Thursday, November 25, 2004

La Vie Sans Roses

(With apologies to Edith Piaf)

A funny thing happened on the way to Montreal — I found out that there were people who mattered to me.

As you may imagine (or not), there have been times in my life to this point when I have known loneliness. It would have been difficult for me to contemplate being more alone than, say, in those too many hours I spent desperately looking for a reason not to die when I was nearing the end of my life as a practicing addict. My homeless period was hardly one of the high points in my social life either. Still, what I felt then was nothing more than isolation. It's not the same thing.

For the first time in my life, I am feeling true loneliness. Loneliness isn't just a matter of having no-one around — I daresay that there are few people who pass any significant time without some kind of human contact — it's more a matter of having someone NOT around. Or several someones.

I've moved several times before, and I've been a stranger in a strange land more than once. I have left friends and acquaintances, knowing that they would fade into vague memory in less time than it takes to think about it. We all have lives full of people who seem significant while they're with us; we never find out the truth until they've been gone from sight awhile. Those have been my friendships in the past.

I expected that coming to Montreal would find me in the same place again — a few goodbyes and half-hearted promises to keep in touch, and before long the roster of friends and acquaintances would be back up to a full-strength team and the players traded away last season all but forgotten. That's the way it's always been before. Life has its surprises, though, and is generally a hell of a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

Maybe I've just lost the protection that youth affords. That's got to be it — I don't feel any less self-centred, arrogant or uncaring than before. Not that I'm a monster by any means, but my caring has always been a matter of convenience. You know — faceless charities I could care about in a detached and abstract sort of way, and I kept genuine human interest reserved for those in direct and immediate contact. "Out of sight, out of mind" has always been the norm. Right now, I'm wallowing in sentiment. There are a handful of people whose absence is sorely felt, and one who is making this change almost unbearably painful.

I don't suppose it helps at all that leaving Toronto and my old job behind finally gave me the chance to redefine that one relationship. There aren't too many rules I follow in life, but I've seen what can happen if you don't at least follow the old "don't shit where you eat" rule. (It may be more-or-less acceptable to use language like that these days, but I still find it horribly awkward. How were Borroughs, Thompson and Ginsberg able to get the pictures of their sixth-grade English teachers out of their heads?) There was one person at work, though, who I had grown quite fond of. Yes, that really is an appropriate choice of words — I'm not talking about a sudden enormous hormonal rush or anything like that. As much as I tried to keep things at a safe distance, with every thoughful word and gesture she slowly worked her way into my heart to the point that I'm now pretty much lost without her. The goodbyes put all of that on the table, and more.

Now for the complicated bit — not only are we separated by an unreasonable commute, there is the fact that she's married to deal with as well. (You knew that was coming, didn't you?) It's not so much that it's impossible to have the depth of feeling we have for each other under the circumstances, but it would be a whole lot easier to deal with if we could explore those feelings without having to consider the consequences. Even if she were to run headlong into this, I'm not sure that I could be mercenary enough to go right along with it — she stands to lose a lot more than I do, and the last thing I want is to see her hurt in any way.

(That's part of what caused the dilemma in the first place. All I wanted to say was that she had mattered to me, that all of the things she had thanked me for were merely given in response to her own incredible warmth and generosity of spirit. How much we mattered to each other was a subject that sort of grew as the artificial barriers between coworkers were erased. I should have said so much more so much sooner; she needed to hear it. Do you have anyone in your life, even at the outermost edge, who is just brimming over with love, kindness and caring, but who still manages to think of herself/himself as somehow unworthy of reciprocal attention? Tell them they matter before it's too late.)

Anyway, folks, if you've been wondering what's been keeping me too busy to blog, it has been hour upon hour of letter-writing, trying to keep the enormous holes in my life at least partially filled. (For those of you who haven't heard, I hate telephones with a passion few can imagine. Reach out and touch someone, my ass — all you can do is reinforce the fact that you cannot, in fact, touch them. When I picture Hell, it is very much like that.) And Jess, if you're reading this — you're a pretty special lady yourself. Thanks for checking up on me. I owe you a bucketfull of hugs. (And no, Matt, I'm not trying to add another one to the resume ;o) )


Ed Brill said...

Very inspiring, Stan. I agree with you, it's always important to let people know how special they are.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stan,
I can feel your pain. When I became a counsellor, the team going through the same training and I got very close and reached a understanding beyond words. Then I moved away 10000 miles. It left a void I can sense every day. I guess feeling this void makes us human. And not trying to cover it with shallow replacements might be one step towards enlightenment.
You never know
-- stw (

Jess said...

Thanks Stan. :-)
A big change like that would make anyone "wallow in sentiment" - it's what makes us human. And wallowing in sentiment could only mean that you had really, really liked it there. What better way to honor her?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

wow... I stumbled here via some other Notes blog and now (after reading this and previous entries) I'm smitten. I wish you all good things in the new year, stan.