I officially move into Jack’s Charlton Avenue apartment in Hamilton, Ontario after we are married, though I was staying there unofficially prior to our marriage. From our eleventh floor balcony we are able to watch Stelco, the steel company located next to Lake Ontario, pump sludge into the air, its bright, orange fire licking the grey-black Hamilton sky like an eternal flame. We also have a bird’s eye view of the tennis courts that lie behind the apartment building. Jack rented the flat in large part for those tennis courts. He loves to play tennis and most often played with his favourite brother. I play with my husband on occasion but don’t enjoy standing on the hot tennis courts for extended periods of time. He and I play tennis together at the end of a holiday weekend during which Jack and I paint the kitchen together on the Friday night, he then attempts to teach me to drive his standard CRX on the Saturday morning, and by the time the Sunday morning tennis match rolls around, I am barely speaking to him. He turns his back on me as he walks back to the baseline of his court, and I serve the tennis ball to the back of his head. He rubs where the ball bounces from his skull and turns to look at me.
“Nice serve, babe,” he says and I shrug and smiled.
Later that day we drive past a sign outside a downtown wallpaper shop that reads: Three things a couple should never do together:
- Teach one another to drive
- Play tennis.
Jack severs his Achilles tendon in a volleyball game in our first year of marriage. I drive him from the volleyball game in St. Catharine’s, Ontario to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton where I leave him in the emergency ward while I park the car at our flat located two blocks from the hospital. I feel that we cannot afford to pay for hospital parking, but on my way back to St. Joseph’s – unable to resist the cute, Brownie sales girls strategically placed along Charlton Avenue in their little uniforms – I buy several boxes of Girl Guide cookies that likely cost more than the parking would have. As I walk into the medical center waiting room with five boxes of Girl Guide cookies, Jack is being told by the doctor that his Achilles tendon is severed and he needs to be put in a hip to toe cast. Once his leg is in plaster, I offer to get the car so I can drive him home but Jack insists that he can manage. Together we walk down the hilly road back to our apartment, as I carry four boxes of cookies (having eaten one in the hospital waiting room), and Jack struggles on crutches. We laugh together at the absurdity of his injury and our general lack of luck as a married couple.
“We were married under a black cloud,” I smirk. “And I feel I need to take responsibility for it since my luck has always been bad. The luck of the Irish: all of it bad.”
“I’m half-Irish too, babe. We’re in this together,” he winks at me as he stumbles down the hilly road back to our apartment, scraping his bare toes against the cement sidewalk and I carry his running shoe atop the four remaining boxes of Girl Guide cookies.
I load my six-foot-two husband and his newly acquired wheelchair into our car and take him up to Hamilton’s Limeridge Mall. Shoppers look at me pushing Jack in his wheelchair with compassion. “Those people are looking at us with pity in their eyes as if to say, ‘Look at that young, beautiful woman saddled with that cripple. And him, big handsome fella that he is, cut down in the prime of his life,’” I tell him and he and I laugh, but at times I also feel like I want to walk his chair to the top of the mountain and let it go. I tell him that too. “I’m going to push your chair to the top of the escarpment and let you roll under a bus.” Again, we laugh. Laughter is always our way through our challenges. We can always make one another laugh.
The commute from Hamilton to Toronto every day makes it necessary for me to leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark during the winter months. I am caught in several threatening snow storms on the 401 highway. As I drive in white out conditions, I dig in my purse for my rosary beads and finding them, I fling them over my rearview mirror as I pray for safe passage home. Prayer continues to see me through catastrophe. My sales positon in Toronto is unfulfilling to say the least. My colleagues are money hungry, and I am not motivated by money. When the company refuses to pay out a legitimate claim, I advocate for the clients who are trusting immigrants incapable of reading the fine print of the convoluted English contracts. Many sales reps in the company continue to sleep with colleagues on business trips regardless of the marital status of the parties involved, which I find shocking. It is not the place for me, so I leave. At that time there is such a need for occasional teachers in the Golden Horseshoe area that I am able to cover classes with just my Bachelors of Arts, without a Bachelors of Education. I also waitress at an Austrian restaurant down the street from our flat.
I am married before I throw out the cards, letters and photos of my first love, Sé Keen. Jack finds them in my closet and makes an issue of me keeping them so I throw them down the apartment garbage chute. The moment they slide from my fingertips I feel that I have made a colossal mistake in getting rid of them. They are my memories of an innocent time in my life. When I return to our flat from the rubbish shaft, Jack is bobbing, weaving and thumbing his nose like a boxer. In his insecurity he has all but asked me to toss them, and the deed done he greets me with a staged and childish reaction. It annoys me because I don’t want Jack, and find his possessiveness nauseating.
We go to New York City to see the ball drop in 1989 to begin 1990, our first wedding anniversary. Since I have been to New York City three times before and Jack has never even been on a plane, I tell him to plan out the itinerary.
“I’ve seen New York. You choose what you want to do,” I tell him.
“I’m just happy to be going there with you,” he responds.
I make all of the decisions for that trip and in our marriage and it is both exhausting and terrifying. On the day of our anniversary in New York City we go to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the morning, to see a Rangers game at two in the afternoon at Madison Square Garden (my choice), and to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in the evening (his pick). It starts to pour rain at about eleven o’clock as we stand in Times Square amongst the revelers. A group of Aussies gather beneath a clear plastic tarpaulin to keep dry next to where we stand, my back pressed into my husband’s chest as he rests his chin on my head. I weep in the rain, and my husband cannot see my tears.
By the spring and summer of 1990, I supply teach almost exclusively at Saint Jean de Brebéuf. I work with a Scotsman in the English Department, and he tells me that his daughter and niece had both gone to Jordanhill in Glasgow for teacher’s college, and returned to full-time positions in Canada.
“Canada recognizes the credential,” he tells me. “Since you were born in Scotland you’ll get in no bother.”
During my undergrad years at the University of Western Ontario, I went to Weldon Library whenever I had a break on campus, and looked at a course calendar for Scotland’s St. Andrew’s University. I visited it several times a week, touched the glossy photographs with my fingertips, and dreamt of going to Scotland to study. In 1990, Jordanhill is my chance to live back home for a year. I am one percent below the acceptable academic admittance average for Canadian teacher’s colleges, and there is a two-year waiting list for spots at Canadian teacher’s colleges. It is rumoured to be more difficult to be accepted to a Canadian teacher’s college than it is to get into law or medical school. I discuss it with Jack and he is excited at the thought of me graduating from teacher’s college in Scotland. He never balks at me leaving for a year. He wants me to be settled in a career that will be good for both of us. As a teacher, I will be home every night by three o’clock once we have our family and we will have our summers off together. I ask him to come with me for the year. I suggest that he take a leave of absence from his position in Hamilton, and teach in Scotland for the year while I study but this he will not do. He is afraid to have that adventure. Instead, we agree that he will come to Scotland for two weeks at Christmas and I will fly home for five weeks over Easter for Lina’s and Chubba’s wedding. I am to be Lina’s Matron of Honour, and Jack is to be Chubba’s best man.
Within days of applying to Jordanhill, I am accepted. I try again to encourage Jack to come with me.
“Take a leave of absence and teach in Scotland while I go to school there,” I implore him.
But Jack will not let go of what he has always known in order to have that adventure together as a young married couple. The day before I fly to Scotland, Jack and I drive to London to go out for lunch with my family. My sisters don’t want to go to lunch. Lil has not even come to the house as was expected. Jack is very hurt for me and we decide to return to Hamilton without delay since I have a lot of things that I need to take care of before I fly to Scotland the next day.
“It’s okay,” I tell my parents. “We’ll just go back.”
Cissy explodes. “I’m sick of your shit, Angela!” she screams and then run from the dining-room.
This is characteristic of how Cissy handles conflict. She screams at her target and then flees before her mark can react or respond in much the same way as my mother does. Jack and I get in the car and are pulling out of the driveway when my dad chases after the car and leans in my passenger window. “Go after her and apologize,” he pleads with me. I know my mother has sent him out there. He wouldn’t care if Jack and I leave. I get out of the car, although I have no idea what I am to apologize to her for except my very existence, which has been a lifelong sore point for Cissy. I go into my parents’ backyard to talk to my very pregnant sister, and Jack follows me.
“One day you’ll see her for the bitch she is and you’ll leave her just like all the rest!” Cissy hisses at my husband, who stands there dumbfounded with a furrowed brow.
Cissy says that she has always wanted to teach but that is the first I’ve heard of it. Though bringing her second child into the world in a matter of months, jealousy consumes her then. I am thin, beautiful, married to a handsome teacher who adores me, and seeking a professional credential. She is incensed.
“If your sister wasn’t pregnant I would have tossed her in the swimming pool for saying that,” Jack whispers to me as we walk to the car, his arm around me. But he wouldn’t have. He doesn’t have it in him to fight even for me.
My dad hugs me good-bye before Jack and I drive back to Hamilton. “Any final words of advice, dad?” I ask him.
“Aye. If they gee ye Drumchapel,” he tells me, “just come hame, hen. You’ll ne’er handle it.”