My single-lens reflex used to be a constant companion on my trips, something I carried with me everywhere so I could have visual records of my experiences. Nowadays, my only intention is survival. Always trying to make sure I’m never too hungry, tired, anxious, or sober, lest I have breakdown in an unfamiliar place. It leaves little room for comfort, even less for any form of artistic expression. Fortunately, I always have with me a smartphone with a camera. It may not be able to give me the razor-thin depth-of-field that I favour, but it can capture things in slow motion, which is great for cockapoos who are born to fetch.
I thought I was stable enough to make it a few hours in a house alone with one of her brothers, but the anxiety attack I had while trying to fall asleep taught me otherwise. Being in the presence of a person with such a flat affect reminds me too much of the time in my life when I was so numb and broken that nothing could provoke interest or emotion. Sometimes I’ll find him in a lounge chair for hours, legs reclined, completely motionless and silent and staring into space. Even though we’re all glad he’s home and no longer living on the streets, being around him can be a discomforting still-face experiment I’d rather not take part in.
Her mom knows how hard it is for me to leave the house, let alone travel to another town, so she always makes her contentment known when I show up at her door. The shelves in her house are adorned with pictures of couples, families, children, records of a life rich with friendships and memories. I’m honoured to be among them, for I cannot concede to being significant enough to take up such space in many other homes.
She’s the closest I’ll ever have to a mother-in-law, and she gives me a hug and tells me she loves me for the first time as we leave. Heather will later ask if I think it’s true, knowing how hard it can be for me to process and accept love after so many broken relationships with significant people. I tell her I haven’t been given a reason believe otherwise.
I only knew Dooce through her infamy as the first person to suffer real-life consequences for things she wrote online. It’s hard for me to be interested in the life of anyone I don’t know personally (exceptions made for people I feel inspired by or am crushing on), and the handful of times in twenty years that I was curious enough to visit her website, I was met with some entertaining writing about marriage and motherhood that I couldn’t give a fuck about.
The last time would have been a few years ago; I tend to check up on a few bloggers every so often when I’m wondering how the landscape has evolved. As one of the few who were popular enough to make a living off the witty revelations of personal details, she easily made the list. That’s why it was so disconcerting to find that some months there was a single post, and the post was a list of sponsored links to things people could buy. It was especially strange to find her discussing digestive issues while a giant banner would fight for my attention underneath: “And for anyone who may be experiencing what I am, ButcherBox is running a special promotion through the end of the month where new members receive ground beef in every box for the lifetime of their subscription.”
How much of her writing was genuine? How do I trust the words of a person who seems to be capitalizing on her misfortune?
Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t particularly moved when I found out she committed suicide two months ago. It felt like I never knew who she truly was beneath the curse words and products being hawked. I also have a hard time empathizing with anyone who would describe pregnancy as an “endless trove of content”. For me, that kind of mindset reeked too much of melodrama, which I find distasteful enough to avoid in real life.
It glads my heart when I stumble across another online diary nowadays. A genuine one, of course, not updates from a company or a cooking blog that’s stuffed with photos to pad the time someone stays on the page before the recipe is found. No one entertains same audience as they used to, and I much prefer that to the kind of interactive “confessional” Dooce had, or the social media influencers of today.
I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to still have this little corner of the web to express myself, a place where I’m not beholden to an audience for a source of income. So often I find myself too broken to get out of bed, too strung out to pursue my projects, too busy to find 15 minutes to work on a lick. And during the stretches of time when I’m recovering and there’s nothing noteworthy to talk about, I’m relieved I don’t have to manufacture experiences to keep anyone’s attention. I still get mail asking if there are any spots for advertising or availability for sponsored posts, and they all get promptly get filed away in the trash.
It was sudden and completely unexpected; one afternoon we noticed that he kept to himself, curling up in dark spots that he wasn’t known to frequent. We knew there was a problem when he wouldn’t eat, then he passed away at the vet that day. That was almost three years ago, but I haven’t had the strength to properly eulogize him. It’s too painful when I already spend my days either crying or cried out.
I didn’t even have a chance to say bye.
That’s why these drafts keep piling up. I miss writing as much as I miss the hairy little companion who would jump on my lap for attention every morning, but taking the energy to create feels so meaningless when I barely have the spoons to cook for two people and keep a clean house. I don’t even know if I’ll be alive in another year. The jury’s still out, and I’ve decided they can take their time for now instead of rushing towards a verdict.
It’s also why I’ve been on a regular dose of sedatives since last winter. I used to have to lie down for blood tests, while vaccinations were totally fine. After all, there’s nothing being drawn, no crimson essence I can see rushing from my body into little vials. But when I almost passed out, then vomited, at a clinic for a booster shot last year, I knew mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises could do only so much.
Continue reading “blood simple”…
I wish I could say I made the decision not to do anything for Christmas this year, but the truth is that I no longer have a place to go after becoming orphaned in early adulthood. Then Shirley’s divorce broke the tradition of visiting her family when I first moved to Ottawa, and three years of a global pandemic haven’t helped either.
Heather could have gone home on Christmas Day but decided to stay with me, knowing it would be especially cruel to be alone when everyone else is exchanging gifts and enjoying the company of others. I’m glad it was something she could intuit; telling someone to be apart from their loved ones for my sake is something I would never do.
The photo we used for our Christmas card this year, taken when we went shopping for my birthday. Her Oma, who’s too old to have a computer, let alone a social media account, always appreciates a physical copy.
She spent so much of her precious time and energy buying/making thoughtful presents that I felt she deserved all the credit, but it was important to her that people knew they were from both of us though, so I acquiesced to her request of “+ Jeff” on each card. It was a gift itself that didn’t go unappreciated.
Even though I’ve come to shirk the obligatory consumerism of such occasions, she gave me a stocking stuffed with goodies from my favourite chocolatier, some luxury teas, and three pairs of classy socks to go with with the new pants I got earlier this year. It helped make up for the fact that I couldn’t accompany her on her trip home the next day. I’ve been anxiously waiting to introduce her mom to more music and meet Max’s new dog, but I’m still too damaged to leave the house for more than a few hours at a time before seductive thoughts of eternal peace creep to the front of my head and I can no longer breathe.
Among the presents she brought back was more Moselland Cat Riesling that will likely become a custom ever since Max spotted a bottle in a store. Her dad, whom we presume is on the spectrum, includes the same things in each of the kids stockings every year — cheap floss, mint Tic-Tacs, a bottle of lock de-icer, vitamin D tablets, and winter clothing that would be too big for Shaq. I’d normally feel hurt if someone kept thoughtlessly giving me things that I have no use for, but in this case it’s a nice reminder that I’m part of that family, even when I’m not there.
I finally had the opportunity to join Trolley and Steph at their cottage, after a drive of roughly three hours through scenic country roads. I didn’t even realize how close we were when we passed by it on the way to the farm 17 years ago, although it may as well have been 17 centuries. How strange it is to think of those as my salad days when I had already experienced enough heartache and trauma for a lifetime.
They call it a cottage but it’s really a house when there’s a full kitchen, laundry room, several guest rooms with queen-sized beds; even glass shower stalls.
Since then, I’ve loved and lost and loved again, taught myself to play guitar, and gained an unhealthy obsession with canine companionship. If you asked me back then where I would picture myself now, I might have given you a few guesses, but none would have been close to correct.
The view of the lake from atop the stone staircase. Not seen: rows of wooden recliners and a varied collection of watercraft — including a paddle boat — at the dock.
One of the highlights of a cottage weekend is the dinner Steph spends hours cooking for everyone on Saturday. This time, it was falafel, toum, and roasted veggies, all prepared from scratch.
And she always knows how to plate a dish like a New York chef.
I kept myself mildly sedated most of the time, but being away from my home for more than a few hours was scary enough to cause a panic attack that left me staring dazedly into a bucket once the terror receded. When constant company isn’t enough to keep the darkness at bay, it’s a sign that I’m still broken and need to occupy myself, lest I be consumed by the void of depression.
Regardless of how difficult it may have been, I was grateful for time I got to spend with my friends and their dog, especially after all the isolation I’ve faced throughout the pandemic. It was also the perfect chance for Trolley to try out his new drone while I played around with my new set of poi. If I had more spoons, perhaps I would have recorded some music or tried to capture the night sky, but I’m trying not to shame myself for making smaller goals and taking the time I need to survive.