“I think I lived alone before I knew ya.” (Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen)
I’m guilty of something I call hit-and-run domesticity. It’s become an addiction that I crave.
• • •
The first time I went over to his place, his shoes were jumbled up in a pile against the white-washed walls of his fourth floor Taipei walk-up: barely worn Nike Mayflys, sprightly against tired looking, beat-up wing tip dress shoes, Red Wing boots with mud on the soles. I stare at them each morning as he gets ready for work. One day, after he’s gone out, I wander over to his kitchen to brew a cappuccino and sit down to organize them all. After I finish my coffee down to the dregs, I put the cup in the sink, and decide that I’ll clean that area, too.
• • •
We’d only been doing – whatever it is we’re doing – for around a week and a half when he asks me to accompany to some work soiree, slipped in smoothly during one of those post-coital, rambling discussions that somehow manages to go everywhere and nowhere at once. “But it’s not a big deal, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Just think about it.”
After he leaves, I sit on the edge of the bed for a long time. I try to think of ways our relationship status can be temporarily fabricated into something more fit to be served up alongside polite conversation and cocktails. After all, what is the term for: We’ve known each other for exactly nine sunrises, and ten sunsets – although perhaps that first one doesn’t count, being that we were disgustingly drunk. I know that you have a worrying lack of appropriate disgust towards morning breath; that you talk in your sleep and it’s kind of cute, but I don’t know how you act when you’re sick, or how you feel about your parents’ divorce, or –if we’re being really honest– if you’re even a good person at all.”
In the end, I decide to go. I decide to say: “We met through friends”.
• • •
At home, I rifle through my trove of severely work-function-inappropriate glittery wedges and well-worn strappy black platforms. In a bout of panic, I cab down to the ZARA on Zhongxiao East Road, dodging indecisive post-work shoppers to zoom in on a pair of sensible heels, buckles gleaming dully in fluorescent light. They’re beige, so goddamn ugly, and don’t even fit. In a fit of claustrophobic exasperation I pay for the purchase and flee.
• • •
I’ve never been with someone long enough to naturally slip into the familiar patterns of domesticity. Many of my friends have been in long-term relationships. I see how their actions have synchronized over time; an evolutionary process resulting in the most complementary of movements. When I comment wistfully, I am told that, as with all that is beautiful and good, this kind of thing takes time.
In grungy hostel rooms, a cramped apartments, luxury high-rises—I keep finding myself slipping into domestic routines, however temporary – taking up room, taking up roles in their lives that our short romances can hardly justify. If lust is an extension of covetousness, I lust after the comfort of having someone to find your phone that you always lose, someone to open the caps on tricky bottles. To fall asleep cradled between their shoulders, to press your face into their neck, knowing they’ll let you. Having someone who will help you lace up your shoes; steal a quick kiss as you’re reapplying your lipstick.
It’s certainly as dizzying and nonsensical as lust, this small, aching desire, and sometimes I can’t help but lie awake in the darkness and think how fucking sad it is that I’m still trying to puzzle out the sinews of personal intimacy, how lonely I must have been all this time. I lie awake under the weight of his arm, glance over at the shoes I’ve neatly lined up in his bedroom, and wonder if this is what I’ve been searching for all along.
• • •
But then – as it’s happened before –
• • •
After the work party, he wants to go home and watch movies in bed. He wants to watch the new Iron Man. I detest watching movies with people, and I especially fucking hate inane, explosion-laden Hollywood blowouts like Iron Man. Suddenly, I hate him; shocking myself with the force of my contempt. All the joy of whispered, hazy secrets in the morning, late 7-11 runs that have become something we call a “routine” – evaporate. I don’t want to stay at home and watch Iron Man. My shoes are hurting so badly that I keep stopping to adjust them, an apt excuse for not looking him in the eye, lest he see the expression on my face.
• • •
I wish I would want to follow him; someone. I wish I could buy into his desires, his pleasures – the touchstone that will finally ground me from the millions of things that encroach upon me at night, that threaten to make me fly apart. But as I stare up at him, I suddenly feel lonely; lonelier than I’ve been sitting by myself drinking beer in the corner of a dusty café in Prague, lonelier than that solo eight hour airport layover on the way to Sri Lanka ; lonelier than every single time I’ve woken up at 4am; the silence so deafening I just can’t sleep. I watch his mouth shape the words – let’s go home –and it is suddenly made startlingly clear that, while I’m willing to organize this man’s shoes, I am not willing to even like him – and if not, why should I resign myself to sweaty sheets, and cocky men in iron suits?
• • •
“Some people are going out,” I finally say. “I’m going with them. I’ll text you later.”
He’s confused. “But don’t your feet hurt? You’ve been saying all night that they hurt.”
God – why is he being so fucking nice about it? The cab has pulled to the side and is idling on the corner, waiting. “Yeah, they do, but it’s fine, I brought sandals in my purse,” I say.
I ignore his wry smile; his comment: “Of course you did.” I grit my teeth, because honestly, what the fuck does he even know about me, or what I would do?
I strip off the heels, breathing a sigh of relief. “Here, babe – can you take those back for me? Thanks. I’ll text you later.”
• • •
I find my friends in the hazy neon maze of Taipei nightlife, as always. We drink champagne and dance until the sun rises through the club windows. Afterwards, we eat our weight in greasy fries at the nearby McDonalds. We laugh over the parts of the night we can’t recover and mock thirsty guys. It’s what we’ve always done. My friend asks me how “the work party” was.
“Dude, my feet hurt so much,” I complain around a fry. “These piece of shit heels don’t even fit me – I’m not even size 36, but they were on sale for 600 NT.”
I show her a photo on my phone and she looks at it meditatively. “They’re ugly. Like heels for a secretary, but not the sexy kind. I know they were cheap, but…are you ever really going to wear them again?”
• • •
We slip into a cab. I pause as she gives her address only. We continue our slightly manic chatter up her stairs, as we shed our makeup – and as we lie in the bed in the darkness, I confess with deceptively lighthearted voice that tomorrow I’m going to text him, and tell him that it’s not going to work.
“Well, damn, that was fast,” she slurs sleepily. “Didn’t you tell me that organised all his shoes? Who the fuck does that and then breaks up with someone the next day? And by the way, since you’re sure as hell are not getting them back, it’s a good thing you hated those heels…”
She drifts off, and I’m alone in the darkness. I suddenly want to cry. I have never dabbled in recreational drugs, but I hear that after you come down from the high, you feel an immense, chemical rush of sadness. It must feel like this – a similar type of grief, a feeling that sneaks up on me so suddenly that it’s like a punch in the stomach; a visceral kind of disappointment that actually draws forth tears.
• • •
Tomorrow, I think – I’ll go home and organize my shoes. I’ve been meaning to throw away all these shoes – that just don’t fit. After all, no one will do it for me – I live alone, again.