During my morning commute in Montreal, a homeless man regularly stood sentry at the bottom of the escalators in the metro station. Technically I guess he was begging, but he had such a genteel air about him, it felt more like he was graciously inviting us to donate. Whether I had change or not, every morning we would make eye contact and he would nod to me in the manner of a gentleman tipping his hat to a lady of his acquaintance and murmur a greeting that was not words exactly, more like the musical humming of a bird.
Then one day he was not there. Weeks went by before I saw him again. When he did finally re-appear, his face was distorted with bruises and swellings. He leaned precariously on a crutch while he stretched out one of his hands, like a branch whose weight was too heavy for its trunk. Alcohol and fecal fumes emanating from him were heartbreaking. Still he stood and managed a twisted smile and nod for every commuter.
He did not hum though.
When it was my turn to pass him, he met my eyes. He was a little unsteady, his eyes glazed from pain and alcohol, yet still he managed his Dalai lama smile and graceful bow. I paused against the surge of distracted, time-challenged bodies to bow back, regretting I had no change in my pocket.
The next morning, I made my commute with pockets jangling. But he was not at the bottom of the escalator, nor the next day or the next. I never saw him again.
When my nephew died, my daughters were inconsolable. I did not try to console them.
Going for a run during the pandemic is like being in a video game. Or a metaphor for moral living—how do I navigate all these people while trying my best to not be an asshole? How do I serve my needs while remaining ever vigilant of others? Because let’s face it, I am a viral sprinkler when I run, my drops spraying out of me, heedless of others.
I run on the streets when I can. Cede the right of way always. Plan my means of egress from the sidewalk for blocks ahead. Even if there is little to no chance I have the virus, I do not want to be a Typhoid Mary. I do not want to be that asshole.
Some people nod to me and thank me for moving. Some take it as their due. Some do not make it easy to not be an asshole, and stake out their route in the middle of the sidewalk as if the sidewalk was their property and the rest of us were squatting.
The other day, an older couple saw me coming and shifted to the side to wait on the grass. As I passed, they made eye contact, smiled. The lady said, “It is much easier for us to move than you. Running is easier on the pavement.” I smiled back and said thank you.
It is nice to know others are trying not to be assholes too.
Sometimes I honour myself with a glass of wine. Sometimes I dishonour myself with four.
The hardest decision I’ve ever had to make was moving to Victoria. Not because it meant leaving my job, my home, my friends and community, though those things were very hard too. It was hard because I had to make the decision against my former identity as a “we”, the “we” that had just been shattered into a million irreconcilable shards. The “we” identity had been in place for twenty years. Decisions were to be made in consideration of everyone who made up that we—my husband, my daughters and last and definitely least, me.
The “we” had changed when my husband amputated himself from us. He was making decisions about his life that did not take into us consideration. I had to do the same if I was to not disappear from myself. I had to make decisions that were right for me and my girls. It was like trying to learn how to walk all over again.
It took me months. I agonized over it. Wrote in my journal, meditated, went for long walks. Talked at length about moving with my daughters. Let my ex know several times I was thinking about it (he ignored me). Moving did not just mean the need to make a decision that deliberately excluded him. It meant giving up on the idea that our family would ever heal itself, in whatever form. That he was really gone.
It was not until I went to visit my sister who set me up with her craniosacral person that I gained some clarity. During that session, she asked me to imagine myself as a child. I described me at my father’s funeral, the only me I really remember, the lost and lonely child trapped inside herself. Always in a corner, always with an expression of a trapped mouse. Constantly surrounded by people but always alone.
What did that child need? Craniosacral lady asked. “What did I need?”
The answer came immediately. I needed time and space and help. The only way I could get those things was in Victoria, where I could lean, for a little while, on the support of my family. Where my daughters would be surrounded by other adults who loved them dearly and who had the capacity to show up for them.
I hated making this decision. It meant letting go of the notion that we could still be a family even though we were not together anymore. Deep down, it also meant letting go of the toxic hope that he would come back to me, that we could heal together and embark on a different kind of marriage. It meant I was making it harder for him to heal the wounds his leaving had caused, because now their emotional distance would be matched by a geographical one.
I knew this. I did not like it. I am still uncomfortable with it. And yet I would do it again, because it was the right thing for me and my girls. For the first time ever, I let my own needs matter as much as those of others, let them have a louder voice.