The last to know


Click the arrow to listen to me read my blog.


What? Did someone call my name? I swiveled my head around to find the voice, though I could hardly believe I’d heard right.

But then, the young, dark-haired girl who’d just come in the door of the cafe walked up to my table, stared at me, and said it again, inches from my face.



It looked like Danielle—brunette hair, pretty face and petite body-style. The only bit missing was the dark sweep of bangs I’d grown accustomed to identifying her by, back when I first learned her name in a class of new college students.

“Yes!” she yelled, and then launched herself at me for a hug, which is exactly what you do when you unexpectedly come into contact with someone from home when you’re from away.

Goodness. It was, indeed, Danielle, a lovely young woman I’d taught, practically a lifetime ago. She was just coming in for her shift at the cafe.

More than a few years back, she’d mentioned plans to move to Halifax and go to NSCAD for the textile program. Turned out, she had done just that. And then she’d gone on to grow out those bangs, stick down some roots, and get voted best barista in Halifax.

Last time I saw her, Danielle was the best barista at my favourite Waterloo café, Death Valley’s Little Brother.  What were the odds I would find her behind the counter at my new Halifax hang out, The Nook?

The Nook happens to be about a block from my flat. It’s fronted by windows that face east, out to the street, and it’s  tiny, but with a high-enough ceiling to make up for its small footprint.

Light fixtures hang from that ceiling, each draped with a burlap veil to soften the brash fluorescent bulbs. The kitchen is flanked on the right by two booths, with curtains slung along the sides as invitation for privacy, if you so choose. A black leather couch sits aside one window, and a counter, made from a rough-hewn plank that seems not far from forest and tree, runs across the other.

Small comforts hide in the corners—a compact wicker rocker, a book-shelf stuffed with reads to borrow as you will, and of course, the sweet, kind baristas, each quick to smile and offer witty repartee to the tiniest comment.

“Go get comfy,” they always tell me after I order, “I’ll bring everything out to you.”

It was insta-home when I’d found this spot, though it does seem they grow places like The Nook on every street and every corner, as if the formula for ‘the penultimate coffee bistro’ was perfected in Halifax.

Ritual offers structure, and I head to such places as part of my regular Monday to Friday routine. It’s a strategy that provides respite from both the darkness of my cave and the aloneness of the writing life.

And now, I was happy to know that I could look forward to seeing Danielle, from back home, whenever I stopped by The Nook.

* * * * * * * *

This week, I realized the Halifax winter had been long knocking on the door. I’d discovered it could be cold, warm, wet, foggy, and back to cold again, all in one day, and by five-ish, darkness reigned.

Running outside at 7am this Monday morning, the early air was frigid. I warmed it up in my lungs and defiantly spat it back out. Mid-way through my route, when the chill had slipped away some, I doffed my gloves and hat, and then unzipped my jacket to let the morning fog envelop me.

Nine kilometres later and home, I turned the key in my lock, knowing I’d be back out again the minute I’d changed, tidied, and gobbled some breakfast. Blue sky had infiltrated the fog and was not to be missed.

Knapsack packing and associated routine are rote these days… grab books, unplug and slide in computer, toss in notepad, tuck credit card in phone case, fold a fiver and jam in front pocket, slip on jacket, check mirror to make sure I’m semi-presentable and don’t have any toothpaste on my face, and then head out the door.

The Nook was my destination that morning, and I was happy to see Danielle behind the counter.

“Hey,” she greeted me when I walked in. “I emailed Jessica last week to tell her I saw you. Remember her from class?”

Jessica… Jessica… I shuffled through all the Jessicas I’d taught, worked with and known. One of them was the right one… Ah! I had her.

“The married one?” I asked.

She nodded. So, the memory bank still worked. Hurrah for small victories.

“Are you still married?” Danielle asked next.

Argh, the dreaded life I’d thought was left behind in Waterloo returned to nip at my heels.

“Nope. I’m on my own. That’s part of the story of why I’m here.”

Her mouth lifted at one corner, half a smile, maybe something a little more. “Life is about eras,” she said.

Sweet girl that she is, she offered me a U-turn from awkward into more interesting conversation.

I laughed. “You’re too young to have eras. And how long does an era last anyway?”

“Well, it depends on how long you hang onto them.”

“Interesting,” I said, and then ordered my tea.

The leather couch was empty, open for possession, so I claimed it. I slipped my computer out of my bag, sat down and settled back, getting comfy mere moments before Danielle arrived with my tea.

“It’s hot,” she warned, slipping it on the table, and then scooted back to the counter where more customers were waiting.

I could smell the scent of my Toffee tea, rich and fragrant, and I stopped to look at the cup for a moment, becoming transfixed by the steamy curlicues rising upward in a lazy, hazy dance.

My fingers, poised above my laptop keyboard, were ready to go, but the words just weren’t coming. Something was niggling inside. It was a thought I could feel edging forward, waiting to be pulled it into the light.

It’s not an uncommon occurrence.

Writing a memoir, as I am, requires regurgitation and reexamination of the pivotal moments in my life. I must scrutinize each from multiple angles, whilst I up the magnification power of my introspection. The task is not unlike looking at your face in a 10X mirror, mortified to see before you every pore, crevice, crack, wrinkle and flaw in both singularity and entirety.

Scratching at my memories, at times I’m rendered wordless and unable to write, especially when I stumble upon the ones I thought were healed, only to find they were just scabbed over, and remembering simply reopens the wound.

Sometimes, the urge to pull away is visceral.

Leaning forward, I reached for my tea. Clasping it with both hands, I lifted it close to my mouth, letting the steam warm my flesh before taking that first sip.

I thought about the blue sky at my back, the chit-chat with Danielle, someone familiar in this far-away place, and I thought, too, how my broken marriage had come up in conversation, and I’d walked on by.

I’d felt no twinge. I’d felt nothing more, as a matter of fact, than a vague moment of—oh, right, I’d almost forgotten about that. Unbeknownst to me, I’d slipped from one era into another.

I suppose I should know by now that I’m often the last to know. Still, I surprise myself sometimes, with the things that I almost miss.

Music Credits (thanks to nephew Spencer Clerk, who must listen to my blog first and then find some music to suit. Love you Spence): Air – Lost Message &Tame Impala – Past Life

PS Follow or forward… someday, at my book launch far into the future, I will thank your for your support and faith.

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