portrait of a girl

sunlight streaming through the bay window and accented her hair, hints of golden strands swam through a river of chestnut locks. the mop of her ponytail slung haphazardly over her shoulder as she settled more deeply into the chair, her head propped up against the palm of her hand. the remote control rested atop her thigh. her slender fingers rapped lightly against the buttons. reflections of light bounced off of the silver thumb ring with the slightest motion of her hand, a keen counterpart to the golden cross that slung down around her neck.

she sat on the recliner with her feet tucked underneath her. how such a sitting position could be comfortable, i'll never know. i told her that the lever at the side of the chair extended the foot rest.

'i know how to work a chair,' she replied dismissively, too deeply immersed in the serial-killing comforts of dexter on the television to entertain further queries on anatomical configurations.

during the commercial, i got up. she tilted her head and looked up at me as i stretched out, swinging my arms back and forth. her eyes were hazel from a distance, but up close, they were green on the outside that faded into a reddish-brown, with flecks of gold, like photographs of cosmic supernova in science textbooks. her eyes narrowed as i walked past her. her hand continued to pet the remote, as if it were a cat on her lap. she could have passed for a criminal mastermind of an era gone by.

'where are you going?' she asked.

'coffee,' i said when i reached the kitchen.

when i sat back down, she stretched her arm toward me, fingers flittering.


'make your own.'

she frowned.

i rolled my eyes.

'just a sip.'

the corners of her mouth betrayed a grin. her eyes twinkled. she was lying. i handed her the mug anyway.

she sank back into the safety of her seat. this time with her knees up against her chest as she held the mug in both of her hands, purposely making loud slurping sounds as she drank my coffee. she traded calculated, suspicious looks between the television and me.

letting out a deep sigh, i stood up again to get another coffee. she grabbed my wrist as i walked by. i stopped and looked back down at her. she handed back my coffee and smiled.

'thanks,' i said surprised.

'it needs more sugar.'

i raised my eyebrow.

she pointed at the kitchen. 'that way.'


i wish i could do better by you ’cause that’s what you deserve.

you can never love anyone enough. your love cannot fix anything, nor does it start the healing process. love does not stop time; it barely even manages to slow it down -- and often times, this is not enough. love will not help anyone see the good in you. you cannot love someone into apologizing, backing down, or compromising. love does not uncover the details because it lives in the empty spaces between. love will do its best to convince you otherwise though, but trust me: you can never love anyone enough. they have to love you.

but love tends to be a packrat -- collecting things that long should have been tossed away. it will make you see things, hear things, understand things that have no basis in reality, leaving it up to you to tell the difference. it will make you beg. it will make you listen to really awful songs and write down terrible things on crumpled restaurant napkins. it can make you sacrifice. it will, undoubtedly, ruin a good movie and make a bad one oscar-worthy. it can also make you give up your self-respect, and once you lose that, you have lost everything. love is your one-way street toward oblivion. that is, unless they love you back. otherwise it is nothing more than a series of events that you once lived through.

with that said, you should be careful with what you are willing to give up -- the human condition appears to be keen on forcing you to make the most agonizing decisions at the worst possible time. geneticists call it the self-destruct gene, a chemical reaction consisting of equal parts passage of time and giving up too much, that transforms love into resentment. like one-way streets, you might reach a dead end, and if not, you certainly cannot turn back. so in your pursuits, be careful with what you think you are willing to go without. as is often the case with hindsight, you may have made some terrible mistakes.

familiarity and sentimentality have a tendency to fade into nothing more than journal entries filed away in dusty memory banks, occasionally retrieved only with the right song lyric. the truth is, most things in this life will to break in their own time. the pieces all shatter with a noisy crash and scatter with a reckless abandon at your feet. sometimes it is better to replace broken things than invest the time and effort in putting the pieces back together. but mostly it is because love lives in the empty spaces, and sometimes, some of those broken parts may have fallen through the cracks already. in the end, you may find everything disastrously unrecognizable when you think you have it all put back together.

bubblegum crisis

we sat on a stone picnic table in the park. i twirled a long stem rose between my fingers. she let out a deep breath. i nudged her with my knee. she pushed it away. i nudged her again. she snatched the flower out of my hand. with a quick snap, the petals exploded over my head. i felt the broken end of the stem scrape against my cheek.

'i paid $9 for that.'

she scowled and raised her hand again. i winced. she tossed the broken branch behind her. she smirked and looked away. relaxing, i stretched out my leg and dug out a pack of gum.


with a thumb and forefinger, she deftly picked out a piece without touching my hand.

i could almost hear her teeth grinding as she chewed.

'hey,' she said suddenly.

i looked at her. she flicked the empty, crumpled wrapper at my forehead.

'you have so many redeeming qualities,' i mumbled under my breath.

'shut up,' she replied and pushed me away. she sniffed. a quiet pop of her gum followed, as she turned away and leaned back on her elbows.

i shrugged and fished out my own piece of gum. as i was about to pop it in my mouth, her hand flashed out like zeus's thunderbolt and smacked it away. the gum flew across the air and bounced a few times before coming to rest in a bed of gravel some distance away.

i hissed. 'god damn you!'

she snapped her gum in response.

my shoulders slumped as i stared at the off-white rectangular object in the distance. when i turned to look at her, something like a triumphant grin was beginning to form at the corner of her lips while she examined my reaction. she turned away before i could see it fully develop.

i jumped off the table and faced her. i leaned forward. her eyes got big. she leaned back. every inch closer by me was matched by an inch further by her until she was almost lying flat on the table.

'you kiss me, i scream,' she warned.

i blinked. she narrowed her eyes.


i straightened up, turned and walked towards my lost gum. i bent over and picked it up. i held it up to the lamplight and examined it thoroughly.

'you're not going to eat that are you?' she asked, horrified.

i rubbed it as clean as i could with my shirt.

'you chew gum. you don't eat it. stupid.' i emphasized that last part as i popped it into my mouth.

her face contorted. she clicked her teeth and shook her head.

i placed my hands on my hips and chewed like a champion, as she looked on in clear astonishment of my victory.

she stepped off the table and walked toward me. my arms tensed, readying myself for more violence. as she reached me, she looked up and burst out laughing. without missing a stride, she sidestepped me and continued toward the parking lot.

'you are so stupid!' she said, still laughing, shaking her head.

i pivoted in disbelief.

'what?' i followed behind her. 'what the hell was all that?'

'just seeing if there was anything you felt guilty about and needed to confess,' she replied over her shoulder.

'that is so evil,' i stopped to yell. i pulled out the pack of gum and launched it at her. it sailed to the left of her head.

'you're lucky that missed,' she said without turning.

a different time, on a different day

'we don't have a relationship.'

from the view at the top of mount royal, tourists can witness the old churches of montreal break the skyline. the churches stand like island monoliths admidst the sea of flat-roofed, two-story rowhouses down below. in a city of culture where tradition meets complication, it is easy to get lost in the brightly lit flourescence of catholic crosses, delivery boys whizzing by on mopeds, and the uninterested french canadian girls in oversized sunglasses and four-hundred dollar jeans on patrol up and down boulevard saint-laurent.

there we walked, surrounded by the urban bustle. we crossed underneath the paifang into chinatown where the open mouths of the guardian lions puffed out the exhaust fumes of passing cars. montreal's chinatown is littered with square, squat buildings adorned with neon signs on the front and colourful graffiti on the sides. the old, narrow avenues ushered the human traffic in an ordered chaos, where road signs and crosswalks act more like suggestions rather than rules of law. in the rush of bodies, i could feel her hand grip more tightly around the bend in my elbow, the claustrophobia of the late afternoon weekend crowd getting the better of her.

her even gait turned into evasive ballet as we dodged passersby. no one was in too much in a hurry to get anywhere in the unusually mild november afternoon. her brown scarf, tied neatly around her neck, flowed down the back of her brown suede peacoat like an extension of her chestnut hair and swayed with every footstep. she deftly held a cup of coffee in her free hand, too distracted by the noise and population pollution to drink it.

'are you hungry?' i asked, already knowing the answer.

she shook her head.

there was a time, in a past life that seems forever ago now, where we would enter random eateries run by grandmotherly immigrants who speak in broken lilting accents punctuated by proud smiles. we would blindly pick something from a menu we could not read, order things we could not pronounce, and eat things we were unsure of just to say we tried it. but you can only live that way for so long before even the spontaneous turns into the unsatisfying.

'it feels pointless,' she said the night before.

that night, i watched the muscles in her shoulder twitch as she scrubbed the dishes in the sink. she knew i was looking but she did not turn. she acknowledged my stare by placing one sud-soaked hand on her hip, and from the body movement that followed, i knew she let out a sigh.

'what do you mean?' i asked.

again, the small triangle that formed the middle of her back to her waist expanded as she took a breath.

'this,' she said.

'the dishes? come on, i do them way-'

she cut me off with a sharp turn, 'not the dishes, idiot.' both hands were now on her hips, but there was no anger in her voice. 'i mean us. you and me.'

i tried to pretend i knew where this was coming from. i asked the obvious to give away the fact that i did not.

'what do you mean?'

'how long have we been seeing each other?' she asked.

'a few months.'

'and how often do we see each other?'

this was one of those moments where the answer had to be the right one. this was one of those moments that had none.

'as often as we can.'

'once a week. sometimes twice if we're lucky.' i waited.  there was more. 'we don't have a relationship,' she continued. 'we're just two people who meet up occasionally to eat and fuck.'

i could have made a joke. it would have been easy. the set up was perfect. but the subtle combination of maturity and fear of an angry girl ebbed me toward a different angle. i replied with an unsatisfying, 'we both work.'

'i know,' she said quietly, turning to rinse off the rest of the dishes, ending the conversation.

we made a detour through the gautchetiere, a street famous for its open air, festival-like atmosphere in the summertime. walking through the pedestrian mall, i remembered taking a deep breath, soaking in the local colour -- men lugging boxes of produce over their shoulder, the smell of cigarettes, incense, roasted pork and barbecue duck that filled the air, the dinging of wind chimes announcing the opening and closing of shop doors, the cadence of  one thousand cantonese conversations rising and falling over mobile phones, the happy chirping of wide-eyed window-shopping tourists. i could never get bored of any of this. i felt eternally tied to the vibrance one can only find in a historic urban core. it was nice living in a city where people still walk around to get to places. maybe i spent too much time paying attention to what was around me instead of what was beside me.

eventually, we made our way to the metro station at place-d'armes. she had a habit of standing very close to me, as if both of us might float away and disappear should we get too far apart. or maybe she just sensed that i loved how snugly she fit against me. as we stood on the platform, she shifted her weight on one foot, leaning into me. i could smell lacoste perfume and the raspberry in her hair. she nudged her elbow against my side. i looked down. she smiled. so did i. we shared maybe ten words between us, waiting for the inevitable. i could feel her body heat run up my arm and spread throughout the rest of my body. i unzipped my jacket down to the middle of my chest, thinking about how i would miss small moments like this with her.

the feeling of trying to come to terms with a new and completely different reality than what i had in my mind for so long was strange. in hindsight, i should not have been surprised. she had always been complex in personality. complex but not difficult. it was something i sensed off of her the night we met at a mutual friend's wedding, a connection birthed from wedding vows and an open bar.  we never fought and i never felt that we ever seriously misunderstood each other. there was a richness to her that i deeply appreciated, a tangle of flavours woven into a slender five-foot-seven frame that enjoyed fine arts as much as video games. at her best, she was patient and undemanding, and at her worst, a little conniving and manipulative -- to be expected from girls like her.

as the train pulled into the station, i filed through my memories and tried to find the precise moment things changed. however, there was no singularity, so i resigned myself to the idea that she and i were just not involved enough for me to pick up the coded messages that women like her send out. it is a funny thing how all women are convinced they have the gift of telepathy. when she boarded, she took a seat by the window overlooking the platform. she turned to me once, waved, and smiled like it was any other day. as the train moved forward, so did her eyes. not unexpected and fitting of her archetype, she never looked back. maybe that was the moment.

she was rich indeed, but delicate and bitter too, i guess, like expensive dark chocolate.