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.

11 thoughts on “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

  1. I am sorry, that is a lousy feeling even if it’s “for the best” or whatever people say nowadays. You are, of course, welcome to a boring visit to Vermont if you need to get out of Canada. I’ve got plenty of advice-from-MetaFilter information to impart if you need it. You were done wrong and I am sorry.

  2. I am really sorry about this. It sounds like things are going to be hard for awhile, but try to remember that you have lots of friends near and far in your corner, myself included.

    I also know exactly how it feels to find yourself in a financial situation you wouldn’t expect to be in at your age. I never thought I’d be underemployed and living paycheck to paycheck in my late thirties, but here I am. You’re definitely not alone there.

    Also I’ve been to Jessamyn’s area of Vermont and boring or not, it’s really beautiful. You should take her up on that.

  3. James,
    This is heartbreaking and I can’t imagine how you must really feel. Though it is difficult, I know you will be able to crawl out of this pit and blossom. Endings are just new beginnings. Embrace your new freedom, focus on yourself, go wherever you want, do whatever you want and find your happiness. Despite what you may think of yourself, you are a fun and interesting person with lots to offer. You have an amazing skillset that fits your passions and you are way more outgoing than you think (and you have great hair and are fit!). I don’t envy the rough road ahead, but an unknown future can be very exciting. Keep the faith, sending lots of love your way.

  4. When something like what is happening to you happened to me a few years ago, I kept returning to a mantra: “You are stronger than this moment and stronger than the next one.” It felt like a call not merely to stand still or to endure pain, but a reminder that, difficult as life levels can become, they can also grow more fruitful and promising.

    My thoughts are with you.

  5. James, I am so so sorry. This may be an end, but it’s not the end of you and your awesomeness. You have friends everywhere supporting you and rooting for you, which is huge. All my good thoughts and hopes are yours, my friend.

  6. My deepest sympathies, James. This is a horrible blow and horribly sad. Having seen you two together, it was so obvious how much you cared for her. You’ve had a really horrible couple of years. I can only hope that you’re able to make something beautiful out of the ashes. My largest hugs as you figure out how to adapt your life and my greatest hope that you find happiness again.

  7. So many hugs, man. Heartbreak is a horrible feeling and recovery is no fun. Lean on your friends, even if they’re far away and you can only lean virtually.

  8. James, your friendship has been a blessing to me, especially lately, I wish I had something comforting to say to take away the pain. All I can do is pray for God to comfort you. I would also like to offer a plane ticket and room for you here in Central Florida. Stay as long as you want. Everything I have is your’s – house, food, car, bank account (not much there), company, friendship, … All you have to do is accept.

    1. That’s crazy generous, Tony. Your friendship is plenty, though. If it becomes feasible for me at some point to pay you a visit, I’ll let you know. But your offer is very kind.

  9. Oh James. I’m sitting here in the Winnipeg airport with tears running down my cheeks. I’m heartbroken for you, for Brooke, for you & Brooke. I know Waterloo hasn’t been particularly kind to you, but know that our door is open to you anytime – absolutely anytime – you want to escape the city. I’m back from tour on Friday. Send me a message on FB if you want to grab a drink next week.

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