Sitting on the bed of my one-and-a-half room studio apartment in Montréal, I hear a knock. I peer through the peephole then open the door. My hands go to the empty pockets of my jeans. “Sal,” I say. “I have nothing to give you.”
“The rent is due, Donna,” he shouts. “Today!” “Sal, what can I do? I have no money. I’m sorry.”
“You are already five days late,” he shouts again. “I could throw you out.” “Then do that!” I slam the door in his face.
Sal knocks again. The panic in my body forces me to lie down on my bed. The rent is two hundred and fifty dollars. I can’t afford it.
I sublet my apartment to my Ugandan cousin, Dora, who is in Canada doing her
Ph.D. in electrical engineering at McGill.
I move back to Toronto.
The first day home, after dropping off my bags at my mother’s house in Markham, I go to the Lillian H. Smith Library at Spadina Avenue and College Street. I first look for a job in The Toronto Star and then I go to the computer room on the second floor. I type at the speed of a mind on crack and communicate with new and old friends on my online virtual salon community group. I feel someone staring at me and look up. A smooth-skinned man, with a shaved head and a silver hoop pierced through his left ear, looks at me with an odd expression. I look down and continue to type.
After a few minutes, I log off and stand to leave. The man follows me down the stairs of the library. When I reach the bottom he finally speaks. “What is your name?”
I step away from the staircase because he stands on the second step and I need to back away just to look into his eyes. He’s tall—about six foot, seven inches—with silky chocolate skin. His voice has a Creole accent and I know right away he is Haitian. Many Haitians live in Montréal.
“Are you from Montréal?” I ask him in, French.
“Yes,” he replies in Creole. “I go to school here in Toronto. I am a music producer. My name is Alan.”
I tell him my name and look more closely at him. He wears a black silk shirt and black slacks. His shoes, also black, look recently shined.
“What school do you go to?”
“Trebas Institute,” he says, in English. “Have you heard of it?” I nod. “You type really fast,” he says. I nod.
He slumps his shoulders a bit. “Can I get your number?” I’m cautious. “Why?”
He opens his mouth and before he says anything, I smile. I realize what he wants.
“Okay,” I say. I pick a black pen out of my purse and write down my mother’s phone number on a page I tear from my journal.
“Thank you,” he says. He looks carefully at the number. “I will call you soon.”
It’s Thursday. I hear from Alan on Friday. On Saturday, he picks me up in a white 1996 Honda Civic with really, really low seats. We drive down to the lake and take a walk around Ashbridges Bay near The Beaches.
Shortly after I meet Alan, my old friend Diane, who I have known since my Carleton days, helps me get a job on a CBC program called Culture Shock. I will work freelance for them in Toronto; however, the training takes place in Montréal.
Alan drives me to the train station.
Every day, I check my email for Alan’s messages:
Alan: Donna, I love you. I miss you. When am I going to see you again?
Donna: I can’t leave Montréal right now. I am still working. Aren’t you working too?
Alan: I can work from anywhere. I am going to come see you. Would this weekend work? I can stay a few days.
It has only been one week since we last saw each other.
Alan and I go to a park near my apartment. He stands in front of me and pushes me on a swing.
“Donna, I have something to tell you,” he says. I stare at him.
“What is it?” I whisper. I drag my feet to stop swinging. Silence.
“I’m married.” I stare at him.
“She’s Trinidadian. She needed a visa to come to Canada. Her family paid me twenty-five thousand dollars to marry her.”
I continue to simply stare at him. I think of the twenty-three thousand dollars of school loans I owe.
“Well, Alan.” I sit on the still swing. “Thank you for telling me.” He stands in front of me with his hands in his pockets. “It’s just that
I want to marry you, Donna,” he says. “I just want you to understand that first I
would need to get a divorce. I can. She has her papers now.” “You want to marry me?” “Yes, very much.”
“Then…there is something you should know.” He stands quietly and waits. I slide off the swing. “I suffer from depression.”
“What?” Alan shouts. “You are crazy! You mean I want to marry a crazy woman?”
Oh, my God, I think. Thank God I didn’t tell him it’s really manic depression. “Are you taking medication?” “Yes.”
“What?” Alan shouts again. “You shouldn’t take medication! You know my mom’s a nurse and that stuff will kill you! It will kill our baby!”
Lord, I think, I haven’t even agreed to marry this motherfucker, let alone have his kid.
We fight every week for the month he’s in Montréal. He can’t get over the fact that I take medication and he keeps calling me crazy. He insists that I go off my medication, which by this point I have discovered actually helps me. Ironically, his mother is a psychiatric nurse.
I’m stressed out about my summer job with Culture Shock.
Alan discourages me. He doubts all my story ideas for the production company. But strangely he encourages me to start my own Internet radio station.
He writes a song for me and we make up. Then Alan calls me crazy again and we break up.
He is a lousy lover. I’m not going to put up with any man who gets off on me but doesn’t reciprocate. When we argue, Alan shouts constantly and tells me that everything I do is wrong. He says he hates all the “black bitches” in Canada and he’s just going to go to Haiti and find himself a woman there. He is of typical marrying age, I guess, about thirty-two. But when angry he acts like a two-year-old. He is giving me a huge headache so I kick him out of my apartment in the pouring rain. To make sure he’s gone, I open my drapes and watch him leave.
Days later, I start having regrets. I’ve told all my friends that Alan is “the one” for me. To save face perhaps, I phone him and try to reconcile. He says he knows I really care about him because I looked out the window when he left. But he turns me down.
I am not hurt. I’m actually relieved. I just didn’t want to be the one to end things. I gave him the decision to make and that was like my present to him.
Later on, he changes his mind. He calls for months afterward, but I have call display and I do not answer unwanted calls.
After I break up with Alan, I do go off my medication and I have another breakdown. Again, I end up in the Brief Therapy Unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montréal. I leave after three days to return to Toronto and my freelance job for the CBC.
The job does not last long.
I have a panic attack while on the set and the best advice my boss gives me is to find some little job back in Montréal. I take his advice, in a way. I return to Montréal and maintain some equilibrium with mania, enough to go to the convocation at Concordia in November.