Leaves, Weeds, and Flowers

Some of my creative output from the early 1990s is bringing me a certain level of comfort right now. Or maybe the familiarity of these emotions isn’t exactly comfort, but it’s something I know pretty well.

the cruellest month (1994)

the august trees were already
leaving by september
when I autumned into love with you.

I pictured you in green
slipping through the forest
hiding among the oaks
like a frightened deer
or escaping into the woods
with your secrets
climbing into the longrooted branches.

wintering in this cold country
I picked icicles like fruit
looking for a sign of you.
when spring came, my icicles
turned and ran
through my fingers
and my torn hands healed.

the forest in green
ran me through, living
while my small love died.

in the weeds (1994)

In The Weeds (1994) by James McNally

bad flowers (1992)

vomited petals
and the taste of roses
that bouquet I ate
it wasn’t love after all.

The Man Who Doesn’t Fit In

Robert Service knows me:

The Men That Don’t Fit In (c. 1907)

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.

They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.

And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.

Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.

August 22, 1994

Monday August 22, 1994

Andrea’s party was on Saturday night, and I met Brooke, Andrea’s friend from work. She’s been telling me about her for a month now, and I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful she’d be. It was, of course, intimidating. It was worse when Andrea and Sue kept demanding that I go over and talk to her. I’m not a real smooth guy under that sort of pressure, and so it took me a while to talk to her. She’s a teacher, too, and went to teacher’s college in Buffalo. I think she’s working with the Etobicoke board this year, but it’s not permanent. She lives in Malton (near the airport) and she’s 28, but she looks more like 21. I don’t think Andrea thought I was interested, just because I was so casual, but I was actually quite interested, just a little intimidated, and of course, I’m not much of a mover. I’d like to see what (if anything) she says to Andrea about me. To be honest, I felt she was miles out of my league, but I’m flattered Andrea even considered me in the running.

Fear

Though I dearly hope this situation won’t last very long, it’s really discouraging and a bit terrifying to note that, as a man with absolutely no family (no living parents, no siblings, no cousins, aunts or uncles on this continent, separated from my only-child spouse, no children) and no full-time job, with automatic bank withdrawals for rent and other expenses, that I could drop dead in my apartment and not be found for several days. I am not even 50 years old yet, and somehow I feel like a lonely and fearful senior citizen. I no longer use my second door lock when I’m inside, and I’m eager to get my second set of keys back to Brooke just in case.

And that’s only one of the fears that I’m currently struggling with. Of course, worse than the fear of dying is the fear of never getting out of the situation I’m currently in. The fear that I’ve run out of chances, run out of good luck and that my life and my social circle and my work opportunities will continue to shrink around me. I saw this happen to my own father at around the same point in his life, and it terrified me at the time.

By putting this out there publicly, I hope to break this fear’s power over me. Or at least to let you know that I’m not isolating myself on purpose. I crave connection and I’m not afraid to put that out there. Thanks to all of you who have been helping me get through this period of my life. When we meet (all too rarely), I may act like everything is just fine, but it’s the actual act of meeting with you that is giving me back a measure of normalcy, and helping me to know (or at least to hope) that it’s all going to be okay.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Brooke (1998)

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

— Robert Frost

It was the first week of February, and I had been away for 9 days in France, at a short film festival. It hadn’t been a particularly good trip. I was socially awkward and intimidated by the French language and the very professional and cliquey nature of the crowd. I’d stayed too long and missed home. And so I came home, and something between Brooke and me was just slightly off. When you’ve known someone nearly 20 years, you know when things are slightly off.

Later that week we went out for dinner and it seemed like Brooke was trying to pick a fight with me over the continuing joke/disaster of my “career” (or more accurately, my lack thereof). I knew it was one of our issues, but it didn’t seem to be that big of an issue. When we got home, I pressed her to tell me what was really the matter. And then she collapsed into tears.

Through sobs, she told me that on the night I left for my trip, she’d gotten together with an old university friend for dinner. He was in town for a conference and they’d decided to catch up. She’d briefly told me about her plan on the day I left, which seemed odd because she mentioned it so offhandedly at the last possible minute. What I didn’t know at the time is that this friend was someone with whom she’d had a brief flirtation way back in 1992, but she’d been involved in a serious relationship and so they never pursued it. He found another girlfriend, studied law, got married, had four children and now had a very successful career as a Crown Attorney in a small town about five hours from Toronto. But he shared with Brooke that he was unhappy, and that he’d always “carried a torch” for her. And I guess this unleashed her own feelings of regret and “what if?” She confessed that they had spent the night together. Even worse, they were planning a long weekend together the next month which is why she was trying to fight with me. She admitted that she was hoping to manufacture a crisis so that she could say we “needed time apart” so she could be with him. I was completely blindsided.

But I wasn’t yet angry or even very fearful. I thought it wonderful that Brooke was getting flattered and told how desirable she was. She’s a very attractive woman and sometimes it’s good for your self-confidence to have someone (other than your spouse) tell you that. And over the years, I’d had my own silly flirtations and attractions and could understand that feeling of infatuation. But it quickly dawned on me that this was something much more serious. Although I decided to let things play out, thinking the infatuation wouldn’t last, I have to admit that letting her spend an entire long weekend at some hotel in our own city with some unknown guy did crush me. But surely she’d get this out of her system and see that what we have is worth keeping, right?

Except that that hasn’t happened yet. And I don’t think it’s going to happen. I hastily made plans to escape to Montreal for a few days in early April. When the time arrived, I was miserable and didn’t want to go to another city just to be alone. She informed me that he was going to take advantage of my absence to spend a few more days in Toronto with her. Another horrible few days for me. And when I got home, I didn’t know what to expect. I kept telling her she needed to decide, but have finally come to the conclusion that her actions have spoken louder than any words. She’d already decided. She’s chosen him over me.

And I’m devastated. Anyone who knows me well knows that I take my relationships more seriously than just about anything in this world. I certainly take them more seriously than my “career.” I’ve put every ounce of my strength over the past nearly 17 years into being the best boyfriend, and then the best husband, that I knew how to be. We didn’t have a perfect relationship. No one does. But we had a damned fine one, full of love and affection and great communication. I love Brooke and I loved being married to her, and so this is the hardest thing that I have ever had to face in my entire life.

Though we haven’t yet decided to divorce, Brooke will be moving to her own place on June 1st. Strangely, it’s just across the street from our current apartment. And I’ll stay here, at least for the summer, though the effective doubling of both of our rents is going to be harsh. Maybe I’ll turn our office back into a bedroom and try to get a roommate. Or maybe I’ll move to another part of the city, though I’ll need to share a place and I have no idea what that will be like. To top it off, I’m still woefully underemployed and will need to bring in a lot more money just to keep going. But really, that’s how it all started for me.

It was almost to the day 27 years ago that my mum died. I was 22, just finishing college and hoping to embark on my career. But life got in the way, you see. My dad’s support cheques stopped coming, and I ended up staying on at my summer job much longer than I wanted to. Then followed a period of taking in roommates, sometimes too many at a time, to make ends meet. I often feel that my career restlessness is somehow rooted in this “work for survival” period of my life. Hopefully it serves me well again now.

I’m familiar with grief. And with struggle. Hopefully I can find the strength and resources, within myself and with my friends, to come through this okay.