There's an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Faith switches bodies with Buffy and tries to take over Buffy's life. She's so used to distrusting people that normal interactions make her feel uncomfortable. A mother hugging her. A man genuinely caring about her. Friends watching her back. She obviously hasn't had relationships like that in a long time, if ever. It only lasts for a few days before she's booted out of Buffy's body and back into her own.
Last night felt a little bit like that.
We drive up to the house of my brother's in-laws. The driveway is a mixture of thick mud, shallow puddles, and bits of snow. Walking through the garage, there's a sharp smell of fire but no sign of anything burning. Mud room. Jackets on hangers in a doorless closet. A decorative sign says "Grandma's Place." A short little greyish-white dog with short hair and a curly tail greets us. The hostess clearly loves the dog, picking it up often and speaking to it as though it were a person.
The living room has several tables set with cutlery and old-fashioned tablecloths. It reminds me, simultaneously, of old family friends and of my grandparents' place on the farm. The farmhouse had two separate dining rooms with similar decor, and the family friends usually had a kids' table set up in the same way as this family does. A small room off to the side has wooden TV stands set up so the grandkids can eat together, away from boring adult conversation. We go through some introductions, and I place my plate of veggie rolls and bowl of peanut sauce on one of the tables. We're doing a potluck-style dinner, which isn't how my family does things, but I can see already that they have sliced ham and turkey. That's not so different.
Later in the evening, I find myself talking to a white-haired man in a light blue sweater. He had been the minister at the United Church I used to go to as a kid. He's retired now. I don't remember him, but I remember the church. He knows that I recently moved back home, so he asks me about it. When did you move back? "About a month and a half ago." How long did you live in the city? "Fifteen years." Oh that must have been difficult, leaving so many friends behind. "Yes." My face scrunches up, and I find myself trying not to cry in front of this man I hardly know, in this room full of people I've just met. I don't actually have that many friends back there, but I did leave behind my ex-fiance, my garden plot, the home I was used to, the community. I had left before I was ready to. "Yes. It's been an adjustment."
I pull it together, and we discuss other topics. Apparently, there's quite the writing community in this town, though I haven't found much information about it online. It must be one of those subcommunities you can only find through word-of-mouth. He's about to have his third book published and doesn't know how to promote it. I wish I could help him out somehow, but I'm not very comfortable with all of that Jesus stuff.
Speaking of Jesus stuff, I don't much like it when we all stand in a circle, hold hands, and sing a Christian version of the Johnny Appleseed song. It reminds me again of my grandfather, the only person I knew growing up who said Grace before dinner. He didn't sing, though, and we didn't have to hold hands at his table. He would bow his head and speak quickly in a low mumble, and I never knew what he was saying. I also get flashbacks of the Christian family I used to spend time with at age 14. I enjoyed their company but only hung out with them that one summer. The Bible readings were just too much for me. I also couldn't relate to their homeschooling lifestyle, nor to the fact that their family had so many kids. They still live in the same neighbourhood. My father and I drove past them a couple of weeks ago as they walked down the road, carrying a small child and pushing a stroller. They must have kids of their own now.
At some point during dinner, the wine gets to my head along with the memories. I must have stared into space for some time, because my father is loudly saying my name and pointing out that someone is talking to me. My former minister is asking me about books. We find some common ground with Joseph Campbell. All I can think of at this point is that he's more progressive than I would expect for a minister, and what would he think if he knew that I'm a closeted pagan? I don't practice Wicca, but that's the spiritual teaching I gravitate towards. I was studying it some years ago and then stopped when I started dating my ex. I want to get back into it, though it would need to be in secret because it would most certainly upset my mother. She didn't want me to have "witchy" things at my wedding, back when I still had a wedding to plan. I'll have to come out at some point. That should be fun.
The rest of the evening is fairly normal, except that it makes me think of how completely abnormal it would be for my ex. If he were here, he would feel self-conscious and tell me how "White" everything is. There's fruit arranged on a tray in the shape of a bunny. There's maple syrup pie with real whipped cream. There's a plate of deviled eggs with the mandatory dusting of paprika. There's a wild rice salad with chopped apples, walnuts, and dried cranberries, and there's a wheel of Brie. His family hardly eats vegetables or fruit. They never serve cheese, and their eggs of choice are balut. My ex had never even had real maple syrup until he met me. Another difference: people are making a big deal about the veggie rolls I'd brought. In his family, those (the meat variation) are standard fare.
As we drive home, I wonder if I'll ever have this for myself. I was supposed to get married this year. We'd been talking about having kids. I wish I could have brought my ex here before we broke up. Maybe then he would have understood what I had in mind. How else could he know that there's another way to live? That he shouldn't have to — doesn't have to — raise his kids around people who insult his wife or himself. We could have left the bullshit behind. We would have the house in the countryside like he wanted. I would have had my backyard garden and a kitchen with a sunny window. We would have a daughter named Iris.
And then we'd win the lottery and pigs would fly.
Now that we're home, I grab my phone and text him. Like a moron. No response, of course. I don't know if he hates me. Does he still think of me? He deactivated his Facebook account but didn't defriend me or change his relationship status. Does that mean he'll want to talk later? I remember the photo of me in the short skirt that he used to really like. Was he logging on and looking at it? Is he trying to stop? I distract myself from these thoughts by watching more episodes of Buffy. At least nobody is trying to kill me. I wish I had someone like Spike around.
I slipped in and out of someone else's life. Pretended, for a few short hours, that I belonged to that world.
Is that type of life (without the churchy part) possible for me? Maybe it wouldn't have been had my ex stayed with me. Maybe last night was a sign that something better waits for me.