Friday, October 28, 2011

the pieces that stick around.

I've never read Proust, and I doubt I ever will. I'm reaching the point in my real life and my reading life where I'm less concerned with what I want to do and more concerned with what I don't want to do. Examples: I don't want to go out this Friday. I don't want to talk to you on the phone if I can help it. I don't want to read Proust. The older I get the more I realize how precious my own time is, and how hard I'll work to protect it and do with it the things that really make me feel whole and happy (such as, apparently, doing shitloads of yoga and watching several hundred episodes of classic 90210 in rapid succession).

Anyway, where I was going with this was, I've never read Proust, but I know enough about him to reference him (never underestimate the value of a liberal arts education). I can definitely sympathize with the whole dipping of the madeleine cookie into the tea and the evocation of intense sense memory. As a perpetual victim of my own past, engaging with my memories is less an occasional event and more a daily contact sport.

Here's today's madeleine cookie: a scratched-up, case-less copy of The Last DJ by Tom Petty, scrounged out of the armrest console of my car during an uncharacteristic cleanout. It was buried under an empty bottle of Moosehead (in itself a madeleine in its own right). When I found the Petty CD, I spent a protracted moment trying to figure out how it had gotten there. When I turned it over and saw how dinged up it was, it all came flooding back to me.

It was a clear blue Saturday morning last November, the kind of bright, fresh day you always hope for at the end of fall, walking that fine line between the briskness of autumn and the bone-chills lying in wait. It had rained non-stop for the past week, not that I'd been outside much. I'd spent the last two days in the emergency ward at the Kingston General Hospital and then the makeshift sickroom of my own apartment with my then-boyfriend, who had broken his shoulder falling off a roof and was waiting for surgery. After a long day on Thursday, I'd taken him home when it became clear that his surgery wasn't going to happen. The nurses told us to wait by the phone for the call, which would surely come early Friday, telling us to come back to the hospital. That call never came. Instead Friday was a day spent on tenterhooks, feeding Tom painkillers and trying to track down a washing machine in which to clean his blood-soaked laundry. It is not an experience I would recommend to anyone.

When the O.R. nurse finally did call on Saturday morning, I wanted to reach through the telephone and kiss her. Tom got dressed in his now-clean clothes (never underestimate the kindness of good neighbours) and we shuffled down to my car, which was now covered in frost. The first breath I took outside that morning felt so good and pure. The air was so clean and still. I had a rush of relief and unlimited potential. Everything was going to be fine.

This feeling dissipated pretty fast when I realized I had no idea where my car scraper was. When you're walking that line between holding it together for the sake of someone else and losing it completely for your own damned self, it's pretty easy to teeter over to the dark side. I was so freaked out and panicky about the possibility of Tom missing his surgery if we were late that I just started scraping the frost off my windshield with my fingernails, all the while yelling at Tom to get the hell into the car. It would've been funny if it hadn't been so horrifying, or maybe vice versa.

"Calm down," Tom told me. He was gritting his teeth, he was in so much pain, and yet. "You must have a CD in your car."

I reached into my trunk, which was in fact comically full of CDs--when your boyfriend lives half an hour outside of town and you spend most of your weekends driving to and from his place and also rocking out pretty hard when you're together, you have to be prepared. I grabbed the first one I made contact with, The Last DJ, stolen from a pile of discards at a library I worked at a long time ago. I handed it to him, and he opened the case with his one good arm, his one steady hand. He used the edge of the disk to scrape the ice off my windows and quietly told me to start the car.

"Don't worry," he said, and he winced. "Just drive."

He was like that: stoic, protective, sensible. He was also a lot of other things, but I think it's the way he'd quietly jump in and do what needed doing that I miss the most.

We got to the hospital. He had his surgery. I spent a month playing nursemaid before we both realized that all the tender care in the world couldn't heal the real cracks, the fractures that had come on slowly, months before he fell. We broke up. It was the right thing. It was the right thing. It had to be the right thing.

I should throw out that album. It's time for a new soundtrack.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

back on the horse, jump off the horse.

Definite, universally acknowledged signs you're on a date that's headed south:

1. His opener is an anecdote about how he cooks meat for his dog in a slow-cooker and leaves the pot for his cleaning lady to worry about.

1a. Other than that, he doesn't cook much.

2. He describes, at length, his ex-wife's very expensive tastes.

3. He tells an actually pretty funny story about discovering that the house he bought (and then tore to the ground to build his dream home; people actually do this, apparently) had a grow op in the basement, and does not seem in the least excited about finding free pot in there.

4. He gleefully admits to having football-shaped lights in the W.C. adjacent to his "sports room" (people actually have these, apparently).

5. Bizarre occasions of mild racism couched under the banner of political correctness, ie. getting really quiet and whispering the word "Asian" while in a Vietnamese restaurant.

6. He does not like Christmas, and once bought a Christmas tree for his wife to spite her (the details of this one are not even worth going into; please fill in using your own fertile imagination).

7. After you spend the longest hour of your life eating Thai Tom Yum soup as fast as you possibly can in an attempt to get out of there, he completely misreads your body language and swoops in for a kiss, and then says "I hope that was the right thing to do." No, sir, no, it was not.

I'm pretty sure there's a lesson here. Let's start with this: Guys, I now know of a really great Vietnamese restaurant nearby!

Antidote: Drive home super duper fast, listening to Titus Andronicus playing super duper loud, and feel incredibly grateful for your own glorious independence.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Say thanks.

Three years ago, my mom flew up to Ottawa a couple of days before Thanksgiving so I wouldn't have to drive home alone. We went out for dinner at a restaurant in the Glebe, just a stone's throw from my attic apartment, and ate some of the best carrot soup in all creation. On the road back to Hamilton, we stopped at my best friend's house to pick up the bridesmaid dress her mom had altered for me (the top was way too big, and the skirt was way too small; I was going pear-shaped on so many levels that fall). The dress pickup was mostly a great excuse for my mom to meet Freya's brand-new baby boy, Finlay Peter, only a few weeks old. I remember holding him while Freya ran downstairs to change the laundry, and as she yelled back up the stairs to us, Finn turned his head toward the sound of her voice.

I spent that weekend in wedding mode as two more of my best friends got married on one of those warm, gorgeous October afternoons that you always wish for but never get when you need. I sat at the head table and cried at the speeches and thought of my own other half, hidden in a cabin in the woods, hours away, agoraphobic, denying everything.

Two years ago, I had to work on Thanksgiving weekend. My mom took the train to Kingston, my new forever home, and we ate dinner at Chez Piggy, tucked away cozy and warm at a corner table on a rainy night. On Sunday, my brother drove up from Hamilton and my other half drove in from the hideout, and we all trekked down to the waterfront for a long afternoon walk. The leaves were falling and the wind howled and the old psychiatric hospital buildings seemed even more ominous than usual. Mom and my brother left early on Monday morning, and the other half and I went back to bed and stayed there all day, keeping each other warm.

One year ago, he made a promise to come along on the long drive back home to Hamilton for Thanksgiving dinner. He was a man who was hard to pin down, and I was so incredibly happy to know that he would be in the driver's seat, at the dinner table next to me, tossing and turning on the creeky pullout in my parents' basement. The day before we left, he called and told me he couldn't go. He was building a house, and stewarding his land, and I tried to believe what he was saying, that he was doing this for both of us, that this was the hard part, that it would get easier. I cried into the phone like a character in a Judy Blume book. Then I picked myself up and drove myself home. That weekend in Hamilton, I went to a yoga workshop and felt my heart open up wider than ever before. I felt so incredibly grateful for the long hard road that led me to that sunny studio, that dingy rented mat.

This year, I'm potting chrysanthemums on my own front porch and ripping up rudbeckia in my own backyard, getting ready for next year's epic vegetable patch. I'm on my own. I've made my way home and my long drive to dinner is only about twelve minutes, door to door. I'm teaching my own yoga classes and telling my students to think about gratitude, to think of the things worth being thankful for, to keep an eye out for them. They always pop up in the most unexpected places.