Two Words

Last night, a cartoon about kids going through puberty made me download a dating app. I’ve been single for 4 months, and have the intent of staying that way for quite a while longer or at least until I can iron out why I seem to be drawn to men who are possessed by the black goo from “Stranger Things;” but something about watching teens navigate their very first romantic encounters made me cross over from “I can’t look men in the eye” to “I’ll briefly consider our 20 year marriage together while scrolling through pictures of you squatting next to a lion and soulfully playing guitar on the edge of your unmade bed before sliding you into the discard pile.”

I am WAY pickier on dating apps than in real life, because I just can’t bear the thought of meeting up at a restaurant after days of texting back and forth, having illuminating conversations about spirituality and music and ways to SAVE HUMANITY only to find out that in real life, all this man really loves is the sound of his own voice. So I’ve developed a kindof short hand for interpreting dating profiles to save me from spending a precious evening suffering through a bad date instead of chocolate-dipping a whole box of strawberries and eating them by myself:

  1. Picture of him holding up a cat by it’s armpits, face-to-face, with his mouth wide open feigning surprise (this is weirdly common): Incapable of a mature romantic relationship with a woman, who will inevitably express disappointment at some point which will send him into a shame-spiral and cause him to either withdraw or hurl blame at her rather than just apologizing, so chooses the company of his cat who loves him unconditionally, porn addiction and all; not to mention, has zero regard for feline hind leg support
  2. More than 1 gym selfie: Has made up for his lack of intelligence with muscles, and will have nothing interesting to talk about at dinner
  3. Not smiling in any of his pictures: RUN, this guy is just looking for a manic pixie dream girl to cheer him up for 2 months before plummeting back into the depths of his brooding self-centered existence
  4. Says he is looking for a “down-to-earth” girl who just wants to enjoy the simple things in life: Looking for someone to do his laundry and listen to him talk about his boring-ass day at the office
  5. Super super hot: See #2 but add “bad in bed”
  6. His answers to all the questions are short and basic: YAWN not only is this guy going to have nothing to talk about, but he is going to respond to my delightful essays of texts which I’ve curated just to make him laugh with “cool.” 8 hours after I send them.
  7. Playing the violin in one of his pictures: This is an immediate discard* because either he’ll be threatened by my violin BADASSNESS or he’ll want me to give him free lessons (*I’m assuming violin is a hobby; if he’s professional, there’s a 95% chance he’s crazy)
  8. Under 5’7″ AND under 25: He is not grown in ANY of the ways, and will compensate by texting waaay too many kissy face emojis and patting my head while calling me “his little girl”
  9. His “thing that most people don’t know about me” is “I tried stand-up comedy once”: Oh God, he’s not funny, but he’s going to try to give me “notes” on my material because he has “experience”
  10. Wearing a tight-fitting suit showing off his giant muscles and tiny package with a tropical skittles toned shirt, arm-in-arm with two of his equally-outfitted business school buddies: Closeted gay

Ooh hold up. Mark, 36, is a graphic designer at a real place that issues real paychecks; he loves writing, astrophysics, cooking and other smart people things I can’t remember; he doesn’t need to show a pic of him standing in name brand workout gear in front of a gym mirror to see that he’s buff, and he doesn’t look like a serial killer. It’s a match! I get the ball rolling and send him a message:

“Hii! I love to write too! What kinds of things do you like to write?”

And I wait. If he really loves to write, he’ll have a super fascinating, thick juicy response and I won’t be able to help diving in and picking up on things that spark my curiosity and he’ll be so impressed with my intelligence and sense of humor that he’ll ask me out for a drink and we’ll say we only have time for one before we meet just to be safe but then we’ll stay at the bar until they close just sharing stories and gazing into each other’s eyes and the waiters will give us dirty looks while they sweep the floors until finally we’ll pay our bill and leave to roam around the streets of Montreal at night, taking in the warm early-Spring air and talking and trying to get the courage to go in for a kiss but we’re both enjoying each other so much that we want to WAIT for that moment because then we’ll never have our first kiss again, and in fact EVERY relationship benchmark from that point on will be last time we ever do it for the first time with someone…

He writes back, 7 hours later, with two words:

Existential Prose

And into the discard pile he goes.

For the Love of Rats

This little writing corner is my favourite spot in my long skinny apartment. I call my place the “rat maze” because contrary to the trendy “open concept,” it’s a series of little nooks and crannies, all wonderfully compartmentalized for an introvert who loves to nest. Every room is it’s own little universe, full of soft things and hidey-holes and materials to nudge me into creativity because I often forget.

Look closer and you’ll see the books are obsessive-compulsively organized by genre and height. I’ve gone so far as to divide the comedy section into male and female authors, and improv comedy manuals; which is an oxymoron to such a high degree that I’m waiting for the books to spontaneously combust. Peppered ever so carefully around the books are little toys curiosities I’ve accumulated in my travels, each one with it’s own significance. But the one that would light up my brain in an MRI like a group of ballerinas (ballerinas notoriously chain-smoke); the object that makes my heart ache because it’s a bittersweet reminder of “the one that got away,” is this guy.

Oh hi rat

Before I met Harry, I thought rats were disgusting vermin, a view shared by most of the other people on this planet. Rats were creatures to avoid; the bottom feeders of the animal kingdom. Calling someone a rat meant this person was filthy, untrustworthy, sinister. But Harry is a Neuroscientist, and spent most of his time studying rats because they are actually very similar to humans in terms of genetic, biological and behaviour characteristics. Harry loved his work, but hated studying rats, because they are wonderful. It pained him to keep them in small cages, inevitably having to sacrifice them for the test results. Aside from being super intelligent, they are adorable, silly, and extremely loving. While many a mouse bit Harry during his studies, rats were only ever happy to see him because they crave social interaction even more than treats. Even when the treats are actually DRUGS. It’s been scientifically proven!!

Harry and I started going to pet stores just so we could visit the rats. I was looking at them through Harry’s eyes now, and couldn’t believe how anybody could look at them and not squeal with delight. Those curious little faces with their glossy eyes and forests of whiskers and tiny little ears… Sometimes they would come up to the glass to say hi, but more often than not you could find them in a glorious pile under a miniature log cabin, the shape of which their bodies would maintain once removed. Rats LOVE to cuddle; a trait I share with them. At home wherever Harry was, I wanted to be near him if not fully integrated with him, our bodies molded together like play-dough. So I started affectionately calling him “Rat.” And it stuck. I loved that we had something nobody else had. He wasn’t my “babe” or my “honey;” he was my rat, soft “r.” The word took on this whole new meaning that only we understood.

When I moved to Montreal to pursue a Master’s degree in music, he stayed in Ottawa to continue his studies and I missed him terribly. While living together, we couldn’t get pet rats because it would have interfered with his work; but in Montreal, there was nothing stopping me! So I adopted Lucy and Taco, two female ratties from the SPCA. Having rats would help ease some of the pain from being apart.

Lucy and Taco are two cuties in the middle!

Reunions in Montreal were extra special because we not only got to see each other, but Harry was able to interact with rats in a way he had only ever dreamed. It felt like we were a family, with weird little rat children. We would make them rattie castles out of cardboard boxes and egg cartons, and hard boil eggs so they could play rattie soccer; they would sit on our shoulders while we cooked (Ratatouille is real, guys!! Though they were more interested in eating the food than cooking it) and as they got older they mellowed out and cuddled in our laps while we watched movies. We created little rat voices for them, obviously, and would narrate for them when they’d find a new exciting hack to get even higher up in the apartment; or steal a cough-drop out of my pocket. It was pretty much just the voice of Consuela, the housekeeper from Family Guy. “No, noo. I take.”

As Lucy and Taco aged, Harry and I started to grow apart. We couldn’t help it. Of the 6 years we dated, 4 of them were long-distance and I was becoming a new person in Montreal, with new friends and habits and interests. Around the same time Harry was accepted to a post-doctoral position in Houston, Taco started to get sick. Harry spent his last summer before moving to Texas in Montreal with me, and we tried with all our might to nurse her, and our relationship back to health. I knew deep down that neither would survive the summer.

A part of us left with Taco when she passed away. These rats are what kept us together despite our distance and now with one of them gone, our hearts were starting to break. We tried long-distance for another month, but I just couldn’t stomach it. Another 3 years of this relationship purgatory, getting the worst of both worlds. No intimacy, and no freedom. I ended it. The day before he had an appointment to buy an engagement ring.

Thinking about it 4 years later as the woman I am today, a survivor of multiple soul-crushing romantic experiences, sends a wave of remorse crashing through my body. Why couldn’t we have just worked a little harder? Gone to therapy, chosen one city to live in, or even tried an open relationship. But I know realistically, none of that would have worked. I did what I felt was right in that stage of my life, and I have to respect that. I actually told him when we broke up that I wanted to know what it felt like to date a jerk. Like that’s some sort of essential female experience in our fucked up society. Boy does the Universe ever fucking DELIVER!

When I look at bookshelf rat, I’m reminded of what I once had. I’m grateful to have experienced what true love feels like so I’ll know when I’ve found it again. Next time though, I’m not letting it go.

Don’t Cook my Cat

I’m sitting at my desk in 8th grade science class with Mr. Doucet. For some reason though, all we’ve done for the past few weeks is sing pop songs, and he ALWAYS gives the solo part to Max. Everybody is frustrated but nobody wants to speak up. Mr. Doucet just has his favourite, and that’s all there is to it. But today instead of joining the tense silence, I stand up and walk over to him, meeting him in the front left corner of the classroom. I tell him we are fed up with Max getting all the special attention, that there are other people in the class who would like a chance to sing too. He rips me to shreds with his dark beady eyes, and arches his back so he is towering over me. “You just want the solo for yourself, don’t you. You’re so selfish and stuck-up! You think that just because you play the violin you’re better than the rest of us.” I turn to my classmates and say “No, I am speaking to you on behalf of everybody. We all feel this way. Who here wishes they could have a chance?” And everybody not only raises their hands, but they add to the conversation. I sit down at my desk, feeling elated that I have just helped a room full of people find their voice. My boyfriend is next to me. He looks at me and smiles, softly interlacing his fingers with mine. “That was embarrassing. You should really keep your thoughts to yourself” he coos. And I just nod my head. In silence.

And then I wake up. Nicely played, dreams…

Three months ago, I broke up with someone who for one year, ever so subtly, tore down the walls around the foundation of everything I know and love about myself. He made me feel like I was deeply flawed. My identity went from happy, beautiful, talented, empowered and compassionate to the identity he projected onto me: insecure, judgmental, stressed, sexually repressed, unattractive, needy, selfish. Not in touch with my “true” feelings. Not a “real” artist. The list goes on. Every fight began with me trying to express how something he said (or didn’t say) had hurt me, and ended with me apologizing. Your needs don’t matter. That was the destination being stamped onto my relationship passport. A place I’ve visited many times before. Thank God he said something so colossally hurtful at the end that I couldn’t let slide, or I might have stayed with him for another year. Or 5, or 10. Ever since, I have been rebuilding my house, stronger than it ever was before. I am finding my voice because I am determined NEVER to let someone walk all over me like that again. Only I get to decide what virtues I have, and what flaws; and whether or not I’ll work on them. I’d say my conscious mind is pretty fucking on top of things, but my subconscious is like “Just in case, I’m going to throw in this dream where your boyfriend is COOKING YOUR FUCKING CAT IN THE OVEN for dinner, and you nod tacitly as though it’s a new recipe on pinterest before dream-smacking yourself and snatching the love of your life into your arms.” (The cat, obviously, not the douchebag)

It’s amazing how empowering it is to say No. To say, this isn’t good enough for me. To let myself feel anger instead of justifying someone’s shitty behavior by psycho-analyzing their childhood. It’s extremely hard, coming from a background where I was terrified to admit when something was hurting me because it meant making my sweet mom who suffered from serious depression sad or angry, and all I wanted was for her to be happy. It’s funny because all she wanted was for me to be happy… so we were doing quite an elaborate dance of repressed emotions. If only we’d realized honesty is what paves the way to happiness. I want to be clear though, there is the kind of “honesty” my Ex dished out; and there is honesty from a place of true vulnerability, love, and respect. A dear colleague once told me “Honesty without compassion is cruelty.” And that is the difference between a healthy relationship, and an abusive one. We must find the courage to express ALL of our feelings, not just the “good” ones. To be able to say “I love you, AND this behavior is hurting me;” not “There is something wrong with you; I will love you when you fix it.” To respond with “Thank-you for telling me, what could I try to do differently?” instead of “What about MY feelings. This is YOUR fault.”

There is room for everybody’s feelings. Not just those who have the loudest voices, or the most pain. We just have to be willing to put down our weapons and listen. And until I find a partner who is able to do that, I’m just going to keep working on my house.

Cooking with my cat (“with” being the operative word)