by TRACY WAN
It takes a rare degree of mastery to untie knots with the same grace and speed at which you secure them. This is because the knot is usually what we desire, far more than its dissolution: in shoelaces, ties, most boating situations. It’s a skill, something to learn as a child and practice frequently. Knotted, things stay together, and they do not part lest we want them to. The sheer numbers of this life dictate that we are more often apart than we are together; only endeavour, and will, bring people to each other. They separate effortlessly.
In life we “tie the knot” happily, willingly, but when the relationship nears its end, these bonds “dissolve” and “fall apart” — responding to a force that is bigger than us, or so it would seem. We rope ourselves in when it’s good, but are cast away by circumstance when it’s not. I watch this happen weekly. “Things just didn’t work out.” “I don’t know where it went wrong.” “We did all we could.” This was not a narrative that I was going to accept for myself.
As my relationship ended, the most common advice I received was to make a clean cut of it. In other words, violently pull yourself away and tend to the wound later — at home, in the company of friends, sad music, dairy products. This did not appeal to me for several reasons. For one, sad music played the role of any music in my life, which was going to be unremarkable. Lactose intolerant, I also found french fries to be a far inferior wallowing food than ice cream. As for friends — I didn’t believe in breaking up in their company, since I didn’t really fall in love in their company. Intimacy where intimacy was due.
When you make a clean cut, the sacrifice is always a part of yourself. I did not want to emerge from this with a phantom limb — after all, one with a proclivity for devastating music should not be expected to recuperate quickly. The alternative, I reasoned, would be a gradual, self-dictated breakup; so that by slowly slipping out, I could loosen the grasp in time to make it out unblemished. This’ll be like kicking a caffeine habit, I thought, the dynamics of which I was painfully familiar with. If a relationship is formed through an accretion of time with one another, then it can be taken apart in the same way.
Hours before the discovery that led to our dissolution, I had booked tickets for us to Montreal — where he lived, and where I was from. We were going to spend two weeks together before I began my internship in Toronto. Those two weeks were allocated to moments we were going to share — brunch at a favourite restaurant where the owner knew us by name, trips to the mountain at sunset, lying awake in a bed that I left him when I moved. When all that became no longer viable, I stared at the tickets until my eyes lost focus. Time seems to fall to half its rhythm in solitary. What was I going to do?
And, true to the constitution of anyone struggling to kick an established habit, I said ‘fuck it’ and went anyway. If choosing the structure of this breakup was something I wanted for myself, I wasn’t going to give up two weeks in my favorite place in the world — even though it had shifted during my own earthquake.
When the métro slowed to a halt at my best friend’s subway stop, he reached over to grab me, and kissed me on the cheek. We had spent the previous six hours fluctuating between touching and not touching each other, unsure of its degree of consequence and regret. In many ways, the end of a relationship (should you opt for the one I did) mirrors its beginning: every decision seems more crucial and paralysing than the last, every gesture ripe, almost fermented, with meaning. The first night we met, at the same subway station, I leaned over to kiss his cheek, and his mouth had met mine. He was nervous, the same way I am nervous at this point in time, two years later. This time, I wasn’t going to kiss him. This time, I didn’t want to get closer.
“I’ll call you every day,” he said — in the way that boys do, revealing, without a doubt, that they did not believe the rules of the universe applied to them — “You can pick up whenever you’re ready. I want to know what your days are like and how you are. Every day. I love you.” It seems hypocritical, but isn’t, in the same way that hurting yourself does not imply a death wish. Advocates of clean cuts hate this. They want to throttle him, pull him from sight. I just wanted to touch his face, the very instinct that I’ve felt since the day we met.
I took a step back.
“I’m going to go. Before this gets complicated, you know?”
Tracy Wan is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Montreal.
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" - Amy Winehouse (mp3)
"Good Man Gone Bad" - B.B. King (mp3)
"Unaware" - Allen Stone (mp3)