‘oh, it’s you again.’
‘i had to see you.’
‘everything with you is some kind of emergency.’ tracy was annoyed. ‘i thought you would get it by now: we’re not friends and haven’t been for ages.’
‘you don’t understand. i know you’re supposed to be in my life. i have been unhappy in my marriage for years and i had this dream last night and it confirmed my first love is my only love.’
‘dammit darren. we broke up when i was 17. when are you going to move on? these interactions are exhausting.’
‘can i come in? i just want to talk.’ darren pleaded.
‘ok, but this is the last time. seriously.’ famous last words, against better judgement.
tracy lived alone and she liked it that way. everything that happened in her life was on her terms. not tonight though.
they sat in comfortable chairs that faced each other. she was not going to make the mistake of sharing her seating with him, tracy knew what would happen if she did. each supplied with a cold beer, he launched into the usual diatribe.
she drifted off into her imagination as he gave her the usual circular arguments about why they were meant to be and all of the things he would do to make it happen if she would just take him back. this was boring, it had all been said before. suddenly she remembered where she was and became aware of darren’s words, darren’s movements.
‘… you see, if you won’t be with me, there is no way i’m going to let you be with someone else.’ he calmly removed a handgun from his inside jacket pocket.
she paid so little attention to him these days she failed to notice the bulk in the jacket when he entered the flat and the fact that he had not taken it off when he sat down. now concerned, she slunk back in the chair as far as she could and found herself unable to choke out any words.
‘tracy. we’ve been through this and now i know it is you and me. i finally got confirmation that cannot be denied.’ his voice was guttural, desperate. ‘we are cosmically connected.’
in that moment, her perception of their entire history flashed across darren’s eyes like some fucked up home video while he carelessly waved the gun around in tune with his gestures. it took her back 20 years…
grade nine. that barenaked ladies song on repeat in their young brains. adjusting to a new school and becoming the small fish in the big pond. maths more difficult, expectations higher, at least getting involved in sport was easy enough. then there were the social adjustments. long gone were the days of the same teacher for every lesson; some feared it while others held on tight and enjoyed the ride.
fourteen-year-olds were trying to find their place in the world of kids that seemed so much older than they did. a perspective which would change before christmas, if not before thanksgiving.
by november, tracy felt at home. becoming a top basketball player, making decent grades and meeting loads of people helped her cause. she even met a boy, darren.
darren was a year older and seemed to know everything. after just a few months of seeing each other, tracy’s sociology class told her she was in that stage of love known as infatuation or attraction, the falling in love bit. she was sure she’d never find anything disappointing about him or their love. she looked at him through devoted teenage eyes. he was the one.
the feeling was mutual. darren showed his love through lifts and regular payment for outings to swiss chalet and famous players. teenagery activities paid for as he was the only one of the two with a job. at the same time it was clear he had his own things going on. he played things cool.
she began working at dairy queen to make extra money to buy those designer jeans she wanted. when tracy asked her parents to shell out the cash, her parents repeated the family motto in unison: ‘get it your damn self.’
‘this time that means get a real job.’ mum added.
‘but i’m babysitting for the steves nearly every weekend.’ tracy argued. the steves were a neighbouring family in which half of the members bore the name steve, a clever nickname tracy’s family had come up with. ‘could we split the cost?’
‘no possible way.’ simply put by dad.
no thought was given to contributing to her relationship with darren, at least not financially. she was of the mind that it was his duty as the guy and the older one. a juvenile conclusion. with the change in employment, darren added a further contribution: lifts to and from work.
‘you’re only dating him because he’s older. he’s a loser.’ one of the davids stated matter of factly at work the next shift after darren collected her one summer night.
‘that’s not even close to the truth,’ she protested. ‘he and i are in love. and not that puppy bullshit kind, this is for real.’
‘you’ll see. when he graduates, it’ll be over.’ david laughed.
tracy lost respect for that david immediately. the other david was much kinder and interjected with, ‘don’t mind him.’
they both had their own friends, did their own thing. they always came together to support each other no matter what. when darren’s mum was caught cheating and asked for a divorce, tracy was there. when tracy lost her dad to a pulmonary embolism which went without prompt treatment, darren was there.
tracy and darren shared the experience of nearly all firsts undertaken by young people: the kisses, the sleep-overs, the sneaking around, the sexual exploration, the bond of first loves. it was sweet, really. the way all young people should be introduced to all of those exciting and scary things, in a safe space with great trust. complete with loads of inside jokes and secret encounters.
they were together for nearly four years. over time the disappointment phase she was warned about creeped in and showed its ugly face at more frequent intervals. it started off small, constant correction given. then criticism for her spitting gum out onto the road, for disputes with friends and for clothing she wore. she accepted it all but a strange feeling of discomfort overtook her young life. tracy didn’t even consider that her habits were causing darren disappointment, it was all about her needs and feelings.
darren finished school a year before she did and he was off to another city at least three hours away. there was no way tracy’s parents would let her visit. tracy succumbed to david’s prediction and decided to break it off with darren.
it was a difficult conversation to begin:
‘so, you see darren, i want to be single when i go to uni and i don’t think it’s fair for you to not be afforded the same freedom.’ how egalitarian of her.
‘we can make this work, tracy.’ darren plead. ‘i can come home at weekends and you can visit on the train.’
‘you’ll be busy and so will i. our lives are headed in different directions.’
‘there’s no way breaking up is the right decision for us. i know we can make it.’
‘i’m going to sharon’s cottage for labour day weekend.’
‘but that’s the weekend i go. i was hoping you’d come up with my mum and i… see my new digs.’
‘why don’t we do something special the week before you go away and i go to the cottage? one last goodbye.’
darren reluctantly agreed, with the idea that this was something they would overcome together.
the something special was a weekend together while parents were away, living for 48 hours as if it were a permanent set up. they laughed and cried and reminisced over their years together and ended it all with a goodbye kiss through the window of darren’s car. the song on the radio was that popular one by the clash that tracy didn’t initially believe was even a song, she had heard darren singing it many times. the answer to the question in the song was clearly: go.
the long weekend came and went and they didn’t even speak for a month afterward.
the phone rang. tracy could hear it from the bathroom.
‘darren’s on the phone.’ mum shouted up the stairs.
‘ok.’ tracy responded and picked up the phone in her room. ‘hey darren, how are you?’
‘all good here. there’s so much to tell you about. how have you been?’
‘why didn’t you tell me the final year would be so difficult?’
‘i did. hahahaha. you were never willing to take my advice.’
‘so what’s the occasion to call? i thought i’d catch you on icq at some point, but a phone call…’ she trailed off.
‘i’ve decided to come home for thanksgiving weekend and figured we could hang out. you interested?’
‘yeah, ok. we’ve obviously got that big family dinner but saturday could work.’
‘perfect. can’t wait to see you.’
‘cool. well, i’ve gotta jet, they’re calling me from downstairs. bye.’ a lie.
‘i love -‘
she hung up.
the agreed upon saturday arrived and they were both nervous. they met in a local restaurant, having driven separately.
‘our life together would have been a lot better if you could have driven too.’
‘them’s the breaks, i guess.’ she was surprised at how good he looked to her after all that time. she had anticipated feeling neutral.
they ate and chatted for hours. tracy shared stories of mutual friends and teachers she was subjected to while darren told her of the adventure that is the first year of university. they laughed and joked and discussed old times.
it became clear that they were both interested in some intimacy. unfortunate for them they were teens with parents and siblings at home. they opted for a local hotel. tracy paid, a sort of attempt at reciprocity. plus she knew he had a great deal more in the way of expenses than she did and she had worked her way up to shift manager slinging ice cream out to the masses.
it was exactly as they remembered it. for a time they were in their own world. perhaps it was closure, a way of saying ‘thanks’ and ‘nice knowing you’.
it ended late with both having to sneak into their respective houses.
tracy found it difficult in the coming weeks to get over it. it was as if she hadn’t grieved the loss initially so it was smacking her in the face. she was hurt, she was down, she was lost. she called him regularly and her desperation was obvious. it began to cramp his style and he stopped taking her calls.
darren’s room mate was tired of having to utilise the excuse rolodex with the incessant calls from this ex. one day, in the week leading up to reading week, darren was stuck. he answered the phone.
‘hey, it’s me. i guess you’ve been really busy. matt keeps getting the phone and telling me you’re out. has he been passing on my messages?’
pause. ‘uh, yeah. it has been crazy hectic and you remember i told you how difficult this first year is.’
‘what are we doing here?’
‘we’re talking on the phone.’
‘you know what i mean. what are we? is there a future?’
‘to be honest, you broke up with me and really hurt me. i spent my first 6 weeks in agony. i thought that last encounter we arranged was a sort of closure for us both, the transition between together and single. separate.’
crying now. ‘darren, i was fine until you came back that weekend. seeing you made me realise what a mistake i had made.’
‘look. i should just tell you now, i have started seeing someone. her name is tabitha and i even accidentally said your name in bed once. she was really understanding about it, you being my first love and all.’
‘seeing someone? how long has this been going on?’
‘i can’t fucking believe this. just a few weeks after taking me to bed you start with this, this tabitha?’
‘tracy, you told me it couldn’t work out. i’ve moved on. just like you wanted.’
‘we need to talk about this. you have so much explaining to do.’
‘actually, i don’t. we’re not together. we haven’t even seen each other or spoken in months. i don’t have time for this, there’s a kegger i’m late for and after all this bullshit i’m in real need of some beer. you should call kids help phone, they’ll have someone to support you in this awkward time.’
‘you can’t be serious.’
‘deadly. move on tracy.’
and with a click the phone hung up.
tracy exploded. a mess of tears and snot and hair pulling. how could she have let herself fall into his trap again? she thought about what a prick he had been and how she had been duped with some kind of revenge sex, a concept she had never considered before that moment. lucky for her she was in the basement and the rest of the people in the house were too preoccupied to bother with her outburst.
she dialled the number.
‘good evening, kids help phone. my name’s ross. how can i help?’
‘it’s… it’s my boyfriend. well ex-boyfriend i guess. he told me he couldn’t deal with my shit and suggested i get support from you. i’m not suicidal or anything. i just want to be with him and he is now seeing someone else. it is so long and complicated, i don’t even know where to begin.’ she paused to take a heaving breath, the kind when you are crying and forget to breathe in between.
‘i didn’t get your name.’
‘well tracy, it seems to me that the only person to discuss this matter with is the ex-boyfriend as he’s the one you are going through this difficulty because of. perhaps you should call him back.’
‘thanks for nothing, ross.’ tracy slammed the phone down.
she began to cry uncontrollably again only to collect herself. it seemed miraculous. she laughed and said aloud, ‘fucking kids help phone. good thing i didn’t have a real fucking problem.’
she emerged from the basement in effort to return to her room. her mum clocked her in the periphery of the living room.
‘tracy, are you ok? you look as though you’ve been crying.’
‘all good, mum. night night.’
tracy decided in that moment of crossing over the threshold of her bedroom that she would never again allow some silly high school love to affect her so deeply. she slept well and awoke fresh.
months went by and it got to the point where tracy no longer thought of darren every day. she found herself dating around, disinterested in any hint of commitment. she was devoted to herself only and it was nearing the time for her to leave the nest a free bird in every sense.
the night before she left for uni, she rented 3 movies and spent way too much time chatting on msn messenger. basically did anything but pack up her stuff. she figured it would all get done at some point. an unexpected message popped up.
darren81: hey sexy. how are you? [20:56]
to reply or not to reply. what a prick, attempting to insert himself in her life again, she thought. why hadn’t she removed his contact?
tray-cee: what is it? [21:03]
darren81: we haven’t talked in ages and i thought i’d say hi. [21:03]
tray-cee: hi [21:06]
darren81: come on, where’s that fun girl i know? [21:06]
tray-cee: she is having a great time without you in her life [21:08]
darren81: i’m really missing you. tabitha is allergic to everything. [21:08]
tray-cee: oh yeah [21:09]
darren81: i mean, she’s great. don’t get me wrong. but she isn’t you. and she is not willing to give me head, says it grosses her out. [21:10]
tracy-cee: too much information. [21:15]
darren81: don’t you miss me? [21:15]
tray-cee: not really. have moved on. besides, what would your girlfriend think if she knew you were saying these things to me? [21:18]
darren81: it’s not her business [21:18]
tray-cee: whatever [21:18]
darren81: i want you in my life [21:18]
tray-cee has left the chat [21:20]
reading week. no one really did any reading but it was first year and tracy wasn’t onto that scam yet. plus her grades were nothing to be proud of at this point either.
a few of her pals were heading out on the town and twisted her rubber arm to be in attendance. she figured she deserved a night out after working for two days straight. she thought, ‘what the hell?’
she wasn’t much for dressing up to go out. her uniform for school usually consisted of sweat pants or jeans paired with a hoodie. what did she know about this scene? she was an expert beer drinker though.
she opted for jeans and a tank top and let her hair down. she felt awkward but a few bottles of beer sorted that out. she had even got involved in those test tube shots delivered to tables and the dance floor by degraded waitresses. this one had on a cowboy hat, a waistcoat exposing a hot pink push-up bra and the shortest jean skirt known to man. ‘a damn man must’ve invented that thing,’ tracy laughed to herself.
she was feeling good. there was no conversation happening with anyone as the music was incredibly loud. it was a good night. laughs and dancing and way too many drinks, perhaps a record.
then it happened. she saw darren. in her bar. in her uni town. she tried to get away but he saw her. she was caught.
giant smiles. ‘hey there.’ he shouted.
‘hey.’ a reply. she immediately sobered up.
‘i was hoping i’d catch you while i was in town.’
‘what? i can’t hear you.’
he motioned to outside, where the smoking happens. she reluctantly followed.
‘i was saying, i was hoping i’d catch you while i was here.’
‘why are you here?’
‘visiting my pal jim. it’s his birthday and he is from here so a bunch of us have come down for a few days.’
she took a good long sip from her beer.
‘so, how are things with you, tracy? we’ve not talked in ages.’
‘fine. good. just here with some friends.’
‘can i buy you a drink? can we do some dancing together?’
‘i guess.’ her lack of enthusiasm seemed obvious to everyone except darren. the way she saw it, her night was ruined.
when she returned to the dance floor with darren, her pal mouthed, ‘what the fuck?’
she mouthed, ‘long story.’
as drunken nights go, they are not always remembered clearly and bad decisions are bound to be made. darren ended up sharing a cab home with the girls, he claimed he had lost his friends in the craziness of closing time.
they got back to residence and had pizza. the ugly truth was in the back of tracy’s mind. where would darren sleep?
kaylie had an idea, ‘hey, i know, tracy. darren can stay in your room and you can stay in jill’s bed, she won’t be back for days and we can wash her bedding in between.’
relief. a get out of awkward jail card.
‘perfect.’ said tracy. darren said nothing.
she walked him up to her room and set him up with everything he needed. as she was about to leave he spoke up.
‘stay with me tonight.’
‘i won’t touch you, i promise.’ he was almost begging. ‘i just want to chat.’
‘no way, darren. you have everything you need. we’ll sort breakfast in the morning before your girlfriend collects you.’ he had made the mistake of informing her of this and was now regretting it.
tracy left as fast as she could and spend the better part of half an hour laughing with kaylie about how ridiculous this all was…
the next day, tabitha collected darren. tracy had never seen her face to face and felt like shit from the drink.
all she could manage to say was, ‘let darren do some of the driving.’
tabitha just looked at her with cold eyes. she was probably wondering what darren saw in her. and possibly what the hell was going on.
it was late. that philosophy paper for the star trek nut professor was due at 8:00, just 6 hours away. tracy was nearly finished and she began day dreaming about the real dreaming she would get to do in less than an hour.
the phone rang and she didn’t want to wake her flat mates, even if they did spend their lives fucking strangers into the night and disturbing her sleep. weird how that worked. she spent most of her thoughts about them considering how much cash they’d make if they turned the place into a brothel or what fun it would be to create a sneak attack polaroid picture wall of shame.
‘hey tracy, it’s darren.’
‘wtf? how did you get my number? this better be good with you calling at this hour.’
‘it is. vince committed suicide. the memorial’s the day after tomorrow. i know he was your friend too. it is just awful.’
‘you can’t be serious.’
‘i am. so sorry to be the one to tell you but i thought it should come from someone close to you.’
tracy ignored the close to you part. she was trying to absorb this information.
‘ok. i’ll get a train home tomorrow and see you there, i guess.’
‘it is tough on all of us.’
‘ok, bye.’ she hung up.
she thought to herself that he was voted most likely to succeed and that she must be dreaming already. how else would darren know how to get ahold of her?
somehow, she managed to be constructive with her blues and finish editing her essay. she knew she needed at least one rem cycle before handing the damn thing in. looking at her clock she saw she would get just that.
tracy dreamt of vince. they were walking toward each other in the corridor of their high school. he caught eye contact with her and smiled. he asked her how she was. tracy responded that she should be asking him.
when she awoke, she thought, that is just like him. to be worried about others and not himself.
the train journey seemed longer than usual and she was unable to concentrate on reading for pleasure or for her courses. she wrote madly in her notebook in between episodes of sleep.
tracy arrived home and her mum greeted her with a hug. she knew vince was a kind young man and could understand her daughter’s grief.
the memorial was gut wrenching. so many people were there it was impossible for everyone to sit down. darren sat next to tracy and as she heaved and sobbed he put his arm around her. she let him. when it was over she spoke with vince’s brother tom, he was responsible for putting the service together. she hugged him and told him how good he looked and how brave he had been.
every so often after that, tracy would think about vince and again be saddened by the loss.
summer time. tracy moved back in with mum for a few months and was right back at dairy queen. earning minimum wage and eating too many dilly bars.
that summer concert thing was on and everyone seemed back in town to see moist, or the philosopher kings or wide mouth mason… whoever the headliner was that year.
tracy was there with a bunch of mates from all over as her house was filled with high school, uni and work friends for pre and post concert partying.
she ran into tom. he looked like shit. and no wonder. the loss of his brother was still hurting so many people. tracy couldn’t imagine how much worse it would be for tom than the rest of the population.
‘how are you?’ she asked tom after hugging him tightly while trying not to spill her beer on him. drunk as she was she could see his pain.
he struggled a smile and said, ‘i’m good tracy. good to see you.’
she didn’t know it then but tom was only a few months from taking his life and joining his brother. she could feel it, however, he was not ok.
up front for the show and staggering all over the place otherwise. tracy and her friends were on the way to the porta-potties laughing about last year when chantal kreviazuk told her home town audience to be quiet and respect the artist playing, chantal being the artist in question. they dispersed to separate toilets.
when tracy emerged, she was surprised to be the first one to free herself from one of the disgusting plastic boxes.
she immediately saw darren. shit. not again.
‘hey!’ an enthusiastic greeting.
‘oh, hi.’ tracy responded. ‘i guess everyone comes back for this weekend.’ a generic comment.
‘just waiting for tabitha.’
‘right on.’ it was as if what she said was some kind of invitation. he got real close, leaned in and grabbed her ass. ‘what do you think you’re doing?’
darren was drunk, as she was, responding with, ‘we used to do more than that.’
‘do not ever touch me again.’
she saw her mates and got out of there, quick smart.
over the years, they talked intermittently. darren always initiated contact. it was facebook and personal questions about her sex life. it was an invitation to his wedding, tabitha was the bride of course. it was the occasional creepy crawling into her life. she stopped trying to understand and simply blocked him from all contact.
tracy no longer thought of darren at all. it had been at least a year since they had spoken and she was sure he had finally taken all of the hints.
subject: long time
date: august 12, 2015 at 18:06
it has been ages and i wanted to write to you. my uncle, you know, rob, that one you always got along with, has passed away. i thought you should know. i tried contacting you at firstname.lastname@example.org to no avail.
i hope you don’t mind but i googled your mom and managed to get your new email address off her. she was really nice, just as i remember.
how are you? i would really love to catch up and talk about rob and old times. you know, trace, you were really a huge part of my life. a part i miss and wish was still in my every day interactions. we really have come a long way, eh?
hope to hear back from you soon.
subject: information message
date: august 17, 2015 at 12:54
you just can’t help yourself, darren.
i have not been in contact because i do not want to be in contact. you would think that after all this time you would get the hint after being the one to initiate communication for the past decade.
please do not contact my mum again. i haven’t talked about you in so long she had no way of knowing that i didn’t want to hear from you.
it was pretty low of you to try and get me to talk to you again by using a dead relative. besides, i know your uncle rob died 2 years ago.
i will not be manipulated into maintaining contact.
do not contact me again, i will not respond.
subject: re: information message
date: august 17, 2015 at 23:48
i’m so sorry that you are upset with me. my intention was not to hurt you. you see, you mean so much to me, you have been a huge part of my life and have helped to shape the person i have become. i hold our time together in such high regard and i thought that you would feel the same.
the thing i wish for most right now is that we could overcome these problems and work through them together.
i consider you my friend and i will always be here for you. please write to me whenever you like. i know we can get beyond this.
i’ll be in touch.
tracy was sure she would not hear from him again. then she opened her email.
subject: merry christmas!
date: december 28, 2015 at 19:17
to: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
see attached. pictures of the little rascals around the tree.
she couldn’t believe her eyes. he had sent her pics of his kids; bcc’d her into an email to his wife and parents. she considered replying all to let them in on this insanity. then she thought it was better to ignore the nonsense
she checked her linkedin profile to see that he had requested a connection. delete. this situation was no longer funny to tracy. she had once likened darren to that ex-girlfriend on wayne’s world and mike myers’ commentary about the gift of a gun rack. it used to be funny. now they were in their thirties, it wasn’t so much.
tracy snapped out of the trance and back into the now.
‘look. darren. you need help. you don’t need me.’
‘that’s where you’re wrong. that’s where you’ve always been wrong.’
silence. tracy wasn’t frightened though she felt she should be. it was hard to take such a desperado seriously.
‘i am willing to lose everything for you.’ darren started. ‘willing to leave my wife and family, willing to accept the ridicule from my friends, willing to forego my house, a huge chunk of my salary.’
calmly and doing her best to pretend there was no gun, she spoke. ‘i did not ask for any of this. i do not want you to give anything up or focus your attention on me. i am finally happy in my life and what i really want is for you to leave and never contact me again.’
‘why can’t you get it through your thick skull? we are one.’
‘you really need some help. it is getting late. i’ll walk you to the door.’
she stood up and he followed suit. she turned her back to him as she moved toward the exit.
shots fired. another statistic in the realm of domestic abuse. or was it? there was nothing domestic about their set-up. she was, however, another woman too kind to allow her fears to supersede her need to avoid hurting the feelings of others. she paid her debt to him: 17 years of harassment and now with her life.
darren showed himself out, tracy would not be able to assist there. he returned home to his wife and kids, telling a lie about work holding him up. he had won, though he wasn’t sure what.