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Dorothy Dances in the Land of Oz

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–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 IDs 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 onebedroom
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—
Dorothy—
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.

 

© – Ellise Ramos 2013

 

Photography from Johnny Gordolon. Click here to view more of Johnny’s work or to contact him.