It was my second date with Momma Tee this summer while she was visiting her hometown of Montréal from Vancouver. We’d agreed that I’d pick her up late that afternoon from where she was staying in the West Island, take her to my place, walk down the street to dine at a nearby South Indian restaurant, and come back to my place to share a bottle of red. Our first date was some 10 days earlier in the Village, and that had been the first time we’d seen each other since 1988 — yes, 28 years before.
She wasn’t Momma Tee back then, at least not yet. We’d met at university in Halifax the previous fall when we found herself in the same American Literature class that was taught by The Grand Poobah of Culinary Delights, whom I didn’t call by that monicker at the time and who was still years away from becoming the life partner of my BFF, The Queen of Sheba, whom I hadn’t met yet.
In many ways, Momma Tee and I were the two most unlikely individuals to become friends, yet friends we did become. She returned to Montréal at the end of the Winter 1988 session, thinking initially that she would be coming back in the fall and be admitted to the PR program, but her plans changed that summer and she didn’t come back. But we kept in touch for many years afterwards, mostly by mail, for those were still the days when people wrote letters and avoided long-distance calls because they were prohibitively expensive. In that summer of ’88, her letters were filled with deliciously salicious details of her life back in Montreal, while mine waxed poetic as I was assuredly and absolutely falling in love with Hiker, whom I didn’t come to call by that monicker until many years later.
So back to that second date some 28 years later, I gave her the obligatory tour of my apartment. In the room I call my office, she noticed a picture of my mom on the bookshelf and, knowing that I had fairly recently lost her, she advanced to comtemplate it. (She’s particularly sensitive to grieving and loss, she herself having to grieve for that most unspeakable kind of loss: that of her 7-year-old son to cancer.) Then she looked at the other pictures on the shelves when suddenly the quasi-solemnity of the moment got broken when she practically sucked all the air out of the room, pointed at a photo of a guy in his graduation robe and asked, “Who the HELL is that?!” So I told her: that’s the infamous but much younger Hiker, to which she kept saying over and over, “Oh. My. God.” Once she recovered, she said something to the effect that she remembered thinking when reading my letters so many years ago that he must have been quite something to have me in such a state, but she had never imagined that he was so handsome.
Interestingly, that same picture had triggered a similarly strong but negative reaction eight years earlier. It’s funny in a way because I hardly notice the picture anymore. It’s just part of my stuff. But mere minutes after NowEx first set foot in my Halifax apartment after that horrible, horrible plane ride that night from Montreal, he noticed the picture and demanded — he never asked — “Who the FUCK is that?!” Unaccustomed to such blatant displays of jealousy, I had to pause for a few seconds to understand what was happening and recall what I may have said about Who-The-Fuck-Is-That until I simply told him that it was Hiker, about whom I had already spoken along with his nearly 20-year partner Bello.
* * * * * * *
I had a truly wonderful vacation trip this past summer. First I spent two days in the Québec City area. Then I drove through the Charlevoix region to cross the Saint Lawrence by ferry to Rivière-du-Loup to visit relatives. The next day I drove to Fredericton and stayed a few nights at Hiker and Bello’s before spending several more days in Halifax and then slowly driving back to Montréal. I think what made the trip so wonderful is that although I was only gone for 10 or 11 days, it felt, even during the trip itself, as if I’d been gone much longer. I avoided freeways as much as possible and my attitude in general was, “I’ll get there when I get there.”
One evening after dinner, sitting at the Queen and the Poobah’s table in Halifax, I reflected on how and perhaps why this trip was so enjoyable. About my Fredericton segment, I told them about how I didn’t get to see The Quad because he, too, was on vacation and out of town, but instead I did get to have lunch with one of my former PR students. Of course, the Queen then asked after Hiker and Bello, and I quite enthusiastically shared their big news: in the spring, after 25 years together, they finally decided to get married. Theirs was a super low-key affair with only a few friends on their back deck — no fancy suits or anything.
— So how do you feel about that?” the Queen asked me.
Her question puzzled me, for sometimes the Queen knows me better than I know myself. I stammered something or another, even joking that it was perhaps time after 26 years together, but I think I was stammering because the question — “How do you feel about that?” — simply didn’t compute in my head. She kept looking at me as I was answering, and once I’d finished she continued looking at me and finally dropped what felt like a non sequitur:
— He was the love of your life.” To which I said, after a sigh:
— That was so, so long ago. Like a lifetime ago.”
We were so desperately young back then. I was 22 going on 23; he had just turned 21. I had been his first.
Although I still can’t wrap my mind around it, I’m 51 now. But that comment by the Queen catapulted me into memories of the summer of ’88 in that 13th-floor apartment on Gerrish Street in Halifax. And worse, it reminded me of a train ride from Moncton to Halifax the following late-October or early-November that seemed to last forever and through which I had to fight back my tears, for just a few hours earlier, Hiker had asked that we “just be friends.”
I entered a fog that lasted 18 months through which I somehow managed to finish my degree. When I came out the other side, I had been changed. In each significant relationship I had in the following decade, the shadows of my memories of Hiker hovered over those relationships… until they didn’t anymore. They didn’t anymore not only because I stopped believing in what we euphemistically call “relationships” but also because I couldn’t find or understand the point of them for me, a fact I painfully demonstrated with my quicky marriage and divorce with NowEx.
* * * * * * *
I first met Hiker in the spring of 1987 and the first thing I saw on him was his crotch, but that was an accident.
I was sitting in a conference room at the library at the Université de Moncton, where I was mounting for printing the latest issue of the newsletter for the association of Gays and Lesbians of Moncton, when my friend !!!!! — there’s definitely an inside joke in that nickname — called my name as she entered the room and noticed me. She walked behind my chair to go sit in front of me and I turned my head to the right as she and — it turns out — Hiker were walking behind and around me. So my head just happened to BE at his crotch level, which is why I maintain to this day that it was an accident.
Trust me: when I saw the tall, slim, dark-haired mustachioed guy sitting next to her, I first had to quickly find the most gracious way of picking up my jaw from the floor and then I had to figure out how not to sit and stare at him in awe. Then !!!!!, bad girl that she was and had long known by that time that I’m gay and active in the community at the time, kept insisting on asking me what I was doing since I’d quit the U de M several months before. Now remember: this was in 1987, and back then it wasn’t easy to just casually say as you could now — at least I couldn’t! — that you’re putting the final touches on the local fag rag!
Time passed. I don’t know if we’re talking days, weeks, or months, but “some” time passed. I had gone out with The Quad and we ended up sitting at a park bench on Main Street in Moncton when suddenly !!!!! and Hiker came walking down the sidewalk. We chatted for a bit before they went on their way — to or from a movie, I don’t recall — and then I just gasped to The Quad something to the effect that I’d gladly give my right nut to be with Hiker but that he’s probably not gay, to which The Quad said, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” But rather than comfort me, that comment made me despair: a snowball in hell would have a better chance than I would with him.
Then several months passed and, truth be told, I didn’t think much if ever about the gorgeous francophile anglophone demigod although it had been clarified with absolute certainty that he preferred to kiss boys although he hadn’t yet. I had had my figurative good cry over him and moved on. By this time, both The Quad and I lived in Halifax and were enrolled in the PR program at MSVU, and Hiker was supposed to come visit The Quad on the May long weekend. Except that a few days before that visit, The Quad fell ill and ended up in hospital.
That’s when I concocted the ballsiest plan in my entire life — so ballsy that it was unprecedented and never surpassed since. Feigning disinterest and pure altruism, I managed to get Hiker’s phone number in Fredericton and called him to invite him to stay at my place so that he wouldn’t have to cancel his trip to Halifax and could get to visit The Quad in hospital. He was a bit hesitant at first but finally accepted my invitation after I assured him that it was no trouble at all. I’m pretty certain that at that precise moment, Jesus either wept or shat the bed.
* * * * * * *
I know no one in the peanut gallery will believe me, but I was a perfect gentleman that whole weekend and I do have a witness: Hiker himself. Although we didn’t end up visiting The Quad in hospital that much, we spent the weekend drinking lots of coffee, exploring the city, eating at home and then staying up late, talking the night away while listening to music. On more than one occasion I wanted to take him in my arms and seduce him to my bed, but I didn’t because I knew he’d never been with a guy and, even though I could tell that we were getting on like a house on fire, I still wasn’t convinced he’d want to make that leap with me. So every night I’d make my bed on the sofa and send him to my room, by himself. It took every ounce of my strength not to enter my room that one morning I go up before he did and saw him sprawled on my bed sleeping and wearing only bikini briefs. In fact, the sight of him there seemed so surreal.
In 1988, few had ever heard of e-mail, let alone used it. He had a summer job in Fredericton and I studied full-time through the summer sessions. So began our exchange of long letters as neither of us could afford long-distance calls, as well as the inevitable staple of relationships in the ’80s: The Mixed Tapes. I introduced him to Michael Franks and Jane Olivor; he introduced me to Helen Merrill. I challenged him to figure out which Michael Franks song reminded me of him and, to this day, I get carried into thoughts of Hiker and the summer of ’88 each time I hear “Tell Me All About It.” Yet, at the same time, I find myself blushing: We were SO damn young!
I still have all the letters he sent me, along with all the cards and letters anyone ever sent me when people still did that. I may re-read them every 10 years or so. The last time was about a year after I moved to my new apartment, but whenever I do, I always keep his for last, as if they were some kind of dessert. In them, we weren’t professing our neverending love; we were just continuing the conversation, talking about the most mundane things, although I suspect we would have just as assiduously read the phone book if we’d thought the other guy had written it.
The intensity of the whole thing was such that he inevitably came back to Halifax a few weeks after his first visit, for the Canada Day long weekend. By then it was clear where all of this was heading, but I still harboured this fear that if I moved too fast, I would, as RuPaul would say, fuck it up. So the night he arrived we stayed up impossibly late — dawn was starting to break — as if we — but especially I — were afraid to broach the topic of sleeping arrangements.
Finally at one point he got up to go to the bathroom and I took that as my cue to start making my bed on the sofa. But when he came back out and saw me getting some bedding out of the linen closet, he asked me what I was doing.
— I’m making my bed. It’s late…” I stammered.
That’s when he came behind me, took me in his arms, and with his bristly cheek against my bearded cheek he softly said as only a francophile anglophone would: “Je te l’interdis…” (“I forbid you.”) That was the Torch Song Trilogy moment of my life, except that for my unspoken, “What am I going to do …with my beer,” substitute “beer” with “bed linen.”
And so we went to my room, but you know what? We undressed, got into bed in each other’s arms, and simply fell asleep. And while this song hadn’t been written yet, it’s of that precise moment I think whenever I hear it.
* * * * * * *
I have to tell you something: It feels weird for me to be writing about this. Specifically, why am I writing about this? Moreover, why now?
Hiker met Bello two years, give or take a few days, after he had asked that we “just be friends.” He had finished his university studies and landed a job which he still holds to this day. Between me and Bello, he had a fling with a guy studying in Halifax whom some of us very affectionately nicknamed the Cyprius Fruit, and this brief pairing turned out to be the electroshock treatment I needed to get out of my aforementioned fog and accept that my proverbial ship called Hiker had sailed. Being still in my mid-20s at the time, I assumed that more and better was yet to come.
But then I changed. By the early ’90s, I began to question if I even believed in “relationships” or what having a relationship really meant. I began to notice how most of my friends were forever seeking this elusive thing, going from one to the next and the one after that, completely unable to picture themselves alone or single, while I rather enjoyed extended periods of time on my own. At some point between the age of 25 and 30, I began to make a distinction between sex and lovemaking and wondered if I might be polyamorous. (I think I am but never got to test it out.)
Then I look at the life I’ve had after Hiker until now. My professional life influenced my so-called love life a lot, not only because I had at least a decade of financial precariousness but also because of the intensity with which I work — or used to work up until a few years ago. I found myself not falling in love so much as falling into relationships. This is an awful, terrible thing to say, but I think I’ve had a few particularly intense infactuations that I mistook at the time as falling in love. But setting aside that thing with NowEx, which was so entirely different from everything else that it’s like comparing a galaxy to a planet, I always seemed to reach a point where I needed more time to myself to do nothing but be by myself.
If I were to be totally honest with myself, however, I would have to admit that Hiker loomed over all those others who weren’t Hiker. To this day, that man is capable of saying things that make my heart melt all over again. I remember a comment he once made to me about Bello that some people might have viewed as criticism but was in fact so disarmingly sweet and loving. Meanwhile, I once had a colleague at work who couldn’t be any more different than Hiker except for one thing: they have a very similar laugh, and whenever I’d hear him laugh, I inferred that he had as kind a soul as Hiker.
So that’s where it all stops making sense to me. While it’s clear that Hiker is prime long-term relationship material — I mean, 26 years and counting! — was I ever? I can’t convince myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would not have come to the same questioning about myself by my late 20s, and I don’t think that would have flown over very well with Hiker even though he, himself, is also a fiercely solitary type. Then again, monogamy aside, it’s not like he and Bello are anywhere near being joined at the hip: they maintain very separate interests and even vacation separately at times because of those different interests. Meanwhile, as much as it’s true that my professional choices had an influence on my love life post Hiker, wouldn’t my choices have been different had there not been a post-Hiker?
These questions can’t ever be answered. At 51 I might have a house and have travelled as much as Hiker and Bello have, but do I yearn for that now at 51? Honestly? No, I can’t say that I do. Do I wish I could fall in love like I did nearly 29 years ago? Yes …and no. I mean, yes, of course, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world! But the older I get, the more time and space I need for myself and I can see my capacity to share my intimacy and privacy dwindling after each passing year.
Then that brings me full circle, doesn’t it? It sounds like I want my cake and eat it, too. Or as we say in French, le beurre et l’argent du beurre (the butter and the butter money).
Maybe that’s what it is! They say that to write a good story, there has to be conflict. Perhaps I feel compelled to write this because there’s a conflict. On the one hand, I think I’m finally reaching that point where I’m ready to have a significant man in my life, but on the other hand, I’m not ready for compromise. And by that I don’t just mean compromise on the time and space I need for myself, but also merely “settling” for a kind, handsome, intelligent, independent guy who just doesn’t quite light my fire.
That might be the conflict, but I’m not sure it’s making for a good story.
I signed into Facebook after work that Friday, the day before my previous post, the one that got me back into aMMusing. Sometimes I wonder why I sign into Facebook a few times a day as I do. More often than not it’s a downer, and the quick succession of one terrible and practically surreal event after another only seems to amplify the craziness and sadness that surround us. But as much as I have come to view Facebook as that train wreck we can’t help ourselves from looking at over and over, I hadn’t come prepared to read the status update of Cleopatrick, with whom I clearly had a falling out two years ago.
Just a month earlier, coincidentally on the day that would have been my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary, I read that he’d married his partner in a double wedding with his sister who finally married the guy she’d been with for 28 years. We hadn’t spoken in nearly two years at that point (more on that below), but that day we chatted through Messenger. He and his now-husband were leaving the next day for a week-long honeymoon in the Mexican Riviera, and I wished them a good trip — he assured me they would have — and that was that. I didn’t know if this chat signalled the beginning of a thaw in our relationship, but I didn’t give it too much thought because I wasn’t sure how I felt about that prospect.
Then, on that Friday a month later when I signed into Facebook after work, I read his status update: his husband had died earlier that day.
I immediately sent him a private message urging him to give me a call but, given the strain in our relationship, I wasn’t sure he’d respond; therefore, I also sent a private message to his sister and brother-in-law. It turns out he did respond within two hours or so, simply saying to give him a few days, which I perfectly understood. Around midnight, his brother-in-law filled me in: CP’s husband had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three months or so back. In other words, the guy had received his death sentence. He was in his early 50s, if that.
* * * * * * *
In my last post before deserting aMMusing, I announced that I was moving four blocks down the street to the top floor of a sixplex. Not having the use of my car but having three months to move, I started carrying some stuff over on January 15 (2014). The previous tenants, young engineering students from France, left some stuff behind such as a bed, a desk and a couch, so I began living at the new place even though I didn’t have all my stuff and only going to the old place on weekdays to work and watch Coronation Street. Thus I discovered that as long as I had an Internet connection, which I got as soon as I started living in the new place, I could live with little; in fact, I came to realized that I owned a lot of junk that only weighed me down. (I ended up filling nearly 20 garbage bags of stuff I either trashed or gave away.)
Still, moving is a daunting to me. It’s either that I hate packing or that I’m terrible at it — or both. But the mere thought of it is soporific to me. So, I hired professional movers to supply boxes and do all the hauling, and knowing that Cleopatrick wasn’t getting much paid work at the time, I offered to pay him for two days of packing and unpacking boxes. Fate had it that the move occurred on February 22, the date I married NowEx six years earlier. I got to reclaim that date from the calendar, changing it from what I knew was my worst “move” ever to what I hoped would literally be my best move ever.
The only thing I disliked about the new place was the wall colours. My bedroom was some weird pinkish purple; my office was an odd turquoise; the kitchen, hallway and living room were a bad “apartment beige”; in all cases, the ceilings were the same colour as the walls, which made everything feel claustrophobic. But I had resolved when I signed the sublease to get the place painted to my taste and at my expense.
* * * * * * *
With eight years’ seniority at my job by 2014, I had only 16 vacations days per year. Still, I had decided to take them all at once because two consecutive weeks off in the summer simply wasn’t good enough for me. I had therefore resolved that the first week would be a “staycation” to get the apartment painted and the next two weeks would be to travel to the Maritimes, as usual, to visit with Mom and maybe go as far as Halifax. Having seen how well Cleopatrick had painted one of his apartments and, again, knowing that he was short on cash, I offered to pay him the going per-room rate of a local professional painter except that I would supply the paint. He accepted.
Two or three days before I was to start my vacation, one of my brothers sent a message to my work e-mail telling me that Mom had been taken to the hospital. Long story short, she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, which is sometimes referred to as “hardening of the lungs,” and needed to be on oxygen. My sister was on the last days of a trip to Corsica, so “the boys” (my brothers and I) resolved to tell her only when she returned that following Sunday and, given Mom’s condition at that time, we should consider alternating our time with her in Moncton rather than all converge together. It turned out that one of our cousins thwarted the first bit of our plan by sending our sister a message through Facebook, but whatever…
Later I took Cleopatrick out for fish and chips in the Village and told him that, in view of our decision to split our time with Mom, the paint job could go ahead as planned the following week. I also remember telling him that I wished to apologize ahead of time should I be short-tempered or distracted in the coming days, as I hadn’t seen Mom’s illness coming and I was a bit of a mess about it.
* * * * * * *
Thus began the most profoundly altering six weeks of my life, for in five weeks, Mom went from living independently in her own house to dying. I had always said that, as much as I found Dad’s passing difficult, I would be devastated the day I would lose Mom.
The winter of 2013-14 was extremely difficult in Moncton and it was really hard for Mom. But besides that, we’d noticed her declining slowly in the last two years. She seemed more and more frail and more prone to worrying. When my aunt (her sister-in-law) decided to move into a new home being built in our Moncton neighbourhood while my uncle would remain in their house, which was also just a block away from Mom’s, I could sense that she was slowly coming to terms with the thought of having to do the same.
Week One of my vacation (and the paint job) started — the first week of June 2014. The initial prognosis for Mom was that she could last many months and up to three years, depending on the stage her illness was caught. However, it quickly became apparent that she’d need to be on oxygen for the rest of her life, so just as quickly it became apparent, given there was no bathroom on the main floor at the house, that her returning to live there wasn’t viable.
Meanwhile, just as this news was coming down, my brother who lives in Moncton couldn’t be by her side at the hospital because most of the city was in lockdown for the manhunt of Justin Bourque — a guy in his early 20s who actually grew up four houses over from Mom’s — who had killed three RCMP officers and severely injured two. Mixed into my memories of perhaps the darkest chapter in my hometown’s history is the memory of a tearful phone conversation with my mom, who believed she was announcing to me that she would not be able to return home. “It all happened so quickly,” she kept saying, and she was right: one minute she was preparing to go do some kind of volunteer work as usual at the golden age club, and the next minute, as she was on the phone with her sister who’d called earlier than usual that morning, she realized that she couldn’t catch her breath.
And the paint job? Every day my siblings asked how it was coming along. “Where is it at? Sixty, seventy percent done?” I could tell they were surprised when I’d say it wasn’t nearly that far along, but I didn’t give it much thought because I knew that if I’d attempted it myself, I’d probably be nowhere, not to mention that the little I would have done would have been a frightful mess.
* * * * * * *
Cleopatrick would work Monday to Thursday, for he had a dishwashing gig in a restaurant in the Village on Friday and Saturday. With the paint job still ongoing, my siblings and I decided that Week Three of my vacation would be my week to be with Mom in Moncton, taking over from my elder brother and my sister taking over at the end of my week.
I’ll save the narrative of that week with her for another post except to say that on the Friday morning, my last full day before coming back to Montreal, I stepped into her room to find her with a full oxygen mask and her intake had gone from 3 or 4 litres the previous evening to 9 litres. I will never forget the way she looked at me as I stepped into her room, not turning her head but looking at me sideways as a child who had just done something wrong. It was devastatingly heartbreaking yet I didn’t let on, choosing instead to calmly ask her and the nursing staff what was happening. She was brought down for some new scans later that afternoon, but while I didn’t grasp that this was the true beginning of the end, I did know that this turn meant that she could no longer hope to go to that home she’d hoped to go to because her condition was beyond the level of care that could be offered there.
Back home that night, I sent Cleopatrick a message to tell him of this major change and that while I would be driving back to Montreal as planned the next day, I might be returning to Moncton the following weekend and work from there. To this day, I don’t know what motivated me to send him that message. Was I hoping that he’d reply to say that it’s okay because he just finished the painting? I really don’t know. I seem to recall being more preoccupied with the logistics of taking care of Mom, and somehow that note fitted into the logistics.
I don’t remember how many times and for how long I stopped on my way to Montreal, but the drive took me longer than usual. At one of my stops outside Quebec City, I texted Sweet Sam who I’d just met a few weeks earlier and agreed to go directly to his place for a drink before going home to my apartment. And when I arrived home around midnight, bone tired, I found that my place was still like a massive workshop: he hadn’t started the bedroom yet, the furniture therein was still in the centre of the room, and the futon in the office that could serve as a bed was covered with stuff.
With my back against the wall in the hallway, I crumpled to the floor and I began to cry. I just couldn’t deal with this. I had no points of reference to lean on.
* * * * * * *
The next night, my siblings and I had a four-way conference through Skype. The doctor had told my younger brother that Friday’s scans “didn’t look good,” but he didn’t elaborate. So my sister, who’s a physiotherapist, was going to have a meeting the next morning with the doctor to get some straight answers. Although all my siblings had hinted at one time or another that Mom might be dying, I had refused to say those words.
I logged into work the next morning and told my supervisor at work that I would be going back to Moncton by the end of the week and work from there, pending what my sister would report in the coming hours. By 11:00, having not heard anything yet, I called “home” and my sister answered immediately. All I remember her saying was, “…maybe 2 or 3 days…” and “…you have to come back right away…” And then, as I was sitting on the edge of that blasted futon, I essentially just hung up on her as I blurted “I have to go …I’ll call you back” and just started to wail in a way I had never before.
The rest is sketchy. I don’t remember why Cleopatrick wasn’t there, for it was a Monday and he should have been there. I do remember calling my supervisor once I could contain myself enough to call her, and I think this is a verbatim quote from her: “Log off and get the fuck out of here.” I know I decided that it was too late to start driving to Moncton, and I wanted to wash my clothes and go to bed very early after taking a sleeping pill. I don’t for the life of me remember how I got word to Cleopatrick that I was getting the hell out of Dodge. I do remember getting the text message from my younger brother telling me Mom had been moved to palliative care and was “resting comfortably” (as people always say when someone enters palliative care). And I remember asking my family for radio silence from a given point that day until my arrival in Moncton, for I didn’t know if I could finish the drive down while knowing that my mother had died.
* * * * * * *
Well, she didn’t die that day. Nor the day I arrived. Nor the day after that, for that matter, when they began administering the “end-of-life protocol.”
Nope! The protocol began around noon the last Wednesday of June 2014 and she died 20 minutes into the following Tuesday, July 1 — Canada Day. Every day until I die, there will be fireworks to remind me of the day my mother died, as if I needed reminding. But given my family’s warped sense of humour, we all said later that day she probably held on into July just so we could claim her government pension cheque for that month. And you know what? If the departed can look down upon us, I’m certain she had a shitface grin on her face, feigning indignation but thinking that we really did have her figured out after all.
One day I will write about those last days with Mom. We slept on lazyboys in her room, taking three-hour shifts, two by two, through each night. But one night, during one of my shifts to stay awake by Mom’s bedside with my younger brother, he brought up my paint job situation. “Isn’t he also friends with the Queen of Sheba?” he asked me, to which I replied he was. “How about asking her to call him to say that ‘Maurice is in a really bad way and needs to be able to get his apartment back so that he can begin to recoup’?”
I didn’t really like the idea off the bat. It felt like that would be a kind of provocation. But at the same time, I had grown indignant. If he had received that message I had sent the night before driving to Montreal, which I don’t know if he did or not, but if he had… If I’d received such a note and knew the state in which I’d left the apartment, wouldn’t I have taken an hour before going to work to go to the apartment and clear a space for a bed since the guy would be arriving after driving 10 hours or more from Moncton? I could see someone not being comfortable poking around to find the bed linen and that, but at least clear a spot? Then again, even if he hadn’t seen the note, the plan hadn’t changed: I was coming back from Moncton that Saturday night. Can someone be so lost inside their own bubble as not to even think of this on their own?
Anyway, the next morning, my brother shared his idea with my other brother and sister, and they all thought that if I couldn’t bring myself to do it, then it indeed was a good idea. But then we resumed our wait by Mom’s bedside, in awe along with the nursing staff over how this little lady just wasn’t ready to give it up. But after six days and five nights, she did.
* * * * * * *
It was either the day Mom died or the next day that I spoke to the Queen of Sheba. I don’t even remember if I’m the one who called her or if she’s the one who called me. I do remember that I sent her a few e-mails that week, so I may have sent her one when Mom did die. I’m not sure.
I do recall, however, her asking me if she would like it if she would come from Halifax to attend the funeral. As much as Mom had prepared everything to the point that it was almost as easy as just pressing a button to start all the funeral arrangements, I still felt overwhelmed by family and all of Mom’s friends that I feared I would hardly have time to see her if she came. “However,” I said, “I would have a favour to ask, but you can always say No.” And I sprung The Idea on her. “Gladly,” she said. “I can’t believe this even needs to be said to him.”
So the die were cast. But judging from what happened (or didn’t) in the two years that followed, my reasons for thinking initially that it wasn’t a good idea may not have been far off the mark. Except that while it may have been the cherry on the proverbial sundae, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what else may have led to the strain in our friendship.
* * * * * * *
If you’re trying to figure out the math, here it is: When I returned to Montreal after the funeral, Week Six of the Paint Job from Hell was beginning, and after going back today to check messages we exchanged back then, it even went into a partial Week Seven, which I had completed forgotten about! Granted, when Week Six began, the job was much further ahead than the last time I arrived, but Sweet Sam, whom I suckered into helping me the night I arrived to bring up an awkward piece of furniture I inherited from home, was outraged by what he saw. I was just too exhausted and grief striken to muster up any more outrage. I just longed to have my cocoon back and understood more than ever why I prefer spending so much time alone rather than having to deal with people.
After the move in February, I had asked him if he’d agree to me hiring him to clean the apartment every two weeks and, again, he had accepted. So I asked him on what I gather now was the beginning of Week Seven if he’d consent to a post-painting “double cleaning” for an extra 80 bucks. Having resumed work, I then had to make a call and thus enclosed myself into the office; when the call ended and I stepped out of the office, I discovered that he had left. A few hours later he sent me a message, but along with an apology for having left without letting me know, he was refusing the “double cleaning” offer. But what poisoned the message and the apology was this line: “The circumstances of the past 6 weeks have been stressful for you but they haven’t spared me either and that is why I want to separate my work from my friendships…”
Even though I was all by myself reading this message, I felt like I was surrounded by an invisible jury asking me in unison, “So what did your last slave die of?”
* * * * * * *
This may come as a surprise to some, but in eight years of living in Montreal, I have made precisely one true friend: Sweet Sam. I have made two or three “more than acquaintances but less than friends,” but since sending back NowEx to Mexico seven years ago this week, I’ve been guilty of closing in on myself and, despite knowing that I shouldn’t, even declining some social invitations. (Right, Richard?)
As much as astrology is bullshit, I do like that they say that a Leo is fiercely loyal. That I am. And if I come to trust someone as a friend, I will open up to the verge of making myself vulnerable. So when a falling out happens in one of my few friendships, it really, really hurts.
Meanwhile, back during my short stint of therapy in 2011, I learned that I can take criticism as long as it’s justified, but I constantly struggle trying to figure out what is justified and what is not. I also learned that being bullied from a very young age for being a “faggot” has fostered in me a deep sense of outrage when something is not right or not fair, and as a result I always question myself about whether or not I’m treating others right — especially friends. And if a friend ascribes or suspects non-existant motives to actions I pose or things I say, that, too, really, really hurts.
Did I fuck him over? Did I short-change him into painting a roughly 725 square-feet apartment? Not according to the multiple people I asked and what I saw online. But then if someone receives value X for a job that others claim should take time T but then that someone takes T * 6 to do the job, who’s at fault if fault there is: the “employer” or the “employee”?
That line of inquiry seemed like a dead end, so I then turned to conversations or “incidents” during that time besides The Call from the Queen of Sheba.
One day I drove him home (I offered) and the sky ripped open once we hit the Ville-Marie Expressway. The next day he told me that he considered it a “white-knuckle drive” and he’d rather just take the metro thereafter. He felt uncomforable with my driving — he’s not the first one! — but knowing that I was in control at all times, I agreed that it was his problem and I didn’t offer again to drive him home, letting him take the metro instead.
I also remember how his partner didn’t seem to know what to make of me. Yeah, Cleopatrick and I had been a couple once …20 freakin’ years ago! Been there, done him, not interested in that anymore, not even remotely!
One thing that always bothers me beyond this undercurrent of jealousy or mistrust (if that’s what it is) is seeing a friend having to constantly report back on his whereabouts to his partner, or hearing of a partner getting tremendously upset that my friend returned home considerably later than he initially expected. And it’s particularly irksome when the delay was because I took my friend out for authentic Chinese food after a long day of work together, not because we decided to have a quickie for old time’s sake! You know, I’ve never, ever done that with an ex, and I’d especially not if he’s involved with someone else, so why am I always suspected of this transgression?
But one concern I did voice, which in hindsight I shouldn’t have voiced even though I believed (and still believe) was true, is how his partner seemed to be exerting the same kind of control on him as a previous ex of his used to. As his friend, I was troubled by this behaviour. And I was confused by it, too, because on the surface his partner didn’t seem like the type who’d do that. Yet what I was being told about how some events had gone down sounded like a repeated recording but with a different protagonist.
* * * * * * *
Whatever happened before and perhaps led to what I’ll call that “message of termination,” what resulted was a total discontinuation of contact.
Meanwhile, I’ll remind you, my mother died two weeks before. I had no friend in Montreal to really talk to. I had only met Sweet Sam a month and a half earlier. As kind and comforting as he was — and he really was! — he couldn’t possibly grasp the full depth of my grief as would someone who’d known me for 20 years and knew practically every detail of my relationship with my mother.
At one point I noticed that the partner had unfriended me from Facebook. Then, a year passed. Then almost another year passed, with only very rare and perfunctory messages, until May 14 of this year when I learned online that they had wed and then we had a more substantive chat through Messenger.
Then a Friday afternoon after work one month later, I read his status update: his partner had died earlier that day.
* * * * * * *
Once when my friend Da Big Goof came to visit me in Montreal a bit more than a year after Mom died, I tried to explain to him how I felt, just as I tried to explain it to you. And even as he set aside the painting fiasco, he was unequivocal as he always is: “A friend who lets you down at a time like that is no friend of yours.”
In my mind I agreed with him; in my heart I couldn’t let go and accept it.
And it didn’t help that other friends told me the same thing in their own (less blunt) way.
* * * * * * *
I called the Queen of Sheba on the night the partner/husband died, and at one point she remarked, “This is really shaking you up, isn’t it?” It was, and I really didn’t understand why. I still don’t, really, but some of the thoughts that have crossed my mind made (and make) me feel really icky, for lack of a more sophisticated word.
For one thing, how can I be indifferent to someone dying? Yes, I did have some worries; I wondered if I was the only one being cut off from Cleopatrick or if I was only an isolated case. But I also never thought the partner and now late husband was fundamentally a bad person. In fact, he had a very kind demeanour which just didn’t jive with what I was hearing about him, although I did hear of his very pragmatic (to no say “unkind”) opinions about end of life and dying. Was my perception about him completely off the mark or was there at least an ounce of truth to it? After all, juxtaposed to this thought, I couldn’t ignore Cleopatrick’s history of casting off some former friends, all on his own.
And then, of course, the mere thought of someone losing a loved one still strikes a very raw nerve in me. I know how badly it hurts. When it happens to a friend, there’s no question about how one is expected to be there; it just comes naturally. Except that didn’t come with Cleopatrick when my mother died, so what the hell am I suppose to do with this?
Then followed the darker thoughts, thoughts I feel ashamed to have thought, thoughts so unspeakably dark that they would be denied even though they may have been thought. I don’t doubt for an instant that those two loved each other very much, and in this case, until the end. But the fact remains that marriage among “commoners” like us is fundamentally an instrument to regulate property rights and onto which the notion of “love” has been attached only in the last few centuries. Love is not a condition of marriage under the law, and until a century ago in our Western societies, women were the property of men. In this case, someone’s property rights got a healthy boost, and it ain’t the dead man’s. However, deep down, I suspect that the idea of marriage was initiated by the dead man when his sad prognostic came down.
* * * * * * *
I think the fact I’ve just written such a long post is a testament to just how much I felt hurt and betrayed not to have Cleopatrick’s friendship when Mom died. But more troubling to me is how I reacted to his husband’s death.
It posed an obvious dilemma, as I couldn’t see myself behaving as he had despite what had gone down in the last two years. But then I would remember my history of lurching myself into “rescue missions,” although I think I’ve managed to control that impulse since I’ve gone through therapy. Then I was reminded of how he’d been the recipient of such rescue missions, for better or for worse, and I wondered if — perhaps feared that — this might be THE event that would draw me into a relapse.
More than two months have passed, though, and he never called back. I figure that the ball is in his court: I signalled that I would be there if he wanted me to be. He may have fallen back on his family, his late husband’s family, and their mutual friends, and that’s more than okay. But did he not call me back because he’s still “mad” at me or because somewhere inside him he realizes, now that he’s having to grieve a loved one, that he abandoned our friendship when I needed it the most?
I have other thoughts and questions like that, but better to just leave them unwritten. I just didn’t think that I would still have to deal with such situations at age 51.
Oh blog, oh blog! For two-and-a-half years I’ve abandoned you but, despite appearances, I’ve missed you. I thought often about coming back to you but, for whatever reason, I never did. Until today.
People don’t blog like they used to when you were born, aMMusing. Now it’s all Facebook and Twitter. It’s not the same. Even the term “blog” doesn’t mean what it used to mean back in 2002. Then again, it didn’t mean one single thing back then, either. But when big corporations like the one I work for began having “blogs,” you just knew that the spirit would be taken out of it. When McDonalds opens up in a quirky and funky neighbourhood — I’m looking at you, Spring Garden Road in Halifax — the quirkiness and funkiness disappear.
Coronation Street‘s Mary Taylor was once made to say, without a hint of irony, “I avoid clichés like the plague!” Likewise, but with irony, I say that so much water has gone under the bridge in those 2+ years.
Mom has died. On Canada Day 2014 — July 1. I returned to work shortly after, as in less than a week after her funeral. A few weeks after that, I looked into buying a few extra weeks’ vacation so that I could maybe spend that time at some bed-and-breakfast, perhaps on Cape Cod or Fire Island — the loonie hadn’t tanked yet — and write in this blog. But I was denied permission to do so. Had I gone to a shrink to get an order to take some time off, then my employer would have allowed it. But, having already put my cards on the table, I couldn’t bring myself to do that, as it felt disingenuous to me.
Then yesterday after work, I signed onto Facebook and got some news that profoundly shocked me. That single bit of news has dredged up so, so much… And here I am finding myself coming back to you today, aMMusing. Mom’s death didn’t manage to make me do that; someone else’s did …although events and circumstances have made sure that the two cannot be disassociated.
It’s a hot mess in my head. Thoughts that, on the surface, have no relation to each other are somehow all interconnected. So here I am back to you today, aMMusing, hoping you can help me sort it all out with a few posts. And hoping as well that I won’t stop again for another two-and-half years.
Usually, when we hear the phrase “anger management,” we think of someone who is set off easily as a result of someone else’s actual or perceived actions. Also, when that phrase is used, it often serves to indicate that the violence or destructiveness of the person’s outbursts need to be put in check. However, I believe there are cases when one’s anger is triggered by one’s own actions and, once called out on them, the “management” that’s required is in fact to take a long, hard look at one’s self.
In his blog entry last week, Torn referred to his feelings of sadness as a result of “a falling out of sorts with [his] longtime friends,” adding that he “take[s] such things particularly badly since I don’t have very many friends and the ones I do have I keep forever.” Little did I know I would find myself in a similar situation a few days later, although I choose to hope that not all is lost and that we will be able to talk things through eventually.
That being said, I am, for now, extremely angry with myself. Some of my actions that have caused the rift simply can’t be explained away, and that’s what’s causing the anger in me. Some other of my actions, compounded to those that are inexcusable, were interpreted in a way as to give them intentions or meaning they didn’t carry. But my anger with myself has been eating at me all day and will probably continue to do so for a while because, as I work on identifying the root causes of my actions in order to avoid them in the future, I can’t help shake the feeling that this exercise in itself may seem like a massive rationalization. Not even this blog can provide me a safe environment to expose the many, many thoughts that have been roaming through my head all day.
Along with anger at myself, there’s a huge dose of sadness for having made some friends feel as they do. Sadness and shame, actually. While never my intention, the consequences are the same. And the many thoughts I can’t expose here or to anyone are pushing me to look far beyond the situation at hand.
Ten years ago tonight, after a few months’ hesitation, I turned off the TV, went to my office, downloaded and installed Moveable Type, and started blogging. I didn’t even have a name for my blog when I started the installation, so I guess even the monicker aMMusing is turning 10 tonight. But one thing’s for sure: I didn’t think this blog would still exist 10 years later.
Me: Hi. My name is Maurice and I’m a reluctant blogger.
Chorus: Hi Maurice!
Those were my opening lines on December 17, 2002. Indeed, I had reluctantly decided to become a participant in a phenomenon that had started a few years back in the U.S. but that hadn’t really caught on yet in Canada, let alone in Halifax where I was living at the time. However, as someone who has always enjoyed writing, I knew that blogging would be a natural fit for me, but then, as now, I also worried about whether or not it was such a good idea to post what essentially amounts to an online diary within such a public space. Plus, I wondered if I would run out of things to say or if anyone would actually be interested in what I wanted to say.
Like many new bloggers at the time I started enthusiastically, posting daily and sometimes several times daily. Then, after a few months, I would skip a day or two; eventually, over the decade, I would abandon my blog for months, leading me and others to wonder if aMMusing had come to its “natural end.” But, for whatever reason, I simply could never bring myself to definitely throw in the towel. I simply couldn’t, even though other online phenomena like social networking sites had widely replaced the blogosphere and even though the unique ambiance that existed within the blogosphere disintegrated when marketers decided that companies, not people, should “have a blog.” It was like how the magic in a special neighbourhood disappears once the merchants’ association breaks down and allows Mickey D to open an outlet on the best corner of said neighbourhood.
When I look at what I wrote in aMMusing in the last decade, I marvel at all that has happened and all that has changed. But, at the same time, I find slightly disturbing not just what hasn’t changed but also what themes, ideas and regrets recurred through the decade and even before then. It’s enough to make me wonder if I’m just a hopeless creature of habit or a stubborn soul who keeps refusing to learn his karmic lessons.
Last night I spent several hours rereading some of my postings. I’ve written nearly 1,300 in 10 years, so it would take a long time to read them all …not that I would really want to do that. However, I’m glad they’re all there. A handful has become so trivial that I’m not sure anymore what the posting is about, but most still have some resonance.
I was glad to find the postings leading to and following my father’s passing. Unbelievably, it’ll be nine years already next March since he left us. It was a watermark event to be sure, but my exact thoughts and feelings of the moment would be lost today had I not written them down. Indeed, the memories today would be vague if it weren’t for those records.
But aside from such pivotal events, I’m struck by how often I’ve expressed sentiments of inertia — of wanting to change or lose a habit, for instance, and finding that it’s essentially still there, just like it was in 2002. A decade ago, I struggled just as I do now with my tendency not to want to socialize but feeling that I’m missing out on something. And certainly not due to lack of trying, but I’m still single and, perhaps, even more likely to remain that way — not because I’m feeling that NowEx has burnt me, but because I’m coming to realize that perhaps I don’t have the temperament or the personality to be otherwise.
On the other hand, when I look back at a decade of aMMusing, not all is as bleak. In fact, had it been all bleak, I probably would have abandonned it long ago! On the contrary, for the most part, aMMusing has been a source of pleasure and fun. It has allowed me to get to know some people I otherwise would probably never have met. It has allowed me to vent, to “think out loud,” and to tell little stories about an ordinary guy’s life. It has even helped me make decisions, like finally getting off my duff and moving to Montréal.
So to that — because of the overwhelming good — I say “Cheers to aMMusing!” And who knows: Perhaps I’ll be posting a similar entry on December 17, 2022…