Monday, June 20, 2011

Author's Note

This blogella, I stress again, is a piece of fiction: blog fiction in fact.

When I first began serializing it (two installments would appear each week) at the beginning of 2011, I had a lot of people wondering if Joelly Schuster, the main character, was actually me, Robin Pascoe, the writer of books for expatriates.

She's not me although she's definitely a lot of people I have met over the years!

And I need to stress this again...I am happily married for 30 years this August. I am not divorced like the main character in this fictional piece of work as so many people seem to think!!!

For me, this was a wonderful creative experiment which I plan to continue by trying to turn it into a menopausal chick flick which expatriates--so rarely seen on the big screen--may also enjoy.

I would like to thank the readers who did read it in the original serialized version. As I would love more people to read it, I spent many many many hours ( does not have a 'reverse chronology' function!) putting this in its correct order, from beginning to end.

So enjoy. And once again, remember: this is fiction. And while it may say this is being posted by Joelly Schuster, she's not real.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Installment One

I have to begin somewhere, so why not today when I have been 53-years-old for just over twenty-four hours? Yesterday wasn’t the greatest birthday I have ever celebrated but it wasn’t the worst either. My lovely daughter took me out to a fancy restaurant because she didn’t want me to be alone.

She’s worried about her old mother in this new life which no longer includes her father since he recently ditched me, in Beijing of all places. Naturally, it was for a woman half his age and younger than our daughter.

There is a reason clichés were invented. Bumper stickers too, like “Shit Happens”. They can be incredibly useful for summing up one’s life.

Maybe I could write bumper stickers instead of a taking a job as a barista at the Starbucks in the market. God knows I have served enough coffee in my life. I keep threatening to become a professional milk whipper because I’m now completely broke and it would seem, unemployable because of my age and a blank CV.

My daughter isn’t the only one fretting about what I am going to do now with the rest of my life (yes, it is the perfect title for this blog if I do say so myself). My son Brian isn’t exactly thrilled about his mother’s new and extremely reduced circumstances.

Barely out of college, the poor guy has his whole working life ahead of him (once he figures out what he wants to work at) but already he’s been offering his mother the money he has been saving up for a car. What a good son I raised. But I’ll crawl to the supermarket before I will let him give me his hard-earned money.

Brian is so angry with his father right now, but what else is new? He’s been mad at him his entire life because he was simply never there. He was always on a business trip or working late for whatever oil company was controlling our lives at the time, always too tired if he was home on a weekend to coach any of Brian’s school teams.

I suppose I’ll have to get to that story at some point in this cyber diary with its clever title chosen precisely because I haven’t got a fucking clue what to do with the rest of my sorry little life.

Jesus, am I even allowed swearing on a blog? Too damn bad if I’m not supposed to since I’ve already been at it. My son isn’t the only one with anger issues obviously or so says the shrink I lined up before I even arrived in Ottawa.

Wait, am I supposed to even say where I’m living? Is there an instruction manual anywhere other than Blogging for Dummies which I saw in the bookstore? And does there happen to be a version for menopausal idiots who can barely remember to finish a sentence?

Please leave a comment and a link, dear reader. All one of you and that does not include you, Deborah (that’s my daughter). You don’t count. It’s your fault for even talking me into this in the first place.

Installment Two

I had planned to go back and play around with those first words I wrote before posting them. A call from my worried daughter interrupted me.

I have to share it. Apparently, I will be sharing everything here, including the Oat Bran bar I ate for breakfast. I might have had a banana too. No wait, that was yesterday.

"I hope you enjoyed our night out, Mom," Deborah said, referring to my birthday dinner. "The food really was good, eh?" We both laughed. She was coaching me in Canadianisms long gone from me.

And who else better than a language instructor? In the background, I heard the sounds of the high school where she taught French and Spanish. How ironic that my daughter has ended up working at the same high school I attended, even after I was orphaned.

All right, that's another story. I already know this is going to be way too long for a blog posting. People don't have the attention span anymore to read more than 600 words, tops, at a time.

It takes me that long just to explain what I did yesterday. If I can remember.

"Yes it was a great dinner, honey. Thanks again for keeping your old mom company on her birthday."

"Mom, first of all, you are not old! And secondly, of course I wanted to help you celebrate your first birthday without...without..."

"...without your father?"

"Mom, you know what I mean. I just couldn't bear the thought of you in that tiny apartment by yourself."

Oh yes, the tiny apartment.

I'm sitting in it right now. It's a rental on the fringe of Ottawa's tony Rockcliffe Park. Might as well mention that now, too.

I'm living on the margins of the neighborhood that is home to the diplomatic corps assigned to Canada. Close by is what was once my family home too, long ago when my father was in the diplomatic service.

Viewed from my new kitchen counter (well, it's a single tile but at a stretch it could be called a counter) where I am writing from because it's the only clear space I could find to set up my lap top and also easily steal a WiFi signal from my neighbour's unsecured network, I do see it for what it really is: a flea-bitten fire trap with a good address and an even better price—cheap.

That sentence is way too long for a blog. Note to self: take deep breaths, even when writing.

There is barely room for all my unopened moving boxes. I'm now a warehouse for the memories (too many to keep track of) of a peripatetic life. Some of them have been taped shut for years!

I see a huge bonfire in my future.

None of the furniture or art work accumulated throughout a lifetime of foreign travel came with me when I ran away from China. Only my clothes and cherished photo albums of the children as babies.

I never wanted to end up like the old widows of the British Raj, living in damp cottages in the UK, surrounding by too many relics of a life that no longer exists.

Installment Three

I had barely managed to comfort my daughter on the phone (stop worrying about me! No wait, someone should worry about me!) when she asked: "Did you start writing the blog yet?”

She has a quaint idea that I can become a menopausal Tina Fey. LOL. Did I get that right or is it just too pathetic?

"As a matter of fact, I've been fiddling with some words..."

"Blog postings don't need to be literate, Mom," she interrupted me. "Have you even read any blogs? It's all about creating a platform and getting people to follow you."

I had sighed at that bloody word again. Platform. Could I just jump off one and be done with it all?

And it's not as if I want to write anything else. I'm not even a writer! This blog is just a stop-gap measure to help me unload. That's what blogs seem to be anyway: writing feelings out loud.

Mind you, most bloggers should keep their feelings to themselves.

Too old geezer sounding? Okay, I will add myself to that list of people who should really, for everyone's sake, shut the fuck up. Please. (Hurray, a chance to sound politely Canadian!)

According to my new psychiatrist, I'm in transition. I can't start a new life without venting about the old one. That's what a transition year is all about says my medical oracle.

And here I thought it was just a get-out-of-jail-free card to do whatever the hell I want.

Unfortunately, I don't think the good head doctor has a clue about my life despite the books and articles I presented him with at our first meeting. How could he understand what it's like to not only leave a husband, but an entire way of living?

Here I now am, isolated, in a city with long and brutal winters which even the Russians consider a hardship posting for their diplomats.

So, back to what I started out to say. See? This menopause thing means never remembering anything, even when it's written down!

Allow me to introduce myself in a slightly more coherent way.

My name is Joelly Schuster. For almost three decades I lived overseas as an expatriate wife. We moved every three years for my husband's job in the oil industry.

The constant international relocations came to me naturally, though.

I grew up moving around the world. My late father represented Canada abroad before he and my mother were tragically killed in a car accident when I was attending high school, here, in Ottawa. I lived in five countries before I even got that far. I was actually born in Manila because my father was posted there at the time.

When my marriage was recently torn apart by a young gold-digger, I took the decision to come 'home' wherever the hell that's supposed to be in the world. Since I went to high school here, I chose Ottawa.

I'm learning very quickly why expats are positively phobic about the idea of repatriation. And most of my friends have done it with money!

They should try it broke and broken.

Installment Four

Today was my shrink day.

For the thousandth time since I returned to Canada, I blessed a health care system that pays for my psychiatrist.

He insists I call him Larry instead of Dr. Wright (which I thought had to be a fake name when I first met him.)

Dr. Call-Me-Larry is not quite half my age but looks young enough to be a potential son-in-law. I mentioned Deborah to him almost before I had introduced myself.

Of course, I tried to be subtle about my matchmaking. I gave him this long song and dance about my daughter being a 'third culture kid' because she grew up all over the world.

TCKs, as they are known in the shorthand of the globally mobile (it has no cute translation from blogspeak), often have trouble sustaining long term relationships. I figured that would interest him as a psychiatrist.

I only managed to open a can of worms.

"You also grew up moving around, Joelly. Do you think that fact impacted on your relationship?”

No doctor, it was That Bastard Martin, my soon-to-be-ex-husband for whom I can assign a blog monniker, TBM, who impacted on my failed marriage!

I didn't say that out loud.

"Guess what I'm called?" I asked him. "I'm an ATCK--an adult third culture kid. Then there are TCAs, third culture adults..."

"I'm already aware of all those terms, Joelly. I actually read all those materials you gave me explaining the particularities of your global life."

Pregnant pause, the first part being a physical impossibility.

"So, how do you feel about the idea that moving around may have contributed to the breakdown of your marriage?"

"How do I feel? Or what do I think?" The wheels on the bus were going round and round. "You have asked me two questions."

"I think someone is trying to dodge both."

"Fair enough." I love that line. It shuts down any conversation.

His clock ticked on while we stared at each other. Bloody hell, how does this work? Why can't he just give me the anti-depressants I asked for at our first appointment?

"I think I feel depressed."

We stared at each other.

"I feel like a fish out of water here," I continued. "I feel restless and overcome with inertia at the same time. Weird, eh?"

"Go on."

If I only had the words. I only have this nagging feeling that the interesting part of my life--the travel, the conversations, the ability to indulge my cultural curiosity--is over.

I couldn't bring myself to say any of this without sounding like I was crazy.

Then it hit me: if I was going to get any drugs out of this guy, I had to behave like I have a mental health challenge. How easy is that? These days, every behavior is initialized, labeled a syndrome, and medicated.

"Sometimes I wonder if I maybe I shouldn't just vanish."

That was ambiguous enough to intimate I may be contemplating suicide. (Maybe I really could be a writer.) The truth is that I really do feel like running away.

But how do you run away from yourself?

"Joelly, I think you would benefit from _____," he said, reaching for his prescription pad.

Mission accomplished.

Installment Five

My mother-in-law, Edna, called me early this morning to see how I was holding up.

She's my ex-mother-in-law now I guess. Or mother of my ex? Is there a correct protocol for what I should call her now? Diplomats can retire (or in my family, they die) but their kids can never be former diplomatic children.

Edna lives up to her old-fashioned name. She believes marriage is supposed to be for life. Her language, though, is straight out of the 'hood (even if that neighbourhood is middle class Montreal.)

"Have you heard lately from that son-of-a-bitch offspring of mine?"

You have to love a woman who takes a daughter-in-law's side in her own son's divorce. We've been close since the day we met. Closer, if that was possible, once the children came along. Edna understood how alone in the world I felt, without a mother of my own to help me. It didn't matter to her that I had always had a house full of servants.

"Darling girl," she had said to me on her first visit to the Middle East when Deborah was born.

"Your army of maids, cooks, drivers, laundresses, and butlers may all be lovely and efficient people. But they are not Deborah's parents. That's a job for you and Martin. Don't let the staff become my granddaughter's handmaidens."

Great advice which her son, of course, ignored.

"You have a maid," TBM had said. "Why do I need to learn how to change a diaper?"

(Re-thinking my Internet handle for him, his mother really should have first dibs on his acronym and I do so like SOB.)

Oh, such fond memories of that SOB, TBM. Perfect.

"I don't expect to hear from him until I get the final divorce papers to sign Edna." I never could bring myself to tell her about his infidelity.

"Is he living with that baby now?"

I forgot what a sharp old bird she is, despite being 85.

"How do you know about the baby hussy Edna?"

OMG, I never expected to say that out loud.

"How do you think?" Of course! Deborah had just spent time with her grandmother.

"Joelly, I need you to be honest with an old woman. Is he at least looking after you financially?"

"Deborah told you about my pathetic digs, right?"

"Well, she might have mentioned something."

I could hear her breathing as she contemplated how to broach the subject of money. Edna was a very wealthy widow. Her generosity with my children knew no bounds and her gifts over the years to me were always lavish.

But I would never ask her for anything and certainly not now.

"Check your bank account when you have a minute."


"Save your bullshit about pride, Joelly," she said, in her take-no-prisoners voice. "My shame in my son trumps your pride."

My eyes welled up. "And book yourself into a day spa," she added, before ringing off.

I sobbed for hours over the life that SOB had gone and ruined.

Installment Six

No pity party today.

I staked out a Starbucks, a few chain coffee houses, and some intimate, independent ones while I was at it. Empty-handed, I walked out of all of them with neither coffee nor employment forms.

I simply must get over myself and grow up.

And sooner rather than later. Edna's deposit in my bank account was lovely (that she has even figured out on-line banking at her age is beyond my comprehension), but hell will have to freeze over before I accept her largesse again.

I keep forgetting hell actually does freeze over here. It's called winter.

I need to find a coffee house and it must be within walking distance of the tiny apartment. I don’t care if I am watching my pennies. I'm avoiding buses as long as I can.

My aversion to public transit dates back a long way. There was an iron clad 'no B & B' rule during my marriage with TBM. That meant, no playing bridge and no taking buses.

Don't get me wrong, please. I am a bus hugger. I just took enough of them when I was a kid, living in strange countries with even stranger local conveyances and a seatmate that could be a goat. Once, I sat beside a motorcycle.

I am not making that up, either. (Although I just realized I could say anything here. Okay, I'm really a tall, young, and beautiful babe. Forget what I said about being a menopausal woman. I've already forgotten.)

As for bridge, I watched my mother play enough of it to last a lifetime. She hated it too, but back in her day, she had no choice in the matter.

She was always perky though, probably thanks to the assistance of her chain-smoking, and drinking gin and tonics throughout the play. I wondered if she played wearing gloves.

If that truck hadn't killed her and Dad on Highway 401 outside of Toronto, the cigarettes and booze would surely have done her in prematurely. I still miss her, even though I barely knew her.

I skulked home after my coffee shop recon. Before I could spiral into the despair my cousin Julie called. She made me feel better almost immediately as she always does.

Brief explanation: I lived with Julie and her family after my parents were killed. A year older than me, we were in the same grade, thanks to all the achievement-driven international schools I had attended which pushed my grade level up by one.

Her parents, my beloved aunt and uncle (both gone now too), became my legal guardians; her younger siblings became more than first cousins to me as I was an only child.

"How did the coffee shop job hunting go?" Julie had asked me.

She managed to refrain from reminding me again that I happen to have a college degree in international development I could probably put to good use, even if it is over 30 years old.

The first time she brought up the idea of my working in foreign aid, I pointed out my degree is older than the people interviewing me.

"It went."

"Message received, loud and clear. How about we meet tomorrow at two o'clock? We'll discuss your future. Over coffee."

Can you hear a smirk on the phone?

Installment Seven

Internet dating or Facebook are my choices, my cousin Julie explained to me over coffee, if I ever want to go out again. Preferably both.

"Why in God's name would I want to date? I don't even have my divorce yet."

"So? Why should a piece of paper matter? And come on, of course you will want to date again. Maybe not right now, but soon."

"There is no way in hell I am going to try meet someone on the Internet." I didn’t tell her I had made the suggestion to Deborah who hasn't dated (or told her mother about it anyway) for a very long time.

"Deborah has at least put herself on Facebook. Why can't you?"

"She’s in her twenties, Julie. Facebook is like breathing. How can you not noticed the generational divide on this social media crap? Anyway, I don't want to be on Facebook. Does that work for you?"

Really, I was just blowing hot air. My reluctance to put myself 'out there' was really about my intention never to show any man my middle-age body.

"Dear cousin, let me explain something to you," smug, happily-married Julie began. "People find old friends on Facebook all the time. Maybe some old love (you know who I'm thinking of) will find you that way?"

"With my luck, the only people who will find me are geeks I hated in high school. And just who exactly are you calling old? You are still one year older than me!"

I didn't dare ask her who she was thinking of but I knew: my first love, the boy who gave me my first kiss. I had told her all about him one night after TBM's first infidelity in Dubai temporarily brought me back to Ottawa to contemplate divorce, an idea I rejected eventually.

In a drunken stupor, I had opened my emotional vault and spilled everything. As I recall now, I had also barfed.

And how the memories so easily flooded back, even in that crowded coffee shop. Gabriel. Gabe. We had been little kids together in an international school in Buenos Aires, both our fathers representing our respective countries: Canada (mine); Ireland (his). I hadn't even said his name out loud in years.

We had run into each other years later when I was back-packing in Europe. He had laughed when he learned I was studying international development.

"You always were a do-gooder, Joelly," he had said before flashing me that coy million dollar Irish smile. Like his father, he was going to be a diplomat. He was studying international relations.

"Come back to planet Earth, cousin."

"What were we talking about Julie?"

"Dating. Old loves. Facebook."

Can it be over thirty years since we even were in contact? How odd considering he must be living somewhere out in the world. Hell, he must be an ambassador by now.

"Still out there in memory-land, Joelly?"”

To shut her down and shut her up, we went back to her house which lucky for me, was within walking distance of my apartment. Humouring her, I let her help me create a Facebook profile for me.

"Now what the hell do I do?"

How perfectly that simple question sums up my existential hell.

"We wait and see who finds you," I was told.

Installment Eight

My son Brian wants to be my friend, on Facebook anyway.

I'm told this is highly unusual. However I suppose in the interest of humouring his mother, both he and Deborah immediately accepted my friend requests once Julie set up my profile.

The only challenge I had was finding a picture of myself that doesn't have me holding a drink in my hand. Are all expat pictures like that?

That seems a trifle though, now that I have seen Brian's wall. According to my daughter, I creeped all over it, intrigued to read about his friends. Good thing I did.

There, buried in among links to You Tube videos and other quirky stories, was what every mother must dread...being the last to know something important.

"Got a job offer today in Beijing!" posted Brian recently enough that the news was fresh; old enough that I should have known about it but clearly was being kept in the dark.

The comments running below it were even more informative.

"Dude, isn't that where your deadbeat father lives?" one friend posted.

"Didn't you have enough of that global shit already?" asked another.

"I thought you were content to stay put, Brian :-)," one girl, who might be his girlfriend or a wannabe girlfriend posted.

"What the fuck????" I typed immediately in the space provided, but then common sense prevailed. (I have since learned it should be WTF anyway). I phoned him.

"Brian, I can't say this any other way. Why the hell are you going to Beijing?"

"Ah, Facebook. Deborah told me it would end badly when mothers and children are 'friends'."

"That may be...but what is in Beijing besides TBM...I mean your father? It's not like you ever lived there."

"Actually, Dad found me a job teaching English, so that I can save some money to go back to grad school."

Shoot me now. Shoot my computer. Shoot TBM. Who am I talking to anyway?

"When were you planning on telling me?"

"I had the feeling you would see it on Facebook."

"Is this like breaking up with someone with a text?" I was trying to put some humour into my voice to deaden the razor-like sharpness of my real feelings.

"Mom, you are so with it these days!"

If by 'with it' he meant with drugs, to keep me calm in my shitty apartment, with my dwindling bank balance and my gray hair I see every time I look in the mirror (to name only the major themes of my new, reduced life so far) ya, I'm with it, son. But I couldn't say anything. None of the above is his fault.

"When are you leaving?"

"Dad is going to call you to discuss it all."


Installment Nine

I have been terrified to turn on my computer, for I just know I will find an e-mail waiting for me from TBM.

Besides which, the noise of the digital world has been deafening lately. Am I imagining it, or has the sound of life really just gone up several decibels?

There is only so much superficial blah blah blah, who-the-fuck-even-cares that I can endure. If I didn't go willingly off the grid, I'd surely jump.

Walking long stretches the last few days along the Rideau Canal, staring at the Parliament Buildings, has allowed me to switch my brain from digital to analogue mode. Ambling along the world's longest skating rink, I've barely given a thought to my future.

But trying to leave my screen blank screen was pointless. TBM phoned.

"Have you forgotten about time zones you idiot?" It was barely 6 a.m.

"You always got up early, Joelly. I figured that hadn't changed." He sounded slightly contrite but I was not letting him off the hook. I just breathed into the phone. That always drove him nuts when he would call home from a business trip.

"I can see this is going to be productive," he finally mumbled down the line sarcastically. I could hear a voice in the background. The baby must be right there.

"Well, what do you want? To ask me after the fact if I think it's a good idea for Brian to move to Beijing? You might have thought about consulting me."

"Would you have agreed with the idea?"

"No. Since it's apparently a fait accompli, however, I am trying very hard to see something positive. The best I can come up with, at least for the moment, is that he doesn't despise you right now. You managed to get him out of his unemployment doldrums. That's got to be a good thing."

"Why does he hate me? What have you been saying about me?"

Nothing, asshole, although you mightily deserve to be trashed.

I wanted to throw my phone against the wall. I couldn't possibly afford another one, though, so stopped myself in time.

"You're breaking up, Martin. I can barely hear you. If you can hear me, send me an e-mail."

Click. Relief. Sigh.

The phone rang again. Caller unknown. I let it go to my voice mail.

It was time to turn on my computer. Sure enough, TBM had sent me an e-mail to tell me he was going to be calling me today to discuss our son.

A weariness washed over me. I couldn't remember feeling this emotionally exhausted since the children were little. Back then, in a state of sleep deprivation, despite the best help in the world, everything had always looked bleak.

I desperately need to get out of my own head. I need to remember that outside of being broke and alone, my life is a very good one, privileged as hell.

I'm healthy. End of story.

Installment Ten

Amazing how long one cup of Starbucks coffee can last. I've stretched it out long enough to draft this blog posting before worrying about getting tossed.

I have not moved any closer to asking for an employment form, in case anyone was wondering.

I've become WiFi challenged: my neighbor suddenly decided to secure his network. The gall of some people, wanting privacy! As if it really exists anyway. So here I am in a Starbucks where the coffee is ridiculously expensive and the WiFi is free.

Many of the clientele are also sharing their beverages with screens. Sad, eh? Some are on their phones and staring at their screens. Others are just playing with their phones which surely someone, somewhere has described as digital masturbation.

Wait, I’ll Google it and see what happens. Jesus, there are actually over five thousand references to it! (and I can add links which strangely, never occured to me until just now).

I’ve been fooling around on Facebook (amazing the stuff people say about themselves but I'm hooked!) so I'm in time-wasting mode.

While I was sitting here, though, it happened just as I predicted and almost as quickly too.

Alan Fucking Goldstein (yes, I've been reading the Swedish Dragon Tattoo books) wants to be my friend.

He's the geek from high school, my former chemistry lab partner (to whom I really should be grateful because no way I would have passed without him) who has 'found me' and sent a friend request along with a personal message.

I looked at his picture before reading it. If it's real, (that is, he hasn't scanned an old picture of himself taken forty years ago) he didn't turn out so bad. His acne cleared up and amazingly, he still has his hair.

"Joelly!" his message said. "I can't believe I have found you after all these years. Are you back in Ottawa? I moved away for a while but returned after my divorce because my daughter lives here and I have a grandson. I hope you will contact me. Remember when our little experiment in the chem lab brought the fire trucks to the school? Dying to reconnect, Alan."

What can it hurt? Deborah and Julie were both in my head saying this to me.

I fired back confirmation of our cyber friendship. No sooner had I done this, when a little window popped up. Alan Fucking Goldstein (known now forever as AFG) was on-line and wanted to chat. How the hell do I do that? Julie's tutorial didn't include this wrinkle.

I tentatively typed in "hi?" when suddenly words came at me fast and furious.

"I can’t believe it! It really is you. What is your phone number?"

What to do? Thinking of TBM, and Brian going off to Beijing and the tiny apartment...well, dear reader, I typed it in.

My purse starting ringing almost immediately.

This can't be a good thing, I felt with dread, as I reached into my purse to hunt for my phone.


"My God, it really is you."

"Hello Alan."

"Where are you?"

"In a Starbucks in the market."

He laughed so loud I could hear it through the phone. Actually, I could hear it across the coffee shop.

AFG was sitting three tables away.


Installment Eleven

I almost choked on the dregs of my coffee.

There he was in person: my nerdy high school classmate, Alan Fucking Goldstein, or as he will be known in this blog, AFG. He was very much off the screen and walking towards me.

(If your memory is menopausal like mine, do use the acronym code I've provided at the kind suggestion from the comments section. For the technologically illiterate, it's hard to miss on the right hand side of the screen. And BTW—that means by the way—thanks for even finding this blog. Maybe you can even figure out how to subscribe to it.)

Back at Starbucks, AFG was smiling like he had just spotted someone famous. Or maybe he was just showing off his incredibly white, bleached teeth. No way those choppers looked their age (well over half a century old like my own), especially as he was swilling over-priced, shade-grown, nuclear-free java.

Being caught so off guard jump-started my flight instinct. The ladies room was closer than the front door but there wasn't enough time to escape via either route.

The rest is a total blur. All I do remember is that AFG asked me out on a date. And in my gobsmacked state, I agreed.

I couldn't get out of that Starbucks fast enough, speed walking and speed dialing dear cousin Julie as I exited. My mood was homicidal. Barely hanging on by a thread, blame had to be meted out somewhere so why not on Julie and her insistence that I join everyone’s favourite social network?

"Sounds fantastic," Julie said when I informed her of the date.

"You are joking, right? You promised me no real-time meetings.”

“Joelly, you have a date. You said he looks good, overly white teeth and all. He's not married. He has hair!"

Getting nowhere with her, I went home, took one look at my horrible apartment (with an eye to AFG seeing it) and totally unraveled.

Its general shabbiness was depressing. There was also a very strange smell in the hallway. After all the places I have lived in my life, I figure no smell could knock me out. But whatever died in my hall way deserves a decent burial.

And now a date! I wanted to punch something.

Instead, I opened the giant bag of potato chips I had bought on the way home. They were the really salty ones, the kind that could tip a person into a sodium overdose. Sitting on the floor, I inhaled the entire bag and waited for my fingers to turn into bloated sausages

Screw this. I pulled myself together, ran out the door to another café with WiFi and sent AFG a message via Facebook.

"Alan," I wrote. "It was so great seeing you today. I was hasty, however, in accepting your kind invitation for dinner." (Did he even ask me to dinner? I can't remember!)

"But it's a bit too soon for me to go out on a date. Can I get back to you? I'm just not myself these days."

Just who the hell am I anyway?

Installment Twelve

Has anyone ever had a nervous breakdown on a blog? Come to think of it, most blogs, at least like mine, are public meltdowns.

Worse, what if I am having one and no one has even noticed? Is that the same as the proverbial tree falling in the woods and no one hearing it? I might as well just throw my self-esteem under that metaphor and be done with it.

At the ripe old age of 53, I am having a bloody identity crisis. I feel totally undone, a tsunami of emotion.

I'm way over my cancelled date with AFG. I can just ignore him from now on. At least Facebook allows you to block people.

Now my spirits have been brought down now by one lousy, soul-destroying meeting yesterday with a stupid young cow, a career counselor recommended to me by Just-Call-Me-Larry, my shrink.

This piffle of a little girl, whose own career has to be five minutes old, if that, looked over my CV and then looked me over.

Okay, I admit to needing to buy some professional looking clothes sooner rather than later. The clothes I bought for a visit to an ashram in India don't quite work in a business setting. And I could lose the thousand jangling bracelets too.

"Let's talk about your 'skills', Mrs. Schuster. I see here that you claim to have writing 'skills'."

Claim? And can one actually hear quotation marks in a tone of voice? I thought you had to do something with your fingers too. I knew what I felt like doing with the middle finger on my right hand.

"Yes, I have done a lot of writing over the years. But I hope you noticed I also have a university degree in international development."

She ignored that. Before I could get her off the subject of writing which held little interest for me (or any employment prospects what with journalism and publishing both on the ropes these days) and onto the subject of international development, she persisted by asking me, and quite snarkily too:

"Do you think writing newsletters for women's clubs or school parent organizations should be considered 'writing skills'?"

Could you patronize me a bit more little girl? Did I say that out loud?

"Well, yes, since they involved a lot of 'writing'." Great, I'm beginning to mimic her.

Am I on hallucinogenic drugs? (It certainly wouldn't be for lack of trying, mind you, to find recreational ones. This is Canada after all.) More importantly, what has she been smoking?

"Yes, I did notice that community development was your major interest. Did you ever actually gain any work experience after your degree? Or did you just get married?"

At least I had a husband. Too bitchy.

"Are we going to count volunteer work in rural communities?" I asked nicely, trying to regain the moral high ground and be nice. "Or are you only going to measure paid work as true experience?"

"I'm not sure I understand your question."

"I agree. Our questions are entirely different. So I don't think you can possibly have any answers for me." I thanked her for her time and walked out with as much dignity as I could muster, jangling bracelets and all.

Closing the door to her office, I heard her mutter whatever as she noisily dropped my CV into the trash bin.

Now I really am garbage.

Installment Thirteen

A new resolve awakened me today, my brain pinging with ideas of how to move on with the rest of my life, for now anyway.

Barely out of bed, however, all the great ideas vanished as I went to make coffee. The smell of my coffee brewing triggered a memory. Jesus! I was supposed to be at work! It was day two of my job as a barista. Note to self: buy a notebook and leave it nearby always.

After my debacle with the baby bitch career counselor (she's not worth an acronym) I marched into the nearest coffee shop, asked to see the manager, filled in a form, and was hired on the spot.

Technically, though, I am not barista since my job is not at Starbucks.

In order to fully re-integrate into my Canadian culture, and capitalize on my excellent skills as a coffee server (endless dinner parties and luncheons must surely count for something) I jumped right in to the deep end.

I'm now working at a Tim Hortons.

To the uninitiated, that is anyone who is not Canadian, Tim Hortons (which I have kindly provided a link for greater cross-cultural understanding) is as Canuck as a Mountie on a horse or a hockey puck, and especially the latter since Tim was actually a hockey player tragically killed in a car accident.

It just doesn't get any more Canadian than Tim's.

I figure this 'career move' should put an end to AFG’s interest or indeed any potential male of my age looking for a nurse with a purse. There's no way any man will ever want to date a nut case like me who can barely look after herself never mind nurse another, and clearly there is no divorce settlement or life insurance money stashed somewhere (the purse).

I got that wrong.

In the middle of sweeping the floor (okay, cleaning up a mess I had personally made) I heard my name being called. There was AFG! He was peering over the counter at the cash register.

"Joelly? Is that really you?"

"Hello Alan. What are you doing here? I didn't take you for a double-double man." (Note to non-Canucks: that means a coffee with double cream, double sugar. Combined with maple glazed donuts, no fossil fuels required to function.)

"You didn't tell me..."

"...that I was completely broke and needed the first job I could get?"

"Well, yes. But why here? You are university educated. You have lived and traveled the globe. You are..."

"...much too good for this place? Is that what you are trying to say Alan?"

Did I over-do the nobility of working at a Tim Hortons? People were looking.

"Please let me take you out for dinner, Joelly. When do you get"

So, dear reader (not you Deborah), I agreed to go out. Once only, I rationalized, just to get this guy off my back. What kind of loser hunts a woman like me?

The same kind of loser who posts on her Facebook page that she has started working at a Tim Hortons.

I knew I had forgotten something important.

Installment Fourteen

There is only one word to describe a middle-aged woman who has not been out on a 'date' in almost thirty years, but agrees to one while holding a broom at a busy coffee shop where she has been reduced to working for a minimum wage after leading a business class global life.


What is the big deal anyway about finding long lost friends ? Okay, maybe reconnecting with an old lover would be nice (sigh) but a former chemistry lab partner? Sure, I knew I would be safe with him in the event of a power blackout. His overly white teeth would guide us to the nearest exit.

But the evening was a total bust. I looked at my watch so many times he finally asked:

"Do you have somewhere else to be Joelly?"

"I want to be in bed actually."

That didn’t come out right.

"Asleep in my bed, I mean. My shift starts early tomorrow morning."

I will say this for AFG. He would have made a great diplomat. He said absolutely nothing of significance, pontificated on China when he's never been there, and discreetly held his tongue about my marriage, divorce, and financial destitution. The evening mercifully ended when he dropped me off and zoomed away. That was that.

Swallowing my pride, I ventured back on my break from my menial job to the office of the career counselors hopeful I could meet with a different one. Luckily, I was introduced this time to someone who assists women like me.

That would be the demographic of aging crones who have been out of the workforce or just out of it for years. I think of us as invisible women. We really need fiction writers to help us massage our CVs and initiate job searches.

Meeting a counselor slightly more mature than the last one, we decided that writing wasn't my way to go if newsletters were all I had written. Instead, we focused on all the community work I had done in the various countries we had lived in. Non-profit foreign aid organizations would be my new target.

"You’re going to do what now?" Deborah shouted at me when I told her. Can there be anything worse than being yelled at by someone you once diapered?

She relented when she realized it would get me out of Tim Hortons.

"I know you don’t want to talk about Dad because you want us to have our own relationship with him, but can you at least tell me if he's supporting you in any way at all Mom?"

I didn't want to lie to my daughter. That would involve confessing to what a trustworthy idiot I had been all those years as her father had systematically spent my inherited money as our money while keeping his money as his alone. Not surprisingly, my money was all gone.

"Why yes, he is Deborah." Technically, I wasn't lying to my daughter and managed to avoid bad-mouthing her useless father.

After all, his mother, dear sweet Edna is keeping me afloat now that her own son has set me adrift.

Installment Fifteen

It has taken me a few days to post again. And it has not been because I've been out looking for work. Rather, I have been prostrate with hysteria (do I need quantum physics to explain that?)

My mood went nuclear after hearing the words I was dreading come out of my son's mouth:

"I've set my departure date for Beijing, Mom."

To his credit, Brian told me in person. He came up from Toronto, where he's been temporarily couch surfing while looking for work.

"That's nice, sweetheart," was all I could muster. I can only ascribe my muted response as simply a "if-I-don't-truly-acknowledge-what-he-said-it-will-all-go-away" method of avoiding unpleasant thoughts.

"Did you hear me Mom? I'm leaving next week. Dad bought me my ticket."

"I heard you Brian. What can I say? It's a done deal. You never asked for my advice and seem determined to go. I can only say bon voyage and hope for the best."

This was not what he expected to hear. Frankly, it wasn't what I expected to say. I could have ranted, cried, or vowed never to speak to him again. Any number of horrible alternative scenarios had been possible.

But this was my baby boy! The one who had hated moving so much he had vowed never ever to leave Canada again, never to travel again period for Christ’s sake!

"Can I just ask you this Brian? You really seem determined to stay put. What changed your mind?"

"Don't take this the wrong way, Mom, but you helped me make up my mind."

OMG. Now I have failed as a wife and a mother.

"Brian, I know I haven't been myself lately..."

"You misunderstand me, Mom. It's not your circumstances that helped me decide, although I'm hoping that once I'm with Dad I can help him understand what a mess he's left you in..."

"...please don’t do that sweetheart...”

"What I mean is that you are the one who helped me understand that because of my global upbringing, I really have problems sitting still. I thought I wanted to never move again, but I was wrong. I must be hard-wired that way or something...Don't cry Mom, please."

It was true. I was blubbering.

"Brian honey, the tears are temporary. Like these damn boxes!!" I shouted, throwing my arms around the room full of paper cartons.

Our conversation was interrupted by the apartment buzzer from downstairs.

"Are you expecting anyone Mom?"

Three guesses who was at the front door of my building. Bloody AFG!

"Alan," I spoke into the intercom. "This isn't the greatest time. My son is here..."

"Your son Joelly? I would love to meet him."

"Who is that Mom?"

"An old friend from high school, dear, who found me on Facebook."

"Can I come up Joelly?" the intercom piped up.

Seeing my distress and feeling my hysteria (could brains explode?), Brian stepped into the breach.

"I'll go downstairs and get rid of him Mom."

Thank God for sons. When they aren't making you cry, driving you crazy, or giving you sleepless nights, they are the greatest most precious gift in the world.

And they are particularly handy if you are being stalked.

Installment Sixteen

They say that everyone is connected by six degrees of separation. In the expatriate world, make that two.

I have also come to believe that the universe, expat or not, is guided by unseen forces. And how is one to disprove this? While I'm at it, does God even exist? And will Godot ever arrive?

Best graffiti I ever found scrawled on a bathroom stall: "Back in a minute, Godot."

That bastard husband of mine arrogantly dismissed an experience I had a few years ago when a childhood girlfriend from Argentina introduced me to a clairvoyant she firmly believed was the real deal.

"He just looked at your face, Joelly, and knew he was on the right track," TBM had scoffed when I told him all the amazing things this perfect stranger told me about myself.

So why now, out of the clear blue, and so soon after Brian informed me he was leaving for China, did I get an urgent phone call from my girlfriend in Buenos Aires?

"I’m supposed to give you a message," Anna Katarina told me breathlessly on the phone. She had run home from Fernando’s apartment where he did his 'readings' to call me. This wasn't a conversation for a cell phone in BA traffic.

"What kind of message?"

"Fernando says to tell you he had a dream about you last night."

I was surprised he even remembered me.

"He dreamed about you and Brian. Remember how you never told him the names of your children?"

She was right. My entire family was psychic-phobic. Disbelievers all of them, they wanted to hedge their bets and preferred to not know about their futures. I had been duly instructed not to mention their names or show their pictures.

"Did he actually use Brian’s name?"

"Yes, that's why I am calling, Joelly. He did! And, he said you are in terrible pain over a decision he has recently made about his life."

Freaked out? Hell yes. How could the psychic possibly know? The man didn't even speak English to me! All of the communications from the 'other side', in a different hemisphere no less, had been in Spanish, translated for me by Anna Katarina.

"Has Brian decided to do something that has upset you Joelly? You don't sound like yourself."

My throat began to close. I could barely breathe. It wasn't just the fact that the universe seemed to be closing in around me. And to be perfectly honest, it wasn't even Brian's pending move to Beijing that upset me.

It was the stark realization that the interesting part of my life, the one where I could visit a girlfriend in South America and be taken to a famous psychic with an exotic name like Fernando, was well and truly over.

"Oh, I'm fine, my friend just fine," I said, as a life time of training kicked in to say nothing about how I really felt, even with good friends.

But the stark truth about the rest of my life had reached out and slapped my senses and I certainly didn't need a psychic to tell me about my future: I am now well and truly stuck.

Installment Seventeen

"Joelly, look at me."

Dr. Call-Me-Larry spoke softly but I sensed an urgent pleading in his voice, more intense than he typically conveyed to me during our sessions.

"On a scale of one to ten, where is your mood today?"

Bloody hell. Not that game again. Minus two.

"I’m not in a good mood Larry, obviously. So I'd say I'm around a 1. Maybe a 2."

"Have you been taking your anti-depressants?"

No. Once I discovered they don’t mix well with alcohol, I chucked them and after all that trouble to get the drugs in the first place. I didn’t say that out loud. I just shook my head.

"Clearly something is upsetting you right now, today.”

I could tell him about Brian's decision to move to Beijing. We hadn't discussed that yet. I could tell him about Fernando's dream (that would thrill a man of neuroscience). And then there was my ridiculous sense that my life was over which was a conversation for another day.

The real reason I was feeling pissy was so incredibly banal.

I have been spending pointless and extremely demoralizing hours trying to penetrate the labyrinth of paperwork required to register as a consultant for the Canadian government’s foreign aid program.

Nobody other than another middle age woman quite understands how humiliating it can be to try to get hired for anything when you have been out of the work force for a good long time.

Some government bitch told me, though, actually told me straight to my face, that my application for contract work was a non-starter. Not only had I been out of the world of international development a very long time (living in the developing world apparently carries little weight), but I don’t speak French. This is Canada, eh? No bilingualism, no government contract.

She didn’t come right out and say anything about my age, which if I was being really honest, I felt was the real reason I was being shut out. And I couldn’t march straight someone higher up than her and lodge a complaint about ageism. (I probably would have had to do so in French anyway.) My lack of bilingualism was a much easier excuse to get me out of her office than telling me I am too old to be hired.

So my frustration and general self-loathing has now moved up a notch to include feeling downright stupid. My entire life I have been dealing with my inability to learn a foreign language. Deborah’s easy facility with languages did not come from me.

TBM could pick up a language as easily as a hooker.

I was too mortified to even begin to open this can of worms with Dr. Larry.

"Joelly, our time is up."

"I just got here!"

"'Here' is a relative concept. You have been somewhere else the entire time. Did you even realize that?"

"Pass the tissue please," I sniffed.

I exited his office in search of the ladies room, quoting my favourite literary heroine in my head to cheer me up: "Tomorrow is another day."

Then, I thought, oh screw Scarlett O’Hara. I'd rather be three sheets than gone with the wind, because frankly, I really and truly don’t give a damn right now.

Installment Eighteen

Deborah is in love!

The moment she walked through the restaurant door last night for an evening of quality mother-daughter time I knew something was up.

"You are in love, my darling daughter!" And I am ready to burst with your happiness after so many days of being so gloomy.

"What are you Mom, a witch?"

"Is that any way to talk to your mother?"

"Seriously, Mom, this reminds me of when you knew I had lost my virginity just from looking at me! How do you do that?"

"A mother just knows, sweetheart. Right now, your entire being screams love, from the way you walked in here tonight to the look in your eyes. So, who is he? And please do not tell me you met him on line."

All had thankfully been quiet on the stalking front these last few days. AFG must have finally got laid somewhere else or Brian had really and truly threatened him.

In my self-absorption, I had not been paying attention to the fact that Deborah was busy having a very good life lately from the glow in her face.

The object of her affection was not a Canadian. As she had grown up mostly overseas, I just assumed all along that one day she would introduce us (when there still was an 'us') to the man of her dreams and that he would probably hail from another country.

"His name is Sean O'Sullivan."

Clearly, he did come from away. I gasped, though, when I heard his last name. Thankfully, it was different from that of my own childhood Irish crush.

"With a name like that, I'm assuming he's of Irish descent?"

"He sure is...He has the lilting accent, black hair and blues eyes, and all. Gorgeous! And nice too! I met him a few months ago when I was out having drinks with some friends. I just didn't want to say anything about it yet."

Sean O’Sullivan, it turns out, works at the Irish Embassy in Ottawa on his first overseas assignment.

"Is his family a diplomatic one?"

"They were one up until about ten years ago when Sean's mother unfortunately died. His father didn't take it very well at all. Blamed his own government for not med-evacuating them from their post when she fell ill."

"How terribly sad."

"Turns out it was an aggressive cancer and the delay in treatment probably was not helpful. Unfortunately, Sean's father resigned his post and then abandoned his family in his grief. Sean helped raise his younger sister and hasn't spoken to his father in a very long time."

"It seems the two of you have something in common. You're both global nomads and have absent fathers."

"I never thought about it that way."

"Never mind. Now, tell me more about this Sean O’Sullivan so I can live vicariously through you."

The rest of her life is just beginning. I'm postively bursting at the seams with gratitude to be able to watch it all unfold.

Now if I could just get a grandchild out of this...

Installment Nineteen

I have been checking my e-mail constantly (even the spam just in case), hoping to hear from someone, anyone, from my very recent past in Beijing. I just can’t believe I have been forgotten especially since I know with complete certainty that my failed marriage must surely be the subject of many a dinner party conversation.

Expats love to gossip, spread nasty rumours, compare compensation packages, and bitch about their housing, especially in postings where you have people to do everything for you and too much time on your hands.

In general, though, expat life revolves around the next social entertainment and of course, alcohol and lots of it.

As well, that rocky marriage or none-too-discreet affair could happen to anyone and sadly does all the time. Better to laugh, stay tipsy, play a lot of tennis, and of course, shop 'til you drop.

It was while I was glued to my computer hoping for e-mail from Beijing (using a new unsecured WiFi network I found), that an uninvited flash from my past appeared at my door earlier today.

The first thought to cross my mind when I heard a knock was: Who drops in on someone uninvited anymore?

I peered through the peep hole.

Seeing the face that had come calling, I almost longed for Allan Fucking Goldstein. A pesky stalker is much easier to dismiss than someone who arrives bearing only kindness.

I began breathing deeply before realizing my gasping for air could probably be heard on the other side of the door. I hesitated, stepping back from the door, hoping that the man standing there would somehow magically vanish.

"Joelly, I know you’re in there because I saw you return home. Please let me in."

I remained mute.

"I'm not leaving until I see you. I came especially to Ottawa just to find you."

"Why would you do that? Aren’t you living out west in Victoria now? Ottawa is not exactly around the corner," I piped in from behind my door. I felt like a child. And no wonder.

"So you are there! Joelly, your father was my oldest and dearest friend in the world. I came as soon as I heard you had left Martin."

The man I have called Uncle Thomas my entire life stepped through my door and wrapped his arms around me. I became incoherent with sobbing.

"Why didn't you let us know? Marion and I just heard about Martin and your present whereabouts. I couldn't believe it when I drove over here just now and saw how close you are"

" our old house, right? Well, they say life comes full circle Uncle Thomas. I guess I'm living proof. And how is dear Aunt Marion?”

Of course they were not really my aunt and uncle. But in the peripatetic life of diplomats, missionaries, corporates, oil families and gypsies for that matter, friends became extended family by necessity. All those holidays spent overseas created new families.

"How on earth did you find me?"

"Believe it or not, I found you on Facebook."

"Facebook?" Who says irony is dead?

"You can't be a grandparent these days, Joelly, without being on it!"

I could only sob some more and cling to this gentle, caring man for dear life.

Installment Twenty

"Remind me again who Thomas Patterson is, dear."

Edna was checking in with me as she has been doing regularly in recent weeks. Instead of phoning, my amazing octogenarian former mother-in-law just drove herself in from Montreal, claiming she had other errands to run in Ottawa.

"Thomas and his wife Marion were lifelong friends of my parents, Edna. Thomas joined the Foreign Service with Dad. When my parents were killed, the Pattersons were abroad on posting, but came back to Ottawa immediately for the funeral. It was Thomas who delivered the eulogy."

My eyes started to well up at the memories of that funeral. Do we ever recover from the loss of our parents? The short answer: no.

"I can see why he means so much to you, Joelly. Is there a chance I might meet him while he’s in town? I know my son has been a schmuck, but I would like to prove to him the Schuster family is not entirely heartless."

"You are anything but heartless Edna! I don't think you will get a chance, though. He truly did fly half way across the country just to give me a hug."

And a cheque. Even retired expats living on Vancouver Island apparently hear the rumours, in this case that I was left financially challenged.

I was too embarrassed to tell Edna about the money since I was still on her payroll too. Eventually, I will have to tell her. It just wouldn't be right to withhold that kind of information. Who needs to eat anyway? Potato chips are cheap.

"Joelly, I know how much you hate to talk about money..."

Oh no! Not again.

"...but I have been having meetings with my accountant and laywer. Nothing to worry about dear. But I want you to be honest with me. How much money did my son embezzle from you?"

Dear God. How far can I fall?

"Edna, he didn't exactly embezzle...that's harsh...I was complicit by not asking questions."

Martin blew through my entire inheritance, the compensation I received from the trucking company that owned the vehicle that hit my parents’ car and killed them, before we had even been married ten years. I didn't learn this, though, until I left him. Who exactly was the real schmuck?

"How much?"

Do I tell her?

"A lot of money, Edna. Can we just leave it at that? I can't afford lawyers to fight this and to be fair it's my own damn fault for not paying attention. I trusted him."

"And now, Joelly, you are going to have to trust me. How much?"

"Several million dollars."

She was so quiet I started thinking, great, now I have given this wonderful kind woman a stroke!


Her face looked awfully red. How do you know when someone's brain is about to blow?

"Well," she said finally, "that just confirms the decision I made recently is the right one."

"What decision?"

"I have re-written my will to make sure my grandchildren are taken care of when I pass. Martin, however, is in for a big shock when he receives the letter I just had sent from my estate lawyer."

"Edna, what on earth have you done?" Her estate is a multi-million dollar one. I was relieved to hear that Deborah and Brian will benefit, not that I ever had any doubt.

"I have cut him out of my will. After my favourite charity, you, my dear, have become my main beneficiary."


Installment Twenty-One

During many of our recent sessions together, Dr. Larry has pointed out to me, and quite correctly too, that while my body may exist in the present he can always tell when my mind drifts away to the past.

I guess my face is pretty much an open book. It has been ever thus, which is probably the reason I have always had difficulty lying to customs officials at border crossings. A character flaw, eh?

When Dr. Larry tries to bring me back to the present I simply expand on whatever the hell we may have been talking about that tweaked a reaction that captured my mind (and not coincidentally, also carried it off.)

"Joelly, maybe you should re-consider taking the meds," he advised me recently when he raised my lack of focus.

I think not.

I find confusion so comforting lately. Indeed, I don't want clarity (not that drugs give you any, even if you think your thoughts under the influence are the most brilliant ones you have ever come up with). I enjoy embracing my inner muddle. In a perverse way, my lack of emotion allows me to feel comfortable with myself at this difficult crossroads in my life.

But Dr. Larry insists I will never move forward until I re-examine my past. The thought of that heavy emotional exercise exhausts me.

I'm sick of myself.

All the books I have tried to read on the subject of transition, mid-life, divorce, career shifts, or just finding happiness (there should be a manual just for reading self-help books) say I can't start a new life without thinking back and discarding baggage in order to move forward.

Getting lighter later in life is actually not a bad goal.

But where to begin? Do I just start working my way backward from today?

I could start with Edna deciding to cut her son out of her will and my waiting for that shit to hit the fan!

There's the very recent past to reconsider, in Beijing, as an expat wife with a philandering husband, barely over a serious heart attack, trying to recapture his youth with a lover younger than his own daughter.

I could go way back to the start of our marriage almost three decades ago. That would mean I would need to explain why I married Martin in the first place. Like myself, he is an only child. But he is seven years older than me, making us from different generations.

Maybe I should be re-examining my life as a diplomatic kid (five moves before I was in high school) or as an orphan after the tragic highway accident which ended that way of living with the death of my parents. Too blurry to remember the former, too depressing to think about the latter.

What stories should anyone tell, even to oneself, if any?

And in today's world of digital sound bites, is a life of over fifty years worth only a 500 word posting on a blog nobody but my daughter is even faithfully reading?

Installment Twenty-Two

Martin called me last night from China. No, he screamed at me. Through his hysteria, I manage to hear words that sounded like did I slip his mother something in her tea when we last had lunch?

"I take it you got her lawyer's letter."

"You're damn right I did! Just what kind of crap are you trying to pull here, Joelly?"

There was more along the same lines, much of it incomprehensible. In the background I could hear a woman's voice egging him on.

"Oh, does your little gold digger think her oil well is going to run dry?" I always mix metaphors when I'm pissed off.

"That doesn't even make sense."

Men can be so stupid, vain and delusional. It had clearly never even occurred to him that this young woman was with him only for his money. As if a man almost sixty with one heart attack behind him is such a sex machine. (Talk about the efficacy of meds!)

"Whatever." God I love that word!

"Do you think I will let my mother do this to me? My father left her a shitload of money..."

" mean like the shitload I inherited?"

"And I fully intend to have it when she's gone..."

" you can blow through your inheritance instead of mine next time?"

We finally were cued up.

"You somehow convinced my mother that I spent your inheritance, is that right Joelly? Are you trying to even the score?"

Like I said, delusional.

I let the silence hang over the twelve time zones. His breathing was slowing down. I actually worried, albeit briefly, that he might have another coronary. I would feel responsible.

"No, Martin, I'm not trying to even any score. It was your mother's idea and frankly, I tried to get her to change her mind."

"You haven't heard the last of this, Joelly."

"Martin, you do what you feel you have to do. Your mother, as you know, has a very strong mind and it would seem that she has made it up."

"Well, I would love to know what brought this about."

Should I tell him? What the hell.

"She told me she's ashamed of you, Martin."

He didn't even pause to take a breath. "Why? Men leave their wives all the time."

"I think we both know there's more to her feelings than that Martin. But as I said, this is between you and your mother." I almost said dear mother but that would be rubbing salt in the wound.

There's a sorry old expat joke that has circulated for years that goes like this: What does an expat man want to be in his next life? Answer: an expat wife.

Of course while everything strange becomes normal after a while for most expat wives, some still feel dragged around the world, forced to abandon careers, watch their partners take a powder on responsibility, and in the end, screw an assistant and toss the wife.

OMG. That's me!

In my next life, I want to come back as an expat man.

Installment Twenty-Three

Why the hell did I marry a bastard like Martin anyway?

I suppose because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Given our age gap, there was probably a bit of a Daddy complex thing at work.

And he wasn't always such a horrible person. It took a few years for the nasty parts to surface. The signs had been obvious but I chose to wear blinkers.

We were introduced by a mutual friend when I was enjoying a resort vacation in the Bahamas with some girlfriends. All of us were wondering what to do with our university degrees (besides frame and hang them in our bathrooms).

The fact that we met at a casino and that Martin was gambling (and losing heavily) should have been the first red flag raised. But if it was flying, I chose to ignore it.

Martin got my number, literally and figuratively very quickly. When I told him I was raised as a global nomad (so he didn't have to worry about moving me around the world) that was worth a few points.

Being an orphan with a substantial inheritance earned double the points: no in-laws to contend with and a huge wad of dough. How could a gambler like Martin not see he had been dealt a full house?

We were married less than six months after our first meeting, during a leave he took from his job in the oil industry.

We muddled through life as most couples do, with many happy years or at least content ones, doing what was expected like having our wonderful two children (albeit in strange countries). Nonetheless, we followed a somewhat traditional path.

Martin was the bread-winner from the get-go because of the inability of an expat wife to acquire a work permit wherever we were living at the time. I was always keenly aware, though, that I had substantial wealth of my own. But because my inheritance came to me under such horrifying circumstances, I never wanted to think about it. I was actually relieved when Martin took over the management of my assets.

That my money went quickly out the door and straight into his gambling debts is my own fault. He would show me investment forms (which I later learned were fabricated) and like a trusting idiot I would sign whatever was placed in front of me.

When he had pretty much lost all of it, I believed him when he said the investments had gone bad and my money was completely gone. As we were living like oil sheiks anyway, I didn't worry.

It was soon after our twelfth wedding anniversary that the wheels began to come off our marriage. He had his first affair (in which he was caught at any rate) while we were posted to Dubai.

Break-ups, reconciliations, more relocation, children whom I wanted to have two parents: pick any or all of those excuses to explain why I stayed with him. I'm not even sure now I ever loved him. Maybe I did, once upon a time.

If there is one upside to menopause, though, it's the ability to forget.

Forgiveness, however, is not hormonal.

Installment Twenty-Four

I actually made a new friend today. Hurray!

This should not be treated as such big news, but everyone is way too busy nowadays to broaden their social circles. Making new friends has been difficult if not downright impossible.

And I have certainly learned that life as a single woman is like being left standing alone on the shore watching Noah's Ark pull away.

Living abroad, new friends popped up almost every week. Of course, the nature of mobility means those friends end up living on the other side of the world within a few years, but those friendships are intense and many can and do last forever.

Here in Ottawa, I have found it difficult to even make eye contact with anyone. Gadgets have more friends than I do, making me feel like an extraordinary loser.

It was while I was out walking along the Rideau Canal that I made my new friend.

When frozen in winter, the canal can rightly claim to be the world's longest skating rink. I enjoy the quiet meditative therapy of a long walk along it. For many days, I have been passing the same woman looking as contemplative as me.

Clearly a Canadian, we always acknowledge each other with a polite greeting. She seemed roughly the same age, although admittedly, I have trouble placing anyone's age. Denial of one's age is a no-brainer for women.

Earlier today, though, as I enjoyed my walk, I spotted her sitting down and staring at the water. She looked sad. I hesitated to impulsively stop and try chatting with her.

"Hello there," I said finally, taking a seat beside her, hoping she wouldn't think I was a nut case for starting a conversation. I've noticed since being 'home' that people so rarely talk to people they don't know. It was the exact opposite living abroad. I spent most of my life making small talk with strangers.

I heard a sniffle. She was composing herself. I really had disturbed her and immediately felt terrible.

"Please excuse me," I said as soon as I could, realizing my intrusion on a private sorrow. "It's just that I see you almost every day so I thought it was time to stop and say hello. But clearly, this is not the right day. I'll be on my way."

"No, please sit. I'm happy you stopped as I've noticed you too."

I patiently waited to allow her to continue.

"I just received some rather bad news so I could use some company."

I wondered: do I ask?

"I'm in the middle of a divorce..."

Do we give off a scent?

"...and my soon-to-be-ex is being rather difficult about financial support even though he embezzled from me the money I inherited when my father died."

Is there an unreported epidemic?

"I also just got rejected for another job I applied for, and I'm beginning to wonder if anyone will ever hire me. At my age..."

"Say no more!"

After stuffing our faces with the famed BeaverTails (calories: about a gazillion) we made plans to meet soon.

I walked home feeling the best I have in days.

Installment Twenty-Five

Deborah decided, as her brother Brian is in town for his final farewells, that it would be nice for a family dinner and the perfect occasion to introduce us to her new love, Sean.

I've only been hearing about him so I would finally get a good look at him.

Brian and I arrived first at the restaurant, almost walking in at the exact same moment, five minutes early. He takes after me that way. He doesn't know how to be late either.

I couldn't handle an argument with him about his moving to Beijing to teach, so I was relieved when Deborah and Sean waltzed through the door, hand in hand, at the anointed hour.

I didn't have to see Sean's face to know he was not just my daughter's new boyfriend. He simply had to be the son, legitimate or otherwise, of my own Irish love Gabe. It was the way he moved, his height, his hand resting on my daughter's back as he maneuvered her to our table. I had seen and felt this all before.

But how could that be?

O'Sullivan, while an Irish name, was not the surname I had held close to my heart for well over forty years.

As Deborah made the formal introductions, I couldn't take my eyes off him. Really mature, I know.

"Mom," both of my children spoke at once at me. "You look as though you have seen a ghost."

Simply. Not. Possible.

"Sorry kids. Hello, Sean. I apologize for staring. You look so much like another Irish man I knew once a long time ago. I know that's as bad as what we Canadians always gripe about, that we must somehow all be related to or know one another in this vast country...of course, we usually do!"

Save me from myself.

"Mom, you're babbling," Deborah finally said.

"Hello, Mrs. Schuster." Even his voice took me back decades. How can this be?

"Call me Joelly, Sean. Everyone does."

"Okay Joelly," said my 'adult children'—an expression that has to be the world's greatest oxymoron—in unison.

"I'm still Mom to you guys." I couldn't help myself. "Sean, I apologize again for my rudeness. I went to school a thousand years ago, and I really mean that, with a young Irish boy whose father was a diplomat like mine. We must have done elementary grades together it's that long ago, in Buenos Aires when both our fathers were posted there. You look just like him."

"More babbling, Mom." This time Deborah was whispering.

"My grandfather was a diplomat posted to Argentina, Mrs. Schuster, I mean Joelly. My father attended an international school there. Unfortunately, we've been estranged a long time so I can't ask him if he remembers you."

At that thought, half of my wine glass went down my throat in a single gulp. I almost choked.

"Are you all right, Mom?" said my kids, again in unison.

"I'm fine. Deborah mentioned something about your family situation, Sean, but let's put aside that subject for tonight, shall we?" I just wasn't mentally prepared to go there. "Tell me about you! How do you like Ottawa?"

To see that face again, albeit a younger version of it, vanquished my appetite for food. The drink, mind you, could definitely stay and be replenished.

Have I discovered a new way to lose weight? The Shock Diet?

Installment Twenty-Six

A post-fifty female potential employee is like a decaf latté: why bother?

There's always the Facebook age strategy to fight ageism. In the area designated for birthdays, one's year of birth is usually left out. Lying about my age isn't an option, given my inability to tell a lie wearing a straight, aged face.

Let's be real here: a woman can exercise ten, fifteen even twenty years off her body, but her face never lies. Unless, of course, it's been nipped, tucked, stretched, Botoxed or all of them. The ropy neck and the spotted hands are dead giveaways. And rigid calorie reduction for weight loss usually equals a gaunt face.

But speaking of exercise, which I wasn't going to because I feel demoralized enough these days without fretting about my sodium-packed waistline, I decided if I can't get hired, I can at least work out. I signed up at my local “Y”.

It seemed like a no-brainer. Then I remembered I have no exercise clothes. New running shoes despite the thousand and one options available to boggle the mind, was an easy shopping expedition.

My feet aren't fat and lumpy.

Buying gym gear, it would seem to me, has now replaced the bathing suit nightmare as the clothing purchase absolutely guaranteed to induce the biggest nervous breakdown in women (those of us without eating or over-exercising disorders.)

Gym bras, in particular, are the stuff of horror films for menopausal women whose boobs are suddenly the stuff of zaftig women. Without any clasp on them ('oh, just put it right on over your head'), they require Houdini-like maneuvers to pull off.

Or so I discovered yesterday when I became trapped in a workout bra that slipped on easily, but would not come off unless I was a Chinese gymnast.

"Help me!" I cried feebly from my change room at the giant sports store.

Since no one had assisted me since I entered the giant store, visions of sleeping in the cubicle all night choking on a sports bra whirled through my distraught mind.

Short of throwing my neck out of whack to get out of the damn bra, (and this before even working out in one where presumably sweat would impede the process, not just old bodies counter-intuitive for this kind of clothing), I didn't know what to do.

Finally, a man—of course it had to be a man—asked "is someone in there?"

"Yes!!!" I said, breathless from my exertions. "Can you please get me a woman sales clerk?"

"Right away, madam," he replied, as if he was speaking to his mother.

I thought there could be nothing worse than sounding like someone else's mother until I caught sight of myself in the mirror, wrapped in a bra, wearing the spandex exercise pants I had also grabbed on my way into the change room.

How convenient, I thought at the time, that I was already half way to strangling myself.

Installment Twenty-Seven

Finally, I received confirmation that life does exist on the other side of the world and it doesn't necessarily have to be screamed at me.

The phone rang early this morning with my so-called BFF in Beijing on the other end of the line. In all this time, she has not communicated with me.

I had stopped trying to get any news out of her when my barrage of e-mail messages went unanswered. I would have phoned but who can afford it? I'm not on skype because I'm still stealing my WiFi signal and I don't want to push my luck.

Sam (short for Samantha) was wondering why she had not heard from me in all these months. I felt faint, overpowered yet again by my own on-going personal existential nightmare over e-mail: I don't know what I don't know. Messages don't arrive and I don't know if they have been sent.

Send in Camus. The clowns are welcome too.

Sam had taken to the phone lines because she had just heard the news that Brian had arrived in Beijing.

"What the fuck is going on, Joelly?"

"Nice to hear your voice too, Sam."

"Seriously, how are you?"

"Never better." Another great ambiguous phrase to add to my list.

Sam then filled me in on the local expat reaction, giving me the dinner party skinny, to Brian's presence in China which can be summed up in one word: delicious. So perfect for good gossip. Then she carried forth on the latest dinner party/ball/coffee morning/cocktail party to the point that I actually felt relief for not having had to attend any of the events.

Martin always insisted we go to everything. Expats, especially in locations where servants come with the house, are not that different from the colonials who lived the high life off the backs of the local culture.

These days, though, China is dramatically different. The nouveau-riche Chinese entrepreneurs are spending their new money like expats had always done on their shores (and offshore too, buying up properties on the west coast of Canada according to newspaper accounts.) Fancy cars had long ago replaced the quaint bicycles; restaurants that once only served noodles offer Asian-African fusion food. Okay I made that up.

"Seriously Joelly," Sam was still nattering at me. "Are you divorced yet? The rumour around here is that Martin plans to marry that girl!"

Thinking of Edna's change of heart regarding her will and Martin's health issues, all I could think was: hurray! She can have him. I held my tongue.

"Sam, I need a favour. It concerns Brian. He's going to live with them..."

"...I know! That's what has everyone buzzing. She is the same age as Brian, right? Or close?"

"Listen to me, Sam," I said, ignoring her last comment. "I need Brian to know he has another place to go if it doesn't work out with the happy couple. Can I give him your number?"

"Of course you can! What are best friends for?"

I could think of a lot ways I could have used my best friend these past months.

Conveniently for any future for our friendship, the line went dead.

Installment Twenty-Eight

I have always needed a good cause to get me out of bed in the morning. For the last number of months, my cause seems to have defaulted to me.

God, I need to get over myself. (Of course, so do most people I know but I made a promise to myself I would not be cranky or judgemental today.)

One obvious cause is the challenge that has been slapping me down since I returned to Canada, namely ageism in the workplace especially against women. Doing battle alone, though, doesn't appeal to me.

So I asked Juliet, my new friend from my walks along the Rideau Canal, to join me since she is struggling against it too. The fact that we are both divorced (soon-to-be for me) and desperate for cash infusions into our lives may give us the motivation to at least get the ball rolling, even as a support group of only two.

We do need all the help we can muster, though, in an economy where the younger generation would like the boomers to drop dead as soon as possible (for both the jobs and so they don't have to pay enormous retirement benefits).

Unfortunately, my new cause lasted as long as it took me to drink my double double coffee at Tim Hortons.

Juliet and I both agreed we would need a catchy name for our campaign. That's always the fun part of starting up any new group. So, after meeting up on the Canal, we went for our coffee to think up names. We ended up laughing so loud we were almost tossed from the restaurant for disturbing the old geezers (and I mean really old, maybe late fifties).

"How about this one," Juliet offered.

"Canadians Rallying Over Nubile Energetic Singletons?"

"CRONES? Perfect!"

We came up with others too gross to print. The more ridiculous acronyms we could dream up, the louder we laughed, until almost spontaneously and for different reasons, our emotions turned on a dime and we both felt lousy. When reality bites, it bites hard.

Still raw from her divorce and job rejections, Juliet's eyes welled up out of nowhere. In mid-hysteria, I spotted Alan Fucking Goldstein walking towards our table. I felt like the air was being sucked out of the room.

It was then I noticed Juliet was fluffing up her hair, and going into what I can only describe as 'date possibility alert' mode.

No solution to the ageism challenge loomed, but a huge opportunity to get AFG off my back was presenting itself in a win/win scenario.

"Alan," I said so sweetly I think he was taken aback. (I’m still not sure if Brian had arranged a beat down for the guy to stay away from his mother.) "Let me introduce you to my new friend Juliet."

"Hello," they said in unison, eyes locked, giving me the opportunity to buy another double dipped, custard-filled donut.

I looked back over my shoulder at the two of them, immediately engrossed in conversation which I'm positive had nothing to do with ageism.

In fact, if anything, they were a poster couple for age-appropriate dating.

I was pleased as could be until all the sugar I had scarfed down my throat wore off.

Installment Twenty-Nine

I'm wondering today whether crystal balls are for sale on e-Bay.

I don't mind a used one either so long as it managed to give its previous owner (probably a woman since we like to be organized) a proper glimpse into her future. That's how desperate I am to feel settled again. I can't afford another psychic reading in Argentina.

Perched here in my tiny apartment on a 'bar stool' constructed from three un-opened moving boxes stacked high with a cushion I placed on top, I once again find myself writing out loud my feelings of disconnection and frustration.

Every time I think: aha! this is what I will do, it turns out it is not what I will do. The blind alleys I have been running down and documenting here are growing narrower and narrower. My eye sight is as blurred as my thinking.

I'm feeling marginalized by everyone around me here in Ottawa and ignored by friends from my previous life, despite my recent phone call with Sam.

Christ, this woe is me crap is even getting to me!


Here, therefore, are my top five reasons why my life is wonderful. I'm going to print this out and make sure I make enough copies so that everywhere I look, I will feel grateful. Stick with me. Maudlin, sentimental, yes; antidote to a pity party, also yes.

I am in good health for a 53-year-old woman.

Above all else, what the hell do I have to complain about if I don't have cancer of something? If I can try again to buy a gym bra that won't cut off my circulation or gross out a sales clerk drafted to get it off me, I may even get healthier through exercise.

My darling children are also in good health and starting their lives.

Maybe my daughter's new boyfriend makes me feel as old as cheese and I'm pissed with my son for moving to Beijing, but I am patting myself on the back for raising good kids who are leading their own lives. And don't need their mother anymore. Oops, negativity seeping in.

I am not living in my car.

This is partly because I don't own one. But despite my economic uncertainty, I seem to have access to all the potato chips I can eat and a roof over my head. Hey, I’m only at my third reason to carry on living, and already, I'm beginning to feel better. Motivated even.

I am Canadian.

I was going to save this one for last but I am so grateful I can see Dr. Larry once a week and have my fellow countrymen/women pay for it with their tax dollars. In fact, I will tell him about this list first thing at our next meeting!

I still have my sense of humour.

I buried the lead.

Installment Thirty

"You seem brighter today, Joelly. Where you would you put your mood on a scale..."

"...I'm about a seven today I think," I said quickly.

I needed to shut down Dr. Larry's little mood scale because it drives me crazy. That can't be a good thing when you are visiting your shrink.

"Did something in particular happen to raise your spirits?"

"Actually, a lot has happened since we last met." Read my blog why don't you.

Of course, I was being terribly unfair. I had not worked up the nerve yet to give him the URL of this blog, even though it was his idea for me to start one. Suffering as I do from the disease to please I didn't want him reading it for obvious reasons. Like this posting, as just one example, and every other time I have mocked him.

He really has provided wonderful support for me and doesn't deserve my barbs. See, I want to please him even when I'm making fun of him. I am nuts.

We stared at one another for a few minutes.

"Did you start taking the anti-depressants again?" Since behavior is now apparently medicated, it was a reasonable question.

"No." I didn't tell him I was self-medicating with white wine.

"I'm stumped then, unless you want to share with me why you seem a bit perkier than the last time you were here."

What could I say?

Maybe my HRT is firing into my body on more efficient cylinders, keeping my moods steadier as I ride the hormonal roller coaster. In true menopausal form, though, I can't remember if I even told Dr. Larry that I was taking estrogen.

Like every other male doctor who has never woken up in a nightgown that could be rung out like a facecloth (three times a night no less), he doesn't get why women with severe symptoms of menopause may not be in a rush to return to a bedtime sauna.

"I think I'm getting over my re-entry culture shock to Canada. The reverse kind I gave you a book about for women like me. Life is coming back into the proper focus."

"What is it you see so clearly now Joelly?"

"I wouldn't exactly choose the word 'clearly', but...and this is going to sound incredibly trite and Oprah like..." I told him about my gratitude list. I left out the part where Juliet, when I told her about my list on one of our walks, pronounced fuck gratitude!


I have a breakthrough and all I get is 'hmmm'?

"Could you expand on that?"

I know you're free, but I think a few more words could be helpful.

"Why don’t you expand on your comment about gratitude?"

"Do you ever come right out and say what's on your mind?"

"Okay. I'm worried about you."


"How the hell can you be worried about me when I came in here today in the most chipper mood I've been in for weeks, feeling motivated to get on with my life in some fashion whatever it's supposed to be, incredibly grateful for all that is good in my life..."

"Now you're talking."

Touché to Dr. Larry, the good doctor is very good.

Installment Thirty-One

My phone conversation with my former Beijing BFF Samantha the other morning has been running like a loop in my head ever since we spoke.

Of course I didn't need to be told that Brian and his father's Chinese squeeze are close in age. God knows what might happen with them living under the same roof. I fret about this even in my restless sleep, waking up in a sweat (which I can't blame on menopause since I am taking HRT) from worrying about my son.

But Sam's blathering about life in Beijing, all the parties, the gossip, the hum (not the 'hmmm' of a shrink), have made me realize something:

I have become a totally bored hermit.

My social life is zilch and my sex life exists only in fantasies about Mad Men's Don Draper. When I think of yet another professional rejection, I wind up so tight I should be sleeping on my ceiling instead of on Deborah’s old futon, borrowed for this tiny little...dump. My life has moved from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Memories of fifty plus years of living large in the world, and most certainly the past three decades as an expat oil wife, can't just be deleted like unwanted e-mail. And despite my aversions to cocktail parties and the related phony air kissing, in my idealized, brooding memory, my life was never dull.

The homes we lived in, always too big for what we really needed (big oil = huge carbon footprints even in the living spaces of its employees = no big surprise) were usually straight out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

New and exciting people, always coming and going, helped us indulge in too many late night alcohol-fuelled parties leaving someone else to clean up the mess. Political intrigue was naturally a constant when we lived in the Middle East. Fascinating, often celebrated, visitors would step into our frame in a way that would never have happened in a life spent in one place. I can even remember some of the steps from the Scottish dance classes we all took in preparation for a St. Andrew's Society Ball! Scottish accents and men in kilts come close to my obsession with Irish men.

And I miss all the adventure travel, first with my parents as a young child and later with Martin as a young couple with the world as our oyster and air tickets to burn. Did I imagine it or did we really take the kids on safari in Botswana, to orangutan sanctuaries in Borneo, to the rainforest of Brazil, to China to climb the Great Wall, or just to visit tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower?

I now feel like my life was one long travel movie. The credits have finished rolling and the theatre is empty.

Can it be that I actually miss expat life?

My gratitude sticky notes are still plastered in conspicuous places around my apartment but I've been ignoring them.

I'm trying hard to be grateful in the macro; it's the bordeom of my micro that's killing me.