After many jokes, stories and hilarious observations about the evening, conversation slowed. Róisín drew on their cigarette and blew several smoke rings that occupied the air between us. They took a quick breath and said, “We’re in love, eh?”
The question tumbled out of their mouth, lubricated by a couple of beers and covered in their sticky-sweet Scottish accent. It was (and still is) the sweetest, bravest, most unapologetic and most life-altering rhetorical question I’ve ever been asked.
Róisín and I were sitting on cement barriers in a parking lot next to Phog Lounge in Windsor, Ontario. I went to their show with my friends and I spent the night watching Róisín perform heart-stoppingly soulful covers of “Electric Feel,” “Billie Jean” and “Baby I Love You.” We shared many stolen glances and a moment of heady, unspoken magnetism when we crossed paths in the bathroom.
After the show, I told all my friends to go ahead without me because Róisín needed help getting their gear home. With the gear at our feet, facing the reality of going our separate ways, we sat on those cement blocks, frozen in time. Half an hour, then an hour passed, worrying those waiting for us.
At the time, we’d never even kissed. The only time we’d touched was about ten days earlier when I measured them for a suit: They had placed my whole fist below their chest in the portion of the ribs most affected by sunken chest syndrome, supposedly for me to ascertain whether it would affect the way I tailored for them.
As we sat outside Phog, I was wholly lost in the incredible, talented, generous, handsome, hilarious, gentlemanly woman in front of me who had just said with words what my heart had been screaming and my brain had been muting since we met.
“We’re in love, eh?”
It felt like I was sitting mid-air and if I looked away from them, the mirage of this moment would shatter.
I’d officially met Róisín weeks prior to discuss their handing off emcee duties to me for an LGBTQ2 dance party they had started called Saturday Night Beaver. They needed a replacement because of their upcoming move to Toronto. Since that moment, we had spent every second drowning in an unacknowledged romance under the flimsy guise of dealing with the minutiae of this handover.
We planned a listening party so that Róisín could show me what type of music they played at the party. In the week it took to plan, the party morphed from market research to an expedited exploration of each other’s lives through music. We settled on each making a playlist featuring every pivotal or beloved song in our library. We then sat in my dimly-lit store, hit shuffle and told the story of the song while it played.
A large portion of my listening party playlist was comprised of The Weakerthans. I’m sure I embarrassed myself with the assertion that the band are the best living poets, disguised as a punk/folk band. (Embarrassment aside, I do stand by my belief that they have a song for every emotion and milestone.) I pointedly told the story of listening to “Left and Leaving” on repeat when I was 17. That summer, I spent six weeks boarding in North Bay for a French immersion camp with people from across Canada. There, I fell for a 23-year-old kickboxer from Ottawa who had lost a breast to cancer at 14, and who had a boyfriend in the army that she was definitely going back to at the end of the program.
My city’s still breathing, but barely, it’s true
Through buildings gone missing like teeth
The sidewalks are watching me think about you
Sparkled with broken glass
I’m back with scars to show
Back with the streets I know
Will never take me anywhere but here
The stain in the carpet, this drink in my hand
The strangers whose faces I know
We meet here for our dress rehearsal to say
I wanted it this way
After my song played, Róisín’s playlist shuffled to “Landfill” by Daughter. They half-smiled, staring tearfully at the ground for a moment before bolting to the bathroom. I sat and listened alone.
Throw me in a landfill
Don’t think about the consequences
Throw me in the dirt pit
Don’t think about the choices that you make
Throw me in the water
Don’t think about the splash I will create
Leave me at the altar
Knowing all the things you just escaped
Róisín and I agreed to only give ourselves the duration of a song to explain it and only the length of the other person’s song to recover from the emotions it brought to the surface. It was eight consecutive hours of music and stories, the best and worst of our lives—on shuffle, no skips and no lies.
As dawn began to break, we gathered ourselves and tried to slow our blood and untangle our souls. Róisín called a cab, I stood in the doorway and watched it pull away, drowning in emotion. Looking back at the listening party, we both told stories of love and heartbreak in the hope that one day the two of us would embody love and not heartbreak.
In the days that followed, we sat through movies on opposite ends of the couch in a room full of friends. Our feet barely touched under the blanket, but the nerves in the tips of my toes were tied directly to the roots of my hair and the lump in my throat. They beat the drum that timed my heart.
We often escaped within the city by climbing the hill in Malden Park. We sat on picnic tables that overlooked Windsor and talked for hours about happy things. We laughed till our cheeks were sore, while staring at the city in silent acknowledgement of everything in it that was keeping us apart.
Róisín and I were both in long-term relationships when we met.
They were set to be married that fall and move to Toronto in a couple of weeks. I’d been with my partner for nine years, and we had just moved to Windsor so I could open a business. Despite the wild, deep, infinite, unparalleled attraction (attraction is a completely inadequate word) that we felt for each other, it seemed like Róisín and I were not meant to be together.
It felt like our lives were set on tracks that would run forever without intersecting. Very near each other for a moment, and then, slowly, further and further apart until one day all that’s left are memories.
Until that night at Phog. It had only been three weeks since Róisín and I have known each other but we knew that what we had was it—our movie moment. We’d been pulling the red string all along without even realizing it.
“We’re in love, eh?” Róisín declared. As terrifying as it was true, as brave as it was forbidden, I was speechless.
All the things people say about these moments are true: Your mouth gets dry, your heart and thoughts try to outpace each other, you search for something adequate and kind and honourable and true to say but those things all turn out to be the opposite of each other.
“Yes,” I said—it was all I could say. I heard somewhere that the truth shall set you free—and that’s the truth but why the fuck is that what I’m thinking right now?! I thought: “Why is someone a thousand times more articulate, attractive and funnier than me, attracted to me?”
I realized that while I was overthinking, Róisín was striding away. I had to run to catch up, but I couldn’t. I still needed to catch my breath and make sure everything that happened was real. I picked up the gear and ran. I ran across streets with green lights and red hands, over a chain barricading a parking lot shortcut, across the lot, catching their hand mid-stride as they approached their apartment building.
I gripped their hand with all my strength and pulled Róisín to face me. The gear we’d been carrying crashed onto the pavement. Throwing one arm around their neck, they took my face in their hands and our lips met. I found the chinks in their clothing, and slid my hand onto the small of their back, pulling our bodies impossibly close. They tasted of love and fear and hope and lust. It was heat and softness and light and an abyss I’d never known.
In the wee hours of the night, witnessed only by the stars and the streetlamps, Róisín and I kissed in the empty, silent street. If there had been any doubt left, this erased it. We knew now we could never be undone, we had to just free-fall into the limitlessness of this love.
That fall, I ended my near decade-long relationship and closed a business I had opened only 18 months prior. I packed all my stuff into a U-Haul, hitched my car to the back and moved into Róisín’s very typical one-bedroom Toronto shoebox.
Four years later, I’m still with Róisín, the amazing human I’m honoured to call my spouse. Whenever we sit on the couch after an eye-wateringly funny bout of banter, Róisín and I catch our breath, slyly look over at each other and say:
“We’re in love, eh?”