Writings

Grief Journal

He used to call me, “sweet cheeks”, “hussy” (inside joke), his “squeeze” and, of course, “babe”. When he was trying to be funny in front of his brothers, he would call me, “Puneet” instead of Taneet, and then I would reply with, “who the HELLLL is Puneet?” and we all laughed.

Sometimes he made me laugh really hard. Other times I made him laugh really hard. Lots of times we both just laughed and laughed, especially with our daughters. There were little things about me that he mocked which was actually hilarious to me. For instance, when he found out my family’s nickname for me has always been Mattu (pronounced ma-two if you don’t have an Indian accent), he (being a big Star Wars fan) called me “R2-D2”. Or whenever I made my weird Chewbacca sounds he echoed it so loud that my belly would ache from laughing. He knew how to be extra silly, and I think it came out more around me and our girls. He could be really quick-witted and I loved that about him.

The thing about having a partner/spouse is that you get to see all sides of them. Others only see just their professional side, or sporty side. I saw who he was as a son, a brother, a father, a cousin, a nephew, a grandson. And because we worked together in the same office, I also got to see him in the role of a manager, co-worker, businessman, and all-knowing insurance/sales guy. He showed me his vulnerable side time and time again. Outside of our home I knew when he was pretending in front of others and when he put up his walls. That’s what marriage is. Seeing, experiencing and accepting all truths, the ones nobody else sees.

He taught me so much. I knew nothing about sports when I met him. I was just a nerd getting through life with my nose constantly in a book. But he brought me into the world of horse racing, football, baseball, hockey, soccer. So I wouldn’t get bored when a game was on, he explained every rule, not to mention background stories, biographies of the players/coaches and history of the teams. Before I met him, I never attempted to reverse park. But he taught me how. And to this day, I still use his technique. And whenever Soca/Reggae/Calypso/Caribbean was on (and it was on a lot) he explained what the lyrics meant and where it all originated from. Since I didn’t grow up watching shows like The Simpsons and King of the Hill, he made sure I dove into that world as well.

He was basically obsessed with his brothers and parents. After we started dating for about two months, he asked me if he could introduce me to his family. He wanted the two things he loved most to come together. I became as attached as he was to his brothers; it was hard not to. They were an extension of him.

He loved wearing plaid. Actually, much of his plaid collection came from me. His favourite football team was the Denver Broncos (fave player was Peyton Manning, number 18), his favourite soccer team was Real Madrid (fave player was Cristiano Ronaldo, number 7 – which is also his birthdate), which reminds me; he loved soccer so much that a couple of days after our second baby was born and we were still in the hospital, he asked me if he could go home for a bit to watch the World Cup. I was like, “reeeeallly, dude?” (in my head though – but on the outside I just smiled and nodded because I knew how badly he wanted to see it. I did roll my eyes so hard that I’m pretty sure I felt it in my c-section stitches!)

Also – he was unusually obsessed with ice. Every morning he woke up, walked to the kitchen, opened the freezer and popped a few ice cubes into his mouth and chewed them very loudly. And he could not get through the morning without asking me to “squeeze” his head. I usually didn’t mind it because he had such soft, thick, lovely hair before having to get ready for work and putting that Axe hair product in it.

I knew what his favourite meals were that his mom made; spinach and chicken, and pumpkin and shrimp, but we both shared a deep love for Mexican food, specifically burritos, tacos, fajitas and quesadillas. When we wanted to really treat ourselves, we would look at each other and say, “BURRITOS FROM CHIPOTLE.” It was our thing. He also loved when I tucked him into bed so tight that he was a human burrito.

Just as I saw all sides of him, he saw all sides of me. He saw me in my truest form; a really messy, emotional nerd who hoarded books, documented everything and spoke in too many accents.
He always knew when I was in the washroom taking a poop because I would flush more than once (sorry – TMI) and he would say, “droppin’ a deuce in there?” and turn on the fan because the switch was on the outside of the washroom. I still remember the first time he farted in front of me when we were still dating, he just casually said, “excuse me”, but the first time he heard me fart was in the middle of the night when Annabella was a newborn and I was rocking her to sleep. He looked up from the bed and asked, “did you just fart?” and mortified, I said, “noooooo, that was the BABY.”

We could complain about our family members to each other, or talk smack about certain co-workers, and share our “dutty” jokes with each other (i.e. that’s-what-she-said jokes). Oh, he loved the show, The Office and Michael Scott was his favourite character. But he wasn’t into it as much when Michael left the show.

We shared a mutual love for Batman. I’ll never forget when we went to see The Dark Knight Rises in theatres. Our favourite scene was when all the bats emerged as Bruce finally escaped that cave. But again, he taught me a lot about superheroes and the original comic book stories that I didn’t know growing up. On the day of our wedding reception (which was two days after our ceremony) he pretended to be Christian Bale driving the Tumbler (in his Nissan 350Z) and yelled to me, “RACHELLLLLLLLL! HANG ON RACHELLLLLL!” And when I was on maternity leave, every morning when he left for work I would send him a quote from a Batman movie to his work email so that he would see it as soon as he got to the office.

The sweeter side of him told me I was beautiful, gorgeous, and recognized my strengths and talents. One day at work, I used my lunch break to walk around the office and get people to sign a birthday card for my team leader that I had made out of bristol board, and when I got to his office, he said to me, “this is what makes you so special.” He would tell people how easily I could personalize things through my writing.

He helped me pay off my student loan early in our marriage. Most of the downpayment for our condo came from his many years of savings. He used his line of credit to buy me and our girls a car after we separated. And when that car was totalled in an accident, he was the one I called first and the one to bring me home from the hospital.

When I got food poisoning at work one day, he was the one I called to pick me up (this is when we were separated) and he brought me home (to the condo we all used to live in) and then picked up the girls from daycare. We all stayed together that night and the next few days. When I fainted twice from having literally no energy or food in my system, he was the one who lifted me off the floor and carried me to bed.

Some of my favourite gifts from him are: one year for my birthday, Disney re-released Cinderella from the ‘vault’, as the Diamond Edition, and knowing it was my favourite, he got it for me; another time he got me a Kindle because I love reading (and also because he thought it would stop me from buying so many books – I didn’t stop by the way); a little Flamingo pin (which is currently sitting on my dresser), a tiny bear made out of glass with my birthstone in it for mother’s day, a random bouquet of flowers, and my absolute FAVOURITE; tickets to see Aladdin live in theatres, where I cried during the “a whole new world” scene and he looked at me and said, “are you CRYING?” and I said, “shut up.”

Of course, there were much darker times in our marriage which led to our separation, but after some time apart, although we lived at different addresses (five minutes away from each other and eventually an hour away from each other), we still managed to stay connected, every day. Mostly because of our daughters, but also because we were great friends. He didn’t agree with many things I shared through my writing, but he also made sure to applaud my parenting and my role as our daughters’ mother.

We worked together to ensure our girls knew we are still always a family.

I sometimes catch myself picking up my phone to call him and tell him something and have the sudden realization that he isn’t there to answer me.

And that’s when the pain hits.

I’ve read about the different stages of grief and mine are all over the place. It’s not linear and clear cut. One day I feel I’ve accepted his death. The next I’m screaming in my head, “HE CAN’T BE GONE.”

When I sleep, I dream of him – about him coming back to life.
When I’m awake, I see his face in the casket. And it’s like the wind gets knocked out of me.

I miss hugging him. He was so tall that my head was at his chest and my arms would wrap around his torso. We always greeted each other with a hug and kiss on the cheek whenever I dropped the girls off with him, and again when I picked them up. I always said, “I love you” before getting in the car and he always said it back. It was important to me that our girls saw this exchange so they understood, parents can be separated and still love and respect each other.

I’m remembering a time last year when I couldn’t sleep, it was around 3am. He couldn’t sleep either and he called me. We talked and laughed. I don’t know anymore what we said to each other but I remember a huge smile on my face.

photo from our honeymoon

Short Stories

A Bird at Breakfast

He sits down next to me on the bench we have on our front porch. I want to reach my fingers up to the hair falling over his forehead but the warm breeze beats me to it. Instead I straighten out the scraggly hairs on his left eyebrow like I’ve done for so many years. Usually, he would jokingly swat my hand away but this time he just looks into my face. Searching, waiting.

“What’s wrong, Taneet?” he asks me.

I can’t look him in his big, brown eyes, the same as Annabella’s, so full of love. I drop my hands in my lap and play with my two karas.

“I feel like a fraud”, I whisper. He places his hand over mine so I stop fidgeting. The feeling of his hand on mine is like medicine on a festering wound. I clear my throat.

“It’s like…I was so quick to start calling you my ex-husband after I left. And since you’ve left me, I’ve been calling you my husband again. It’s weird and selfish. I have no right. I built this whole single mom life while we were separated and felt so proud of it. But since you’ve been gone, I’ve felt nothing but a complete void. An emptiness. A huge loss. Suddenly I’m a widow. I just feel like such a fraud. I don’t deserve-“

“Taneet. Taneet, stop. Stop”, he says.

“But I know what people have been thinking and saying about me. They think I have no right to grieve your loss. I used to just let people assume we were divorced when we weren’t. I tried to make myself appear stronger than I actually am. I could never bring myself to divorce you. I wanted to be a family again. For the girls. They wanted it so badly. I did, too. And when we were finally planning for you to move in here with us this summer…” I can’t catch my breath.

“Taneet. Stop. Look at me.”

I bring my gaze up to his and lower it again. I can’t look him in the eyes.

“Taneet. You only need to worry about two things: the girls. That’s it. I don’t care about anyone else. People are stupid. Who cares what they think?”

“Unfortunately, I do”, I say, looking down at my lap again.

He’s reaching into the pocket of his hoodie. I look over.

“This”, he says, “this is all that matters.”

He shows me a crumpled photo of the four of us in Cuba.

“Remember, Taneet. You are the captain of our ship. You hold us together.”

I take the photo with shaky hands and bite my lower lip.

“I’m sorry”, I begin to sob, “I’m so sorry, Andrew, I’m so sorry. I failed. I failed! I couldn’t keep our family together! I couldn’t keep you safe and healthy. I couldn’t take away your pain!”

I’m choking and hiccuping on tears now. He was never the best at comforting me when I cried. It made him uncomfortable. But he takes my face with both hands now and wipes my tears. He smiles and shakes his head.

“You gave me everything, Taneet. Our girls. You’ve done an amazing job. You’re a wonderful mother. Hey, hey, hey, stop.”

My snot is now shooting out of my nose and mixing in with my tears around my chin as he uses his sleeve to wipe my face.

“Taneet”, he continues, “people are always going to talk. It doesn’t matter. I was my happiest when I was with you. You know that.”

I continue to cry. I can’t seem to stop.

“We miss you. So much. The girls. The girls need you. I’m not enough for them. They need their daddy. Annabella will be a teenager in a few years! I can’t do this without you!”

“I’m here, I’m here!”

“No! You’re dead! You left us, you left us! You died! Why did you have to die?”

I’m shouting now, my throat raw, but he still looks at me and smiles.

“I’m always with you. Always.” He wraps his arms around me. He’s warm. The last time I touched him he was cold as ice. I allow myself to melt into him. I feel the summer breeze again, passing through our embrace. It feels like we are sitting here for hours and hours.

“I finally figured out the song you were always humming”, I say into his chest, my eyes closed, “when the girls were watching the Wizard of Oz the other day, it was like a light bulb went on and then- “

He’s gone. I can feel his warmth but I don’t see him anywhere. A familiar song takes my attention from the seat next to me and past the porch to the sugar maple tree in the front yard. There sits a brilliantly red cardinal looking right back at me. Singing loudly, assuredly.

I exhale into the passing breeze and it flows back into the cardinal’s song. Sweet, strong and familiar.

Short Stories

Another Morning

Something’s wrong.

I open my eyes and look around, laying still. Is it morning already? To my right I see my eldest daughter is sitting up, her back to me, facing the wall. Both girls have been sleeping with me every night lately. They refuse to sleep in their own room, in their cozy bunkbeds.

I wince without my glasses and prop myself up.

“Annabella?”

She turns slowly and I see her little face is wet. Her eyes, usually bright and inviting, are dark and glistening with grief.

“What happened?” I say.

She lets out a sob, “daddy!”

My heart plunges down and pierces into my heaving belly. I move towards her, over my younger daughter and wrap her up in my arms. I want to scoop her back into my womb where I can keep her safe from all this pain.

She looks up at me and says, “I had a bad dream.”

“Do you want to share it with me?”

“It was about daddy. I dreamed that I went back in time. He was sitting on the couch at Papa’s house. I went over to him and whispered in his ear what was going to happen to him, to warn him. I asked him to please be healthy. I didn’t want to come back to the future, mommy.”

She continues to cry.

“I know”, I tell her, “I know.”

She looks into my eyes, pleading. Wipes her face on the sleeve of her blue astronaut pyjamas.

“I wish I was a doctor”, she says, “so I could’ve saved daddy.”

I look back into her eyes, big and round like his, unable to find the right words.

“Maybe when you’re big, you can be a doctor and save lots of people”, I offer.

“Maybe…” she ponders briefly. “Did daddy have a good doctor? Did they give him medicine?”

“Yes”, I tell her, “he had lots of good doctors and they helped him very much. They did everything they could.”

She shifts her body and lays her head down on the bunched up comforter.

“It’s not fair, mommy.”

I place my hand on her head and comb her thick, dark hair with my fingers. Talia snores softly beside us.

“It’s not”, I say.

“I don’t want to go back to sleep”, she decides, “can I stay with you?”

“Always”, I tell her.

We head downstairs to cuddle on the couch. I open the blinds and let in the morning sun. Another day without him.

Something will always feel wrong.

Writings

Wandering, Withering, Widowing Words

There was a time when I believed in a god.

When I was a child I remember imagining a big man sitting in the clouds watching over all the humans. If things went right, we gave thanks to that man. If things went wrong, we said it was part of his plan.

I don’t remember when that visual entered my mind but I assume it had something to do with the media. I continued to believe there was a god, a male god, who just lived in the sky somewhere or whose presence was just part of the wind. I remember hearing words like, “why did god do this? how did he let this happen? why are people in the world starving yet others over eating? why is there poverty and war, etc etc etc?!”

I guess at some point I decided that human beings just needed someone or something to blame because they have no other answers for their questions. They were desperate.
I didn’t want to be desperate. I watched my mother pray every morning, before the sun was even up, my grandmother, my aunts. Praying, praying, praying. But their pain never went away. There was no one to take it away.

After I began questioning religion and why god had to be male and why we always blamed him for our suffering, I started to feel this connection to some sort of power in the universe. I started praying to the universe, to the sky, the stars, the galaxies. And at home, I continue to keep my paintings and portraits up of Guru Nanak, because He was an actual human being at one point who walked on this earth, and since childhood I felt a strong pull towards Him. Like He has always been a guardian in my life.

I’ve seen a lot of death. And I’m only 34 years old. When I was a small child, I knew about death because my mom often spoke about losing her mother at a young age and my father often spoke about losing his father at a young age. It was never too confusing to me, I guess I felt I just got it. They died.

When I was 19, I watched my 18 year old friend’s body be lowered into a grave. I saw the bodies of the parents my close friends lost. A few years ago I watched my mom’s only brother take his last breaths. He died right in front of us.

I always accepted it. And I listened when others said, “it was god’s will. It was in his plan. God works in mysterious ways. This is what god chose.” etc. etc. etc. etc.

I can’t anymore.

Three Mondays ago, I woke up feeling great. I texted Andrew, “good morning, how are you feeling?”

Still haven’t gotten his response.

My message was sent at 9:50am. He died 40 minutes later.

When I spoke to him the day before over the phone, I didn’t know it would be our last phone conversation.

People have been sending so many messages. So many phone calls. Flowers. Sending so much love. It’s been a blur. Like one really long day that just wouldn’t end.

I started to hear those words again, “god chose this.”

I keep quiet. Because that’s what I do. My anger, my pain, it brews in my body until my skin and bones can no longer contain it and it comes out of my fingers and onto this page.

Andrew was my co-worker, and then boyfriend, fiancé, husband, father of my children. We separated but never divorced. There were days I hated him and days I truly believed I could not live without him. That my heart would literally break without his love. During an argument one night in our condo, I actually threw a very heavy-framed wedding photo of us at him (I missed, fyi).

He was the first one to say, “I love you” when we were dating. He said it when he was leaving my apartment: got into his 350Z, put the window down and said, “you don’t have to say anything back, but – I love you.” And I just stared at him, like a moron.

Two days after he died was his 37th birthday.

37.

Not 73. He wasn’t old and grey and wrinkled. He was young and beautiful.
And he left behind two little humans who need him.

But god chose this. Right?

God chose this young father of two to just die one day. God chose for two sweet little girls to grow up without their daddy. God chose for their hearts to shatter.

Within the last 11 years, I’ve often thought about Andrew as a little boy — big radiant smile, and wished that we had known each other then and grown up together.

I didn’t get to grow up with him. Or grow old with him. My time with him was short. Only 11 years when I thought we had a lifetime. But I do get to see his little girls grow up.

He deserved to see that too. He deserved to see Annabella get as tall as him, one day towering over me and Talia. He deserved to see Talia become a teacher or a fashion designer. He deserved to walk them down the aisle and get through school and teach them how to drive.

He deserved to get old. I really wanted to see his thick head of hair turn into that distinguished salt and pepper.

But god chose this. No one knows why though. No one has that answer. But hey – we can blame a male-gendered entity up there in the clouds for taking my daughters’ daddy away.

Because we can’t fathom it. We cannot understand why one day he was right here, heart beating, and the next day – gone.

And now just ashes.

He isn’t here to tell the girls, “mommy is the captain of our ship.”

All I can feel in this moment is that our ship is sinking. And no spiritual entity, gendered or not, can stop it.
People think I’m strong. But it’s a lie. I’m in pieces. Broken and incomplete.

Was this all part of god’s plan?

Birth Stories

Annabella Christina

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Annabella’s due date was March 3, 2012. Since it was clear she was not coming out to meet us on that day, my husband and I went to a first birthday party for the son of one of our co-workers. The only thing I could fit into was a purple maternity dress.

The physical weight of the baby on my body was almost unbearable. The nesting period was over, and I really just wanted her out of me. I was becoming more and more irritable with everyone around me, and eventually stopped responding to, “OMG you’re ready to pop!” (It just about took all the energy I had to not pop them in the nose).

Finally, my OBGYN decided it was time to be induced. On the evening of Saturday March 10th, my husband and I went to the hospital to get the ball rolling. Later that night, when we were in bed, the contractions started up. I knew it was the real deal and not just Braxton Hicks, because they didn’t stop. I took a look at the crib one last time before leaving for the hospital, my heart full of hope, that the next time I’d be looking at my baby in there.

Since daddy to-be was still half asleep/liquored up, my father in-law drove us to the hospital. He comforted me while I focused on breathing, and told his son to get me into a wheelchair and up to the maternity ward, while he parked the car.

Once we arrived at Labour/Delivery, I was greeted by a nurse who looked at me and spat, “why are you in a wheelchair?” Now, there are several creative ways I could have answered her, like, “maybe because I’m in labour, you miserable piece of crap!” However, as always, I bit my tongue and stood up out of the wheelchair, and followed her into one of the patient rooms, where I was ordered to change into a gown and walk the halls.

I was scared shitless, trying to remember all of the stages of labour from the prenatal class we took, and the different ways to breathe and bounce and stretch and be massaged during those excruciating squeezes in the middle of my body. It would have been bit more helpful and calming of an experience if the nurses weren’t so bloody rude. (Etobicoke General Hospital y’all).

When my water finally broke during the hall-walking, I was told to lay on the bed while they checked the baby and my vitals. Things were moving slowly but surely, and so far everything was fine.

I called my cousin and asked her to bring my grandmother to the hospital (my mom was in India at the time) to help keep me calm, since my husband looked pretty helpless. Soon, in the room with me were; 1) nurses, 2) husband, 3) father in-law, 4) grandmother, 5) cousin. After some time, they were eating pizza right in front of me, and I wondered where the hell my cup of ice was. Then there was a Tim Horton’s run, and I was ready to kick someone in the face.

After about 14 hours, crying from the severeness of the contractions, my husband said, “get the epidural, come on; you don’t have to prove anything to anyone.” So, I listened. The contractions were so sharp, slicing and squeezing and knocking the wind out of me, I knew it was time for the giant needle in my spine.

I was asked to sit up in the bed, and “curl my back like a cat, nice and round.” No joke, this is what I was told to do, in the middle of my contractions, while asking myself if I really wanted to be stabbed in the back. I tried my very best to “curl” my back for them, and in the needle went. Directly into my spine. I can still feel the fluid rushing in and spreading across my back. (My spine was sore for a very long time after having the baby).

Shortly after, I was in a state of bliss. Laying down in the bed, not feeling a thing. The nurses were the ones to tell me when I was having a contraction. More visitors came and went; mother in-law, cousins, sister, aunt. For a time it was a bit of a blur. At this point, I had no idea that I had blown up into a water balloon; my face, arms, legs, everything was HUGE. Everyone there was kind enough to not mention it, I only realized when I saw the photos afterward. For most of my life, I’ve been fairly petite, even throughout the pregnancy, so it was hilarious to see myself all puffed up.

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It had been a full 24 hours, and I had only dilated 2 centimeters. I was told my baby’s heart rate was going down because she was heading down the magical canal, but had no way of getting out that way. I was devastated. Beyond devastated. When the doctor asked me to sign the paper titled “Cesarean Section”, my dreams of pushing my baby out and placed on my chest, just like in the movies, were shattered. I wanted desperately to have a natural birth. I felt that I had failed; my first job as a mother, I couldn’t even do. My body had failed me. I cried and cried, but I signed the form.

A nurse came in and rubbed off my nail polish, took my wedding/engagement rings, my karas (Sikh bracelets) and off we went to the Operating Room. I was given anesthesia and the doctor pinched me a few times here and there to make sure I was numb. I could see my husband dressed in scrubs in my peripheral. The curtain was up and the cutting had commenced. I tried to remember again, from our prenatal classes, how many layers they were cutting through. I looked up at the ceiling and could see a blurry reflection of the operation. All I remember seeing is a fuck-ton of blood so I decided not to look up. I looked to my sides; both arms were tied down. It was a horrible feeling. They were taking my baby out of me, and I was just strapped down, helpless, with nothing to do but wait.

Felt like forever, before I heard the crying.

“It’s a girl!” The doctor told us, and I smiled. Yes. I knew it. I could feel it throughout the pregnancy that there was a little girl in there, but we didn’t end up confirming the gender. I didn’t want to know. There are very few genuine surprises in life, and this was one of them. I remember one of my co-workers once condescendingly telling me that when she found out the gender of her baby, her excitement grew ten-fold and she was able to connect with her. I respectfully disagreed. I didn’t care to know my child’s sex. All I cared about was that he or she was healthy. I also stayed away from the pinks verses blue baby clothes thing. I kept all our colours neutral; lots of greens and yellows and whites. Anyway. We had a girl.

When I saw her for the first time, I wanted to dance and jump and scream, but I could barely even turn my head to look at her. My husband held her close to my face so I could kiss her.

We were taken to a private room, once I was all stitched up, and once I was able to sit up in the bed, they brought my newborn baby to me.

“Are you bottle feeding or breastfeeding?” one of the nurses asked.

“Breastfeeding,” I answered.

“Good,” she said. And my baby was finally placed on my chest. She latched on to me right away and stayed there for about twenty minutes. It was exhilarating. I didn’t even know if I was doing it right. The milk didn’t actually come in for another two days (I woke up to a completely soaked shirt, and deformed breasts), so for now she was only getting colostrum.

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Unfortunately, she lost almost 10% of her baby weight, so I was forced to tape down an extremely thin tube to my chest, across my breast, and the other end was inside a ready-to-feed bottle of formula. This way, the baby would be breast feeding and getting formula at the same time. It was incredibly stressful. My back and neck tensed up as I held her to my breast, my eye glasses kept sliding down my nose, and the nursing pillow was sitting directly on my c-section incision.

We were in the hospital from Saturday night until Thursday. With the help of a lactation specialist, and when my milk finally did come in, I was able to get my baby back to her birth weight. It was an amazing accomplishment for me. (She was 7 pounds at birth). I had to keep a breastfeeding journal recording the times I fed her and the duration, etc. until baby and I developed a full routine. It was a lot of work. But so worth it. Seeing her drink my milk was so, so rewarding and I felt so fortunate to be able to breastfeed. I didn’t have anything against formula, but since the birth didn’t go as planned, I wanted at least my plan to breastfeed to be a success. And it was.

The day we brought Annabella home, the sun was shining so bright; it felt like a warm Spring day. It didn’t feel like March at all. The water-weight was out of me, but my heart was full of love and pride, my breasts were filled with milk, and tears spilled over my cheeks. I was full. I was complete.

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Short Stories

Heartbreakingly Beautiful

She checked the time again and glanced out the window at her driveway. The leafless trees were dusted with snow and the street was as lifeless as a winter postcard. Her fluffy orange feline perched up in her lap with slight concern but then decided she wasn’t that interested. They both sighed in synchrony.

It was almost time to pick up the children from school and she was never late. Placing the cat down in her pile of blankets, she sighed again unable to control her disappointment. Had she said something wrong? Maybe she shouldn’t have gotten him a gift. She checked to see that it was still securely snug under the tree (as if it could have grown feet and left) and then made her way out the door.

***

“Mama, look at the ornament I made!” her daughter said, lifting the craft up to her face.

“Its lovely, dear. Very sparkly indeed,” she said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, wiping the glitter from her leggings.

Her son was already opening the candy cane he received from his teacher, “can I have this now, mom? Thanks!” and popped it into his mouth.

She closed the blinds on the front windows just as her mother pulled up the driveway and her heart gave a small flutter.

“Grandma’s here!” the children sang as they ran to open the door. The cat fled upstairs. Christmas suddenly felt resurrected.

***

They had kissed on this very couch, she thought, as she watched her little ones with her mother; talking and tickling and laughing. They had binge-watched shows and ate food and drank wine here. Even the cat had cuddled with him.

“Why is your mommy so quiet today?” she heard her mother say, breaking her reverie. They were all looking at her now, her mother’s eyebrows raised.

“Don’t know, grandma, she’s being weird!” the children concluded.

“Who wants hot chocolate?” she asked, getting up from the couch without waiting for an answer.

As she added marshmallows to the mugs and a sprinkling of peppermint shavings, she thought about the last time she had seen him. How tightly they embraced one another, the tender kisses, the exchange of hopes to see each other again soon. She remembered their hike through a forest at the end of the summer, how he carried her on his back and held her hand as she climbed over rocks. And when they finally made it to the waterfall, they just sat together taking in all its beauty. She thought about his eyes. How they changed from a cool sky blue to a warm hazel green.

“Bringing those hot chocolates?” said a voice from behind her.

Startled, she spilled some of the sweet drink on the counter and said, “just cooling them off a bit, mum. Don’t want the kids burning their tongues!”

“Right, here, let me,” her mother said, taking the mugs, “maybe you and I should have some tea and cookies, hmm?”

There was nothing she could hide from her mother. She knew. She always knew. And having tea and cookies meant talking about it. But she didn’t want to talk about this. She had a Christmas to execute. There was no time to dwell about the possibility of another holiday alone. Without a partner. A companion. A friend. A love. The children needed her. And she would not fail them.

***

The letter from Santa had been printed and perfectly placed next to the plate of cookie crumbs and empty milk glass. The gifts were all placed around the tree. Everyone was asleep. Except for her. She sat in her reading chair by the fireplace, flipping through the pages of a book.

“While pretty flowers are instantly plucked, few people pay attention to plants with thorns and prickles. But the truth is, great medicines are often made from these.”

She stared at the words and recalled when they had exchanged novels by Elif Shafak; she had given him The Bastard of Istanbul and he gave her his favourite book, The Forty Rules of Love. The one she now held in her hands.

He too, was a single parent, which she assumed was the perfect fit for the both of them. She had fantasized about their children playing together, becoming great friends. One big family.

But then, the doubts resurfaced, the ones she had tried to suppress. This was not the first time he had left her in the dark. On Thanksgiving she had posted on her social media about colonization and violence towards Indigenous communities. He replied immediately stating that he “hates guilt culture.” She didn’t hear from him again until four weeks later. And for four weeks she told herself it was for the best.

The memories of the way he looked at her, his kisses, his morning text messages are what kept her from hating him. And what made her chase him even after he cut her off.

Maybe it was because she made him laugh. Or because they both shared an interest in mental health. Because they both liked reading. Maybe it was because he told her she was heartbreakingly beautiful. Being intimate with someone didn’t just mean physically. It was being vulnerable and raw with emotion.

She closed her eyes trying to shut out the thoughts coming in.

Maybe she was just so broken that she would accept attention from anyone, even if it was abusive. That she would even buy them a Christmas gift. A perfectly wrapped Elif Shafak book titled, Honor, tied with gold ribbon and a shiny bow on top.

She opened her eyes again and looked down at the book in her lap, still open to the same page:

“As long as I knew myself, I would be alright.”

Setting the book aside, she leapt from her chair toward the tree. Moving the piles of gifts in front, she got down on all fours and reached back to find the one sitting on its own. She carefully removed the tag and placed the gift back.

***

The cat purred in her new bed as the children tried on their new winter jackets. The floor was covered in shredded wrapping paper, toys, books and clothes.

Her mother looked on, smiling at her grandchildren, her face aglow, bringing out a light radiating from within her.

“Mum. This one is for you,” she said, handing her mother the last gift under the tree.

“A new book! Wow!” her mother said after opening it. “Thank you.”

With her mind a little less foggy, her vision clearer, her heart fuller, she replied, “no, mum. Thank you.”

She looked out the window, the snow glittering under the sun, and decided that she hadn’t done or said anything wrong. She was a good person who met the wrong guy. Maybe she was a little broken. But that’s what made her beautiful.

Writings

Date Like a Mother

As DJ Khalid says, “and another one!”

I waited a full year before diving into the shark pool again. You know, the swiping and the messaging and the meeting. Then there’s the lying and the ghosting and the blocking.

Exhilarating stuff.

Once, this guy showed up high off his ass, wearing sunglasses indoors, jeans sliding down his non-existent waist. Inside of the RH Courtyard Cafe, he thought it’d be cool to take out his vape pen/stick/thing and start smoking around some very expensive furniture. He took out his phone to show me photos of his puppy and ended up showing me naked ones of his ex-girlfriend.

Ahh, the wonderful world of dating.

My marriage ended five years ago and because I’ve been a serial relationship-ist since the age of fifteen, I did not know how to exist as a single woman in her thirties, let alone as a single mother, who is also ostracized by the Indian/Punjabi/Sikh community.

Enter: terrifying dating apps.

No, dating is not what it once used to be.

I experienced love at first sight at fifteen, sitting on the couch at an Indian Aunty’s house, drinking tea with her and my mom, when her fifteen year old son walked in and we locked eyes. Of course, everyone labeled it “puppy love”, but we knew the authenticity of our feelings. And we assumed we would just be together for the rest of eternity.

Three years later I was accepted to a university four hours away from home. He asked me to stay. I didn’t. He married someone else.

Love happened to me two more times since; once with the boyfriend I had in university (whom I thought I would marry and I didn’t) and then with the man that I did end up marrying.

So, yes. Single. Thirties. Two Kids.

There was a small window that opened in which I saw myself finally settling down with someone. I even told my ex-husband about him. But it turned out he was cheating on me with one of my best friends who was cheating with him on her husband. Oh, and he “borrowed” thousands of dollars from me.

(Yes, you can definitely expect a novel about that one).

After my younger sister got married, I thought, “what the hell. It’s been a year. I’ve healed. This time will be better”, whilst love swirled in the air around me.

Nope. Nooooppeee.

Until….

I met Mr. Chivalrous himself: Prince Fucking Charming.

He held doors open for me. He looked into my eyes when I spoke. He complimented my accomplishments as a person, a woman, a mother, a writer. He told me how inspired he was by the many adversaries I’d overcome. He drove hundreds of kilometers just to give me a care package when I was sick (complete with Buckley’s, Thai soups and curries, a family-sized Nutella jar, chocolate, macaroons, cookies, a pink Orchid plant, etc). He paid for all our dinners and drinks because he thought it ungentlemanly of him not to. He always made the drive to make it easy on me. Brought a bottle of red wine with him. He laughed at all my jokes. We played a relationship card game called “Husbands and Wives.” He brought me roses, a balloon and a card on my birthday, because when he’d asked weeks earlier what an ideal birthday gift was, I said, “roses, balloons, and a birthday card.” He even made notes about what I need on my period! Finally, he asked me to be exclusive with him, wanting to see me more, wanting to know everything about me, wanting to get serious. I said yes. A week later he didn’t answer my phone call when he was supposed to meet with me. He said he was heading to Vancouver for work to deal with some issues.

You know. Work issues. It happens, right?

But, alas, Charming was not in Vancouver. He was in Toronto.

When I saw his Instagram story pop up on my dog’s IG and not on mine (I knew it was a good idea to have social media for pets) I texted him and … he blocked me.

And that, my friends, was that.

Swiping, messaging, meeting.
Lying, ghosting, blocking.
Dating.

Mind. Blown.

My news feeds are filled with couples posting their perfect photos and I don’t feel envy at what they share because there is no such thing as a perfect marriage or family. But I do, however, envy their unknowing of the vicious, bloody hunger games we singles call “the dating life.” They will always remember dating as something completely different. A courtship during high school. Meeting at a party. Office romance.

Not this.

My mother tells me not to question why this happened to me, but to ask myself, “what did I need to learn from this experience?” She also tells me I am worthy, I am kind and beautiful and wonderful. A good person who will one day be swept off her feet.

As much as I yearn for my daughters to see me being loved and respected by a partner, I fear that it will remain a dream. They are gonna grow up, move on with their lives and call each other every weekend to arrange who will be checking up on mom and all her random dogs.

Because there are a lot of cowards out there who don’t have the slightest clue how to date like a mother.

Anyone want a pink orchid?