I can’t tell you exactly how it happened but I can tell you how I remember it.
Picture it, Ontario 1997. It’s summer, my hair changed colour every week to 10 days. I wore combat boots and modified disco dresses and army surplus fatigue pants cut into shorts with Vans Old Schools and whatever kind of band or skateboard company t-shirt was clean. My other shoes were four inch platforms and lucite stripper heels.
I wasn’t really a fan of Black Flag, Element Skateboards, The Misfits, or Powell Peralta but it was part of the *esthetic* I had going on. My bras and panties always matched and on a good day my lipstick matched my underwear. I wanted nothing more than to be cool. I didn’t watch network television, I didn’t know a single Top 40 song that wasn’t being remixed ironically in dance clubs, I only went to independent movies and art house features. If your band had a guitar in it, I was TOO COOL for your band. I was 24 years-old and not clear on who I was or what I was trying to do.
I was dating 3 men and 1 woman while still being obsessively in love with a fourth man. That man, who remains one of the significant loves of my life TO THIS DAY, had pulverized my heart, soul, and spirit in the late spring. He ruined my life and even knowing what I know now, I would’ve let him to do it. I have no regrets. But he was gone and I knew then I had to learn to live without him.
I had no tools to handle such a decimation and no real close friends that I could trust with what was really going on with *whatever that was*. The world was such a judgemental place and no one I knew would have applauded I was dating 4 people. It took me almost 15 years to publicly acknowledge that I had been dating a woman that summer.
I wasn’t drinking and hadn’t been for a while but I was smoking a lot of weed and we’ll call it “dabbling” in substances of varying degrees of legality. I told people I was sober. Yet my drug of choice for a long time before this and a long time after this was orgasms. And the more dangerous the circumstances that lead to the orgasm I got, the better. As a result it took 4 people and a bunch of drugs to help me numb out from my colossal emotional collapse 4 months earlier.
From June to August, I just floated. I was collecting welfare, living in my grandparents’ attic bedroom and using their basement as my entertainment center. I had no real responsibilities or commitments. I just made dates, did things that lead to orgasms and drifted in a triangle pattern between Toronto, Durham Region, and my hometown. I rode a lot of GO Trains and Greyhound buses. I wore out my Sailor Moon backpack with all the travel.
I never was and I’m still not a royal watcher but being Canadian means there’s always this ambient glow surrounding the royal family that you can’t avoid altogether. But when you’re technically an adult in the summer of 1997, it was impossible to not see the news of a car accident in Paris that killed Diana, Princess of Wales, Dodi Fayed, and their driver in the early morning hours of 31 August.
The news broke in my part of the world just after midnight – I think I heard a breaking news bulletin before I went to bed, but I don’t remember the Saturday night before the news. I woke up alone in my own bed and heard the full story at some point that Sunday. I wasn’t grief-stricken but I certainly had empathy for her two children and a sense of loss that she’d just been finding her feet and a new way in the world after what was arguably one of the most bitter public divorces in history. Her death was the end of something hopeful for divorced women everywhere, of which I was one.
I spent the week keeping with my routine – writing this desperately terrible screenplay, repurposing thrift and vintage store clothing into something else I could wear, bleaching out my hair, going to a movie, listening to music, and reading. I checked my internet dating profiles and email at least a couple of times from an internet cafe.
That week was eventful at the same time. I’d been dumped by both my girlfriend and the guy I’d been seeing the second longest because A) I wasn’t open to or in a place to be publicly bisexual and B) one should never try to turn a “Casual Encounter” into a regular he-bitch in your man-whore stable. The guy I’d been seeing longest, whom I’d met through friends, had called it off to me at some point earlier in August because he didn’t want to have children with me.
Which was fair comment, I guess. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to have kids with me either but not sure-sure and I certainly wasn’t going to have a kid with a struggling comedian. He was fun. I’m pretty sure his friends hated me even though I loved being around them. I was the only one at our get-togethers who didn’t have BA in English. I didn’t have a degree in anything and didn’t even know if I had graduated from high school. I didn’t get the jokes or the history or the rhetorical devices, but we loved a lot of the same music and movies and he was so beautiful I would’ve followed him anywhere.
While he was my favourite of the summer, it didn’t work out. I was sad, but it was *nothing* compared to that spring. I was left with a sense of “sad to see him go”. If the phrase “hot mess” had existed in 1997, I would’ve used it to describe myself, and I didn’t blame him for not wanting to be with me. We had a a great time but the best thing about hanging out with comedians and writers and artists all that summer was I started reading and writing just to be able to keep up. I was making shit on a daily basis, I was getting happier about how I looked, I was new into therapy and my drug use was at an all time low.
The last guy though, we’ll call him #4. He stuck around, but our relationship was always half-way in and half-way out. We went to movies, then fucked and then had Whoppers in his car before he drove me home. He took me to see the Chemical Brothers. He generally gave a shit about me without trying to turn our relationship into Something Special. We both half-assed the entire thing and it worked for a while. I think we watched a movie or we went out for dinner or something the Friday night before the funeral. Whatever it was we were doing, we ended up back in my grandparent’s basement. He was just there, I don’t know why.
We had unremarkable sex, which it almost always was. I think I napped for a few hours and then started settling in to start watching the funeral. He started flirting and pawing at me in an fruitless attempt to have more sex but I just wasn’t there for that.
In that moment I realized that while I liked him, I would never – not in any kind of way – love him. I did not articulate that well and I think I got angry at him for the unwanted advances and kicked him out. He left without further comment. I could tell he was angry but I didn’t give a fuck. I cleaned up in the bathroom, put on my comfy pjs and curled up in my grandpa’s recliner with a box of tissues to watch the funeral of a woman I did not care about. All things considered, it was kind of poetic.
The Westminster Abbey part of the funeral was a few hours long, I watched long into the morning hours. I cried so much. I realized that I just needed this release. I’d been going to therapy for a little while. I’d lost some relationships I had hoped would be something. I couldn’t bear to see the man who had killed me. I was doing the best I could and I was not getting better about being a disappointment. I didn’t have a goal or a clue but I filled my days with things that, at the very least, did not make me hate myself or want to die.
For the first time I was finding peace in my life in what I was doing on my own, rather than not finding it in playing the game of making someone else happy and trying to be what they wanted. I was just okay and I was not embarrassed or ashamed about sitting alone in the basement of my grandparents’ house sobbing my eyes out over a woman I didn’t know.
I didn’t call #4 back but I did speak to him when he called me. I continued writing and making shit and hanging out with people I was not close to until the fall when I moved back to my hometown.
I would never be so creatively free again.
Twenty-two years to the day, I’m questioning the opportunity I have to reinvent my life. The question I’ve had for almost 2 months is, what part of the first version of myself I didn’t hate can I drag into now?