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. 

30 Things I Know Now

 

30

I am tired but I am happy. I woke up at 5.30am and hugged my sister goodbye as she left for the airport. The goodbyes are always fucking awful, but they only happen because I am lucky enough to have hellos.  I know that now.

I am tired because I spent the weekend celebrating my birthday.  A big birthday. My 30th birthday.  14 of my friends, including my sister who made the transatlantic journey to be with me, came away to a snowy cottage in Ontario, Canada. It was beautiful. We ate, we hiked, we drank and we danced as we collectively welcomed in the next BECADE.  Yes. Becade. I’m running with that.

My life isn’t as I imagined it would be at 30 years old. Sure. But it is great. It is great and I have learned so much and feel happier and healthier than I ever did at 21. Every person’s journey is different… but here are 30 of the most valuable things I have learned from then to now.

30 – Ask for help when you need it.

29 – Very few people will argue with a smile. If they do, they probably aren’t worth the argument.

28 – You don’t really need more than four alcoholic drinks on a night out. Oh, and shots are ALWAYS a bad idea. For me, anyway.

27 –  Drink lots of water. I can’t stress how important this is. You will look better and feel better.

26 –  I used to think people were twats when they said things like “you are what you eat”, but it turns out it is true. What you eat can and will affect your mood. Don’t expect to function the same on a cheese burger as you would a balanced meal. For me, the best meal for non extravagant days is rice, vegetables and protein. (Obviously this all goes out the window when the food is free!)

25 – Walking for an hour or more each day will keep you physically and mentally fit.

24 – People are worth a second chance but rarely are they worth a third.

23 – Trust your instincts. The answers are right there if you accept what your gut is telling you.

22 – Judging others is only a reflection of your own insecurities.

21 – Creative projects are only worth perusing if you enjoy them. If you don’t love the process, you’ll never love the outcome.

20 – If you don’t like your job, you can and should change it.

19 – It is absolutely okay to start again. In fact, pressing reset might be the best thing you will ever do.

18 – Some people are the creators of their own misfortune. These people tend to be people with secrets and / or people who are dishonest with you. If you can’t trust them, they aren’t worth your time. They will be their own undoing.

17 – Be good to the people who are good to you.

16 – People who will tell it to you straight, even at the risk of hurting your pride, are very valuable.

15 – Get to bed before 11 and wake up an hour earlier than you intended. In this time you can read, mediate, take a long shower, make a better breakfast or even watch a show on Netflix. Trust me you will feel better for it.

14 – Turmeric is a gift from the Gods.

13 – If your flight is significantly delayed it is worth paying for the airport lounge. Trust me.

12 – Age isn’t a measure of success. Success is a measure of success. Success can come at any age.

11 – Travel is one of the best things you can do for your soul. Whatever your budget, I think you should travel…be it to the next city if you have never been, or across an ocean to a place that scares but excites you.

10 – Going solo to an event or travelling alone can actually be pretty great and present opportunities you wouldn’t spot if you were in your comfort zone.

9 – Moving far away from home will enrich your life but divide your heart.

8 – Inconsistent people are my least favourite people.  To that note, unpredictable people can be very dangerous.

7 – The people who matter will always be there no matter what.

6 – The kindness of strangers will surprise and delight you.

5 – You are capable of change at any age. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

4 – Life expectations are only guided fantasies. In reality you have little to no control over grand plans.

3 – Do not worship at the altar of fear. Fear will fuck you up harder than any bout of misfortune you may encounter.

2 – Surrendering the outcome to the universe will set you free.

1 –  Being happy is more important than being right.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me make it this far. I cannot wait to see what the next Becade has in store! I think I’ve got this.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

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2018  is over. Thank fuck for that.

I can’t lie to you. Right now I am naked from the bottom down, wearing a huge yellow jumper, my hair is a mess, there are mascara slicks down my cheek and I’m turning the corner into a dirty lemoncello hangover. I feel sick, I am heartbroken and I am giving off a faint odour of onions. But I’m alive. 

I am alive and what was categorically the worst year of my adult life is over. It is behind me. It is done. I don’t have to write the number anymore. I don’t even have to look at it.

A new year has begun and I didn’t wake up alone. I woke up, party dress still on, next to two of my favourite humans. 

Last night I buried my face into Ruth’s gold sequin dress. I didn’t want to leave. This woman has held me up and given me form  when I have been sure I am made of water. How she has found the patience to deal with me throughout my most insufferable era, I don’t know. But she has. And I owe it to her, and to Caroline and to Phoebe, to be better this year. 2019.

Ruth stayed. She always does for me. Paul stayed too. He always does for her. I love him for that. Together we make a chain of people who love each other and won’t let one another fall to the floor in a puddle. Having each other isn’t a cliche, it is the only tonic that will cure you.

2018, you broke me in places I didn’t know I could break. I hope in 2019 I grow in places I didn’t know I could grow. I hope my head touches the ceiling then bursts out the chimney. I hope I wear my desk drawers as shoes. 

These are the ravings or a drunk woman amid a nauseating lemoncello haze. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is over and you were here to see me through it.  The sun is shining outside my window. Thank you. Again. Thank you.  5,4,3,2,1. Let’s do this.

I Can’t Find The Words

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I can’t find the words to talk about you yet. I want to. I need to, but every time I try it turns into a jumble. On my last attempt of analysis my words turned into a very melodramatic space analogy in which I likened you to a black hole and described the day we first kissed as being like the event horizon…the point of no return. The stretching, the breaking down atom by atom. I read it back and heartily laughed out loud to myself, although not as hard as I am sure future me would have, had I not deleted it there and then. Alright, Rebecca. Chill. You are neither Stephen Hawking nor William Shakespeare. No need for your cosmic romanticism. It won’t change things will it…it just makes you sound like a bit of a twat. Also, we didn’t really have a first kiss, did we? Maybe that was the problem.    All or nothing isn’t a great start. 

I hate that I saw you coming. I hate that I had to make a choice; let you pass and quietly watch you fall for someone else, or speak up before either of us were ready.  I found the words then but maybe I shouldn’t have. 

I suppose it is hard to find the words to describe a situation when it hasn’t done playing out. Like trying to guess the ending of a book before it has been written. Our love has felt like a year long debate with no closing argument. It never feels like the end with you. But is it? Is this it now? 

I don’t know. 

I don’t know, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I wish I could find the words to summarize you. Then I might just understand why I can’t move on. 

Your best friend found the words to break it to me that you had moved on, though. Or I at least you were trying. A stunned silence from me followed by hours of torture. It was happening right there and then. In the exact moment I sipped my IPA and exactly one hour after we parted last. I didn’t understand, after 12 hours of kind words and smiling, why the last few minutes were filled with silence and aggression. You weren’t using words at me then. I asked you to, I needed them to understand you. But you didn’t offer me any and now I realize that you are terrible with words too. And with the truth. You aren’t great with that either. 

So many others have explained heartache in words. For me then and there in the pub as your friend stopped me in my tracks, stopped me in my flow of loving words about you, all I had was stunned silence. Shocked quiet followed by an evening of contorting in and out of a ball. Pain for me has no words, just movements. And as I twist and compress and pound and stretch I am thinking that the black hole analogy wasn’t so stupid after all. 

I could have used words to ruin it for you. I could have text you, called you, screamed at you, written a note and left it in your empty bedroom poisonously lit by fairy lights and seedy intentions. I didn’t. Those words would only make things worse. I had to let you do it. So I said nothing. I quietly let you go. 

I might never have the words to explain this era of my life. Or maybe I will. Maybe they will come to me when I am walking through the park in 6 months time, or maybe when my head is in the lap of someone who fills all the blank spaces you left me with. Maybe. But for now, the only important word for us is goodbye. I just need to remember what it means. 

No Tears

 

Saying goodbye never gets any easier. 

I have had a few goodbyes in my time and I can tell you from experience that trains are the worst way to part. 30 seconds is all you have. 30 seconds on their clock before the doors jingle and close in your face. Barrier. Done. Then you have to watch out the window as the carriage pulls away, leaving some on the platform and some sailing forward, the distance ever growing. Faster. Faster. Blurry. Gone. 

A train goodbye is a brutal goodbye. 

Airports. Well at least there is space for coffee, a brunch, an emotionally fraught lunch. A drawn out goodbye as you drip sporadic salty tears into your whetherspoons baked beans and your 9am pint of Theakstons Best. In the end you are left to say goodbye by the security gate. Only a mild sense of urgency. No 30 second slam. No slow roll through the countryside.  

The security gate is where I said goodbye to my family in February, with a mass of uncertainty ahead of me in the frozen tundra of my new country. At the end of that day I had to move into a new, empty house to live what seemed then to be a new empty life. Of course it wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be, but how was I to know. There is never much positivity in uncertainty. 

There is no countdown at the security gate, unless you’ve left it super super late. There is time to hug and cry and take a “jolly” tissue from your mum. The fact that little zoo animals adorning her Kleenex makes her happy only makes you sob even harder. But there is time. A bit, anyway. Then, once you have made it through the point of no return, security procedures will stamp the tears right out of you. For a little while at least. Nobody ever sobbed whilst being shouted at to take off their shoes and belts. The mismatching sock walk of shame is enough to keep the mind occupied. 

Tasks. Scanning. Things. Must keep track of the things. Be a good adult. Don’t lose the stuff. Don’t lose your cool. 

Then there is the whole gate location and departure lounge fandango. That keeps you in business for a bit. Have you ever cried emotional tears of separation woe during a takeoff?! I haven’t. I’m too afraid I’m going to die a la Final Destination. Thanks for that, Hollywood. After that, you’re in the sky and the good people of Air Transat are giving you a thimball of wine. Fine. Just stay alive. Thank you tiny wine.

I have, however, done my fair share of sobbing on the train. The small talk as you wait those safety 7 minutes, the panic 45 seconds as you watch the train approach and realize that you should have just been hugging this whole time because you don’t actually know when there will be a next time. No tears mum, please. You’ll set me off.  

Trains. You brutal, efficient bitches. Fast enough for a speedy getaway but slow enough for regret and the faint possibility of turning back. I could turn back. Maybe I should turn back? But I never do. 

I’ll see you next year.