For Taylor

A few nights ago, I went to see someone fulfill a dream that had been in the works for 23 years. The show was called “Mirabel Sings the Blue – At Last”, and it was just as it described. Mirabel had a dream to sing. 23 years later, she fulfilled that dream, finally letting go of the fear which had held her back for so long. The venue was intimate, and the crowd was small, all friends and family who love her. She sang her ass off, and she was really, really good.

I met Mirabel in the bathroom before the show. We had never met, but I introduced myself to her, and told her how much I admire her for conquering her fear and doing what she had always wanted. She told me the story about how she got there, and encouraged me to put my own fears aside and follow my heart.

And it made me think about Taylor.

On May 14, 2009, we went for a walk, and ended up at a downtown bar that was featuring several local musicians. The first one up was Taylor Mitchell. An 18-year-old guitar player/song writer/folk singer who knocked our socks off. She wasn’t doing anything complicated. Simple songs with simple melodies. She seemed to understand what Neil Diamond said: All you need to write a song is three chords and the truth.

I sat there watching her and thought, in a rare moment of fearlessness and clarity, I can do that. If she can do it, I can do it. I will. I asked the bartender for a piece of paper and wrote on it, right there while she was singing:

At The Silver Dollar

May 14, 2009: Taylor Mitchell

May 14, 2010: Anne Shirley

I spoke to Taylor and her mom after the show. I bought Taylor’s CD (which had been released less than 2 months before), and left the bar feeling excited about what I was committing to do. I went home and hung that piece of paper on the refrigerator, and then on the lamp on my desk, where I would see it, and always remember this young girl, how she inspired me, and a moment where I was totally fearless. A moment where I really believed that I could do it.

On October 27, 2009, Taylor was killed by two coyotes while hiking on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia. She was on an East Cost tour to support her album, and had taken that morning to hike through what is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world. The attack was one of those crazy random events that just makes you shake your head, because it is so far out in left field it is almost unimaginable.

This amazingly talented young artist is gone.

Mirabel waited 23 years fulfill her hearts desire.

You never know. Don’t wait.

My Side of the Story: The First

I don’t remember meeting her, but there she is, in my old class pictures starting in Kindergarten. It’s like she was just always there. I don’t remember much about our friendship until the third grade. There was a Grade 3 class and a Grade 4 class, and mid-way through September, the school decided that some of the Grade 3 students would be moved to the Grade 4 class to make a 3/4 split. I was home sick the Friday that they announced which students would be moving, but I remember R coming home and telling me that I would be in his class starting on Monday. She was in that split class too, and that’s really where I remember it beginning.

We would go on through grade school, with a larger group of friends, but there was something special between us, even when we had other friends who we spent drifted more towards at any given time. We often walked home together, splitting up at the end of the path that ran through the park – she went north to the home with the porch that her father and uncle had built, and I went south to the home that I grew up in – the one my family lived in for almost 30 years.

In the 7th grade there was a shift. All of a sudden, we weren’t in the same class anymore. She had a different homeroom – and a different math, english and science class. We went on an week-long camping trip that fall, and I ended up bunking with someone in my own homeroom. She said she was fine with it, but on that trip, she broke down and accused me of leaving her – leaving her on the trip with another roommate and leaving her at school by going to another homeroom (which was not of my own doing, but she was clearly having a moment). We got through that, and from then on, it was her and me. Me and her. If I was without her, people would ask, “where is she?” and vice-versa. It wasn’t friendship, it was sisterhood. There were other friends who would come and go from our group, but it was always the two of us first. We didn’t fight. We had each others backs. We shared lunches and homework and hair clips. We walked to school and home together every day. I decorated her family Christmas tree with her. She baked me shortbread cookies drowned in icing sugar at Easter. It was us and them.

In the 11th grade, we had a blowout and didn’t talk for several weeks, maybe even a month. I don’t remember exactly what happened – I just remember that she started purposely excluding me from things, and when I finally called her on it in the hallway of our high school, in front of my locker, she blew up at me. I couldn’t tell you what she said or what I said, but that rift was the talk of the school for a while. In the end, she apologized, we made up, and went right back to where we were before. Her and me. Me and her. We sang in the choir together. I visited her family restaurant. She came to all my basketball/volleyball/soccer games. Us for each other first, and then, everyone else.

In our last year of high school, I started dating someone who was in University at a school about an hour away. He came back to Toronto on alternate weekends, and I’d spend that time with him. Otherwise, it was business as usual. Or so I thought. Till one day in January when she phoned me up, screamed at me for — I’m not sure again — something about picking him over her, and hung up on me. She wouldn’t take my phone calls later that night. Apparently, she had talked to a couple of other friends about how she had been feeling about this, but not to me. So we didn’t talk again. Our friends tried to get us together, but we weren’t having it. I don’t remember how we made up from this one, but I’m sure it was her who came to me. We cam back to where we were, but it wasn’t the same. I felt betrayed. We never fully healed from that one. We were going in separate directions that fall – me to Hamilton, her to Windsor, and we ended up just drifting apart when that last year of high school was over.

During my first winter away at University, I had a dream about her. I don’t remember it now, but I remember that it was that dream which was the impetus for me to e-mail her, ask her how she was doing, and try to reconnect. She responded, and from then we kept up an inconsistent communication until the end of University.

Graduating from University was a tough time for me. We met once for dinner right after graduation. I remember she had a beer, which I thought was weird never having seen her drink before (we were a pretty conservative bunch in high school). Shortly thereafter, I made a quick decision to leave the country for the summer, and I did. I spent two months in London, and when I came back, I sent out an e-mail inviting friends, her included, to a birthday party I was having in a few days. I received a scathing response from her. Something to the effect that I hadn’t bothered to let her know I was leaving the country, so why did I think she would want to come celebrate my birthday…

After that, we only had very sporadic communication on and off over the years. Fast forward several years – and lifetimes – later, and the world of social networking ended up putting us back in touch. She eventually suggests we should get together for a cup of coffee, which we do. I’m more nervous than I’ve ever been on a first date. We meet, she gives me a big hug, we sit down, and she starts to talk. And she talks. And talks. And talks. And I realize that she’s a different person than the friend I once had. But then, so am I. 15 years ago, I talked. She listened. This time, she talks, and I listen. It’s not deep, or emotional. We’re not sharing our personal feelings about our lives and about our relationship and what happened to it. For so long I missed that friend, and I thought maybe this evening over a cup of coffee may take us back to the place where we once were, but I realized quickly that it wouldn’t. Because we’re not those people anymore. We said goodbye with hugs and promises to do it again soon. We both knew we never would.

A House Is Not A Home

I was sitting in the living room of a friend’s apartment last Sunday, and it got me thinking. She lives in this place by herself. She moved to this place when her marriage ended. I don’t know her most personal feelings about all of it, but I do know that she loves living where she lives. And all I felt was this overwhelming sadness and sense of loss.

Three years ago, one of my lifetime dreams came true when my name was officially signed onto the deed of a house. But it didn’t take long to realize that a house is not a home, and that house never felt like home. Not for one minute.

Then I moved to a much more modest apartment, and for the first time in a long time, I was home. My home. All mine, and no one else’s. I loved loved loved every minute I spent there by myself, and sometimes in the company of loved ones. I never regretted or lamented that I was there. I never took it for granted, and I repeated over and over to anyone who would listen how everyday when I went home, I just wanted to put my arms around that little apartment and hug it because I loved and appreciated it so much. A place where I could think, and sleep, and come back to who I really am. Home.

And then for reasons beyond my control, I had to leave. Leaving that apartment was harder and sadder than leaving my marriage, by leaps and bounds. I didn’t leave because I wanted to, I left because I had to. I left because he made it so I couldn’t stay. It would have been different if I had left of my own volition, but he didn’t really leave me with any choice.

So I bucked up and moved on, and have now landed in a place that feels like home again. But something about being in her living room last Sunday brought it all back, and it was almost more than I could bear. It made me angry at him all over again for doing what he did to me. It made me sad that I had to leave a place I loved, kicking and screaming and crying on the inside the whole time. It made me long for the chance to do it again and have the choice to leave, when I want, to where I want, on my own terms.

Then I had a good cry in the shower and closed that chapter for good.

What’s in a Name?

Last week, a friend queried a few of us ladies to get our thoughts on changing our names after marriage. Here’s what I wrote to her:

I never really swung hard one way or the other before I was married about whether or not I would change my name. When I did get married, it was important to him that I change my name, so I did. And I’m not ashamed to admit I did like being Mr. and Mrs Same Name. One family. One name. I liked that.

As our marriage went on and I became more and more unhappy, I knew it was going to end. About a month before it did, I changed my name back to Shirley. Funny because at work, I sent an e-mail out indicating that my name was Shirley now and got a shitload of e-mails back either saying “Congratulations on your wedding!” or “Sorry about your divorce.” And all I had to say was, “It’s neither. Just going back to what I know.”

I remember I took a day off to run around and get my name changed back, and he called me while I was doing all this running around and asked me what it meant. I told him it just meant that I wanted to be who I really am: Anne Shirley. But in my heart I knew that wasn’t the reason. I didn’t want his name because I didn’t want him.

Going back to my maiden name was one of the best times of that time of my life. It gave me a lot of strength. My name is Anne SHIRLEY. I, Anne SHIRLEY, don’t want to be here anymore. I, Anne SHIRLEY, am getting the fuck outta here. I, Anne SHIRLEY, am going to go save my own life now. (Yes, you can have whatever you want. You can have everything. You can ruin my life as much as you can over the next two years. Please please please just let me go.)

So now I’m Anne Shirley once more. I like it. It suits me. I love being a Shirley. There is an identity there that ties me to people who will always be there for me, no matter what. People who understand me. People who are crazy like me. There are traits that “Shirley’s” have, and I have them. I know I do. That name makes me feel like I belong somewhere. I would love it if my married name had made me feel like I belonged, but all it did was make me feel more alienated from myself. (And there was already enough of that going on in those years, believe me.) I also didn’t feel like I belonged in that family, so taking that name only made me feel like I was kind of losing my place in one family, but I didn’t feel like I was taking up a spot in a new one.

I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t change my name again (Anne Blythe? Really?), but I know it would be hard to do. Much harder than getting married again (which is still not something I can fully wrap my head around yet). I still like the Mr. and Mrs. Same Name. I still like the idea of one family, one name. If there were children involved especially, it would be nice for all of us to have one family name. But it would be hard. Really hard. Maybe too hard. Maybe not worth doing if it’s going to be that hard, given that it doesn’t matter to Gilbert. But I’ve changed my mind on such things before.

Oh yeah. I’m back, Bitches.