Posts Tagged ‘Lovers Lost’

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The Scent Of You

October 14, 2012

If I’ve loved you, I probably know exactly how you smell….or more correctly, I know exactly how I smelled when I loved you.

1987, St. Pierre and Miquelon…. I was 18 years old, and used Finesse hairspray to tame my crazy head of curls. I was in love, heart-splayed-open, can’t-catch-my-breath love, for the first time in my life, with a French boy. The affair lasted the 3 months I was in St. Pierre to study French, but has become iconic to me, a touchstone of romance I can call up whenever I want….if I am able to find a bottle of Finesse shampoo.

Signature fragrances are not for me. I’ve tried them. Love’s Baby Soft when I was a teenager….somehow ending up in my stocking every Christmas post age 14, a curiously strong scent that came to represent Christmas for me, but wasn’t how I wanted to represent my true self. I tried on scents of women that were special to me… Chanel No.5, White Shoulders, Giorgio, Anais Anais.  I loved these scents and the women that wore them, but none of them smelled like me.

 The first perfume I ever bought for myself was LouLou by Cacharel. I was drawn by the bottle, a blue, jewel-shaped flask with a red  stopper. It made me feel how I wanted to feel at 20- exotic, special and devastatingly feminine. There are a handful of boyfriends whose  memories lie wrapped in that scent, but above them all, there is an image of me, so very young, stupid and beautiful, more in love with herself than any of them, a girl whose dreams deserved a really arresting bottle and a scent that suggested opium dens and velvet, an exotica far beyond her small-town roads and college routines. It was the closest I came to having a signature, and I’ve often thought about ordering the odd vintage bottle on ebay, just to remember.

In my artist days, I took to wearing Sandalwood and Patchouli. When I came to Korea, the Koreans kept asking me if I were sick, mistaking the scent for herbal medicine. One night, at Macondo, a salsa bar in Hongdae, an older American man stood next to me at the bar, and said ” Oh my god.  You smell like my rec room, circa 1979. Can I smell you?” I took a shot, let him smell my neck, and put my perfumes away, for many years.

About 5 years ago, I decided I wanted to start wearing perfume again. I discovered Demeter and Black Pheonix Alchemy Labs. I ordered vial upon vial of dark, true scent with names like Asphodel and De Sade. Everytime I travelled, I bought a sample pack of big-name perfumes. I threw all my little bottles in a basket, and picked one at random each day, letting the name, the mood of the scent define me, for a few hours. I still do.

You never know which Shelley will show up, nor do I. I have a floral, hyper-femine persona who will offer to help you with the copier and make the coffee- if I pick my bottle of Belle De Nuit by Fragonard that morning. I might cast long eyelashes at you and make little restless sighs over the computer if I’ve come to work wearing Blood Kiss ( BPAL) . God help your heart if I’ve pulled All Night Long ( BPAL) from my cupboard of tricks.Oh and the scent of Birthday Cake( Demeter ) in the corridor? That was me, smiling all the way to class.

I don’t act anymore. Still, I love dressing up, becoming someone else. Yes, I know scent-free is the thing now, and I respect that. Usually, you have to get really, really close to me to know how I smell. Instead, I project the attitude of the scent I’m wearing.  You’ll know I’m wearing Clinique Happy because my smile comes the moment I see you. The moments that I am withdrawn, moody and deep inside myself…Clinique Aromatic Elixir is my scent and you’ll know it before you ever smell it.

And there are moments…. where the experience I have with a particular person becomes intensely fused with the scent of what I am wearing. These moments don’t even have to be romantic or intense; they just come seeping under my base notes and infusing themselves into the shade of Shelley I am that day.

If I can name the scent that makes me think of you, I’ve really loved you. And I will think of you everytime I wear that scent, which I will pick at random, you filling my day and my thoughts like an accident, no matter what age I am, where I live or what I’m thinking about, what I’m writing.

And for a day, a couple of hours, you become my signature.

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The Very Long Thaw

February 13, 2012

Can we ever outrun our past selves? No matter how far away you move, how many lessons you learn, how many friendships fall away and are replaced, no matter how many wrinkles and grey hairs appear, must we always carry the weight of our pasts, with all that we’ve done and left undone?

This past week, my little backpack of past caught up with me.  I had to stop and unpack it, see what was inside that was weighing me down, throw out some of the heaviest trash, and repack what was left, so I’d have easy access to the things I needed – like the realization that I don’t know the first thing about what I think I know when it comes to people, the knowledge that things that have never been dealt with never really go away, and a tiny mirror that shows what a boring, undeveloped person I would be had I always done the right thing, had never gone searching for myself at the cost of others, had never made a mistake.

In my college days, I had a boyfriend whom, for the sake of whatever anonymity I can scrounge on a blog read mostly by people who know me personally, I’ll call ….Jeremy.  Jeremy was different than other boyfriends I had. In my previous post, The Cosmic Woman, I wrote about how I had spent my earlier years seeking validation through men. The better-looking, the more desirable the man, the bigger boost my confidence took. Jeremy was different – he was a big guy, tall and a little overweight, a pleasant face and very pretty eyes, but not handsome enough to even cross my radar for the first few years I knew him. Plus, he had a fiancée, placing him even further out of my circle of desire.

Jeremy and I were both theatre students at the same college. In his senior year (my second), we suddenly both found ourselves single.  In spite of my best efforts to try to fall in love with a very good-looking freshman actor, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jeremy. Why? He had an intelligence that was mesmerizing. He was solid, stable and mature – rare in the world of acting students. I started talking to him more often. He had a way of speaking in fits and spurts, like the ideas were coming too fast for breath. By the end of our first date, I knew I wanted him to lose his breath talking to me. And he did. He was one of the first men who ever really got turned on by my brain and not my breasts. He validated me to my very core, and in a way for which I was unprepared.

The chemistry between us became something of a legend in our department. People would walk in a room where we were and comment on the electricity. We had conversations where we would just stand in front of each other silently, knowing we were both getting it, the shared thoughts too quick for words. We’d hang out in his apartment, talking music and plays for hours, the discussions sexier than anything I had ever done with any other boyfriend. Physically, I was so comfortable. Knowing that he was responding to me in such an unbodied way allowed me to drop the femme fatale persona I had worn, and respond to him honestly.

Then, as was my way, I started to screw things up. A beautiful, unattainable classmate, the one that everyone wanted to date, crossed my path one night. Flattered that it was me he wanted, I cheated. This kind of validation, though, isn’t effective unless people know about it. I was somehow perversely proud of what I had done, and I ran to confess to Jeremy.  He forgave me, and we continued on for a little while….until I ended up making out at a cast party with my costar in the play in which Jeremy was directing me. Still, he took me back. I continued to push him in other ways, to see how much he would let me do before he would decide I just wasn’t worth it.

He graduated, and moved to another city for a job. I went to England for a summer. When I came home, we met again. All the good stuff was still there; just a little tattered by distance and pain. We made a decision to try to stay together despite living in different cities.

Several weeks later, I got a late-night phone call. “I’ve met someone,” he said. “I think she might be the one.” So, I let him go, feeling sickly satisfied that finally, I had driven him away.

It took a while before I realized he had frozen me out of his life completely. Having been able to remain friends with all my exes, I assumed that Jeremy and I would, in time, be able to turn the mental connection into a friendship, at least.  But, my phone calls started going unanswered, my messages ignored. I heard news of him from classmates and friends, of shows he was directing, things he was doing. Each time, I put on a big smile as if I had been in touch with him and knew all. Then, several short months later, I was drinking with classmates after a rehearsal, and somebody said, “Jeremy’s getting married. Did you hear?”

No, I hadn’t heard. I hadn’t heard a thing. For the first time since our breakup, I was in absolute, heartbreaking pain. It wasn’t because I had lost him. It wasn’t because I believed that he actually really belonged with me. In fact, I was, in the very back of my heart, happy for him.

It was his silence that ripped into me. I had thought that, in time, in the very small Newfoundland Theatre world of overlapping acquaintances and shared projects, he would come around. I thought about him constantly, even though I had moved on to another boyfriend. The fact that such happy, huge news, news that he must have known would affect me, was not enough to make him pick up a phone completely undid me. Everything good he made me believe about myself became a lie. The man who could set me on fire with his words had decided I wasn’t worth talking to.

I saw him once more in the months following my graduation. He was directing a show, and I dragged my reluctant, gorgeous boyfriend with me, so that I could show Jeremy none of it mattered to me. At intermission, I found myself in a strained, polite conversation with Jeremy. We talked of bad actors and his infant son (another big news story I heard from someone else), and there might as well have been a cement wall between us. Not a spark of who I might have been to him crossed his eyes.  I went home with the pretty, long-haired boyfriend and somewhere, between the hours of 5 and 6 am, released Jeremy from my heart.  I didn’t talk to him for the next 17 years.

Then, along came Facebook, of course. Sure that enough time had gone by, I requested his friendship – twice, I think. He completely ignored me.  My third, last-ditch request was accompanied with a note: “Add me, Dammnit!!” He did, and I sent him a polite message, thanking him and complimenting him on his very lovely-looking family. Again, I got nothing but silence – for another couple of years.

Suddenly, last week somebody posted something on Facebook that caught my attention. It was the word “Sapiosexual” with a definition: A person who is sexually attracted to intelligence in others. I liked it so much; I reposted it on my wall. And yes, it made me think of Jeremy, as well as a rare few others. The next day, I saw that Jeremy had “liked” the post. I imagined him sitting in front of his computer, tickled far enough out of his hatred of me to hit the “like” button. It was the first spark of connection I had from him.  I decided to run with it.

I composed a message, apologizing to him for my mistreatment of our love, for being the record-holding Shittiest Girlfriend Ever.  I told him how much I missed the friendship that never manifested afterwards, and how I hoped that someday, somewhere there would be a stiff pour of whiskey and a conversation that would bring it about. In spite of all the evidence that I shouldn’t, I hit “send”. I wasn’t even sure he would read it. So many years of silence made me sure he despised me. It made me even surer I deserved it.

A few hours later, I got an answer. He had just turned 45, he was reflecting on things. He spoke of regrets, apologies of his own and could we, someday, get that drink?

And just like that, someone I believed lost to me was back in my life. The truth is he never went away. Every hurt we inflicted on each other, me during the relationship and him after, still rang through us like far-away bells. It was done, but it wasn’t over. There had never been a funeral for our relationship, never an autopsy. How could we not be haunted?  I don’t know yet why he turned his back on me, exactly, and I don’t think he knows either. Yes, he may have been rightfully angry and proud. It most likely was the momentum of silence.

After reading his reply, I went into the living room and looked at a photo of myself that was taken in my last year of theatre school. Yes, that girl was cruel, wasting a heart as earnest as Jeremy’s. Yet, she had an impossibly vulnerable soul,  believing she was worthy of scorn, that she could only hurt those who loved her, and that her breasts were still the most interesting thing about her. Strutting around in her boots and bodysuits, her tuxedo jackets and crazy curls, she was just a little lost. In a way, moving halfway around the world, putting on weight, straightening my hair and giving up all theatre, I was ignoring that girl just as Jeremy had ignored me. She had never been dealt with. She wasn’t worth talking to.

Is it odd that reconnecting with him has let me forgive myself for the mistakes I made back then, with him, with myself? My marriage has been incredibly healing for me, mostly, and I thought that through figuring out how to make it work, I had made peace with all the versions of myself I’ve shown to the world. Still, I have only to look in a mirror, still see the weight, the straightened hair to know that there’s more work to be done.

But for now, I am celebrating the return of a very long-lost friend and the insights and understanding that lay around the corner. And I am talking as much about myself as I am Jeremy.

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“Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl…”

August 7, 2011

Have you ever been watching TV or a movie and realized the scene playing out in front of you mirrored your life a little too closely? I was recently watching an old rerun of Sex and the City, when a particular scene played out like my diary entry circa 1995. In the episode for which this blog post is named, Carrie is on a date with her new boyfriend. They have the “conversation ” – which most couples have when things start to get serious – in which they tell each other about their most recent romances. As Sean lists his three most recent affairs, he starts with two girls’ names and ends with a guy’s. The episode goes on to explore bisexuality culminating in a game of spin-the-bottle where Carrie makes out with Alanis Morisette, decides she tastes like chicken, and then goes out for cigarettes never to come back.

So, what part of my life was reflected in this episode? I certainly never made out with Alanis, and as a non-smoker, I cannot use “going out to get cigarettes” as my excuse to ditch someone. My last game of spin-the-bottle was, regrettably, played in grade 6.

It was ’94 or ’95. I was at the Great Taste coffee shop in Halifax on my second date with a professional clown (yes, you read that right), who I”ll call Robin. We were having the conversation. I told him all about the great heartbreak that led me to come to Halifax, and the few guys I had dated since I had come. He told me about his most recent ex, a woman with whom he had been kind of serious. Then he said, “And before her was Lisa, and before Lisa was Paul.” I paused, trying to look cool, before I asked, ” Sooo, are you bisexual, then?” Robin replied,” I don’t really know. I just know that if I like someone, I’m interested in touching them.” I was a little in awe of that answer. Could it really be that simple? Can I be honest and say that Robin’s openess and sexual sophistication made him more attractive to me? He had figured something out, I thought. Plus, he was an amazing kisser. His sort-of-serious ex came back into the picture before we could move beyond kissing, though, and while I didn’t mind sharing Robin with a past male lover, I was not open-minded enough to share him with another woman.

A dear friend of mine who is gay, has said bisexuality is just a stepping stone on the way to gay – that there is no real thing as the true bisexual. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I don’t agree with being forced to identify with anything that is not real for you in any given moment.

I read with interest some recent drama which played out in my hometown of Corner Brook. A pride parade had been cancelled, with the organizers citing discrimination and lack of support. As the story unfolded , it became obvious that the small group of organizers had perhaps reacted too quickly, and the pride parade happened on a last-minute basis, organized by the university students and a local website, cornerbrooker.com . I was proud that my hometown believed “Pride” was too important to ignore. My hometown had such a strong artistic scene, that it was surprisingly tolerant, if not friendly, to alternative lifestyles. However, on the local websites, many people said that they were ok with “gay” people, but that sexuality was a private thing. After all, straight people didn’t march through the streets proclaiming their sexuality. These commenters didn’t seem to realize that every marginalized group of people has had to make large gestures just to make the mainstream recognize them, let alone accept them. Newfoundlanders themselves, such a demonstratively proud people, often unfairly criticized and ridiculed, should be the most understanding of this.

I know from watching several gay and bisexual people in my life that it is the greatest act of bravery to to tell the truth about yourself.I am so proud of those in my family and among my friends who are open about the way they love. I am proud of all three of my parents, who may have struggled a little with the moral makeup of their generations, but still pushed through to accept the truth of those people who loved differently than they did.

I still think about what Robin said to me that day, am still impressed by its beautiful truth. I have been tempted to google him, to see which “side” he ended up taking. I stop myself, though, because that would play into the inflexible lines society often draws for us. I prefer to think of him, and all of us, living a life that is true, lovely and free – without labels.

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Bookish ( Part One )

August 3, 2011

The writing prompt for today over at NaBloPoMo asks ” Have you ever wanted to enter a book?” My easy answer? I’ve entered books, many many times. Not only does a really great author make me feel as if the world on the page is within my fingertips, they also color my soul with shades of mood and atmosphere that tend to bleed onto my reality. Over the years, my life has lined up, fantastically, with certain books I have read at certain times. Here are some that stand out: ( Second part to come later this month ).

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

Every girl of my generation can lay claim to this book as her very own guide to growing up. I devoured this one secretly, hidden in the halls of my Catholic elementary school at lunchtime. After school, I would go to play with my best friend, Irene, and she and I invented a secret handwriting code, did breast-building exercises ( Those who know me will say I did them too well!) and wondered about the mysterious bleeding that was soon to happen to us, all inspired by this book. I read everything Judy Blume wrote, and she told young girls the truth. She was our “Google”, and knew how to package the information in an amazing storyline.

Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood and Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates.

In my late high school years, I discovered this Margaret Atwood book at the library. This set off a binge of reading everything by her that I could find rooting around on the shelves. In my freshman year at university, a prof suggested that if I loved Atwood, I would also like Joyce Carol Oates, and I was introduced to this collection of stories. Through these years, where I thought of myself as a woman, but was still very much a girl, I felt so connected to the Atwood and Oates female characters as I read book after book. These women were oddly beautiful, quirky, brave and tragically foolish. They were all usually at a point of crisis, a point of collossal change. I was a young woman in love with a life that hadn’t really started yet, but I knew was coming, and I treated these novels as a preview.

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins

Tom Robbins is a joyful master with words, and reading any book of his has always been a consuming experience. This book was my introduction to him, and I read it in my graduating year of university, right before I launched myself headlong into a disastrous, crazy, heart-ripping love affair with a man who didn’t really love me. I followed him to St. John’s after graduation, partly because I didn’t know what to do next, but mostly because I couldn’t bear to be away from him more than a day. While I was caught up in the game of push and pull that we loved to play, I reread this book to try to remember something that was getting lost. I gave him a copy of this book, too. An aspiring writer himself, he loved the writing, but didn’t get the message.

The Mists Of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

After getting my heart pummeled, I decided to leave and moved to Halifax in Nova Scotia. My soon-to-become dearest friend, Didi, was in a similar situation and we decided to take on the “big city” together. I don’t usually go for fantasy books, but Didi had gotten absolutely lost in this novel, and lent it to me to read. This book is a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of the female characters. It was grand, sweeping and filled my life from the moment I picked it up. It was the perfect book to read while I was getting over the ex-boyfriend, as I could not only escape into fantasy, but could also revel in the theme of female power. In the book, Morgan Le Fay, a tiny wisp of a woman, can put on her “glamour” to make herself irresistable and commanding. Didi and I used to joke about “putting on our glamour” before a night out at the bars. When we believed it, it worked. There were girls that were prettier, taller, thinner, more girlish, yet when we put on our glamour – that attitude of specialness – we could do no wrong.

The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Oh, this book. I blame this book for most of my life after 26. This is the true story of Marguerite Duras’ affair with a wealthy Chinese man when she was a high school girl living in Indochina. The writing in this book is so exquisitely stark and sensual, it created an outline of a lover that I felt compelled to fill. I read this book towards the end of my time in Halifax, watched the movie which is also one of my favorites, and very shortly after I met a Korean guy who was studying English. Until then, all my boyfriends had been caucasian, mostly Newfoundlanders, and I saw “Jino” as a friend, only. One night very shortly after we met, he came over to my apartment where he confessed that he wanted more. I lowered the lights and kissed him, mostly out of curiousity. His skin was velvet, and as I watched the moonlight play with the strange angles of his face, a new possibility was understood. Jino and I remained friends after a very short romance, and Didi and I spent time with the Korean contingent in Halifax, where we quickly got the idea to come teach in Korea. Marguerite Duras, an unexpected kiss, and the resulting attraction to the exoticness and mystery of Asian men paved a direct path to my life here and my marriage.

Imagine if I weren’t a reader?

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Because you are in my city tonight and I’m too chicken to go see you….

October 17, 2010

Once, I was pinned under a sky so star-riddled I felt myself shot through with light. We were driving from the Plum Point motel to your house, ourselves riddled with strangeness, and you stopped the car to make me get out and look up at the sky. We became beautifully simple in that moment of raised faces. And this was the way we began our end….tiny under that wash of stars.