20 years

April 10, 1998 was a Friday. I put on these tight low-rise baby blue printed jeans I had with a slight flare below the knee. I put on my shiny white low-cut tee. I coiffed my bob and put on some Spice Girls-style platform shoes. I wore Cool Water perfume.

I had convinced my inner circle to go with me to the birthday party of this guy I was friends with in college. We were graduating from our program and loads of my school friends would be there. And it was becoming apparent that I had a total mega-crush on the birthday boy.

He was shy and awkward, but possibly the funniest man I’d ever met. His energy was infectious and when we talked about the music and movies we liked, we had so much in common that I wondered how we could have existed our whole lives liking the same things and not have known each other. One day, I got to my locker to find a VHS copy of Stand By Me in it. We had gone for tea and had an intense conversation about how much we both loved that movie. “Barforama! Hahaha!” The romantic gesture made my stomach flipity-flop as I scanned the halls to catch a glimpse of him so I could thank him.

He was slightly dorky, but muscular and bright, and if I’m being honest, beneath his plaid shirts and baggy jeans I saw the potential for someone great. He just needed a bit of work is all, like he was a pre-war cottage with great bones in an up and coming neighbourhood. Little did I know he was a money pit with archaic zoning laws.


The girl everyone thought he had a crush on was there too. She was wearing a crop top that said EVERLAST, the iron-on letters struggling against her robust rack. I thought for sure he was going to go off with the reigning queen of our program, but instead he sat with me, drinking beers while I downed Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

“So, you’re drunk enough, why don’t you go ask Melissa to dance,” I teased.

“Because… I don’t like her that way… I… I like someone else.”

I’m a bastard and prodded until he spit it out. “I like YOU, OK?!” Then we danced, I can’t remember the song but I’m sure there’s a journal in my possession that has it documented. I put the journals in a box with the wedding photo album. They are decaying in my parents’ garage, because I can’t fucking look at them without crying. They are the history books of this great nation that rose to power and then had its borders attacked. They are the Museum of Czechoslovakia and what was once one country is now two. The artifacts cannot reside in the Czech Republic or Slovakia, so they live in no man’s land.

When we danced he asked me to go out with him the next day, but I had plans to see Radiohead the next day, so I asked for a rain check (priorities!). “I’d kiss you,” he slurred, “But I’m too drunk and I don’t want it to be like this.” It wasn’t our first date, but we always marked our togetherness as April 10, his birthday, because we were inseparable from then on. Until we weren’t.


I didn’t mean to ask to take Theo to dinner tonight. I was actually just trying to get him to make his own plans with the kids and his family, but no one in his family has the sensitivity to think that there son or brother might be alone on his birthday and maybe they should do something for him. I knew that he would not ask his friends to do something. People learn from us. And he has spent a lifetime teaching everyone that he is OK on his own. He’s the subject of Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock.”

Except he’s not. I asked him to do the Myers Briggs and he got an E for Extrovert, which surprised me. He pushes everyone away, but like anyone, he wants to be acknowledged and appreciated. So instead of going to see Tinder Nightmares like I REALLY wanted to, I found myself spending $200 and sitting at a table with our kids, the birthday boy and his parents. I even thought to invite Lars (of the peaches) and Zofia to join us.

I got the kids to pick out thoughtful gifts weeks ago. The girl one spent a sick day making a card and decorating wrapping paper that she made herself. I wrote, “Thanks for all you do for me and the kids,” in a card and when he read it this morning he smiled. Somehow the words resonated, which made me sad for all the depressive years when my appreciation could not get through to him.

I know that regardless of how many times I honour him on special days, the sentiment will not be reciprocated. Last year on my birthday, he showed up empty-handed, kids empty-handed, my first birthday with no one. He said, “I wanted to get you something, but I was waiting to get paid.” That’s OK, I said, like I say every year because I expect nothing and yet part of me hopes this is the year he does SOMETHING, a card even. “Yeah, I really wanted to get you a composter.”

Ummmm… why? So every time I take out the garbage, I think of you? How did we get from “Stand By Me in your locker” to “composter”?


When we renovated our first bathroom, back when we were one child in and still so very much in love, we found an antique clawfoot tub. When we flipped it over to paint it, the date embossed on the bottom was April 10, 1940. I’m sure relationships started and ended on that date too. I wonder sometimes about whether couples were happier then, whether expecting less from life was a good thing.

But I’ve only got this life to go on, and I know that we are both happier and more sane. I know that once he got rid of the wife he believed was making him miserable and the job he believed was making him miserable, he could see how much of all this depression was actually on him to own and take care of. He’s starting to do the work and that’s the only gift he can really give me at this point.

My Facebook memories today were mostly painful reminders of me posting birthday greetings to Theo year after year, joking about his disdain for Facebook and praising him as a father, a partner and my best friend. Was I faking it? Did I mean it? Was it real? I’ll never really know.

I spent the dinner feeling like I was in the Twilight Zone. Like everything about it was so familiar. No one in the damn restaurant would imagine we weren’t a couple in a real family doing really family things. We looked so NORMAL and I couldn’t help but think, “What was wrong with this?” I kept looking at my phone for zings from boys, but there was nothing and the kids could sense my discomfort and chastised me for looking at my phone during dinner. So I sat with it, the discomfort, the farce, the “for the good of the children.” I took an Instastory of my prosecco glass and toasted to my character and the high road. My kids were happy. Their dad was happy. And my happiness ebbs and flows, but it’s here goddamit, and I can finally breathe.


To give you a sense of how long a 20-year relationship is or feels like, have a look at this list of other things that will turn 20 in 2018.

My gap year

I saw Ali again. He messaged me after a week away (and forgetting to mention he was working in another province for a week). He got back and realized that he’d just missed my free weekend and was bummed. I was high off my date with Mr. Saturday Night and didn’t feel like indulging him for shit, and yet who knew how MrSN was gonna go? I want to occasionally break one off (or four) as much as the next girl, and Ali is so damn good at making me feel like a goddess. I told him I could maybe find some time and would let him know.

After I made the mistake of inviting MrSN to a late-April event too soon (I’m the consummate planner and this can hurt me as much as help), as much as I wanted to give him my rare free Sunday, he never asked so I left it. Plus, I really do love hanging out with Ali, I just don’t love the long silences in between. I want a daily little zing on my phone, or every few days at least, but Ali can put me on the shelf for far too long for my liking. There’s something about being a considerate partner, one who knows to check in every few days, or just help the cadence along with a “saw this and thought of you” or a “you crossed my mind in a meeting, so just saying hi.” I reluctantly told Ali he could have my Sunday but we needed to DO something other than just shag, because frankly I feel empty when our encounters are only X-rated. To my joy, he agreed with me.

But as the date grew closer, it was clear he had planned nothing. His mind was on the A+ sex (and who could blame him?), but I really want to be treated like more than a plaything, this much I now know. “Will everything be closed for Easter?”

“Looks like you have your homework cut out for you,” I retorted, with a winky face to take the bitchiness out of my text. God! Do some work! Why am I always with men who don’t want to make the effort for me?


My fucking ex told me over Easter brunch that he took his date dancing to new wave music and it took every ounce of energy for me not to reach across the table and poke him with a knife covered in hollandaise sauce. We’ve been chatting casually about our dating lives, which feels good and also weird. But on Sunday, we did the Easter egg hunt at his place and then went for a walk and took the kids out for brunch and all was fine! For the good of the kids, and all that. Until he quietly mentioned that he’d been on his third date in a week with a woman and took her dancing the night before.

Then I was wrecked. Would it have killed him to take me dancing on occasion? He knew how much I love to dance. It’s appalling how little effort it would have taken to make things better with us, effort that he REFUSED to do. Then the wound opens again. “He didn’t love you like that,” it whispers. “He didn’t want to love you like that. He couldn’t love you like that. He didn’t have the capacity to love you like that. He said it over and over and you didn’t want to believe it. Just accept it and let go.”

Because of the Easter parade in his neighbourhood, we came back to my house and they all piled on the couch to watch TV. I had made the aforementioned plans with Ali, because—if I’m honest—having intense sex with him numbs my brain and also makes me feel like I’m rebelling somehow. Like if I fuck Ali for four hours then I’m somehow getting back at Theo. Which the rational part of my brain knows is not true, but the teenage/alligator part of my brain wants to believe is the antidote to feeling sad about how my marriage went out.


My first sexual relationship was like this too. He was terrible for me. Everyone knew it and I knew it too but somehow I was determined to see it differently. I remember cruising downtown on a Saturday night down the city’s main street, passing a median where cute boys were standing and when our car got stopped in the bumper to bumper traffic one yelled out to me, “Hey are you Manny Rodrigo’s girlfriend?” Why yes, I exclaimed, excited that Manny was telling people about me. The boy looked at me and smirked, and just as our car started rolling again, yelled, “He cheats on you ALL THE TIME!”

It was 1992 and skinny eyebrows were all the rage. Linda Evangelista, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington… all the supermodels of the era were sporting them. I was 18 and fashioned my look on Madonna’s Erotica, sporting crop tops with men’s pants and berets and very skinny eyebrows. I came down for dinner one night and my father reprimanded me for making my brows so skinny. “It’s the style,” I argued, “You don’t know anything about FASHION!”

madgeskinnybrows

“You look like a whore.”

I was so mad. What the fuck did he know? I was 18 and newly sexual and did he know how lucky he was to have a daughter who only had one sexual partner at 18? If he thought he had a whore for a daughter, I’d show him. So I drove to see Manny and fucked him silly, putting on my best whore performance.

I know that didn’t hurt my father, because it’s not like a sent him a VHS tape of the event. I also know that having sex with “He cheats on you ALL THE TIME” with no condoms and just birth control pills was fucking stupid (I was SO DAMN lucky it’s not even funny). Just like I know that shagging Ali on Sunday for four hours wasn’t going to hurt Theo. So why do I go there? And why can’t I just own my own sexuality without the idea of a patriarch that I need to get back at, or a kinky man driving my actions so that I don’t have to be accountable for my desires?


But Ali. His apartment was beautifully sunny. He’d put up some photographs and prints with more character since the last time I’d been over. He’s been studying my place and taking notes on what makes it warm and inviting, so I was flattered that he’d made changes after our last conversation about my decor. But I know they are not for me. Ali is about power. His appetite for more is insatiable, and putting pictures in a frame that make him seem like he’s got a strong sense of where he’s from is all part of him trying to stake out his turf in the big world. He is so beautifully complex, but I also worry that the writer in me fills in his blanks in a way that he might not see himself.

Here’s a guy whom I perceive as being often distant or unavailable to me in the way that I want or need a guy to be with me. But when he wants me, Ali WANTS me. He thinks I’m amazing and says things like, “What do you have to be neurotic about! Fine as hell, brilliant, career angled sharply upwards…” He’s a fan, and having sex with him is lovely, because he adores me physically and mentally. But there is no soul connection, and he’s so much an atheist and a logical thinker that I don’t think he gets that.

In his mind, he’s thinks giving me what I’ve stated I want. I asked for a sexual relationship and he delivers. But what’s missing is the other part, the dating and doing stuff together because we actually have fun together. He thinks he’s an open book, and if I ask him questions, he does answer thoughtfully, but part of him is behind a wall somewhere. He’s always a bit cagey because he’s dating so many women and doesn’t know what he wants from his future. And I don’t think he will know until it stops him dead in his tracks.

We cuddled on the couch for a bit and the goal was to go for a walk and then come back to Shag City. We talked about how our dating experiences on the apps were going and he did mention casually—in between kisses—that while we’d started out X-rated, maybe we should consider dating each other officially. Bah! I don’t even know what to make of that? What would be different? So I just kept kissing him until eventually the couch action proved too racy and exciting, so we agreed to change the order of events around and headed to the bedroom.

What followed was epic. Hours of fun with a wee nap in the middle and FIREWORKS at the end. He has this gorgeous skylight that flooded the room with light, and when he spooned me and fell asleep, I could hardly close my eyes for the smiling. He’s definitely a generous lover and is verbal with his praise and adoration of my physical self and my sexual prowess. (Hey, I’m in my FORTIES—I’ve got some chops!) And that is truly yummy in the moment. It’s like buying jeans that make your ass look good. Except with jeans, you can put them on whenever you want. In Ali’s case, the jeans decide when I get to wear them.


Eventually we got up and walked to get a bite to eat. We talked about dating and dating apps and weird experiences. I tried to be thoughtful and ask questions, but there’s something about our conversations that just don’t… FLOW. At least, not for me. We picked a place with a vibe and food that was too pricey. He’d been drinking the night before so he chose a soda and a salad. But I was happy to be with him, happy that he and I can be really honest when we choose to be. Still something niggles at me. Something makes me feel sad when I leave him, and it’s not because I miss him. It’s because there’s something missing in me.

This sadness followed me into the next day and I ended up having what I call a “Bad Divorce Day,” where the grief at the loss, the loneliness and the feelings of being unlovable overwhelm. I know this is bananas, because I have an abundance of love in my life. But there’s this nagging feeling about how hard it will be to actually find someone to partner with who can love me the way I am. Which, as I write this, I know that’s a story I’m going to keep perpetuating if that continues as my focus. I have to work to change the script. And maybe, after running it by Dr. X, the key is going to be to cut both Theo and Ali out of my life to make room for someone who is just right.

I do have a new realization after the events of the past few weeks. I’d like to fall in love again. I’d like to bet it all in the hopes of finding someone to swoon over. What I will no longer do is put any expectations of forever on that someone. Whatever happens happens. I want to be a bit of a tourist. I can love New York and London and Paris and Madrid and Montreal all for different reasons, and I’d like to live in them all before I die. Istanbul will always have my heart, but we aren’t meant to be together for long. There’s something in this metaphor that may be worth exploring while my kids are such a big part of my life. Would it be possible to find a few great men, who would fulfil my emotional and physical needs for a few years until I’m really ready for another life partner? Could it be like visiting my favourite cities over and over again?

Maybe taking a traveller’s approach to dating is the way forward. I’ve decided this is my gap year. The year I try a bunch of experiences to see where the gaps are, what needs filling, and where I need to grow to fill those gaps, rather than filling them with someone else. But if the men I date are like the places I would visit were I 22 and backpacking through Europe, that’s OK, because each destination will be special in its own way for what it teaches me about myself. More to come as I test out this idea.

 

Random thoughts from earlier this week that needed an edit

**Giving this another path because stream of consciousness dictating into your phone is not quite the technology it needs to be yet.

I have a Theo reunion fantasy playing in my head as of late. It might be because I’m ready to start dating again. Well, I’m not ready, but it feels like maybe I should give it a shot. Of course this coincides with Theo and I getting along better than we have in over a decade. Suddenly he is the thoughtful, appreciative, giving human being that I fell in love with. And I know it’s a trap. I know in my heart of hearts that this can only exist because we are not together. And that is so fucking sad. Because at our best we were magic. We were the mystical wonders who made two incredible human beings out of love.

So here is how my fantasy goes. He asks me out, simple. He takes me somewhere awesome, maybe our usual spot, a dark little bourbon bar that has great food. He does something chivalrous— a romantic, sweeping gesture like he did when we were first together. He’s assertive with the kids when they ask where we’re going. “I’m taking your mother out to show her that I appreciate all that she does.”

After dinner he walks me home and he tells me he can’t live without me. He takes me up to the top step, right by the door that opens into the house we bought together so many years ago. And then with me on the top step, with him down a step to even out our height difference, he tilts my chin towards his face and suddenly he kisses me in the way that only he knows how.

Suddenly I’m engulfed by the mouth I know intimately and by heart. This goes on for sometime. Weeks go by. We go to our social worker to get her blessing and surprisingly she gives it to us. He moves back in. We make plans to get a bigger place because suddenly he doesn’t fit here anymore. And this house is full of sad memories that the happy ones don’t quite erase. He makes me coffee every morning, like he does now, except he brings it down to my bed each day with a kiss and the look of tenderness.

Edited to add: Looking at this description again, I realize that none of it is about sex. If I read it back to myself, it’s about being noticed and appreciated just as I am. It’s about connection and value. And frankly, now that I will be exposed to more sexual adventures, I’m realizing that it’s not a priority for me. That, for me, good sex is a byproduct of connection and intimacy. It’s important but it’s not the tentpole. It’s just indicative of the health of a relationship.


We do nice things for each other now, and these days we actually notice them. So getting back together feels so natural in that way. But I have to remember that the reason there is no resentment is because we don’t live together. And yet when I look at him some days, and overwhelming desire to hold him in my arms and kiss his face takes over. And I’m so scared to say it out loud. Because we tried that for so many years and it only ended in heartbreak. And I can’t possibly imagine myself doing that again.

Today I realized I’m not crying as much as I was a year ago, and that was profound. I posted an Instagram story to commemorate that moment with that realization. I’m happy here, now. I feel it, and Theo’s happier too. Neither of us seems to be enjoying dating. Above all else he really misses his time with the kids. And I struggle when events happen with three of us that the fourth person can’t participate in because of the separation. In some ways it would be so easy to go back to how we were. Except, it wouldn’t. I know this and yet the fantasy lingers. I wonder if it’s the same for the kids.


My daughter is at that age where she’s getting pre-pubescent hormonal nightmares (she’ll be 11 this summer). She came down to my basement bedroom in a tizzy last night around 10:30. I told her to crawl into my bed, as there’s space to do that now that her dad is living in an apartment a 10-minute drive away.

“I’m feeling really scared right now,” she said in a small voice. I told her that I knew the feeling, that she is so much braver than I was at her age, that I had been afraid of a lot of things, growing up with post-genocidal anxiety that was handed from my grandmother to my mother and down to me. “I used to be scared of bees, animals, of my own shadow!”

“What are you afraid of now?”

“Well I’m always the most worried that something terrible could happen to you or your brother. The second thing I was always most worried about was that your dad and I wouldn’t be together. (Pause.) But that happened… and I survived.”

“You know what? You’re stronger since dad left.”

“How so?”

“Well you used to rely on dad to do lots of things for you. Because he was your man. He was THE man in house. But now, YOU’RE the man. You’re the man-woman.”

Whoa-man. Heart-swell. Kids say the darndest things.

Everything’s coming up Winehouse

Every time I go to hang at my friend Lars’s house, he puts on Back to Black on vinyl for me. It was the tail end of summer and he’d just enthusiastically procured flats of peaches and called me over for our annual canning session. His wife Zofia and I poach, pit and peel, but Lars is the sterilization and syrup master. He runs a tight ship. And that’s part of the joke, really. He’s so stern with us, that we invoke sulky teenagers who are forced to spend time doing chores when we’d rather be riding bikes.

Every January when I open a jar of summer, I say a prayer of thanks to my friend for insisting we do this crazy thing that takes a whole day and wrinkles our fingers and stickies up the floor, with an adorable terrier trying to trip us the whole time.

He plays the epic Winehouse LP on every visit, because one time, before Zofia was in the picture, we went to karaoke together and I sang “Rehab.” And whether he has a clear memory of this or not (I’ve never asked), Lars has somehow connected me to Amy Winehouse in his mind. A fellow big schnoz babe with a furry face, I love Winehouse, but to be honest, I never REALLY listened to Winehouse, at least not with intent until this past holiday season.


I am a big lover of Christmas. It’s my jam. I’ve always made a big production of it, for my entire life. I’m the girl who starts playing Christmas music in November. IDGAF, I love the ridiculousness of the whole thing. It’s the same reason I love Celine Dion, or period films. I love pomp and circumstance. I love overt gestures. I love when anything is done big and loud and proud.

But this Christmas I was a mess. I spent Christmas Eve with my parents (watching a period piece). I woke up early Christmas morning and drove out to my ex-in-laws in a snowstorm, to watch my kids open their gifts. It was the first of maybe 19 Christmas Eves that I did not spend with all of them, at my ex-MIL’s house. And it was ROUGH. My ex-MIL, who is not evil (not since she stopped being shitfaced daily anyway) gave me a passive aggressive greeting card. It said, “Merry Christmas to the both of you.”  Which was kind of hilarious, but also she didn’t do it for any sense of irony, just “why waste a perfectly good card?”

I spent NYE completely alone. By choice. I made a bubble bath and bought myself a baby bottle of Veuve, moved the TV to the bathroom and rang in the New Year watching Call the Midwife. Hashtag: #doublebubbles. But leading up to all that was so fucking painful. I don’t even know if I fully understood that pain. It was like when I went to go get my tattoos. I was in a trance, completely out of body—no, the opposite, so completely in my body, but also in that quiet room in my brain. The holidays were like that, too. I was getting through, but going into the panic room in my mind, hiding the bodies there.

And so my love affair with Winehouse began. Because listening to someone else spilling their entire soul into a work of art was preferable to tuning into my own.


For you I was a flame
Love is a losing game
Five story fire as you came
Love is a losing game
One I wish I never played
Oh what a mess we made
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game

Theo and I have been talking. He has been making eyes at me again, but I have not indulged, even if it would feel really goddamn good. One Friday night, he asked if he could buy me a drink while waiting for our daughter to come out of music lessons. I should not have had a second bourbon cocktail in under 30 minutes. But I did, and I started to reveal things and to ask things. I told him that I was kind of seeing someone, if you could call it that. When he asked if I could take our daughter the next day (it was my weekend off), I told him about Ali and our impending date the next night. Then I told him how Ali is in his thirties and can go three rounds in three hours and how he’s just for me right now, just for fun. I shouldn’t have. And yet… was there a part of me that wanted Theo to hurt?

Then, boomerang to the face.

“I was seeing someone too,” he said quietly. When pressed, it turned out she was a young woman he used to work with. A 20-something ballerina, because OF COURSE. And I should know better. Boundaries, blah, blah, blah. But I went there. WE went there. I saw her tall, perfect-postured, size-ZERO photo. “What was it like, being with her,” I found myself asking. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yeah.”

“Well she was young, so she really wanted… to learn.”

“Aww, your teaching degree finally came in handy!” Laughter from both of us. He told me she was ultimately boring and not funny, so it pilfered out. Yeah mofo, because this kind of humour comes from crazy and crazy is work! “Are we friends now?” he asked. Sure, I replied, why not. It was one of those “fuck it” moments where suddenly you are going there, like when you have a Big Mac combo (and maybe a McNugget appetizer) and it seemed so fine and cool when you decided to do it, but the next day you feel like total shit.

But somehow the thing that has survived this fucked up scorched earth of a year is our friendship. It’s like the cockroach in Wall-E, it refuses to be incinerated. It’s here to stay, in this ugly, unforgiving landscape. Because there’s still life on this planet.


Played out by the band
Love is a losing hand
More than I could stand
Love is a losing hand
Self professed, profound
‘Til the chips were down
Know you’re a gambling man
Love is a losing hand

We had another boundary issue when Theo walked in on my “session” with Ali on the weekend. And that is a really funny story that I want to tell in full humour mode, not in this sulky, “who the fuck am I and where did this all go wrong” mindset. But let’s just say we now have a code in place and it’s called “going offline for a few hours,” which I thought was really apparent while being subtle when I texted that, but apparently not, because SURPRISE! Anyway, lesson learned.

The day after THAT incident, we all went to the movies as a family and it was nice. I like that we can hang out. It’s awesome for the kids. But it’s also confusing because fuck, don’t we all just want to be a family in the real way again? Like if you eat vegan cheese all the time, don’t you sometimes just want to go down on a double cream Brie? Don’t you wish you could stay there forever without enslaving cows?

Let’s just say that it’s been a month of openness and transparency and that’s lead to some comfortableness in what we are sharing and how we are talking to each other. So we went to what I will forever refer to as “the Big Mac” place again today. I texted him to ask if I could have a second weeknight off during the weeks, now that the job he’s working on is wrapping up. He was weird about it, like why would I be asking for more equal distribution of time with the kids? Or maybe he was miffed that I said it was 75/25 right now (pretty damn close when you add it up). He doesn’t count the hours they sleep in my house, he only counts awake time, so you can see where this gets complicated.

I was honest and said, “Look I’m going to start dating with intention soon, not just fucking around, and I need time to be able to explore that.” And that turned into a looooong text exchange and he was left feeling like the one who just ate a Big Mac I think. There’s always that moment where I think, he could just come out and say it! Just ask! I would consider it. Because I still love him, though not in the same way I suppose. Deep down I am still that girl who wanted her father to love her, who became the woman who wanted her husband to love her. I got my father’s love in adulthood, when I let go of needing him to be like other fathers. But would I, could I, ever get the same with Theo?


 

I finished my fave breakup podcasts: Alone, A Love Story, A Single Thing and the ex-husband/ex-wife combo that did the fantastic Our Ex-Life podcast decided to call it quits on the cast, because the dude started dating someone seriously and I think it bugged her. So today I started Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin? Coincidentally, the day that Theo told me that he no longer wanted to be romantically involved with me, I began listening to Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity.

The premise is that Perel gets one counselling session with couples in crisis, and each episode reveals the massive fault lines under the bedrock of every kind of marriage. The second episode, with two moms struggling to make each other feel special and loved under the weight of little kids destroyed me. Because I found myself back in the place I lived in for so long, where I wanted to desperately for Theo to feel loved, and I wanted to feel loved and appreciated myself.

There was talk of defining roles. One person has to be the planner of the date, the other person has to be the planner of the logistics of the children so the date can happen. And these women, they so clearly loved each other, you could hear it. They were just missing the path to connection over and over again. And that’s when I started sobbing uncontrollably in the car.

“He couldn’t do it, remember! You were doing it ALL. All the roles were you. And he kept saying that he didn’t have the capacity to love you how you needed to be loved. He refused to meet you halfway. He refused to date you. He kept saying the children came first and you kept telling him that making time as a couple was ultimately good for the children and he refused because he didn’t want to be with you and you just have to fucking accept that!” my inner voice screamed. Heck, I may have said some of that out loud.

Every, single time I think about getting back together, my wound reveals itself, reminds me that our marriage was cast aside like an orange rind. Like something that was once so whole and perfect, it contained all of our life, but now there was no putting it back together or seeing it the same way. It was refuse, and we were left exposed, vulnerable, thin-skinned, in pieces.

Though I betted blind
Love is a fate resigned
Memories mar my mind
Love, it is a fate resigned
Over futile odds
And laughed at by the gods
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game


I went down the Winehouse rabbit hole in the dark months of winter. I listened to Back to Black on repeat. “I died a hundred times,” she sings on the title track, and didn’t I feel exactly that? I wanted to know every lyric, every inflection. I wanted to crawl inside her hurt and wear it like a blanket. The album became the holding place for my own pain, like a machine I could put my broken heart in to have it come out as polished as beach glass. Garbage, but pretty garbage. Smooth garbage that could become something worth looking at.

Then I watched the movie.

I’d been putting off watching Amy, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, because kind of like watching Titanic, you know how it’s going to end and it’s not pretty. And man did I ache, watching a talent so rare be destroyed by the media machine and by her own hand. To be consumed by heartache. To live in the place of longing and worthlessness. It’s so terrible to watch a bright spark be unable to see the shiny diamond she is. I think my friends felt this about me, too. My relationship consumed me and anger ate me from the inside out. I was mentally bulimic. I would put good things inside me in the form of experiences or art or meditation, only to barf it out to make room for the demons. I just wanted him to see his fault in it all, as if somehow that was the way out. As if somehow that would make it all better. Instead it took us both down, like the heroin did Amy and Ray-Ray.


The day Lars, Zofia and I canned the peaches, it became clear that we needed help if we were to get it done with an evening to spare. So I texted Theo to ask if he and the kids would mind helping us. So they joined us, pitched in, laughed and in the end we all went up to the roof deck for shawarma as the sun set, pink and orange on our famous city skyline.

So we are history
The shadow covers me
The sky above
A blaze that only lovers see

This family, it’s not quite a masterpiece, but it’s a work in progress.

The peaches? Perfection.

My saviours

“How long has it been?” Our firecracker of a tween-age girl looked at us over Family Day dinner. “Since what?” I asked coyly, hoping she wasn’t asking what she was asking.

“You know, since the breakup?”

Their dad and I looked at each other. God she’s astute. Neither of us had acknowledged this fucked up anniversary. We broke up at the end of November, but it was February before he moved out. We both mumbled something like, “A year and a bit.”

“What month? What day?”

February 4th.

I quickly pivoted to talk of Family Day weekend the previous year, when we were painting their rooms, building IKEA furniture, getting ready for THEIR separation from each other after nearly a decade of sleeping in the same room.

But on February 4th, 2017, we were doing something entirely different.


On the morning of Feb 3rd, 2017, my daughter said, “I don’t want today to be over,” and started weeping. She had realized it was our last night as a family of four. I’d dealt with my own pain the previous night by going out dancing with a super fun colleague and her merry band of Polish friends and gotten stupid drunk, slam dancing to Lida Pimiento in a gallery. It was all so awful (the husband leaving, not the dancing) that I only have hazy details sketched out in my memory bank.

Dealing with my child’s emotional pain while nursing a massive hangover was not my finest moment. But that morning I was focused on letting them know we just had to get through it. The social worker had advised against letting them stay home, because that could create an ongoing issue, so I gently coached us out the door.

When I called home after school, it was clear that my kids were not in a good way. My son, who is not generally overly emotional, was a teary mess. I realized that I would circumvent the pressure of the last night all together by overriding it. I rushed home to get them and called my sister on the way. Sushi and sleepover, STAT! My sister is a successful adult human, but also an incredibly childish plaything for my kids, and going to her posh condo would be just the thing to distract us all.

She had a big glass of wine waiting for me and video games for the kids. Somehow it was fun, even though their dad was back home, packing for his move the next day. After dinner, I got the kids ready for bed and then I gently made my way out of Neverland and back to the house we all shared together. Why? Why did I go back to the marital home? I’ll never really know.


The boxes I’d procured for him to pack were sitting empty in the front room. He had done nothing and was sitting in the dining room, watching YouTube on his laptop. My memory tells me that I avoided making a snide remark to cover my anxiety over his lack of packing, but I can’t confidently say that this is true. I know I eventually went upstairs to our bedroom to pack up my own things from the dresser that he would be taking with him to his new apartment.

We must have slept in the same bed that night, but again, I have no memory of it. Did I weep on his bare chest, like I had so many nights leading up to that one? Who knows? That glass Inside Out memory ball is buried in that land where Bing Bong goes to die.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes, Theo and I. I don’t remember that final goodbye either. I could only begin to imagine what it’s like to leave the home your children grew up in and would continue to grow up in, just without you. But he wanted this, I kept reminding myself. He didn’t have the courage to just leave, of course. For years he just made himself absent by whatever means necessary. Now we were just making it official.


I had a fun day planned. I wanted anything but for my kids to have a memory of their dad leaving. I headed back to my sister’s and she took us for a super fancy brunch in a super fancy hotel. My mom called us at some point, to discuss how she’d been a mega bitch to Theo when he came by to get our old furniture out of the basement. She spoke in our native language so the kids wouldn’t understand. My sis and I giggled, knowing mom had my back.

Then the boy child went to a birthday party, while the girl one and I went to the nail salon with a bunch of her friends and their moms. The village I had carefully built over the years rallied together to support us. After manis and pedis, we retrieved the boy one and went to see Hidden Figures with a single mom friend and her daughter, who was my son’s classmate. We were completely distracted and when we exited the theatre, it was suddenly dark out. It had been a bright, crisp February day and to be hit with the dark was a reminder that we had gotten through the worst of it.

“Let’s call your dad,” I said quietly, “He probably hasn’t eaten all day. Let’s see if he wants us to take him to dinner.”


When we got to his new neighbourhood, the girl one didn’t want to get out of the car. “It’s so WEIRD!” she kept saying. And yeah, she was right. Theo was hurt, I know it, but he eventually coaxed her out. We had Thai, and as we sat around the table we raised our glasses. “To us!” we toasted. The 20-something girls at the table next to us made gagging sounds and rolled their eyes.

I was surprised by how angry this made me. I wanted to go over to them, in all their young, hopeful glory, and say, “THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE! This family has been through the wars! We have survived the near death of that sweet girl over there, but our marriage didn’t survive the post-traumatic stress after her disease and surgery, and maybe it was long broken before that, but GODDAMMIT we are here today of all days and eating Pad Thai and Cashew Chicken and it’s a FUCKING MIRACLE!”

Instead I swallowed a spring roll and turned to the girl one. “How about after dinner we go see Dad’s place?” And that’s what we did. Except when we got to the corner, I made an excuse about having to buy cat food and took the boy one to the store with me while the girl one skipped down towards the beach where Dad now lived.

“We’re going to buy him some groceries. Just enough so that he has breakfast tomorrow.” Was it generosity? Was it needing to be the smug person on the high road/horse? Old habits die hard, and I always took care of Theo. It’s what my mom raised me to do. So we showed up, the boy one and me, with a bag full of a lesson. It was the kindest way I could imagine beginning this new life.

“This is so WEIRD!” the girl one exclaimed again. It was SUPER WEIRD. Seeing our stuff in a new home, breaking up a life woven together. If you want to destroy my sweater, pull this thread as I walk away.


He came back to the house, I forget why. The shock of bare spots on walls where his concert posters had been removed. The absolute gut-wrenching blow as I walked into our bedroom to nothing but dust bunnies. I’d told him to take the bed, the mattress, the sheets. I didn’t want his energy on anything. I dragged the old futon mattress up from the main floor and plopped it down. When the kids saw this, they asked for their mattresses to be pulled in too. They flanked me, in a makeshift camp, little refugees ready to make a new life, but needing the safety of the maternal womb for the transition.

They saved me. For two weeks I destroyed my back on that floor, but they saved me. I was forced to go to bed early, forced to not cry myself to sleep, forced to accept that I was surrounded by a great love that had been born of the very person who broke my heart.

Exhale.

They are the bright spot in my day. They are the reason Theo and I are still friends. They are my reason for everything (except maybe this writing here, which I’m not sure is sustainable). They are the reason I only moderately fell apart in this last year. They are why I keep going. They saved me then and they continue to save me, one day at a time. I hope I am able to give them even a fraction of what they give me.

I’m not ready to date with my heart just yet, but spending time with Ali, I realize that how my future partner will gel with my kids is critical in my decision-making. For now, Ali is just for me and I don’t know that this will change ever. Ali… sigh… that’s a tale for another post.

Year one, done

It’s been a year since the worst day of my life. The day I had to break the hearts of the two humans that I love the most. The day I had to tell them that their father and I would no longer be a couple.

It had been two months of harbouring the secret, to get through Christmas, to work out the plan, to talk to social workers to understand how best to tell them. I wanted to do it right, if there’s such a thing. I’m still trying. It’s a constant pull between my hurt feelings wanting to lash out at their dad and realizing that doing so would jeopardize a relationship that was always held together by a string, strong as hemp rope on one end, but thinned out to the most fragile of threads at the other.

Our favourite social worker, the one our family still sees, suggested we present the information as a unified front. Under no circumstances were we supposed to give any hints or suggestions that we may get back together. It was over, we needed to stick to the storyline, because any window of wavering would be a forever open door for kids who just want their parents back together.

We ordered sushi, a family favourite, and talked happily during dinner. People always ask if the kids suspected. I will say that while they felt weird energy in the house during those two months, and caught me crying a bunch of times, they really didn’t see it coming. I never ever wanted to do this to them, as a kid who had suffered a (temporary) parental break-up herself. And I told my now-ex that once we broke their hearts there was no turning back.


He waffled over those two months, but whenever he’d say, “Why are we doing this?” I would ask him why he felt we should stay together. The answer was always (and is to this day), “Because it’s harder than I imagined.” Not, “I realized how much I love you and what you mean to me, and I can’t believe I put you through all that shit all these years.” Nope. Not, “I realize I can’t live without you.” Nope. Repeat: He does not love you the way you need to be loved, Maria. Breathe.

For years, during many late night discussions about the state of our relationship, I warned him about how this would affect the kids, how they would struggle in life while all their peers had (happily or unhappily) married parents. I knew first-hand what it was like, while he, with parents unhappily married for 50 years, only saw that relationship as a trap. His story, his narrative, always won out. He would dig in his heels and say, “The kids will be alright because it’s us. We’re not going to do it in a way that makes us enemies.” It turns out we were both right.

The kids are alright, but they have moments of deep sadness, or fear, anxiety, frustration. They are stuck on the why, but the why no longer matters. It just IS. We must accept it and move on. Theo was right, we would do it differently. I did a bit of mudslinging in early days, but through meditation, yoga, therapy and the buddhist practise of accepting impermanence, I have learned to let go of my anger and my sadness. Sure, they creep in sometimes, but I know to breathe through it, turn it into a joke and to resist sending that angry text.


This morning’s angry text was going to be, “Who the FUCK is that woman on your Facebook feed saying what an awesome family you have? Just because you made a fire on the beach, as if making a bonfire earns you Parent of the Year! Stop using your fatherhood to get laid, you piece of shit!” But instead, I went to yoga and thought my hamstrings were going to snap like elastic bands pulled too far. The kids joke that I’m becoming a Zen master, but maybe I’m just becoming an asshole who buys too many Buddha statues and is getting mature enough not to fire off texts before I’ve thought through the repercussions.

When the kids do express their sadness, we sit with it. I have, in some ways, become a better mother through this process. I’m not anxious about their fears and pains like I used to be. Or rather, I notice the anxiety and guilt rising up within me, and I take a breath and pivot to Supermom. Dad is Fun Dad, and there’s something good in accepting that. I can be too serious, talking them through mega heavy life topics, like drugs and abortion. Dad is just Fun Dad. He gets them outdoors. He pushes their physical selves into the physical world, taking them for hikes on the beach and then returning to his sad dad cosy basement apartment to watch a movie and eat something warm that he’s made for them. I am the keeper of their minds and their souls, he is the keeper of their bodies and their place in the outside world. We both approach their anxieties differently, and both are good.

When I think of us like that, it does make me wistful. It does make me want to get back together, but then I never ever saw our relationship as “that bad” until I got out of it. Sure I was unhappy, but wasn’t everybody? But then I remember that, regardless of whether I agree with the thinking, for him every fight was Hiroshima, every argument symbolizing the end of days. I love him, but I’ve come to realize that he’s a narcissist. He can only really care for himself. But maybe, just maybe, through divorce he is learning how to take care of the kids, too. I hope so for their sakes.


That night, after sushi, we told them. Or rather, I told them. Because he was frozen in inaction, wearing a suit of cowardice, of his own making. We told them he was moving out in a week (which was the timing prescribed by the social worker). And the girl one laughed at first, because she thought it was a joke. Surely her parents who claimed they loved her wouldn’t do this to them! I’d promised her once, and she’s always reminding me, that her parents were never ever getting divorced, because I swore to her that I would do everything in my power to avoid that outcome. And I did. I did do everything possible, from therapy to allowing him to move away to another city for six months, to considering the open marriage he was asking for. But it wasn’t enough. I was never enough.

Why? They asked over and over again. I wish I could tell them. I barely understood it myself, but I HAD to secure my freedom. I could never tell them of the years of mental and emotional abuse. I’m sure their dad would probably say the same about me. How do you tell kids, “Your dad wasn’t strong enough to be my man”? He couldn’t handle that I was smart and funny and pretty and successful and well-liked by so many people, while he couldn’t seem to find his footing as an adult. He was a shrinking violet, scared to share his experience of the world around him, and he felt my strength was drawn by making him weak. I can’t say if that’s true, but it was certainly true for him. I’ve come to accept that, too.


I didn’t kill him when he stupidly said, “We don’t know. There’s a chance we might get back together.” But I did give him a death stare and a strong kick under the table. “That is not true,” I said stoically, trying to close a door that he was trying to keep open a wedge out of weakness, “Dad and I are over. We are never getting back together.” We all cried, and I can never forget the pain of causing my children such agony. I’m still trying to forgive myself.

Then I presented rose quartz necklaces that I’d had made for us all, to keep our hearts close. Then we played a board game. Everything is rather hazy from that time, like when that bad thing happened to you as a teenager and you just walked around with that sick feeling in your stomach for days, wishing it wasn’t true. I don’t know how we got through that week, but somehow we did. And what followed was a time of mourning, change and open hearts, a love bigger than I knew I was capable of giving or receiving.

A week from now will be the anniversary of the day he moved out. I’ll be back next Sunday to reflect on my memories of that story. Thanks for reading.

Oh well, whatever, nevermind – a medley

Happy 2018!

My big kid is learning a Nirvana song on the drums right now. We’ve gone down a mega grunge rabbit hole. I’m still unsure as to how to answer, “What does it mean when Kurt sings, ‘Broken hymen of your Highness, I’m left back/ Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back’?” But so far, no one has asked. The print on the sheet music is very tiny, thank Gord.

We listened to “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters, and in context, the lyric, “You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when,” kinda makes sense, but it opens up a HUGE parenting conversation when you’re trying to teach your kids consent. Technically, Dave Grohl is making a blanket statement here, consenting for the person the song is written for to keep going, no matter how much he pushes back. But as women, we all know that blanket statements don’t apply when it comes to consent. Consent is a moment to moment discussion, a check-in. “Is this still OK?” It’s looking at verbal and non-verbal cues to understand if the person you are with is still comfortable with the set-up.

In going quiet the past few months, I’ve had time to flesh out a few ideas. (PSA: It’s FLESH out, NEVER FLUSH out PEOPLE! Go see The Oatmeal’s description as to why.) For years, I ran my marriage in a “You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when,” style. There was so much I wrote off as “just his mental health issues.” “Buckle up,” I’d tell myself, “You signed up for this. In sickness and in health, remember?” Mind you, my wedding vows were in another language and I barely remember them, so maybe I didn’t need to focus on them so much, but I digress.

I had lunch with a friend who is a yogi and a healer yesterday. Catching up, I found myself synthesizing my thoughts on the last decade, on where my relationship fell down and my responsibility in it all. It’s dangerous though, because like any story, you get better and better at telling it, and you may unconsciously be reinforcing untruths and false beliefs that make your ego feel better and mean you don’t actually have to own your bullshit.

I recounted how I was told that he was “not in love” with me anymore. I recounted how our marriage counsellor politely fired us. I recounted how I then called a psychologist for myself. I told her that my husband said he’s not in love with me anymore, and that he was depressed and not to be taken seriously, and could she help me build the mental fortitude to insulate myself from these verbal attacks.

Cough.

There are many things that I
Would like to say to you but I don’t know how (OASIS, WONDERWALL)


It wasn’t until I was told I would need to seek romantic love outside the home that I broke. After months of therapy, I did achieve my goal, although the outcome was significantly different than I imagined. I had the mental fortitude to know I could walk away, that as difficult as it would be, I didn’t have to take the abuse anymore.

“You know, when someone consistently tells you they are a wolf, and you treat them like a cute little family dog, you can’t really be mad when they eat your flock of sheep,” I said to my wise friend over tea. We had a good giggle, because OBVIOUSLY! But sometimes it takes you 19 years to learn that lesson.

Look, the wolf really wanted to be a dog. He tried sitting, and giving a paw and singing for his supper, but he couldn’t stop murdering sheep because that’s his true nature. He didn’t want to be kept in a house, he wanted to be out pissing on trees and hunting bunnies. He wasn’t the most cunning wolf though, so it was easy to believe he was a dopey dog that just needed to be house broken. But I have to own the fact that I did not want to believe him, no matter how many ways he tried to convince me. I thought I had what it took to love the wolf into domesticity, I thought I knew better than him.

I want to be the girl with the most cake
I love him so much it just turns to hate (HOLE, MISS WORLD)

In return, he became confused about who he was. Whenever he took a dump in my new shoes, he’d feel terrible and mope with his tail between his legs. But over the years he grew increasingly resentful at this angry woman, who wouldn’t let him be his free lupine self. Who expected him to hand over the dead squirrels and wipe his paws on the mat on his way in, before chaining him to a repressive life that most people dream of.

But I didn’t listen. When he said he would never live up to my expectations (on our first date), when he said he could only take care of himself (when we were first married), when he said he didn’t see how this was going to work (in the last few years), all I heard were excuses. And, to borrow from my smart yogi friend, I was right, AND SO WAS HE.

I’m so ugly, that’s OK ’cause so are you (NIRVANA, LITHIUM)


Anyway, I’m slowly learning to get over it. To let it go, a piece at a time. We are mostly friends now, because I still tolerate a lot of bullshit. But it’s good for the kids to have him in their lives, and they will draw their own conclusions in their own time. We survived the holidays, which was a roller coaster of emotions. Bittersweet, lots of tears, heart to hearts and big belly laughs, too. And now I sit with my cup of tea and my keyboard, in the cold-warm of January. I’m still dating myself and that’s going well. We like all the same podcasts and recipes and Netflix and Prime shows.
I go through bouts of intense grief, and then I get into self-care mode: bathing, downward dogging, wine and cheese with friendsing, journalling, singing the songs of my youth at full volume, and somehow I am standing strong again. It’s never a straight line, I remind myself, don’t beat yourself up, girl.
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky (PEARL JAM, BLACK)

“Weather is a good teacher,” I told my friend, who is wise enough to know all this, but sometimes even sages need to be told something in a different way, a different voice or perspective to re-learn a lesson. The days are sometimes grey and dreary at this time of year, but one only has to take a flight to remember that the sun is always shining above the clouds. Sometimes we have to wait for the clouds to part or the seasons to change to feel better again. We have to remember that storms will inevitably blow in, but they too, shall pass. Breathe, move, be still, soyez patient! BREATHE!

Grunge music exemplified the pain I experienced going from adolescence to adulthood. It’s working for me now, too, in a different way—reminding me that things aren’t as bad as they seem in this moment; that “future me” has left a letter around here some place, telling me to get my shit together and stop spending so much time getting my eyeliner right and putting my faith in weak men. The world is changing and mine is too. Here’s to the better.

Black hole sun
Won’t you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun
Won’t you come
Won’t you come (won’t you come) (SOUNDGARDEN, BLACK HOLE SUN)