Chapter 10: “How does that make you feel?”

WEDNESDAY, 28TH OCTOBER, 2009

On Wednesday night, I bid Marie-Lourdes goodbye, and with Britney sitting beside me, I drove from her apartment, picked up some takeout at Harvey’s, and by nine o’clock was within striking distance of Brandon’s apartment building. It was 600 Queens Quay West, and it greeted me with lit-up windows. I remembered being in the area once. I spread Evan’s ashes at Little Norway Park, across the street from the building.

As I pulled into the parking lot, questions raced through my head. How would I get on with Brandon? Would Brandon get on with Britney? Would the building management have an issue with me? Would I screw this up? This was it. It was incumbent upon me to make this work. I did not want to have to drive off Scarborough Cliffs.

I parked my car and took Britney and her carrier out, as well as my overnight bags. I decided to wait until the next day to bring the rest of my stuff. I walked into the lobby, and approached the security guard.

“I’m here to see Brandon Gutensohn,” I said.

“Name?” the man said in a thick Indian accent.

“Graziano Buonfiglio.”

The desk clerk scanned a list in front of him. “Oh, yes,” he said. “He’s on the sixth floor.”

“Thanks.” I walked toward the elevator and pressed the button. Thirty seconds later, the doors opened and up I went, Britney and my bags in tow.

At the sixth floor, I walked around and around until I saw Brandon Gutensohn’s name plate. I rang the door bell. Britney was already feeling restless in her carrier. I calmed her down. Then, the door opened. It was Brandon, fresh out of the shower and in a cute black terry-cloth bathrobe.

“Welcome to your new home,” Brandon said, smiling. He had the nicest smile of any teacher that I had known.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“Do you need any help?”

“I got it.” I stepped into Brandon’s apartment. It was not what I expected from a university professor, at first glance. I expected vast swaths of the place to be covered in books and papers, thrown haphazardly about, and the musky smell of academia to waft over. Instead, I walked into a sleek, cozy, and modern apartment. The only smell was that of Febreze.

“Can I see your cat?” Brandon asked. I nodded, and took Britney out of her carrier. She responded gently to Brandon stroking her head.

“She likes you,” I said. “She won’t be any trouble. I have everything she needs: food, litter box, toys.”

“That’s good. Just one thing: for the first week, I’d suggest that you keep her in your room when you go out.”

He led me to what was now my room. Turning on the switch, it revealed a tasteful room with a gorgeous view of the waterfront. There was a queen-size mattress, a flat-screen TV, a DVD player, a digital cable box, a writing desk, and a clock radio, among other things. The room was painted white, but had framed artwork from the 1980s on the walls.

“I’ll let you get comfy,” Brandon said. “If you need me, I’ll be down the hall. And… welcome home.”

He handed me a pair of keys to the apartment, and headed down the hall. As he left, I put Britney down on the carpet. It was plush, and she took to it very well. I put my bags next to the window, and fell back-first onto the bed. It was strong but comfortable. Britney soon joined me on the bed. I found the remote control and turned on the TV, settling in for a night of channel surfing.

THURSDAY, 29TH OCTOBER, 2009

The next morning, I awoke to Britney licking my face. I realized that I had slept very well, the best night’s sleep that I had ever had. The time on the alarm clock read 6:30 AM. I let Britney play on the carpet and headed for the kitchenette. I found Brandon there, dressed up for another day of work, and drinking coffee. In his free hand, I saw a piece of paper.

“Did you sleep well?” Brandon asked.

“Yeah.”

“Before I leave, I want to make a few things clear. You don’t have to pay me any rent, but I would like for you to follow these ground rules.” He handed me the paper. This is what was on it:

GROUND RULES

  1. No drinking.
  2. No drugs.
  3. It is your responsibility to feed and care for Britney.
  4. No loud music. My next-door neighbour, Bonnie, hates it.
  5. No smoking. Duh.
  6. If you’re going to use the washer and dryer, do so after 9PM.
  7. Clear any guests that you may bring with me first.
  8. If you need anything, please let me know and I’ll do my best to help.
  9. See a psychiatrist.

The ninth one: “See a psychiatrist.” Immediately, my legs began to shake.

“Is there something wrong?” Brandon asked.

“Not really, but…”

“But what?”

“No. 9.”

“Do you have an issue with that?”

“On principle, no… but I haven’t had the best of luck with psychiatrists.” I sat down at the counter, dreading the possibility of being kicked out then and there.

But Brandon put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Why?”

“I’ve been saddled with quacks who either blame me for everything, or are too incompetent to give me an opinion. You know what question pisses me off? ‘How does that make you feel?’ What the fuck am I supposed to say to that?”

I sniffled, tears beginning to form in my eyes. “I don’t mind going to a therapist, but I don’t know who can help me.”

Brandon took my hand. I could smell the Gold-Bond lotion that had permeated his skin. “I know someone who can. Her name is Claire Breedlove. She’s a friend of mine, and one of the best in all of Toronto, if not Canada. Believe me, she can help you. She runs a private practice in North York. If you go, I’ll cover the bill. Okay?”

I had no idea who this Claire Breedlove was. The name alone hinted at a stuck-up bitch with her hair in a tight bun, granny glasses, and a serious need for therapy herself. But as I could never afford anything on that level, and I would be essentially getting free services, I nodded my head in agreement.

Brandon smiled. “Good boy. I’m off to work now, so you have the whole apartment to yourself.  Get settled in, and I’ll be back in the evening.”

He picked up his briefcase, patted me on the back, and exited the apartment. I spent the next ten minutes or so walking around the apartment. He had converted the atrium into a dining room. His bedroom was cluttered and reeked of academia, but not too much. There seemed to be an attempt at straightening up, even if it wasn’t successful.

The rest of the morning was devoted to getting my essentials into the apartment. I went back to Migson Public Storage and collected some of my boxes, and by 11 AM I had pretty much set up my new home. On the night stand, I put several photos of my grandparents, Ryan, and Evan. Seeing their pictures was a melancholy experience. I didn’t know if I would ever see Ryan again, and I still mourned Evan and my grandparents. That being said, I felt good about my new situation. Claire Breedlove, on the other hand, was a mystery to me.

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