Thursday, Jun. 20, 2019 @ 3:00 pm
I wake before my alarm. A cool breeze across my shoulders. I rise and walk a loop through my apartment, picking up clothes that lay strewn in the entrance, beside the couch, on the floor in the bedroom. Gather the half-finished wine glasses from the coffee table. The towel that he used hung over the shower curtain rod. Blow out a candle still burning in a mason jar on the windowsill.
I slide open the patio door and grind coffee by hand as the morning air washes over my body. The sky a blanket of thick stratus clouds.
We cycled together to the climbing gym after work. Side-by-side on the bike path, I watch his strong and careful hands shift gears and guide his bike across the city.
I hadn’t climbed indoors in more than a decade. I sign the waiver and then go to the wall for my belay test. The young man watches me set up. I do my checks, pointing to Russell’s buckles, his rope knot, the locked gate on my carabiner. Russell climbs the wall, and the man watches my hands while he holds the free end of the rope in case I falter. Russell falls without warning, a part of the test, and I am yanked up from the ground while my reflexes send my two hands down to break his fall. We remain suspended from each other for a moment before my feet touch down.
“How long have you been climbing?” the man asks.
“Oh,” I pause, doing the math in my head, “Twenty-three years, on and off. How is my technique? Is there anything that I should be doing differently?”
“No, you have great technique.”
Earlier in the day, an email exchange between me and Daniel heats up. I receive an aggressive response from him, read it, and immediately pick up the phone. This method of communication is not working.
I sit there listening to his phone ring, waiting for him to answer. Will he answer? We haven’t talked over the phone in five months. He answers. I can tell that he is walking out of his office. I hear the door slam behind him and mountain wind buffet across the microphone.
We talk for two hours. I sit in a tiny meeting room in my office, alternately crying and not crying, my face reddened and blotchy, my body shivering with the effort to remain centred. I become smaller and smaller, my self diminishing in order to maintain a calm conversation. I push back at times, assert a small amount of boundary that I know should exist, and observe him anger and throw it back at me. At one moment, I start laughing. I am exhausted and emotionally wrecked and laughing is my body’s attempt at relief. He becomes more and more angry, telling me that this is no time to laugh.
“Why did you end the relationship?” he asks, “I still don’t understand it. Why did you give up? I always thought we could fix things. I know that I wasn’t present for the last three years, I know that. I keep thinking about that last day when you were on the floor crying and I stood over you, how I could have approached that differently. That is my regret - that I couldn’t give you what you needed. That will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
“I was emotionally exhausted. I realized that neither of us would change, that we have fundamental differences in temperaments and communication styles that cannot be overcome. Leaving was an act of mercy for myself, and perhaps one day you will see that it was merciful for you as well.”
I come out of the meeting room and walk to the bathroom, push my face into handfuls of cold water. I work in isolation for the rest of the day. I feel small. I feel quiet. I feel stripped of myself, of my sunshine, of my loving being.
At the climbing gym, I belay Russell up an advanced route. He reaches back into his chalk bag, and a cloud of white dust catches an ethereal sunbeam. I watch his fluid style, arm over arm, a toe placed gently against the wall to balance a reach of the arm. Hooking his heel up over the overhang and ultimately reaching the top.
My heart aches to watch him. When he touches down to the floor mats, he places his arm on my upper back, and the public affection creates a sweet and happy ache inside of me. I admire him and enjoy his company and am bewildered at how this has come to happen, us tied together on either end of a rope.
I put on my shoes and declare that I’m going to climb the same route, which is rated well-above my perceived ability. He raises his eyebrows and smiles slightly.
“I think you’ll like this one,” he comments.
I climb with confidence to the overhang but become stuck. I look at the footholds, the handholds, adjust my position and try a few things, my arms starting to burn. Russ calls up to me, tells me to rest, to take my hands off of the wall and hang from the rope. I rest for a minute or two while studying the route. I visualize the sequence, glance down to indicate that I’m going to climb, and in three movements, I am past the overhang and continue without pause to the top. A big smile on my face. It wasn’t a clean climb, but I did it.
We cycle back to our neighbourhood, dramatic clouds piling up against the mountains. A blustery headwind slows our pace. I don’t mind; all I want is to be near him, to be able to hear his voice, to feel him beside me.
“I’m sorry that I’m quiet today,” I say to him, as we ride the elevator up to my apartment. His back is to me with the awkward configuration of two bicycles in the small elevator.
“I noticed that you were quiet. I was wondering what was going on for you.”
Inside the apartment, he turns to me and places both hands on the back of my head, presses his mouth against mine. He is tender and passionate and communicative, and our clothes come off piece by piece. This is what I want.
The sun is setting, and he wanders around my apartment. This is the first time that he’s been here since my furniture arrived and I personalized the space. A mason jar of swordfern fronds on my windowsill. A mustard throw pillow on the grey couch. A stack of books - Canadian fiction and graphic novels - on the coffee table. A wildly overgrown cactus that teeters impossibly on a single narrow stalk.
He curls up on the couch with his book while I make us dinner. I look out at him relaxing in my space and my heart aches with happiness. I walk over and kiss him and pass him a glass of wine.
“I like you on my couch.”
We talk late into the night, the lights off and candles burning. We fall asleep pressed against each other on the couch and startle awake in the middle of the night. We groggily gather his things, and he leaves to cycle home in the dappling light rain.
Yesterday, more than ever, I felt as though we were together. I told him everything, the phone conversation, the diminished feeling, the lost sense of self. He held me the entire time and listened and rubbed my back. I felt safe and loved. He said my name three times, over the course of the conversation, and I realize that I’ve not heard anyone say it like that to me before. To hear his voice saying my name, the way that he shapes the word in his mouth, the way that he holds it carefully. A gift.
This, this is what it is like to have my needs met.