Mar 2019 18

I wrote this yesterday and chickened-out on posting it. Instead, posting some half-truth other post about St. Patrick’s Day. But this. This is how I really feel. 

There is a picture of me that Facebook is delighted to remind me of every March 17th. It is St. Patrick’s Day, maybe a decade ago, taken in a pub in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It depicts a small window into the whirling chaos you can imagine that city is on that day. There is endless music and dancing, camraderie no matter who you are, where you’re from, and where you go. And the first pint was put in front of me legally at 8 am.

And in this photo, there is me amongst all that. Sitting quietly. A large green felt hat on my head, sporting my annual Lucky Charms green t-shirt, and sipping coffee.

This year Facebook sent it to me again.

In previous years, I would think ‘Geez, what’s your problem? Go have fun.” But this year, it’s a reminder of why I’m 98 days sober. This person, I know this guy. I’ve known him for 98 days now.

Now let me just say that St. Patrick’s Day is a fucking awesome day. And other than Ireland itself, I can’t imagine there is any better place to mark the occasion than in St. John’s. The people are amazing. And they are proud Newfoundlanders, Canadians, and an honourary extension of Ireland – sometimes that order changes, and it changes on who you talk to out there. But it’s a fun day, and they certainly do their best to make you feel like one of them.

However, my mindset at the time of the photo was ‘I have to get out of here’.

St. Patrick’s Day is a day of extroverts. And as I have found during my 98 days of not touching alcohol, I am an introvert who only becomes an extrovert through drinking. In recent years, a friend and I would lament March 17th– it was a day of the amateur drinkers, like showing up to the Super Bowl party and asking “So, who’s playing?”. And we were out there getting it done 364 days a year.

The photo. It was 2 pm. I was already 6 or so pints in and possibly some shots on top of that and I was at that point I know too well. In between. I longed for some peace, some solitude. I get overwhelmed in crowds. The chaos becomes a noise that makes me anxious like being at airport security. Give me a long walk or a bike ride or an animal to sit quietly with.

Or, give me lots more alcohol to club that longing into submission and silence.

I used to drink to fit in. I would drink to stand out. I would drink to make other people feel comfortable. I would drink to feel comfortable. I would drink to silence it all in an easier way rather than listening to myself.

The photo, when posted, got a lot of attention. Some people who know me well saw it as the cry for escape that it was. But most people saw it as ‘Andrew, that stick in the mud. He doesn’t know how to have fun.’ But I did know. Or thought I did at the time, it involved a lot of alcohol. And that photo captured my inbetween state. I was about to surrender to my need to fit in.

The most hurtful thing someone has said to me during these 98 days is “You were more fun when you drank.”

At 98 days, I am finding new, less destructive ways, to have fun. No, it’s not much fun sometimes.

I am envious of people who can do it so effortlessly. Someday, perhaps I can be in a mindset to be around it, witness it, and feel good without drinking. To feel compersion.

But not today. Today, I’m not wearing green. I’m not in a pub. I have no plans to try to fit in.

I’m going for a long walk with the dogs and some fresh air on the trails of High Park. And just being me. Fitting in with myself.

It ain’t easy being green.

 

10 years ago. I sure looked liked a scrawny, clean bastard.

Mar 2019 18

Thaw

Posted In Blog,The world

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 2019 17

Day 98

Posted In Blog,The world

St. Patrick’s Day is a good day to break my ‘I won’t write about drinking’ anymore oath. Pagan at heart. 

I went through an Irish phase in my drinking.

Yes, my drinking has eras. Like when someone says they had a ‘Zeppelin’ phase, or a ‘Punk’ phase in their music tastes. Well, my drinking had an Irish phase.

It was the most social and unpretentious of my drinking phases. Certainly better than the clubbing Martini-dating era or sports bar era or the Ad Guy with a triple vodka one.

The Irish phase involved a lot of, yes, Irish pubs around the city. There was a lot of sitting around, which was a nice change after years of being on your feet in stupid clubs, actual conversations and laughter, and the best part – seeing Irish bands. Traditional ones. Asking for U2 would get you killed.

A friend played part-time in one of these bands and a crew of us followed his gigs around town. You didn’t have to spend the whole night, although sometimes you did. But most likely, you’d just stop in on your travels for a pint and to hear a few songs before you left for that thing to meet some girl that might be happening, or not.

Mandolins. Bodhran hand drums. Fiddles. Penny whistles. Stomping.

You’d dance. You know that Tiny Buddha or insert other ‘uplifting woke-sounding source’ quote ‘Dance like no one is watching’? Well, fuck that. You’d dance like everyone was watching, cause they were. Cause you were in front of the stage. Twirling some stranger. And no matter how bad you were, they were cheering you on. The Titanic was going down, we were locked in 3rdlower class steerage and having a party, and loving it.

Songs of heartbreak, struggle, good times, being broke, England being a fucking dick, a good fish haul at sea. Even I longed to see Ireland again sometimes and I’ve never even been there.

Pro Tip: If the song ‘Fields of Athenry’ is being performed as a slow, sad ballad, you’re not supposed to yell out “Oh baby, let the free birds fly!” like in the faster interpretations. You get frowned at. Severely.

Anyhow, there’s something honest about real Irish pubs like that.

Every night was St. Patrick’s Day.

It made March 17th sort of a day for the amateurs. But I get it. Fun era.

 

 

Mar 2019 15

“Stephanie of the what?” Apes. Large, ground-dwelling primates. Keep up, please. Sheesh. Part 1 of this tale is here for all 3 of you readers.

 

Present day. He makes a phone call.

“Mom, do you remember my friend Stephanie when I was a kid?”

“Who, dear?”

“Stephanie. When I was really young. Lived on our street. We took her to the zoo.”

“Was she the one who ate paper mache paste?”

“No, that was Emma.”

“Hmmm, I don’t remember her.”

Six year-olds should not be worried about their soulmates being ripped apart by primates. They should be doing six-year old things. Like playing with LEGO, or spreading germs, or wondering why Ernie is trying to score a hit of letter ‘S’ from some shady guy in a raincoat.

But we don’t choose our burdens.

The night before the zoo outing, he strategized.

How to save Stephanie.

Perhaps he could invite someone else to the zoo instead. Adam, or Caroline. He wouldn’t mind if either of them were ripped to shreds. But no, it was probably too late for that.

Praying. Would praying work here? What good was all that kneeling at the side of the bed and asking God to bless so-and-so before sleeping if you couldn’t ask for a solid now and then for yourself? But he had asked for a puppy and still, nothing. No, God was decidedly unreliable.

Could he just avoid the train? Yes. No train ride, no Stephanie being thrown off of train. There. Done. Of course, his sister could downshift into pushing her into the Ostritch pen or something like that but he’d take his chances.

Zoo day. His mother’s sedan awaited on their driveway. They were ready to embark. Stephanie floated down the street, like on a skateboard. Sensible shorts and sneakers. Great animal-gazing attire. As he and Stephanie climbed into the backseat, his sister, Barbara, looked at him and mouthed the word ‘Dead’ to him as she pulled her finger along her throat. They buckled up and away they went.

 

At the zoo, they saw bats hanging upside down. Lions that did nothing but lie under the trees, looking tired. Monkeys did their job of flinging poo at the glass towards them. He watched Barbara carefully.

And after lunch, his mom said “Why don’t we go on the train?”

“Yes, let’s all go on the train” said Barbara.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Honey, don’t you want to see gorillas?”

“No, I don’t want to.”

“Let’s let Stephanie decide,” said Barbara. “Stephanie do you want to see gorillas? Up close?”

“Yes. Very much.”

“Mom, I don’t want Stephanie to die!!!”

“What? Honey, no one’s going to die. We’ll all be perfectly fine. Don’t be ridiculous.”

So they got on the train. They took their seats. Stephanie peered out as the train left the boarding station and rollicked along the track, suspended above something that approximated the terrain of Africa.

And then, Barbara, sitting a row ahead of them, slowly turned around to look at Stephanie.

“Look,” Stephanie said. “Gorillas!”

But he didn’t look. He only looked down, clutched Stephanie’s hand and didn’t look away.

As long as he could see her small hand in his, feel its weight, she was there. She was alive.

But is that what happened? Or perhaps, did Barbara turn around to face them, all gates of hell and evil furnace in her eyes. And did she rip a doll he called Stephanie, right from his hands, and fling it over the side of the train, as he shrieked and it helicoptered down into the trees, disappearing below?

Or did Barbara turn around to face them, yes, with all that above evil stuff in her eyes, and then he, himself, lifted Stephanie up, legs kicking as his mother looked in horror at what her child was perpetrating and he threw her over the side as he thought “If she is to die, I owe it to her to do it myself”?

He doesn’t remember the car ride home. He doesn’t remember seeing her again.

Today he wonders, did Stephanie exist at all?

Memory, like love, can be ripped apart, thrown from a moving train.

 

 

Mar 2019 11

 

When he tries to recall Stephanie, he immediately thinks about gorillas.

And vice versa, too. Even now, more than thirty years later, whenever he sees a gorilla, whether it’s in a documentary, or ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie, or even the famous Nintendo Donkey Kong, Stephanie still comes to mind.

She was his neighbourhood crush when he was six years old.

It’s not that she looked like a gorilla. Well, actually he can’t really remember her face at all. So he guesses it is possible she did resemble a gorilla. But he recalls that she had short blonde hair, and was rather slight. Although he likes to think that even then he was more about the person inside rather than looks, it would’ve been unlike him to be attracted to a large herbivorous ape. Not his type.

He vividly remembers other girls he had a crush on during this period. Claire, and her sun-dappled freckles. Nora and her dark eyes and hair that flipped up at the shoulders. Japanese Kaida, with her short pixie cut and intense stare.

But Stephanie is a swirl; her face, a big, mottled blur.

This is probably because all of his six-year old focus was not on her, as much as it was on saving her from being eaten by gorillas.

This took a lot of energy.

We go back to a summer. No school. Lazy days to fill with activities, and his mom announced she was taking him and his older sister to the zoo on the weekend. He was allowed to bring one friend.

So of course, he did what any six year old in love would do. He invited his beloved. A mom phone call was made, and Stephanie’s parents wisely blessed the union. It would be a lovely wedding story someday.

In the days leading up to the outing, he started to plan it all in his head. Stephanie, you look lovely today. What a delightful sundress. My, how the sunlight does dance in your decidedly non-gorilla eyes. It is like this beautiful and unmatched summer day only exists as a failed attempt to outdo your dazzling beauty. The animals will be the ones who talk about what they saw today. Six year old him was still a romantic.

It would be perfect.

Except for his sister. Four years older, although what does evil care with number of orbits of the earth? She had other plans that she shared with him when no else was around.

“Your girlfriend, Stephanie?”

“Ya, isn’t she great?”

“At the zoo, I’m going to throw her off the monorail train and she’s going to get eaten by the gorillas.”

It’s true, there was a state-of-the-art monorail train at the zoo. He had seen pictures in the ads.

“Noooooooo, don’t!”

“Yes, I am. She’s going to die.”

There was regular sibling mean, like eating your piece of cake, or punching you in the face when parents aren’t looking. Or even telling you you’re adopted. But this went over the line.

Murder. No way. Barbara couldn’t possibly be serious. But then again, she did crush his Batmobile with her bike.

He decided this warranted a family dinner conversation. But it had to be subtle. He waited a good 14 seconds into dinner.

“Mom. When we take Stephanie to the zoo, Barbara says she’s going to throw her off that train that’s there.”

There. That oughta do it. Love wins again.

“Oh, honey, that’s just ridiculous. No one’s getting thrown off of any train. We’re all going to have a great time.”

Across the dinner table, Barbara ate her buttered corn niblets and smiled at him to show the futility of his attempts to save his girlfriend.

He thought of Stephanie’s waifish form in Barbara’s clutches, raised high above her head and then being flung from the train, disappearing into the canopy of trees below, to her fate. Ripped apart by gorillas. More limbs than she even possessed flying everywhere.

Good lord. He realized she was going to get away with it.

 

——

In case you can’t sleep, wondering how it ends… Part 2 is here

 

 

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