Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Definition

More about trying to define what stays or does not stay in one’s memory, and what parts of that memory remain relevant, if any. Why bother remembering something that doesn't matter at all? So back to the 1980’s, we’ll be leaving fairly soon. Catch up with Part I and Part II if you’re late to the party.

Zelda’s nap on my shoulder took place in early ’87. By mid-year it was the waning days of high school and I was thoroughly sick of it as an institution, a life-experience and a social scene. Early in the year I had mentioned to Alice that these were reportedly the best years of our life. She took a second before holding her flat hand over her eyebrows, gazing into the wide-reaching empty horizon and said “Where?”

The near-ending of Zelda’s story comes at the end of Grade 13 on a slow Friday night near the end of May. Her boyfriend wasn’t in town – I seem to recall that he’d gone off to University early – and I was invited over to her uncle’s house to watch movies. The fact that I wouldn’t have to deal with her weird mother was a plus, and the fact that Zelda was house-sitting her uncle’s decidedly empty place was intriguing.

Such an offer is welcome to an 18yr old boy who plans on watching movies all evening. Or even more welcome to an 18yr old boy who had no plans whatsoever related to watching movies and has a multitude of other activities planned. Use your imagination.

I’m not saying it didn’t cross my mind, but it didn’t stay in my mind. I had been invited over to watch movies, so being the literal-minded type (and a film buff) I came well armed with recently acquired copies of Blue Velvet and Out of Africa.

Yeah - one of the weirdest double-bills ever assembled. Blue Velvet had come out the year before and had very legitimately messed with my head, so I was showing it to anybody who’d watch to see if it messed with theirs (this eventually gave me a reputation for being strange – I'd told a girl in my 1st year film studies class that I’d seen it a dozen times or so, she’d been traumatized by one viewing and gave me a very wide berth for awhile before finally deciding to make out with me after a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so take from that what you will).

Out of Africa shamelessly tapped into my romantic side (I had a weakness for the narration). So it was a cinematic evening planned either by a freaky David Lynch fetishist or a shameless sentimentalist with a thing for Meryl Streep’s weird Danish/Kenyan accent, take your pick.

The lines around the evening itself get blurry as much from the time passed as from...what? Relevance? I remember which movies I brought and the fact that I took a bus to the house, I don't remember what we talked about but I remember that we never got to watch either film. I remember a pot - not a cup - of cranberry tea and a backgammon board, but don't remember playing. I remember Zelda waxing rhapsodic about her boyfriend and how they'll be together in Victoria, or at least within blocks of one another. And I remember the duvet, the one I was pinned to. I remember my face being close enough to hers that I could feel a faint breeze each time she batted her long lashes.

Anything else? I barely remember the circumstance of the pinning. It was incidental to the act itself - there was a TV and VCR in the master bedroom, so I think there was a brief discussion as to whether or not to watch the movies in there. I remember sitting on the bed, then Zelda pushing me over and rolling onto me, not giggling exactly but smiling. Glowing. If it was intended to feed my ego, it wasn't exactly working - I was more confused than anything else. She was glowing towards me, elbows on either side of my shoulders.

"Let me up," I remember saying.

"Nope," she grinned.

"Please?"

"Nuh-huh."

I paused for a few seconds and said "I'll kiss you if you don't let me up."

Admittedly, this wasn't a wise move for somebody trying to get off a duvet. And there were other girls I was far more interested in kissing at the time (mea culpa - I was 18), and something about Zelda and this was not expected. Not part of a plan, hers or my own.

Of course, I kissed her. It lasted around .5 seconds. I at least had a 50-50 chance of finding out what the hell was on her mind depending on how she responded to a kiss. I justified it at the time as a 'ha-ha, now let's stop being silly and get back to the tea and backgammon' kind of thing. My eyes were open. Hers were shut.

Bette Davis eyes.

This was the point where she was supposed to either kiss me back with fervor (which would have led to..any ideas? no, seriously, any ideas??), or smile politely and say that this wasn't a good idea for any one of a dozen good reasons...but this didn't happen. She snuggled further onto me and lowered her lips to mine, dipping her chin to keep our lips together as I settled back on the pillow.

If I remember little else about the evening, I'm sure of the fact that we were not kissing. Our mouths were together, as if it were some kind of a cheat. As close to kissing as one could get without dipping into the dictionary definition which would get somebody (probably her) in trouble.

I waited for this to become a kiss so that I could either enjoy it or leave it.

I waited for a giggle or a sigh or even a nap to interrupt it.

Nope. Lips to lips. Soft breathing and traces of cinnamon Dentyne. The sweet waxy scent of lipstick. Some kind of perfume, I think Joy. The settling of the feathers beneath us. The click of the bedside clock.

For 45 minutes. A long limbo.

I finally moved my lips from hers and said something like I care about you a lot but this is feeling strange and I have to go. And she moved off of me like we had been simply checking the duvet for structural integrity and the kiss - the non-kiss - was a thing of the past. I refused to feel guilty either for holding it or guilty for walking away because it wasn't really there on either side. It was something undefined. Even at 18 I knew what a mind-game felt like (oh, it didn't keep me from falling for them, frequently) and all of Zelda was feeling very...off...at the time.


This event would have disappeared into memory along with most of the evening, if it hadn't ended strangely. I'd called a cab to get me uptown, Zelda offered a chaste hug goodbye, we might see each other over the Christmas holiday when she was back from Victoria.

And when I looked back from the cab, she stared from the open door. Her smile was gone. There was longing in the look which followed me down the road, which perhaps galvanized part of the evening for the two of us, in the future at least if not that very evening. You can accept or deny a kiss. You can be amused and act on an infatuation, or choose to explain your way out of it, or ignore it. I hadn't expected longing, and wasn't sure if it belonged entirely to her.

We wrote letters for a few months and they were just extensions of notes in English class. If there was subtext, I missed it. And didn't write any. And the letters stopped and we lost contact until after university, with little thought to each other. Which...flips...back onto itself into yet another infuriating not-definable what-the-hell-is-going-on new thing in 1994 which led me to stand at a bus depot, wondering exactly what the sane thing to do would be.

This does get wrapped up neatly eventually. But for now, to be continued...
Click here for Part IV

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