November 2002

You asked for it...

I was going to make this a Halloween Extravaganza. I was going to make this a lot of things. However, I had more than a couple of people comment on the fact that last months reprisal wasn't quite up to par. It was lacking. It was too short. It wasn't quite as serious or as morose as they usually are. It didn't tell an immensely personal story. It was blablablablabla.

Be careful what you wish for...

And then there was this girl...

I watched her for a long time...

You can do that you know. You can sit back and wait and watch. You can spend what seems like forever sitting on the sidelines convincing yourself that one day your time will come. Sometimes it does. Sometimes at the same time it comes, forever runs out and you're left there standing on a street corner at 5 in the morning because it's all come crashing down and you've been walking for hours and you don't know where to go.

I first met her in Junior High school. The name of the school isn't important, because if you've ever been to Junior high, you know that it's pretty much the same scene regardless of geographic location. You have the dances with the large video screens, you have the teachers who are at the end of their career and are so tired of dealing with hormone driven teenagers that their only desire is to complete the minimum number of years required to get the pension that they won't be able to live off of. And of course, you have the classes designed to numb your mind to the point of submission so you can one day take a job in some glass building that despite being "ergonomically" designed, serves no purpose but to give you recycled stale air and kill the last of your creativity with computer screens and coffees with names that no one can actually pronounce. And finally, you have the cliques.

Or at least kids do. I didn't. I was one of those kids that didn't even fit in with the misfits. I was terribly shy and quiet, and somehow, at the same time I was also far too outspoken. I was the kid that could (and usually did) piss off anyone. I was the kid that got slammed in lockers, and towel whipped, and all the horror stories they put in teen movies. I was the kick around kid. Many were convinced that I would one day grow up so filled with anger and resentment that I would buy a van and fill my time by picking up hitch hikers and helping them to disappear into the woods. Ultimately, I became a something else entirely. But back then, people were convinced that I was the weird kid, and because I lacked the social skills and the Levi red tabs, they decided I should be punished for my shortcomings as often as possible.

And then I met Amy.

Just like me, she had moved from a different town to the big city. Just like me she was terribly shy, and as such was shunned by the cliques. Unlike me, her mother had passed away right before Amy came to the city. Amy's father was a business man who worked in a big glass building, looking at a computer screen and breathing stale air. That's OK though, because from what Amy told me, he was never that creative to begin with.

He didn't have a lot of time for Amy.

Neither did most people.

Amy was skinny, had braces, and was altogether too tall for her age. She also had acne that was quite severe. After a time the Doctors put her on Acutane. That helped a little, but the side effects were quite harsh. I'm told that some people don't have much difficulty with side effects. Amy was by no means some people. The end result of all of this was that she also received the same merciless treatment from our "peers" that I did.

I first met Amy in one of the stairwells by the drama classroom. She was sitting in a little nook that people couldn't really see. A person was well hidden in that nook. I knew this because it was where I spent most of my lunch hours, doing everything I could to avoid drawing any attention to myself. And, on this particular lunch hour, there was an invader in my little sanctum.

A girl no less.

Normally I would have simply turned, walked away and found another place to waste my lunch hour. Not that day. I assumed that since my sole reason for hiding out in the stairwell was to avoid the "cool" kids, perhaps this girl shared the same motivation. That and despite her awkward appearance, something about her struck me. I couldn't say exactly what it was, but at that moment she had me. So I went up and I said "Hi". She was so startled that someone had discovered her, she jumped a little and ended up dropping her sandwich on the floor. I apologized, gave her one of mine, and we got to talking.

It's funny how people who have suffered the same wounds tend to drift towards each other. That's what Amy and I did. It didn't take long for us to become friends. We would spend our lunch hours as far away from the school as possible, just walking around the neighbourhood before making our way back to the institution we both hated so much just in time for the remaining hours of mind numbing repetition.

At night we used to sneak out of our houses. At least two nights a week, Amy would come by, knocking on my window and we'ld go out walking the streets for hours. We'ld just wander around our neighbourhood, talking about things that we were convinced were deeply insightful and relevant. Laughing at how deluded our peers were and how they would all grow up to have a condo, a European car and a terrible drinking problem. After a couple of hours, I'ld walk her home and then sneak back into my room in time to get a few hours of sleep before my parents woke me up.

Weekends were our favourite time though. We'ld meet up in the playground of a local elementary school and just hang out before setting out to wander around. We were the kids that spent hours outside of convenience store, sneaking back inside every couple of hours to see how long it would take before the clerk kicked us outside again. It was a game to us.

And that's how we spent our Junior high years. High School brought a lot of changes though.

In grade 10, Amy began to morph her way out of her awkward teenage phase. Her acne cleared up, and she developed in the way that all teenage girls eventually do. You constantly hear supermodels and actresses speak of how they were awkward ugly creatures until one day they became paradigms of perfection. That is the easiest way to explain what happened to Amy. I had always found her to be one of the most beautiful people I had ever met, but for the first time she began to manifest that beauty in an outward manner. This did not, however, have the results that I expected.

You see, despite the close nature of my friendship with Amy, the sad fact of the matter was that her father still spent most days sitting in his little glass cage, and completely lacked the ability to give Amy anything close to affection. I suppose, in hindsight, that the loss of his wife completely crippled him emotionally, but back then, all that mattered was the fact that Amy was dying inside for approval.

So armed with her newfound beauty, she went out looking for it. And, for a time, I suppose she thought she found it. At the very least, she found a whole shitload of people who wanted to fuck her. I have often wondered why it is that so many girls feel that if they let someone get into their pants, it somehow makes them an OK person. I've given up looking for an answer. The only answers I've every found are far too simple and obvious, and if they were the explanations I was looking for, I wouldn't be the only one to see them. It is, and will always remain, a mystery to me.

Now, I cared about Amy a great deal. Fact is, I had fallen for her long before she became the creature of physical beauty that she had evolved into. It's something of a pattern in my life. I find a woman for whom I care for, and she is so terribly insecure, she runs out and sleeps with everyone she can. I get to be the one to hear all the stories.

In all honesty I found the ways she found to waste herself quite heartbreaking. I tried to stomach them for as long as I could, but I just wasn't able to pull it off, so instead I pulled away. I stopped babysitting her at parties, and she stopped coming by for our midnight walks.

I think the best way to put it is that we simply stopped.

So we drifted apart. She ended up dropping out of school because she spent all of her time drinking and getting laid. She had become too cool for everything but herself. Everything definitely included me. I think she dropped out halfway through Grade 12, but memory is a funny thing and I could be wrong. Hard to say.

I however, did graduate. Barely, but I did. I spent a couple of years completely drunk out of my skull before deciding that it was time I move out on my own. So, I did what anyone with the options a high school diploma provides would have done. I got a job at a gas station. And a shitty apartment. Basement suite actually. It probably wasn't fit for rats to live in. Not to say anything about the couple who lived above me and made a regular game of having fights that could make the most international conflicts seem peaceful and civilized. But, it was a place of my own, and most of the time I could turn the music up loud enough so that I wasn't able to hear their little disputes until they started in with the throwing of breakable objects.

And then one day I saw Amy again.

I was minding my own business on a night shift at the gas station, doing everything I could to make it seem like I was working on something. All this effort of slack was under the watchful eye of the security camera that my boss reviewed the tapes of daily. Truth be told, I had worked out an elaborate system involving a newspaper, 12 Mars bars, and a potato chip rack that allowed me to appear as if I was stocking. In fact, I was reading whatever magazines I hadn't already gotten to. You know your job is among the worst in the world when at 4 AM, you find yourself reading magazines like Cosmo and Vogue. Setting my goals too high never has been one of my strongest suites.

And then, in the middle of an article on "the right way to apply false nails", the electronic door buzzer rang and in walked Amy.

I recognized her immediately, and strangely enough, I found myself hoping she wouldn't recognize me. She was still stunningly beautiful, if not more so than the last time I had seen her. She was dressed up in what was very obviously bar clothes, but strangely sober. She picked up some sort of fruit drink and strode up to the counter. It was then she recognized me. The first words out of her mouth were "Oh my GOD! Is that really YOU?"

I simply said yes.

Inevitably, we got to talking and in the course of that conversation she told me how shortly after dropping out of school, she got a job as a waitress at a local all night diner. One day, two managers from one of the local bars came in and convinced her that she was wasting both her looks and her talent as a waitress on the diner and she should go to work for them. So she did.

Amy the rebel, Amy the midnight walker, Amy the misfit was now a beer tub girl.

She had perfected the art of beer tubbing to the point where she walked with at least $200-300 a night. I made $5.50 an hour. She told me a couple of stories of nights involving various narcotics and many different men before she said was tired, and one of the bouncers from her club was waiting in the car. As she walked away from the counter she turned and gave me one of those fifty dollar bar tabs (no cover) designed to make people feel as if they are "special Clientele" (To quote the back of the thing), and told me that I had to come in and visit her at work. I put the bar tab in my wallet and as fast as she walked in, she walked out. I went back to my article on press on nails, reeling at the fact that I had run into her again, and how ridiculous it was that my method of coping with seeing her again, and hearing about how she was still course set on self destruct, was to immerse myself in the fact that it really does depend on what kind of material the fakey nail is made out of if you want to use the right adhesive.

I didn't go to her bar for some time. About four months in all honesty. There was a part of me that knew I didn't want to se her like that. There was a part of me that knew if I went, I would see her more or less selling herself for easy money and it would tear apart the ideas that I had once held so dear about Amy.

It's amazing what can happen when you've had a couple of drinks though.

One night, after sitting at home and having run out of both alcohol and money, I found myself fishing through my wallet in the hopes that despite I'd been through it at least six times already, I might find enough money for a six pack. What I found was a toonie and a bar tab I had completely forgotten about. Better judgement failed me then it did.

So, I hopped on the C-train and made my way to Amy's bar. As the card promised, there was indeed no line and no cover. In what I am pretty sure was record time, I found my way to the nearest bar and set myself up on what was one of three available stools. Not one to waste time, I ordered a beer and began to stumble my way about the floor.

And I found her.

Sure enough, there she was. She was wearing what can only be described as something in between a bikini and a halter-top. And it was easy to see she loved every minute of it. All the guys in her immediate area were making it their sole purpose in life to be grossly overcharged for bottles of beer and tip her ridiculous amounts of money, all because they were lonely enough to convince themselves that if they gave her enough money, she might just give them the time of day. None of them seemed to be even close to aware of the fact that it never happened.

And it broke my heart.

But, I went up and said, "Hi" nonetheless.

To make a very long and boring story short, I ended up spending the entire night on my little steel bar stool just sitting back people watching. At the end of the night, Amy came and found a very intoxicated version of me. She insisted on driving me home. That worked just fine for me, as I had blown my last two dollars on C-train fare, and I really had no way to get home.

So she drove me home. She had a new Volkswagon. SHe was very proud of it and talked about it quite a bit. I asked her if it was a European car. She said yes, completely missing my little joke.

The ride home was quite nice. A very comfortable car it was. We talked about old times and how crazy life had become. We talked about how, after high school, she had flitted from guy to guy before she found her niche in the bar scene. And we talked about how she was terribly confused because she had four different guys on the go and she had no idea who to choose.

She insisted on walking me to my door. She seemed to be convinced that in my incredibly intoxicated state that I would find some way to crack my skull on the concrete if I attempted the trip on my own, and since I was in no state to argue, I agreed.

She was appalled at my living conditions to say the least. She said she was worried about me. She said the condo she lived in was so much nicer than my current digs. She said that of all the people she knew in high school, I was the last one she expected to live in the place I did and work the job I worked.

I told her it was no big thing. I told her not to worry. In my own altogether subtle way, I think I may have tried explain my feelings for her. I'm not certain. As I said, I was quite under the influence. If I did try to hit on her, she either didn't notice, or she did me the respect of pretending not to. Either way, she made sure I didn't crack my head open.

Before she left, she shoved me a crumpled piece of paper with her phone number on it, and she told me she had missed me and she would like to get together for coffee.

We did.

It took me a while to call her though. I wasn't sure if I had tried to hit on her. I wasn't sure if she really did want to hear from me. But, the image of Amy was now in my head, and I did call her. She was happy to hear from me, and insisted we go out for a coffee one night after she worked. We did and it became a regular thing. She would pick me up from my gas station in her new Volkswagon (not before making me fill her car with gas, she loved doing that, full service station and all...), and we would sit at Denny's for hours.

I won't bore you with the countless stories of our midnight (actually considerably later than that) coffee encounters. Partially because I don't want to bore you, and partially because there are things I prefer to keep to myself. I will say that usually after about an hour or so, Bar Amy disappeared and Real Amy started to come back. It was wonderful and it made me fall in love with her all over again.

I'll never forget that one night though.

I had showed up to Denny's (our usual late night coffee spot) early. I watched her walk in the door, and as soon as she did I knew something was wrong. There was something wrong with the way she walked. Normally, Amy walked into a room like she owned it. Every head turned to see the goddess that had just walked into a late night diner filled with misfits and lonely people. That night, Amy walked in like she was invisible. She walked in like she belonged there. She made her way to the table and sat down without saying a word. Since I knew something was wrong I waited for her to say something. She didn't.

So I did. I asked her what was new.

If the art of conversation is dead, I may have been the one to kill it.

She took quite a while to answer. I remember the silence. It's amazing how in a crowded restaurant, things can get so very quiet at a crucial moment. I knew from the time it took for her to answer that this was one of those moments. So I waited. As much as I wanted to break the silence with some kind of witty comment, I waited. And I'll never forget the first words she spoke.

"I went to the doctor today..."

At that moment I knew the conversation had taken a turn for the dramatic. Sadly, I was right. She then unfolded before me a story that will I will never be able to forget, no matter how hard I might try. She told me how she had been living her lifestyle for two or three years and it had finally caught up with her. She told me how she had slept with more people than she could remember. She told me how she had only wanted someone to really love her.

And then she told me she had AIDS.

Now, normally I'm the type of person who can say something fitting for any given situation. I had nothing. She proceeded to tell me that it wasn't simply HIV that she had, but that she hadn't been to the doctor in years, and that she had progressed to full blown AIDS without ever knowing she was HIV positive. She sat there and cried because she was terrified at how many people she may have passed it on to. She sat there and bled 22 years of loneliness onto a table that had seen more cigarette ash than honesty.

And I had nothing to say.

I wish I had. Really I do. I didn't though. I could only sit there and listen and try to deal with the dawning realisation that this person I was just beginning to know again was going to slip through my fingers at a moments notice.

And I was right.

She quit/was fired from her job as soon as the management of the bar she worked at heard of her disease. Word travels very fast in the service industry, and it took no time for it to be made very clear that as a beer tub girl, she didn't make much of a fantasy for the patrons of the club with her ailment. If anything, she "scared" people away from the bar.

After that it was all a house of cards.

It may have taken all of three or four months for her to be stricken with what the doctors so coldly called pneumocystis. Apparently it was a form of pneumonia.

She caught it in August.

She was hospitalised in record time. I made absolutely certain I visited her every day. Her friends never did. They were too busy occupying themselves with far lighter subject matter than that of their friend who was on her way out. So I was always there. We would sit and talk for hours, while she could, as it was all I felt I could do for her. We talked about such small things as the Scooby Doo episode she had just watched to the realisations about her life that she had been forced to come to.

As an aside, her father never visited. He was ashamed.

Even then, he could never find it in himself to be anything more than some simple automaton.

I remember I knew she was getting worse. They had put her on a respirator. She had lost the ability to speak. She was simply waiting to die at that point. I remember sitting beside her bed and thinking that if there was ever a time for me to tell her that I loved her, and that she had not lived her life as unloved as she thought, it was then. I also remember being terrified of telling her. Even though at that point she was incapable of answering me, I was scared to death of what her response would be. So instead, I went down to the lobby to muster up courage and get a coffee.

There are choices in life we regret forever. That was without a doubt one that will haunt me for until the day my turn comes to suffle my way of this rock.

I got to the lobby and wandered my way into the gift shop. I picked out a stuffed teddy bear and paid for it, convinced in my mind that if I brought her a token of sorts, it would make my impending confession somewhat easier to deal with. I then made my way to the coffee shop, got my coffee, went outside for a cigarette, and began my trip back to Amy's floor.

When I got back she was gone.

I couldn't have been gone for more than 30 minutes, but the moment had already come and passed. I was greeted by a simple white sheet that was where my friend had used to be. The ironic thing is that as I entered the room, completely unaware of what had happened, I had steeled myself to the point where I was going to tell her that I not only always loved her, but that I still did and always would. Instead, I pulled the white sheet back and told it to a lifeless form finally already disconnected from countless tubes and needles. But I did tell her. At that point it was undoubtedly more for me than her, but I opened myself up nonetheless and let all the things I had wanted to say for so long pour out. Perhaps because I had finally run out of time. Perhaps because at that point it was safe. I have tried many times to convince myself that as I entered the room, I would have said what I said regardless. I don't think I'll ever know. As I said, I have tried.

I barely found my way out of what was once Amy's room. I made it to the elevator. I had overheard one of the nurses talk about how she had called Amy's father and he was on his way. All I can remember was needing to get out of there before his banality infected what was.

I probably walked around aimlessly for about 12 hours. It's funny how you can run from something, but you can never actually get away from it. I like to think that Amy knew how I had felt for all those years. But, I like to think a lot of things...

Most times I'm wrong.

I watched her for a long time...

You can do that, you know? You can sit back and wait and watch. You can spend what seems like forever sitting on the sidelines convincing yourself that one day your time will come. Sometimes it does. Sometimes at the same time it comes, forever runs out and you're left there standing on a street corner at 5 in the morning because it's all come crashing down and you've been walking for hours and you don't know where to go.

There ya go Krista...