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Lust, Love and Everything After

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During a regular work-week, my dude and I have a routine that I value higher than the price of strawberries in January. It goes like this:

I get home after hot yoga (see page 9). I bathe. He comes home. He walks the dog. We sit at the island in the kitchen and talk about our days. By the end of the conversation, he’s calmed me down about whatever has me worked up (“I’m sure she wasn’t talking down to you....”). He takes a shower – it’s never a quick one. I run around the house, straightening up and making a smoothie for his breakfast for the next day. He pours a drink – Vodka and Seven. He only has one, but he makes the same joke each night: “Am I becoming a booze bag?” It’s funny every time, somehow. We sit on the loveseat, though the couch is bigger. If I’m feeling like Girlfriend of the Year, I suggest we watch the Highlight Reel. I hate the Highlight Reel. We go to bed around 10:30 pm. I’m taller than he is, so I’m the big spoon and he’s the little spoon. We’ll either talk for a bit, or mess around, or screw. It’s the perfect night.

But this routine – and everything else (putting up the Christmas tree, attending family functions, meeting friends for dinner) – gets messed up during night shift.

“Moving in together or planning a trip. Those are two things that will either make or break a couple,” my mom once told me. There are other circumstances that will destroy a relationship (neighbours who mow the lawn in bikini tops come to mind) but if I had to add only one, it would be night shifts. If your relationship survives multiple night shift rotations, then you’ve got a pretty solid thing.

There are days when my dude and I pass like two ships in the night. Despite racing home from work, I’ll sometimes pull into the driveway just as he’s heading out the door. It feels like losing a $20 bill. It’s not the end of the world, but….damn! No time for those quick little connections that remind me of the first day we met: the smell of his neck, the roughness of his hand on mine, and the bluey blue, blue, blue of his eyes.

Those are the nights that I miss him most. The near-misses are worse than missing him altogether. Better to never see a bag of Salt and Vinegar chips than to smell just one.

By the time I’m in bed at 10:30 pm, he’s into the thick of things at work. I feel guilty that I get to go to sleep at such a reasonable hour. My job – though both demanding and rewarding – is so comfortable compared to his. Sometimes I stay awake for as long as I can, as an act of solidarity

Eventually, I fall asleep. If I’ve let my one-woman sleep strike go on for too long, I end up sleeping through the alarm in the morning. This leaves me with no time to get m’hairs did, much less my face. When he gets home, I’m banging through the house like some variety of lunatic, looking for my sock/keys/telephone, my hair cranked into a messy pile on top of my head, and my face looking like a “before” photo. Again, I feel bad. He just worked 12 hours, plus the commute home. The least I could have done was given myself a blow out and slapped some foundation on. “You look very nice today, babe!” he says. The man doesn’t lie – not ever – but I suspect he’s said this more out of charity.

Some nights, when I can’t/won’t sleep, I imagine the benefits of a dedicated conjugal visit space at site. Say shift workers got 30 minutes to spend in these rooms with their partners. And say they don’t necessarily have to screw – they could simply do the things that they love to do as a couple: play Battleship, watch television or just talk.

I once read a travel tip for couples: spend a day apart, then meet up for dinner. The idea is that because you’re both individuals, you’re going to have different priorities when you travel. This way, you each get one day without having to make compromises. He can check out some boring-as-shit boat tour, freeing you up to go do your thing. Then you come together over supper and chat about your day. It’s so balanced.

This is how my dude and I operate, and this is why the first two nights of his shutdowns are heaven. Hello, Downton Abbey marathon! Get lost, Surround Sound – see you when my dude gets back! Ahhh, but I’ve missed you, Farting Openly in the Living Room!

The loneliness sets in around day three or four. I keep forgetting to tell him about that funny thing that happened at work, but there’s really no time to discuss it, anyway.

By the eighth night, I’m starting to think about those conjugal visits and I’ve developed a mighty cramp in my hand.

Everything After

I come from a beautiful, small town in Ontario. That’s not just homesickness speaking – the place is post-card pretty. Movies are filmed there. I’ve loved it since I was a kid.

Trees form a canopy over the streets, there’s a charming little tea room that serves fresh clotted cream with warm scones, and most of the buildings lining the main drag were built at the turn of the century. Not this past one. The one before it.

When I became old enough to consider such things, I even picked out a spot where I’d like to croak: on a strange little set of stairs, sort of hidden from view, just down the street from the elementary school that has been attended by four generations of my family. I skipped class one day and sat on those steps. I don’t know if it was the way the wind was blowing that day, but it occurred to me that this spot was exactly where I’d like to draw my last breath. But, like, 80 years down the road.

I always imagined that I’d retire in my hometown. I pictured daily trips to the Italian grocery store and free concerts in the park. There was no other place that I’d rather spend my golden years.

My dude feels exactly the same way about his hometown, in Newfoundland. His old stompin’ grounds, pretty as they are, do not include a shop that sells homemade taralli. Nor does it have a Tim Horton’s. “But that’s the point,” he says.

I purchased a house about 40 minutes from my hometown about a year before moving here. It’s a wee cottage, and it’s cute as a button: gingerbread trim, black shutters, and an umbrella tree out front. I’ve often thought of how happy I would be if I could just rent out a God-sized crane and airlift the thing to Fort Mac.

I was house-poor, so I planned to work here for three years to make enough to buy a new roof and take care of some desperately needed renovations. I would come back to my little house. Put in new flooring, install a white kitchen with butcher block countertops, and put up grasscloth wallpaper in the hallway. I had very definite ideas about what a home should look like.

But then I met my dude. In the early days – those never-get-out-of-bed, heart-racing-at-the-thought-of-you, no-your-arm-isn’t-digging-into-my-side days – he mentioned that he owns a painting. Of a moose. And it hangs on the wall. I told myself that the picture probably had a hipster charm.

Then I saw the picture. Oh hell no!

I shouldn’t have been bothered by it, but I was. I knew I was going to lock this guy down, but there was no spot in my life for a moose picture.

Months went by and things fell into place (not without – at times – falling out of place). I told him that I loved him way too early. I bamboozled him into letting me move in. We took a vacation together. His dad got very sick. Then his dad got better. He told me that he loved me back. We saw 11 deer one snowy night. We spent a few weeks apart while he flew home for a family reunion. He added me to his benefits plan. He supported me when a business venture flopped. We got engaged.

Now the moose picture was definitely going to be a part of my future.

The thing about meeting your OTL (One! True! Love!) in Fort Mac is that it’s very likely that you both came from different spots. Though we live here (thrive here! love here!), it’s not home for either of us. We both want to go home, eventually. But where will that be?

We started to look for a retirement property in Newfoundland. I started to feel like I was cheating on my hometown and that I was trading in trips to the tea room for shed parties. I was disappointed that I’d never get a chance to enjoy the renovations at the house back home. Though the move to Newfoundland is at least 10 years away, I already started to mourn the architecture and charm (and pizza shops!) of my hometown.

I had a sinking feeling that this wasn’t going to be my bag.

One night, as my dude watched the Highlight Reel and I checked in with social media, I learned that a former colleague – perhaps the sweetest woman I’ve ever met - and her husband passed away in an accident on 63.

I put my phone away and wrapped the Green Monster (a chenille blanket) around us a bit tighter. Safe on the loveseat, and very aware of my good fortune, I bid a silent farewell to the tree-lined streets, the concerts in the park and the little tea room.

Home is where the heart is. Moose picture and all.