The Toronto Girl
Every time I went to Tokyo, The Toronto Girl and I would meet in front of the big Starbucks in Shibuya—and every time I would first misjudge how long it took to get there and then get lost outside the station, resulting in me being at least thirty minutes late while she sat and waited outside. This time I was actually on time.
It was toward midnight by the time we got back to her apartment, and the temperature was heading below zero. She was worried because she’d forgotten to get gas for the heater, without which we only had an ineffective wall-mounted electric unit to warm her frigid apartment. It took me twenty minutes to get the thing to stop trying to air condition us, and even then it didn’t do much more than raise the temperature right below it by about a half a degree.
I put my arm across her back. We lay very close together all night to keep warm. She snored. I didn’t even really mind that I couldn’t sleep. It was probably around 4:00 by the time I turned around, stuck my head under a pillow and nodded off. Nothing else happened.
By morning I’d convinced myself that a lengthy cuddle might be the best I could hope for.
We didn’t really get up until 2:00 the next day. The Toronto Girl only left the apartment to get gas for the heater, and we had pizza delivered for dinner.
As we figured out our plans for the evening, I wasn’t sure if I was looking forward to going clubbing until the subways started up at 5:00 a.m. The Toronto Girl likes hip-hop, and given that I try to compensate for my lack of dance skill with effusive energy, I find hip-hop incredibly dull to dance to. Even with music I like, my interest tends to flag after about three hours. I was concerned that I was walking into something more like a nocturnal prison sentence than a night of fun.
We were supposed to meet at Shibuya station around midnight after I finished dinner with my kendo sensei’s son. But when I called, The Toronto Girl sounded about as hesitant as I was: she was
tired, concerned about the subways, concerned about the cold… So we gradually agreed to call it off. Still, I wasn’t sure if that was what she’d really wanted. She said she’d been getting ready
until 10:00 pm.
I took the subway and a night taxi back to her apartment, feeling a little guilty that she’d gotten ready to go out for nothing.
She was already in bed when I arrived, and I changed and slipped under the covers with her.
I asked if she minded if I put my arm around her again. She said what would be really nice would be a massage. So I obliged.
...with the caveat that my massages suck. I have a tendency to touch spine, which feels really good when done to me, but I’ve been told that it is a very wrong thing to do.
This led to her leaning right up against me while I carefully rubbed her shoulders, gradually pressed my fingers down to the small of her back, then ran my palm across her hip and down to just above her knee. She especially liked it when I rubbed the bit of flesh between her hip and her side. So did I.
"I think you’ll just find fat there," she lied as my hand moved under her pyjama top to her stomach.
I was fishing for a reaction. I needed something I could read, a clear gesture on her part, anything that would give me a direction as to how I should proceed. I had the dangerous impression that I could have done just about anything within my moral compass without objection, but that wasn’t what I wanted. Submission is not affection. But The Toronto Girl very seldom made clear decisions about anything. When I threatened to stop the massage she did ask me to continue... but maybe she just really wanted a massage.
We both started to get tired and shifted positions.
Lying there with nothing left to do but think, I decided that I wanted to know how things stood from her perspective. I was getting frustrated with my total inability to read her, and concerned that perhaps I was the only one who thought there could be something between us.
I leaned over and looked into her eyes. I still could not find my answer there. So I asked a very simple, stupid question.
There are a few reasons why I did this. Some of it involved not wanting to risk a possibly unpleasant situation while I still had to sleep in her apartment for another night. Some it involved a guy named Aristotle.
Aristotle is a 30-year-old guy from Shizuoka who has a gorgeous long-time girlfriend who wants to marry him, but he’s not ready to settle down so he goes out and picks up random girls most weekends—including, most notoriously, the 53-year-old mother of a girl my age. The Toronto Girl is now aware of his proclivities, but she wasn’t quite as informed a year ago. Nearly every time we meet, she brings up the exact same thing:
"You remember Aristotle from Shizuoka?"
"I can’t believe he tried to kiss me… I mean, he has a girlfriend!"
Let’s ignore the fact that, from Grimm’s perspective in the pool hall that night, it looked a lot more like a highly successful and well-received kiss than an aborted attempt. I’ve never pressed her on that… even though I recently realized that it was, in fact, the same night we’d gone out together for my birthday. But it’s not like we were in a relationship or anything.
So I’ve always taken this as a warning that I should be cautious about kissing her. Perhaps I read her intention completely wrong, but that was how I read it.
So I asked, "Can I kiss you?"
"That’s a strange question."
"Can’t you tell?"
"Well… not really…"
She turned and put her arm around me.
"Well… I guess you did invite me into your bed," I grinned.
"I think you need to have more confidence in those things.”.
Confidence. I cringed. If I’d been sure I liked her, I would have been fine. If I’d just received one readable signal from her... It wasn’t so much a matter of confidence as clarity—and I was quietly thinking I’d been quite confident, if dorky and awkward, in attempting to ask Dimples out on Tuesday. Of course, I wasn’t about to mention that.
I decided it would be best if I just told her what I was worried about: that she never gave me any clear signals. When she’d put her arm around me, it had been the first time she’d ever touched me aside from greeting or parting hugs.
She said she hadn’t received any clear signals from me, either.
My brain said, "Nnnaaagh!" but my mouth said, "Well, I had my arm around you all last night…"
"Maybe you just like to cuddle."
And maybe it was my first time touching anyone intimately in over two years. But then, how could she have known that? I always expect too much of the people around me.
I told her I hadn’t found anyone I’d wanted to cuddle with—not since I’d come to Japan.
She said I was arrogant to act like nobody was good enough for me.
I bristled, but she was right, in a way. I had been acting like the big fish. But it wasn’t like people had been throwing themselves in front of me. It was partially because there were so few people in my pond that I wasn’t interested in anyone in it.
"But, I mean, is it arrogant not to go out with someone if you don’t like them? I mean, I’ve never even been really sure about you…"
Wait. That was dumb.
I don't remember precisely what she said at this point, but I know she took her arm away from me and turned around. Then she started listing all the things about me that bugged her.
My brain said, "Fuuuuck."
She said I was the most opinionated person she knew.
That floored me. I’ve always considered one of my greatest weaknesses to be the unhinged variability of my opinions, which I try to convince myself is representative of the Virtue of Open-Mindedness.
She said I always had to express my opinion about everything. I couldn’t let anything slide. I’d question things she said to the extent that sometimes she didn’t know what to say to me.
I was surprised to hear that from her, because half the time I didn’t know what to say to her, either. Her English was too good for me to try to be cute with my childish Japanese, but it wasn’t good enough to catch the irony-and-wordplay commentary that I try to pass off as wit. So I usually ended up gagged with nothing to offer.
"But… isn’t that how you have a conversation?" I floundered. "By questioning what other people say when you don’t understand or don’t agree?"
"Most of my friends just let it slide. They don’t give their own opinions."
"That sounds like a very Japanese attitude."
"My Canadian friends, too."
I decided not to add that it also sounded a little intellectually vacant to me. Part of what I love about my high school friends is that we’ll have a rambling conversation, question what the hell kind of jackass perspective the other person’s statement just came from, and keep on bouncing back and forth because it’s all just an automatic intellectual exercise.
I guess I just like to pick at others and be picked at, and even to pick at myself when I know I’m wrong. The Toronto Girl likes to make statements and let them just hang there. She doesn’t pick up on threads, and seldom offers them. Conversations with her are very difficult.
We both kept quiet for a while.
Finally, figuring I’d made a total mess of this and I could at least use any tips I could get, I asked her how she and her ex-boyfriend in Toronto got together.
She told me they just went out a few times and got along really well. He was really easy-going. He used to laugh at her when she made mistakes in English.
"Was it good laughing or bad laughing—I mean, was he laughing with you or at you?"
"See, there you go again."
"Being all opinionated."
I wanted to put my head under a pillow filled with rocks. I considered noting that she really meant "nit-picky" rather than "opinionated," but it would only have underscored her point.
I suppose this, ultimately, is really why I had to ask what I’d asked: I knew we didn’t work at all, and I was just reaching out to the only option I had.
She never did answer my first question. And in that, I was pretty much sure I had my answer. I got to be rejected again.
That night, I tried to stay separate from her, but it just made me feel worse. So, since it didn’t seem to mean anything to her anyway, I put my arm around her again while she slept. I did sleep a little better.
By morning I was quite convinced that I was destined to be alone for life, vacillating between lamenting my fate and settling in for the long haul.
We got up late again. It bothered me the way she’d just sit up and shoot out of bed without a word. It felt like she was fleeing from me.
As I watched her spend 30 minutes applying lotions to her face after she got out of the shower, I considered that maybe it was a good thing that she didn’t have any interest in me after all. I thought about the way she couldn’t fathom my distain for reality-TV shows and weekend FOX movies, the way she had no problems with lying in bed until 2:00 p.m., the way she clinically questioned my interest in anything childish without even a hint of humour. She was a "cool kid," the kind of person I’d never cared to get along with when I was in school. I was better off without her.
And yet, sitting at a restaurant for our 3:00 p.m. "breakfast," I couldn’t help but find her all the more attractive.
Until now, it had been easy to discount her as "interesting" but not quite… I don’t know… "special" enough to go out with. But now I felt like an idiot for allowing myself to be so convinced of my superiority once again. I’d assumed she’d been waiting for a chance to jump at me, but when the chance came, it turned out that I was the one trying to make the leap. And she just took the platform out from under me. I was dross. A geek. A child. I knew it. And I knew she saw no beauty in childishness. What had I been thinking? She’d been the one on top the whole time.
When we went to see the new Harry Potter movie that evening—my choice, obviously—I was just happy to have a few hours in which I wouldn’t have to think of ways to pay attention to her.
She napped through most of the movie. But I think our bitterness eased a bit by the time we got out and started to head home. We checked out the subway route to the airport online, then we went to bed—together, again. But this time I didn’t touch her.
Part of me wanted to sleep properly so I could wake up at 7:00. Another part of me wanted her to know I wasn’t going to try to be affectionate any more. And I guess a part of me wanted to see if she’d do something if I did nothing at all.
Before we went to sleep, I thanked her for letting me stay over and gave her a little hug as my way of saying, "No hard feelings," but nothing more.
We both woke up before my alarm the next morning. I held her for the three minutes we had before it went off. Then I got into the shower and got all my stuff together.
The Toronto Girl got up just as I was putting my jacket on. I felt a bit badly because I hadn’t wanted to wake her up so early on a holiday Monday.
She wished me a good trip. She asked me to come back soon, and I said the same to her. Then, ever so deliberately, she leaned in a little, pushing her mouth forward. That signal I didn’t miss.
We kissed, I grabbed my stuff, and I headed for the door.
It took about a minute to pull on my hiking boots in her doorway. She waited.
I once again wished her a good trip to Toronto, kissed her for a second time, opened the door and went on my way.
I think I stole that second kiss. Part of me felt bad about it, but I also knew that I would have been dissatisfied if I hadn’t done it.
Her mouth felt very small.
The second kiss felt not so much like a "hello", but more of a "goodbye". And I think I stole the second because I knew it would be some time before there would be any more.
I never saw her again.