Alone: A Love Story

Chapter 8: Left and leaving

Moving out, a ghost in my new apartment and post-marital sex.
Oh, the table. I held onto that piece of wood like it was the marriage itself. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

The title of this chapter is a direct steal from one of Canada's most gifted songwriters, John K. Sampson from the The Weakerthans.

If you've never heard the song Left and Leaving, please take 4 minutes and 45 seconds out of your life right now to listen to it.

Wait for the year to drown,
Spring forward, fall back down,
I'm trying not to wonder where you are

Leaving home

Oddly, this vignette is one of my favourites. Oh, the table.

I don't know why, but part-way through this vignette, I switch to third person. Me and the other Alone producer, Veronica Simmonds, talked about changing it, but decided to leave it. There's something interesting in the distance it creates, like I'm hovering over myself in the scenes.

They'd go through files, make lists and assign tasks, they'd pack and pack and pack, the boxes climbing alongside the heartbreak.

Music nerd alert!

The last part of that line was inspired by a line in the song The Heartbreak Rides by another Canadian musician, AC Newman. His line is:

Something in the basic swing of things, led them to victimless crimes. The heartbreak climbs.

It just always stuck in my head, the heartbreak climbs. So great. He's full of bon mots in this song, my second favourite being California adds some casual bedlam. Casual bedlam! Brilliant.

At night

This little vignette is sweet because it's about this pathetic me building a faux-husband out of pillows, but then it's also about remembering that I have this beautiful little daughter who still makes everything worth living for.

Just to give you some context: I was 37-years-old and I hadn't slept alone since I was 19. I slept beside The Husband for 12 years and The Musician for five years before that.

So it may seem silly to you, that a grown woman had trouble sleeping alone in her own nice bed in her own nice apartment, but it's true. I did.

That doesn't mean I'm ignorant of how difficult other people's lives are, or their experiences, just because I wrote a little story about how it was hard for me to sleep alone. I know it seems like a negligible, privileged challenge in the grand scheme of the world's things. It is! And that's why you hear me say:

I know I'm lucky. To have this beautiful child, and this nice apartment. So many people have it much harder when their marriages end. They don't have the support system I have. The good job with good pay.

I recognize what I have. That I'm able to grieve with a roof over my head, the skyline outside my window, my child who still has two parents who love and care for her.

It still sucked to sleep alone for the first time in my life. I still wandered the apartment like a ghost. I still didn't know what was happening or how I got there. What can I say?

Prepare yourself / Clean break

This vignette is about a good friend of mine,The Bright One (it's harder than you think to come up with pseudonyms you know? But I digress).  She's a woman I admire so much for her talent and tenacity. And also her ability to know the lyrics to any song at any time in any genre, just like me. You probably don't want to be in a car with us while we scream-sing along to every word of every song that comes on the radio!

The Bright One has taught me so much over the 14 years I've known her. When we first met, we both thought the other was so confident and put together and a little intimidating. As we've gotten older, we've learned that being intimidated by strong women is total BS. We don't play that game anymore.

I love the imagery in this vignette, where she's doing her hair in my bathroom while I cry. It's the first night I'm alone in my new place, without Birdie, and I am a crazy mess. The Bright One gives me the tough talk, which is hard in the moment, but so good and real and important too.

After this scene, it flips into a mini-vignette that we called Clean Break. In it, I reveal that The Husband and I continue to sleep together for more than a year after we split up (The Ex-husband, I mean).

There's a sweet little glimpse of the very first night we move out and into separate homes, and how I end up walking across the street with him from my new place to his, and sleep with him on our old bed. The least separated separated people in the world, I know!

It's a good picture of how complicated it can be to split up with someone. You don't just stop loving someone because they were terrible to you. The love still exists somehow, like one of those flowers you see in the middle of concrete.

I remember in that first year, so many people said to me "Why are you so nice to him when he was an a****** to you?" and I would say, "But I'm not an a******. And I still love him."

I know that's hard for some people to understand, and I know that other people will totally get it. Ex-sex is pretty common, and that's because things are not as black and white as some people want them to be. Relationships, love, sex ... all these things are very nuanced.

Two years later (aka The thing we are in)

This is a heartbreaking juxtaposition of a flash-forward to 2014 and The Man With the White Shirt saying he doesn't believe in categories and labels (you know, like boyfriend) and a memory of the husband on Christmas Day 2011 saying he isn't sure he believes in marriage.

Boy can I pick 'em!

This Christmas Day scene is so sad. That he refers to it as "this modern marriage thing" is so heartbreaking. He doesn't believe in the thing we're in, the thing that he wanted more than I did, you may remember from back in Chapter 2. The thing that was his dream, which I bought into wholly. And here we are driving in our little car nine years later and he's saying he's not sure he believes in it. Merry Christmas!

It's such a complicated business being human.

Back to White Shirt fretting over us falling in love, and using that as the reason for us to stop seeing each other (again) as if you can stop love or something.

See, here's the thing about the heart, no matter how full it gets or how weary. No matter how many pieces it has splintered into, the glue barely dried. No matter how resolutely it stands before a Dead End sign, or how stubbornly it wears that sign itself.

It's doesn't matter how many makeshift walls the heart puts up around itself, or how it tries desperately to scramble up the walls of another's.

The heart will do what it always does - surprise, confuse, delight, ache. It will continue to be the trickster, the lovelorn, the protector.

You can't stop the heart. So you may as well lean into it and listen.