Alone: A Love Story

Chapter 7: Protection

Strength from a stranger, martial law and my friend sets him straight.
Sometimes a total stranger believes in you more than the person you love most. (Ben Shannon/CBC)
Listen to the full episode20:27

The kindness of strangers

I named this chapter after one of my favourite songs ever, Massive Attack's Protection. Man, do I love this song, and the video.

In 2016, I recorded a version of this vignette about booze and a kind stranger for Out in the Open, a terrific CBC Radio show that uses personal storytelling as a way to talk about broader social issues. The stuff that affects us all, day in day out.

I want to ask him what I should do. I want to ask him if he knows why we have the capacity to be so cruel to the ones we love.- Michelle Parise

This story seemed to really connect with people, or at least really make them cry. Kleenex alert!

I love it because I've spent my life listening to people go on and on about how Toronto is cold and unfriendly, even though it really, really isn't. I run into amazing, interesting and kind people every day here. The man in this story is very real. He is the Toronto I know.

Whoever he is, to me he's a reminder of everything that is good about humanity. A reminder to never give up hope.

Even a stranger can offer your heart some protection.


This vignette is close to my heart because it's about my friends The Chemist, The Practical One and their youngest daughter. In this story, that daughter isn't born yet. She's inside The Practical One, past her due date, which was the very day The Husband dropped The Bomb on me.

Each day passes and the baby holds out. On the fifth night, as I cry on the couch, I apologize for the millionth time for bringing my sadness to their house just as they're about to have a baby.

The Practical One shushes me and says "I think she's waiting so I can be here for you." I whisper to her giant belly, 'Thank you.'

I cried in the studio when I recorded this. So did Alone's other producer, Veronica. And then we cried every time we listened to it after I mixed it. Female friendships are so precious and precarious and intense and protective. That's really what this whole chapter is about. Protection.

The Practical One and The Chemist ... I could not have gotten through any of this without them. They were 100% by my side and still are. What a wonderful gift. I'm so lucky to have them in my life.

They, along with two other couples, were more than just neighbours, they were our friends. And they took me in, night after night, and I will always be grateful.

The six of you know who you are, but I don't know if I've ever really said how indebted to you I feel, for allowing me to drink all your booze and use all your tissues for who knows how many nights (weeks?) in a row.

I'm sorry I trash-talk our neighbourhood more than once in this podcast. You all still live there and I guess I'm just a downtown snob, don't hold it against me! I love you all.

Irish blood/Italian heart

The title of this vignette is the pseudonym I give to my childhood and lifelong friend. The pseudonym is a riff on the song Irish Blood, English Heart by Morrissey. I love this song. Like, love love love it. I love Morrissey. His brilliant wordsmithing is a thing of beauty, and was a huge influence on me as a teenager.

Music nerd alert!

The song is about UK politics and has nothing to do with me being defended by a very tall girl in a schoolyard in Brampton, Ontario in 1985.

But I like how perfectly it fits my friend — the Italian side and the Irish side blended together to make a self-assured, loyal and sensitive person who is the kind of friend anyone would be lucky to have.

3 years later (aka Pain scale)

This vignette is a bit of a stretch of a metaphor, using the pain scale, to say things I've already said a lot. We almost took it out of the podcast, actually. I argued to keep it in.

First of all, I get to talk about soccer and the excrutiating pain of dislocating my thumb.

GROSS ALERT! Don't look at this x-ray if you get creeped out easily.

If not, look at this x-ray! Isn't it bananas?

Secondly, the point of the pain scale metaphor is The Man With the White Shirt.

Yeah, he shows up again. He's like that.

There's a lot of round and round with us. Our love is a dragon eating its own tail.

You also get to hear a bit more of his song Blow Away.

And even if I'm just a paper doll, I'm heavy as a cloud on a winter's day
'Til I hear the sound that breaks my soul, I glow for real
I glow, I feel like I could blow away ...

These lyrics always make me cry.

I always cry. What's the big deal? It's only a 4 on the pain scale, don't worry about it!