“The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu”
The Hardest Decision
It’s 3:17am, Tuesday morning. I sit with a cooling cup of tea staring at the freshly written letter. It’s sealed, the envelope carefully placed next to her phone where I know she will see it.
I take a deep breath. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and having made it doesn’t offer me any comfort. I’ve decided to not only leave my relationship, but one containing an unborn child–I’m the father.
But I’m not just leaving her... them, but this city. A city I’ve never warmed to. One that is so frigid and uninviting, I’ve often wondered if it reflects my own state of mind or a mirror for the relationship I have endured.
I take one last sip of tea. The liquid now tastes bitter. I move from where I’ve been sitting with guilt reflecting on the gravity of my decision, and as quietly as I can, I place my cup in the sink and wash it. Ironic, given that after all these months I would leave it in the sink until there were a few more things to wash, but today is different. Today I am breaking the heart of the woman I love.
I place the cup in the dish rack to dry. I gaze one last time through the expansive windows that stare out into a part of Toronto that I’ll never miss with its endless concrete, steel and glass. It’s one tall, soulless building after another. They’re all devoid of any imagination or creative design.
I gather up the only bag I was able to secretly conceal the night before, with what things I could all packed tight inside. It won’t be enough but it will have to do.
With a heaviness in my heart, my hand rests upon the cold metal handle of the front door and lingers, unable to move, before my fingers slowly wrap around it. With a slight twist I step into the open corridor, where the rush of air from the building’s heating system hits me. It takes me a second to catch my breath. I close the door as quietly as I can behind me and lock it. I then gently open the mail slot and slip the key back inside. The clang as it hits the tiled floor below, reverberates around my head long after the key comes to a quiet rest.
Despite the early hour, the elevator takes much longer to arrive than usual. Perhaps it’s a sign. Maybe it’s not too late to turn around, knock on the door, ask for forgiveness. Is it possible I can make it work? Or that she can be less reproving?
The elevator dings, then opens. I stand immobilised.
Right before it closes I slink forward. It swallows me with a thud. The sudden descent makes me stumble and I reach for the side rail to brace myself. I catch my sad reflection in the surrounding mirrors, knowing this decision will haunt me for a long time to come, possibly the rest of my life.
When I arrive at the ground floor, the doors slide open and cool air rushes in towards me, though the coldness I feel isn’t from the outside. I take one last look back at myself. My eyes can’t hide the anguish.
I walk out of it into the foyer before I’m faced with the last door and the final thing between me and... I can’t find the words. It’s not fear, nor is it even remorse. It feels more like cowardice, yet it’s deeper than that. I take a beat. A lone tear stains my cheek. I don’t wipe it away as I step outside, preferring instead to feel the sting. The freezing winter wind whips up around my face, a temperature that seems fitting.
I turn up my collar, zip the winter jacket up as high as it will go. I take a look back at the place I’ve called a home for the past three years. Other than fleeting moments, there are few happy memories here. I reach into my pocket, fumble inside, then press play on my iPod. Moby’s haunting ‘Memory Gospel’ sears through me while its deep pipe-organs seem to echo throughout the still sleeping city.
I take a single step, and just like that, I’ve begun a new journey. One where I hope to rediscover myself, seek some sort of absolution, or at the very least, an uneasy peace. It may be little consolation but it’s all I have.
I’m scared of failing. Scared I’m not ready for fatherhood. Scared of scarring my child without even knowing it. Mostly though, I’m scared of turning my kid into someone like me.
But then, how could I leave behind the only woman who accepted me, flaws, fluctuating moods, depression, frustrations and all, for an uncertain path? A path that I’m sure will provoke more questions than offer solace or provide answers.
I’m no good to them until I can find myself, and so believe that my girlfriend, Clea and our unborn child, will be better off without me. Maybe I’ll be better off without her. I mean, we all have our breaking point.
While I am questioning my decision, everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion, like one tiny grain of sand after another is slipping through my fingers, and the tighter I grip, the more the sand slips through them. I’m reminded of Oliver Tank’s delicate song, ‘Grain Of Sand’ that scalds deep and reiterates the pain in my heart.
Honestly, I am unequipped to face up to the biggest responsibility of my life–that of being a father. How can I be? My own dad cast me aside when I was six, leaving the onus resting on my mum’s already overburdened shoulders. A load she attempted to do her best with but in truth failed. Although, I couldn’t have done any worse than my own often absent, abusive dad.
While the scars have faded and the memories are hazy, I still carry the baggage that comes with years of verbal, physical and emotional abuse. Like everyone else, I have a breaking point. Seems it came right when I was about to undertake the biggest, most radical change in my entire life. A change that involved raising a child.
I’ve had no father figure to look up to or mentor to guide me, let alone a male figure of any note. None ever stuck around long enough to make an impression or leave a meaningful impact.
There’s also the unexplained impulse to seek out a past flame. Someone I had an intense, passionate and deep love affair with back in Los Angeles, and a connection that’s been gnawing at me for months now. While I know it’s feeble and feels incidental, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t played a small part in my leaving.
But ultimately, I’m scared.
That’s the best answer I can give right now.
While I am aiming to chart my way southwest down to Mexico and maybe end up on a beach to write if it doesn’t go the way I hope in Los Angeles, I know I’m directionless. There is no real plan here. While this hasn’t been made on a whim, the fact I have a quasi-destination in mind offers little consolation.
As the wind howls up the empty streets, with no cars, blaring sirens, endless construction noise, or cold people, this city feels peaceful, nearly liveable. Nearly that is.
I know I won’t be walking the whole way but this inconspicuous, discreet start feels right. Despite the freezing cold,
I find that with every step I take I undergo a sense of relief. While I feel terrible about walking out on Clea and leaving her to bear our baby alone, I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do.
The constant arguments and disagreements, the lack of physical touch or any real affection, all of it has driven a wedge between us, which will only grow with the addition of another more demanding little human who’ll need full attention.
Sure, that sounds selfish, and perhaps I could have pushed through, tried to work out our differences, even endured this city, but with every conversation we had, the sooner we neared yet another heated argument or worse, stone cold silence. We’d tried couples counselling but I always found them more draining than helpful. I knew they were designed to bring us closer, but it all felt like a ruse, a false dawn... a lie!
It was beginning to seem like we were only with each other out of obligation. I convinced myself that if there were no baby in the picture, she would have ended it months ago. She had told me many times, she felt let down by what I promised versus what I did. I knew I wasn’t pulling my weight or contributing equally–financially and emotionally–so was I salvaging pride or just being selfish? Probably both, but in all honesty, I was struggling with the weight of expectations being placed upon me from her, and from myself on me.
I was unable to keep up with all these new demands and pressures associated with parenting and fatherhood. I was constantly being asked to study this book, look at that website, listen to this podcast, read that blog. The books, websites, blogs and podcasts weren’t helping. I simply felt overwhelmed and despite my best efforts to appease her, I resisted even learning about parenting. Why?
That was a question I hadn’t been able to answer. I had gone through so many changes in an attempt to continually better myself for this relationship, that I simply drowned under the expectations of it all. I no longer felt like changing. I had no desire, no will, to yet again undergo another transformation.
Surely there’s an end point, a reason for all this constant growth. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps we change just to adapt to a current situation to fit in better with our environment. I’m sick of fitting in. I’m fucking tired of change. I want easy. I want peace. I just want to fucking be.
Yet here I was always being reminded at every moment by those who felt the need to share their unwelcome opinions, how a baby changes you, how it’s “the making of a man”. To me, it seemed like they had resigned themselves to their own pitiful fate and were simply trying to convince the rest of us that parenting was pure bliss. I knew firsthand by the hands and fists of my own dad, that that was not always the case.
If that wasn’t enough to convince me, any parents I saw always looked exhausted. They’d do their best to smile and talk up the benefits of raising a child but underneath it all, I knew it was bullshit. You could feel their struggles and their own self-doubts or worse, the lingering ‘what if’ had they chosen a different path. I could always see the envy in their eyes when I, or their other childfree friends, talked about their latest overseas adventure or the kick-arse band they got to see at one of those late-night gigs or my favourite, sleeping in late on weekends. I wasn’t about to fall into the trap or succumb to their miserable fate.
So I made a decision to leave, taking all my personal problems and inner demons, and fled. Sure, I had my issues, namely my sex starved, hungry demons (which were always present), instructing me to tap any female who caught my eye. An eye that has wandered more than once in the past. While I had never done so in my current relationship–something I might add I had worked at and was proud of–I knew it was only a matter of time before I caved into them. Once born, I knew I couldn’t bear to look my child in the eyes, knowing I’d succumbed and strayed behind the back of the woman who gave birth to my child.
Even though I loved Clea, I knew full well I couldn’t outrun my demons. They’d always haunt me no matter whether I ran thousands of miles away, or whether I confronted them head on. Even if I did manage to cut any down, a new one always rose up in more menacing form. So rather than have them plod about the small apartment and scare my baby, perhaps shadowing my youngster for the rest of my life, I had to escape. In a way, I was doing this for my child and shielding them from my own personal nightmares, battles and mental scars.
My mind wasn’t convinced. The debate in my head knew that it was a flawed, fragile logic full of holes, so I took the easy road and opted out.
I hear the sound of a car approach, then slow behind me. By now it has started snowing and the wind is a brutal Arctic howl. I know I won’t last too long out here.
I’m about to try to thumb a lift, hoping someone will take sympathy on my desperation. However, I don’t have to when the car slows, then comes to a complete stop. The driver cracks the passenger side window open a smidgen.
“Where you headed?” the male voice inside asks.
I bend down to speak into the tiny interstice, where I am hit with the instant heat inside the vehicle that escapes outward through the small opening. Even through the narrow gap, it warms my bones.
“Buffalo,” comes my meek response.
I’m too cold to reply.
“Got no idea why anyone in their right mind would be out in the middle of the night in this weather, but you’re in luck. I’m heading there myself. Got some business to take care of.” Even if he did put extra emphasis on the word, making sure to enunciate it for me, I feign interest in the business he has. After a brief moment the door lock clicks open.
If he knew just how tormented my mind was, he’d have kept going. I hesitate for a moment. This is it, I think to myself. Once I step inside the car, my decision to leave is real. I suck in a long, cold breath as an icy wind whips my legs. It’s all the motivation I need to step inside.
As I plop down, the car’s heater suddenly makes me feel nauseous. This wasn’t only goodbye to a city, it was a sad farewell to the only woman who not only put up with me, but verily seemed to care about me. And here I was abandoning her in her greatest moment of need. It’s such an arsehole act. I sigh.
“Everything all right?”, the driver asks.
“Just getting nostalgic.”
Thankfully, he doesn’t push me to further explain. It’s not entirely accurate, yet it is. I know I will miss her. When the car drives away, I turn toward the passenger window and let the tears roll. No amount of justification for my selfish decision will ever hide the enormity of what I’ve done.
Think Fast, Act Faster
The drive was done in silence, save for small talk. I found out Steve, my driver and saviour, worked in insurance banking. He had a wife, two young kids, with a third on the way, and that was it. To his credit, he never pushed me to reveal anything about myself. Maybe he sensed my unrest.
The short one hour drive didn’t give me any comfort. If anything, it only brought up more questions and self-doubt. I wouldn’t have to think about them for now because the US-Canada border approached.
It was still dark when Steve pulled over to the side of the road. The sun wouldn’t be up for at least another two hours.
“I think it’s best if we both go to the border separately. We wouldn’t want to arouse suspicion.”
Arouse suspicion? What the hell was he talking about? If anything, pulling off to the side of the road just shy of the check point would be much more suspicious but I didn’t have the energy to argue the point. I thanked him for the ride, got out into the crisp morning air and eyed the border ahead.
In relation to other US entry points I’d made before, the Canada-US Buffalo border crossing was smaller than I expected. As a result, things seemed less hectic here. It could also be the hour of the morning I find myself here...
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