When I first met Greg I had just exited a very unhappy marriage, one where we had both been much too young, with very little idea of what it meant to be married. I swore I would never, never marry again. I had moved into a tiny apartment with a girl I had met while staying at the YWCA women’s residence. I managed to find a job working at “Bagels and Buns”, where I had previously worked upon my arrival in Calgary. It was a Jewish bakery and coffee shop in the chic 17th Avenue area. I made $3.50 an hour, so times were pretty hard.
Greg and his roommate, who lived across the hall, introduced themselves to us, and there began our story of thirty-four years. Never before had I chased any male, not because I was particularly attractive, but because my parents moved around so much, I was forever the “new girl” in town. Any “new girl in town” knows that stirs up a fair amount of interest among the male population. However, I was now twenty and didn’t have much to offer. But this fellow across the hall, oh my goodness. He was so kind, offering me a ride to work, taking me out for drinks, etc. And he was very easy on the eyes. (In fact, in the years that followed, people would ask him, right in front of me, how he ended up with me!) As we began to spend more time together, which was often brought about by me waiting to hear his diesel truck pull up and proceeding to run into him on the stairs, or me calling him up to see what his plans were, we worked out a deal. We played backgammon and crib and if I lost, I had to give him a back massage, but if he lost, he had to pay me cash! He certainly seemed to have lots of it. It was great. I was so poor, I managed to supplement my meagre income quite nicely. But more than that, I was smitten.
Greg didn’t talk much, but no matter what I asked of him, he was always willing to help. He was the kindest person I had ever known, though, up to that point, I was not very well acquainted with that particular virtue. I went out on a limb in an attempt to convince him I was worthy of the title, “girlfriend”. He wasn’t biting.
I persisted for a few months and then I gave up. A co-worker from the bakery invited me to join him and his brother on a trip to California. “Why not?”, I asked myself. When I informed Greg that I was taking this trip he became even quieter than usual. He literally pouted. When I finally persuaded him to talk to me, he said, and these are the exact words, “If you wanted to go to California, why didn’t you ask me?” Yeah right, Greg, I couldn’t even persuade you to date me, and besides, I hadn’t given California a thought until my co-worker had asked me to join him. I was euphoric! Greg was taking me to California, and, as I had quit my job and had given up my apartment, (sound familiar?) said I could move in with him. Men are weird, they don’t want you until someone else does. That may not be true, but it was true for Greg. And that was the beginning of our life together.
I was not aware of Greg’s mental state at that time. I was a true hippy and we both spent more time than was healthy getting high. He was heavily involved in the marijuana business, hence the abundance of money. I can say that now, seeing as it is almost legal here in Canada, and Greg is in a safe place. If anyone wants to prosecute me now for my involvement. go ahead. It might be okay to have the government put me up for a while. Just kidding. I wouldn’t really like that, but just think of the book I could write!
I don’t think I was really conscious of Greg’s depression until we were converted, six years after we had begun our relationship. Being stoned is an altered state, and marijuana has a tendency to make a person giggle uncontrollably, which we did frequently. Once we were converted, we were both delivered from drugs and all manner of bad habits. Being a part of a religious community for the first time in our lives, we innocently followed along with the teachings. I was free from the influence of marijuana for the first time in years and so was Greg. It was then that I began to sense the darkness that surrounded him. At first, it engulfed me too, but somehow I was able to separate myself from the heaviness and despondency. I had to. We began having a family and the children needed someone to be there for them. During that time Greg withdrew more and more into himself and went about his life as though we weren’t a part of it. I used to say a bomb could explode next to him and he wouldn’t notice. No matter what was taking place in our home, Greg’s mind was elsewhere.
Although it was becoming apparent to me that I didn’t matter to Greg, at least that was how I viewed the situation, he never stopped being kind to others. Those who worked with Greg knew him to be the one who would always go the extra mile, even at the expense of himself and his family. He would befriend the hopeless and unlovable. No matter what anyone asked of him, he would do it. He was a gentle soul, for the most part, suffering in silence. And through his suffering, he wrote. Greg wrote some of the most inspired work I have ever read.
It was regrettable I didn’t understand what was going on in Greg’s mind. I just left him to live in his own world while I did my best to be two parents to our children. I didn’t consider that he needed help. It wasn’t until a few months before his death that he began to behave really peculiar. And even then, I could not have anticipated what he was planning. Several months prior to his suicide, Greg had suddenly come to realize he had not been present in the lives of his family. What brought about this realization, I do not know. Unfortunately, when a person decides to try to make up for mistakes or lost time, it doesn’t necessarily work out the way they think it should. Not everybody was ready to immediately drop everything and make time for him. And that was when he decided there was no use in trying. At least that is what I imagine he thought. Then the strange behaviour started screaming at us, his wife and children. As a result, we all began to reach out to him. But, alas, his mind was already made up.
Greg did, from time to time, remember he had children and would do things with them. It didn’t happen often, but I think that makes the memories they have of him that much more precious. When Greg died I didn’t even cry. He had left me so long ago that I didn’t miss him in my day to day life. That sounds terrible, but it is true. And that is the part I struggle with most of all. Someone once told me that a friend’s husband had died suddenly and that she suffered such torment, not because she loved him, but because she didn’t. My love for Greg had long been displaced by a kind of caring I would extend to a friend or colleague. I failed in the “for better or worse”. I stuck by him, but not in the way a wife should. By the time I was aware of his extreme distress I had already failed him. A better woman would have loved him regardless.
I still get angry because I know I fell short, but that I stayed by Greg’s side even though he was never there for me. I get angry that, faced with being let down by his wife when he finally wanted to reconnect, he took the easy way out. He bailed on his family so completely, not giving any of us a chance to try to repair the years of damage, gradually, in a way that would have required a conscious effort from us all, but which would have been the only way possible. He could forget us for as long as he wanted, but we were all supposed to jump to attention the moment he remembered us. And I know how unreasonable it is to think this way. Someone lost in the regions of darkness can’t see beyond themselves and their hopelessness. And so I bounce back and forth between understanding his illness to feeling like a victim of neglect to guilt for being a faithless wife.
It is difficult to speak well of someone who has caused so much heartache. I wish I could say more about Greg that would convey to you what kind of a person he was. His co-workers and friends would be better equipped to do that. He was an incredible provider. He never fell short in that department. He overpaid his employees and made up for that by working really hard. He loved Shakespeare and William Blake, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash. He talked about William Blake’s wife, who was childless and thus wholeheartedly devoted her life to her husband. He spoke of how she would massage his shoulders while he worked. I know Greg longed for me to be that kind of a wife and had, in times past, required me to tend to him while one of the babies would be crying and in need. I was not childless, I was the mother of six children. I would bear it for as long as I could and would then rush to care for whichever child it was.
The “church” we attended was strongly in favour of oppressing the women. I know that this teaching had an effect on both of us. Greg was quite willing to accept that he was lord in our home and I, in turn, accepted that it was my job to serve him. And serve him I did, until I came to understand that it would never be reciprocated. I have no difficulty in understanding that men and women are different and so are equipped to fulfil unique roles. I believe that we, as male and female, are equal, but not the same. But, in my naivety through those initial years, I was prepared to sacrifice myself, believing I was submitting to Christ. I allowed myself to be a doormat. It took years for me to comprehend the true meaning of marriage, that each respects one another and stands for each other. Unhappily, Greg did not evolve as I did. Even after I was thrown out of said “church” for being tainted and rebellious, he still followed along with their teaching.
I have come to understand, through much reflection, that women are really very simple and don’t require much. Sadly, the majority of men have not had positive mentors who could teach them how to treat a woman. The locker room is no place to learn the art of loving or the value of a woman. All we want is to be cherished as a blessing and partner in this wonderful union called marriage. If a man truly loved his wife, and that is all that she requires, she would go to the ends of the earth for him. I know this to be true, because I am a woman, and that is all that I ever wanted.
Greg was a wilderness man and enjoyed getting up early on camping trips to chop wood, oblivious to the fact that it was 5:00 am and everyone else was trying to sleep. He could never understand why I didn’t like camping. He would be in his element, playing his guitar by the campfire or starting the coffee in the morning, completely unaware of me losing sleep through the night while trying to keep two or three children covered up with blankets in the tent because we didn’t have enough sleeping bags. (We never did have all six children on a trip because the older ones stopped coming as they advanced in years.) After several years of that, I refused to go. I’d rather stay home where it was warm and I might even get a few hours sleep. But I thank him for taking me to Northern California all those years ago, to the Avenue of the Giants, a most magical place full of Giant Redwoods and sprinkles of Elvin dust. And I thank him for our children.
I don’t think I have completely forgiven Greg yet, for breaking my heart over and over through the years until there was nothing left but splinters, and then for leaving us the way he did. I know he couldn’t help it. But I’m still not over it. I realize that I was, once again, so wrapped up in my own personal pain that I neglected to recognise and acknowledge his. I didn’t rise above and try to help him. I wasn’t that supportive wife. And I am sorry for that.