She held my hand under the pillow as we fell asleep

Karissa LaRocque
When I had a job booking obituaries at the local newspaper in a small town—an establishment which had an atmosphere of eerie good-naturedness not unlike the police department in the film Fargo—something that surprised me was that people seemed urgent, and almost aggressive, about sharing their grief with me. When people didn’t know what to write in the obituaries, I pulled out a small book of elegies we kept in the bottom drawer. The verses all had a goofy ABAB rhyme scheme and sing-song rhythm than contradicted what I thought was the serious nature of death:

I think of you in silence
I often speak your name
What would I give to hear your voice
And see your face again

After the mourners had left the office I would google the names of the deceased if the details were vague, especially if they were under 40. I was often ill that year and, unanchored from school and a system of reward, I was invested in finding something new to be good at. Overthinking combined with a hollowed out body left me as an ideal form to project whatever contemporary version of the manic pixie dream girl we've landed on in the 2010s. I grew increasingly interested in violent sex during this period, maybe because I needed something to justify wasting my time with, or more likely because I wanted to learn to be better at violence than men.

After work I’d watch movies with my friend J at the local theatre, which still used equipment from the ‘80s. Sometimes the film would catch on fire in the projection room and the image on the screen would start to melt. I worked a second job at a café with J and sometimes after market shifts we’d lie on her giant bed in the house she shared with her girlfriend C and gossip about customers. People often stop J to tell her that she is extremely beautiful: complete strangers even. When I would tell her this as we laid in bed, she would seem disinterested in the topic and change it. At the movie theatre she would buy us a Couple’s Combo. After the movie she’d walk me home and my long distance boyfriend would call me, though I never told J this because she thought he was lame.

I had always been obsessive about female friendships. In high school my best friend Gemma moved to New Zealand and we were inconsolable emos. We wrote letters and carried them around in our pockets until they were worn out, became unreadable. Gemma used to break into abandoned shopping malls in Wellington and scream my name into the abyss of broken escalators and boarded windows. When I told J that she said, that’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard. One night after a movie J showed me MSN messages she had saved from a girl in high school:

I saw you come into the Hardware store today and when you did you looked at me. I watched you play guitar and you’re so good, you play guitar like a man, you’re that good. And when I saw you I saw your eyes, I had never seen a look like that before.

I was looking up My Chemical Romance music videos that Gemma and I had sent to each other and J read me old MSN convos. J suddenly said she wanted me. She told me she wanted to kiss me, that she wanted to fuck me. It had never occurred to me before that she might. It had never occurred to me that I might want her to; it felt like someone needed to give me permission. I remembered that I had often imagined her sitting on top of my naked body as I fell asleep after a long shift working with her.

I waited until J’s girlfriend got home from the bar and only then did I accept an invitation to sit between them on the bed, as if this was the courteous thing to do when you are solicited by a couple to have sex with them. I can’t remember how many times we fucked until they stopped calling me their student. I remember different times, like when C was blowing out the candles that hung over the bed, and she tripped and the wax fell and spilled all over me and J. I remember going to the newspaper hungover with wax on my neck, with a new stick and poke on my arm, a shape that was copied from C’s arm onto J’s when they fell in love, and now from J’s arm onto mine, as if we were palimpsest copies of each other, as if we were bound together.

I remember J saying she loved going to work without washing her face first. I remember her putting her arm around me at karaoke, and then getting up to sing “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls. I don’t want anybody else, and when I think about you I touch myself.

I fell in love with J so completely that it felt unreal. I would hear tinny songs playing in the grocery store and hold myself up with my hands on my knees, doubled over with recognition. If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.

J would send me messages that always began with just my name, like a call to the muses. J would hold my hand on our 6am walks to work, pushing me against houses and garages to kiss me. I kept repeating my summer of love/ my summer of love in my head. She wanted to prepare me for my move to the city, to teach me everything, to cut my hair, to give me her clothes. This is how I can love you she said, giving me a third coat and tying up my shoes. She never wanted me to undress myself. I want to pick you up and put you in new places she’d say while fucking me, moving me around the bed joyously. She said I had a lot of work to do. She wanted me to buy a leather bag like hers from the local harness shop. When I picked it up she loved it, she said it matched me. I wondered if love could be real if no one saw it.

J’s hands on me started to move in the dark. We grew from a triangle to something hateful, secretive. I became cagey, lying to several people at once, wanting only her, to be hers. In the storage room at work we’d lie down and half fuck during closing shift, whispering in the bathroom together that no one laughs in the bathroom as we laughed.

C didn’t see it but she felt it. J ran to my apartment in the rain, sobbing, saying she would find me some day and love me. Everything was gut wrenching. It was like the movie Atonement but gay. I lost the ability to eat, which coloured everyday life with the unbearable clarity and intensity of a person in a life or death situation, a narrative which I can't blame my emaciated body for buying into. I tried to write poems about what J called my New Gay Life, which mostly sounded like:

how many men’s faces
have I sat on
while thinking about
my own twitter feed?

the first man who fucked me
said I have the hands of a prostitute
the man who loved me the most
told me I didn’t go down on him enough

It took two women fucking me
to realize I was gay.
when I called him
the next morning
I could hear him crying
even though he held the phone
out from his chest

Because I had never needed someone more than they needed me, I had no idea how this kind of story ended or when. I knew this story about me cheating on my boyfriend with two women, becoming entangled with them—in fucking, in feelings, in lying—was a good one, but I wanted to know how it ended.

When I moved, I never left my new apartment. I always wanted thick doughy pastries, round like tennis balls and filled with vanilla custard. These were all I could eat. I would stick my finger into them, scoop out the filling and lick it off, and then turn the hollowed out pastry inside out: finish eating it piece by piece. I imagined I did this in a tragic but sexualized way.

From C I had always wanted to be fed, beautiful giant Italian meals made so thoughtfully that I finally believed the adage that food made with love tastes the best. From J I wanted desire; to be fawned over. To be fed, to feed. I felt hollow and unalive without these desires; I turned into myself. I stared at the stick and poke on my arm maniacally. When new friends tried to talk to me about anything, I would talk instead about the song J wrote about me, about how she would press her hand against me leg as she slipped past me in bars. In this compulsive, overwrought pattern I was not unlike the mourners in the newspaper office who wanted me to witness their grief.

Months later a woman I used to sleep with texts me saying I should read Women by Chloe Caldwell because it reminds her of me. The same day a woman I’m in love with posts an Instagram of the book in a beautiful ray of sunshine. I wonder if I’m officially gay now because I’ve been mistreated by women and have mistreated women in a similar way to how men have mistreated me. I read Women in a day and am doubled over with recognition. I take a picture with the book wearing Calvin Klein underwear and put it on Instagram.

When J comes to play a show in my city, we haven’t talked in ages. I want to surrender to her again. She sits down next to me and looks at my leather backpack from the harness shop. It looks so old now, she says. I say nothing. It looks good, she says.

I don’t think you can love someone twice. I think you only have that one time. It’s like you forget what you used to do together. She would hold my hand under the pillow as we fell asleep.

I saw you come into the Hardware store today and when you did you looked at me. I watched you play guitar and you’re so good, you play guitar like a man, you’re that good. And when I saw you I saw your eyes, I had never seen a look like that before.

And when I saw you I saw your eyes, I had never seen a look like that before.
Karissa Larocque is currently an MA candidate in English at Concordia University, where you can find her looking out the window or subtweeting herself at @_karissy.