Receiving wild flowers in a spaghetti can is not something a girl forgets, especially when they arrive with bacon, wrapped old-school style by the butcher.
I was staying at a B & B in small-town Quebec when I heard the door knock. Checking that I was presentable, I put on my mask and opened it.
A thin, sun-hardened arm reached out and passed me the flowers. They had clearly been arranged with care, not simply tossed in the can.
“These are so beautiful, thank you, I-“
The other thin, sun-hardened arm reached out and passed me a package wrapped in brown paper.
“It’s for your breakfast with your friend. You’re going to visit her today, right? It’s bacon.”
Wearing a black kaftan, hair up in a bun, mask on, I stood holding the flowers and bacon. The moment felt surreal and for a second I felt like an actress in a scene from a quirky indie film.
Standing in front of me was the man I had dated when I was just twenty-one years old. Now, thirty years later, he stood before me with these sweet offerings.
I had traveled to rural Quebec for a late summer visit with one of my dearest girlfriends. Realizing my old boyfriend lived nearby, I had reached out to him thinking it would be nice to have a coffee and catch up. But that’s not quite what happened…
I ended up sitting on a lawn chair, in a field behind a workshop, drinking wine from a dirty mason jar. An alarming-looking fire in a metal barrel and a giant pirate’s flag were the only decor. Joining us were his ex brother-in-law and a fast-talking man wearing a straw fedora.
At various points in the evening the guys took turns urinating outside.
“If you need to go pee you can just do it out here, don’t worry, we won’t look and you’ll be safe. I’ll protect you,” said my ex.
Wait what? Peeing outside? What is happening?
On the walk over to his artist meets Hells’ Angels living quarters, I had struggled to connect with the man I once knew. He had a hard time making eye contact, was fidgety and clearly drunk.
I learned he had a grown daughter whom he deeply loved. That he knew how to survive in the wilderness (yikes, why?) and had spent time in Ireland. He’d also worked for years on large ships and loved to write poetry. That’s what I got, just a broad outline. But there were details. The details were in the scent he gave off: a blend of grief and complete despair.
“You know me. I’ve been trying to kill myself for years,” he said casually, just like someone might say, “you know me, I love ice cream.”
His pain completely overwhelmed me. I felt like any second it might swallow me up whole. Part of me wanted to run – fast – away from the field. But I also knew that his pain deserved to be seen, his pain deserved to be acknowledged. And so I sat in the field, drinking wine from a dirty mason jar and bore witness to it.
Later that night, alone at my B & B, I was overcome with sorrow. It shattered my twenty-one year old’s heart to see him so broken. I remembered him being wild and troubled when we dated, but also kind and romantic. One time he surprised me at the bus station:
I was returning from visiting a friend and there he was, hands in his pockets, staring at the windows trying to locate me, his eyes lighting up when he saw me. I distinctly remember thinking: “I can’t believe he’s here!” There were no cell phones or emojis back then, but if there were I would have texted my girlfriends:
“OMG he’s waiting at the station for me!💖😍🤸♀️👏💕”
Being presented with flowers and bacon the morning after such a crushing evening was not something I was prepared for. But, the moment was tender and real and awkward and despite the sadness I felt it was also beautiful.
#trauma #oldboyfriends #lifestories #quebec