Leo Harding and I had met in the grainy depths of a neighbourhood party on a hot summer evening. The garden was filled with empty beer cans and cigarette butts. Sweat pooling on my lower back, breath exasperating from heavy dancing. I had taken a pause from the music to have a cigarette – a small joy that I only allowed myself when I was drinking. Unfortunately, I found myself drinking every Friday. Which in turn allowed me to smoke endlessly every Friday as well. He wandered over introducing himself and feeling guilty about asking to bum a smoke.
“I just feel like, it’s so bad smoking ya know? Just a lot of guilt every time I have one,” he said to me as an unlit Bellmont hung from his mouth. He lit his smoke and passed me back a lighter.
I slid the lighter into my shorts pocket.
“Well that’s up to you really.”
“What is?” he asked, staring at me straight faced.
“The guilt. You decide if you wanna feel guilty about smoking and if the guilt outweighs the pleasure.”
“Hmmm. Well it’s wrong to smoke, so it’s inevitable it will make me feel bad,” he takes a drag.
“Who says it’s wrong? Health care? Government? Society? I mean sure, but you decide how you feel about that. I mean, if you’re going to be rotted about it, stop smoking. If you’re worried about people’s perceptions of you, and that’s a priority, don’t smoke. Ya dig?”
I took a hard draw.
“Right right. You’re something else. Ya dig. You’re funny.”
“I am hilarious. That’s not the half of it.”
We stood in silence. Cigarette smoke going in and out of our lungs. His riddled with shame, mine with enjoyment. He asked me what I did. I asked him the same, our words hung in the smoky air between us. I pitched my cigarette butt into the nearby fire and nodded to Leo.
“Well it’s been a slice.” I gave him a two fingered salute and headed back into the crowd.
“Catch you on the flip side.” he called out while taking his last drag and stomping the butt into the grass.
I remembered a time when I sat with Steve Fraser on the park bench off Wright crescent. The darkened playground facing both of us was like an unlit movie scene. Both of our minds were trembling with alcohol but trying to catch our thoughts and present sobriety to appear focused. A bopped head would snap up in apology, as if either of us would be disappointed with the other for having consumed that evening, even though we had been to the same party all evening with the same intentions.
Eventually he took my hand and guided me towards the swing set. Not a word was spoken from him, and his face came in perfectly clear. He sat down and pulled me on top of him and held my face and kissed me. We kissed in what would appear to be the most uncomfortable position, yet everything was eased. There was no intensity, no fierceness, no rubbing. Just kissing endlessly. I opened my eyes at one point to remember my surroundings and the playground seemed lighter, I could hear the trees rustling, the wind crawling under my shirt and admitting cold. My vision suctioned in and brought me out of my body, shivering by the dampness, feeling the swing chain grind in my hips. I shut my eyes tightly to remove all external senses and displace me back into comfort. I had no concept of time, I had nowhere to be and it felt endless. As if hunger or thirst wouldn’t seep into my bones, as if I would never need to sleep again, as if no bodily urges were ever necessarily from this moment on.
The rest of the evening played out typically, competitive drinking games, side dance offs, conversations with repeated sentences through drunken slurs. A few times Leo and I locked eyes and would cheers a solo cup in one another’s direction. When the night was dying down and we were all sitting around the fire, he mouthed to me to go for another cigarette. I mouthed back we could have one here. But he nodded his head towards the side of the shed away from the crowd.
He stood up and I followed a few minutes later. I passed him a cigarette and he smiled. We were more leisurely now. My brain was foggy with beer, my feet slightly stumbling.
“Why did you bring me over here you weirdo?” I said to him with a cigarette between my lips.
“I don’t know. Bit fuzzy amongst everyone.”
“Well Leo Harding – one might ask what brings you to the weekly barbeque and how did you get here?”
“Ahh well I work with Brad. You know Brad?”
“Yeah yeah, baseball hat, loves hockey, talks about the wrongs of the Trudeau Government too much but doesn’t actually know what the feds do? I know Brad, there are a lot of Brads yeah,” I responded.
He half laughed. “Yeah, that’s him. Loves a good light beer, dies for a hot dog, wishes he never got married, as if he had all these ladies at his disposal.”
“Leo my man, he has ladies lined up and waiting.”
The cigarettes were eventually snuffed out. The party dwindled down, folks passed out on couches, others grabbing cabs – bottles and solo cups strewn, someone pissed out the fire. When I woke the next morning, groggy eyed and sheepish, I turned over in my bed to comfort my hangover with a social scroll. There awaited Leo Harding’s friendship request.
I creeped through some of his profile, slight pangs of anxiety hitting me at the idea of being busted liking a past post. There wasn’t too much there to review – couple beers with buds, landscapes – nothing jarring or telling. No photos of him head on. I closed my eyes trying to remember his face. Piecing it together slowly in my mind, memory easing in parts through distilled vision. From what I could remember it felt right. There were few things I could reach out and touch and feel safe and good.
When I was about six years old – my parents took my brother and I to Trinity Loop. I remember every piece of that feeling completely proper and as it was meant to be. We rode a train and spent the day plowing through typical theme park adventures – bumper boats, ferris wheel, miniputt, ice cream cones and late night fires. My brother and I walked away from the weekend with fake train conductor hats, messy hair and happy hearts. Even the drive home was laced with pastime trivia. The Supremes, CCR and Elton John played on a loop from the wood paneled dashboard. All placed perfectly, moments falling together with laughter, spewing jokes that would be repeated, days ending with tuck-ins and forehead kisses and filthy hair. Deep sleeps and amber sunlit rises.
Leo Harding’s face felt like that. Simplified and inviting. Safe yet attractive. There was a pull between us in tobacco filled air, yet barely anything was said. I could picture myself driving the backroads with him talking shit and drinking coffee. Smooth and easy.
I added him and decided to message him relatively quickly. Skip pleasantries and mindfucks.
“How’s the lungs? Filled with shame I presume.”
“Ahh yes guilt and heaviness.”
“Well then you get to decide what you do with that.”
“I haven’t got a set plan here. Try to shower away the scent and mental health implications.”
Our conversation flowed easily. We riffed back and forth, covering numerous topics: vaccine hesitation, the sweetness of pocket watches, glorious television series, the pros and cons of social media – arching over so many ideas, it seemed like we were on the same page for most things, though it was general and safe.
Eventually I rolled myself out of bed satisfied with the conversation that had run through, unsure of how to taper it off and start the day. Tossing my phone on the bed and heading barefoot to the kitchen to brew some coffee. Shivering from the removal of bedclothes.
I remembered that time again with Steve Fraser and I – we had no history, we had no attraction, we just fell into a drunk walk home that led to such an outcome. Once our bodies unlocked he walked me home. I don’t even think we kissed goodbye at departure. It was impactful within the time it happened, but meant nothing the minute it ended. I wondered if I could ever feel a moment like that again, one without connection.
Sometimes we want those moments, unconnected but yet connected by our bodies. Sometimes we only want it that way. Closing our eyes to not take the person in, craving touch.
This desperation gives into whatever you can get. When you wake up alone every morning, and suddenly have hands on your body, your limbs and structure ignore all messaging and take it in. It’s so curious when the body guides the motive, rather than the mind and you let it. You drop all thoughts and digest every touch to fill up what feels like your soul. There is a hope it will carry you for some time. You try to bank touch for the solo moments when you only have your own hands.
Coffee now steaming in a large cup, hugged by both my hands I returned to my bed – slipping my legs under the bed clothes. I picked back up my phone in anticipation of seeing more messages from Leo Harding. Willing his name onto the front of my screen to hit my dopamine receptors ever so slightly. The screen stood blank staring back at me. I sipped my coffee, opened the phone and typed.
“Wanna give into your guilt and have a cigarette with me this Saturday morning?”