BREAKING OPEN THE SKY

I’m back.

That’s the best I can do for an opener.

Until last Tuesday, I hadn’t written a word in two months; hadn’t posted anything here on REEF since February 10th. But the time has come. Except that I’m all jammed up, very much in I-don’t-know-where-to-begin territory.

In part, this is because REEF isn’t a diary. Though it’s deeply personal, I mean for it to be something that extends beyond me—always beyond. But these past months have been the culmination of a very personal odyssey.

Not everything written should be shared, and so I sit here feeling the push to write and the reflex to hold back. It doesn’t sit well with me.

Last fall, in a piece that appeared on author and friend Leslie Stuart Tate’s website, I wrote that:

I see myself as an emotional writer, and believe that my writing works best and reaches my reader more truthfully when I’m able to draw from the emotional climate of my life at any given moment to help me make sense of my thoughts and concerns—which seems like a huge contradiction given that I’ve been told many times that I’m too analytical (my osteopath constantly scolds me for being too much “up inside my head”!).

I’m happy I came up with this for Leslie, because I think it just may be true. It explains what happens when emotional reality overwhelms the space inside me and my ability to step back.  What happens is silence.

Here’s what I’m willing to share—what’s necessary, to make way for the rest.

In the last five months, my husband and I have accepted that we must separate, after thirty-seven years of marriage and our entire adult lives together. Is this irrevocable? We don’t know. Time will tell. There is still deep and abiding love between us.

This is an outcome that was years in the making, of course, and by late last fall, we could both see the fork in the road ahead. No matter what the future holds for us, this decision means a series of endings. Life as we’ve lived it for three and half decades has come to an end. Our time in this house—our first and only house—is almost over. Life as Michelle et Sylvain, which has been all we’ve known since I was seventeen and he, nineteen and a half, will soon cease.

And so, over the past five months, we’ve ridden an emotional roller coaster whose ups, downs, frights, lurches and dramas belong to us alone.

You don’t have to know the details of our life together and the places where we went wrong, the pain and anxiety that follows us into each new day, to understand that in our small lives, separation has set off a seismic shift.

I’ve not been writing because each day, for so many months, has been weighed down by the implacable fact of ongoing deconstruction, and the fullness of it, that has kept me saturated in an anxious state of emotion, of watchfulness, and of wanting to salvage as much as possible.

And yet, on our families’ trees, my husband and I have helped grow new branches—three living sons and two grandchildren so far: new connections that will continue to grow together and also sprout outward. There’s no stopping this thing we started in adolescence.

I’ve not written because in addition to my full-time teaching, my husband and I, with the help of our sons, have put ourselves through the unforgiving, almost clinical undertaking of preparing our house for sale: what, in the business, is referred to as “staging” our house.

It’s a process that took us about six weeks (I don’t know if that’s a world record but it feels like it should be). Working together, we filled over two-hundred boxes with all of the stuff (books, mostly) that we want to bring into the next phase of our lives. They now sit in a storage unit. On hold. We threw out so much that we had to call the city to send a garbage truck over. My husband repainted rooms and fixed the small broken things that unhappiness had caused him, us, to neglect and let go for years.

We transformed our house into a series of clean, clear spaces from which we were as absent as possible. This process of staging, of excising yourself from your own home, is exhausting, demoralizing, cleansing and…therapeutic. With our sons’ help, my husband and I unburied ourselves.

And then our house went on the market. And sold almost overnight.

A young couple will soon make it theirs. They’ll say: It’s ours, but just like us, and the three families who lived here before us, they’re just passing through, their ownership of the property one of civilization’s most entrenched delusions.

They say they loved it from the moment they saw it. I learned that they came twice in one day to see it: once in the morning, then again in late afternoon. They wrote us a letter to say that it’s a house that they can grow into and grow old together in; that they love the natural light that fills it; that from the moment they walked through the front door, it felt like home to them. They say it will make them happy.

Our house in a snowstorm

Since then, I’ve found it easier to let go of this cozy house that, in truth, was filled with happiness too. I look outward, and so does my husband. Our sights are on the horizon. Like everything else in the Universe, we’re on a trajectory taking us away from where we are now.

We are not trapped or locked up in these bones. No, no. We are free to change. And love changes us. And if we can love one another, we can break open the sky.”
― Walter MosleyBlue Light

You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
― Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book

 

Leaving on a Jet Plane

On Saint-Patrick’s Day, 2014, the phone rang at our house. It was Rodney Cottier, the Head of the Drama School at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (or LAMDA) on the line.

LAMDA is one of the finest drama schools in the world and a month earlier, my youngest son Christian had auditioned in Toronto for LAMDA’s Masters in Classical Acting program. Rodney’s call was to inform Christian that he had been accepted.

It isn’t always possible to know which of the choices, or which of the curves thrown at us, or which of the harrowing experiences, or successes, or events, or chance encounters will be seminal in our life, and I think that’s a good thing.

Christian waiting for the evening's performance.
Christian waiting for the evening’s performance.

But on that day, Christian knew. We all knew…that his life had just jumped its tracks, that its course had been indelibly altered, that he was going to live an adventure the likes of which he had only daydreamed about.

And so began the saga of Christian’s year in London.

That story is his to tell.

Mine is about how the story ends. It ends with success and immense shared joy. It also ends with a trip to London, which I began on September 11th, because it was unimaginable that I should miss seeing my son on stage performing Shakespeare in the greatest theatrical city in the world; and that he be left to graduate alone, and to pack up and move back to Montreal alone.

I arrived at Heathrow on September 12th. What followed were 15 extraordinary days during which a lifetime of hopes and what-ifs and imaginings about the land of Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Stephen Fry and BBC drama were measured against the reality of Great Britain’s capital, and found to be totally up to snuff.

11017001_10155256495790111_9093195157989368749_n

What I also realized during my time across the pond is that while Christian was at LAMDA, his father, brothers and I were in London with him for a part of every day: with every Skype and Facetime session, with every Facebook post and Message, every story, every experience he shared with us, every problem, every fever or cough.

 

This is the way we love each other. Our London was discovered vicariously, but it had its own reality.

Here begins my LONDON JOURNAL. Bon voyage!

September 11th, 2015

Facebook post from the airport:

Okay! I made it through airport security and here I am at gate 59.

A year ago, I had just walked Christian to his security check point.

There was such strong emotion on that day; such an acute feeling of separation, anticipation and apprehension…in us both! Finally, Christian disappeared behind the wall of security and what was left was the most painful happiness I have ever known.

Now, I go to see who he has become and what he has accomplished in London, at LAMDA which, for me, still feels more like fiction than fact.

“The truth is life is full of joy and full of great sorrow, but you can’t have one without the other. “
Andre Dubus III

The Thames Walk, Hammersmith, London
The Thames Walk, Hammersmith, London