It was Monday afternoon and I was at work, staring at a stain on my desk. It was nearing 5pm, so I could abandon all pretext of actually working. I had just broken up with my fiancé, Carey after a hellish weekend of drunken finger pointing and back-and-forth screaming matches. My inbox was full of emails demanding that I be productive, but I was overwhelmed. A week from now, I was expected to finish a pile of media submissions that had barely been started, and would require 18 hour work days from at least three people; but they were my responsibility. For the last four months I was running myself ragged at work, making up for our lack of resources by working long nights and weekends. I was also planning a wedding that was only six months away, and that I would be paying for myself. When I wasn’t worrying about deadlines, I was worrying about napkin rings and boutonnieres, and all of the other inane details that go into having that ‘perfect’ wedding. As I sat there staring at the stain, I felt the tears coming on. This isn’t what I wanted my life to be.
I had always felt lost and without purpose. Having dropped out of high school, art school, and then University, I never quite knew what to do with myself. I didn’t really care about having lots of money or a respectable career, and I was happy working crappy retail jobs that just barely paid my bills. When I got lucky and scored my first real corporate job as an admin assistant to a recruitment firm, I felt renewed enthusiasm. It didn’t matter that I had to take a 1.5 hour bus ride to and from work every day, because I got to wear jeans and take as many smoke breaks as I wanted. My colleagues were all frumpy and middle-aged, but I genuinely enjoyed working with them.
I worked there for a couple of years when another company wanted me to interview for a more senior role at their downtown office. I remember walking to my job interview and seeing all of the smartly-dressed people walking to lunch meetings at trendy coffee shops; air-kissing their friends or talking animatedly on their cell phones. They wore impossibly high stilettos and had stylish haircuts that screamed, “I’m busy and rich”. I realized that’s what I wanted. I had no idea what these people’s jobs were, and I didn’t care. I just wanted to walk down the street swinging a briefcase, and for someone to be jealous and impressed.
Several years later, I found myself working in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Toronto’s financial district, the most prestigious work address in the city. I had friends who were traders and analysts and architects and lawyers. I would visit my parents every two weeks and regale them with work stories – what big project I was working on or which important person I just had drinks with. To my immigrant parents who had worked tirelessly for every penny and pushed me to care about wealth and success , this was something to be proud of. I loved seeing the smile on my dad’s face when I told him about a new client, or when I kicked butt in a meeting. He’d say, “wow” as if I was Bill Gates announcing a new technological breakthrough. The truth is, I wasn’t that impressive – I just pretended to be.
I thought that this is what would make me happy; to strut around in uncomfortable shoes and feel like a big shot. But, the pride I once took in my work gave way to an empty feeling. I’d scan my closet full of expensive dresses and think about how stupid I was to waste all that money on clothes. The condo I was hoping to buy looked like a hospital room; white and disinfected. My beautiful friends all seemed vapid and gross, even though they all had Masters degrees and perfect teeth. The glamour I had created was wearing off, and I was seeing things how I really saw them.
My relationship with Carey was a whirlwind. We met, instantly fell in love, and were deliriously happy before real life stepped in and punched us in the face. We had our problems throughout (Carey’s drinking, my trust issues and bossiness), but we always made it work because we wanted to be with one another. No matter what, it was always worth it. The biggest strain came from work. Our schedules were completely opposite, so that when he got home, I was already asleep. We saw each other only on weekends, where five days’ worth of pent-up stress and resentment would inevitably boil over and result in a fight that had nothing to do with our relationship. But we weren’t just ships passing in the night, we were sinking as individuals and therefore hitting rock bottom as a couple.
For years I had dreamed of taking time off work to travel. I loved living in Toronto, but I also wanted to experience living somewhere else. I read books about people starting new lives in exotic places, I stalked travel blogs to see what life was like on the other side of the world, and I dreamed of new possibilities. I saw myself living in a hut on an African savannah, taking naps in the sun with Carey. In a log cabin deep in the forest, where we could write all day in the cool shade. Walking side-by-side through a busy marketplace in India with fresh coriander tucked under my arm. He wanted it too. We decided that after the wedding, we’d take an extended honeymoon and travel for a whole year. I was getting to the point where I no longer cared about the wedding, and I wanted to leave sooner rather than later for the sake of my own sanity. We compromised by agreeing to start putting whatever money we could into a travel fund, and we’d leave when it felt right.
I could see that my inner turmoil was turning into anger and frustration that I would take out on Carey. Sometimes I would snap and lash out at him for no reason. I would put him down so that he felt as inadequate and confused as I did. It was like playing tug of war with barbed wire – there were times where we just wanted to let go because it hurt too damn much to keep trying.
That weekend, I finally did let go. I’d had enough, and thought that we both deserved better. I wanted to marry him, I wanted it to work so badly, but it just wasn’t anymore. We were too wrapped up in our own misery to pay attention to one another.
On that Monday afternoon, I was tired of it all. I was tired of $18 martinis after work, where my colleagues and I would gossip about people we pretended to like. I was tired of sitting in meetings where everyone fought to be the smartest person in the room. Of having to care about mortgages and wedding dresses. Of killing myself emotionally and exhausting myself physically so that I earned enough money to buy expensive shoes and fancy dinners. Of doing the same thing day in and day out, and not being happy about it. I was tired of spending time with people I hated, instead of being with the people I loved. I was tired of coming home angry and being too exhausted to be a good girlfriend, friend, daughter, or sister. I was tired of hurting the person who mattered most to me. Of telling that little voice that said, “you aren’t happy, why are you doing this?” to go away. I was just tired.
I tore my eyes away from the stain on my desk and looked at my cell phone. 30 or so texts from Carey had piled up. I looked up at my computer and saw 4 emails marked “urgent”. I turned off my computer and picked up my phone.
I quickly scanned his texts – apologies tangled in accusations – but didn’t read them all. Instead, I looked at the picture I had of him on my desk; the mischievous glint in his eye and his impish grin. I looked at the little wooden sheep that he bought me to commemorate an inside joke; I kept it beside my computer monitor to get me through the tougher days.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I pushed aside my pride and hurt feelings and typed:
“ Do you want to run away and live on a beach together?”
Less than 3 seconds later, he had written:
“We leave tonight”.