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The Birthday Dance - Friday, Dec. 20, 2019
Monday, Sept. 02, 2019 @ 11:50 pm
I lay on my couch and ache on the inside. I work through it all. Russell’s friend, a woman, is staying with him. She’s there with him, and she’s going to sleep in his apartment, and I’m tormented with angst. I repeat to myself over and over: I trust you.
I send him a goodnight message, dock my phone in the other room, and curl up in bed with a book until I fall asleep. I sleep restlessly. Wake up in a cold sweat.
In the morning, there’s a message from him saying that he had a nice evening catching up with Geneviève and that he was now reading in bed. I sigh deeply. I trust you.
I suggest that we all meet up to cycle to the beach for the sunset. I want to meet her. He agrees.
I pack up snacks and drinks and cycle to our meeting point. They are a bit late, which is unusual for him, and I wonder if she’s a fancy-type. I see them cycling towards me, and my focus zooms in on her. So beautiful. Bright, keen, brown eyes. Short and stylish curly hair in a perfect mop of brown ringlets. Lithe, a dancer’s body. A quick smile. I introduce myself and cycle alongside her and make conversation. She’s a criminal defense attorney. Jesus. Christ. His friends are all so smart.
I talk to her the whole way to the beach. We find a friend in common even though she’s from Ontario and currently lives in Hamilton (oh, Canada, how I love you). We continue talking as we lay out the picnic on the sand. Russell is quiet, watching us with interest.
As the sun sets, I lean back into Russell, and he reaches out to run his hand along my leg. Him. Him. Whenever I reach out, he never fails to respond. I kiss him, he kisses me back. I touch his shoulder, he catches me around the waist. I kiss his neck, he runs his fingertips across my collarbones. It’s this ongoing silent conversation.
The call and answer. Are you there for me? Yes, yes, I’m here for you.
We leave the beach after sunset and find a late-night sushi place. We share food, slices of raw tuna and salmon, barbecued eel, glistening seaweed salad. I slowly fill my belly with the ocean.
“Why don’t you walk Shannon home? I have a key to your place. It was nice meeting you, Shannon!”
Russell and I walk the three blocks to my apartment. We stand under the same tree as the night we met. He holds me and kisses me, and I pull him against me with ferocity. I trust you.
I rise before dawn on Saturday. Shower. Coffee. Bleary but excited for the day.
I pick up Audrey at the coffee shop down the street. She is cheerful and buoyant, and she talks the entire hour drive up to Squamish. We are taking a climbing course together, and she needed a ride. To spend the day with a young woman from France working on her PhD in physics? Yes, please.
We learn theory and climb all day, the sun appearing and disappearing in the brooding overcast sky. I hold the rope in my hands and tie knots. Set up anchors. Climb routes up crags of solid granite, my calloused fingertips gripping the slab. At the end of the day, I am tired and saturated with knowledge.
Russell comes over for dinner. I have a pile of veggies grilling and steaks lined up beside the stove. Corn steaming in a pot.
I make him a margarita. I’m already a drink in. He asks about my course. I talk excitedly about anchors and rappel setups, and he listens and asks questions.
“Climbing is teamwork. I’m so glad that you are learning this; now you can check my work. We will be better together.”
I ask about his dance workshop.
“Would you like to see the routine that I learned this morning? Put on some African drumming.”
I change the music with my phone. Turn up the volume. Djimbe beats fill the room.
He stands in the middle of my sun-drenched living room, his bare feet on the parquet wood floor. My dance floor. He widens his stance, counts out the beat, and then he’s dancing and smiling. Instantly animated, his body moving to the rhythm. Unabashed. Confident.
I sit on the couch and watch him and try to contain my bursting smile. This is the best. The absolute best. He’s dancing in the middle of my dance floor. The nights that I danced right there, in the dark, in my empty living room. Dropping onto the floor and dancing something interpretive and sensual, then rising up in a lithe arc, my skin dampening with sweat. Lights clicking on and off in the apartments across the street. The wind rustling the leaves in the tree.
I am working from home. He is working from home. He books a meeting with me. I laugh and accept it.
I cycle over to his place in light drizzle. I go up into his apartment. He opens the door.
“You must have a lot of things to get done today,” I say, referring to turnover of house guests, syllabus creation, and prep for his dance intensive.
“Yes, I do. But right now there’s only one thing that I need to focus on.”
He kisses me. I push him into the wall and begin to devour him. We lay across the bed in the daylight, his body smooth and beautiful. The sheets rumpled into a landscape of grey mountain range.
“I love how our bodies fit together.”
I arrive at the house on the North Shore with groceries and my overnight bag. The large, black dog greets me with abundant affection. Russell is dog sitting, and he invited me over to play house. A novelty for apartment-dwellers.
I pour us wine, and we sit down in the expansive living room, complete with vaulted ceilings. The dog at our feet.
We move to the kitchen and work side-by-side prepping dinner. Steelhead trout. Prawns. Corn, portobello mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes. He is out grilling the food on the deck. I wash the dishes that were left in a pile, in the chaos of moving their son off to university.
I put on music, and we dance together in the kitchen while the food grills. The utter domesticity of this. I could live with you.
He is quiet during dinner. I lick butter from my fingers. Pull prawn meat from the shells. The dog lies across my feet under the table. I want to ask why he’s quiet but don’t. It’s OK. It’s OK for him to be quiet.
I swim laps in the beach pool. It’s easier this time, having been the last time just a week before. The air is cooler than the water for the first time, and my shoulders become cold on my laps with the kickboard.
In the morning, the dog wakes us. Her big head on the bed beside my pillow. Huge brown eyes and velvety jowls. Russell rises to make her breakfast.
When I go into the kitchen, he has music on and is dancing with the dog. She weaves between his legs, and he incorporates her into his choreography with ease. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen him this happy.
His smile. His smile is the greatest thing. I do silly things just to make him smile. If you were to ask me what is the last thing that I’d want to see before I die, it’d be that - him smiling.
I wonder if my smile has ever had this effect on someone in my life?
He comes over for dinner at the end of his weekend dance intensive. I pour him some gin, but before he even sits down he’s changing the music to jump blues. He’s in the middle of my dance floor/living room. He counts out the beat then jumps into motion. That smile. I can see improvement in his dancing, his confidence, his flair.
“I need you to help demonstrate the other thing that I learned today.”
I stand up and get into position. He warms me up with the basic eight-count step, and then he’s doing some fancier things. The jazz music swirling around us, the sliding door wide open, the evening breeze flickering the candles burning on the table and windowsill. He swings me out and pulls me back in. Turns me around.
This is everything. This is life.
You and me dancing in my apartment. You and me climbing granite cliffs. You and me cycling alongside the ocean. You and me holding onto each other under blankets in the forest.
I want you to be happy.
If you were to be happier without me, I’d let you go. I’d ache and ache and ache, but I’d let you go. I never understood this before, but it’s true. And it’s because I love you.