Fear, Alone Time and Writing

This morning was, I think, the first time I’ve ever been afraid on the subway. It was only a few moments, but I’d promised Brody I’d be home a bit early tonight, and there was a sudden brief flash of time where it occurred to me that I might not ever be home again. My train pulled into the busy Yonge and Bloor station, commuters bustled off and on, all of us settled into our morning routines. The door chimes signalled that the doors were about to close – but they didn’t. Then the floor shuddered as the engine of the train shut down. Moments later, all of the lights went out.

Everyone was looking around, as though any of us could see the cause of the shutdown from our positions inside the train, and I realized that if a bomb were to go off, most of us would be screwed. Busiest subway station during rush hour, I was near the front of the train so would likely get the brunt of the blast if it was meant to take off the head of the snake, so to speak. And not only are we all crammed into the train, but the force of any blast would carry destruction down the tunnels, as well. It’s basically a big tube into which we were all trapped.

I wondered about the things people think about when they find themselves in the midst of a random attack, if they have time to think at all.

As it turned out, there was no bomb, but rather a trespasser at track level at College station. All of the power to the line had to be shut down so that the deadly third rail would be rendered inactive until the unauthorized individual could be removed. My fear turned to anger mixed with resignation, and as I waited for my journey to continue onward toward work, I listened to the update announcements – power off at College, emergency alarm activated on at least two different trains, possibly three. Thankfully they put the air back on in my train, as it takes exactly no time for the stench of the surrounding humanity to fill the nostrils once the air has stopped circulating.

The worst thing about public transit is the public.

In other news, I had a pretty sweet evening last night. I created it by myself, for myself, and it was pretty awesome, all things considered. It was all very simple – got flowers, which made my apartment smell amazing, then made popcorn, opened a cold beer, and watched TV with Brody. Well…Brody was all about the popcorn, not so much the TV. But all three cats and the dog eventually all just curled up in their spots and we hung out together. It was really nice.

I did have to laugh at the image of me walking home with cat litter in one hand, and flowers I’d gotten for myself in the other. Crazy cat lady spinster, I totally am! Yet, also content. I’d tidied my apartment a bit over the weekend, too, so everything felt fresh and cozy; my treasures all shined up and surrounding me with little reminders of who I am. I was home for a few hours, and it felt great.

I also just received word that the library’s Writer in Residence will indeed meet with me to chat about the opening excerpt of Carving The Light (my first novel), so I sent in my preferred time slots (leaving Saturday mornings and early afternoons open for the inevitable zoo visits I’ll be taking often very soon now that my bear is back in town), and will see which one ends up being mine. I want to refresh my memory going in this time, and maybe even have a clearer idea of what I want to do with the story, so that I get as much as I can out of this discussion. Things like this always get me excited about writing. Just talking about it ignites my passion for it. It’ll be interesting to see how things feel once I’ve spent some time speaking with another author about it all again!

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Busy Long Weekend Ahead

Of course, for me, that simply means that there are reasons I’m expected to leave the apartment every day that aren’t work-related…and that sucks. Haha

If I could stay home, I would, most of the time. That’s part of the reason I’m always late for stuff. I have a difficult time leaving if I don’t really have to.

I’m also just kind of a jerk that way, I guess.

I love going home, though, after I’ve been out. I get such sweet greetings from the critters, for starters. And it’s like I can just relax and breathe again, which is nice. Being tense for all the time I spend away from home is exhausting! Haha

I’ve just learned one of my days away is going to be even longer than planned, which stresses me out a bit, but it’s true. It’s only one day. We’ll all get through it. I don’t look forward to all the stuff I’ll have to do between getting back and going to bed, so that won’t really be relaxing and breathing. But it’s only one day.

I can do that.

Speaking of critters, Brody and I did okay last night and this morning. I’m pretty sure some of the pack leader processes are just not going to work for me, but some will. Like, even though I have to struggle to keep Jack Bear out of his face, Brody is back to sitting before he gets treats. I’m trying to be consistent with it because I’m sure he’s wondering where the hell THAT rule came from all of a sudden. But he’d done it before, and he’s a smart guy, so he seems to be picking it back up pretty quickly again now. To me, it was not important to have him do stuff for my entertainment just to earn a reward – he earns them just by being him, as far as I’m concerned. But if it gives his brain a little something extra to do during the day, then it’s good for him, and therefore I am all about it.

The whole going through doors first isn’t exactly practical – my building doors close automatically, for example, and I don’t want to risk getting him stuck in or hit by one. He’s only little, guys! He already gets kicked a lot and stepped on by accident. I see no need to risk getting him bumped around more. My apartment door I’m trying to get us through more or less together. And stairs…just however we can get up and down them without either of us falling.

Walking…supposedly he’s supposed to walk beside or behind me, not in front. So far, he has always walked in front. Sometimes beside. There’s no way I want him walking behind me, though. I can’t keep and eye on him back there, and – to my mind – a walk is our time together. More for him than for me, even, but together nonetheless. Walking behind me is not together, and I’m just…no. Not doing it. I’ve got him walking next to me, more or less consistently, but he’s not always a fan. Plus, I can’t see his cute butt waddle as well as I can when he’s trotting out front. So while I am getting him used to walking next to me most of the time, I don’t think it’s going to be strictly enforced 100% of the time. Once we’re both comfortable with it, then I’ll go back to letting him trot a little bit ahead again. Not pulling, but not right next to me all the time, either.

That’s my plan, anyway. We’ll see how it goes and adjust from there.

Don’t Read This One

Seriously, I’m just ranting – you don’t need to read this one.  I feel like I say too much, but not nearly enough, and am just trying to get out of my head for a moment.

It’s okay to give this one a pass.

I’ll write something else later.

Either way, here goes nothing…

To say I am frustrated and disappointed with the Fire Marshal would be an understatement. There really are no words, yet at the same time, there will never be enough words. I can’t wrap my head around what appears to be a flippant dismissal of the loss of life, and responsibility, and justice…and while none of that can bring back those kids, I feel like a half-assed investigation only adds insult to injury. I mean, isn’t the main function of a Fire Marshal investigation to determine the cause of a fire? Not just call it inconclusive, sit on it for over two years and then say, “Oh, I don’t know, it was probably caused by (this first guess). Case closed.”

I don’t think a Coroner would just wave his or her hand and say, “I don’t know…the person probably died because of (this first guess). Case closed.”

Or maybe they would. I don’t know if anyone is doing their freaking job anymore. I have lost confidence in the people who hold such positions to carry their share of the responsibility in determining what happened, and how similar tragedies can be prevented in the future.

They didn’t even interview the lone survivor about that night, let alone any of the people who were at the apartment so often it was like a second home to them. Yet apparently felt it was fine to ask me questions through a friend. For the most part, though, they just made an assumption and called it a day. An assumption that was quite likely incorrect. Didn’t even look into anything else; any other possible cause.

One smoke detector had no battery, the other was probably not working – they’re not sure. Just that everyone reported that no smoke detectors were going off when the fire was discovered. One was located above the stove in the kitchen, and one outside the boys’ bedrooms at the front. So…I guess the one in the kitchen also served as the regulated-by-law smoke detector that is supposed to be outside of the girls’ sleeping areas, as well? A little double duty from over the stove in the kitchen?

That both exits were on the same side of the building doesn’t seem to have raised any concerns about the apartment being up to code, nor the fact that walls were added to turn the space into a 4-bedroom instead of two. I have a screen shot of the rental ad – well, a rental ad for that apartment. Not necessarily the one the kids answered when they found the place. But basically the same. It wasn’t turned into a makeshift 4-bedroom for them specifically. It was advertised as such. Are two smoke detectors really enough for a 4-bedroom when one of them is in the kitchen area? Above the stove, for Pete’s sake?

That the landlord is not legally responsible for maintaining the smoke detectors is frustrating. Apparently we as a society feel it is up to a group of kids in their early 20’s to dutifully check to ensure everything is in proper working order when they move in, rather than the owner dude renting the space to them in the first place. I didn’t check mine until this all happened, because I know that the landlord checks them regularly, but when I found that things like this can not only happen, but also be my fault, I became a little more paranoid than I was before (and I was already really paranoid). I am not in my early 20’s, though. Not on my own for the first time. I was 41 when I started testing my smoke detectors more often than the landlord was doing it.

The kids’ landlord didn’t do it at all. Not in the time that they lived there, at least.

And apparently the Fire Marshal doesn’t deem that an important factor, either. Doesn’t think any of it is, really. So what if three kids and a little kitten lost their lives? No one need speak for them. No one need determine the reason how any of it happened. I used to believe people in those positions would fight to do their jobs to the very best of their abilities. That not knowing wasn’t a suitable answer. That guessing was never the way.

Which means I watch too much TV. Turns out to real people, it’s just a day job, and then they go home, without giving another thought to those who will never get to go home again.

I get that everyone’s just doing the minimum required. I get that nothing can change what happened, no matter how much investigation is done. I understand (almost) all of it on a reasonable level, but that doesn’t change my frustration and sadness and disappointment and anger and hurt and…just…overall upset-ness. The minimum effort raises more questions than it answers, and those kids deserve more. The families deserve more. Ethan deserves more. He at least deserves the chance to fill in some of the blanks for those investigating what happened. He was there, after all, and he’s the one who has to live with those memories for the rest of his life. At least ask his side of it, if it’s your job to determine what happened. To me, that actually falls under the bare minimum, but then again, I’m not the Fire Marshal. Just someone who, on some level, will never really understand any of it at all.

I go over that night in my head constantly, you know. Constantly. I wasn’t there. I’d never been inside the apartment until after everything had been taken out. I didn’t even know any of them but Alysia. But I picture it over and over; my mind is full of unanswered questions about how everything happened, trying to fill in the many, many blanks. I feel like if any one thing had gone differently that night, they would all still be alive.

If even just one smoke detector had gone off, for example.

I had a dream last night that I was choosing between…like, it had something to do with Spanish, even though I don’t speak it. But essentially, I had to choose whether I would learn to help Spanish-speaking people in a legal forum, or a musical one. I know. But hey, music speaks, too. I had the impression that either I would be working for people’s rights – the rights of those who could not communicate effectively due to the language barrier – or if I would help in a more spiritual/emotional way through the implementation of music and dance programs.

I chose law, and even in the dream I couldn’t believe I was picking the more difficult road.

I just felt it would be the one where I could be most effective and make the most difference.

I chose to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.

Seeking Home

I remember the day I realized I really couldn’t go home again.

It had felt at the time like everything had happened pretty much all at once. I mean, my parents had already divorced and sold the house my brother and I grew up in – the house they’d built, in fact – years before, but that still smarted some (she says, as though it doesn’t still).

I’d returned to Toronto as a failure at life, and subletted probably the worst apartment I’ve ever seen, let alone lived in, which I was later forced to sign a year lease on, so I was definitely ready to get out of there once my lease was up. I tried to rent a cute little Jr 1-bedroom in the building I’d lived in before trying to move to the US, but my application was turned down immediately because I’d filed for bankruptcy.

That stung, too, as I’d just been living there less than two years prior, and there had been no problems with my tenancy then. As well, I had virtually no debt, and a full time job, so in that sense, I could have been the perfect tenant. But I get it. Bad credit is bad credit, so I moved on, and tried to quell the fear that I’d have to take something as equally horrible as the space I was trying to escape.

It occurred to me then, that my childhood home was gone, the home I’d created with the person I loved was gone, and the building where I’d first learned to live completely on my own (with Kate the kitten, of course), was also gone.

Well, none of them were gone gone – just inaccessible to me. Which in my mind and heart was pretty much the same thing.

It’s funny, though, because I’ve always had this idea in my head as to what “home” meant to me; what it would feel like when I made it for myself. I don’t think I’ve ever actually lived anywhere which felt like that, though. Some have been close, but so far the best I’ve done is create a protective barrier to keep the outside world at bay when I need it. Haven’t really gotten to the homey feeling I’m looking for yet.

Anyway, all of that, naturally, led to me landing the amazing apartment I have now. It’s far from perfect, especially now with all the construction and such next door, but it’s my space, and I love it. Kate only got to enjoy it for a matter of months before she died, which will also always hurt my heart, because I always wanted her to have a better life than what I was able to provide. Same for the critters in my care now, though I’m able to give them better than I could Kate, and I’m still learning all the time, so that’s something.

Anyway, we’re making it home-like for us, and that’s the important part. Any other home I had are forever out of reach; lost to memory. All we can do is make new ones as we go along.

Maybe someday, one will even stick.

Bankruptcy

I guess you could say my credit issues started right around the time I first got credit. Well, unless you count student loans, which I don’t. The first time I got credit by myself as an adult was after I was accepted to teacher’s college.

Prior to that, I’d moved out of my happy little home into the home of the person with whom I was in a relationship at the time. I gave away my bed and stored a bunch of my stuff in the spare bedroom, and chipped in what I could for rent and bills and the like for close to a year. When I was accepted to another year of full time education, though, I knew things had to change, as I wouldn’t be working for the majority of the year.

I was told not to worry about getting a student loan; I’d be taken care of.

I was told not to bother getting a credit card; I’d be taken care of.

I was told a student line of credit was unnecessary; that I’d be taken care of.

I was assured that I could quit my job outright, rather than stay on for a day or two a week through the school year – because I’d be taken care of.

I decided that I would rather have all of those options and not really need them, then need them and not have them, so I applied for everything, and – being a student – I was approved. I figured I could at least build a great credit rating by making small purchases and then paying them off each month, and if anything came up over the year I was being edumacated, I had back-up.

Turned out something came up pretty quickly, before school even started. I’d quit smoking when I’d learned of my acceptance, and then the blatant cheating began, the relationship ended, and I moved into a spare room in the apartment a good friend shared with his girlfriend. I paid rent, chipped in for bills, bought my own groceries, and basically lived off credit for the entire year.

You know, since I wasn’t being taken care of.

I also worked 1-2 days a week at the job I didn’t quit, and went back to full time after I graduated.

Over the next several years, I continued to build my credit rating by making regular payments and carrying a balance. Most of my credit limits were raised occasionally, to the point where I had an absurd amount of credit to my name. Like, more than I make in a year. That worried me some, but I figured I was getting good at the whole system, and so long as I stayed responsible, I should be okay going forward.

Then I tried to move in with the next person I was in a relationship with – who was in the US – and maxed everything out over the course of two and a half months of not working at all. I couldn’t find a job quickly enough in the diving economy of the time, and in my desperate attempt to keep trying right up until the last minute (well, past the last minute, if we’re being honest here), I’d spent pretty much everything I had left by the time I returned to Toronto. I had been under the impression that my being here was a short term deal; that I would just couch surf and work for a month or two and then head back once things settled down, recession-wise. I knew that, so long as I could earn enough to make minimum payments, I could just cycle money around and still stay afloat until I got back to where I wanted to be.

However, I was informed two days after my return to TO that I had over-stayed my welcome, so to speak, and of the demise of that relationship, as well. There was no chance of me going back any time soon, if at all. And since I was now stuck where I most certainly didn’t want to be, I had to find a way to make a go of it somehow.

I went back to work in a different position from the one I’d left, and slept on a generous friend’s floor for a couple of months. I had the opportunity to stay rent-free in a house way out in the east end, so long as I could leave no sign of my having lived there. It was an amazing deal, but the house was also full of spiders, which was my own personal horror to live with, so I was just as happy to leave there when the time came.

Since I was failing so fully at life, I found one of the worst apartments ever to sublet, and kept the majority of the things I had with me still packed, while leaving everything else in storage until I lived somewhere that felt safer. I started seeing a therapist, and got my cat back (though I apologized to her for giving her such a cruddy place to come back to), so at least we were together again.

The main problem was that, since I was paying rent and bills again, I could no longer make even the minimum payments on my maxed-out credit. The calls started coming in regularly, and I felt worse and worse about my very existence with each one. I tried going to my bank to see if I could just consolidate everything into one payment, but they would only cover their own stuff, and I was on my own for the rest. Since I couldn’t even make that work out, I finally broke down and went to a trustee.

I filed for personal bankruptcy that summer. And the person I was subletting the shitty apartment from got evicted, so I had to move out or sign my own lease, meaning I was stuck in that hole for over a year, all told. 2009 – pretty much the worst year of my life, thus far.

It was humiliating, and difficult – I had to keep very close tabs on every single bit of income and every single expenditure. I’d under-estimated how much I’d need for food and other basics each month, so I juggled with the other areas of permitted spending and made it work out. It was super stressful, though, because I had to give the trustees everything else, and justify whatever I didn’t hand over.

At least the collection calls stopped, though.

I was eventually discharged, and the trustee told me she never wanted to see me in there again, to which I heartily agreed. I still had my student loan from teacher’s college to finish paying off, but I worked out a payment plan with them that I could afford, and made that my first priority – after finding a better apartment.

That would, of course, prove to be hella difficult, too, because no one wants to rent to a bankrupt person, even if they’ve recently been discharged. I couldn’t get accepted back into the building I’d left when I tried to move to the US – and it had a sweet pool. I couldn’t get accepted to any of the places I’d applied, and I was starting to get desperate when I tried a Hail Mary with a little 4-story building in the neighbourhood I most wanted to live. I knew walking down the street that there was no chance, but I kept the appointment, anyway, and as soon as I walked into the space, I was kind of in love.

I flat out told the guy I’d recently been discharged from bankruptcy, and that I had a cat, and he said he’d seen people with worse credit move in, and that many people in the building had cats, so hope suddenly came alive.

Days later, I got the apartment. I still live there now, and I am staying as long as I can afford to, because I know how difficult it can be for me to find a new place now. And I still kinda love it there. It’s still home for now, a place for me to heal.

Plus, Kate the Kitten died not long after we moved in (she barely got to enjoy the non-shittiness of it, unfortunately), and now I live with three cats and a dog. It might be even more difficult to be accepted in a new place now, in some ways.

I was discharged from my bankruptcy on April 22, 2010. At just over 6 years ago, it should be purged from my credit report for one agency, and has just under a year left on my report for the other. I have a secured credit card, upon which I continue to make regular payments and carry a balance and, at $500, it’s low enough to not be a huge worry in comparison to my salary. It reports to both credit agencies, too, so I am already re-building my credit rating, albeit very slowly. It’s still better than nothing.

Am I gun-shy about ever having to file for personal bankruptcy again? Absolutely. When I was already feeling most worthless, that was the nail in my proverbial coffin. My failure at life was complete. I don’t ever want to feel that way again, if I can help it, especially since it’s never really gone away. I carry my failure around more than my successes, in part because I don’t think much of myself, but in part so I can hope to learn from them. I still can’t pinpoint exactly where I went wrong, but I think it might have been a series of mistakes on my part, and I am terrified of making any of them again, lest I lead myself back down that same self-destructive path. I can’t fool around with this stuff anymore. There are now 3 little lives depending entirely on me – and a 4th who depends mostly on me – for their survival and for the quality of their lives.

And then there’s me. I depend on me for all of that, as well.

If I can help it, I don’t intend to let myself down so completely again.

Brunch

So, I’m sitting here felting away like a good little crafter-attempter, and suddenly I realize I haven’t written a blog post yet today.  And now I’m hugely distracted yet again by a puppy dog who wants to play, and at least one kitty who ways to chill in my lap…it the way of my trying to write, naturally.  And my ever-behind PVR-watching, of course!

I think this one will be shorter than most, and that’s okay.  At least I’m writing, and I can always revisit it all in more depth another time.

I went for brunch today.  I think it’s probably my favourite meal ever.  I have a Brunch of Awesome that I make sometimes…usually on a long weekend like this.  I’m not doing it this weekend because a) I knew I was going out today, and b) I’m broke so my breakfast-y meals this weekend consist of toast with brown sugar and cinnamon spread, or blueberry waffles and 100% pure maple syrup.  And blueberries.  Because delicious.

Anyway, I was super late for brunch…again.  I think I’m late for everything but work (most of the time).  Even appointments with doctors and such.  If not late, then cut close.  And I hate it, always being late.  Like, just assume I won’t be on time.  It’s pathetic but true.  I am always late.

What I think I hate more than being late, though, is leaving my apartment.  It’s a constant daily struggle.  I don’t know how to describe it, really.  Part of it is all the preparation involved; trying to remember everything and make sure I’ve got everything.  My brain and I take it to extremes, though, because I try to plan for every possibility.  It’s…insane, really.  You should see all the stuff in my ever-present backpack.  It’s like either I don’t know how to carry only what I’ll need, or I’m too afraid to risk needing something that I left at home.

Or what if something happens at home while I’m out, and I lose something I end up wishing I’d taken with me, instead.

Though there is also the risk of having something with me and losing THAT while I’m out.

I mean, that’s a lot of stress.  Every time I try to leave my safe haven.  It takes a long time.

I think the only reason I can do it for work is because I’ve been doing it for over 15 years.  It’s a routine.  A habit.  I can do it with my eyes closed, kinda.  More or less.  I try to do everything the same each morning, all in the same order.  It’s crazy, but it helps me remember.  More than that, though, it contributes to my sense of safety and control.  It’s all connected.

Even taking Brody out is a thing.  I had to set myself up a routine surrounding that, too.  I even had mini anxiety attacks sometimes when we were out, and kept trying to go when there would be fewer people out.  That didn’t last long and I am more adept at navigating doggie culture than I was, but I think that’s all largely due to Brody himself.  He’s very chill, and some of that has rubbed off.  He teaches me patience, and to slow down, and to acknowledge people in front of me instead of just walking by.  I don’t wear headphones when I’m with him because I’m with him, and want to be in the moment, experience the world around us.  Enjoy our time together.

Plus, I get to pet WAY more doggies than I ever could when I didn’t have a dog with me!  Way less stalker weirdo now.  In appearance, at least.

If I could afford to work from home and just go out to walk Brody, I think I’d end up being a shut-in.  Not because I’m agoraphobic.  I don’t think.  I just don’t like people.

So naturally I live in a city.

It’s easier to be invisible here, though.  For the most part, no one looks at me, or sees me, and that’s how I like it.  I like to have alone time.  I need it.  Most people need social time or they start to get a little stir crazy, but I have always been the complete opposite.  I need time to quiet my mind or I can’t shut out the noise of the outside world vey well at all.  I get overwhelmed.

The thing is, I actually do like going out for brunch and things.  I like Friday Night Date Night.  I like being around people, one on one or in small groups.  Most of the time I still have trouble talking and being present, but I miss it when it’s not there, and look forward to it each and every time.

I just have so much trouble leaving my apartment.  And hate everything in between that and getting to where I want to be.

This wasn’t as short as I thought it would be, after all.