Chapter 21 - Courage
The story picks up exactly where we left off in Season 2, at the end of October 2013. You know, my 39th birthday, the tarot card reader, Lou Reed dying, the divorce coming through and the complicated, circular love story with The Man With the White Shirt.
He's a big thread in this final season. We start it all on his birthday, which is five days after mine. That makes us Double Scorpio, which is basically the worst love combination there is, if you're into astrology. I mean, it can be a fun combo, but it is high drama, that's for sure.
Chapter 21 opens with a vignette called The Bad One. Everything goes, well, bad with a total stranger I willingly brought home from a bar while drunk and despondent.
I alluded to him in the Season 2 vignette called The Bad Ones where I chose to address some of the horrible things that happen when you are a woman who's actively looking for love, companionship and sexual fulfilment. Sometimes it's great, but a lot of times, it really, really sucks. This season I start with one of those times.
Why did I want to share this scary experience?
It's time we all start talking about these things more. These bad things that are nuanced bad things. Sexual assault and harassment aren't just simple, black and white problems. They are complicated and confusing and compounded by so many factors: alcohol, drugs, low self-esteem, histories of violence and abuse, gender socialization ... the list goes on.
Mostly, I feel like my job as an artist is to illuminate the experience so others can understand how these things happen. So we can talk about how we can work together to change things. We've been silent too long.
Going round and round
At the end of this vignette, I meet up with White Shirt and I say:
Now we'll be tied together, from this point on, going round the same loop. Now we're in our very own indie film and I'm Julie Delpy and he's Ethan Hawke but browner, and we're just gonna walk around the city having a conversation for the next ten years.
Which is a nod to the 1995 movie Before Sunrise, starring (you guessed it!) Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, who walk around and talk the entire movie. That's basically the whole plot, so of course I loved it when I first saw it. I've never been into watching romantic comedies, you know? This is my kind of romance movie.
In 2004 they released Before Sunset, a beautiful and satisfying film about the same two characters meeting up again nine years later and then, in 2013, the really good but horribly depressing Before Midnight came out, with the same two characters eighteen years later. If you're looking for a trilogy that doesn't have star or wars in the title, you should check this one out.
The next vignette in the chapter, Road to Nowhere, is about The Ex-husband, and has a little flashback to a scene of the two of us at the end of 1999, taking off on a spontaneous road trip and only stopping when we were about to run out of gas.
The vignette title is a nod to the 1985 song Road to Nowhere by The Talking Heads. Not my favourite Talking Heads song, but a pretty good one, even though it's only two chords.
David Byrne said he wrote it because he wanted to write a song that was "a resigned, even joyful look at doom" which I think is probably the best way to sum up my motivation for writing Alone: A Love Story!
There's a part of this vignette where I say:
I've had it with these sporadic bursts of love and affection. The reeling in and casting out.
That's a riff on the 1988 song Political by Canadian band Spirit of the West.
Then you'd reel me in, ream me out,
pick me up, push me out again.
And then repeat it.
The lyrics of this song are so spot on for relationships/breakdown of relationships. (Okay, some relationships!) There are actually two different versions of this song, the one above which is the original and then another with a different melody and much more upbeat rockin' out which they released in 1991 as a single. I like both versions and mix them together (unintentionally!) whenever I play guitar and sing it.
The next vignette, They Meet, is all about The Man With the White Shirt and Birdie meeting for the first time when she was six-years-old. The title comes from my favourite video game of all time, Ms. Pacman. When you make it to the second level, this happens.
In this story, Birdie asks White Shirt if he wants to play with Sir Mew, a little white cat. Sir Mew is actually an eraser version of a Maneki-neko, those Japanese lucky cats.
When Birdie was 10, she lost Sir Mew and was so upset because the day she got it was the day she met The Man With the White Shirt. So I spent the better part of a year trying to find a new one, which you'd think would be easy in Toronto, but wasn't.
Then one day me and my friend Pint Size were walking around Chinatown and went into the one store I hadn't checked already and lo and behold, there was an eraser Maneki-neko, which I promptly named Sir Mew 2 and gave to thrilled Birdie. Parenting win!
This chapter ends with a vignette called Bits & Pieces, featuring the sexy-swagger of Revival (the man) and of course, more deep reflection on the impact of The Man With the White Shirt on my heart and life. It ends with my favourite metaphor that I've written for him and our love:
How each moment with him felt like a gift, something special for me, but never really mine to keep. A place holder. A million-dollar necklace to wear to the Oscars that you have to give back the next day so some other woman can have it for a night. Something that sparkles, casting a perfect glow on you, before it turns and shines on someone else.
Whatever happened to Revival anyway?
In case you were wondering, it just faded out about a year after this scene. I thought about including that in the story but it just didn't seem to add anything. Sometimes things just happen in slow, boring ways, and this was no exception ... long-term lovers just fading away from each other. So it goes!
Want to keep up with Alone: A Love Story? Listen for free on your favourite podcast app.
About Michelle Parise
Award-winning producer Michelle Parise is the writer, performer and producer of Alone: A Love Story, a book she began writing in January 2013 and adapted into a podcast for CBC in 2017.
She's worked for CBC Radio and Television for over two decades. Michelle was born and raised in Toronto in a gigantic Italian immigrant family where she was surrounded by storytellers.
As a child she wrote hundreds of short stories about her life. Her commitment to honest storytelling started early and is part of everything she creates, continually striving to make connection through shared experience.