list four: a sequence of events

  1. Last spring, Myron took off for almost three weeks in Ukraine visiting his dad’s relatives. 
  2. When he got back home, he bounced back and forth between Winnipeg and Ottawa a couple of times, and then he moved back home for good in June to start his new job while I worked on getting the house ready to sell.
  3. He missed our anniversary.
  4. He missed my reading at Blog Out Loud.
  5. He missed the terrible roofer, the terrible handyman, the day I came home from Montreal to find the front porch sloppily remade without my consent, and a dozen other home improvements.
  6. He came back for a visit, and we watched the Mars landing on the night I heard that my cousin, a young man named after my father, had been murdered. I felt so small and so unready for him to leave again.
  7. I listed the house.
  8. I went to BlissdomCanada and made some wonderful friends.
  9. The house sold. We packed and cleaned every single inch, and trudged away from it in horrifyingly freezing windy temperatures dragging suitcases along the highway the night before closing.
  10. I spent a couple of weeks in Toronto in January. 
  11. I took the train to Winnipeg and got here in February. All told, we were apart for almost seven months and it was as awful as you think.
  12. I failed at: keeping the blog going, The Month of Letters, general grownuppityness including timely email responses.
  13. I passed on a pass/fail scale at: Scintilla, being a decent friend, unpacking.
  14. I rocked at: wall painting, coconut curry chicken, getting Myron out of the house for fun things.
  15. I started to write again.
  16. I ate a shawarma that put every single Ottawa shawarma I ever had to shame, and I do not exaggerate about shawarma.
  17. I waited at my father-in-law’s side in a hospital and realized that I was part of this family in a way I’d never realized it before.
  18. Today, June 18, around fourteen months since he sent it, a postcard from Myron’s Ukraine trip showed up here, forwarded from our Ottawa address. On the back it says We’ll have a little while together, and by the time this arrives I’ll probably be away again. Never was I ever so glad for him to be wrong.

For a while now I’ve been wanting to do a year’s worth of lists a la hula seventy. And I am so behind! I’ll never do them all but I am going to do as many as I can, god damn it.

I never was smart with love.

We are another year married. There are long times when the work of marriage is exhilarating, rewarding, we-are-so-damn-good-at-this work and you remember why you said you wanted to do it every day until you died. And then there are times when your marriage will sit there and drone like a Coke machine and every once in a while you’ll give it some money and it will give you cavities and caffeine one mouthful at a time. Because it is not going away; no distributor is coming by in a fixed number of years giving you the new model Coke machine with the dollar acceptor that never spits back your wrinkly-ass dollar. Marriage is maintenance and archeology and psychology and industrial arts and home ec. It is that kind of math that Good Will Hunting did. It is all the work, and it is work on yourself and I both love and loathe work on myself. You can’t work on the other person, though. That’s their project, the same way you don’t want them messing around in your project even when they’re looking askance at you like are you going to get that done anytime this year or what? It is hard to do your project, let alone the other stuff that goes with being married, when you are broken down into your component parts and cannot reassemble yourself because there is no allen wrench for this.

It took more than I can tell you to get me to this point, right here, today, with the wherewithal to write a post that was more than a dive into my past for safe stories. It took brutal sickness, complete mental check-out, anger and more anger and so many I-give-up shrugs that I don’t even have shoulder ligaments anymore. It took every single sunny Winnipeg winter day and then it took the snow melting and purple puffball alliums coming up from the earth. It took a lot of bacon. It took me wondering what I could abandon, and who. My mind did a fucking Ironman this spring, and then it did a victory tour to Ottawa where I once again attended the inspiring Social Capital Conference (and even hosted my own roundtable discussion about group web projects) and had meals and drinks and gelatos and good talk with some  of  my  favorite  people in this entire country. It really is something to give your sanity an IV bag full of validation and camaraderie, and I don’t take it for granted.

I’m home again now, writing again at last and making small progress on the house. The bedrooms and all of the hallways in this house are a bizarre flashback to the you-wish-it-was-caramel-but-really-it’s-Cover-Girl-foundation brown walls I had in the master bedroom in my old house. To make it worse, the bedrooms here are small—1910s small—so those dingy brown walls made the rooms look even smaller. I painted the open closet of the master bedroom last month in a soft blue, but it took until now to get the bedroom walls started themselves. When I painted those words on my walls last time, tiny traces of them still showed up on the surface after multiple coats of primer and paint. I liked knowing they were there. This time I wondered what kind of love I wanted to seal into the bedroom, secret except for you, me, and the rest of the internet. 


And here’s where I get back into the beloved and beloathed work on myself. People who have been privy to the deeper hell of the past year heard me say more than once that I’ve been an open wound for almost all of it, and I’m just sick of living that way. I’m not saying I’ll never fall apart again, but I can try harder instead of being seduced by how deliciously easy it is. There is only one thing that’s going to kill me, whether it’s a tumor or a truck. Whatever it is, it’s not here today. What is the worst a person could do? Die on me? I’ve survived that. Shut me out? I’ve survived that too. Break my heart? Been there, baby. Tell my secrets? It’s been done. None of it killed me, no matter how I thought it would; I am still here, rode hard though my psyche might be. The people I love deserve all of me. They earned it for loving what was indestructible beneath that open wound. 

five from ottawa

My shoulder is at about 85%. This week is one where I have to use it extensively—I have to finish packing, and more than just a box or two at a time. The shoulder will also have to support me while I lie on my side to paint the baseboards in the entry and in the entire upstairs (three bedrooms and a bath). The sight of those baseboards over the past two months has been an indictment every time I looked at them. My ice packs are back in my freezer, just in case I beat myself up a little too much. Myron reminds me that there is no rush here, but I am sick of this purgatory, of not knowing when we will move or where or how much it will cost us. The morning chill and yellow leaves in the yard remind me of what’s coming. No one in their right mind wants to move into Winnipeg after the snow has started.


Myron does not have a Don Draper drawer. I have put off packing his office until the end because I wanted to preserve his privacy, even though there is almost nothing there to hide. A few years ago, a friend of mine lost her husband very young, and it was impossible for me to keep from imagining myself in her position, especially with the treacherous road Myron took to bike to work. I pictured myself opening a sticky, stubborn drawer of his massive desk and hearing it bark in protest that its master was gone. Now I open the drawers and wonder if any stray papers are things that I was never supposed to see. The Lifetime Drama subroutine in my brain says Gentle Man! So indulgent, so in love! Nothing to hide, not ever! Then it plays soap-operatic flights of music as Lifetime Drama subroutines do, and I think This is why the secret is always SO gutwrenching. Then I remember who I married and who I am, and I put the things in boxes and wrap them up with tape.


The rain started late Friday night. Saturday morning I woke up early to a pearly gray dawn. Three hours later, it looked the same, as if time had stopped. Five hours later, six, and still the opalescent light. Everyone hid in their homes, and the park was silent. Everything was silent, really, except the rain against the shingles and eaves. I realized that I have been waiting for a rain like this, an all-day soul-soaking rain, for months now. Something in me is breathing more easily, and something else feels washed away.


Wrapped around the capable, functional, washed-clean core of me is a double helix of panic and inevitability. Whichever crisis rises, it is immediately put down by remembering that everything is an eventuality. The house will be sold, the move will take place, it will all happen no matter how badly I might mess anything up. (Did I ever tell you about the time we filled out a form in pencil and the government employee called us you stupid kids?) It would be really great if the inevitability would hang around so that the panic would stop foaming up. I need an older gentleman, someone in his seventies who smells like coffee and mothballs, to chuck me on the shoulder and ask me what I’ve got to worry about, maybe call me toots or missy.


Maybe I should be doing more Breathing In of the Air and Appreciation of the World Around Me. Doing more mindful eating instead of eating quick half-meals, taking more photographs. Maybe I should even be trying harder to sweep aside the clouds in my crystal ball and getting a better vision of what’s to come. Not doing this feels like yet another failure, though, and right now I am trying not to be hard on myself about failures. I am trying to be an accepter and say yes, that happened and trying not to dwell. I dwell, though. I am down in it. I feel completely alone. And then in his drawer, where I try to be careful with things without being nosy, I see a photo of myself, and I wonder how I could have ever felt alone, ever, ever.


#augustbreak: forgotten

I forget things. Yesterday, I carried around this note in my back pocket, ready to pass it to Myron just before we said goodbye. I’ve still got it. Something tells me that it’ll lose a little something in mail delivery, but it won’t change the substance within.

well, well, well, my Michelle

This woman knows me better than just about anyone except Myron.

sorry about the picture-of-the-picture—scanning isn’t working today. I think this was 1992.She lives too far away from me, in the house where her grandparents lived when we were kids. I do not see her nearly enough, but the minute we are in touch with each other, miles and time melt away. She knows what I am made of, and when you are with someone who knows your building blocks, you breathe in a deep, effortless way that you cannot at any other time. I have never had to say to her Please be happy for me. It’s her default. Even when I dated someone she still calls Sonic the Hedgehog, she was happy for me.

She has often apologized to others for what I’m made of; she knows it isn’t actually as nice as it should be. “You don’t have to apologize for me,” I would say. She did it just the same. It’s because of the way she loves, which is one of those all-or-nothing loves. I never seem to issue those of my own volition; people have to drag them out of me with heavy machinery. Michelle did it with the phone.

In my childhood bedroom (another Scintilla post I have not written; blame a migraine and everyone else’s great posts which I can’t stop reading), my mother installed a powder-blue slimline phone. She mounted it on the wall and it had a shortish cord, so I had to stand up near my bedroom door to talk. This is not an ideal situation for a thirteen-year-old girl. But my mother did not think like a thirteen-year-old girl, and I was expected to be grateful for any bit of telephone I had. 

Michelle called. Did I have the homework? Did I see what X was wearing? Did I have a crush on anyone? What was I going to wear tomorrow? Did I like Bon Jovi?

Girl loved her Bon Jovi. 

I answered her questions, said Igottagobyeseeyoutomorrow, and hung up.

Years later, she laughed. “I tried! I couldn’t keep you on the phone!” I didn’t know how to have a conversation. But I put in the time in person. We did things with Girl Scouts, with choir, on our own. We laughed once for two class periods straight, uncontrollably, in tears and gasping for breath. Somehow none of our teachers sent us out of their classrooms. We double-dated; I’m still not sure which one of us was actually stuck with the guy who looked like Cousin Itt. We grieved and got drunk and stayed up too late bothering her Nana until three in the morning, sometimes all at the same time. We watched Dirty Dancing (a hundred times) and The First Nudie Musical (once was enough). We made peanut-butter rice krispie treats and pastitsio and we wore matching French maid costumes, and fought with each other while wearing them. We used our criminal minds to get away with murder all through school. We walked around the high-school track late at night singing The Mamas and the Papas and watched meteor showers from her front yard. We edited a yearbook that brought tears of pride to our adviser’s eyes.

Fourth grade, with much smaller hair. Evidently it was a Blouse Year.She shared her family with utter selflessness. During the summers I spent weeks at a time at her house, coming home for clean clothes and to prove to my mother that I was still alive. I did chores and ate meals at her table and babysat with her. We played B94 and sprayed Sun-In in our hair and sprawled on beach blankets in the sun. I basked in the love of her parents and the energy of her siblings. But it was always Michelle who gave the most, who loved hardest, who side-eyed me when I handed out bullshit, who made me feel like I was just fine as myself (even if she had to apologize to others in the process). When my brother died, it was Michelle who picked me up at the airport when I flew home, who held me and demanded nothing. When my mother was dying, she did the same. And when I got married, she drove all day to come here and stand at my side, bearing my mom’s charm bracelet. She’s family, in a way that no one else I’m actually related to can be.

At the end of Stand by Me, the adult Gordie writes: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” And no, I never did. I have had fun with other people, and shared secrets, and loved with what my heart had to give, but the love you give when you’re a child is different than any other love, wider and stronger and less judgmental. It depends on nothing and generates its own power like a star. You can apologize for it and let it collect dust and even put it away, but its power can do anything. Thirty years is nothing to a star.

(And she will know why I chose Guns & Roses for this video.)


The Scintilla Project, Day 8: Who was your childhood best friend? Describe them—what brought you together, what made you love them. Are you still friends today?