by Michael Kimber
There are moments when you ask unreasonable things from people because you don't have a choice. Things need to be done and you can't do them alone. In these moments people who are basically extras in the story of your life can step up to the plate and become something more. In this case they needed to be extras in an episode of Just Cuddle. Tomorrow. When we shoot. FUCK. FUCK.
It's Friday, January 22nd, 2016.
There are about a hundred Facebook message bubbles on the screen of my laptop. Each of them begins with something like "I haven't talked to you in a while and this is going to sound weird but I could really use your help." Many of these people apparently no longer live in Toronto, or have children they are supposed to spend time with. I have gone down the list from friends to acquaintances to one-timers. Charlotte was a one-timer.
As in I had met her once, at her birthday party, had a good conversation but never really got to know her. In fact, I'd been a bit of an asshole to a friend of hers at that party. I expected little. She said she had a meeting with her writer's group. But she continued typing. She said she would tell them she wasn't coming. For no reason at all she decided to help me.
This is the beginning of a very strange story where I was an extra in someone else's life and made a good friend. But that hasn't happened yet. I need more extras. So I go back to Facebook without realizing the next part of our story will begin there as well.
I'm at work and a Facebook post catches my eye.
Charlotte posts about a dear friend who died. This was the friend I'd been a dick to at that party. As a result of this strange coincidence, I messaged her.
At the end of this conversation she told me that she was having a housewarming party that weekend. She said I should come. I pretended I had a social occasion I had to attend that day. I'm not always a party guy and oftentimes I need to decompress during my weekends and catch up on writing. And honestly, I was vaguely ashamed that I had been a dick to her friend who had died. I try not to be a dick, and that night I was.
Saturday arrives and I'm bored. And I remember the housewarming party I was invited to. I pick up alcohol and I head to her place. It's an impulse.
Maybe I'd tell some jokes. Maybe strangers would find me funny.
I can't really say why I went but I did.
You have the vaguest outline of Charlotte. Let me provide a few details so you can imagine her properly. Her nose wrinkles when she laughs. A good joke will shake her whole body until she has trouble catching her breath. She's scarily smart for 23 and has a way with words and ability for total focus that makes her attention like a spotlight for the person she's talking to.
She is standing on her balcony taking a moment of air when I arrive. She isn't wearing a coat. I wonder if she's cold. The thought passes.
I walk up the stairs and enter her new home. Her roommate takes me into the kitchen and smashes ice for me. I think he does this with a hammer. And I'm having a drink at a party.
There's an ironic boundary in most parties. Great loss takes away that irony. You can't pretend life isn't important when you've had someone irreplaceable taken from you.
Immediately people are talking to me.
No one is willing to let me feel like a stranger. One by one I get into intense and friendly conversations with people who are in the mood for small talk. Which I can provide. Drunkenly, I ramble about Just Cuddle and what the series is going to be like. They listen because right now it's a little too painful for them to talk about what they're going through. I make party friends. I earn them through jokes. I'm feeling pretty fucking good about myself. Even though I understand I don't really belong here.
Everyone in this room is trying to be strong for everyone else. There's a hierarchy of pain and they are trying to figure out where they fit in it. You can see them investigating, trying to determine who was closest, who's the most hurt, and direct their attention to helping that person. Everyone's a little broken and it's hard to know who is the worst off.
On the wall are what were once blank canvases. On the table next to it is paint. As the night continues people will leave conversations, grab a brush and begin to paint. An art director paints a particularly lovely rose that reminds me of Salvador Dali, possibly because my own knowledge of art is incredibly limited. What appears on the wall is surrealistic graffiti and stick figures. Whatever it was, I'm guessing it just felt good to paint.
It's been a long time since I was last in a room with thirty people who had their hearts ripped out. It takes very little for me to realize that I'm a tourist at what is essentially a wake. This wasn't the wake; they had done that earlier in the week with his parents. There aren't really words that can adequately bring me into that experience.
I can sense the currents of agony underneath the laughter. Every hour or so someone goes onto the balcony and cries. Someone always follows them and holds them. Often it's Charlotte. She has a way with people and a laugh that's infectious and people need that right now. Being under her attention is protective. There's warmth there that makes people feel safe and a sense that whatever the fuck happens, Charlotte can handle it.
And there's a moment I remember from that very strange night. I had gotten used to the party's manic rhythms of intimacy, quick confidences and emotional outbursts. In a way it was freeing being in a place where everything mattered so much.
I was out on the balcony with Charlotte and everyone left for a minute. Most likely to take a break from the cold. And I offered her a hug. She took it and we stayed like that for about two minutes. Clichés jumped through my head. Speeches formed and it all sounded so fucking stupid it couldn't pass through my lips. I could feel her shaking with suppressed tears.
"I gotchu" I said.
She hugged me tighter.
"But I don't even know you..."
And strangely I feel like that was the point. That was what I offered. Alone in the party of loving, brilliant people, I hadn't had my heart torn out of my chest. I wasn't grieving. She didn't have to worry about what she said or did or how miserable she felt because I was okay. It wasn't going to hurt me. I could be there for her because I was just an extra in her life, a tourist in her tragedy.
"Why are you doing this?" she asked.
"I don't know."
And I held her tighter.
I walked into someone's life as a stranger. Being there for no reason and realizing that that's what life is about when it matters. How good it felt holding her and knowing I had something I could give her. How after those two minutes, she wasn't an extra. She was a friend.