After Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”
Longing for you becomes a matter of habit. The alarm clock rings and I spend a minute wondering whether you’ve woken, though I know you haven’t, because you stayed up late last night checking your Gmail and Facebook and Twitter feeds while talking to me. You asked me what time I’d leave for class, and I said after noon (though I always leave early in the morning for the library to work on my thesis on the problems of translation), just so I could spend another hour with you. I get up and go to the common kitchen downstairs, where I pour water into the kettle to boil for my breakfast of oatmeal and instant coffee, remembering the last time we chatted over cups of tea. You often ask me for a pot of hot water so you could make us tea, and I wonder whether it’s your excuse to hang out with me, or you just really love taking tea but can’t be bothered to heat water yourself. As I step into the shower, I think of that dream I had where we were walking down the Uni Ave. and I held your hand without hesitation or fear that you would look at me oddly or remind me that you did not like other people touching you. As I dry my hair and tie it into a high ponytail, sweep a stick of tinted balm against my lips, and line the edges of my eyelids with brown pencil, it strikes me that I am tired of waiting on you, waiting for you to want me.
I ask, What am I to you?
- You tell me that I’m a good friend, of course. I do not say anything. I can think of nothing to say, at first. Then it all rushes back: the frequent texts about nothing (your roommate snoring, the English prof droning on and on, your computer crashing with your codes, the rising prices of isaw and kikiam, the weird dorm manager who won’t stop humming Disney tunes), the late-night jaunts to the convenience store (once you escorted me at 1 a.m. to buy a pack of sanitary napkins), the dinners and study sessions and weekend movie dates, just the two of us. I spend more time with you than with all of my other friends, combined. We tell each other things we don’t tell anyone else. We share xeroxed readings, mp3 mixes, and pancit and siomai. I begin to say, But I thought we had something special— But you cut me off with, You must have misunderstood.
- You tell me that you don’t understand. Would I please explain what I mean? Never mind, I say. Eventually, longing for you becomes a matter of habit until we graduate and drift apart.
- You tell me that you like me but that you’re not ready for a relationship right now. I say, That’s alright, neither am I, ha ha, I mean, there’s still my thesis to worry about and all the orgs stuff and the college yearbook, I’m just glad I’m taking only twelve units this sem, hey are you attending the job fair next week?, the words tumbling out of my mouth and tripping over each other. You say you’re glad that I understand, and why don’t we go to the job fair together. I smile and tell myself that at least we have this, whatever this is, though I wonder about the propriety of my saying We. I keep wondering about us—that is, you and me—until my head aches from confusion and longing, until longing for you becomes a matter of habit and confusion attends every word, every act between us (or am I the only one who’s confused?), until one day I decide that I’ve had enough of this madness. I decide I’ve had enough of inconsistent, noncommittal air signs, too.
We carry on as usual.
- We stay friends. Eventually, longing for you becomes a matter of habit and I fall in love with somebody else. His name is Vincent, like the painter, so his friends call him Van Gogh. I neither like Vincent (too formal) nor Van Gogh (too pretentious), so I call him V. He is trim, tall, long-haired and bespectacled, dresses exclusively in jeans and plain t-shirts in white, black, or shades of grey, forgets to take off the stubby red pencil tucked over his left ear, and speaks with a gentle, deliberate cadence (like you). Unlike you, he is Piscean, known for their emotiveness and sensitivity. I meet him at a party where you promised to accompany me but didn’t, and where neither of us knew anyone else. After an awkward attempt at small talk that involved excuses about how we both disliked small talk, we hit it off over shared fascination for astrology, morbid webcomics, and William Blake. He asks for my number, texts me goodnight when he arrives home, and, a couple of days later, takes me to a café slash bookstore slash art gallery and gives me a crash course on Impressionism. I decide that I like him but that I love you. In a last-ditch attempt to get your attention, I tell you that I’m seeing somebody new. You shrug and say, Good for you. I cry the whole night, delete all your messages in my phone, and call up V in the morning to ask whether he’d like to go with me the next evening to an open recital of the nocturnes by Chopin at the College of Music.
- We fall in love. The next Christmas, I introduce you to my family. My boyfriend, I say, beaming. You learn the names of all my aunts and uncles and their kids, my parents’ favourite ice cream flavours, and my siblings’ zodiac signs. You play with the dogs and rename one of the puppies from “Patch” to “Poopface.” We spend New Year’s Eve in your province, where I meet what seems to be your entire clan. They chat loudly in a language I don’t understand but code-switch for a while to exclaim that you’d never brought any of your ex-girlfriends to your ancestral house before. A few years later, when we both have master’s degrees, rising careers, money in the bank, and health insurance, you ask me to marry you. I confess that I still have no desire to get married or have kids, and I no longer think that that will ever change. We break up, tearfully. You marry a lovely girl from your hometown, a former high school fling, who gives you four boys and a girl. I get into a PhD program in Languages and Transcultural Studies at a German university, migrate, work for decades in consultancy, author two books, write a column for an online magazine, amass terabytes of East Asian rom-coms, and eventually die alone of cardiac arrest in my rented apartment in Vancouver one cold night just before spring.