I had a pretty serious girlfriend in New York. Her name was Jill. I was nuts about her.
Jill was a part-time teacher in the math department at NYU. She lived in New York but she was from Vancouver—the same city, coincidentally, where I was shooting a TV show every month or two. She’d grown up in Vancouver in the 70’s and 80’s. She’d been a snowboarding prodigy as a kid, which sounded terribly Canadian to me. She remembered her dad driving her down the icy mountain roads after her snowboarding meets. Her father always bought her a tuna sub from Subway on the way home—that was their ritual. As he steered the car and navigated the tricky curves of the mountain roads, guiding them both back to civilization, Jill sat in the passenger seat. She watched her father drive and ate the tuna sub.
Jill accompanied me on one of my TV trips to Vancouver. We stayed in the spare room at her parents’ apartment. It was at some point on that trip—probably over dinner with Jill’s parents at an oyster place in Gastown—that we decided to move to Vancouver together.
I phoned the producers of the Canadian TV show I worked on the next day. I asked if I could work for them full-time. They said yes. The wheels were in motion.
Jill and I returned to New York and began winding down our lives in NYC. We scheduled goodbye dinners with friends. We fantasized about our new life together in Canada. The vulture of gloom? The one that perched on my shoulders and made me flee subway stations in terror? The vulture’s days were numbered now.
Our relationship looked good from a distance. We were two tall, healthy, reasonably good looking people.
But if you looked a closer, or spent more than 10 minutes with us, you’d see the problems. A tension vibrated beneath the surface of our relationship. Jill routinely exploded in a white hot rage over minor things. The most common minor thing: she accused me of looking at other women on the street. Even a glance in the wrong direction at the wrong moment on an otherwise pleasant walk through the West Village could lead to hours of misery for both of us.
Did I look at other women on the street? Oh, I’m sure I did. I looked at everybody on the street. “This is New York, Jill,” I’d said during the arguments, trying to calm her down in a doorway just off the sidewalk. “There are millions of people here. Millions of weirdoes. Everybody looks at everybody here.”
It was as if Jill had something that she needed to get out of her system, something that had little to do with me. Once she’d exhausted herself, she hugged me and apologized. She asked for forgiveness.
I told her that she couldn’t keep doing this. She agreed. “You’re right. I can’t,” she said.
We started seeing a couples therapist. But going to therapy was like trying to stop a bomb from exploding by wrapping a blanket around it.
Jill was the one who pulled the plug on the relationship. “Everything is getting worse, not better,” Jill explained. I begged her to reconsider. I asked her to give us just one more chance. I promised her that things would be different this time.
She refused. And that was the end of it—it was over. I never saw or talked to Jill again.
I was gutted. It was only now, after the relationship was over, that I realized how much I’d been depending on it. The relationship, I felt, tethered me back to life. The relationship had pulled me out of the depression and the fear I felt after 9/11, and it was about to pull me into an entirely new life in Canada. Now the tether was severed, and I was falling back down to where I’d been before.
The vulture of gloom began circling overhead. I started picking up 6-packs of beer on the way home from the office. A week later, I upgraded to 12-packs.
I’d already put my notice in at the place were I worked in NYC (good old Crispy Gamer, rest in peace). And I presumably still had the TV job waiting for me on the west coast of Canada. Could I still go to Canada without Jill?
Of course I could.
I sublet my New York apartment to a friend. And eighteen years after I fantasized about moving to Canada in college to avoid the hypothetical Gulf War draft, I packed up my cats and actually did move to Canada in May 2009. I didn’t grow a Bob Dylan beard for the trip; didn’t wear a tattered straw hat, or shake the hands of innkeepers. Instead, I crammed my two idiot cats into nylon carryons and headed for the mechanical iciness of JFK International.
As I waited in line at security, my fat tabby meowed at me through the mesh of his container, pleading to be let out. “Hey,” I quietly whispered to him, “sometimes you have to go through a tough day in order to get to the easier days, buddy.”
He looked at me and blinked. He had beautiful grey-green eyes. The eyes of an idiot.
When I got to the front of the security line, the uniformed agent informed me that I had to take the cat out of the carryon and carry him through the metal detector. I unzipped the container carefully, certain that he’d immediately flee into the masses, and that I’d miss my flight because I’d spend hours trying to find him. But when I lifted him and his sprawling grey belly out of the container, he was surprisingly docile and timid. He put his mangy old front legs around my neck, wrapping himself around me like a koala bear. I was the only familiar thing in the place. He was not doing to let go of me. “Don’t worry, buddy, I’ve got you,” I whispered.
The two of us walked through the metal detector together. No alarms went off. We reached the other side.