Can you go home again? I guess it depends on what, and where, home is. I defined home, among other things in Chapter 61 Suburbia, as, that place that when you go there, they have to let you in (I think Robert Frost said that). But what if there is no ‘they’ there? You are the only person who goes there, no one else to meet you, greet you, share with you. Is that ‘home’? I suppose if you rent the place, the landlord can confirm your identity and entitlement and let you in the house, but that’s not quite what I’m getting at. I left my home of 30 years two years ago when I sold it and moved to the townhouse in Kanata. And maybe my home left me when my wife Marlene went to the hospice to spend the last 17 days of her life.
Maybe home is the place where you keep all your stuff. You don’t have to live there, but it’s comforting to know that the stuff that represents the loveliness of your life is there when you need it. When I moved all the belongings of my marriage to the townhouse in Kanata I made many conscious choices about what I would keep (I kept all the stuff that represented my best memories) and what I would let go. I also added a few new things to give the townhouse a bit of my own identity. And I invited Emily to be part of that life as well. But she refused. Maybe she had an instinct that what I wanted was a continuation of my old life, and she would merely fill in the missing piece, Marlene. Maybe she didn’t want that. She wanted her own life, so she told me ‘it would be better for me if I am not a part of your life’.
And maybe she had an instinct that I myself no longer knew what I really wanted. My old identity was gone and, subconsciously perhaps, I was in pursuit of a new identity, a new life. It’s too bad she didn’t have the courage to explore the next phase of our lives, hers, and mine, together. But she chose one path, a safe predictable path, and I went off a cliff. I discovered I didn’t want a safe predictable path anymore.
Still, it might be nice to have a home to come home to.
Since then I have been trying to live my life differently. I’ve tried to accept the Platonic challenge. I’ve tried to follow Scott Peck’s (and Matthew Kelly) and James Hollis’s guidance to live life vigourously; but I’m aware that I am running out of time and then I remind myself when I get discouraged or bogged down of Dylan Thomas’s anger.
I found Carmen, and a whole new life story, or stories, ensued. She came to stay with me in Canada as we explored what we meant to one another, she much more convinced from the outset than I. Still we began to turn that utilitarian townhouse into a place we might call home. But her six-month visitor’s visa to Canada expired and it was time to reverse roles in The Philippines.
Our plan, Carmen and mine, after five months in the Philippines, was to return to Canada for another six-month term, our life a cycle of roundtrips half-way around the world. She probably didn’t realize it at first but she was being carried along on my journey of discovery and it was becoming hers too. She had given everything to her family but knew she wanted to give herself a life now. In 12 months with me she had experienced more newness than in her previous 12 years. She said on filipinocupid.com she wanted a long-term relationship but I doubt she thought she would end up with so much adventure, and yet an uncertain future. She certainly showed she had courage; or maybe she just foolishly stepped onto my rollercoaster without fear.
My journey hit a roadblock, or at least some debris on the road less travelled, when I found myself forced to revise my plans because of the world-wide assault on human liberty triggered by a phantom virus. Love in the time of Covid. Our plan to return to Canada together was delayed, and delayed, indefinitely delayed. We did not leave on March 23 as planned because on March 16 foreigners without authorization could not enter Canada. On April 23 I became an illegal alien in Philippines, my 59-day visa having expired. Carmen’s status to travel with me to Canada still uncertain.
The world-wide Community Quarantine forced everybody to stay ‘home’. No matter what sort of home you actually had, everyone had to have a place to hunker down in. We extended our residence in the Qubo Qabana Resort hotel, already home to us following our evacuation from the Tagaytay condo due to the eruption of the Lake Taal Volcano. Qubo Qabana began to feel more like home than ‘home’ did, but it was a home with an uncertain future.
In times of adversity it is more important than ever to practice gratitude, to take a few moments out of your day to reflect on the good things in your life, especially those that happened today. Better yet is to savour the moment while it is happening, and then reflect on it later; you get to practice this virtue twice. Gratitude is one way to happiness.
I am very grateful for Carmen, for her company, for her love, and for what she does for me. I also admire her courage and willingness to learn new things. And I’m beginning to feel that home is where she is. Home is more than a place, ‘home is where the heart is’. And we need to be grateful for all that makes our home.
But gratitude can be short lived if you don’t cultivate it, and care for your generous partner. Several weeks into the ECQ we had a small row, a ‘contretemps’, a spat. I guess an extended stay in a confined space can do that to a couple. It doesn’t really matter what the dispute was about; I flared and Carmen flared back. I sat and stewed for a while, okay sulked, then left our room to take a walk around the pool, occupied myself scooping seed pods out of the pool, sat on the pool steps and soothed my feet. Carmen knows how to fight these little psychological battles, she is after all female. After a bit she followed me down the stairs with a bag of garbage, deposited it in the bin, then turned on her heel and returned to our room without a word. I thought, ‘I’m not begging forgiveness, she was the one at fault.’ I went back to the room to find her lying on the bed with her cell-phone for company. I lied down beside her. I reached for her and pulled her to me to put her head on my shoulder; she consented. We talked about the flare. Nothing was resolved on the specifics of the spat, except we know this was another minor test of tolerance. Despite the magical seven words of a happy marriage, I didn’t apologise and neither did she admit she was wrong, but we did make up. I wonder how many couples have struggled and sniped at each other in this prolonged quarantine.
By week six our confinement became even more confining with no word of whether we could be released to fly ‘home’ to Canada. My worry and impotence to solve this problem increased. Word salad platitudes from Air Canada and Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada did not assuage my inner William Wallace outrage.
And what a strange conflicted mind I found myself in those days; like ‘Red’ Redding in Shawshank Redemption, I had tired of my prison but was apprehensive about leaving it. Trading one jail for another: QQR versus the halfway house of 76 Budapest.
I had now been in The Philippines for seven months. The plan was five months and as of April 23 I had passed the six month mark and my health insurance in jeopardy. Every day presented the risk that I may have an illness or injury requiring medical/hospital treatment and I would quickly move closer to the bankruptcy cliff. I’m a risk-taker and the probability of this happening is low, but risk taking is one thing, foolishness is another. It was time for me to come home.
With the continuing non-responses from our ever-cautious public servants at IRCC I began to despair of getting an exemption pass for Carmen. I almost welcomed the potential encounter with a Canada Border Services Agency Officer, though after reading the article about couples being separated at the border by CBSA agents my level of confidence of gaining entrance for Carmen ebbed. Perhaps ‘encounter’ is too strong a word. I needed to resurrect my old negotiations skills. But what do I have to a bargain with? Oratory eloquence? Socratic argument? Moral suasion?
IRCC was one obstacle but the continuing difficulty of reaching Air Canada was another. Patience may not be one of my attributes but persistence is. The long and short of it is that I now had return tickets to Canada for Wednesday, May 13.
And still no definitive green light from IRCC. And Carmen is depressed.
The decision was taken out of our hands, made for us by The Philippines authorities: No Filipino except OFWs may leave the country during this Quarantine, now extended beyond May 15, June 12. I was coming home on Wednesday. Carmen was staying in Philippines.
Carmen was going home to her family in Philippines. But I was going to my townhouse in Kanata.
And wait. The quarantine could not continue indefinitely, and the world could not be shut down for ever. But at my age, even six months is a significant chunk of time.
I want to say I have no doubt I will be reunited with Carmen eventually, but uncertainty remains. I have doubt. I have had too much experience now of the vagaries and capriciousness of life. As Bertrand Russell said in speaking of religion, dull people are certain, bright people are full of doubt. I take small comfort in being full of doubt. We none of us know what the future may bring and so we ourselves must bring as much vigour as we can to the present. We can sit in our houses and wait for life to come to us, or we can go back out in that troubled world and continue to seek our home. Until we no longer can.
Emily said it would be better for her if she was not part of my life. So be it. But I know now it is better for me if Carmen is part of my life. She has become my Penelope, Ithaca my home.
So I wait until I can retrieve her, but my journey of discovery continues.
; my story isn’t over yet
‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’
‘Yes dear, you were right, I’m sorry.’ Usually said by the husband.