The funny thing about living in a city that is known and continuously branding itself as an "arts-town" is that there are no end of entertainments, even in daily interactions.
There are larger than life personalities employed by the theatre company and others who have been, and hope to be again. There are those who have gravitated here, weary of trying to make lives of their art in larger centres, or more remote centres, that see this as a softer place to land where a community can be built. I'm an artist. But, I didn't come for those things, I came to have a family in an affordable city where my parents live.
Five years in, I found myself with no children and a marriage in ruins. Four months from being bankrupt, I couldn't afford to carry my husband anymore. I had to act to change my reality. To expedite our separation, I packed him up and found him an apartment.
Even when the answer is obvious, the pain persists. I was in a lot of pain. I poured myself into my music and my work. I was teaching too much, forty-seven private music students just to hang on to house - and I was barely making it. I was constantly drumming up new ways to generate income. One way was to create performances where I might also be able to collaborate with other musicians. Which offered a welcome reprieve from the insular nature of the private music teacher's existence.
I created a John Lennon tribute show as part of an independent theatre festival that spring, I was looking forward to it. I hadn't been getting out at all following the separation. I forced myself to go to the festival's opening night reception after my full day of teaching. I'm a learned extrovert so social situations can be intimidating for me. But the wash of people actually felt good. The space, with it's vaulted ceiling was full of friendly faces and friendly strangers from out of town.
After a number of brief, pleasant interactions, I picked up a glass of wine and walked to the food table to graze where I came face to face with Carole. I knew her, not well, but she was a voice teacher of some renown. We had met once or twice briefly. I had a vague recollection that she was married to some biggish wig at the theatre.
"Hello, Carole." I said, smiling. "How are you?"
"Oh, wonderful. Just wonderful." She didn't inquire after me.
"I see you have a concert show in the line-up this year." I offered.
She was doing a show with friends, a light and frothy music show that would likely bring in a healthy audience. I knew I wouldn't be able to see it because of my teaching schedule. It wasn't really up my alley anyway.
"That looks like fun,"I added.
"Yes, we're having a lot of fun putting it together." she chuckled. "And, I see you have a show too."
I nodded, "Yes, I'm looking forward to it. The musicians I've hired are great."
"Well, I'm sorry Lara, but I just won't be able to make it."
"Nothing to worry about there, Carole,"I replied. "We can't see everything." I felt some relief. No need to feel bad about not seeing hers.
"When is your first show?" she asked.
"Thursday at 7,"she was shaking her head before I finished my short answer.
"See, that won't work I have to go to my friend Marie's show at 4. Sorry."
The shows only run an hour so, I'm not sure if she's heard me correctly. Something's weird... my antennae go up.
"No, as I said, there is nothing to apologize for." I say firmly, with a smile.
"Well, when is the second show?" she gestures an upturned hand. I am suspicious of her for the first time. What is she up to?
"Saturday at 8," I'm looking at her intently now. Watching her face, the tilt of her head, the eyes moving and fixing, moving and fixing.
"Oh, no chance there, I must be at my own rehearsal. So sorry."
I can't stifle the laugh that ripples up from my mid section somewhere. It is a laugh not of judgement, but of disbelief of the absurd. And, we have officially slipped into an absurd dialogue.
"No, really Carole. Don't give it another thought. I won't be able to go your show either."
I am fairly emphatic, perhaps even a bit dramatically so, as to discourage any more disingenuous declarations from her.
She quickly changes the subject. "How is your teaching studio?"
Too busy, I think.
"Very busy." I say.
"How many students are you teaching now?"
This is often a loaded question from fellow teachers, or at least I have found it to be.
"Forty-seven," I say.
It's the most I have ever had and I know it's wearing me out. That there is a law of diminishing returns, that I definitely can't take any more.
"Forty-seven!, how many hours is that?" she asks, a bit horrified and maybe impressed in spite of herself.
"Too many,"I reply."However, it's a situation born of necessity."
"How is that?" she asks.
I look her directly in the eye. "My marriage is over and I'm desperately trying to hang on to my house."
It hurts to hear the words as I say them but they are true and I am determined to be unafraid and unashamed of my truth.
"Oh," her face seems to soften. "How long were you married?"
"Five years." I am surprised to find my throat catching. I haven't really been talking about it with people. I haven't found a rhythm to steady myself in, in this disclosure.
Five years of struggle. Not really a marriage as I had imagined it. Not a husband, not a partner. A burden, a liability. Two miscarriages, two empty bedrooms in a house I can no longer afford.
I'm back there all of the sudden, under the pergola, in my mother's wedding dress, saying the words. Committing to the end of this life. For better or for worse. Little tears stab the corners of my eyes. "Damn", I think, "I shouldn't have come out. I'm just not ready."
"Five years, " she says. "That's nothing!"
"Whaaat?" I'm not sure I've heard her right.
"Five years is nothing!" she trumpets. "Chris and I have just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary!"
I confess this leaves me dumbfounded. My mouth is slightly open as I take in the joyful, triumphant face she is now wearing. She is so pleased with herself.
"Wow." is all I can manage.
Carole isn't really listening to me as she quickly scans the room.
"Chris! Chris!" she calls to a man I don't recognize. She's beckoning him and he crosses the distance to stand next to her.
When he gets there she links her arm through his and says, beaming up at him, "Chris this is Lara, I was just telling her that we have just celebrated being married for thirty wonderful years."
"Yes, it's true," he says smiling.
"Congratulations," I say bravely, wondering if he knows he's being used as a blunt instrument of torture. Wondering if he knows, he must know, how his wife allows her insecurities to get the better of her. That she can become competitive and small without provocation of any kind.
I stand opposite them for a moment. Looking at the couple. Seeing the performance.
Then politely excuse myself and make my way over to the organizer of the event. I need to flatter and thank her for her hard work before I get my coat and head home.
Enough entertainment for one night.