Montreal, December 1986
I was criminally late handing in my elective preferences, and my only option turned out to be Introduction to Economics. Not exactly a passion of mine, but how hard could it be?
After several well-intentioned attempts to make sense of the textbook, I gave up the fight and took to drifting off in the vaulted theatre during lectures, my eyes wandering the rows of real students, landing here and there on a sleeping face or a particularly fetching flat top. Looking at nothing, looking for something.
In the third or fourth lecture, desperately lost with the material, eyes wandering, I caught her in profile. Even from an angle, her face launched all of my ships. I put on my glasses to make sure. My chest went numb and my hands electric. It wasn’t just her face, it was her throat and the flash I caught of one of the most magnificent forearms I’d seen in my 19 years of living memory.
All this outrageous beauty managed to overshadow the unbearable presence of what I can only describe as a mullet. A big one. Complete with blonde tips and the inevitability of hairspray. Hot in the face, I looked down through the bristled ends of my purple mohawk at the tartan mini skirt that sat perched above doc martens. When she stood up after class and I caught a glimpse of her acid wash jeans, our divide seemed unbridgeable.
She turned out to work as a tutor in the economics lab, so I didn’t have to work too hard to meet her. She was a bit cagey at first, sceptical that my motives were purely educational. She was right to be suspicious, but I won her over with a combination of pathetic ignorance and what I liked to think of as charm. I wish I could tell you that she helped me pass the class. But mostly I refused to let her tell me anything without kissing me first. And because kissing was the gateway drug to taking off all of her terrible clothes and spending long hours in bed under the gaze of her Stevie Nicks poster, Introduction to Economics still remains a blot on my record.
I also wish I could tell you that it was our differences that eventually tore us apart. Her love of big hair and the power ballad, my love of The Residents and holding my mohawk in place with airplane glue. But the truth is, it was me who couldn’t handle the space between us. If she walked through the common room and spotted me in meetings with the women’s collective, a group whose purpose she could not fathom, she’d still wave and smile at me. She gave up Styrofoam cups and hair products tested on animals for me. I kept her apart from my friends. In a picture of us from that time, I’m sitting in a booth with her sisters while she blows out the candles on her birthday cake. It looks like Robert Smith walked through the wrong door and ended up in a Bananarama video.
She wanted me to meet more of her friends and I kept dodging her invitations. Finally, in desperation, she told me she was having a house party and that she’d let everyone know I’d be coming. She asked me not to stand her up.
On the night of the party, unfashionably late and mildly inebriated, I stood outside her house, freezing, too scared to go in. Cases of beer sat on the front porch keeping cool and upstairs I could see the light on in what she liked to refer to as our den of iniquity. When I heard John Cougar Mellencamp’s I Need A Lover Who Won’t Drive Me Crazy blast out of the speakers, and a drunken singalong tide rise beneath it, I turned to leave. No way. That song. I could not deal with that song. I called her the next day and told her we had to break up.
I was young and stupid and unconscionably mean and I had no idea how much I would miss her. Every single cell of her and all of the things I thought I hated. That she had to bring a hairdryer when she stayed over, her pink underwear, the way she put on lipstick if we went out. The pettiness of my hatreds did not escape me, but I ignored them, ignored my longing for her and went to my classes in feminist theory, slam danced with my friends who never knew her and lay in bed at night awake and tried not to think.
Someone sent me a link to her Instagram recently. There were photos of her wedding. They were outdoors in a white Canadian winter. She was wearing a tux and her teeth outsparkled the snow. There was her bride in a high-necked lace gown larded with tiny flowers, each with a pearl at the centre. There she was walking down the carpeted aisle. There was no soundtrack, but I like to imagine it was Foreigner. It reminds me that I didn’t know what love was back then either, but that she’d tried to show me.