I am curious towards the dreams that keep you alive, I don’t mean living with a regular heartbeat throbbing through you and penetrating the steps that leave holes in the ground but the kind of living that inspires you to simply chew with dominion, stare with desire and laugh with abandon. I know that you want to live a novel-worthy, nickname deserving, reference commendable life and I believe that somewhere inside of you, you are capable of such wondrous strides. Strides that will take you to a place in the future where people simply stop and ponder how you truly were. Not only how you truly were, but the way your hair fell to the side when you were relaxing, the pensive lip-biting you did before doing something of such extreme deliberation and the way your body felt vulnerable yet strong while you became ever more sun-kissed during the festivals people only wished they could attend.
I know you want people to think of you while they are making love, at the end of some kind of ambiguous and self-important crises and after the most memorable fleeting experiences that turn into feathers in our memories. I can smell your longing to be heard one day as if you were shouting through a megaphone at the top of a mountain, on top of a tower in an undiscovered yet highly acclaimed place in Spain that North Americans can’t quite properly pronounce. I know you want your smoke rings to turn into butterflies in the night that touch the noses of strangers and mysteriously inspire them to do what they were truly born to do. I know you want to be mysterious yet bold, have distinctive but elusive qualities that others can dream about but never touch. I know you think about books you should read, and the life you could need and the food you could eat but you don’t. You surrender to your very own charity of clichés of the procrastination you vocally resent but realistically present to your tortured self that keeps you up through the potholes of the evening. However, this isn’t a story about you, it is about me, the regretful and sobbing self that tends to find you quite attractive, alluring but ultimately pathetic.
My name is Simon and I am simple. I am not simple in the way that some politically fruitful people say when they mean to say challenged but just…calm, happy and simple. I grew up in Manitoba in an even less interesting town called Brandon which is an underwhelming part of Canada which I realize immediately makes this tale less interesting but I still ask you to listen.
I grew up in Brandon with my father Neil and my mother Mary who are both just fine. My father is the distributor at a software company, I still don’t entirely understand what he does, I believe that the majority of people don’t really understand what their fathers do but know the title of the job when people ask. I didn’t understand this growing up as I thought any career would be distinctive-an astronaut, a pilot, a cop-but then, I got older and discovered that at every single job could only be understood by the person doing it and is ultimately disappointing.
My mother Mary is a stay at home mother but became more and more interested in the use of Tupperware and eventually distributed the plastic items at parties devoted to such mundane objects. She has pretty freckles that I used to think represented each mistake she made and the largest one splattered upon her nose was that of our family. This isn’t to say I am a self-indulgent replica of so many dysfunctional families and think that I am personally a mistake, my parents had my sister and me on purpose but I don’t think they did it with well, you know purpose. They are both nice to me, especially during the oblivion of my youth, they told me pleasant parental statements about the importance of my pursuing what it is that I love, although I never found love for things. I found like and lust for things but I wouldn’t say the sheer, ridiculous and abandonment that is love was the feeling for anything at all I had growing up. I never felt a crushing and thrilling feeling for school, peers or anything else that happened in the freedom of the night during those years, I just felt…simple.
My sister Raina is strange, she is two years older than me and completely obsessed with self-image. Raina wears really tight unflattering pants and is obsessed with finding only the tightest to make her feel beautiful, or sexy, or undermined or whatever it was she is going for. I would ask her how she wanted to be viewed by boys at school when she left the house and she would call me a fag or when I was lucky- an outcast. That’s exactly what I was in school.
We had two high schools in Brandon, one of which is Catholic and the other was the one we attended, as my parents were boring but relentlessly secular. High school was enigmatic to me, it was like a hormonal pool of cruelty and gratuitous classes that drove us further into nothing. Raina cared a lot about it however and through her, I had insight on what it meant to people, there was that aspect of popularity, which seemed too fleeting to handle and academically torturing which seemed too complicated to grasp. I went to my classes and raised my hand when I knew the answer, I listened to the best of my ability but the best time of day was during the breaks when I could go outside and just look at things, the trees either covered in snow or relinquishment from the sun. I could smell the pierogies coming from the restaurant downtown and would imagine the conversation billowing over a nice bowl of the polish delicacy or just sit there, just to feel my body interacting with the ground.
I would sometimes try to read during those breaks but only made it about three pages through the novel that I was trying at the time. I only read classics-Hemingway, Orwell or Twain they were kind of like the friends I had that still didn’t like me much. I did have two real friends though- Katie and Drew.
Katie was in choir and did very poorly in school. I think she was about 25 but no one knew for sure, she got really excited about the little things-baseball games in town, someone wearing something unordinary to school and one of the pretty girls having some kind of error. Katie chain-smoked and snorted cocaine more than sometimes but was oddly cavalier about the whole execution of doing so. She would excuse herself periodically throughout the day and admit what she was doing, she would never express guilt nor pride, she just was. That’s what I liked about Katie, although I didn’t aspire to be like her I admired her for just being who she was, broken and quirky with no intentions of being otherwise. She sang well but didn’t really sing with any vigour. She was like a machine while she sang vocally complicated and emotional songs to Drew and I during lunch break and her eyes were colourless, like the sheet that I hid underneath after this youthful disastrous time in my life. Drew is extremely intelligent but because of that he had few friends, either they found him too smart to bare or he found them to daft to talk to, it was as if his intelligence was a problem and he was apologetic for it. Unlike Katie and I, Drew really wanted friends, he would approach a group of people hanging around who appeared to be doing nothing at all, he would tell them a seemingly witty joke and to his demise he was made fun of for it due to the groups lack of knowledge of the protagonist in the punch line. I think he is hilarious, but not for the reasons he wanted to be. I thought he was funny because of his imprudent mannerisms and the way he never tied his shoes and never noticed. It took me a while to realize I was actually laughing at him, just like every other asshole but it wasn’t because I thought I was better, I knew that I wasn’t.
I was good at two things in high school-running and observing. The first, I would run to school simply because I was going to be late otherwise, my mother would serve us cereal in one of her new Tupperware muses. The cereal container was one that insisted to secure the cereal from becoming soggy. I knew every morning that cereal becoming soggy was always approaching so I amused her by eating the whole dish at home then darting to school as her intention for me to take it to in time. I never had the heart to tell her that was ridiculous and she should just wake us up earlier and find a better outlet. Raina, on the other hand, made it known that it was ridiculous and for some reason that made my mother a bitch, the two would bicker before school and I would just close my eyes and eventually it sounded like two crows having an argument that I couldn’t understand. I would then run and Raina would catch a ride with some guy who looked ever-presently guilty of murder, he didn’t go to our high school and had a tattoo that read “never made it as a wise man”, Chad Kruger’s salty introduction into our strange world.
I would make it to school in about 3 minutes, it was 35 k away and one day a man in the neighbourhood pointed out that wasn’t normal. I would just run and stop when I got to my destination, wherever it happened to be. I never thought anything of it until this neighbour Karl told me that I was unusual and special and that I had a gift, he encouraged me to join the track and field team at school in which I did and all trouble ensued.
I ran in a very casual and gawky manner, sometimes I ran while eating a fruit roll-up. The other boys would run as if they were upset and scared, without meaning to. I ran about three times as fast as each of them and our coach liked me a bit too much. He would call me his little champ, in which I felt uncomfortable yet the other boys still managed to be green with envy over it.
Secondly, I observed by calculating how I thought people are feeling by the hue of their eyes or the state of their body language. When I told my peers it seems they are feeling either disappointed about the loss of their last relationship or excited about the prospect of grilled cheese for lunch they said I nailed it, so I stuck to it. I stuck to both.
Running became somehow meditative, as I didn’t truly love anything I needed to feel exhilarated and going through the ominous and empty streets of Brandon at a high volume made me feel this way.
When the dull array of days that were high school concluded and I was given a scholarship for track and field at Dalhousie University in Halifax. I never even thought about a life outside of the one I lived, I mean I knew there was a world, but I didn’t really believe it and that’s where I met you. Graduation was anti-climatic for me, I went to grab dinner but couldn’t stand staying for the party. At the dinner, they played that horrible Green Day song alongside a slide show of people looking reasonable. Drew and Katie and I snuck into the local golf course, we all smoked weed and I became extremely paranoid, convinced that high school was all a dream and we were actually just finishing junior high and about the repeat the horrid nightmare once again. For some reason, immersing myself in cold water when I got home made me feel better and then I ate a whole thing of Cheetos.
The summer was sweltering and uncomplicated. I was all done with high school and not the least bit nostalgic about it. Everybody in town seemed to be investigating their sexual territories with respect to the notion of carpe diem and an explosion of hormones. There was something very sexy about leaving. In my experience, I have always found girls more attractive if they are soon to be out of my life, but this was my first time having it the other way around. As everyone in town was relishing in the blossoming nature of their lives in addition to legally drinking, we all became friends.
I lost my virginity to a girl named Sarah who was a professional ballerina and said she wanted to lose it to someone she wasn’t afraid of and I was the only one in town she could think of. It was a short yet memorable experience, which required very little on my behalf. She phoned me and proposed the engagement which her an I took part in four and a half hours later. We met up at her parent’s house and it was the first time I had been close to a woman at all, we kissed, had oral sex and I eventually penetrated her for what felt like 2 minutes. While I was inside of her she asked me to tell her I loved her, which I didn’t, so I didn’t say it and she understood. She lied in my arms for a long time, that part I liked, neither of us even pretended we had anywhere to be. She told me about her plans about going to Vancouver to dance, I told her about track in Halifax, it was like two high functioning athletes discussing their dreams, we both knew this wasn’t the case. She was tortured, I was simple and there we were. I believed that the matter of fact nature of our intercourse would stamp all of my future sexual experiences-vanilla and unexciting, although this seemed accurate in correlation with the other elements in my life I just didn’t want it to be that way. I wanted to have dramatic and exuberant sex with artists whose limbs are running away from one another who moved like volcanos and eventually slept like logs.
I spent time with Katie and Drew not really doing anything at all, the two would divide off quite a bit and I had the sense they were angry at me for leaving Brandon, and I think that’s because they thought I was better than them for doing so. This wasn’t how I felt at all, I became irrationally guilty, it consumed me and I apologized to each of them individually. They shared with me that they were not in the least bit angry with me but had feelings for one another and the tension overtook them most of the time. They eventually shared this information with each other and spent the rest of the summer in bed together. I spent most of my days by the lake, sitting and thinking as if it was some kind of consuming activity, and it was, it was for me.
When I left, my mother and father gave me 40 dollars at the airport and some Tupperware for my experience in dorms. I had an unfortunate vision of dorm life. I imagined an oblique grey box and hallways packed with drooling and drunken alleged leaders of tomorrow. When I arrived I discovered this was exactly correct. I had a roommate named Max who was deeply passionate about the little things-the game of Jenga, magnets and marbles. He was dispassionate about the broad and general parts of life like school, friends and physiological needs such as food and showering. He forgot to eat a lot of the time, truly just forgot. He was studying science-particularly physics. He was obsessed by how all objects seem to find their way to balance and because of this, he was considered a genius worthy of a scholarship.
We were the two boys with scholarships in the scholarship room and the other kids loathed this about us. It was nice, I probably wouldn’t be in University if I didn’t run fast but I think that would have been OK. We did have an amazing amount of pressure as well though, constant e-mails from the faculty reminding us how they were honoured to have us but we must keep up a certain grade average to continue having our school costs covered. To me, it just read- don’t fuck up or else we will stop paying. The track and field team here was highly competitive and serious. Our coach even called us maggots from time to time, which I found too cinematic to take seriously. I took general classes and learned about the human brain, the state of humanity and the history of humans. This is when I learned that history consistently repeats itself and life is absurdly simple, just as I previously thought but now I had ornamental terminology to make it sound more interesting.
The sight of Halifax did something to me, it’s aggressive and specific beauty was one I could hardly look at. Like going out with a girl too pretty to stare directly in the eyes. I suppose I felt like I was dating a city out of my league, it was exotic, mysterious and so abundant with rare beauty. It was also cold, elusive and I struggled. I could see people enjoying themselves here, I mean really enjoying-bending their head back with laughter and splattering colourful paint on buildings that were lopsided and looked like antiques on broken stilts.
The Dirty Few
There was a park in town where three musicians gathered and played folk music, the kind of folk music that is infused with whiskey and aggressive chants, I liked this a lot. I would go there and watch them with awe; they were young and liberated, unlike the people in the dorms. They called themselves the Dirty Few. They were made up of Thiessen who played the fiddle, Dana who played the guitar and Billy who played the banjo. Thiessen was the first girl I ever met who was really nice to me, she had orange dreadlocks that rested at the top of her head and her eyes were green like lizards, she loved that I came to listen and had the biggest smile I had ever seen. Her girlfriend Dana was like me, an observer with deep olive skin that was splattered in stick and poke tattoos. She wore the same clothes every day, layers of greens and blacks but they didn’t really look like clothes on her, more like a uniform explaining to the world she wasn’t a member of their society.
Billy resembled an animal more than anyone I had ever seen, he was like a pseudo-human stopping in shortly, and the majority of his features werewolf and goat-like. He even wore a tail and goat hoofs, he shouted at people and drank whiskey all day. He played the banjo really fast and made sense about 40% of the time. When he did make sense he was one of the smartest men alive, he would slow down in timbre and speak clearly and passionately about subjects that mattered. When he wasn’t doing that he was scatting estranged poetry at the top of his lungs and yelling at tourists. When I first heard the Dirty Few I hid in the bush to listen, I would come day after day and eventually, they told me to get the hell out of the bush and hang out with them.
Hanging out with them was fun, they never paid for anything but alcohol and cigarettes from the change they made playing music on the street. They always found some way to eat off of tables or out of garbages, they sat by the water and sang songs, I don’t know where any of them slept at night. They invited me into their world but we all knew I was just dropping in. I wasn’t evolved like them, I wasn’t as interesting as them. I wasn’t part animal or able to grab throbs of lasagna off of tables in restaurants. They taught me how to enjoy myself around people and what it was like to like your friends. They all began to tell me they loved me and gave me big hugs while admiring the parts of me I didn’t know about. I admired them and you admired them too. They were the first friends I loved, I thought about them when they were gone, they made me feel better about myself and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. This taught me I was capable of love and I no longer feared it.
I saw you for the first time with them, your perpendicular purple dress was contrasting their utilitarian turtle shell-like clothing. You had freckles on your face but unlike my mother, yours represented all of your dreams, many of which you had conquered. You were young, fragile yet bold. You, you were too pretty to stare in the eyes. When you introduced yourself to me, and the name Maggie spilled out of your distinctive lips I wanted to pick you up and run away with you forever.
I found a place in town just for me, I loved spending time with the Dirty Few. I hated school but immersed myself in it, it was like the pleasure of doing something self-destructive. This sensation is similar to inhaling smoke or putting your fingers in your throat. That’s what it was like going to school for me, without the thrill I guess.
There was a place I found by accident wandering around the streets of Halifax, trying to figure out how it was designed and I never could-it wasn’t a grid, it wasn’t a line, it was like a scramble of streets with no ends or beginnings, chaotic, beautiful and unpredictable -like you.
This place was a crevice of grass between two derelict buildings with the ocean seemingly sprayed right in front of it. The ocean here wasn’t like it was anywhere else, it was cold, invasive and uninviting like when you were angry. I think that is what I loved about this place, it wasn’t comfortable, nor was it the kind of personal paradise where one reads a book and “finds themselves” as it were. It is the kind of place where the water reminds you that your problems aren’t as important as you think. I would occasionally draw there, stickmen really, but my stickmen. I took you there once and you found a similar beauty in its simplicity or alleged darkness. You said it forced you to stare at your demons and discover your next move. I had never met a girl with so many self-inflicted problems; I think you came up with them because life never did it for you.
My eyes became shutters while looking at you. I froze and fell into your frantic frenzy. I didn’t understand how you just walked around in the world, with the others, The Dirty Few at that. Your skin sang to me underneath your forgiving dress, I could make out some of your erogenous areas, your valleys and your sidewalks. The places you were self-conscious about for some reason that I thought were cute and you thought were too serious for me to fathom. I could smell your childhood, the way you saw the beauty in the world but couldn’t stand all the other parts. I knew you ran from somewhere and were on your way to somewhere else and somehow I got to meet you while you were on your way. You sat down with The Dirty Few and pulled out a bottle of cider from your bag, it was in a long glass vase like mechanism that kept right up with your upmarket demeanour, it was like drinking during the day was merely an accessory for you. You sang with the others and your voice was neither exquisite nor putrid, its neutrality gifted me with the simplicity I searched for. You sang a song that you wrote about the politics among children, or at least I thought that’s what is what about, you always made everything more complicated than it truly was.
I went back to my dorm room after the first day I met you, I listened to the “Codex” by Radiohead on my Discman over and over and over and over. I tried to ask Max questions about love, his reaction to the subject was sincerely disinterested. We eventually got to a place of mutual understanding, this took a while but discovered we both liked to make things, so we made a fort. We made a glorious fort that we had built with various blankets from our room. It was my new favourite place and in there Max and I connected. We eventually felt more comfortable discussing how we were really doing, we both hated school and we both had unusual insecurities. Max wasn’t complicated but he was kind and that meant a great deal to me. There was nothing specific about him, I don’t think I could describe him to a forensic sketch artist, the artist would end up with nothing but a blank face. Max knew he was a blank face, he didn’t try to be anything else. He didn’t try to torture that nothingness with makeup or insincere facial expressions like you, he just accepted it. Even though Max was dull he was real.