This Week in My History: October 26, 2008.

He doesn’t like me. I just spent the coldest weekend of my life (in more ways than one) with him and it was business, business, business. And then I wrapped. And that was it. Actually, it was mostly just awkward as fuck. And I hated life a lot. Then I worked on my horrendous McTaggart Award entry – GOD – I don’t stand a chance at winning that contest. There’s no POINT to my essay, no hook, no interest, it’s too dark and controversial, the style is all mixed up.. totally, totally, totally shitty, legitimately. *Sigh* and I wanted to win so badly. Because if I did, I could take him with me. That will never happen. But he kind of hates me anyway, so it doesn’t matter. I’m cold. And I’m going to bed. Because I’m tired. TWO MORE DAYS UNTIL CARDINOLOGY.

 

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10 Defining Moments of My Twenties.

In counting down the days of this full, sometimes seemingly endless, confusing decade of indulgence, harsh lessons, stupidity and eventually finding my way out of this cave with a helmet and a light, here are ten (at least relatively) vivid moments of my twenties that made me who I am today.

Being placed on an academic notice during my teaching degree. 

It’s true what they say sometimes: the best lessons to learn are also the hardest. When I entered the teaching profession, I stupidly assumed that kids just ‘listen’ to their teachers and respect them because there’s an adult at the front of the room talking to them. I was wrong, and my confidence was shattered and so I was placed on an academic notice during one of the most stressful times in my life. When this happened, my Faculty Associate told me, “I’m not doing this because I don’t think you have potential. I’m doing this because I believe you can do this. But you need a kick in the butt so you believe you can do this too.” This woman is the best teacher in the world and someone I aspire to be like, because she was so right. And when I heard those words I realized, this is not just a ‘teacher me’ thing. This is a ‘me’ thing. Hearing that from someone I trusted, liked and respected meant everything in that moment.

Being heartbroken – really heartbroken – for the first time.

When I was 21, the heartbreak I experienced seemed to follow me around like a Grim. I couldn’t push past it or mend it or fix it, and I especially couldn’t make sense of it. What had happened to me was wrong; it wasn’t supposed to end like that. This person I was so crazy about, who finally returned my affections, had ended things so quickly. It was like the sky had fallen. Looking back now, that was ridiculous; he owed me nothing, it was a silly situation to place myself into, there’s no such thing as ‘the one’, and even if there was, that useless, snivelling jackass was certainly NOT him. But as soon as this happened, this horrible ugly thing I had never felt before, I remember writing something in my journal like: “I’m alone now and now I have to stand on my own two feet and push through all of this.” I felt like that was the moment I grew up and I had to pick up up all my My Little Ponies off the floor and put them away. I had grown up.

My Bachelor of Arts graduation ceremony.

University was a bubble. It was a glorious, wonderful, easy place to be where everyone is young, every day is a possibility, you can make adult choices in a safe environment, and everything feels optimistic, and possible. My undergraduate degree years at the University of Alberta were some of the best days of my entire life – full of life, energy, excitement, possibility, and most of all, fun. I loved every good, bad, heart-wrenching, hilarious difficult minute of my time at the U of A, and my graduation ceremony was a culmination of all of those things. I remember marching into the auditorium and hearing Pomp & Circumstance, and thinking: this is what I’ve worked for for five years. This means everything to me.

My major friend breakup.

Your twenties are full of deciding what’s good and worth holding onto, and what’s worth letting go of. And sometimes you think someone or something is the former, then you are slapped so far into reality that you fall over. That happened to me. I’m not going to get into the whole story again and lament about it again. But the fact remains, what happened between me and my former best friends – who were like sisters to me – in instants, changed my beliefs and philosophies about friendships, about what good friendship is, and isn’t, and what fault I have or had in this messy divorce-like moment.

The first time I heard, and said, “I love you”.

Seattle, 2014. It was cold out and windy and frost-glazed leaves’ edges crisped in the bitter breeze. We were walking together, my hand in his hand, in his jacket pocket before he swirled me around to face him and he looked at me and said, “I love you, you know that?” The world stopped. It was like being born again.

The first time I saw Ryan Adams/Meeting Ryan Adams.

Only a few select people actually get to stare their heroes in the face and engage with them in a place other than on a record or from a theatre seat. I was one of those people on a magical night in Vancouver on July 29, 2016. This was my first of seven (so far) Ryan Adams shows I’ve seen. I’ve never simultaneously felt so big and so small as I did that night.

The first time I was referred to as someone’s ‘girlfriend’.

I spent most of my twenties being single, and so the term ‘girlfriend’ in reference to me, hit me like a ton of bricks. It was kind of shocking, it was kind of awesome, it was kind of distant, as if me and this ‘girlfriend’ were two different parts of the same person strewn across a field somewhere. I remember the exact moment I first heard it: we were at the Vancouver Fringe Festival beer gardens which was essentially a huge theatre crowd party in which my boyfriend is/was very much immersed. And the first person we ran into that I didn’t know, he introduced me as “my girlfriend”. I was floored.

My first A+ in Creative Writing.

Everyone has a talent. I wanted mine to be creative writing for as long as I can remember. I used to tell people when I was in elementary school and junior high that I wanted to be “an author” and I’ve loved stories since I was old enough to listen to them. But, I never let anyone read my work. One of the first times I did, and it was for a grade, I was absolutely petrified. And when I got it back and checked my grade it was A+ I was absolutely ecstatic. It was as my calling appeared before me in the form of a letter and a mathematical symbol. I remember coming home drunk that night and freaking out before my half-asleep roommates. It truly is one of the best feelings in the world to be recognized for your passion.

My first visit to a tropical place.

Natural beauty has always been a preoccupation for me (perhaps because I grew up in one of the most scenic areas in the world) but never before 2008 had I ever been to a tropical place. It was -38 when we left, and snowing. They, several times, had to de-ice the plane and plow the tarmac. Then we took off and hours later, arrived in humid heat where, on the first night in the dark, we splashed in the waves and looked out over the blackness of the water and up at the billions of visible stars. It was a break – from life, from crippling unrequited love I was facing at the time, from the cold, from myself. I was giggling and giddy without trying.

My first time going to a concert alone.

Disclaimer: my first time going to a concert alone was also the time I met/saw Ryan Adams live for the first time. But aside from feeling small in the presence of an idol and hero and indirect, unintentional biographer of my life it also opened up this world of independence to me. A world where I don’t feel like I need the company of others to live my life the way I want to and enjoy myself, the world where I don’t care what people around me think about this. If I like something or want something, I do it.

I’m Done.

With March being a significant month in my personal history there’s always this little bit of pain that accompanies this time of the year. While the rest of the world becomes brighter and warmer and lighter by this time, I always feel a little lost and impatient. Nowhere near as much as I did eight years ago (has it really been eight already?!) but still, only a little. I’ve found though that as time passes and things change, so do those feelings and anxieties and pains that accompany that first “real” love.

I’ve tried recently to put this into words… to release again, my reflections and thoughts and feelings about first love, about who I was before I knew anything about the world, where I’m at now versus where I was eight years ago emotionally, physically, inwardly.

But I can’t anymore. It feels like an old tired cliche. It feels like an exhausted empty shell that you put your ear to and can’t hear the ocean anymore. In short… I just don’t care. I’m tired of this same old story over and over and over again. It feels like a ghost of my past is living inside me sometimes. But at the same time, that ghost has less and less of its unfinished business. And now there’s just nothing there except a wisp in the dusty corners of my heart. Sometimes I do feel that I need to consistently remind myself of the important markers of my personal history. My demons and angels and the things that have most made me me. And other times I realize what’s done is done. There’s nothing left to explore except the present, the future, the moments that are yet to come that are bigger and more important and actually worthwhile to talk about and think about.

I once sat on a bench and thought of nothing but you in the most sorrow-filed, darkest way imaginable. The darkness I felt about us, and you, became reasons I hated myself and reasons why I wanted to hurt myself and harm myself and torture myself. I listened to “She Wants to Play Hearts” again and again while I looked down over the new snow-blanketed valley, its vast emptiness and deadness almost symbolic of the exhausting, empty, despicable hole in my heart. Everything was different that evening. Everything had changed in my life. I had changed. It was the first time I ever really had changed, ever. It was the first time I was ever really left in the dark and unsupported until I would have to find my own answer just to get through what had happened. The person who sat on that bench that night, is not me. And that’s all I need to really say about that.

Memories I wish I could re-live.

There are so many days I wish I could go back to, or rewind back and watch again as if I’m re-watching my favourite movie. I’ve been thinking about a few of them today that give me chills with their resonance and those memories are keeping me strong and motivated this week.

  1. The first time I heard “I love you” was one of the most magical feelings I’ve ever felt. While it never gets old to hear it every day, that first time I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. It was something  I could sense was coming and I didn’t know when. But he picked the most perfect moment. If I could re-live that a hundred thousand times, I would.
  2. The first time I kissed someone I actually liked (and, at the time, thought I was in love with) ended so poorly, I don’t even want to get into it. But now that I’m at a safe distance and I can look at this moment with the pure innocent nostalgia that I think the Good Lord intended me to feel for this moment later in life, I’m perfectly satisfied saying I’d love to re-live it. It was another cold nighttime kiss (I apparently love those) but snow fell around us and I could almost envision this moment before it even happened. The moment led me on a string of horrible heartbreaking pain but it was all worth it for that few seconds of awkward, teeth-clicking, bag-of-trash-sitting-outside-his-apartment-door magic.
  3. Concerts, even if you see the band multiple times, are experiences that cannot be repeated; you can’t redo the set list, the moment, the feelings, the people around you, the joy. The two shows that stand out to me as the ones I’d most want to re-live are the most recent time I saw Ryan Adams at the Orpheum in Vancouver, and the very first time I saw Ryan Adams & the Cardinals in Vancouver back in 2007. There was nothing quite like that first time; having been at my peak of Ryan Adams’ music, I think my whole body went into shock when I saw him for the first time. I can barely remember it. Fast forward eight years to the most recent Ryan Adams concert-going experience, Ryan Adams, injured with a broken rib, pained his way through a full band set until opting to go acoustic so he could finish up the show unscathed. It was sumptuous and full of feeling. I was leaving that city in just a little while and to bid it goodbye in this way, and think of my true love while all of this romantic amazement was happening, were just too much. I was on Cloud Nine for days afterwards.
  4. I wish I could go back and re-live my meal at Mama’s Fish House in Maui, HI every single day. Not only is the restaurant shockingly beautiful and surrounded by the most amazing scenery anywhere around ever, but it was by far the best meal I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.
  5. The first time I ran a half-marathon, I had just moved to Vancouver and I worked so hard that I was in the best shape of my entire life. I can’t believe I was ever that small or that fit or that disciplined. I’m running another one this summer which will demand similar attention and hard work from me (I’m trying to get back there already!) but there’s nothing like that first time. Those last fast strides to the finish line were unreal and I felt so accomplished. I used to be 200lb and a size 18-20. To be able to run all that way in a reasonable time was something I once thought completely unachievable. I felt like I could have climbed Mount Everest afterwards.
  6. This one is a bit odd but I wish I could remember and re-live the first day I woke up not suffering from my first heartbreak. Time eases all wounds (though arguably, never completely heals them in many ways) and all I needed was time. But there must have been a day sometime after the dust settled that I woke up and the first thing I thought of wasn’t him. And I went about my day without feeling those familiar pangs and longings and sadnesses that I could never express without looking like a crazy person who had no right to complain about how my whole heartbreak went down. That day existed. I don’t remember it, but you think I would. If I had to make a guess, it might have been the day after he gave me that birthday gift I politely accepted without hardly a word, as it had been a few months since I decided to let him go and take my life back. I had lost almost 20lb that day. He sat across from me, and I didn’t talk to him. After that, I could have woken up completely free.
  7. The first morning I woke up in my Vancouver apartment, alone, was a surreal feeling that I never thought I’d get to experience and I wish I could re-live so badly. Those days were some of my deepest and most important and most happy. Normally I’m in a good emotional space but a bad physical space. When I lived in Vancouver I was in the best physical space I could ever be in. But my emotions were all over the place. I loved the freedom and excitement of being in one of the biggest and most beautiful cities I know of, being able to live how I wanted and be anonymous and ride the skytrain around every day. I loved waking up and smelling the ocean. I loved going for long, carefree runs in Stanley Park or around the downtown area of the city on days when the fog was too thick and the hills were too big. Occupying that space was the best. Waking up for the first time and not knowing the life that awaited me when I first moved there is something I wish I could sink my feet into once again.
  8. Lastly, I would love to re-live the moment when I saw my boyfriend for the first time after our first three weeks of distance. I got on a plane and I was vibrating the whole time, nervous and anxious and excited and unable to control my emotions. I felt like a caged animal about to be freed from captivity. I was worried things would change between us; I was concerned he wouldn’t love me anymore; I was afraid it would be awkward; I was nervous about how I would react to him. But instead, I was heading down the escalators to the Arrivals part of Edmonton International Airport and and I saw him waiting for me and I ran to him. I thought I was going to knock him over. We were pretty quiet but tightly holding hands the whole way home. Nothing had changed. I was pretty sure then that nothing ever would.

We Used To.

We used to be kite-flyers. You helped me tie ribbons onto the tail and while I ran with the kite, you held the string.

Because that’s what teammates do.

In the dead heat of summer we rode rickety rides and shared deep-fried treats, turning mediocre chaos into sheer laughter that rang throughout the night and lasted through sleep and winter and tragedy and breaking hearts and hard English classes and IMAX movies.

We used to be leaf-rakers, gathering strewn discarded shards of trees, the detritus stuffed into shopping bags which was sad, but it never felt so.

When we jumped in crisp dying foliage crunched beneath our knees and smelled like the end of our innocence as we grew up together into what we thought was into ‘women’ but we just grew into older girls, and we vowed to hold onto that girlhood for as long as we could, even as the leaves sat at the curb waiting for the truck to take them away in the frosty morning.

We used to catch snowflakes on our tongue. It seemed strange to me that although each snowflake was different it always tasted and felt exactly the same.

It’s the melting. Each starts off crisp and different but in the end disintegrates into just a droplet of water that makes up something else –a conglomerate, a pool, an ocean. Snowflake, raindrop, teardrop.. they always look the same in the end.

I plant flowers. I dig carefully through the dirt, finding old bulbs that won’t grow anymore and replace them with bulbs and seeds that will.

As snow patches disintegrate and disappear I can see the flat, broad leaves of new flowers and feel silly at how symbolic the world feels, as if it has built landmarks just for me to follow, breadcrumbs so that I may find my way back. But I turn around.

And birds have flown off, bread in their beaks.

Your First Heartbreak.

You remember sitting there at that bar on some idle weekday before the end of the term – in spring, when the snow was melting – at the end of the night, and it was just the two of you, like it always was. He has already broken your heart. Your goal is to make him feel guilty. So you tell him: when I was a kid… and he listens, and he tells you you’re funny and smart and awesome. It comforts you for a moment, but it doesn’t change anything. He walks you home (he always walks you home) and you’re sad your tragedy didn’t help him see you were ‘the one’. And you feel so guilty about that, you want to die.

The summer comes with it an emptiness and loneliness you’ve never felt before. You feel on the verge of something big, but also mourning the loss of something big. You’re unemployed, depressed, you’re having problems walking because of your sudden and excessive weight gain. How long have you loved him, how long have you lusted for him and how long have you hated him? It all blurs together in four long wasted months of nothingness and sorrow. You cry when your favourite flip-flops break, the ones you’ve had since your first year of undergrad. This is a sign that things are horribly wrong. You have no idea when they’ll get better. You pray for them to every day even though you’re not religious.

The only saving grace that summer is the Ryan Adams & Oasis double-bill at Rexall Place. You watch the show and in that moment you’re a child again, loving life and embodying something young and fun and passionate you thought was gone forever. In that moment music sets you free of the sorrow that has become you for long, weighty painful months. You feel like yourself again. The day passes. And everything is the same again when the sun rises.

The fall brings with it painful truths that things feel the same between you and him, but they are not the same. Your then-best friend moves across the country. Your other then-best friend has graduated university. And you’re still stuck being a student for another lonely, broke, heartbroken eight months of meaningless essays and writing you don’t care about. Working on your first novel occupies your time, but you still remain in a prison – of looking into the face of the person who gutted you like a caught fish, and left you to struggle and rot in the hot sun, in the dry air.

For Christmas, you give him a very elaborate gift that represents everything you feel about him. He thanks you, and that’s it. You’re broken and you ask yourself what you’re doing here and how being handcuffed by this man has become your life. There aren’t words to express how trapped you feel anymore. You tried to write out everything you wished and hoped for you; you did everything you could to try and re-create the magic you had months and months ago; you wished on 11:11 and shooting stars and stayed on ichat for hours just hoping to see him online. And when he was online you were scared to talk to him. You prayed that he would talk to you, and he didn’t.

By the next summer, you know he doesn’t think you’re pretty, he’s not interested in you that way, he ignores you, he slips away and has a summer fling with some other girl you’ve never met, don’t want to meet and whenever you see evidence of her on social media, you’re reminded of how ugly and worthless and unworthy of love you really are. You wonder if there is anyone in the world ever, who will see you the way you wish he would see you.

When you make the decision to never speak with him again, he is on the phone with that ‘summer fling’. She asks who he’s with that night and he says, “nobody important” and that’s when you know you can’t bear this cross anymore. He leaves your apartment, you close your door, and this is the last time you ever speak with him. He is not your friend, he does not care about you, he is not concerned for your well-being, and it’s in this moment that you know what a fool you’ve been. You’ve hit rock bottom. You can’t get any lower than this moment. To this day, seven years later this moment stands out as one of the times you’ve felt the most worthless and hurt in your life. Looking back, you can’t believe this person had the power to make you feel that small. It sickens you.

*

You realize with maturity, fulfilling love and cutting bad blood out of yourself and your life, that your first heartbreak is the hardest thing you’ll ever go through in your life. When it happened it felt like a gunshot wound straight through your midsection. You never thought anything could hurt that much. You were in millions of tiny shards of broken glass, left wondering how you of all people were picked out by the universe to feel that way.

But once you realize this, something snaps inside of you. You feel invincible, impervious to pain, let go of the fear of getting hurt. Because you’ve felt it. You’re still alive. You’re still breathing. In fact, you’re more alive than ever. That was the purest and most open wound. So much so you sit here, years later still writing about it as if it happened yesterday. Because you understand that you have the capacity to feel the highest highs and the lowest lows of falling in love and losing love, and that is as comforting as it is surprising.

I Stopped Running.

I was happy when I was single. When you’re single, every day is a new adventure. Every day allows you to do whatever you want without having to consider another person. All of that made me feel like the queen. All of that was appealing once.

I think I was happy being single because I was running away. I loved once. I loved a lot once. And that love was robbed from me by the very person who gave it (#takebacksies). And ever since that day when I felt like my entire world was reduced to a pile of broken rubble and detritus I had put love out of my mind. I figured that was my ‘great love’ and with it gone, there was no other love for me. So I ran away. My soul left my body with a backpack and a notebook, and left, thumb out in the road of life. Eventually it got picked up and I didn’t see it for a long, long time.

That feeling – heartbreak – is what you run from. It’s so painful. It’s like mourning someone close to you. I didn’t want to look at that person anymore and realize the potential that existed between us. So I ran and I ran and I ran until I couldn’t possibly run anymore. I turned around suddenly and realize I wasn’t allowing myself to be heartbroken, but I wasn’t allowing myself to feel anything else, either. I had become someone unrecognizable. I had become someone who didn’t believe in love.

When my soul and body reunited, it was because of someone who stopped me dead in my tracks. He didn’t really do anything to force me to stop. He just did. He just said, in not so many words at all, ‘stop running’ and I stopped. I was scared to stop. Running was all I knew. Running was safe. In running, you move and move and move and movement in this way barricades your heart. And barricading my heart is all I’ve ever wanted to do. The person who suggested I stop running didn’t allow me to barricade my heart anymore. He didn’t allow me to hide from him. He didn’t allow me to be anything except myself. And he hugged me and kissed me for it. He enrobed me in such big, soft, sweet, emotionally-charged hugs I was wrapped up in them to the point where I couldn’t move. And I realized I didn’t want to anymore.

When you stop running, you look around you. You look down at your feet and up at the sky and at the apartment buildings across the street from your window. You feel small and insignificant and also powerful. Because while you really fully realize everything that’s around you so deeply and meaningfully in a way you haven’t before, you also realize you’re home. You’re where you belong. Finally.

I don’t suggest this will be my forever. It might be and it might not be. There aren’t guarantees in love and love. That’s what makes it terrifying to stop running. But I’m so glad I stopped. I’m so, so grateful to be resting right now.