Greetings from the future – where cars don’t fly, and food isn’t yet in pill form. However, you have an awesome phone and can buy your own booze so it all balances out.
You are 15. Your life is about school, friends, family and all the little details of your everyday existence. You are coasting along, happy as can be and so confident in who you are and who you want to be.
I wish I had more of your blind confidence, your unwavering belief in your abilities and your clear view of the future. As you grow up, your view of the future gets a bit misty, but rest assured you do accomplish a lot.
Now for some words of wisdom, things that I want you to know to get you through the next 15 years of life.
Trusting in someone is hard, being betrayed is even harder. It will happen; friends, lovers, co-workers. You learn to trust the right people and in your judgment. This pain is temporary, a brief storm in your life that will pass.
Life will hurt you, break you, and scar you, but you will survive. It’s never as bad as it seems.
Don’t ever think you aren’t worth it, aren’t strong enough. You can doubt yourself fifty thousand ways but it doesn’t change the truth, it doesn’t change your strength.
Be yourself, be happy in the little things, be caring, be wild, be anything you want.
All of your dreams won’t come true as you imagined they would. Don’t give up. There is no deadline on dreaming.
Finally, don’t stop writing. Whatever you do. Do. Not. Stop. Writing. It may seem hard or you’ll feel blocked, but down the road, you’ll be sitting here writing this letter. Even when the words fail you in real life, there is help in a notebook or keyboard. Writing will always be a part of who you are, don’t forget that.
Dear me, your life is so simple right now. It may seem complex and stressful, but know that you real life is out there waiting for you. That your uniqueness, your strength and caring heart will grow and bring the right people and the right things into your life. Maybe it’s not your dream life, but I promise you are very happy and one day you’ll know that’s what really matters.
In one of my classes, we all sit in a rectangular shape, with the dozen or so students staring at each other from across the table. This class focuses on feature writing and is taught by one of the most engaging and funny (not to mention stylish) professors that I’ve ever had the chance to encounter.
In total, there are 25 students in the professional master program that I am in. That means that by now, everybody knows everyone pretty well and we tend to debate and joke around a lot in class.
In one feature writing class last week, we were commenting on a sublime piece of writing about depression. My colleague who was facilitating the conversation paused on a passage, which for me as for others seemed out of place in the story. I was the first to comment, and I said the first thing that crossed my mind.
Bear in mind that I was born in 1980s Quebec, where feminism was strong and religious beliefs dwindling. My parents grew up with the Catholic religion and then grew out of it. Because of their experience that was transmitted to me and of the fact that I’m an atheist, I don’t innately understand religious beliefs. That being said, I respect and admire people who have a strong faith and a great relationship to religion.
Anyhow, what I said was an inappropriate comment about that passage. Before I was going to say it, I said, out loud, ”I can’t, it’s offensive.”
‘’Oh, go ahead!’’ My professor said.
So I said, half laughing nervously and half looking at my Christian colleague with one eye, ‘‘it was, for me, the Jesus Freak part of the story, if you will.’’
While I was pronouncing the first sentence, I saw my Christian classmate rolling his eyes.
I realized that I had gone a little too far.
My colleagues laughed, but then I explained further (and smarter) that the excerpt seemed out of place. It took me out of the story because I could not relate to it and the tone drastically differed from the rest of the piece.
When it was his turn to speak, my colleague explained to me, and the others who commented on the religious aspect of that excerpt, that he really hated when people looked down on religion, because it was really important for him and really helped him to strive when he was struggling. What he said was so powerful, the whole room went silent.
I remember last summer, when the same professor was in grief, he would sometimes be in a very weird mood. He taught a very intense class about the odds of getting ill. He was quite aggressive, saying that we will die one day and explaining the odds of getting cancer.
As I have a close relative who currently suffers from the illness, it was too much to bear for me on a weekday morning. And this happened twice. So I stormed out of class. My Christian friend was one of the few friends to check on me and give me a hug.
As I was thinking about that, I felt ill. The incident left a bad taste in my mouth. That night, as I was walking to yoga, I felt that I had disrespected him and that I had not thought enough about what I was going to say before I said it. I texted him, apologizing for my words. He thanked me for doing that.
Everybody comes from a different background, and it’s not because I grew up with a mother who has a very sarcastic, third-degree sense of humour that everybody gets the joke.
As I was leaving a friend’s place for dinner later that night with my boyfriend, I explained what had happened to him. I told him that I tend to over-share rather than under-share.
That being said, I’m pretty outspoken and I believe that it is important to share and to foster conversations. I pride myself on being a good communicator and a critical thinker. A presentation I did on Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons this week reinforced the point that freedom of expression and independence of thought is not only important, it’s necessary.
The problem with being bold is to own your statements.
A few days ago, my dad was telling me that he was going to read all of my stories on this very website.
”I don’t know how I stumbled into this…’’ he began.
‘‘Probably Facebook,’’ I said.
‘’I don’t want you to read all of my articles dad… There are some I wrote about boys and stuff.’’
‘‘Well if it’s there, I’ll read it. Freedom of expression. It’s all good, Lili,’’ he said.
And it made me realize that it was all good. If somebody does not agree with me, they can tell me that. I don’t need to be afraid of their opinions, but rather open to their feedback.
Recently, my boyfriend pointed out that I was saying ‘‘f*** off’’ a lot. The other day while grocery shopping, I was tired and impatient. I was trying to find a certain product, and when I realized that I couldn’t find it, I said ‘‘f*** off!’’ loud and clear. As I turned my head, I saw a kid looking at me, wide-eyed.
In this case and in the other one in class, I felt terrible. I am a well-educated woman, and I know that there is a wide array of words to choose from, and swear words are not necessarily the best to get to the point. Once in a while, it feels good to let it go, to be open, and to swear (especially when tired, stressed or sick), but it shouldn’t become the norm.
That being said, life is absurd and real and humans are not robots. It is important to have honest conversations. At the same time, I need to take a breath and think about what I’m gonna say before I say it sometimes. I’m very spontaneous, which is both a blessing and a curse.
As careful as I am, sometimes I’m oblivious to swearing or saying it like it is. No filter.
Photo: Ellen von Unwerth, 1996
Lili Monette is a creative spirit and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently finishing the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.
Looking at my reflection in the floor-length mirror at Victoria’s Secret, I was wowed by my own body. I was trying on a pink and black sports bra, which made my boobs look amazing and gave me a surfer girl look. For a minute, I felt like one of the Victoria’s Secret Angels, only curvier and a little shorter. That wasn’t always the case.
Shopping used to bring up body issues. I often thought that those three-way mirrors (a staple at H&M) were put in fitting rooms not to give a better look at a garment, but rather to destroy my self-esteem.
I have never been fat, but since I developed hips and breasts, I’ve never been skinny either. I am a rather tall (for a girl), slim, athletic and curvy woman in my mid-twenties, but the athletic part wasn’t so visible before. And that is precisely what makes me feel so confident now.
In my late teens and early twenties, I cared about being active and made a point of moving every day, but I mostly just biked, walked… and partied. Dancing while going out would be counted as exercise. I definitely had a beer belly, so much that one of my ex-boyfriends used to tease me and call me baby whale, which was simultaneously insulting and endearing.
Being active was something that I had to teach myself because I don’t come from a sporty family.
Even if my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons and dance classes for years, having to discipline to be (and to stay) active was something that I had to learn over time.
Knowing that something is bad for you is one thing, but stopping doing it (or starting a healthier habit) is where the real change happens. As much as I hate to admit it, I briefly smoked socially, mainly when I lived in London, England because it was the norm (and the only way to get a break at work).
Stopping smoking socially was an easy decision to make because I would barely smoke anyway, it made me feel sick, but also because I knew that I didn’t need that shit in my life. It was causing me more harm than good, which is something that I was fully aware of before I started. Over the years, I stopped many bad habits and got into healthy new ones.
It helps that in recent years, there has been an increased enthusiasm about healthy living. Some of the things that I started eating (like kale) were the result of friends’ influence but also of the trends going around. The same can be said for the fitness crazes or other healthy habits.
I started eating organic food, doing yoga, going to the gym regularly and eating a wide array of foods that include hemp seeds, kombucha and sprouts.
I stopped smoking tobacco, taking hard drugs (which barely happened anyway) and getting drunk every weekend.
I refrained from eating meat, dairy and gluten.
I took a piece of advice mentioned in many magazines: I bought quality athletic outfits, which made me perform better. It is way more motivating to train with a cute gym outfit. Nowadays, on any given day, there is at least one sports outfit drying on top of my staircase.
At the same time, I know that I should not freak out too much. I work very hard, both with my head and with my body, and I need to find balance.
The hard work pays off and I do realize when my health craze gets too obsessive. I still enjoy a pizza slice sometimes and the odd day happens when I really can’t make it to the gym or to yoga.
Still, I’m pretty good at taking care of what I do with my body and what I put into it. This ethic of care has helped me to stay balanced, happy, confident and healthy.
My close friends and family tend to tell me quite often to calm down. I’m constantly in movement because my ambition knows no bounds, and so I end up constantly doing something.
That’s where exercise comes in. Yes, it might tire me out but it also calms me down. It helps me to put things back into perspective and to unwind. It’s an occasion to calm my never-ending train of thought and to let go of the 24-7 business that is my life.
Besides the mental benefits, exercise helps me to feel better physically. It’s kind of silly: when I didn’t exercise as much, I realized that I wasn’t as fit as I could be, but at the same time, it was comfortable and I didn’t know where to start.
But as my fitness fascination got more serious, I realized that once you start, you can’t stop.
I don’t want to go back to having a beer belly anymore, and I take the steps necessary in order not to. Nobody can call me baby whale anymore.
That’s where the balance and the discipline come in. Without fail, I need to set up high standards onto myself in order to stay disciplined. At the same time, I know that I need to give myself some slack when I’m overworked.
Focusing on health and fitness makes me feel good happens every day, like last Saturday while admiring my reflection in the mirror.
In that moment, I was grateful to be healthy, fit and beautiful because I knew that I didn’t always feel that way.
Being fit makes me more vain but also enables me to be more confident in other areas of my life.
My clothes suit me better when I’m fitter. I feel hotter when I’m having sex. I feel ready for any physical challenge that comes my way, whether it is helping a friend move out or carrying groceries.
Ultimately, I’m learning not to envy other women’s bodies, but to be perfectly happy with my own. And while I’m at it, I smile at my reflection in the mirror.
Lili Monette is a journalist, artist and writer, and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently finishing the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.
I feel older these days. There are times when I love this. I feel confident and as though I am truly growing into myself and becoming the woman I am meant to be. Sometimes I feel so proud of how far I’ve come over the past few years, impressed by how I’ve navigated certain situations with the grace and the maturity of someone much more experienced. I respect that I’ve made some tough decisions, and I have done so with strength. I am pleased with the direction in which my life is going.
But then there are days like today, where I just notice that I’m not as young as I used to be. Everything around me feels different, and everyone around me looks younger. When I look in the mirror, I look tired. There are bags under my eyes. It takes more energy than it should to get up in the morning. I wonder if my hair has always been this thin. I wonder if I look older. Things aren’t as easy as they used to be.
My mother likes to remind me that I’m “almost 30,” as if I am unaware of the demise of my own youth, something I used to think was eternal, but lately feels fleeting. I notice my age everywhere. On the faces of the girls wearing thin tights and torn jeans despite the winter weather, in the lopsided oversized hats only 16-year-olds can pull off. I see it in my friends, the ones getting married and buying houses and having babies. I see it in the clothing draped on mannequins as I walk down Queen Street West, gazing through the windows. They do not reflect my style or my desires anymore.
I see it in all the dreams I had, the things I said I’d do by 25, by 27, and now by the looming 30. I try not to become angry with myself for not meeting expectations I set for myself when I was younger, ambitions decided before I knew how the world really worked. It’s just that these are things I thought I’d do, that I’d have done by now. The movie version is playing out differently than the fiction I imagined.
Many summers ago, some friends and I would drink and dance in bars before stumbling over to afterhours clubs, one in particular, every single weekend, and we’d laugh and stay up until well after the sun came up, splitting cabs and dragging ourselves back to our respective apartments, passing tired baristas as they unlocked cafes around us. I felt so alive and young then. I felt like things would feel that way forever.
But they didn’t, of course. The summer ended and so did the parties. When fall rolled around, life took on a chameleon-like form and we all returned to our normal routines, whatever our normal was then.
I met up with those friends again this past weekend. It had been a while, too long actually, and we were reminiscing about things when the topic of that summer came up. We realized that five years had passed. It weighed down on me, thinking about how long it had been, how things can simultaneously change and stay the same. How there I was with the same group of people, but we were being civil and philosophical, our conversations had depth and meaning, and not a single person asked me if I wanted to do a shot.
And maybe that’s when this whole thing started, when I started thinking about my past self as the somewhat wild, young 20-something who lived life without fear and trusted that everything would just work out somehow. I was carefree, but I was also careless. I did not have the same boundaries as I do now. I did not understand the flaws in my character. The things I thought made me charming or endearing then, I’d never allow now. But still I miss her sometimes, the version of me who didn’t worry as much. And maybe sometimes I wish I could return to that era of innocence and ignorance, traits erased by age.
I’m not scared of getting older, but I am scared of life passing me by. And maybe that’s why I panic slightly when a milestone age comes and goes and I haven’t yet created some magnum opus that solidifies my place in history and justifies my struggles, the bane of a writer’s existence. Maybe it feels like time is passing by too fast.
But then I need to remind myself that I’m only 28, and while yes that is “almost 30,” it’s also not 30. I’ve become a different person over the past two years, and I’ll be different still another two years from now. I get conflicted dancing on this line between youth and womanhood, but I’m starting to learn the moves (I could never really hold the beat before anyway). And you know what, I may be getting older. But I’m also becoming a much better dancer.
“Thank you for coming to practice,” he says, adjusting the volume on his headset to make sure everybody can hear him. It hums as he fiddles with it, but I barely notice. I am too busy concentrating on the sound of his voice, the familiarity of it.
How is it possible life has come full circle like this? It perplexes and intrigues me how this version of my past could collide with my present in such a way. I imagine going back in time 15 years to tell a younger version of myself that this would be happening. I never would have believed it. I can barely believe it now.
But there he is: Dave Moffatt of the 1990s/early 2000s Canadian band the Moffatts, leading a free yoga class at Toronto’s Mountain Equipment Coop of all places. This is somebody I saw perform sold out concerts at some of the city’s biggest venues more than a decade ago. Friends of mine had scribbled his name in black Sharpie on neon posters from the dollar store, and although my favourite member (as it is customary to have a favourite member when you are a preteen-aged young woman) was the lead singer, I am still a little star struck being in the presence of somebody who helped define so much of my adolescence.
The Moffatts were my band. While my peers were drawn to choreographed pop stars like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, I was taken by how the quartet of brothers played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. I liked the topics the Moffatts explored: first, young love and innocence; and later, in their best and final album, more complex issues such as sex and depression, matters not often associated with a band best known for a bubbly ballad called “I Miss You Like Crazy.”
But more than that, the Moffatts were my first introduction to a community that made me feel like I was finally part of something. Music made up for all the holes in my real life, the void other girls filled with boys, parties and other things I knew little of. The Moffatts brought a richness to my life. They were a catalyst for new friendships, some of which became life long, and they were the foundation of the quintessential preteen fantasy that boys like that could write songs about girls like me. But eventually this faded. My heart turned to real boys, new bands, and a growing circle of friends, and I no longer needed the Moffatts the way I once did. Yet seeing Dave in the flesh brings some of these feelings and memories back, and they come with a sort of sadness, filling me with this sinking awareness of how things that once seemed necessary can end.
It is a Sunday morning in mid November and it is snowing ever so lightly outside. By this point I am starting to get used to waking up at sunrise to go to yoga classes on weekends. In the months leading up to Dave’s class, I had started trading in late nights at the bar for early mornings at the studio in an attempt to introduce more balance into my life. I arrive to class eager and early, so I find myself drinking coffee in Starbucks and staring out the window down Spadina to pass the time.
As we ready for class a little later, I can’t help but almost stare at Dave. He is smaller than I imagined he would be, tiny and bendy. I watch as he contorts his body into inhuman shapes. I have been practicing yoga for just over eight months and am amazed by what my own body has learned to do. I wonder if mine too will be able to shape shift like that once I have the experience he has.
The previous night, I had been out celebrating my friend Erin’s birthday when I saw a guy who reminded me of Dave Moffatt. I hadn’t really thought about the Moffatts in a long time and I wondered what Dave looked like now. I Googled it, and as I began typing his name, “Dave Moffatt Yoga” came up.
My heart skipped a beat. That couldn’t be the Dave Moffatt could it? I knew he lived in Toronto. A friend had spotted him twice in her neighbourhood, once at the post office and another time while walking down the street. As the page loaded, my doubts quickly disintegrated: the keyboardist of a band I was once admittedly obsessed with was indeed now teaching yoga classes in my city. As fluke would have it, he had tweeted about a class taking place the very next day. “Are you teaching?” I giddily tweeted at him. He responded shortly after with a yes, you should come. Erin and I agreed to part ways and reconvene for class in the morning.
It takes all of my energy to not burst into laughter at how surreal everything feels the next day. I cannot make eye contact with Erin for it would surely push me over the edge and at times I can barely even look at Dave himself. But I get into the class, as you always do with yoga, and for a while I forget it is Dave teaching. I become lost in the flow, no longer even in the room but in another realm entirely. Just like with music. It only comes back to me when he adjusts me, repositioning my body just slightly. As he walks away I can’t help but mouth to Erin, “He touched me.”
The feeling is enough to make me aware once again of the strange nature of the situation. As the session winds down and we rise from savasana, he begins to chant melodically. Singing and chanting are not part of my usual yoga practice, but it feels almost right in that moment. Of course he has to sing.
When class ends I have to talk to him. Something inside of me needs him to acknowledge that this is real.
“Hi Dave,” I say as I stagger up to him. “Thanks for the great class.”
“Sheena, right?” He responds, surprising me. “I recognize you from Twitter. It’s nice to meet you!”
“Nice to meet you too,” I say, as if I hadn’t before. No teenybopper can go through her teenybopper career without the compulsory experience of at least one crazed autograph signing.
I smile. Nothing about this makes sense and yet somehow everything does. The coincidence forces me to truly reflect on where my life is now and on how much has changed since I last saw the Moffatts perform on stage. I am not the same girl I once was.
Yoga is powerful like that. It grounds you and makes you come to terms with things in the most meaningful way. The practice comes with an awareness and acceptance of your self and the things around you in a manner that is both internal and infinite. Something feels different as I walk away from class. I am aware of each snowflake, in awe of how beautiful everything looks in its dusting of white, and conscious of just how calm the world can be on a sleepy Sunday morning. Everything is in its place, and I feel exactly where I need to be.
Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Image from Tribe Fitness.
So many times I have packed and unpacked, moving along to new cities in a effort to constantly feel alive, to make my dreams come true and to fulfill my inner free spirit. Every time I move to a new place to live, there is a big reality check coming along with it. Effectively, I need to learn how to live all over again. I need to understand the city and its culture. I need to meet the right people with which I will have meaningful relationships. I need to know the spots to buy cheap and tasty groceries, the cool cafés, the best parks, the splendid street art. It might seem easy and of course, it is blissful to stroll through new cities to discover new haunts. Alas, it is quite another thing to settle down in an unfamiliar place.
I just arrived in London, Ontario to start a Master in Journalism. I will stay here for one year and I already knew before leaving that it would be quite a challenge for me as a big-city girl that feels comfortable either in the countryside or in the city. I’ve always had trouble being in a small town or a suburb, as I feel that difference is more or less accepted. Despite having lived in London UK, Vancouver and Erlangen in Germany, moving somewhere else is always a challenge, even if it is the tenth time you’ve done it. It always means starting over.
Before leaving Montreal, I felt heavy, as though my past was weighing on my shoulders. As I was sifting through drawers of stuff from my twenty-five years on Earth, I reflected upon the fact that in life, nothing is forever and objects eventually have to live another life or disintegrate. I also pondered upon past trends, old friends, and my very identity.
It took weeks to sort things out. I had to make sure that I didn’t throw away useful stuff, or worse, keep too much. I have been moving apartments every year and downgrading in size, but I knew that this was my ultimate move. I’m going away to study now but I don’t plan on coming back to Montreal after I’m done. We’ll see where I’ll find my true calling (New York?).
Right now, I feel torn between missing my friends and my city and knowing fully well that I need to move forward in life and that my time in London will not exceed twelve months. I am now living in an apartment without internet (a devastating misunderstanding with the girl I rented the room from) which makes me feel insanely alone, helpless and empty. It makes me realize that this is a wonderful opportunity to stop and breathe but especially, reflect.
When I arrived in my first apartment in Vancouver at seventeen, I had constant insomnia despite being an usually sound sleeper. I could not fall asleep because I was highly receptive of the melancholy and sadness of life, and the fear of being alone and starting anew was keeping me awake at night. I felt miles away, physically and psychologically, from my loved ones. I still feel the same kind of restless anxiety years later as I’m trying to calm my nerves by myself, without being able to call anyone or say anything. In that case, writing is the only thing that really helps, in an effort to open up a conversation.
I remember when I was living in Erlangen and my bedroom was by the window. Evidently, as it was summer and that there were picnic tables just outsides, engineering dudes used to drink beer and speak loudly when I was trying to sleep. A similar pattern was happening last night, as my apartment was vibrating from loud music and that shouting from drunk dudes was coming across. When times are though and that I feel grumpy, I’m trying to be grateful nevertheless, otherwise life would be too melodramatic.
Yesterday was rainy and I walked kilometres in the windy and rainy weather to go downtown. I stopped at the river where I watched the geese swimming and listened to the water flowing down. I also saw street art under the bridge. I kept walking to see a clothing store that I was surprised had an outlet in London. I was in much need of retail therapy although it had to be a cheap session, given my financial circumstances. I got a new shirt, earrings and a badass women of hip-hop colouring book. I paid for my items and left the store to spot, right across the corner, a lady in front of Wine Rack with a sign written ‘‘Free Tasting’’ on it. What better way to invite people in? I came in and started talking to Megan, as her name tag suggested. She made me try two wines and a cider and listened to my newly-arrived desperate tale. She helped me with directions and encouraged me to come again on my way back.
I kept walking with the humidity making my bones shiver. The mix of bad weather, sadness and poor architecture was putting me in a bad mood again. In a shop window on which was written ‘‘free henna tattoos’’, I saw a girl rocking multicolor dreadlocks. I thought she looked cool but especially, that she looked like an individual in a city where people tend to look the same. I was tempted to go in but she was busy with somebody else. I thus kept walking, failing to find a grocery store.
I was downtown and there was a lenghty line-up to enter a comic book store. People were either disguised or wearing normal attire, and it made for quite a scene. As I kept walking, I ran into heaps of hobos, and I felt that I had hit rock bottom for the day. Despair was seizing me, and I knew that I had to head back. Walking on the same street again, I finally entered the elusive store, where I was greeted by two sunny ladies. I sat down with the dreadlock girl for a henna tattoo and we started to chat. It did not take long to realize that we were both from Montreal and felt quite different here. That conversation brought about a much-needed feeling of acceptance and relief. I knew right then and there that I was going to be friends with that girl. We spoke French and it was so comforting to let my guard down. She invited me to an 80s night tonight and even if I have school tomorrow, I’ll probably check it out.
Following that moving encounter, I went to the Covent Garden Market and got quite long-faced when I realized that organic food in London was way more expensive than in large cities such as Montreal or Toronto. Upon talking to a lady in the store, I got a list of other organic stores in the area. She winked at me when I was walking around, and I was so thankful to her for understanding the situation and sending positive vibes my way. It calmed me down to realize how people could be lovely. I know that I will make friends here, but I’ll just have to find my tribe, like anywhere else. I might be alone right now, but it’s an occasion to reflect and open up headspace for new experiences.
If I do feel lonely, I can open up a box of photographs, look at the pictures on my walls, or else at the henna tattoo on my hand. I’ll have to be brave, but I’ll be able to go through this, once again. Hopefully, the dudes downstairs did quiet down around eleven and I slept like a baby for twelve hours. I woke up to a sunny morning. As a French saying goes, ‘‘après la pluie, le beau temps’’.*
*After rain comes beautiful weather.
Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.
Maggie is my shih tzu. My girl. My geriatric mostly blind, deaf and legitimately demented girl. I love her to bits, which makes my sentiment terribly difficult to admit and even harder to deal with: I’m prepared to say goodbye because I’m running on empty.
I don’t like taking care of her anymore, watching her walk around in circles and listening to her whimpers of confusion. The difficult part is when she doesn’t act sick at all, it’s when she goes and finds one of her toys and barks happily at it. Or she runs around outside and I swear I can see a smile on her face. Her steps are even peppy. But then it’s back to being fussy at meal time. Peeing in the kitchen. Wandering around in the middle of the night until she’s lost in the living room and whining until I retrieve her and bring her back to her bed. She has to feel tired of this charade that is our daily life too, right? Who’s to say? Not me. Not now. She’s physically still “okay” (despite renal dysplasia, failing kidneys, being mostly blind and deaf and full-on in the throws of doggy dementia). So what do we do? We keep on going. I keep taking care of her because she’s my dog. She’s my girl. I love her. I miss her. She’s in there somewhere, but she doesn’t come out to play very often. And I’m sad during parts of every day.
I’m not sure what I was thinking when I adopted her. No, I do know. I was feeling excited, nervous, scared – so what are all of those emotions rolled into one? Anxious? Yes. Anxious. I was going to adopt a dog! I really wanted a dog. I had always wanted a dog. As a little girl, an only child growing up in suburbia, I asked my parents for a dog for every birthday, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and at the beginning of summer holidays.
“No, you can go and visit your friends’ dogs,” my mother would say, “NO!” And my father would always defer to her stern rule.
I remember we babysat my friend Kelly’s dog, Sandy, for a week when I was around seven-years-old. It was great. I felt blissful. Sandy and I ran and played in the backyard until the sun set. She slept at my feet in the evenings. I brushed her. I didn’t watch TV for the whole time she was there! Even reading a book was better with a dog by my side. Ever since I was a baby, I would spend part of my summers in Newfoundland with my Aunt Dolly, Uncle Ray, cousin Chris, Nanny Marge, and my favourite one: their dog Mandy. Mandy was a mutt. A real mutt. She was black and white, had scruffy fur and a tea-stained hairy snout. My Nan used to leave her half drunk cups of milky tea on the floor and let the dog lap up her dregs. I remember I was crying one day; I don’t remember what I was crying about, but I remember Mandy the mutt sniffing out my hiding place with a box of tissues clenched in her jaw. I loved that dog. When my aunt called to tell me that Mandy had passed away, I broke down. Heavy tears. Cried so hard my whole body hurt. Newfoundland wouldn’t be the same without her. She’d been my bestest pal since I was a toddler and teenaged me, naively, thought she might live forever if I hoped hard enough. (Years prior, she’d been hit by a car and broken her legs, her insides all sloshed around, and she recovered from that. She was a tough girl. I thought she was invincible.) This was the first time I had to say goodbye to a furry part of the family. Yet, I had no idea what heartbreak was truly like.
Mandy and I only spent one season per year together; the other three were filled with distance and dogs aren’t really the telephone or Skype types. I didn’t miss her so much everyday because she was never part of my everyday. Not like Maggie. My Maggie.
It was March 2003. I was in my early twenties. I was anxious. I wanted a dog. I was going to get a dog. I’d studied for all of the questions I was told I’d be asked in the “are you suitable to adopt a pet” interview. I’d visited the Toronto Humane Society heaps of times before and I was determined to come home with a furry companion. I wanted. a. dog. Specifically, I wanted this little shih tzu who had just been rescued from an abusive home, had surgery to remove mammary tumours and be spayed, and was afraid of everyone. I hadn’t even seen her. She sounded like a handful. But she felt like mine. I walked into the room of pets available for adoption. It smelled of urine and fear and hope. There, in a giant cage, crouched a frail and precious creature. The name plate said “Portia.” Okay. She didn’t look like a Portia, but we could change that. I walked back to the waiting area and paced until it was my turn for an interview.
I was ushered into a small room called the “meeting” room, where I was told to wait for a THS worker to go and get “Portia” and we’d meet in this room to see if she liked me. So now the dog interviews me? That’s a crazy, yet awesome, thing. They brought her in. She looked like a puppy in the arms of the attendant. She was shaking mildly. He put her down on the cold linoleum floor and she so very timidly stood there, gazing up at me. (I guessed that she was looking at me. Even when she had full sight, it was hard to tell where Maggie was directing her gaze because her eyeballs are angled in opposite directions. She literally looks like a Muppet.)
I knelt down and put my right arm out. She inched toward me, this charcoal and white smoosh of a shih tzu, a real live fluffy toy with giant (Muppet) eyes. Slowly making her way closer to me, almost there, she stuck out her neck to sniff. I crouched down and stuck my face closer to her. She crept closer, stretching herself out further, extending her snout, and then she licked my nose and backed up with the ferver of a cartoon and stared at me. What a little fart! I teared up and smiled so widely I’m sure the corners of my mouth graced my earlobes. I scooped her up and she was at ease. No shaking. Okay, where do I sign?
As we went for our first walk, Maggie thought it made sense to sit down in the middle of the crosswalk. This is when I first experienced that stubbornness of hers. She wouldn’t move. She became 900 pounds of muscle and brut strength. Luckily, in reality, she was only eight pounds, so I could easily win the stand-off… er, sit off.
Name-changing time. I almost called Maggie “Petunia.” But she was a Maggie. She IS a Maggie. And still stubborn as a mule. We’ve been together 11 years. She’s been my constant companion: through three boyfriends, our beloved kitty BuffyCat, a move to Vancouver and a move back again, a house (home ownership in suburbia wasn’t for me), and now another apartment. She has put up with countless costume changes, above and beyond the necessary layers to keep her warm in winter, all in stride. She has greeted me with barks and jumps and licks after long days at work. She has been my hot water bottle and made my muscles feel better by lying on my abdomen during my time of the month. She’s been my partner in play at the beach and in the park. She’s watched movies in bed with me on sick days. She has the purest heart of any creature I’ve ever had the honour of knowing.
Right now: Maggie whines a lot. I mean heart-wrenching whimpers and whines. Maggie’s not whining due to her physical ailments–at least, the vet doesn’t think those things are at the root of her whimpers. The dementia is eating her brain. When she feels restless, she whines. When she wants a cookie in lieu of her food, she whines. She mostly wanders around the apartment randomly whining, trapping herself in corners, as if she is lost. The only times she isn’t whining is when she’s sleeping in one of her three dog beds (she snores) or when she’s peeing… which is a lot lately. I go outside with her no less than four times per day no matter the weather – ice storm, freezing cold, rain, and in the ridiculous wind tunnel that exists around my apartment building. I take her out when I’m sick and often (usually) when I’m tired. I’ve recently purchased doggie diapers for those times I just can’t keep up with her demanding and impromptu bladder release ‘schedule.’ She won’t use a potty-patch. She won’t go on the balcony. And I’ve lost patience with mopping the floor constantly. Maggie takes medication and it must be administered by way of her hand-fed meals (special prescription food complete with homemade beef stew broth) twice per day; and, although I can play with meal timing a bit, there isn’t much leeway (so that means every day is an alarm clock day). Do I sound like a neurotic pet owner yet? Probably. But I don’t know how else to be (and if someone has advice, I invite constructive words).
Maggie will be 16 years old in March – well, approximately. Nobody really knows for sure since her abusive former owner wouldn’t disclose her age, so based on her condition 11 years ago, the vets guess she was about five. The age guess was due to very bad teeth and mammary tumours that had developed because she hadn’t been spayed by the douchebag who had owned her. When she wasn’t getting yelled at by this scum-of-the-earth guy – or kicked, or left outside in winter – she was being neglected. She’d been matted down to the skin. The reason her teeth were so bad was because she ate only table scraps and had never eaten kibble or hard foods. (She still won’t eat kibble, but she does chomp on the hard milkbones. Win. And our vet says her teeth and gums are amazing now.) Maggie also has colitis. Her little body has a hard time eating and digesting. And the hand-feeding is because she’s usually too freaked out to eat on her own. She’ll stare at the food or hover over it and whine. If I hand-feed her pieces of her own food, something in her psyche tells her that it’s okay to eat that. It gets a little messy, but there are worse things.
Watching her fade away is one of the worst things. It’s mentally and emotionally draining day in and day out. When we go for walks, they’re more like meanders and just stand there time. Sometimes, she walks in small circles. Every day, Maggie is less and less like the charismatic, loving companion she once was. She does have her good days, when she actually runs around outside and I can feel how happy she is and it’s like a fix of emotional pain medication. But it’s those same days that make the bad days even harder. I feel like an asshole because sometimes I wonder how she’s hung on this long and how she continues to hang on and wouldn’t it be more convenient if I didn’t have to take care of her anymore. (Even the vet told me the other day that she was surprised Maggie is still alive and that she’s kind of a medical anomaly.) But she’s not physically at a point where it’s “time.”
Which leaves us at an impasse. Our situation is not ideal. It’s laborious for me. It’s inconvenient. But I can’t put an end to her because she’s inconvenient. I love her. I don’t want her to suffer. I don’t want to kill her. But I also don’t know how to keep going as we are because each day I feel my patience fading away. And, each day, I feel guilty about that. Part of me wishes I could give her to a loving home to live out her days so I don’t have to watch her deteriorate, but that would be giving up wouldn’t it? Am I actually an asshole for feeling like this? Maybe. I can’t stand the whining. I get no peace. I’m always on edge. Judges, go ahead and rule. I love my dog. I also feel like I lost my dog a long time ago and in her place is this helpless, moody, distant creature who acts like my Maggie just often enough to pull at my heart strings and give me strength to keep on keeping on.
I can understand why my mother never allowed me to have pets growing up; however it would have been beneficial to know such love and loss before I was an adult. Children process hardships better. They don’t overthink things. They see a situation for what it is at its core. When it was time to say goodbye to my dear, sweet BuffyCat in August 2012, I remember my mother was so distraught. She said, “See, this is too hard. This is why you couldn’t have a pet.” I think my mother didn’t want to be responsible for the decisions that need to be made toward the end of a pet’s life, specifically: THAT decision. A kid doesn’t get to make THAT decision. Making that decision for my BuffyCat wrenched my heart and soul and mind in more ways than I had ever imagined or experienced before. I never want to make that decision again… of course, I have Maggie, so unless she spares me and peacefully passes during her sleep, I’m going to have to make it. And I’m going to be judged for it. I was judged for even asking if it was time due to her mental struggles. Apparently constant whining due to mental illness is totally fine. She’s miserable. I’m miserable. So what’s the solution?
Perhaps that’s what you sign up for when you adopt a pet. “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” is a terrible song because the sentiment in it is completely and wholly shallow and does not even hint at what being a pet owner is about. I commited myself to my pets. I have to make the best decisions for them, which are not always the the best decisions for me. I would not forgive myself if I gave up on Maggie before her time; and, simultaneously, if I prolonged any suffering. This literal flogging of my feelings is beyond circular at this point. I think I know. I don’t know. I’m wrong… I believe (finally) that I made the right decision for my BuffyCat. It’s funny – I always thought Buffy was invincible. She was a street kitty who found us. She took care of Mags and me. I thought she’d be there to help me through losing Maggie. I thought Maggie’s body would give way before her mind. Fucking dog. She is in diapers only because I can’t keep up with how often she needs to go pee. I’ve stayed home from social engagements to be with Maggie because I’ve felt like guilty for even thinking about leaving her again after leaving her alone while I’ve worked the whole day.
Yesterday’s vet visit cost me $150. Food for her averages out at about $80 per month. And time spent taking care of her (not playing with her or having a rare cuddle) if tallied in billable hours would easily equal three hundred and fifty minimum wage dollars per week. I haven’t purchased a new pair of boots in three years. I’m also in a long-distance relationship and plane tickets are expensive. It takes me a long time and much financial creativity to save for a plane ticket. And when I do manage some vacation time, I have to arrange for temporary care for Maggie. I love her with all my heart; but I can’t say that anything about having my dog is easy or great anymore.
I believe that Maggie has been a gift in my life. Gifts come in all shapes and sizes and forms of tangibility. Loving Maggie has forced responsibility, compassion, generosity and gratitude into my being. Maggie has challenged me every day we’ve been together. Somtimes moment by moment. I was very much a kid when I adopted Maggie. I never thought I would be taking care her of her alone (read: in my early twenties I couldn’t fathom not being married with a family of my before age 30, so naturally adopting a dog was part of this fairytale thought process). My life wasn’t supposed to be like this. But apparently the rule of the universe is you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. (Maybe my cosmic GPS is broken?) Based on where I am now, I think Maggie’s made me a better person, in spite of the days I feel and act like a sad and bitter bitch… and in spite of the days Maggie acts like a sad and bitter bitch.
Trellawny works in advertising, loves cooking, and her boyfriend too. Her latest goal is to try and find the happy in her remaining days with Maggie.