a peek inside the fishbowl

07 Aug, 2007

Meaning of messages

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Found objects

classified ad

Irena has been taking out personal ads in the Globe and Mail for several years. That’s how long I’ve been seeing her there, but who knows, perhaps it’s been even longer than that. I admire her tenacity. She must love B a lot. She hasn’t given up.

I like how she wrote, “how much I miss you” instead of “I miss you” in last Saturday’s paper. It’s like she’s saying it in one, big, sad, regretful, breath.

I used to carry one of her messages to B in my wallet.

I am fairly certain Irena dumped Boris. It happened about ten years ago. She was a struggling student, law school, perhaps. He was an artist who earned his pay making elaborate chalk drawings that took up giant stretches of pavement, drawings that took hours and hours to create and could be washed away before you can say “thunderstorm.”

At first, Irena was amazed by the chalk drawings. She wondered how he could create something so deeply beautiful with something as simple as sticks of chalk. She spent hours watching him, bewitched, utterly captivated by his art. It was real, and yet so transient and temporary.

Like life itself, he used to say.

Boris was a creator, very rarely, a destroyer. Irena had only seen him do it once.

It was a portrait of Icarus, a copy of a painting she’d seen at the National Gallery. It was a perfect replica, masterful in every detail. It had taken him six whole days to complete it, starting at dawn and not stopping until the sun was far past the horizon. She watched him finish it on the seventh day. Her back was propped up against a wall, her second-year law book balanced on her knees. She watched him make the last marks on the portrait. He stood, stretched, took a step back, and looked down. She waited for him to say something, perhaps, about how pleased he was with the final piece. One minute passed. Maybe two. Suddenly he turned, and in one swift movement, he reached for the bucket of water he always kept nearby, and poured it over the layers of chalk.

He didn’t explain. She didn’t ask, not that time, nor any other time… But her parents did.

Her parents didn’t think he was going to amount to anything. Irena knew that much. They never said anything directly. It was their borderline passive aggressive method of questioning that did it. Whenever she brought him home for dinner they asked him probing, nosy questions. So what do you do, exactly? You expect people to give you money for that? What do you do in the wintertime? Do you think you can make enough to live on? Boris answered all of their questions honestly and without feelings of ill will. Irena defended him, at first.

But Irena began to ask questions herself. If all he cared about were chalk drawings, if that’s all he wanted to do, how could they have a future together? A lawyer and someone who’s practically a panhandler? Impossible.

So she dumped his poor sorry ass. And she immediately regretted it. Boris disappeared. For weeks Irena looked for him, not to talk to him but to make sure he was all right. On her way to school she found herself taking routes that passed by stretches of sidewalks he’d drawn at before. As she walked she thought about what she’d say if she saw him. But all she found were old chalk drawings, ones that hadn’t quite washed away, dusty and smudged from being walked upon.

Irena started taking out personals in the Globe and Mail. Everyone in the ad department got to know Irena and her story. She got to know all of them too.

What would you like to say this week, they ask. Their tone is always kind. They are always patient. She doesn’t place ads as often as she used to, but she still takes time to carefully compose her message. I love you? Sorry? How can I best make him understand, in 20 words or less?

She still isn’t sure if Boris has seen one of ads or not. She keeps hoping that one day, as he’s working on his sidewalk art, he’ll use one of the newspaper pages to frame his drawing, like he always does. And as he’s working, blending colours, wiping sweat from his brow, listening for the clink of a coin in his collection tin, he’ll see her name printed there and forgive her for being so thoughtless.

Irena hopes. And keeps placing those ads.

[It’s your turn. Who is Irena? Lover? Friend? Stalker?]

2 Responses to "Meaning of messages"

1 | DaniGirl

August 7th, 2007 at 12:03 pm


Irena was, as you say, a young woman when it happened. She was a student, barely making ends meet working a demoralizing retail job while going to school part time.

She was only 20 when she got pregnant by her boss, a married man who not only dropped her romantically but fired her soon after she confided her pregnancy. Her family had been happy to see her leave home the year before, so she couldn’t turn to them for help. Despite rejecting most of the traditionalist ideals and values that her parents had nearly suffocated her with during her childhood, she couldn’t bring herself to consider abortion.

Bella was born on an unseasonably cold night in April. Irena knew she could barely support herself, let alone a newborn, and had decided to give Bella up for adoption from nearly the moment she found out she was pregnant. Long through that cold April night, she held Bella and wondered how she could make it work, but she knew in the end she had to make the right choice for Bella, not just for her broken heart.

She publishes the ad each month on the day of her daughter’s birth, knowing it will never be read or understood by Bella. But it gives her a sense of peace to know that Bella is out there, and that’s all she wishes from the world.

2 | Tracy

August 8th, 2007 at 1:18 pm


Irena was young, and still is in a way.

In her formative years, She lost her mom Barbara to cancer. Barbara first discovered the lump when Irena was in grade school. During a routine physical (which she dutifully booked every year), in her left breast. How much to tell Irena she wondered ? It was only the 2 of them, since Irena was born. Her husband’s accident on the way to the hospital to witness the birth was a fatal one.

Barbara decided she would be truthful, and told Irena everything. When she was finished, Irena looked at her with eyes grown suddenly older and told Barbara she loved her, and would be right by her side. It was, as always, the 2 of them united against the world.

The operation went smoothly. The surgeon told Irena they were confident they had gotten all the cancer when they removed the breast. They checked the lymph nodes as well, and if they were clear there would be no chemotherapy. Irena wouldn’t let her hopes get that high, but waited for the results. She was holding Barbara’s hand, when the news came back: the cancer had spread, and was inoperable.

Barbara came home and together she made arrangements with Irena, so she would be taken care of when she was gone. They did this quickly, so they could concentrate on being together. They walked everyday, they drew on the sidewalk with chalk, they discovered a birds nest in the hedge they watched with glee, they lived.

The spring that Irena turned 14, was when Barbara took a turn for the worse. She held Irena’s hand, and told her she was proud of the girl Irena had been, and was proud of the young woman she saw emerging. Irena told her that she would always remember the dignity and courage that Barbara demonstrated and told her she would always be with her, no matter what she did or where she went.

And everytime she experienced something she wanted to share with Barbara, she realized how much she missed her. And she found a way to let her know. A few lines, in a newspaper, to tell her of the man she met, and later married. The birth of a granddaughter, and later another. And how much she still loved her, and missed her, even now.

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