In Loving Memory (and living with regret)

This week I lost two people who were hugely important people in my past. I’d had a falling out with each of them a long time ago, eventually reconnected with each of them in the early days of Facebook, and then drifted apart from each of them again. They are both people who reached out to me just a few months ago asking to get together, and they are both people whose messages I ignored because it didn’t feel like ‘the right time’ to have them back in my life.

This is the week that I learned how brutally life will teach us that we may run out of time for second chances.

Katherine Ulrichsen

IMG_20180412_173305__01My childhood best friend, born only two days after me, Katherine and I had known each other from the early age of 1.5 years. We made mud shakes together, caught bees together, and went to my first concert together (George Michael). We were the best of friends right up until the middle of high school when boys (a boy) came between us. Of course, what a cliche.

On Friday morning, Katherine didn’t wake up from her sleep. We don’t know how she died, but hopefully an autopsy will reveal the cause. Katherine had reached out to me just before I was heading to BC in the Fall. I could see on Facebook that Katherine battled physical and emotional pain daily, and I just didn’t want to have to add that to all of the things I was already dealing with myself, so I didn’t reply. I kept thinking that I would reach out to her and make sure I saw her before I moved out of the province – that would have been within the next couple of months. We hadn’t seen each other since age 18; after more than 20 years apart, it never occurred to me we didn’t have a mere couple of months more.

The outpouring of love in response to Katherine’s passing spoke of a woman who was kind-hearted, giving, and caring toward everyone. I wish I had known the adult version of my childhood friend. I wish I had made the time to see her. I just didn’t know that was going to be my only chance.

Luke Neville

Four days after learning of Katherine’s death, I saw a Facebook post that Luke was missing. It was dated October 2017, being reposted on the 6 month anniversary of his disappearance. I didn’t know.

IMG_20180411_142125

Luke & Linda, sometime in our twenties

Luke & Linda – we were a complicated pair since our twenties. We initially bonded over a love of the same type of music. He lived in Ottawa, he would come and visit me in Toronto and I would take my son (just 4 years old at the time) to visit “Fireman Luke” in Ottawa. Most of the time, our romantic timing was terrible but one magical weekend, it wasn’t. We shared an amazing weekend camping and hiking in cottage country but as soon as we were back, reality kicked in and the complications kicked up again.

In my thirties we reconnected – he was now living in BC, I had to go to BC for work so we met up for a weekend. He took me to my first firing range so that I could check off ‘shoot a gun’ on my bucket list. Luke & Linda were doing great… until we weren’t. We had a huge blow up, it ended terribly, and I couldn’t forgive him for the things he said and did. Every few years after that he would send me a note to see if I was ready to reconcile but I could never figure out what to say in response, so I never replied.

Last August he was back in Ontario for a week and he tried again, and said that he would keep trying every few years. He ended his note with “Ok, well, I guess I said what I had to say and I’ll return to my hole for a few more years… ummm… you look awesome BTW… ok, well, have a great couple of years or so… Let me know if you’re in B.C. and want to fight… Too soon?… probably… k, bye…”.

Just two months later, I did go to BC, and I was in a town just a couple of hours from his small, remote town. I didn’t tell him I was going to be there, because I still wasn’t ready yet and I thought we’d have lots of time for that ‘right moment’ to come when we would be able to patch things up.

That day in October, when I was in that town close to his town, is the last day he was seen alive.

That day, when I was in that town close to his town, it’s believed that he was murdered by thugs from a local drug house. His body has never been found.

The day after that day, a post went up on Facebook that he was missing, but I never saw it because I was travelling through BC busily looking for a new home and excitedly planning to apply for grad school, so I wasn’t checking social media. I had no idea that just a few hours away there was now a search party combing the area, looking for the other half of Luke & Linda.

I wonder if I had reached out and asked him to meet me on that trip in BC, if it might have saved his life. Luke would have dropped everything to come and see me, and if he’d done that then maybe he wouldn’t have been where he was when they got him. I just can’t reconcile that it happened when – for the first and only time in my life – I was so close that I could have actually possibly disrupted that course of events. I know it’s impossible thinking, it’s just part of the grief process I suppose. But when it comes to living with regret, this is a big one.

Luke and RobertLuke had a great laugh. He would get onto rants about all sorts of things, and I loved how when he ranted, he would elongate adjective vowels. Something wasn’t just “super annoying”, it was “sooooooooper annoying” haha. I do that too; I’m pretty sure I picked it up from him. He also didn’t have much of a filter, which meant that he was brazenly open about his desires for us to have a relationship, and equally brazenly open about behaviours of mine that he found problematic. You always knew where you stood with Luke. And he sure did love kids; he loved my kid.

 

I’m trying hard to understand what the universe is trying to teach me this week. I had been thinking that I was going to move out of Ontario without giving many people a heads up. I’m reconsidering that now. I think I need to make sure that I have lovingly closed my relationships here before I leave, especially those that have ended abruptly and/or without explanation, because I may never get a chance to do that and I need to make sure that people know I love them and that they matter(ed) to me.

I knew that Luke loved me, but I don’t think he knew that I loved him. Sometimes I didn’t like him, but a part of me always loved him, and it feels to me like the greatest tragedy that he died not knowing that. I just didn’t know I would run out of time to let him know.

say it

Advertisements

Why We (I) Stay(ed)

I started this post a week ago. What a difference a week makes.

My friends struggle to understand why I am in a relationship with a man I constantly fight with, continuously think about breaking up with, and regularly feel unhappy with. Some of my friends have quit the struggle and prefer to stay out of it altogether. A precious few accept it – whether they understand it or not – and just keep waiting for something to give. 

I’ve known him for almost 4 years but we’ve only been dating officially for maybe 6 months. We have a tumultuous past that began very quickly after my ex-fiance broke up with me unexpectedly. I fell in love quickly, even though serious problems were evident from the start. I remember saying to him then: “You are the most selfish person I’ve ever known.” We only dated for 2 weeks back then. We broke up, tried to stay friends, and when that didn’t work we went through cycles of not speaking for months and then reconnecting into a highly charged “friendship” with loose boundaries. Very loose boundaries. I kept going back. He was persistent, I was attached, and we had incredible chemistry.  

When he approached me 6 months ago asking me to reconsider a relationship with him, I turned him down. I had a vision of the kind of relationship I wanted, and I knew he couldn’t provide it. I wanted to feel comfortable, and loved. I wanted easy conversation and mutual respect, stability and support. I wanted a partnership. Eventually he provided a compelling enough case and I agreed to give it a try. Two months later I ended it, then again 2 months after that. My friends were shaking their heads.

Three weeks ago we had a fight and I thought, “That’s it, this has to be the end. It’s just not working.” Fights were starting to become a regular weekend occurrence for us. I try to avoid making permanent decisions in anger so, as usual, I told myself to sleep on it. Of course I got no sleep that night. The next day I told myself not to make permanent decisions when I’m tired and, well, you can see how this goes. Eventually, I finally got a better night’s sleep and told myself the next day, “See? Things aren’t so bad.” He was being sweet, and I was relieved to be feeling a little better. 

But the problems were still there, and they were still keeping me up at night. They were on my mind all the time. Half the time I was thinking about how insurmountable they were and how I needed to end the relationship. The other half of the time I was trying to figure out why those problems existed – what were we both contributing and what could we both do differently to avoid those problems.

The following weekend I thought for sure the relationship was going to end. I had spent a week thinking things over and couldn’t see a way out. It just wasn’t working. I was unhappy, I didn’t feel valued, I didn’t feel like I had a partner. In fact, of all the things I had envisioned for my next relationship, I could find very few of them in this one.

And then, in the middle of that weekend’s fight, he said, “You know it’s because of you that I say felt that you were attacking me (for example). In the past I would have said You attacked me.” And I suddenly saw that we were making progress, that he actually was trying to do better even if he’s not really one to openly acknowledge it. He had quietly noted the need for change, and was trying to work on it. I value that. It brought tears to my eyes, my heart grew three sizes and I instantly recommitted. If he was willing to try, so was I. 

I’d never known anybody like him before, and he said he’d never known anybody like me before. Of course it would take time for us to learn how to be with each other – we just needed to try harder. It was becoming a common refrain for us – we just have to try, we just have to try harder.

Since that day just over a week ago, we fought again, twice. In fact, one night we fought (“discussed”) until 5:30am. It’s amazing how much truth comes out in exhaustion. And truth is kind of like a brand new comforter – once you pull it out of the packaging, there’s just no way you’re going to be able to fold it all tightly enough to get it back in. Once it’s out, it’s out for good.

So, today we broke up. The few friends I have left are being kind and sympathetic. They’ve run the marathon with me. They passed the ‘I told you so’ marker long ago and have just been waiting to see the finish line. They also know that often the finish line is a mirage, so they will cautiously stand by to make sure this is permanent before they say too much. 

I loved him. I do love him. I knew we had the odds stacked against us but I thought I was onto a special secret – that this guy who was troubled and emotionally distant was really a sweetheart just waiting to be loved into happiness. He was incredibly smart, funny, driven, and relentless in trying to get a foothold in life. In so many ways I admired him.

I love discovering people who have unexpected layers of amazingness the rest of the world can’t see. I guess on some level I think that makes me special. Now I think it just makes me like every other person who stays in an unhealthy relationship. We try too hard. We stay too long. We’re hopeful to a fault. We’re a dime a dozen. 

But I’ll tell you this: we’re not weak and we’re not stupid. We know what’s happening. We see the bad, we just whole heartedly want to believe it will get better. And we have the strength of armies because we will go to great lengths and endure great sorrows in the hopes that it will get better.

So the next time you’re frustrated with a friend for not leaving a ‘bad’ relationship, or you find yourself saying “why doesn’t s/he just leave?”, please try to remember that person is just trying their best to be happy. They are hopeful and they are strong. They need your patience and support, not your judgement and ultimatums. 

Ironically, in the end, it was a Facebook post from one of his female friends (who had been the subject of previous fights between us) that tipped me over. It didn’t say anything particularly amazing, and it wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. It just said the right thing at the right time:

Image

 

 

Flawed

I hate that feeling some of us grew up with that we’re not good enough, that we need to try harder, harder, harder to be perfect. To become acceptable. To become lovable.

I believe my friends know my flaws, but probably no single friend knows them all. Each one has a glimpse into my neuroses and insecurities, but only collectively they would have the whole picture. I envy people who have that one person in their lives who knows all their flaws and loves them anyway; who doesn’t keep those flaws handy in a box nearby, ready to be hurled at the first sign of an argument, using them like a defense shield just to protect himself (or herself) from feeling too vulnerable.

My best friend recently said she’ll be devastated when her father passes away because he’s the only person in the world who still thinks she’s perfect. What a beautifully safe and loved feeling that must be. I can’t relate, but I can imagine. The very thought of it smells to me like home-cooked muffins and feels like warm sunshine on my skin.

So this is where I say f* it. Nobody thinks I’m perfect anyway, what’s the point of trying so hard to hide my flaws? So here they are:

I am terrified of trusting someone and having that trust broken, and that makes me hypervigilant and overly analytical of the behaviour of those who are closest to me. It’s exhausting.

I want to be the most important person in the world to somebody – just one person – and sometimes that makes me act like a crazy jealous person.

Sometimes when I’m hurt, I hurt back.

Sometimes I’m passive aggressive. Other times I’m just flat out aggressive.

Sometimes I can’t find the courage to say “I’m scared” and it comes out as tears. Sometimes that happens a lot.

I’m not a good daughter. I’m tired of being let down by my family, so I have given up on trying to make them happy.

I’m pretty selfish. Except not really. Except I am.

I am so unsure of myself, I have trouble making decisions about even the smallest things sometimes.

Sometimes I do things that I know are bad for me, just because I want to and because I’m so tired of trying to do everything right all the time.

I get nervous speaking in groups because I don’t want anybody to not like me.

I beat myself up constantly for not being a more level-headed person; a more self-sufficient, not-needing-others person.

I keep almost everyone at a distance so that I don’t risk letting them down or being let down by them.

I lie. Not often, but not never.

I resent when people talk about themselves all the time.

I’m a feminist, but I want a man to fix my broken faucet and mow my lawn and put his big strong arms around me and tell me everything’s going to be ok.

When I’m most scared and need most to be held, I push people away the hardest. Then I panic that they’ll leave, so I hang on too tight.

I like being in control of situations because then they feel less scary. But yes, that makes me controlling.

If I could get away with stealing (not from a person, but from a store), I would probably do it.

If I could have gotten away with murder in the past, I would have done it.

I feel like a more worthy person when I’m skinny. But I never feel skinny enough.

I am judgemental. I try not to be, but I am.

I am a little bit racist. I try not to be, but I am.

I’m inherently lazy.

I am addicted to sugar.

There. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I can think of right now. I am flawed, I know that I am, but I am also a good and loving person and I deserve to be loved whole-heartedly. I know I’m not always an easy person to love, but I don’t need to be reminded of that and I certainly don’t need it to be amplified. Goodness knows I already live under my own giant microscope.

At the end of the day, I just want someone to know all my flaws but still look at me like I am the greatest gift in the world to them. Am I crazy for thinking that’s possible?

Faith in Humanity: Restored

There are many, many days when, for any number of reasons, I find myself grumbling “I hate people.” Yesterday was not one of those days. Yesterday was a beautiful day that glowed brightly with love. Yesterday the universe wrapped its big strong arms around me and enveloped me in a long warm hug until I was bursting with happiness.

It started with a fantastic 7.5k mid-day run. The sun was shining, the trail was clear of puddles, and everyone I passed seemed to be at peace. I felt so lucky to be out there with them, enjoying the special gift of a perfect, sunny, warm April afternoon.

After my run, I quickly washed up and headed to the Passport Office where, after jumping through many hoops over the last week, I was finally ready to submit my son’s passport application. Still beaming with bliss, I stepped up to the counter, slid over the application, and then stared with complete lack of comprehension as the woman told me she couldn’t accept the application because the signature on my son’s I.D. didn’t match the signature on the application.

“He’s a teenager, he changes his signature every 6 months! How am I going to find a government-issued I.D. with the exact same signature?”

“Well then we’re going to need him to come in and sign the application in front of us.”

Easier said than done, considering we live in different towns, the Passport Office is an hour way, and we’re supposed to be on an airplane in just 3 weeks. I asked if I could get him to take a picture of I.D. and email it to me. Would they accept that?

Her response: “I can’t speak for the others, but I wouldn’t.”

My shoulders slumped, I shrugged and said, “Well, I had planned to spend the afternoon here anyway. I guess I’ll just wait and give it a shot. I have nothing to lose.”

I stepped out of the room, called my son to examine all his I.D., and then waited as he texted me photos of his health card on which the signature, while not a perfect match, at least somewhat resembled his latest signature. I looked up at the number ticker in the waiting room: A081. My number: A084.

Suddenly I had a thought: they accept photocopies of I.D. If I could just find a way to turn this digital file into a hard copy, maybe I could get this application through after all.

I scurried to the security guard: “Is there anywhere in this building that I could print an email?”

“Weeeell, there’s a woman downstairs in a passport photo store. I don’t know if she’d do it, but you could try.”

I will try ANYTHING. I thanked him and ran downstairs.

“Hi, is there any way you could print an email for me?”

She looked me over. “It’ll cost you.”

“That’s fine, I don’t care.”

She stepped aside, giving me full access to her desktop computer. YES! In a few short minutes, I had printed out the semi-blurry photos, asked her what I owed her to which she replied, “Just go back up to the Passport Office. If they accept the application, come back and pay me $2. If they don’t, don’t worry about it.”

I looked at her in disbelief. Really??!

“Yes, go, I trust you.”

Wow, when is the last time you heard that from a stranger?

I ran upstairs. A083. I took a deep breath. When my number came up, I walked to the counter calmly as if there was no reason to believe there would be any problem whatsoever with the application I was submitting. The woman (different from the last one) quietly looked through the papers and pulled aside the printout of the health card. I held my breath. She looked up at me.

“Are you the guarantor?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll need you to sign this page and date it.”

“OK.”

I signed it, dated it, and passed it back without taking a breath. In fact, I don’t think I took another breath until all the papers were stamped and signed and she said to me, “OK, you’re all set.” Bliss restored!

I ran back down to the little store to pay for my printout. As I pulled out my wallet, my kind stranger said, “Put that away.”

Once again, I looked at her in disbelief. “No, you’ve already done so much. You saved my day. Please let me pay. I don’t mind.”

She smiled and replied, “I believe when someone is going through a hard time, we need to do what we can to make it easier for them, not harder. Keep your money, and just say a little prayer for me tonight. My name is Jasmin.”

Well, Jasmin, I would just like to say thank you for single-handedly restoring my faith in humanity. I was beaming all evening, and woke up this morning still loving the world. I will do my best to be somebody’s Jasmin today, tomorrow, and the next day. You make this world a better place. Thank you, thank you, thank you!