A Tragically Hip Marriage

I watched Long Time Running last night, with the adorabeasts in my bed, which made it all hurt a little less. And there we were, slow dancing to “Scared” for three or four seconds, singing the lyrics. My head on his strong shoulder, against his Phantom Power shirt. We’d ridden bikes to the arena that August, just a year and a bit ago, sweat of the humid city summer rolling down our backs. My hair was curly-frizzy, the hair he has left was matted with sweat. On his wrist, the watch we bought on our only trip to NYC when things were starting to get really bad and the fissures in our relationship started to resemble the giant gaps in the ground of a Roadrunner cartoon. The cliff was impending, but I thought we could “Meep, meep!” our way across.

I am wearing a Dia de los Muertos type skull tank that gringas like me get when in Mexico. We were in Sayulita for the wedding of our dear friends when I got it, and in terrible shape. He was living in another city for work (and to get away from me) and I was paying for it all. At the wedding he got ridiculously drunk and forgot that we needed to get our kids home, because our sick kid gets migraines if she doesn’t sleep properly. My resentment grew with every minute that he did nothing to get us home, because he was having fun and his fun always came before the rest of us. Then it started raining on our sleeping kids while he guffawed with an old friend and I completely lost my shit on him, because there were no cabs and no way for me to walk all the way to Gringo Hill from where we were with two sleeping kids. I should burn that tank top.


Gord Downie died this week and I am faced with a gaping space in my soul. Every single Hip song for me is a reflection of us. Every guitar lick, every lyric takes me to a specific scene in our marriage. Trouble at the Henhouse was released as our friendship was burgeoning and was frequently played throughout our marriage (you can read an entire post set to “Flamenco” here).  Phantom Power was released right when we started dating and in many ways, it’s the most definitive Hip album. “Poets,” “Bobcaygeon,” “Fireworks,” all on the same disc. “Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man” was his anthem, and I never saw it as a song about bands passing each other in concert halls, but part of me wondered if Theo saw it as the song which represented things I never knew about that happened when he was living in London. That song brings me right into sunny rental apartment living rooms with their mix of IKEA and hand-me-down furniture, movie posters gracing the walls. “Those melodies come back to me… At times beyond our heartbeat.”

Music @ Work was released the year we got married and moved into the concrete box in the sky downtown, overlooking the CN Tower. Our song was “Stay” — “You’re a fighter and a lover. And there’s no one up above her. So, stay. Stay.” But he couldn’t stay. He tried. I have days where I believe he tried his hardest and days where I think he could have tried harder, but today it’s the former. He wasn’t cut out for marriage, to give himself completely to another. And in the future if he manages to change that I will be bitter and happy for him in the same breath.

In Violet Light came next and that’s when we started to diverge. Theo was still committed to the Hip, but I was starting to wane. I don’t know why. If I reflect on it, I think it would be because Theo might read this and not think of me with any of those songs or albums. His relationship was one-sided. Just between him and Gord. Where as I saw it as more of an infinity symbol, a symbiotic relationship between my love for Theo and my love for the music. The music was the soundtrack for our playing house, where as for Theo, the music defined HIM. “O’ for a good life, we just might have to weaken,” sang Gord, and we took his word. Maybe it was OK to allow for some space. Have our separate lives and converge at the end of the day to share privately what we’d experienced, who we were when it was just the two of us.


In their consistent way, the Hip released an album every two years. I recall nothing of In Between Evolution in 2004. I was pregnant with our first and so much in my own head that year. Wikipedia says it hit Number #1 on the Canadian charts the week it came out, but I don’t know a single song. By the time World Container was released in 2006, we had a baby who’d had a stroke, and a big grown-up mortgage in a new part of town with no friends there, and I was working part-time and feeling immense guilt about it. I had a two-year-old mom blog and was starting to overshare online to bigger and bigger audiences. And suddenly my separate life was no longer about going to the movies after work with my best gay and then coming home to retell the plot, but about living a life online while baby was sleeping, a life that he felt too far removed from to even care about. Worse, he felt super uncomfortable about where the internet was taking me and how much of my deepest, darkest thoughts were being shared with complete strangers.

On the other hand, I was feeling an incredible sense of community online. Motherhood was a lonely experience in a lot of ways, and reading honest accounts from the trenches was wonderful. I loved trying to be funny in my descriptions of the day to day. I loved the raw way I wrote and felt myself getting better and better with each post, my commenters encouraging me to keep going. But Theo does not like feeling like anyone knows anything about him, which I believe is part of the reason he didn’t find success as an artist.

Gord Downie splayed his insides out in song. A good artist does this, tells their truth, in their own way, revealing themselves in a way that we can all relate to. I was doing the same in my writing, but I suppose my ego started to come into play as well. With every accolade I began to get bolder in what I would share. I carved a niche for myself, writing about sex and arguments in a way I should have considered a bit more before publishing. Theo asked me to stop. He would never be comfortable with it. And so in time I began to hold back. And in holding back, I began to lose interest in writing.


When We Are the Same came out in 2009, we were two kids deep. I’d been getting help for my PTSD after my traumatic first birth. I’d gotten a do-over with my second baby and the panic attacks were decreasing. But I was working four-days-a-week at a startup, and with the constant sleep deprivation, my tendency to being capital ADD-distracted was making me struggle at work and home. I felt Theo judged me harshly in those days. I would constantly ask him to cut me some slack. The house was a mess and I couldn’t keep up. He was home with no one else at home most days before going off to work nights and felt that we left everything for him to clean up and he was mad about it. I was angry that he was home all the time with all this time to himself and things weren’t even or fair at all. Couldn’t he JUST CUT ME SOME SLACK?!

I shit-talked myself a lot at during that time, and without writing to process it, I was lost. That’s why I’m here, writing secretly under a pseudonym. Blogs are my moleskins. I need them. I began to fall deeper and deeper into despair. Sure, there was still a lot of light and joy during that time. I’m sure if I go check Facebook, there are photos of smiling faces and happy memories and trips to the beach with adorable little people. But the fissure was widening, and I mistakenly thought that once the kids were older, I’d be able to get out some Crazy Glue and some ratchet ropes and pull the whole thing back together.

In the background of our old rickety house with the creaky floorboards and the crumbling plaster walls, Gord sang, “Who are you? What is it with you? Who are you?” over and over on “The Last Recluse” and I struggled to answer.

You broke my heart, from the start
Made me work, work so hard
to get where I am
to where I’d let you do it all again.
Who are you? Who are you?

What do I do? What do I do, without you? 

Eight years later, I am attempting to answer.

Stepping into Maria

I haven’t published any writing in weeks. Over a month, I think. And I’m sorry. There have been a few developments and my reasons are sound.

1. I started a writing club with a few friends and having three hours a week to write is glorious. However it means my creative energy flows into that project and the blog gets neglected. I’m working on that though.

2. My ex started working nights, so aside from writing club, I am with the kids every single evening. And truth be told, I don’t mind. I’ve dug myself quite a debt hole, going out to dinner and for drinks, sometimes 3 or 4 times a week when I don’t have the kids. Generally indulging myself when I feel sad. So being home is good because I’m finally having to face my financial reality post-separation. It’s painful but good, and I’m taking steps to fix my mistakes. But I’m not going to lie, it’s also scary as fuck.

Also, my babies (I know I don’t talk about them much here), well I love them. It the purest, most wonderful love I’ve ever experienced. I love making dinner and doing homework. Sure, I’m a control freak and part of that is that I get to quality control stuff. My way is the right way, blah blah blah. (What? You think HE was the ONLY reason we broke up?) But I also love seeing that light come on in their eyes when they really get a concept, or when I coach them to motivation or success or understanding. And the hugs and the love in return… I need it so much right now. Sometimes I worry that I’m too transparent with them, too honest with my emotions, too needy of their affection, and it scares them. But I gotta be me and teach them there’s no shame in that. Teach them that in spite of all the stress and worry, we have a good life together. I want to work hard to be someone they are proud of.

3. My new job (YES! I got THAT job!) is insane. I know it’s par for the course, but seriously, every time I start a new job I think, “Holy shit, you are so unqualified for this job!” And I talk shit to myself, because I’m overwhelmed and as a know-it-all it’s really hard to be in meetings where you don’t know what the fuck is going on. I say shit to myself like, “What do you actually do? What do you actually deliver? You can barely pay attention in meetings because you’re like a fucking grieving ghost. Where is your fucking brain? They are all gonna eat you alive.” So by the time I come home, do all the mom stuff, give my email and Facebook a cursory glance, all I can do is lay on my heating pad and watch This is Us. Fuck.

Anyway, no excuses. You twenty or so lovely people have invested in this story and I owe you an update.


After I snogged the second ex-colleague, the one who has been dating an old friend of mine for a year, I felt like a giant hairy arsehole. My guru and dear friend, Dr. X, messaged me from Spain and told me she was concerned I was going to get VD (or some other hip retro acronym that means “diseases from dicks”). And I had to concede that she was right, I was flirting with disaster and I was feeling terrible about it.

Case in point, one of the last times I saw Ali, right after my vacation, I came home and hastily took razor and scissors to my pubes. He’d already proved he was a bit porny in his 30-something sexual tastes and I didn’t want to go in full bush. Actually, full bush would maybe be ok. The ratty, half-bush situation I was sporting after a trip to the beach for just over a week was just not gonna work for either of us. And when I quickly chopped away with bad, 40-something eyes, I took off a science lab-appropriate piece of my labia. I had to put a bandage on my vajuj to stop the bleeding, and I texted friends wondering if it was wise to have sex with someone as slutty him (whom I now know to be a disgusting predator) with an OPEN WOUND on my lady parts. My inner voice was screaming, “Don’t fucking risk it!” But the other voice, the one that wants me to stop being such a worrisome goody-goody, said, “Go on, girl. Get it!” There’s a lot of things that happen before that condom goes on, ya know? Not smart. *Shudder* But yeah, I went over there and shagged him anyway. Amazing how you can ignore pain during sex.

So I decided to take a break from dudes and dicks and dating apps. Everything was changing (see #2 and #3 above) and I needed to focus. I prioritize for a living (though everyone I work with seems to suggest I’m bad at it — not true, for the record, but very few people I work with realize how fucked up the system I work in is), and the boy thing just got moved out of the roadmap and into the parking lot for now. It became a needless distraction that was sapping my energy from the two things I need to be really good at right now: kids and work.

Right before I decided this, I’d made a date to see Ali. But after TSTSHB (The Snog That Shouldn’t Have Been), I got completely demolished by a cold. And I took that as my body’s way of telling me that I needed to quit the boys cold turkey. No patch, no chewing gum, no elastic band to snap against my wrist to resist the cravings. I put new batteries in my vibrator, made a Soundcloud playlist (I love sex audio. I’m too picky about the visuals in p0rn, plus 19763 other issues I have with p0rn), and decided to cancel my date.

Now, I’d love to make you think that I had some sassy way of ripping off the bandage, but no. I had a wee, stupid relapse and when I messaged him to say that I was too sick for a shag, I responded to his, “Awww, too bad” with the suggestion that if he really wanted to see me, maybe we could catch a movie or something. Not sure how he got out of that one, but he didn’t bite. It was clear he doesn’t want to date me and I knew that I was so done with him. Because — data point! — I don’t JUST want booty calls! I think I’m getting closer to knowing what I want and need right now.

I should have known WAY earlier, obviously, that Ali had no interest in maintaining a friendship with benefits in the same way I did. Like when he lead me on that first night together and then proceeded to ghost me. Or when I fucked him for the first time and he didn’t even message me after. Or the fact that after our last tryst, every time I saw his green light on Facebook Messenger I would pause, because I realized I didn’t have anything to fucking say to him. Because, friends, he couldn’t volley.

Mid-September, I posted a pic or video of myself at a baseball game, during which my home team totally shit the bed. He messaged to flirt; wasn’t I the cutest bad luck charm ever? (They tanked the last game I was at, too, after which I’d gone to his place.) I came back with, “At least last time *I* scored!” And then it died, because he’s never going to be funnier than me. I believe he knows this. So with me not having anything to say and him not wanting to be with someone funnier than him, who is a little bit broken and messy and has a lot of rules around when she can actually go out, well… I can’t even say it fizzled out.

I wanted to wrap it up with something cool, like, “That was a fun summer, but we both know this isn’t going anywhere.” But I lingered on Messenger for days, typing and deleting, wanting to go first and then not wanting to go first, still kind of hanging on to the promise of that first night and wishing he would turn it around. And in my stalling, he got to go first. Or rather, she did.

“Svetlana Sunflower is In a Relationship with Ali Ahmed.” Her profile is that of an old, George Carlin-looking man shrugging. Maybe it’s a joke? I can tell I’m not the only one who is shocked. There are usually 12 other women, with whom the only mutual friend we share is him, who jump all over his posts and today they respond with open-mouthed WOW emojis. I unfollowed his updates weeks earlier, but I can’t resist this daily temptation to check his FB, which is how I see this. He is an enigma, closed and confusing, like your local shop on a statutory holiday. One week he’s buying plants with one woman, and the next he’s “in a relationship” with someone completely different. It’s gross actually.

The suspense killing me, so I go to his Instagram and search his followers for “Svet” and I find her. “Summer goth,” says one photo. Another proves they were together a few weekends earlier. She is so fucking young, with crazy milky skin and perfectly thick eyebrows and a dark sense of humour that isn’t quite jaded yet. White flag. Ugh.

But I didn’t want him anyway, right? Still…

****************************

The upside of all this is that I learned the lessons quickly. I didn’t spend two decades wondering, “Why isn’t this working? If he would just ______ it could be so great!” Done, and some of that deciding was not up to me, but I think I was catching on. An improvement in the algorithm. I’ll take it.

The other brilliant nugget from all this is that I’m happy now. Well, I’m still working through the feeling that I’m going to be fired every day, but generally, I’m happier. I feel a sense of purpose that I haven’t felt in some time. “You are stepping into Maria,” says Dr. X and she’s right.

After my child had a terrifying illness, major surgery and unexpected complications four years ago, I was fucked up. Really and truly fucked up. For a long time after, I would tell people that I felt like a skeleton wearing a Maria costume. I really don’t know how else to put it. I knew I was supposed to be Maria and say Maria things and shine my damn bright shiny smile on everyone so they’d feel better about the fact that my child almost died and our future was uncertain. But I was running a shitty Turtle program and the world had moved on to JS Node and it just wasn’t cutting it. RT 90; RT 45; Repeat 15. I think I fooled people for a while, but it didn’t last. I had a permanent anger at the world, pissed that I kept getting pissed on. I wasn’t fun to be around anymore. The processor on the Commodore 64 was not fast enough, and there was a constant hamster wheel running behind the angles on the screen.

I’m still working through this anger. It burbled up on the weekend, on a girls’ weekend away where I felt like a bit of an outsider. A perceived injustice, a slight, set me off. It comes when I feel like I’m on the outside, which I have to be careful of at work, too. And then boom, the dark cloud crosses my face and occupies mission control in my mind and there’s no turning back. The consequence is almost always regret. This weekend it was the hurt feelings of the other party, and I suspect that rift is not going to mend anytime soon which is sad because my relationship with offended person has been the longest of my life.

Then there’s the sadness. Some days, I throw a real pity party and rehash all the absolute shite things that have happened to me since I had my first child and I collapse under the weight of “This is just not fucking fair.” It feels so heavy, having to do it all, afford it all, rely only on myself. Some days it’s just too much. I also don’t know when the grief is going to hit. Sometimes it’s just hanging in the background, humming an annoying low buzz. Then, WHAM, I’m sobbing outside a brewery in a small town, because a flight of beers and a Radiohead song made me miss Theo, my ex.

I have a hard time being around couples and women in healthy relationships, too, depending on the day. Some days I can be so happy for the couple, and I thank them for showing me that healthy relationships do exist. Other days, the couples or women are just a searing reminder of what I’ve lost. And this sends me spiralling down the rabbit hole of shit-talking myself.

But I’m “stepping into Maria” and that’s gonna take time. And reflection. And the thing that is not quite happening right now is making time for reflecting. That’s gotta change real soon. In the meantime, I’m touching the rocky bottom here and there and knowing I don’t want to spend much time down so low. But there’s something to touching the scary place with the tip of your big toe and not turning away from the discomfort but sitting with it. I’m trying to do that more, to stay with the uncomfortable feeling, because there are lessons there. We are so used to turning away when things feel icky, and with social media and TV and the internet and phones— it’s just so easy.

I’ve been not occupying Maria fully for so long now. Four years at least. Maybe in my next post I’ll focus on what I’ve learned about her this year. Maybe, if you know me IRL, you could chime in with suggestions in the comments, and I will weigh each of them with a simple meditation of “Is that true?” Asking this question is a good place to start. When you shit-talk yourself, stop and ask, “Is that true?” And then sit with it. Heck, I should re-read this whole post with the “Is that true?” lens.

I did get a glimmer of longing though, this past weekend. A realization that perhaps I don’t want to be alone and self-sufficient forever. That sharing happy and sad moments and experiences with someone who gets you is a good thing. The challenge will be replacing the person who has been that for me for two decades. Because the biggest realization of late has been our co-dependence. I’ve gotta stop enabling Theo, and I’ve gotta stop relying on him or reaching out to him for emotional or other support. And that, my friends, is gonna be the focus of the next few months. I can see true independence in the near future. I’m getting there. Stepping into Maria is like being born again. It’s painful and it’s beautiful, and at the end of the tunnel, there’s life.

 

The great big no

youngadult

I’m kind of a mess today. I’m nursing a big barrel of shame—and a hangover.

I was listening to The Lemonheads on the weekend and since I’m acting 23 and not 43 and the 90s are back in style, maybe I need to explore this song in the context of this post.

I went out with another former colleague, last night. (This seems to be my prime dating pool right now, though after I tell you this story, you’ll understand why I’m never going to do that again.) Let’s call him Evan (as in Dando). I was hoping it was a date and I had sexy, flirty thoughts about it all day. Partially because I’ve always found him hot, but also because he and I have always had a bit of a soul connection. He’s witty and adorable and there’s something appealing about him. He’s effortlessly cool and a bit of an intellectual snob and I am always drawn to those types, probably because my dad was always an asshole who read a lot of books.

When he arrived at the bar, everything felt neutral. I didn’t get a vibe from him that it was a date. And shortly into our conversation about how he’s not lived with his wife for 2.5 years, I asked him about dating and he replied that he’s been seeing another one of our former colleagues for about a year. Huh. OK. Moving on.

So I did that thing I do, which is to just be myself, un-self-consciously babbling and oversharing too much, revealing that I’m slightly broken and messy. Why do men fall for that over the together-me? I had FIVE bourbon cocktails. This is all not a good mix. I am a horrible tease when drunk.

Lover don’t turn your head.
Just let me walk away.
I thought I might have to say,
You’re asking the wrong guy.
She wonders how.
Thinks she knows now.
She’ll be right.
They always go bye the bye.
The great big no. Great big no.
Great big no. Great big no.

 

I honestly thought I’d be done after two drinks, but Evan kept ordering Manhattans and then getting frustrated when they weren’t “perfect.” He was too discerning about the food and the drink, something that would probably make me nuts if we were ever dating. But we had fun. He’s broken, I’m broken. His story was tough to hear, and I can only imagine what he was like when he was at the same point I am now. He’s struggling to figure himself out, struggling to pick up the pieces, but also he’s OK with it. His kids are older. He’s almost at a big turning point.

I don’t even know how three hours went by, but they did and the drunker I got, the more flirty I got, even though he is dating our mutual friend. I was shameless, talking about how no one since Theo has gotten my A-game in bed. (Ugh.) Talking about how Ali has some sort of program or algorithm for having sex and how that’s not really enough for me as a canvas that needs a painter. Talking about the Brazilian and his bad tongue.
Is nothing okay with you? 
Is nothing okay with me?
Is anything happening to have to go to sea?
He wonders why. The indigo guy,
He’ll be right.
They always go bye the bye.
The great big no. Great big no.
Great big no. Great big no.

I don’t know how I kissed him across the bar, but I did. Maybe he asked if he could kiss me on the cheek and I turned my face in at the final moment. I used Ali’s moves on Evan, I somehow leaned over the corner of the bar and planted a peck on his lips. Damn. “Oh I’m glad you did that,” he said.

Five bourbon cocktails means lots of last night is fuzzy. Did we kiss again in the bar? Was there tongue? I dunno. Maybe? [INSERT SHRUG EMOJI HERE.] We said goodnight at some point. He went outside to smoke some liquid e-cigarette thingy and I went to the ladies and popped some gum in my mouth. And then, when I got out there, he said, “Let’s do that again.” And I was so fine with it because drunk Maria is a horny slut, and man, he was a good kisser and I knew that the experience would expire the moment we walked away. Because hell, we are not ever doing that again.
Everyone knows everything
Everyone knows everything
Nobody, nobody has got no one to go to.
Great big no.
Great big no.
Great big no.
Great big no.

I rode home in the dark, defying death somehow (touch wood, ptoo, ptoo). I wobbled into the house and Theo was waiting and perturbed by something. He confronted me about something our daughter said I said about him, about why we broke up. And the mental gymnastics I had to do to get through it were brutal. I was too wasted for the conversation. I should have stopped it. But instead, I tried to do a brain cartwheel onto the mat and it quickly spun out of control.

We haven’t fought since he left. Not really. I’ve never said all the things I wanted to say because I’ve spent years arguing the same arguments. He can’t acknowledge my hurt, he can’t take responsibility for his actions. When I drunkenly listed off his infractions last night he told me the reason he did those things was because I am full of hate for him. Wow. Even if that’s remotely true, my resentment should not be your excuse for signing up for an adultery dating site.

I tearfully asked him to leave. Later, I texted him to let him know I was sorry and we both admitted responsibility for how that all went down, apologized and committed to getting back on track on the path we were on: friendship and coparenting respectfully. This morning we hugged and I made the mistake of breathing him in again, but with the added mistake of looking lovingly and brokenly into his eyes. Sigh. I’m the world’s biggest fool.

Felipe texted last night to say he had made progress with his daughter and that he was thinking of me. He calls me Bonita. I love that. I told him that I was feeling like a piece of shit and didn’t deserve his praise and he wrote back the most beautiful words of encouragement. I’m kind of grateful he’s still there in the background, but have to remind myself that he’s not anywhere near the right one to date right now and that his kisses left my skin crawling.

Ali messaged too and I will see him next week to have my itches scratched. I view my Ali nights like going to the chiropractor. He will wring me out in his 7/10 way, pushing all the right buttons, but failing to make poetry with my body. But he always leaves a huge smile on my face.

This morning I woke up with guilt about kissing the boyfriend of my friend. I haven’t seen her in years, but we used to hang out a lot and I have a lot of affection for her. It was a shitty move on my part. I don’t know if they are using labels, but still, I should not have put my tongue in her dude’s mouth. But as my beloved gay chastised me today, “Oh don’t stress out. It was only a snog.” Right? Let’s go with that.

I need to be mindful that my flirtations can get me in trouble. That there are real consequences to my actions and I’m playing with people’s feelings after all. But I also need to accept that I am hedonistic and messy right now. Maybe there’s no statute of limitations on how long I will live like this, but I think that’s par for the course for the next six months, until we pass the one-year milestone, at least. Because hey, I haven’t defined the charter of rights and freedoms for the country called Maria yet. I haven’t outlined the mission statement. What does Maria represent? What does she stand for? What will she unapologetically not stand for? What resources does Maria have and what does she need in terms of partners and allegiances to make her country stronger? That, my faithful readers, is what I’m hoping to figure out before the ball drops on 2017.

Whoah (Lover don’t turn your head.)
Lover don’t turn your head.
No. (Lover don’t turn your head.)
Is nothing okay with you?

Written by Evan Griffith Dando, Tom Morgan • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC, Domino Publishing Company

The winner takes it all

I just googled “songs about failure” and found that loads of sites have written about this very thing. Clearly I’m not the only one who has a burning need to answer this question.

I often need some kind of hook to write. On this blog, it’s songs that inspire me. Sometimes my writing begins because a song is in me and it feels relevant that day. But tonight, I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and it was what she said about failure that triggered my song search.

Big-Magic-quote

Gilbert is writing here about creativity, but the same could be applied to the end of just about anything. In my case, a marriage. Is marriage a creative enterprise? I don’t know for certain, but I love the idea of approaching relationships like any creative endeavour: with curiosity, interest, reverence and a desire for wonder. I also know that a mix of creativity, talent and divorce made a helluva good ABBA song (which is a TOP failure song according to the internets—and the hook for this post).


I don’t want to talk
About the things we’ve gone through
Though it’s hurting me
Now it’s history
I’ve played all my cards
And that’s what you’ve done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play

The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That’s her destiny

Sometimes a relationship is like a game of solitaire (ironically). Sometimes, no matter how many times you’ve played and whatever strategies you’ve developed, you’re not going to win. You can shuffle the cards in the slush pile over and over again, you can review your moves to see where you went wrong, but you can only struggle for so long. A card here or there could possibly change the outcome of the game, but the longer you go, the more you understand that struggling against what is just ruins your fun.  And sometimes you missed the card that could have saved everything, but now it’s trapped in the middle of three cards and can’t be used to change the destiny of the game. To save your sanity and your capacity for pleasure, you must declare, “Game over.”

I’ve been struggling. With regret. With the decisions I’ve made. With feeling like I let my kids down. The terrible voice in my head tells me I’m selfish, distracted and removed. We all went away together last weekend, the four of us, and I spent 30 hours in my old life. And it was fucking hard. Because, you know what? Lots of it was idyllic.

I had to remind myself, over and over, not to fall for the illusion. We were our perfect selves for the time we were together, and while we didn’t get along the entire time, there was such an ease and fun in getting the band back together. I could feel this pull, drawing me back into the slumber, back into the bubble, where I could live out my days unconsciously. It would be so easy, familiar. But then I recalled my mantra.

A few nights earlier, when Theo was making eyes at me, as he has been at almost every encounter recently, I waited for the right moment and then got the courage to say, “I’d like to call out the elephant in the room. The reason this feels so good right now is a direct result of the decisions we’ve made.” There is peace, because we don’t live together anymore. I’m attractive, because he no longer takes up all the space in my heart and mind, tormenting me with neglect and negativity, turning me ugly from the inside. My therapist asked me to remember that: The reason this feels so good right now is a direct result of the decisions we’ve made.


I was in your arms
Thinking I belonged there
I figured it made sense
Building me a fence
Building me a home
Thinking I’d be strong there
But I was a fool
Playing by the rules

Our house doesn’t fit him anymore. The hobbit hut we live in is too small, and the space he created by leaving has been a gift. I don’t just mean the 6-foot, 200-pound space he left, but the hulking demon he dragged around. It punched holes in walls with its tail, darkened the house with nostril smoke and frequently burned shit to the ground.

Theo’s demon is quiet now, I can see that. It no longer gets triggered by my demon, their collective pain waging war on each other. He’s lost weight because he’s exercising and has no money for fancy food. He looks lighter in the face, too, in his eyes and on his brow.  His smiles are genuine and his laugh is easy and it’s clear from head to toe that he’s doing well. It’s all very attractive. The therapy is helping, but I have to admit that the therapy is infrequent. The time apart is consistent and plentiful. It’s clear what’s helping.

The gods may throw a dice
Their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here
Loses someone dear
The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain

Sometimes we reach out to each other, hold each other carefully, knowing that the other is also made of glass and that pressing too close together would smash us both into a confetti of cuts. I feel his strong, familiar arms and melt a little. Not from love so much as nostalgia. But I made the mistake of breathing him in this week during a hug and it left a chemical burn on my heart.

We went out of town for our kid’s birthday and we stayed up together after the kids were asleep. We sat outside and shared some wine and then I decided I wanted to know about what he’s been up to. He told me he’s been with four women since he left. So I embellished my number and said four for me too, even though it’s only been one. Ali. I was surprised by how easy our conversation was, but the biggest shock was realizing that it didn’t hurt. It wasn’t painful to hear that he’d slept with other women. Had we stayed married, had we tried to live an open marriage as he’d asked, it would have been.

But tell me does she kiss
Like I used to kiss you?
Does it feel the same
When she calls your name?
Somewhere deep inside
You must know I miss you
But what can I say
Rules must be obeyed

It’s also important for me to remember that him making eyes at me is not a sign that he wants to move back in. The suggestion is for sex, not rekindling the marriage. When I brought up the elephant in the room before we went away, his response was, “Doesn’t stop you from looking good.” He’s never asked, which maybe I don’t ever want to be put in that position, for me to take him back. And yet, there’s a remnant of a fantasy there. This bizarre egoic wish that he’ll beg to come back, admit he was wrong and fight to change everything to make it all work. Which is crazy. Because he’d have to change his whole self to fix the things that need fixing and isn’t that what sent him into depression in the first place?

He added quietly, “Doesn’t stop you from BEING good.”


We got into stupid arguments over the weekend, highlighting our inability talk to each other in the same language. It made a key point stand out—”This is as good as it gets,” I told him. We have to accept that by killing the marriage, we saved the friendship. We are never going to get past the bickering caused by different paces in living and word processing. We tried for years. We got stuck and it started to kill us. Sometimes the only way out isn’t through, but it’s by backing the fuck out slowly.

The judges will decide
The likes of me abide
Spectators of the show
Always staying low
The game is on again
A lover or a friend
A big thing or a small
The winner takes it all

Sitting outside and looking at the marina, I caught a glimmer of what looked like hurt in his eyes. The intensity between us was palpable, and as usual, he’d consumed 80% of the bottle of wine to my 20%. I excused myself and he stopped me, “I love you, Maria. I will always love you. I have a profound respect for you and I’m so grateful that you are the one I’m raising children with.” I smiled and put myself to bed next to our daughter.

I must consistently remind myself that our marriage is not a failure, it just ran its course. Our marriage was a decent success, it was just finite. It had a best before date on the bottom that we never took note of and one day—BOOM—it soured. And if I must rethink that statement and accept that it maybe was a failure, then so be it. The point of failures is to learn from them, right. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert, it’s your ego that gives a shit about the humiliation of failure. Your soul does not give two flying fucks. Your soul just learns from the experience and then expands to fill the empty new space.

“I am who I am today precisely because of what I have made and what it has made me into,” says Elizabeth Gilbert. I have to believe that no matter how sad, we are standing here, together but apart, for a purpose. And what comes next, if we remain awake, will be pure beauty. No mud, no lotus.

lotus

I don’t want to talk
If it makes you feel sad
And I understand
You’ve come to shake my hand
I apologize
If it makes you feel bad
Seeing me so tense
No self-confidence
But you see
The winner takes it all
The winner takes it all

I was over at a friend’s for dinner tonight and our truths came tumbling out. She told me that I was never to sleep with Theo again. (I’ve had a good track record there. Not since before I took my ring off on January 1st.) She also told me that Ali could never be for me, because my love language is obviously “Words of Affirmation.” I just went down the 5 Love Languages rabbit hole and Physical Touch and Quality Time were tied for first place and Words of Affirmation was third, followed by Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts. But I know what she means. I’m a word girl. I believe words have power and should be used carefully and with intention (something I’m not often good at doing verbally). I need to be with someone who can match my desire for sharing words and stories, someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable with his truth. Someone who can handle the desires of my mouth and my mind to express through words (and also touch).

I thought I’d write a second post about Felipe, a man who was good at “Words of Affirmation” and all of the 5 Love Languages come to think of it, but terrible at kissing and needy (though his words never lined up with his actions in this area) in a way that I couldn’t abide right now. But I will just summarize. He was a mansplainer, who insisted on smoking up on every date and his energy was nervous until he did. And when I wasn’t baked, I realized that no, the kissing is actually offensively bad. It was a mansplaining of the mouth, like his tongue needed to teach me something. And finally, I have just spent two decades with someone who didn’t have a job and who self-medicated, and do I need to do that again? Naw. That’s not progressing.

Old Maria would have kept Felipe on, because he’s nice. Old Maria would have convinced herself that she could help see him to greatness. That she could “fix” him. New Maria ain’t got no time for that shit. As a former therapist once advised, “When we are cheerleader personalities, we see the good in everyone—which is a gift! But next time, find someone who can meet you on your level and can celebrate your successes with you.” My new therapist cautions that this is not what I want just yet, that I’m still A/B testing and having fun, so don’t rush it. When I asked her how I should end it with him after three dates, she said, “Whatever you can live with.”

So I texted Felipe that I still have feelings for my ex. I texted Ali the opposite, that it was clear to me how much it was over. Both are true and both are also a lie. I love my ex. I’m confused by the way he looks at me. But the feelings I have are plain old grief. There are love, admiration and respect elements there, but they are primarily based on seeing him with our children. I know, to quote Taylor Swift, that we are never, ever, ever getting back together. And the more that becomes an absolute, the larger the ocean of grief to cross. But I’m a tenacious mofo and I will survive this.

I’m listening to my inner voice again and feeling confident in her every step. And right now, no relationship is worth losing that power. Not spending creative and emotional energy on a man is delicious. I’m having an affair with writing at the moment, for the first time in a long time. It’s just for me.

“I was suspicious,” Felipe replied to my send-off, which bolded, underlined and italicized for me that I was right to let him go. No regrets. No looking back. Just utter relief that I am not waking up 20 years later with this realization.

So the winner takes it all
And the the loser has to fall
Throw a dice, cold as ice
Way down here, someone dear
Takes it all, has to fall
It seems plain to me

Written by Benny Goran Bror Andersson, Bjoern K. Ulvaeus • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

 

Bye Felipe

I shut things down with Felipe earlier this week. We’d been on three dates, but the way he spoke, he’d already married us in his mind. So I did what any rational 40-something who has had her heart broken by the love of her life would do. I freaked the fuck out.

Our second date came after that brutal mediation session two weeks ago. The one where they got the numbers wrong and I discovered I was fucked for life it would cost me more than double to pay my ex what’s fair so that I could keep the family house. I needed a distraction. I’d blown Felipe off to hang with The Momz the night before, which should have been a clue, but we were one date in and “uteruses before duderuses” as my pal Amy would say.

I texted him to meet me somewhere and he was all giddy about it. “What am I going to wear?!” Cute. He met me at a bar with a gift of some Brazilian food “for you and the kids” and said, “You’ve had a hard day, so I hope you don’t mind but I brought you something. Open your hand.” And then he gingerly placed a joint in my hand. I’d had a shit day and I’ll admit, I was impressed with the kind gesture. But as soon as I said that I really needed a toot, he was off his seat and ready to go smoke. My spidey sense went off, but I chalked his behaviour up to nerves.

I convinced him to sit down and order a drink. The bar was loud, but we talked a bit. I showed him a photo of my daughter and as soon as I opened the FB app, he said, “Felipe Luiz—you can add me!” (Too soon, buddy.) I didn’t mind his halting English, though he had a tendency to over-explain things and later contradict himself. Just something lost in translation, I thought. We were having a drink when a beer sales guy came by with samples. I chatted the beer dude up because I’m friendly and like free samples, and I soon learned we had a friend in common. We asked Felipe to take our photo to share with our friend, who was having a bit of a moment with a certain hashtag around a magazine cover she’d been photographed for. It occurred to me that I shouldn’t be chatting with this strange man so enthusiastically, but I wasn’t attracted to beer dude at all, so I ignored it. I’m a social creature and if Felipe was jealous, he didn’t let on.

Felipe clearly wanted to get out of the bar, so he paid up and we left. He has this weird habit of not saying what he likes and waiting for me to lead the way, or saying he doesn’t like something and then ordering it because I did. It frustrates me when people don’t speak up for themselves. I offered a walk to a nearby park so we could chat and smoke and a few more quirks came out. He insists on walking on street side of the sidewalk, “in case a car comes, it will hit me first,” he said. “Oh, of course,” I replied, “You probably have a thing about that. Makes sense.” (His first wife died in a terrible car accident and he was driving. A truck t-boned them and hit her side.) “No! You think so?” he seemed surprised. “That’s OK,” I reassured him, “But yeah, probably. It would make sense.”

Then he brought up his discomfort with dark open spaces, because in Brazil you would be worried about being robbed or killed. I have to acknowledge my North American privilege here. If I were a woman alone, I would also be nervous somewhat, though the older and more invisible I get, the less so. But truthfully, I am a woman in one of the safest countries in the world and when I’m in a group or with a man, I am not afraid. I’ve worked very hard to diminish my fears. I spent a lot of years too afraid to enjoy the outdoors and one of the greatest gifts from my ex was teaching me to trust that everything would be OK. So now that I’m in this period of great independence, I relish in aloneness and quiet spaces with few people. In a city the size of this one, finding an empty space is a gift!

We held hands and I didn’t like the way he held hands and that made me sad. I have a certain way of holding hands, because my hands are tiny like a child’s, and he corrected it. It made me miss my ex, who knew exactly how I liked to hold hands and despite our giant height difference, we just fit. But then Felipe kissed me on a street corner at a red light. And it was not good. His tongue is aggressive, like full snake, left-right left-right swishing in there instead of gentle swirling. He has very thin lips, but even so, one should not launch a full scale tongue attack. Then I did something I am typically not comfortable with. I decided to relax into it and let him lead. And suddenly the kissing was better! It started to drizzle so we ran under a pergola and lit up.

The conversation was lively and fun. He was just the right kind of sarcastic, not mean at all, but witty. We played a bit of a game where we taught each other how you greet someone in our different cities and cultures. One kiss on the cheek in Sao Paolo, two kisses in Rio. Super cute. He was hungry and wanted to take me to a BBQ restaurant, so we began walking in the direction of my ex’s apartment. When we passed a certain bakery he asked if I would meet him there on Sunday. I told him I had my kids so it was out of the question. “But you can bring them and then tell them you ran into your friend Felipe!” Um, no. “I’m just kidding,” he replied, but I was not having it.

It started to pour, so we hid under some trees and made out some more before deciding to run to the BBQ place. The BBQ place had shut down their kitchen early because of the rain, but offered us a seat. Felipe asked for water and napkins for me, which was sweet. I realized I was very, very stoned. I only smoke a handful of times a year at most, so I’m just not used to it. Somehow we left the BBQ joint and headed to a pub across the street and that all seemed to go ok.

There was, of course, a bigger red flag than his traumatic past. His unemployment. While his words said he was waiting to start a course and improve himself, broken me has lived through that once already with someone else and doesn’t want to go there again. I’m looking for security. I’m looking for a grown-up. I’m not looking for excuses. In the most Jane Austen of ways to analyze this—he doesn’t have any prospects. But the conversation was great and I was really feeling ok about it all. This would be a nice second love affair, I thought. It was simmering and I wasn’t ready to take it off the stove or eat it yet, but there was something good stewing. I’m certainly not ready to make a meal you host friends for, but there was at least a snack here.

We had to leave so I could send my ex home (he spends his two weeknights with the kids at the family home) and I found myself not wanting him to walk me home for obvious reasons, but also I didn’t want him to know where I live. He lives five minutes from me and that’s already too close for comfort if something gets weird. We kissed in the street and I was so baked that I didn’t care that the school moms might see me. I started to put his hands up his shirt. “Don’t torture me,” he said with a smile. I felt sexy and powerful.

He texted me several times a day after that. While he kept saying that he knows my kids come first and that I’m devoted to my new job second, and that he’d wait for me no matter what, there was a daily testing of the boundaries. There was a lot of “I missed you today,” which is not really about me, but about how he needs me to make him feel. Still, I was optimistic and also curious to sleep with him. But while I initially enjoyed seeing his messages pop up on my phone, they started to feel oppressive real quick. A good morning here, a rose emoji in the middle of the day, all lovely. But the worst of it was all the schooling and encouragement, the overly complimentary—if I wanted that I’d call my mom!

And the truth is, if I was into him, like REALLY into him, I’d probably be all over it. But I’m just not in the market for that right now. But I booked a third date anyway, very stupidly, after my third sexual encounter with Ali (SO DAMN GOOD!).  A friend joked that I am the Goldilocks of dating: one guy who rarely texts or calls, the other one does it too much. “The next guy will be just right,” I joked to my therapist. “But no,” she said firmly, “You don’t want Mr. Just Right right now. You’re not ready for that!” She’s goddamn right, I’m not. To be continued…

 

Long time running

I’ve been marinating a post on my second date with Felipe the Brazilian for a few days, but often when I hesitate to write something, it’s because something else is meant to happen for the story to complete itself. I trust this process completely, because I’m the kinda girl who pays attention to signs and patterns, the clues of the universe. It’s all just one big game of Zelda (OG Nintendo version, natch) and sometimes you gotta stop and talk to a troll to know where you are going next, and other times you wander in one direction for far too long before you get a new clue and that’s just the process, kiddo.

This morning I woke up to an excited email from my friend Susan, who is someone that I love and admire deeply. She’s big into music and one of her favourite bands (and mine too) had just released a trailer for their final tour documentary. Her enthusiasm was around the fact that my ex (we’ll call him Theo from now on) and I are in the trailer. Just a blip. One second. I’m not sure if we’re in the full feature, but in that frame, we are slow dancing to a song called “Long Time Running” and crying, because the band was doing their final tour, their lead singer dying of brain cancer. Our marriage had a slow-growing tumour, too. We knew that then, we sorta knew the cancer was Stage 4, but forever the optimist I was hanging on and lying to myself to get through.


Does your mother tell you things?
Long, long when I’m gone?
Who you talking to?
Is she telling you I’m the one?
It’s a grave mistake and I’m wide awake.

(Side bar: I love the Shakespearean use of the word “grave” in poetry, signifying weight but also the impending death of something. It’s so perfect in this context right now. Any readers who dabble in writing might agree with me. All the songs of this band are poetry set to music, and yet their fans are mostly hockey-loving guys who get drunk to create a window for vulnerability. Bros.

I recently travelled with my mother, and we stayed up late into the night talking after the kids were asleep. I told her that because of old school views on women and marriage, that having a wedding had always been positioned as the be all and end all in terms of my goals. Sure, they encouraged me to get an education, but I was also always keenly aware that any guy I dated in my 20s COULD BE THE ONE!!

I don’t spend a lot of time on what ifs but I wonder the following:

What if I had moved to London with Theo in 1999 like he’d asked, rather than follow the career path I thought I should be on? Would we have bummed around Europe for a bit and would I have gotten annoyed with his poverty conscious way of living? Would I have seen his inability to make shit happen beyond what he was comfortable with?

What if I had moved in with him when he moved back to our city, like he’d asked? In hindsight, given his frugality, I wonder if that ask came more from sharing rent than just wanting to have sleepovers every night. Still, I helped to furnish the apartment. I’d go grocery shopping and help to make meals. I didn’t think anything of it back then. I just wanted to do nice things for him.

Would I have seen all the flaws? Would I have had the smarts to say, “We are using up all our energy here and we won’t have anything left to finish the race”? Would I have better established what are roles were? Would I have walked away?


I often wonder, 
Drive-in’s rained out
Weatherman wet-fingers the sky
He pokes it out, he pulls it in
He don’t know why

It’s the same mistake

I don’t regret my marriage, so the what ifs are futile. There would be no children otherwise, and those guys, I can’t imagine my life without. They are half him, half me. And the him-half makes them who they are as equally as the me-half, so trying to go back and envision erasing Theo from the choose-your-own-adventure that plays out in my mind is pointless.

I am stronger for having loved him. He filled a need, filled in my blanks and made me a better human, for a very long time. With him I experienced a love that I had only dreamed of, a poetic, romantic love, full of passion. I always said that “he steadies the boat so I can get in.” I was the anxious suburban princess who got the courage to explore the world thanks to him making me feel safe and encouraging me.

The reverse is also true. I am stronger for ending it. Stronger for finally listening to him when he said he couldn’t do it anymore. Stronger for deciding I had enough of trying to make the glass slipper fit my foot. It took a ridiculous amount of time to get there.

It’s been a long time running
It’s been a long time running
It’s well worth the wait


I fear I will dance the same dance again with someone new. We’re all doomed to make the same mistakes, aren’t we? So I’m overly cautious right now. I know I can’t really give myself to anyone in my current state. “I belong to no one, and no one belongs to me,” says my fiercely independent, Almodovar-character of a friend, Esperança in Madrid. “Everyday,” she once exclaimed to me while pounding the table and making my Rioja slosh, “Everyday, I fight for my freedom! I don’t want to live my life for a man!” I understand this statement to be true for me at this point in time. I don’t know if I’ll never get there again, but right now everything still smarts and being alone is delicious. The thought of sharing living space with a man or getting married gives me the willies.

Right now I am fiercely defending my little kingdom of three. It takes a lot of energy and resources to govern our wee country, but it’s ours and I don’t want invaders, pilgrims, refugees or settlers occupying it at the moment. Our country has been through disease and then war, and its citizens need to rebuild. There is so much love, light and laughter in our country right now and that’s our secret. We are crafting it to our liking, creating rules for our individual provinces and working together on shared domain. It’s the brightest spot in my life right now and I can’t overstate how protective I am about it all. I am constantly on guard for external threats. I don’t want to let any random person in just because sometimes I get lonely for masculine attention.

We don’t go anywhere
Just on trips
We haven’t seen a thing
We still don’t know where it is
It’s a safe mistake


Grief is that funny not-really-your-friend-friend that sometimes shows up out of nowhere and catches you off guard. Like you’re at a 1990s kitchen party, halfway through a Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Grief shows up. For a second he’s familiar, but you’re also like, “Oh fuck, him again. I know where this is going. I’m going to be weeping in a corner in 10 minutes.” You can’t recall who invited him or how he got there, but suddenly he’s raining on your parade. You think, “Dammit, I thought I was fine, and now I’m a hot mess who can’t function in the adult world! FUCK YOU GRIEF!”

That’s kind of how I felt when I saw the clip. Theo and I have been doing mostly fine, save last week’s financial disaster. We are learning to be friends, grown-ups, co-parents. We need each other, a lot more than we should. It hasn’t been a clean break but a weaning process. I’ve worked hard on letting go of anger, which is a gift to myself at the end of the day. I don’t want to undo that. I don’t want to stew in the bitterness of what could have been and measuring which one of us screwed up worse.

I am happy to have him in my life, in my kids’ lives. But seeing that moment of grief captured to represent the grief of so many fellow fans, it hurt so bad. It’s like the packing tape began to get unravelled, which caused an opening in the box I had stored the grief in and some seeped out. It hurt him too, maybe more in some ways because he loves that band as though they are the sacred vessel for his feelings. Maybe because they are. The thing about feminism is that it’s not just about women. It’s also about the box we put around what it means to be a man, how we shame them for feelings and how society doesn’t give them space for emotional exploration. To me, this is the disease that killed our marriage. This idea is at the root of it.

It’s been a long time running
It’s been a long time running
Well, well it’s all the same mistake
Dead to rights and wide awake
I’ll drop a caribou, I’ll tell on you
I’ll tell on you, I’ll tell on you

I know I’m not the only one. Being where I am in life, I see many women with creative aspirations who are holding it down in office life, while their creative-pursuit-spouses are struggling to find where they fit in the world. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.” Why does only one gender in the marriage get to live like that? And why isn’t it enough?

So these men, they try to make things and some succeed and some just flounder as they struggle with the ideal of masculinity. You must be a breadwinner, a provider, a meal-catcher. And you also must keep your cards close to your chest. And how do you and your poet soul function in a world of meetings and overloaded inboxes? How does your need to live a private, manly life allow your poet soul to soar to great heights? How will anyone experience your art if you can’t share it?

The women realize these men need help. The women know the family must be fed and housed, so they go out there and they slay the boar. They also come home and roast the damn thing. If she is above-average she may even source inspiration on Pinterest! But she is fucking tired, depleted from doing it all. She asks him to help, nicely at first and then with decreasing patience. She offers suggestions, lots of them, she’s full of ideas, she can help!

But he’s a man. He’s gotta figure shit out on his own. He doesn’t need to rely on anyone. He must do this on his terms. In the meantime, she is pining for a different life, one that gives her the time and space to get back to her creativity, her life’s passion beyond her family. She grows bitter, but she swallows it down because she never expected the world to give her anything, whereas he just assumed everything would arrive as smoothly and unexpectedly as an Amazon Prime delivery.

You’ve got a boat-load of nerve
But I would say you’ve been told
You work me against my friends
And you’ll get left out in the cold
It’s the same mistake


I got a note today from someone I have admired from afar, someone who has rebuilt her life in the most beautiful of ways after the death of a spouse and is on the other side of it. No, I am not a fan of that term. She’s on another side of it now. She acknowledged how “unbelievably difficult” it would be to see the clip and then gave me a gift:

“I’ll offer one platitude, that (admittedly) takes a while to believe: you may not be living the life you thought, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a life you love. Just as so much has changed since that concert, so much will change in another year. Time is a funny and amazing thing. Experience it, feel it. Just hang in there!”

It’s true. A year ago, at that concert, we were married. He had told me he wasn’t in love with me anymore, but I thought we were still trying. Now, a year later, it’s over. Poof! I am trying desperately to buy our family home and not overextend myself. I’m learning how to live alone for the first time ever. There is so much good in my life. SO MUCH. I love my new life. LOVE IT! I’m calling the shots and being present and kicking ass and realizing that I deserve all of it. That I am open-hearted and vulnerable and generous and kind and deserving of good things. 

I LOVE MY LIFE. For the first time in a long time. And saying that out loud doesn’t mean I am tempting the Fates to come and drop a shit sandwich on my plate. There’s no other more waiting for the other shoe to drop. It dropped already and I have a closet full of them so there will be more shoes dropping. Waiting for those awful moments means I’m in stasis and not truly living. Buy the shoes. Wear the dress. Life is occasion enough.

It’s been a long time running
It’s been a long time coming
It’s been a long, long, long time running
It’s well worth the wait
It’s well worth the wait
It’s well worth the wait
It’s well worth the wait

Songwriters: Gordon Downie / Gordon Sinclair / Johnny Fay / Paul Langlois / Robert Baker
Long Time Running lyrics © Peermusic Publishing

Gutted

I love the term gutted. When you think of something like a fish having its innards torn out, then it makes the term so perfect for when you’re feeling like a complete deflated balloon about your life.

Except the fish is already dead (one would hope). That’s a small consolation, but it matters. Whereas you are still alive, but someone has reached in and scooped out your insides, your guts still digesting the banh-mi you had for lunch and your heart fully beating.

Last week I had the floor ripped out from under me at the mediators’ office. They fucked up a spreadsheet, and as the Excel document recalculated the numbers, all the blood drained from my face. The amount I thought I needed to buy out my ex so I can keep our family home more than doubled. I hadn’t checked their math. I’d been elated at the number and found comfort in it. It wasn’t so bad. Until it WAS SO BAD.

In a simple computation, my entire financial future was gone. All the work I have done to reach the top, for nought. All that work, the work of getting over mySELF, owning my bullshit and fighting to improve myself so that I could function in the corporate grown-up world, today it feels like it was for nothing. Because I loved and enabled someone who was depressed and didn’t get proper help for years.  And that person fell so low in their crappy half-hearted quest to define himself that now I will have to sell the farm to stand him up on his feet outside my home.


Years ago, when he had decided he would go back to school, I told him we would need a line of credit to pay for his schooling expenses beyond tuition, and the income he’d no longer be bringing in. But at the time, I was hopeful. I wanted to believe we were investing in a joint future. If I ever get into a serious cohabitation situation again, I will keep my money completely separate.

He balked at the line of credit and said we just needed some lifestyle changes and to get rid of our home phone. Maybe sell the car. So I calmly opened up my spreadsheet and eliminated the cleaning lady, the home phone, our vacation budget and the car. We were still short $1000 a month. “One person can’t do this alone!” he finally realized.

“Um, yeah,” I responded dryly, “Why do you think I’m so nice to you?” Because of course I’d run the numbers. I have journals full of how it felt to be completely neglected, how what he would say to me would cause me to second guess or—worse—hate myself. I’d run the numbers when he was supposed to be making movies but couldn’t get off the couch all day. I’d run the numbers when I caught him on Ashley Madison or when I found he’d watched porn but left all the breakfast dishes in the sink. We live in an expensive city and one person can’t do this alone.


On the flipside, I HAD been doing it alone. His income was always spotty. He had good years, years where he worked while I’d breastfeed babies on government assistance. Years where we made about the same or he’d even made a bit more. But they never lasted. I remember the week I told him I was pregnant with our first, calling him on a Thursday afternoon to find him out playing flying disc golf.

“You NEED to get a job now, do you understand? We’ve got a baby coming and the government is going to tax the $400 a week I get and it will not add up to my salary!” The fight was awful. He went silent, as he always did. His attempts to work always fell a bit flat. Nothing was ever right and to be fair, I wasn’t supportive of the post office job that had the phone ringing at all hours of the night (he was on call) when there was a newborn in the apartment.

Somehow, when the baby was six months old, we bought a house. You could afford to buy a house back then. In the big city, on the transit line. My job got us the mortgage, some money from his mom got us the minimum downpayment. It seemed fair. My maternity leave top-up from my employer was about to end, JUST as the first mortgage payment was about to come out of our joint account. That’s when he finally got an offer for a full-time contract job doing what he wanted to do.

It was shift work, but it had a cadence, a flow. We could plan weekends away based on the schedule, for example. We spent many nights and weekends apart, but it was OK. My memory is fuzzy, but if I compare it to what came after, I’d say it was manageable. But eventually, he felt stifled as an artist and started to hate working there.

The second child came two years later. The goal was for me to freelance write, so I could stay home with her and keep the older one in daycare part-time for socialization and preschool education. “We can make it work,” he’d said, “We just need some lifestyle adjustments.” But then I ran the numbers and it didn’t look like it. Not if I ever wanted to be able to take a vacation or fix the thousand broken things in this century home. So I took a job at a startup, working from home, thinking that the steady income and flexibility the job offered would work for me.

But it didn’t. You can’t get work done with a baby at home unless you are disciplined as hell. And I’m just not. I always felt behind. I was up in the wee hours and would fall behind on my deadlines. When I would ask family to babysit, I’d often get, “But you’re not going to an office” type responses. So I started going to the office of the startup, and sending my beautiful baby to my mother’s for three days each week, in order to be able to work.

I would have nightmares that the baby was lost in the ether, that I’d left her somewhere when I was supposed to pick her up, but I didn’t know where. In the dreams no one knew where she was and I was a horrible mother, trying to make a living instead of taking care of my baby. I was still half nursing her during this time, which had its own issues. I was also going crazy.


When I went to the startup, my ex came home one day and said he was taking a contract job at a big national broadcaster. The hours were unclear, but the content was great. And we dealt. For years he would work from 2-10pm or 3-11pm and every single weekend, while I was working 9-5 and coming home to take care of two very small kids, alone. I’d have two evenings a week to decide what to do with my time: Hang out with him or maybe do something social with others. On weekends I would do the kids’ swim, ballet and soccer on my own. My family was a great help to me during this time.

While home during the day all alone, he would do the grocery shopping once a week and he’d do the laundry while he watched TV. I’d have to go back through old journals or emails to be sure, but I’m pretty sure that not much else was going on. I know I would ask for things to be done and they wouldn’t be done, or I’d email or text him throughout the day and get no response.

When you email or text someone during the day, this is called “turning towards” in relationship counselling circles. Other “turning towards” things are like saying, “Hey guess what happened at work today!” Or, “Did you hear about what Trump did now?” “Do you want to watch Game of Thrones together?” “Do you want to see the new Cohen Brothers movie next weekend?”

Partners that know how to maintain a loving relationship turn towards the other, even if they are in the middle of a juicy article in the New Yorker. They acknowledge the other partner has made an effort to engage them, even if it’s just, “Yeah, that sounds lovely. Let me finish what I’m reading and then let’s talk about it while you have my full attention.”

He was home during the day, alone, and would watch the series we were supposedly watching together and get so far ahead that I couldn’t catch up. I’d just give up. He was home during the day and if he’d respond to my questions, it was clear he hadn’t read through the email thoroughly and wouldn’t actually answer me. He would never initiate a date, never ask me to go anywhere unless his friends invited us someplace.


Then at some point, the grind of the contract work and the crazy hours caught up to him. I urged him to try something else, urged him to align his work with our lifestyle so we could all be home together more often. So he did. He tried a Monday-Friday, 9-5 situation, but the work wasn’t creatively fulfilling. And he started to sink that summer, slowly but steadily, like a boat with a leak.

At that point, I’d been working for about a year in a fancy job that would set me on the career trajectory I’m on today. I’d just won a big industry award, my first, and also started singing in a band for a magazine article. Here’s something I wrote during that time:

“A dozen years ago, I sat in my parents’ kitchen with all my girlfriends around the vinyl floral table cloth. No one was saying it, but we kept eyeing the stovetop clock. “Well it’s five hours ahead there,” someone suggested. “Maybe he’s waiting to be the last person to wish you a happy birthday.”

The evening grew to nighttime and then to midnight. And it was no longer my birthday. He never called.

I ignored his calls for a few days after that. Oh wait, no, he actually never called. A card never arrived. I finally gave in called him, upset, in tears. I told him our long distance affair wasn’t working for me. I told him it was over.

For weeks after, my phone was littered with messages. “I heard a Spice Girls song and it made me think of you.” “I saw a pair of blue shoes, and I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Finally, I returned his many calls. He told me he was coming home. Coming back to be with me.

We were engaged months later, and married shortly after that. It was mostly blissful. Then kids came along and things became difficult. But we worked on it, believing that there must be something worth saving under the wreckage.

Today I’m 38. It’s almost noon. Technically I wasn’t born until 4:30pm, so technically I’m still 37 for a few hours. He still hasn’t called. Only he’s not all the way in England this time. He’s at work.

In the last year, I got a promotion, won a prestigious award, battled my demons and got on a stage as the lead singer of a band. I should feel satisfied. But it’s like he barely noticed.

I have a cozy house, a good job and two amazing kids. I have a “community” of friends, as was mentioned to me yesterday. But I still don’t have the one thing that has eluded me for years now.

Him.

Sure, he lives with me. He’s an amazing dad, and the kind of partner who will pick up the pieces on weeks where I’m busy, someone who has made great sacrifices recently to try to make our homelife a bit more stable… but I keep looking for Him, the real him, and I can’t find him. I keep waiting for the day where he emerges and sees me again, for the incredible person I have become. There are glimpses. A day here, a week there, but mostly, I live with this new person who broods in his head and criticizes everything I say or do in the presence of the kids.

He lives with a new person too. One who is more confident and doesn’t need to hold his hand anymore to try new things. One who has a new awareness and acceptance of her shortcomings. One who doesn’t need to have a feisty argument, and has grown up a bit, or so she’d like to think.

But I miss my old friend. I miss sharing our dreams. I miss laughing effortlessly and just enjoying being in one another’s presence. I miss my lover, my soulmate. I miss holding hands and looking longingly in his eyes.

I guess I can get over the fact that he’s not here. That I’m cleaning and cooking on my birthday because I asked for a BBQ that no one’s around to help coordinate. I can get over the fact that he hasn’t called or even texted a birthday greeting yet (after all, that precedent was set years ago). I’ll get over the fact that I made him a weekday breakfast in bed with the kids on his own day and he’s working on mine.

But I don’t know that I’m going to get over the fact that I no longer have a lover and a best friend. I’m seriously unsure about what the next year will bring.”


Everything went downhill after that. In the fall of that year he told me he was smitten with someone at work. By new year, I’d caught him on a dating site for adulterers. He was home a lot, depressed and watching YouTube and Netflix all day, leaving breakfast dishes in the sink and not picking up the kids until the final minutes of daycare, not starting dinner until way too late.

I’d written it off as a midlife crisis at first, and when he turned 40 and got into a university program to retrain himself, it briefly seemed like the cloud had lifted. And I worked. It was all I knew how to do. I worked and got promoted and each promotion was a punch in the face to a man who felt unmanly because his wife was more successful than him. We were a total fucking cliche.

I tried to hold myself back so that he could catch up, but he was headed in the opposite direction. When the depression was at its worst, when I felt like I was living with a ghost, I urged him to get help. He refused his doctor’s prescription for happy pills and wouldn’t take the fancy mood-boosting vitamins I’d bring home. The answering machine was full of missed appointment calls for much-needed counselling.

I held on. I told him that he could push as hard as he wanted, but I wasn’t leaving. I was there for him. I was his wife and I would do as promised. I would stay no matter what. In angry moments, when it was so clear he wanted this burden of marriage to be over, I would tell him that what he envisioned would not happen, that he would not get to stay in this house with the kids, while I fucked off somewhere and just enjoyed my success alone. Hell to the no.

I yelled that I wished he would grow the fuck up. “That’s harsh,” he said. He was so fragile. One night I yelled that he wasn’t the one that was oppressed, that I had creative dreams too that were unfulfilled, and I was shoving them down deep so that I could keep a roof over our heads.


It continued to get worse. I’ve written about it a bit here before. And now, just in this last week, just when I thought my latest promotion meant I could keep all the balls in the air and keep that roof over our heads, BOOM. Like a toddler kicking an epic LEGO build, it all came apart.

The amount I have to pay him to keep the house doubled and I doubled over. I have a medium-sized line of credit, which I could use to pay him half the total amount now. And then I will have to hand over my bonus to him each year until my debt is paid. The carrot that keeps the fight in me, that pays for a grand vacation each year, or fixes the roof over our heads, that carrot will be eaten by him each year. Getting my head around this has left me gutted, and him, not even realizing that he’s holding my insides in his hand.

I am bereft, not only at losing a husband and a partner, not only at losing all the dreams I had for our future, but also all the dreams I had for my new future. I will be in debt until I’m 90, just to make this work. I will have to give my all, even more than I do now, just to make this work. Again he had the gall to say, “You just need to make lifestyle adjustments,” as though getting rid of the cleaning lady and my taxi budget are just things I’ll adjust to as a single mom who works as a director of a department by day.

His poverty consciousness has kept us in this limbo for far too long. I am fucking done with his inability to understand how this world works. I need to cut the fishing line I’m caught on. Toss me back into the sea with my insides and bank accounts emptied out. I will fill up with fresh energy, cleanse myself, heal and swim again.

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.