23 August 2005, 9am, en route from Gravenhurst to Toronto
I’m leaving my ex. I’m on a bus from Gravenhurst to Toronto. The sky is a wash of moody greys, partly an effect of the shaded windows. I realize that I am squinting in the light, but also, I’m wrinkled my forehead – I’ve noticed this recently, an expression of concern or concentration, the skin between my eyebrows bunched into a tiny fist of furrows. I worry it will leave permanent wrinkles.
My ex lives next to a railroad. A few times each night, a train roars by the house, and as it is an old house, and the tracks are fairly close (though hidden by the trees, they’re not visible), the entire house rumbles. It is loud and intense and an unusual sensation, being inside in a quiet interior then a low, rumbling explosion of sound that feels as if it could be passing right through your skin.
I like to call D my ex. Though it was so many years ago, over ten years now, but that is the label that I keep for him. We’ve both had few relationships in our lives, and so this name, which said by other people and in other contexts takes on darker or more irritable meanings, to me is an acknowledgement of his role in my life, and in my imagination, the first relationship where I really fell in love with someone, a level of care that would not be repeated for many years.
This trip, the first that I visited him at his home in quiet rural Ontario, rather than in Toronto, where we met and where he used to live, I met two of his dearest friends, C and A. C is a medical doctor, and an expert in macrobiotic diets. When I saw him, he’d only just deeply cut his left hand while trying to cut apart a parsnip. He’d sewn the wound together with only minor help from his wife an hour ago. His expression was calm though. He was more irritated than anything else – that he’d mentally told himself to be careful while at this particular task and still had this traumatic accident. He admitted some pain, but would barely sit still to wait for D to prepare his acupuncture needles, and then to insert them into the skin – a way to help the pain. C noticed how uncomfortable I was with the injury. It was not the sight of it, a fairly neat criss-cross pattern in crimson; it was the knowledge of how deep the cut was, and the events afterwards.
A was more agitated, but still able to convey a great deal of warmth and welcome. She is also an expert on food and diet. D told me the story that as a young girl, the city hospital had done an experiment on nine girls where they believed they could remove their adenoid glands through radiation rather than surgery. As young women in their thirties, eight of the women had died. Nearly on deathbed herself, A received a call from a family friend, who assessed her situation, and asked her what was in her cupboards. “Throw them out,” he told her. “All of them except the oatmeal.” He flew up the next day. With a radical change of diet, she began a slow process of healing and survival, and moved from there to sharing her story and teaching others about macrobiotic cooking and providing inspiration to others wanting to heal themselves from serious illness.
A also works as a counselor and uses astrology. In the evening, after tea, she pulled out her almanac on planetary positions and asked me my birthdate. “You’re a perfectionist,” she told me, “and have been disappointed often by others who don’t live up to your standards. You’re an explorer of new lands. You have a brilliant intelligence, as if your knowledge has come from many lifetimes. But in love, you are very young.”
D asked her if the two of us would make good partners. Or would have. He did not make it quite clear, and C asked if this was something that we were considering. “Oh no,” he explained. “Just asking.” I added, “it was a very long time ago. I was heading off to work abroad.”
It takes some time for A to look up our different charts and to match them up. “There’s great friendship. I see that. You are both very similar in many ways. You have the same moon in Aries. Do you do some sport as well? You’re both active.” She pauses for my reply. “What I see and I can’t say is true or not in your situation is that everything else is good but the sexual attraction doesn’t last. If you were a straight couple, I’d say it would be one of those couples that gets married young and then wonders how in the hell they ended up in this situation but I don’t know how that would apply to you.”
I picture us together at the time, and now. A day later I can see that it was a good thing for the relationship to last a short while, and for the friendship to continue. It is something I have thought these last two times I’ve seen D. He is a handsome man. He was always thin, but seems perhaps a little too thin to me at times these days, his face somewhat too narrow. I wonder if it his strict vegetarian and organic diet, but perhaps it is just age. When I’ve seen him, there’s been no physical attraction – which is probably not unusual for ex-partners. Attraction fades. But I think A was right. Over these ten years, for better of worse, I’ve developed a taste for men with bigger or more muscular builds than D. Or perhaps I was always that way. I remember that while the sex was good, the attraction was more emotional and spiritual.
I notice that D is sarcastic with C and A. They are gentle jibes but they are jibes nonetheless. I enjoy seeing him being playful like this. During our time together, I did not meet many of his friends, though he met most of mine. He was never sharp with me, and this was appropriate as I do not like to be teased.
I haven’t mentioned that I only see D every three or four years. It is my life lately, that I often go for years without seeing people who I have loved and are significant in my life. This was a good visit. Meeting C and A, and also going to a potluck dinner with members of his choir. I saw how he lives here and unlike other visits when we’ve only had a few hours to spend together, this time I committed to making the trip up to see him, and he took a day and a half off from his work.
Still, there was some awkwardness – mostly on my part I think. I have this feeling these days of being on the threshold of something. I don’t want to use a cliff as a metaphor, something so dramatic and physical. It is more an image from television or the movies, a door that closes behind you when you enter a completely new land and then disappears. But I feel a loss of the ability to stay in touch, and perhaps a loss of will. I have always been the most incredible communicator, but I feel that I am a rare breed. Lately, I’ve had a sense that I could just drift off into my new life in my adopted country and not look back.
In fact, it is strange to be here. The rolling green farmland, now brightly lit in sunlight which seemed unlikely when I started writing this, does not look like it does in Australia. It is a specific Canadian landscape, and it was one that was embedded in me for many years, the whole time of my university degrees, from 1988 to 1994. I don’t miss it. I suppose, in fact, that I’d forgotten about it.
So now I’m back here, I’ve visited my ex, I’ll be visiting my old friends, and seeing what effect that has on me. I have long left behind a dramatic flourish that would guess if this was a goodbye. Of course not, I’ll be back in this area over the next years. But still, is once every few years enough to nourish relationships, to keep them alive? How do my old lives serve me and how much of them do I keep with me in the present? I intended this piece to be more about my ex, but now it’s turned into being only about me. And I’m so tired, I need a nap. I can’t keep my eyes open to write another word.