Written by Emily Weedon (bio at the end)
Three weeks of careful chatting on a dating app. A ding in my inbox announces he’s replied. I log in to the garish site. Hot pink bright blue. And a world of stories locked behind blurry little jpgs.
We’ve exchanged emails– not too many. I’ve learned a steady rate of response bodes well. Not too disinterested. Not psycho killer over-interested. He uses full sentences has not flipped to sex talk. He has interests. He HAS a living. We flirt. We exchange observations. I entertain notions he could fit into my life.
Over the weeks, sporadic messages sketch possible meet up times. Volumes of shared insights, beloved music, beloved quotes from books, beloved moments from favourite operas flesh him out. He gets interesting. What an odd juxtaposition – he is enlisted and cultured. Did I ever think I, as a pacifist, would consider dating someone IN the military? Chiding myself for shallowness I fold the possibility of this new person into a world. I allow myself an iota of optimism. About this guy. About a date. About the lines on my face not being so bad. I Could lose that 4 pounds. I can change long-held biases!
I revisit the profile of this self-described “driven man” intent on combining his graduate studies in science with his Naval career. What a power-house! What a treasure unearthed. I let myself imagine being his escort to a dinner – tables and tables full of smartly uniformed men and women and their arcane traditions: if the dinner is a Saturday, they will have a traditional toast “To our Families!” which is a politically correct update on “To our wives and sweethearts, may they never meet.”
In an email, calls me Ma’am. And I call this out. It seems old fashioned. And I feel marmish.
Just respect he says.
Respect. Well then.
I imagine him saying: Ma’am, yes ma’am.
It conjures brawny young men brought up stiff in a salute all muscles to attention. Eyes forward.
And he is a little playful, when I mention that I like it, repeated: “Maam, yes maam.” And then sarcastic “Ma’am”
And then again tender, “Ma’am”.
It is a bleating a little, like a call for a mother yet mired with a carnal call. “Ma’am, Ma’am, Ma’am.”
I cultivate a mythology around his photos as I click through them at night. His folded hands bespeak poise and refinement. A wry smile says Dad humour? He is a warm human under the rigor and the uniform. I imagine catching his eye across a room, a shared sneaky little smile, conspiring together despite the formality of this moment when he stands at attention in his suit. Doing his duty for his country.
I am awash with endorphins I brought on myself. I may be at this moment only one electric moment, one meeting away from heart’s desires finally fucking found. I book the reservation.
Some people insist on a phone call before the date. For me, it was a piece of cake from the fridge, stolen at midnight. Our date was a sure thing. But I wanted more. For having waited.
I can’t wait he told me.
So let’s talk. On the actual phone I said. Right now?
Right right now? Why not? Ok…
The phone buzzed somewhere across town. He answered and seemed caught off guard. He made a strange, strained, high-pitched laugh. A cackle, more than a laugh. And when he spoke, at last, Every single G dropped from every single “ing” word in that flat, fat, slack tongued Southern Ontario accent.
Not workin. Yeah I gotta to go in. Maybe somethin this week. Ya know waddimean?
Cause I frikkin dunnow.
And just like that, my Officer, my driven, stalwart officer is mortally stricken.
He talks of a life of bouncing from home to home, job to job, school to school. Drop- outs, changes of heart. Flaking. Prison maybe? whispers a wee voice in the back of my mind.
The next day I wake. I hear a ping and I am not moved. I know what I must do. Too late to back out. I walk to the appointed place at the appointed time. If I were 20 something I would blow it off. If I were 30 something I would stay home, chat on the phone with girlfriends, getting drunk, bashing the hell out him for his charade. A fake degree, a fake University. Manufactured culture.
Instead, I am 40 something. I organized overnight child care. Alone, I face an empty selection of Netflix and whatever is in the fridge. I got my lashes refilled for this date. $135 dollars, for fuck’s sake. I walk to the appointed place. I plan one drink. I will tell him I am not feeling it, and I will leave.
He is late 30 minutes. He arrives with wet hair. A story about slow buses and forgotten umbrellas. But he is well dressed. A vest. A tie even. These things work on me. He apologizes for the phone conversation, saying that he is embarrassed to say he was drunk at the time. Conversation flows from there. We discover matching fathers who drank, an easy trust bond. Drinks flow. I’m not even thinking about the Navy uniforms at this point. Just laughing. Two very stiff drinks later, I remember to ask about the Science. He waves off the conversation, says something vague about a thesis. He says enough plausibly smart things to make me feel bad for judging. Last night was an outlier. Maybe heart’s desire finally fucking found after all.
Two drinks later we are at my place, post coital. He is yammering about cartoons now, which is grating. The G’s in his accent remain Missing In Action. He is imitating characters, all the characters, from a show that specializes in degrading sex and scat humour. He keeps imitating a character known for raping, defiling, and murdering women as a punch line. He keeps using the word “giggidy”. He imitates impaling a phantom woman on his erection as he says it.
My officer stands on the deck of HMS Whatever. A brilliant sea churns away below. He looks out to a horizon full of promises and good deeds. He climbs the rail.
I tell him the show and the character horrify me. We ‘agree to disagree’ about its’ cultural relevance. I yawn. 2 hours past my sedate bedtime. He is not tired.
He paces restlessly around my house. Shirtless, aimless and a little fat around the middle with the beginnings of breasts. He needs cigarettes. Which is odd, since he was such a non smoker on his profile.
My officer stands on the rail, despite the deep yaw of the ship’s side to side movement. He’s letting his balance depend on his feet, arms out.
While he’s gone, I wonder: IS he an Officer? Could he have staged all those photos? The bus, cartoons, the cigarettes, the language, the brushed off academic studies… no man I know who has accomplished anything brushes off these questions. They will pin you for hours to a banquette in a bar over wine until your eyes go glassy telling you the minutiae of every step of that Masters they accomplished.
He returns stinking of smoke to my clean bed. He shakes me. “You pretendin’ to sleep?” I sit up, head spinning and yawn. One of those deep yawns that makes the body quiver.
Cut it out jackass he spits out. You trying to make me tired?
My Officer is suddenly in free fall. A free dive straight down into Navy coloured waves.
I am looking at his face and I hear a red siren. Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. Mistake.
Don’t call me that. What?
I have a policy of not calling people I care about names.
You are being far too serious. I was being jocular.
The red intensifies. He is doubling down on the insult. And it was a joke.
I have been here before. A name leads so quickly to a fist, I’ve found.
I need to sleep. You should go, I tell him.
I turn over. I spend terrified moments under the sheet, listening to him gather his things. He could retaliate at any moment. My heart races imagining the violence at being spurned. But the lock clicks behind his retreat. And I lose consciousness.
The waves swallow him instantly. All hands on deck. Man overboard.
The next day. I hold my phone, preparing to send the difficult text about how I don’t see us together. I think of the photo of him on the deck of some sun drenched boat the HMS Whatever and I ache. I pause over the send button. Only yesterday, he was my fine officer. But I remember:
“: a stupid, annoying, or detestable person”
I press send.
He is lost at sea.
Under the waves, he looks up to the light. His hair is darker down here and appears longer, swaying in the ebb. The golden buttons on his shirt catch the distant light. But his fingers, reaching upward to sun do not. The little bit of tan on his long forearms takes on a bluish and then a greyish cast as the water filters the yellow from the sun. He is holding his breath and his face is serene.
On the app, I mourn: he was the last real man in the dating world full of hucksters, and layabouts, boy-men without jobs or apartments. He was the last man in a world of hook up seducers- brave enough to want an actual relationship. The last single man in a world of “No drama” wishers and “no strings attached” sneerers, family- escaping men fleeing the monotony of monogamy … He actually wanted to have children – to rear and guide and love. He would have set up the most incredible science projects for my child! The calm scientist would have answered various illogical emotional outbursts of mine with a stalwart presence and indulgence, rationally knowing storms pass.
He is in 80 meters of water. He has a big chest and his lungs are capacious. He’s never smoked, of course. A man of science would never introduce such toxins into his system.
Healthy people can hold their breath under water for a minute or so, before reaching breath-hold breakpoint. The water he slipped into was cold, less than 20 degrees
Celsius. This buys him time. But his integral heat whisks away on all sides. His blood flees from extremities to core, where his heart has slowed to perhaps 15 beats per minute. It pounds loud in his eardrums. The extra oxygen abandons his athlete’s body to give his his honed brain a few more moments.
His last breath erupts from his lungs through his slackening lips. The air pockets race heedlessly for the surface. Water tries to rush into him, but laryngospasm seals his lungs shut. It floods his belly instead. Lack of oxygen initiates hypoxia. Those good grey cells of his, starved, shed life. His heart goes into arrest. He floats, upright, like a seahorse. Rocking from spasms.
His tunic billows… arms arc out. He takes with him fleeting memories of dark rooms and dancing closely. Memories, stackeds – first meetings, first kisses, a measured deployment of ardent thoughts and showing up to do the right thing.
He flutters, sinking further into darkness. The white of his shirt and pants catch specks of light. His bare head is past needing protection from rain or sun. In stillness, his face all the more handsome. His skull holds inside the multiple folds of that good grey and white brain a lifetime of observations and hypotheses, a drive to make himself, no, make the world better with the gift of his applied thoughtfulness. Quiet now.
His stiff soled shoes come to rest on a gritty sea floor – arms out to the side – sacrificed.
About the writer of An Officer and a Fiction:
Emily Weedon is screenwriter of the feature film 15 Kinds of Casual Sex, in development with 100 Dragons. She wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay for Chateau Laurier The Web Series, (Best Writing, Best Production and Best Art Direction at the Sao Paolo WebFest, WGC and Canadian Screen Awards best web series nominee).
Emily is author of an unpublished novel Autokrator , edited by Adrienne Kerr. She has contributed to Now Magazine, and Canadian Musician.She works as an Art Director in Fim and TV, including Malory Towers, Murdoch Mysteries and The Baroness Von Sketch Show. Emily is behind the roots-rock band Emily Weedon and Delta, available on itunes, and is proud to be listed on imdb as Girl in Parking Lot in The Bride of Chucky.
mily grew up on a subsistence farm in Coe Hill Ontario, and survived being the child of feckless hippies. She lives in Toronto with her daughter Ginger and a huge Maine Coon Cat and is currently working on the second season of Chateau Laurier and a collection of short stories about dating in the post-romance age of tech.