m not that great with words’’.

He told me over beer on Bernard Street one Monday evening: ‘‘your name fits really well with you. When you think about Lili, you think about a sweet, gentle girl, no?’’. That night, we kissed a little bit but could not go beyond that without feeling awkward or uncomfortable. He said: ‘‘we’re really platonic’’. I don’t know if it’s because I aimed to try to prove him wrong, but I aimed to unbuckle his belt, something I have never been skilled at doing (I think it’s the equivalent of boys trying to open girl’s bras). I put my hands in his pants, trying to go further, maybe. It had been so long and I needed some but he stopped me right there and then. I was happy that he stopped it afterwards, because he was right. We are too platonic. I just cozied myself with my head on his shoulder and my hand on his chest. Ifelt asleep in seconds.

I woke up slowly the next morning, and I could already hear him tap slightly on his keyboard.

I opened my eyes, stretched, and looked at him: ‘‘coffee?’’

‘‘Yes! It should be ready by now’’.

He came back with two cups and gave me a vintage one with ‘‘The Toronto Skyline’’ written on it in a dark orange. It was a fitting match since I was about to move to Ontario. He told me that he thought of me when he saw it and that he had chosen it on purpose. We gave each other a big hug that morning. I put my boots on, and we hugged again. I left his place to find a misty and foggy Mile-End under a slight rain.

A week or so later, there was a party for his birthday on a Friday night. It was a hype event with three other roommates and a slew of familiar faces involved. There were many people that I did not know, of which many seemed self-important. I was about to leave but he kept trying to convince me to stay. I agreed after much frustration and argumentation. We went to his bedroom, he closed the door, he poured me a glass of wine and showed me a book he made for school. I critiqued it and we talked about it, and he told me that I was the most important person to come that night. He kissed me, and was being a bit heavy on me. I left while feeling that I had to fight with him to quit his place. It made me sad as I made my way home. That night, I was battling with demons in my dreams. I woke up thrice drenched in sweat.

The next day, he texted me. ‘‘I’m sorry, I was a bit heavy last night’’. He rang me up later that night and it was probably the first time in a relationship that has always evolved around text messages.

I have come to realize that being friends with benefits is not that simple. There is always a push and pull happening and an aura of mystery and deception. But most importantly, this is a friendship I can count on. It’s another kind of love that doesn’t need to be labelled. As I moved, I found his set of keys that he had lost at mine’s a month ago. He wrote to say that he will miss me, and I responded that I will too.

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 at the University of Western Ontario.

Photo: Lili Monette

In the Wake of Loss

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I have never understood loss. Not really, anyway. Not until a month ago.

Last month, I lost a dear friend of mine. She was smart, beautiful, funny, caring, and good. She was good. She was simply good.

I’m still unsure of what caused her death, but I know what killed her. My friend, who I have known for most of my life, wasn’t able to nourish her body the way most of us can. She suffered from an illness that I will never truly understand. And it’s this illness that took her life.

The thing is, I hadn’t spoken to my friend in quite some time. I hadn’t seen her in even longer. I found it difficult to be around her because I wanted to shield her from her demons, force her into some form of treatment. But I couldn’t. There was nothing that I could do to help her and that fact was hard to swallow. I eventually put distance between us; an act I will always regret. I just thought, eventually, she’d ask for help. Eventually she’d get better. And then we could all move on.

Now that she’s gone, now that I know I’ll never see her again and she’ll never have the chance to get better, I miss her so much. I have never before been filled with so much sadness. And now, a month later, I’m convinced I will always feel this way. I will always miss her and I will always be sad about what happened to her. There is no moving on, there’s simply learning to live without that small piece of myself that she took with her.

I still have days when I’ll wake up, think of her, and suddenly not know what to do with myself. I live alone and I work from home, which, I have realized, is toxic to someone who is in the grieving process. So, on these days, instead of taking care of my responsibilities, I immerse myself in worlds of fiction. I turn to lighthearted ChickLit and romantic comedies, where the girl always gets the guy, the good guy always wins, and everyone is always okay in the end. These worlds help me forget. Help me forget that my friend isn’t here anymore, help me forget about her family who lost a wonderful daughter, sister and aunt, and help me forget that I failed her.

All I wanted to do, for so long, was protect her. I wanted her to get better. I wanted her to want to get better. And I wanted her to know that I’d help her along the way. But I’m not so sure she knew that. Because I simply could not accept her illness and I couldn’t just pretend that nothing was wrong. Now, I wish I had just been there for her anyway. I wish I had followed through on making plans with her, called her, and just been a friend to her. I should have spent more time with her. I should have tried harder. I wish I could have just accepted that I couldn’t save her. She had to do that for herself.

I used to feel angry with her, that she wasn’t getting the help I knew she needed. Now, I accept it. I accept that she was suffering and overcoming her illness was just too hard. I just wish I had found this acceptance at a time when I could have told her, “It’s okay. I understand. I’m here for you anyway.”

My friend was smart, had a great career, was so funny, and was so very beautiful — on the inside and out. She was a genuine person, which is hard to find these days. She was quirky, and owned it. She was encouraging and somehow always made me feel good. Because she was good.

To my dear, sweet friend: I hope you are looking down at us from up in the clouds, eating and drinking to your heart’s content. I know you’ve finally found your peace. I’ll see you on the other side.

J’ai peur

1st Halloween

I love Halloween. I dress up every year. I haven’t always gone all out in the costume department–and it was my parents who took care of it for my first few years–but, as sure as Chucky is a creepy doll, I mark the occasion with a masquerade.

For my first experience of the door-to-door ritual North America calls “trick-or-treating,” I was dressed as an angel. I was two years old. My friend Katie, who was my next door neighbour, was dressed as a clown. That was 32 years ago. Thirty-two. Years. As a little girl, before puberty and after most of my baby teeth had been replaced with the permanent choppers, I had a real obsession with dressing up as a gyspy. Who knew little me was so clairvoyant. When applying for my latest apartment, I was forced to look back at my residential history. It appears I’ve moved a lot. I’ve been restless, I suppose. Or perhaps I seem more transient because of the people to whom I compare myself.

Katie is a single mother to a son and works as a law clerk. Joanne has a son too; and a daughter, a husband, a dog, a cat, a nice teaching job, and a mortgage. Joanna isn’t married and doesn’t have any kids; however she works with children, as an instructor therapist. She’s getting her masters and she does yoga. Sarah is a high school teacher with an accountant husband, two children, and has a third one incubating. It’s not often we ladies “hang out” anymore, but we come together for the big stuff; the important stuff; the happy stuff; and absolutely the sad stuff. We catch up on what’s new. Laugh about that time when that happened and, she said this, and we wore that.

We were together a few weeks ago and for a moment, it was like we were teenagers again: full of hope and ideas and laughter. But then the conversation shifted. The topics were not on my life resume. Conversation obstacles galore! Child birth: nope, haven’t done that or actually witnessed a live birth. Not pregnant. Nothing relevant to say there. Next: curriculums. I’m not a teacher and it’s been 12 years since I took a course of any kind. Dietary concerns: not so much. I have dietary preferences. I can eat as much cheese as I want to. And then the conversation shifted to the reason we were all together: losing our parents. We were at a funeral. Joanne lost her mother to the dirty bastard that is cancer.

Only two of us have both parents. One of us has had the misfortune of losing a father and then a step father. We’re not getting any younger; which means our parents are getting even older. And those of us who aren’t parents yet? Maybe we won’t become parents at all.

When did I get old? Or, rather, when did I get stuck in this weird zone where my 20’s seem like a distant, fuzzy dream? When did the idea of dealing with a hangover become more unbearable than child birth without drugs? When did I become the person who worries about taking care of my parents–and why does it scare the shit out of me?

I’m terrified that I won’t have a family of my own–and I just decided I want one! The proverbial Everyone tells 20-somethings You that You have LOTS of time to decide on something like becoming a parent. But you don’t. You really don’t. You get to your 30’s and all of the sudden–tick. It’s the–tick, tick–biological clock that is tick tick TICKING (yes, that’s a My Cousin Vinnie reference, thank you Marisa Tomei). What about my health; sure I can take care of myself, but… Joanne’s mom was only 57. I say only 57, but then I turn around and say 34 is old. It’s a perplexing time. I’m afraid to die and I’m weighed down by life. I don’t have the career I always thought I’d have (let alone the income). I haven’t traveled as much as youngster me had planned to. My bucket list has a load of empty checkboxes, including the “get married to someone who is in love with me completely and whom I’m in love with fully and completely as well.”

I have a friend Angela who has been married for 10 years. I was the maid of honour at her wedding. We talk a fair bit and I know she has some of the same fears and concerns about her own life as I do about mine. However, I totally have a “grass is always greener” envy going on when I look at her. She and her husband Mike are like fictional characters Lily and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother. They’re amazing together. To me, while, sure, she could do lots of things starting now and becoming future Angela, to me she has something to be so proud of: that relationship she has with her husband. And, just like Ted from that damn TV show, I want that. I want what I think they have. And I’m petrified I’ll screw it up.

I’m dating someone right now, you see. He’s wonderful. I want to marry him and spend the rest of my life with him. I’ve never been so sure of anything. And what comes with this clarity? Fear. BIG FAT FEAR.

I love Halloween. It’s this day where you can dress up and be someone else. Be someone fictional and legendary. Be someone ghoulish and creepy. Be someone magical. Halloween is magical. When I’m someone else, the next day, when I go back to being just me, I’m not diappointed, as my ramblings might suggest I would be. I’m relieved. I look in the mirror and there is familiarity the day after Halloween. It’s me. And I’m alive. And I’m not so bad (I have some pretty darn good friends who I would not have if I were such a fuckup). And I have a whole bag of tiny chocolate bars.

Trellawny works in advertising, loves cooking, and is in a long-distance (but totally awesome) relationship. Names of her friends have been changed in this post due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. 

When I Realized I Was A Grown-up

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Sixteen years is a long time. It’s the age of a girl who dates football players or the boy who drives his Dad’s car with a mix of caution and recklessness. Sixteen years is also how long I’ve known Lola, a woman who was a giant kid at heart and made me laugh myself to tears. We met at a talent show in 1997; her with actual talent and me trying to pass my pathetic imitation of Posh Spice as a talent. We were close all through high school and stayed in touch as I went to university and she moved to another small town. Eventually we drifted apart, tethered only by Facebook, with the occasional message and an almost random run-in on the street in Toronto.

She’s now engaged, and in celebration I invited her to visit me in Toronto for a weekend. I wanted to share this special event with her, remembering all the great times we had together. I bought loads of booze, planned all these events and things to do, and had all these expectations and it turned out to be a fantastic weekend. However, I was surprised at how I felt after it was over.

While I have aged, I’ve never felt any differently from when I was a teenager. Being with L made me realize that not only had I grown up, I was not who I really thought I was.

She came in with a whirlwind of activity and clumsiness (as always); she hardly stopped to breathe as she told me about her life with her fiancée, her two cats, and friends. She talked me into going to the Eaton Centre and proudly told me that it was her first streetcar ride (which she then almost fell out of when exiting). Her innocence, even with her age, surprised me. I had always felt older than her, but she was getting married! I herded her around town, and, for a while, it felt like old times; side splitting laughter, giggling about boys and trying on clothing. Then I had planned to take her out with a bunch of my Toronto friends and take her out we did! They loved her, she loved them, and a grand time was had by all.

Being with L made me realize that not only had I grown up, I was not who I really thought I was.

The next day was full of fun and more tastes of Toronto life, and even before she boarded the bus home, she wanted me to plan her next visit. I smiled weakly, after all exhausted with the late night and the running around and told her we’d work it out later.

I went home alone with my iced tea and confused emotions. I was happy she had a great time, I was exasperated by her and I felt nostalgic because maybe the distance between Lola and I was longer than her bus ride. The things that mattered to us when we were younger don’t mean the same to me anymore; I don’t have tickle fights with my friends (true story), I wear clothes that I find fashionable not because they were in style, I don’t even listen to the same music anymore. I’ve become a mature, wine/whiskey drinking, biography reading, staying in and watching Netflix kind of adult. The girl that Lola knew was just a snapshot of my past that had been left behind in a photo album that L carried on her trip. It was very sobering to realize that magically I had grown up without even noticing.

I later looked at photos on Facebook, reminiscing, and realized that despite how much I’ve changed, there is a tiny bit of me that will still giggle over cute boys, or lip sync to a pop song that I would die if anyone found out I knew the lyrics to. The weekend was nice to revisit the old me, laugh until I had tears in my eyes, and letting myself be goofy with a good friend, but I am better off being who I am now.

Erin Fahy is a corporate drone by day and a Blonde Mag contributor by night. You can follow her on Twitter @rockurworld16. Lola is not her friend’s real name.

Image from Manley Art

Valley of the Dolls: How Pamela Des Barres’ Writing Workshop Changed My Life

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You never know what to expect when you go to these things. You know it’s a writer’s group, so it will be intimate and there will probably be tears, maybe you’ll discover something new about yourself, reveal some hidden truth. But you can’t ever actually prepare for the way these things unfold. For the stories you’ll hear, you’ll tell. These things have an organic, electric current that flows through them, one that is beyond body and mind.

For the uninitiated, Pamela Des Barres is a god among girls, at least girls with penchants for bearded boys and bad decisions, girls who grew up listening to records, chasing bands, making stories. A member of the GTOs, she’s one of the world’s most famous groupies, and before you jump to conclusions, you must realize her role in your record collection. For she pulled on the heartstrings of Mick Jagger, Keith Moon, Jimmy Page, and Paul McCartney, for starters. She is the original wild child, tied to no one, lover of the moment. She wrote memoirs documenting her adventures and affairs, and she wrote them, somehow, with an elegance to her raw prose, never sparing a detail, so you could almost imagine yourself in a thin white dress, flowered headband, on the bus alongside her in the California sun.

I first borrowed her book I’m With The Band from my friend, and Blonde contributor, Allison and I liked it so much I didn’t return it for two years. It was also Allison who, through some higher power or spiritual force or intention of being, convinced Pamela Des Barres to come give one of her writer’s workshops, infamous in LA, here in Toronto. She picked Pamela up herself from the airport and hand delivered her to us, a group of lost girls, sharing a common bond of music and words and boys and stories. Pamela came to us and when she left we weren’t the same.

Something happened in that room. Pamela gathered us around and we sat in a big circle for two full nights. There were twenty of us, most were from Toronto but some came as far as Edmonton. First we shared some details about ourselves, the simple things, our names, a little morsel about our lovers. It didn’t take long before we were sharing secrets, there were moments so quiet you could hear the hair rising on arms, you could feel the intensity, the honesty. Girls bravely told stories they hadn’t even told their closest friends. I told stories I hadn’t (still haven’t) told my closest friends. We wrote about lies, sex, regrets, innocence, death, childhood, our parents, our hometowns, our dreams, and our records. We laughed. We cried. We wrote about the people that made us, the people that broke us, and the strength that allowed us to continue despite this.

But what I never expected to find were the Dolls, the very girls themselves. When you reveal so much about yourself to a room full of strangers you are making an unspoken pact. What happens in the room, stayed in the room, but the friendships and connections that were made in that room transcended it.

We became confidants. We became friends. We became part of a group so unique we call ourselves the Toronto Dolls, as Pamela does to the girls who attend her workshops.  We became part of each other, in a deep way, constants in messy lives. We help each other through struggles, through writer’s block, through pains and gains. We encourage each other when we’re down and send accolades when things are up. We support each other’s businesses, bands, and, most of all, writing. When we confess our sins, there is no judgment.

Because of the Dolls, I have realized things about myself I’m not sure I would have realized before. I have been encouraged to do things I’m not sure I would have before, to take leaps and risks and to start saying yes. It’s one of the reasons I started Blonde, and one of the reasons I am inspired to build it into something beautiful and raw. Blonde simply wouldn’t exist without the Dolls. I’m not sure where I’d be without them either.

Sheena Lyonnais is an editor of Blonde, as well as many other things, and first and foremost a writer. You can follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.