The Path that leads Somewhere, Nowhere
“I just had this feeling. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Chelsea said as she reclined in one of the Chinese wooden chairs at my kitchen table. Across from her, I sat cross-legged.
“Back in Grade 11, you and I were chatting online,” she continued, “and I asked you, ‘What are you doing?’ and you told me, ‘Chatting with you and Dan, my friend from elementary school, on MSN Messenger.’ And in that moment, I got this feeling – no, it was stronger than that. More like an impulse? Like I knew I had to talk to him for some reason. That’s why I was, like, ‘Aaron, add me to the conversation!’”
“And now here you and Dan are, six years later and practically engaged. All thanks to me.”
She chuckled. “Haha, no. You know I don’t really believe in God or anything, but don’t you ever feel like some things – not, like, brushing your teeth – but certain things sort of feel like there’s something more behind them?”
I stretched my legs out across one of the red cushioned seats and leaned back. “Ugh, I dunno. I don’t like the idea of not being in control of what I do. It’s fun to think about though,” I mused. “Oh, actually, I realized something the other day...”
G. and I exited the Langara College library to an overcast sky. “Do you believe in fate?” I asked.
“You know, I almost didn’t go help Ryan that weekend. A friend asked me if I wanted to hang out and I wanted to say yes, but I had already told Ryan I’d be there, even though I kind of didn’t want to go. But I guess I felt like I should. So I dunno. Seems like something brought us together that day.”
When he smiled at me, I could barely contain the love and joy I had for this boy; I leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. He took my hand in his, completely unafraid if anyone saw, his grin stretching wider.
“I love you,” I told him, though he already knew. When he echoed it back, I was as fluttery and giddy and naive as a schoolboy and his first crush.
As I pulled open the rainbow-stickered door to the cafe in New Westminster, a torrent of various bittersweet coffee aromas washed over and around me. Metal chimes tinkled as I stepped inside the waxed black and white checkered diner floor. Along with two actors – one of whom I used to go to high school with and who I never thought I’d see again, randomly enough – Ryan and I filmed a couple of short scenes at a nearby park that morning, while the bulk of the filming for the day would happen inside the cafe. I asked Ryan if anyone else was coming.
“One other actor’s gonna be a bit late. And then another friend is going to help out with crew stuff too.”
I began setting up lights and stands. Not long after we started, I heard the familiar door chimes ring and mix with traffic noise as it opened. When I looked up from plugging in some light cables, a short, skinny, curly-haired young guy in a red hoodie walked in my direction.
“I know you,” I blurted unexpectedly at him, surprising myself. He stopped in his tracks. “Your name is G.”
The words came out of my mouth as if by reflex. I didn’t know why or how I remembered his face, let alone his name.
“Yeah,” he said, confused. “Who are you?”
“You helped me with a project for my Spanish class about a year ago at Langara. You’re Connor’s friend, Connor with the hyphenated last name I always forget.”
“Oh, Connor...” He was lost in thought now, sifting through memory, trying to locate the correct folder containing the date, time, and place, along with my face. “I vaguely remember that.”
“Good. Now I feel less like a creepo.” The way he smiled combined with just how fucking cute he was made me want to make him smile like that forever.
For the rest of the shoot, I tried to impress G., who was Latino, with my Spanish; as the stills photographer, I took some pictures of him in between the usual set photos; I wrote and read to him a cheesy, terrible poem about how skinny he was and how I pondered whether or not he was gay. Despite all of this, though I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for his number, terrified he would say no. After the third and last day of the shoot, I found G. on Facebook and sent him a message instead.
“Would you like to maybe hang out sometime?”
In the past, as with all my propositions to guys, their answers had usually been some form of the negative. For all I knew, that last night filming at Ryan’s house could’ve been the last time I saw him. Again.
When I logged back in a few hours later, I found a reply.
“I was just going to ask you the same thing. :) How about Wednesday?”
Something about his words that made me visualize a paved road ahead for the two of us. It wound down a ways, and then disappeared into the unknown around the bend.
The black painted door of the Lotus Lounge fooled me. When I tugged it open, the air released almost matched the outdoor summer heat, but instead of being dry, it was warm and humid, like the panting of a hundred men. Even standing up by the greenish-lit stairway, the color of which reminded me of a faded dye job, the electronic cacophony of unnatural synths and stomping bass blasted against my eardrums. There was still a chance to leave, I knew, but I headed downstairs for the promise of networking. Whatever the hell that meant.
In the dim light, I used my drink ticket to get a glass of ginger ale and tried to blend in with everyone networking, or rather, screaming into each other’s ears. An older white guy with his queer film festival pass still around his neck approached me. “Hey, you made a film in The Coast is Queer tonight, right? It was, um... Waiting 4 Goliath?”
“No, that was someone else! I made Stay!” I shouted at this stranger over the music.
“Oh, that’s right! I liked that one too. You know, it’s just great to be in Vancouver. Davie Street, the Westend – it’s so much better than other places. We really are lucky.”
“Well, Vancouver’s not perfect either,” an unfamiliar voice cut in. To my left, a short, cute guy around my age with cropped hair and a few freckles glanced at the guy, then at me, as if seeking validation. I couldn’t help but think, That was kind of rude for interrupting. Who does this guy think he is?
“How’s that?” the older guy posed.
“Gentrification, discrimination against minorities in our community, not enough school board policy protecting students from homophobia and bullying, and the fact that we will always have homophobes. I don’t think Vancouver will ever be perfect.” Cute Short Guy’s words contained no grains of uncertainty or hesitance. His confidence amazed me.
I jumped in. “Where are you from?”
“Salmon Arm. I liked your film, by the way.” I thanked him. He asked if I had written and directed it.
“Yeah! My first time directing!”
I noticed Older Guy back away, then head to the lineup at the bar. My eyes swiveled back to the interrupter.
“I’m Aaron, by the way. But you might know that already.”
“Yup. I’m Ryan.”
The rest of the night was spent bumbling around the room together, commenting on who we knew, which films we had seen at the festival, learning about each other. I felt tethered to him, clinging like a buoy. I thought it was because I had made a connection with someone who was turning out to be a cool friend (on top of not knowing anyone else in the room). I wondered if Ryan felt it too.
A few days later, Ryan texted me. Hey, Mr. Director. Would you be interested in helping me out on a film project? We’ll be filming at a cafe in New West next weekend.
I responded, I’m not really a director, but sure!
While bombarding film festivals with my short film, On the Bus, programmers eagerly responded, “This is great! Could we get the contact info of the director?” to which I passed on the director’s information. But after a while of this, I started thinking, I want people to talk to me!
So with no formal training, I made the decision to become a director.
And since Stay required only one location, two characters, and the fact that I was still personally attached to the story – it would be the last thing I would do for Sam – I vowed to realise it.
I cobbled together some friends who were willing to serve as slaves on set; after an extensive and exhaustive search, found two good Asian actors who were willing to play gay characters (which was nearly an impossible feat); and an old friend who used to work in television and photography surprised me by volunteering his time and equipment to do the cinematography. Dates were planned for shooting; phone numbers exchanged; and my mom was alerted that my bedroom – and the house – would be crowded, much to her annoyance.
Over the course of three days, my bedroom, where Sam and I used to spend nights together, became the bedroom where the fictional Sam and Eric (what cleverly disguised names, I know) had their fateful night. I watched as Stay, once consisting of letters on paper, slowly manifested itself into reality before my eyes.
Once we wrapped, we threw together a quick-and-dirty edit, which I dropped off at the film festival office, narrowly before the submission deadline. A response from the Director of Programming arrived after a couple days of nervous, fidgety waiting.
“It was great!” she said. “It’s a perfect fit for The Coast is Queer program!”
After squealing and running around the house, I thought to myself, I have a film in the Vancouver Queer Film Festival!
The rest of the summer was spent editing – or rather, procrastinating. As we neared the screening date, the mounting pressure gnawed at my nerves. I had moments when I thought the film was getting derailed, that someone would have to inform the audience at the start of the screening that Stay wasn’t able to be included while I shrank in my seat and pretended I had no association with the film. But Stay had already been confirmed and listed on Out on Screen’s website and print. And print made everything official. It had to happen.
Two weeks before the start of the film festival and very, very much tardy, at long last I delivered the final cut of the film. And breathed a sigh of relief.
About a week into the film festival, I was sitting in one of the theatres at International Village; it was a full house, as it always was for The Coast is Queer. The audience was buzzing while everyone got to their seats. I couldn’t stop jiggling my leg and feeling like there was a sparkler of excitement lit inside me.
The houselights dimmed, drawing everyone’s eyes to a neon pink-filtered light shining up at the front of the room, which prompted applause. The Director of Programming commenced the typical intro of thanking sponsors and volunteers.
“Don’t forget, the party continues after the screening tonight at the Lotus Lounge, just a block away on Abbott Street. You can meet the local Coast is Queer filmmakers, who are now coming down to the front now to introduce their film! Here they are!”
My friend nudged me. “That’s you!” Sure enough, I heard my name being called, and with my heart thumping, I got up and headed down the stairs, unsure where the night would take me.
Months later, I was still hung up on Sam. The same questions kept orbiting my head: Why had we met? If there was a god out there, why make my first relationship last for all of four months but have him haunt me even longer? Was I supposed to learn something? Or had it all merely been a part of some sadistic game?
I felt like I still had things to say to him, things to show him, but I knew he wasn’t interested in hearing my words anymore. I had tried and failed to reason with him already. I thought back to the last night we had together, the night that broke us apart when he told me he would never come out. Phrases we had uttered lingered in my mind: “I wish I could sleep with you”; “You know I can’t”; “You deserve to be with someone I’m not.”
In one sitting, I wrote a scene featuring two guys in bed whose relationship is questioned when one of them refuses to spend the night because he fears his traditional mother will find out.
I titled it Stay.
It was after midnight. We had already been kicked out of the Blenz at Commercial and Broadway because they were closing, and the only place with lights on was the Mac’s convenient store a few blocks away. Sam and I walked in silence, the doomed kind of silence reserved for the ending of things. A walk to the electric chair. I found myself ahead of him down the block, Sam missing from my side. Though it was hard to see in the orange-yellow of the streetlight, I made out Sam shuffling over. I wanted to stop and wait for him, but I fought the urge and continued on alone.
In the blinding florescence of the store, where everything from pop bottle labels to glossy, airbrushed magazines popped with colour or reflected light from shiny plastic surfaces, we surveyed the room and occupied the only seats available: wooden stools near the doors. I wondered how many people had come in and sat in the same chairs, had talked about the same things we had with quivering voices.
For a moment, I recalled where we left off. “Are you ever going to come out?” I asked.
“I have been coming out.”
“No, you haven’t. I came out for you, to my friends.”
We stared at our reflections in the polished glass windows, neither of us able to look at the other directly.
“I feel like I’m going back in the closet when I’m around your friends and your family.” I didn’t think I could say it.
Sam didn’t answer for a little while. He took a breath, and his voice nearly cracking, he almost whispered, “Then you deserve to be with someone who can be out for you, who can do those things for you. You deserve to be with someone I’m not.”
I didn’t remember how we left. Sam might have given me a ride home, or perhaps I chose to be alone and wait for the #20 bus that, after midnight, only came every half hour. I just remembered thinking that this – my first relationship – didn’t go the way it was supposed to go.
Tucked under my arm was a rolled-up blue posterboard that contained Connor’s and my project for Spanish class. I weaved my way through the expansive library – or rather, through the pockets of students crammed with their noses in textbooks or eyeballs glued to electronic screens. Everyone was in a temporary bubble at a desk, study carrel, or table.
I always liked libraries. The quietness and the access to books containing knowledge of everything in the universe filled me with a rush of infinite possibilities. As I climbed the floating staircase, my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was a message from Connor.
I’m upstairs in the quiet study area with my friend G.
Why didn’t he just say friend? I wondered. He says this name like I already know him.
I explained all of this to Chelsea as we hung out in my kitchen. “So meeting G. and falling in love was a result of me and Sam breaking up. And I could go further back too. Like if I hadn’t met Sam, I wouldn’t have met G.” She had this grin on her face, like we were both in on a secret.
“See? Don’t you think there’s something else out there?”
“I don’t know,” I replied with a laugh. “I’m not sure. Maybe?”
G. and I had been together for a few months. One day, we were sitting with our small group of friends on campus outside on these hard concrete slabs that were supposed to be benches.
“You don’t like Buffy? How could you not like Buffy? It’s awesome!” G. said.
“Well, I don’t not like it. It’s okay. I just don’t love it.”
One of our friends laughed. “Is this gonna be a dealbreaker?”
“Nah. Good thing we were meant to be, eh?” I half-joked.
“I don’t really believe that,” he said flatly without glancing at me. I stared at him, wondering when he had changed his mind.
It had been a year since G. and I no longer called each other boyfriends. I was on my way back home from work, utterly drained. My brain was seemingly stuck on a furious, endless cycle of rumination, bombarding me with all things related to G: the times we made love. The time we first traded “I love you”s. The time he told me he was seeing someone, and the time I also experienced my first anxiety attack. Tears had been shed upon the tears already shed.
A memory abruptly surfaced: back in college, G., our friends, and I had been lounging in the cafeteria yet again. I had explained to a friend at the table how the path from my first boyfriend ultimately guided me to G.
“And now G. is going to lead you to your next boyfriend,” he had quipped with a chuckle.
I remembered being puzzled, not knowing whether or not he was joking. Why had he said that, especially when G. and I were still together at the time? Had he already seen us coming undone?
I believed that after Sam, the pain of our break-up had been worth it since it had led me to new, better love. But now, with my mind ravaging itself in a bloodless, never-ending civil war, it seemed like the road after G. simply crumbled away to nowhere, gradually lost and swallowed by the wild landscape it once wove through.
I looked up at the sky. As a full, ominous moon glowed, the idea that something greater was out there suddenly became laughable. And the fact that I ever considered fate or a higher power a possibility that night with Chelsea – the funniest joke of all.
So I guffawed though it sounded like loud sobs, hoping my voice carried up to the empty heavens. It was all I really had the power to do.
About the Writer
Aaron Chan was born in Vancouver, Canada, and is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. His writing has been published in the anthology Best Gay Romance 2012 as well as inWilde, Ricepaper, Existere, Plenitude, Polychrome Ink, filling station, and dailyxtra.com. His memoir piece, "A Case of Jeff", won subTerrain's Lush Triumphant Literary Award in 2013 and his debut poetry chapbook, Romantic Hopeless, was published in 2017. Aaron also likes cats and vegan cheesecake. To stalk Aaron further, check out theaaronchan.com.