You want to go where everybody knows your name

In one glorious week, I’ll be on my flight back to Newfoundland, for a chance to visit with my mom, my Yorkie, play Beethoven’s 9th with my symphony and hang out with friends and family nonstop. It’ll be my third trip home in the ten months since I moved to the US. For some perspective for those who don’t know me well, I’d lived on the same street as my maternal grandparents for the past twenty years. My mom and I are often indistinguishable by voice and mannerism, so much time have we spent together. It has obviously been a big change living somewhere 4,300 km away from home, from everyone you know except your husband.

I’d like to say my favourite thing to do while visiting Newfoundland is “hike Signal Hill” or “eat treats from Rocket Bakery.” But I can’t. I mean, I really like to do one of those things (nom nom nom). My actual favourite thing to do while home is TALK. Because entire days can go by in my life now where I don’t speak to anyone. I croaked out an embarrassing voice mail recently, realizing they were the first words I’d spoken, at 4:50 pm in the evening.

Now with two trips home under my belt, I’ve learned there’s an awful lot of small talk that clouds my conversations, sort of “required” questions people think they need to ask me. You have my permission to skip any of the following talking points. I’m happy to dive in, real talk, straight up, let’s just get to it. I only have 15 days on the ground and I don’t want to waste another minute discussing Cheeto-in-Chief. Today’s post covers the first 6 things people are likely to ask me.

For a lot of the folks I will see while home, I am merely a spokesperson for the person they actually want to see and talk to, that is, my husband. And I don’t just mean his family. My family, our friends. You see, what I’ve realized is that by coming home four  times as frequently as he is able, I’m no longer a subject of interest. I’m old news. I’ve also given up replying to the regularly occurring emails seeking updates on my husband. It doesn’t seem to prevent repeating the conversation in person, anyway. Amazingly, he has his own email. I’ll promise I’ll bcc you on an update if he’s ever indisposed.

secretary

This is me, dutifully posed as my husband’s personal secretary in 196- oh wait…

The 3 most popular questions I’m asked:

1. How are you?

Spoiler alert: I wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s my best coping mechanism to keep anxiety down. I don’t pretend, I don’t sugarcoat. What I say is the truth, and how I’m really feeling. But what I’m learning as I get older, is that the truthful answer isn’t exactly what people are looking for. They want to see my teeth in a wide smile, hear that I’m brilliantly happy, and be told everything is wonderful. But that only makes them feel better, and leaves me feeling insincere and unheard. So I don’t beat around the bush. I’m pretty open about how challenging the isolation here is for me, how I feel like a fish out of water trying to adjust to domestic life, where yesterday’s biggest concern was running out of individual hummus packs for my husband’s lunch.

I always answer this question honestly. I’ll start with something gentle: “it was an adjustment at first, but it’s getting better.” (See? That was positive! And not a lie!) Then, I’ll add: “it’s a bit lonely, but I’m…” before I’m cut off with the second most (really the most) popular question, one where I am always able to answer in full, and am pressed for more detail:

2.  How is [husband’s name]?

In the chance you don’t know either of us personally, for his privacy, I’ll call him “Niall.” Here is where I do flash my toothy smile and say honestly, but also ironically: “Niall is great.” Because he is great. He is a happy person. He enjoys school. He is in good health. He has kind friends and a gorgeous wife that usually has dinner ready for him when he walks in the door (barring any exceptional circumstance, like this week’s first degree burn from cast iron pan coming out of the oven). What I want to also say is: how can his life not be great? He now has a personal cook, personal shopper, personal laundry, personal housecleaner, personal assistant to tend to his every need. Niall gets his favourite deodorant replaced within hours without communicating a single word because his housewife cleans his bathroom so frequently she saw the used one in the trash.

Next immediate question:

3. How is Niall’s back?!

Here is where I grit my teeth, and my smile becomes fake, and I am Claire Dunphy once again, smiling, but not with my eyes.

Can I just… yeah, I need to… I just have to say I am so F**KING TIRED OF THIS QUESTION! I mean, I kind of get it. Readers at our wedding will recall my husband then also gritting his teeth through a sciatica flare up, and spending the entire dance laying on his back behind the head table unable to participate, or even stand. But hear me out. Once I watched back the wedding video, I learned, months later, despite arguing before the wedding day until I was red in the face, that he found the stamina on our wedding day morn to fry himself and the groomsmen some cooked breakfast. Standing on his two feet, over a stove, on hard ceramic tile. Energy well spent, my love. Thank you for resting up for our $$$$$$ day.

Yes, for a single, unfortunate week last May, my husband was taking pain killers for unbearable back pain. About 3 days after his return to Florida, he was without symptom, off the pain meds, and back to all regular sitting/walking/standing functions. Call it a miracle, call it wedding jitters (I dare you), it is fantastic that it was so acute, it is even better that it’s over, and now 10 months later it is no longer news. (My scoliosis though, you know, the curve in my spine that had me in a back brace during puberty, and my repetitive strain injury in my neck that I’m still receiving regular treatment for, by the way, are both fiiiiiiiine. Thank you for asking.)

Then I’ll get these 3 most popular statements/exclamations:

1. You’re so tanned!

This is kind of an awkward one for me. I’m not sure you mean that in a positive way. It’s not actually a compliment. Just an observation. It reminds me of the thinly veiled insult I would often receive from an older man I worked WITH, not FOR, who would often say “you’re very driven.” (He wanted to knock me down several pegs, I secretly took it as a compliment that he felt his dominance waning.) I’m never sure if that means you think I look good, or are jealous of my sun consumption, or think I look like I sell spray tans to couples like the Kranks before a cruise.

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But I stand before you feeling uncomfortably on display, not sure where to look. I wear SPF 45 all the time. When I sit outside to read, I’m covered from head to hip, only letting the sun on my (45 coated) legs. I’m not trying to fast track melanoma, but a tan is kind of unavoidable in my climate. I also think my distant Inuit heritage leaves me predisposed for a more golden skin tone. I never had the pinky-white Celtic complexion like most folks home. Maybe I’ll start greeting people home with “you’re so pale!”

2. You must be living the dream!

Grit teeth. Fake smile. Brace self.

It’s sweet that you think that. And I appreciate the positive spin you’re putting on this. And sure, like any other 65 year old who has worked hard in post-secondary, enjoyed a fulfilling and exciting career while adequately saving for retirement, rooted themselves in their community through volunteerism, and had an active life in the performing arts, it really was my time to slow down, retire, and move to sunny Florida, where people go to die… OH BUT WAIT. I’m not 65. I’m TWENTY-NINE. I only recently finished school. I only recently found a job I loved. Two, really. I volunteered so much it became a paid position. Sang in a choir, played in a symphony, ran a wedding business on weekends, I was just hitting my stride. What about living unable to work, or unable or volunteer or no local symphony sounds like my dream? What about living away from all family and friends seems delightful? And here’s the kicker – what about existing to cook and clean for a man to pass the time sounds like something I was desperately yearning to do? Hello, have we met?

But okay. I understand why Newfoundlanders think I must be in heaven. The weather in the winter is spectacular (except that one off-week in January when Daytonians saw icicles for the first time in about 100 years) and it never gets old being able to wear shorts and sunglasses every day. If my windshield wasn’t so grimy, I’d take more pictures of the beautiful Florida sunsets this week on my return trip from the grocery store.

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Sorry to burst your bubble. This is not the dream. I do not go to Disney World anytime I fancy. I do not go to the outlets anytime I wish (although I am discreetly unpacking one at a time the shoe boxes in my trunk hidden behind reusable grocery bags to make it look like they’ve always been in my closet). Remember that I’m unemployed and my husband is a student. I should be asking you: how is it to have a disposable income? What’s THAT like?

3. (This is usually the immediate follow up to #2, which is such an obvious oxymoron, I can’t believe you need to ask me) So how do you feel about Trump/what do you think about Trump/anything really with disbelief about Trump?!

Deep sigh. I live in a red state, in a red county, and in a town that celebrates the sitting president with signage still proudly displayed on their lawns, or you know, that patch by their trailers. I have cooked Republican friends Thanksgiving dinner. As an immigrant, as a woman, as a human being, I think it’s pretty clear where I might stand on Trump. But it’s not just him. The authorities in my county were totally in favour of arming teachers, before it came out of Cheeto-Benito’s mouth. Out of courtesy to each other, people around here don’t talk a lot of politics. It’s very divided, now more than ever since the Parkland shooting. People lower their voices when I say I’m Canadian and say “you’re lucky.” I once walked out of a lineup at Walmart because I feared the loud, aggressive man causing a disturbance might have a gun. I do not go out alone when it’s dark (ahem, 6:30pm ish). The one time I did, an armed security officer insisted he walk me the 200 feet from the concert venue to my parked car, which I could see across the intersection under a street light. He told me, in is charming Southern drawl that 8:30 on a Wednesday evening was too dangerous for a young woman to be alone in “these parts.”

Last week I sat in front of my tv for two hours with tears pouring down my face, watching students in Tallahassee beg for their safety. I finally had to stop watching because I felt like I could vomit. My children will go to school in this country. Last week I read in my town’s news that in the 2 days immediately following the Parkland shooting, 15 threats were made by students to shoot in schools in my county. By the start of this week, that number was over 28, with some teenagers being charged as felons. There are only 71 schools in my county…

So go back to the part where you think I’m living the dream. Doesn’t quite sound like one anymore, does it? But to reassure you, I do have a nice life. A pleasant existence. I don’t have too much to complain about other than boredom and isolation and another time I’ll share my beef with getting birth control around here. But the constant awareness of my personal safety is an unnerving feeling, something as a Canadian I took for granted.

By now you’re terrified to ask me anything! But you can always ask me this: am I looking forward to coming home?

YES! (Authentic big toothy smile included.)

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2 comments

  1. Anonymous · March 2

    Have a lovely trip back home, Laura. (Am I allowed to say that?)

    From your distant relative in UK …your maternal nan & my husband are cousins.

    Angela

    Like

  2. Anna · March 3

    As an American, I’m so sorry. I’d love to assure you that it’s not like this. That this is new territory. That it wasn’t always this way. But the reality is that it was. It was just behind closed doors until recently.

    A part of me is relieved that it’s finally out in the open and we can try, finally, to force everyone to do something about it instead of sweeping it under the rug again. But the other part of me is embarrassed and ashamed. And I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.

    Like

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