Chapter 6: Fallout
This is a pretty dramatic vignette, and the longest. It's like a bunch of tiny stories in a bigger story inside of the larger story I'm telling. It's almost impressionistic — like you're floating with me, in and out of the blurry mess of the first week post-shock and awe.
I'm numb inside. I'm electrified and not in a good way. I'm numb and electric all at once.
I'm the way your finger feels when it gets stuck in an electrical socket, that buzzing tingle alongside the dull pain.
It's not melodrama, I actually was in a state of shock. I really did stop eating solid food all together. I really did, there at age 37, suddenly take up drinking and smoking, two things I had never done very much of before that.
Thank goodness for my aunt, who wrote me emails every day. And for my coworkers who took care of me. This part of my life is a deep, black hole. Everything I thought was true, wasn't.
Until The Bomb, I was a good Italian girl for the most part. I had a job since I was 13, I observed the very strict curfew I had as a teen, I put myself through university, I started my career at CBC when I was 21. I got married at 27, bought a condo, had a baby at 32, bought a house, raised the baby through illness and while working full-time, and loved my husband.
I did everything I was supposed to do — and still I got cut down with one swift chop. So this vignette is about how, at age 37, I came undone so easily.
I grieved the life I suddenly had, abandoned and alone. The life I didn't ask for, the life I never wanted.
And so I turned to men to fill the emptiness. I turned to strangers. I went out all the time — dancing, drinking, and going home with hot young guys I would never see again.
I wanted it that way.
I'd only ever been in long-term monogamous relationships. I never had, or wanted, a one-night stand. Sex was always tied to love for me.
But love had made a fool of me. Love betrayed me. So I threw love into the trash, and myself along with it.
I sought out sex. Only.
It was hard to go into the studio and say those words aloud. It made both me and the other Alone producer, Veronica Simmonds, cry after the first take. I don't even think I did a second take.
This is me, putting it all out there.
Am I crazy to do it? Stupid? Attention-seeking? Definitely not the latter, and hopefully not the first two either. I'm saying it out loud because grief is a dark beast and it is surprising what it can do to us. When I look back on that time, I don't even recognize myself.
But I'm not ashamed of it. It was what I had to do. And also, it was a lot of fun some of the time. I'm not ashamed of that either.
Two years later, in 2014, Sia released the song Chandelier. When I first heard the lyrics I felt like time stopped.
I'm the one "for a good time call",
phone's blowin' up, ringin' my doorbell,
I feel the love, feel the love
I'd already written this vignette about the blankness of going out all the time to numb myself, and the way that having sex with men I didn't love felt like slowly cutting out a difficult pattern with scissors.
And then here it was, for real in song, the exact way I felt. My exact approach to coping.
Help me, I'm holding on for dear life,
won't look down, won't open my eyes
Keep my glass full until morning light,
'cause I'm just holding on for tonight
Like, whoa man. I cannot even listen to this song without crying, still today.
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist, like it doesn't exist
I'm gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
That same year, my sister and I went to see the movie Wild which had just come out. I didn't know anything about it, but my sister was a huge fan of the book it was based on by Cheryl Strayed. I was really unprepared for how it would hit me, and I sobbed so uncontrollably during one scene, that my poor sister didn't know what to do!
It was the scene where Reese Witherspoon (as Cheryl Strayed) is talking to a therapist. She has turned the grief of her mother's death into a spiral of bad behaviour -- cheating on her husband, having sex with strangers, then getting into heroin, and then more sex with more strangers.
The therapist tells her he doesn't think doing those things is making her happy. And she says,
"Well that's where you're wrong, because when I'm doing them, I feel good and happy. And when I'm not, I feel like I want to die."
This is where I started uncontrollably crying in the movie theatre. Here was a woman who, like me, chose sex as the balm for the open wound of her life. It was staggering.
When it was over, I told my sister that I'd written a whole book called Alone: A Love Story and a big part of the book was me coping with the shock and grief of my husband's betrayal in the exact way (minus the heroin!) and for the exact reason she tells the therapist in that scene.
I hate him and love him in such desperate, equal measure.- Michelle Parise
I feel like outside of Cheryl Strayed and Sia, I haven't really heard women say these things, and so unashamedly, in art. Or not enough, anyway.
The women in Chandelier and Wild were like the opposite of every grief-stricken or messed-up woman I'd ever seen in pop culture. The women who created them used their art to connect, to lay themselves bare, to say, I behaved this way because when I didn't, it felt like everything would swallow me up.
And that is what this vignette is about for me. And you know, scissor metaphors. And art.
Because of Love is by Australian artist Andrew Frazer.
At the end of Scissors, I flash forward to The Man With the White Shirt, who we haven't heard about since the very first scene of the entire podcast.
I met him in August 2013, right after I decided to stop drinking and sleeping around and start taking better care of myself. So he was the first man after The Bomb that I met while sober.
He was like a dream man to me, in every way, and no one else could compare. For years. If we get to make a Season 2 (and 3?) you will get to hear soooooo much more about our confounding love story.
The day I mention in this vignette, when White Shirt interprets the scissors art above my bed, happens in the first month or so after we met, so I was floating dramatically on Cloud 9. I really thought we were falling in love and going to be a couple.
I was wrong about one of those things.
Why I'm telling you this
I wrote this vignette in case it isn't clear why I've decided to be so public about the personal. Instead of talking about it, I will just transcribe what I say in the piece:
The Ex-Husband let's me know it will be my fault when Birdie finds out he had an affair, because I told our family and friends.
But what was I going to do? Lie about it? A fact is a fact. When Birdie finds out, it will be because there's something to find out.
Maybe you think it's wrong for me to talk about it so openly like this. That sharing this story is selfish and indulgent and will cause her harm.
But I want to tell you this story, share these ugly truths alongside the beautiful ones, because life isn't one-dimensional. It's nuanced, and subtle and full of contradictions. We surprise ourselves constantly, all of us.
I want Birdie to know that.
Her parents are fallible. Her parents have darkness and light. Her parents love her more than anything and continue to raise her together.
We bought homes across the street from each other, for her. We didn't go to court, for her. She deserves to have her father in her life, and that's why I made those decisions.
When Birdie finds out about his affair, it will be because he had one, not because I've told this story.
Birdie will learn about the bad choices I've made too, the way I dealt with the grief, but I'm not ashamed. She'll know I'm proud of who I am.
I've considered it. A lot. What it means to tell you all this. What it is to talk about life, the messy and stupid as well as the beautiful. Regret and redemption.
The dark moments don't have to define us, but they do help shape who we are.
And that's why I talk about it.