He stood on his balcony looking out over the cityscape to the south. The red glow of the sunset cast an eerie light over the downtown core as wisps of smoke rose from buildings and factories. The streetlights flickered constantly, as if deciding whether or not to remain on.
He felt completely alone.
He had never married or had children. An only child himself, he remained devoted to his parents and lived just down the street from the house in which he’d grown up. Just him and his cat.
His parents had passed away a few weeks ago from carbon monoxide poisoning. He was filled with guilt; he should have made sure the batteries in the CO2 detectors had been changed. He felt responsible.
They died in their sleep; together, but alone.
Today he had to put his cat to sleep. At 18 she’d had a long life, but her kidneys had finally failed. Damn! The timing really hurt.
With the gentleness of a stirring breeze, I am awed by the simplicity. In God’s creations, all but one Can live in harmony under the sun. But God’s most complex creature is doomed To live amidst the strife and gloom. Ambiguous, they thrive on war; They kill each other and then keep score. With no respect for nature’s neutral state, They fill the world with a cancerous hate. Destroying everything they meet, The human race will face defeat. And once they’re off this planet Earth, The world will have a wond’rous birth; For nature conquers over all; T’would take a lot to make her fall. She’s learnt to live in harmony And the death of man will set her free. She’ll bare her soul so all can see The beauty of simplicity.
Charlene walked into the grand ballroom of the Royal Victoria Hotel, her elegantly coiffed hair piled high atop her head. Her satin gown was off the shoulder and shimmered with the lights bouncing off the many chandeliers. The semi-precious gems of her necklace settled demurely in her décolletage. Her bejeweled mask hid most of her face, except for her shining red lips and her light green eyes. She had arrived.
She held her folded invitation in her right hand, which she
had flashed at the doorman on her way in. She looked the part so much that he
had not actually asked to see the invitation up close, which was a good thing
since she had not been invited. She slipped the folded invitation back into her
small clutch purse.
She had never been invited, but this was the fourth year she
had attended the ball. It was always the same doorman and she supposed by now
he had come to believe she was invited. Only the first year had been the real
test. She had decided to sneak into the ball that year, because she longed to
see how the one percent lived. This was like dress up for her, a magical night
when she could pretend that she was one of them, that she had style and grace
and was accepted.
Everybody just accepted that she was one of them. Year after
year, she saw the same people and they no longer wondered from where they knew
the mysterious “Antoinette”, since they remembered her from last year. No
matter, they believed she had money and believed she had donated the required
$10,000 to attend the ball. And so, they were gracious to her.
One man in particular seemed to seek her out each year. She had to admit, she was looking for him now as she gazed around the large and elegant room. She felt like Cinderella, looking for her prince.
And he did not disappoint. Although he didn’t know who she
was, he would have recognized those beautiful green eyes anywhere. Her demure
smile when their eyes met told him she was happy to see him as well. He walked
over to where she stood and look down on her.
“My dear Antoinette, you look ravishing this evening” he murmured as he bent to kiss her cheek.
“You flatter me, Armand” she said, but blushed nonetheless.
Last year, Armand had begged for her full name and address so that he could call on her. It was cruel, he said, for her to make him wait a year to see her again. He wanted to know everything about her, where she was from, who her family was, and when he could call on her.
Of course, he couldn’t. He would be shocked to see the small
flat she called her home, or to know that she worked in a dress shop. She could
never let him know who she really was, or the spell of the masquerade would be
Instead she teased him and told him a different story every year. One of them might be true, she said, but she told them so convincingly he believed that any one of them could be true. She was the fourth cousin once removed from Prince Helmut of Austria, was the story she’d told him last year. The year before she was an exiled member of the bourgeois from France. This year she planned to be the granddaughter of a long-forgotten media baron. She knew he’d laugh and try to guess if it was true or not.
Armand took her elbow and guided her to the dance floor where
he held her tight against him and together they glided over the polished
“How is your cousin, Prince Helmut?” he asked, his eyes laughing as he looked at her. “I’ve done some research” he said, “and I couldn’t find a fourth cousin in his family.”
“Perhaps you didn’t look hard enough Monsieur, or perhaps
you looked too hard”. Her laugh was deep and convincing, and he laughed with
“I won’t stop” he said, “you’ve bewitched me Antoinette”.
Charlene had to stop herself from frowning. Perhaps this
should be her last year. She would be devastated if he found out the truth
about her. Instead she smiled and gazed into his eyes. “I’ll depend on it” she replied.
Of course, Armand already knew who she was. Some months back he’d been having lunch with his mother, when she’d wanted to stop into a dress shop to pick up a new dress she’d ordered. He waited for her outside on the bench but after several minutes, he had walked up to the window and looked inside.
A beautiful woman with long blonde hair stood behind the counter, assisting his mother. She was tall and slim, dressed plainly but elegantly. She glanced up a few times, but never towards the window. She didn’t need to though; he’d recognize those beautiful green eyes anywhere.
We’ve all heard about people growing up with alcoholic parents becoming alcoholics themselves. We’ve also heard about people marrying people exactly like their parents – consciously or subconsciously.
The same is true for dysfunctional families and for children who witness emotional or physical abuse. Most will swear that they’ll be different parents, but they don’t account for a subconscious comfort level.
I’ve met people who either dislike or completely hate the type of person their parent was, and vow to be completely different. As they age though, and their children grow, they often look back and see that in some ways they were exactly the same as their parents; maybe not as obviously, but on a emotional level, and they didn’t even realize it until then.
The same can be said for the people we marry as well. We will swear we’re marrying someone who’s the polar opposite of our parent. As our marriage progresses though, we realize we’ve married someone with the same traits. Have you ever had a friend whose second spouse was almost the same as their previous spouse?
Why is that? I believe it’s because dysfunctional childhood breeds dysfunctional adults, and when we’re dysfunctional, we don’t know what normal is. We’re seduced by the level of comfort we feel with a person, we con ourselves into believing they’re our safe harbour, our calm in the storm. How could it be wrong when it feels so right?
Because our behaviour has been conditioned. We don’t know what right is supposed to feel like. The “comfort” comes from the feeling of familiarity; that’s why it feels “right”.
Life is all about learning and growing. If you find yourself in a dysfunctional relationship with either your partner or your children, the first step is to recognize it and change it. If we didn’t like certain behaviours in our parents, and we find we’re acting the same way subconsciously, own it and apologize, and actively try to change.
If we’re in a relationship with a dysfunctional person, draw the line. Figure out if the relationship can be salvaged, go for counseling, either as as couple, a family, or individually. Have limits, know what you will accept, how you will respond, and what your deal breakers are. Then have a plan B. Always have a plan B.
If we’re starting a new relationship and we start to feel too comfortable too fast, run faster, much faster. The fact is you probably can’t trust your judgement. If you don’t realize it until it’s too late, see the paragraph above about being in a relationship with a dysfunctional person.
We can usually recognize a dysfunctional relationship if it:
Makes us feel bad
Makes us feel sad
Makes us cry
Makes us nervous (and not in a good way)
Sometimes these types of feelings have actually been triggered by some behaviour. Don’t accept it. Figure it out. Some people do that by keeping a journal so they can understand what triggered their negative emotion, and some people meditate for clarity and understanding. Find what works for you.
Some people never figure it out or they figure out the extent of dysfunction after the fact, when there’s some distance between themselves and the dysfunctional situation.
No matter what the situation, forgive yourself. The subconscious is a powerful thing, and self-discovery and understanding can take a lifetime. Thankfully, we have one. A lifetime.
We’ll get it right. Once we understand it.
And repeat after me:
I am strong I am worthy I will be okay
I found that when a situation triggered an anxiety attack, I would close my eyes and silently repeat that to myself. It is true for me and it is true for you too.
Just a piece of life experience and wisdom for you to think about.
Wayne Dickson had been working at the engineering firm for the past year. He had taken a lower position than he was used to and that fact continually irked him. He constantly had the feeling that others were condescending towards him; they obviously didn’t know how senior he had been at his last job.
Dickson’s attitude made it difficult for anyone to like him. He acted like he believed he was better than them and after awhile they stopped even trying to be friendly and avoided him as much as possible. Wayne noticed and he didn’t let it bother him. He faithfully showed up early for work each day and stayed late. He resented the people who only worked 9 to 5 because he thought they just saw it as a job, and didn’t give it any extra effort.
Two months ago, the owners of the company had called him in and offered him a promotion. Peterson said they’d noticed his extra effort and had a special job they thought he was perfect for. The company was planning a reorganization and could really use his help. They had a list of employees they were going to shuffle around; some would be redeployed to other departments, while others would be made redundant and offered packages.
Finally, they had recognized his experience! He thanked them profusely and said they would not be disappointed. He stayed up late that night and pored over the list. Who had valuable experience? Who was old and outdated? Who had been dismissive to him? There were many factors to take into consideration. He used different coloured highlighters – green marked the ones that were safe, red meant they had to go, orange meant he needed to think about them more.
They needed to cut 30 percent of their workforce and they were planning to do it over the next three weeks. He met with senior management to review the list and make the decisions. Then it was time to call each employee in, a few each day, and give them their final paycheques. Wayne relished this part; this was where he could really shine. With each employee that was called in, he struggled to supress his smile. He knew he was better than them, and this was the evidence. He puffed with self-importance, finally he was someone special again – he was management material.
Those three weeks were the most enjoyable weeks of his time with the firm and when they were over, they had accomplished a very lean, efficient workforce. He wondered what promotion they’d give him as a reward? Would they make him General Manager? He could almost feel his success as he walked around the office wondering which office he’d ask for. Perhaps a southern exposure would be better, not too hot during the day but still enough sunlight to light up his office.
He’d seen artwork and figurines in many of the partners’ offices, so he traveled to art galleries on weekends to try and find something suitable. He needed something that represented culture and class, something that said he was a person of importance. He put a deposit of a few significant pieces.
The day finally arrived when his phone rang.
“Wayne, it’s Peterson. I just came out of a meeting with the senior partners, and I’d like you to come to my office if you have a moment.“
“Of course, Mr. Peterson, I’m on my way.”
Wayne Dickson almost had a skip in his step as he walked down the hall, past the boardroom, to Peterson’s office. He knocked lightly on the door before gently pushing it open.
“Ah, Dickson, come in” Peterson said cheerfully. “Have a seat.”
“The firm would like to let you know how much we appreciate your help with the reorganization. We chose you for the task because we noticed you stayed professional in your job and didn’t form any personal relationships. That can always make these decisions very difficult.
“As a reward, we’ve come up with a very generous severance package for you. As you know, after a year’s employment the usual severance is one week but to show our appreciation, we’ve cut a cheque for one month’s pay.”
Wayne sat as still as stone as Peterson slid the envelope across the desk.
When he looked at Peterson, he saw he was smiling.
Sara watched him drive away and waited until his car was out of sight before she felt the warmth of her tears on her cheek. When she met him, he had been a stranger to her and after all this time he still was. But there was something about him.
They’d both been through bad marriages and were both still figuring out how to move on. When they’d met, they had found a common thread that connected them; this shared grief and confusion about how to go on.
Victor was a strong and stoic man, and she’d never really had the chance to see his emotions. He did what he did best – he worked. He saw that she needed help, that she was feeling lost and he’d started showing up at her door early in the morning on weekends. There was work to be done.
He motivated her to get things done, to get fresh air, to go outside and walk. He helped her fix things in her house and had even taken to calling her late at night during the week to ask how much she had done. She’d resented it at first; she knew she was lost but he was making her feel inadequate, as if she was lazy. She wasn’t lazy though – she was scared. Scared of the overwhelming task that was facing her.
But even though he pushed her, he was there to do the heavy work. There was furniture to move and walls to prepare and paint. In the spring, he’d helped her edge the lawn and trim the trees and bushes. And when summer came, he told her to plant a garden.
“A garden?” she thought, “I don’t have time to garden”. She planted it anyway though. As Sara and Victor worked in the garden together, they talked about their childhood and the different paths they had taken. She found out that he wasn’t actually that knowledgeable about gardening – this was something they were learning and discovering together. Even the choice of plants was new to him; they weren’t things that grew in his country. Squashes, zucchinis, kale and swiss chard were all new to him and together they were learning how to make them grow.
She found herself going outside daily to weed the garden and she watched with delight when her favourite vegetables grew. She shared what she couldn’t use with friends and made new friends along the way and all her friends dropped by to help tend the garden. She created create new dishes for him to try, and made soups and stews and sauces, and filled mason jars to share with friends.
Weekends became a routine; Victor came over and whenever the weather wasn’t nice, they worked together inside the house. When the weather was nice, they worked in the garden or went on long walks. He talked about his childhood, about escaping a communist country, about his love of history. Sara had never left her country, or even her county and was fascinated by his stories of growing up in a communist country, of fleeing through Austria, and arriving in Canada. Just as she had needed help, he did as well. Sara became his confidant and with her he’d learned to be appreciated and cared for.
They talked about their childhood, their marriages, their disappointments and their successes. They talked about their children and the kind of people they had become, about the importance of remembering your heritage and language. They held hands on their walks, awkwardly at first, and then comfortably. They were learning to be friends, and to trust again.
He promised her nothing, but gave her so much and she knew she’d never forget all that he’d shared and all that he’d given. He was leaving now, but he hoped to be back in six months. He was going to visit his children and then he was going home to Poland for a few months. He hadn’t been back there since he’d left and it was time.
Summer was over now, and the last of the garden’s produce had been gathered. The leaves had fallen from the trees and snow was in the forecast. It was time for the soil to rest, and to wait for spring.
She hated winter despite the fact she’d lived up north for many years. The cold seemed to kill something inside her, and year after year, when she put away the patio furniture and her summer clothes, she cocooned herself inside the house and waited for the frozen world to thaw. Through four long months of bitter cold, she functioned on automatic – get up in the morning and go to work in the dark; come home in the dark and go to bed. When the darkness outside her started to creep into her mind and soul, she used her Feel Bright light visor that claimed to prevent SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD – what an appropriate acronym. She became sadder each day, waiting for the rebirth of nature, the reappearance of the sun, and to feel its warmth on her skin again.
It was still early March and winter had lasted longer than anticipated. That silly groundhog was always wrong. This winter had been particularly hard for her, her first year on her own. She had learned to use the snow blower; she had chipped away ice, and closed up all the water lines herself. She’d sat in the dark most nights, worrying about every creaking noise the house made, worried about the power going out or the furnace dying, and imagining herself freezing to death with nobody even knowing for weeks.
She stood beside the frozen canal and thought about the changes in her life and the separation that had been her idea. She’d had enough of being taken for granted in a loveless marriage without even holding hands for more years than she could remember. The only role he’d played in her life was to criticize her and put her down. She was never good enough. She could work and cook and clean and pay for everything but somehow it was never enough. Like the cold, her marriage had killed something inside her and year after year she’d been going through the motions, unable to imagine a future that included happiness.
Not that she was happy now either. Maybe there was no such thing as happiness; maybe it was all just an illusion, like a dangling carrot to keep a person going, this eternal search for happiness. She wasn’t ready to date again. For years she had thought better the devil you know than the devil you don’t and now she realized that no devil at all was the best solution. So, she’d learned to paint ceilings herself, rip up carpets and remove the staples. She cried the entire time out of pain, frustration, and loneliness, but she had persevered.
Things had changed. She was learning to manage on her own, to motivate herself and to keep going; only winter still needed to be conquered. She had avoided dealing with the sham that was her marriage for too many years, now it was time to deal with winter, to draw upon her inner strength, to be a better person, a more resilient person.
She removed her skate guards and stepped out onto the frozen water. Like riding a bike, one never forgets how to skate and it didn’t take long before she was soaring down the canal, arms outstretched and face lifted to catch the rays of the sun. Alone on the frozen canal, warm within her layers of clothing, she was finally flying.
She saw the young man sitting across from her on the
train flash a look of annoyance as someone brushed his knee with her bag. She
wondered why he was annoyed when he was clearly mansplaining (that is the term,
isn’t it?) with one leg in the aisle. She studied him more carefully and
noticed that his light blue eyes had a very sad look. He was well-groomed with
a neatly trimmed short beard, but the woolen gloves that held his mobile phone
were frayed with holes along the edges. She looked down and saw his boots were
badly scuffed and the sole on his left boot was starting to become detached.
The most obvious thing though was his woolen coat
pulled tight at the buttons, so tightly in fact that she was surprised the
large brown buttons didn’t start popping off. The jacket was of excellent
quality, definitely not some cheap off the rack coat from Walmart, but it was
at least two sizes too small. She wondered about his situation as she looked
again at his sad blue eyes.
He could feel her eyes on him and he looked down at his phone to avoid returning her gaze. He couldn’t tell if this older woman was just curious about her fellow passengers or if she were somehow judging him. Even though he didn’t know her, he didn’t want her to judge him; he didn’t want anyone to judge him. He had just spent the last of his savings to cover his rent and didn’t even have enough left to pay his utilities. The local welfare office had covered his monthly transit pass so at least he could keep going to interviews. Next month he might end up sleeping on the train if something didn’t turn up.
He caught the train every morning at 7 am and made his
way into the city. He was taking a job search program through a library
downtown and he usually lingered after the workshop to use their internet to search for jobs and submit
his resume. The location was close to most of the major corporations if a job
interview was scheduled; in fact, he was averaging one to two interviews a day.
He was trying hard but nothing was working out for him.
This was probably the worst year of his life. He’d
moved to the city with his girlfriend and everything had been great until a few
months ago when he’d lost his job. It’s funny how you really get to know
someone during difficult times, isn’t it? That’s right – his girlfriend had
dumped him and moved out, leaving him stuck with a lease he couldn’t afford and
no job. His parents hadn’t wanted him to move so far away and they’d actually
argued about it, so he wasn’t about to rush back home and eat crow, not yet
anyway. He knew it might come to that though; he felt like a complete failure.
Suddenly his mobile phone rang, waking him from his
“Yes sir, this is Jason. I can absolutely start
on the 15th. I’ll be there before 9 a.m. Yes sir, thank you for the call, I’m
looking forward to joining your firm.”
The call ended and he just sat there looking at his
phone. Then he looked up at the woman sitting across from him. She was smiling
at him now.
“I’m tired. I realize I’ve been tired for a very long time. Getting through each day, pretending to be normal, pretending to be like everyone else, is exhausting.
“I’m not like everyone else. I came from a different place. Life has shaped me and made me who I am; but somehow that’s not enough and it’s not okay to be who I am. I’m supposed to pretend that nothing that happened to me mattered, that none of it affected me and that at the end of the day, I’m just like everyone else.
“Except I’m not. I’m tired. Tired of living in a world that expects me to conform – to fit a predetermined mold. A world that refuses to let me be me. I live inside my head too much, and I know that’s not healthy. I come out from time to time and pretend to be who others expect me to be but that makes me tired. So very tired.
“Every single person sees me differently. If they all got together and talked about this person they knew, none of them would realize they’re talking about the same person. I am someone different to everyone that knows me. Which means that nobody knows me. And now I’m tired.”
I listened to the man sitting across from me, looking him directly in the eyes. I could feel his confusion and despair and wished there was something I could do to give him hope, to convince him we all had the same thoughts, we all felt the same way. He was just giving a voice to the thoughts that we all had.