Monday, 26 March 2012

About Me, Part 45: Going In Circles

A week after my girlfriend and I got back together, the second Sunday of June 2005, she made a revelation to me. She was an addict. Pot had been more of a problem than it seemed. She had struggled with telling me. She was also going to her first Narcotics Anonymous meeting that evening. I felt a great warmth for her when she told me; she looked so vulnerable and sad. I offered her my support feeling a need to do something to help. I held her close, feeling "I love you", but not saying it because it still felt early in the relationship. That evening, she was given a lift to her meeting in East Vancouver. I hoped for the very best.

Earlier that same day, I had gone to see a psychic friend from the Mastery. I had gotten a reading from her years earlier, leading up to my thirtieth birthday. I had called her while not long after the breakup; she had predicted my girlfriend and I getting back together. I booked another appointment to see her. By the time I got to the appointment, my relationship was on again. Like the previous time, the session was recorded on to a cassette. It would make an interesting document in the months and years to come.


The first time that we actually told each other that we loved each other was at my girlfriend's roommate's wedding at the end of June. I wore a black suit with a Nehru collar and a white collarless shirt, my face clean shaven. I bought a huge bouquet of flowers for her. When I gave them to her, she seemed a bit tense; I would find out why later. I hesitated a bit before making to kiss her. "What's wrong?" she asked, "Don't you want to kiss me?" "Yes," I said, eagerly, "Are you okay?" She nodded quickly before we kissed. Her hair was styled in a 1940s look, which all of the bridesmaids at the wedding had.

While the bride was downstairs getting ready, my girlfriend showed me her dress. It was a maroon two-piece, a sleeveless dress with a sleeved top. She looked radiant in it. With the two of us, it almost felt like it was our wedding.

The ceremony was at a Croatian church on First Avenue. The first photos of my girlfriend and I as a couple were taken after the ceremony was over. After that, we were separated as the wedding party went off to have photos taken in Burnaby's Deer Lake Park. My girlfriend's mother, one of her sisters and her husband and I went for lunch at Red Robin in Metrotown Mall. Afterwards, we headed to the International Union of Operating Engineers Hall for the reception.

After the bride and groom, and wedding party, had the first dance, my girlfriend came over to my table to see me. The food was served buffet style and we headed over into the line. It was while helping ourselves that she looked up tenderly and said "I love you." Thrilled, I answered, "I love you, too." Saying this did not come easy for either of us, and I know we meant it a lot. But building the relationship itself was much more challenging.


That summer was one of the happiest, yet giddy and unstable periods of my life (so far). We spent a lot of time together at restaurants, cafes, picnics, even just shopping for groceries. It was all beautiful. All of it. Just being together was enough; and I could not get enough. I already wanted to move in that summer, but knew that it was still too early. Still I dreamt about it.

There were also shocks throughout. Each new month milestone brought further issues between us. We both had difficulty with trusting. Our past relationships had been disasters. We had also learned not to trust, at least not easily, from our families: more so in her case. There was much I did not understand at the time, when someone recovering from addiction is triggered, when someone who is an abuse survivor relives their taruma and acts out, the trust issues, the friendships, jobs and relationships that seem fine and suddenly drop into chaos and dissolve. Not long after we celebrated our third month together at the Afghan Horseman restaurant, she told me that one of her previous relationships had involved some unprotected sex. She suggested that we get ourselves checked out at a clinic. Feeling very stressed, we did. While we were still waiting for the results, another situation presented itself. After an afternoon at Kitsilano Beach, we walked back to my apartment. On the way, we bumped into the woman that I had been dating earlier in the year. I suddenly felt a surge of anxiety. I was nervous because I sensed that our relationship was fragile and that my girlfriend was somewhat on the possessive side. Perhaps with other couples things may have been different, exes and current partners were probably friends, but this could never be the case with us. Things were just too delicate, and I did not want to lose her. Thinking mostly of keeping them separate, I stepped forward and said "hi" to my friend and introduced her to my girlfriend. They each said "hi" amicably, my friend seemed fine, but I could tell immediately that my girlfriend was not pleased. Continuing along my girlfriend walked angrily ahead and hurried to catch up; I offered my hand and she rejected it. "No!" she snapped. A little further along, she asked "Who was that?" I stammered as I tried to explain how the woman and I had dated, but that we were friends now. My girlfriend was not buying it. "Seeing someone else is a deal-breaker," she warned. I found myself aplogizing repeatedly. It took the rest of the walk for us to calm down.

Back at my place, we were both on edge. I because of my tactlessness, her because of her guilt over her dating history. We both had a cry and gradually came around. When we got the results from the clinic, they were negative, we were in the clear. I felt a huge relief. We spent the rest of the morning at my place before I got ready for work, walking on air once again.


In mid-August 2005, I flew back to Montreal. I had long since told my folks about my girlfriend and had sent them a copy of the photo of us at the wedding. I had hoped, and the psychic had predicted that I, my girlfriend and my folks would all be in the same place. I assumed that meant that we would be flying to Montreal together. But, when I saw the ticket prices, I knew that would not be the case. Things had changed radically since I had flown back as a student. One grand got me a round trip. I flew back alone.

With my heart in Vancouver, I phoned my girlfriend nightly, at 1:00 am Eastern Time (10:00 pm Pacific) while Sanford and Son reruns were playing on TV Land. I looked forward to each call. While in Montreal, I spent a lot of time with relatives, mostly my father's side of the family. We all went to brunch at a nearby bistro. I spent much of the time talking about my girlfriend and how amazing she was, and she was; with every new milestone, I saw the beauty of her opening up: a heartbreaking beauty. I felt that I could open up around her. With my family, by contrast, I was always on guard.

I had spoken to my mother's side of the family on the phone from my father's. My maternal grandmother had been moved around to a few different facilities before settling into one in NDG. She had deteriorated much more since the previous Christmas. There had been an even closer call over the winter, where the funeral arrangements were being made. I felt that I needed to visit her as there might not be another opportunity. My father drove me down to the care home where we were told by staff that she had been taken the emergency ward at the Montreal General. Her heart was beating irregularly. When we got to the hospital and the correct ward, we met up with another relative that we had not seen in years. She took us to my grandmother's bed.

My grandmother was more frail than I had ever seen her, evoking memories of my late grandfather and mother. We had to be introduced to her again. She briefly remembered me and then asked how my mother was doing. Puzzled, I did not know how to respond. My other relative said that she could remember that my mother was gone. She demonstrated by telling my grandmother that my mother had died years earlier. "What?!" my grandmother said in shock, "My daughter is dead!" She began to sob. "Are you sure?" I was gripped by a wave of grief for years earlier as well as the present; I stumbled backwards. We said nothing for a while. My grandmother, seemingly composed again, asked how my mother was doing. My relative said fine. "Oh good," my grandmother said. The word shock did not do this situation justice. When we left the bed, as ambulance crew came in to take my grandmother to a surgical unit, I burst into tears. My grandmother and I had been at my mother's death bed ... she had no memory of it.

I spoke to a few of my uncles about the situation. Everybody thought that it was just a matter of time. I also found out that one of my maternal uncles was ill with lymphoma. He was about to travel the US for an experimental treatment. I wished him well and felt a weighing grief that had not felt for some time.

We went back to see my grandmother one more time, after she had been moved back to her care home. Her brother and sister-in-law had just been there. We spent an hour or so on the patio as she spoke in fragments about things that happened when parents were teenagers, when I was a teenager and when various relatives were around. We were careful not to mention my mother. I found out from one of the staff that, at one point, my grandmother had taped countless photographs of my mother to one of the walls in her room. She would spend hours gazing at them, until one day, in tears, she simply could not remember who this was.


The rest of my Montreal trip went lightly. On my father's side, my uncle took us out to an old pizza haunt on rue Papineau to meet up with my paternal grandfather and his girlfriend (those grandparents had divorced before my parents had). I was given an old framed photo of my father's father's family, taken in the late 1930s, in the old Little Italy, not far from where we were eating. My great-grandparents and great-great grandmother were in it. It was priceless. My grandfather's girlfriend grew misty-eyed as she presented it to me. I felt a lump in my throat. I was very moved and cherished the photo on the way back to Vancouver.

My plane landed by skidding a bit on the runway and my heart jumped. We steadied and slowed down properly, stopping at arrivals. When I got to the baggage area, my girlfriend was waiting for me. She drove us to my apartment. As we drove from the airport and over the Arthur Lang Bridge, the late summer night's breeze was intoxicating. I felt like I was floating. We spent the night.

The following day, we had another discussion about whether or not we should be together. Suddenly, it was as if we had gone back a few months in time, we were on shaky ground again. Another issue that came up was my identity. I had been trying to educate her about mine by answering questions about why I crossdressed and why I used to perform in drag. She and her mother had come to see me at the Illuminares Lantern Festival (my second and last performance there) a month earlier. She seemed to embrace my identity one moment and push it away the next. She confessed in late August that she felt awkward, like the guy in the relationship. I did not see it this way, although if it were, I would not have had a problem. But, at this juncture, it seemed to be a problem for her.

And so, we walked on thin ice towards the end of the month. At work one afternoon, I spent my break crying on a colleague's shoulder. She recommended a relationship therapist and gave me his business card. I made a mental note to call him soon.


For my thirty-fifth birthday, my girlfriend and I got a group of mostly my friends together a Japanese restaurant in my neighbourhood. It was actually a shared birthday with another friend of mine. I got a lot of gifts from that party and still have all of the photos, the ones of me still make me cringe.

A project at work took its mental toll on me towards the end of September. Work had been very stressful the past few years; so much so that I began to see my relationship as a refuge from it. From Monday onward, I would already be looking forward to the weekend when I would usually be staying over at my girlfriend's house. Ever since, her roommate moved out, she had been living with her mother, who had moved in soon afterwards, and her cat which she had had since she was a teenager. Staying over was a treat. I had grown tired of being alone.

I really realized this when we broke up for a second time at the end of September; we had just, the day before, celebrated six months together. But now, she said, she felt that she could be in a relationship, she was dangerous and could not be trusted. I tried to get through to her, but I could not. I had already bought her birthday gifts for the following week. After a long, phone conversation, I gave up. Over the next couple of days, I was numb. I went out to a concert with a friend of mine at the Anza Club, thinking that I was basically single again. Then, she called me. The next night we got together to talk. She apologized for everything that she had said and wanted to know if I was wanting to try again. I was torn between wanting to and not wanting to. Was it going to be like this all of the time? Very cautiously, more so than the first time, I agreed to try again. By the end of the week, we were tight once again.

I had the first Friday of October off work and so we hung out in the Punjabi Market neighbourhood, looking in the fabric stores and having lunch at the Himalaya Restaurant. It was a nice laid-back afternoon, overcast but not dreary. The following day was her birthday. I had her gifts in purple (her favourite colour) gift bag. They included a beautiful decoupage craft made by my fellow tenants downstairs and a Monkees CD (one of her favourite artists at the time). One of her sisters came over to her house with her boyfriend and made pasta carbonara. It was also Thanksgiving weekend and so things felt even more festive. More and more, I wanted the whole package, my girlfriend and the warm, comfortable home and vibrant neighbourhood that she was in.
And at that time, I was willing to submerge myself to get. I know that now. But then, I was learning just as she was.
To be continued ...

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