Stephanie Here and Now
9 min readJan 15, 2024

--

The other night, I started thinking about some of the tricks I used to employ to keep my spirits up and keep moving forward when things were really rough. Things aren’t so rough now, and I’m reasonably sure they won’t be rough in exactly the same way for me ever again, but navigating this “happily ever after” is still not without its rough patches. I’m used to turmoil. I can manage a crisis, but happy? That’s foreign soil to me and it’s taking a lot of effort to learn how to thrive in it. And sometimes I wonder if that’s the right approach to take.

Magic is rooted in conflict. It’s married to trouble. Magic is generated by misfortune. When you’ve landed, safely, you can look around, on solid ground and understand what the miracle of flight really means. When you look back on this, it will mean more than it did while you were in the midst of it all.

A new coping skill for me and my disregulated soul is to shift focus and draw back to a distance. I used to ask myself, “what kind of person do I want to be?” and use that as a guide. Lately, I’ve been asking myself, “what kind of person was I? Where would that person go from here?” Cinderella only finds her prince once. That quest is over.

It helps to put it in the third person and try to zoom out impersonally, like this:

She was born in a small town in the Pacific Northwest but her parents quickly packed up the car and moved the family back to the Maritimes, where her mother had family.

Her mother was depressed so she left her baby daughter in the care of her grandmother. Her grandmother’s house was lively, filled with Aunts and Uncles coming and going. She cooked meals on a large, wood burning, cast iron stove. In the summer, there was a whole seperate kitchen behind the house. Nanny was the center of her world. In the summer, she would pull a sour stalk of rhubarb from the big plant in the back yard, clean it, and give the little girl the beautiful pink stalk, longer than her arm, with a cup full of sugar and sit her on the back step in the sun. It was a simple, beautiful childhood.

On the night of her sister’s birth, a rain dark night in October, her beloved Nanny was struck and killed by a drunk driver as she was crossing the street, returning home from visiting a pregnant aunt. The simple, beautiful childhood changed in an instant.

Her family, now with added sister, packed up and moved to Montreal where she would make friends and take root in the black community. The homes of her black friends reminded her of Nanny’s house. She spent all her time there.

On the verge of adolescence, her father got into trouble with organized crime. (she would not know this until decades later) The family packed up again and moved to the Bahamas. Her mother hated the tropics, so they packed up again and moved to Vancouver and soon after, to Victoria B.C. a provincial capital on an island on the edge of the continent. The rest of the family liked it. They settled in and made a home. She loved the ocean but hated the rest of the place. Worst of all, the only way out was expensive and difficult. It required a ferry trip and a long drive to Vancouver, just for starters.

She drifted. Her grades dropped. Her parents had a messy divorce. Her mother found and clung to an abusive boyfriend. The boyfriend threatened her sexually and physically, eventually he blackened her eye and broke her jaw. Her father was away.

When she grew to her teens, her family told her she was not suited for university and anyway, they would not pay to help her. She left home and worked in retail but retail pay is low and rent has always been high, so she could never make enough money to save for a move, everything went to bills. From early in adolescence she was often hospitalized and transfused for menstrual problems. No one seemed able to figure out the cause. She learned to live with it.

In private, she read voraciously. She chose the classics, Greek mythology, Virginia Woolf, Dante, Shakespeare, Camus. Browsing through a used book store she found a stack of out-of-date New Yorker magazines and bought them all. They were 10 cents each. At night, she would read them in the bath.

After being repeatedly told she would be unlikely to be able to conceive, she became lazy about her birth control and became pregnant. The father was the wrong man. She could see her dead-end future and the misery of the child laid out before her with shocking clarity. She placed her baby for adoption with a financially stable couple in Vancouver as soon as he was born.

She saw a social worker and got help going to college to become a child care worker.

She rose through the ranks of the Early Childhood Education community faster than she expected. Within two years she was supervising students and it occurred to her that maybe her family had been wrong about her aptitude for education. Everything in the academic world came easily to her. Sitting on committees and boards, she noticed she wasn’t any slower than any of the well educated members. She started thinking about escaping the island again.

She applied to her dream school, a university on the other side of the continent. She was accepted and given enough of a scholarship to make a start. She decided to make the arrangements to go and worry about money later. When she landed in Ottawa, she had less than $500 in her bank account. When she left Victoria, she also left a long-term live-in relationship that qualified, under B.C. law, as a marriage. He offered to help from time to time. She accepted the help, knowing under B.C. law she was entitled to half their assets. Her sister shamed her for leaving every time they spoke. Within a year, she stopped accepting help and walked away from everything else.

Somehow, she got through her first year at university with a perfect GPA. Still perpetually broke, she asked her favorite professor if there could be a place for her working in the film department. She funded the rest of her education by working as a teaching assistant and publishing as a journalist.

But she had a late start. Getting permanent work was hard. In her fourth year of school her father died, she was his next of kin. She flew back to Victoria to deal with identifying the body. Her sister and her father’s much younger girlfriend shut her out of the rest. She received nothing from her father’s estate. Her mother told her not to make a fuss. She listened and flew back to Ottawa.

In Ottawa her boyfriend, a young man who had end stage renal failure, rejected his transplan. He went into hospital and claimed she was the only thing keeping him alive. Once again she was trapped in a place where she knew she did not belong. Out of guilt and a sense of duty, she did as she was asked and stayed with the boyfriend. She started graduate school. He made it impossible. Eventually she would shake herself free but not befoe her career suffered permanent damage.

She accepted a job working in public affairs. Tasked with researching virtual reality for her employer, she went online into Second Life and was surprised at the people she met there. Within months, she had friends all over the world and more interestingly, invitations to visit them.

She started visiting. She became infatuated with a married attorney who swore he was separated. He was not. She broke it off.

She returned to Victoria one last time to see if there was a life for her there. Her sister was angry at her return and tried to force her out. She complained to her mother, she threatened to take away the grand kids. Her mother was torn between her two daughters but loved her grand children unconditionally. Despite the visit being partly her idea, she made life hard. Nevertheless, she applied for jobs and looked for apartments. She stayed there for three months and then packed her things and returned to the East.

Back in Ottawa and feeling her age, she began work on an adaptation of an old book she had loved in her youth. Whether out of guilt or compassion, her mother and her friends persuaded her to join an internet dating site. Tired of arguing about life and her purpose in it, she complied.

Two weeks later she met a photographer from New York. At first she ignored him, he was living in rural Massachusetts, she could not see herself living outside a city. He came to visit anyway. A few weeks later she lost the gig that was supporting her. She asked him if he wanted to move their plans for her to visit forward a few weeks. He said yes.

Six months later they were married.

As it turned out, many of the places she had read about in those old New Yorkers were part of the landscape of her daily life. The honeymoon period went on and on. She naturalized. The heart disease that had been misdiagnosed in Canada reached up and cut her down. She had a quadruple bypass.

She was unable to work a regular job, so they asked for a loan from his parents and bought a run-down house in a good location. They hired people when they could and worked on it themselves when they could not. They signed up on Airbnb.

The house paid for itself in three years.

In all this time, her mother was skeptical of every good thing. She tried to persuade her to stay in Victoria. She thought university was a waste of time and money. She thought the internet was a way to escape real life. She made these positions clear and was reinforced on them by the other daughter’s vitriol.

Nevertheless, she stayed in touch with her mother. Sending gifts, making phone calls. It was never pleasant, but it was the right thing to do. On the phone, she would often hear about the indignities her sister visited on her mother. Her sister had divorced her husband and moved in with her mother taking over the entire house and treating her mother like a servant. She tried to intervene but it went nowhere. She settled for trying to make her mother happy in other ways.

She assumed they would visit her “home town” one day. B.C. In the meantime, she sent gifts, made phone calls, sent cards. Her mother was unkind. The phone calls were difficult. Her husband started staying in the room when they spoke, the mother was kinder when her son-in-law was present. The phone calls became less frequent the gifts continued. Her mother had one love language, money. Over the years she had amassed a fair bit of it. The checks arriving from her mother on her birthday got progressively larger. The last one came with an apology because it was not as much as she had intended. The other daughter had cut into it to buy a few things she wanted. Her mother died.

After her mother’s death, her sister became even more cruel. The sister sent messages to her husband, a man she had never met, telling him his wife was crazy.

She decided to take the sister to court over the estate.

And that is where we are today.

We’re working on a second house, cobbling together an income and living my “happily ever after.” But after a lead up so dramatic, it’s hard to settle into a quietly happy life. Even with the details edited out, there’s a lot to parse. I’m trying to tell my story to myself without my usual tendency to bring other people’s feelings into it.

There were years of caring for my sister’s kids, occasions when I was able to make big strides in my career. The struggle to protect both myself and my sister when I was a child. The poverty as a young woman, not yet out of her teens, with nowhere to live and only her friends to depend on. My first job as an opera singer, how hormones wrecked my singing career and no one understood the effect of estrogen on female vocal production until the 90’s. so I left music and moved on. The publications, the UN conferences, the white papers. Lots of exciting things, but I wanted to understand the trajectory, just the big things, from inside this body and nowhere else.

I’m going to publish this now and apologize later. I need to have it out on the breeze in order to understand where it goes next. Is my hero’s journey over? What happens when your home becomes a home? I’ve never had stability and I’m struggling to understand how to adapt to it. Even now, years into it.

Listening to David Bowie and thinking about the world and what there might be for me to do in it while I’m still here.

Do you ever do that?

Just one more thing, this is a paraphrase but I carry the idea with me every day; when David Bowie was starting out, he was thinking about all his role models and he said to himself, “I’m just a normal person, and I’ll probably never be able to achieve what they acheived, but weren’t they normal people too? And what if I can?”

--

--

Stephanie Here and Now

American from Canada. Writer Researcher. I'm new around here.