I have the worst red light luck. I needed to go to the Rosedale Liquor Control Board of Ontario store to buy a bottle of Moet for Conor and me. Guess the number of red lights I hit on my bicycle; it’s a number between zero and every fucking one. It got ludicrous by the end. Lights, pedestrian crossings, that crazy move Toronto cab drivers do where they pull a U-turn in the middle of the street, everything was in my way as I was trying to buy the most important bottle of champagne of my adult life.
When I hit Church and Yonge I was out of breath and pissed off. The Rosedale liquor store, like the residents of the neighborhood, is a lot fancier than the rest of the city. This wasn’t a task I was about to leave to the Riverdale LCBO, much less the liquor store next to my work in Liberty Village. That crappy strip mall place there never has anything nicer than Freixenet. I had worked for weeks trying to convince Conor to have a glass of champagne with me, and it had to be the good stuff. We’d save Cava for our wedding one day.
I’m sure every city has a “rich WASP” enclave and Rosedale is ours. Conor and I walk around it at night and pick out which palace is going to be ours once we come into fantastic wealth. Looking at the huge houses with Aston Martins parked out front scoops out the love/hate nonsensicality a lot of us have with the rich.
People with money are different. When a man spends a few thousand dollars for my time there’s a gulf between us. I will work hard the rest of my life and I will never achieve anything that he has. The only warmth that comes from that thought is the realization that it’s becoming the norm. Most of the people from my generation are going to do worse than our parents.
And that’s okay.
Maybe our parents did too well. Maybe they should have had other priorities than climbing the corporate ladder. Maybe telling women they could serve two masters by being the perfect mother and career women is just another form of slavery. Maybe the economic exigency we’re all shuffling through is a reality check. Maybe being unable to buy everything you want is a good thing. Maybe.
Prosperity is not infinite. There’s not enough to go around. In that way, I’m lucky I found Conor. No culture understands the futility of economic climbing like the Irish. The often-articulated Irish attitude is that, “In America, you see the house on the hill and think, ’I’ll live there one day.’ In Ireland, you see the house on the hill and think, ’I’m gonna get that fucker!’”
I think my generation is going to be the Irish of history. But I couldn’t think about it at the time; I was buying champagne at the fancy LCBO.
Of course, in the rich part of town, the liquor store has a section dedicated to wine. Thank you, wealthy jerks. You lost a bunch of people’s life savings, but your liquor stores are awesome. I found a bottle that would accurately reflect the level of celebration we were about to have and paid the better part of what I charge for an hour of my time and cycled home, hitting every red light on the way.
Conor hates champagne. It’s a combination of gas issues and that champagne headache certain people get if they have low body fat. But he had to have some of this bottle with me tonight. He promised. I hadn’t accomplished very much in my life and it was one of the few accomplishments I could really pin my name to.
A week before I hit every red on Yonge on the way out to Rosedale, I went into my local bank in Riverdale.
I asked to see the bank manager Ryan. I had a fairly complicated transaction that I needed him to perform. I had an envelope in my purse with several thousand dollars in it.
Over the next hour, Ryan and I paid off everyone that I owed, Canadian or otherwise. We sent money overseas, closed accounts and credit cards and moved money from credit to debit until everything balanced. Like the New Zealand rugby team, my bank accounts were now, all black. Once done, we opened a savings account with a few grand in it, for a rainy day.
Throughout the entire process, as Ryan realized that by then end of the hour, my bank would be making a lot less money off of me, he tried to sell me as much as he could. “We could get you a new card! With rewards! With points! Pay it off when you can!” Ryan said, pulling out slick brochures and explaining interest rates.
I tried not to say too many words at a time; I was afraid any long string of words would lead to a long string of tears. I had worked to dig myself out of a hole. There was no way I was going back down into it again.
I signed everywhere he needed me to sign. Ryan didn’t pay me $250 for that hour, but he did give me something at the end that made me feel warm and renewed. I was free.
It’s hard for me to do anything while cycling. I can’t talk or laugh or notice things because I’m usually working too hard. Cycling home from the bank, the tears came slowly at first and harder and more persistently as I came around the corner to our building. By the time I got into the apartment, I was somehow laughing hysterically while tears simultaneously erupted from my pinched-shut eyes and ran down my cheeks. The wave of relief, the sense that finally everything was going to be okay filled my entire body and I bounced around the apartment, singing show tunes until Conor came home from rugby practice.
The cat was terrified.
When I started with Adele, I was $25,000 on the wrong side of the ledger. Now, neither God nor man had anything on me. I was finally free of crushing debt. I got home that day and told Conor about what I had done. I told him that I was going to drink champagne to celebrate and he had to overcome his issue with the drink and have some with me. We were even closer to our lives starting together.
I actually felt like opening the bottle like a winning Formula One driver, just shaking it vigorously until the cork popped off. Conor was working by this time and I thought he might get a little upset if I started without him.
He worked for a small custom pipefitting company out in Mississauga. It was almost a bit artisanal, or as much as designing custom pipes can be. I was really proud of him. Everything is more or less a mess in Ireland and he came here and worked hard. I was a lucky girl. It was a good day to be Bianca.
Conor occasionally had to stay late designing tools so I already had the bottle home and waiting when he arrived. The cat has no pretenses when showing her affection for him. She runs from the bedroom as soon as he walks through the door, and I can’t be 100% sure, but she seems to enjoy flaunting her affection for Conor when I’m around. To show me what I’m missing I presume. What a bitch.
“Hello. How was your day?” He asked.
“Same bullshit. Same attempts to explain things to idiots. How was yours?”
I pulled him into our little kitchenette and showed him the champagne glasses and Moet.
“Can you open this, please?” I asked sweetly.
Conor is very particular about opening champagne. I think they taught a class in it at his British Isles boarding school to make sure that people will always know how much better privately schooled men are than the rest of us plebs. The cork is not meant to fly off, as I supposed, but gently pulled in the least fun way possible.
“Do you want to order some food?” I said. “I really don’t feel like cooking.”
“Swiss Chalet! Swiss Chalet! Always so good for so little!”
Conor has a weird fascination with North American chain restaurants. I’ve tried to explain that they’re often terrible. I guess it’s the same way Canadians eat fried breakfasts every day when they visit Ireland. I ordered the food on the phone
I was in a good enough mood that he could have suggested Iams and I would have said yes. This was our night.
Sitting on our floor, with the cat poking her nose around, we ate our chicken and ribs, looking at each other, getting quickly drunk.
“I did it.”
“It was hard, but I stuck to it and got it done.”
“You should be proud of yourself.”
I wasn’t too sure about that. I had definitely done some things that I wasn’t proud of doing to get to this place. Certainly, things I wouldn’t do if I wasn’t being paid so goddamn much. Don’t ever bother asking a hooker if she likes what she does. She doesn’t. It’s always a means to an end. Whether she’s paying for current school or past school, or financing a drug habit, the whole situation is not pleasant. I know that I liked some hours better than others, but there’s a reason that I didn’t choose it as a career.
“I wish it could just be you and me,” I said sadly, still sipping.
“It will be, soon enough,” Conor replied. “Don’t do it if you don’t want to. I was only going to support you in this as long as you were okay with it.”
“I am still okay with it. It just has to be done. I just wish that I could be there for you more.”
“So if you had to choose…” Conor started. I stopped inhaling my quarter chicken for a second and took a drink.
“If you had to choose between being back in debt and not being an escort,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “Or where you are now, which one would you pick? If you had to do it over again, would you?”
There was more than one night when I wanted to stay home and spend time with him, rather than going out into the night. And there was more than one client that I regretted seeing. I had to go back to that afternoon with Ryan, when I finally felt free for the first time in my adult life. It was more than that though. I had never had the feeling of accomplishing something. I had never felt that anything I worked for had ever paid off. I had a goal, I worked for it and I achieved it. It was a good feeling. The best even.
“No regrets. And no regrets going forward.”