Montreal, Quebec
July 7, 2000

Dear X,

I was watching Frasier and had just gone into the kitchen to get some crackers when the phone rang. The moment I heard Cassidy’s voice, I knew there had always been this small part of me that had been doing nothing in the past four years but sit by the phone, waiting for something out there to bring her back to me. Through all kinds of relationships, there had been late drunken nights where I had punched her name into every search engine on the net trying to turn up any stupid little trace of her I could get.

The last time I had seen Cassidy was about a year after we had broken up. I was sitting in a Second Cup when she walked through the door in a big Joni Mitchell hat. Right behind her was a big blond boy, also in a big hat. The friend I was having coffee with thought it was the most ridiculous thing she had ever seen, them walking in with their big floppy hats, but all I could think was that it could have been me. I could have been the schmuck in the matching hat trailing behind her.

Her new beau looked like her type, too. Whenever we ran into old boyfriends of hers on the street, inevitably, they were big boys in army shorts and Kodiak boots, the laces undone, and their Ray Ban sunglasses pulled up onto their heads keeping their floppy bangs out of their eyes. They were the kind of guys who loped around swigging from monstrous jugs of milk, jugs bigger than my upper torso.

Cassidy and I looked nothing alike. She was this sparkly-eyed child star all grown-up, and I was someone’s uncle Shecky as a young man. Cassidy had long blond hair, and I had friends who called her Miss Piggy. When she shook their hands they said it was like a little pig had gotten right up on its hind legs and offered them a hoof. Cassidy was a very eccentric dresser, wearing sparkly little gloves and skirts made of neck ties. She wore Superman T-shirts, big British combat boots, and colourful leotards like a little girl. There was something about her that made me feel like she was my sister, my baby-sitter, my daughter, and the bank teller I could never have all rolled up into one. But she was also so oddly beautiful to me and I remember nights where it felt like I could have stared at her face forever.

One time we were sitting in a bar, drinking gin and tonics and not saying much when a very drunk woman came over and said that we really looked interesting together.

"When people say stuff like that," I said afterwards, "they make the world a less cold place to be." And for the rest of the night I felt like we were Nico and Lou Reed.

We had met in an intro to Shakespeare class at McGill. After years of dead-end jobs, I had decided to go back to college and I was easily four years older than anyone in any of my classes. She sat beside me and we played hangman. She would choose quotes from Richard the Second, and I would use lines like "I feel like chicken tonight." Cassidy later told me that she and her friends had nicknamed me "Fonzie."

"In a good way," she said.

Cassidy started having me over to her house for study sessions where she’d make me fish sticks. I hadn’t had stuff like that since I was a kid. Pretty soon we started dating.

From the get-go, we never got along. Once as we were leaving a party at her friends, as we were walking down their winding staircase, Cassidy, being the playful drunk kitten she was, ran off ahead of me, and that was how we walked all the way back to her house, with her at least a block and a half ahead of me, and she never looked back once. I tried to be cool. I even lingered over a box of books someone had thrown away. I rooted through it for a while and withdrew a copy of Soul On Ice, but by the time I made it to her house I had wrung it to shreds. There was the time she so thoroughly insulted my artistic vision that I came very close to running her over as she got out of my car to walk through the McGill campus gates; but instead I sat there, revving the engine and honking the horn as though to say: "Look at me! I’m impotent with rage!"

But there was tenderness, too, like how she would greet me at her door in the middle of the night in her Little House on the Prairie flannel night gown and sleepily babble about the dream she had just woken out of involving Theodore Dreiser; how she told me, when we took showers together, that with my hair slicked back I looked like a 1950’s teen idol; how she said I had the perfect penis, and I said that was the kind of compliment that sticks with a person; how she would repeat over and over about how she and her Chinese roommate, living under the same roof together, were every freshman boy’s wet dream; how she said in her little-girl voice that from this time forward she was going to "keep her pie-hole shut"; how she told me that if she had to choose one person to spend the rest of her life with on a desert island, it would be me. There were picnics on Nun’s Island that started off with Camembert cheese and foreign beer and ended in horrible fights about things I can no longer remember. There were so many fights, fights with yelling in the park, fights in pup tents, fights that scared her roommates.

To be honest, much of her anger towards me was justified. I had just gotten over a three and a half year relationship, and was never willing to commit in the way that I should have. Every so often, as we lay in bed she would smilingly ask me if I wanted to "go around" with her. That was what they used to call going steady in her old high school.

"What’s the point of all that?" I said. "What’s so bad about taking things as they come?"

She explained to me that if I was her boyfriend, or even just her friend, she would bake me a cake on my birthday, but as her fuck-buddy, baking me a cake would just somehow be a really cheesy thing to do.

And now here was her voice again. I could hear her eyes, off to the side and uncertain, her leotarded legs twisted around each other like licorice.

One of the first things she said was that she was thinking of becoming a mortician in order to best deal with her death anxiety. I told her that a lot of morticians fuck corpses and she said that I was still the same old asshole. We argued for a while and then she told me that the only reason she had even called me in the first place was to tell me that she was engaged.

If she was looking for some kind of reaction, she certainly got it. My stomach suddenly felt like a sandwich bag filled with sea-monkeys leaking water all over the place. I sat down on the kitchen floor and stared up at the dirty dishes in my sink as she talked about her new life.

"I’m brilliantly happy," she said.

She described her fiancé as some kind of saint, the kind of guy who spends whole afternoons talking to homeless people and really trying to solve their problems.

"Is he tall? " I asked.

"He’s shorter than me," she said.

As we talked, she kept interrupting to get her cats a treat.

"I’ve become a real cat person," she said. "My cats are my life."

Of course I was tempted to say a great many things on the subject of her cat-personhood, but I wasn’t going to take the bait.

"That’s great," I said, and there had to have been a trace of something other in my voice—how could there not have been—but she wasn’t biting either.

She told me that for Y2K, she and Richard, her fiancé, had gone up to his parents’ place in the country with enough food and water to last them a few months, just in case something happened. I imagined her doing the shopping for them the way she did for our picnics, not skimping on anything, getting Dijon instead of regular brown mustard.

As stupid as it was, I sat there listening to her and wondering how she could have failed to fit me into her plan, how she could have been willing to leave me to die in the final reckoning.

Her cats were driving her crazy, being "very bad" so she had to go. I told her Richard was a very lucky man. I was tempted to add, "as long as you manage to keep your pie-hole shut," but I refrained.

There are some mornings where I wake up and feel like every woman I’ve ever loved is right on my chest, just sitting there, drinking coffee and talking to each other. It’s like a part of you never entirely lets go. I wish I could say I’m going to get up now and toss away the nutty mix tapes Cassidy made me, but I never get around to buying much new music.

I’m going to leave a special request in my will, asking for Cassidy to be my mortician. Look at him, all smug, she’ll probably say.


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