Graduate

I move in with my old high school friend, Fannie Lurh, when I leave London for Toronto in 1988. Fannie graduated from Western the previous year in 1987. She moved to Toronto to take a job with a major mobile phone company. She finds herself without a roommate for June, and needs someone – anyone – to help pay for her flat there. I will do. I drive to Etobicoke though I have never driven to Toronto before by myself nor do I know where Etobicoke is. Nonetheless, I manage to find her place. Upon settling into my new room in Fannie’s flat, I immediately find a job as a cocktail server in a downtown bar called The Royal Exchange at Bay and Front Streets while I pound the pavements during the day looking for work with my degree. The son of the owner of The Royal Exchange is a cokehead. He offers me rides home after our shifts, but I never accept one.

“Give me a hug,” he says during every shift, arms extended towards me.

“No,” I tell him repeatedly.

After my shift, I take the last train from beneath the Royal Bank building and then a bus from Royal York Station back to our flat. I am on the bus going home when a thin man shrouded in a black hoodie sits next to me in the seat I occupy. I move to another seat and he follows me. I fear that he will tail me when I leave the bus, and I have many blocks to walk once I disembark. I ring the bell, walk to the doors by the driver, and as I pretend to walk off the bus I see the hooded man bolt out the rear doors at the last minute. I jump back on the bus.

“Mine is the next stop,” I tell the driver. “Sorry.”

The driver smiles at me and as the bus drives on, I strain to see how much distance is between my stop and the previous one where the hooded stranger got off. I try to see if he is running to the next stop. I pull my house keys from my purse and lace them through my fingers. If the man in the black hoodie touches me, I will gouge his eyes out with my keys. When the driver halts for me, I climb off the bus, slip off my high heel shoes and tear away in my stocking feet holding all of my tip money in my purse close to my breasts. I hear exhales above my own and heels clicking on pavement at a rapid rate. A track coach once told me that if a runner looks over her shoulder she loses speed so I sprint looking forward until I reach the front door of our apartment. I am conscious of the rattle of my keys as I try to unlock the front door with shaking hands, my sight obscured by the night shadows.

Fannie Lurh and I live on the upper floor of an old house. The landlord’s son and his wife live beneath us and the fat son complains if we move above them or if he hears the squeak of our ironing board as we put it up. Every sound irritates him and I rapidly turn my key in the lock conscious of the noise I am making, and then slam the door behind me locking it. I thunder up the stairs to our flat, unlock that door and hoist it shut behind me, double bolting it. I leave off the lights and creep to the front window to look out into the street, but I see no one. I stand panting by the side of the widow, my heart pounding in my chest, peering outside into the murky night. Still I see nothing. Then I hear it. I hear the squeak of the old rusty swing in the park located directly across the road from our flat. Someone is on the swing. There are no voices so there are not two people there, just one. There is just the screech of the swing shattering the silence of the night.

Fannie Lurh has two boyfriends both named Matt. She is a serial cheater, which is ironic because she is nothing to look at. She is short, dumpy and sports a big, hook nose. My mother first met Fannie when she and I were high school chums. My mother later laughed about Fannie’s nose as she made a hook with her right index finger over her own nose. “She has a Roman nose. It roams all o’er her face,” she cackled. Fannie is covered in cellulite even in high school. She has a small chest too, but she has a big personality and attracts some good looking, tall boys. When she and I live together, she is never home on the weekends. During the week, she sleeps over at one of the Matt’s places. I have the place to myself all the time, but it is lonely.  I am to unplug the phone when she is out because she doesn’t want one of her men calling the flat to find that she is out with the other Matt. One of the Matts is a nice guy. He is a good, Catholic boy and university educated, but it is the other Matt who has Fannie’s heart. That Matt is a no good bum, as my mother would say, but he’s the one who Fannie loves. She marries the one she doesn’t love. The one that looks better on paper.

Working in the downtown Toronto bar I attract men, some of whom ask me out. They seem drawn to my indifference. The bar, located in the Toronto Financial District, is a hangout for Bay Street stockbrokers and bankers. One man is particularly aggressive in his pursuit of me. Unwilling to take no for an answer, he hounds me until I agree to a date with him.  On the afternoon of the date, I stand him up. I am lying on the couch unable to get up. With increasing frequency, I feel paralyzed with a sense of fear and dread, and consistently withdraw from life. I cannot force myself to go out when I get like that, which is often. The man rings me and eventually I pick up the phone. I apologize to him and agree to meet him later, which I do. As soon as I leave the flat I regret it. I jump on the train and go into Yorkville to meet him for dinner at an expensive restaurant but I eat very little of my steak dinner and say even less. I just want to be home. I am depressed then but don’t know what is wrong with me. I still have never heard of depression in 1988. I run and weep at the same time and pray to God to help me. I am a broken person but power through my brokenness as I cope with the messy business of daily survival.

Eventually I am hired by an American Corporate Insurance Company based in Mississauga, Ontario, and am able to quit my bar job.  Fannie Lurh blindsides me with the announcement that she wants to move into another apartment with a co-worker from the mobile phone company. She has selected one of the Matts to wed and decides to cut everyone from her life who might spill her prenuptial infidelity beans. I have to find new living accommodations for August. I know no one in Toronto. I don’t know how I can find a place. Feeling responsible for my housing dilemma, she arranges for me to live with one of her male co-workers who shares a brand new Mississauga condo with two other men. That’s how in August 1988, I move in with three men I have not previously met.

 

 

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