and I quote

february 2011

click for permalink February 27, 2011

It's hard to believe it's been over ten years since the morning in September 2000 that would set the tone, at least in my mind, for many years to come. I was running around getting dressed for work when the phone rang, the tone of our friend's voice was one I had grown familiar with over the last few months. I handed the phone to Mr. Pink and waited nervously as he stood out on the balcony, listening more than speaking, while the last warm breezes of summer blew in off English Bay.

The summer of 2000 had already taken a toll of Shakespearean proportions on our little household, with the untimely and devastating deaths of two close members of Mr. Pink's family. At the time, we had only just begun to assimilate what had happened, but over the coming months, our home would take on a distinctly cocoon-like quality. It would become our refuge from the outside world, where we would wait and watch until we were once again required to participate, and that wouldn't happen until a little over a year had passed. But on that Wednesday morning in 2000, none of that had happened yet. George W. Bush hadn't yet been handed the Presidency by the Supreme Court, the twin towers were still looming impassively over lower Manhattan and, for all we knew, Melanie was still alive and well and on vacation in Ibiza.


One year earlier, in our friends' kitchen I had perched on the counter, sipping a drink and listening as she babbled about life, flitting from topic to topic and holding my foot firmly between her tiny, elegant hands. I was still wearing my Renaissance-era gown, a rental costume in deep salmon velvet, with a high waist, long tapered sleeves and heavy layers of skirts that dragged on the floor when I took my shoes off. (I had done so the minute we walked in the door since my feet had been killing me all night and dancing despite my ridiculous choice of footwear had left me limping pathetically).

It was for this reason that I found myself in the kitchen while our friends were laughing in the other room. With one foot folded under me and the other in her lap, I was her captive audience, and as she massaged them she chatted away like we were old friends.

We'd arrived at the hotel ballroom earlier that evening for a Victorian-themed wedding and the nearly 300 lavishly costumed guests were overflowing into the lobby in groups of 4-10 lounging in ornate chairs and arranging themselves for photographs. My feet had already begun to ache. The four-inch wooden sandals with their single leather strap across the arch were the only shoes that matched my dress but they slid off my feet whenever I took a step, leaving me all but incapacitated. I was contemplating how to secure them when Jonathan arrived with Melanie on his arm. She was a spectacle in voluminous red satin, a bell shape created by layers of black lace that made her skirts nearly as wide as she was tall.

Melanie always looked stunning but this evening was different; it was on such a grand scale that, even covered from head to toe, exposing a comparatively modest triangle of cleavage, it was difficult not to stare at her. While many of the men were wearing powdered wigs, she was the only girl who'd chosen to wear one. The contrast, with her olive skin, bright scarlet lips and cheeks, was breathtaking.

She came over and pulled me to my feet, whirled around once and then headed for the dance floor. I stumbled after her, protesting that my damn shoes wouldn't stay on and I was afraid I would break my neck. She looked down, assessed the situation and looped her arm through mine; then she led me through the hotel in search of something to secure them. I followed reluctantly and as soon as we were outside the ballroom, she began apologizing for the last time we'd seen each other. She and Jonathan had started arguing during dinner and after an hour of bickering between clenched teeth and being ignored, she got up and left. Moments later, he stood up, apologizing to the rest of us, and stalked slowly out to the parking lot to find her. I didn't want to talk about it — it hadn't been the first time and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be the last. For all I knew, tonight would end the same way — we had all grown accustomed to it over the months they'd been dating.

As she pulled me through the lobby like a kid at recess, it was easy to forget how annoyed I had been after last weekend. She was talking a mile a minute about how she needed a cigarette and how it was a good thing I needed something for my shoes because it gave her an excuse to run to the gift shop. She explained how she wasn't very good at hiding her feelings so, when they were fighting, as much as she hated to drag everyone into it, she didn't know what else to do. She was standing at the counter paying for the pack of cigarettes when she spotted a pair of shoelaces in a fishbowl by the cash register. Perfect.

I sat down in an ornate chair and she knelt in front of me, wrapping the long red ribbons with little white maple leafs around my shoes, securing them to my feet and tying them around my ankles. It was very difficult to stay mad at someone who would kneel at your feet to tie your shoes, but I tried very hard the rest of the night. I resisted her with all my willpower as she chatted and laughed and dragged me out into the brightly lit lobby for more pictures — much to the amusement of everyone else in our little group. They had all heard me complain about her so many times, they couldn't believe their eyes when she grabbed my hand and, meeting no resistance, twirled me onto the dance floor.

We were all exhausted but determined to keep talking, laughing and even — those who'd chosen their footwear more carefully than I had — dancing. At the end of the long and festive evening, we ended up at Jonathan's Yaletown loft, nearly a dozen of us lounging around in varying degrees of costumed dishevelment. The men sprawled, lace collars damp and unbuttoned, their tangled wigs discarded on chairs or draped over lampshades. The ladies gathered their skirts to step over the men's outstretched limbs as they found places to sit, their dresses forming bright, shimmery pools around them.

Melanie changed out of her dress and wig, shaking out her long dark hair and vigorously scratching her scalp with relief, which made me laugh. She suddenly reminded me of a little girl who wants to show you her room, grinning up at me, beautiful in her sweatpants and Jonathan's big white t-shirt.

I had only known her a few months but I had judged her immediately; I'd been cynical and intolerant about her relationship with Jonathan and I'd ranted about her to anyone who would listen — their numbers were dwindling, though, and it had been the cause of a few bitter arguments with Mr. Pink and others.

Three months and countless ruined evenings later, as we sat there in her kitchen, she asked me how my feet were and, over my protestations that they were fine, pulled them onto her lap to massage them, one after the other.

She tried to explain to me — and probably to herself — why she was the way she was. She didn't have a clue, she told me, but she was trying to figure it out. She was young, after all, and had never known anyone like Jonathan — or our little group — in her 21 years. She told me about her life; about her strict, religious upbringing and how she had moved away from home and started working as a dancer to pay her rent. I felt myself being won over and I finally admitted to myself that maybe I had been wrong about her; maybe she was worth the effort after all.


The Sunday after we learned that Melanie had been killed in a car accident in Ibiza, Jonathan held a quiet reception for her at his apartment. I don't know what we had pictured before we arrived, but nothing had prepared us for what we saw when we walked in the door. His sparsely furnished condominium had been transformed into a glowing memorial; in every room, there were tall crystal vases filled with pink and white flowers, huge white candles stood in every corner like Greek columns glowing with golden light, and in every room, on every wall, there were photographs of Melanie.

We were all numb, milling around slowly, hugging people we had seen once or twice at parties. We wandered out onto the deck overlooking False Creek, which spanned the length of the apartment. It was a maze of massive floral arrangements and plants, all lit from beneath with soft blue floodlights and the glow of oversized candles.

Glasses of wine in hand, we found two of our closest friends and fell into an almost involuntary kind of conversation, as clever and upbeat as our dulled wits would allow. We had known Jonathan planned to hold some sort of ceremony, but no one was prepared when the white screen in the corner lit up with Melanie's beautiful, smiling face and the sound of Sarah McLaughlin's voice pierced the air.

The slideshow only lasted the duration of one song — 20 or 30 slides slowly fading in and out of the darkness. By the second photo, my eyes were filled with tears and by the last, I was fighting just to breathe, drowning under the weight of the most profound sense of loss and regret I had ever felt. I felt as if I saw her for the first time that night — for the sweet, genuine soul that she was — not the role I had unfairly cast her in. The realization that I had rarely treated her with anything more than grudging tolerance — more often, with contempt — filled me with grief and self-loathing.

Jonathan stood before the screen; the last photo was still projected there, and as he spoke to her, he began to cry. He told her he was sorry for all the fights and for how he had treated her. He told her he knew she forgave him. They had spoken a few days before her trip — they had in fact, broken up — but she had said she didn't blame him for anything. Jonathan slid down into a chair and into his father's arms. For several long moments, we all sat there in stunned silence waiting for someone to speak. My head was spinning and I wanted to run — from these people, who had all known how I felt about her, and from the image of her face frozen on the white screen above us, angelic and impassive — but mostly from myself.

Everyone was wiping tears from their faces as the lights came back on, and no one knew what to say. Shane started talking rapidly to diffuse the tension — to keep us from sinking back into that horrible silence that threatened to engulf us all. I heard him say that, for all her faults, she had never had a bad word to say about anyone. I cringed as if stricken and sank lower in my chair. He said it again and I finally turned as if facing an accusation, but he wasn't looking at me.

In the coming days, the last vestiges of my self-preservation instinct tried to kick in. I tried to convince myself that she had hated me, too — or would have if she'd had any sense. She should have seen me for what I was and dismissed me the same way I'd dismissed her. I tried to imagine how she must have talked about me to our friends, sniped and sulked whenever she knew she would be forced to endure my company for an entire evening.

My friends were quick to disabuse me of this fantasy, telling me they'd never heard her say anything derogatory about me, not even when I deserved it. She never delighted in tearing people apart in their absence — not the way I did the moment they left the room. In fact, according to one person, she even came to my defense once, in my absence, much to the surprise of everyone else at the table.

Over and over, she had charmed me — I had even admitted it at the time — but I never let her win me over completely. I didn't want to get close to her, to befriend her and then see her get hurt over and over. I couldn't even say I regretted not getting to know her because as bad as I felt after her death, I knew it was better than what I would have felt if I had allowed myself to care about her any more than I did.

That night at Jonathan's house, I told her all of that, filling several pages of the book he had put out for everyone to sign, saying it would be buried with her. I told her I knew I was wrong — so very, very wrong — and that I couldn't imagine ever being so ignorant and blind again. I told her, for what it was worth, that losing her had taught me a lesson — that I would be a better person for having known her.


Jonathan came straight to our apartment from the airport after picking up her suitcase and he had been crying. He handed me a beautiful Betsey Johnson coat with zebra stripes, and I started crying too. He had bought it for her before the trip and the first thing she had said was that it reminded her of something I would wear. He said he knew she would want me to have it. I wore it frequently and thought about her every time I saw it in my closet, and every time I looked at the picture we put up of her in the hall opposite the front door. Sometimes when I was up late at night, alone at the computer, I felt like she was watching me. I would say, "Hi Melanie... Don't do anything to scare me, okay?"

For a while, I didn't know for sure — I didn't know if I deserved it — but I eventually came to believe that she forgave me. And over time, I believe I eventually earned it.