Oh, the Terror!

Some things:

I recently read an article about the many misunderstandings and misconceptions we – the collective, social “we” – have about singlehood. The author, a single woman, wrote about the many (often invisible) financial and emotional costs associated with being partnerless. She also argued against the often proscribed narrative that one needs to “fix” oneself – while single – in order to attract a mate. According to her, the “love yourself in order to love another” thesis is just a fancier way of saying that humans considered “broken” are unworthy of love. And when we say that someone has found love, we’re actually just saying that, per society’s adjudications, that they have been “fixed”.

This seems universally awful and I was struck my two ideas presented in the piece. The first, that as human beings, we have defined our natural, default status as “partnered” and use modifiers like stable, healthy, and loved (including love of self) to build out this concept.

Now, I have spent half of my life in three relationships and have not been single since December of grade eleven. So while I don’t know what it’s like to be thirty and living without a partner, I do know what it’s like to be thirty and living with a sense of brokenness. I know what it’s like to live a life defined by instability, sickness, and self-hatred and know that this had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship status.

Being in a relationship – as long as it is loving and constructive – can certainly help in times of crisis, but it will never prevent horrible or hard things from happening. And someone struggling, or simply living a nuanced life, isn’t any less attractive because of these things. They certainly aren’t “broken.” I know, because I have been, and continue to sometimes be, this person.

If society cannot recognize this, cannot see that life is an endless obstacle race that allows for the greatest of victories and most horrifying defeats, then this is the thing that requires “fixing.” And all those who refused to acknowledge this truth? They are the ones who will have a hell of a time sustaining a relationship – with themselves or otherwise.

The author also wrote about how being single for her, meant living a life defined by a prolonged absence of touch and she explained how long periods of time without contact – intimate or otherwise – can have a profound effect on an individual’s sense of self.

I have been thinking about this a lot since moving to Halifax because I often think about how much I miss touching Marc.

I wish I could feel his body beside mine in the cool silence of an early morning.  I miss holding his hand while walking down the street and the feeling of his fingers running through my hair when we’re driving in the car late at night.

I miss the solid comfort of his hand on the small of my back when guides me out of the way when we’re cooking together in the kitchen.

There are so many ways in which he and I make contact in our regular day to day; I’ve never before realized how important these little touch points are to me.

Some other things:

As previously mentioned, I have been reading a lot about Franklin and the Northwest Passage, especially in the wake of the discovery of the HMS Terror.

And I think I’ve become obsessed with scurvy.

Obsessed in the way that people become fascinated by serial killers, or the crusades, or other infinitely terrible things, and yet, I cannot help myself. The way the Dan Simmons describes this disease in his book is so unbelievably horrifying that it borders on the intoxicating. I cannot think of a more horrible way to die than to slowly and painfully waste away in the sub-arctic temperatures of the Canadian north, coated in my own frozen blood and sweat, my skin puffed and bloated, like putrefied pizza dough, punctuated and pixelated by my hemorrhaging bruises and festering boils.

How utterly, utterly wretched.

Scurvy has become a bit of a joke in our modern parlance. I used to say that in the absence of any fresh fruit in my life, coupled with the amount of penny candy I ate, that I wouldn’t make it to twenty without contracting the disease.

Now that I know that scurvy is so much more than just a few loose teeth, I am loathe to speak in such jest ever again.

Some last things:

I haven’t worn pants in the past six weeks. It’s been so beautiful and hot here in Halifax that my wardrobe has consisted solely of sundresses and skirts. On the odd night that the mercury has dipped below twenty degrees Celsius, I have conceded to nothing more than a pair of patterned leggings.

I have been practicing piano for minimum on hour every day. I am relearning all of my old royal conservatory grade 8 pieces. It really is extraordinary what your fingers and brain can remember, seventeen years out. My goal is to have three pieces memorized by the time that I leave. I also really need to work on my scales, because goodness knows when you’re not working on those every day your finger work grows shoddy indeed.

I am going to move to Shetland. Become a sheep farmer. And be happy.

Just sit there and sweat it out

The east coast is humid as hell. The minute you walk outside, you are beset by a sticky, smoky, mug.

The coolness of our house is misleading. I am always sure that I am going to be cold during the first few minutes of my morning run. But that is nothing but a clever ruse on behalf of Nova Scotia Heating and the fact that we live in a very, very old home.

What I wouldn’t give for even a minute of respite from the oppressive exhalation that greets me as I turn to lock the front door. The world feels like an unwanted whisper from a strange man on a strange train.

Suddenly everything is too hot. Too close.

And my discomfort is palpable.

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But it never stops me from running. If anything, it just makes me faster.

I have the mistaken belief that the quicker I run, the more wind resistance I might generate on my flushed and sweat-steamed face.

And while I have yet to see any rewards for my efforts, I keep trying.

Other than three days flattened by a brutal flu, I have run almost every day since coming to Nova Scotia.

I race about the different neighbourhoods of my adopted home. My favourite routes take me to Point Pleasant Park and up to the Citadel. I careen along the South End’s tree-dappled streets, dodging new students moving into their bachelor apartments and soccer moms walking their huskies and duck toller retrievers. I ignore the workers re-paving the road outside of the old military barracks, and sprint past the tourists taking photos of the clock tower.

I have always had a tendency to make up stories about the different people that I encounter on my daily adventures, and since moving to Halifax my internal narrative has delved to new depths.

That man on the corner? Oh, he’s waiting for his man on the inside. But where’s the drop? Where’s the microfilm? Is it up that tree? Or has it been stashed around the corner, behind the fire hydrant? And is that even a real arm brace? Or is it a cleverly disguised weapon?

By the time that I’ve figured out his entire backstory (he’s on his way to meet an ex-CIA operative who he has been trying to get out of the game but who keeps getting dragged back in because of that one shady incident in Dubai twelve years ago), I am half way home.

But not before I espy the woman who just returned from reuniting with her estranged brother whom everyone thought had died in that tragic ocean kayaking accident. It just turned out that he owed money to a man from Havana and had to disappear for a couple of years. She was afraid to tell him that she had sold all of his belongings to put herself through a two-year pottery course, but he was just happy to see her. She told him that she would help him out with the money she makes from her artisan salt shaker business.

Or something to that effect.

The more I make up stories about the people I see, the more it astounds me that anyone can really purport to know anything about anyone.

I am currently reading Dan Simmons’ The Terror, a fictionalized account of Franklin’s doomed expedition in search of the legendary, and always elusive Northwest Passage. It is engrossing and horrifying and I find myself completely sucked in by Simmons’ reimagining of what it was like to be a crew member of the HMS Erebus or Terror.

Talking to Marc the other night, I exclaimed, “My God, Franklin was so dumb. I cannot believe what a loser he was.”

To which Marc very kindly reminded me that I was in fact reading a work of fiction, and we would be hard pressed to really know what anyone was like on that expedition, what with everyone having frozen to death in the barren wasteland of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago.

I quickly acquiesced that he was right.

But I remained rankled. It just seems too true to let it go.

So I’ll just keep making up my own stories.

As I sweat through the mug.

Every day.

Every, every day.