I had 1 month left on my visitor’s visa when I received notification from graduate school. I was accepted by universities in Chicago and Vancouver. It was a weight off my mind, I had been living in constant fear and uncertainty for the past 5 months. I decided on Vancouver, it was closer to Erik, tuition was cheaper, and attending graduate school in Canada gave me the additional points needed to meet the eligibility requirements to apply for Canadian permanent residence. The next step after obtaining permanent residence is to apply for Canadian citizenship. Once I am a Canadian citizen, I can renounce my Singapore citizenship and finally be safe. It was a long haul plan, but one I could work towards vs. the randomness of the US Green Card lottery.
Erik drove me up to Vancouver to sort out administrative matters with the university, setup a Canadian bank account, familiarize myself with the city, and look for a place to live. When the official day came, Erik hitched a small U-Haul trailer to his car to move my life and belongings from Seattle into my rented room in Vancouver. He drove back to Seattle after unloading and I finished setting up the room I would live in for the next 3 years. It did not take long, it was a small room with just enough space for Ikea shelving that I’d bought, Erik’s old desk and a donated twin mattress on the floor. I remember sitting on the mattress watching the sun set through the french door that opened into the balcony, thinking things were finally looking up, I can do this, and missing Erik hard.
I submitted my application for Canadian permanent residence once I started graduate school. About two weeks later, the twin towers burned. Post 9/11 US border policies meant I was harassed each time I crossed the border to visit Erik in Seattle, I had a difficult time with that given my fear that Singapore might issue a deportation order. Each time we drove to Seattle together, Erik would make me cross the border on foot while he easily cleared and waited for me on the other side. A few weeks after 9/11, the Canadian government announced that all permanent residency applications submitted around that period were frozen indefinitely. I was once again trapped in limbo with a ticking permit bomb.
It rained for 9 months the year I moved to Vancouver. I supported my way through graduate school by taking on jobs at the university – teaching, grading, the like without a break. The brutalist campus of bare concrete, where the only indication of the world outside were window slits near the ceiling, enhanced the feeling of being a prisoner. My depression returned along with the sense of being trapped by circumstance and uncertainty. I took to drinking boxes of wine and walking the Stanley Park seawall in the rain until I was tired and soaking wet. I turned down social gatherings from university colleagues because I did not feel up to it. “That’s no fun, drinking alone at home” someone tried persuading me to go out. “That’s because I haven’t had enough to have fun yet.” I replied.
I eventually realized I was not coping well when I downed a box of wine within a day, I needed to reconnect to music, to have my outlet. I began taking voice lessons and found a beat-up spinet piano for a few hundred dollars that fit in the little corridor that led from the balcony to my room. I would play on its janky keys whenever my roommate was at work.
When a relationship has an expiration date, at some point one guards the heart; perhaps distancing oneself, or perhaps finding a replacement. The boundaries of time together and time apart shifts and slips; what was once taboo becomes tolerated, what was possessive becomes permissible. Given the indefinite freeze on PR applications sent around 9/11, neither of us knew what would happen after I graduated and my student visa ran out.
In the beginning we visited every weekend, Erik would drive up from Seattle and drive back, or I would take the train down and back. 4 hour drive or 4 hour train ride. I looked forward to those visits. Sometimes Erik would drive up and do some shopping and we would drive down together and I would take the train back. Between weekends we would chat on the phone, or rather he would. Erik would talk about his work, his church, his family, his friends, the dance parties he went to, the stories of what he did. He never once asked how I was doing so I listened, I advised, I consoled.
Erik traveled for organ recitals, for travel articles, for vacations – Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii etc. Even if I had the money to, I could not leave the country in case I was not allowed back. I was stuck in situ in my little room, feeling increasingly left behind, waiting for weeks for his return to hear from him, to see him again. He would regale me with stories of his trips, and the people he met while I listened. Once I interrupted him during one of those stories, I recognized a leitmotif, a subtle phrasing of a name that recurred in all his stories. “Did you sleep with him?” I asked. Silence. My heart skipped. “Do you really want to know?” was what he said next.
I knew from his query, but he told me anyway. “Are you angry?” Erik asked. Was it because I resisted sex? Was it because we were in a long distance relationship? Was he looking for my replacement? With my uncertain future I had no right to demand fidelity. I was just another story in his anthology. Still it stung when Erik later let slip that he had 2-3 backups lined up when he visited me in Singapore. The lines had shifted without my realizing, there was no going back. With three words I gave him tacit permission to further push the boundaries of my hurt “No, I’m not.” I replied. I never asked him again, what was the point.
Between gratitudeTorn (Futile Overtures)
and indebtedness between
lonely and lover.
Our visits became further apart, the phone calls less frequent. Erik had told me he thought being with me would be interesting, he wouldn’t get bored. I guess he did. We would still visit when his schedule permitted; but after he fell asleep with my arms wrapped around him, I would lie awake at the growing chasm between our skin.