"I've had a couple of bad affairs," I confess. We're once again snuggled up like two little snow peas on the squishy couch. For some magical reason, my schedule is basically free the week he's visiting and I have time to languish at his side, talking and cuddling all day.
"We've all had bad experiences in relationships," he says, puffing on his vape, little choo-choo clouds of strawberry smoke floating around us.
"No like actual affairs with married men. Bad affairs..." I say, mumbling the last two words.
"Oh, right. Hmm," he looks ahead and thinks for a moment, "are they over?"
"Funny you know, I never got off on the married woman thing. I've had married women hit on me but it just never intrigued me."
"It doesn't 'intrigue' me either, believe me," I groan. "I've tried to figure out why I had that horrible streak and it just all kind of blends into the other crazy stuff. It was partly a 'fuck you' to marriage and just blocking myself from anything 'real' or committal, and then being drunk and high all the time."
He's been massaging my fingers as we talk. I pull my hands away and twirl my hair.
"They ceased to be people at some point. They were like sensations of people. The harder it was to have them, the more I'd get high." He pulls my arms down gently so my hands fall back in his lap and begins massaging them again.
My first love was a pure experience of love. REDA summer camp 1995. Rural farm kids from all over Alberta shipped out to Camp Goldeye for a cooperation-themed week of fun and new friends. I was accompanied by my two best high school friends and seeing all the new boys at the A&W before we bussed out had us in a tizzy. BOYS! I saw him for the first time sitting in the nook of a pink and teal polymer banquette— this image of him is one of my favourite life memories because he's so exquisitely beautiful. He looks up shyly from under his curtain of lashes, his dark eyes, placid pools to peer into.
We board the bus. He's seated 3 spots ahead. I can feel him, I know he can feel me. We're already looped together by some invisible string. Is this real love? I'm warm and gooey inside, fluttering with the sight of his soft, coffee-coloured hair, his strange, shy mouth and silent laugh. Camp is 7 days of teenage perfection. We learn how to care for one another, how to accept our differences, how to cooperate and trust. We break off after the group activities, pooling together between cabins in our Club Monaco sweatshirts and scuff at the dirt with our strappy, rubber Nike sandals.
I remember the smell of the showers in the morning, the wet, mildewed tiles plastered with pine needles. I remember that smell because it was the scent of the moment right before I would see him. Just the image in my mind would flood my whole body with the sensation of his being. His shy movements towards me, a hand under the back of my sweatshirt, the way his tongue floated in his mouth when he laughed. I just drummed him up in my mind and buzzed.
One night he has to go into the hospital in town to have his finger looked at. He'd cut it before camp and it was swollen and infected. He's gone for hours while we're watching Forest Gump. I can hardly stand the wait, but at the same time that wait is the most delicious thing in the world. Finally the door creaks open and he comes in, snuggling into my sleeping bag, his finger wrapped in a fat bandage. He's so very real.
"Strung out on another man", that's what I was, always strung out on some guy, or some fantasy of some guy. But like alcohol addiction, there was a progression — I didn't start out that way. A notable sociopath on the timeline is the coke addict in Vancouver who moved in with me and got me pregnant. I mean, we got me pregnant. We were both high and drunk and unprotected. At the women's clinic, they left the ultrasound out where I could see it after I explicitly said I didn't want to. Fuck you, doctor. I had to take the pills and do the abortion at home, bleeding out and cramping for 12 hours, hurling out the window because I couldn't lay in our shared bathroom anymore. Fuck you, Province of British Columbia.
That coke addict used to tell me that pregnant women revolted him. His sickness and spectrum of addictions were so visceral and delusional that I was both repulsed and intoxicated. Sick attracts sick after all. The snakeskin got a little thicker at his side, a little more dangerous, death a little closer. We went out to his parent's place in the Kootenays once to "dry out" and 4 hours into the excursion, his druggy friend showed up with a big bag of pills and we got high for two days. I was only working periodically and spending a line of credit to "write my book", fully immersed in my own delusion about being a writer. I'm not telling you this because I'm proud of it, obviously, but I can't not tell you about it. Substance pervades every corner of my story yet I couldn't see it.
I ran from man to man. I always thought they were running from me but it's impossible to tell. After that coke addict moved out, I was riding the bus en route to teach a class and a profound sense of calm came over me and I got a tiny glimpse of myself peeking back at me through the fog. I would be OK alone. I could let go now. The days that followed this brief moment of stillness were another drunken, sex-crazed bender. I rolled into my Friday afternoon class still reeking like booze and met the man who would save me. A good man. A real man. My future husband.