Five years old. I ask my mother to taste the milk for me. I am attempting analytical thought, to think as abstractly as my five year old mind will allow me. I’ve seen my older sister ponder this before, the possibility of milk gone sour. I want to be sure: is it, or is it not? My mother yells at me because she is lactose intolerant. I am five. I don’t know what this means, but I assume it means that I shouldn’t try to find answers to such impossible questions.

*

Seven years old and sitting in my grade two classroom. Mrs. Jones is at the chalkboard, telling a story. She is drawing pictures in chalk; birds, possibly chickadees. Anthony, sitting across from me, farts. I laugh. Mrs. Jones thinks I am laughing at her drawing skills. I am seven. I have no drawing skills. I don’t yet understand the concept of transference, so I allow myself to absorb all insecurity and sit with shame and fear in the hallway. I await my doom in the form of the school principal. I am terrified. I cry. I am voiceless, trying to understand what only Mrs. Jones seems to understand–the secret connection between a chickadee and a fart.

*

Nine years old, that critical age where who you are begins to mean nothing compared to who other people think you are. Friends are forever, or, at least until recess. The school bus pulls up to my house and I bound up the steps, excited for whatever possibilities the day might bring. I walk toward the almost-back-of-the-bus-but-not-quite section reserved for grades 4 through 6 (not as a school rule, but as an unspoken social standard). As I walk, the most foul smell fills the air, stronger and stronger the further I go. My face distorts in disgust. Clueless, I wonder why nobody opens a window. Clueless also in the realization that all the kids are plugging their noses and pointing at me. It’s a surreal place to exist, that world between what I know is truth, and the knowledge that to defend myself would be pointless. I sit on green vinyl. My best friend-for-the-moment, sitting next to the window, looks at me and is appalled. It’s a surreal place to exist, knowing that we both know the truth, and realizing that my dignity has been sold for playground gossip. Although, being nine, I don’t quite understand the concept of dignity. I ride to school, curiously interested in the pattern on the school bus floor. Wondering why the driver has the heat on full blast.

*

Eleven years old, riding the school bus home. Four rows behind, Luke Williams, ranked more-cool-than-not-cool, calls my name. He is writing the words I love Aphrodite in the condensation on the windows. I don’t believe him. It couldn’t be true. Or could it? No, it couldn’t be true. I pretend not to notice. Ignorance is a form of rejection that preserves our tender hearts in a jar so they don’t get crushed. Or savoured.

*

Twelve years old, a class dance. I sit on the sidelines and fantasize–I am on a Stairway to Heaven. Paul asks me to dance but, Paul wasn’t in my fantasy. I pretend to need to use the bathroom. On my way out, John stops me and asks me to dance. Shoot. I am twelve, so I say shoot. I am stuck between pre-teen fantasy and a guilt trip. I dance, because I want to, and take great care to not look in Paul’s direction. I refuse to believe that I am a snob and convince myself that I really do need to pee. Who asked Paul to like me, anyway?

*

Fifteen, and my summer holiday is almost over. I spent my entire summer compiling a scrapbook of every romantic movie watched, and every romance novel read. I play “She’s Like the Wind” and “Take My Breath Away” over and over until the cassette tape wears thin. I collect empty shoeboxes, stockpile them in my closet, and prepare to collect love mementos. I don’t play outside. I don’t socialize with friends. I look back on my summer and have trouble remembering any specific events. Then I shrug. I go back to my scrapbook, dream about the day I turn 16 and all the romantic moments that are to come.

*

Nineteen years old, and I’ve never had a real boyfriend. Fuck. My fucking name is Aphrodite, and I’ve never had a boyfriend. How fucking ironic is that? I start to wear make-up and high heels. I start to go to bars and pretend to like alcohol. I pretend to understand the laws of flirting but I suspect, since I leave alone each night, that perhaps I should be a better student. I try and I try and I try to be attractive. I fail and I fail and I fail. The only guys who ever show interest in me are the ones I consider my buddies, my pals–the ones who know the every-day me. When this happens, I have trouble understanding why they like me. I just don’t get it.

*

Twenty years old, and I’ve had a mad obsession over Phil from work for almost a year now. It has consumed me. I don’t sleep, and every conversation I have manages to include his name. I know he knows it, and this embarrasses the shit out of me. When he sends me an email with a P.S. Happy Valentine’s Day on it, I wonder if he’s mocking me. He seemed to be too nice for such cruelty.

Out of nowhere I meet another guy, coincidentally another Phil. A chance encounter that was merely a blip between one Phil fantasy and another. Meaningless, until I get a phone call from the second Phil, and then I remember: there had been a spark in his eye at the punch line to one of my jokes. I’d totally missed it except in hindsight. Poor guy. I explain to him that my interests are otherwise engaged. We form a just-friends friendship. I take to calling them Cute Phil and Other Phil.

My relationship with Other Phil consists of me telling him all my Cute Phil fantasies, and of him telling me all the reasons why it will never happen. Between his logic and my insecurities I begin to believe him. My brain has given up on separating the Phils, and my boundaries become blurry. He has made it so easy for me. Cute Phil would require hard work and going out on a limb. I’m protective of my limbs. I agree to attempt a relationship with Other Phil. The next day I get an email from Cute Phil asking me out, hating himself for being so shy. I adore his email, but I don’t reply.

I’m a commitment girl. I’ve made a commitment to Other Phil, and, though I don’t expect it will last, I have to honour the commitment.

*

Five years later, I’m still with Other Phil. Except that I no longer call him Other Phil. Now I call him, Selfish Phuck. Robert Frost took the road less traveled. I went off the path altogether. I’m lost in dense bush, somewhere in Obscurityville. How did I get here? Or the real question, how do I get out?

I try to remember when it happened, The Moment. There’s always a moment. Before The Moment, I was in control, I was the one being pursued, I had complete dictatorship over what direction our relationship would go. In one word: Checkmate. Though I’d never played chess in my life, I knew it was a good thing. After The Moment he knew he had me and stopped working, like a cheap watch. At some point along the way I bit the bait and kissed the snake in the Garden of Eden, and I couldn’t even tell the time to boot. I decide that The Moment came roughly 3 months in, which means I’ve been out of control for 4 and 3/4 years.

I take an inventory of my life:

I’m a 9–5er in a call centre. I hate this job; I’ve never liked telephones and I’ve always loved marine biology and I’ve never liked Monday through Friday. I stay because I have bills to pay and Phil’s bills to pay and vet bills to pay and because my parents tell me I need to grow up.

I’m still with Phil. I’d been thinking about planning a big white wedding, and had somehow forgotten that I’ve always hated big white weddings.

I am dreamless and passionless and a person with responsibilities. I have dreamless and passionless sex. I’m twenty-five and I have passionless sex. This sucks.

I decide to break up with Phil. My brother hands me a quarter to call someone who cares. He tells me to be careful because nobody is perfect.

I quit my job.

*

Twenty-five-and-a-half, my father has become a cliché. He’s sleeping with his secretary. This has not been for long considering that prior to his four month old promotion he’d never had a secretary before. His unoriginality annoys me. He tells me that he never really loved my mother anyway.

*

Twenty-five-and-a-half-and-a-day, my mother tells me she never really loved my father anyway.

*

Twenty-six and living on the pacific coast. The first thing I do after moving here is go on a whale watching tour. There is so much fog. The guide is taking a chance with our lives by going out, and the possibility of actually seeing any whales is slim to none. But whales are fat and I am hopeful and faithful. I hold my breath as the water whips my face with the speed of the zodiac. Then stillness. Waiting. Patience, a lesson-in-progress. And then they are there, two of them. Massive and graceful.

I watch in stunned silence. A major lack of coordination makes it impossible for me to take a decent photograph. An entire roll of film is spent catching tail ends. Submerged again, invisible, we can’t figure out where they’ve gone. On the brink of disappointed and frustrated, I look down over the side of the zodiac and there, for only my eyes to see, are the whales. Swimming right under us! Briefly, I realize that it would take no effort at all for them to rise to the surface and flip our little boat; scatter us into the fog and seaweed. But I am hopeful and faithful and goddamn happy.

*

Music is blaring and I’m dancing. I don’t care that my friends are sitting down. I don’t care that they’ve left me alone on the dance floor. I just don’t care. The dancing has released the endorphins in my brain and there are stars in my eyes. Mario comes up beside me and, though he never misses a beat, won’t stop staring. He tells me I am pretty. He tells me he wants to see me the next day. I tell him that seems rather soon. So he tells me he’ll see me the day after that.

He comes over for dinner and is kissing me before the spaghetti has finished cooking. Dessert is unnecessary. Each day, unnecessary activities get scratched from my list until it seems I will never have to do laundry again. When I get down to the T’s though, I stop. I don’t want to cross Talking from the list, but realize that we have not done much of this. Determined, I attempt a conversation. He answers each of my remarks with the make and model of a car. He interrupts my thought process to browse porn on my computer. His eyes glaze over every time I speak, to the point that he becomes like one of Pavlov’s dogs, and all I need to do is part my lips. He calls me one night, invites himself over to “watch a movie,” and asks what flavour of ice cream he should bring. I say, anything but strawberry, I hate strawberry. When I open the door the first thing I see is a bucket of Neopolitan under his arm. I close the door. There are too many flavours to have to put up with such a compromise.

*

Twenty-seven, walking along the rocky shoreline. I look out towards my heaven, the point where blue meets blue and starts all over again. I’d gone out last night, expecting Damien to be there. Everything in my being had told me that it would be a night filled with possibilities. The only sensible possibility would have been for Damien to be there. For the first time in my life I’d felt a mutual attraction with somebody. For the first time in my life I’d felt sexy, dressed only in jeans and a t-shirt. And knowing him had taught me a lesson never before realized, that this whole relationship thing shouldn’t be a chase. It shouldn’t be me doing all the footwork for a guy, or a guy doing all the footwork for me. If it’s real, we should meet in the middle somewhere. And I’d worked really really hard to have Damien meet me in the middle, which is why he was supposed to have been there last night.

The bartender had been eyeing me the entire time. Cute guy, entirely my type. But I was too disappointed over Damien to notice, except in hindsight.

As I walk, I realize my problem is not that my intuition isn’t calling me. My problem is just that I am not answering the phone.

My eyes sweep the rocks and focus instantly on one in particular. Unbelievable, even as I hold it in my hand, to think that nature and corrosion had carved such a perfect heart shape out of stone. I am faithful.

*

Two months later, I’m at a concert. A local band. I am by myself and want to be. As I wait for the band to play my eyes scan the crowd, and I accidentally make eye contact with a guy in a tweed coat. I know instantly that he is looking to pick up. He is wearing tweed. I purposely change my body language to let him know that I’m not interested but he is illiterate. He comes over. His tactic is interesting, shooting down my words with demeaning sarcasm. He is so funny he cracks himself up. When I leave he asks for my number, and I say no. For the first time in my life, I just say no. I don’t feel bad and I don’t just give him a fake number and I don’t care if he finds me not-nice. It’s empowering, to know that I have the ability to say that word, no. I decide to walk home, and I smile the entire way.

*

Today. I’m sitting in Starbucks and there are these pink hearts all around me. Pink and red travel mugs on the shelves. Stupid cherubs on the wall. Even the quote on my paper cup is about the “L” word. Sitting here I feel as though I should be defending myself by adopting a cynical attitude. I’m geared up for it, ready for the negativity, but it hits me–I’m not negative at all. I don’t care. I’m twenty-eight. I’m single. The chances of finding a date for tonight are about the same as the chances of my yuppie neighbour trading in his Caddy for a Colt. Just isn’t going to happen. I don’t care.

No wonder single people get so depressed at this time of year. Everywhere I turn I’m asked to think about who I love and who loves me–there’s never a “not applicable” option C. Why am I never reminded that it’s enough for me to just love myself? Why am I always being told that I will never be enough without someone else’s arm around my shoulders? Why isn’t the moral-of-the-story ever there to remind us that “confidence, happiness, self-appreciation” should always come before “tall, dark, and handsome”?

*

One year from today, I’ll be at the underwater aquarium, staring at the starfish. He’ll be standing two tanks over, with the blowfish. He’ll have dark-rimmed glasses, and his t-shirt will read I’m Otter Here!, and when I see this I’ll laugh. He’ll ask my name, and when I give it, it won’t even occur to him to be prosaic or cheesy. Instead, he’ll just genuinely be happy to make my acquaintance and he’ll ask me on a date. And it will be a real date. And he will be too shy to kiss me before the third date, and I will find this annoying–but adorable in hindsight. For Valentine’s Day he’ll buy me a jar of Nutella with two spoons. He’ll find me sexy in flannel. I’ll rent his favourite movie and we’ll watch it together and I won’t mind that it’s science fiction. We’ll have dreams and passion and passionate sex. I’ll prefer sushi over Thai, he’ll prefer Thai over sushi, but we’ll both love Italian and two cups of coffee in the morning. When I state my opinion, he’ll ask “Why?” and I’ll know that it will be partially out of curiosity, and partially to encourage me to defend my opinions. When he states his opinion, I’ll ask “Why?” and he’ll know that it will be partially out of curiosity, and partially to encourage him to defend his opinions. He will look me in the eyes when we talk and my pupils will dilate. When I cry, he will turn off the television and stroke my hair. I will love even the worst of his jokes. He will never not tell me anything, even when he knows it will make me mad. We’ll eat pizza at midnight. We’ll believe in happily-ever-after-despite-a-fight-now-and-then.

*

But, while I know that this will be reality, it hasn’t happened yet. Being boxed in by a fantasy is no present at all. In the meantime, it’s Valentine’s Day, and I deserve to take myself out on a date. I will buy myself a shoebox, and inside, it will have a pair of shoes. I will go out for Mexican, and I will order a half-litre of sangria with a beef burrito, and then I will go to the movies and see whatever I want to see. And it will be lovely.

-mtg

Published in Carte-Blanche: Issue 7