Better at being
April 01, 2018 - 6:57 a.m.






My old lover comes to town. He texts me when he lands. I worry too much about what to wear, but it doesn't really matter.

My roommate helps me choose a knee-length black jersey dress that can be dressed up or down. I pair it with some tall boots--

College. After a night out, he comes back to the dorms with us.

"Can I help you with those?"

He kneels, and I put my foot on his knee. He looks me in the eye as he slides down the zipper. My roommate is taking her winter coat off in her room and misses the exchange.

It is a tiny private moment that crystallizes like a jewel in my heart.

--a casual brown leather jacket, and a string of real pearls that is significantly too fancy for meeting an old ex.

I text him when I'm in the lobby of his hotel.

I'll come down and meet you!

I sit on the low, hard sofa and face the elevators. It's only a minute or two.

I take the few seconds before he sees me to study him, eight years older since the last time I saw him.

He's slimmer, broader, his muscles rounder. His square jaw is more pronounced with his weight loss. His blond hair is darker with age, and sparkles with white. He is dressed in nebulae, brightly coloured, and I bet he can name every one that he's wearing.

"Hey," I say, standing.

He squints at me through his coke-bottle glasses, and grins.

"Nice boots," he says, and I smile inside. Just the same.

He hugs me, tight, and looks at the bag in my hand.

"Want to drop that in the room? Then let's get a drink at happy hour before it ends!"


Sitting at the hotel bar. The house band plays a rendition of 'You're Beautiful', but it includes bongos.

"This is weird," he says, frowning at the band. "I like this song...but maybe not with bongos."

"Are you drinking just diet coke?" I ask, fingering my gin and soda.

"Oh," he says. The question has thrown open a window of curious vulnerability I've never seen in him before. "Yeah. I don't drink anymore. But don't let that stop you! You do you."

I dutifully take a sip. Tap gin. I should have asked for something better, but there's no going back now.


We find dinner at a mostly deserted sushi restaurant. It plays a loop of late nineties pop hits that makes us both nostalgic. The spicy tuna roll comes out as basically a paste, which both of us decided is not quite palatable.

He catches me up on the last eight years. He touches briefly on his divorce, like trying to press his hand to a hot stove, and I don't push it.

I tell him about my transition from working in theatre to film.

It becomes funny when he asks me if I've seen a recent blockbuster, and I look at him:

"I worked on that one."

He laughs, I laugh. It's so improbable.


We go to a shitty carnival. It's perfect. The bright lights. It's almost deserted. We get wrist band passes and go on all the stupid haunted houses, and then all the thrill rides.

I convince him to go on the Zipper, and it goes on WAY too long. We decided once is enough for that one.

The ferris wheel is nice. The Gravitron reminds me of the pasty spicy tuna we had earlier.

He forks out $7 for a terrible watered down lemonade, but it's just perfect.

As we walk, he names all the nebulae on his clothes, and picks out where in the coloured blur would be Earth.


Heading back to the hotel. The warm night means there are a lot of addicts and homeless out wandering.

"Change? Change?" A man, old, crooked, drowning inside his clothes.

I always make a point of looking them in the eye and acknowledging them. Even if you don't or can't give money, it is not fair to ignore them.

"Sorry," I tell him.

"Here," my old lover says, digging in his pocket. He pulls out a fistful of change, squints at it and pulls one out, then gives the man the rest.

As we walk on, he puts the coin back in his pocket.

"One time I accidentally gave a man my sobriety coin," he tells me. "Fortunately I noticed and he gave it back to me. He told me he was in AA too. He was very kind about."

There are so many new layers to this onion.

"Anyway," he says in an abrupt turn. "Do you want to hit a liquor store before we go back to the hotel?"

I laugh. "Are you trying to get me drunk, sir?"

He grins. "Just a little bit."


Sitting on the hotel bed, looking out the window. The view of the inlet is beautiful, the lights of the boats like stars on the water.

He sits next to me. I take a drink of huckleberry beer. He drinks a glass of water.

He looks at me. I look at him.

"I really want to kiss you," he says.

"Then do it," I tell him.

He does. It's slow. It's awkward. He doesn't know how to move his mouth. I don't know how to move mine.

"I'm sorry," he says. "It's been a long time."

"Don't worry," I assure him. "Me too."

We proceed slowly, stopping often to talk. He is respectful, and announces each thing he'd like to do with me before we continue, to make sure I'm still there with him.

My nervous little heart appreciates it.

It does not turn into marathon sex. We're getting too old for marathon sex. He does not have the stamina anymore, and I am no longer nubile.

We end up tangled together on the bed, the cool night air from the window chilling our skin.

He squishes me to him, rubbing his cheek on my forehead.

"Skin to skin contact," he sighs. "I've missed this."

He is so comfortable, like a old pair of soft denim. I gorge myself on the skin to skin contact.

When was the last time?

I don't remember. A year ago, with G. Did we kiss? Did we cuddle? I don't remember. I don't think so.

There was not a lot of affection, anyway, and not a lot of respect.

I want this moment to last forever.


4am. His phone rings.

He jerks awake. I'm only fitfully sleeping.

He stumbles out of bed, grabs his phone. There is a silent second while he squints at it.

"Lily?" he answers the phone. It's his teenage stepdaughter. "Lily, what's wrong?"

A pause while she talks.

" that all? Lily, it's four in the morning."

A pause.

"It's four in the morning."

A pause.

"Okay, okay, I'll send it to you."

He hangs up, puts his glasses on the bedside table, and collapses back into bed.

"Jesus christ," he exclaims, and rolls over to go back to sleep.


We go out for brunch. Dutch pancakes.

He is reading the menu.

"What's edam?" he asks, and I fight the reflex to tease him. He is softer than he used to be, more open, more vulnerable. There is no need to tease.

"It's a cheese," I say. "A bit like havarti, but firmer, and more flavour."

"Oh good," he says. "I'll get this one, then."

We walk down the waterfront some. The boots are hurting my feet. Stupid traitorous boots.

We go back to the hotel and watch some trashy TV, and yell at the commercials. Neither of us watch anything but streaming services anymore.

The time comes. He has to go fulfill family obligations. I must head back home.

He walks me to the train station.

"I had a really nice time," he says.

"I hope you come out again," I say.

"I will," he assures me.

He hugs me, kisses me on the cheek. I hug him without my usual reservations.

He walks back up the stairs and disappears into the blossoming cherry trees. I head down into the station.

I ride the train home in silence, words of his resonating.

"We're still us," he said after I made some comment about us being all grown up. "We're just better at being us."