Personal

On ordinary days that become perfect by circumstance

He found dentures washed up on a flea-ridden beach—smoothed down to half its dental cast by the timid waves that deposited large purple jellyfish like blood clots along the shore. We were looking for beach glass but here was the pride of his findings and he tucked them carefully away to be saved. Now they live in an antique mason jar on a ledge behind the toilet and if I see them on display I carefully rotate them back against the wall.

The day we get married the clouds won’t cooperate and I leave the decision in his hands but he knows I’ve never wanted to exchange vows in a church, so he makes the call I can’t and we’re standing under our handmade arbor regardless when the rain starts to fall. His eyebrows go up in perfect crescent moons and we both peer at the sky until a childhood friend donates her umbrella and his cousin holds another over his head and it can’t be coincidence that they somehow match the wedding colours in the photos we get back.

In the letter I forgot that I wrote to him that first summer that he admitted he’s been carrying all this time, worn down to the thinnest folds. He says “I read it when I’m feeling low.” And I hear all of the ways he’s held me to him even when we’re apart. And I see all of the ways we’ve been loving each other in tiny trickles that meet and grow into streams and suddenly our love is immense as a raging river and I don’t mind, I want to, be under its pull. Like I never needed to learn how to hold my breath. Like being near him helps me grow gills.

I read him my handwritten vows, voice shaking, taking slow and steadying breaths and trying not to cry. Here are the things I’ve learned and the ways I’ve loved you and will always try my very best to love you. And here are the ways fate made you family and the struggles we will always come through stronger. I empty my heart onto the page and later, people hold me in their arms and tell me how much they cried when we spoke. How we must be meant for each other. The love in the room is as pregnant as the sky and I feel it in the eyes that are watching us. I feel it in the hand of my best friend, entwined in mine under the table. In the words of my father, when he begins to speak Cree, and a shiver runs through the crowd. I feel it when my mother mentions how much my grandfather would have like to have been here, he is here, and the tear that winds its way down. Free at last.

Later, after the dancing, after my brother holds me and maybe for the first time, tells me to my face how much he loves me, how proud he is of me, after everyone is in their beds, and the room is picked clean, and my buzz is wearing off, and the dress is in a pile and he’s hung it on the door, and I peel fake eyelashes from my lids, after all of the emotion and the party and the hoopla we take our dog Sundance for a walk.

At 3am in a small dark town, settled, soft and the rain has finally stopped and we’re officially, stamped, marked, sealed, a family.

He holds my hand in his the same way he always has.

Wife he asks.

Husband I reply.

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Personal

The weight of you

Buoyed. Up and up. A ribbon like tether grazing the ground, simple enough to snag. And you told me once that there’s a cancer in me and you can’t bear to watch my cells battle it out. You were the disease and I cut you from me in slivers until nothing remained but the imprint of what you once touched. The damp outline of love.

All the sad songs you told me not to read into—the life we only lived between the lines.

Yesterday we were infested and today the ants are gone.

He left an entire watermelon out to lure them and when it was black three levels deep he flushed the colony down the sink and that was the end of that.

So I disinfect all my surfaces and remember what it was like before I met him. Before the fixes were simple. Before I knew what it was to want to commit, to want to grow, to grow up and grow old with someone.

How everything changes when you find the right fruit, when it’s already ripened, juicy and just laid out waiting for you.

I am teaching myself to write when I’m happy. What’s the emoji for it’s about fucking time? All those years I thought suffering was romantic, pacing bridges like it wasn’t so far to fall. Floundering in a world of oceans with no turtle shell. Nurturing the darkness and refusing to see that hurting myself only hurts me. And that sounds simple enough so why was it so hard to read?

Here’s what I’ve learned in my years of silence—when it’s good, when it’s really fucking life changing, you don’t need a platform, you don’t need an audience, you just need each other. A comfortable weight. A warmth that’s heavy without holding you down. The strength at your back.

The last bus home.

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Personal, Prose

What we always knew

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an emotional itch I can’t get to. My best friend got engaged last month and I’m already writing my speech in my head, every night, while the neighbour’s automatic flood light forces its way through our heavy curtains and everything still feels so immediate.

I always felt like the older twin, the one who came first but always had so much more to learn. We used to communicate without speaking—in raised eyebrows and head tilts; in wide eyes and pursed lips. She was a mirror, but always with a better brighter version of who I wanted to be.

The summer nights before fiances, between boyfriends, we took command of entire cities. Leaving artifacts ruined in our wake. We were just people but a force of nature together. Cap ou pas cap? Toujours cap.

Sometimes youth feels like invisibility and a platform all at once. Drapped in each other’s arms at the end of so many adventures, with all these stories to tell, secrets to keep, we were invincible in the kind of friendship that you can’t forge, but finds you when you least expect it.

Now all these responsibilities keep us grounded. Soon she’ll be married, a wife and then probably not too far along, a mother. Exactly like we always planned.

At her wedding I get too drunk, warming my wine glass between two sweaty palms—an offering to the gods of public speaking. In front of me on the podium my ring finger sparkles, catching the light and I lose my place for a moment and clear my throat, wings scrapping my insides as something struggles toward the light.

When I practised I couldn’t stop crying, it was alarming, a submarine filling with water, all of me leaking out onto the page. But the wine has made me calmer, my voice measured out two beats ahead of my brain. It’s over before I know it and her husband (husband!) embraces me whispering thanks into my ear and I hold on to him like the ground is shaking. This is all so new now.

They go to Greece on their honeymoon. I sit cross-legged on my dining room floor assembling the kitchen table my mother gave us. Inheritance hand-me-downs. It’s coming apart at the corners and I think about waiting but drag a chair to the closet and bring down the drill. Manage. On every surface I pile library books according to size and wait for the fees to accumulate. All these late notifications but I can’t bring myself to return what I haven’t read yet.

When we’re older, old, paper-thin. I’ll gather you in my sure hands, winding your white hair into the tightest of  buns. Like you always knew I would.

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Personal

All our losses

There are things I do to forget: Laugh more, take my dog for long meandering walks, concentrate on a new diet and exercise program, watch hours of both good and bad TV, and read books. Lots of books. But, it doesn’t matter. Death is everywhere. Characters disappearing as easily as the light slips away in the summer—later than you thought, but quicker, too.

I have selective memory problems and like a healed amnesiac it hits me sometimes, a bright light in a dark room. I want to remember him stronger, younger, fierce—but when I think of him it’s always propped up in a hospital bed, tubes pumping and draining his tired body. His legs, thinned, and the feel of his calloused heel as I rub in Aveeno lotion, wondering if it tickles.

Grief is a tricky, stalking thing. A shaded presence in my peripherals. Breathing on my neck at the stove. Sinking into the cushions next to me as I type.

I read the poems he wrote after my grandmother’s death and I can’t write my own. What more is to be said? Here are all the things I never said to you. Here’s what I whispered in your ear when everyone else left the room. Here are the ways I feel I failed and all the regrets I carry with me just like before. Saying goodbye takes a moment, a weekend, a lifetime. I hardly knew you. I knew so much.

I take my coffee in his old mugs and wear his oversized socks despite the heat. All we leave are things behind. Plates that break in my suitcase and Ziploc bags of old photos.

And love.

The kind that hangs over us like a fog, unable to settle, leaving imprints in our hair and kissing our cheeks. The kind of moisture that feels like a homecoming—this place you never wanted to return to but can’t bear to leave.

 

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Personal

On coming to terms with staying or why we need to dig in

GandSunnyD2014I always thought I’d leave Nova Scotia. As a child I was the sibling who was more than willing to jet off whenever I had the opportunity—England with my grandparents, Portland, Arizona, Colorado, even Australia for two months the summer before high school began—often to the detriment of my personal relationships, because when you’re young even a month is a lifetime to your friends. But, when it came time I applied only to one local university and despite falling in love with Oregon and being approved to transfer to the University of Oregon in Eugene in my third year, something came up and I opted to stay. After graduating I flirted with the idea of Toronto or Portland or even over seas. I lived with my father in Portland, OR one year for about six months, until my heart ran out and I just had to come home. Because no matter how far I go, this has always been home—the salty ocean air, the fog, the unpredictable rain.

For a long time I was almost apologetic and reminded myself and anyone who would listen that there’s still time, you know. I’m still young and these are the years, we could live anywhere. And when I ran-crashed headlong into the love of my life we always said we’d follow each other, anywhere. For his PhD or if I ended up doing Publishing—we’d set out together, on a moment’s notice. But still, we stayed.

This year has already seen us add to our family in the form of a fluffy, ridiculous collie-retriver-mix, a rescue dog we just fell in love with at first sight. He’s giant and didn’t know how to sit in a car when we first got him—neglected, tied up, probably abused. Now his goofy face brings us joy every single morning. I buy the guy his own damn dog bagels.

In ten days we move into our dream house, in the suburbs and by all accounts it doesn’t look like we’ll ever be leaving. It took me less time than I thought to be OK with this. Nova Scotia isn’t perfect—the job market is small and extremely competitive, qualifications mean next to nothing here. Everything seems to be at least two years behind the rest of the world. Guess what craze has just made it here? Frozen Yogurt. There’s already something like three new stores in the city and more set to open this summer. Way to keep up with the times, guys. We’re an afterthought—lucky if tours make it this far, luckier still if it’s in their prime and not 12-15 years after they made it big. We’re the comeback city, bring us your Backstreet Boys and Bone Thugs N Harmony, please. We’re the market for it. We’ve got nothing else scheduled, so. In a lot of ways our government is backwards, useless, annoying.

But, it’s only ever going to get better here if the young and creative stay. Sure, we can make more money if we leave, and there’s less and less economic perks to sticking close to home (say bye bye graduate tax break) but, at the same time, living here imprints itself on your heart. It’s the same reason a shirt line that simply says East Coast Lifestyle has taken over—we care, we don’t want to leave, we fucking love this place with its tiny hills we ski on and the frigid sea we swim in. We like each other, we tend to treat each other with more kindness you’ll get anywhere else. We’ve got potential.

I’m not saying it’s time to set your adventures on the table, say goodnight and good luck. I’m just saying that when you love something like the way I love this province, you gotta work at it. You gotta make concessions. You gotta keep the good ideas close to home. You gotta dig in your heels. You gotta stay.

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Personal

Home is where you make it

When we find the perfect house there’s no lightning strike. Just a quiet knowing, a certainty. The walls are painted the same blue we painted our own, and everywhere there is light filtering through giant windows.

“I could live here,” we say, again and again.

It’s out of the city and suddenly I’m suffocating in the desire for it—the way all these people don’t even look at each other and how the sounds of all this get in your bones and make them ache, make it hard to sleep at night.

 

It might as well be the other side of the world, but I can’t order it. The cover’s too perfect, and you know how I judge them. Still, I read everything I can about what other people think about it, how they react. I am there vicariously through critical raves, with my feet on the wall above my old bed and your voice driving the words home.

 

Love is where we build it, where we set up house. And it was never going to be easy, but for deciding to work at it, because sometimes you want to and then sometimes you just do.

There’s a room that will be my library, just off the front door, to the right. An alcove begging for built-in floor-to-ceiling shelves. A window seat. That’s where I’ll shelve it, next to the Elizabeth Hay I’ll never read, and the letter flattened between its pages. Unsigned.

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Books, Personal

Think of all the books you could read

My to-read pile has morphed into a to-read shelf.I hardly read at all this year—19 books, which is still more than one a month but woefully short of 2012’s impressive 70. To me this feels like an abominable failure.

When I was younger (but not that young, not young enough to admit this out loud and not feel totally embarrassed) I was terrified in the dark. I wasn’t afraid of the dark, I was afraid of my own imagination, because without fail it would begin to churn. I had a number of ways to deal with whatever thoughts would plague me on any given night—reciting every character in the Archie comics that I could think of without repeating or singing the Care Bears countdown were my go-to—but the most effective was to logic my way out of any problem. The first such time I can recall was worrying about vampires. I think this started when I accidentally watched part of Interview with a Vampire and was subsequently scarred for life. Oddly, my abject fear manifested itself in a kind of obsession. For a long time, the only horror movies I could bring myself to endure were vampire-themed, and even now they might be the only ones I truly enjoy. Of course, before coming to terms with the bloodsuckers I had to convince myself they weren’t that scary. So I told myself, “Sure there might be a vampire in the hallway or under your bed, biding its time, but what’s the worst thing that could happen? It either A) kills you, and your life’s over so oh well or it B) turns you into an immortal being. Think of all the books you could read.

It’s a dark way of looking on the bright side (not something I’ve ever been that great at to begin with) and I’ve decided to re-embrace it for 2014. Last year’s resolution was to be a better friend. I’d like to think I managed that—in part just having the mantra helped me get through a few tough spots. This year I’m going to think of the books. That might mean taking some time away from the internet to refocus on reading or setting aside a time every day that I do. Or maybe it means writing more book reviews. What it mainly means, for me though, is to finally make some progress on a book idea I’ve been harbouring throughout 2013. It’s exciting, I’m excited. What about you? What’s 2014 going to be the year of in your life?

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