I’ll Be Home For Christmas…Just Not This Year

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In an earlier post, I talked about meeting George’s parents for the first time and the impression I made upon them. Well, as it turned out I must have made a better impression than I’d thought because somehow, miraculously, I was invited to spend Christmas with them!

It was to be my first Christmas ever away from home and I had mixed emotions about it. Back home, our Christmas is steeped in tradition. Every year, my parents and I would make Welsh fondu (an old family recipe!) and escargot for Christmas Eve dinner. Then we would watch “White Christmas,” before going to bed (“Santa won’t come while you’re still awake!” Mom would tell me when I was little). In the morning before presents, we would open the ornament hanging on our tree; it was a tiny ceramic turtle shell that had a bow on top of it and a gift tag saying “Don’t open until Xmas.” It was my favourite ornament and every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I’d have to fight the urge to take a peek! Inside, was a sleeping turtle, nestled all snug in his blankets. After we’d opened the ornament, Christmas had officially begun! We would start on our stockings. Mine was the biggest; there’s a picture on our fridge with me as a toddler, stuffed inside the stocking. When each of us had unwrapped everything from our stocking, then we would move on to unwrapping the presents beneath the Christmas tree. When my dog was still alive, she would inevitably try to “help” us unwrap the presents. She knew there was one in there for her too, somewhere! After we had finished unwrapping presents, the phone would ring and I knew it would be my cousin Sarah, excitedly calling to see what I’d got! She always called, even though I would be seeing her in person a couple hours later for Christmas brunch, and then again for Christmas dinner with the whole family.

Spending Christmas on the other side of the world with people who weren’t my family and following someone else’s Christmas traditions, felt very strange. Change is good though, and though I haven’t always liked it, I had decided that my year (and a bit) in England was as good a time as any to make friends with Change. Christmas in England is rather different from Christmas in Canada. For example, on Christmas Eve, the tradition is to buy entry tickets and go spend the night celebrating with your mates up at the pub. Pubs aren’t even open in Canada on Christmas Eve, or if they are, I wouldn’t know about it and neither would any of my friends or family because we’re all spending the evening in with our respective families. I’ll admit though that I was pretty excited to experience an England Christmas Eve.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, George and I made the flat as Christmasy as we could. Together we went and picked out a Christmas tree that was so tiny, we buckled it into the back seat of George’s car on the way home with it. Decorating it, however, was a task undertaken entirely by George. For the month of December, Stella (the beer company) had a promotion going: order a pint of Stella and receive a free Stella Christmas bauble! Challenge accepted. George enthusiastically got to decorating our tree one Stella bauble at a time. In the end (and for no cost other than the price of a pint and the health of George’s liver) our little Christmas tree was barely visible under the thirty-five Stella baubles adorning it.

On Christmas Eve, George and I drove up to his parent’s house, where the Christmas decorations were much more lavish and varied. We ate and drank and I got to spend time with George’s siblings, Aunt and Grandma as well. They all welcomed me with open arms, even though I was just George’s weirdly clingy roommate (as far as they knew). In one more way, I had settled myself into George’s life. I didn’t mind and he didn’t seem to either.

As far as “firsts” go (and I was having a lot of them lately), it wasn’t a bad first Christmas away from home.

Who am I? I am Making Friends With Change.

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Learning Who My Real Friends Are

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I’ve never been good at maths. In school I always struggled to understand it and my marks reflected that. I had tutors, I had extra help from teachers, I even took on extra assignments, but much to the dismay of my parents, my grades in maths always remained woefully below average. I just didn’t get it. I couldn’t see the point of algebra, and I definitely couldn’t see how I would ever need calculus outside of school. As an adult, maths is the one subject I can look back at and actually agree on with my younger self – I haven’t used algebra or calculus once since graduating. Younger me had a point!

What would have been helpful is if school had offered me a class called “The Real World,” which would offer lessons on things like how to pay my taxes, how to network properly, and how to make friends as an adult. That last one would have been especially helpful. You may remember in an earlier post, I mentioned that making friends as an adult was something I struggled with. Trying to work my way into cliques that were already well-established, combined with my general awkwardness as a human being, made it very difficult for me to make friends in England (George being the obvious exception). Chloe (who had first introduced me to George) was part of a clique made up of herself, George and four other girls: Tracy, Emily, Georgina and Lucy.

When I first met the other girls they were very aloof towards me, but that all changed when Joey dumped me. I don’t know why it changed – perhaps they pitied me? Maybe, being small and in pain and a pathetic mess, I triggered some sort of maternal instinct in all of them? Whatever the reason, when Joey left me, I somehow became a part of the clique. I was in! And the view from the other side was pretty fantastic. We hung out, we did stuff together, we went places and saw people. Emily and I got our noses pierced one afternoon; Chloe and I went out for a “Sex & The City” inspired cocktail nights; Tracy invited me to her house parties; I went and watched Georgina perform at open mic nights; and Lucy – well, Lucy and I never saw each other outside of group events. For whatever reason, Lucy didn’t like me. She made it clear that letting me into the clique had not been her idea. At the time, that didn’t matter to me though. I had girlfriends again!

I should have paid attention though, read the signs, noticed the warning signals. We’ve all heard the old idiom, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” Lucy was my bad apple. Looking back now, would I have done anything differently if I had known how poisonous a person Lucy was? Would I have chosen to befriend a different group if I had known that this one would turn on me? The answer, truthfully, is probably not – because this clique had George – but I maybe wouldn’t have been so blindsided by what happened, and maybe would have been less hurt.

As sweet as my time with the girls had been, it went quickly and equally as sour when George and I became best friends. Even though none of them was interested in dating George, or really even all that interested in his life and his feelings, they took issue with how close we became. They were threatened; in their eyes, I had taken away their safety net, their male companion who they could bitch to about their relationships and satisfy their need for sympathy and male attention. When I moved in with George, that was the final nail in the coffin. As soon as I moved in, they started to alienate me. It was small and subtle at first: they’d have a party and “forget” to invite me, or they’d “forget” to text me back, or they’d text George to come out and not text me. When George of course brought me with him, they’d give me fake smiles and pretend they were happy to see me. Eventually, they dropped all pretence, and if it had stopped there, that would have been enough. I had received their message loud and clear: I was not welcome anymore. But it wasn’t enough for Lucy.

Lucy made it her goal to make sure that I felt as unwelcome as possible by actively bullying me in front of everyone. I don’t use the term “bully” lightly, but what else are you supposed to call the grown ass woman who pulls your hair? Or calls you names? Or pretends to hump you while the other girls watch and laugh? She was a bully unlike any I had ever met, and the more she bullied me, the more hilarious my “friends” found her. When George and I got back from our wonderful trip to Dublin, I knew that my friendship with those girls was officially over. We all met at our local pub and as I was talking to the pub owner, George’s best friend, Mac, Lucy came over and threw beer in my face as the other girls watched.

After that night, George and I rarely saw anyone from that group again. Since it had become clear that nothing was going to break our bond, George had become alienated too. He had chosen me over them. In one final “fuck you” to me, when I left England for good a year later, not a single girl showed up to say goodbye. But I feel I came out with the last laugh – I said goodbye to England surrounded by genuine people who loved and supported me. I had learned who my real friends are.

Who am I? I am Bullied, But Not Broken.

“Nollaig Shona Daoibh!” (You Have A Happy Christmas!)

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In the spirit of Christmas (and for the sake of my own sanity), I had forgiven George for not telling me right away that he was still married, and decided to drop the subject. It was going to be our first Christmas together, and I wanted it to be amazing and special, not marred by the awkwardness that was the conversation we kept having in circles. I decided what we needed was a fresh start, a new adventure, something that would steer us back to safe, feelings-free, no-strings-attached fun! Thus, we booked two tickets to Dublin for the weekend before Christmas. Now, if we weren’t going to find the kind of fun we were looking for in Ireland, surrounded by folk who were the very definition of fun-loving, then we wouldn’t find it anywhere.

Luckily though, the trip ended up being everything we’d hoped for. We had so much fun together! We toured Dublin Castle, we walked around Christmas markets and drank hot buttered rum (my first time trying it and may I just say, yummy!), and we pub crawled our way through the city. We drank many pints of Guinness, or as they call it, “The Black Stuff,” and found we enjoyed it so much that we decided to do a tour of the Guinness factory. It was a fascinating tour, which ended with a free pint in the sky bar on top of the factory. Did you know, Arthur Guinness was so confident in his brew that he signed a 9,000 year lease on the brewery? How’s that for faith! Here’s a picture I took at the factory, in case you have as hard a time believing it as I did:

Guiness Photo

We also took a train out to a little fishing village called Howth, where tourist pamphlets promised us we’d be able to see some seals basking on the sandy shores. Those tourist pamphlets were wrong. We stood at the end of the pier for about twenty minutes (it was a breathtaking view at least), but the only wildlife we saw was a very soggy, forlorn looking seagull, picking sea debris out from between the pebbles on the beach. We did, however, have the most amazing seafood lunch at a tiny shack of a restaurant on the pier.

When we returned from Howth, we enjoyed a late dinner at The Brazen Head, which claimed to be the oldest pub in Ireland. Established in 1198, the little restaurant had such low ceilings that George had to duck going in and out of doorways. Behind the bar, the wall was papered with different currencies from all who had travelled far and wide to visit the little pub. I had the best clam chowder I had ever tasted in my life, and George ordered the lamb stew, which was mouthwatering. Here’s another picture I took on our visit:

The Brazen Head

We had a great trip: the food, the people, the history, and the culture were all outstanding. Most importantly, we got what we came for – we enjoyed each other’s company and reconnected in a way we hadn’t quite been able to since George’s confession. As we boarded our flight back to England, we waved goodbye to Dublin and returned home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Who am I? I am The Tacky Tourist.

Sex, Drugs & Rock’n Roll

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Okay, so the title of this blog post is slightly misleading. There was no sex, there definitely weren’t any drugs, and well, it was actually electronic dance music, so no rock n’ roll either. However, I thought that title sounded so much more appealing than the truth: NO SEX (BECAUSE SOME ASSHOLE STOLE MY HOSTEL BED), TOO MUCH TEQUILA & ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSIC. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue now, does it? It also doesn’t sound like it would be all that much fun, but I have to assure you, it was one of the best nights of my life so far!

First, let me back up. The month was November and Christmas was fast approaching (my very first Christmas away from my family, by the way…ever…but another post on that later). George and I would be spending Christmas together and as is the custom at Christmastime, we would also be exchanging gifts. To avoid any potential awkwardness, we agreed to set a price limit on what we could get each other. Not that there was any need really – as it was, we were both fairly broke anyways (which wasn’t a surprise, given that we spent all our money on beer and tequila). With our price range established, I set out looking for the perfect gift for George. What do you get as a Christmas present for the man you’re secretly sleeping with, who’s still secretly married, but who you still absolutely adore anyway because he’s your best friend in the whole wide world? It’s not like they had an aisle for that at the department stores. So instead, I began perusing Amazon. Just as I was scrolling through the mundane offerings of cologne, shaving sets and nose hair trimmers, my inbox pinged with a new email notification. Ah, it seemed Fate had intervened and come to save my ass. “Andy C coming live to Brixton Academy!,” said the email in my inbox. It was a sign from the universe; Andy C was one of George’s favourite DJs, and to top it all off, the ticket prices were well within our price limit and the concert was taking place before Christmas. Sold!

After a few more minutes searching, I’d found a hostel that happened to be right up the street from the concert venue in London. I booked two beds in a mixed dormitory and voila – my Christmas gift for George was sorted. Feeling very pleased with myself, I printed out the concert tickets and presented George with his gift that very night, lest he see the concert advertised and spoil my gift by also buying tickets. Needless to say, George was ecstatic with his present.

When we arrived at the hostel, we registered and picked our beds right next to each other. We put our stuff on top of them to save them (as the hippie at the front desk told us to do, in accordance with hostel etiquette) and made our way to the hostel bar. There, we began our pre-drink and were treated to a random performance by a fiddler and mariachi band. The more we drank, the better the band played and before we knew it, it was time to leave for the concert. This was a good thing, as I had just started to attempt to tap dance in time to the music (disclaimer: I cannot tap dance. I’ve never learned how. I don’t know what I was thinking.). Andy C was amazing, but even if he hadn’t been, the whole thing would have been worth it just so I could see the look on George’s face when he walked into the arena and saw his idol. His eyes lit up and his smile was so big I swear he’d slept with a hanger in his mouth. George and I spent the whole night dancing and drinking and laughing. The crowds didn’t bother us, they weren’t there: we were back in George’s kitchen, just the two of us, dancing like nobody was watching and completely lost in the music and in each other.

We stumbled out of the concert at 3:00am, ears ringing and heads buzzing, George still grinning from ear to ear. We quietly let ourselves into the hostel room, where I found myself like Baby Bear: somebody was sleeping in my bed. Except it wasn’t Goldilocks, it was some drunken frat boy who wouldn’t wake up, no matter how how many times I shook his shoulder and told him politely, “Excuse me, sir, you’re in my bed, you asshole. This is not proper hostel etiquette!” Which is how I ended up squeezed into the top bunk with George. It was not a comfortable night’s sleep.

Despite the crummy sleeping arrangements, George and I had an absolute blast together. The next morning we went for breakfast and then spent the day exploring London. As we climbed in George’s car at the end of day to drive back home, he turned to me and kissed me long and hard. “Thank you so much; this was the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten,” he said. My heart soared.

Who am I? I am Santa Clause (at least to George)!

Life sure is funny sometimes.

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It’s the anniversary of my very first blog post! So, to honour that (and to catch up anyone who hasn’t been following my story), I’m taking you back to the beginning! Here is my first blog post and the start of my story. I hope you enjoy!

Escaped Thoughts from an Optimistic Worrier

I know this is something that a lot of people say, but recently I feel as though I’ve earned the right to say this and really mean it.

You see, I thought that my life was going to go a certain way. I was so sure in fact, that I had begun to prepare – mentally, physically, emotionally – for the only possible future I could foresee for myself. Then, to my utter surprise and bewilderment, I woke up one morning and realized that the country I had fought tooth and nail to leave had become my home; the job that was supposed to be a temporary transition had developed into the drive behind my day; and the roommate who swore he’d never love me back had turned out to be the man I’m going to marry – and all of this, quite literally, happened over night.

To get to…

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White Night

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I have always been a huge lover and supporter of the arts, especially being quite artistic, myself. While my mom always thought I had a flare for drama and so therefore could have been an actress (she may have told me this while I was rolling my eyes at her, or complaining loudly about some minor inconvenience that meant my whole life was so totally over!), my creative tendencies always leaned towards drawing, painting, sculpting and writing. When I was only ten years old, I discovered Sculpey, this malleable clay that came in all different colours and would solidify when you baked it in the oven. I spent hours upon hours creating whole worlds and all manners of creatures. Then, one summer day, I roped my two best friends into spending an entire day sat at the end of my driveway, attempting to sell these creations to the neighbourhood kids (I was quite the entrepreneur in my youth!). I didn’t do too badly, either – I made a hundred bucks! Not bad for a ten year old, eh?

While my Sculpey selling days are long over, I’ve kept up with the drawing and painting and writing (obviously). To me, its therapeutic. I love getting lost for hours at a time in a cloud of creativity and imagination. For in that time, everything else just drops away – responsibilities, worries, problems, men who don’t tell you they’re married until well after you’ve started sleeping with them. Okay, that last one’s a once-in-a-lifetime, very unique situation kind of problem, not a daily occurrence. But still, I felt it needed to be mentioned as that was my current, biggest problem at that point in my life. With this in mind, when I heard that the White Night festival was coming to town, I jumped at the chance to go.

White Night (or Nuit Blanche) is an all-night festival hosted by theatres, art galleries, venues and outdoor spaces, and features light shows, artists’ installations, activities, performances and music. It celebrates the arts and welcomes all; the misfits, the misunderstood, the recluses, the artsy-fartsy, the musicians, and all assorted others. The festival begins at 7:00pm and doesn’t let up until 7:00am the next morning. As far as a fitting distraction goes, I couldn’t have asked for a better one! So George and I trekked out to the festival, so ambitious in our intentions to relish in every minute of delicious distraction, that we didn’t even bother booking ourselves a hotel room. Why would we need one, when we were going to stay up all night long, not talking about our relationship (or whatever you want to call it) and soaking up the arts?

Well let me tell you how that worked out. As inclusive as White Night was, it also welcomed with open arms the masses of underage drinkers, making it hard to enjoy the various exhibits with hoards of exuberant drunken teenyboppers milling about around you. Fast forward several hours and the whole festival became one giant game of dodge-the-puke (a much less fun version of “don’t-step-on-a-crack-or-you’ll-fall-and-break-your-back,” and with much higher stakes if you lost). By 2:30am, we were exhausted, our feet hurt, we were kinda hungry and really, we just wanted to go to a hotel room, make a half-ass attempt at some sex, and collapse into our pillows. However, as all the smart people had had the good foresight to book their hotel rooms well in advance, there was not a room to be had in all the city. In the end, we ended up taking a £90 taxi ride back home, arriving around 4:00am. Needless to say, we were far too exhausted and grumpy to have sex that night – or even speak, for that matter. But, a distraction is what we wanted, and a distraction is what we got.

Who am I? I am Definitely Not A Teenybopper Anymore.

A Faery Tale Castle Wedding (No, Not Mine)

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It’s funny (but not really) how sometimes, life has a way of presenting you with (read: forcing upon you) the very thing you least want to face. For example, a woman who’s just learned that she’s infertile, might suddenly start seeing pregnancy and birth announcements everywhere from all her friends and colleagues. Or, on a different, lighter note, kind of like the way cats always attach themselves to the one person in the room who hates cats and is actively trying to avoid said cat. It’s life’s cruel little joke or, another way of looking at it, is that it’s life’s way of saying, “this thing you’re trying to avoid? You can’t avoid it forever! Deal with it!”

Such was the case with me and George. Mere days after telling me he was still married, we were invited to celebrate the union of two of George’s friends in a beautiful, romantic castle wedding. Like I said, life’s cruel little joke. It was a perfect, warm, clear autumn day (a rarity in England) and as the blushing bride said “I do” to her dashing groom in a private wing of the castle, sunlight streamed in through the stained glass windows. It was like a wedding brought to life straight from the pages of a faery tale.

I’m going to take a moment here to give some unsolicited advice – if you’re having no-strings-attached sex with someone that you have no plans of actually ever forming attachments to, because oh hey, you’re still married, don’t take them as your date to the most romantic freaking wedding on the planet – it messes with their head and their heart. Of course I couldn’t help but think about George and his current marital status, but what I couldn’t understand was why it bothered me so much. We were just having fun, keeping it casual. He was my best friend, the Bert to my Ernie, and we had both agreed that neither of us were looking to get into a relationship (although I understood a little more clearly why he didn’t want one, now). So what did it matter if he hadn’t gotten around to getting a divorce yet?

If I had been honest with myself, I might have recognized the cold chill of jealousy creeping in, that voice in my heart of hearts that was murmuring, “I don’t want him to be tied to any girl but me.” If I had recognized that voice, then I could have opened up to George and told him how I was feeling. I could have told him that there was a pit in my stomach, that there was a niggling voice that I couldn’t shake that was starting to plant the seeds of discontent. I could have told him that our carefree arrangement might be becoming too much for me to handle.

But I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I laughed just a little too loud, drank just a little too much champagne, and danced with George under the twinkling faery lights, as other happy couples surrounded us in celebration of the bride and groom.

Who am I? I am Lying To Myself.