Bailey's Winter Coat
I drifted in and out of sleep, waking only once with the panic of feeling like I was having a bad dream (and that dream was in fact my own reality). Instead of being woken by my step-children, I was greeted with a tiny dog that looks like Samuel L. Jackson crash-landing on my sternum. In a flurry of slimy dog kisses and the faint aroma of corn chips I regained my bearings and rubbed the sleep from my eyes.
I quickly realized that my low-carb, high protein lifestyle does not match my parent’s peanut butter and jam toast for breakfast routine. At least coffee is universal and the grocery store is on the corner.
As I woke up slowly, instead of packing tiny lunches, I opened email after email from concerned friends. Some who I’ve known for years and who really are my family, some who I barely know at all who wanted me to know that I was loved. This made it possible to imagine the next few steps in my day with some measure of lightness in my heart.
My parents insist on keeping their home like a meat locker. Thankfully, it’s a cozy home, despite this sub-zero climate. I donned my fingerless mitts to hunch over my computer like some red-headed lady Bob Cratchet.
Cooking is path that leads to happiness. There will be cooking in my future, and I’ll be diligent about sharing recipes here. We can call it the “Broken Hearted Feast”. Then I’ll publish it like a cookbook and make millions of dollars. Don’t steal that.
I’ve just done some actual Coquettes work to set a client up with everything she needs to convince her board to let us show our tatas in Owen Sound. Fingers crossed.
Before that, I took my mom’s ridiculous little dog for a walk around my old hood. He has a new winter coat which he seems to be terrified of. I think with firm patience I’ve broken him of this paralyzing fear, because his little legs finally got moving and he was able to make a poop. Tiny victories.
This simple stroll around the block was a snapshot of my entire life in The Hammer. My parents have had the same house since 1975. I think their refusal to move had less to do with economics and more to do with their desire to give my brother and I the stable home that neither of them really had as children. They live in a complex of townhouses, and I think they are one of three original homeowners who remain here from the glory days.
When they bought the house it was a promising little suburb surrounded by orchards and farm fields. Now, it’s The Hood. Two clusters of low-income apartment buildings sprung up, and the neighbourhood deteriorated accordingly. This place went from a sea of kids who were similar in age to a land with few children who could speak the same language, blue collar workers, and immigrants who are trying to get a foothold in their new life.
As I grew older, the parks and playgrounds got meaner. Used condoms, hypodermic needles, shifty, greasy men in dark corners, strangers with slow-moving cars, crack dealing public school thugs and angry girls with babies in their tummies became more and more common.
The family-minded neighbourhood die-hards stood their ground. There is a handful of home owners who insist on maintaining pristine gardens that they tend with love (my mother is one of these). One of the low-income housing buildings even takes up a tenant fund to create a glorious landscape of hollyhocks and snapdragons each summer. Some of the people in this neighbourhood have real pride in where they live, and a great number of our neighbours are one welfare cheque away from having nowhere to live at all.
Welfare cheque days were the most dangerous in this neighbourhood growing up. From what my parents have told me, the new immigrant population has now outnumbered the white trash conglomerate, so things aren’t as exciting as they used to be. I clearly recall Friday evenings spent dodging beer bottles soaring from balconies across the street, parties that lasted two days with the strains of Waylon Jennings floating from open screenless windows, and the police here, in multiples of three from 9pm until way past my bed time.
And yet, my mom and dad managed to carve out a little oasis.
Now, my old school is an adult learning centre. The public school next door to where my school was shares it’s massive field with a recreation centre and fully-loaded playground, and there’s a cricket field, soccer field, and cluster of benches under a group of trees where the Sikh gentlemen sit conversing and sharing food year-round when the weather permits.
Bailey wore his powder blue and silver coat, and I floated along my route to school and my usual trick or treat route in a cream-coloured Calvin Klein coat, a brown Valentino scarf, my Coach sunglasses and a vintage fur hat. The men I encountered were ruddy-faced middle aged white men who seemed to have nowhere to go, and the women I saw were scale tipping ladies and girls who poured themselves into jogging pants with words written across the bum. And of course the Sikh gentlemen.
My point here is not to establish status. My designer articles are things I loved that are the product of my extraordinary ability to source mad bargains. I don’t spend insane amounts of money on clothes and accessories. My point is to illustrate that in this place, since I was six, I have always felt like a stranger in a strange land. How many other twelve year olds have had a collection of signature scarves?
As has always been the case, I felt everyone I encountered eyeballing me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve grown so comfortable in the spotlight in my adulthood? Embracing the attention has certainly been useful in my life.
Our therapist made a very astute observation yesterday that I hadn’t even arrived at yet. My experience of the relationship I was trying so hard at was that no matter what, I would always be the outsider. I’ve felt like an outsider for my entire life and have experienced some real pain and feelings of inadequacy as a result. My struggle to belong has shaped me as an individual, and the pain of struggling for acceptance in the context of my relationship was simply too great.
I regret deeply all the hurt my honesty has caused. There are so many people who, when faced with their own difficult truths, can brush these aside and exist in a place of denial and trying to maintain status quo. I did this once, for four years, and I promised myself to never, ever do it again. It pains me to think of my loved ones feeling so sad. We tried to do something quite unique, and we discovered some amazing things about ourselves, the complexities of love and relationship dynamics, and each other as individuals. I don’t feel like it was a failure, but rather a very necessary journey for us all. I hope that through the pain we now face each of us can hold on to that. I hope that we can hang on to the love we’ve found, in the way that mature, open-hearted, self-aware individuals can do. I also hope we can shelter our children from the complicated nature of adult relationships and cushion them through these transitions with all of the love and security they deserve.
Sadness is like a deep well right now. I have to make sure to hang on to the bucket.
I’m making dinner tonight for my parents and my brother. Here’s the menu:
Roasted Sweet Potato
Sauteed Green Beans
Braised Red Cabbage
Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Shallots
Perhaps some time in the kitchen will make me feel a little bit better.
Updates to follow.