I hate university. I want to quit every single minute of each new day, and during second year university thoughts of killing myself plague me. I watch a city bus rumble toward me and imagine stepping in front it. At times the compulsion to do so is great, but I always step back and hold on for another day. It is my conversations with God that sustain me. He is my one constant companion in those days of undergraduate agony. I daily stop in at St. Peter’s Cathedral to bask in the silence of the basilica between bus transfers downtown on my way to campus, and again on my way home. I ask God to help me make it through another day, and miraculously He does.
One of Sé’s friends sees me at Western during second year university, and tells me that Sé has been asking about me.
“He asked me if Griffin is still looking good,” he tells me. “I told him you look like a million bucks. Expect a letter.”
I do not appreciate being valued only for my looks. I feel offended by this statement that is meant to be complimentary but is degrading. A few weeks pass and I receive a letter from Sé who is still at school in Ottawa.
The gist of his letter is: I’m sorry I was an asshole. I should’ve fought for you. I should’ve been there for you. Love, Sé xo.
I don’t reply but shortly after I receive Sé’s letter, a boy with whom we had gone to CCH dies of a brain tumor. Seámus O’Regan was a son-of-a bitch, but he was in our grade so I go to the funeral.
My mother says, “Maybe it was his brain tumor that made him so terrible. Maybe he was suffering.” I don’t think so. Seámus O’Regan was just a mean, dirty bastard who used and then discarded girls much younger than he.
Sé flies home to be a pall bearer at the funeral, and at the visitation he slides next to me in line to walk with me to the casket, cradling my hand in his.
“Are you alright?” he asks me as I stand in front of Seámus’s casket. He puts his hand in the small of my back to guide me, and it is as though his hand has always rested there.
A group of us go to Barney’s downtown patio for drinks after the visitation, and Sé leads us in a toast for Seámus. A few of Sé’s buddies talk to me and tell me to give Sé a second chance.
“Talk to him,” they implore me.
I am still in love with Sé, but I shouldn’t be. I should love myself enough to never speak to him again. I should have left London for university and never looked back, but I didn’t. Instead, Sé and I stay out talking until three in the morning, at which time he walk me to my car. He takes off his suit jacket and puts it around my shoulders to keep me warm, and he takes my hand in his. He kisses me goodnight, bending me back across the hood of my car.
“Come back to my place?” he breathes in my ear.
“You mean to your parents’ place?”
“Yeah,” he kisses my neck.
“I can’t do that,” I tell him, “no.”
We climb into the backseat of my Ford Escort in the Ceeps parking lot and have sex for the first time with one another. He tells me that he loves me. He says he has always loved me. I had wanted him to say sweet things to me again for so long and suddenly it was true.
At the funeral the following day, Seámus’s mother collapses at her son’s graveside as they lower his casket into the earth. My heart breaks for her as I realize that someone loved Seámus despite the fact that he was so cruel to others. I drive Sé to the airport after the funeral and he says he loves me one more time before he leaves. Once returned to our nation’s capital, Sé calls to invite me to visit him there. He tells his friends that his first love is coming to see him, which I think very sweet. He remembers me as his first love, and I think of him as mine. I am special to him and always will be for that remembrance if nothing else.
I book a flight from London to Ottawa and go to the nation’s capital to be with him. He isn’t able to pick me up at the airport because he is away on military maneuvers. Sé is a Governor General Footguard, which is how he is paying for university, and periodically he and his squad train at the Canadian Forces Base in Petawawa, north of Ottawa. Sé asks his buddy, Kiley, who is in the military with him but not on scheduled maneuvers with Sé at that time, to meet me at the airport.
At Sé’s bequest, Kiley takes me out on the town that first night. Kiley tells me again and again how beautiful I am and how lucky Sé is. He takes me by the hand as we walk together. I don’t want to hold Kiley’s hand, but do not know how to politely reclaim my fingertips from his grasp. I wonder if Sé has asked Kiley to flirt with me in those ways as a test of my loyalty to Sé, and I remain firm in my resolve to be polite to Kiley, but to rebuff any and all amorous overtures.
“If you were my girl, I never would have let you go,” Kiley tells me then adds, “this is a city you can fall in love in.”
I don’t know if he means that Sé and I will fall in love again in Ottawa or if Kiley hopes that he and I will fall in love. When Sé arrives to his flat the next day, I am already unpacked and have befriended his female cousin, Tish, who is Sé’s flat mate.
“Did Kiley take you out last night?” he asks me.
“Yes. We went to the Stoney Ponies pub in the market area.”
“Stoney Ponies? Do you maybe mean Stoney Mondays?” he laughs as he unpacks his kit bag.
“Oh yeah,” I laugh. “Stoney Mondays.”
I know that I am not being myself with Sé. I try hard to play the cute, young girl to his more sophisticated, soldier boy persona. I am careful not to be too clever, strong, opinionated, or articulate in his presence. I am much more intelligent than he and we both know it. I don’t want to make him feel overshadowed in any way. I know enough to know that boys don’t like that. I outshone boys academically throughout my elementary and secondary school years, and they hated me for it. Their bitterness gave me immense pleasure then, but I don’t want Sé to resent me in a similar fashion.
We spend our days walking around Ottawa hand-in-hand. It rains quite a bit so I let my hair go curly, which drives Sé wild, especially when it falls over my eye, he says. We eat lunch in a 50s diner in the Market. Sé holds my hand and touches my face and hair lovingly. I ask him for his quarters so I can choose some songs from the table jukebox selection. He gives me his coins and I proceed to select six songs, each with the word rain in its title.
“Smartass,” Sé smirks.
We bump into the Prime Minister on Parliament Hill. It is just the three of us on the hill in the rain: me, Sé and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as he climbs into a black limousine with Canada One as its license plate.
“I have lived here for two years and I have never met the Prime Minister,” Sé gushes. “You’re good luck!”
We go to the Governor General’s garden party on a rare sunny day to eat cakes, drink tea and watch a cricket match at Rideau Hall. Sé tells me that he loves me until our last night together before he has to return to base, at which time he tells me he loves me but he isn’t in love with me. I punch him in the gut.
After he returns to his barracks, I go out with Sé’s cousin and his older sister, Meggie, who is also living in Ottawa at the time. She isn’t enrolled in school, and I never really understand what she is doing there. Meggie still does not like me. She always felt threatened by me. She isn’t an attractive girl so maybe that is it. But she is also the youngest girl of the family, and perceives herself to be the most attractive of the three girls in Sé ‘s family though it is really Gilly, Sé’s middle sister, who is the most beautiful. Gilly is a redhead and has a warm, funny personality. She is the only of Sé’s sisters who has marginally welcomed me, and she is the favourite sister of Sé. Meggie is not overweight as are her two older sisters, and Meggie also dyes her hair blonde in an effort to stand out. Still, she is not a pretty girl by any standard. She has a hook nose and bad, crater skin. She is also mean-spirited, and somewhat spoiled, often throwing tantrums to get her way.
Tish and I sunbathe in the park across from their flat, and Tish suddenly realizes that she has locked us out of the flat. I am smaller than Tish who is very tall, thus it is I who have to be hoisted upon her shoulders and crawl through their second story window to unlock the door. She and I go out on the town later that night, a bit too red from the sun we’d soaked up earlier, and a bunch of Sé’s army buddies, who are also on the town, chat me up. They return to base and talk about the hot girl they saw with his cousin and Sé knows they mean me. The next day Sé leaves a note on my pillow in his room professing regret and his love for me again and asks me to spend Canada Day with him, which I do. We walk up Parliament Hill hand-in-hand and watch the Canada Day fireworks light up the Ottawa skyline. Sé wraps his arms around me from behind and I press my back against his chest.
“You’re lucky you live here,” I tell him.
“Come here,” Sé says. “Ange, all this can be yours.” He holds me tight to him and rests his chin on top of my head.
When I return to London, I decide that I will transfer to Ottawa and go to Carleton and purse my dreams of becoming a foreign correspondent. I know that Sé and I will not be together but I still want the hell out of London.
I don’t hear from Sé once I arrive home and my mother, noticing that I am quiet, asks me what is wrong. I confide in her what happened between Sé and me.
“Ye blew it! What dae ye expect? A commitment afta’ a bloody week?” she screams at me.
“Yes,” I say.
“Away ye go! Bloody stewpid bitch! Ye blew it again so ye dud!”
I just can no longer live in that house. I know if I don’t get away from my mother and Cissy, I will lose my mind. I am already developing an ulcer. At age nineteen and twenty I chug Maalox like I am middle-aged. I ask the Dean of Western University for a letter of permission that will allow me to go and study at Carleton University in Ottawa and he grants me one, but I must agree to come back and graduate from UWO. I take what I can get and move to Ottawa in August of 1985 at age twenty. Though I’d commit to return to London to finish my degree at Western the following year as part of my agreement with the Dean, I need to get away from that town and my family in that moment. I figure I will deal with my forced return the following year. Another London girl, who I know from Laurier high school, is also going to Carleton, and offers to drive me to Ottawa. As I load my cases into her car, my dad stands behind Patty’s vehicle blocking my way.
“I’m leaving!” I scream. “Mom knows. I have it all worked out! I’m going!”
“Let her go, Joe,” my mom comes out of the house. “Let her go.”
My dad steps out of the road and Patty drives off wide-eyed at having witnessed such a scene.