A Short Story by Cheryl Ives
Shall I tell you of some I have loved and lost?
Matthew, brilliant and tortured soul, trapped in a damaged body. He was my first encounter with an atheist and introduced me to Nietzsche. He described how converging world events would result in the destruction of the current state; his dystopia felt compelling. I knew he was attracted to me and I would have liked to reciprocate, but didn’t feel any desire. I figured we could be friends anyway, until he decided he was in love.
Matthew became obsessive, interfering with my dates, hassling me about time not with him. He insisted my lack of attraction was due to his disfigurement, hoping to guilt a reconsideration. One day he brandished a large hunting knife to compel my presence for a four hour standoff, during which time he explained many imagined scenarios and resentments. He said he would kill himself, but didn’t. He said he would kill me, and I admit, I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it – it just seemed so unlikely. That deflated him. He didn’t try to stop me when I left. As far as I know, he had the good grace to move to Calgary and obsess about someone else.
Ben, such a solid man. A grown-up from the time he could walk, fending off an abusive father to protect his mom and sisters. Ben, so full of fear and always, always facing it. His kind of strong was new to me, won through necessary will. Naturally kind, sensitive, but nurtured harshly to manhood, he needed my foil and I needed his willingness to just let me be. He didn’t talk all the time. He let silence sit.
I failed to comprehend the complexity of feelings he harboured, the dreams and assumptions he’d built despite not once having tried to kiss me. One night, I got a little drunk and hooked up with a friend of his. Ben was devastated. He was angry. I learned a lot about what goes unsaid under still waters. Our friendship did not recover.
Ben hadn’t actually given up. Unbeknownst to me, he followed my big move for school. Campus Security notified me after catching him outside my window. They found pictures of me all over his room – working my shitty retail job, talking with men at bars, walking around on campus. There were also recovered, eventually, grainy videos of my most mundane daily activities, like folding my laundry at the Coin-o-Matic. I got a restraining order.
Jon, sad, angry punk, disgruntled optimist. He liked to smoke pot and wax on about what he noticed when he thought about the world, most of it bitingly observant. He yearned vaguely for anarchy and constructed incredible, manic symphonies using common household items and a synthesizer. He questioned everything.
Jon claimed he was interested in my inner spirit and I wanted to think that was true. But the more time we spent together, the grabbier he got. One night, stoned on his bed with the music blaring, he rolled on top of me and started licking my neck. He was heavier than I would have expected. I shoved and pushed at him, which he seemed to interpret as foreplay, so I pinched his soft side with a twist under the rib cage, hard enough to leave a bruise. He screamed like a banshee and spat in my face.
Ezra, guru by night, record store owner by day, probably twenty years my senior. He read philosophy behind the counter and spent three nights a week teaching Kabbalah at the Community Centre. This man thought all the time. He loved to talk and I loved to listen to the cadence of his musical voice saying things I’d never thought about that nonetheless seemed intuitively beautiful and true. The store’s ambiance perfectly suited my damp, retro mood, and he belonged there.
Ezra’s wise, knowing eyes saw my being, beyond my physical form. Well, not entirely beyond. Months into our friendship, out of the blue, he suggested sex as the natural expression of our mutual loving respect. When I said I’d rather keep our mutual, loving respect hands-free, he sighed at my unfathomability and suggested I come back when I was ready for an adult relationship. I wonder if he’s still waiting.
Susan, so much bigger than her lanky body, her laugh resonating deep bass. Startling eyes popped from her midnight face, introducing a wide, intimate, smile. I worshiped her a little. We were affectionate – held hands, hugged and kissed and such – but I didn’t realize what was brewing in her heart.
I thought she was the most intelligent, incredible, shining person I’d ever encountered, and I wanted to spend time with her. It’s not that I can’t appreciate a woman sexually, but she was not sex to me. She was like a diamond of how a person should be. Sex was what I did with people unworthy of conversation. She said we could still be friends, but a few months later, we were barely speaking. She whispered anger against me to others. She turned our friendship to poison, so I can’t even look at those lovely memories without tasting it.
Tom, an artist coming to terms with the knowledge that his passion exceeded his talent. He wanted to paint my picture, so I posed to see what that was like. We talked about art, music, existential angst. He confessed his despair and took solace in my sympathy. He called my intensity passion and my impatience, drive. I liked that.
One night at a party, Tom pulled me into a closet and slurred that he was in love with me. I laughed and said “you’re drunk.” He didn’t laugh. He spit hurtful and disparaging words. I told him I was sorry, I hadn’t meant to be callous – he really was drunk! But his bitterness came from knowing that I wasn’t in love with him, and having hoped in spite. He needed it to be my fault. He was never kind to me again.
Jack, mostly gay. We were fast-friends, on intimate terms with secrets almost immediately. His hidden inner life fascinated me as I teased it out – his mind held an imaginary neighbourhood of loving acceptance that he visited for support. We connected on being different, we connected on our disdain for the common. He taught me about finer sensibilities and I taught him to be a little tougher. Or maybe it was the other way around.
I thought I was safe with Jack – he was gay, after all. Gay guys are always touchy-lovey-huggy-kissy. When he admitted, in his sloppy way, that I was the only woman he’d ever been sexually attracted to, he thought maybe I would marry him and have babies, which would be much easier for him than living life gay. He seemed, if anything, relieved. When I said I just wanted to be friends, he tried to make a joke of it, but all was soured. We hobbled along for a few months of diminishing contact. I haven’t seen him in years.
Kyle, my workplace not-romance. He seemed a little less caught up in the illusion than the rest of the office cohort, and a little better at playing the game. We liked to share an amused glance at meetings, both of us recognizing yet powerless against the group-pull that stifles innovation and truth whenever three or more people sit around a boardroom table. We’d end up in the lunch room at the same time, and happen to sit together. His laugh was infectious, his world-view enticingly straight-forward. He knew what he was worth and expected the world to know it, too. He was going places.
Kyle was assessing what places he could go with me. When he surprised me with a particularly aggressive kiss at the photocopier, I bruised my shin and caused a paper-jam trying to extricate myself. That afternoon, he told the receptionist I had a crush on him but his taste didn’t run to bitchy, so talk began and I eventually had to leave that job.
Conner, for whom I was not ready. A man beyond my intelligence and depth, I sometimes thought I lived for the sound of his genuine laughter. He saw my potential and felt a slightly irritable disappointment when I failed to live up to it, since it was my potential he loved. That, of course, was exactly how I felt about myself, so I found his usually-concealed undercurrent of exasperation both familiar and apt. He taught me a lot in his challenges, and seeing him practice his patience inspired my tenderness. I never actually decided if I was sexually attracted to Conner. He gave up on me first.
Now you say, “I will earn your trust.”