It wasn’t until I moved in with the furniture salesman that I appreciated a fundamental truth: a cup doesn’t have legs. A dirty plate lacks the instinct to migrate back to the kitchen. A used pair of underpants will stay on the floor beside the bed, sprouting a delicate coat of dust, unless a human being picks them up and carries them to the laundry basket. If there is a laundry basket. While I had certainly participated in housework, until then it had always been at the behest of parents. My worldly experience up to that point had demonstrated that, if you wait long enough, a cup abandoned on the coffee table will eventually find its way home. I had never fully appreciated the miraculous nature of this event. Living with the furniture salesman was something of an epiphany. A cup will not teleport from the living room to the sink. A person has to carry it there. Apparently that person had been my mother. Although there had been frequent grumblings and exhortations for assistance, surfaces had revealed themselves, laundry had been washed and the pantry had been restocked, all below the level of my conscious awareness.
Apparently the furniture salesman was under the same misconception. A dirty cup would squat on his coffee table, stubbornly refusing to put itself away. Considering that he had been living on his own for several years, it was perplexing that he had not realised crockery’s lack of magical properties. His apparent ignorance became increasingly disturbing when I realised that dirty cups hadn’t sprouted like mushrooms when we were dating. Now that we were living together – now that we were engaged – my mother’s magical, unseen ability to clean up had apparently been bestowed upon me as well.
It was during this process of cleaning up one afternoon that I heard a voice speak quite clearly to me: “Well, you can always get divorced”.
I was engaged because the furniture salesman wasn’t keen on me starting theatre school. He was worried that I would be lured away from him. Six days a week, twelve hours a day was a long time to be apart. We had moved into the city so I could be closer to school. My bohemian fantasy was taking shape: a funky loft apartment above an architect’s studio. A futon, purple walls and an oversized poster of us, locked in a passionate kiss, which took pride of place above the sofa. We cleaned up dozens of used condoms in the tiny backyard, souvenirs of hookers who parked there with their johns until I begged the landlord to install security lighting. We spent the summer before I started school travelling around rural Ontario and upstate New York, distributing catalogues and taking orders with furniture stores in his district. We would stay in cheap motels where the towels were almost translucent and the carpets were ominously sticky. When we came home from a sales trip, he would pay me to process the purchase orders. I would lie on the floor in my underwear, bathed in a pool of late summer sun, doing paperwork while reruns of The Simpsons kept me company and he got high.
He was worried I would leave him when I started school. He was worried that I would meet someone else. I thought that by wearing his ring on my finger I could make him feel safe.
Make sure you take care of my boy.
I faxed the news to Mum. It was before the age of emails. I faxed her at work, where I knew she would have to control herself. Later, much later, she revealed she was so upset that they sent her home early.
The ring was an amethyst. Not expensive, but nice. Oblong shaped. On my second day of acting school, lying on the floor in voice class, I rolled over, opened my eyes and saw a big scratch across its glossy purple face.
The memories are pictures now – flashes, like coloured glass beads that are startling in their vividness, but disconnected.
Walking to school on the first day, red and gold leaves falling through God’s fingers. Look what I’ve done. Look what I’m doing!
Sitting in the green room with all the other newbies, sizing each other up. Realising that the girl on the couch is going to drive me crazy for the next three years.
“Look to your right, look to your left. Of the three of you, only one will still be in the business five years after you graduate. If you graduate”. The thought, almost audible, running through everyone’s heads: It’s going to be me. I’ll be the one who makes it.
The first baptism of fire: day one, first years perform one of their audition monologues for the entire school. Whole body trembling as I get ready to do Miss Julie. Discovering that you will never, ever, ever have a more enthusiastic or responsive audience than a group of acting students.
The red headed poet. He plays the guitar. His beard is gold like the leaves outside. He tells me later that it was in our first theatre history class, when I was able to define Rococo, that he was hooked.
He gives me a mix tape of Canadian bands I should know. I’m playing it while I do my homework, not listening to the lyrics. The furniture salesman is suddenly raging, throwing things, storming. Are you listening? Did you hear what he said? Bewildered, I rewind the tape and listen with attention. Grab the cassette case to find the name of the song written in his tiny, elegant hand. The Skydiggers. Slow Burning Fire.