Natalia Hero is a Montreal writer with lots of anxiety. She is currently doing an MA in literary translation. Her writing has previously appeared in The Void, on Twitter @supernasst, and in her laptop’s trash can.
1 story by Natalia Hero
How did this new project come about?
I didn’t want to sulk or wait around after that tour. I took maybe a month to myself and then got back out there. I know people think it was garbage, but I needed to experiment to get to where I am now. I needed to try things out to get to this new thing. It was a process.
A grieving process?
Something like that, yeah.
Before we get into your solo work, I’d like to ask you about before.
Of course you would. So does everyone.
I’m sure these memories are painful to revisit.
Right. Well, it’s not just that. I mean it is that, obviously, but what bugs me is still being treated like half of something after all this time. Like now that she’s gone my work will never be whole again. Like we were a package deal, like I was the ugly fucking growth coming out of her side, no matter where she’d go you were stuck with me, “oh yeah, and that other chick.”
But the funny thing is, I do feel whole now. I feel whole now that she’s gone.
Do you feel that your contribution was overlooked?
No. I mean, yes, a bit. They act like she was my muse. Like if I did have creative control in any way it was all inspired by her. Like, nothing could have come straight from me. But I wasn’t fucking Garfunkel. She wouldn’t have been shit without me. I actually made it all happen.
I think that’s why it could be helpful to tell us how it all started. Set the record straight.
How did you two meet?
At a bar. I bought her a drink, she gave me her number, I took her out a week later. That was it. It’s not a good story.
So you had no mutual connections, you just instantly clicked? That’s amazing.
No, and fuck no. She hated me when I took her out. She hated me at the bar too. I never figured out why she agreed to see me again. That’s how I felt the whole time we were together actually. She was visibly uncomfortable every time I was with her. She was never herself. Always on edge. But she kept coming back.
Why do you think that was?
Because of the jaywalking. It was all because of the hits. There was nothing more to it. Not for her, anyway. We both got off on it. That’s what held us together.
And when did that start?
That first night at dinner. So she’s sitting there looking disgusted with me all evening, and I’m just staring at her neck. I couldn’t even look at her face. It was that neck, the collarbones, those thin little arms. She was so frail and beautiful and I just felt like the biggest asshole. My body felt heavy. I felt like my tits were weighing me down. I could feel myself slouching. Every second that I looked at her I felt fucking grotesque. So yeah, we both wanted to get out of there.
Then I ask for the bill and she gets up before I’m even done paying, and she just runs out into the street.
Where was this?
We were at that Korean place on Bernard, and she’s headed toward Parc. So I run after her, I don’t know if I wanted to say goodbye or just see her again or what, but I’m running toward her as she’s heading into the intersection, and she just stops right in the middle. And I see this car coming, and I can’t even explain why I did it. You know, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s completely out of character for me to sacrifice myself for someone like that, especially someone I’d just met. But she made such an impression on me, she was so beautiful, so fragile. So I jumped out in front of it and took the hit.
So was it purely instinctive? I mean, was it about protecting her, or was there any part of you in that moment that felt – I don’t know, suicidal?
I mean, I’ve joked about that in the past, maybe that’s what you’re referring to. I used to say that she ran out into traffic because of how awful a date I’d been, but that she’d made me feel like such garbage about it that I wanted to kill myself first. But honestly, it just happened. I can’t explain it any better than that.
And I’m guessing it was then that you discovered your… talent?
Nothing ever topped that first time. We did a few creative ones later, but nothing beat the spontaneity, the not knowing what was going to happen. Thinking for a split second that it was all over, and then that rush… I mean, I can only speak for myself. She’s always been pretty cryptic about how it felt for her.
How did it feel for you?
Exactly how you’d imagine, I guess. Think of what it would be like to disappear completely, to just be completely empty and let something huge and heavy like a car go through you. It’s like having the wind knocked out of you but it’s your whole body and every part of your being, your consciousness. It’s more than feeling light or invisible, it’s feeling nonexistent. That’s the feeling I’ve been craving to re-create, and I do get something out of my continued attempts, something that keeps me going, but not like that first night. I’ve never come close.
And what about her?
What? Listen, I know why you’re asking. I know what you’re insinuating. That’s shitty. The implication is shitty. I never meant to hurt her. I didn’t use her. It wasn’t like that.
I’m not sure what you mean. Did she ever tell you how that first night felt?
No. I mean, I don’t think she wanted to talk about it. She was out for a minute. I ran over to see her. Then I touched her face, and she woke up. She just looked at me, got up, walked away like it was nothing.
Could she really heal that quickly?
Not completely. It would take another day or two. But yeah, she would be mostly fine after a hit like that. Obviously she had a gift, and it was more impressive than mine. People saw it right away. That’s why she was the star.
She used to lose consciousness before hitting the ground. She’d pass out mid-air; she told me. She’d just tap out the second it hit me. She was never awake. People would ask about the impact, the trauma, I don’t know. All I know is she wasn’t conscious when it happened. And I felt like that made it OK. All those people who complained we were exploiting her, that I was taking advantage, they didn’t know. She was asleep. If she was asleep, what’s the harm? I wasn’t hurting her. How could we be hurting her if she isn’t really awake?
Tell me about the fans.
The fans. Can we call them that? They weren’t fanatic. They were so casual about it, right from the beginning. I hated that about them.
There was a write-up in the The Mirror. A “review.” It went viral, #jaywalkersmtl was trending that same night. It took me a while to realize they were talking about us.
And they just turned up at the next performance?
Not really. The next one was supposed to be practice, but obviously we were in a public space, there were people around. This was somewhere in St-Henri, I forget where exactly. But we went for it, it worked, and just as she got hit, I remembering hearing someone say, “I’ve heard of these girls.” Isn’t that fucked up? So after that, everyone was on the lookout, trying to predict our next spot. It was actually kinda fun, at first. It was fun to surprise them, fun when we got caught. But we sold out. We even played Place-des-arts once. And I mean, I was planning shit, I was managing us, but even I’ll admit we ran out of ideas really quick.
Did she ever have any suggestions?
Yeah, some, and sometimes we’d do them, but I mean, that wasn’t her strength. She was our star. I was behind the scenes, running the whole show. I don’t get credit, I know, but really I was calling the shots, setting the whole thing up. Or anyway, I picked the corners.
You guys really were an overnight success. Many people don’t realize you were only active in the city for a few months.
It got old really quick. We knew we were a fad. We could feel it coming to an end, so we started planning a big finish. The city started feeling small to us, like when you revisit old landmarks you saw as a kid and you feel like they’ve shrunk. It was like we’d had a growth spurt from one month to the next. I don’t know. We had to get out. Every corner felt like a playground, the streets didn’t feel real anymore.
It was a summer thing, you know? You feel like the heat is searing your skin and your body feels heavy and disgusting. Everyone on the street is so attractive and repulsive. And the men. They’re fucking screeching, like they’re just horrified at all the female bodies that have the nerve to cross their path. So we fit, you know? The summer worked for us. That first night was in April, but a hot, almost-summer April night, where you know winter isn’t quite done with you yet so you bring a jacket out of fear and you sweat from the heat and also fear. It was always hot. We were always wearing light, thin clothes, our legs were out and bare. Maybe it’s the heat that kept her bones from breaking. Maybe it melted them. I know I felt melted that summer.
So they were all animals, but the heat made me an animal too. Every night at home I’d be clawing at her, like trying to hold on before I melted away. I’d have three fans on me at night, and I’d be lying next to her, breathing like an animal, and she’d be lying there, barely moving, like playing dead, only sometimes I’d catch her shivering. One time I joked that she was cold blooded. She hated it. She hated me. Because they wouldn’t leave her alone on the corners and then she had to get it at home from me too. But I couldn’t help it.
But when winter came we missed the heat, and we realized we needed it. So we wanted to head South.
Tell me about the last tour.
So we went and did a quick North American tour, but it was really an East Coast thing. We did Times Square, I guess that was memorable, but it was rainy and we did it at rush hour, so she didn’t fly too far, it was kind of boring. We thought so, and the reviews were bad too. So we thought, you know, we both needed a change of pace, and we both wanted to reinvent what we were doing, or stop completely, go out with a bang. We decided to tackle something a little more ambitious. So we decided to go to South America.
I don’t know. She’d been to Argentina once and said the cab drivers were crazy. Then I did a bit of research, and found what I thought was the perfect spot.
That would be the Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires. What made it so special exactly?
Well, the avenue is the widest in the world. I read somewhere you could land a 747 on it if it weren’t for the obelisk standing in the middle like a giant cock. It really does look like a cock. So that’s where we set up, right in front of it.
Because the avenue has twenty lanes, the plan was to get hit early, close to one side of the street, but at an angle, so she could fly out into the middle and maybe bump another car in the process. But even if that didn’t work, the cameras would be set up so it looked like she was in the middle – oh yeah, we had a camera crew now. Fucking divas, am I right? Some people thought it spoiled it, like it was all fake like wrestling, choreographed, but who are we kidding. There were no surprises anymore.
We’re about to step out, I mean, we’re in the street, and I spot our target from the corner of my eye, and I guide her a little so we shift just right. And then someone calls to me. And I get really startled, like really thrown off. I mean we were used to cheers and shit, and she got some cat calls, for sure. But this was different. This guy was calling to me, and not in the usual way. I don’t know what it was. I mean, anyone could spot that we were tourists, and everyone loves fucking with tourists, but it wasn’t just that. It wasn’t right. It was this shrill, piercing, meaningless screech that just really fucked with me. I remember having this moment like, maybe it’s been like this the whole time, and I just never noticed because I was home and I felt safe. It was fucking terrifying.
So I’m thrown off, and I miss. That was it. I just missed the car. It wasn’t my fault but like, maybe it was. So she gets hit straight, she didn’t have me as a buffer. That had never happened before.
And she goes flying through the air, not all graceful like the other times, but quicker. Harder. Up and then down. So quick you almost missed it. But it was fucking beautiful. Not that big spectacle they’d all been promised, but something else. Something better, more real. You’d almost miss it if you blinked, but I got a good look, and her face was so beautiful. She looked peaceful. I swear, those other times, she looked passive, bored. But this time she looked at peace with it, almost relieved that this time would be different, that this time she’d really die.
So this last time, she was awake. She was there with us through the whole thing, until the last second. And it was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever seen, and the cameras didn’t catch it – they got some footage that made it look like a freak accident, but nothing that really captured the beauty of it.
That’s what she left us with. She gave that to us. To me, but also to everyone. It was a gift.
…And since then?
Right, so now, this new thing I do, on my own – because it still works for me on my own. She couldn’t do it without me, and that’s what killed her. But I can still do it. I can disappear.
So I lie there and let them roll over me. That’s my act. That’s the only thing I can do without her. I just lie in the middle of the street and wait. And they go right over me, right through me, and I feel nothing – not the rush, like before, but just a faint little whisper of a feeling. I’m just passive, like she was, I guess. This is what I do now without her.
So would you call this a tribute?
No. I mean, I miss her. I ache for her. But no. This isn’t about her. What I realized that day is that they want my body too. They want it just as bad as hers, they thirst for it in the same disgusting way. So if they want it, they can have it. I’ll just lie there and let them take it.
You’ve retained the general theme of the original work, but the partnership aspect of the performance is lost. What’s the significance of performing the same material as a solo artist?
I’m not cashing in on her death, if that’s what people think. This was my work to begin with, and it’s my work I’m performing now. I was the creative force behind the original project.
Let me rephrase that. How is performing alone different for you?
Oh. I guess I’m in control.
And you weren’t before?
I don’t know. I was naïve. I thought they were there for her beauty. I thought I was making her beautiful for them. But now I know they wanted to see anyone, any body, beaten up and broken. And now that I know that, I don’t dress it up for them anymore. The spectacle is gone. Let them see it for what it is.
You’ll be performing ‘Roadkill’ in Montreal this summer, on the corner of Parc and Bernard. Is that not a tribute to your first performance with her?
I told you I’m not doing this for her. I mean, people can call it what they want. But yeah, I did think of her when I chose that corner. I need to close that chapter. I’m doing it for me. Whatever connection they think they have to it, it’s bullshit. This is mine. This is what I need to do.