Saturday, March 7, 2015


I dream about him often. I wish I didn't. The dream last night was so vivid, I almost expected to see him in my living room this morning.

I used to ride the GO train often after work on Friday nights to spend the weekend with him in Whitby, or I'd rent a convertible and drive out there to pick him up. We'd take turns cruising the winding roads up past Columbus, north of Oshawa. Howden Road was our favorite stretch of road. If his brother was with us, I'd open it up to 90 km/hr and he and his brother would stand up in the back seat, arms up the air, legs twisted around the seatbelts, screaming Depeche Mode lyrics at the tops of their lungs. I'd always drive. I'd look back and laugh at them, telling them if we hit a cow, we'd all be be dead.

We were young. We didn't care.

We met in college and started dating the summer of 1993. He wooed me on streetcars and buses. I was an outgoing girl running with a goth crowd by day and raving on Saturday nights. He was in love with Toronto, having grown up in Whitby. I was a city girl - born and bred. He was quiet, thoughtful and incredibly smart. He showed me things about the city I never cared to learn about.

We had our first kiss around two in the morning one really hot August night at the foot of the CN Tower, sitting near the fountain. He was incredibly shy. I was his first. For everything.

We lived together for less than a year before I decided to move out. Living with him was often complicated by the fact that he was diabetic and he managed the disease poorly. He began to rely on me to feed him and bring him back from his hypoglycemic states. He despised that he had the disease. It made him dark, and sometimes, hard to love.

When he moved back to Whitby to live with his mother after taking a job in Ajax, I only saw him on weekends. It took a toll on our relationship.

One night he went to bed, didn't take his insulin and let the disease consume him.

His name was Stephen. He died on December 23rd, 2007.

It took me a long time to shut down the rollercoaster ride he and I were on. The official break-up happened in November 1996, but for almost a year after that I would allow him back in, into my own apartment, where he would ask me what he could do to make me love him again. He'd often leave in anguish, tears threatening, not understanding why we couldn't be together.

He'd send me emails for years afterward telling me about whatever girl he was with. He was graphic, lewd and hurtful. I eventually changed jobs, had other relationships, changed email addresses, met my husband, moved to Oshawa, and lost track of him. I didn't want him to find me. I needed him to move on. We couldn't be friends.

In 2005, my daughter was born. Home on maternity leave, I would take Jayde out for walks, wanting to learn the neighbourhood I was living in. One day, a day in September, I was coming back home from one of my walks when I saw a person pacing nervously in front of my house. As I got closer, I recognized the familiar tic he had of putting one finger to his chin and tapping. My breath caught. My heart raced. I had no idea how he figured out where I lived. I was stunned. His face brightened when he saw me and he raced towards me. I immediately thought of all the weight I had put on since he had last seen me, and then I was mad at myself for caring. He looked tired, older of course, but genuinely happy to see me.

We stood on my driveway. Sweat trickled down my back. Jayde began to cry. All I remember is that he jokingly called Jayde a rat and he was telling me that his dad lived a few streets over. He had been visiting him a few weekends back when he passed by my house and saw me painting the trim of the front windows. I had completely forgotten his dad lived in the area. I didn't know Oshawa in the 90s and I didn't know it very well when I moved there years later. He was amazed at the coincidence. So was I.

He apologized for just showing up. He gave me his phone number. He told me he was living in downtown Toronto, right near St. Lawrence Market. He asked me if I was happy. He looked so sad - stricken. I had moved on. He was still trying.

I never phoned him. I put the piece of paper he gave me in the junk drawer and shoved it under a battery pack.

One day in the winter of 2009, I was heading home from work and caught sight of someone I recognized outside of Union Station. It was Mary. She was Stephen's best friend all through high school. I had met her a handful of times before she moved away, and out of province, shortly before Stephen and I got serious. She was happy to see me. We chatted for a bit. She was in town for a conference. I only asked because I felt I should. I asked her if she and Stephen had kept in touch.

She looked at me, puzzled. Then her eyes fell. "You don't know, do you?" She asked me.

"Stephen passed away."

I can't explain how I felt just then. I just knew I had to sit down. She walked me over to a row of benches.

"How?" I choked out.

She told me what his brother had told her but she and I both knew it wasn't what the family believed. She knew him better than I did. Even though we were older, she knew him. You always know your best friend. It doesn't matter if they're a thousand miles away. You know them.

After about 30 minutes, she asked me if I would be okay. I didn't know. We hugged and I left for the train.

The ride home is a blur. I went through an amazing range of emotions. The most prominent was anger. Anger at Stephen for not getting his life together and then I just fell apart. I rushed down the stairs to the washroom and slammed the door shut. I cried and cried. I cried until I felt my heart would break in two.

You see, I loved him. I never stopped. I just couldn't be with him. We couldn't be together.

All I wanted was for him to be happy. I couldn't make him happy. That's why I left. I knew he felt I was the only thing that made him happy. I knew that was wrong. When we were together, he lost sight of who he was. He wasn't living for him. He was living for us. I wanted him to love himself as much as I loved him. I used to scream at him through a closed bathroom door that he didn't understand that if he couldn't take care of himself, he couldn't expect me to. I was 22. I couldn't be his mother.

When I left him, all those years ago in 1996, after my dad packed the rest of my boxes into his minivan, I held Stephen's face between my hands and looked up him and told him I could no longer put my key in the door and come home to him dead. I didn't want to be the one to find him.

He told me he hated me.

"I hate you." That's what he said. I said nothing. I just walked out.

I realize we were young. Although he was three years older than me, we were young. I wanted more and I found it with my husband, but that didn't mean I stopped loving Stephen. But it's not the kind of love that builds a life together. It was the kind of love you have when you're young. When the person you're with is all that matters. Friends are blown off. Shifts at work are skipped. You're sober but you're drunk.

I couldn't drive home when my train pulled into Oshawa the night I learned Stephen had died. Instead I drove to Whitby. I wanted to go to the place where he took me and tried to ask me to marry him. He was scared to death. He never got the words out. I played stupid. I laughed. I made jokes and then I threw myself at him, kissing him hard and stifling his words. If he didn't say them I wouldn't have to tell him no. We lay there listening to the lake, my head on his chest listening to his heart hammer away, certain I was also listening to it fall apart.

The Whitby waterfront has changed so much since then. I was confused about where to go or how to get there, so I parked at the marina and I cried. I think I was shouting and hitting the steering wheel. I was... just ... so mad.

I never felt guilty because I was always honest with him. All I could think about was his mother, his brother, his friends and his cat. I thought of his things, possessions he valued. I tried to remember his laugh. I tried to remember all the stupid things we said to each other, promised each other and the hateful things we said because we were hurting.

I didn't get home until 1 am. My husband was asleep. I had told him by text message I was working late. I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep.

I couldn't save him. I never could.

The dreams come and go. I can't stop them.


Anonymous said...

"But it's not the kind of love that builds a life together. It was the kind of love you have when you're young. When the person you're with is all that matters. Friends are blown off. Shifts at work are skipped. You're sober but you're drunk."

I'm in this kind of relationship with someone right now and it's fucking terrifying.

Such a sad story and I'm surprised you'd share something so personal. I hope you can eventually sort through this.

Nora1968 said...

My heart hurts, CJ...for you, for him, and the mother in me cries for his mother who probably prayed that having him living with her would keep him safe. Of all those people, no doubt she would be the most sympathetic to your desperate need not to be "the one to find him". Your silent, subconscious vigil for your long ago love is a tough thing, but is a testimony to the bond that you shared, even if it could not be a solid foundation for a life together.

Thank you for sharing this intimate and personal part of yourself.

Tony said...

And the feels on the bus went round and round.

Holy shit Cindy. That was deep. You're a very talented writer. Like Nora, I cried for his mother. How awful to feel so tormented. It's like he was damaged and wanted you to fix him.

Living with a fatal disease has to be hard. I can't even imagine but he had all this help. I mean there are insulin dependent diabetics who live way past 40. I don't mean to ramble. But to just let it kill you. I don't know. That was a hell of a read.

C.J. Smith said...

I needed to write it out.
I wasn't even going to open it up for commenting but I don't think it's so personal it can't be shared.
This wasn't the first time. He never told me about his first attempt. His brother did. It scared me.
Yes, it was hard for him. It was hard for me. It was hard for his family.
But you're right, he had help. He just didn't want to help himself.

Helen said...

A beautiful tribute to a broken soul.

AS said...

Hi Cindy
I've been reading your site for a long time. I had no idea about Steve. He talked about you all the time and often very fondly. He never said a bad thing about you. The last time I saw him he told me he ran into you near his dad's place. I figured you guys had just stayed in touch. It's so bizarre to be reading this because I've been trying to find him on Facebook for the longest time because it seemed he had just dropped off the face of the earth. I'm so sorry. Like I said, he always had nice things to say about you. I'm sorry I've never just come out and emailed you. I heard you were blogging from RH. He told me to check it and I've been lurking ever since.

C.J. Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C.J. Smith said...

Hi Nora
Thank you for the kind words. I think about his mother a lot.

Anonymous said...

A deeply personal, sad and touching story.

Also a really great piece of writing.

I'd say 'congratulations' on the writing skill but that seems inappropriate, given the topic.

Keep up the great work on this blog!

Robert Mackenzie said...

My earlier comment was supposed to include my name etc. but somehow I managed to send it before I added that info. I include it in this one instead.

Kristina said...

I am so, so sorry CJ. I know that can't ever be enough, but... I am. We all are. I definitely understand the frustration of looking at people you love and wanting to just shake them and tell them to snap out of it and get their lives together, and then feeling so powerless and devastated when they can't. I'm so sorry that this particular case ended in tragedy. Hugs.

Anonymous said...

Never posted here before but have been enjoying your site for the past few years now as a fellow LSE passenger. Just had to say this post was beautifully written and struck a personal chord within me. Appreciate your work on this site. Karen

C.J. Smith said...

Dear friends,
Thank you for not questioning why I would put this here or why I would share it.
Thank you so much for understanding why I needed to write it.
Thank you for telling me how it affected you and for letting me know it's okay for me to feel the way I do.

It's very hard at times to not reflect about him and feel like I could have fixed it. What amazes me is how I struggle to come to grips with his death. I don't know how to put it into words. You just want someone to get it together and you think you're doing all the right things ... and then you learn something devastating ... and you're left with this ... I don't know. It's like a hole.

Anyway, thank you. For allowing me to use this crazy space for something extremely personal.

Squiggles said...

I am so sorry for your loss. It is a struggle and that hole will always be there. I know words will never make a situation better, but it can and does help. Both writing and reading.

I had a friend in a similar (mental) situation and I left. I couldn't take it anymore. I found out that my leaving was what helped her. She got her life together and is now married with 2 great kiddos. Eventually, she got in contact with me and that first meeting was bittersweet.

Anonymous said...

It's very hard to tell someone who loves you that you don't love them the same way.

That's got to be a really hard thing to be on the receiving end of and to also be the person who has to say and then -- to try to remain friends? Never works out.

I'm also a diabetic. I live my life with needles and testing my blood sugar. I was 7 when I was diagnosed and I'm 37 now. There have been times where I wanted to just "check" out. My eyesight started to fail a little over a year ago despite all of my best efforts to be healthy. I have a wonderful wife but we chose to be childless so as to not pass on the disease. I sometimes wonder what this has done to her emotionally.

Your story was touching. You did everything right. He was very lucky to have known you. He was very lucky you were honest. He didn't want to accept it. You can't take that on. I hope you don't.


Skin Man said...

Wow. I don't know what to say. I guess, honoured that you have so much trust in this group.

The onions...

Sorry this story ended the way it did, but so very glad that you don't feel responsible for its ending.

Hugs all around.

outburst said...

You might want to consider reading a book called Girls Fall Down, by Maggie Helwig. It treads into some similar territory; a young photographer has a love affair with a girl in the 80s/90s, they break up and bump into each other many years later. He has managed his diabetes poorly and he's slowly losing his eyesight, and potentially his career as a result.
It features a lot of scenes set around Toronto and is very well written. One of my favourites.

C.J. Smith said...

Thank you for telling me about this!

Kelly said...

oh, how sad, all around. My goodness.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece.

C.J. Smith said...

^ Thank you for taking the time to read it.

C.J. Smith said...

^ Thank you for taking the time to read it.