Jan is not a unicorn.
It’s that we’ve become so accustomed to the mundane, that anything which seers the mediocrity must be magic.
I’ve been richly blessed by the love of my best friend. Wholly, fully, completely, without judgement or reservation. He cooks, and cleans, and works hard. He owns a home, and a truck, and whole whack of wrestling memorabilia He’s romantic, a good son, an excellent father, has a large peer group, and minds his manners.
He must be a unicorn, women tell me.
Sad, isn’t it? I watch the memes, and the jokes, and the quotes, and the frustration that women (and men) feel, looking for respective partners to round out their love lives. And really, the trouble comes down to settling for sub par. At least, in my humble opinion. And lord knows, I’m a guru when it comes to settling. I’ve basically made a hobby into a profession in love life woes and don’ts, and why did yous??
Yesterday, I finished off by concluding that I was labelled “trouble” 20 years ago. And here I am now, still fighting the demons from yesteryear that continue to wreak havoc on my daily.
While I fight against the grain for any reprieve that might lighten the load of my baggage, it continues to haunt me. I guess you could liken the current handling of previous skeletons to going emotionally bankrupt. While in seven years, the banks may “wipe the slate clean”, does any creditor really forget? They’ll give you new loans, new credit cards, but the interest rates will skyrocket beyond measure and you’ll fight back with both fists until the day you die. And even then, someone will say under their breath – but do you remember?
That’s a fairly accurate summation of the life I’ve led, and what’s brought me to current day. And perhaps you’re going through the same thing.
I used to laugh and joke and call myself Taylor Swift’s muse. I mean, if the jokes and jeers were going to continue at my behest, my best option was to get ahead of it. “Always the bride, and never the bridesmaid,” or toasts at the bridal showers like “I’ve got a good lawyer, should you need one!”, or probably my favourite – “after this many divorces on my stamp card, I think the next one is free!”
Am I trouble because I’ve skated in and out of bad relationships my entire adult life? Recently, I was told – “You don’t know how to make a relationship work, because you’ve never stuck around long enough to know what it takes to make it last.” Charming.
And I can’t be alone. I’ve heard that one, too. I always need a partner, I can’t cut it by myself. Oh my god, it’s an unbending, unnerving, unpleasant nattering of people who would rather cut up my heartbreak for their own five course meal, then to ask me – hey, are you okay?
I’ve got some pretty tight knit friends that I’ve chosen as family. The ones who actually don’t judge you.
But for the most part, I’m running against a firing squad any time I get into a relationship. Because back then, I was a seventeen year old kid with a pee stick in a mall washroom stall finding out that I was pregnant by a boy I’d just met, and that would set the tone for all relationships to come after him.
(Lest we not forget that a group of adults had really no trouble ushering these two teenagers down the aisle to one another after a six month courtship, and then admonished them when it fell apart fifteen months later.)
Am I trouble?
My sex life, and dating life, and married life have been fodder for gossip and rumour and conversation because I window dress my relationships. I wear them, display them, cultivate them in front of an audience. I revel in the excitement of newness. I’m asking for their judgement, if I’ve offered them the opportunity of opinion, right?
Or is that actually the truth?
Am I really roadkill, to pick off by the buzzards that follow me through each break up, or heartache? “She’s done it again,” they sigh. “Well, we knew that one wouldn’t last,” they smirk. “Maybe she should try being alone for once,” they advise.
What am I fighting against?
I know how many days, weeks, months, years I’ve been single. I know what it’s like to sleep alone, be alone, kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight. I know what it means to be up at three am, wondering if I was really going to keep sleeping to one side of the bed, hoping that someone might fill up the empty space on the other side.
When I land in shitty relationships, when I do end up filling the void on a bleeding heart of need and want by ending up with men who aren’t “the one”, and it inevitably falls apart, I’m the one on the whipping post while the crows chide and pick at the scraps. I get accused of not understanding commitment, or the desire to see a relationship through.
But I’d wager that I understand commitment in a way that many of these people haven’t sought to see. They suggest that I walk away, and refuse to see it through. Where as I – in many of these instances behind closed doors, that I don’t dress up for window displays – have “committed” to a buffet of good reasons to leave relationships that have gone sour, south, or worse. I’ve battled through partners with addictions, sustained abuse. I’ve gone back, and fought harder to stay with partners that have cheated, have been physical. And when I shout – I’m done, I’m leaving – then it’s me who’s back on the front cover, splashed with headlines on how I’m single again, and it was only time that I was.
The back and forth makes me dizzy.
They say: you need to be alone. You continue to settle with these partners, who are sub par. Who are mean. Who have been mean. Who it didn’t work with. Who left you. Who you left. Who you married, who you divorced. Who you couldn’t see the finish line with.
Are they right? Maybe.
And where does that leave me now? It leaves me fighting against a past, a history that continues to darken my future. I can’t be in relationships going forward, that are healthy or happy, or eager to make it work. Because the drama cloud that hangs above my head are all that people see.
Emotional bankruptcy. Does it really fall off your score over a set amount of years? Or are you always haunted by what happened then? Are those skeletons going to continue to linger and dance in your everydays? Because they do mine.
From that first time I donned the white dress – enough little space to make room for the wee babe who walked that aisle with me – to starting a life with Jan. For twenty years, I’ve been trouble.
A trouble maker, who can’t be alone. Call the guards, and don the scarlet letter. I’m back in a relationship – insert eye roll – again.
It has me up late. Counting on my fingers the relationships I’ve been in since coming to Kingston. Reflecting back on old pictures. Numerating excuses in my mind, looking for ways to have witty comebacks on the standby for when the attacks set in. Fixating on what they could say, until my anxiety wells up in my throat, threatening to strangle me from the inside out on all the trauma the drama has boiled to the top of the surface. What will they say this time? What are they saying this time? How do I stop them from saying anything at all?
The fact is – I can’t.
What really scares people about me is not the men I date, or the jobs I work, or the way I parent, or the friends I keep. What scares people about me is that I’m not afraid to own it. The words are only surface deep if I continue to own my truth. And what scares them more is that I’m not afraid to write about it. Sure, I can lose my way. I can cry when their barbs find chinks in my armour. I can nurse back my opened scars when they bleed me in public. I can lose my mind over their jarring insults, and lose sleep replaying their nasty words. Sure, I’m only a human.
But the only one seeing the inside of a new day on my life, is me. And truthfully, I’m not exciting enough for someone else to start the next chapter in their world thinking about it. I’m not interesting enough to make for epic gossip or conversation.
I think for me, what astounds me the most, is that people are quick to praise you for your caring ways. Your attention to detail. Your love of people, or animals, or humanity, or raising awareness for food banks and homelessness, and championing of organizations that help the most vulnerable.
But they berate you for writing about your heartache. Or wearing it like a badge.
Am I trouble?
After twenty years of misfires, I think what’s left to be settled is this: This is who the hell I am. I’ve settled on that.
I love, and I despise, in equal measure. I love music, my kids, and currently, Jan. And I hope that he and I do make the distance. But that’s for he and I to settle. I’m a vinyl collector, who hates to be alone. I’m a DJ who curates the playlist on twenty years of backhanded jokes on bad behaviour, and troublesome ways. I’ll always live with my heart on my sleeve, and a desire to leave my truth hanging out on the line for the public to see. I wear a leather jacket, short skirts, tall thigh highs and scars that are routinely sliced open to bleed out.
The past is never far behind. I’m still running against the clock on twenty years. I’m still justifying. I’m still being put to task. I’m still strapped to this chair, and being interrogated. I’m still being held to task for twenty years of decisions.
And as for Jan – he may not be a unicorn, but I’ll be campaigning in his defense, despite the fact that he might be one, after all.
Let’s settle this.
— c ☆