I Am A Badass, And Please Don’t Forget It

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Hey. So you’ve been reading these for a while and I think at this point I ought to make something clear. This isn’t a story about how sad I am. This isn’t even a story about how lost I am, or was. It is true that throughout these tales I have been both lost and sad. Truly, truly sad and at times very lost. But do not think for one second I have ever given up hope or thought that any of it was too much for me to bear, because it hasn’t been. This is a story about survival. This is a story about success. This is a story about living my best life despite the shit raining down on me from the ceiling fan.
The thing about me that I want you to know, the thing about me that I need you to know is that deep down at my very core, I am a badass. I am a true badass. I am a badass for the ages. Strength of character is all I’ve ever had. All we have had. And it turns out that that is all we have ever needed.

I come from a line of badasses. We’re a dynasty. It’s in our blood. It comes from my mums side. You see, she is a badass too. So is my sister. She is probably the most badass of them all. My mum got dealt a shitty hand. She, for all intent and purpose, lost her husband before her 40th birthday. Except he didn’t die, he was brutally injured and not only did she have to deal with that, she also has to raise two young children on her own. And raise us she did. Expertly. My sister is 32, she has two amazing young children and is a senior manager in a very good company. She isn’t afraid to ask for what she is worth. And if she doesn’t get it, she isn’t afraid to ask again.  She travels the world when her job requires and she is still there to pick her son and daughter up from nursery and read them books before they go to bed. She fights for women’s rights in the workplace and she has come out to Canada to drink cocktails and eat brunch with me because she wants to. Because she can. There is nothing in the world that could stop Julia. Trust me.
And me? Oh, I’m formidable too. Don’t get me wrong, I like smiling and being kind, I like making cards for my friends and baking cakes for birthdays and being the person that always buys the balloons. I like being calm and I like long walks. I cry at Rom Coms and bite my lip when I stub my toe…sometimes I cry because everything gets a bit too much…but make no mistake. Beneath my soft and sometimes anxious and awkward exterior roars the soul of a lion that is absolutely done with your shit. In one move, I’ll be ready to rally. I always have been and I always will be.
I survived a car accident, I was teased for the way I looked and acted at school, my childhood was a bit of a mess but I got through it. I studied and I got the grades. I went to university. I got a First Class Honours degree. I managed to find a job that served me in London, it was hard but I made it work. I saved my money, I moved across an ocean, I settled in a new city. Again, it was hard, but I made it work. I found two jobs, I made ends meet, I pushed and I pushed. I wrote for free, I took what I could. I built up what I had. It was hard. But I made it work. When the time came, I asked for more because I felt like I earned at and deserved it. I didn’t always get it, but that didn’t stop me trying again and finding ways to get it for myself. I broke up with my boyfriend, who moved here with me. I was afraid. I had to move out. I found my own home. I now live alone and I actually like it. It was hard. But. I. Made. It. Work.
I’ve never known what it is like to be rich. Perhaps I never will. But I know what it is like to make my own fortune and my own abundance. I work for my paycheques and when I am done with my 9-5, I work some more. Everything I have in my home and in my life I have worked for. It isn’t much, but it’s everything I need and that feels really nice.
What did I take from everyone else? The only thing I would ever accept. Love. They say it takes a village and I think they are right. Being a badass is easy when somebody loves you. I don’t think being a badass means going it alone. I think it means moving forward knowing it isn’t just you holding the sword. The more people that love you and you love back means the more people ready then join you in battle when times get hard. I think having an open heart is very brave indeed, although it has never been a choice for me, instead, a reflex I can’t control.
England, Germany, France, Canada… we little warriors have spread far. It makes me happy in some ways to know I have people in so many places. I think of them sometimes, half way across the world fighting their own fights, but never alone. We’re a network of badasses. My friends are fierce. And although we know there are some fights we have to mainly get through solo, we’re there for each other. I’m on the other side of the phone. Just give me a call and I’ll pack my bloody shield. Lol. I have no idea at what point this blogpost turned into medieval warfare but…I don’t know, I think I’m here for it. I’m here for them.
I am a badass.
For now, remember.  You won’t crush me. You will spur me on.  My spirit is strong. I will work with you but never for you. You do not own me and you never will. I am agreeable but not subservient. I might cry but that doesn’t mean I am weak. On the contrary.  I know there are good times and there are bad. I know the battle is never really over  but I do know I will always be okay, even if that okay doesn’t look the way I imagined it to. Why? Because I am me. And me has got this. I am badass. And please don’t forget it.

Those Who Go / Those Who Stay

Those who go

I walked the halls of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan alone. I was alone for the whole trip. By choice but also very much in practice. I was jogged from my thoughts as I saw them. I had no idea they were here. Three paintings that had struck a chord with me nine years ago. I remember the day I first laid eyes on them in a book in a lecture at the aggressively trendy art school I attended in South East London. Goldsmiths. That is a whole different chapter, filled with the iron clasp of skinny jeans, activism and men with haircuts reminiscent of birds of paradise. I’ll save those stories for another day. 

States of Mind: The Farewells, Those Who Go and Those Who Stay. Umberto Boccioni. An Italian Futurist who died after falling off a horse in 1916 age 33. He painted a series of three images in 1911, which were eerily preemptive of the mass divide that was about to strike Europe in 1914; the onset of World War I. While the first painting in the series is moving, it is the final two that have always rung around the passages of my brain. Those Who Go. Those Who Stay. Two sides of a coin. Both defined by one another, but can never exist as one.  

At 19 I felt a strong connection to these two pieces, despite only having had the smallest taste of “going”. I was only 60 miles away from home back then. An hour on a train. It pales in comparison to the 3,537 miles I live with today.  Yet I think that part of me knew, even then, that I would one day be away. Of the two camps, “Those Who Go” and “Those Who Stay”, I knew and have always known that I am going. That is the thing about me. I’m always going. I can’t stop. I can’t sit still. The going in me led me, after learning about futurism and modern art for the first time, to board a train to Paris to see it all for myself. The Pompidou. It was quite the adventure. 

I have never been one to miss out on an adventure. Never. Its not like I’ve ever had any money but I’ll always make it work. I HAVE to go. I have to see. I cant miss out.  

Yet…there has always been something that has drawn me to “Those Who Stay”. I cant say that I know too well what it’s like to stay, but I know that the scene depicted  by Boccinio was the real price of my departure ticket. The thing about going is that it also means leaving. I’ve never been under any impression that life stands still without me there. The place and the people I have left behind continue on their path. It’s just…in all my going I can still feel them. And sadness, and regret, and love and loss that I can’t be with them and be somewhere new at the same time. And I know that they feel me too. They feel me somewhere unplaceable deep inside as they continue their lives knowing that it is their choice to be where they are and that it was my choice to leave them there. As I, alone, came face to face with Umberto Boccioni’s paintings at the Museum of Modern Art I also came face to face with my own deepest conflict and sadness.  

Those Who Go. Those Who Stay. 

I was going again to see the people who stayed. I had a plane ticket back to England for Christmas. Being of the “Go” camp, I hadn’t had a December in the UK for four years. Whatever the season, I’m always filled with the Go/Stay conflict when I fly back to the UK. Those who go will know what I mean when I say this…returning home is utterly bizarre. Flying over England, seeing it from the sky makes me feel something very deeply. Something like placing Boccioni’s paintings on top of one another in a few suspended moments of reality where “Those Who Go” and “Those Who Stay” can live together side by side again.  Stay. Go. Stay. Go. Return. Stay. Return. Go. This is never more poignant than at the airport. It doesn’t matter whether you are one who goes or one who stays at this point, because we’re both sad. We are both defined by the other.

That’s the entropy of life though, isn’t it?  We can’t all go and we can’t all stay, if not nothing would ever change. And change is the very crux of all life and everything, if you really think about it. 

Ha. Spoken like a true goer. 

My sister sent me a parcel. A gift passed along from one who stayed to one who left. It was a beautiful book. Not so ironically it was “Oh, The Places You Will Go” by Dr Seuss. She reads it to my niece and nephew and I read it to myself and for one moment it doesn’t matter who stays and who goes because we are all sharing something and I like that. 

I think about the whole cycle some more. Staying and going. Despite being one that goes, a lot of things have stayed for me. My family are still there, and I am still here and we know we will be in the same space again … at some point. Love transcends geography. It doesn’t have a coordinate. If we all knew where to look for it, then it wouldn’t be so hard to find.

My best friend stayed by going…or coming…here, but in doing so started her own cycle of going and staying. In many ways I have stayed the same person. The reason I have always been a person that goes is because it has felt right not to stay. I stay as long as staying feels good and then I go when going calls me. And it does so, often. 

I think I’ll know when I get there. I hope so anyway. Or am I destined to never settle? 

On Tuesday you are going and on Tuesday I am staying. This is the right thing for you, but fuck does it feel weird to be one that stays.  For once. 

For now, I await the call with bated breath. Again.

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One

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It has  been one year.  One year since the day that started in England and ended in Toronto, Canada. One year since I woke up in a hotel room in a gigantic shared bed with my sister and fell asleep alone on a mattress in the middle of an empty room in a place I didn’t know. It was the only furniture I had.

I found the apartment a little under a month before. Will and I had broken up and he had left the country for a few weeks leaving me to get myself out. Pack it all up and leave. We had lived together for almost four years, and over two in the basement under a Starbucks on a busy Toronto street. Our first home together was over 3,000 miles away. A studio apartment in an only slightly dodgy area of London. It had a wall that separated a bedroom the size of a Queen mattress from a kitchen and living room with no space for an oven or a table. The London real estate dream. 

Our Toronto apartment, albeit dark, was much bigger. I loved it because it was where we had made our home, but I missed the light. This time I wanted light. I was a seedling ready to grow and I needed it. 

I was making one of the scariest decisions of my life, ending a six year relationship at the age of 29 and going it alone, so it seemed important to me to live alone too. I was sad. I was worse than sad. I couldn’t deal with having to fake a smile over my cornflakes in a shared apartment with people I didn’t know, knowing full well they had heard me screeching and crying into my pillow the night before. “Yep, I’m great thanks Jenny, how are you? Amazing. Have a good day at work! Ha, yeah, see you later !” End scene. 

The small talk. The sterility. No. I had to get through this alone. 

You had gone and I had planned to take up your spot in England when you got back. A cross over. Five and a bit weeks without seeing each other. Time. Space. But I knew I had little time to find my own space so I spent a cold Saturday traversing the West End of the city looking for a place to call my own. With a heavy heart and a painfully light bank balance, I was prepared to settle. But then I found my new home.  

It was still a basement, but it’s only half sunken and the bedroom has a huge window looking out into street. Light. I’ve spent Saturdays and Sundays laying in bed reading in the light and thanking my lucky stars to be alive and in the sunshine. There is also a little living room for entertaining around the corner from a small kitchen and a dining space as well as a little bathroom with a bath and shower. Perfect for just me, and just me was going to be perfect, wasn’t it? I’ve always had hope. 

It was more than I could afford, it still is, but the sacrifice for my own space seemed worth it. I’m lucky that I review restaurants as one of my many invaluable side hustles so I assumed I would just about still be able to eat and live and laugh, even though at that point in February 2018 laughter seemed as distant to me as Jupiter. 

So I got it. I had a move in date. A move in date that coincided with my return date to Toronto. What now?  Momentum has always been something I am excellent at summoning up but I find the bit afterwards, after the propulsion, after the flinging, after the landing…the bit when it’s over and you have to sit still…that bit…that is the bit I find difficult. My mum always says I can’t sit still. She is right. 

I had been in England escaping my problems and crying into different pillows for over three weeks and it was time to come home, time to move out and time to move in. And time to move on. All in one day. 

My last night in London was a grand affair. We had been celebrating my mum’s 60th Birthday with a trip to the capital. We had been on a pilgrimage up The Shard. We drank a glass of champagne in a white out as snow fell over the skyline. 3000 miles for more snow. When the clouds finally shifted the view was breathtaking. It’s a hard feeling to describe.  Looking over your old city, a place you lived for 8 years but is now mythical to you except in the one or two days a year you see it in the flesh… It’s a feeling that to me moves from the legs, to the gut, to the fingers. Make of that what you will. 

We had had a three course dinner and had been to see the Lion King on stage.  When it was over, Julia and I climbed into our shared hotel bed like we were kids again and giggled until we fell asleep. But the next morning came and I had to go. Fuck. Please not yet. 

We had breakfast at a Wetherspoons in Gatwick airport and mum tried not to seem too concerned that my day was going to involve a 8hour flight, a final goodbye with my ex boyfriend and a night alone in a new house. Her performance was unconvincing. “Do you have to do this all in one day, Bex? Couldn’t you stay with Ruth tonight.” I could but I wouldn’t. Momentum, remember. I was full speed out the final chapter and into my new book that I hadn’t thought too much about what that new first page would feel like. 

God I hate the security gate. The point of no return. I had never cried in front of them when leaving before. I’d always saved it for a private moment in the toilets but on this day I wept. Despite all my best momentum I knew deep down I didn’t want to go. My family, the people I love stood here in front of me in England, in safety and security, and my life lay in tatters in Canada. Why would I want to go back? But I had to and my time was up and I wiped my eyes and I got through it. Just. I was that girl crying shoeless at the security conveyer belt. “MISS, coat OFF please.” 

Okay, just give me a break. 

I was still crying when I had my shoes back on and my bag rezipped. Ugly crying, no less. This had to stop. I checked the last of my UK bank balance. £18.50. That would do. I found the champagne bar. The one only 50 year old business men drink at, the one with oysters on the counter and drinks placed on napkins. With all the grace I could muster, I sat down on a high stool. I was the only woman in sight. I ordered a £14 glass of pink Möet. Cheers to me. Cheers to this shit show. Cheers to the end and the beginning all in one day. Cheers to facing up to the chaos. Cheers to 3000 miles and no sleep and no legroom and big cases and…..after a while I had run out of things to cheers so just watched the bubbles rise and fall to try and distract myself from the pit growing in my chest. My flight was boarding so I downed the last gulp. Cheers to time being up. Cheers to the moment being now. Cheers to movement. Cheers to momentum. 

It’s weird, the only thing I remember about the flight was the take off and the landing. The middle is a jumble of phone notes and action plans. The beginning and the end were calm, though. The aerial views of my two different homes. One ebbing away for yet another day, and the other coming into view and settling back into reality. Toronto feels like my home now. As the plane landed with barely a bump, I knew I had to get back to it. 

Bus, subway, bus. One day I’ll be rich I’m sure but for now, inconvenient travel is the only way I do it. The stretch between my house, my old house, and the bus stop was eternal and tragic. I didn’t even need to put my keys into the lock, you heard me coming and opened the door. I’ll never forget the smell of that home, or of you in it. We’d seen each other for one hour at London Liverpool Street Station in our cross over and here you were opening the door to our home for me for the last time, biting your lip the way you do. 

Things had changed inside. All of the things I had packed three weeks before were now neatly stacked in a corner. You had bought a new sofa and some houseplants and a rug. You offered me a cup of tea. We drank together in tears. 

You left because you said you couldn’t watch. I couldn’t either. Ruth came and together we took my cases to my empty new home. It was late. It had been a long day. She helped me unbox my new mattress and made my bed up for me. A mattress and a lamp. That was all I had that first night. 

There is so much to be said about the next day, the next week, the next few months and I am sure I’ll get to saying it. Not least because the next day was when I had to see you, the other you, again. Our relationship was something else. A storm waiting to rage I guess? 

My friends helped me unpack and build my new furniture. We ate pizza on plates made of Ikea instructions. When I had a table I started to invite people round. At Easter I held a lunch for 16 people and as the months went on this house has seen so much laughter and joy and love. I may be the sole resident but my visitors have been constant and welcome. We’ve sat outside in the sun, we’ve watched movies on my bed, we’ve drank cocktails in my lounge. I’ve had parties, I’ve spilled drinks, I’ve broken plates. I’ve lived. Here. 

Sometimes I get home after a few drinks and I feel the warmth of my house as I open the door. Like actually coming from the walls. I know that it may sound absolutely insane but I actually think that my house LOVES me as much as I love it. I feel happy and safe here, when on that first night I wasn’t sure if those were things I would feel again. 

Yes, I’ve had sad times too. I’ve cried in just about every spot there is to cry in. I’ve cried in my shower the most. On New Years Day I cried on the floor of the kitchen while holding a mop in one hand and my face in the other. It isn’t always easy. But it always gets better. And living here has seen me be better and do better. 

Tonight I am holding a dinner party for those who have been on the front line for me this year. The people who have helped me build my furniture, scrabbled together miss-matching chairs so we can all eat together at my table, the people who have all involuntarily shouted “oooh” as we popped another bottle of Prosecco. I want to thank them and these four walls for being here. Thank you friends, and thank you house. Happy one year anniversary! 

San Francisco

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I had always wanted to go to San Francisco. A city that somehow manages to incorporate hustle and bustle with beautiful sweeping landscapes. Sealions, Sunshine, China Town, trams, hills, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Golden Gate Bridge. I wanted to see it all. I did. But that isn’t what I remember most from the trip.  I remember the look on your face when I said the words I couldn’t take back. 

Just…pause for a second. I want you to know that writing this doesn’t make me feel good. My blog is telling a story but the part of the story that we are getting to, the next month, the next year…it was me at my worst and it started pretty much right here. But it had to happen. We had to end. Even thinking about San Francisco makes my stomach tight and my heart hurt and I don’t know if you are reading this or now or if you ever will but I am sorry. I am sorry it came to be like this.

We arrived in San Francisco by lunchtime. A landslide had meant we had stayed in a motel the night before rather than arriving here as planned. An hour outside of the city we stopped at a lighthouse. It was beautiful. It was December but Northern California is mild and I stood with my coat unbuttoned watching the waves crash against the rocks, spraying salt water up the white washed walls. Oh, to live in a lighthouse and hear the waves crash for the rest of my life. 

We didn’t talk much, but that was okay.  We drove into the city. We parked the car. We walked by the Bridge. We spotted Alcatraz. I remember how bright the light was. And gold. It honestly seemed golden. I liked San Francisco. The vibe. A lot of people walking dogs, riding bikes and seeming genuinely happy. I would love to go back and join them. Especially with the happy part. 

We were meeting my friend Tim that night. Tim is 6ft 5 and change, a sassy gay male from my theatre days and a bad influence when it comes to swilling back about eight too many cocktails. I’m 5ft 2. I don’t know why I even try and keep up with him as Tim has always and will always drunk me under the table. 

The year before we had all met up in Chicago. It was a better time. Almost exactly a year ago. A lot can change. We drank martinis and listened to an incredible 16 piece jazz band playing Christmas tunes in a dive bar. The three of us, Will’s brother and a gang of friends we hadn’t seen for four years danced around the table singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Well that night in San Francisco wasn’t such a carefree jazz affair but we did have plans for dinner and drinks, followed by more drinks, followed by more. 

Now, here is where I struggle to give this any narrative context…because really I have none. Things had been bad with Will but I’d assumed they’d get better. It was only 11 days since the car crash in Tucson when I realized they probably wouldn’t but I thought I had time. I am sorry, I thought we would have time. But our time was up in that very second. Yes, things had been bad but in that moment they were fine. We were drunk and relaxed and in a cocktail bar with Tim. We had taken pictures and laughed and ordered more brandy. But, from nowhere, the words came out of my mouth, so matter of fact and I couldn’t stop them. “We aren’t going to be together next year are we.” We weren’t. 

“We aren’t going to be together next year, are we?” ……….So blunt. So clinical. It was like stating tomorrow was going to be rainy or that I needed to pick up some bread on my way home from work. No inflection. No drama. Except of course, there was. But I just knew. Tim was going to be back from the loo at any second and I’d taken you off guard. You didn’t know what to say. You were shocked. I’m sure you saw it coming, but like me you thought we would have time. A few more laps. Twice round the merry-go-round. Once more, with feeling.  Nope. This ride has reached an abrupt end. 

Tim came back. The tension. The embarrassment. What is wrong with me? Why there?  We left and went back to our apartment. I passed out in my clothes in the bed. You slept on the sofa in a ball.

The first few seconds when you wake up are the best and worst. You’re cosy and warm and for a moment everything is okay. But then. The thud. The sinking feeling. The pain, all the worse in its return. Will. I called out to you. What the fuck had I done. 

Did you mean it? You asked me. I said I didn’t know. We knew I did. My heart was in my chest and my eyes were red holding back tears. The stress overcame me. I ran to the toilet and threw up a quart of brandy and what was left of my dinner. 

We talked more. I was sick again. I had a shower. I threw up in the bath. I looked at myself in the mirror and knew, I KNEW this was the last time I would see this person staring back at me. Everything was about to change. I threw up in the sink. 

It hurts to remember how worried you were about me. You went out and bought some bread for breakfast. I couldn’t eat it. We had to check out of the apartment and into a cheap hotel across the road for the night before our flight. I shakily made the ten minute walk and you carried my case. When we reached our room on the fifth floor I drank a can of coke and had to rush to the communal toilets ten minutes later. It was just liquid at this point. 

We agreed it was a mistake. We agreed to try. We said when we got back home we would try harder. We would be better. We didn’t want this. I was so shocked and sad and drained that I clung on to you extra tight. After five hours of vomiting I made a recovery. We went for a walk and I clasped your arm. I always held on to your arm. I did not want to let go. 

We walked by the ocean and we looked at the sea lions. Ironically it was one of the nicest afternoons we had had in months. The air was clearer somehow. Admitting there was a problem was the first step to fixing it. We would get back and it would all be okay. We were kidding ourselves, but I felt so good to pretend.

You put your head in my lap on the flight hope and I stroked your hair with an emptiness in my gut. When we landed, we took the subway home. There was a train waiting on the platform. The whistle was blowing and you dashed on. The doors shut in my face.  We looked at each other through the glass as the carriage pulled forward. And then you were gone. I stood on the platform alone. 

Oh, Fuck…

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They say when one door closes another one opens. That may be true, but it is also fucking inconvenient sometimes. 

November 2017.  You’re back. I wasn’t sure if you were coming. You had been gone for three weeks and I was nervous I wouldn’t see you again. Mainly because you were my friend but also a little bit because of something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on…or I could but I wasn’t ready to consider it.

Things were okay with me after you left. I say “okay”….. “okay” to me means surving but not thriving. The only person I told about my findings on Will’s phone was Ruth. And even then it was in passing over a few wines and statements of “I’m not the jealous type”, “I’m sure it’s nothing”, and “it’s been six years, I trust him.” I was downplaying a sadness that had been bubbling in a tiny but boisterous whirlpool at the pit of my chest since August. 

I’ve never had feelings for someone else while I have been happy in a relationship. For sure I have found people “attractive” and encouraged my single friends to “go for it” with mutually agreed upon passing hotties. Twit twooo. I’ve even had day or weeklong crushes, but that always passed when I got to know them and discovered the reality of that human was nothing compared to the reality of my loving relationship. Every imagined future with them was nothing compared to tea and crumpets in bed on a Sunday morning, playing I Spy out the window with the person I knew I loved. Even out of a relationship, it has always seemed to be true that while I hold a candle for one person, all my energy, my fire, is for them.  Nobody else gets a look in.

I realize now the on the day I found the messages after the disaster camping trip a door closed inside me. The flame was blown out. I just didn’t know it. 

You’d always been my friend. I can’t say I never thought you were attractive, but it was never a problem. You had a girlfriend. I had a boyfriend. They long predated us. I liked her. You liked him. We would hang out, drink beer, laugh. You’ve always been very funny.  The thing is though, now I think about it, I’ve always had this strange ability to know exactly where you are in a room. I’ve always been lit up by your presence. I’ve always been sad when you have gone home because it always signified the end of the party. You’d always stay to the end. 

In October your world came crashing down. I had no idea you were unhappy too. We didn’t talk about it. And then suddenly It was all very dramatic. You text me asking if you could come and stay with us and I didn’t ask any questions I just said yes. I know I felt something strange inside though. I knew before you told me that you must have broken up and I was sad for you… and for her because like I said, I really did like her. But another feeling too. Like someone had just plucked a string and walked away. A note vibrating for longer than it should. 

You came and you went. You stayed two nights then got on a plane. The first night I made spaghetti and then we sat outside and drank whisky and talked it through. The next night I walked you to the bus that would take you to the airport and I told you I was scared you weren’t going to come back. You promised you would and I hugged you twice. You disappeared and I breathed a sigh of relief. You were gone. Back to England. From whence you came. A few weeks apart and I’ll have talked myself out of you.

But then you came back. It was a few days until I saw you. And then I did. And then I knew was in trouble. Real trouble. I had spent two weeks ignoring it. Blissfully ignoring it. But there you were and I knew before I even hugged you.  The string was still vibrating. Something had cosmically shifted and you were standing there in front of me, an open door.   Oh, Fuck.

TBC. 

 

 

Valentine’s Day 1996 – 2019

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I was seven years old when I sent my first Valentines card. It was to myself.

What kind of fucked up school encourages kids to send Valentines cards anyway? They put up a special red post box a week before the “big day”, then handed out the cards during registration. From that moment on I was convinced that the whole song and dance was just another way to shame people for being lonely. At seven I realized I was undesirable. Validation through popularity…was this what school was all about?  Spoiler alert: yes.

So, young as I was, I was clever enough to opt out of the shame game and send a card to myself. Thank you me. I feel like I’ve always had my back.

The next Valentines card I remember writing was when I was 11. Same school, but a few different faces. Alice and Kylie, two new girls who had the good fortune to prematurely grow tits, were the chosen ones, the desirables. I didn’t think I was going to get any real cards but by this point I’d entered into a pact with my closest gaggle of girl friends; we’d send them to each other. So there. But this year there was a boy. His name was Josh May and he wore a Pokémon t-shit and had gelled, crisp, spiky hair. Little turrets of status. The outside of the card had dancing hearts listening to a stereo on it and on the inside I wrote the lyrics to Mel C and Bryan Adams’ Baby When You’re Gone. He thew it in the bin.

Things just feel so wrong. Yeah, baby when you’re gone.

When I started secondary school, Valentines cards were a strict army mission that required strategic planning and negotiation. Ashley Baker and I agreed to send each other one, not out of romantic interest, but to avoid the shame of being left out. Some utter twats would strut the Science Block corridors yielding a mass of red balloons in one arm and their best squealing gal pal on the other, looking on adoringly, of course. I get it. You’re popular. You’re hot. You cloud the changing rooms after P.E with plumes of Charlie Red, your mum let you have highlights and you actually seem to know what you are doing with eyeliner. I could only marvel.  Although my popularity daydreams were rudely disturbed when I was bopped in the face by six stray balloons from a passing globular deity.

I’ve always been awkward. That doesn’t really change over time.

Last year my mum bought me a Valentine’ card. She signed it from Bracken the dog. My sister got me one too, signed by my niece and nephew. I love them so much. I could have cried. Although I think it is important to note that I didn’t. I was back in England for nearly a month recovering from my break up with Will and that just so happened to coincide with my first single Valentine’s Day in six years…not that when we were together he made a big deal of it…except for the first year.

Valentine’s Day 2012.  The first one in which I knew him. We had literally just met. I was 23 and still occasionally falling asleep wearing my shoes. Our student days were over and my friends and I were kind of living in a post university, pre adult life bubble where we were all working shit jobs but throwing dinner parties at the weekend with desserts made in martini glasses because we thought that is what real adults did. I’d known him just over two weeks and so we (dramatically) were not spending Valentine’s Day together. I was having dinner at one of the gentrified pubs in New Cross with my flatmates instead…but Will…he liked me. Weird awkward me. He had hand made me a card…a beautiful card using a scalpel and peacock feathers. He gave it to my scariest room mate at one of our dinner parties. The whole crew had scrutinized the poor boy but agreed to leave the card outside my bedroom door on February 14th. I think that was the first time anybody had ever MADE me anything. My uni boyfriend Nick was good as gold, of course, and twice supplied a bunch of roses from Tesco Express. At 19 THAT was romance.  That and a bottle of on the turn rosé from the corner shop…and maybe a Kinder Bueno. But Will…he had sat for hours and made me something and I was touched.  The fact that he cared enough to create something made me think that perhaps he could be my boyfriend after all.

That was the first and last hand made Valentine’s card I got from him. I don’t think we even celebrated the day in our last year together. That’s sometimes the thing isn’t it. People make a lot of effort when they don’t have you, but when they do…they forget how much it means that you are there. I hope neither of us makes that mistake again.

So there I was. Opening up a Valentines Card and a chocolate heart from my mum. 29 and newly single.

My mum has always been a good Valentine’s sport. She was the one who funded the ill fated card to Josh May and picked up the strategy pack for friends and associates.  She didn’t ask too many questions and I appreciated it. When I was 13, she sent my sister and I off to school with a Valentines card in our lunchboxes. I opened it up to see she had bought us tickets to see Craig David play live on stage. I screamed in delight. Craig. I loved him from afar…although not as much as Julia. I let her have him.

When the crowd say “Bo”, selecccccta.

Not wanting to spend the night in with my mum and my stepdad, I made plans to hang out with a friend last Valentines Day. I still have a lot of friends back home and she was single too so it seemed as good a time as any to get pissed on Prosecco and  eat some gourmet M&S macarons. Fuck I miss M&S. Maybe I’ll write them a valentines card one day….although I did see they’re peddling some love sausage abomination these days that I’d rather disassociate myself with. That’s the problem, isn’t it. People change. Major food brands change.

A year on and I am in a much better place. Last week I went to a very weird Valentine’s theme car event where I ended up getting “matched” to a KIA whilst swilling back my third cocktail and trying to keep a straight face as the valiant marketing team tried to sell me the damn thing like I might have more than $308.59 in my bank account. Love. What a good opportunity for an up sell.

Valentines Day. I’ve had good days and I have had bad. I’ve been on top and I’ve been rejected. I’ve laughed and I have cried…which to me makes it just like any other day of the year. My point being, don’t worry. Don’t worry if you’re alone this year. It’s not a big deal either way. Your time will come around, because that’s life. And this is just another one of the days in your life.

As it so happens,  this year I do actually have a Valentines date and I want to admit that I am looking forward to it. Not because it’s Valentine’s Day, I honestly couldn’t give a fuck, but because I’m spending the evening with someone I think that I might be excited about…. And those butterflies…the fresh air of change…that is something you cant buy. There is no day for that. It just has to find you. And so you wait. But know this; in my experience it always comes. Eventually. And when it does, you won’t care at all that Josh May ripped up your letter and that your last few cards were from your mum and your family dog. I promise. Until then. Chin up…there’s always the M&S Love Sausage….

Ice Fishing and Snowmageddon

8E4D2432-6254-4F26-9C48-E011BB939FAEI took Monday off work to go ice fishing. Every year I have wanted to but I have never quite got round to it. Not this year though! I was determined! Ice fishing seems innately Canadian. Canadian’s don’t stay indoors during deep freezes; the winter is always savage as hell but they basically just get on with it. No, scrap that, they enjoy it! While temperatures of -5 c would practically shut down the UK, our Canadian buds are going for a rip on their snowmobiles at -25 then swigging a cold one outdoors in their snow suits. Good on them!

So, balls deep in my fourth Canadian winter, I had bought a fishing license and I found myself in the outdoor supply Mecca that is Canadian Tire browsing fake worms, ice fishing rods and stocking up on hand and toe warmers for the next day. Trust me, they said, I would need them! Ha! They weren’t wrong.

Setting off from the city at 6.45am and scoffing the obligatory Tim Horton’s on the way, we stepped out the car at the Georgina end of Lake Simcoe at 8.15, dressed in our arctic finest and yielding a bucket of minnow fish for bait. Holy………….fuck…….it was cold. Real temperature -21, but with windchill it was approaching -30! Ha! The coldest day I have experienced in m life and I was plodding out of the car ready to spend my day sat on ice. Who is this girl and what happened to her soft warm buttery British hot cross bun heart? It was still there. Just under 6 layers of thermals.

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The magic of walking on a deeply frozen lake is something we can never experience in the UK. It just isn’t cold enough. There is something so beautiful about a vast plain of ice and snow and uncomplicated views of a bright blue winter’s sky.

After less than ten minutes or trudging on ice, our equipment transported by sled, we set up our ice hut. The ice hut is basically a winter tent that surrounds your fishing holes and shelters you from the elements while you fish. We had the luxury of a heater in ours. It was…..GLORIOUS!

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Okay, let’s talk for a second about how the holes appear in the ice to fish through. That part is no magic…that is a MASSIVE drill! We are talking 10 inches of ice here; the Canadians don’t fuck around.

With our eyelashes frozen and our hut set up, we began our fish-venture! (I am actually cringing at myself in advance of any Canadian actually reading this…I sound like a total twat…but this just doesn’t happen in England, okay?!)
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The first thing that I absolutely have to mention is the COLOUR of the ice! With the tent surrounding it, it is a perfect turquoise! It is incredible! Also through your hole you can see straight to the bottom of the lake. Hello fish! I’m surprised you’re still swimming in -21 degrees!

Safely ensconced in our fishing chairs, my friend Hayley and I cracked a beer. 9am. No worries. Gone fishing!

BOOM! …eerrrrr what was that?! Oh? Just the ice cracking to make more ice. Ummmm. Scientifically it makes sense; as water freezes it expands so, as more freezes, there will be cracks that expand the ice plains…but, like, when you’re a ten minute walk from the shore that is a disconcerting sound!

Other than the sound of the ice, the only other disconcerting thing you need to worry about is your bladder. Beer n chill is all very well until you need to pee. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite as bracing as a -30 chill on your butt cheeks and nothing quite so sobering as watching your pee steam and freeze! Too much?! Well, I wanted this blog to sound like actual me…and actual me was greatly amused.  And cold. Definitely cold. Zip her back up!

Eating snacks, sipping beer, fishin’… suddenly I love winter! We only caught a small selection of “keepers” (Ontario fishing laws are pretty strict and often you have to throw them back) but we had a whale of a time reeling up and letting go! The ones we did keep we fried up in butter and peppercorns for lunch. I’m a pescatarian and will only eat fresh sustainable fish, and you can’t get more fresh and sustainable than a self caught Simcoe Perch!

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After four hours on the lake, the wind began picking up and we sensed in the air it was time to leave. We were right. A snow storm was coming…

As we drove down the 404 it was coming in thick and fast and it would have been scary had I not trusted Anthony, the Canadian behind the wheel and honestly the person I would best trust in any survival situation!

Back in Toronto, I made it home to 15 centimetres of snow blocking my front door and a snowy gale promising me even more. No matter. I popped in to drop my stuff and decided to do my weekly food shop as I had the time. I walked back out on foot in thick snow, amid a storm, in -15 temperatures and went about my day unphased. It was only when I got back an hour later and made a cup of tea that I laughed to myself. To anyone back home starting the day at -21, spending four hours on ice, walking through a snow storm carrying three shopping bags and digging my way into my house would sound like Armageddon. I started thinking of my day as a Daily Mail headline…ha! But really it was fine and I am fine. I am better than fine.  It struck me right there and then that what we consider intense or extreme is only a matter of perspective. Four years ago I would have told you I could never do it, I couldn’t survive like this. But I am surviving and thriving and learning to love something I would have considered an apocalyptic nightmare. Funny how we can change.

The next day I donned my wellies, my thermals, my gloves and my winter hat and a I laughed as I stomped through what was now around 40 centimetres of snow. To get to work. Today is minus 17. Could be worse (she says with a broad smile.)

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The Sun

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Last week I wrote to you about the moon and the first time I felt it’s gravity. This week I want to tell you about the sun and the first time that, amid it all, I realized everything was going to be okay.

December 2017. Over a week after the car crash in Tucson. It’s Boxing Day and we’re driving from Venice Beach to San Francisco up the famous Pacific Highway. The sun is out. The views are glorious. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were good for us, although there was something still hanging unspoken in the air. I cried when you gave me my Christmas present late last night and I think we both knew why. 

We had planned to get up early enough to watch the sunrise but we hadn’t quite managed it. Life on the road is exhausting. We did manage to pack sandwiches, though and after an early breakfast we were off and away on our final leg of the trip that didn’t save us. 

If you ever get the chance to drive the Pacific Highway, take it. I still think about the views outside my window that day and the blue skies and the ocean and the hills and the birds and the little towns and the feeling and smell of it all, the air that drifted through the open windows. One day I’d like to come back and do it all again but this time with a healed heart and my forever accomplice.      If. Of course.

We made a few stops and I loved each and every one of them. We had planned to get to San Francisco by late night so we didn’t make too many. I could have spent weeks stopping and exploring, ducking in and ducking out of little towns I’ve never heard of and will never see again. We stopped in one town for ice cream and we sat on the beach to eat it. It was lunchtime and the sun was at its highest in the sky, giving us its best California winter warmth.   You always loved mint chocolate chip and I always loved to try something new. That afternoon I was digging my toes in the sand and licking dark forest gateaux from a cone. 

Back to the car. I already knew in an unspoken cavern of my chest that I was going to miss you terribly. So terribly. 

We drive through more rugged terrain, dipping and climbing, rising and falling, watching eagles spectacularly sore above us. We talked about things we liked and people we knew and we even talked about you…the other you. Him, I suppose. I wondered if he knew? How could he, I barely knew myself. 

As the late afternoon crept in, I asked if we could feel the sun and dip our toes in the ocean again before it got dark. We stopped at Cayucos State Beach and ate our sandwiches, sharing a beer in silence. I fed my crusts to the seagulls. 

The ocean has always been my place. Any ocean. The crashing water, the ends of the earth; it’s always filled my heart with a pure wild joy. It wasn’t really warm enough but I took off my shoes and socks and padded softly into the water. The sun was coming down low now, midway above the horizon and it felt as if it was there just for me in that moment. To warm my chest and remind me I am just one of the creatures that exists on the planet because it exists out there, 149.6 million kilometres away. All I could see was the ocean, the sky and the sun, and all I could feel was the sand, the cold water and the warm, glow of the sun on my body. The sun found that place in my chest, that unspoken regretful cavern and it asked for a word. I let it have one.

In short, the sun told me everything was going to be okay. In longer terms, it told me my problems were small compared to the magnitude of all living beings and that life is gift enough in itself. Cool. Everything will work itself out.  No matter how dark it gets, the sun will continue to shine. Somethings are not constant, but the sun is. I think about that moment a lot and I remember that if i can just stand in the sun for a few moments, I will be alright. 

It was time to go. I picked up a shell from the beach to remind me of that moment. It sits on my window cill in full view of the sunlight today. 

You said there wasn’t time to stop again so I watched the sun set from the car window. The sky burned red and I watched the light disappear behind cliffs and water. I didn’t want it to go, but it had to.

Later that night our journey was met with a road block. A landslide. We had to drive back on ourselves and around the cliff. It was a two hour detour. I was sure there was a metaphor in there somewhere but I was too tired at this point to think it up. We checked into a motel in the middle of nowhere. We ate bad Chinese takeout and slept at opposite sides of the bed. By sunrise we were on our way again, and a few hours after it set that night I would let the words that marked the beginning of the end tumble out of my mouth and slide down the lemon rind in my martini glass never to be returned. I’m not proud of the timing or the setting…but I think it had something to do with that moment in the sun. 

An Epilogue. 

The winter was long and appalling. I hurt all over from the cold and sadness. Those few weeks in the sunnier states were some of the last I saw of the sun for a while. But then, in late March in my new house with big windows, the sunlight started pouring in my windows. I stood with my face to the glass and breathed it in. I counted to 60….then to two minutes…and then I stopped counting and just existed. 

It’s winter again, a year later, and the sunlight still has the ability to stop me in my tracks on a frozen afternoon. The sun cutting away the arctic conditions and bathing me in a spotlight of warmth…I bask. I always bask. 

Right now I’m still in bed as I write this. The sunlight is dancing across my bare legs and freshly washed sheets. I’ve been reading all morning and drinking coffee and eating chocolate. A tear rolls down my face. A happy one. I made it out alive.  Thank you, sun. 

The Moon, Part I

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I remember you, moon. It was our last night camping in Algonquin Provincial Park. The trip had been a disaster. Who goes on a Canadian canoeing adventure in a hurricane? We do. British idiots. The last day had been beautiful, though. After three solid days of weathering torrential downpours, huddling under trees on clumps of “dry” land trying to not get struck by lightning and waiting for the storm to pass, it finally did. We were awarded one hot day and the damp clothes on our backs finally dried. We still had 20 kilometres of portaging ahead of us to get back the next day, but for now we were exhausted and drunk off the last of our dwindling whiskey supply, lazing in the sun as if the past three days had never happened.

That night, though, things got kind of spooky. It was the height of an August Sturgeon Moon and a mist had descended, passing dramatically across the moonscape at intervals. In the middle of a remote 7.6 thousand square kilometre park there is, of course, no light. Just darkness…and disconcerting animal sounds. That night we were working solely with the moon and our head torches.  I had bravely ventured to my tent to load up on more bug spray when my torch flipped to its red feature without me even touching it. Weird. Red light. Full moon. Remote location. Four drunk friends. Horror movie. No thanks.

I told you I was scared, but of course you laughed at me and honestly I would have laughed at myself at any other time but in this moment I felt something more than fear. Something gravitational. A shift. I didn’t like it. 

A few more swigs of whiskey and I went to bed. The moonlight was piercing through the gauze of my cheap Walmart tent. I woke up several times in the night to rustling in the trees and once to the distant howling of coyotes. Nature is beautiful. Nature is scary. Nature will eat you if it gets the chance. 

The next day the rain was back and we still needed to make the slog out the park. You don’t know your own strength until you have evacuated a lake amid a lightning storm and carried a heavy canoe 1.5 kilometres on your back over land. Honestly though, I love this shit, I really do.

Back to dry land, back to indoors and flushing toilets and running taps! Praise the lords of plumbing and sanitation! We four musketeers, we band of hurricane survivors, we ploughed face first into hot food and cold beers at a pub on the way home back to the city. Not satisfied by my plate of fish and chips, I had French onion soup and a second beer for desert. Of course I did. I’m not a huge one for a pudding and I LOVE French onion soup…and honestly in that moment it healed my cold aching bones. Things were better. I felt good. The inexplicable fear of the night before wasn’t even so much as a distant memory. 

Back in the car. I’m up in the front with you. You are driving, of course. Somewhere along the way I drained my phone battery. Ruth and Paul were asleep in the back and I wanted some entertainment. You were in one of those “eyes on the road, silently brooding” moods that I had come to know and leave alone. So I picked up your phone. What would have happened if I hadn’t?

We had been together a little over five and half years at this point. I trusted you. There was no reason not to. We were tight. Until we weren’t. 

After exhausting the usual news sites I went on Instagram to idly check how my latest post was going. It was your phone so I had to search for myself. But…wait? What.

A little millennial explanation here, but as you may have noticed, tech stores relevant data and when you click on search buttons it makes suggestions based on things, or people, you frequently look up. Expecting myself to be a regularly searched person on your social media, I found I was not. But who is idiouscarrie?!! Um?! Oh, right, that girl from that band you hang out with sometimes? Weird you’re searching her a lot but like….okay. Curiosity…okay you’ve liked pictures she has posted of herself in her bra…right…really?!? Okay…messages. Is this an invasion when you are sitting right here? I hadn’t done this in five years. I hadn’t done this since I found you were still sending muchos besos to a girl you had met in Colombia before you knew me. I put an end to it. But now? So many years later? Honestly at this point there really is no stopping yourself. So I didn’t stop myself. One finger press. That’s all it takes.

What I found I wouldn’t be able to call “cheating”…but I would call it “really fucking weird and borderline inappropriate when you have a long term girlfriend”…but hey, I’m sure that is a matter of perspective. I closed the app. I bit my tongue. I waited.

Drop our friends home, unpack the car, take the car back to rental shop. Tasks before talking. Always your mantra.

It was dark when we were walking back home. The moon was still full and you asked me what was wrong. I told you. You were quiet. We were both quiet for a while and then you began, under the light of the judgemental moon, to explain yourself…although there really isn’t any other explanation than it’s really weird and maybe you are actually a bit of a twat? “Bit of a twat” I could deal with though. “Bit of a twat” was recoverable. Wasn’t it? I thought so, but it was definitely weird and I definitely felt uneasy. 

And weirder and more uneasy it got. 

That night, I stood outside our apartment breathing in late summer air alone. Alone for the first time in days. Alone was a feeling that in that moment I craved…but then I had no idea how much alone was waiting for me ahead. I looked up at you, moon, for what felt like the first time. The first real time. Something silent but loaded passed between us. I understood something I hadn’t understood before. Or maybe even understood isn’t the right word for it..I suppose I felt connected.

I have counted the moons ever since that night. Right now 18 full moons have passed. We had five more left.  

The 18 Cigarettes of 2018

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I’ve never been a smoker. Although that isn’t to say I’ve never smoked. A few puffs held tightly in my mouth then blerted out up the school field at 12 years old, shivering in the cold sharing a Lucky Strike between two at a teenage house party held in an affluent Cambridgeshire village, sucking in a few drags of Christina’s roll-ups outside Goldsmiths College Library age 21, my synapses alive with literary stress. WE. CAN. DO. THIS. We did.

All of these experiences, while not definitely anecdotes that accompany the highlights of my life, were all shared experiences with friends. They are something we look back and laugh at. Smoking a puff or two amid a girl gang became something we did. Reading Festivals weren’t the same if you didn’t have a drag by the fire at night and god help the 18 year old non-smoker in the nightclub when their entire friendship group trots outside. Bye then. The choice between toxin free warmth and sips of WKD blue versus braving the British winter to stand with your mates in a chilly square cage was a surprisingly easy one to make. I didn’t want to miss out. I think all of our best juvenile flirting came in those grim grey squares, with romantic views of the carpark and the obligatory lightweight vomiting up a brick wall. Those were the days.

Luckily as we got older, the majority of my friends stopped smoking. Nights stomping the sticky dance floor at DeNiro’s were swapped for wine bars and tapas and I didn’t hate it. I’ve always been a bit bougey, preferring to bake a Camembert than order a pizza. By my mid twenties smoking was part of those “oh how young and stupid we were” anecdotes. Only for me, it was around this time that I began smoking alone.

Don’t get me wrong, the amount of cigarettes I have inhaled in the past six years would equate to a slow day for some heavy smokers, but that’s not the point. One particularly stressful summer, my second out of Uni, a time I expected I would have my shit together but absolutely didn’t, I smoked two whole Marlborough lights while driving down the fast lane of the M25. Rings of tarmac, rings of smoke and endless rings of discontent.  What.Am.I.Doing.Here?!

Then came 2018.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I realised that smoking is a thing I do when I think I’ve hit rock bottom. It sounds strange to say, but when I am in a deep, deep mental hole, having a cigarette is the only thing I can do to stop myself from crying. It’s like the bitter taste of tobacco and tar are enough to remind me that actually life tastes worse than this moment.

In March 2018 I had been apart from my boyfriend of six years for a couple of months. He had a new girl,  I had started having an ill advised fling with a friend and had just moved in to my own furniture-free basement apartment. In the first few weeks, the adrenaline will get you through, after that, you’re own your own.

This crippling loneliness, the kind you can only feel during the dust settley aftermath of a big, terrifying transformation in your life, THIS is what lead me to lay down $18 bucks for a pack of 20 Ashfords in the late throws of the seemingly endless winter. These became my depression crutch of 2018.

The first one I smoked that same night as I walked home. As I breathed in the horrible, throat tearing plume, it joined a less distinguishable chamber of utter despair inside me, they mixed together and then I blew them out. Gone. Fuck, that felt better. To be able to pinpoint something so horrible and to simply breath it out became something I allowed myself to do only when I hit absolute lows. Writhing in my bed, tearing out my hair, huddling at the bottom of the shower. There was something I could do now to put and end to those nights. They weren’t every night by any means. Sometimes just the thought that I could do it would be enough to calm me down without having to suck in the dizzying vapour poison. Sometimes, it wasnt though and I would find myself sitting on my front step listening to Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, cigarette in hand, quietly ogling the moon and hoping for a better day. 

The better days came and the better days went. One night I stood in the soupy thick Orlando Heat, looking my physical best and feeling my physical worst, drowning a double vodka soda and burning out my smoke to its dying embers. What the fuck was I doing? 

It was around this point that I had a worrying diagnosis that put an end to it for a few months. How could I be sick and sitting outside on sporadic nights inhaling smoke? I’d have to be a royal twat. 

That good motivation kept me in kale smoothies and vitamin supplements for the most of the summer, but then Autumn came. There were six cigarettes left in my box and one night, when I couldn’t make sense of you, I was back at my step, Jeff Buckley warbling in my ear and my teary eyes firmly fixed at the stars. I wanted so much to be better and to do better, I just couldn’t. 

I think the real low was smoking an entire cigarette on a frosty grey day outside of work in early November. I never did it in daylight before. The winter was rearing its ugly head once again and I had no idea how I was going to do it all over. Please, not winter again. Please. Usually my lows would come at night when I was alone, but that day the only thing that allowed me to get up and get ready for work was telling myself I only had to keep it together until lunchtime, then I could cry in the toilets for 10 minutes and then go outside and burn my throat shut. My mouth shut, my heart shut. I could keep it all under lock and key until nighttime. 

I actually hated you for doing this to me. But of course, I hated myself more for allowing it. I don’t think it was actually really about you at all, just the hole left inside my chest and trying to find a way to fill it because I knew I couldn’t close it. Or I could, but it took so much more time than I was willing to bear. So I puffed my time away.  

There came a day in late November when I realised I wasn’t the only one struggling. There was hurt beyond mine in a friend too. I gave her one cigarette and told her my trick of feeling the worst you can, to stare rock bottom in the eye, in order to feel better. I don’t know if she ever smoked it, perhaps it was enough for it to just be there, like it had been for me some days.

Come December I was trying harder. I was doing better. Suddenly the end had a beginning in sight. 2019. I had three cigarettes left and I took them with me to New York, and to London and to my family home. Christmas can be a hard time, a lonely time, and I didn’t know if I would need them. I didn’t. 

Back with me to Toronto they came, and like me, they were a little battered from the transatlantic haul.

The problem with going away is that you have to come back. I returned to Toronto to realize that my problems were still there and now was the time to cut the strings tying me to them once and for all. You needed to go. You couldn’t be a part of my new narrative.

The evening of the 29th December was my last bad day. So bad it deserved two cigarettes. I threw up in the toilet bowl. 

December 31st came and I had been fully prepared to smoke my last disgusting stick before midnight; a cheers and farewell to a bad year I was so ready to put behind me. But in the end, the opportunity didn’t come.  I never smoked it. 

I found the tattered pack in my kitchen on New Years Morning as I was tidying alone with a lemoncello hangover. I stared at it…sad and bent and flaking. Not this year, mate. Not this year. 

Head pounding, lonely but determined, I crumbled it between my fingers and threw it in the bin. I washed my hands clean and I started again. 

Goodbye, old friend. I won’t miss you.