Guilt kept our apartments clean.
It was the monster that pushed me into back-breaking labour; the frenzy that possessed me to keep scrubbing until our little cave reeked of bleach and disinfectant. Our cat yowled scathingly, perched on top of my bookshelf, watching me from afar.
It never calmed my guilt – the routine just buried it. My guilt was insurmountable – a Goliath I could never keep quiet. It walked with me every step I took, and sat on my shoulders until the burden kept me from ever being able to look anybody else in the eye, because I was no longer upright. I forgot how to detach myself from it; it is always inside me, at the forefront, right smack in the middle, centre stage, hidden by layers and layers of masks I’ve learned to put on through the years, until I’ve forgotten where polyester ends, and my skin begins.
I can pinpoint exact moments in the life we once shared together where we made wrong decisions. We wasted so much of our youth. An entire decade of missteps and dead ends.
That one sunny afternoon when I was curled up beside the dormitory phone, legs tucked underneath me, you said, “This is what you wanted, right? It’s better this way, right?” Your yearning for my approval came through more clearly than your voice fighting static over the phone.
Kneeling over you in the hallway of your mother’s house, while you tied your shoes, and you looked up at me and whispered so your family won’t hear, “You don’t think I feel bad about this? Don’t you realize how bad this makes me feel?”
Waiting for you in a coffee shop in the frozen tundra that was Mississauga, sipping on on watery, tasteless coffee I spent our last $2 on, and everything we ever owned packed inside a single suitcase I kept beside me, everything depending on this one job interview, and you came into the cafe, with a grin on your face, sat down in front of me and said, “Got it,” and I immediately burst into grateful tears.
Lying down in an empty apartment I was so proud of, dazed and confused, looking at my laptop with ever widening eyes and mumbling, “It was today.” “WHAT,” you jumped in from the kitchen, your pupils as wide as the sun – “It was today,” I repeated, sinking, “I missed it. I fucking missed it.”
Rolling a joint while the television blared, and I looked at you and said accusingly, “You haven’t gone home in days.” And you smiled back and said, “That’s because I live here now.” – “About fucking time you admit it.” – “This is what you wanted, right? It’s better this way, right?” “Yes,” I said, my heart in the palm of your hands, “Much better.”
Clutching each other on a single bed, trapped inside a room for days, and half-teasingly, half-threateningly joking about the landlord that was waiting for us outside the apartment for not having paid rent.
“Don’t be like that,” she said, her hand extended, about to reel me in for an embrace, “I’m your neighbour now. You HAVE to say hi. You can’t avoid me forever you know.”
“Where were you?” I hissed from our room. “Upstairs,” you said, avoiding my deathly glare. “It’s our FUCKING anniversary.” – “I know, I know, but you know how they get – it’s hard to get away”. I threw a pillow your way. You dodged it as smoothly as you held my hand on so many of our lazy afternoons – “If you fucking cared enough, you would have come home!”
Leading me through the frozen lake, our skates ripping on ice, stars never shone as bright as they ever did for us in Port Credit, and you said, “We got it all figured out, you know. This kind of thing doesn’t just happen twice.”
You opened your eyes to my worried face towering over you, shaking, our vicious argument forgotten, and you reached out and held on to my shoulder, like a frightened child and said, your voice trembling, “what happened? Oh god, what happened?”
Sitting across from me in the hospital, cradling hands, smiling awkwardly at each other, and you said, “Things are going to work out. It’s going to change. Things will get better. Promise you won’t give up yet.” – “Okay. I promise.”
Standing by the front door, your hand gripping the doorknob, half-facing me, half-turned away, and you said, “This is all because of you. Because of a stupid decision you made that changed our lives. We had it good, you know, it wasn’t perfect but it was good! Why couldn’t you have just been happy?” – “You said things would change. You’ve been saying the same shit for 10 years! 10 years! I’m not waiting another 10 years just hoping things would change.”
“Well, I would’ve,” you said, opening the door for the last time, “I would’ve waited forever.”