The 1,763-Day Weekend
Part 13 — Brokemyback Vacation
The proverbial camel’s back got broken during our trip to Halifax later that summer. Every minute of that trip was wretched when it wasn’t ghastly. So I’m really having to be selective here.
It was my summer vacation. My mother wouldn’t be in Moncton at that time, but I hadn’t been back to Halifax since I’d moved to Montréal some 16 months earlier. I missed my friends back there! Plus, since we’d been spending a lot of money — we just had to — this vacation had to be modest. I truly hate(d) bringing up the topic of money (again), but the fact is that it’s inevitable. Money, or lack thereof, dictates our choices. Period, full stop.
Let’s go back to the point-form format because I can’t think of a better way to get through this crap. And remember: This is only a selection of events because, I tell ya, the entire trip was a lark a minute and I’ve suppressed some of the details.
- Let’s Speak Spanish Because Dumbo Won’t Understand
NowEx never “got” the Queen of Sheba and, as a consequence, he never liked her. In fact, he despised her, this despite how generous and kind she was towards him (and us for hosting our wedding) and despite how, as she told me much later, there were things about him she didn’t like but overlooked for my sake (for “Mine Maurice,” as she calls me). Therefore, he really didn’t like that I’d arranged for us to stay with the Queen and the Grand Poobah of Culinary Delights while in Halifax. He would have preferred that we stayed with the Queen’s daughter, La Chelita, but I knew she didn’t have a spare couch for two and, besides, as much as I love having her visit me in Montréal, it just made more sense for us to “hold court” with my pal, the Queen.
NowEx had had an enormous bee in his bonnet over Cleopatrick the day before we were to leave and had decided to go cool off his heels up the hill on the grounds of the Oratoire Saint Joseph. Back home that evening and while I was at my computer in the office, he took the laptop to the bedroom and called via Skype his roommate and good friend back in Mexico City — ironically, the same guy who’d spoiled my Skype/wedding surprise.
They were chatting away in Spanish as usual and not at all speaking in hushed tones, even though NowEx was essentially complaining about how that vile Cleopatrick “molested” him (inside joke for those of you who know some Spanish) as well as how he dreaded our upcoming trip — stuff like what a horrible place Halifax is, how far it is, how we’d be staying with the Queen (the emphasis he placed on the Queen’s name left no doubt about how much he disliked her), but then what was he to do: it’s Maurice’s vacation, after all. In other words, NowEx didn’t even attempt to speak in hushed tones because he assumed, because I still had trouble speaking back in Spanish, that I didn’t understand what he was saying.
That stung. Badly. It confirmed to me that, sometimes — maybe even most times — he was very contemptuous of me.
- Yore My Huzband!
We got in the car very early the next morning and he was hardly speaking: the bee in his bonnet over Cleopatrick had come back with a vengeance, and that was evident the moment he got out of bed. I think it was all over something silly like some yogurt or cheese Cleopatrick had eaten but that NowEx had planned to take along on the trip.
Anyway, and I’m not making this up: for one hour, until well beyond Saint-Hyacinthe, he screamed/lectured at me in the car. Remember his hyper-happy state as we were leaving Toronto? Same thing, only in reverse, and five times more intense if you can imagine that.
Of all the crap he spewed out, there’s one line he repeated several times almost like a punctuation mark before the next volley, a line that I’ll always hear resonating in my ear until the day I die: “Yore my huzband!” He was forcing an ultimatum on me as I was busy driving: he wanted me to call Cleopatrick as soon as we got to Halifax to tell him that he was kicked out of the apartment as of immediately and he had to be out by the time we got back to Montréal. In other words, he was forcing me to choose between a good friend of more than 15 years and him — my huzband. Now before you pass judgement and declare that maybe he had a point, I want you to consider two things:
- Forcing an ultimatum can never good, especially while the forced party is driving 100 km/h down a highway to reach a certain point at an agreed-upon time (see below).
- I wasn’t blind to the fact that he was clearly trying to cut me off all my friends, while I had to embrace (or reject) all of his friends (depending on his opinion of them on any given day).
The only word I got in edgewise was at the very beginning, just as I was stepping out of the car to get myself a coffee at the Tim Horton’s down our street. “Look,” I said, “if you don’t want to go on this trip because we’re staying at the Queen’s and Halifax is such a dreary place and what not, then I’m not forcing you to come and I can reverse a block to bring you back home.” But of course he refused that option, as it would have meant him staying with Cleopatrick, without me there to prevent him from murdering him (although I hasten to add that he didn’t actually threaten to do that …I’m just exercising my artistic license and using a little imagination).
- Forcing an ultimatum can never good, especially while the forced party is driving 100 km/h down a highway to reach a certain point at an agreed-upon time (see below).
- A Lovely Family Gathering …NOT!
The reason my mother would not be in Moncton is because my brother and sister-in-law in Moncton were coming to stay in our apartment in Montréal and were driving her up to Rivière-du-Loup so she could visit her sister. Given that my other brother lives in Grand Falls, we’d decided as a family to all meet at the Irving Big Stop just outside that town. This was going to be the first time my family (except my mom) would be meeting NowEx, so we were both feeling a little tense about that.
My Moncton brother and S.I.L. had stayed at the apartment the previous July while I was in Mexico. They not only got to meet Cleopatrick, but they had had a really good time with him and they became very fond of him. In fact, by this point, even though Cleopatrick wasn’t my partner, much less my huzband, my family started to view him not merely as my friend but as a distant relative.
Now remember the ultimatum I’d been given driving out of Montréal? I knew for sure as we were getting closer to Grand Falls that my mom, both my S.I.L.s and my Moncton brother would be asking after Cleopatrick. What’s more, I wondered if it would be feasible for me to take my Moncton brother aside and talk to him about what had transpired a few hours back. But in the end, I didn’t.
Meanwhile, a few weeks before, the Harper Conservative government had decided to impose visas on visiting Mexicans due to their country being the largest single source of illegitimate refugee claimants to Canada. NowEx was furious when the news broke; I didn’t agree with it, but I saw a speck of a reason why it came about. Minutes before we were to arrive at the Big Stop — I was still tense about how Cleopatrick’s name was probably going to be brought up — NowEx declared, “They better not talk about that visas on Mexico stuff, because I could get angry.”
But of course, my Grand Falls brother, going out of his way to make polite conversation with the brother-in-law he had just met, asked him if and how the visa thing was affecting him. “You’re lucky you got into the country before it got imposed,” my brother kept repeating. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to get him to drop the topic and I didn’t dare look at NowEx. It was only last summer that I told my Moncton brother and S.I.L. how tense that dinner had been for me, to which my S.I.L. said, “You know, I felt that there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was.”
Oh, and by the way, yes, of course the family did ask after Cleopatrick, except that may have helped turn the thermostat down a notch. The next morning at the Queen’s, NowEx came into the bathroom as I was stepping out of the shower. He suggested I not call Cleopatrick; instead, the ultimatum got amended so that I could tell him in person when we’d get back to Montréal and give him as much time as he needed to find a place. That was awfully big of him, wasn’t it? But all kidding aside, I always wondered if my family, without knowing, caused that amendment to the ultimatum.
- 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
I like driving and I’m pretty relaxed behind the wheel. I also have pretty good endurance, as demonstrated by the fact that I was driving from Montréal to Halifax in a single day and managed to resist the urge despite all that had happened that day to crash the car in order to put an abrupt but decisive end to what was already turning out to be the most miserable vacation of my life.
For I failed to tell you that we arrived much later than expected at the family lunch because NowEx had insisted that we stop at a gas station before Grand Falls so that he could comb his hair — in other words, to powder his nose — before meeting the family. Okay fine, he was nervous about meeting the in-laws; I’ll give him that much… But the thing is, I’d married a dude …or so I thought …and here I was realizing that I was having to put up with the same whims as my brothers who’d married chicks! But now that I’ve admitted to having had that thought, I don’t want anybody to think that this realization on my part became the grounds for my divorce. Please simply file under “Just Sayin’.”
Then, back on the road after the family lunch, he was afflicted by a toothache and we had to stop again in Woodstock to find a drugstore where I got him the same stuff one would apply in a baby’s mouth when it’s teething. (Actually, the thought that I had to take care of a big baby is making me giggle right now.) All this to say we had less than an hour’s daylight left by the time we reached the Irving Big Stop in Salisbury, just outside Moncton, so our ETA in Halifax had been blown clear out of the water; therefore, we stopped for gas and I called our hosts to give them our new ETA.
It normally takes just under three hours to cover Moncton to Halifax. It had already been a long, long day. NowEx suggested doing some Spanish drills to keep me alert — numbers, Q&As, stuff like that — and I agreed. I mean, why not? Except I hadn’t counted on doing that for all of the next three hours.
He simply didn’t know when to stop! Anyone with even only an ounce of empathy would have been able to see that the game was starting to adversely affect the driver’s driving (not to mention how a driver’s pleas to stop should always be respected). But then I remembered how he’d been fired from a tutoring gig a few months back in Mexico.
His pupil had been some Yankee VP at the General Motors plant in Mexico City. Since the material that was being used for study purposes was a song, NowEx had insisted that the VP sing the lyrics as a means of picking up the new vocabulary in its intended context. The VP refused to sing, but NowEx insisted. And insisted.
I had to bite my tongue when NowEx reported back to me during one of our Skype conversations how he couldn’t comprehend how his behaviour had led not only to his firing but also to his (former) employer almost losing its entire contract with GM. He thought that the VP was just another uptight Yankee cabrón who got off on throwing his weight around, oppressing workers, and generally stirring up shit. And here I was, driving at about 10 p.m. a few months later after being on the road since 7 a.m. that day, and being forced to count into the thousands in Spanish and answering, in full sentences, questions like “What is the capital city of Honduras?”
I would love to meet that Yankee VP from GM to share this anecdote. I think I had it 10 times worse than him because [a] I was a captive audience and [b] I couldn’t call back Mexico to ask that my husband be fired like he could call the school to ask that he never again see that pushy, rude, long-haired tutor. Brownie points for him for not signing, too.
- Racism Versus Assholism
We went for fish and chips at what used to be my neighbourhood joint when I lived in Halifax, which Muammar Gonedaffy had bought out a few years before I left. At the time, the restaurant was still housed on the bottom floor of a two-storey house, the top floor being Muammar’s residence. One had to go up the same stairs leading to the apartment to use the washroom, so the standing courtesy, even though the washroom sign was above the door, was to ask before going up. But NowEx, having to pee badly and whose attitude in general seems to be that the world is a bowl of cherries for his picking, dashed to the door leading upstairs.
Since I’d left Halifax, Muammar “imported” and married himself a wife from Lebanon, who was working behind the counter. I was walking toward the counter to greet Muammar when Wifey hollered toward NowEx whom she didn’t recognize, “Where are you going? You can’t go up there!” Muammar quickly intervened: “It’s okay, it’s my friend Maurice,” so Wifey went from pitbull to all smiles and waved to NowEx to go ahead.
When we sat to eat our food, I could see that NowEx had slumped into one of his furious moods. “That racist bitch,” he started. “To make it worse, she’s an immigrant herself. But when she was told that I was with ‘Maurice,’ everything was okay then.”
This is one incident NowEx never forgot and never let go, but with which I never agreed with him. “As far as I’m concerned, it was a case of two immigrants in my country behaving badly toward each other,” I told him. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it; however, NowEx’s version of the same story was how this incident confirmed Halifax as the most racist place he’d ever been.
- The Crazy Orchid Chase
Despite hating the Queen with all his might, NowEx suggested a few days before leaving that perhaps we should bring a little gift from Montréal for our hosts. I thought it was a good idea, but given that I’m so lousy at thinking of an appropriate gift, I suggested that we wait until we get to Halifax to look around the house and come up with an idea that way.
Seeing their lovely garden at the back of their home and the many house plants they had, NowEx very soon came up with an idea: a plant, but not just any plant: an orchid. But, he also wanted to see the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Pier 21, as well as see my other friends (whom he happened to like, although even that’s a big word with him and I should probably say, ‘whom he didn’t actively dislike’). So, it was something like the Thursday by the time we got around to shopping for the orchid.
Except for one day, when we went to Crystal Crescent Beach, it rained every day we were there, and on that Thursday, the downpour was monsoon-like. But that’s not the worst part: just like I didn’t know that it’s next to impossible to buy winter clothes in February in Halifax, it’s next to impossible to find a potted orchid in the middle of the summer in Halifax because people are preoccupied with their outdoor garden at the time of year.
Let me use a bit of shorthand here. Instead of “we went to four clothing stores and came out empty-handed,” substitute with “flower shops” and you have the same scenario as February ’08. Then add the pouring rain and NowEx’s newfound sense of empowerment that screaming at me will get him what he wants: I was “once again” guilty of putting everything off to the last minute, not to mention not knowing anything. When I started thinking we’d never find a potted orchid, I suggested we might just have to get another kind of plant that would be just as lovely, but wooooooo! “You don’t understand!” he screamed. “The orchid is the queen of all flowers!”
By the grace of Dog, the owner of a North End flower shop which didn’t have even the seed of an orchid told us to go to the SuperStore on Joseph Howe Drive because the florist there has some year-round, and indeed she did. We brought home the $35 orchid with almost as much care and precaution as the most precious of cargo, whereupon NowEx burst forth into our hosts’ house, with me trailing behind him to hold the umbrella, to present — and go on and on and on about — the treasure for the Queen.
“I just wanted to throw up,” the Queen told me several weeks later with her trademark deadpan delivery. “I was at my wit’s end with NowEx by that point and here I saw you two barge into my house with that fucking orchid, which I knew you’d paid for, and I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t you just throw the fucking money on the table, for what it’s worth to me?'”
For you see, the Queen and I never exchanged gifts; it’s just not what we do. I also knew that receiving flowers was a sore point for her, but I remembered it was in the context of cut flowers from a lover, which for her had become code for “I fucked up.” However, I had thought that since she frequently bought herself flowers from the market and the fact they did have house plants, this stupid orchid would pass the test.
But it wasn’t about that in this case. What got on her tits was how she felt by that point of our visit that NowEx had me wrapped around his little finger and I was simply saying yes to trips to Toronto, to this, to that — to whatever he wanted! “When did you become Mister Moneybags?” she thought when we delievered the orchid but only asked me after I’d sent NowEx back to Mexico. To that I protested, “Oh, come on! It was only 35 bucks!” To which she replied, “Precisely! Since when has 35 bucks been nothing to you?” This was coming from a woman who had seen me struggle with barely a pot to piss in almost the whole time she’d known me, and to her, just as I was finally getting my head above water, I got snagged by someone whom she deemed, at best, an opportunist.
After we’d left Halifax, the Queen gave the orchid to Miss Millie — yes, my former and the Queen’s current cleaning lady. Millie’s green thumb is legendary for miles around and the Queen couldn’t stand seeing that stupid orchid in her house, especially after what happened two days later, after which the thing arrogantly stood as a symbol of sadness and worry. So she gave it to Millie to get the damn thing out of her sight. I howled with laughter when I heard this news because NowEx had hated Millie on sight, calling her La Bruja de Halifax (The Witch of Halifax) based solely on her appearance. That the goddamn orchid should land in Millie’s hands was beyond rich.
Maybe only Dog or the Devil knows the answer to this riddle: Miss Millie’s legendary green thumb mysteriously failed and she killed the orchid within a matter of days.
- Get Me Out of This Fucking Town NOW!
Finally we come to THE breaking point, the moment when the irreparable damage was done, the scene that turned out to be Act I of How to Begin Divorce Proceedings Without Using the Word ‘Divorce’.
It was the day before we were to head back to Montréal, the Saturday of the Pride parade in Halifax, and again it was raining or verging on rain. NowEx and I had had a row the night before — or, should I say more accurately, he had had a row with me, for I hardly talked back — and he was still in our room even though it was nearing noon while I was downstairs with the Queen and the Grand Poobah who were having breakfast and were deciding to skip the parade this year. That’s when NowEx beckoned me from the top of the stairs: “Maurice, can you can up, please…”
I went up and, from the top of the stairs, I could see him standing by the window in our room, on the other side of the bed. I walked into the room, whereupon he ordered me to close the door, and as soon as I did, he viciously said as he was wagging his finger at me, “Get me out of this fucking town NOW!”
Any colour I had in my face must have flushed out as I felt that invisible cloud of heat rise over my head, and I slowly sat on the edge of the bed as he continued making his demand based on what a “fucking racist” place Halifax is. As I sat there, all I could think of is how we were to leave anyway in less than a day. Moreover, the “constantly in negotiation” mindset I’d developed for NowEx began evaluating which option would be easier for everybody involved: stand my ground and refuse, which would make our last 18 hours in Halifax beyond uncomfortable for everybody, or quickly pack our stuff and leave for a 16-hour car drive I hadn’t anticipated for that day.
I can still see my therapist Lucy’s face when I told her about this incident two years after the fact. “WHAT?!” she exclaimed. “You actually packed up and left?” Then she paused before saying, “Interesting you said ‘which would be easier’… And we know by now you’ll do anything to make things easier for everyone else but yourself, and prolonging the scene for everyone to witness wasn’t the easier option…”
Yup, she was right! I chose to bend because, in that split-second decision, it seemed the better choice for all parties involved. Despite the impossible position in which NowEx had just placed me, all I could think of is that he had no option and that *I* had placed him in that situation — *I* had brought him to Halifax. He was completely reliant on me financially, so he couldn’t just storm off to the airport and get on a plane back to Montréal, where besides he’d have to face the despised Cleopatrick once there. I didn’t have a good option from which to choose. My choice was bad, worse and worst.
We had some dishes we’d picked up on the side of McCully Street a few days earlier, so I went downstairs where the Queen was still sitting at the end of her dining room table, reading the paper. Knowing something was wrong, she looked up at me, standing at the opposite end of the table, and with my voice trembling despite my best efforts, I said, “Change of plans… We’re leaving within the next 15 minutes. Do you have some scrap newspaper so we can wrap those dishes we found?”
She jumped out of her seat, came over to me, and took me in her arms. I felt my shoulders stiff and numb, standing there in her arms, and I think we were both saying in a vain attempt to sooth things over, “It’s okay… It’s okay…”
The next thing I remember is that NowEx and I were packing the car a few minutes later, after the Queen of Mexico (NowEx) and the Queen of Sheba had locked their implicit tiaras for the last time by exchanging the most mutually insincere goodbye imaginable. Normally the (real) Queen would be standing at her door to see people off, but not this time. Just as I was about to get behind the wheel, I felt the Queen’s house keys in my pant pocket and rushed back inside.
“I almost forgot to give you back the keys…”
The Queen was standing at the foot of the stairs, enormous tears streaming down her cheeks.
My heart sank. The Queen and I know each other too well. We didn’t need to say anything. She wasn’t crying because of our storming off per se. She was crying because she knew, from experience, what was really happening, and I saw in her eyes that she knew.
“Mine Maurice” was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and it broke her heart to pieces.