David Moves Out, Part Two
The sofa bed didn’t arrive on time, and so I couldn’t move in on July 1st. I had to wait around in Oshawa knowing that any day the bed could come, and that when it did, my life would explode.
My mother and my sister bought things for my apartment. They were excited. I was terrified. They bought towels and facecloths in matching colours. I didn’t give a shit. A set of dishes and glasses. I didn’t give a shit. A sandwich maker. I didn’t give a shit.
I was immersed in pure horror. What had I done?
Finally the bed arrived. We moved my stuff in- it was really easy, because the apartment came pre-furnished- and my parents left, and I was by myself.
I went crazy pretty fast.
I decided it would be a fantastic idea to go to bed every night at 9 and wake up at 5, and then go for an hour-long walk to see the sun rise.
I quickly decided not to use the plates and cutlery that had been bought for me, because cleaning them was too hard. I bought paper plates and plastic utensils instead.
I didn’t have the Internet, and stole Wi-Fi from my neighbours. When the Internet cut out, I screamed obscenities at my computer, stormed outside, and went for long walks.
I started feeling sick all the time, as if my intestines were being kneaded like dough, then set on fire.
I started collecting photos of strangers on Flickr, then copying and pasting them to a Word document. My plan was to amass enough photos to create an entire album of people I didn’t know. This made me feel better.
Walking made me feel better, too. So did writing. I went to the university, found an empty classroom, and worked on my novel every day.
When I wasn’t in my apartment, I could keep the frantic feelings of emptiness and isolation at bay. So I tried to stay away as much as possible.
It didn’t help that I’d moved into the city in the middle of a heatwave, and had no air conditioning. Pretty soon I’d acquired four fans, and set them up in a Stonehenge-like arrangement around me whenever I was in my apartment.
One morning at the break of dawn I walked five kilometers to a farmer’s market and bought mysterious fruit. I posted a description on Facebook and asked if anyone knew what it was. My friend from the mental institution responded. He had recently been discharged, but neither Timothy nor I had heard from him since then.
He correctly identified them as gooseberries.
That was the last I ever heard of him.
A few nights after that, I woke up to hear yelling from the alley outside my window. That wasn’t uncommon- there are a lot of frat boys in the Annex- but what was unusual is that it sounded like the person was calling my name.
I got up and opened my window.
It was Timothy.
“What do you want?” I asked. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“It’s only 10!”
“Well, I’ve been in bed for an hour. Why are you here?”
“You need to call your dad!”
“Just call him!”
“Where have you been?” my father asked. “Did Timothy get in touch with you? We thought you’d been hit by a car or something.”
“Why the hell would you think that?”
“We were talking to you earlier and your call got cut off.”
“My phone died.”
“That was five hours ago!”
“It’s charging. You have to turn it off in order to charge it properly.”
“No, you don’t!”
“We Facebooked you, too,” my dad said.
“Yeah, I haven’t had the Internet in two days.”
“We’ve got to do something about that.”
One of the places I liked to go was the Kelly Library on the university campus. It’s operated by the Catholic church, and for some reason they’d amassed an extraordinary collection of movies, including everything Criterion had ever released.
When I was living in Oshawa, I took out one movie a week from Kelly. Now I was taking movies out once a day. Every day I walked to Kelly, pored over the stacks, made a selection, and walked home again.
A lot of the movies I picked in those days I didn’t end up watching all the way through. I got distracted easily. My attention span had deterioriated since moving into Toronto, along with my short-term memory. Sometimes I’d walk to the grocery store, forget what I was there for, and spend fifteen minutes wandering the aisles looking at pretty packages.
So one day at Kelly I found myself browsing through shelves of movies, knowing I wouldn’t be able to sit through any of them, but wanting something to fill my night at least partway.
The nights were the worst.
I stumbled upon an acreage of shelving devoted to The West Wing, every disc of every season in its own case. I was passingly familiar with the series, because my dad used to watch it.
What the hell, I thought, and borrowed the first disc.
I was sucked right in.
It may seem hyperbolic to say that The West Wing saved me, but that’s certainly what it felt like. The series gave me something to look forward to, some semblance of order and routine. Every night at 6:00 I’d watch an episode while eating dinner. Afterward, I’d take a walk around the block, go online if I could, and then watch another episode. On the worst days, when my insides felt scooped out, I counted down the hours until 6:00 when I could watch another episode.
Why did it have the impact it did? Why was it exactly what I needed at that moment in time? Well, because it’s basically Star Trek: The White House, and I grew up on Star Trek. Just like Star Trek, it’s about a bunch of intelligent, decent people talking their way through problems. The characters are exceedingly left-wing. They are led by a geeky father figure. Perhaps most importantly, the characters are idealists. In the summer of 2011, I needed to be reminded approximately twice a day that everything was going to be okay.
During the last week of the summer, I started working at the U of T. I had been hired to co-facilitate a social group for first-year students with Asperger’s, but had additionally been hired to help with the orientation week for disabled students. I’d be working with several of the students who were planning to attend my group, so it made sense to get a read on them and establish a rapport.
I’d never done anything like this in my life, and had no idea what I was doing. Fortunately, my co-workers were kind, helpful, and direct. They told me what to do, and I did it. I met the guy I’d be running the social group with, and we got along great. The orientation week was a happy, dizzy blur, even though I wasn’t used to being an authority figure, or being taken seriously in any regard. During that week, students approached me and asked for advice and actually listened to what I said. I wanted to take them by the shoulders and say, “What are you thinking? You need to ask an adult!”
Instead, I just gave them the best advice I could, some of which was bullshit. It occurred to me that probably everyone who was in charge of anything did exactly the same thing. I wasn’t sure if this was a comforting or terrifying notion.
On one evening during the orientation week I wandered around the Annex with Timothy. I mentioned I kept a list of qualities I was looking for in a girlfriend- things like honesty, stability, and a sense of humour.
“You can’t do something like that!” he said. “You can’t manufacture a relationship!”
“That’s really not-”
“It’s so cold and clinical! That is chilling. That is really chilling. I swear to God, I am so close to just cutting you off right now!”
“Everyone has stuff they’re looking for.”
“You’re not supposed to look for it like that!”
I was surprised and disturbed by the depth of his anger. For most of the year I had sensed that Timothy’s behaviour was becoming increasingly erratic. I supposed it was due to his depression, which had always been bad, but had hit a new low the previous winter.
After our conversation I went home, put on an episode of The West Wing, and considered the situation.
I’m going to have to ditch him before he ditches me, I thought. But how do you throw a friend overboard?
The summer shuddered to a close, and the future was uncertain. I had no idea how to facilitate a social group; I hadn’t been given any training. I knew little about the guy I’d be working with, though he seemed friendly. I could feel myself changing into a different kind of person, and I didn’t know what the end result of that would be.
Who am I going to be in six months, or a year? I thought. How can anyone live with so much uncertainty?