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What I Did Before My Summer Vacation

by Kendall Defoe 2 months ago in School / Friendship / Embarrassment / Dating
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Punch-Drunk with Love

What I Did Before My Summer Vacation
Photo by visuals on Unsplash

It was all my fault. I saw her arm rise, bent and coming up fast, with the fingers tight in what looked like a claw more than a fist and her face was beyond tense. Like she knew what she had to do. I was happy about that because I thought that I deserved what ever she had to dish out, since I had been a dumbass for most of the year. She was only responding with anger to my mistakes, doing what I may have done (shoe and the other foot). At least we dated.

Dated… What does that really mean? No one, I thought, really dated. People spent time together when they liked each other, got comfortable before they became very uncomfortable and then decided that the time spent on one thing was not worth the time that could be spent on something else, whatever it was. I only spent time with her when I wasn’t drowning in papers and didn’t feel like suffering through another set of boring lectures that I couldn’t see the point to. Kept thinking about whether it was worth it coming back to school, even as a grad student who got all the perks that undergrads would have to wait for, if they wanted them bad enough. I even got to think that maybe I should have stayed out of the country to do what I had to do. It would have been easier not to worry about the money. At McGill, I had bills, no car, and no girlfriend; only colleagues, no friends; enough stress for any thing that had to crawl through life. Could have done something like work in a mailroom or learn to build web sites with some of the people I knew who would not be heading back to school if you pointed pistols at their privates and said, “Cough”. Had already done the traveling and teaching business and thought about going back on the road enough times to make me crazy with thinking about what I missed by just letting my legs and mind go where they wanted to go. Money did not last, but it did get me in, so I shouldn’t say anything about that.

Think that I fell in love with her after the punch. We did not date, let me make that clear. From the first time I saw her, I thought that she would not have the time for me. But we always ended up getting together in strange scenes, which is why I think that she made me come up with a question in my head that I never thought of before: what was someone like her doing in that room with us? There was a meeting at the grad house and some of the faculty was there to tell us that we should think of McGill and Montreal as our community, “a place to call home”. This was soon followed by the revelation that the health centre had received over 40,000 visits from students who were suffering from “emotional difficulties”. Just call it what it was and is, I thought: stress. That meant adjustment problems, homesickness, finishing things for impossible deadlines. That was what I thought when I turned and saw her in my row of chairs. Why would someone like her need to hear any of this? She is (not was) tall, has long thick hair (soon clipped and made more attractive that way); great body (why I kept looking) and had legs that I would never forget (more on them later). She was international, from somewhere in South America (I still forget the place) and probably missed her folks, since she always talked about her large family. She was so out of place in the foldable chairs and bad paintings. She seemed to be her own person, nothing taken from the T.V. or some movie. I kept looking and she had to notice me, or decided to begin noticing me noticing her. Then there was a break and we talked:

“My name’s Arianne.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Don’t be so sorry. Air-ee-anne.”

“Oh. That’s too different.”

“What so… Why so diff’rent?”

“I met so many Annes, Allys and Allisons at school, but you are my first Arianne.”

She smiled and I heard someone singing in my head.

“You like the name, I think.”

“Yes, I like it.”

“And you have one too, I think.”

So we talked until we didn’t have to talk and I decided that she was the one I had to hang with. But why didn’t I see things the way she saw them? I had to get away from school just to be able to do my homework, and Second Cup was just on McGill College so I always asked her to come out to see me there. Thing with coffee shops here is that you can’t really do your work in them, unless your ears and brain are immune to stupid music and the repetitive greetings from the guys working at the counter (in two languages, of course). Arianne liked the songs (all of them) and wondered often why I wanted to come to this particular stop all the time. Just thought it was convenient and near the McGill metro. Didn’t tell her that, though. Told her about how it was the first place I visited in Montreal and how it seemed comfortable enough for even a plain Anglo to enjoy. She frowned.

“You need to take a break and I need to cook for you. Come to my house on Friday and you will have some real food.”

“Like what you eat? Didn’t know that you ate.”

Again, that singing voice and her smile, leaning in close to me.

“I eat whatever is good.”

Any other guy, meaning someone who is not a grad, stressed out, poor and hasn’t been deprived of the company of a girl for more than a week, would jump at the chance to have a jump at her in her apartment on an invite to “cook for you”. Nice place, too. Right in the student ghetto and covered with those winding stairwells that I fell in love with when I first came to the city. So non-Anglo. She was on the third floor of a square building, something like a cube or box of brownish-red brick. First thing I thought of when I walked in was that she did not have a roommate. Told me she had a place all to herself in the ghetto and didn’t have to worry about money.

“You okay with rent and things?”

“You want to help?”

“Can’t afford what I have now.”

“Well, try and think about it sometime. Could help us both out if we shared.”

“Yeah, but that is it then, isn’t it?”

“Is what?”

“Everything. Just means that were set.”

She sat down on the sofa and put her feet in my lap.

“Nothing is ever set. My feet, for an example. Could you help my toes for a minute?”

I rubbed and she closed her eyes. I could smell some of the spice in the kitchen, like chili peppers and onions. It almost burnt my eyes, glancing at the stove. She looked at me.

“Are you really hungry?”

“Strangely, yes. But also, no.”

“I thought so. But I still cooked for you. You do a great job with toes.”

Her toes were warm in my hands. Looking out the window, I could see the long bright orange and red of a sunset stretch over the windows of other apartments blocking me from noticing any sort of spy who might want to watch my success as a masseuse.

“Here I am, toes and all, and I still don’t know anything about you beyond your feet and need of a pedicure.”

“Pedicure?” She sat up, swinging her feet away from me. “What is that for?”

“Oh, just the nails. Some seems a little off.” Thought I had saved myself with that one.

She stood up, letting her shirt cascade down like the skirt of a dress and frowned at me.

“You are the complete opposite of what I expected. Three months on campus and not a thing about you have I learned except that you are always at the place Second Cup and that you are never with someone. Not a girl I see you with ever. All the other guys want to be doing with my toes what you just did, but you say something strange instead of enjoying it.”

Had not expected this. I had to think that she was joking. I laughed it off and wondered aloud why she wanted to spend time with me.

“You are different. Think so, anyway.”

“That is not always so. It’s not easy being green.”

“What ‘green’?”

“Never mind, it’s an old song. Just saying that I know that I’m weird. Have always been like this and it has not helped me at all.”

“I never said ‘weird’. Just different. You treat people from a distance and don’t get close. Some people get curious about that.”

“It’s shyness. I’m a shy boy.”

“Don’t believe you. You talked first. You looked first. Liked what we saw.”

“We did? We?”

“Of course.” She turned off one of the burners on the stove and ladled out whatever was in it into a dish. Strong peppery odor and it looked like a stew. Then I realized that I really was hungry. The dishes were on the table and I stood up to help. She never stopped moving. Only thing she said was that the juice was in the fridge (strawberry-kiwi or peach) and no ice. We sat down and ate in silence.

This would go on for two more months, but it was never the same. Had only had dinner with her once and that was nothing to write home about, at least not to my home. For most of the time that we saw each other, it was as if we were still strangers. Only aware of each other through the graduate studies house. Never saw her with someone else and she definitely did not see me with another girl. It was all like some sort of game that we had decided to play without starting a clock, setting the rules. I would learn that she had been asked out quite often and had turned so many down that most of the guys gave up. There were dates, but nothing serious. How the hell did I miss so much?

That punch… Seems as though it could play in my head again and again and if I tried to analyze it nothing would be clear about what I had done to deserve it. That was in the summer and we both had work to do in our final year. Problem was that she knew that I was in the city for the summer and expected me to stay in touch with her. Not really what I wanted to do. Just wanted to finish things and enjoy seeing the city in the night. You could not have asked for a better city for night life that was safe and interesting: the courses of people traveling through the side streets, onto the cobbled or brick-lined roads, attaching their laughs to the air, which was cool and throbbing with the city noises and vibrations. Guess I was lucky to have been there for the summer, and the year that preceded things. Just wish that I had done things differently with her. Arianne.

She met me at one outdoor café and we had a pleasant time with the scene-watching and the anticipation you can feel in the air when the night is just beginning. She told me that she’d be glad to get back to her family by the end of the summer, never having to face another winter here of dangerous sidewalks, black ice and knife-sharp wind blasts.

“You must be used to it.”

“You never get used to it. You just remind yourself of what you did last time and try to stay warm. Like you knew you were when summer was around.”

“Something to remember.”

“Something to remember.” I took a long sip from my iced cappuccino. She had a red fruit something made with crushed ice and milk. Offering me some, she made of point of letting me use her straw without wiping the bent curve of it. I noticed that she was wearing only a thick white blouse that night. There was nothing underneath it. She had tied it in the middle. Her hair was done up and splayed out like some sort of crown. Did I mention how beautiful she actually was? She had some makeup on but did not need anything to enhance what was there.

“You have to walk me home.”

“You’re just a few blocks over.” We were on Prince-Arthur, near St. Laurent.

“So, still? It is late. You have to be a nice guy and take the lady home.”

It was late, that was true. She got up and had my eyes on her body without any sort of denial of the fact that they would be on her body. She seemed to want me to have my gaze on her. Did not notice the other men who were looking at her, but I could feel them around, sitting around the open street, glancing as they passed by, keeping a look fixed and set that she never bothered to challenge.

“You are quiet.”

“Didn’t know that?”

“Not that well, I think. You hardly said a thing at the café. Need to make you speak.”

“I can speak longer than you.”

“I know. Saying nothing.”

I was silent again, wondering about what I was doing in this city, this situation; finally recognizing that she was not just someone who turned my head and the heads of many others who would be forgotten. She was beyond what I had seen. She was someone that I had let slip from my gaze and gave to the world. And she did not want it. But was she mine to give away, anyway? That was ego, inflated by the eyes of other men, and not at all what I thought it would be. I never had to use it when I was with a girl. This was something that ran through my head in a flush. I felt bothered by this new feeling that seemed too late to do anything about. But I had to say something that night. It was right on the street, bathed in the sepia light of a single streetlamp.

“Do you feel drunk? No alcohol?”

“I do feel drunk. Like a stupid drunk who does...did something that he will regret in the daylight.”

She smiled and it was like a sign. That was something that I had to notice in the dark.

“You know this, I am glad that I met you, even though you are a stick in the dirt about things. You never notice what is there.”

“Not notice; act. I don’t act.”

“Act, like an actor. Well, what can I say to that? You have a summer in front of you to perform like an actor. Get a girl. Make someone crazy about you.”

“Think that I did that and did not know it. Like a blind man.”

Her eyes widened at that, with her smile at a half curve.

“You cannot do this. Not like this. All this time and then this…”

“If I didn’t say anything, then I’d be wrong. I say it now.”

“You say what now?” Her smile had sunk. “And if you want to be clear with me, you should say that I did not say anything for the whole time that we met like this. Even when I cooked for you and had my feet in your hands. Nothing. Just like you could not see it.”

The wind had picked up, ruffling her clothes, hair, branches that fanned their leaves down upon her. She looked in her purse for the house keys and I could hear a strangled sound in her throat.

“I know that I care now. That I do have to do more than just be a stone without any feelings.”

She never looked up. All through this she kept digging for the sound of the metal on metal. I thought that she would cry if I continued, but I kept talking, like this was some sort of confession she had dragged out of me without her intention.

“The summer will be over and you will leave. But if I did not say these things, wouldn’t it be worse? Friends have to let each other know when things change and become something different.” I moved closer to her. She paused and saw my shadow nearing her, right on her sandals. “Would it have been better if I hadn’t talked?

Then the punch, and I knew that she cared more than she wanted to admit to me that night, trying to figure out someone like me. Only other thing to say about that summer is that I never saw her again. She was back in South America by the beginning of September. But I did receive a letter from her: she had found work with a small advertising agency, making copy for the clients that wanted to announce themselves to a wider audience. That was all I heard from her, after the start of another winter.

SchoolFriendshipEmbarrassmentDating

About the author

Kendall Defoe

Teacher, reader, writer, dreamer... I am a college instructor who cannot stop letting his thoughts end up on the page. Very grateful to have found this other opportunity to expose things to the light.

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