Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Birthday.



Today my best friend's oldest kid turned 6. This is alarming for numerous reasons, not least of which being that I remember the day he was born, and it really does feel like yesterday. A yesterday that found me two cities and several broken hearts away from where I woke up this morning, but yesterday nonetheless.

"I don't know how he could be this old, when clearly we are still the same age," I told her this morning.

"Speak for yourself," she replied.

He was born on a Monday.

In those days I was still living in Ottawa and running away to Frontenac County every weekend to stay with a man I loved in secret. That secret hung between us, and I knew on some level that he felt it too, and our relationship often felt like an eternal standoff to see which of us could hold out the longest.

I never said I was good at matters of the heart, but what I lack in sense I make up for in enthusiasm.

On my way out there that weekend I'd stopped in at my best friend's place for lunch. She shuffled around the house, massive and cranky and looming over all of us. She wasn't due to pop for another couple of weeks, and it seemed as though if it didn't happen soon, horrible pain would befall us all.

"You sure you don't want to just hang out for awhile?" she asked as I skulked off to my car.

"I better not," I replied. "He's waiting for me."

It had been a weird summer. As my best friend got more and more pregnant, I felt like we had less and less in common. I had no idea what was going to happen once that kid came into the world. I basically assumed I'd be losing the partner in crime I'd held close for so long. But I couldn't say that, not now, with her lumbering around in exhaustion, with me running off yet again to some characteristically ill-advised decision. Uncertainty at both ends of a long county highway.

Things changed that weekend, though. I love you, that strange hermit of a man told me, as I stood in the doorway on Sunday night, trying to decide whether to stay one more night or just drive home. Neither option seemed particularly stabilizing. I love you, he told me, and I cried, because that's what I always do. I love you, he told me, and I stayed.

The problem was that I could never stay for long.

I woke up the next morning at 5 AM, feeling the very specific anxiety that comes with knowing you have a 2 hour drive ahead of you, 2 hours of gridlocked distance to put between you and a man who has finally opened his heart, followed by a meeting you have to chair, followed by Christ only knows what other professional disasters. I listened to Ron Sexsmith on the drive, just to hit the heartaching panic right out of the park. I drove past the Ottawa sign on the highway and cried for the second time in 24 hours. I had no idea what I was doing.

When I got back home, I had about a half hour to spare before I had to be at the library. I checked my messages, and heard one from my best friend, from the night before.

"Hey dude," she said, sounding disturbingly tentative, "So I THINK I might be in labour. No worries though!" She spoke as though she were trying to convince herself, and not doing a very good job.

I called her house immediately, and her sister, another of my very best people, picked up the phone.

"Oh yeah, we're in full swing here, pal," she said. I could hear a horrifying scream in the background. "If you stay on the line, you might even hear this little guy get born."

"I'm late for a meeting," I said quickly, "Gotta go! Big hugs! Call me when he gets here!"

An hour later I got a text. He was here. He was okay. Everyone was okay. Our mutual best friend (there are a lot of Best Friends in my life) called me from her office in Toronto.

"I'm just going into a meeting," she said. "I didn't know what to do."

"Me neither," I replied, welling up again, predictably.

The rest of the day was a blur. After chairing the worst meeting of my life I hit the road once more and drove from Orleans to Almonte. Trust me when I tell you that this is a hellish drive. Those were the days when I still occasionally smoked cigarettes, the days when I also still smoked in my car. (Don't tell my mother.) As I crept through gridlock and puffed out the window, I felt so spun out I didn't even know where to direct my nerviness. I was heading to my best friend's house, one of the most familiar ports in a storm I'd ever known. Only this time, I had no idea what to expect when I got there.

I tore into the driveway and gingerly knocked on the door, not wanting to disturb any quiet. I needn't have worried. In the kitchen, sisters and grannies grampas and husbands bustled around, a massive dinner already in the works. My best friend sat on the couch, a tiny swaddled peanut in her arms. (Not so tiny, I'd soon learn, not so tiny at all.)

"Oh my GOD," I said, and sat down beside her. "How WAS it?"

"It was HORRIBLE," she said. Obviously all those feel-good hormones hadn't yet wiped the trauma of childbirth from her memory.

She handed him over to me. I held him, just hours old, so new, so untouched. Oh lord, I prayed silently, please let the second hand smoke on this filthy pashmina not hurt him in any way. And then I cried. Again.

"Rough weekend?" my best friend asked.

"Not just that, but yes," I replied. "But we don't need to talk about that right now."

"But we can," she said. "That doesn't change."

So we did. I unloaded, briefly, as I held her life against my chest. I stayed for dinner, surrounded by the love and disbelief that descends on a home that is suddenly one heart larger. I drove home after dark, listening to Dylan, somehow certain amidst uncertainty that it would all be fine. How could it not be? New lives and new hearts are born every day, every hour, every moment. There would be room enough in the world for all the aching, all the joy, all the fear and all the hope that we could possibly imagine.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Live through this, and all that.


In the grand tradition of Bruce McCulloch’s Hangover sketch, and because putting all these thoughts in just one place seemed MILDLY less destructive than live-tweeting the past couple of days, I give you a modern girl’s guide to breaking up.

Saturday.

11:15 PM. 45 minutes before Shoshanna-style Day Date, receive extremely unbelievable text from supposed Main Hang. Think to yourself, The nerve of some goddamned people. The goddamned nerve. Think that, but with more frustrated texting and swear words and air kicking. Feel yourself cracking open.

12:00 noon. Through tears of rage, make a mental tally of the outrageous ways in which you have been broken up with over the years. Decide that the Text Breakup trumps all, even the Cross Country Time Zone Spanning Phone Call Breakup. Realize that this is not a productive exercise.

1:30. Run away. Do it. It's so rarely so deserved, or so convenient. Throw a few bathing suits and several cans of cider into a tote bag. Drive up Highway 6, past Grasshopper Imports. Keep driving. Keep moving. Turn up the radio. Think some thoughts. Feel some feelings. Sing some songs.

3:30 PM. Arrive at the lake, and jump in. Can we listen to the country station? Your best friend will politely ask your host. Fuck yeah, will be the reply. Fuck yeah.

5:00 PM. Go for a sail. Rationalize the particulars of your romantic failure as your best friend tells you when to tack. Allow the sail to hit you in the head, but only in passing. We could see the bottom of the boat on that one turn, your host will announce as you careen gracefully back toward the dock. My mom thinks I have the risk gene, your best friend and first mate will observe. I think we all do, you will reply. I think it just manifests in different ways in different people.

9:00 PM. Let the sun set. Swim out to the middle of the bay. Survey the land. Decide which piece you want for your own. This really does seem like the ideal time to take out a second mortgage, you'll observe, bemused.


Sunday.

9:00 AM. Run away again, just around the lake and back. Get chased by the same goddamned enormous dog you always get chased by. Try to treat it as an object lesson. Learn the dog's name (Betsy).

11:00 AM. dive into the water, which is colder than expected. Swim out to the point with your fellow mermaid in tow. Let the waves crash against your face as you make your way back to shore. Let yourself be pulled under, just for a moment.

12:30 PM. Depart the lake, and allow iPod shuffle to lead a journey of intense introspection. Begin planning the Breakup Catharsis playlist, which includes generous helpings of Sam Roberts, The Walkmen, and Bob Dylan (namely, Most Likely You'll go Your Way and I'll go Mine).

3:00 PM. Arrive home just in time for a radio documentary about Joni Mitchell's Blue on CBC 2. Lie on couch, overcome. Nod vigorously in agreement at the observation that Carey perfectly articulates the irresistible lure of the bad boy, that addictive itch, those perpetual butterflies. Think back to that risk gene. To each her own.

3:10 PM Resolve to never again date a guy who doesn't have the radio tuned to the nation’s public broadcaster for at least 5 hours daily.

5:30 PM. Call mom. Always call mom.

6:00 PM. Decamp to hammock in backyard with a stack of novels. Endeavour to remain there 3-6 hours.

7:00 PM. Drag body out of hammock for absolutely essential dinner break. Pull rhubarb and kale from the garden. Consider making a cake. Open the windows. Let the wind in. Let it swirl around, through doorways and hallways. Let it find its way into your dark corners.

9:00 PM Go Full Margot Tennenbaum in the bathtub. Tie a TV to the radiator. Find yourself an ashtray. Know on some deep, secret level that this is all going to be fine. Allow yourself to ignore that deeper truth for just a little while longer. Dunk your head under water. Hold your breath. Exhale.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Polar Vortex.



Look, no one needs you to tell them that it was a long winter. This was some Laura Ingalls Wilder style insanity. One for the record books, an absolute fucking horror show of emotional turmoil and spiritual reckoning and depression-addled blanket burrowing. No, no one needs to hear that from you. They've already heard it. They covered it daily on the public radio news that is your only accepted current events source. "How can it still be so cold?" they asked, dumbly, bewilderedly, each morning, as you brewed scalding hot strong coffee and toasted toast and died, over and over, dreading those first steps outdoors. Everyone knows that part already. They lived it too.

The winter started before the cold, though, and you rang out the old having your last real conversation with the one you'd first talked to nearly exactly a year earlier. It's horribly easy to end things over the phone, you thought to yourself. Horribly easy. Your best friend insisted on picking you up on New Year's Eve, benevolently helping you avoid the terrible Bridget Jones cliche of the suddenly single gal home alone, Joni Mitchell on the stereo. You were thankful for the charity. You enjoyed that perfect, surreal, lawless moment that arose whenever anyone was in transition, that brief point at which anything was possible, when everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

The deep freeze began the next day, it seemed. A sudden plunge, frozen cheeks and frozen pipes and that looming feeling that nothing would ever be right again. You rode out your days and hid out each night. You found a silver lining in the fact that a polar vortex is a hermit's dream. You inherited your brother's old record player and a TON of your parents' old records and declared this to be the winter of smooth 70s rock, a perfect follow-up to last year's mixtape 90s binge.

"We don't listen to enough Fleetwood Mac anymore," you told your best friend one night as she nodded vigorously in agreement. One afternoon you plucked a Steely Dan CD back from the weeding pile at the library and checked it out and told yourself you were doing the best thing you'd done in months. You tried not to look back in anger.

You didn't have much choice but to look for things to be hopeful for.

They weren't hard to find, not really. Some of them came on slow. Some of them came back from the past, unsurprising given your penchant for nostalgia. Some of them brought presents and were never really heard from again. Some came to visit and made you feel electric and goofy as a schoolgirl, holding mittened hands and wandering in the art gallery. Suddenly some were around a lot. You found yourself picking up raspberries at the grocery store so there'd be something in the fridge for breakfast. There were more teacups around the house than usual, more books askew, misplaced objects, the cozy clutter of a lived-in space, a warm warren in a frigid world. It could be a good thing, you realized, this shared space.

One night someone who was around more often than not those days helped you dismantle your shitty old Ikea bed frame one last time, a job you'd done over and over and over again in towns across the province, a job every man in your life seems to have been a part of, from your boyfriends to your dad to your brother's college roommate.

Afterwards you cooked him dinner. "Division of labour," you joked.

"It tastes like more," he told you.

"Help yourself," you replied, and he did.

Helping yourself. That's how you got through it. Those long cold nights seemed interminable, but you got through them. You found what you needed. It didn't look like what you thought it would, but nothing ever did. That much you'd finally learned.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

the Valentine Project, part 5.




I'm reviving my Valentine Project series, because there's not enough wistful heartache in the world, there's really not. You can catch up here before traveling backward through time once more.

February 14, 2005, Kitsilano, Vancouver, BC.


I took the bus up to the airport to meet his plane. It took nearly an hour. When I saw him waiting by the baggage carousel I ran up behind him and threw my arms around him (thank heavens for the chilled out attitude of YVR airport security). We splurged on a taxi back to my little Arbutus Street apartment and spent the following days wrapped around each other in the way that you get when you're 24 years old and newly-reunited with your one true love after two months apart.

He stayed for a week and I don't even remember what day was actually Valentine's Day amid a hazy, dozy slew of golden afternoons. I think maybe my roommate and secret sister, Tara, might have come home part-way through and joined us for dinner. We definitely watched The Wedding Singer for the twentieth time. I know we ate crepes at the little place down the street at some point, wandered along the Sea Wall, watched the sun set over English Bay through the picture window in the living room. I dragged him to Stanley Park one day, and got lost as I did every blessed time I ever went there. The woods spat us out close to Lost Lagoon and we wandered around the edge of the water, vaguely bewildered, utterly comfortable with one another.

He left a few days later and I cried at the airport (my years living in Vancouver were the ones during which I honed the sacred craft of the Airport Breakdown). I could barely let go of him, already counting the days till we'd see each other again in April. I could not bear the thought. It was the beginning of the end of us, though we didn't know it then. I didn't see it coming, though everyone around me sure did. That's the thing about me. I never quite see it coming.

Friday, January 24, 2014

telephone.



My longest relationship (with a BOY, I mean) lasted five and a half years. That still seems like an INCREDIBLE amount of time to me, which probably explains my firm commitment to serial monogamy. They were five and a half long years, if you know what I mean. A lot happens between the ages of 19 and 24. In hindsight I'm glad I had a buddy through all of it, dramatic though we may have been. We had five years of post-adolescent intensity, weekend trips back and forth to each others' hometowns each summer, nights sleeping over in the guys' dorm, mixtapes and heartache. We were in it for the long haul. Then I moved to Vancouver, and things went south as I veered west.

After a year of long-distance agony (and ALSO a couple of insanely fun visits, nights under the stars on the beach and heartfelt declarations and good sushi), and mere days before I was scheduled to come back to Ontario for a month, he broke it off over the phone. It's an awful way to end things, over the phone. If you're on the receiving end, there's nothing you can do, no one to grab onto, no door you can barricade to keep the other person from going. If you're the one going, it depersonalizes it, makes easy an act that has already ripped your heart to shreds from the agony of deciding to do it in the first place.

No one wins, really.

When he broke up with me that afternoon I didn't even know what to do. I sure hadn't expected to be on the receiving end of something like that. I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me (and that rug really tied the ROOM together, man). I flew home from Vancouver in the fetal position, re-reading Franny and Zooey. I was not in a great place, emotions-wise.

"Five and a half YEARS!" I cried to my mother. "It's a quarter of my LIFE!" She nodded, and made sure I got a lot of fresh air and hugs during the next couple of weeks.

I never thought I'd get over it. For a long time, I didn't, till suddenly, i did. Sometimes I wonder if I spent more time getting over him than I actually spent under him (or beside him, rather). Sometimes I wonder if things would have been different if I hadn't run away, but I know that particular hypothetical would NEVER have worked for me. Because I'm always running away, even when I don't even know it. Always with the escape route, for better or for worse.

Monday, December 30, 2013

albums of the year, 2013.

Honestly, I feel like putting together this list somehow deceives people into thinking I listened to anything other than The National this year. At any rate, I don't get too many opportunities to deceive others, so let's just go with it.

In no particular order, here are the new records I was obsessed with this year. This isn't a Top Ten, because I don't think I even listened to ten new records this year. Lying on the floor listening to Matt Berninger mirror your soul back to you in song takes up a LOT of time.

(Please note, this is an Arcade Fire Free Zone.)

Neko Case--The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
(I want to be her when I grow up.)

Laura Marling--Once I was an Eagle

David Bowie--The Next Day

Vampire Weekend--Modern Vampires of the City
(My mother called these guys Zombie Weekend last week, that was pretty great.)

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs--Mosquito

Haim--Days Are Gone

The National--Trouble Will Find Me



This album is perfect.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solstice.

Interesting things always seem to happen on the darkest day of the year.

Four years ago, it was my first Christmas in Kingston. The weekend of the winter solstice, my best friends were having a holiday party. It was a Friday night, and I had to work the next day. This solemn fact didn't really propel me toward anything resembling responsible decision making. The signature cocktail of the party was Moose Milk, which is, to the best of my recollection, equal parts ice cream, Baileys, vodka, and sin. On my well-past-tipsy stumble home (oh, the joy of living stumbling distance from best friends), I phoned up the man in my life. I hadn't had a cell phone for very long at that point, and the novelty of being able to call people (not to mention the novelty of having someone to call) hadn't worn off.

"I'm gonna keep you on the phone," I told him, "in case anything happens to me on my way home. I might need a witness of some kind."

"Jesus Christ," he replied, probably not of much sounder mind than I. "Get the hell off the streets."

"Oh, I'm fine," I assured him, sidling into a snowbank. "I have to work in the morning, anyway."

"Jesus Christ," he repeated. "Call in sick, you idiot."

I probably should have heeded his advice, but some semblance of professionalism won out instead, and I struggled through a busy, crazy Saturday at the library, half-asleep and probably still off-gassing vodka from the previous evening. He picked me up that night outside the library, in not much better shape than I, and we drove out to Brockville to visit his parents for Christmas.

The thing about him and me was, we spent a long time pretending we weren't as attached as we actually were. We danced around one another for a ridiculous span of months and years before we admitted to one another what we actually felt. Once we did, we kind of went into Full Steam Ahead mode, zero to sixty in ten seconds, that kind of thing. From flat out denial that we were in love to barreling down the highway toward Brock Vegas for Christmas dinner. It had been a long time since I'd had anyone in my life for whom I cared enough to spend a hungover Saturday night with family, eating a chicken casserole that was his mother's version of vegetarian cooking. His mom had gifts for both of us, a Trivial Pursuit game and a bag of chocolate and toothpaste and new slippers and stocking stuffers. He was embarrassed by it, but not so much that he apologized for it. The novelty hadn't worn off here either.

That night we slept in separate single beds, him in his brother's room, me in his. In the morning I woke up to him jumping on top of me and telling me to get ready to get the fuck out of there. He was a big fan of the Irish Goodbye, leaving unannounced and then calling from the road. (Those apologetic phone conversations comprised about forty percent of our communication during the first year of our relationship.) This was a hard feat to pull off in your own parents' house, though, so we toughed it out through breakfast before burning rubber.

We took the long way home, down past Smith's Falls, coming into Kingston over the bridge from the east side of town. Everything was snow-quiet and still. That afternoon, my best friend was playing a solstice concert at the Mansion. He hated going out, but I convinced him to come with me without much prodding. We sat on bar stools, drinking pints of Guinness, listening to some of the best musicians in town play the best kind of folk music. The sun was setting on the darkest day of the year, the dimming-down outside making the Christmas lights twinkling around us in the bar seem brighter by the moment. We walked home shivering, fell asleep curled up together to keep warm. It was so cold that he let the dog jump up on the bed, which he never did, as a rule. "It's my bed, not his," he'd say. But that night that he begrudgingly allowed an exception. Sometimes you have to do that, go against your own code for the sake of someone else. Sometimes the most important thing is just to stay warm. Sometimes you do what you can to find light in the darkness.