Sunday, December 20, 2015

Things That Happened in 2015

January: We kick off the year with a gorgeous sunny day and two feasts. Brunch is, and probably always will be, one of my favourite meals to eat outside the house (and, to be honest, inside the house and also beside the house and pretty much anywhere, let's be real), so when Julia invites us over for a New Year's Day brunch, and it's bright and sunny, how can we say no? A few hours later, a group of us troop over to Mother's Dumplings in Chinatown and eat our body weight in dumplings and Chinese broccoli; then we all decamp to our place to watch Blade Runner. This is the way every year starts now, and it's one of my favourite traditions.

February: I head up to the Beaver Valley to spend the Family Day weekend with friends, while Mike stays home to play catchup with work. The weekend is relatively uneventful—board games, homemade dinners, reading the New Yorker in bed—except for the afternoon I spend nearly freezing to death on the side of the road.

The story? The general store, which is across the street from Emmett's house, does not carry pretzels, and when I ask where is the nearest store that does, the clerk waves her hand and says, "About eight minutes up the road, just out of the valley." I figure, hey: I'm dressed warmly. I've got a backlog of 99% Invisible episodes queued up on my iPod. I'll walk to get some pretzels! So I set out. It's sadistically cold outside, but the sun is shining and it's all okay.

After about fifteen minutes, I'm halfway out of the valley and there has been no store. After about thirty-five minutes, I am fully out of the valley, picking my way down the side of the road, grimly determined to come back with pretzels, dammit. Roman Mars drones in my ear. After forty-five minutes, I give up. There are no stores, barely any houses, and I am way, way out of town.

When I turn around, I realize that I've been walking with the wind at my back. Now, the -38 windchill racks my face, shooting into my hood, stinging my eyes, ruddying my cheeks immediately. I get a chill that has nothing to do with the temperature: it's my body recognizing that I am in serious trouble a half-second before my brain does. I have no phone, I don't know Emmett's number, and I am deeply fucked. The snot running down my face freezes, but I'm too cold to feel it.I can barely catch my breath.

By the time I get back to the top of the Beaver valley, the sun has begun to set. By the time I get back to the general store, the temperature has dropped another few degrees. The clerk looks up as I re-enter the store. "Did you get your pretzels?" she asks cheerily. I ignore her question and say, "When you said 'eight minutes,' did you mean walking or driving?"

She has the good grace to look stricken. 

To punish her, I buy a very expensive gluten-free butter tart and a warm can of Diet Coke, and return to Emmett's. He and Hannah look up when I come in. "Where'd you go?" he says mildly.

"I need to sit in front of the fireplace for a while," I say. My face is red and the skin around my mouth and nose is raw and heedless of touch. It will stay that way for nearly a week.

March: I quit my job! After five months of working with a boss who doesn't understand the difference between an executive assistant, an office manager, and a 24/7 on-call mindreader who is expected to know the difference between ahem and aHEM when he clears his throat/asks for something, I'm ready to move on. Also, the ceiling in our apartment's bathroom caves in. The two are not related.

April:  I get my first writing commission, I start a new column at Torontoist, we meet an astronaut, I start writing for Yonge Street Media, and I can do two and a half minutes of burpees without vomiting. I am terrified that I will never have any money again, but things are happening, and it feels good.

May: Pregnant. Pregnant! Pregnant. PREGNANT. We are pregnant. I am pregnant. It is the weirdest thing. I feel totally normal—I keep working out, I keep riding my bike, my appetite is pretty good—and I assume, like an idiot, that the entire pregnancy will progress this way. Somewhere, the goddess rubs her hands together with glee and engraves several lightning bolts of Truth and Calamity with my name.

June: Ah, here we are. I feel like garbage. I get an ultrasound, and yes, there is a tiny human jellybean inside of me. It has a heartbeat. Later in the month, I vomit on the sidewalk in front of a bar. I'm definitely pregnant.

July: My dad has cancer. A melanoma that was not-quite-excised from his cheek six years ago has hid quietly in his body; now, it's back, with lumps under his arm and in his lungs. I tell him that I love him. Later that night, I get up and go into the bathroom and weep. Then I write down all the things I know about him: memories, sayings, advice, his story, his life. I force myself to write it in the present tense.

I tell some friends, but not many: the process of telling people is exhausting. My dad is vibrant, vivacious, funny, and very much alive. Cancer, especially melanoma, is widely regarded as a death sentence. I realize that telling people means comforting them, and I am too exhausted to do that. I keep the news mostly to myself. He starts treatment, an immunotherapy that turbocharges his blood and allows him to keep his quality of life high.

August: The bar below our apartment begins extensive renovations. We are awoken most days at 7 AM, and work often continues past midnight, seven days a week The demolition is loud—think tile drillers, concrete drills, jackhammers—and we receive no notice that it's happening. Contacting the landlord reveals nothing. I end up texting with the site foreman, who is livid on our behalf that we weren't told in advance, or updated...but the landlords are also his bosses and they want this job done yesterday. Our fire alarm rings at odd times. The water periodically shuts off. Contractors show up unannounced at our door to fix these problems, and leave having broken the fire alarm. I feel like I'm going insane.

September: We move. Our new place is on a residential street, on the ground floor of a house. We have a tiny playground just down the road, and all of Saint Clair West to explore. It's a nice place to have a baby. But also: I throw my back out lifting boxes, and it takes weeks to recover. My pregnancy hormones are through the roof. Our new bathtub is too small for me to sit in comfortably, so a major self-care ritual disappears from my life. All I want to do is cry. Instead, I call my midwife, and she refers me to a prenatal psychiatrist. I do not feel better, but I feel like I could feel better, and that's good enough for now.

October: My dad finishes cancer treatment. I go to Stratford for a week to spend time with my parents, and to visit my out-of-province sister, and I drink champagne with him. We listen to  miraculous baseball games on the radio. We cheers—"To life!" every time—and sometimes we cry. Things could be good, or maybe bad, but for now, we're all together. It feels close enough to normal, but of course, it's not.

When I get back to Toronto, our downstairs neighbour falls asleep with his deep-fryer running and starts a fire. At 11:50 PM on the Monday of the Thanksgiving weekend, we are on the sidewalk, frantically trying to figure out where we might sleep that night, because our apartment—our new apartment!—is full of smoke.

Later that week, we have a gas leak in our apartment. It is impossible not to think dark thoughts.

November: I spend three days with my mom, driving around Prince Edward County, swimming in salt water pools, eating fancy-ish meals, and just feeling held. I take many baths. I read several issues of The New Yorker.

We get the test results back for my dad: the lumps under his arms are gone, and the ones in his lungs are much smaller. It is possible to feel like things might be okay, at least for a while. Okay, and a while, are enough.

The baby is kicking, moving, tumbling through me. I check out books about natural childbirth from the library and do not read them. January feels close. I look down and I don't see a pregnant body—I see a fat one—and I realize with a start that, even though I've been pregnant for six months, I still haven't internalized it. I am flooded with terror about motherhood, and about delivery, and about change. It's a huge feeling, made huger by the fact that I didn't really know it was there. It's like opening your door one morning and discovering that you now live on the top of a mountain; it's still possible to do stuff, but the commute takes longer and you're tired by the end of it. M is so supportive. I have fallen in love with him in a deeper way, and this takes me by surprise.

December: We are doing our best to prepare for baby, and also save money, and also finally unpack everything from the move, but things are slow. In lieu of shopping or cooking, I knit like a fiend. Socks and baby hats and tiny sweaters fly off my needles. I listen to hours and hours of podcasts. We offer to host Christmas dinner. We take prenatal classes. We lie in bed and read to each other. My back hurts, so I sleep on the couch. I take pictures of my stomach. M and I see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and he is pleased. I do the crossword. We eat perogies and burritos, rum cake and stir fry. We invite people to our house to watch Blade Runner on New Year's Day.