Borders and breathing


I’ve outlined borders of several relationships. Sometimes the boundaries of these emotional territories are marked with caution tape. Other times, the understanding that we occupy different territories is only implicit, the spaces not clearly demarcated.

I am good at challenging those self-erected borders when I feel like it. I’m not always successful (most often am not), but it allows me to settle my own mind about any territorial dispute. Sometimes the borders shift. Sometimes they are confirmed with walls. Sometimes I leave a  little opening in the fence where a person could come through. Sometimes I mend that hole.

I am not good with having my borders challenged. I concede them too easily. A glance, a touch, and I am undone. I am ready to tear down the fences I’ve erected, call the territory dispute off, give all my land away.

There have been a lot of borders contested this week.


Shea left for China this morning. She’s been gone from Toronto for a month already, but her year of travel only begins officially today. She doesn’t have a phone anymore.

I said goodbye to her the night before I left for Glasgow. She was packing her apartment and took a little break to deliver some things to my house, then sit with me on her couch surrounded by boxes, not talking much. When it came time to leave, we hugged until she told me to leave before she broke down. We said so long for now because it won’t be forever, we’ll see one another again. Two sets of blue eyes were swimming.

I walked down the street and some of the tears spilled over. My chest was tight and it was hard to breathe. These breathless moments come to me often.

Shea and I met at a party at Mark’s mom’s house in Toronto. I had just moved here and so had my old roommate, Jody, and he and Mark had gone to university together, and Mark and I knew one another through mutual friends in Montreal. Derek, who had also recently moved to Toronto from Montreal was with me, and Jane, who had made the move to Toronto two weeks before the rest of us, but from Victoria.

She was sitting on the couch wearing a wrestling helmet. I had seen her before, that morning in Courage My Love, but her face was familiar from somewhere else, I had already noted her familiarity that morning. I stood in the kitchen with Jane and Shea said from the couch, send the Victoria girls over. I told Jane she was talking about her, but Shea stated that she meant both of us. Shea, like everyone I knew at the time, was originally from Victoria. She and Jane quickly established how they knew one another. Shea and I had more trouble.

You look familiar to me, but not just your face or because I saw you in the shop this morning. You look familiar to me looking the way you do right now wearing that wrestling helmet. Have I seen you wear a helmet before?

It was the first time Shea had ever worn a helmet. It wasn’t hers and she put it on only moments before we had arrived.

It looks perfect on you, it’s completely natural. I feel like every time I’ve seen you, you’ve been wearing that helmet.

We eventually found our connection — an American Postmodernism seminar we’d taken a year earlier. It was true that Shea did not wear a helmet to class.

I thought about that night as I walked away from Shea’s apartment, which is where my sister lives now. I don’t know how we came to be as friends after that. There wasn’t Shea, and then there was.

That night I met Shea, Mark was making videos of all the people at the party, part of a larger project that I think I eventually saw, but maybe which I’ve only imagined seeing because I saw pieces of it on his computer that night and over the years, patches put together but not fully formed. I sat on a chair in an entirely white room, the place as brilliant as the sun as lights were aimed at reflectors, the brightness magnified by all the white, I couldn’t see for all the light, and I sang a single note, drawing it out as long as I could until there was no more air with which to make a sound. Then I breathed the air back in and held it until I couldn’t hold it anymore, and exhaled quickly with a bit of a laugh.


About Alicia Louise

I'm a writer, editor, fact checker, storyteller, events organizer, chronically busy yet endlessly lazy, mildly neurotic (though I keep the neuroses well-hidden, one hopes) 32-year-old with recurrent ovarian cancer. I like people and good writing and straight talk. I have a hard time feeling sorry for people, including myself, but the people that I love, I love passionately; one may even say creepily. I try to keep that mostly to myself. I'd like to be charming, but I'm usually just a mess. I'm like a gull slamming into your windshield.
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