Eileen, at 59, is twice married and twice divorced, with two daughters from her first marriage. She’d never been in a relationship with a woman before Wendy (56) who while she came out slightly later than some, aged 27, now definitely identifies as gay. And yet, while I take Eileen at her word, their chemistry is so glaringly obvious that it becomes difficult to imagine there was, as Eileen’s daughter Ariana Molly puts it, a life “pre-Wendy”. Wendy, with her Ottawa Valley accent and her demure nerd’s confidence (she’s a geologist). Wendy, who says “heck” in earnest, batting her eyes at Eileen, the Montreal-born aesthetician who says “god” as a convivial drawn-out gawd. Eileen, 5’10” and ever-grinning, who has made a deft and friendly art of interrupting.

Photography by Ariana Molly
Text by Nora Rosenthal
Beauty by Jess Cohen
Styling by Celine Blais
Assissted by Dahlia Doe

Many of the love stories in this magazine were accelerated by Covid, rendered possible by it. They are the strange and golden side to this upheaval. Maybe more than most love stories during times of reckoning or violence, there is a solidness to them, a sense of endurance after the disaster is passing us by. Perhaps because at no other moment in recent memory has the casual sharing of saliva been so frowned upon, perhaps because during Covid you really had to really mean that first kiss.

In 2013, Wendy returned from a two decade stint in Vancouver and in 2014 returned to an old passion: Cycling. In 2019 she happened to join the Kanata-Nepean Bicycle Club, the same cycling club Eileen had joined in 2004. I asked Eileen and Wendy if they remembered what cycling outfit the other was wearing when they first met,
imagining descriptions of colourful spandex, and maybe the musculature beneath, but they were so instantly distracted by the enormity of their affection for one another that we never got that far.

Wendy: “I was blown over and happy to meet all these new people that I found so interesting and then, there was Eileen.

There was this entity that kind of just appeared. I think the first time I ever laid eyes on her I was totally shocked because she was noticeable, highly noticeable. [...] The fact that she was statuesque and graceful, that was all sort of secondary, my brain just saw wow, what a radiant being”. Eileen interrupts: “That’s very sweet eh?”

Eileen and Wendy both emphasize the innocence
and friendship of their earlier relationship, just that inexplicable way of being so utterly taken with one another. Eileen: “It was this crazy attraction but like hers not a sexual attraction, it was a human attraction”.

Wendy: “What makes it so beautiful for me is that I remember when you kind of just started to appear [...] there wasn’t any kind of expectation whatsoever there was just – I remember seeing her really radiating and resonating in my heart as a nice being and then it slowly transitioned into something like being drawn together like magnets I often say because we ride in these groups of ten or twenty people sometimes and we would still end up – this part is interesting – we would still end up riding together.”

Anyone who has ever been in love and been simultaneously in denial about being in love will identify with how that denial washes over memories of early days together, how Eileen insists they “weren’t crushing on each other” and yet how, as she began eventually to visualize herself with Wendy, the fear wasn’t a fear of intimacy with another woman, the fear was of losing Wendy, a fear Wendy echoes. Their friendship was so remarkable that neither of them could fathom harming that emotional closeness with a potential sexual intimacy that might make things go awry.

Then Eileen makes Wendy a birthday cake.

This is one of the moments whose importance is hard to discern as an outsider. Why is this cake special? They talked about this cake for seemingly 20 minutes and I still don’t quite understand.
I gather this much, one moment Wendy and Eileen are in a food court eating hamburgers together and Eileen offers to bake Wendy a cake for her birthday. The next they’re shopping for the very particular edible sparkles Wendy likes. Eileen can’t stop making fun of Wendy’s intricate cake desires. The cake ends up “more than fuchsia, reddish”; “she doesn’t know how to use colouring”; “then she brings this bright, iridescent pink cake to this birthday party and my cousins are there and this woman they’ve never met with this vibrant cake…”

What is clear is that this cake told everyone around them what Wendy and Eileen still somehow didn’t know, at least consciously. The way you just can tell watching two people giggle conspiratorially at a hot pink cake, the way Eileen and Wendy are more breathy talking about this cake, even now, than they are talking about sex.
The garish cake might as well have exploded with a chorus dancer belting out a vision of their future for everyone at the party to hear.

Meanwhile, cycling with the group had become cycling just the two of them as well, had become having dinner multiple days a week, eventually five days a week, had become texting and speaking every day, sometimes three times a day. And then: Covid.

They immediately bubble. There is no question. And every evening together is marked by a dreaded goodbye, so that more and more evenings end by cozying up to blearily watch hours of cat videos on YouTube in order to prolong the time together.

Wendy: “That’s when the whole thing reached its crescendo.”

One day Eileen’s leg goes over Wendy’s, just so, and no one says anything. On another day soon after, Wendy, tired of cat videos, takes Eileen’s phone.

Eileen: “I went oh my god oh my god is this going to happen? Is it happening?”

Wendy: “I didn’t blow it obviously. I didn’t blow the kiss. She went ‘Okay you have to go home now’ so I was like ‘Okay’ and she says ‘I’m not taking this lightly I’ll have you know’”.

Eileen: “Really? I don’t remember [saying that]. She must have thought I was a wacko”.

Eileen and Wendy both talk about the absence of that youthful craziness, how this was long and slow-burning, and most importantly, founded in an intense friendship. Even now that they’re living together, there is an ease in how they talk about their relationship. Eileen is blasé about the element of coming out: “The thing is how do you explain love and attraction and connection? Of course it’s different than what I’d experienced through my younger years and with men but what I learned is it’s really not that different. The sexual side of it is different but other than that a relationship is a relationship. You meet someone and you love them and you connect”.

Then again, Eileen’s job is all about having intimate conversations, all about the community, especially the community of women that arises around personal grooming.
She is chatty. Chatty in that blithe way that Jewish people are chatty and that I notice every time I’m subsumed by the din at my family’s Rosh Hashanah. Wendy, on the other hand, comes from a Caribbean family and a science background, and of the two women, she’s more reserved.

Eileen points out that Wendy didn’t necessarily realize she was gay in the years before she came out. Wendy nods. “We’re just dissecting that worm or whatever you know and you’re so focused. I didn’t have a really developed vocabulary for my feelings. [...]

I wasn’t surrounded by people who had these conversations – this kind of openness and insightfulness and so on, so I hid in my fascination for nature”.

Wendy is ever-thoughtful, expressing herself carefully when it comes to her love of Eileen, but she cannot suppress an almost goofy glee when she speaks about science: “My understanding of sex, like you’re talking about the social part and [...] you know when you say sex I think of dissecting a frog–

Eileen: “–Oh that’s great…”

Wendy: “–Let me finish! It–”

Eileen: “–What I was trying to say before she told you her froggie story is that she is gay and everyone knows her that way you know since she’s 27.

I’m 59, I’ve been married twice I have not shown any signs of being a lesbian and now I’m in this lesbian relationship and she’s the shy one!”

It certainly is a part of Eileen and Wendy’s story that Eileen was straight before and that she’s in a gay relationship now. But as an ending, as a punchline, that’s a little crass. It fails to account for their specialness together. It’s part of the story, sure, as it is part of the struggles and excitement, not to mention the estrangement from the mainstream (good and bad) that is part of anyone’s love story falling outside the heteronorm. Then again, seeing as no person can be summed up by their gender or sex identity, this and the other love stories within that stray from “straight” are meaningful insofar as love is meaningful, insofar as that giant leap of faith between fallible people is always of interest, prurient and poetic and everywhere in between.

I ask Eileen how she identifies and she balks at the question, as though to sum up one relationship in terms of identity is almost intrinsically offensive. We talk about it for a bit and she answers: “I’m in a relationship with Wendy”. Later: “I don’t need a title. She’s Wendy, I’m Eileen, We love each other. We’re together. We’re committed, and I’m just gay for Wendy”.

Rat Chat Magazine