I woke in a cold bed, instinctively I roll over to seek my husband’s warm body. It is not here, I left it thousands of miles away. I imagine I can hear him rustling around in the living room, playing the dogs too loud like he would while I slept. Not much of a care for others in the household.
Here, it is silent. I roll over and could see Sadie asleep in the single bed next to me. We had found the cheapest INN we could after off boarding the ferry. After the near miss of losing everything on the bus, the travel became a blur. I caved and had paid for a taxi to the closest hotel which turned out to be well over $200 a night. Leaving me to order a second taxi and that time requested the cheapest INN available.
I even walked, without thought, into the liquor store next to the INN and purchased beer. Soon after, passed out in an alcohol induced stupor. Sadie watched late night cartoons.
I laid in the cold bed and reflected on the turmoil I witnessed on the bus. Before nearly losing my $29,000 dollars, a small spit had occurred.
A homeless man had boarded the bus and requested to sit beside another couple that looked just as unwelcoming. The husband of the couple quickly responded, “no” to the request of sitting next to them. I blinked and looked over only momentarily thinking the husband must have been joking. I know people can be cruel to the homeless but this was beyond cruel. It was savage.
A few quiet words passed between them before suddenly the homeless man yelled, “bus driver, this man is threatening me. He say’s he’s going to beat me up!”
Nothing much happened after that. The homeless man approached the bus driver and for a few moments I feared the bus would pull over and kick everyone off. There had been so many stories of abuse against drivers, I couldn’t imagine there was much tolerance. The bus ride continued and the homeless man sat elsewhere.
The ferry ride had been hell, spiraled downward from the near miss of my loss. I was having rolling panic attacks imaging I could hear James calling my name through the crowds. My neck was sore from pivoting to search for the source. I knew James wasn’t there, or at least I thought he wasn’t. His voice lingered with me.
I recalled how I missed him as I had sat on that bus, how concern pimpled down my body when the homeless man had yelled out. I had thought I would have felt safe with James sitting next to me, why could I not feel safe without him?
Because I had become co-dependent on him. Like he wanted.
He wanted me to be that woman that sat next to him quietly on the bus while he berated an old helpless man just for the way he looked.
I missed James. There was no denying that. I queried what he was thinking, where he might think I went. How quickly he would be inviting a new woman into my bed.
My new bed was cold and uncomfortable, James would not change that. Really, I missed his security. Other than his strength, he offered me not much else. There was no emotional support, most stories I would start off telling, then fade my voice as I would realize hadn’t been listening. He never noticed.
The security he offered often came with a price, often paid with my humility.
Such as the homeless man on the bus; I would be put in the spotlight. To be examined by everyone on the bus, to be judged and felt sorry for since my husband, just as this husband, had so rudely denied a seat.
It was when I had boarded the ferry that I by chance learnt more of the story. Seeing two police stand in the enclosed ramp; they were speaking to the couple. I heard only the police man mention it is, “a jail-able offence to threaten in BC.”
That’s not where the coincidence came, it was when the old man that had returned my briefcase’s head appeared in the line of the off boarding ferry. I had been compelled to approach him once more, introduce him to my daughter and said thank you again. A short chat and suddenly I learnt he had seen the kerfuffle as well.
He had also heard the police speaking, but it had been moments after I had walked past. So the story he had heard was, “we said no since he had assaulted my girlfriend in the street just weeks before.”
No one knows the real story. There are more than two sides to a story, there are three. The hero, the villain and the truth. Which is somewhere in between and neither wants you to know.
I smooth the blanket on the empty bed and think maybe it is easier, for a while anyway, to not deal with the third side of the story.
I noticed a stain on the blanket and nearly gag. It may be the remnants of alcohol in my system, or the fact the room is entirely too warm. I throw the blanket off and contemplate buying my own blankets. These seedy INNs get left over, used blankets from the ritzy hotels. I could at least afford my own blankets.
“Mom,” Sadie is awake, I should have known better than to lay here until noon. I am still a Mother, I may no longer be a wife. But I am still a Mother.
“When am I going to Dad’s?” She strives on structure. Maybe this whole, ‘let’s live like hippies on the beach for a year,’ idea is draining her more than I realized.
“When do you want to go?”
“Today,” she smiled guiltily. I know it’s not that she doesn’t want to be with me. She wants to see her Dad.
There is a small phone between our beds, on the single night stand. I nod towards it and she doesn’t miss a beat to pick it up and punch in her father’s number.
I wander around the small room, the telephone is possibly the most expensive object here. The two twin beds are sacked and scratched apart on the corners. The bathroom is quite possibly just a closet that had a toilet installed, there is no television, fridge or coffee pot. The night stand appeared to have been picked up from a ‘FREE’ sign on a front lawn somewhere.
There is not even a chair to sit on, I had no choice but to sit back on the bed. Sadie had rolled to her side and her back is to me. Actively muffling the words she is saying into the phone. I can still hear what she says, the room is much too quiet and too small to hide. Maybe she wanted to pretend I cannot. Like a child that closed their eyes, “you can’t see me if I can’t see you.”
She laughed quietly to what is said in the receiver. What does her dad think of all this? Surely, he is excited to see her. He loves her, I know he does but never like I love her. The consistent in that house had been me as a mother, he was only sometimes a father. I read somewhere, anyone can be a father, it takes someone special to be a dad.
When we split there had been no question that Sadie would remain with me. She was always my daughter, and his- only when it was convenient. Not that he was a bad father, and maybe he’ll be even better for his son but for Sadie, he was never totally there. I needed her more than what he needed her.
“He wants to talk to you,” Sadie stuck the phone in the air.
“Of course, he does,” I roll my eyes. “Hello?” I play coy, I already know who it is, but pretend to not. Why do I still say hello? Courtesy I guess, or maybe it’s an un-courtesy. Real courtesy would be to say something like, ‘well, hello Matt, how are you?’
“Hey, Becca,” he says my name as if I’m his sister, as if he has a commitment to talk to me. He doesn’t, there is no reason for us to speak. The hurt feelings of our broken relationship long faded. There can only be hurt if there is still love.
It also bothered me on a more personal level, the way he says my name like the scent of a spring flower through a cold winter. It made me wonder if my husband offered the same courtesy to his ex-girlfriends? Does James layer on the syrup when he spoke to them, for shits and giggles? Or is it the base animalistic reason evolution ever moved forward? The same could be said for my ex-boyfriend then, he speaks to me too kind for one reason only: sex.
That was what broke our relationship anyway, so of course that would still compel him. Even Jax’s father had texted me after I broke up with Matt. After I had not been with him for almost seven years, Jax’s father asked, “one more roll in the hay?” I had laughed and ignored it of course. Is that what James was thinking now? To go back to what you had already done, is the easiest route. Is he texting his ex-girlfriends, ‘like old time sakes?’
The definition of insanity…is it not? Doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
I think it would be bloody awkward.
“Hi Matt,” my voice is monotone, as a child would respond to a parent that requested a chore.
“How are you?”
“I’m good and you?” Now that the pleasantries were out of the way, I wonder what the real conversation is going to be.
He wasted no time, not even a response to how he was, “what the hell are you thinking? Pulling Sadie out of school? Have you lost….”
I hung up, the reason exactly why I had left my life behind. I am a grown woman and a competent mother to make these decisions on my own. Sadie had lived with me full time for the last 12 years and I certainly don’t need my ex-boyfriend berating me.
Sadie stared at me as the phone resonated an echoing chime from the slam. I miss these old phones, it gave such satisfaction to slam them. The touch red button on an iPhone just did not give the same appeal.
“Okay…” Sadie dragged the word out. Uncertainty on her face and an adult tone in her voice, “am I going to see him today?”
We are so close, only two towns away from where he lives. I had already ferried over to Vancouver Island, it only made sense for her to see him, to visit for a few days.
“Yes, just didn’t want to listen to it,” I winked and thankfully she laughed. As she stuffed her clothes back into her suitcase, I picked the phone back up. Flipped through the yellow pages (shocking they still had some) and called the local bank. After my close call the day before, I was no longer comfortable walking around with so much cash.
The bank appointment was painless; the money counted, I was eye balled for such cash and finally deposited for the branch to earn interest. The number on the deposit slip tells me I need a better long term plan. At $29,020, I won’t be able to afford many more hotels.
The second phone call I had made was to my son, to ensure him I was safe and not crazy. A quick phone call, due to the fact that he was halfway into his day of work. The jest of the call was;
“Did you lose your mind?”
“Are you getting a divorce?”
“I’ll find out in a year.”
“What is Sadie doing?”
“Well, have fun I guess.”
“Love you, bye.”
My son, a man of few words, up until last year he had never reciprocated the basic, ‘I love you.’ Even then, he won’t say it each time I do.
The last phone call I had made was to my mother, which was not quite as easy. She delved much deeper; was there a problem in my relationship, am I sure I’m not going crazy, is it a mid-life crisis, how will I repay the $30,000 loan, how will I find a job when I go back, will I go back? She made a lot of throaty sighs and irritated snorts, she was not impressed. I have done nothing wrong, really. I wanted a break. From my life. I needed to sort my thoughts that had become muddied from James constant judgement, his over watching, his over protection had turned me into a soft pliable pile of nothing.
After the bank, I returned to the dirty room to contact Sadie’s father and properly arrange a meeting. It would be good, then I would truly be by myself. For a little bit anyway. I was itching to get off on my own, I came all this way, I can’t just hide in a cheap INN. I had put so much at risk and I wasn’t about to linger around and get nagged at, especially not by my ex-boyfriend.
We agreed that she would stay with Matt for a month. It would give my typing hands a chance to really flow over the keyboard, spill out my words that burnt my inside, the stories stuck behind the cork of a hum drum life. The monotonous union job for years while burying my head in the sands of social media. Sinking myself deeper into what everyone else thinks, losing my own thoughts. Colored blurred from television, reality shows told me everyone was nice and supermarkets where you didn’t even have to talk to someone. The outline of my own face seemed to blur into what others say I should be.
I jump at delivering Sadie to her father, to have silence for myself. I agree to bus her the two cities away to drop her off sooner.
Our ferry had ported in Nanaimo, BC. The city borders on bankruptcy, streets not well maintained. With a population overloaded by retired folks, there are not many that want to do solid hard work any longer. Matt lives south of Nanaimo, the opposite direction of where I want to end up. I had visited Parksville in the past, the beaches there seemed to be calling my name. I had fallen in love with the town from previous visits. The beach stretched for an eternity plus a step. Silky white sand beaches dissolved your anxiety and the sunsets promised a new beginning.
I reluctantly board a Greyhound bus, the round trip will takes several hours but Sadie is electric with excitement.
“So, what is this then?” Matt asked as we sat at the cafe, he tried to gauge me with his solid brown eyes. They no longer swooned me like they once had. Now they appeared prying and annoying. We sit in the coffee shop since his house was an additional 10-minute drive out of town. I had to use the nearest pay phone, which was a good twenty-minute walk from the bus station, to call him into town.
Having no vehicle is a more tricky than I recalled. At one point in my life, I had walked all over town. I had bused to work, laundromat, grocery store and library without a qualm. Now, a four hour bus ride was hell. Followed by a load of luggage for Sadie, my head hurt and I considered renting a car.
I had to ensure my money would last. Money sucks, it’s life draining no matter who you are.
Matt had arrived to pick up Sadie with his baby son, he had also quickly shooed them next door to get ice cream. I sat at the round table that forced our knee caps to touch, in front of my ex-boyfriend. Our waitress had bustled the coffee to our table quickly but her sweaty palm print lingered on my coffee cup and I was reluctant to pick it up. My thoughts are with my next Greyhound bus to get to Parksville and whether or not I can make it back before dark.
Too many times in my youth, I had slept on an empty beach after partying all night. Walked through town on the devil’s hour did have an allure to it. I was too old for that shit, and this. I tipped my head to the side, tried to give Matt my most exasperated glare.
I did not feel the need to explain anything to him, “I don’t know.”
“There has to be a reason.”
“Wanted a break, I guess,” the girl’s sweat evaporated finally and I sampled the expensive coffee, that I made Matt pay for.
“Why didn’t you take a break in Fort St John? Keep working, keep Sadie in school?”
“That’s not a break.”
“Did you have to leave, is everything okay? Did James do something?” Matt inquired.
“No, and it’s not a break from James per say, more a break from life. For Sadie too.”
Matt shook his head, I knew he wouldn’t understand. If the coffee wasn’t so hot, I could chug it and leave.
“Look, I know we’re not really friends, but if something happened….” Matt’s face softened, it appeared there was actual concern there. He always had the baby face, even with his brown hair graying prematurely now, his face was still young. “You can tell me. I can help you,” as if to insinuate there was abuse. Which there was, but emotional abuse was the hardest to explain. I suddenly felt I was talking to James, trying to weed through my emotional swamp. Trying to pick out the right explanation but only met with a blankness. Words could not coat and appropriate the feelings, they were so deep. So painful. It was better to shrug it off, as I would with James. Stating, ‘it’s fine’, or ‘nevermind’, when he would pry too much and I wouldn’t have the emotional capacity to cope.
“Matt, honestly. Nothing happened. Sadie and I are fine, I started writing this book…”
“Your writing a book?” His face lightened, now I knew where my daughter got her short attention span from. That was an easy fix, I thought, a quick detour from the conversation.
“Yeah, and I wanted time by myself. I’ve been with someone my whole life and you know, girls Sadie’s age; they are horrible.”
“Tell me about it! Lena is 14 now,” he referred to the daughter that appeared a few years ago. Happened to be exactly one year older than Sadie. That is a whole story in itself, ‘so you were sleeping with who while we were dating?’ Never a question I bothered to vocalize, water under the bridge. Or water that sunk the bridge, or water that washed the graffiti off the bridge? It’s all about perspective.
“How are you, anyway? And your new family?” His face pained the moment the question completed, I hadn’t meant to ask that way. But it was done and he had been the one to mention the ‘adulted’ daughter. Also, the one to make her.
“Good. I’m good, they’re good. Look, I remember once…” his face gave away too much of what he was feeling and I was not used to seeing this emotion on a man’s face. James would swallow even the simplest of anger. He would swallow the emotion to turn it into words that stung more than tears.
“I should get going,” I cut him off, my coffee hadn’t cooled totally so it scorched a bit on the way down. I didn’t want to go down memory lane, I had enough shit on my shovel.
“No, this is important,” Matt took off his signature ball cap, showed how serious he was. My features turned to stone, tried to play on disinterest.
“I remember once,” the word choked him and he physically had to swallow before he continued, “when we were going through, you know, rough times. I remember we had talked about splitting up, we weren’t happy. I told you I wasn’t happy but I also said I didn’t want to break up.” Matt sipped on his equally steaming coffee, I prayed it would burn his tongue and make him stop talking. I wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement, so I kept my mouth shut.
“I had said, what if we were happier? Going or own ways, what if it was better?” Matt squirmed a bit in his plastic red chair from his own turmoil. “Are you?”
“Am I what?” Where was Sadie? I needed her to come back now.
“Sometimes things are meant to be, I believe that now. I remember when you told me once you were so happy, you could die. I’m not and maybe this was meant to be, you and I. Were meant to split. But, are you?” He looked up and refused to shift his gaze until I matched it. “Are you happier now?”
His eyes pained with regret. I didn’t have to ask the same question to him, the sinking of his features told me enough. I once heard that love never fades. It can change. To familiarity, like it had with my husband. To hate, like it had with James’ ex-girlfriends. To jealousy, like it had with my step-son. To contempt, for the life you spent so long building.
I allowed his question to sink into me, right down to my toes as if it were sand. Filling all the spaces that had seemed full of heavy rocks. The space that once seemed full, there was still room. Room for more; the sand can fit. Fill all the tiny spaces and push me to the breaking point. Just as possibly, water could fit even tighter.
The question resounded in my mind, was I happier? I’d had the conversation with my daughter in the past, as she always pined for us two to be together. I recall stating, “then you wouldn’t have your step-siblings.”
“I would give them up,” she had replied.
“Then you wouldn’t have your baby brother (from Matt).”
“I would give him up too, for you and my Dad to be together.”
She would be willing to give up her world as she knew it, to go back in time. When both her parents sat at the table together and happily ate a meal. There is no going back though, only forward. I certainly hadn’t come here to go back in time.
Maybe to revisit a time I was happiest on Vancouver Island. But that had never been with Matt. Slurping the last remains of charcoal caffeine grinds from the cup, I put it down as if ascertained the proper reply and stood to show I was done.
“Yes, I am happier.” Or at least I was.
My Vase of flowers.
Once new and fresh, having scented the room.
They now grow old and die.
A splash of water out of my Vase, to see other flowers around me bloom.
The flower of my children.
The flower of my step-children.
The flower of my marriage.
The flower of my career.
Until the Vase is nearly empty,
not a drop left for myself.
The Vase begins to fill;
with worries, concerns and anxieties.
Until it turned to mucky water, and I was left with only two choices.
Dump the dirty water and start fresh,
or wither and rot.