Ex Marks the spot

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December doesn’t always bring snow in Toronto and maybe that’s why this particular one was making up for lost time. During that year, I was still living with my parents (as I had done on and off between the ages of 18-28). I did have a car but, you know the saying: as long as you’re under my roof, you’re still under my rules? Yeah, my parents knew it too, meaning getting out of the house at night was a reward, not a right….

“I want you to see her!” Mark’s voice was always high but today in particular, it was soaring. He loved cars. I loved him. So of course I wanted in badly.

“I want to see her too. Can we go for a ride or is she more like a poser car?”

“Poser?” His voice deepened.

“Yea you know, good for a pic but can’t work for shit!”

“Oh no Shannon, she’s a 91 Volkswagen Fox and she definitely still works. It’s a Brazilian-built subcompact, 5 speed sedan. Super rare and in pretty decent condition, all things considered.”

--Can we pause for a second for some full disclosure? I have zero clue what the hell he actually said, I Googled that description. I didn’t know cars then and I don’t know them now. How he said it - yea I got that part but what he said exactly? Let’s assume it was somewhere along those lines. Alright let’s carry on.

“Okay you have me convinced come get me! I’ll take us for celebratory cake at this good spot near me.”

He groaned, “Your parents live so far. I can’t make it all the way to the suburbs tonight in this snow. Maybe another time. I’m about to take her on her first gas run, just around the corner that’s all I can risk. I’d love for you to join me, but if you don’t wanna drive here I understand...”  

My heart sank, of course I wanted to but how? It was snowing pretty hard outside and getting permission to drive in bad weather at night would be like asking to borrow the liquor cabinet for a school project. But hey, if snowy backdrops are good for anything it’s miracles!

i knew it would be stupid to go, but i also knew that I had to go.

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A bit of back story?

At that point, I had known Mark for a few years. When I was 18, I took on a gig as an extra in movies and on some real Hollywood shit, day one, I saw Mark. He was beautiful, the center of all the extras attention and all I could think about as I stuffed my face full of complimentary cheese puffs. I knew that in order to get his attention, I had to do something bold. How bold? I shoulder checked Lindsay Lohan on screen. The cut made it into the movie and to this day, I still get the “ARE YOU IN THE BEGINNING OF MEAN GIRLS?!?” comment weekly. Still, making a tiny cameo in a cult classic aside, seeing Mark for the first time was definitely the coolest thing about that day.

“I haven’t seen you on set before.” He was confident, well groomed and well liked. I felt the shift of the attention on us for the seconds that his was on me.

“yeah i guess you could say i’m a movie-set virgin. or was… Lindsay lohan just popped my camera cherry. I saw you watching. that makes you a perv,” I said.

He laughed, “Ah okay. Well, anyways I hope this is not your last.”

He walked away sensing his work was done. He was correct.

I remember that initial conversation vividly like I had experienced it in a thousand past lives. For this reason I don’t subscribe to the “you just know when you’ve met the right one” adage. At my age, I had experienced that magical feeling of perfectly connecting to a perfect stranger at least five times, meaning I was either meant to be a polygamist or the cosmos were fucking with me.

So let’s fast forward to the obvious question: had Mark and I been dating for five years strong since that magical day on set where the cameraman blurred him out but I set my entire focus on him? No. The next time I saw him we exchanged numbers, went on cheap dates, had sex and lost touch for months at a time until I’d bump into him in on some lucky movie set and the cycle would repeat. But admittedly this go around was different. I worked a job (a real one) close to where he lived meaning we saw each other a lot more and I held back my true feelings a lot less. This was the closest I’d been to his heart and after years of hurdling obstacles to get here - fluffy water on a winter’s day was the least of my concerns.

so, like i said: on that december day come hell or frozen water, I was going to see mark.

“I’m too old to have another kid so I’m going to have to stick with you - the answer is no,” my mom wasn’t even entertaining the idea with eye contact.

I pressed on, “Why it isn’t even that bad outside. I’ve driven to work in way worse. Please I don’t ask everyday and today I need you to understand and let me go.”

My mom pushed away from her computer frustrated and stared me down, “If it’s that important for you to see each other why doesn’t he come here?”

The lie came so quick I tricked myself, “He doesn’t have a car yet and the bus system isn’t running at full capacity at this hour. Please mom? I promise no highways, all street driving and if it’s too bad I will turn back. Isn’t this the reason you made me spend two paychecks on snow tires?”

She waved her hands dismissively, then turned away without saying another word. She was disappointed and that was fine with me. I didn’t need her enthusiasm, I needed an exit.

The roads were worse than I thought. What would have been a twenty-five minute drive hours earlier was now at least three times that. Luckily, several near-death face offs with light posts later, I made it to his street. I exhaled, uncurled my shoulders and took out my phone to text my arrival, but spotted him before hitting send so I hit my horn instead. I saw Mark stiffen then soften once he realized it was me - that small act of intimacy made the drive worth it. He waved me down to stop so I pulled up beside him.

“Get out! Get out! Look at her and get out!”

Oh I was looking at her alright. The car was a literal piece of junk. Again I’ll admit I don’t know much about cars, but if I had to describe this one I’d say, think of the first car you’ve ever drawn. Now choose the sharpest crayon in the pack - you know the one you never used because it’s so ugly? Yeah, color your box car in with that.

I slid into a parking spot behind him and got out. Seconds after my shoes hit the snow my ass followed suit. Mark tackled me, covering me in kisses and tickled me from my neck to my thighs. I laughed even though I could barely feel his touch through my thick winter coat.

“I’m so so glad you’re here, I’m so happy to share this with you.” He kissed me then got up and ran back over to his shit box. I laid there a little longer basking.

He yelled back, “Come on, get up. It’s not nap time Shannon we’ve got places to go!”

I stood up, brushed the snow from my butt with my sleeve and noticed Mark was doing the same for his car. I walked over as his glove-less hands ran over what had to be stone cold metal.

“Don’t you have a snow brush?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t get one yet.”

Now it was my turn to run. I slid to my backdoor and pulled it open to retrieve my snow brush. Still wet from use, I rushed it back over to Mark who was now sweeping the hood with his other sleeve.

“Here!” I extended the yellow handle to him.

“Oh thank you, that’ll work better!”

He grabbed it and finished clearing the rest of the car in no time. When he was done he smiled and gestured to hand the brush back to me, I shook my head, he furrowed his brows.

“It’s a gift! A congratulations on making a big commitment that I know means a lot to you.”

He still wasn’t sold. “What will you use?”

“Oh I have another one in my trunk, it’s newer so you can’t have that one.” I lied again. Seems like I did that a lot.

“You’re sure?”

I nodded, concerned that he would ask me to present this phantom brush.

“Well okay then! Thank you Shannon, seriously thank you.”

My brain flooded with all the feel-goods and it was my turn to tackle him. I don’t remember much else of that night, but the word “warm” definitely comes to mind.

In the final weeks of December, the snow slowed down along with contact from Mark. It was beginning to feel a lot like deja vous, but that didn’t make this round any less painful. I played all the usual reindeer games: I started seeing other guys I wasn’t interested in, I’d “accidentally” text and a few times after work I even drove by his place to see if his car was out front. It never was. The words unrequited love were beginning to harden in my resolve until one out-of-the-blue day I got a text:

Hey sorry I’ve been so busy. I see your posts online so I know you’re alive and well! Wanna go to the movies tonight? There’s this one I’m dying to see.

Of course I was out the door and in my car before he started a new game of hide-and-seek with me. When I got to his place once again his car wasn’t out front. A wave of dread washed over me: had I misread his message? I sent him a followup text to say I was outside.

Five long minutes later, he was knocking at my window, “Aren’t you gonna let me in?”

I unlocked the passenger side and reached across to hug him before he could even sit down. He jerked and slipped a little. Holy fuck, how awkward.

“Where’s your car?” I asked trying to glaze over that stutter.

“It’s in the shop.” He sighed and reclined in the chair. “It’s been back and forth getting fixed since I got it. Sucks because I really did my research.”

I felt bad for him, but better about us since clearly his car was the problem, not his feelings for me! My spirits began to rise, but they didn’t get very far. By the time we got to the movies it was clear that things between us were very different. His answers were short, the silent stretches were long and he kept searching around his seat as if he was hoping to find an eject button. Jury is out if he woulda hit it for himself, or me. Anyway, we went ahead and saw the movie he wanted to see. What movie? I have zero fucking clue. I’d like to blame that blank space on memory, but I’m sure if you went back in time and asked me the morning after, I wouldn’t have known either. Mark was cold and I spent the entire two hours paying attention to his body language. When the credits rolled he was the first to get up and into the aisles, I followed him and bumped my way out of the dim theater. We walked quickly through the hallway as I tossed out a few crude jokes that all landed flat on their back.

Just before we reached the exit he stopped and turned to me, “Hand me your keys. I’ll pull the car up, it’s starting to come down pretty hard.”

I looked passed him to see an entirely different world than the one we had rode in on. I nodded in agreement, dug into my pocket then handed over the keys. He grabbed them, nodded back then zipped up his coat as he prepared to enter the storm on both of our behalves. The gesture should have felt romantic, but instead it felt a lot more like getting up for the old lady on the bus after your mom elbowed you in the ribs.

“Six feet, black hair, brown eyes, black jeans, brown coat... black heart.”

He stared at me blankly waiting for me to continue, so I did, “That’s the description I’ll tell the police if you make a break with my car.”

That time he at least forced a fake laugh. I didn’t crack a smile.

Mark opened the doors and entered the blizzard, I stayed inside and watched him until he faded to white like the end of a 1940s film. I stood in that doorway and felt it all: embarrassment, rejection, fear, loneliness, hopelessness, grief, anger. I thought back over the entirety of our relationship: What was I missing? What did I do wrong?

Why. Not. Me?  

I pondered that question for a while until something didn’t feel right. Time. A lot of it had passed and Mark still hadn’t pulled up with the car. I pulled off my cute leather jacket, which in light of the weather change was a wildly inappropriate choice, and covered my head as I exited the calm into the storm.

The snow was coming down so thick I could barely stand to look up, I stumbled around the parking lot trying to spot my car among the sea of frosted cans. I was about to reach for my phone and awkwardly ask if he had in fact stolen it, but then I saw something much worse a few cars ahead: deja vous. Mark was bent over the hood of my car wiping my snow-covered windows with just his sleeve.

I could also see that my trunk was open. a trunk that held many things like tennis rackets, Tupperware, empty soda cans, jackets, dress shoes, loose paper, fast food cartons, but, no snow brush.

I honestly thought about going back inside and pretending I never saw him, but in that moment he looked up with what I can only describe as the most irritated expression.

My eyes started to well with tears as I took steps towards him, but I was determined not to throw in the towel on love. I thought of a million witty quips to downplay my lie, but as soon as I got within ear shot without looking up he said, “You don’t have a second snow brush, do you? As soon as we get back to my place, I’m giving yours back.”

And with that, what was there really left to say? We drove with the radio turned up and true to his word as soon as we got back to his place he hopped out and asked me to wait. Minutes later he emerged from the garage with a familiar yellow object. He jogged back to my car and extended it steps before reaching me making the intention for distance clear.

“Thanks for letting me use it all this time and thanks for driving me tonight.”

Thanks for driving me tonight?!? That was something I’d say sarcastically to an Uber driver that I was about to give 2 stars and no tip. I thought about starting an argument, but Mark’s arm looked like it was getting tired and I realized, so was I.

I took the snow brush from him, “Alright bruh, have a good night. And thanks to you too for...”

Both of us filled in the blank without having to say the word: nothing. Which, also best described what we shared from that day forward.

To add insult to the greatest injury of my fragile heart, about a month later, I learned that Mark had gotten into a full-blown relationship with someone else. Admittedly, I didn’t take it very well... I don’t recall ever feeling so angry towards anyone as I did towards Mark. The next few times that I saw him on set, I yelled, threatened to spit on him and on good days, I completely ignored him. But, he deserved it, right?

I mean come on, he was an asshole! A womanizer! a sociopath! a user! a big fat meanie!

Never once did it occur to me that it was probably a whole lot of me in there too. Not even for a second did it dawn on me that perhaps it wasn’t just that he was incapable of being a good guy - it may have also been that for some reason, he didn’t see me as a good fit.

In my quest to protect my ego at all costs, I completely missed out on the opportunity to gain the lesson through that loss.

I kid you not, I never spoke to Mark again until I had to for a self-induced assignment in the summer of 2018. And when we had that long overdue conversation, I finally saw the full, brutal picture our falling out and my faults.

Turn to page 73 in the game of desire to read about how our conversation went down…
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