Violet has just come out.
The grand announcement came in the form of a photo, posted on Facebook, of Violet and her partner. The photo popped up on my newsfeed after an old friend of mine had commented on it.
When I think of her, I am ashamed. My morning mug of black coffee, sitting beside my laptop on the kitchen counter, has gone cold. But even now—at thirtyseven years old, a closeted queer myself—part of me rejoices at the confirmation of my suspicions. Suspicion. That’s it, the overriding feeling I’d had the whole time I knew Violet. And, of course, fear, too. Incredible, subtle fear.
Then complete possession.
She and I had a battle. She wanted to give me gifts. I denied her those gifts, for I knew them to be little admissions of her desire. But I, so young then and seemingly free, had the habit of hoarding attention. So, in my own merciless way I accepted them. Performed the role of “her friend.” Then twinkled my hostile eyes.
We were fourteen at the time. I was a pubescent creature, working hard to remain the same contained little girl I had been: a Glossy-Cheeked Wonder, praised and beloved by all. I was a fascist when it came to the transformations occurring within me, halting anomalies, defining all obscurities. Points of panic were the unstoppable swelling of breasts and hips, stretch marks streaking across otherwise faultless skin, the emergence of a lone ragged hair upon the left nipple, discharge that dried like chalk in the crotch of my underwear, chest acne, armpit hair, and the unnerving outpouring of period blood. All of which required necessary actions: the obsessive application of killer creams, systematic plucking and waxing, detailed encyclopedic searches.
I was beautiful. Skin still tan from the recent summer months spent in Bodrum, Turkey. I had lithe, capable limbs, which I paraded around like a fool.
The battle began over a Twinkie.
It was the beginning of the school year at our private high school, Fieldstone King’s College. Violet and I were freshmen. We spoke for the first time in the change room, just after our fourth or fifth gym class together.
I had arrived at my locker just after Violet, who had the locker beside mine. I paid her no attention while I spun the dial on my combination lock. Sweat dripped from my forehead onto the linoleum floor. At the time, my metabolism—which has long since sputtered and given out—was almost cannibalistic. I lived in a state of constant hunger.
“God, I need to eat,” I said.
“Here, take this,” she said. There was a Twinkie tucked into the side pocket of her backpack, which she preciously pulled out and thrust toward me.
“But—don’t you want it?” I said.
“No, have it. I’m fine.”
The plastic wrapper crinkled between her damp fingers. The sound seemed to imitate the cheap fluttering of her susceptible heart. I felt as if I was not so cheap. Not so easily bought.
“Oh, okay. Well, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, blushing. Then her stomach grumbled.
“Wait a second, here, take it back. You’re hungry.”
“No. Please, eat!”
So, I ate the Twinkie in front of her, feeling obligated. Its processed sweetness cut right through my teeth.
“Delicious,” I said, nodding.
There was no hope that a Twinkie, packed with hollow calories and otherwise industrial waste, could quell my hunger. I knew the difference between true fullness and gut rot. But Violet nodded back at me: simple and pleased.
She began to undress. Still working my way through the Twinkie, I further considered the fact that I felt bullied into eating it—as if her generosity had been forced upon me. As she peeled off her sweaty underwear, worn to the point of translucence, I remember thinking how ugly her thin, undefined thighs and pallid skin were; how crude her wide-set erect nipples and her big yellowish-hazel eyes, hovering atop dark, sunken circles. She appeared sickly, having the invasive look of someone close to death.
I popped the last bite into my mouth. Then tongued at my teeth, digging out the sticky cake paste.
A pattern soon emerged: after every gym class, while in the change room, Violet presented me with gifts. All kinds of gifts, often horrifying in their complete irrelevance to my life. These items, being the starkest confessions of her affection for me, were purely symbolic, their only function being that of utter giftliness: a refill container of lead for a Bic pencil, a bar of Dove soap, a bite-sized stuffed panda with a guileless grin (taken from a McDonald’s Happy Meal), a plastic mood ring that didn’t work.
“Here,” she would say, so trusting. “I thought you might like this.”
Why? I would think.
Violet was one of the gifted kids who attended Fieldstone on scholarship. This kind of thing was always quickly found out among the students of a school like Fieldstone. It wasn’t hard to tell.
Looking back, there is no doubt that the great horror her gifts inspired in me also had to do with how they revealed her class. The bar of soap, smelling of disinfectant that would scrape the skin clean rather than soothe it; the grinning panda, who wore the oily perfume of stale fries, looking so pathetic with the M- branded tag poking out from its bum; and the container of lead that was halfempty. She’d probably stolen it off some desk at school. I wished the mood ring had worked. Instead it remained stuck between moods, awash in a swirl of orange and black.
The gifts depressed and antagonized me. I felt the imposition of not only her affection, but also her deficiency. A collage of lack was being plastered onto the wall of my mind. It was the Frankenstein-ing of gift-giving: these were gift-like things, but not gifts. Instead, these items were little corrosive distortions—masking chewed-out nails of dissatisfaction, a martyr-heart willing to be bled dry, and one hungry, thirsty mouth. Piranhas of pity. Worst of all was that Violet was hopeful. Truly hopeful.
These gifts scratched at the borders of my privileged world. But some curiosity beyond my control moved me to accept them. And at night, visions of Violet’s naked body tormented and captivated me. I would get wet. Wet when I wanted to be dry.
One day, this same curiosity impelled me to invite her out for lunch. She had just gifted me a lollipop, flat and red in a see-through wrapper. The kind one buys in
bulk. I told her to meet me the next day at twelve-thirty in the Yorkdale mall food court, a short walk from Fieldstone.
“To get you back for all these lovely gifts,” I said.
“Really?” She said.
“Well, okay, sure,” she said, blushing, unable to look me in the eye.
And even as I made the invitation, hammering out the details, describing precisely which table I’d be sitting at—“the one in the section of tables left of the square fountain, parallel to Orange Julius, and right of the Whole Foods and the Calvin Klein store . . .”—I knew I would not be joining her. Yet I didn’t admit this to myself in any articulated terms.
The proximity of Orange Julius to our meeting place excited her.
“I go there all the time,” she said. “They even know my name.”
“You go to Yorkdale often?”
“Of course! Well—to window shop. There are so many pretty things there . . .” “Hm. Well, perfect! You’ll know just where to meet me,” I said. Then I told her that I too loved Orange Julius, which was a lie—I had never been.
The lunch bell rang. A navy-blue windbreaker concealed my uniform, and I tucked my hair into my favourite Lacoste baseball cap. I left Fieldstone and made my way to the mall, eventually crossing the street into the mall parking lot. I was calm.
The heat wave that hit Toronto in August had continued into September. With the glare of sun against so many sparkling cars, the parking lot appeared to be a field of diamonds. As I ran my hand along the black hood of an Austin Mini, it burnt me. But even that didn’t disrupt my focus.
I entered the mall. Goosebumps arose along my bare legs at the pushy touch of artificial cold. I headed for the fountain, passing by the familiar bathroom stalls. For a second, the smell of freshly pressed waffle cones emanating from the Laura Secord wooed me. But I was on a mission.
Then I saw her, slouched over the predestined table. I settled myself on the fountain’s ledge, the farthest side from the food court. And, through the thin jets of cascading water, I watched her.
I had never seen her in makeup. A deep scarlet spilled over the natural outline of her lips. Across her pale cheekbones was smudged a rusty red blush. Her thin brown
hair, deflated by the heat outside, clung to the sides of her face. On first glance, it looked as if she’d been beaten up.
Her eyes flitted around the food court. A furtive smile flickered across her clownish face. Five minutes passed. She began to bite at her nails, then abruptly stopped, muttering something to herself. She dug her hands beneath her, trapping them between her bum and the chair.
Breathing deeply, she closed her eyes, and then, she smiled. For a few seconds, she beamed. And as her lips stretched wide, I saw that some lipstick had smeared onto her front teeth.
Ten minutes passed. Her hands kept poking out from under her bum, making their way back to her mouth. The more she bit down on her nails, the more her lipstick sprawled out beyond her lips. She slouched further down into her seat while I edged forward, fascinated.
Then one o’clock hit and quiet tears commenced. Rivulets streamed down her wilted face, taking her blush with them until it converged with her ever-straying lipstick.
She stood and took one quick glance around the food court. But there was nothing: not a single me was seen. Then, with both hands she slowly rubbed off her makeup, wiping all evidence of her hope onto her shivering thighs.
I was wild with desire.
It was that image of ruined anticipation that drove me mad: her raw face a jumble of leftovers, that mess of makeup soiling her cold thighs, the whole of her a caricature of red embarrassment. I fled to the public bathrooms.
I was the kind of girl who did it under the sheets, aloof and disbelieving, in the most calculated of conditions: past midnight, silent and dark, amidst the faint roars of my father’s violent snoring in the next room, a full glass of sparkling water on the bedside table and the radio set to low, very low, on the jazz station; jazz allowed me disorder, a black hole in which I discarded my lust. My heavy down comforter was the item most vital to this ritual. Laid upon me, I felt I was hidden beneath an island, not quite buried, but insulated, packed right in. The comforter obscured that eager, disembodied hand, so when I peered down, over the landscape, over the hills and ravines of plush cotton, even I couldn’t quite tell what was going on down there.
The desire that took me to the bathrooms was unlike the guarded lust I was used to. I was untamed, set afire. Hurting Violet not only aroused me—it summoned me.
I entered the first stall I found open. I reached underneath my skirt and yanked my underwear down. There was no time to sit. I stood, panties around ankles, and bore into myself.
Stumbling out of the bathrooms, I avoided the mirrors, for I feared I looked worse off than Violet. I too was a clown, but a deceptive one. My body had betrayed me.
I never saw Violet again.
One week later, her locker hung wide open, completely hollowed out. She must have switched schools. I was glad. I knew if I saw her, if I looked her in the eye, I would have to confront my treachery.
With her gone, I was entirely happy to forget all about it.
In the Facebook photo, she is kissing her partner: how she allows the muscles in her lips to show their plain eagerness to devour her lover, cheeks radiant with unabashed lust, her thumb slightly lifting the bottom of her girlfriend’s thin T-shirt as she clutches her waist, crow’s feet splaying out from the corners of their eyes. I am astonished. Jealous. As light and inconsequential as a sheet of floating blank paper.
I look away from my laptop and into the forest that lies beyond the window above the sink. There on the patio sits my husband. His erect back pushed up against the wooden patio chair, he reads his paper. He sticks his small, pointed tongue out into the air and licks his thumb, making sure not to wrinkle the newspaper as he presses it onto the top right corner and flips the page. I think of his cold hands and our stainless, dried-up bed.
Here I am, amidst this polished life, and what for?
It’s been all right. It’s been bearable. Clean. But somehow, this very moment, it has become not enough: the Andy Warhol prints that line our living room walls, our tennis court and saltwater pool, the wine cellar and the delicate china, our astonished dinner guests, the useless personal trainers—all of it meaningless in the face of this photo.
I am a failure. I failed. I am hiding out in this house. Cowering under its stature. The caption above the photo reads: “To all the ones who thought they could silence us.” I can’t get this out of my head. I had tried to silence her—to stop up her
mouth with humiliation. I realize now the utter boldness of her desire, the immense courage of her little gifts.
Damn you, Violet. All I want is to peel off my clothes, burst through the patio doors and frolic around nude. Let all my aging parts sway about with abandon. I want to snatch my husband’s paper out of his careful hands and rub it all over my dancing limbs. I want bare, goosebumped skin to cavort with the autumn wind. And then, Violet, I would sprint.
I would sprint through the forest until I came to the main road and, still nude, thumb pointed up in the air, I would hitch a ride to that mall. And this time, running through the parking lot and into our past, I would not be calm at all. I would be worried and hopeful—the run to the entrance would seem an eternity as I made sure my unclothed body did not touch an inch of those fiercely glittering cars.
I would return to you and finally sit at that table. Yes, I might still be late. But then at least it would be you who was mistaken—thinking for a moment I had stood you up—and not me, now. So, I would sit at that table. And then, I would take my two thumbs and gently remove all that ruined makeup from your damp face.
I slam the laptop shut and rush off to the bathroom. I make sure to lock the door behind me, and unzip my jeans, thumb ready. And my dear husband carries on, oblivious, dabbing at the crisp edges of his morning paper.