Sunday, July 18, 2004

Storytime (Part II)

I woke up late, around 10:00 a.m. I had a cigarette on the balcony, listening to MuchMusic play on the television in the background.
Chris was busy getting ready, and I was antsy, wandering around the room, sitting on the bed staring at the TV for a minute, popping out onto the balcony. The awards for my category were to be presented at the luncheon, which was still two hours away.
She suggested I get out for awhile, go for a walk.
Seemed like a fine idea, so I did.
I've written in the last couple of weeks about this strange sense I have of being disconnected from the world -- like there's a layer of Saran Wrap stretched around me, preventing me from making contact with reality. Well, this morning in Vancouver was one of the last times I remember feeling like I was really, honestly connected with the world. I don't know if it was the smell of the salt water, or the way the wind drifted through my hair. I don't know if it was being in a new and different place, in a place as beautiful as Vancouver, or if it was just that -- for what would turn out to be the last time -- I had woken up on the right side of the bed; I was a part of the world. And the world was a part of me.
I walked down to the ocean, recognizing some of the areas I passed. I roamed around the familiar areas, trying to track down the apartment I had lived in for a month with a friend just after graduation, but the building was either gone, or my memory was full of holes.
I worked my way slowly back to the hotel, then rode the elevator to the room to get ready for lunch.
I've really got only one fancy outfit -- a suit / tie combo kind of thing. I don't need much, dress-wise, where I work. Never have. But I do have my one outfit, for events like this -- industry awards, that kind of thing. I'd worn it up to the lounge the night before, now I slipped into it for the luncheon. I'd be wearing it again at the end of the day, as we hit a Vancouver nightclub.
But we haven't come to that yet.
Chris and I headed to the awards luncheon. If memory serves, the food was good -- can't remember anything that was on the menu, but I don't recall it being obscenely bad, so that must be a good sign.
The funny thing about these awards...even before you come, you know you've won something. Only three people are nominated per category, so even before you arrive you know that, at the very worst, you're taking home third place.
Obviously, they announce the winners backwards, to increase the suspense surrounding the first place winner. Which means, even before the first place winner is announced, he knows who he is as soon as second place's name gets called. And he has to sit there, sweating, quivering in his seat, while Mr. Second Place heads up to receive his award, shake the hands of those handing them out, maybe take a moment at the microphone -- he has to sit there while all of that is going on, knowing his name's coming up next, knowing that he's nailed first prize for his category this year. And then, at long last, they call his name. And he stands and tries to casually wipe his hands on his pants so his palm isn't overly slick when he shakes the presenters hand. And in a kind of almost-but-not-quite-blacked-out haze, he walks to the podium and shakes someone's hand, takes his framed award, smiles at someone else, thinks about taking the microphone but decides against, and wanders -- all his nervous energy now expelled from this short walk -- back to his table.
And, yes, that pretty much describes what happened to me. Because I took first place that year.
The rest of the luncheon kind of flew by in a half-haze. There were congratuations and handshakes from co-workers and peers. I remember desperately heading for the door at the end of it, hungry for a cigarette. I bumped into another co-worker outside, another smoker, whose keen, journalistic tendencies pushed her to enquire whether Chris and I were sleeping together. I laughed and said that while, yes, technically, we were, it wasn't in the same bed.
So explained the situation to her, how I wanted to come to this *with* someone, but obviously not *with* my ex, and how that prompted me to ask Chris to come along.
To which she responded -- and I remember this vividly: "Good for you."
Post-awards, post-cigarette, I met up with Chris again and, having little else to do with my time, hung out with her as she shopped up and down the streets of Vancouver. She asked my opinion of cute little outfits, confided that she had gotten her belly-button pierced as she browsed for navel jewellery, and bought me sushi (which was a first-time for me -- and I quite enjoyed it, actually).
Somewhere in all of this, we had made arrangements to meet up with a couple of co-workers later in the evening to hit the streets of Vancouver for some Saturday night partying. When the shopping was done, we headed back to our room, briefly, so Chris could change, and I could readjust my one not-slobby outfit for the evening's festivities.
We met up at the upstairs, at the spinning-so-slowly-that-you'd-almost-never-notice lounge, for a quick drink. We hung out, chatted, laughed, spun. But it was only good for the one drink, and when that was done, we hopped in the elevator and rode to street level.
And we walked.
I don't know if we knew what we were looking for or not -- I didn't that's for sure, I know Vancouver like I know the pancreas of a Croatian midget, but a part of me thinks that maybe at least some of the people I was with knew where we going.
It was to be dinner before any further drinks, and we found this tiny little Italian restaurant, hidden on the backside of something tall and made of concrete. It was exactly what you expected from a small Italian restaurant -- small (obviously), candles, wine by the caraffe, and fantastic food.
There was some problem with the Interac machine on our exit, forcing us to pay our meals with cash -- which was fine with me, as I always have cash on hand, but caused a bit of a headache for some of the others in the party.
Eventually the bills were paid and we were on our way, searching for a nightclub.
I don't think it took us long to find one, with a waiting line that made it from the entrance to the corner and then around. We tried pulling some kind of "We're from the media..." trick to get at the front, but no go -- we had to stand in line just like everyone else.
I remember, at some point while standing in line, suddenly becoming incredibly concerned with how I was dressed. I didn't know how people dressed in Vancouver, I didn't know what was "Trendy" or "Stylish" and I was suddenly terrified that what I was wearing was going to make me stand out as some kind of hick from Nowhereville, BC.
Someone reminded me that black is always trendy, and I'd be fine.
Strangely, I don't remember a whole lot after we got into the nightclub, just fragments of details -- it was crowded, the floor seemed stick with a thousand spilled drinks, there were ashtrays around even though it was illegal to drink in bars. Some of the folks I was with headed off to dance sometimes, stayed at the table other times.
I didn't dance -- as a general rule, don't dance. Terrible, terrible, socially-retarding rule, but what can I do. I stayed at the table and found myself getting bitterly drink.
Eventually we got bored, and headed off to try to find something else before everything closed up for the night.
We found something, somewhere, where a live band was playing. We ducked in, paid the cover charge, bought a drink, just in time to hear the last song and watch as everyone headed for the door because it was closing time.
Outside, we split up into taxis, because we were too many for one cab to take. Chris and I shared one back to the hotel, while the rest of the group to another.
I seem to remember her being angry with me for something after we got back to the hotel -- not angry, really, that's too strong, but...annoyed. Annoyed at me for not having enough fun, I think. Like I was holding myself back. Which, I guess, I probably was, still unsure of what it meant to no longer be married.
I'm still not sure of it, really.
I should have been out having the time of life, newly free, newly single, without a care in the world. Somehow, it was as if there was some other thing weighing on me the whole night, keeping me just out of arm's reach of having a good time.
And as much as I knew that was just kind of the way I was, it still pissed me off.
Chris and I slipped into out separate beds, and we drifted off to sleep. And as I went, I wished that I knew what I could do to stop feeling down, stop being so hard on myself.
The next morning, we got up, packed, found a little place just a half block down to have breakfast, and climbed into the car for the ride home. There was something bittersweet about it -- I was carrying the first place award for the category I had been nominated in, and that was good, but the weekend, and whatever potential it had carried for erasing all the bad things that had come before, was gone. It was back to the real world. Back to work. Back to being a guy who had split up with his wife a few months before, a guy who wasn't sure where he was going or what he was doing.
When we made it back to town, I dropped Chris off at home, helping her with her bags. Small-talk, then goodbyes and see-you-laters.
I drove home, brought my own bags in. And on Monday I went back to work.
I left the Tribune probably a month, no more than two months, later. They were going to lay off the junior graphics person, who'd only been there a few months, and who was doing a pretty good job. And I was so desperately unhappy in my job that, as soon as I got word, I went to management and said, "Let me go instead."
Chris left the paper about a year later, transferring to another newspaper in the Okanagan, so she could be closer to a guy she was dating.
I still think about her sometimes. I wonder where she's at, what she's doing, *how* she's doing. She had an e-mail address for awhile, at Hotmail, but last time I tried to contact to her, it was dead.
She was a good friend and, more importantly, she was a good person. Who -- for reasons I'll never know -- was, as far as I could tell, chronically unhappy. Much like me, I guess.
I hope she's broken out of that. I her life is filled with happiness now, because if I've ever known someone who should be able to find it, it's her. She was beautiful, smart, funny, talented, open, giving, and generous.
And she remains one of the most amazing women that I have ever slept with.
Albeit in separate beds.

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