Brand building through storytelling

Ex-lovers: a mid-life meditation

I was steering my cart through the crowded aisles of Toronto’s most twee greengrocer when a stranger looked up from the organic broccoli and exclaimed in a booming voice, “Hey, I know you! You’re the gal who used to live with that writer!”

He meant J.D. Salinger, no ex-lover of mine but in the past much taken with girls of tender years, one of whom used to borrow my clothes without asking. “You’re thinking of my sister Joyce,” I said. Joyce Maynard, as you most likely know, was spirited away to Salinger’s New Hampshire hilltop while still in her teens, there to pursue a blighting but still notorious affair.

She’s not the only woman in my life to have inspired the love (or the lust) of a famous man. Looking back through the years, I see acquaintances who had romances with Pierre Trudeau. (I’ll most likely never read the new Trudeau biography Just Watch Me, but I did find their names in the index.) Leonard Cohen, in his Boogie Street years, once propositioned a friend of mine who somehow couldn’t find it in her heart to say yes. I’d be amazed if I don’t know at least one woman who did sleep with Leonard Cohen; I just haven’t been nosy enough to find out who she is. But it’s already clear that just about every woman I know has a past rich in sexual intrigue—and all that goes with it, including the twisted breakups.

I, on the other hand, have been faithfully married for 39 years to the first man I could trust. In the ex-lover department, I’ve been something of a slacker.

It’s not as if I have no ex-lovers. (Do you think I knitted my way through the 60s?) There’s an eerily familiar-looking guy, apparently homeless or one step away from that state, who often shuffles around Yorkville in one of those hats with earflaps, regardless of the season. He carries a crumpled and stained plastic bag full of newspapers, which he’s been known to peruse at the Starbuck’s on Cumberland. He has a broad, ruddy face and an abstracted expression suggesting frequent visits to worlds unknown. Minus a few decades, he looks just like the guy I met on the street and followed home to a walk-up flat over a fabric store. All through that stoned, sleepless night I could see the neon sign—Stitsky’s—through the naked window.

I’d kind of like to find out for sure if Newspaper Guy and Stitsky’s Guy are really one and the same. But I’d have to walk right up to him and ask a rather forward question. And besides, if he’s who I think he is, I treated him carelessly—although no worse than I treated myself. I guess that’s the thing about ex-lovers. The more you have, the more numerous and unruly the potential regrets. Not that I would know, of course.

As for the mouthy stranger at the greengrocer, he didn’t want to let the matter drop. He followed me all the way to the checkout, where I just had to ask, “Who are you, anyway?” It was not a friendly question but he told me his name, smiling broadly, like a kid who hopes to impress the teacher. I went home and Googled him. Lo and behold, this man is the author of a book on—get ready for it, my friends—emotional intelligence. He probably thinks his ex-lovers were blessed to share his bed.


Posted by Rona

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