Dorothy Dances in the Land of Oz

Originally published by Swept Media in December 21, 2013.

–and I’m holding her hand as tightly as I could, like capturing light in between clenched fists, like encapsulating a deluge in a teacup—hopeless, but I held on anyway. 

In hindsight, this was the essence of our friendship—undying love and futile desperation; starvation only the half-dead could relate to, that addiction to life and omnipotence and everything in between.

At the crosswalk on the corner of Bloor and Spadina, I saw her: that slump of a walk and lucid shoulder movement couldn’t belong to anyone else. We glanced at each other—she was wearing a plaid shirt and blood-red pants, while hemp bracelets clung to her tiny wrist.

I was different. Blazer on top of a pencil skirt, eyes behind purple-rimmed glasses—could she recognize me? Despite my lack of bright colours, despite the absence of ripped jeans? I dressed carefully now; identity has now taken the backseat, while caution steered the wheel. 

And yet she did. It was unmistakable. A look crossed her face like a death sentence: her lips were firm, unmoving. Dorothy, across the street, beside Second Cup, where we once entered, holding hands at three in the morning—four golden years ago—in between cars and the 510 Spadina streetcar zipping by—held back emotions so efficiently. 

She recognized me, despite my un-dyed hair and clear fingernails. 

The language she spoke through the stillness of her body was raw, un-edited, and Gonzo. She communicated to me unapologetically and relentlessly—as pertinacious as she was when she used to look at me with those eyes that stung of contradictions and lullabies. I quivered in response, so silently gripped by guilt and regret: I didn’t mean to leave you, but I did, and even if I knew why, the reason wouldn’t be enough to heal the scars I left permanently etched in your history.

So in the time it took for the pedestrian light to turn on, I backtracked:

We met at the twilight of our lives on our first year of university. I met her in a party made of mostly boys. I was drunk and just starting to feel unsafe, when she calmed my environment down by sitting next to me, smiling awkwardly, telling me about her sister, and how she was sick. Her next confession was whether or not we should go, but even then her vibrancy got the best of her—so we decided to stay. I learned then that I was going to live next to her for the rest of the year. Even then I knew she was the kind of girl I could fall in love with.

Our friendship grew through moments of “we have to’s”. We were seventeen when we first explored downtown Toronto, dressed up unapologetically, leather jackets and mini-skirts abound. Every bar turned us away: “If you don’t have ID’s girls, we can’t serve you beer.”

On one last act of desperation, she called her 19-year-old friend, currently frat-living. He met us, casual and cool, in his white shirt and flip flops. He led us to a dingy bar lit by candlelight, filled with other college students, and ordered a pitcher as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Heart-shaped Box filled the awkward silence in between sips of watered-down domestic beer.

Through dark streets, she led me; we danced to the light of her white sneakers—it showed us the way. She took me in her room and rolled a cigarette wrapped in tinfoil; I hugged her from behind and smelled her hair. Sweet Jane played forever.

And then a dull came into the chaos of our lives and shook everything into standstill: her sister’s funeral. I said, reassuringly, “Yes, I’ll come. Of course, I’ll come” knowing, even as I was saying it, that I wouldn’t. Was I that horrible? 

When she called me the next day I didn’t pick up. Eventually, she stopped calling at all.

Two years passed before she saw me at a party again. I was drunk and was just starting to feel unsafe, when she calmed my environment down by sitting next to me, smiling awkwardly and yelling over the music, “I missed you!” 

She took my hand and led me away from the bustling house, past the dancing bodies. We spilled outside, where she sat me down in the middle of the street and began a tirade of what happened to her in the years of our silence. Her confessions were heartfelt and saddening, and I tried to make the mood light by laughing. She looked at me weird for the first time. It was our first miscommunication.

We ended up inside her room, two girls on top of a bed, suddenly feeling very stretched out and exhausted. That night she told me more about her sister, and how she missed her, and asked me if it will ever be possible to get over this kind of thing. I couldn’t answer her with words so I held her in my arms in an attempt to join her. We shared each other’s tragedies.

She was driving. Her hair was in a ponytail and her fingers drummed on the steering wheel as I stared out my window and watched the blur of downtown lights. I remember her saying that after I graduate I was going to be insanely depressed, just like she was, after realizing that the world didn’t give instant feedback, like the ones we got when we turned in a good essay.  But that being insanely depressed was somehow okay, as long as we had each other. I remember feeling really good about that, and feeling confident about a future I was sure was going to happen.

 A few hours later I got tired of sitting across from her in the bar so I sat beside her, and with a huge grin on her face she put her legs on top of mine and said, “I’m doing this because I love you” and it was the first time in a long time that I heard those words and actually believed them, without feeling scared, without feeling hesitant.

She looked at me, her eyes glazed over, barely open. The only thing someone could see in her face from a mile away was that giant, genuine smile.

Our lunacies and weekend benders on Queen Street became inseparable from her; she rented a tiny apartment on Stephanie Street for $1,100 a month so she could continue. This one-bedroom became the starting point of all our Friday nights: from her balcony we smoked and drank and watched the CN tower change colour. By midnight we were wandering into Sneaky Dee’s, Nocturne and Labyrinth. One night we tried to eat at Smoke’s Poutinerie and met two guys, where our conversation went from colourful nails to after-hours hangouts. Before we knew it we were descending stairs towards either heaven or infinite abyss: laser lights spewed from every corner, sticky streamers bled on the floor. 

And then I went to her parent’s house and she left me inside her sister’s room while she slept . The room was green and strangely empty, despite all of the things her sister left behind. Nothing was moved or re-arranged. The only sign that told me she was gone were her ashes inside a silver cup placed on top of her desk—a vibrant green room that holds in its hands—the ashes of a girl forever twenty-one. 

Despite my conscience, I sat in her sister’s chair and opened the single notebook laying there. On the first page, Dorothy had written: This year is the first year that I am older than my sister

It hit me then—whatever it was—and a cold, sad desperation held me and wouldn’t let go. How does grief work? Does it go away as time pass? Or does losing someone just becomes more and more hauntingly familiar? 

Eventually Dorothy’s calls became more frequent, at random times of the night, 3 AM, 4 AM, her panicked screams on the other line. The responsibility that came with loving Dorothy began to weigh me down. Other times it was good, like when we watched the sunlight stream through the curtains and listened to the birds sing—but they became fewer and fewer and too far in between. 

The last conversation I allowed to have with her took place in the bathroom stall of another’s bar’s washroom; I was taking photos of the graffiti when she said, choked up and sniffling: “You’re my sister now, do you understand? That’s who you’ve become.”

And I said nothing. 

Just stared at the wall that said in felt marker: But for now we are young. Let us lay in the sun and count every beautiful thing we can see.

Dorothy: I think you may have been the closest thing to love I ever felt. But when you’re young, something in that feels too fragile, too frightening. 

I could explain to you why I left, and pepper you with apologies. I could write a long reply, to make up for the e-mails I ignored, in an attempt to jot down what I thought happened, in a cogent, logical form, with a clear beginning and an even smoother end. 

Or I could insert answers to where there are none, and form conclusions to the things we never addressed. I could start by saying, “Loving you came with the commitment of healing you, something I couldn’t handle at the time, but I didn’t know it.” I could give reasoning to my actions, even though I know, deeply, that my actions lacked meaning, nor thought, that I had lost control over time, and words: all that existed during those days was space, filled to the brim with emptiness, overflowing with mindlessness.

Or I could tell you that I’m okay, that I have a job now, and that I moved to Toronto. And so, what are you up to now? Maybe we can meet up for coffee sometime—and end it nicely, neatly, as civil and cautious as it could possibly be.

Or I could do nothing, because she didn’t warrant a reply, and I wouldn’t want to overwrite.

And so, when the light turned green, all I did was whisper wordlessly—


And hoped the half-sound would turn her into the woman she always wanted to be, the one that danced in transcendental existentiality, the girl forever young and euphoric in the confines of my mind, as she stood in the afternoon sun that peeked through the buildings of downtown Toronto.

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