Tag Archives: relationships

Nostalgia Machine: On Re-Watching Girl, Interrupted

1 Apr

Those of you who are fairly new to my blog may not know this, but on days when I’m not busy kicking the patriarchy square in the nuts or deconstructing inaccurate Facebook memes, I like to indulge in a little bit of nostalgia. Well, maybe a lot of nostalgia. Then I tweet extensively about my my indulgences, and sometimes end up writing about them here.

Which is all to say that I re-watched Girl, Interrupted the other night and now I want to talk about it.

I saw Girl, Interrupted in theatres, when it first came out, and it gave me a lot of Feelings. Actually, it gave me one main Feeling, namely that I basically was Winona Ryder’s character, if slightly less gamine and winsome. I mean, I was a depressed teenager who had a) frequently contemplated suicide, b) felt lonely and isolated, and c) wrote obsessively in serious-looking leather-bound journals. Of course I identified with the film version of Susanna Kaysen.

Every single scene, every thought, word, and action in that movie struck me as being perfectly, achingly true. Every time Winona Ryder looked at the camera with her wide, tearful eyes, every time her mouth trembled with emotion, every time she stared sadly off into the middle distance, I thought, yes. Yes, I get this.

Then, a few years ago, I bought Girl, Interrupted on DVD, fuelled by memories of how important it had been to me. But after watching it for less than an hour I had to turn it off. It was awful, unbearable even. The performances were overwrought, the dialogue ridiculously, almost comically, dramatic. I was embarrassed that I’d ever even liked this movie, let alone identified with the main character. I put the DVD back in its case, stuck it on the shelf and didn’t touch it again.

Or rather, I didn’t touch it until earlier this week, when Catherine, my sister and frequent accomplice in nostalgic endeavours, suggested that we watch it. Sure, I said, figuring that I could hate-watch it and then later make fun of it. Maybe we could even invent a drinking game, like, take a shot every time Susanna cries over how hard it is to be a white, middle-class American. Hilarious, right? I mean, right?

Except that on re-watching Girl, Interrupted, I discovered that it had, in the last five years, somehow gone past bad and straight back to good again.

At its core, this film isn’t really about mental health, or suicide, or Susannah Kaysen’s stay at the famed McLean Hospital. I mean, of course it is about all of those things, at least peripherally, but at its heart it’s about friendship. Specifically, it’s about a sort of intense, parasitic friendship that seems to exist only between young women, those deceptively bright, canny girls just on the cusp of entering the adult world.

And maybe this isn’t the type of friendship that every girl experiences. Maybe this is just me, projecting my own pathetic history onto the blank canvas of Winona’s smooth, perfect face. Maybe I’m the only one who sees this when I watch this movie. But I know that this is a type of friendship that I’ve engaged in not just once but over and over, and maybe I still do, to this day. It’s possible that it’s a pattern that will play out for the rest of my life, or at least until I grow up and finally get some sense knocked into me.

Can you believe that I’m thirty and still talking about growing up in the future tense?

The dynamics of this specific type of friendship are as follows: half of the friendship, let’s call her Girl One, is a strong, loud, brash character who doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks, says whatever’s on her mind and gives very little thought to the consequences of her actions. The other half is someone, call her Girl Two, who is almost the photographic negative of the first – quiet, reserved, terrified of how other people see her.

Think Peppermint Patty and Marcie from Peanuts, except amplified, grotesquely exaggerated.

When I say that this friendship is parasitic, maybe what I really mean is that it’s symbiotic. As a lifelong Girl Two, I’ve always thought that I needed Girl One more than she needed me, but I wonder, now, whether that’s true or now. Maybe we’ve needed each other in equal amounts. I’ve needed someone to act out all of the things that I would never, or could never, dare to do, someone whose own loud voice might give me permission to raise mine, someone who would never sugarcoat whatever they wanted to tell me. But perhaps my friends, in turn, needed someone to occasionally hold them back, someone to steady them, someone who would listen to them and not pass judgment.

The truth is that I don’t know why or how much these other girls loved or needed me, but I do know that I loved and needed them with an intensity that sometimes bordered on obsessive. Because these girls, these loud, strident girls, had both a popularity and notoriety (not that my teenage self could differentiate between the two) that I could only dream of. People either fiercely loved or passionately hated these girls; as for me, they didn’t even bother to notice that I existed.

But these girls noticed that I existed.

And the fact is that as much as I like to think that I’m the type to stand up for what I believe in, the type to shout down the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes, the transphobes, I still sometimes need someone to give me a push. I need someone to raise their voice first, show me how it’s done, teach me not to be afraid. Because for whatever reason, these gifts don’t exist inside of me, or if they do, they lie perpetually dormant, and need to be awakened again and again and again.

On my own, I am not good at challenging authority. Not really. I need other people, people like Angelina Jolie’s character Lisa, to egg me on. And, much like Winona Ryder’s Susanna, I’m not always good at figuring out when the Lisas in my life have gone too far. I put too much trust in them, and then end up places, sometimes frightening places, that I never intended to be. I let myself be blinded by love, or at least by longing and envy, and don’t notice that some of these Lisas are downright bad news. Or rather, I don’t notice until it’s too late.

So yeah, maybe at thirty years old I do still get Susanna. Maybe there are more layers to the similarities between us than I’d originally thought.

And all that absurd dialogue and overwrought acting? This time around, they seem to me to be a painfully realistic portrayal of how teenagers actually behave. When you’re in your teens, everything that you feel is so intense, so immediate, so overwhelming that you can speak only in terrible, laughable clichés. My mother has always said that teenagers are like toddlers with better language skills, and now, watching my son struggle to express frighteningly huge emotions with his sadly inadequate vocabulary, I’ve realized how right she is.

I’ve realized that when I watched Girl, Interrupted a few years ago, what embarrassed me the most was the idea that at one time I might have spoken or acted in any way that resembled Susanna. Surely, even as a teenager, I’d been too smart, too articulate to ever behave so pretentiously. But the truth is that I was ridiculously, probably amusingly, pretentious. I just didn’t recognize this trait because all of my peers were just as overwrought and dramatic as I was.

All of this is to say that I’m now back at a place in my life where I can like, maybe even love, this movie, if only because it seems like a neatly preserved time capsule of how I thought and felt half a lifetime ago. I remember what it was like to be where Susanna was. To suddenly find yourself at the end of high school faced with choices, choices, choices, and yet not to see any of them leading anywhere. When I was a teenager, I lived in terror of being “normal,” because I worried that choosing a normal path and ending up with a normal life would make me just as grey and miserable as all of the adults that surrounded me. There would come a time, of course, when having a normal life and a nuclear family and a nine-to-five job would seem wonderfully, almost exotically appealing to me, but that came much later. When I was in high school, I didn’t understand that opting out had its costs, some of which, it turned out, I wasn’t willing to pay.

And sometimes I miss my teenage self, because even if she lacked her own voice, she still somehow managed to be totally steadfast and uncompromising in her beliefs, even if those beliefs made her feel miserable and isolated. But mostly I’m just glad that I’ve learned how to trade off one thing for another, to give a piece of myself away in order to be able to keep a different part that is more necessary, more valuable. I’m grateful to the Lisas in my life who have taught me when to stand up mouth off and, somewhat by extension, when to sit down and shut up. I’m thankful for every time I’ve had to learn the lesson that it’s important not to trust the Lisas out there too implicitly, and that I need to learn how to think for myself. It’s a hard lesson, and one that it feels like I’ve had to learn often, but it’s a good one.

Mostly, though, I’m glad that I’ve found my way to where I am.

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Three Memories

17 Mar

1. It’s a grey, dreary Saturday afternoon in early August, 1997. I’m at my friend Liz’s apartment; she’s throwing me a party for my fifteenth birthday. It’s not a big party – more of a get-together, really, with a handful of friends sitting around on Liz’s living room floor. Somebody has brought the obligatory cake, and there are gifts, too, but those are beside the point.

My real birthday present is that Liz has somehow convinced her mother to rent Trainspotting for us. Not only that, but her mother has actually left us alone to watch it.

I have been dying to see this movie ever since it came out the year before. I own the soundtrack (well, I own a taped copy of the soundtrack that my friend made for me). I have postcards showing scenes from the movie stuck on my wall. I’ve cut out every interview with Ewan MacGregor that I can find and pinned them to my bulletin board. My friend Emily somehow saw Trainspotting in theatres (in spite of the fact that she was too young for its R rating), and I’ve made her give me a play-by-play of all of its scenes.

I am so fucking ready for this.

I sit there and watch the fuck out of that movie, my fingers dug deep into the grey pile of the living room carpet. I drink in everything, even, maybe especially, the things that I don’t understand. I don’t flinch away from the achingly awful, sometimes sickening parts that I later won’t be able to watch as an adult. I watch this movie like I’ll be writing a final exam in which 100% of my grade is based on a essay regarding Mark Renton and his life choices.

I am fifteen. I am a virgin. I’ve never even smoked a cigarette, never mind fucking around with heroin. I don’t cut class. I don’t break my curfew. I try so hard to be good.

But in my whole life I have never had something speak to me the way Mark Renton’s opening monologue does:

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons.

Because already I know that I’m not going to choose any of those things. I don’t know what I want in life, but the list of things that I don’t want is long and involved. I’m fifteen, so compromise doesn’t yet exist.

I am going to take the fucking world by storm, and I am not going betray any of my values along the way.

2. It’s a bright spring day in 2003. I have recently sort of, maybe started dating my friend. We have been on one, maybe two dates, but we haven’t kissed yet. He comes over to my house and we watch my favourite movie, The Red Violin. I lean against him and put my head first on his shoulder, then on his lap. I am so tentative, so nervous.

I am so in love with him.

Afterwards, he walks me back to the Dalhousie campus. I have to go work at the school call centre, where we try to convince alumni to donate money to the university. We end up wandering over to the stairs leading up to the Grad House (a misnomer of a pub where undergrad students are totally welcome) and I stand on the second step, so that I’m the same height as him.

Suddenly, he leans in and kisses me, then grabs me and spins me around until we’re both dizzy and giggling.

“Well, that makes things less awkward,” he says.

I bury my face in the front of his coat. I can’t stop smiling. In that moment, everything is sharply, painfully perfect. It doesn’t matter that in a little over two months’ time we will end up lost in a blind alley of shortcoming and fears and hurt feelings. It doesn’t matter that our friendship will end, not even with a bang, but slowly, painfully, spluttering and gasping to its death over the course of the next two years. It doesn’t matter that he will break my heart, not just once, but over and over.

It doesn’t matter, because even if someone had told me all of the awful things that were to come, I still wouldn’t have traded that one wonderful moment for a calmer, happier, but ultimately emptier world.

3. It’s a hot, sunny summer day in 2004. I am wearing a brown tank top and a skirt that my aunt bought me for my birthday. The skirt, which hits just below the knee, is cream with a brick-red pattern of swirls on it; it’s made of jersey cotton, which means that it moves with and clings to my body in the best way possible. The waistband is a thick elastic, in the same brick-red colour, and it dips down into a v in the front. I love the cut of this waistband an unreasonable amount.

I am walking next to Citadel Hill in Halifax. I have my discman in my purse, and I’m listening to my roommate’s copy of Hawksley Workman’s (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves. Specifically, I am listening to Striptease. The sun is hot on my face and shoulders. My hair hangs long, dusty, tangled down my back. I am swaying my hips, wiggling my shoulders.

For the first time in a long time I feel perfectly at home in my body. I feel sexy, in a dirty, earthy way. I feel like someone who might be desirable.

I look down and notice that my skirt has slipped enough to show off the top of my black thong. I barely pause for long enough to hike my skirt back up, and then I keep going.

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My Sister Claire, Or Why No One Should Ever Tell Folktales To Children

12 Mar

Have you ever heard of the myth of the changeling? It’s an old one, woven throughout most of the folklore of Western Europe. The details differ from region to region, but the basic premise is always the same: some kind of fantastical being, usually a fairy, elf, or troll, secretly switches its own offspring for a human child. The switch isn’t discovered until it’s too late.

This exchange might be made for a variety of reasons – some tales tell of fairies and elves taking children as servants or slaves, while a handful of Norwegian myths explain that trolls were left in the place of human babies to help prevent inbreeding (because, of course, we all need a fresh injection of troll in our family trees every now and again). Some stories say that the fairies and elves did it out of a desire for human love, and some, like a few variations of the ballad of Tam Lin, refer to the idea that the fairies must sacrifice a life to hell every seven years. One popular version of the tale tells that fairy children require human breast milk, and so the switch is made to ensure the continuation of the fairy species.

When my youngest sister was born, though, I wasn’t overly concerned with why the fairies had left her in place of the child my mother gave birth to – I was just fascinated by the fact that we now had what I thought was almost certainly a changeling in the family.

It was my Irish grandfather who first put the idea into my head. See, my sister was born with slanted eyes and sharply pointed ears, and although the hospital staff seemed to feel that the shape of her ears, at least, had somehow been stretched or compressed into that shape as she’d passed through the birth canal, my Poppa thought otherwise. I remember him muttering darkly that she looked like she had the fairy blood, something that made my mother laugh. When my four-year-old sister Catherine heard, she started crying, saying that she wanted to be a fairy and it wasn’t fair.

I wasn’t laughing or crying, though. I was paying attention.

When Claire was born, I was nearly eleven years old, and happened to be cursed-slash-blessed with a huge appetite for books, a love of mythologizing my own life, and a day-dreamy streak a mile wide. I’d recently been reading books of Irish and Scottish folk tales, so it didn’t take me long to put the idea of my sister having fairy blood and the myth of changeling together.

It didn’t help that Claire was totally unlike my sister Catherine and I. We’d both been skinny, temperamental babies, chronically underweight throughout our childhoods. Claire, meanwhile, was enormous and placid, constantly ranking in the 99th percentile for height and weight and nearly always in a happy, smiling mood. And while, yes, her ears did round out as she grew older, her eyes kept their epicanthic fold and turned a startling green. On top of all that, my mother gave her an other-worldly sounding Gaelic middle name, one that she’d found in a Maeve Binchy book.

I tried to treat Claire as my very own human sister, but the idea that she was a changeling almost certainly coloured some of the things I did and said to Claire.

Like the time when I told her when she was about three years old that she was actually a Victorian princess stolen from her real family by time-traveling bandits.

I even had evidence to back me up – a picture frame that someone had given us containing a sepia-toned image of a thoughtful-looking woman in a huge, frilly dress. This photograph, I told Claire, was a picture of her real mother. Maybe she would see her again one day, and maybe not. She couldn’t go looking for her unless we told her the secrets of time travel because, of course, at this point, the mid 1990s, everyone she’d known and loved in her own time was dead.

Catherine got in on the act, and my mother laughed a couple of times over Claire’s reactions.

She laughed, that is, until she went to hug Claire, who pushed her away, screaming,

“I HATE YOU. I WANT MY REAL MOTHER. TAKE ME BACK TO MY REAL MOTHER.”

She may or may not be scarred for life. It’s probably too early to say.

It was around that time that my parents separated, and my mother, sisters and I moved into low-income housing. The only benefit to our new living situation was that it was backed by a former land-fill site, nicknamed Mount Trashmore, which was covered by acres and acres of meadows and fields. The landfill, which leaked methane gas but was, naturally, considered safe enough for poor people, was a paradise to us. It was that fact, coupled with the series of books I was reading around that time that took place in Renaissance England, that renewed my interest in fairies. After all, if Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare believed in fairies, then why couldn’t I?

And it’s not like I really believed, except that I sort of did. Or rather, like Mulder’s famous poster, I wanted to believe.

Did I mention the daydreaming and tendency to mythologize?

I started having my sisters perform little rituals. We would leave food in the backyard for the fairies, and chant rhymes that I’d made up. We built nests for the fairies in the fields near our house. I wove daisy chains for us to wear in our hair, and tried to build a maypole. And while Catherine and Claire and I were far apart enough in age that we were rarely able to find something that interested all three of us, these activities, for whatever reason, deeply absorbed each one of us.

I don’t really know how or why our own personal fairy kingdom came to and end. I guess I outgrew it, or at least became embarrassed by it, once I started high school and discovered boys. I don’t know, either, what effect it had on Catherine or Claire, or if they even fully remember it. I do know, though, that it was a nice time, maybe one of the nicest the three of us had together while growing up.

So thanks for that, little changeling sister. I’m glad we got you, although I would still like to know what happened to the real Claire. If you ever find her, let me know okay?

I love you. Happy birthday. You’re the best (possibly non-human) baby sister ever.

Claire, Catherine and I - see what I mean? Totally a changeling.

Claire, Catherine and I – see what I mean? Totally a changeling.

On Facebook and Validation

27 Feb

I deleted my Facebook account this morning.

Or rather, I deactivated it, because deleting is way more of a hassle and I’ll probably end up reactivating my account eventually. And can I just take a second to tell you how crazy hard it was to get myself off that motherfucker? It took me approximately ten years to find the “deactivate” section, and THEN they make you fill out this thing about why you’re leaving and blah blah blah, like, seriously, Zuckerberg? Everyone and their grandmothers are on Facebook. You can relax about the OCCASIONAL PERSON quitting your site.

But anyway. I digress.

I deactivated my account because I wasn’t really happy about how I was using Facebook. I felt like too often I was using it to seek attention or validation, and that felt really unhealthy. I feel like I have an OK relationship with Facebook when I’m in a good space mentally, but when I’m depressed I tend to make posts that are basically begging my friends to reassure me that they love me, that I’m a good person, that I’m doing a good job. And I don’t want to be that guy, you know?

But this is where it gets fucking tricky, because by posting this, aren’t I kind of, sort of being that guy? Aren’t I using this as a way of asking you for validation that I’m not constantly looking for validation? Or at least validation that this is just how we do it in the 21st century and everyone else (and their grandmothers) use Facebook for the same thing?

Let me tell you a little story.

One time, my ex-boyfriend and I were at the same Hallowe’en party, and then ended up going out to the same club. I was still in love with him and he knew it, but he went ahead and kissed me on the dance floor anyway. He was dressed as The Incredible Hulk and when he kissed me he got green paint on my face, and my best friend dragged me into the bathroom and yelled, WHAT THE FUCK IS HE DOING KISSING YOU AND GETTING GREEN PAINT ON YOUR FACE? THAT IS FUCKING UNACCEPTABLE.

So I tried to ask him why he’d kissed me, but instead he turned around and walked out of the bar. So I followed him, because I was angry, and hurt, and felt stupid and used. I chased him down the street, yelling his name and telling him to turn around and talk to me RIGHT NOW. And eventually he did, and we ended up sitting together on someone’s stoop in the middle of Halifax’s North End. It was midnight and really fucking cold outside, but I didn’t have a coat because I’d been in such a hurry to catch him and chew him out. So I sat there, trying to explain how hurt I was without actually admitting that I still wanted to be with him, and I was so cold that I started shivering. So he put his arms around me, and pulled me close, and I started crying.

We were both really drunk, and really young, and really serious. So we decided we were having this big adult conversation about ourselves and our relationship and our treatment of each other. Because, you know, that’s what you do when you’re sitting on some random North End stoop dressed as The Incredible Hulk and Jackie O on a freezing cold late-October night. That’s what grownups do. Right?

Anyway, at some point I said, “Tell me something that you know about me. Something true.”

And he looked at me and said, “Anne needs to stop relying on other people’s opinions of her.”

And I was actually shocked by how true and accurate that was. Like, even though he was a dick to me on the regular, he still knew me, somehow. And, weirdly, he still cared about me.

I guess I was also shocked because I’d thought that my need for other people’s validation was something that I’d managed to hide fairly well. But it became clear to me that if even my emotionally-stunted ex-boyfriend could see it, then everyone could see it.

And in that moment I felt exposed for the fraud I was: not the loud, brash, ass-kicking lady that I pretended to be, but a scared, lonely, kid with poor self-esteem.

I’ve worked hard in the year since then to have more faith in myself, to not let other people’s ideas shape who or what I am. I’ve tried to grow a thicker skin, tried not to care about what other people say, tried to learn how to stand my ground. And to some degree, I think I’ve been successful. I’ve at least become better at presenting myself as someone who is all of those things.

But when things get tough, I don’t feel like someone who has a strong core. I feel like someone who has layers and layers of gauze bandages wrapped around her midsection, and when you go to unwind them, it turns out that there’s nothing there, like, literally nothing. Just a giant, gaping hole that goes all the way through me. And then maybe all of my internal organs fall out and I get blood and guts on your nice new shoes and I’m crying for you to love me, please love me, and even though I can tell that you’re disgusted, I can’t stop.

So anyway, that’s what Facebook has been feeling like lately. Like I’m a big old vivisected loser who needs you to tell her over and over that she’s fine, she’s good, she’s lovely. And I don’t want to be that loser anymore. And I don’t want to drive you all away with my nonsense.

Thus: Facebook deactivation.

We can still interact here and on Twitter, and I’m happy to give you my email address so long as you promise that you’re not a creeper who wants to send me pictures of his dick. I’ll still be around. It’ll be fun, I promise!

Now if you excuse me, I have to go talk to my cats and make sure that they still think that I’m a worthy owner who feeds them on time and gives them enough cuddles.

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Shrevolution! Or, I Hate Valentine’s Day

14 Feb

I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there: I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of Valentine’s Day.

I mean, it’s fine when you’re a little kid. You make sure to wear something red or pink, tell your parents how much you love them, and draw hearts all over every-fucking-thing. Everyone in your class gives you a card, your gorge yourself on chocolate, then spend the afternoon in a sugar-fuelled frenzy and throw up all over your babysitter’s carpet. End of story.

Then you hit puberty, and Valentine’s Day becomes this huge, looming thing. Like, it’s the only day where you can truly prove just how much you love (or, at least, want to fuck) another person. You can be in a happy committed relationship for every other day of the year, but if you happen to be single on Valentine’s Day, then you, my friend, are the most pathetic person in the world. Or at least you’re made to feel like you are.

My dislike for Valentine’s Day has slowly evolved over the years. In grade school I thought it was fine, maybe even sort of fun, and in high school I endured it, handing out ironic valentines to friends and crushes alike (go ahead, ask me how well that worked in the dating department). By university, though, I was ready to declare open season on V-Day.

I decided that the modern-day, grown-up version of Valentine’s Day was nothing less than a capitalist nightmare, chock-full of obligations to spend money: on flowers, on dinner, on chocolates, on jewellery, on sexy lingerie. There were other, insinuated obligations, too. For example, women were expected to pay for all the attention and money lavished on them by putting out, whether they wanted to or not. I even once had a male friend say to me, “If I buy my girlfriend flowers for Valentine’s Day, she basically has to have sex with me, right?”

Uh, no, dude. She doesn’t.

And, I mean, seriously, out of all the thinly-Christianized pagan celebrations to take hold this side of the Atlantic, how did crappy old Valentine’s Day manage to make it onto that list? Why can’t we celebrate May Day and dance around may poles? How come we don’t do anything for St. John’s Eve, a.k.a. Midsummer? I would way rather build some bad-ass bonfires in June than hand out ugly, mass-produced cards in February.

All of this was part of the reason why my roommates and I decided to throw an Anti-Valentine’s-Day party during second year. My mother had put a package of pink, heart-shaped Post-It notes in my stocking that Christmas, so we used those to decorate our apartment, scrawling things like, “LOVE IS AN ILLUSION” and “FUCK YOU” on them. You know, the usual romantic stuff.

Aside from the fact that a girl that no one liked and no one would admit to inviting ended up vomiting red wine all over our bathroom, the party was a resounding success.

The next year, my friends and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a little differently. Our plans started innocently enough: we were going to go eat greasy, delicious, non-romantic food and then go somewhere for drinks. There were four of us, two of whom had boyfriends, and all we really wanted was a quiet, Galentine’s night out.

Once we got to the pub, things went downhill fast.

A few drinks into the evening, the ranting began. And, naturally, the more we drank, the more belligerent we became.

“Fuck Valentine’s Day!” said one of my friends, “People think it’s all about women, but really it’s all about dicks getting some action.”

“Yeah, fuck dicks,” said another. “I mean, don’t actually fuck them, but also, fuck them.”

“Valentine’s Day should be for clits, not dicks! Dudes should be obligated to prove that they can perform proper oral sex before taking a woman out for V-Day,” said someone else. “Clit not dick! Clit not dick!”

Clit Not Dick ended up becoming our mantra for the evening. We repeated it frequently and loudly. We decided that we were going to start a revolution based on our new slogan, one that would free women everywhere from the oppressive shackles of Valentine’s Day. We began approaching romantic-looking couples at other tables to ask if they’d hear the good news about Clit Not Dick. We harassed the band with demands for songs by Veruca Salt, Hole, and, strangely, Counting Crows (they actually did end up playing Mr. Jones, probably just to make us go away).

This was back in the days when you could still smoke in bars, so we started chain-smoking to go along with our drinking. Soon our ashtray was overflowing, and our table was surrounded by a blue haze. We decided that we should pact that night, the four of us, to continue spreading word of the revolution. We touched the glowing tips of our cigarettes together and called it a cigarette pact because, we said, cigarettes don’t lie.

Later, we spilled out onto the street and, arm in arm, began marching down Spring Garden Road singing We Shall Overcome. Whenever we saw a girl getting into a car with a guy, we would run over and try to convince her that she didn’t need him, she only needed herself! We proselytized about the revolution to everybody, shouting CLIT NOT DICK at random intervals.

We found a phone booth and somehow managed to cram all four of us into it. We dialled the tips line for the local newspaper and left them a long, rambling message about capitalism, the revolution, and how Valentine’s Day oppressed women, and, naturally, clit not dick. We finished up by saying that we expected to see something about this in the next day’s paper.

“GET ON IT,” my friend yelled into the phone before hanging up.

One of my friends was so drunk when she got home that she was slurring her words. She tried to tell her boyfriend It’s the revolution! but apparently it came out sounding like Shrevolution! 

Naturally, once the rest of us heard that word, we adopted it as the new name for our movement.

The next year we held another Shrevolution, but the year after that I met Matt, and everything changed.

I learned to love Valentine’s Day and everything that went with it.

PSYCH. I still hate Valentine’s Day. Matt, who is kind of into it, has had to accept that I’m just not a very romantic person. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we’ve tried to celebrate it, if only because it seemed to mean something to Matt. But I think he realized pretty early on that it wasn’t my thing – the fact that for our first Valentine’s Day together he gave me a red silk pillow with I Love You embroidered on it and I gave him a swiss army knife may have helped tip him off – and now we’re pretty low-key about it.

But tonight, the Shrevolution will ride again. A bunch of my old Halifax friends are now living in Toronto, and three of us are going out to the Drake tonight to eat fancy, romantic food and get trashed on overpriced cocktails. Because as much as I might laugh at my younger self for some of my ridiculous Shrevolution antics, I can’t say that I entirely disagree with her thoughts on V-Day: that it’s too commercial, too capitalist, and there’s too much obligation to spend money that you might not have. Also the fact that you should celebrate your love for someone every day, not just spend one day a year in the back corner of a third-rate restaurant because that was the only place you could get a reservation, exchanging cheesy Hallmark cards and crappy gifts. Because you know what? Love fucking deserves better than that.

So while you are sitting there trying to whisper sweet nothings in your lover’s ear over the din of everyone else trying to do the same, I will be laughing raucously, swearing like a sailor, and yelling rude things.

Happy Shrevolution, you guys!

awesome_antivalentines_day_cards_640_02

How I Told My Friends That I Was Getting Married

23 Jan

Last week, I wrote a post for the Good Men Project on why, from a feminist mother’s perspective, I think that fathers matter. The Marriage editor of the GMP then asked me to write something about feminism and marriage (which will probably end up being something like: “get married if you want to! don’t get married if you don’t want to!”), and so I went hunting for the email I sent my friends after Matt proposed to me. You know, as evidence that I thought I’d never get married and also used to hate marriage.

In my head I remembered this email being a few lines long and slightly awkward. But no. OH NO. It is so much more than that. It’s actually kind of horrifying. Naturally, since I’m pretty embarrassed about it, I’ve decided to make it public. Because that’s a thing that I do, apparently.

Check it out!

Hey dudes,

So, I have some news for you. Before he left for
Ontario, Matt asked me to marry him, and I thought
about it for a while, and then I said yes. I’ll give
you some time now to start pacing around the room and
yelling about how shitty marriage is and why the hell
do all your friends get married and then maybe you
need to call each other and yell some more. And then
maybe throw some things.

I’m actually really scared you guys will think I’m
incredibly stupid for doing this. And I know that
marriage is lame and old-fashioned, but the thing is,
I’m pretty lame and old-fashioned, too. And I’ve
realized that I don’t want to be with anyone else but
Matt, and I want to have a party with my friends and
family to celebrate that. I know I don’t get mushy or
talk about love much, but I really love him a lot, and
I want to spend the rest of my life with him. He’s one
of the few people that I know who can deal with my
awful moods and he puts up with all of my shit without
complaining, and he treats me really, really well, and
also (again) I love him a lot. It’s kind of hard to
put this down in writing and have it sound real and
not ridiculous, but there you have it.

Kat, maybe you remember this and maybe you don’t, but
you said once that that if you ever wanted to have an
abortion, you knew that I’d be right there beside you,
supporting you,  even though it’s not a choice I’d
make for myself. So, I guess it’s kind of shitty to
compare my wedding to an abortion, but I hope that you
can stand by me and not think less of me, even though
it’s not a choice you might make for myself.

I hope that both of you (once you’re done yelling and
smoking and stuff) will be happy for me, because for
once, I’m happy for myself (and that doesn’t happen
often).

Love,
Anne

….

YOU GUYS, I COMPARED MY WEDDING TO AN ABORTION. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

No, but seriously.

At least I clean up well:

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Now You Are Two

18 Jan

Dear Theo,

You are two.

That shit is crazy.

It’s honestly hard to imagine what life was like before you came along. I mean, sure, I remember going out on dates with Matt whenever we wanted to, and never having to worry about things like babysitters. And yeah, I remember stumbling home drunk in the wee hours of the morning, then sleeping in the next day with no consequences. Okay, and yes, I remember not getting up a bajillion times a night to nurse my still-breastfeeding toddler. And I guess I remember what it’s like to be able to have sex whenever I want, without suddenly hearing “Mama? Where are you?” while mid-coitus.

But you know what? Trading all of that stuff for you, my perfect, smart, funny kid, was worth it. Totally, totally worth it.

Two years ago today, a team of doctors pulled you feet-first out of my belly (offering Matt a peek as they did so, which nearly made him pass out), and I heard someone exclaim, “it’s a boy!”

And you know what? Even though I’d kind of, maybe, sort of been hoping for a girl, when they told me that you were a boy I cried because I was so happy.

Two years later, I’m still happy – not because you’re a boy, but because you’re you. Wonderful, amazing you.

You are so much fun right now. You’re like a sponge, and you just want to soak up everything. You chatter non-stop, morning til night, even when there’s no one there to listen to you. You love narwhals and totem poles. You will only sleep while cuddling a stuffed squirrel on wheels that your Auntie Erin knitted for you. You offer guided tours of the European Galleries at the Royal Ontario Museum, pointing out the two lutes, the harp, and the exposed breast of the woman in the Rococo-era painting. You love books, and will happy sit and flip through them on your own or with your dad and I, pointing out every tiny detail in the pictures. You know all of the letters of the alphabet, and all of your colours. The other day at the art gallery, you pointed to a Frida Kahlo painting and said quite clearly and loudly, “Fee-da! Kah-lo!”

In fact, Frida Kahlo is one of the three public personalities that you’re most readily able to recognize – the other two, strangely enough, are Jesus and the Virgin Mary. You like to tell me that Jesus lives in the church, and today you came home and said, “Fee-da Kah-lo doll, where are you?”

You also love bagels. That, along with your admiration of Frida, is enough to convince me that, even though you still look exactly like your father, there’s some of me in you, too.

Today at dinner you told me that your daddy’s other name is Matt.

When I asked you what my other name was, you looked confused for a moment, then happily exclaimed, “Matt!”

You are so great.

These past few months have brought a lot of changes for both of us. After spending 19 months at home with you, I went back to work full time, and you started daycare. I miss you, even now, five months later. By the time I quit my gig as a stay-at-home mom, I was so ready to be around grownups all day long and leave baby-town behind. And you know what? I love being back at work. But I miss you.

The good news is that you love daycare, and you’re flourishing there. Your language has progressed by leaps and bounds over the last little while, and I love hearing you talk about your friends at “school”. You enjoy the routine there, and I think that the structure is good for you. Your teachers tell me that your favourite toys are the trains and the trucks (no surprises there), and that you love story time and music class.

You’re pretty easy-going for a toddler. You don’t tantrum (yet), and you wake up smiling every day. Our main struggles with you are getting you to eat, and getting you to sleep (or rather, to stay asleep). In spite of these difficulties, you’re happy, healthy and meeting all of your milestones. I mostly don’t think that I could ask for a better kid than you.

I’m so excited to see what the next year will bring. Watching you grow and learn is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and when I realize that you, perfect, adorable, hilarious you, actually come from me – well, that kind of breaks my brain a little. Whenever I’m having a really tough day, being around you is the only thing that can cheer me up. Whenever I’m upset about the fact that my life isn’t going the way that I expected, I think of you, and that puts things like career, writing, money, etc, into perspective. Because, yeah, while I might not be where I thought I would be at thirty in a lot of respects, I have you – scratch that, I made you – and that makes me really fucking lucky.

I love you so fucking hard. I’m so thankful to whatever god decided that I was the one who should be your mother, because seriously. Kid. You are the best.

Together, you and I are going to rock this world.

Love,

Mama

Unwilling to put down his bagel, even for a birthday picture.

Unwilling to put down his bagel, even for a birthday picture.

You’ve come a long way in two years, baby:
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That Time We All Had The Plague

7 Jan

On the days when I think that God might exist, I’m convinced that if he is out there, somewhere, he is some kind of divine troll who thinks that everything is an elaborate joke.

How else do you explain the fact that, five minutes after posting my last entry, Theo started throwing up all over my bedroom floor.

It’s like God reads my blog and he was like, “Girl, you think you are in crisis? Let me show you crisis.”

If you’ve ever read the Bible, you know that God is pretty big into plagues. Like, remember when he wanted the Egyptians to free the Isrealites? And he inflicted TEN PLAGUES on them? I mean, I get that his chosen people were enslaved or whatever, but ten just seems excessive. That is, like, a LOT of plagues. I am just saying.

Luckily for us, we haven’t been keeping any Israelite slaves, so we got off easy with just one plague. Still, though, I’m thinking of painting lamb’s blood on our lintels for the next few weeks, just in case. Better safe than sorry, right?

For the first day or so the plague was manageable. I mean, sure, Theo was throwing up every 15 minutes and none of us got more than two hours of sleep Thursday night, but it wasn’t too bad. We were sure that we could handle it. On Friday morning we called Theo’s daycare and they said that five other kids were out sick with the same thing, but all of them had stopped vomiting after about 6 hours. Great, we thought, the worst was behind us.

We started making plans for the weekend.

That was obviously our first mistake.

My friend Artem used to quote an old Russian proverb at me: “If you ever want to see God laugh, try making plans.”

And oh, how God laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed.

Theo was still throwing up all day Friday. He kept crying for water, but every time we gave him some, it came right back up. If you ever want to see the most pathetic thing in the world, just imagine a toddler wandering around crying, “More water! More water!”. And then imagine me cleaning up his vomit over and over again.

By Saturday Theo seemed better on the puking front, but still wasn’t himself. He just wanted to spend the whole day lying on the couch. That was fine with us, because by that point none of us were feeling great. Matt was nauseous and worried that he was coming down with the same thing that Theo had; I was feeling off, but was also in a healthy state of denial. I forced myself to eat breakfast, telling myself that food would make me feel better, then called Telehealth to find out what to do about Theo. They told me to bring him to the ER, which is really the only thing Telehealth ever tells you, so I could probably have saved myself the ten minute phone call, but whatever.

I dragged myself through my clothing-and-makeup routine, packed Theo into his stroller and then headed out to catch the bus to Sick Kids. Matt was feeling too sick to come with us, but my friend Eden was going to meet us there. Thank God.

We got to the hospital and I had the delightful experience of having about five different people ask me, “Is there another adult with you?” which I guess is code for, “Are you a slutty single mom on welfare?” I fought down the urge to say, “YES, I AM A SINGLE MOM, IS THAT GOING TO BE A PROBLEM?” and instead said that there would be another adult joining me shortly. I was kind of hoping that Eden and I could pose as a couple, and wondered if lesbians would draw more or less attention than a single mother.

As the afternoon went by I felt worse and worse, but I told myself that it was just because I was tired. I texted Matt and he said that he was feeling better, so there was no way that I could be sick, right? I figured that if I just kept telling myself that I was fine, I would be fine. I mean, The Secret and laws of attraction and positive thinking and all that. I considered making a vision board of me not being sick, but realized that the ER waiting room lacked the necessary art supplies.

An hour or so after Eden showed up, I went to buy a bottle of water. While I was waiting in line, I started feeling kind of awful, but I used The Secret to tell myself that I was just dehydrated and water would fix me right up. By the time I made it to the head of the line, my vision had gone grey and I knew I was going to pass out. I sat down on a nearby chair and put my head between my knees, amid cries of “Miss! Your water!” from the confused Subway employee.

After a few minutes of sitting down, I realized that I wasn’t so much going to faint as I was going to throw up. Frantically, I tried to figure out what to do about this fact. You would think that if you were going to puke, the hospital would be the perfect place to accomplish this, right? That being said, the hospital food court probably wasn’t the best place in the world to get sick.

I ran to the bathroom, and made it into a stall just in time to throw up everywhere. I mean fucking everywhere. To make matters worse, the cleaning lady was right there to witness my shame.

“I’m sorry!” I kept saying to her, between heaves. “I’m really sorry! I’m so sorry!”

She just stood there, silent. Finally she said,

“You want some extra paper towel?”

“Yes, please,” I answered pathetically.

When I made it back to the waiting room, Eden took one look at me and said,

“You look green.”

Theo, of course, looked great. The Pedialyte the triage nurse had given us had worked miracles. Even the doctor, when we finally saw her, said that he seemed to be totally over whatever bug he’d had. Turning her gaze to me, she said,

“You look like you’re not feeling so great, though.”

Understatement of the year.

We’re all feeling better today – Matt and Theo are basically back at 100%, and I’m, well, not throwing up, so that’s a plus. I’ve spent most of the day in bed, reading trashy fantasy novels and tweeting at Wil Wheaton (we have a really special relationship where I tweet hilarious things at him and he ignores me). Between my last post and a few desperate Facebook posts from yesterday and Friday, I’ve been overwhelmed with kind words from friends and strangers. People have offered to help, either by looking after Theo, letting me crash at their place, or coming over to do laundry or dishes. I’m not normally the sentimental type (nostalgia is really my forté), but I would be lying if I said that all this love hasn’t made me tear up a bit. Maybe even a lot.

I love you guys, almost as much as I love my pukey, plague-bearing kid.

I’m pretty sure he’s worth all of this:

theo_shirt

Home for Christmas

24 Dec

By the time I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Dodge Kitchener. Actually, that’s a lie – I’d been planning my escape since sometime in my early teens; it’s just that in my final semester of secondary school, my need to leave and branch out on my own was becoming dire. Part of it was that I just plain hated Kitchener (sorry, fellow Kitchenerites – I’ve since revised my opinion somewhat!); I was a pretentious kid who read French existentialists and smutty Leonard Cohen books, and I saw myself as being too big, too smart for my provincial hometown. Part of it was that I was sure that people only thought of me as a loser geek because they were accustomed to doing so; I thought that if I moved somewhere where no one knew me, my new peers would be sure to recognize me for the super smart intellectual with a killer fashion sense and razor sharp wit that I was. But probably the biggest reason for wanting to leave Kitchener was my family.

As the oldest child in a single parent family whose siblings were 6 and 11 years younger than her, things were, well, less than stellar. For one thing, I did a lot of free babysitting duty, which made it hard to get an after school job and earn a few dollars for myself. This, in turn, made it hard to keep up with classmates whose families were better off than mine; my clothes weren’t as nice as theirs, I didn’t always get to go along on class trips, and in my last year of school, I couldn’t afford the $20 student card, which meant that I didn’t qualify for any of the student awards. Because my mother only had a certain number of sick days per year, and because little kids tend to spend a lot of time getting sick, I was often the one to stay home with my sisters when they were running a fever or had the flu. Worst of all, or so it seemed to me, I was perpetually stuck in little-kid land. Our family television was occupied with an endless loop of Barney, The Lion King and (worst of all) Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen; I wasn’t allowed to watch any of the shows that I wanted, because they were all “inappropriate” (like, whatever, the X-Files is clearly fine for all age groups), and even just suggesting that we could turn the television off and enjoy some peace and quiet was met with a chorus of screams and protests.

I mean, sure, none of this seems that bad in retrospect, and some of it even makes me sound downright whiny, but when I was 16 all of this stuff felt like a Big Deal.

So when it came time to apply to universities, I pinned all of my hopes on one way out on the east coast, nearly 1,500 miles away from my mother’s house. I received an early offer of acceptance, which I jubilantly waved in my mother’s face. When my sisters asked if they could come visit me, I smiled and said, sure, but secretly I was thinking, so long suckers. Freedom was so close that I could taste it.

In September of that year, I packed a huge rubbermaid container full of clothing and books and set out on my 36 hour train trip to Halifax. As I hunkered down in my seat, staring at the Eastern Ontario woods and listening to Tori Amos on my discman, I thought about the fact that no one on that train knew who I was. I was finally free to be whoever I wanted to be.

University life, of course, wasn’t exactly the dreamland I’d pictured it to be. For one thing, it turned out that, even stripped of all my history and baggage, I was still a loser geek. After a few years in Halifax I would find a way to make that work for me, but that first semester was tough, sometimes bordering on downright awful. For one thing, while none of the people I met had any preconceived notions about my nerdiness, the flip side of that was that they didn’t have any positive associations with me, either. Determined to prove that I was just as cool as they were, I became unbearable, trying to show how smart I was by loudly talking over people, attempting to make “interesting” and “daring” fashion choices while actually making a fool of myself, using alcohol to get over my shyness and then spending the rest of the night throwing up in my dorm room sink. By the time late November rolled around, it was pretty clear to me that I was failing miserably at convincing everyone that I was witty and cool. Worst of all, I was surrounded by people who thought that I was a huge loser 24/7. I realized that there was something to be said for having a family who was obligated to love me unconditionally to come home to every night.

I distinctly remember the moment that I realized how homesick I was. I had a part-time job working in a clothing store, and one evening, as I was folding t-shirts, I started crying when Judy Garland’s version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas came on the radio. Although I tried to be discreet about wiping away my tears, my boss noticed that I was a snotty, sniffling mess and asked me what was wrong. “I miss my mom,” I howled, running towards the stock room to hide my shameful, babyish sobs. What the hell had happened to the hopeful, confident girl who had left Kitchener just a few months ago? I honestly didn’t know; the only thing that I was certain of was that I wanted to go home.

The day after I finished exams, I flew into Toronto’s Pearson airport, then from there took a bus to Kitchener. When my mother and sisters met me at the downtown bus station, I hugged them all tightly. I could tell by their faces how excited they were to see me, and I wondered how I could have ever left people who loved me so damn much.

Of course, a few weeks at home reminded me of all the little, irritating things that had driven me away in the first place, but when the new year rolled around and I left once again for Halifax, I had a better appreciation of all the good things I was leaving behind along with the bad.

My relationship with my mother and sisters has greatly improved over the last decade. Now I love coming home to visit; it’s hard to put into words the comfort of being around people who have had the same experiences as you, who speak the same family shorthand, who understand all the in-jokes. Of course, that also means that they probably know all, or at least most, of your excruciatingly embarrassing moments, but the further I get from my teenage years, the more those memories seem funny instead of painful. And, anyway, I know enough of my sisters’ embarrassing moments to give back as good as I get, which all part of how nature intended the family eco-system to stay in balance: everyone has dirt on everyone else, and dredging up your sister’s awkward past means that your own becomes fair game. This means that my family’s golden rule is, don’t dish it out unless you’re sure you can take it, and by “take it”, I mean, laugh at yourself.

Being home this year has reminded me of just how true the old adage about it taking a village to raise a child is. We’re pretty isolated, family-wise, in Toronto; getting some time to ourselves means a lot of planning and orchestration. We’re lucky to have several fantastic babysitters for Theo, but, of course, their fantastic-ness means that they’re in high demand, and it can be tricky to book time with them. And, of course, having to pay for someone to watch Theo whenever we want to go out to see a movie makes date night thrice as expensive as it used to be, so sometimes Matt-and-Anne time just isn’t financially feasible. Here, though, we can hand off Theo to his Gran and Aunties just about anytime we want, and they, of course, are delighted by the chance to spend time with the grandson/nephew that they rarely get to see. And Theo, of course, is downright thrilled to be around my mother and sisters. He loves his babysitters, of course, but there’s really no substitute for a grandmother, is there?

After a tough few months during which Matt and I were both pulling a lot of hours at work, coming home for Christmas this year feels a lot like it did in my freshman year. I thought we were doing fine on our own, I thought that we were free and independent and grown up, but being at my mother’s house has made me realize just how much I’ve missed my family.

theo_tree

Grampy

4 Nov

Today is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Thirteen years ago today, my Grampy died.

I didn’t find out that he was dying until just a few days before it happened; he himself had only known for a few weeks. He’d gone in to the hospital to have his gallbladder removed, but when they opened him up they discovered that he was full of cancer. Riddled with the stuff, was how my father put it. I pictured the surgeons gasping as they peeled back his skin, and instinctively looking away, as if the sight might blind them. I pictured them gingerly sewing him back up, as if they were putting a ticking time bomb back together. There was too much in there, he was already too far gone; there was nothing else they could do.

I’d seen my grandfather that spring, when he and my grandmother had come from Nova Scotia to visit us. When my father told us about the cancer, I wondered if Grampy had already been sick in the spring, without anyone even knowing it. I thought of the secret things your body could do without you ever being aware until it was too late; I thought about how my body, in its darkest recesses, might at that very moment be doing something to betray me, and how there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I think that my mother and sisters called my grandfather shortly after they found out he was sick; I know that if they did, I didn’t talk to him. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to him, it was just that I didn’t know what to say. I needed time to think about it, time to work up the courage. In the meantime, I decided that I should send him an email – that would buy me at least a week, I figured.

I didn’t get a week. He never even saw the email.

I flew to Nova Scotia for his funeral. My grandmother’s house was crowded with relatives, and she and I had to share a bed. At least, we would have shared a bed if she’d been able to sleep, but instead she stayed up all night, cleaning and baking. My main memory of the funeral is how crowded it was; the church was standing room only, with people spilling out onto the street. My grandmother had put three roses at the front of the church, to represent my sisters and I. When she told me this, I started to sob uncontrollably; when my grandmother saw me crying, she leaned across me and hissed to my father, for God’s sake, Frank, put your arm around your daughter.

Every evening that I was there, family and friends would crowd my grandparents’ living room, telling drinking and telling stories about my grandfather. I was underage, but a drink always seemed to find its way into my hand; I felt lucky to have it, because I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation. For the first time, I realized how little I knew about my grandfather.

The main memories I had of him were filtered through the lens of a little kid watching her grandfather, but the problem was that I wasn’t a little kid anymore. I was seventeen, and more than old enough to start getting to know my family as individual people, rather than just the peripheral roles that the played in my life. Like most teenagers, though, I was totally self-absorbed, and had a hard time caring about things other than myself. I figured that my family was sort of obliged to love me; it didn’t cross my mind that I was getting to the point where I would have to work for that love, or reciprocate the kindness they showed me. The worst part is that on some level, I knew that I was pretty awful, but I figured that given enough time, I would come out the other side of that awfulness as a shiny, mature, newly-minted adult. What I didn’t realize was that not everyone in my life had enough time left to wait me out.

I started trying to figure out my grandfather after that, started trying to piece his life together like a puzzle. I knew that it was too late, but it seemed important. I asked my father to tell me about my Grampy; I started to write things down, tried to keep a record. When I moved to Halifax a few years after my grandfather’s death, I began to look for the places that I’d heard about in family stories – St. Mary’s Boy’s School (which now houses archdiocesan offices), and South Park Street, where I knew he’d lived for a few years while growing up. I bought a copy of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum because I knew he’d loved it. I looked for his brother’s picture in the Dalhousie law building. At my aunt’s house I stared at old photographs of him, wondering what he would think of me.

My grandfather was a genius, with a photographic memory (traits that I sadly didn’t inherit). He was funny, too – witty, even, in the way that only really brilliant people can be. He was an atheist, but he loved talking about religion. He had a beautiful voice, and had even sung in the opera in Halifax. According to my father, Grampy had rules about drinking, rules which I still try to follow – don’t drink beer until you’re drunk, just until you feel buzzed; if you want to get smashed, drink hard liquor; wine should be consumed with food; always drink beer out of a glass.

I remember that he loved to teach me things, but at the same time loved to spin a good yarn. My grandparents house had giant glass jars of marbles in the dining room, and he told me that my grandmother had won them all off him. I remember that he expected more from me than most of the other adults in my life, but he was also more willing to respect my opinion and listen to what I had to say.

I wish I could say that his death taught me to cherish the people around me, and make more of an effort to show them daily how much I love them, but that’s probably not true. It did push me to make more of an effort to get to know my grandmother, which is something that I’m profoundly grateful for because she is just the best. But even though I would say that I’m pretty close to my grandmother, I’m the first to admit that I still don’t make as much of an effort to stay in touch with her as I should. I mean to email her more regularly; I know she loves to hear from me, especially when I include pictures of Theo. It’s just that I get busy, or else I procrastinate, or else it doesn’t occur to me to email her until it’s the middle of the night, and I’m comfortably in my bed. Let’s be honest – in a lot of ways, I probably haven’t changed much since I was seventeen.

I dreamed last night that I was in my grandparents’ old house in Mahone Bay. It was a beautiful old place, full of dark polished wood and immaculate turn-of-the-century furniture. My grandparents were antique dealers, and every inch of available space in their house was crowded with a wealth of fascinating curiosities. One of my favourite parts of their house was a “secret” staircase that led from the kitchen to a small upstairs room that adjoined the master bedroom. At one time, that would have been the maid’s room, and the staircase existed so that she could get to the kitchen early in the morning without waking anyone else up; as a child, I would spend hours climbing up and down the staircase, or hiding behind the door at the bottom, spying on whoever was in the kitchen.

I think it was my memory of that staircase that inspired my dream. In it, I was trying to find a secret attic room that I was sure existed. I’d played in that attic room as a child, and knew that it was full of wonderful things. I ran through the house, searching for some way, any way to get to this room, but I couldn’t find it. I just wanted to see the room one more time, but it was impossible. The way there had disappeared, and I knew that it was gone for good.

In a way, my grandfather is a lot like that room. I know that he existed, and I know that he was wonderful. I wish that I could find him again, wish that I had some way of telling him how much I love him, but I don’t. Like the secret room, my grandfather is lost to me forever.

I miss you, Grampy ❤

Grampy explaining something to me