My sister will no longer eat tomatoes. As a kid, in the early mornings, she was always awake before the rest of us. We’d always find her in front of the TV, a bowl of chopped tomatoes in front of her, spooning them into her mouth, licking the spoon afterwards for the juice.
Her boyfriend does not like tomatoes. When we try to remind her of her old love, she tells us she is a different woman now. She has Down syndrome—this is not the most important thing, but it seems like something to mention. She has come to understand relationships as matching one another, a squishing together of identities. She gets very upset sometimes, tantrums at my mother, when reminded that she and her boyfriend do not have the same birthday. Hers is in July, his on Christmas Day.
My old therapist used to point out how much I tried to mirror my partners. When my ex started dating someone new, I felt I should be dating someone new too. My therapist said it was a way of making myself feel safe. Even now, years later, my girlfriend is preoccupied by body hair, shaves her armpits and legs, fearful of being thought of as a dirty lesbian. Her shame is so strong it somehow becomes my own. I buy a razor.
My mother says relationships create their own identity. While not a complete assimilation, you are building something together—a dynamic defined by what it isn’t. In long-lasting relationships, you can’t be entirely separate, but paradoxically, you can never be entirely unified.
Sometimes, with coaxing, we can convince my sister to eat a tomato, with an omelette or perhaps a scrambled egg. While she’s eating, she’ll exclaim something like Oh! That’s right! I do, I do like tomatoes! But a day or so later, she’ll get nervous about the separation, and will refuse to eat them again.
Meanwhile, in the shower, I’m shaving my armpits—watching the dark hairs swirl down the drain.
Kate Barss is a writer living in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Catapult, The Hairpin, The Awl, Taddle Creek and others. She has been a finalist for prizes in The Iowa Review, The Montreal International Poetry Prize, The Masters Review, The Fiddlehead, Room Magazine, Prism International, Event Magazine and others. One of her stories appeared on Wigleaf’s List of Top 50 Short Fictions of 2018. She is a creative writing instructor through Catapult magazine and the University of Guelph’s continuing education program.