electric shock

you sit in your new bedroom alone, in the middle of east london. the hairless, obese cat stella is walking away from your door, toenails making clicking sounds that fade into the distance after she realizes she cannot enter. she is unable to continue lying on your new duvet and blankets, leaving her signature musty scent. your door is closed. you already know her smell well despite having lived there for only a week by now.

the last seven days have held a lot. you left the temporary home that you and your former partner of eleven years lived in, in brixton, after shedding many tears. you moved for work, for him, and the constant and reliable things in your life are now work, your body, your mind.

you saw your old friend adam, who was in london for a work trip from brussels, who you thought would have been open to kissing or cuddling or even fucking now that you were single. but it turns out that he wasn't — isn't — attracted to you after all these years, despite a major premise of your friendship (in your eyes, at least) that you would flirt with each other constantly with the idea of something potentially happening if only you were both single. after asking him directly if he would stay in your bed if he came to visit london, and asking him if he would be open to kissing you, and open to fucking you, he said no three times. you thought you didn't mind rejection. after years of wondering, the surprise of this one stung.

you also went out, dancing, late and two nights on the weekend in a row. you kissed a person the first night who followed you after on instagram, but who didn't initially reply when you thought you non-committally yet flirtatiously wrote “Lovely to meet you x”. the person who invited you to the rave, marie, probably would not have suspected that you would kiss their friend. you felt bad, but the kiss felt good. the kiss was surprisingly tender for a dancefloor. after it, you said “whoa,” out loud and looked him in the eyes and kissed him softly again.

the second night out, you didn't kiss anyone but knew that you could have, which made you feel powerful and feel pleasure at the subjunctive potential, and instead you casually hung and danced all night with a young mixed malaysian and cantonese queer boy with a mullet and sheer shirt named vincent and his two white, long-haired lesbian flatmates who clearly wanted to fuck but instead just spoke closely in huddles all night, bodies always touching. you all put cocaine on your gums in the bathroom stall, because vincent said it would help it last longer that way. your entire mouth went numb; the high was more subdued, though your nose did not drip after.

that night, you texted a twenty year old art history undergrad named elliot who you met at a rave in montreal a month before leaving for london:

“i am in love with you elliot”

those words have destroyed everything you thought you knew about yourself on the inside. you feel free, but totally unmoored and like you are at sea and might never go back to dry land. you also only slept two handfuls of hours of sleep the last three nights, and your body is swaying even more because of it.

your head feels unhinged, like elliot could walk into the room and consensually untie the green ribbon around your neck and walk with your head like a prize he's claimed as his own, while you watch the whole time and wonder what the fuck is happening. “take the rest of me,” you'd say, “take the rest of me with you.” you know you won't feel whole anyway unless you know he is about to be around you imminently. unless he is already there, in front of all of you.

he told you he fell in love with you the night you met. he came up to you in the makeshift bathroom at the venue for the latex-y and kink-themed rave chosen by its organizer, who would later learn that the person who owns the venue doesn't give a shit about addressing sexual harassment or the physical safety of his patrons. you see on instagram that the same event won't be hosted there again.

elliot was aggressive, unmoored, unhinged, high on molly and dexedrine; full with the unearned confidence of the young (his words, that he would later write on instagram after he found you the night after meeting you). you were supposed to be monogamous. you didn't think that dressing how you did in nude fishnets and a vaguely kinky-looking strappy, black and tight top would be an invitation to anyone. you did it to please yourself, you wanted to feel good.

you continued to talk since the night that you met nearly three months ago. short sentences, chosen for surprise, bursting with the desire to know and be known with extreme intimacy despite the distances between you; the chasms.

you feel like you should not have let yourself fall in love, no matter how pretty and interesting elliot is, how he makes you feel, and despite the possibility of what you could be and what you likely never will be nor ever share with each other. you are now no longer in control, and you left your former relationship because you wanted to hold every aspect of your life in your hands and tweak things as they fit your desires. your life was to be your own, living for no one and nothing but yourself after feeling your entire life that the purpose of your existence was to make other people — and especially men — happy, comfortable, pleasured.

but you remember that you also want the distances, the chasmic unknown. and the waiting to see elliot now — a few days before you fly back to montreal and eventually see him after you arrive — is completely and utterly unbearable. your hold your head in your hands and write at your desk, surrounded by white and as yet unadorned walls. you feel exhausted and like your body hurts, and you think about how he said he felt wounded and wonder what it means; that you also feel so much pain yet so much longing and an inexplicable and overwhelming sense of curious and electric love all at the same time.

She's afraid her brother will treat her just as he does their mother. Ignoring her calls. Never reaching out. Perhaps, she predicts, at his most present when she's about to die or already dead.

She isn't quite sure what she's after. Whether it's for her brother to impossibly makeup for all the rejection and abandonment she's felt from family throughout her life. Whether it's the way loving siblings relate to each other like she's seen in movies, or in certain people's lives around her that remind her of those feel-good films. Whether she is looking for a friend. Someone her needs her too.

Their father died in November. The moment he died, the two of them were there. She, kneeled at her father's bedside, holding his hand before it went limp and cold and yellow. He, one arm around his sister and the other around his father's head, a little bit farther away.

When their father died, it was surreal. She wept and wailed as she saw the aliveness leave him, angry at the world and at every fucking thing, because, again, she had to say goodbye to him, but this time it was for forever. She was glad she didn't wear any mascara that day.

Her brother seemed stoic; unmoved in the last few moments of their father's life. She had seen that face before many times, when he seemed to be exploding with emotion but had sealed off all his cavities, letting nothing out and nothing in because if he did who could be sure that he'd be able to put him self together again.

She felt her brother squeeze her arm tight, in those last few moments, hugging her after their father died.

But before he did, their father said something to each of them. Her father told her that he had regrets, but no matter what happened, she would always be his daughter. His father told him to take care of her, his little sister, while her brother nodded grimly.

Maybe that's another reason why his silence now is so hard. Another promise, of sorts — this time from her brother to their father — and another opportunity to let down.

She imagines their friendship, if they were to have one in the future. They would send each other photos of their cats. Have inside jokes based on sounds they made up as a child or the sounds that her stomach makes when she's hungry or digesting food. Have the same mannerisms and mispronounce the same words. Remember each other as little kids, which no one else in their lives can do anymore but each other.

She wants to have patience for his waiting, for his incredible need for space. But what if it never ends? Why doesn't he realize that when she texted last week, asking if they could be in each other's lives again (since his silent treatment towards her began after their father's death), that she needed to hear “I love you too” from him?

It was only after trying to make sense of her brother through text with his fiancée, and eventually calling out his fiancée for enabling his accidentally gender-stereotypical behaviour of doing so little emotional labour, that she told him

“I just want to know if you love me and if I matter you”

and that he told her

“Yeah of course I do”

(he hasn't written anything since).

She knows. That what feels like rejection and imminent abandonment of her is only partially attributable to him. But who else will take responsibility? What has she done wrong?

She learned through her brother's fiancée that he is, indeed, upset with her (his sister), but she (his sister) has no idea why. She can't take responsibility when it's based on shots on the dark, when it's been bottled up on the other end.

So she'll learn. She'll learn that right now, her brother has taught her that he cannot be relied on for support. And that supporting him now seems to mean giving him his requested space. She has, at least, made her voice heard. And though it reminds her of the immense fear of rejection that she lives with everyday, she will decide to wait.

She walked down the stairs to her father's basement apartment. There was one dark window in his home, but it didn't see any light. Piles of boxes sat on the tile floor at the bottom of the carpeted stairs. Dust had collected on the binders of stamps, piled atop the boxes. Her father took these things him from apartment to apartment, over the period of multiple decades.

He sat, unintentionally reclining in his worn office chair. His friends, who were also his landlords, had found the chair on the street. It was better than the other office chair he had been using before, which sat beside the pile of boxes, with a stack of paper on top. Used, falling apart, but useful — that was just his aesthetic and what he had gotten used to in life.

She didn't wear her mask to protect herself and others during COVID-19. He was going to die later that day. It was planned. He had chosen it himself. He finally took control over the suffering he experienced. For one of the first times in his life, she thought, he was choosing not to be a victim. Perhaps, strangely, he chose death — an end to his life — as a way to claim autonomy over his failing body, ravaged by fifty-six years of smoking, dependence on alcohol, and malnutrition because of his diet. The grandparents who raised him never taught him how often he needed to shower.

When she hugged him, she had learned to protect her body from him. She had learned the hard way that it was up to her to shield herself from his unwanted touching.

She observed her surroundings. A desk, beside the boxes, with more piles of paper. A computer keyboard, on the desk, with dried stains that were probably from all the room temperature soda that he drank. The other day he had asked her to grab him a Pepsi from beside the fridge, offered her one, and explained that cold drinks hurt his gums. Since his thirties, he had needed dentures.

At the bottom of the carpeted stairs, on top of one of the boxes, she saw a form to inform medical professionals that he was not to be revived if, for example, his heart stopped. DNR. Do Not Resuscitate.

She thought about the spectrum of compassionate treatment that we reserve for the most ill. The way we don't interfere with death if it would otherwise be inevitable. The way we bring it upon a person, under certain circumstances, when they choose.

When he stood, her father was a tall man. Six foot three. In his worn but still useful office chair, he looked large yet frail.

This was the man who had raped her before she was nine years old. Court documents and the evidence in the criminal trial revealed that she could never be sure of when, exactly, the rape had taken place. Somewhere between the ages of three to eight. He had overpowered her. Pressed his body on top of hers. Tried to put his full-grown penis into her still-growing vagina. Though she had begun crying, he only stopped, as far as she remembered, when she told him that it hurt.

Here was the man who raped her. Who, at the very least, had tried to.

Since she had reconnected with him at the age of 17, it seemed like he told her each time she saw him that he had “a lot of regrets in life.” He started saying this only after she persisted in asking him to admit that he hurt her. That he had sexually abused her. He wouldn't admit it at first. Not with the social worker present, who had to accompany her first visit and conversation with him since she had gone into foster care at the age of nine.

Her father hadn't undertaken the counselling that the Children's Aid Society had required of him in order to have visits with his children, after he was acquitted of the charges against him when she was eleven.

But she was thirty-one now. She had just turned thirty-one three days before he died. For the first time in her life since she was nine years old, she spent her birthday with her dad.

With his body so frail and worn now, there was no way he could hurt her; he could not, at least, hurt her physically.

When she hugged him now, she had less fear. She was less scared now that he would do something like graze her breasts with his arms, which she had experienced on two other occasions when seeing him. The second time it happened, she chose to stop talking to him. She was twenty-four.

Now it was time to say goodbye forever. After she helped her dad do a video call later that afternoon with his estranged sister and niece, she wrapped her arms around him. She broke down when her aunt said to her father, “Grandma is waiting for you.” She flung her arms around his neck like the child she let herself be in that moment. She told him, through tears, that she loved him.

This time, he didn't tell her she was crying “crocodile tears” like he used to do when she was young. He didn't tell her to stop crying, which he did when she was an adult because it hurt him to see her sad.

This time, he let himself shed a tear or two, which she had seen only him do once before. He grabbed a tissue from the Kleenex box, which sat on top of his desk with piles of paper. Her father wiped the tears from his eyes, and told her that he always loved her, that he never stopped, and that he will love her even when he is gone.