Nick had never had an apartment with a view before. Granted, it wasn’t much of a view, just a graffiti-bombed bus shelter kitty-corner on Bathurst Street, and the furtive older women and frothy clusters of teens who kept the corner store below his window in business. Still, it was better than the cinderblock wall of the building next door and the rust-scarred paint can the neighbour’s kid used to hide his cigarette butts that he saw from the window of his place in Kitchener. He could hear the streetcars trundle by at all hours of the night, wheels scraping up dirt and trash from between the rails, the bow collector clicking and rattling as it passed through the intersection. The noise woke him up sometimes, but he didn’t mind; he’d been in Toronto less than two weeks, and he was still having nightmares. Waking up was often better.
He hadn’t brought much with him to Toronto. His clothes, his Macbook, a guitar he’d never quite learned how to play, his iPod, a pocket-sized digital camera, some things for the kitchen and a little shelf with a few DVDs and books. There was also a photograph, a murky blue Polaroid of Amy, the only reminder of her he hadn’t left in the dumpster of his old building. His apartment came furnished with a single bed, a small kitchen table with two tube-steel chairs, a dresser and a pressboard desk. He kept the Polaroid in one of the desk drawers to avoid temptation, but instead he took it out five, sometimes six times a day, letting the shame burst out from his skin like a flop-sweat. The sight of it would make him squeeze his eyes and fists tight, anger and jealousy and fear and lust and things he couldn’t name passing through is body all at once, eating his brain. He hated her for leaving, and hated himself for missing her.
He hadn’t found a job yet. His parents had been angry that he’d gone to Toronto without lining up work first, had given up his job at Manulife—not a great job, but with potential, they thought—but he couldn’t spend another year, another month, another week in that city knowing she was out there, shopping in the same stores, eating at the same restaurants, breathing the same air, living under Andrew’s roof. Andrew and his fucking BMW. Andrew and the security she said he could provide, Andrew who had managed not to gain any weight sitting behind a desk eight hours a day. Andrew who could buy her things and take her places and could still fuck like he was eighteen. Andrew, she said, who was in a better place to help her keep her life on schedule. It wasn’t about him, or what they’d had together. It was about owning a house before she was thirty. There wasn’t anything to be upset about. It was a matter of goals.
Nick couldn’t afford the apartment after Amy moved out, and he didn’t have it in him to look at dozens of empty apartments, couldn’t face the hardwood floors she would have insisted on, the windowsill he could see her sitting by, the kitchen sink where she would come up behind him and hold him for no reason at all. He just opened the Record, called the number for the cheapest ad he saw, and took the apartment without a viewing. It turned out to be a grubby basement walk-in, bigger than it should have been for that price, with blue-veined industrial tiles on the floor, foam-wrapped hot water pipes snaking through the bedroom, and off-white walls that dripped nicotine when it got humid. He stayed there a year, spending two and a half hours each day busing to and from work, staring blankly at the bakers on Victoria, the insurance brokers, students and Vietnamese hustlers up and down King Street. When he got home at night he would log on to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace. He and Amy were no longer connected on any of these social networks, had unfriended each other. He had no direct access to any of her profiles, nor she to his, so instead he looked at her friends, the corporate websites she managed, read her favourite blogs and webcomics. He made himself a picture of her life by feeling his way across its negative spaces, brushing the edges, never looking directly at it, afraid it would blind him like the mid-day sun. Nick never called her, never took the bus to her and Andrew’s neighbourhood, never ate at the bagel place across from her office, never sent her emails. But he felt guilty just the same, was afraid of his own weakness and obsession. Eventually he told himself this was okay, he was doing nothing wrong. He was able to justify it, because one night nearly eight months after he’d moved into his sad little basement, Kate, one of the few friends he and Amy still had in common, shocked him with the news that Amy did the same thing to him. “E-stalked” him, she’d called it. She had moved on, hadn’t she? Gotten the life she wanted? She was happy with Andrew, right? Nick didn’t know what it meant, but he knew he shouldn’t let it lead to hope. He went to the bathroom and stared in the mirror, saw the layer of fat building up on his neck, and told himself in the sternest voice he could manage that this did not mean she regretted her choices. The idea creeped in anyhow, and that night he started having nightmares. Kate never should have told him. He felt like he was starting to rot from the inside out. Nick was afraid that if he stayed in Kitchener much longer, it would kill him. He started to save money, and four months later he found himself in a tiny Toronto apartment, looking down on the streetcars as they passed.