Friendship and Forgiveness.

I am currently reading “His Whole Life” by Elizabeth Hay, a novel that pits childhood coming-of-age against itself in a fury of horrible difficulties and rosy memories, exactly what a truly good coming-of-age novel should do.

In the novel, Nan, the protagonist’s mother, has a few secret shames, one involving a former friend who abandoned her when she was 11 for another girl and the two began teasing and taunting her. It is a shame that Nan never lets go of in the novel, still referring to her former friend Janet as ‘the Jerk’, still thinking back to that time with immense difficulty, still leaving out moments in her memory of pining for Janet’s attention and fruitnless invites that were never attended. Of these shames, Hay as a writer is in Nan’s shoes, saying:

Forgiveness, she was thinking, was in some terrible, overeager way a lack of curiosity. It was a big powerful hose that washed everything away… As eager to reconcile as she had been in the schoolyard and in her first marriage too. Only to think now that she should not have been so hasty. Forgiveness was the premature end to the story. She had skipped to the last page instead of reading the book through.

It’s the oddest definition of ‘forgiveness’ I’ve ever read, particularly because the word is most often painted in an extremely brazenly positive light; the idea that we can’t move on unless we forgive, that forgiveness is mercy, mercy is Christian, that you forgive for your own self so that you can move forward in life without holding onto pain or grudges. The even odder thing about this definition is it is attached to a middle-aged woman’s feelings about a ‘friend’ who had abandoned her when was 11. Eleven. An age where immaturity is expected, an age so far into this character’s past that the question becomes not about forgiveness, but about the mark such a silly incident left upon this woman’s life at all.

It does, though.

The things that friends – the people we love the most and feel closest to – do, positively or negatively, can shape the outcomes of our lives one way or another. We often don’t see it this way because we abandon friends for boyfriends and they are the first people we let go of when life gets busy or we fall into a rut or we get married or have children. We look around in these moments of drastic change and see family, spouse, partner, and not a friend in sight.

I’m a teacher. And I look at kids I have taught in junior high and high school, and they are at an age where friendship means EVERYTHING to them. Their relationships are silly and without love for the most part, and last maybe a month or two. Their parents are the enemy suddenly, as if overnight some lightning struck a space in between parent and child. But that person they shared a locker with, that person they sit with in math class, who they ride the bus with, who they tried alcohol and cigarettes with for the first time, is their soulmate. Nothing and nobody else matters really, except an over-emotional attachment to their friends. This changes when life becomes more complicated.

As I write this, I think of the former friends who I am in what I like to call ‘mutual abandonment’ with. The people who betrayed me the way Nan was betrayed in the novel; the people who robbed me of certain shreds of my own self-respect. I don’t know or care what they’re up to. I’ve opted to pull myself out of a life of cyber-stalking and jeering because to open old wounds is like false forgiveness, and it will never propel you forward. I think of a future encounter with one of those people and wonder if or how I would bother approaching such difficulties, without regrets either for doing too much, too little, or not enough.

As it stands, forgiveness is a barrier that I cannot cross, and I am unsure if I want to. Because what friends do or don’t do, is a barrier in itself. It matters. It mattered. Betrayal is something that simply does not go away overnight – the ways you betrayed as well as the ways you have been betrayed by others. There is a glorification in life and literature of ‘bffs’ – the idea that you have the same friends forever and ever and those long-standing friendships mean more than new or surfaced friendships. In some ways maybe this is true. But if the nature of those friendships is steeped in constant secrets, constant needs to apologize, constant needs to ‘forgive’ falsely or otherwise, constant needs to bury facts and feel deeply the pains of moments where someone acted outside of how they should have acted – then those friendships are not worth having at all.

I wish them well before drawing them onto parchment and burning them with a two-ended candle and throwing the ashes onto the lawn.

Rest in Peace, Chester Bennington.

I haven’t written in a while, because a lack of work and an influx of relaxation spells a decrease in inspiration to write.

I just wanted to quickly touch base about Chester Bennington’s sudden death.

It breaks my heart that there are people out there who suffer so greatly, that they feel removing themselves from lives they’ve built is their only out from the terrible debilitating pain they feel every day. Successful people, perhaps in the eyes of the every-person, ‘should’ be happy – they have everything, right? Money, success, a chance to do what they love every day and be paid handsomely for it – but the reality of depression is that if you are not happy, you are not happy, and that is that.

I have not been truly ‘depressed’ and pretending I have been is an insult to people everywhere who suffer from actual depressiion. But I have some problems with the way I see myself and how I come across to others. I have a problem internalizing painful things that have happened in my life – so often, they’re road blocks I can’t let go of. I think about them every day. I miss the past. I can’t reclaim or do anything about the past except try my best to move forward from it and erase the ghosts that are there. I will openly admit to being dumped with a high five by the first person I was ever in love with, suffering abuse as a child, failing several times at career searches and being horrible with money – a very lethal combination that has consistently gotten me in trouble and caused stress, been sexually assaulted on a Tinder date just prior to meeting my extremely loving, wonderful boyfriend and being bullied in high school for my race, my weight, my clothes, my taste in music, and anything else you can imagine. All of these things have messed me up quite a bit. I don’t consider myself someone with a mental illness (again, doing so demeans and diminishes the experiences of those who actually live with mental illness). But I’ve been through stuff.

What gets you through difficult times is whatever you choose to get you through. The support of family and friends is number 1 but it is often not enough, especially if the people who will make you feel better are far away. What has gotten me through my own struggles, has always been music. Music and writing, together or separately. Evidently, I don’t always write. But music is my constant. It is to me, what religious faith is to others.

I find it saddening that someone like Bennington, 41, has chosen to end his life early, particularly because the messages in his songs (I am most familiar with Hybrid Theory) resonate so much with people of all ages, particularly young people, who may have contemplated ending theirs. As adults, we often laugh at the angsty music we listened to as kids – I’ve in the past, made fun of Hybrid Theory and albums like it because of their dated nu-metal sound and overwrought messages and lyrics. But as a teenager, those albums are your life. They demand repeated listens because you have an outlet for the emotions you feel so deeply but are barred from expressing because of this notion that it is uncool, un-invincible, to let out what you’re feeling and truly be who you are through open doors.

Chester Bennington is a figure in music that we always took for granted would be there, that people my age have fond memories of, and who has gotten many through their own troubled times and crushing blows and depression. His was the kind of music that helped people found light because of its darkness. While yes, some of what they have done was a bit cheesy and dated and dramatic, but teenagers need that kind of music. They always have, and they always will.

So rest peacefully, Chester Bennington. And know you, nor almost anyone else on this earth, are not, and never will be alone in the world.

I hate March… or do I?

March and I have been long-standing enemies, ever since the unspeakable incidents of 2008 that I don’t need to mention again. I hate the weather, the memories, the associations, the fact that March is supposedly almost ‘spring’ and yet the last two weks in this city, there has been nothing close to spring -and all I can see around me is snow and shitty roads and gray and dark mornings. March makes me angry.

But —

Today I left the house and it was a warm wind that could only mean spring is on the horizon like a thin strip of light on the dark morning that I could just barely see on the horizon on my long, long commute to work. I was thinking about more positive memories of this month in past Marches – the ending of my teaching practicum which led to me receiving my teaching certificate; the first concert I went to with my best friend, 12 years later; spring break; coming back to outdoor running after months of leaving it (mostly) behind; and, the happiness knowing that I’ve left things behind. In lieu of new things that are on the horizon.

It’s okay now. I hope this is the last of -30, and I hope this is the last of broken hearts, or even the shreds of them. It’s still astounding how over time, wounds disappear until you scarcely notice that they’re gone.

“Home”.

Life is full of lessons.

We see them plastered on bathroom walls, we hear them from our teachers, mentors, parents, friends. We see them in the form of pretty, artfully decorated quotes on social media. We are always absorbing concrete lessons, tiny pieces of information, like flecks of edible gold on the dessert that is our lives.

It is oft-said that the most important of these lessons, are in addition, the hardest to learn. And that lessons have to be understood, felt, in order to be learned. I could sit and talk at someone for hours about their horrible boyfriend, the job they complain about constantly, the friend who is always taking advantage of their money or time. But until they live those consequences – innately and deeply feel and absorb them to the core of their mind, body or soul… that lesson will still be tough to understand and appreciate. Any other lessons, advice, quotes, are all just smoke and mirrors, lies, illusions, unless they are felt, followed.

For the last two years, I have been struggling to figure out what possible lesson being stressed, bored, closed-in, away from loved ones, and drowning in sorrow and bitterness have taught me. “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” seems too trite and obvious. And anyway, often that is not true. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you feel like you’re holding onto the edge but that edge is slipping away beneath your fingers until there is nothing left to hold. If there is a ‘God’, I don’t know what His plan is for me, to have to be so miserable in this, my life, the precious few years of my twenties and early thirties where I should still have vibrancy and hope, and I shouldn’t be jaded and bitter and curled up in the fetal position every sleepless night, waiting for some magical ‘way out’ of my situation. Being happy where you’re at without reaching for happiness out in the distance and being grateful for the ‘good’ things in life might be another lesson that one could pull from this dreary cesspool of sadness. But, at the end of the day, none of this seems to be enough.

But the other day, I had a conversation.

My beautiful boyfriend has called Vancouver ‘home’ for ten years before moving home in 2015 to pursue teaching and save money. That December, he was ripped away from the comforting confines of friends, a twenty-something lifestyle of fun and weeknight drinking, a neighbourhood and apartment he loved, a girlfriend who was starting a short-term contract job in January, all for the sake of finding stability. And at times, he’s so grateful for that stability because of the success he feels, the income, the permanence, something he’s never had in the Neverland that is Vancouver. And yet, he’s still left without those amazing friends, the neighbourhood, the apartment that smells like home, the familiarity of your favourite hangouts, that walk to the bus stop every morning, friends just dropping by out of nowhere on their own way home from their coffee shop job.

Vancouver was home for me too, but only for a short time. And while I miss the city – its beauty, the Stanley Park seawall, my own favourite restaurants and views and bars and daily walks and my own sunny, cozy, ocean view apartment, I remember how it was for me at times when I had that 3-month contract job; I hated the commute every morning because it was an hour on that crowded train and I would often be seasick or tired; I felt useless and frustrated at my job there because I never had any work. I literally felt sometimes, that I was paid to do nothing. And while some believe that’s ‘living the dream’, it is lonely to feel so undervalued in your day-to-day life. I’d rather have been paid nothing at all, and spent each precious hour of each precious day doing what I wanted to do and going where I wanted to go. My friends left during that time and approaching summer, most of them had moved to try and find their own definition of stability. Back to Alberta, to Ontario, to the Kootenays… unfortunately, everywhere is more ‘stable’ than Vancouver. I worked my own precious ‘stable’ job, using the income I had to travel back and forth between Edmonton and Vancouver on weekends, to visit the person I loved with all my heart. I had collected every WestJet on-flight magazine. My heart would flare up with passion and excitement at the prospect of each and every one of these weekends. Heading back to Vancouver wasn’t ever difficult; but it was nevertheless, painful. Leaving the person you love is never, ever, not painful.

These days, I keep feeling as though I left ‘home’ when I left Vancouver. And even sometimes, while I was enjoying the vigor and excitement of Vancouver, I did still feel like Edmonton was ‘home’ and I had left it for this lack of security, this monstrosity of wealth and poverty, this sickness of wondering when I would find stability again like the stability I had with my career, my life, my friends, back in Alberta.

And then I lived in Edson. And now I live in Red Deer. Places where my family is far away, where I live alone in mostly-empty apartments, places where I exist without living, just for the sake of making the living that I don’t have a use for at home. I don’t go out. I don’t leave the house. I don’t do anything, because I have no one to do it with. I’ve gotten so in the habit of being at home all the time, I’ve changed as a person. I used to go home to sleep. Now I barely enjoy leaving the house, even to go grab the milk I forgot on the way home. And I miss the people I love, the people who bring me vibrance and vigor and happiness, the people that I can talk to for hours and not run out of things to talk about, the person I want to kiss goodnight every night for the rest of my life.

The important lesson to learn from all this is also trite, but one of the most valuable lessons I have ever, or could ever, learn: home is not a place; it’s a person. Home is sitting on the couch with the person you love, one of you watching TV, one of you surfing the internet, both of you in neat and perfect silent comfort; home is those late-night talks following watching The Bachelor with your best friend. Home is board games with your siblings. Home is going out to your favourite karaoke bars with the people you loved hanging out with in high school, doing crosswords at the Second Cup that was down the street from where you lived when you were 19, home is Oilers games and drinks with friends and knowing where you’re going when you get in the car.

Home is the best thing there is. No matter what it looks like, who it entails, what the cost is to obtain it, who you spend time with. HOME is not just a silly concept that you sew into a needlepoint and hang on the wall; it is everything.

And so, when you don’t have a home, physical or metaphorical, you have nothing.

Places that Shaped Me.

Everyone has “special places” in their lives that they think of during difficult times. I’ve felt displaced so often in the last year and a half, that finding those places again has felt like clinging to a cliff face desperately trying to keep a hold on some solid ground but constantly feeling like I’m falling. I haven’t felt ‘at home’ in a ‘place’ since I left Vancouver in the summer of 2015. It’s been a long road home since then; so long I don’t really know what “home”, or the concept of “home” really looks or feels like anymore. I’m just kind of floating through space and time wondering when that feeling of comfort will take me back in again from the rainy doorstep on which I stand.

But lately I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of visiting old places again. I’ve been back in areas of Edmonton where I used to live, the gym I used to hold a membership for, the apartments I once lived in, and everywhere I look in those places, I see ghosts of former homes that were once mine, lifetimes and lifetimes ago.

Some of those places include:

The Don Wheaton Y.M.C.A. In 2010-2011, I lost almost 80lb and actually, I have kept most of that weight off. The Don Wheaton YMCA was my first gym; it was the first time I had ever stepped onto a treadmill or a bike, the first time I had ever done a fitness class, the first time I ever realized that much of my potential, my efforts, my self-esteem could be so vastly planted and grown. And it was, in this building. Sometimes, despite that it’s a $15 drop-in fee, I’ll still choose to work out there.

The University of Alberta. I continuously tell my students that my years at University of Alberta were the absolute best five years of my life. University is so much more than just a great education; it’s diversity, truths, learning who you are, what you believe, how you think, how you cope, how to pick your poison, and how to (and how not to) fall in love and make friends. The  U of A is so much more than just a school. It for me, was home. Haven. Safety. Fun. Adventure. Loss. Love. Stress. Rewards. Every building of that campus holds a significant memory for me; Wednesday and Tuesday RATT nights, where we tried to bribe the bartender to be on the regulars board (RATT was also where I had my horrid first-ever kiss); HUB mall where I would see my first love and chit-chat before class and I’d be blushing and trying not to make an idiot of myself the entire time; the Central Academic Building where I used to skip my introductory Anthropology class just so I could have lunch with three of my best friends from my floor; the Education building, where I also used to meet my friends twice a week for epic lunch dates with those epic, epic sandwiches; Biological Sciences, that ugly old hot mess of a building, the source of many of campus’ urban legends and stories and lore — before I ever even went to campus, I knew about Bio-Sci. And the one or two times I had to venture in there, I found much of the stories to be true, at least in a minor capacity. The University of Alberta was, is, and always will be a home for me. I wouldn’t be me, without the green and gold part of me.

Blackbyrd Myoozik. The first time I ever set foot in a record store, it was this one, back in 2005. I had $50 in the bank and spent $35 of that on “Cold Roses” on vinyl and I never regretted it. This object with its embossed gatefold cover, those shiny black grooves and sunset-coloured label. It was my first vinyl and obviously not my last. Whenever I’m on Whyte Avenue, I just enjoy spending time in this place. It is what I consider to be my first record store, one of the best record stores ever, and a staple of my Edmonton life and what ended up being my identity by the time my twenties were over.

My first real apartment. Back when my two friends and I first rented an apartment that wasn’t a residence, we all shared this reasonably sized, clean two-bedroom unit right behind Whyte Avenue with a balcony. It was $750/month, split three ways. In that apartment I discovered what it meant to ‘adult’ – to cook, to clean, to share, to compromise, to get annoyed with people you live with but love them anyway, to put up with shit, or not, and finally when I left I was ready to go because sometimes roommates and friends are different things and if you’d like to preserve the former, the latter has to be finished. I’m still friends (VERY close friends, actually) with the two friends I shared my first real apartment with.

O’Byrnes Irish Pub. Dancing, getting drunk, making out with sketchy randoms on New Year’s Eve, requesting lame songs from the 1970s and 80s, meeting a guy I went on a date with who never called me again, finding out about a friend of a friend’s illegitimate child while we all squealed about the amazing piece of gossip we’d just come upon, the bar where my sister and her husband had their first date, the bar where a former friend betrayed the shit out of me by going on a semi-kind of date with the guy who smashed the shit out of my heart, the bar where they have the most amazing fries and curry dip, the bar where I had my first Guiness, so many St. Patrick’s Days, Halloweens, birthdays, sing-alongs, random makeouts, wild nights that didn’t end until 3 a.m… O’Byrnes is the bar that for me, holds the most memories. In many ways, it was my Central Perk, by McLaren’s.

 

An “Open” Letter.

Dear So-and-Sos:

I had a dream about you last night. In my dream, I was in Jasper and I ran into you. When you saw me, you ran right up to me and hugged me and cried. You didn’t really say anything but that hug was something that even in my waking state, I can almost still feel. I haven’t dreamed about you in a while. Whenever I have, it was angry and I woke up feeling differently than I did this morning.

I was thinking about the past. I was thinking about how, when we were combative and not speaking, neither of us made an effort to reconcile. I thought about how currently, I am teaching my students the importance of “reconciliation” and that I have not ‘reconciled’, because I want some kind of upper hand, because I am still ‘angry’, I am a hypocrite. And I can’t justifiably claim that reconciliation is important to me when I haven’t actually embodied that in my life, in my former friendships, in my experiences with loss and anger.

The fact remains: I am hurt. I am hurt because I feel hard-done-by in our previous relationship. I feel like nobody ever heard me, listened to me, sided with me and really understood my life or where I was coming from. Those feelings forced me to react badly and in doing so I lost my cool. I lost a lot. I was immature and made an immature decision. And now what remains is this: I am still bitter. I don’t regret a loss of friendship. I don’t feel differently about where I would like things to be now. But, I regret being still bitter if only because I wanted to “win” and now, approaching 30 and thinking back on all of this bad blood, I have realized that “winning” really isn’t all that important.

All I want to express is this regret. And all I want to stress about this regret is: this isn’t some plea to return to how things were because I don’t want that and I’m assuming you don’t either. This isn’t an olive branch, because peace is sometimes just unnecessary, impossible, or a waste of everyone’s efforts. This isn’t me bending over backwards to please because I’ve done that too, and I’m not that person anymore. What this is, is: forgiveness. Forgiving myself because I fucked up. Forgiving you for fucking up. Not forgiveness for the purpose of rekindling some friendship that was obviously never built to last in the first place, but forgiveness so that we can move forward in life without aiming to “win”, without looking back scathingly, without saying one thing then meaning another, and most importantly: with expressing real, genuine, TRUE feelings about how we felt in this situation. Admitting that we were both vulnerable, that we both cared, that what happened was actually hurtful. Because it was. I know it, you know it, and regardless of how that pain has eased up significantly since the last time we spoke or even saw each other, pain is a part of a breakup. Pain is a part of who we became afterwards, maybe even who we became now. And admitting to that pain is also something that can help reconcile the uncertainties of the past.

It’s ridiculous that nobody ever admitted they were hurt by the utter catastrophic detonation of a 6-year best friendship, and instead all parties took a silent, bridge-burning turn towards an unfeeling desire to be “better off”. This decision is the most immature, stupid and backwards decision I’ve ever made. What I want to say to you, should you ever read this is this: all of this has fucked me up a lot. All of this has had me questioning my past, the genuineness of it, my ability to carry on a relationship, people’s true motives (including my own), and my ability to be what I define as a ‘good person’. All of this has made me feel bitter, angry, at times tearful, and griping. I lost a lot. Of self-respect, of respect for others, of trust, of self-expression. All of those things washed down the drain like toothpaste and I watched it spin and spin until it dwindled down to nothing but gross old residue of something from another time that I can barely even see or remember. And I am deeply, deeply angry about this still. I’m pissed off at how hurt I fell with absolutely no apology or acknowledgement. I’m saddened by own shying away from the emotional healing that accompanies a breakup of any kind, all because I wanted to “prove something” to you. I’m angry at all of your snide shoving-out of me, casting me aside proudly and making grand announcements about doing so on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. I’m fucking pissed as shit that after I never spoke to you again, you never, ever, ever contacted me to try and end things with something softer and gentler than complete silence and then instead of acknowledging this privately with me, you post an INSTAGRAM with some stupid fucking quote about saying goodbye then choosing to announce in public, on an account I don’t even follow, about my life and how you feel about it. And somehow did you feel that was supposed to fix or make anything better? For you, or for me, or for anyone at all? Was it enough? After six years, was it really enough and could you really stand before me now and say that was not just supposed to be enough for me to move on but also yourself? Have you moved on? Or are you going to bother pretending like this is all 100% okay for you now because you’re better off without me and casting me aside this way was the best thing you’ve ever done? It wasn’t for me. I regret it. I messed up, and I’m willing to be vulnerable because I don’t believe anymore that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. It took me 30 years but I finally figured out that it’s okay to do things like cry in front of your boyfriend or cry when you’ve had a bad day at work. I hope you have too.

I write this letter as a plea for some reprieve from the anger and sadness that plagues me in small but tinny, biting welts in my soul that only sleep, alcohol and loved ones can make disappear. I write this letter with the hope that in some fantasy land that doesn’t actually exist in waking life, that you and I could sit down and have coffee and air all our grievances and cry and get pissed off and make all the snide and angry comments in the world but feel better after it. And I write this letter to acknowledge that fighting dirty – a cold war chocked full of silent warfare, is not the way to end anything. I hope you understand and ‘get’ where I’m coming from with this. This is how I’m feeling today. This is how I often feel. And I’m growing both comfortable with that, and aggravated by it, all at the same time.

Sincerely,

30 things I learned in 30 years.

  1. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. If you want to do something, just do it. Do it alone, do it spontaneously. Simply, just do what you want.
  3. Guys who you wait for texts from aren’t worth waiting for.
  4. Some of the best moments are extremely hard-won.
  5. Prioritizing your career doesn’t make you a cold fish or an un-feeling spinster.
  6. Long distance relationships can work.
  7. One of the best feelings in the world is baking something and having it turn out perfectly.
  8. The best friends who matter are those who’ve been there the whole time.
  9. Your ‘soulmate’ doesn’t come in the package you expected them to.
  10. When you’re dancing with someone who can dance when you can’t, let them lead.
  11. You don’t have to strive for perfection; striving for a realistic personal best is often enough.
  12. Speak up and ask for what you want.
  13. Runner’s high is actually a thing.
  14. Faith and belief in something – even if it’s not ‘God’ – can actually legitimately go a long way.
  15. Life would be more difficult without independence.
  16. Some of the best things in life aren’t free – but those memories are, and they last a lifetime.
  17. Once you’ve cluttered your life so much it’s insane, it truly is as horrible as Hoarders makes it out to be.
  18. I’m lazy, and messy, and disorganized and I have to work very hard not to be. And that’s just who I am. It’s okay to be who you are.
  19. The Museum of Modern Art in New York city is one of the coolest places to visit in the world.
  20. Life truly begins after high school.
  21. If you think you’re good at something, you should let the world see it.
  22. People who don’t change when you do change, won’t be around long.
  23. It doesn’t matter what other people think. Really. It doesn’t.
  24. Your idols, your favourite music, that book you read that you learned a lot from – can be your ‘constants’, just as much as the bible can be for Christians. It’s the same thing.
  25. Love isn’t enough.
  26. Take people’s recommendations.
  27. Sometimes it’s best to just say nothing.
  28. You can wait for apologies forever but most of the time, those apologies will never come.
  29. Head massages are worth their weight in gold.
  30. Animals can really be your best friends during difficult times.