the end of an era
Confession. I wrote yesterday’s and today’s posts as one long post and then went ahead and split it in two. Not because I was knackered and trying to cheat the system. I was thinking of you, dear readers, thinking you’d prefer hors d’oeuvres to a massive entrée. Much easier to digest this way, I think you’ll agree. Plus I needed time to go through the 2,547 photos that I snapped with my Canon PowerShot A510 from 2005 to 2008, which took me down memory lane, which was a much longer trip than I intended to take and now here we are, 10pm on a Thursday, which is way past my bedtime so I’m thinking that not only am I serving you hors d’oeuvres, I’m serving up those crappy ones that everyone leaves on the platter because I don’t even think I have the energy to edit this post, y’all. Here’s the platter, here’s a jar of pickled onions and some deviled eggs. I’m afraid that Martha’s fancy appetisers will have to wait another day.
A cabin in the woods, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Winter 2003/Winter 2004
Soundtrack: Tool – Aenima
In December, we moved out of Sally’s place and into a log cabin at the bottom of a wooded dell. It was a small cabin — one bedroom, a bathroom with a plastic shower curtain that kind of stuck to you, a cramped kitchen, a breakfast nook and a living room. I’m struggling to remember if we had a wood stove. Something tells me there was a wood stove. Or at least, there should have been. Or at least, there used to be, where the breakfast nook now was. The water smelled of sulfur, which meant that the entire cabin reeked of rotten eggs anytime anyone took a shower. But we hadn’t lived alone, just the two of us, in over a year so our little gingerbread house felt like the Taj Mahal. It was quaint and cozy and just what we needed for a fresh start. A place to get us through our rough patch.
I made a lot of samosas and did hundreds of sun salutations in that cabin. I missed my sisters and my cousin something fierce and so I watched every single episode of every single season of Sex and the City, in an effort to feel closer to them. I chopped a lot of wood (at least I think I did). I ate a lot of cookies and popped a lot of popcorn and had a lot of deep conversations with K (which usually led to more cookies and more popcorn). I got high on mushrooms in that cabin and burst into tears while listening to Tool (a strange story for another day) and ate pot cookies that left me feeling like there was a sniper in the woods out to get me. That was the last time I did either of those drugs. I was getting too old for them then and I’m definitely too old for them now.
A friend of ours came to live with us that winter, having been through a nasty divorce. He bunked in the pint-sized loft space overlooking the living room. Each week, we’d move all the furniture to the edge of the living room, set out three mats and he’d lead us through a yoga practice. After a couple of months, he left for Jamaica, at which point K’s brother took his place in the loft. The cabin had never been intended for more than one person. We were now three, plus a dog, plus the occasional visit from B’s girlfriend, cramped in there tighter than passengers on an Air Ryan flight. We desperately needed more space and so we moved up the hill into a two-bedroom house with ocean view.
While the view was lovely, the mushrooms growing in the corner of the living room not so much. All that damp rolling off the ocean down below and the towering pine trees up above was prime conditions for fungi.
I worked two part-time jobs; shipping shellfish toxins for the National Research Council of Canada and shipping sex toys at Venus Envy. If you needed a dildo, the infamous rabbit vibrator, lube…. I was your woman! As for K, he was hired as the Assistant Manager at a local coffee roasting coop. The company was in the process of opening a chocolate factory that would specialise in organic, fair trade chocolate and they asked K to pioneer the project and become their official chocolatier in the Annapolis Valley.
In April, the company sent him to Paris to source out equipment and I went with him for, you know, moral support. Tasting all that chocolate was going to be tough. He could use all the help he could get. I’d never crossed the ocean and I had just received my tax refund, which could have gone towards… say… paying my credit card bill but when would I ever get the chance to go to Europe again? This was a once in a lifetime opportunity (ahem). And it was everything I’d hoped it would be. I’ll never forget those ten days in Paris in April, baguette under one arm and bottle of wine under the other, and all the chocolate from all the best chocolatiers just waiting to be savoured.
After Paris, we moved to the Annapolis Valley. A guy named Paul, who also worked at the coop, was looking for someone to rent his house while he went on tour with his Band of Owls. Huge garden, 16 acres to roam, a river in which to wade, more rooms than we needed, fresh air, starlit skies. Our answer was a resounding yes.
U-hauled from Halifax to the Valley to live at Paul’s house, which was supposed to be a temporary rental, three months max, until we found a place of our own. I quit my jobs in the city and became the manager of the cafe at the chocolate factory. K became Willy Wonka Jr., I perfected my cappuccino. Opened shop, worked 60-hour weeks, lived and breathed coffee and chocolate. Paul came back from band tour. We said, “We no ready to leave your house. We no find another place to rent yet.” Paul said, “No problemo, you stay, I stay, we partay.”
We hired K’s brother as a handyman and his girlfriend to assist in the cafe. They needed a place to stay and I don’t need to tell you where they ended up. And then we were five, plus one dog, in poor Paul’s house. Five people. Five distinct personalities. One roof. Four cold winter months. One bathroom undergoing excruciatingly slow renovations.
Not only was it a full house… it was a gathering spot for friends. The house on Whiterock Road was always whiterockin’ (no more cheesy puns past this point, I promise). Given its location, our friends saw it as a stopping point for a quick hello or a beer or a cup of coffee on the way to or from somewhere. The barn hosted many-a-late-night jam sessions and the hill behind the house, beneath the forest line, was perfect for the annual luge party each February.
Though we loved each other deeply, living together presented its challenges (after all, we not only lived together, we worked together and were in each others’ faces 24/7). And so we drank, a lot, during the winter of 2005, by the wood stove in the kitchen. And had random dance parties. It seemed to shrink the gap between our (minor) differences and made the winter seem less long. So even though there were times when we wanted to whack each other over the head with a cast-iron frying pan, the five of us made a great team and the good times always outweighed the fact that someone inevitably left their dirty dishes in the sink.
And when it did get to be all a bit much, I’d escape for a couple of hours. I joined a yoga studio in the next town over and a knitting group in the yarn barn up the hill. That’s where I learned to knit, around the fire, with real salt-of-the-earth folk.
In April, K’s brother and girlfriend left for England. By May, we had overstayed our welcome by about ten months and since Paul had promised to rent a room out to someone else, it was time for us to find our own spot.
Fast track again…
K&J tired of renting. K&J meet amazing woman, Kim. Kim has beautiful house for sale. K&J meet with Kim and her partner Bob for several weeks to discuss buying house, five minutes away from chocolate factory. Drink lots of whiskey. Kim and Bob are angels sent down from heaven, they give J&K a generous discount. K&J buy their first house.
I loved that house: the built-in shelves, the cemetery at the top of the hill, the 3.6 acres of land, the woods, the creek trickling through, the fireplace and the hearth with fossils cemented into it, the huge cedar deck overlooking the marsh, K’s workspace in the garage, my studio/yoga room, our gardens (our gardens!!!), the koi pond and all the frogs that gathered around it, our sweet neighbours who plowed our driveway after snowstorms without asking for anything in return, the colour of the sunrise over the ocean basin in the distance, and most of all, the fact that it was ours. And nobody was living with us. Hallelujah. At last! I also loved the Valley, flanked by the north and south mountains, the apple blossoms in the spring, the fields of frosted pumpkins in the fall, the lakes, the lazy tube rides down Gaspereau River, the vineyards that made the worst wine but were open on Sundays, the Wolfville Farmer’s Market… and most of all, our friends.
We had a great first six months in that house and then tragedy struck. We lost our dog one November night. We were used to him running up to the woods behind our house, and we were used to him coming back. But this time he didn’t. We called his name all through the night. In the morning, our neighbour, an eighty-year-old man whose skin looked like salt from all his years of living by the sea asked us if we were looking for our dog. We said yes. He said, matter-of-factly, “Your dog’s dead.” I hadn’t suffered much loss in my life prior to that point. And I had no idea that a little shelter dog from Nelson would carve such a large place in my heart. He had been our kid for five years. He was always by our side. He was our best friend. His death broke us.
We had lost our jobs months before (the chocolate business just wasn’t thriving out there, in the middle of nowhere) and did the only thing we could do in a small town with a high unemployment rate — we reinvented ourselves and became self-employed. I learned how to build websites and make jewelry, K learned how to build custom wood boxes and corkboards. We sold our wares at the farmer’s market every week. We worked non-stop just to pay the bills and the mortgage. It wasn’t easy.
The winter of 2007/2008 was a cold one and a long one and a dark one. We fought a lot after Dylan died. I suppose that when he died, our relationship did too. There was nothing left to keep us together. We drank
a bottle two bottles of wine every night and rented movies until there was nothing left to rent. It became embarrassing going to the liquor store and the video shop. “Don’t you two have a life?” we could feel the shop keepers asking. Our friends commented that they never saw us any more. And they were right. There was nothing to see, really.
I walked into his workshop one morning after another one of our three-day fights. I handed him a cup of tea as a peace-offering and he said, “I’m done.” And this time I knew that he meant it. I was devastated but not surprised. I called my friend, Kat, in tears. I said, I need to pack my bags and get out of here before he changes his mind. I knew that it was time to end this chapter of my life and I was afraid that if he said he’d made a mistake, I’d stay. Kat booked (and generously paid) for my plane ticket back to Montreal. I left on Valentine’s day. We’d been together for twelve years. It felt like the end of an era.
Next: the single/Montreal years.