The Bell Jar

My last blog entry was a heavy one. I’m not sorry I wrote it in any way, because my assault is something I’ve been hanging on to for too long, but it’s gotten me thinking a lot about why I do the things that I do. It’s made me realize some things that I needed to, but now I’m left holding all of this anger. I wish I could tell you it’s all that I’m holding on to. I wish I could tell you that.

The truth is, what I’ve come to figure out, is that long before covid I went out of my way to keep myself busy on purpose. I worked as a nail technician for 17 years, starting out in a salon doing on-the-job training. From there I went to a spa where I spent six years building a clientele. I might have been the busiest nail tech in our town. I was working 11 hour days, squeezing 8 clients into a day with no lunch or breaks. I had a waiting list to get in to see me, and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t even take on new clients. I was good at what I did, and generally really enjoyed my job.

But, as time went on working for someone else on commission, I came to the conclusion there wasn’t really anywhere else for me to go where I was. I only had two hands, after all. And only so many hours in the day. I was working as much as was physically possible for me to do already, so there wasn’t any way for me to advance financially. So I decided to branch out on my own and start my own business, and rented a room out of a local chiropractor’s office. I was still working a lot of hours, but at least it was on my own terms. I made my own schedule, and the decisions were all mine. My clients followed, even though I left it up to them. For two years, it was a good solution, a transition period for what I ultimately wanted.

Eventually, my husband and I built a house. A room in the basement was designated as my office, and I wanted to work from home. The house we’d lived in before only had one bathroom, and there were health and safety rules that didn’t fit the guidelines. Once our house was built, I moved my business home. It was the ideal, and it worked very well. For a while, anyway. After a few years at home, the oil economy took a dive, and I started to slow down over time. Clients lost jobs, had husbands who lost jobs, some moved away. So for financial reasons, I took on second jobs.

At first I worked for a client/friend at her convenience store part time. That meant working until 11pm 3-4 nights a week as well as seeing my clients. After about a year and a half, I saw an ad come up one summer for school bus driving. I applied and had an interview and got hired. I did my training and got my Class 2 license, and I was ready to go by fall. My first route I was given was actually in a town a half hour away to start. I was up at 4:30am, back from my route around 9:30am, did clients until around 2pm, then headed back to the bus depot to do my afternoon route. Then home to see at least one client, sometimes two. After two years, I gave it up. It was a much more stressful job than I’d ever anticipated. And while there were things about it that I loved, the stress far outweighed the rest unfortunately. So I focused on the clients I had, and smaller side jobs I’d taken on. And then, the pandemic hit.

Covid has turned life upside down for everyone in so many different ways. It’s affected day to day life, the way we see the world. For me, I had time on my hands that I just didn’t before. I had no idea what that was going to mean. It brought new stressors and anxieties, like it did for everyone. What I didn’t expect, was the long-term emotional toll it was going to take. Suddenly I was living in my own head like never before, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve always been overly analytical, it’s how I’m wired. But this was a whole new level of mental gymnastics that I haven’t experienced before, because I was so busy for such a long time. I’m living it every day, with too much time to think.

The trash can of pain that I’ve absent-mindedly been piling things into and then climbing inside to step on, pack it down, was now looking like an endless landfill. Garbage as far as the eye can see, and here I am, void of a compactor. I’ve held on to so much, internalized so many things, that I’ve come to realize there’s no one person that knows everything. That’s by my design. You can only be so broken, and have someone still accept you as whole, right? At least that’s what I’ve told myself. I’ve tried so hard to appear strong, as though I can handle anything. In reality it couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, I wasn’t handling anything at all.

It’s not just the assault, either. That happened over 20 years ago, and I shoved that down so far, disassociated and compartmentalized as best I could just to get through it. I drifted through my 20’s, and then my 30’s were almost unbearable. In the span of the last decade, I’ve lost two of my best friends in the world. Two soul mates in life. Both of my grandmothers, who I grew up with in my life every day when I was young. I was close to them both, one more than the other, but they were both a huge influence in my life and still are. Two miscarriages, followed by a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome. By the time the diagnosis came and it was all figured out, my age was a factor and I knew that the ship had sailed on children. That…has not been easy for me to accept, but I’ve had no choice. All of that loss kept chipping away at me, and I kept stuffing it down. If I ignored it, maybe it wouldn’t be quite so real. The people that I love the most in the world, when they go, a piece of my heart goes with them.

My PCOS diagnosis had some other things make sense, like the fact that I don’t feel physically well most of the time. It affects women differently, it really just depends on the woman. It can wreak havoc on your hormones, though, and cause all kinds of problems with anxiety, depression, weight, skin issues, chronic fatigue. Later in life there are higher risks of things like diabetes and heart disease, among other things. So while there are much worse things to have, down the line there are some things that are potentially worrisome. I just need to keep on top of my annual physicals and ultrasounds to be safe.

There’s another big part of my story that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write about. I would, it’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I can’t. I can’t, because it’s not just my story to tell. It’s also someone else’s story, one of the people I love more than my own life. As long as I don’t have their permission to do it, I won’t. What I can say about it, is that it’s the part of the puzzle that is my life that’s left me far and away the most tormented. If I think about the things that have truly been parts of my construct up to now, other than the people that have shaped me into who I am, I can’t deny that this puzzle piece has been instrumental in some ways.

Now that I’ve had all this time over these however many months to live inside my head and evaluate, there’s a clarity of some things that I didn’t have before. And it’s funny, how storybook my life has looked from the outside. People assume things are perfect, when they’re anything but. Some aspects of my life have been amazing, this I know. Fantastic family. Parents that loved us, always putting us first. Both sets of grandparents where we lived growing up, who were all these larger than life people in their own ways. And my God, did they adore us. My parents made a very good living, and we lacked nothing. I’m the one, though. Living proof. I can sit here writing this, and I can tell you that money doesn’t buy you happy. Material things don’t mean that happiness is automatic, that life gets to be perfect all the time. But people assume, and sometimes even hold it against you. They just didn’t know.

They didn’t know that I developed an eating disorder in my early teens, and I’ve used food to punish myself ever since. They didn’t know I went to see the school counselor because a teacher took a special interest, my peers just thought I was weird for being so withdrawn. They didn’t know that my smile was pasted on my face, that most of the time it wasn’t real. They didn’t know how good an actress I became. They didn’t know that while the people closest to me I was so very lucky to have, that it seemed like any time I was left out in the world, there was something to tear me to shreds in one way or another. Or someone. They just didn’t know.

So here’s the thing. I’ve stuffed so many things down that I just never dealt with before the next thing came along, that I don’t even know where to begin. Abuse, loss, anguish, all of this that I don’t know what to do with, this tidal wave of agony. I can’t do it alone. I have a difficult time asking for help, but I’m so fucking exhausted I can barely see straight. I need to see my doctor soon anyway, so I’m going to ask about referrals. The first being either a gynecologist or endocrinologist for my PCOS. I haven’t seen a specialist yet, and I’d like to. The second, for a mental health referral. I’ve gone in the past, and it has helped. It’s time to revisit that option again, because some of what I’ve got clogging up my brain I never have talked to a professional about. I know I need to.

There’s too much darkness. I can’t help but feel like I deserve some light. If you’re reading this, and you can relate? Listen to me when I say this…you deserve light, too. I promise.

The Double Standard Between Women and Men

I’m going to start this post off with a disclaimer, and an apology. The disclaimer is that there’s going to be content that is not pleasant to read, and for some it could be a trigger. So I wanted to warn ahead of time, in case there’s any trauma in your past, I would hate to be the reason for that without you knowing in advance there’s going to be sensitive subject matter to come in this blog post. There will also be some less than ladylike language, but I’m going to tell these stories exactly as they happened. So my apologies for that.

To any of my friends, or my family reading this…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I had reasons for not telling you, and they made sense at the time. My bad habit of shouldering things alone is not a trait I’m particularly proud of. It ends up being to my own detriment a lot of the time, and I’m not sure I even know how to fix it.

The reason I’m writing this particular piece, is because the weather has turned blazing hot. We’re about to see scorching temperatures in Alberta, maybe hotter than we’ve seen in a while. A dear friend tweeted about how she felt uncomfortable on her own patio wearing a bathing suit top and skirt, because a man leered at her from the street. This brought out some interesting conversation, to say the least. It brought out support from many, but it also brought out some responses of “well maybe you shouldn’t dress like that”. It also brought comments about how it’s a double standard, that women can treat men the same, and somehow that’s fine. But here’s the thing: no matter what, it isn’t the same. It isn’t the same, at all. And I’m about to tell you why.

I’ll start at the beginning of my story. My long, sordid history with men. We’re going back in time more than 30 years. It all started because I developed really young. By the time I was 12, I was already wearing a DD bra. I never asked for that, and I promise you I’ve never wanted it. You always want what you don’t have, right? If you talk to any woman who was born flat-chested, they’ll likely tell you they’ve always wanted a more voluptuous body. For me, from the get go, it’s caused me nothing but mental anguish on top of physical pain in the form of neck tension, back problems, headaches, and permanent dents in my shoulders from bra straps. And from 12, my chest didn’t get smaller.

From that age, I covered up. I started wearing clothes that were a size or two too big in an attempt to hide, as if I could. You can cover up, but let’s face it, people know. It’s inevitable. And it started right away. Around 11, the looks. The comments. Boys snapping your bra in school. And every time, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. A couple of years went by, and more and more things kept happening, and I kept retreating into myself. I was becoming this shell of a girl, with the body of a woman. Only, I wasn’t one yet. I wasn’t even close. And I had no idea how to handle it. Grown men older than my father were leering at me, and making lewd comments, and I had no idea what to do when it would happen. I was still a child, after all. You start to think it’s normal, that’s just how things are.

I was uncomfortable all the time. I didn’t like the attention it got me. I remember a specific instance where I was helping out at my grandparent’s hotel, my dad had taken me with him while he worked a Christmas party in the lounge with my grandpa, and I was behind the bar having just picked up some empty glasses off some tables. I knew how to make some drinks, pour beer off the tap. A man came up to the bar, and I was the only one back there at that moment. I asked him if I could help him. He said “Yes, but I don’t think your mother would approve.” My aunt swooped in from behind me somewhere like a swallow diving at a nest, and pushed in front of me, blocking me from him. She’d somehow heard what he said. She threw some nasty words at him and told him to get out. He left, and she wanted to tell my dad. I pleaded with her not to, because then he might tell grandpa and God only knows what might have happened then. I could still see the man outside. The patriarch of our family was a very giving and generous man-but you wouldn’t have dared come at his first born granddaughter like that in his bar if you had any idea who Ivan Krook was. Forget if my father had gotten his hands on him. This guy wouldn’t have had a prayer, and I didn’t want to make a scene.

One night some years later, I was out with some friends at a bar. We were standing in line at a shooter bar, and we were talking. Three of us. There were three guys standing in front of us, doing some shots. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I was in the middle of a sentence when one of the guys turned around and interrupted me. He says “Did you just say that you’re a guy?” And I said “I’m sorry, what?” He went on “I thought I just heard you say that you’re a guy, which can’t be true since you’ve got the biggest tits I’ve ever seen.” One of my girlfriends said “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?” as he’s just laughing. I was dumbfounded, that a guy I’d never met could just casually say something like that to me as if he’d just asked me the time. I mumbled something along the lines of “let’s just get out of here” to my girlfriends, and we left.

Just a few years ago, I took a trip to Edmonton with my folks. I had a medical appointment, and we ended up going to the mall to check some stores out. My mom and I were walking along, and we went by some of those kiosks you always see with the people who are trying to get you to stop and see what they have to offer. I always ignore, and try not to make eye contact. We had specific places we wanted to hit, and not a lot of time. The mall was quite busy that day, and there were a lot of people milling about. We were trying to get through that area and make our way amongst the people going by the kiosks, and my mom had ended up getting a little ways ahead of me because of the crowd of people. I looked to see where she was, and happened to turn my head toward this one kiosk where I made eye contact with the man working there. He looked directly at me, and made a gesture with his hands symbolizing big boobs while nodding, and then motioned for me to come over. I stopped dead in my tracks, and without even thinking said rather loudly “Are you fucking kidding me?”

He was maybe 15-20 feet away from me, and even with the sounds of people chattering, and general mall noise, he heard me loud and clear. Because once I said that, he suddenly looked terrified. Or maybe it was the rage on my face, I’m not sure. Several people threw me a look, and I heard my mother from up ahead say “Tara!” in admonishment, but she had no idea what had just transpired. It was a cell phone kiosk. I walked over, staring at him. He looked like he was about to bolt. I didn’t say a word, though. After my first exclamation. I walked over, I grabbed his card off the counter. I looked him dead in the eye, and I walked away. I went to my mom, who asked what was wrong with me for yelling like that in the middle of a mall. And then I explained what had just happened, and she wanted to go back. I never did do anything with his card, but I do think I gave him a good scare. That’s the difference in how I handle this now, compared to how I handled it when I was young.

My hometown has a military base. Growing up with it, you’re used to seeing men around in uniforms. It’s the norm. When I was younger, for many, many years we had an annual training exercise that took place for six to eight weeks through May and June called Maple Flag. Military members from other countries, mostly from the US would come in two week intervals for training. 99% of them male. There would be an influx of men in town during that time, hordes of them. And everyone knew that when they were here, they were here for a good time.

I didn’t know until I was older, why my mom kept a tighter leash on me during that time of year. I understood it better once I was legal drinking age, and could go out. My friends and I, we were out all the time after we were legal, we were at our local bar (well, we had two, but really only went to one) all the time. Always Friday/Saturday, and usually Wednesday for wing night, sometimes Thursdays if something was going on. My best friend from the time I was 12 was the manager at the bar we frequented. So sometimes we were going just to hang out with her. In small town Alberta, there isn’t a whole lot else to do. During Maple Flag, though, if you go out, the men that came into town assumed you were on the prowl. They didn’t know you were still sitting in that bar every weekend in November. And until we experienced it, we just didn’t know.

They didn’t even try to hide that they were checking you out. Not just in the bar, though. At the movies, in restaurants, the grocery store. And lucky for us, they traveled in packs. By all means, note my sarcasm here. It was daunting, our home being overrun by these groups of men while we felt like we were under microscopes. And of course, it wasn’t all of them. Some of them were very polite, and quite nice. One of my best friends ended up married to a guy she met one year, after keeping in touch afterward and several visits. But after one night, and one overall experience later, my view of Maple Flag and a whole lot else would be forever changed.

Within my group of friends, I got the most attention in a negative way. But I wasn’t getting much in the way of positive attention to balance that out. I’ve never been a thin girl, and while my friends were getting flowers and asked out on dates, that didn’t really come for me. And it just was what it was, I wasn’t dwelling on it. I had a great family, I had supportive friends, and really I was ok on my own. If men were going to treat me the way that they generally did, I didn’t want much to do with it, anyway. Single suited me fine. When we’d go out as a group of girls, and get approached by guys, it usually went one of two ways: I either just faded into the background, which is what I was comfortable with, or, I’d get hit with “Hey! How are you? Can I buy you a drink? So, who’s your friend?”

The night in question started out uneventfully. It was a weeknight, Wednesday. I was with two of my best friends, and it was wing night. It had been busy earlier that night, but it had died down and there weren’t many people left in the bar. A few groups of people, but that was it. The three of us were just sitting around a table talking, like we usually did. There was a table of four guys a couple of tables away, and they’d been there for a while like we had. They bought us a round, but I hadn’t been drinking that night, so I didn’t have one. One of them came over and stood at the table and chatted us up a bit, and seemed nice enough. He asked if they could move a table over, join us. We looked at each other, but said ok. Worst case scenario, in that situation, we just leave. We had signals and everything. So they came over, and they talked to us for a while. I didn’t usually engage much when that would happen, just for the pure fact that they usually weren’t very interested in talking to me. But two of them seemed to be more interested in engaging me over the other two, which wasn’t the norm, but I was polite enough. The other two were quite taken with my two friends. A friend of ours was DJing that night, and at one point I got up saying I was going to go talk to him for a few minutes, and then go to the bathroom, and I’d be back. I went and chatted with my friend in the booth for a couple of minutes, and headed to the bathroom, which was way at the back.

That end of the bar was empty, you had to pass pool tables and go down a back hallway to get to the bathroom. I went in, did what I needed to do, and was coming out of a stall when the door opened. I looked up, and two of the guys that had come to sit at our table walked into the bathroom. I looked at them a bit bewildered, it took me a second to register seeing them walking into the women’s room in the first place. They looked at each other, and walked toward me. It all happened so fast, but before I knew it, they’d backed me into a stall. One of them had their hand over my mouth, and my back hit the tile wall. It was the farthest stall, the biggest one. I could hear how loud the music was outside the door, and how far we were from the other end of the bar where people were…even if I could have yelled, no one would have heard me.

When my back hit the tile, I pushed back. I tried to use my legs for leverage. I’m built strong by nature. Had it been one, maybe I might have had a chance. As I struggled, one of them said “Come on, sweetheart. How often is a girl like you going to get an opportunity like this?” And then, I was livid. I knew exactly what he meant. I wriggled one of my arms free and clawed one of them in the eye. He yelled out and called me a bitch, while the other was trying to pin me back against the wall. The other regained his composure and punched me in the ribs hard enough to knock the wind right out of me, and that was it. I couldn’t breathe. I could barely see. They did what they wanted, I’d lost. What felt like an eternity at the time, I’m sure only lasted a couple of minutes. They wasted no time. And then, I was broken and alone, on a dirty bar bathroom floor. And all that was running through my head was “You need to get out of here. Now.”

I put the clothes that had been taken off me back on, and splashed water on my face. When I went back to my girlfriends, all the guys were gone. They’d left. I told them I’d gotten sick in the bathroom, it must have been something I ate. While I stood there, I thought for sure they’d be able to see it. That I was shaking, shattered. I needed to go home, so if they wanted me to drive them, I needed to leave. We all left, and I went home. I told no one.

The next day, I went to go to the police station to report it. Because it had been men that were here for Maple Flag, they took a statement, and sent me to Military Police to proceed from there. The MP I dealt with was young, but compassionate. He took a detailed statement, and then we went to the military hospital for me to be examined. I’d also been in some pain from the one punching me, and they sent me for an x-ray. As it turned out, two of my ribs were cracked. The MP kept urging me to call someone, and I refused. I couldn’t do it. I was terrified. I was anxious. I was ashamed. I was damaged goods.

The MP promised to be in touch once he did some digging on his end, and he’d call me. I actually expected that I wouldn’t hear from him again, but sure enough, just as he’d promised, a couple of days later he called. He wanted me to come in to talk some more about my incident. That was the word he used, which made me feel like a walking car wreck. I was now an incident. He had no intention of that, I know. This was all in my head.

When he’d taken my statement, he’d commended my memory. We had only gotten first names, of course, but I remembered details about what their trades and ranks were, and where they were from. They’d talked too much. My memory is a blessing and a curse. This much, I know. But in this case, it served me well, because the MP had been able to find them. I was going to have to go in and verify that the two he’d dug up, were the ones I’d given details about. I wasn’t going to have to see them just yet, but identify via photos to start. I still wasn’t sure how I felt, I was scared, but there was also something else. There was this hollow feeling, I was in a complete haze. But I agreed to go in, because I was also determined. I’d end up feeling really stupid for that.

I still didn’t tell anyone. I had given my statement to RCMP. I had recounted my story to the MP. But I could not bring myself to form the words of what was going on to anyone who loved me. I couldn’t even bear the thought. I got to the base to make the ID. The MP showed me photos. He’d found them, alright. I sat in a chair in front of his desk, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if my violent shaking was making the whole building quake. I bit down on my tongue to keep from crying. I would not break.

Part of the time I was staring at him, he was talking, and I zoned out. I didn’t hear a word he said once I’d seen the photos, the ringing in my ears was too loud. But then he said “Are you ready to do that right now?” and I shook my head a little, snapped out of it. I think I said “I’m sorry, what?” He explained that their boss was there. He wanted to speak to me. The MP looked suddenly nervous, feeding off my energy. He told me I didn’t have to, but that the CO had come to the office, hoping I’d be willing to have a conversation before things proceeded. I agreed, and he led me to another room, where the officer was waiting.

He was too pleasant, and it unnerved me immediately. He shook my hand, I sat down. He explained that he was there to talk to me, so that maybe we could come to some sort of resolution that everyone could be happy with. I looked over at the MP, who looked confused. It was clear to me that he had no idea exactly what this conversation would entail, and suddenly I felt sick. The CO broke it down for me. These two men were both married, with families. Should I decide to go forward, and press charges, their careers would be over.

I was in shock. This man was sitting there, basically telling me that it was me that would be ruining their lives. Not the other way around.

If I chose not to press charges formally, they would be reprimanded and possibly demoted. They were being sent home either way. What I didn’t know until then, was that as soon as they were questioned, the one whose eye I’d clawed obviously couldn’t hide that I’d injured him, he’d had no explanation for that. He’d cracked. Once he told the truth, the other really had no choice but to follow suit. His story lined up with mine, it was game over for them. But really, it wasn’t. As I sat there in that chair, the CO condescending to me like a child when I was 22 years old, about how I had a choice to make and he knew I’d “do the right thing after thinking about it”, I already knew my mind was made up. This guy wasn’t there to have a conversation. He was there to talk me out of moving forward.

He shook my hand again, and I couldn’t even make eye contact with him. The MP followed me out of the room, and I walked as fast as I could out of that building and into the parking lot. I needed air. I felt like my lungs were collapsing in on themselves. By the time I got outside, my lungs were burning. I ran around to the side of the building and doubled over, dry heaving. Nothing would come up, but it didn’t stop. Tears streaming silently down my face. I heard the MP calling my name, and he came around the side of the building. He saw me, and he’s saying my name. Asking if I’m ok. Was I ok? Was I ok. No, I wasn’t ok. I wasn’t ok at all. He’s apologizing to me, he didn’t know. I knew it wasn’t his fault, but the last thing I wanted was a male anywhere near me at that moment. I told him I would call him the next day. I just wanted to go home.

I called the MP the next day, and explained that I couldn’t go forward. He asked me if I was sure, and if I wanted to come and talk to him more about it. I said no, I just wanted to put it behind me. He said he would be in touch with updates, and I thanked him for his help, and hung up the phone. He called several times after that and left messages, and I couldn’t bring myself to call him back. I went to work, and came home, and that’s all I could do for a while. I didn’t go out. I barely saw my friends. I made excuses. I just couldn’t deal for a while. So I didn’t. Eventually, I swept it all under my proverbial rug, like I do. And I carried on.

Here’s the thing about all of what I’ve told you. I’ve never been one to dress in a revealing manner. My assault happened on a night that I wasn’t drinking. I should be able to walk through a mall and shop without having to worry about who is going to do or say what to or about me. I shouldn’t have been made to feel like it was me ruining someone else’s life, for what was done to me. As a child, I shouldn’t have had to be put in an awkward situation by an adult man. But here’s what’s really scary about all of this…these are just a few examples. There’s many more to go along with these. And these are just mine.

Every single one of my female friends can tell you stories similar to these. Stories where they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I’m not saying that males are never objectified, because that simply isn’t true. The difference with us, is we can never know for sure if a leer is going to turn into a situation that’s dangerous for us. If you’ll openly leer in public, what else might you try?

Someone said to me on Twitter, “You need to call people out on it more, not complain about it on Twitter because that does nothing.” Well, since you put it that way. Just today, Bill Cosby was released from prison after only two years. Sixty women came forward against him. Sixty. He drugged and assaulted women for years, and because of a failed judicial system, his lawyers get him off on a technicality. I know how we can be made to feel when it comes to this. How are we supposed to feel like we’re being taken seriously, when these are the things that happen? It’s MADNESS. And if things of this caliber aren’t taken seriously, it’s hard for us to feel like we can speak up about much of anything. And you want to come at me about a double standard. I’m fucking tired. Us women, we’re tired.

Please, don’t apologize to me. Don’t be sorry, I can’t take it. Just be better. That’s all I ask.

I know. I know that it’s not all men. I know this, because the men that I have in my life that I love, have more than made up for this. They’ve loved me, and allowed me to be me. And that’s as much as I could possibly ask for. To each of you, and you know who you are…thank you. I love you, fiercely.

The Way That Loss Changes You

I’ll remember the details of that morning for as long as I live. It was Sunday, Mother’s Day. My husband and I had just picked up a couple of things at the grocery store on our way to my folks place for brunch. We got into the car to head over, and my phone rang. It was my dad, and I thought that was strange, because we were on our way. I thought that maybe he needed me to grab something else from the store before we went. I had no idea. I had no idea, that phone call would change my life forever.

His voice was different. Something wasn’t right. “Honey…Don passed away.” My head started spinning. This couldn’t be real. I started sputtering, unable to really form a sentence. He told me my cousin had called, who was also one of Donnie’s best friends, and that he couldn’t bring himself to call me and tell me. So he called my parents so they could tell me this news. My dad told me to just get to the house, and we went.

There was no warning, it was an accident. Donnie’s rec hockey team had played in a tournament that weekend, and they’d gone out after playing Saturday night. He’d forgotten his phone in his car at the rink, and he’d been drinking. So he was walking to go call his wife to come and pick him up. While he was walking, he was hit by a woman who it turned out was texting while she was driving. He’d never had a chance, and his mother lost her only child on Mother’s Day.

Donnie and I met through a mutual friend when we were teenagers. He was 14, I was 15. I had seen him before, and truth be told, I thought he was cute and I had a bit of a crush from a distance. The day we actually really met though, was at an all day outdoor concert. I was there with my best friend Jenn, and he was there with one of our other best friends Trent, and another friend of theirs. There were six bands that day, with Def Leppard being the headliner on Canada Day in Camrose, 1993. There were thousands and thousands of people there, and somehow we all managed to find each other. He didn’t say much all day, he was pretty quiet. But through the day I ended up sunburned on the top of my head, and was complaining to Jenn about it. He heard me, and plunked his hat on my head and just said “Here, wear this.” For a 14 year old boy to think that way, he showed me exactly who he was that day. And the crush may have grown a little.

That was the summer between grade 10 and 11 for me, and he came to the high school in the fall, a grade below me. We shared a lot of the same friends, and I ended up with quite the little crush going. Typical teenage girl. One weekend early in the school year, there was a party that I missed out on. I came to school Monday, and drama ensued. I found out that one of my closest friends had made out with him at this party, and I was absolutely devastated. I thought that would be the end of it, but did you ever have that friend…you know, the one that purposely pursued the boys you liked? As soon as you mentioned someone you had a crush on, there she was, passing him notes. Sure enough, she went after Donnie something fierce. And wouldn’t you know it, they got together. They actually dated until we graduated. I got over it pretty quickly, like you do with crushes when you’re young. And we kept a tight circle back then, our little group.

It’s funny, when I think about it. The girl he dated, we went to school together from the time we were in preschool. And we were good friends before high school already. So during that time she dated Donnie in high school, there were a bunch of us that spent a lot of time together. Going to parties, dances, spending weekends at one of our friends parent’s lake lot. We were tight. Our high school experience overall was actually really good compared to what a lot of people go through. And after what junior high was like for me, I reveled in it. I came out of my shell, and my high school friends were friends I made for life. I didn’t realize that for some, it would be cut shorter than I would have ever wanted or hoped.

Graduation came. Donnie and my other friend broke up when she went to university, and I stayed back a year and upgraded a couple of my classes. He was in grade 12 that year. After their breakup, I didn’t really know what to expect. And with many of our mutual friends having moved on that year, it almost didn’t make sense for us to stay friends. And yet, our bond became stronger that year. We’d had our bond formed within a group, but after that was gone, we developed something that was entirely different. We started to figure out all the things that we had in common that we never even knew were there, because we never got the chance to really get to know one another on our own. He never had any siblings, so that’s how he viewed his closest friends. That year I decided to upgrade some high school classes, turned out to be one of the best things I ever did, and I didn’t even know it at the time. But, hindsight and all that.

The year after that, was the year we both moved to Edmonton. He lived alone, and I was living with one of my best friends from home. We spent a lot of time together that year. Cheap drinks in bars with our friends. He’d call me to shop for clothes, wanting my opinion, and then never take my advice. He dragged me to wait at West Edmonton Mall for five hours to meet wrestler Bret Hart, only for the line to get cut off ten people in front of us and we didn’t get an autograph. He was livid over that one. I begged the security guy to take just a few more people, to no avail. Donnie was so disappointed, I had to try. To me, that day wasn’t wasted. It was a Saturday afternoon spent talking about everything and nothing, people-watching while we did it. He bought me dinner after agreeing to even wait in line with him that long, while I tried to convince him that Bret Hart was probably a dick and didn’t deserve to meet us anyway.

Over the years following, he ended up in Calgary, and I ended up back home in Cold Lake. I got married and settled down first. He finally found a girl who not only accepted me, but developed her own friendship with me. Life happens and you don’t get to see each other as often, and the texts and emails have to suffice in between. What I wouldn’t give to get another one of his random Simpsons quotes in a text, that would turn into a whole day’s worth of quotes exchanged.

My brother traveled with me to the funeral. I was glad not to go alone. Seeing our friends was hard enough, but having to see Donnie’s mom was harder. I’ve always had a good relationship with her. In high school, she even gave me my first job working as a clerk at a drop-off depot for the drycleaner she worked for. We got a chance to have a moment together after the service, and while it wasn’t easy, I’m glad we had it. She hugged me so tight, and for as much pain as I know she was in at the time, she made sure to tell me how much Donnie loved me. She asked me “What am I going to do now?” I didn’t have an answer, because I didn’t know myself. I just told her she could call me any time.

We were heading home to Cold Lake right after the service, a six hour drive. It had been an overcast day, grey and somber. It fit the tone. But as my brother and I walked out into the parking lot, it started to drizzle. We got into the car, and by the time we got out of Calgary, it was pouring rain. It was a very quiet drive home, we were both lost in thought. All I could think about, was how unfair life was. How angry I was, that this is how things worked sometimes. Usually I find rain very soothing, but on that day, it was unwelcome. In my head, I was searching for some kind of answer, knowing I couldn’t possibly come up with one that would make any sense. When we were about an hour out of the city, something happened.

I can’t explain this any other way than how I choose to see it, so I’ll just tell it as I experienced it. These things don’t usually work like this for me, but on that day…that day, it did. I’d had my eyes closed for a minute. I wasn’t sleeping, as exhausted as I was physically and emotionally depleted, there was no way I could. My head was back against the headrest, and I was just listening to the rain pound against the windows. There’d been so many things going through my brain already since we left. In my head, I begged. I pleaded. Give me a sign. Show me you’re here, now.

The drive between Calgary and Cold Lake is 6-6.5 hours. As I mentioned before, it started to drizzle right as we were leaving the service. We’d stopped at a mall, to hit up a food court to grab something to eat quickly, and left. By the time we were out of Calgary, it was pouring. It poured buckets the whole way home, the entire six hours. But for one moment. One single moment, the whole drive home. As I finished that thought in my head, for Donnie to show me a sign…right at that moment, there was a flash of sun. Driving, on the road, you could see exactly where the rain stopped, where the pavement was dry, and the line where it began again. As if it had been drawn by a crayon that was a darker shade of grey. Six solid hours of driving, maybe a little more, without even stopping for a bathroom break, because we just wanted to be home already. And only in that very moment was there ever a glimpse of sun, or a lack of rain. You do with it what you will, but I know what I know.

I changed just a little, the day he left this world. There’s people you find in life that do that. They change who you are, in the best ways. My closest friends, the friends that I’ve considered family, they came into my world and made it different somehow. These are also the ones that came around, and never left by choice. No matter how hard I pushed, no matter how hard I tried to be unlovable, they always saw through the walls I was so desperately trying to put up. And they loved me anyway. They’ve always seen me, for me.

In the time that Donnie’s been gone, I’ve struggled with a lot of anger and bitterness. It was something that could have easily been prevented, and that’s difficult. With no warning, no possibility of goodbye, there’s always the “why?” of it all that lingers. I’m sure it always will. The day after his funeral, Donnie’s wife found out that she was pregnant. He would have been such a great father. At the same time, there’s this little piece of him left behind. He looks so much like his dad.

A few years later, I lost another of my closest friends, another soul mate in life. But that’s another story for another day. All I know is that in my 30s, that’s not what I was expecting from life. This last year with the pandemic, and having a lot more time on my hands, a lot of this has come to the surface in a way I also couldn’t have predicted. These ‘anniversaries’ are hitting me harder, because I have less to distract me. This last week I’ve been in a bit of a fog, and it won’t seem to lift. I think I have to let it do what it needs to, because I’ve been avoiding it up until now. It’s what I do, hoping it will just go away. This won’t, though. And I shouldn’t let it.

The friends that I’ve made in my life, the ones that came in and challenged me, and make me a better human…to all of you, thank you. Thank you for putting up with my crazy, and listening to my ridiculous theories on, well, everything. Thank you for loving the things that I love, and showing me new things to love at the same time. Thank you for making me laugh, and letting me cry if I need to. Thank you for loving me, even when I’ve been at my ugliest. I’m fully aware that you’re the ones that choose to be here. And my gratefulness can’t even be put into words. There are none that can describe how thankful I am for the people I’ve found, who have chosen me, as I’ve chosen them in return to share this crazy life with. My friends are the family that I’ve hand picked. And my heart is full.

People say that grief gets easier over time. I don’t necessarily think that’s true. I find it just changes as the years go by. It morphs into something else. What starts out as anger and shock, turns into sadness, and you do venture into territory of some version of acceptance. But the pain still remains. Yes, I changed a little the day Donnie left. I changed, because the people that I truly let in, that somehow manage to climb or break down these brick walls, they get a piece of my heart. And the ones that have gone, that piece goes with them. I’m ok with that, because there isn’t a doubt in my mind that it belonged to them all along. That piece, was meant for them in the first place.

Brave Face

A few nights ago, I watched a movie on Netflix called I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. It didn’t have anything to do with current events, but the title has stuck with me. That’s not to say that I have any designs on leaving this world, that’s not what I mean in any capacity, so please don’t worry about that. It’s just that increasingly over the last couple of years, the place that I’ve always called home, has felt less and less like the home I’ve always loved.

Feeling out of place isn’t something that’s new to me, though. I’ve written in the past about struggles with not fitting in with my peers at some points in my life, but this is different. I feel…displaced. Like I fundamentally don’t belong anymore. My province, and my hometown seem to be so opposite to how my values and beliefs line up, and my frustration is at an all time high. And now, I have reasons to believe that I’m not even the person that I thought I was.

I’m finding myself saying and doing things I shouldn’t. I used to be able to control myself better, and keep my snark in check when I needed to. I have no excuses for the way I’ve conducted myself lately, and I’m not going to make any. Something came out of me recently that I’m not proud of. At all. We all have our people, our safe spaces, and I violated that space without thinking it through completely. And it bit me, and I deserved it. I haven’t thought about much else since. I don’t even have the words to express how sorry I am, and how bad I feel. I’m taking responsibility for my actions, because that’s what an adult should do.

I came to an epiphany of sorts recently, too. Until the pandemic hit, I was a worker bee. For a lot of years, I worked and worked and worked some more. Sometimes working 11 hours a day, sometimes two jobs. I filled my time with work, and not a whole lot else. At the time, I didn’t even realize what I was doing. I worked until I literally made myself sick at one time, I was severely anemic and exhausted. I wasn’t taking care of myself, and it showed. I was doing 8 or 9 nail clients a day, no lunch, no breaks. I’d start at 9am, and work until 7 or 8pm straight through, without stopping. It was like I was just this zombie on auto-pilot, a drone hunched over a desk, chained to a daily grind.

I’ve always been someone who would rather deal with what’s going on with everyone around me, rather than what’s happening with me. I’ve always known that could be to my own detriment, but I pushed things down, stuffed them away, because it was easier than facing them head on. Now that in the last year I’ve had a lot of extra time on my hands, it’s forced a lot of that to the surface where I haven’t had a choice but to look at it. It’s been staring me right in the face, a mental game of chicken.

How it’s felt for years, is like I’ve been a caged animal internally. But now? Now, due to this pandemic, I’m also literally feeling like a caged animal. Feral. Is that why my teeth are bared, and my claws are coming out more often? It’s my best guess. It still excuses nothing. All of these demons that I haven’t faced, they’ll eat me alive if I don’t find some way through them. I’ve spent so much time pretending to be fine, that for a long time I may have convinced myself that I was. I know that it hasn’t been fair to the people that love me. We’ve had our hands full for so long with another family member, that I never wanted to take the focus off of that. At the end of the day, I’ve always managed to power through, and keep going.

I once had a conversation with my cousin’s wife. We were discussing said family member, and some things going on. I mentioned that I had all the same issues, just not to the same degree, and that they manifest a little differently in me. She was shocked, and told me that of all the people she knew, she saw me as one of the most “together”. I told her that when it comes to me, I always like to use the duck analogy. She hadn’t heard this analogy before, so I explained. “Say you see a duck swimming out on a pond. What you see on the surface is just a calm duck, moving along. But under the water, it’s legs and feet are kicking like mad to swim.”

I can’t help but feel that the more time goes by, the harder I’m having to kick. I have no one to blame but myself for that, and for pushing things down as long as I have. How I’m going to navigate what I need to, I haven’t quite figured out yet. I’ve been in counseling at different points in my life, and I’m going to look at going back. One of the things I need to find my way through, though…I’m not sure there really is a way through it completely. The reason being that it’s not just about me, it also affects someone I love very much. And it’s not just my story to tell.

One day, I hope to be able to tell it. I can’t be sure that will happen, because it will mean some painful and difficult conversations. It also means that all that kicking may finally be on the surface of the water, and there’s others that could get splashed in the process. My instinct to this point was to always protect the people around me, keep some glass walls around me so that no one caught the aftermath. In this case, forget the duck. We’re talking full on Shamu out of the water, and my loved ones are in the splash zone. I’ve got some work to do on my own before any of it could possibly happen. I just hope I have the strength to do it.

No matter what happens now, I’ll continue to put one foot in front of the other. I always do. For my family, for the people that love me, I know I have to. And that’s always in the back of my mind. Everything I do, is for them. Brave face, game on.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

My grandpa brought baseball to our town. Cold Lake certainly isn’t a big city now, but it was a tiny little town in the 50’s. When my dad was 4, he brought a man named Tom Murphy to play on his team, the Cold Lake Cardinals. He was from San Francisco, and he was a good ball player. He couldn’t have possibly known then, who this man would become to our family over the decades to come. He came to play ball, and then, he just stayed. For a long time. Eventually he moved back to the Bay area, but he lived and worked in Cold Lake for many years, and we considered him family.

He was a friend to my grandparents, a sort of uncle and friend to my dad and his siblings. Eventually he became my brother’s Godfather. My brother and I both played ball when we were young, and he’d come for dinner and hit balls to us in the back yard. He’d attempt to take us to church on the odd Sunday, after our mom had tried and failed to get us to keep going. He’d bribe us with breakfast out, waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. It still didn’t work out for either one of us, but he had to try.

Tom was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. He was goofy, but sharp. Always quick with a joke, making us laugh constantly. Sometimes, he’d come to our house to do laundry. One afternoon when I was in high school, I come home to see his car parked outside. I go into the house, and I walk into our living room to see him lying on the floor. Sheer panic took over me, and I started calling his name. “Tom. Tom? TOM!” And I’m really starting to freak out. “TOM!!!” and finally “What?!” I started breathing again, and I walk over and help him up. “I thought you were dead!” And he says to me “I’m not dead, I’m just lazy!” He had fallen asleep on the couch while doing his laundry, fallen off the couch during the course of his nap, and was too damn lazy to get back up on the couch and just continued his nap on the floor.

He has a niece in San Francisco, who came to visit when I was in grade 10, and stayed with us at our house. As a gift for graduation, my parents sent me to visit her and her mom on my own at 17 for ten days. The first time I’d ever traveled by myself. They took me to do some amazing things on that trip. Pier 39, the Museum of Modern Art, Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz, shopping in Sausalito. I saw my last movie at a drive-in there, and by God wasn’t it Pulp Fiction. My mom was not impressed with me that I came home with rolls and rolls of film, and had all of one picture that I was actually in, but five pictures of places where the Zodiac Killer dumped bodies. Priorities.

One day, they took me to the zoo. It was an impressive facility, as zoos go. I had lagged behind in an area for a minute, and my family friends had gone on ahead of me at one point. We were in the big cat exhibit, and there was an area I was walking through that was a boardwalk that had two high fences on either side, and trees among the fences. They were doing some work within the exhibit at that time, but people were still allowed through. I was walking along the boardwalk alone, when I heard rustling above me in the trees. I looked up, to see a beautiful black panther starting down at me. With nothing in between us. I froze, terrified. Before I knew it, though, a park employee came out of nowhere, and shot it with a tranquilizer. They explained to us after, that someone had forgotten to put some of the chain netting back in one area, and they’d lost this cat. Well, it found me, anyway. We got our admission refunded, and free t-shirts. It’s still a very surreal thing when I think about it, that it actually happened.

I’ve also spent family vacations in the Bay area. Even as an adult, when Tom moved back after spending many years in Cold Lake. Now I’m lucky that I not only love my family, but I genuinely like them as people, and what this means is that in our travels come some funny stories. The last trip we took out to California, we flew out through Vancouver. My mother makes no secret out of the fact that she does not like to fly. The running joke with her is that she used take drugs to fly, now she flies to take drugs. And it’s true, she has to take sedatives, she’s that scared. She’s got it down to a science now.

Our layover this time was around lunchtime, and we had a couple of hours to kill in the airport, and where our gate was there was a food court like you see often. The boys went in several different directions, and my mom and I decided to get Chinese food and a coffee from Starbucks, and we’d all meet back near our gate to eat together. We got all our food and such, and my mom is ambulatory and everything, but a tad loopy from the drugs. We’re all eating and quiet for a couple of minutes, and out of the blue she says “this is the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.” My dad was sitting across from me, and we look at each other, and I kind of look at him and then turn to my mom and go “Oh really?” and she goes “Yup, best Chinese food ever.” And I’m laughing to myself, because believe me when I say that food was mediocre at best. I’d equate it to mall Chinese food, and it was fine, but it was nowhere near the best ever. I moved across the aisle to tell my dad this and we chuckled together. We got on our connection, and got to San Francisco later that afternoon.

That evening, Tom came to meet us at our hotel for dinner. We order, and my mom got some crab cakes as an appetizer. She’s eating them, and says “My God, these crab cakes are so good” and my dad says “As good as the best Chinese food you ever had?” And I start laughing. Mom says to him “What Chinese food?” and then I interject. “The Chinese food from the airport at lunch.” And she says to me “I didn’t have any Chinese food today.” And I’m laughing harder now. So I tell her about the layover, how we got the Chinese food and how she said it was the best she’d ever had, and how it truly wasn’t that great. She had no recollection of the food, or the layover, because of the sedatives, and then was choked she couldn’t even remember this food she’d praised so much.

The next day on that trip, we didn’t really have anything planned. I was craving pancakes, and the husband and I drove to a nearby Denny’s to get lunch. We got inside and got seated, the waitress poured us some coffee, and came to tell us a minute later that the power was going to be out for a few minutes due to some outside work, and either we could wait the few minutes, or drink the coffee we’d gotten on the house and head out if we wanted. We decided to wait. But several minutes later she came back to tell us that it was going to take longer than expected, and alas, no pancakes for me. There was a Taco Bell right across the street, so we just decided to grab something there. It’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made, because I ended up with violent food poisoning on vacation, and lost nearly three days on that trip. Well played Taco Bell, lesson learned.

We drove out to Pebble Beach to check things out. I can’t say that I’ve seen many golf courses, but it was beautiful. My dad, who rarely complains about anything, was furious it costed $10 just to drive onto the grounds. We walked around a bit, and I had to wrangle my parents off of a green before they got hit by flying golf balls. My brother, ever the classy one, peed in some bushes because he didn’t know if he was allowed to go in the clubhouse if he wasn’t a member. I stood ready with my phone, and snapped a picture of him coming out of them. I’m a great sister.

We drove out to Half Moon Bay, where there’s a restaurant called Sam’s Chowder House, which my dad kept insisting on calling “Sam’s Crab Shack” (“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” was his classic response every time I corrected him) which the Today Show had featured their Lobster Roll in the top 5 sandwiches in the US. Well I had it, and let me tell you, it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Where that restaurant is situated is nothing short of breathtaking, as well.

We went to watch the Giants play, because baseball is in our blood. I’m not one to watch it on TV, but I do like to go to a game. It’s cool that you can see water from the park, we could right from our seats. The Giants lost that game, but it was still nice to be at a game there. We went to Alcatraz on that trip, too. We’d already been, but the husband had never gone, and it’s still a cool thing to do anyway. That day I still wasn’t feeling very well, but we’d booked the tickets with my credit card in advance, so if I wasn’t there with my card, then no one was going. So off I went, on a boat, stomach churning. I swear I must have actually looked green. I eventually parked my ass on a bench and just said “I’ll be here” and contemplated lying down on it until my family was done. Eventually, my brother came barreling down the ramp from where you head up to the prison itself. He doesn’t know I know this, but my mom later told me they were up there, and he kept saying “Should she be down there by herself? Someone should check on her.” And so he did.

A drive out to San Jose had us take a visit to the Winchester House, which was something I really wanted to see. If you’re not familiar with the story, Sarah Winchester was the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune. She lost everyone she loved, and thought she was cursed. A spiritualist in Boston told her that vengeful spirits taken by the family’s rifles were taking their revenge on her, and that she needed to move to the east and buy a house. He instructed that she needed to maintain constant construction on that house to keep the spirits away. The house she bought was worked on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from 1866, until she died in 1922. There are 160 rooms, and within it there are staircases that lead to nowhere, doors that just have walls behind them, and gorgeous stained glass pieces in areas that get no sun. Things that make no sense, supposedly to confuse any spirits that come calling, to chase them away. You can’t take pictures inside, but I remember intricate flooring, trim, and ceiling treatments, unlike people had ever seen in those days.

This trip was close to mother’s day, and as a treat, I booked my mom and I a spa day at the Fairmont Mission Inn in Sonoma. We took a day trip out there, the men went wine tasting while we got spoiled. The fact that it’s an old Mission to start with is very cool, and the architecture itself is beautiful. There’s terracotta flooring and ceiling tiles, and it has that hacienda type feel. But it’s also built on a natural spring, and before your services they have you do a bathing ritual in their whirlpools, which is the spring water brought up from the ground. Between all of that, and the quality of the services, it was a fabulous day.

One of the services I booked for us was called a Vanilla Float. It was a full body scrub, and whatever a “float” was, which I had no idea what to expect. When I walked into that room, there was a chair, and a giant rectangle covered in a sheet, which almost resembled a coffin. She asked me if I was claustrophobic at all. I said no, but I was suddenly slightly frightened. She had me lie on top of the sheet on this rectangle, which just felt like a piece of furniture once I got up on it. She scrubbed me from head to toe with this amazing vanilla scented body scrub, and wrapped me up in the sheet. Then I could see under the sheet was another blanket she wrapped me in. She walked around to the other side of the table, hit a button, and WHOOSH I sunk into the table! Inside, it was like a waterbed, where I was suspended, floating there in water, but I wasn’t wet. Once I figured out what had happened, I completely relaxed. My head was still above at the one end, as were my feet. She then gave me a head massage, and I was in complete heaven. It was, hands down, the coolest spa service I’ve ever had done to date.

It feels like travel may never happen again right now. And I miss traveling with my family, especially. San Francisco is always going to have a special place in my heart thanks to Tom. He was so special to our family, and the time we spent there is a reminder of what he was to us. Family isn’t always blood, sometimes people come along in life that choose to be there, and they become your family. I’m lucky enough to have a family that I want to spend time with, but I’m so grateful to have friends that are like my family, too. I don’t take any one of them for granted, not for one second. Tom is passed away now, and I’ve tragically lost friends along the way. You really never do know what life is going to throw at you. Hold your people close to you, and make sure to tell them you love them. Tomorrow is never a guarantee, and we need to stick together now more than ever. Much love.

Pink Shirt Day

A couple of posts ago, I told a story about a girl who invited me to her house on the day of her birthday party, only to tell me in front of twenty kids that I wasn’t actually invited and to turn around and go home. We were in grade 6. And really, that was only the beginning. What followed were four years of hell on earth. Until the end of grade 9, I was bullied mercilessly. I just wanted to crawl under a rock and stay there forever. I was withdrawn, anti-social. I did have a few friends, but we kept to ourselves and didn’t want attention drawn to us.

I didn’t make sense to the popular kids. I grew up what I guess you could call “well-off”. In a small town, I had the right clothes, what people would have considered the right last name. This is all what I see now, looking back. I never cared about any of that. I never wanted for anything, that I know. But I also come from people who worked hard, and raised my brother and I to treat others with respect no matter who you are. I learned early on, that not everyone is like that.

The kids that were popular, they wanted you to suck up to them. They wanted you to need to be one of them. And I had no desire for any of that, if it meant I had to be like they were. I wasn’t selling my soul to them just to fit in. If fitting in meant that I had to beat others down, I wanted no part of it. Because I already knew how it felt, and I couldn’t bear the thought of doing that to someone else. I paid for it. Oh, how I paid for it. They didn’t understand my choice to be a wallflower, instead of begging for a spot with the in crowd.

There were others, though, who got it worse than I did. And there were times that I put myself in harm’s way, knowing what was going to happen. There was a girl who was new to town in grade 9. In a small town like ours, that’s a rough go to start with, when most of us had known each other since we were little. And she was a different girl, eccentric. Came to school in high heels, wore strange clothes compared to us. And truth be told, she had quite frizzy red hair. She was just different than the rest of us, and of course, immediately became a target. I felt horrible for her. I was one of the only ones who was pleasant to her, and she was a nice girl.

One day, I had forgotten something in my classroom, and I went back in to see that she was sitting at a desk writing. One of the boys in my class was standing behind her, holding a bottle of White Out over her head, waiting for it to pour in her hair. With her hair being thick and frizzy, it would have taken a few seconds for her to even know it was there…and I was suitably horrified. I ran over and knocked the bottle out of his hand, and it spilled on the floor. She was startled, she hadn’t even known he was standing there. He was angry at me for ruining his prank, and I was angry at him for even wanting to do it in the first place. He looked me dead in the eye and said “You’ll regret that.”

When the teacher came in later when class started, neither she or I fessed up to how the White Out got on the carpet. After school that day, that boy followed behind me while I walked home and yelled insults at me the whole way. All because I didn’t let him pour White Out in an unsuspecting girl’s hair. What on earth would possess him to even want to do that, I still have no idea. To me, it wouldn’t have been funny. Even at fourteen. All I could think of was how she would even get it out, and how it was going to make her feel. If I had to go back and do it again, I would knock that bottle out of his hand ten out of ten times. It was the right thing to do.

The walk home that day wasn’t fun. It was only a block, thank God. But I didn’t let him see me cry. I kept my head up, and walked straight ahead, pretending I didn’t hear him while he called after me. I walked in the door of my house, closed it behind me, crumpled to the floor, and cried. My brother, who would have been 11 at the time, came to the entry because he heard me crying. He looked scared, not knowing what to do. He just came and sat on the floor next to me. A few minutes went by, and I stopped crying. And he said “Can we have a snack now?” and I just nodded at him, and we got up and went to the kitchen. I doubt he remembers that. But I always will.

Here’s the thing about that day, though. Once I got home, I was home. I’d escaped. There was no social media to check, no texts. Sure, it was still on my mind, but at the very least at home it was just me and my family. The people that loved me, knew me, wanted the best for me. It’s such a different world we’re living in now, where as soon as kids are exposed to the online world, they’re connected to each other constantly. There’s no break from contact. Even though I don’t have any children of my own, there are many in my life. And I hear and see the things that happen.

I’m reminded of stories like Amanda Todd, a girl from Port Coquitlam, BC. She was cyber-bullied after a photo of her flashing was circulated, to the point that it drove her to drugs and alcohol, and ultimately led her to suicide. She was fifteen years old. I’ll link an article at the end of this post if you’re not familiar with the story, but heartbreaking doesn’t begin to cover it. The pain that bullying caused her, and in turn what the outcome caused her family is nothing short of agonizing. Even when she was at home, there was no escaping. It’s just different now. Parents, if you’re reading this, be vigilant. Know what your children are doing online. Limit their phone and screen time at night, even as teenagers. It may save their life.

Days like today, Pink Shirt Day, matter. Absolutely. But if we’re not all conscious of how we’re treating people on a day to day basis, then we’ve already lost. The bullying I went through when I was young had lasting effects on me, I can’t say that it didn’t. It’s like when you throw a rock into water, that initial splash is the worst of it, but the ripple effect goes on…sometimes infinitely. The disturbance of that water, it changes you. In some ways it can even change you for the better. It strengthened my resolve. It solidified my view of right and wrong. And these are things that I apply to my everyday life.

The pain felt unbearable at the time, but I was lucky enough to have family support, people who loved me no matter what. This isn’t always the case for everyone, and that breaks my heart. I’m also going to post a link to the Kids Help Phone charity. Resources for our children who don’t have support at home are invaluable, and it’s a cause that’s important to me. Times are hard right now, though, and I get that, too. The pandemic has caused us all stresses that we couldn’t have expected on top of our already stressful lives. I think it exacerbates everything, and just makes it all the more important to make days like today, and mental health focuses for all of us a priority.

If you’re still with me, thank you for taking the time today. Much love, and be sure to take care of yourselves, and each other.

Kids Help Phone | Charity Profile | Donate Online | Canadahelps

The Story of Amanda Todd | The New Yorker

Change, Pandemic Nonsense, and other surprises

I’m feeling well beyond cooped up these days. And while I’m certainly not homicidal, I’m having a hard time not going all Jack Torrance from The Shining.

All work and no play makes Tara a dull girl.

Alright, so that’s a bit dramatic. Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King aren’t writing my life story right now, but since the beginning of this pandemic, it’s seemed like this B horror movie of sorts where I’ve just waited for this virus to mutate into some kind of zombie apocalypse. Which would at least make it a little more interesting to watch from my isolation. Sounds harsh, right? Well that’s where I’m at now, so how do you think I feel? My imagination gets the better of me sometimes, and let me tell you, she’s vivid.

What I have to remind myself of is the fact that I’m not the only one going through this. We’re all in it. Even if you’re not a believer, this has affected you, whether you want to admit it or not. The places we can go, the things we can do. There’s no denying it. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is insanely long, and sometimes feels incredibly dark in the meantime. That’s to be expected, I suppose. I don’t enjoy feeling on edge, somehow restless and exhausted at the same time. It doesn’t jive in my head, and that bothers me.

Bothersome as it might be, it’s led me to make some changes. Partially because of how I feel overall, and I think partially because of all the things that are out of my control right now. Control is a funny thing. I think when there’s a lot in my life that I can’t control, I look for things that I can, and latch on to that. So I decided to make some dietary changes. Again, a lot of my reasoning is just that I want to feel better, because I wasn’t making great choices for a while. But it’s also almost a distraction, something to focus on while other things are just lemmings going over a cliff.

Something else I’ve been able to focus on recently, I was asked to be a guest on a podcast. Music for the Quarantined Soul. The idea is essentially like a desert island game. Beforehand, you choose five albums. The ones that if you had to pick, are the ones you’d be stuck with in quarantine. Music is in my blood, so this was right up my alley. But let me tell you, I agonized over this decision for days. We were set to record last night, and I was actually really nervous about it. What if I sounded silly? What if it turned out they were sorry they asked me? It turned out to be a blast, they were really nice, funny guys, and we had a good time. They really do their research on your choices, which I loved. I won’t tell what they were just yet, since I’ll be posting the podcast once it’s edited and ready, so stay tuned for that if you’re interested. They’ve even asked me to make another appearance with a bit of a twist, so I’ll keep you in the loop about that as well!

There’s also been some discord within my extended family that’s been worrying me a lot recently. I can’t talk a whole lot about it, but it’s weighing on me heavily. When someone you love is hurting or in pain, and there’s nothing you can do to take it away, to fix it…well, there’s not a lot of feelings that are worse. Helpless feels exactly how it sounds. You’re powerless to amend their situation, and as someone who generally puts the people I love before myself, this is especially hard for me to sit back and watch. I want to trust that they’re going to make the right decisions, and see things for what they truly are. I’m not sure that’s how this is going to play out, but I’ll be here either way.

Speaking of family, I did get a nice surprise this week. In the summer, my brother got this pageboy style hat from Chapel Hats in Calgary, and I fell in love with it. He promised he’d get me one like it, but didn’t want to buy me exactly the same one. Fast forward to Christmas, and in my stocking he’d given me a cute black and white plaid hat from Walmart that I thought was just fine, but he wasn’t happy with this purchase. “I’ll find a better one” he kept saying. “It’s not that good.” I didn’t see the issue, I thought it was plenty cute. He thought it was too cheap looking, and just didn’t like it. Well, in the mail this week came this grey velour pageboy hat. It’s perfect. It’s so perfect, I can’t even put it into words, which is saying a lot. My brother is a guy of very few words, and doesn’t show affection like most do. But the fact that this hat he’d got at Christmas wasn’t up to his standard was going to bother him until he found something he thought was ‘right’. He and I, we get each other in this weird way, we always have.

This reminds me of a time when we were just kids, and my mom took us shopping for Christmas one year. She’d given us each $20, and with that we were to buy something for each other, and both of our parents. This was back before the GST was even a thing, so that’s telling you how long ago it was. My brother was maybe 5, so I would have been about 8. That year, Pound Puppies were a big thing. And now that I’m going back to this, the name of those poor creatures is questionable, but I digress. There was one in particular I wanted so badly. She was this cute little white puppy with a red bow on her head. My mom took us to shop at this variety store in town, and this Pound Puppy was there. One of them. Price tag? $17.99. We had $20, no budging. I was focused on what I was going to get for my family, and he did his thing. Well, Christmas came, and sure enough, he’d gotten me that puppy because he knew how much I wanted it. He’d scoured the store endlessly, and had bought my mom and dad each $0.99 Oilers stickers for Christmas, so that he could get us all something, and not go over his spending limit. My mom has kept those stickers to this day, because they didn’t care what we got them, it was just so sweet that he spent so much of his money on me, to get me what I wanted so badly.

This works both ways, though. Whatever it is that he really wants for his birthday or Christmas, I have to get it for him. He lives a pretty simple life, and doesn’t ask for much. And I find these random things that he ends up ridiculously attached to. He’s a die hard Oilers fan, and has been since birth. And he likes things that are different, not what everyone else has. A few years ago I managed to find an Oilers hoodie that was St. Patrick’s Day themed. It’s that shamrock green, front and center, you can’t miss it. The logo is embossed on the front and you can barely see it, but it’s there. It’s out there, and it’s different, but it’s one of the things I’ve seen him wear the most over the last several years. That makes me happy.

Overall right now, I know that things could be a whole lot worse, and I’m really alright with that. I just need to keep my perspective, and look forward. And in the meantime, I never know what little surprises might come about to brighten my days here and there. People can do that, if you let them. If you’re still with me, I hope you’re taking care of yourselves, and each other. Much love.


Attention: Harsh truths ahead.

That’s right, I said it. Sometimes Twitter just sucks. You think it sometimes, don’t deny it. It can be a cess pool full of toxicity, negativity, and let’s face it, general douchebaggery. That doesn’t take away the positive things that I get from it all the time, but lately things have just gotten to me. I’m sure people being cooped up for so long isn’t helping anything in the least. We’re all going stir crazy, and some of the outlets we use to blow off steam aren’t as readily available as they usually are. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I think because of this we’re all a bit more on edge than usual. That’s normal. What’s not normal, are some of the behaviors I still see within the Twitterverse.

The Negative Attention Seeker

For the life of me, I cannot understand this tactic. You know the type, the person who’s out for shock value, and doesn’t care how they go about it. My problem with this type, is that they’ll sometimes try to drag others down in the process, just to achieve some kind of notoriety. What they seem to forget, is that it makes them look petty and spiteful, for what appears to be no good reason. There’s always a reason for everything, though. We’re all battling demons, whether we’re showing our cards or not. Obviously I have no psych degree to back me up here, but if you’re deflecting negative energy out into the world about other people, there’s definitely something going on internally. Kind of the idea “hey, don’t look too deep at what I’ve got going on, but look at this trainwreck over here.” Is it easier to point at other people, than to deal with our own shit? Absolutely it is. But you can only avoid your own demons and deflect so long, before you’re going to have to face whatever it is you’re really dealing with.

The Twitter Police

I can’t even put into words how sick to death I am of people who think they can police others that they don’t even know. For example, a few nights ago during a hockey game, one of my close friends was using some colorful language. That is 100% her right to do so on Twitter. And I’m not into hockey, but game night Twitter with my friends is fun for me in a totally different way than it is for them, because I get to watch from the sidelines win or lose. On this particular night, though, a guy who doesn’t even follow her took it upon himself to lecture her about her language, and even brought up professionalism. Which, if that’s how you choose to choose to conduct yourself, that’s completely fine. But when you’ve chosen to put yourself out on a platform that also has something called “Titty Tuesday”, you’ve really got to pick your battles. Is he seeing pictures of boobs and commenting “put those away, would you?” I’m guessing not.

Just today, this very image below got me policed. And yes, it was edited. Anyone who watched yesterday’s inauguration would have been able to tell you that Kamala Harris’s grey portion was actually purple as well. But it’s been a running joke that The Simpsons has been predicting the future, and all things considered, this is still pretty coincidental. I think what bothers me the most, is that more often than not, it’s always people who don’t follow you or know you at all who want to make you look ‘wrong’. I ended up amending the tweet to say that I did know that the photo was edited, because two people I’ve never seen before chose to point out that her suit was solid purple. Yeah, I know. Just like the millions of other people who saw her during the inauguration yesterday could tell you. This was just for fun, God forbid.

My Opinion is the Only One

Nope. I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but this just isn’t true. I’m passionate about music. It’s probably my favorite thing in life. But here’s the thing. When it comes to music, my philosophy is that I like what I like, and you like what you like, and that’s fine. Sure, there’s genres that I don’t understand, and artists that I really don’t know how they got anywhere based on their level of talent. I don’t make any rules, because to me there are no rules. But Chad from Toronto thinks I’m absolutely in the wrong for not liking Rush. No, I’m not wrong. I just have a different opinion. I can respect the music, respect the musicians, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it because you say I do. The fact of the matter is, Geddy Lee’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me. And I know that not everyone is going to dig what I like, and they’re not wrong for that, either. I’ve also been trying to like pesto and sushi for years, to no avail. In the words of George Costanza on pesto: “Why do I think I’ll like it? I keep tryin’ to like it!” I can’t do it. If you want to, well that’s just more for you, now isn’t it? When it comes down to it, the world would be a really boring place if we were all exactly the same.

The Devil’s Advocate

I won’t lie to you, sometimes I get sucked in by this monster of a being. The worst part is that I know what they’re doing, and I still get sucked in. A difference of opinion with music is one thing, but there are some issues that I do believe come down to a wrong or right scenario. Racism in any form is wrong. Cupcakes are right. You get the idea. There’s that one character, though, that knows just how to push that button…and I’m set off. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does I can easily lose a couple of hours to nonsense. I hate myself a little bit for it, because I know everything that I say falls on deaf ears. But my convictions are strong, and I fight for what I believe is right. So sometimes, I let anger or frustration guide me with this type of person, and I lose two hours of my life I’m not getting back. Will it happen again? Yes. Yes it will. Common sense, be damned.

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

This one is the trickiest, because they’re always the hardest to figure out. They’re good at what they do. It could be that girl that seems super sweet, but has a hidden agenda. Maybe it’s a guy that you’re friends with, but you’ve got them figured all wrong. It’s always someone you think is one thing, but they turn out to be something else entirely. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good judge of character, but I do get it wrong. It never feels good, no matter what the situation might be. The example I’ll use here, is a guy I was friends with for a time. I chose to cut him off, and I’ll tell you why. One night while chatting, he’d been drinking some. He was well aware that I’m married, and this was a platonic friendship. This night, he made a comment about how between me and another close female friend of his, he wanted to see which one of us he could get topless pictures out of. Joke or not, I made it very clear that it certainly wasn’t going to be me, and I really didn’t appreciate the comment. I gave it some slack because he’d been drinking and going through some things, and in hindsight I really shouldn’t have. But I did. A little time went by, and some things ended up happening outside of me with some other people, I won’t go into details. But a comment was made again about pictures. The way that I ended up feeling, was more objectified than like a friend. I just think I’m worth more than that, and can offer more to a person in a friendship, than how that friendship was making me feel at that time. I did cut him off without an explanation. I could have handled that better. But at first, he came off more of “I’ll be a ride or die” and that’s not how I felt in the end. No matter the nature of a relationship, you have to be able to trust that person on the other side, or there’s not much to go on. At this stage in my life, I have to trust my instincts. I’ve come across more wolves since, and it shakes you every time. It makes you question yourself, your instincts, and the decisions you’re making about who you choose to keep in your life. I know now, that I need to be really, really careful, and trust my gut.

With all of this said, the positive still far outweighs the negative that I get from Twitter, no question. I understand that I’m not going to vibe with everyone I come across, and vice versa. And that some people won’t always turn out to be what you thought they were. That’s disappointing, and it’s disheartening. It might even shake my faith a little, and even worse, make me question myself. But if I chose not to let anyone at all in, I also wouldn’t have made the truly amazing connections that I have made thanks to Twitter, either. And that would be a damn shame.

The Way That Music Molds Us

Here’s a little tidbit about me: If I don’t have music playing, I have a song in my head all the time. All. The. Time. From the minute I wake up, until I go to sleep, there is a song playing in my head, constantly. It’s not always the same song, quite the contrary. It changes often. Sometimes there’s a reason for the song that’s in my head, and sometimes there isn’t. There are actually medical reasons that this can happen. One of them is a type of hearing loss, called musical ear syndrome, but I know that’s not me because I’ve been this way my whole life, and have yet to lose my hearing. Another reason can be mental illness, like schizophrenia. Which, whether you choose to believe me or not, I do not have. It can also be a form of OCD, which…well, that one is entirely possible. But for some people, it’s just a side effect of musicality. A little from column A, a little from column B.

When I was young, I took piano lessons. My mom taught Royal Conservatory, but she didn’t think it a good idea for her to teach me. What could possibly go wrong there, right? But my aunt, her sister, was also a piano teacher. So she taught me instead. Reading music never made sense to me, though. It just wasn’t something I could grasp, I don’t know why. But after my weekly lesson, I’d go home and pluck my way through my songs, and by the next week, I’d know them. It wasn’t until months later that my aunt realized that I wasn’t looking at my music books, I was always looking at my hands. So she asked me about the method, if it was working. When I told her what I was doing, she did some research, and soon after she started teaching me a whole different method of piano called Suzuki. It’s all based on learning by ear, and listening to tapes. From there, I picked things up so much faster. I wish I’d stuck with it longer than I did, as playing by ear is a skill not everyone has. I have regrets about that. I may pick it up again one day.

Some of my earliest memories are of music being in our house. My mom listening to Toto, Bread or The Beatles. My dad singing, all the time. He still does to this day. And if he doesn’t know the lyrics, he makes up his own. Some pretty creative ones, I might add. For the longest time I thought American Pie was a song he was making up words to. What the hell is a levee? At age 4, I had no idea. When I was little, his favorite was Meatloaf. I know every word to Bat Out of Hell, not because I want to, but by osmosis. For dad and I, though, it was ABBA. That was our thing. Our 8-track was lemon yellow. As a kid, I remember thinking my grandma was the coolest, because she had a Tiffany vinyl album. Years later, when I was more than grown, she’d leave me random voice mails, with things like “Bon Jovi is on Jay Leno tonight, just thought you’d want to know” because she knew they’re my favorite band. Everyone in my life knows how much music has been a part of my life. Even people on my social media tag me in music posts all the time, and I love that.

What I’m most fascinated by when it comes to music, though, is the way it connects us to very specific things. Whether it’s a person, a place, a time. Picture this: you’re in your car, a song comes on. You’re immediately transported to a moment in your life because of that song. Sound familiar? It happens to me all the time. And it’s one of the things that I love most about music now, at this stage of my life. Don’t worry, I’m going to give you some examples.

I’m 19, living in Edmonton. Heartbreak city, population me. A guy from home had jerked me around for over a year, and it was finally done. I was upset, and my friend Don calls, and asks me to come over. We’ll hang out so I can just chill and forget about things for a while. I was his only female friend, and it’s clear he had zero idea what to do for me to make me feel better. We’re sitting on his couch watching TV, when out of nowhere he starts to sing Superman’s Dead by Our Lady Peace. “Ow, a-woooo, ow, a-woooo”…and it’s bad. It’s so bad on purpose. Wounded coyote bad. For a few seconds we just stare at each other, because I’m slightly thrown, as this came out of nowhere. And then, I burst out laughing. He followed suit, and somehow everything was right in the world again. Of course now, Superman’s Dead will always be the wounded coyote of songs.

A high school dance, grade 11. I’m 16, and so crazy about a boy I can’t even see straight. It was funny, when I first met him I really didn’t like him. He was a basketball star, tall and perfect, but seemed aloof and standoffish. I was wrong about that. We had a lot of the same friends, though, and ended up in a lot of the same places, and we became really good friends, and then…well. The rest writes itself. A bunch of us went to one dance together that year, and he kept saying “save me a dance later” and I just said “yeah, yeah, come find me” not really thinking much about it, until he came to collect. Of all the songs that night, he chose November Rain by Guns N’ Roses. All 8 minutes and 57 seconds. I remember exactly how it happened. I was talking with two of my friends, and he came up behind me, and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and he said “are you ready?” and looking up at him, all I could do was nod. He held his hand out, and I took it. We never were a couple. I messed it up in typical 16 year old fashion, because I didn’t realize he liked me, too. But that song will forever remind me of him.

July 15th, 2010. Commonwealth stadium. Kid Rock opened for Bon Jovi. We had tickets in the 8th row. I knew for that venue they were amazing, but when we got there, we were in something called “the pit”. My friend Kim and her husband had tickets in there as well, and we spent some time with them. There was a catwalk that enclosed the first bunch of rows, and Kid Rock and Bon Jovi used that during the show. Inside the pit, we were allowed to move around pretty freely. When Bon Jovi played Bed of Roses, Jon came around on the catwalk by himself. I was close to the edge of it, standing alone. He came around slowly, singing as he went. My heart was beating out of my chest. Just to give you some back story here, Jon Bon Jovi has been my hero since I was 8 years old, and I’ve been in complete awe of him ever since, so this was a big deal for me. As he’s getting closer, and I’m watching, I’m starting to shake. The catwalk was about eye level for me, and as he gets to me, he’s looking right at me, flashing his pearly whites and smiling. But me? I’m a deer in headlights, and I can’t move. But that’s when I hear Kim yell from behind me “touch him, stupid!” and I finally snap out of it, and I move a little closer to the catwalk, and reach up. He grabs my hand, still singing and smiling at me. I can’t describe the elation of that moment. Will he remember it? Never. I’ve been to 6 Bon Jovi shows, and I’ve actually had even better seats. I’ve touched him again since, but that moment, that was the one I’ll remember most clearly. Bed of Roses isn’t my favorite song of theirs, but it will hold a special place in my heart thanks to that moment. I took a picture right after it happened that I’ll attach at the bottom of this post, and you’ll see how blurry it is, because that’s how much I was shaking.

1995/1996. My best friend Anne’s ex-boyfriend played rugby. We’d go to all the games to watch, but really it was more for us to spend time together. We’d pick up food from a drive-thru, and hang out in her car and listen to music during the game. We went through phases, but there were three albums that stand out to me during that time. Hole, Live Through This. Better Than Ezra, Deluxe. Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill. We played the shit out of those three albums. There are so many songs that we loved, so many bands and singers that we were into over the years, but those three were the ones that were our jam. I lost her to cancer four years ago last month. We’d been friends since we were 16, and music was one of the things we really bonded over. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, and often it’s because of a song I hear, or one that’s popped into my head randomly. She was so funny and smart, and had the most amazing laugh you’ve ever heard. If there’s one song, though…the one that’s her song, it would be Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison. She had gorgeous brown eyes, and it’s such a sweet, happy song. It’s just the way I remember her.

I can’t imagine a time when there won’t be music in my life. I love what it does for me too much. It comforts any melancholy. The right song can instantly bring on a more upbeat mood. It can mend a broken heart. It can make you dance, or cry, or rock out. To me, there’s really nothing else that can do the range of things for me that music can. And that, my friends, is a truly beautiful thing.

The Complicated Works of Female Relationships

Confession: for as far back as I can remember, other women and girls have intimidated me. At least to a point. It started early in school, the girls that played games with friendship, they were your friend one day, and not the next. On purpose. Boys are just different. And it transcends into adulthood with men. When I was an adult, I was at a party one night, and two guys I knew came in late. They’re both bloodied, and I was one of the only sober ones. I rushed to them to check them over, see what happened. They’d gotten into a fight. I asked who they’d been fighting with, and they looked at each other sheepishly. And I said “Who??” and one of them says “We were fighting with each other.” I shook my head at them both, assessing their injuries, while they’re now laughing together as I’m left bewildered. Boys will be boys.

Rewind to grade six. The most popular girl in my class (I’ll call her Alice) was having a birthday, and she brought invitations to her birthday party to hand out at school. I didn’t get one, and I was crushed. A few days went by, and I’d just resigned myself that I wasn’t going. It wasn’t going to be the end of the world. Then, the day of the party came. Alice called me, and told me to come over at a specific time. I was ecstatic, I’d gotten an invite after all. I got my mom to take me out to get a present. When the time came, I put on my cutest outfit, and walked the few blocks to Alice’s house. Her mom answered the door, and told me that everyone was in the back yard, and I could just go around. I walked around back, went through the gate into the yard, where Alice was jumping on her trampoline with a couple of people, and there were probably 15 kids there for her party. She stopped jumping when she saw me, and proceeded to tell me that she’d called me over there to tell me that I was not invited to her party, and to go home. Devastation doesn’t even cover it. I cried the whole walk home.

That was the day. It was that day, that I figured out that I had no desire to be popular, if it meant being like that. But Alice expected me to react differently. She thought that I would suck up, that I would react like one of her other minions, and beg to be let in. But there was something in me, something that just couldn’t allow me to need to fit in, to be part of that crowd. And for the next few years, I paid dearly for that. Because here’s the thing about the popular kids-they see you as weird if you don’t want to be one of them. If selling myself out to them meant that I had to make other people feel bad? I wanted no part of it. And there were even times I purposely put myself in harm’s way, because I knew someone else was going to get it that much worse. I can’t lie, it’s left invisible scars on me. But if I had to go back and do it all over again, I would make the same choices, because it was the right thing to do.

When I got to high school, I made a lot of new friends. In my town at the time, three junior high schools merged into one, and I was finally exposed to people I hadn’t known since I was five. I went from this quiet wallflower of a kid, to a girl with a tight-knit circle, and some friends peppered throughout every group in the giant lunch room. Looking back on it now, it was kind of surreal how much I changed in such a short period of time. Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond terrified at first. But as the real me started to come out more and more, I realized there were others I could relate to. And the close friends I made in those years, are some of the friends I still have to this day, almost 30 years later.

A prime example, though, is how I became friends with my bff to this day. We were in a class together in our first year of high school. In that class, our teacher had seated us alphabetically. She was on one side of the room, me on the other. I had three other girls around me, and I was getting to know them. One of these girls had a boyfriend who had another class with my now best friend, and he was telling his girlfriend that my bestie was flirting with him in this class. Through my own observations, I knew that she already had a boyfriend of her own, and I couldn’t tell you for sure why, but I wasn’t buying this story. But these other girls decided they were going to write her a note, and tell her to lay off this girl’s boyfriend. I piped up, saying maybe they should just ask her if it was true. But, deaf ears, you know? They write the note, and they give it to her. Her locker was only a few down from mine, and after class I see her with this note, crying. I finish up at my own locker, and I walk over. I tell her that even though I sit near those girls, that I didn’t have anything to do with the note, and I need her to know that. I think what they did was wrong, and I don’t even think that she did what this dumb boy said she did anyway. We’ve been best friends for 28 years now, and I was right. It turned out that boy was asking her out, and she said no. But those other girls swarmed like a pack of hyenas, without knowing the full story.

It’s taken me a long time to figure this out. And I’m still not sure I’ll ever fully understand it, because the logic doesn’t entirely add up to me. Over the years what I’ve come to see, is that what happens, is these girls get this sense of power from tearing another girl down. And momentarily, it makes them feel better about themselves. It only lasts so long, of course, because we’re all battling our own demons all the time. Tear one down, feel better for a time, however brief, and move on to the next. Don’t go along with the pack? Then you’re the next target. It’s a vicious cycle, and I truly do mean vicious. And the truly unfortunate part is that it tends to carry over into adulthood, if it’s what you did when you were young. Why is it, that men and boys can literally fight with each other, and laugh about it half an hour later? Maybe they’re just not overthinking it the way that we do. Us girls, we can hold grudges like nobody’s business, and that’s probably not a good thing. It uses up energy we need for other things, like multitasking and trying to keep up with the drama on The Bachelor.

Because of the way a lot of girls and women can be, I’ve always been wary. I’ve never been one to trust people easily anyway, so forging close relationships of any kind hasn’t been my forte. And I admit that. For the longest time, I still had the same friends I’ve had since I was 15 or even younger. Many of my close friends have been male, and that’s worked well for me. There are people who say it can’t be done, but I’m living proof that it very well can. I consider my friends the family that I’ve chosen in life. There have been some that came and went along the way, as people do. Some by my choice, some by theirs I’m sure. What it’s come down to for me at this stage in my life, is that I want to keep people around me that will put in the same amount of themselves into cultivating whatever we have that I will.

2020 brought some new people into my life through the beauty of the cess pool that is Twitter, believe it or not. A pandemic can do weird, wonderful things if you let it. It’s brought me some new male friends, and I’m so grateful for that. But it’s brought me some women…I mean, I’ve been blessed to have a few incredibly amazing girls that have grown up with me, and know me inside out. I have been so very lucky, this much I know. So to have a whole other group of strong, beautiful, funny, supportive, badass women come along to make my life brighter in a time we were all going to need it so much…it’s been the most mind-blowing gift a pandemic could have given me, honestly. The bunch of us were chatting last night, and one of the girls used the term “virtual hand-holding”, and that summed things up so perfectly. It’s as much as we can do right now, and it’s enough to get through. Even in the dark, there is light.

Coming back to the whole cultivating idea I mentioned before, what do I mean by that? It’s not complicated. We don’t need to talk every day. We don’t even need to talk to each other every month. My friends have become scattered over the years, moved away, lived life. Two of my closest friends I lost in my 30’s, and it shattered me, never to be the same again. A piece of my heart went with each of them, and that’s ok with me. Those pieces were meant for them from the start, I know that now. But what that taught me above all else, is that the people I’ll keep in my life, are the ones that I like to call “middle of the night friends”. Those are the friends that no matter how much time can go by, I can call them in the middle of the night, and I know that they’ll be there. It might not be a literal thing, but you get my point.

It’s funny, though. My little pod of Twitter women, we’re very positive and supportive of each other, rather publicly. And while there are many who love it, we do get some eye rolling and the odd snarky comment here and there. My response tends to be snarky in return, how dare we love on each other so much? We should take our positivity elsewhere, obviously. All I know, is that I would much rather build other women up, than tear them down in some backward attempt to make myself feel better. In the end, it gives me no joy to make someone feel worse than I do, anyway. It’s all about perspective.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that we as women don’t need to see other women as being so threatening all the time. I don’t want to go all ‘kumbaya’ on you all or anything, but it’s so much easier to embrace each other with an open heart and be supportive. That’s really all there is to it. Are we all going to get along all the time? Of course not. I get that. But, if you’re looking in the mirror at any point and wondering why you’re caught up with hyenas? It might be time to take a second look. It’s never too late.