Monday, August 31, 2009

Nowhere to turn

It was a lifetime ago.

And yet lately, the scabs have been picked off and the wounds are gaping and unhealed.

He picked me up the next day and drove me to work. We all toiled away at McDonald's for a monstrous $3.10 an hour.

He acted like nothing happened. Like he said, that's what people in love do and I would just get used to it. I'd probably even start to like it, he said.

And where could I turn?

A few years earlier, I had asked my mother about sex. Her response was 'don't ever do it' and I didn't feel like I could ever again broach the subject.

Hell, we often had to listen to her rant about how she didn't really want kids, that she had wanted a career, that this was the life our father wanted, not her.

My brothers? No. They seemed wrapped up in their own lives, as they should have been. My father? Oh hell no . . . no way I could admit to him I was no longer the innocent he needed me to be.

My friends? Would they even believe me? They all thought he was a terrific guy . . . as much as I thought anyway.

I sucked it up . . . just as my brothers and I were to do for any stressful situation. Surely you've heard the old adage 'stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about.'

That's how we lived. No crying, no feeling and certainly no talking.

So there I was . . . a family, a boyfriend, friends and coworkers and yet terribly alone.

Thus beginning the journey that has brought me here -- through moving away from home, to new cities, through sports injuries to breast reduction surgery, through deaths and weddings.

Doing it all surrounded by people but ultimately alone.

And here I am, surrounded by people. Facing the biggest battle of my life. Alone.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Enter Sandman

More often than not, the Sandman gets pushed aside by the Boogeyman.

He arrives first, grabbing a hold of me and pushing me down.

Much like someone else grabbed a hold of me and pushed me down 20 years ago, forever changing my life.

Rewind seven months or so.

My 17-year-old instincts told me not to bother. I really wasn’t even attracted to him. He had this flat-footed walk, he was starting to bald at 21, he wore the most god-awful sweaters, and he liked basketball.

Most importantly, my best friend at the time was interested in him -- and in my eyes, that was reason enough to look in the other direction.

But I was the one he wanted –- going so far as to attend my grandfather’s funeral with the mindset to score.

And in my zombie-like state, I acquiesced.

Except scoring was not in the picture. Raised by parents who were each other’s first on their wedding night, I believed sex was an act for two married people.

Four months later, he dumped me. I didn’t love him the way he loved me, he said.

Translation: I want to get laid.

Two months later, we got back together. I don’t even remember why.

I still wouldn’t put out . . . although I suppose I promised him I would think about it.

He chose not to wait, making a decision for me that would change me forever. He got me drunk at a house party, pushed me into his bedroom and did what he needed to do.

He dropped me off at my parents’ doorstep, drunk, crying and bleeding, and told me to get over it.

That’s what people in love do.

So, for the last 20 years or so, I’ve been haunted by dreams . . . a presence is in the room and it is holding me down, preventing me from moving, and somehow keeping me from screaming.

I mutter ‘no’ repeatedly, just as I did on his shabby little mattress 20 years ago.

For now, I battle with the Sandman of Metallica, the one for whom I have to sleep with one eye open, instead of the Chordettes’, who is supposed to bring me the cutest I’ve ever seen.

As I await my sexual-assault counselling to begin, I have hopes I’ll be able to put this battle to rest –- once and for all.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sigh ... yes, it's about you now

Rarely did I ever write about me.

Never did I ever write about you.

Now I have to.

Long have I believed a writer shouldn’t put herself in the story, except under very special circumstances. Sometimes, a first-hand account just works. A handful of instances come to mind, such as when I broke my arm, when my father died, or when I was bidding farewell to a community I had come to adopt as my own.

Long have I believed a reader has no place in the story and, thus, the word ‘you’ was stricken from my writing vocabulary. When I became a copy editor, I considered second-person format lazy, preventing the writer from delving deep into his talents and abilities and being more creative with his words.

‘But that’s my style,’ one writer bemoaned.

‘Your style is crap,’ I thought to myself. (Yes, I do have fleeting moments in my life where the filter worked and I actually didn’t say out loud exactly what was on my mind.)

You see, dear readers, we are all fortunate observers of history. The individuals involved in those great moments that deserve a story are the ones about whom I wrote – not you and certainly not me.

Journalists should engage the readers with their words and thoughtful accounts of events and news, drawing readers into the story, rather than dropping them in.

I’ve had to change my thought pattern in recent days, however.

A new job has taken me across town and across boundaries. A telecommunications corporation was in need of a writer as they undertake the massive project of redesigning their website.

That writer turns out to be me.

And as I shift from journalist-at-heart-turned-PR-pro to web writer, I’m tasked with engaging my future readers by speaking directly to them.

‘You’ve never experienced TV like this before,’ I wrote yesterday.

My heart ached a little as I longed for the days when I could weave a web of words and express the thoughts and desires of an athlete, or describe the very essence of a gold-medal moment.

I have to keep in mind, though, that I’m getting paid (very) well to write, the one thing I know I do well . . . and remember that for a very long time I got paid to do what others would for free.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The choice was mine to make

It seemed like such a simple question.

If you could be 16 again, would you do anything differently?

Born from a random Tweet about youth and how much they annoy me, I received a response from one follower.

'Lose my virginity earlier,' he wrote.

In a followup Tweet, he added: 'I was almost 18. No shame in that, just wish I had enjoyed myself more."

Certainly no shame in waiting. In fact, I told him I wished I had been able to wait longer than 17.

The decision, however, was taken away from me. My then boyfriend chose to make it for me.

The wound scabbed over many years ago but it finally got picked off a little more than a year ago -- and my emotional state has been like a roller coaster ever since. The issues in my relationship with my mother became magnified and we've spoken maybe five times since July 2008.

But it's my time to take charge, to calm the tumultuous waves and find a path that is safer and straighter.

I'm finally learning to trust the instincts that tried telling me 20 years ago 'don't date him.'

And I'm getting ready to take chances -- not just on me, but on other people, too.

Here I go into that great uncharted territory.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

There's no place like home

I wish I knew what it was like to call a place 'home.'

I turned 38 recently and it's still just a fantasy.

Some years ago, I told my mother I've never felt like I've been home. In her way, she misinterpreted what I was saying to hear 'you were a bad mother and didn't give me a good home.'

Not true. While it wasn't the most nurturing of locations, it was at least safe -- many times too much so -- from the ills of the outside world.

Still, that little three-bedroom bungalow in Antigonish was never a place I felt comfortable.

There was always somewhere else to be . . .

My eldest brother Shane travelled to Strathmore, a bedroom community to Calgary, when he was in Grade 12. He arrived home with the most amazing pictures of spectacular mountains backdropping the then little city.

And I knew right then that I was destined to be here. The big blue sky of the Prairies beckoned to this ocean-born baby and I set a goal to live in Cowtown one day.

The road was longer and more convoluted than I imagined when I was a bright-eyed, optimistic 14-year-old. It took me from Antigonish to Charlottetown through Gander, N.L., and onto Kamloops, B.C.

When Calgary called, I was already jumping -- even though I was leaving behind a boyfriend (FYI: it didn't take him long to get over me) and many close friends.

Six years later, I still haven't figured out how to make Calgary 'home.' It's been a turbulent ride -- getting sucker-punched by life at the worst of times, surfing the waves during the best of times.

And no matter how good the best of times get, I always feel like there's something missing.

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's comfortable, it's familiar ... it's boring as hell

It's so easy. Too easy.

Come home from work, ditch the pencil skirt and heels and crawl into a comfy, ratty pair of sweats.

It feels good. I can curl up on the couch and have lots of room to move, to kick around, to just relax.

Sweats were banned from my wardrobe for years. They had no place next to my skirts, trousers, blouses and even jeans.

Yoga pants were OK. But anything that resembled fleece, especially in a grey tone, was banished.

For four years, I dated a guy who wore sweatpants almost every day of that relationship. When he wasn't wearing sweats, he was sporting athletic shorts . . . and everything -- EVERYTHING -- was emblazoned with the logo of his favourite Pac-10 football team.

We started out as best friends. We hung out, we watched movies, we went shopping . . . and everyone -- EVERYONE -- expected we would end up together.

And we did. It was comfortable, it was familiar . . .

It was what I needed at the time. I was suffering the Attack of the 30s. I was 28 and Aug. 18, 2001, was looming.

There I was, single, unmarried and babyless.

Comfortable and familiar sounded perfect . . . the right way to transition into the Life I Was Supposed to Have, thanks to conventional wisdom.

And like that pair of old grey sweatpants, I slipped comfortably into a four-year relationship of predictability, familiarity and absolute, outright, shameless boredom.

"What do you want to do Friday night?"

"I dunno, what do you want to do?"

Inevitably, we would do the same thing every Friday night.

Nothing. But we'd do it together.

Oh, sometimes we would kick it up a notch and go to a friend's place to play board (bored?) games.

But like the old saying, familiarity does breed contempt. For the last, oh, 12 months of our time together, I could swear we loathed each other.

We couldn't help ourselves, though. It was what we knew.

And when I finally realized it was over -- long after he did and had moved onto someone new -- I pitched from my closet everything made of fleece.

Some years later, I'm still single, unmarried and babyless. But I've allowed sweatpants back into my life.

Because the sense of comfort I get comes from knowing I'm more familiar with myself.

And I know I can slip comfortably into another relationship, but one that will feed my desires for adventure and spontaneity in addition to my need for familiarity.