I would spend almost three years living with my boyfriend in a rather unconventional fashion. I was the first one to congratulate him for his arranged engagement, while we were still sharing an apartment. I was also there for him that time he had to leave for Africa to marry a girl he’d never met. I was tight-lipped the whole time –– I never spoke to any of our friends about it until it happened. I wasn’t sure what to say.
We were both living in the suburbs of Toronto with our families before our move to the big city. It was during our heydays partying when we first met through a friend. Though we were monogamous, we didn’t have a typical romance. We kept it a secret for the first six months of moving in together because he’s a Muslim, and I’m from a conservative Catholic family. When any of our family members would ask, we would refer to each other as roommates, which we were. Bros, with a little extra.
When we were together, we visited Amsterdam and smoked pot. He injured his foot, but it didn’t stop us from boarding the bus to Antwerp and Brussels. He was in a lot of pain the night we got back to our hotel, but “it was so much fun!” he said. We took many trips to New York, Chicago and Montreal for the scene. We partied hard in Mexico City, and backpacked all the way to Acapulco for three days before heading home with golden glows.
It was on one of our adventures that he told me he was about to be engaged. It hit me like a punch to the gut, but I wasn’t surprised. I had seen the signs. He’d given me clues, but I’d played dumb. I didn’t want to seem defeated. I didn’t want to be bitter.
My catholic upbringing made me feel for him –– in many countries, like the one his parents are from, being gay is still frowned upon. I didn’t fight. I was in denial, and perhaps I didn’t really think that arranged marriages still existed for people born and raised in Canada. So I chose to keep quiet. I couldn’t find a valid reason to argue against his personal beliefs, and I didn’t want him to be disowned by his parents.
The girl was from Mombasa, the daughter of a family friend. She was beautiful and educated. I was nothing like her because I am not a woman, but I knew that someone like me would be capable of making her soon-to-be husband happier without even trying. I wasn’t convinced he was even capable of fulfilling her sexual desires. She didn’t know that, and I felt sorry for her.
After the engagement, while the girl’s Canadian visa was being finalised, he was still living with me, and we were still having sex. I didn’t feel the guilt of sleeping with an engaged man –– he was my boyfriend first, and the relationship never ended. But I knew that it was only a matter of time before I’d have to give him up to her.
A few weeks before his wedding, I helped him pick a suit. We even got a haircut together. He usually goes to the barber, and I go to the salon, but this time he came to my stylist with me. There was a need to maximize the time we spent together before his big day. I just knew he was feeling it, too.
On the day he had to leave for the wedding, I started to realise that everything was real. I like to think that I successfully hid my tears as we gave each other a hug and a kiss before he stepped out of the place we had moved in to two years ago. The love nest we built when there was only the two of us against the world. But it was all about to change.
A month later, he returned as a married man. His wife was in the last stages of acquiring a visa. The moment he landed, I was the first one he called using a payphone at the airport. He said that he was afraid I wouldn’t pick up if I knew it was him calling. But of course, I would’ve.
I congratulated him, and he started sobbing –– the first and the only time I would hear him cry. I knew it was a mixture of regret and guilt more than anything. He wasn’t in love with her. I don’t think he’ll ever be; he loved me.
Before his wife’s arrival, we’d occasionally hangout. He’d become a pariah among our friends. I didn’t want any of them to get involved, but for anyone on the outside I was a victim, which I never claimed to be.
We maintained our friendship. It wasn’t long before I’d get a call from his sister who had practically begged me to stop seeing her brother. It was by far the biggest challenge he had yet to deal with. His wife had hacked into his email account where we used to send each other intimate “love emails” in the early days of our relationship. She saw the emails. All of them.
His sister (and confidant) was the only person in the family that his wife had spoken to about the affair she’d uncovered. They kept it a secret from his parents. When I heard that his wife was pregnant, I decided I shouldn’t be anywhere near him again.
I also didn’t want to seem desperate, to be seen as someone clinging on to a person who had chosen someone else.
Two years later, he called to tell me that his marriage had ended. I wasn’t surprised. His wife had flown back to Kenya with their daughter. I sympathized with the agony of a father that my former lover had become. I stayed on the phone just so that he could let it all out.
He took me on a trip for my thirtieth birthday. I was recently single at that time, and I wanted to make sure the feelings I had for him were not out of pity.
We drove for 6 hours to Montreal, and I slept all the way. We stayed in a modest penthouse along the Saint Laurent where we danced the night away.
Early the next morning, we spent another two hours on the road to Quebec City, a place I had always been in love with. Along the beautiful Rue du Champlain and Sous le Fort, we dined at a table for two. It felt familiar, yet something wasn’t right. I was sitting in front of the man I used to love, in the most romantic setting in North America, but I felt nothing.
The man who was once my lover was now a father to a beautiful girl. He was a great man, but he had so much baggage. I felt as though I were his Plan B, and giving him another shot meant sacrificing my self-worth.
We drove back to Toronto, barely talking during the six-hour drive. He dropped me off at the apartment he’d once called home. I did not invite him in. We hugged each other tightly for several seconds. It was a language unspoken, but rather felt and understood by two people who at one point considered themselves one.
I said goodbye, walked towards my door and didn’t look back. That was the last time we saw each other. No tears, nothing. It was over.
OLIVER LIM was born in the Philippines to a Filipina mother and a Fil-Chinese dad. He moved to Canada in 2004 as a teenager, and has not had any formal training in creative writing. He uses writing as a tool, very much like his art (painting), to be in his own little space. He views it as his safe place, his comfort zone, where his mind is free to do whatever it wants, using only words or colors or shapes.
Copyright © 2018 by Oliver Lim. All rights reserved.