I Remember You

Sunshine hits my face and for a moment I feel like everything is right in the world.

“Girl, you better figure out your shit today. If you don’t, I’m bringing back the grey and rain.”

Excuse me? Who’s talking? There’s no one on the street except three people down the block waiting for the bus.

Like an idiot I answer the voice:

“I’m going for a walk and doing some self-reflection. Then I’ll be writing in my journal. Does that count?”

“No that doesn’t count! You gotta do more than self-reflect. And toss that damn unicorn journal. You’re lost. Your body is here, but your beautiful, vibrant essence is MIA. Find it. Life is short and frankly you’ve wasted a lot of it,”

“Alright, I get it. I’m on it. By the way, are you The Sun?” I ask the voice.

“Of course I’m The Sun, who else would I be?!”

For the love of God. I get one moment of lovely sunshine warming my face and now the actual sun is harassing me. Nice.

Staring at a tree whose pink buds are just starting to bloom, I suddenly feel like crying, but nothing happens.

Fucking anti-depressants.

Walking through the park I imagine myself twirling and dancing but I’m too self-conscious, even though there’s no one around. Wait, it’s a sunny day – why is there no one around?

“For the next half hour the park’s all yours, so use it!” The Sun bellows at me.

“Okayyyy!” I shout back.

Jesus.

I look around tentatively and then spread my arms wide and start twirling. Slowly, then faster, not whirling-dervish fast, but a joyful, awkward twirl like you might see in a Greta Gerwig film.

A 1980’s modern jazz move that I used to do in dance class pops into my head and soon I’m sailing through the air.

Oh I remember now. I remember this girl.

This girl had the kind of energy that drew people to her, she was an introverted extrovert. She needed days of solitude to recharge, but her energy force was electric and her light was dazzling. Not in an obnoxious way, but in a way that made others want to explore their own light.

This girl loved to laugh and she loved celebrating all of life’s beauty:

“I’ve never seen a coral Peony – my God it’s stunning!”

“Look at that handsome man wearing the 1940’s-style suit, how cool is he?!”

“Come here quick – check out the sunset. Can you believe those colors?!”

Oh yes – this girl – I know you!

I want you back. I’m so sorry I let you go. I’m so sorry I let people stomp on you. I’m so sorry I stopped believing in you.

But I’m here now and I want you to know that I’m grateful. For without you I’m just a shell of myself, like an oyster without a pearl.

I promise I won’t let anyone take you from me again.

I’ll twirl every day and leave a trail of sparkle behind me wherever I go. I will fall madly in love with myself and only those who encourage me to be radiant will be allowed in my sacred inner circle. And if anyone dares try to snuff you out again they will be sorry they ever met me.

I’m dancing for you right now – can you see me? It’s not a beautiful dance because I’m out of practice – but it’s all for you. I love you and I need you.

Please come back to me.

My entire body tingles and The Sun whispers in my ear:

“Good job girl, good job.”

I’m crying now, gorgeous gentle tears, that despite my anti-depressants have broken through. I feel like a 1960’s hippie who’s just experienced her first transcendental experience.

“Thank you,” I whisper to The Sun, “thank you.”

“The Sun Goddess,” an original painting by Wincy Xavier, At Saatchi Art.

The Edit

“What happened to our bookcase in the living room?” Jodie asked.

“I organized the books by color,” answered Lily.

“Well obviously, but why?”

“I watched this show on Netflix about organizing your home to create a calm and happy environment. I’m doing our bedroom closet next. Actually – this weekend I need you to go through your clothes and shoes and put stuff you don’t wear anymore into a bag for The Goodwill.”

Jodie debated whether it was worth arguing over this insane new obsession of Lily’s and decided against it. They had been navigating multiple rough patches lately and were long overdue for a smooth patch.

“Okay no problem,” she said, taking a sip of Cabernet.

The next day Jodie went through her side of the closet.

“You have thirty-three printed tunics,” Lily yelled from the living room. “You can probably get rid of a few of the older ones.”

Jodie didn’t say anything. Even though she was working from home because of the pandemic, a tunic over slim black pants was still her work uniform of choice and she didn’t want to part with any of them.

Resignedly she picked out her three least favorite and threw them in a giant blue recycling bag.

Lily was at the bedroom door now:

“Thanks babe, I really appreciate you doing this. Don’t forget you have a million maxi dresses at the back of the closet.”

Lord Give Me Strength.

The maxi dress section proved to be a landmine, each dress tagged with its own memory:

Jodie had worn the black floral one on their first date to a gallery opening. After flirting over art, they had shared a bottle of wine with oysters and frites at Bistro Figaro.

On their trip to Cape Cod, where they had kissed ice cream off each other’s lips, she had worn the flaxseed linen dress almost every day.

The olive tiered maxi she had bought for their two year anniversary dinner. Though her high heels had pinched her toes, the night had still been blissful.

Suddenly Jodie was sobbing. Sitting on the carpet she was struck by how old these joyful memories were. There were no recent joyful memories. It would be easy to blame the pandemic, but it wasn’t the virus’s fault. Prior to Covid Jodie had sensed a shift in their relationship, they had become more like roommates; the romance had disappeared.

When they first started dating Jodie had made it clear that romance was important to her. She loved getting flowers, walking hand in hand and any and all sweet gestures. Obviously the pandemic was stressful, but it wasn’t an excuse to ignore your partner’s needs. Plus, they didn’t have kids – not even a cat – so they had it much easier than others.

They had time for romance.

Jodie blew her nose then took half a Xanax from her bedside table. Back at her pile she chose three dresses for The Goodwill.

“I’m finished,” she yelled, leaving the bedroom to pour herself a glass of wine.

“Oh great thanks, now I can get to work. I bought all new hangers, clear bins and labels. And of course I will color-code the closet too.”

Jodie took a large sip of wine:

“Do you color code the black? Like lightest black to darkest black?” Jodie asked.

“Are you making fun of me?”

“No, just curious.”

“I don’t color code the black. Why are you drinking wine at three o’clock in the afternoon?”

“I’m self-medicating.”

“What’s wrong? Anything I can do to help?”

Jodie stared at her.

You can stop trying to fix our broken relationship by organizing our house.

“It’s just…a lot of beautiful memories came up when I went through the closet. I feel like I just gave away some of our happiest times to The Goodwill. And I’m worried that we’re not making any new happy memories.”

“You can’t put that kind of pressure on us, I mean we’re in the middle of a god damn pandemic. You’re too much of a romantic. Not everything is champagne and chocolate, sometimes it’s just peanut butter sandwiches.”

“Peanut butter sandwiches are fine, but not everyday. When was the last time we had sex? Do you even remember? Because I don’t.”

“Again with the pressure. We’re both working from home and we haven’t killed each other yet or died from COVID, so I’m scoring that as a win. We can have tons of sex once things calm down,” Lily said exasperated, walking to the bedroom to work on the closet.

Jodie took the bottle of wine and a bag of Ruffles to the living room couch. She grabbed a handful of chips and looked at them:

How do some of the chips stay perfectly intact while others get broken?

It turns out that Cabernet and Sour Cream and Onion potato chips were a thing. Like if she owned a restaurant every glass of red wine would be served with a small bowl of these chips.

Lily didn’t eat junk food of any kind. Instead she had her own shelf in their tiny pantry full of protein powders and vitamin mixes for her daily smoothies.

Jodie leaned back and tossed a few more chips in her mouth. If only her therapist hadn’t retired. What kind of a therapist retires during a pandemic?

“Come see what I’m doing,” shouted Lily from the bedroom.

Jodie sighed:

“Be there in a sec.”

She found Lily in a tweaked frenzy:

“See first you have to edit and purge – getting rid of stuff. Then it’s about containing. You can’t just have stuff loose in the closet, everything needs its own place and a label. Like your winter sweaters: they were in a messy pile on the shelf, but now they’re in this clear labeled bin, color-coded and contained.”

Leaning against the wall and sipping her wine, Jodie said:

“You know what else are messy? Feelings are messy. And feelings aren’t meant to be contained in a color-coded, labeled bin. Feelings are meant to be expressed and talked about.”

“What is your problem? I’m working hard to create a calm and happy environment for us by organizing our home and you’re not the least bit grateful.”

“No, I’m not. Because I didn’t ask you to do this. Because this doesn’t need doing. Because this is just another example of you trying to control everything, instead of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Can we talk about our fucking relationship instead of color-coding the closet please?!”

“What is there to talk about? We share a lovely home, we both have successful careers, we’re healthy…”

“That’s what you have to say about our relationship? Are you kidding me?! What about the fact that you know romantic gestures are important to me, yet you haven’t bought me flowers in over a year. We don’t hold hands anymore, we don’t make love anymore…”

“Honestly, you are so immature. The new variant is kicking our ass, Russia invaded Ukraine and Putin might blow up the world. Meanwhile you’re talking about us not holding hands? You’re acting like a spoiled teenager instead of a forty-two year old woman.”

Lily turned her back on Jodie and continued organizing their closet. Jodie watched as she used a sharpie to make a label:

“Sweatshirts.”

Back in the kitchen Jodie rinsed out her wine glass. Then she took one of their insulated food bags and filled it with cheese, bread, wine, chocolate, berries and coffee.

Taking a black sharpie from Lily’s bag of supplies in the hallway and a large-sized pad of paper from their office, she started printing words in giant block letters:

I LOVE YOU
BUT THIS RELATIONSHIP
IS NOT MEETING MY NEEDS.
IF PUTIN IS
GOING TO BLOW
US ALL UP
THEN I NEED
SOME ROMANCE
& JOY BEFORE
I DIE.

She put the papers in order and attached a paper clip. Grabbing a clear bin off the floor, she put the papers inside, then labeled the bin:

CHAMPAGNE & CHOCOLATES

Jodie gathered up two cloth masks, her charger, phone, laptop and purse, then ordered an Uber to drive her to the train station.

Two and a half hours later Jodie was at her grandmother’s country house. It was a shabby-chic oasis which her grandmother had left to her in her will – and it was Jodie’s favorite place on earth.

If Lily decided that their relationship was more important than color-coding t-shirts, then she would know where Jodie was.

If not, Jodie would be sad, but she would be okay. And she would live bin-free in the country. Maybe she would even get a cat.

Art by Hiroki_takeda1223 on Instagram

The Thief

Back in the mid-1980’s if you were a victim of sexual violence you hid it behind your stacked rubber Madonna bracelets and teased bangs. No one talked about it.

As a teenager in that era sex was a fraught issue for me. AIDS was front and centre in the 80’s making it scary. Also, my mother was a recovering Catholic, her internalized shame about sexuality passed down to me like a piece of heirloom jewelry.

When I was raped in high school I was still a virgin. I told no one about the assault and when my attacker gossiped that “he’d slept with me,” I brushed it off like it was no big deal.

The trauma quickly morphed into a skilled thief, stealing years of my life.

I didn’t have sex with anyone for the rest of high school. In my early twenties came a brief stage of boyfriends whom I slept with. The men were not worthy of me, but at the time they were all I felt I deserved. My broken psyche did not like what she was seeing though:

“You’re dating total losers, you’re on a precarious path!” she screamed.

Like the Goddess Artemis, my psyche was my protector. But since she was broken she didn’t know how to best take care of me. Fearing for my safety, she went a bit nuts and shut me down completely.

“No men, no dating, no sex!” she yelled.

So I spent 3/4 of my twenties and the first few years of my thirties single. I was like a flower that had been planted, started growing and then just before it could blossom a crazy gardener came along and put a giant terracotta pot on top of it – killing it.

Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with being single, but being single because of unresolved trauma is very different.

The trauma thief stole my entire early adulthood. Years meant for learning about myself and relationships. For making mistakes and exploring my sexuality. For learning how to trust my instincts and stand up for myself. For dating wannabe poets and having affairs with much older lovers. But I was completely Shut Down, so I lost an entire decade. Pouf!

I spent part of that decade in Austin, a city I loved. I made beautiful friendships and had a great job. But I spent most nights alone. No cute Austin musicians or Texas cowboys for me.

I still grieve for those lost years. Looking at photos of myself from that time I see such a lovely, lonely girl. Though I’m not a big believer in destiny, I do believe that had I seen a therapist during those years I would have stayed in Austin – that it actually was my destiny to stay there. I can totally see myself married, with a grown child, still living in Texas and fighting the Handmaid’s Tale tyranny of Governor Greg Abbott.

Since then I have had the luxury of being able to work with a couple of excellent therapists, but there will forever be a little nest of grief inside of me. I envision it like a small bird’s nest, but with some glittery grass, for even in my grief there is sparkle. There are no birds or eggs in the nest. It is empty, but pretty and it lives in my throat.

(In the ancient Indian text the Vedas, the throat chakra is associated with the ability to speak your personal truth.)

“Sanctuary” by artist Sarah Treanor

A Million Pieces

“So, Janet, how have you been feeling since our last session?”

“Broken.”

“In what way?”

“In what way do I feel broken? You know, like in the typical broken way. Like if you imagine a vase dropping to the floor and shattering into a million pieces. And then maybe imagine trying to bend down and pick up the pieces, but in doing so you cut both your hands and feet on the ceramic shards. So now you’re sitting on the floor surrounded by pieces of your favorite flea market vintage vase and you’re bleeding. The blood is staining the ceramic shards so that instead of their pale oatmeal color they are turning a light rose shade. And as you’re sitting there in pain, both because you lost your favorite vase and because you now have cuts – and because you feel broken – you realize that you actually like the light rose color. So you think about just continuing to sit on the floor and allowing your blood to stain all the pieces of the vase. Because this rose color, it’s so much prettier.”

“I see. Well, that doesn’t sound too good.

“Nope.”

“I’m sure you’ve heard about the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi? The art of putting broken pieces of pottery back together with gold? It’s built on the idea that in embracing imperfections you can create an even stronger and more beautiful piece of art. Does that idea resonate with you at all?”

“No.”

“Why do you think it doesn’t resonate with you?”

“Well, first of all I don’t have any gold to repair the vase with. Second of all, I’m kind of like bleeding out on the floor, so I don’t really have the energy to repair anything.”

“I understand. I’m very concerned about you feeling broken. Are you having any suicidal thoughts?”

“You mean like taking the broken ceramic pieces and plunging them into my neck or heart?”

“Yes. Or, any other type of suicidal thoughts.”

“Not really. I’m too drained from feeling broken to take any action, so you don’t need to worry about that.”

“Okay. Remember in our last session I asked you to keep a Joy Journal? Have you written down any moments of joy from the last two weeks?”

“Let me check…My favorite bakery gave me an extra cupcake, so like I paid for one but got two. I don’t know if that qualifies, but I did write it down.”

“Good. What else?”

“I discovered an affordable eye cream that works just as well as the expensive one I was using.”

“Very good. What else?”

“I saw a very pretty red bird on the bush outside my house.”

“A cardinal?”

“What?”

“Was the bird a cardinal?”

“I don’t know. It was just a pretty red bird.”

“Excellent. What else?”

“That’s it.”

“Nothing else?”

“No. I mean as I told you at the beginning of the session I’ve been feeling broken. So my life hasn’t exactly been joy-packed.”

“Yes, totally makes sense. Listen Janet I have an idea, if you’re open to it.”

“What is it?”

“Let’s pick up all the broken pieces, one at a time. And you name each piece – for instance grief or loneliness – then we’ll explore the emotions that come up for you.”

“I’m open to that. I mean we’re going to be picking up like a bazillion pieces, but okay. I just have one request.”

“What is it?”

“The Joy Journal has got to go.”

Dr. Finkelstein smiled.

Valentine’s Day

In honour of February 14th fast approaching, I thought I would share a few of the gifts that men have given me over the years:

1) Cocaine and tickets to see B.B. King play at a famous, but dive-y Toronto bar. I had never done cocaine before and never did it again. I thought I would die. We did lines on a rusty toilet paper holder in a sketchy bathroom – only the best for me. But, the concert was excellent.

2) A stuffed crocodile in honour of the Lacoste shirts I wore during an extremely brief preppy stage in Grade Ten. My boyfriend’s favorite sport was fencing, which I thought was quite fancy and exciting.

3) Super hideous white sneakers. We later divorced.

4) A beautiful carved wooden box that I accidentally gave away to The Goodwill. Sorry.

5) Classic diamond stud earrings. I lost one of them within the first year. Again, sorry. I now have a vintage pair that my mom gave me and I never take them off.

6) A love poem – yay! But the same night my boyfriend ended up in a fist fight with someone, so that kind of dampened the spirit.

7) Kama Sutra book. Smart man.

8) Vintage lady head salt and pepper shakers with pearl earrings – fabulous! (see photo at top of my blog page)

9) Flowers. You can never go wrong with flowers, though I’m not a big fan of red roses. I think carnations are highly underrated. I especially love buying myself mini-carnations in fuchsia, orange and burgundy – so gorgeous together and they last longer than a fling!

10) Being serenaded with Guns N’ Roses songs and an acoustic guitar. I mean, it was the eighties people!

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! And for the Love Of God, you don’t need a partner to celebrate! Buy yourself a lil’ something – we all deserve a treat after these last two years.

xo 😘

You Can Call Me V

“Excuse me, but can I help you over the snowbank?” I asked the elderly woman wearing a lavender parka.

“Oh thank you, this weather is impossible. How am I supposed to run my errands? Apparently it’s all because of global warming, but who knows. I mean how do you ever really know something for sure?”

“Here, let me hold your hand.”

“You’ve got a grip like a large man, did anyone ever tell you that? It’s a good thing, it’s a compliment.”

“Oh, well, thanks.”

“My name is Vivienne, but you can call me V. What’s your name?”

“Mary Ellen. It’s a pleasure meeting you V.”

“Likewise. It’s not every day that someone asks if I need help. Apparently global warming has erased everyone’s good manners too. The world’s gone to hell in a hand-basket, but what are you going to do? I mean you either kill yourself or you just get on with life, those are really the only two options.”

“That’s one way to put it,” I said, arching an eyebrow.

Well this lady is a character

“Today I need to buy a few groceries. Then I’ll bake cookies – I always bake cookies on Thursdays. I have to call Deloris and Maude, they’re my last remaining friends. We check in on each other every day to make sure no one bit the dust overnight. Thursdays I also clean my bathroom. I have a maid who comes in once a month to give the house a good scrub, but I also like to clean. I never want to be one of those sad old ladies who lives in filth.”

“You have a busy day ahead of you. What kind of cookies are you baking?”

“Jam Thumbprints. Have you ever had them? They are incredibly tasty. Very nice with a cup of tea. I eat 24-36 cookies a week, depending on the recipe. Last week I made pecan sandies and the week before that it was gingersnaps.”

“I don’t see how you’re going to get on the streetcar safely with all this snow, why don’t I stay here with you until it arrives,” I suggested.

“That would be wonderful, I love to chat. It gets lonely living by myself. My kids drop by once a week, but I don’t care for them much. That’s a horrible thing to say, I know. But at my age there’s no point in mincing words. My son Lenny is an absolute failure and he’s chubby too. Three marriages, three divorces. But thank god no kids because he would have been a dreadful father. He’s one of those men who a certain kind of woman always likes to take care of? Do you know that type?”

“Actually I do. My friend Melissa is always dating those kind of men. Maybe she’ll marry Lenny.”

“HA!” chuckled V.

“And my daughter is the corporate head of something at Loyola Bank. I honestly don’t think she has a soul. All she cares about is making money. More more more. I think she’s after my house. This neighborhood is considered trendy now – that’s what I read in the weekend paper. Hipsters are moving here, whatever they are—”

“That guy next to the mailbox is a hipster,” I whispered to V.

“The one with facial hair and jeans that are skinny like tights?”

“Yep.”

“His pants are ridiculous, how does he even get them on? Anyways, the point is that I think my daughter wants to tear down my house – HER childhood home – and build a McMansion as soulless as she is. But she’s in for a big surprise: when I die the house is being donated to The Women’s College Hospital. I’ve already got all the legal documents drawn up, my neighbours are both lawyers.”

“Wow. That’s a surprise all right. I think it’s wonderful that you’re donating your house to the hospital, they do excellent work. You haven’t mentioned your husband, did he already pass on?”

“He didn’t pass on, he died. He died fifteen years ago that bastard. He promised me he would always be by my side. Every night I spray his pillowcase with Old Spice, it was his favorite. And I talk to him before going to sleep. I mean obviously he doens’t talk back, but it calms me. I probably sound like a whack-job right now, but it’s the truth. What about you Mary Ellen? Do you have a husband or what is it a…a partner? Or maybe a wife? I shouldn’t leave anything out. I try to keep up with the times you know, I have a subscription to People Magazine.”

“I have a partner, his name is Jared. He’s a hospital administrator.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“Honestly V I have no idea.”

V laughed loudly.

“What do you do for a job?”

“I decorate people’s homes.”

“Oh you’re one of those creative types.”

“Yes, I am. Look – your streetcar is almost here, I’ll help you on.”

“Stop by sometime for a cup of tea and cookies. I’m just up the street at 15 Greenwood. You’ve probably noticed my house before: in the summer my tiny lawn blooms with hundreds of cosmos, they stretch out over the sidewalk.”

“Oh your flowers are amazing! The cosmos look like tall skinny colorful people who are having a wild party! Give me your hand V, let’s get you on this streetcar.”

“Thank you. Don’t forget to come visit me. I’ll give you cookies to take home to your partner too.”

“I will V. Safe shopping today.”

“Look, the hipster is getting on the streetcar too. I’m going to sit next to him and ask him about his pants.”

I watched as V sat down next to the skinny jeans guy and he turned and smiled at her. She was hard to resist.

Photo: Artist Louise Bourgeois photographed by Herlinde Koelbl. NY Times

A Special Occasion

“Why are you wearing a vintage prom dress on a Thursday afternoon?”

“It’s not a prom dress. It’s what Betty Draper would have worn to a fancy lunch in the city. Plus, we’re in a restaurant for the first time in ages, so I wanted to dress up. If I’m going to catch the new variant then I’m going to catch it in style.”

“Totally. I broke out my Ted Baker shirt for the occasion.”

“Noticed, you look very handsome.”

“Here are your drinks: two champagne cocktails. Cheers. By the way, I love your dress.”

“Thank you so much. I love your peach-y hair.”

“Pandemic-Peach,” she said with a smile.

“Cheers to finally seeing each other in person,” said Pippa.

“It’s so amazing to have a drink with you, instead of drinking alone on the couch watching HGTV,” said Elliott, relishing their first sip.

“The booze business has been going gangbusters during the pandemic. Maybe they created the virus so that we would all stay home and drink.”

Elliott laughed:

“That’s a Netflix movie right there.”

“You never told me what happened with the guy you started lockdown with.”

“Jerome? Well, we holed up in my condo for three weeks, but then I had to send him home. He was a compulsive throat clearer.”

“Oh no.”

“Ya. I felt bad because maybe he was just anxious, but I couldn’t take it. Plus, he refused to watch comedies. And I thought, how the hell are we going to survive covid without watching comedies? So he had to go.”

“100%.”

“Pips, I’ve missed you so much. But I have something to ask you and I’m worried you’re going to get upset.”

“Oh Jesus just ask.”

“Well, during the whole lockdown insanity when we were doing zoom calls, you were always wearing fancy vintage dresses – kinda like the one you have on now.”

“True.”

“But I mean that’s not exactly normal for such a long period of work-from-home life. Not once did I see you in tie dye sweats like everyone else. It was vintage glam the whole time. So I’m just checking that you’re doing okay, you know like emotionally.”

Elliott exhaled then took a long sip of their cocktail.

“Have you decided what you’re having or do you need more time?” asked Pandemic-Peach.

“I’ll have the Niçoise salad with a side of frites,” answered Pippa.

“Same.”

“Great choice.”

“I totally get it Elliott and I love you for your concern. It’s just that…you know how I’ve been collecting vintage dresses for years? But I never wear them, I’m always saving them for a special occasion.”

“Ya I know, so?”

“So, when my oncologist told me I had only two to five years left to live, I decided that cancer was my special occasion and I started wearing all my dresses.”

“That’s not funny Pips.”

“It’s not meant to be funny, it’s the truth.”

Elliott sipped their drink:

“These champagne cocktails are delicious aren’t they?”

“So tasty,” she said.

“Honestly What The Actual Fuck Pippa!” Elliott exclaimed, a little too loudly, causing heads to swirl.

“You’ve been dealing with cancer and you didn’t tell me?! Did you tell anyone? I thought we were close friends, I would have been there for you.”

“My cancer, my way of dealing. I didn’t want to manage everyone’s emotions, it felt like too much pressure. Anyway, no one was allowed to visit me at the hospital because of the pandemic. It was just my parents and I.”

“Poor Marty and Elaine, they must have been freaking out. Did they bicker the whole time?” asked Elliott, more calmly this time.

“Shockingly no. Who knew that it just took me getting cancer for them to be civil to each other.”

“What kind of cancer?”

“Abdominal.”

“I remember you kinda disappeared for awhile off our zoom calls and off Instagram, did you have surgery then?”

“Yep. I was in the hospital for two weeks. You should see my scar, it’s hideous – ten inches long. And immediately following the surgery my doctors poured hot chemo into my abdomen and swished it around for forty-five minutes – they call it Shake N’ Bake.”

“Wait what?”

Sounds like a horror movie doesn’t it? But for certain abdominal cancers they do chemo that way, it’s called HIPEC: Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy.”

“Jesus. I can’t bear the thought of you being shake n’ baked alone. I feel like we all should of been there up in the gallery watching you, like in Grey’s Anatomy.”

Pippa laughed.

“The pain must have been horrible. You poor thing.”

“Ya, the pain was otherworldly, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. The narcotics were fabulous though and I loved my nurses. Plus, there were a few hot surgical interns.” 

Elliott started crying while taking a sip of their drink.

“You crying while drinking a champagne cocktail is a pandemic mood for sure,” said Pippa, reaching out to hold their hand.

“Right?” said Elliott thru tears.

“Everything is okay. I’m not dead, so that’s a win. And we’re here together in this moment, in this beautiful restaurant, probably catching an as yet unnamed new variant,” Pippa said continuing to hold their hand.

Elliott laugh-cried and then dabbed their face with an extra napkin that Pandemic-Peach magically appeared with.

“You could get a cool tattoo incorporated into your scar,” they suggested.

“Oh I like that idea.”

“Two plates of frites and two Nicoise salads,”

“Thank you,” Pippa said smiling at Pandemic-Peach.

They ate without talking for awhile. The banter, laughter, flirting and exclamation points around them filling the silence.

“It sounds like springtime in the park when all the birds are busy chatting with each other,” said Elliott before eating a forkful of frites.

“I know. I’m loving this vibe. It’s so joyful.”

“So what’s next in your cancer treatment?”

“I’m getting a cat scan in three months. Until then I just chill,” said Pippa, finishing the last of her salad.

“How’s your anxiety?”

“My doctor gave me a prescription for Xanax, but I’m finding weed more helpful. I’m micro-dosing and if I do it properly it feels like I’m wearing a cozy cashmere sweater all the time. It just keeps me feeling soft-like.”

“I feel like crying again but I won’t. It’s just so unfair that you got cancer at thirty-two. And why did your oncologist tell you how long you have to live? That doesn’t seem helpful.”

“I asked my oncologist for her opinion, so she had to tell me. But I mean my surgery went really well. The shake n’ bake went really well, so let’s just see…Life is not fair. Life is primarily mundane, interspersed with moments of chaos and stress. If you’re very lucky it’s also sprinkled with moments of joy – like this moment right now – so that the monotony, chaos and stress feels worth it. Otherwise I think we would all group-jump off a bridge.”

“But tell me how you really feel,” said Elliott and Pippa threw her head back and snorted with laughter, causing the table nearest them to eyeball her.

“I need to use the loo, be right back” Elliott whispered.

Pippa looked around at the crowd and noticed that everyone looked a little dressed up. They might not have been wearing vintage lunch dresses, but they had clearly put thought into their outfits, shined they shoes and sparkled their ears.

“The bathroom has the most divine wallpaper,” Elliott said, showing Pippa a photo.

“Snazzy flamingos.”

Pandemic Peach arrived, dropping off a platter full of sweet delights.

“Oh My God yum! Did you order this Elliott?”

“I figured we needed to cram as much joy as possible into this afternoon. And I wanted to celebrate you: I love you Pippa. You are the razzle to my dazzle.”

“Love you to the rainbow and back.”

“Ok, which one should we try first?”

A Simple Life

“Why do you have to bring such chaos into our lives? I feel like everything you do is complicated and noisy.”

“First of all, thank you so much. What a lovely thing to say – that I bring chaos into our lives. Second of all, I bring color into our lives, not chaos, there’s a big difference.”

“Well then you need to tone down the color, maybe add a little beige to it. I just want to live a simple, quiet life.”

“A simple, quiet life? What does that even mean?”

“It means the fire alarm always goes off when you cook. It means when you have your girlfriends over for wine and cheese it turns into an insane eighties dance party and you get mad at me for not joining in. It means you make super random decisions like you’re suddenly going to bake pot brownies, but then you don’t measure properly and the marijuana sends you into a paranoia spiral. A simple, quiet life is the opposite of all that.”

“Wow, okay, well…. The pot brownies were an innocent mistake – you know I’m partially dyslexic, I messed up the numbers. The fire alarm is because I like to try new recipes and sometimes they don’t go exactly as planned. What are we gonna do, eat baked salmon every night? And you should have joined our dance party, we were having fun. Remember fun?”

“You exhaust me.”

“Well you bore me!”

Amy put on her big chunky heeled boots and stomped loudly out of the house. Half an hour later she was back with three bags of groceries. She turned on her Spotify 80’s Hits Mix and started cooking.

“Guess what,” she yelled,

“I’m cooking without a recipe, so get ready for more chaos!”

She took a sip of Pinot Noir and twirled around the kitchen, using the spatula as a microphone to sing along with The Go Go’s:

Can you hear them
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that’s no surprise

An hour later:

“Dinner is served – even though I’m still pissed.”

Dave joined her at the table. The kitchen looked like a gang of toddlers had trashed it, but he didn’t say anything. At least the fire alarm hadn’t gone off.

“Tonight’s menu features Thai chicken and coconut rice.”

“Smells good. Thanks for making dinner.”

“You’re welcome.”

“This is actually really really good.”

“Take out actually and I’ll happily accept the compliment.”

“This is really really good.”

“Thanks. It love it,” Amy said, taking a giant bite.

“I didn’t mean what I said earlier, or maybe I meant some of it, I don’t know. But I love you. It’s just this fucking pandemic. We’re with each other 24/7, it’s not normal.”

“Preach!” said Amy, raising her glass in the air. “The other day you were so irritating that I was about to hop a plane – Covid be damned – to somewhere sunny where there are cabana boys and umbrella drinks.”

They continued eating in silence.

“Maybe we should take a mini-break,” said Amy.

“But where would we go? The U.S. border is closed. And anyways, I don’t feel safe flying yet.”

“No, I meant take a break from each other.”

“What?”

“Don’t get upset, just listen for a second. Relationships are suffering in the pandemic and divorce rates are skyrocketing. We don’t have kids, we don’t even have a cat. So why don’t we take advantage of that flexibility and try living ‘together but apart’ for a few months. It’s actually a very popular trend, it started way before the pandemic. Even The New York Times wrote an article on the phenomenon – lots of couples are living separately and they’re really happy.”

Dave wiped his mouth with his napkin.

“No. No way. That sounds like a one-way ticket to divorce.”

“Why don’t you read up on it first before you say no. It has nothing to do with divorcing. You could have more of the simple quiet life that you like and I could be…me.”

“This is just your pandemic stress talking. Let’s keep things as they are, I don’t want to rock the boat.”

“Well maybe the boat needs to be rocked. Maybe the boat needs to be fucking flipped over!” cried Amy.

“This is what I was talking about earlier – everything is always chaotic with you. You’re suggesting a major life change in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s complete insanity.”

“Fine. Do you mind cleaning up?”

“No problem.”

“Thanks.”

Amy went to the living room, took her laptop and googled “Caribbean destinations that Canadians are allowed to visit” and scrolled through the covid rules and regulations. Then she booked a hotel and flight, leaving in one week and staying for two weeks.

Yes, I’ll be on a plane, probably a crowded one. So yes, I’m taking a chance. But our boat needs to be rocked. And I need a cabana boy and an umbrella drink like yesterday.

I See You

“I can’t do this anymore, I’ve made such a mess of my life.”

“You can do this and you will. And never mind a little mess, life is messy, big deal.”

“Wait a second, who are you? Are you a ghost? Am I dreaming? Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that sleeping pill.”

“I am you. I am your other half.”

“I thought that was for lovers. Like you find your other half and then you live happily ever after.”

“No, not at all. Finding your other half is about becoming your truest, most beautiful, most whole self.”

“I’m not sure I understand. I’m not sure I even believe you exist.”

“Whether you believe it or not it’s true. I’m here and I see you. You are glorious and you are worthy. But first, you must let me in.”

“How? Do we need to perform a ceremony?”

“Of course not, you’ve watched too many movies. You let me in by believing for one minute – just one minute – that you are deserving. One minute every day focus on that. It won’t be easy. It sounds easy, but it won’t be easy.”

“And then what?”

“And then one day you’ll realize that what felt like a crazy homework assignment no longer feels crazy. And when it no longer feels crazy is when I – your other half – have joined you on this messy, colorful, most divine journey called life.”

“This is kind of a lot to take in.”

“I know. But what do you have to lose? You put trust into that eight step skincare routine you do every night, so the least you can do is give me a chance.”

“True. Alright, well, even though I’m doubting my sanity right now, I’ll try. Because honestly, what good is great skin if I’m living such an empty life.”

“All those fancy serums wasted.”

“When does this start?”

“Now. I’m going to disappear and I’ll reappear if you complete your assignment.”

“It’s kinda like spiritual homework.”

“It’s exactly like spiritual homework.”

Illustration from The Origin of Love (from “Hedwig And The Angry Inch”)
Notebook by Cactico

Snow Angels

When I was a child I used to make snow angels in our backyard with my youngest brother. Dressed in our bulky snowsuits, we would lie under the beautiful star-filled sky and move our arms and legs in rhythm. We would remain lying down and then just talk. I remember telling him all about the planets one time because I was obsessed with Saturn’s rings. Eventually we would get too cold, or our mom would call us inside, but before leaving we would admire our angels.

Now, this same brother thinks he is an angel, an actual angel. And not just any angel, but Archangel Michael, the only angel who is mentioned by name in the Bible, the Quran and the Torah. My brother told me this about two months ago when we were sitting outside on a patio on an unseasonably warm day. I was drinking wine and he was having a beer. I asked him what it meant to be Archangel Michael and he replied that he could create miracles.

I’ve been dealing with my brother’s mental illness for many years now and I sometimes use humor to cope. So in my mind I thought:

“Fabulous! If you can create miracles then can you please start by eradicating Covid, (or as he calls it, “the plague”) and then next can you please cure me of Peritoneal Mesothelioma?

Instead I listened to him, nodding my head and I ordered a second glasss of wine.

In some ways my brother is lucky. He lives in a nice apartment on a nice street and he has enough money to live comfortably. My parents supplement his disability – disability payments put you living at the poverty line by the way. And my mom buys him new winter coats and boots and running shoes when he needs them. He needs new running shoes fairly often because he self-medicates by exercising obsessively. Dangerously long jogs and bike rides in the middle of the night. He keeps vampire hours staying up late, then waking at dinnertime.

He will not see a doctor, let alone a psychiatrist. Based on years of spending time with him and research, I’m guessing he’s on the schizophrenia spectrum, the autism spectrum and has OCD. Of course I could easily be 100% wrong.

Had he been born into a different kind of family, he could easily be homeless. One time I saw him walking down the street having a very animated conversation with himself and I thanked God for bringing him to our family where he is protected.

This holiday season, like so many others, I am burnt out. I have nothing left to give or say. I just want to take a Xanax, curl up under a blanket and listen to old Kate Bush songs. I don’t want to decorate or bake or cook or make conversation. But oh what I would give to make snow angels with my brother again. To have him back for just one night.