Alone with my Mother-in-Law
Excerpt from Living with the In-Laws.
I masturbate when I'm sad. And since Susan bought the Kleenex, I had to hide the evidence. I thought she might grow suspicious if the Kleenex box next to my bed vanished every week, even though I never sneezed or had a runny nose. Sure, I could have used toilet paper, but then I'd need to dispose of it, and I sure as hell wasn't going to fill up the garbage bin; I can't be relied on always to take out the trash. Maybe I could flush it down the toilet, but that would mean the toilet was flushing more than usual. This left me with the teenage boy's go-to—the sock. I stored my sausage tear collector in the drawer next to my bed. The same drawer where Siena and I kept our sex toys. We weren't into anything that involved a safe word, a first-aid kit, or the ability to contort your body into fascinating positions—neither of us was flexible enough for that.
The most private possession we had in that drawer was the WeVibe, a vibrator that's great for those who want to achieve simultaneous orgasms during a commercial break. We rarely used it. We also didn't watch commercials. And, of course, there's an app for it. If the person leaves on a trip without their lover, the lover can control the various vibration and pulsation modes from their phone—which was perfect because, in the early fall of 2017, Siena announced that she would be moving to Europe for six months.
"I landed the Puma internship in Germany," she said as she walked into our room, which I still referred to as her room. It's not that I have anything against fluffy white decorative pillows or a collection of stuffed animals—I'd gladly purchase those things myself. It's just difficult to refer to something as your own unless you buy it or steal it in a challenging manner, neither of which I did.
"That's fucking awesome!" I said, pouncing out of the fresh bedsheets that Susan just put on—she always referred to it as your guys' room.
"I don't know, Nol. I don't think I can live without you. You're everything to me."
It would be her first time living away from her parents and Vancouver, and I knew the only thing I could do to ease her fear was to give her my full support. Maybe it meant I was a supportive boyfriend, or perhaps it meant I wanted to sleep at night without Siena poking me every few seconds. When Siena couldn't sleep, it meant I couldn't sleep. "Why should you be able to sleep? That's not fair," she would say every time her anxiety got the best of her.
Sleep wasn't on my mind yet when I held her hand and said, "Of course you got the internship, Siena! You fucking deserve it."
"I don't even know if I can do it, Nol. Living without you for six months will be hell."
Siena dropped onto the old white leather couch in the room.
"Are you kidding me! Six months will be nothing compared to the life we'll be spending together." It was a phrase I ended up using much more than I expected.
"I applied for the job wanting it, but now that it's actually happening, the reality is starting to set in."
I sat down next to her and said, "The reality is that you're going to experience a new culture while working an internship others dream of. All this can do is make you a stronger person. There's nothing better than travel to help you learn more about yourself."
"I love you, Nol."
"I love you more than anything," I gave her a kiss and asked, "Where will you be living, by the way?"
"I don't know yet."
A month later, she found out and said, "I'll have two roommates in Erlangen. It's a forty-minute bus ride from the Puma headquarters, but it's where most of the employees live."
"Who are your roommates?" I asked as we walked under Ontario Street's comforting canopy of trees on our way to the farmer's market.
"I'll be living with another guy who works at Puma."
"And the other roommate?"
"Oh, do they seem nice?"
"Yeah, I think so. It's always hard to tell via the Internet, but they were willing to talk on FaceTime and everything."
"Where are they from?"
"One's from Sweden, and the guy I'm working with is from Italy."
Even the chirping birds and golden light shining through the leaves couldn't distract me from the image of an Antonio Banderas-like dude and a blond Daniel Sedin eating dinner with Siena. And yes, I know Antonio Banderas isn't Italian, but I'm sure he could pull it off—well, if Pedro Almodóvar were directing him.
"So you're living with an Italian guy and a Swedish guy? A tall blond and dark olive-toned guy, I presume."
"Yeah," she said as though there was nothing for me to be worried about. And there wasn't, but still…
"Can you imagine if the tables were turned?"
"Yeah, I can, and you wouldn't be going."
"I wouldn't be going?" I said, stopping in the middle of the road because I'm one of those entitled pedestrians who doesn't care about cars unless I'm in one.
"No, you wouldn't. I wouldn't be able to handle it."
"Do you realize the double standard here?"
"It's different. You can handle it," Siena said, ignoring the fact that I had stopped walking.
"That is so hypocritical."
"So, if you could have an Italian girl and Swedish girl as a roommate, you'd do it?"
"Well, if you can do it, I should be able to do it."
Once the words left my mouth, I was happy Siena was a few paces ahead of me.
"So you would actually live with two other girls if I had to stay here alone?"
"Well, that's what you're doing."
"No, I'm living with guys."
"And I'd be living with girls."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
At this point, Siena had stopped walking, and we stood in the middle of the road like one of those couples, oblivious to others. Fortunately, there weren't other people on the street… I think.
"Living with two sluts."
"'Cause that's what it sounds like."
"No, I just want you to realize the double standard. I mean, I'm supposed to give you full support when you give me nothing but trust issues."
"I didn't have the same past you did."
"I slept with just as many people as you did at your age. Multiply that by three more years, and you would have been where I am."
"You know it's true."
"No, I wouldn't have let my number get that high."
"I just want you to trust me like I trust you."
"I want that, too," she said, and we hugged. There could have been five cars honking at us, and we wouldn't have known. That's love.
"I would never cheat on you, Siena. I can't imagine another woman like you."
And that was true, but one day, I betrayed her. It was an ominous lonely night with nobody in the house but me. The douchebaggy sayings were yelling at me in that insouciant yet emphatic voice of all fuck boys, "Dude, if she's in a different city, it doesn't count." Then came the next fuck boy, who I imagined wore a polo and a backward baseball cap. "Man, if she's in a different timezone than you, just gotta go rally." And no, the douchebags in my head did not mean to gather a group of like-minded activists to hold up signs and squake about the ocean or marginalized groups or bees or marijuana or aliens.