Jack White Made Me Break Up With Her

It was 2012 and I was on a train from Shanghai to Yiwu City.

For once, I wasn’t in an exotic, unknown land for pleasure – entirely – but for business. Back then, I owned a fashion panty hose company and was visiting the factory that I’d contracted to make them. It took a fucking year for them to get it right – an opaque black print on sheer black nylon – and in the end they had to tinker with their machines and mix custom dyes in order to pull it off.

(These Chinese factories are used to producing commodities – basic, cheap knick-knacks sold for pennies in the Walmarts around the world. I was trying to create something bespoke and high-end. So for them to actually be patient for an entire year to serve one single client with a low order quantity was actually lucky for me, and so I thought I’d drop by and say hi in person the next time I was in their hemisphere.)

So I left my girlfriend and flew from Toronto to Hong Kong to Shanghai and immediately took a taxi from the airport to the train station, which wasn’t far in distance but a fucking trek once factoring in the traffic. I gestured to the ticket lady my destination and she sold me – unbeknownst to me at the time – a $5 third-class ticket on the shitty slow train that took 5 hours and had me counting stops to ensure I’d get off at the right one. That’s what I get for looking like backpacker.

(On the way back I found the “fast” train that resembled the spacious first-class cabin of an airplane, that cost $20 and got me back to Shanghai in 40 minutes.)

Anyway, the reason I started this panty hose company was because of the girlfriend. She was my muse. She gave me the idea (in that, I saw them on the streets of Hong Kong the year before, brought them home for her and then thought, “Fuck, I could do these better”) and she gave me the drive to plow through for an entire year. After work and on weekends, I was calculating projections, researching import taxes, designing packaging, coding the website in the corner of my apartment, late into the night.

Then I’d finish up bleary-eyed and collapse into bed next to her, where she’d already been sleeping for an hour or two, always sweating, always drooling into the pillow. I’d squeeze in behind her and fall asleep in my clothes while thinking about our future of owning a distribution centre in Mississauga.

Fast-forward back to the train. That fucking train.

We were already dying. We were on our last legs. I can’t place my finger on it, but it had something to do with us growing apart, in that we were diverting on different paths. I was insane about business and making money while in my top earning years while she was crazy about naps and carbohydrates. I was so focused on generating income streams, earning passive income. I had my design studio, I had my panty hose company, I had my passive fitness infographics company (still making an automatic $20/month even now). I went from reading Murakami to non-fiction business books; from Maxim magazine to Forbes. Affiliate marketing, SEO, SEM, content marketing, drop-shipping – I read about everything.

(Years later, I would ditch all of this garbage, scale back to reading and writing and designing, and moved to Thailand.)

So I was on a train on the way to my panty hose factory in some city in rural China and Jack White’s Love Interruption came on my headphones:

I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me.
I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me.
Yeah I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me, anymore.

I probably misunderstood the lyrics, because I’m not a lyrics guy. I’m basic: I’m prose, not poetry. But the chorus kept repeating, again and again and again, each time louder and harder and screechier, in that loud and hard and screechy way that Jack White sings, until it sank into my fucking head: this love is disrupting and corrupting and interrupting me.

A week later, she met me in Hong Kong and we flew to Bali. A month later, we broke up. A year later I thought, fuck, was Jack White was being ironic?

In This World but Not Of It

The past 7 weeks have been the busiest in my life, but I’ve also written every day of those 7 weeks, excluding weekends. There’s definitely a correlation between the two, though I need to find the causation.

I left Tall French in Athens and jumped on the train in the morning. I was meeting Ex-Cop Thor in Split, Croatia, and although it was west of me and on the same coast that I was on, I had to go east around the mountains, through Macedonia and back to Belgrade, Serbia, then once entering Croatia, even further north to the capital city of Zagreb, and then heading west back to the coast and following it south to Split.

This would involve a few train rides – one of them 24 hours – and stopovers in a handful of countries. I chose this route because it saved me $28 or something, which isn’t much, but I had the time to do it, anyway.

I took the train in the morning and got to Thessaloniki in a few hours. I decided to disembark and stay a night for two reasons: get my last fill of Greek food; get in a good workout (squats and deadlifts) before the 24-hour train ride on the Bulgarian Express.

This trip was over a year ago. 14 months? I have no idea why it sticks out, why I remember it so vividly.

I got off the train and walked the 2km to my hotel, with my 80lbs large backpack and my 40lbs small one. It was a small, cheap hotel along the main avenue that my Juliet balcony looked over. I washed a few items of clothing in the sink and hung it on the railing, next to the tangle of power lines that bulged from the utility box next to my window.

I knew nothing of Thessaloniki. I think it was the 2nd largest city on mainland Greece? But it was beautiful and unique and fun, even if all I did was workout and eat and walk to the lighthouse and back. Those are the experiences I remember most, when I do nothing of consequence, when I’m just a subtle part of the population, of the world.

The gym I found was on the third floor of a concrete building that looked like they overturned a square container of sand and that was it, voila, building. There was no elevator, just a cavernous, naturally-lit stairwell in the center. I entered the gym and was flabbergasted at how … thorough … it was. A gym for training Olympians, maybe? They had power racks, squat racks, deadlift mats, chalk. It was dusty and damp and dark; the windows were open and the air conditioner was off.

“How much for one day?” I asked the portly woman behind the counter.

“Ten Euros,” she said. “Here’s a towel.”

“No, I’m asking for tomorrow. I’ll be back in the morning.”

“Just one day? Oh, don’t worry about it. No charge.”
“No, it’s okay – I can pay. I want to pay,” I insisted. I really did want to pay. I had the money in my hand, ready to pay, but she waved me off. I thanked her and left and walked down to the coast.

For some reason, I was in shopping mode. In Athens before and Santorini and Create – I just wanted all new clothes, but there wasn’t an H&M around. Thessaloniki had it all, H&M and GAP and Zara and my latest obsession (thanks to Tall French’s introduction), Bershka. All I fucking wanted was to buy shit from a motherfucking Bershka.

So I shopped and walked and ate and browsed and took pictures, without meeting anyone, without talking to anybody. I just melted into the background and existed gently, if that makes any fucking sense. Like I flittered around without affecting anyone, without being consequential, and for some reason, I feel comfortable in that zone. I feel natural and light and fluffy, like I’m part of the world, but not of it.

For dinner, I ate the best souvlaki I ever had in my life. Then the next morning, I walked to the train station with my two bags, hopped onto the train for the 24-hour ride to Belgrade, Serbia.

Normal is Dead

A Normal Day Then:

I flew from Sofia, Crotia to Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete. The airport was crowded and hot and exhausting and it was late, around 8pm, so I took a taxi to my hotel in the center of town without bothering to ask for the price. Whatever you want, Anastasios.

Check-in was quick, the lady was nice, the room was alright – but there was something missing. And iron? A blow dryer? I don’t use either of these things but I just realized that they were missing. I unpacked my backpack, arranged my packing cubes – three cubes: one for tops; one for bottoms; one for socks and undies – on the window sill.

(Oh, you know what it was that was missing? The bed was tiny and there wasn’t a nightstand to put my laptop on to watch Netflix, so I had to pull the shoddy desk chair over to the side of the bed to gently balance it on. This doesn’t seem challenging but a few months before in Bangkok, I did the same thing and it crashed a foot and a half to the floor and the ensuing repair bill was $800 to a small man in Danang, Vietnam.)

I went for a quick walk to check out the city. By now it was dark, 10pm, but lively in the pedestrian tourist area that was right outside of my hotel. Lots of streetlights and restaurant patios and music and people and cobblestone and pointy typography and dainty little buildings that made it all seem like a fake Greek village than the real thing.

In Asia, the two cuisines that I couldn’t get my hands on were Mexican and Greece, so that was a major part of why I came here to Crete, for the fucking food. The food that I grew up with when I had only Greek friends (and one half-Japanese): the souvlaki, the tzaziki, the olive oil and vinegar-drenched tomatos and cucumbers and sprinkled feta cheese and garlic bread and hummous.

So I went to find my first souvlaki, and I found it at a small shop on the corner of the same block that my hotel was on. There was nothing but one counter to order at, another to pick up, and a huge-ass earthen oven on the inside, swelled with meats on metal rods, spewing smoke and ash and embers. I ordered pork and she wrapped it into a pita, added a few perfunctory vegetables, a dollop of tzaziki, and the key ingredient – the same that my beloved Messini on Danforth in Toronto would add – well done French Fries. I ate it outside on a communal picnic table with other tourists and we all smiled at each other between bites.

On my way back, I found a convenience store; there weren’t any 7-Elevens. No big brand names of any kind, in fact. I bought three beers – all different kinds – and drank them in my room before falling asleep.

The next morning I went for a run, first east towards the airport and then all the way west to the boring part of town, where it was just all large hotels surrounded by gates. I took a few alleyways, walking and jogging and walking and jogging, killing time before I had to meet someone flying in. I walked to the coast and back again, circling the same landmarks over and over in that small capital city.

I took, like, 20 minutes buying laundry soap in a department store. God, I remember that so clearly, traipsing up to the 3rd floor where it was devoid of shoppers but full of bored salespeople, where they were stupidly selling appliances and teacups in the middle of the tourist epicenter. I browsed the entire mall that was called something like The Shopping Mall, then ate on a patio in a strip of cute restaurants that I saw earlier on my run, where the waiter recommended grilled tomatoes and Jesus Christ he was right.

During this entire time I was messaging back and forth with the tall French girl I’d met months before in Bangkok. She was in Paris while I was in Eastern Europe and we decided to meet in Greece. That was the second reason that I came here, aside from the souvlaki, the potatoes, the beaches – a woman. A tall woman with a thick accent and magnificent breasts. So at 5pm, we met at a patio and drank red wine; rode the bus to the airport to rent a car for the following week. Then we went back into the city, sat on top of the wall of the fortress that jutted out into the Aegean Sea, and kissed.

A Normal Day Now:

Gym, work, sleep. I blink and another week dies.

That First Fucking Year

I met a girl last weekend, at the first place we went to celebrate my birthday, before I blacked out and went to the second place. She was one of the first people to show up while we were still sober, still on our first round of Moscow Mules and St. Germain sodas, still drinking casually and for the flavor and getting to know the people around us like grown ups.

(There was an enormous, hulking Korean man there, with wounds on the back of his hand. I asked him, “Ha ha, was that from an animal or human, ha ha,” and he looked away and said, “I’ll tell you when I have a few more drinks,” and I stopped laughing. Turns out it was from a human.)

The girl was beautiful, with a boy-cut hairstyle and thick eye lashes. She wore a shapeless black dress with shiny leggings; sharp black heels and a chunky bracelet. The girl was a friend of a friend’s who came out for a few drinks after securing a babysitter for the night.
“How old’s your kid?” I asked.

“He’s one.”

“How long have you been married for?” I asked.

“Five years.”

“Whoa! How old are you?”

“Yeah, I got married at 26,” she said. “It’s funny. Right before I met my husband, I never thought I’d get married or have kids. Same old story, you know? It was the furthest thing from my mind. But then I met him and within 6 months we were engaged. It was so crazy.”

“That’s amazing, though. That’s how I’d want to do it – quickly, passionately…” I said.

“But it’s a tremendous amount of work. I mean, we didn’t even really know each other until we were married. The first year was incredibly hard because we had to find things out about each other that people usually discover in the dating stage. So we really, really worked hard that first year. That first fucking year.”

“That first fucking year,” I repeated.

Toronto The Incestual

(Bangkok, 2015)

Tina came in last night. We had a good time, although the magic’s gone and I’m sorry to say that it’s because her physical attributes have slid just too far. At this age, you can’t slip up that fucking much – you’ll never get it back. It’s done, we’re all finished, the forces are now working against us. She used to have the perfect face and maybe she still does but I’m too superficial to even care to look that high up on her body. My eyes got to her hips and bailed out.

We still get along on a very weird, eerily close level. I don’t know anyone who shares my thoughts as well as her: we’re dismissive of the same things that might be deemed important; and then we hold dearly these other things that most people might think to throw away. That’s, what, life philosophies, or something?

So Tina is now dating Brad who used to date Helena who I flirted with briefly, who is this super fucking hot girl that I wanted to date until the whole moving-out-of-the-country came up. And now Jack is dating Helena, who also dated Jena and Sharon. So Jack and I seem to have the same taste, but he’s also quicker – he dates them before I do, sometimes by months and sometimes by years. I just know that when I dig into a girl’s past, Jack will be in there somewhere, lurking.

Good looking guy, Jack – way better looking than me. Better smile, for sure. But I suppose I’m better because, I don’t know, I’m funnier and shit.

Or maybe I’m not better. Maybe I’m just different and I purposely take that path so I don’t have to directly compete on the same level as everyone else. So people can say, “Jack and Alex? Well, you can’t compare apples-to-oranges.” That’s when I win; when I’m a fucking orange.

Back in Toronto, Tina had lost her innocence. That naivety that’s required to sporadically fall in love on the first date; that open mind, open heart. She lost it over the years and I brought it up last night. She said Brad has brought it back, and that’s how she knows he’s important. She’s absolutely right – whoever brings you out of that sad, depressing pit of melancholy, that’s who you stick to. And they met only two weeks ago.

Jena brought me out of the Angela pit. Angela brought me out of the Rachel pit. Rachel brought me out of the Sylvia pit. But I’m still in the Jena pit, because I can only seem to travel pit-to-pit. Who will bring me out of the Jena pit? Maybe Michelle? Sarah? Carol, maybe Carol will. Because Jack dated Carol.

Square Jaw Arched Back Absolutely Destroyed Me For The Third Time In Ten Fucking Months

That’s an average of once every 3.33 months. It takes me a good month to move on (a combination of me being slow her being a profound force) so that’s a total of 6.66 months I’ve lost to her, which means that I’ve had a mere 3.34 months of Square-Jaw-Arched-Back mental-freedom since mid-January when all of this absolute destroying began.

I Don’t Care if Monday’s Blue; Tuesday’s Gray and Wednesday Too.

June, 2014.

Again, again, again. We keep meeting up when we probably shouldn’t. She has a boyfriend and I have a one-way ticket to Bangkok.

We’re now re-comfortable with each other, to the point where we’re no longer excited anymore. It’s no longer anxious or thrilling, just comfortable and somewhat intoxicating in that when I’m around her, the world turns hazy and misty, like I was drugged and failing to hold onto consciousness.

I feel like she wants me to lunge at her, to kiss her. Rescue her? But I’m on my way out.

(And on my way out, I’ve been purging my belongings. My old journals, my treasured fucking journals that I spent decades writing in – all tossed, but not before flipping a few pages here and there to see how much I’d changed.

I was exactly the fucking same in 2001. I was dating women, falling in love during the honeymoon phase, and then letting them go quickly after. I would turn abruptly – viciously – on them, and there’s nothing that they did wrong and nothing that they could’ve done right. It was me; there was nothing wrong with any of them.)

So she came to the Annex and we walked to Kensington Market. We did that walk a million times when we were together, down Crawford and those small north-south streets. We looked at houses and pointed at the ones we would live in, her raising the kids while I went to oversee my panty hose empire. We walked from the Annex to Kensington to Chinatown, then west on Dundas and north on Bathurst to Sneaky Dee’s for nachos. We deserved Nachos.

Then we walked back to the Annex where we bought a bottle of wine from Wine Rack and two mugs from Honest Ed’s and drank in the park, on the concrete tables with chess boards embedded into them.

We ran into two enormous dogs. Gigantic, but shy; they would sniff at our feet in that self-conscious way, then retreat back to their owner who was spurring them on, embarrassed, “Go on, go say hi to them.” Another owner stomped around the park calling out, OLLIE! OLIVER! to no response. He left and then a woman turned up riding a bicycle, callout out, OLLIE! OLIVER! Has anyone seen a German Sheppard? She cycled away, still calling out, her voice beginning to crack as her optimism faded. Eventually she stopped yelling, so either they found Ollie or they didn’t.

We drank more in my apartment. She took some DVDs that I was throwing away. She packed some of my chicken stew into Tupperware and took that too. We sat on the couch with an invisible, impenetrable border between us. I wanted to tangle myself in her limbs and fall asleep. I’d always lie on that couch with my head in her lap and she’d wrap her arms around my neck and smack her lips and blink her eyes at the TV.

This is boring as fuck.

Tuesdays Are Also Deadly

June, 2014

At 7pm I met her at Yonge and Bloor, outside of the subway station. We used to meet at the same corner when she worked here. I would be biking, shopping, generally fucking around on one of my 5 days off per week and we would meet and smoke and kiss and I would ask her if she was coming over tonight.

She wanted to walk to The Danforth, to Astoria, our regular Greek joint. She does this when she wants to lose weight – take long walks to eat hundreds of calories of meat, soaked in thousands of calories of cheese and butter.

We talked about whatever. It was comfortable. Not as comfortable as the other day at Spin, but I was drunk and high then. I was sober this time.

We drank and ate on the patio with the brick wall and overhanging plants. She’s still with the same guy, and it confounds me. How is she dating someone that she is embarrassed of? Doesn’t she want to be with someone she can walk the streets holding hands with? Someone she can show off? Someone she’d be 100% proud to be dating?

She was 100% proud to be dating me.

Maybe 75% when I was drunk. But even then, she’d be my girlfriend in the corner of the room, heartily laughing at my drunken breakdancing, at my impressions of the people around us.

Over pork souvlaki and saganaki, I told her things, cocky and arrogant things: How are you going to travel with this fucking guy? You’ll never have as much fun with him. It’s not the traveling that you loved; it was the traveling with me. You’re going to go to all of these lame 5-star hotels and feel something missing and that’s meeeeeeee.

It’s true. You learn things with me. She liked to learn things.

I invited her. “Come live with me on Ko Samui. We’ll buy a cottage on the quiet beach, on the west side of the island. You remember where we had that coconut ice cream? Around the corner from there, that’s where we’ll live. We can’t swim there – it’s all docks and fishing boats – but we won’t care about the beach after a few months, anyway.

“Every morning, I’d go workout and design and write, and you’d go to the market and buy fresh ingredients to cook breakfast. That’s how we’d do it, we’d buy our food minutes before we need to cook it. We wouldn’t even need a refrigerator – except for beer and red wine and Diet Cokes.

“It would be just like Ecuador. Cambodia, Indonesia, Mexico – but all together. Just imagine all of those trips, if they were one after the other. That’s what it would be like, that’s how we will fucking live.”

Holy shit, I thought to myself. Stop toying with her. What if she says yes, the fuck are you going to do?

“No, I don’t want to,” she said. “I do not want to.” She did this thing where she would repeat herself a little differently in order sound more profound and it worked.

We bar-hopped our way down The Danforth, back to Yorkville where she was staying at her boyfriend’s condo. I stared at her face. It was the most familiar face in my life. Isn’t that bizarre? After my face, I knew her face the most out of anyone in the world. Better than my mother’s, my father’s, even my own. Who’s would I know better?

“Can I kiss you?” I asked her.

“Of course not,” she said.

“That face used to be mine,” I told her. “I was allowed to kiss it whenever I wanted to.”

“Well, you fucked up,” she said. “You fucked it all up.”

“No, you did.”

You Break Me I Break You Back

June, 2014.

We met up again. She met me outside of the JCC where I did a quick workout and showered and dried off and met her at College and Bathurst to eat tortas at Rebozos. Torta’s were “our” thing, I guess. Then we walked to Chinatown to eat dumplings. I introduced her to cabbage and chive pot-stickers and she devoured them, loved them. I still loved to show her things to love – it’s my most loved thing. The temples of Angkor Wat, the giant lizards of Galapagos, the beaches of Ko Samui. Tortas from Rebozos and pot-sickers from Dumpling House.

We drank doubles at Ocho while talking about the past. Mostly the past because there wasn’t a present anymore, and probably no future. So we talked about the past and I took photos of her with my good camera with the 1.8 aperture that blurred the background. She was still beautiful and I realized that I took it for granted. I mean, looks fade in a relationship, but they shouldn’t fade all the fucking way.

The bar closed at midnight. We stood outside and wondered what to do. “I have wine at my place,” I said. She hesitated, probably thinking about her boyfriend, wherever the fuck he was right now.

On my couch, we sat for hours, talking and not talking. We talked about how comfortable we still were with each other, that there was no longer such a thing as awkwardness. Awkward silences, awkward farts, awkward seeing the other naked – these things didn’t exist.

She cried. She sobbed and it broke my heart. “I loved you so much,” she cried. “I gave you everything I had.” She told me that the break up had almost killed her and that she almost didn’t make it through. That’s why there couldn’t be a future: she couldn’t go through that pain again. “Everything was so perfect and you fucked it all up,” she said with her face buried into her hands.

2am turned to 3am and I asked, “Can we go lie down for 5 minutes? Can we do that again?” She hesitated, probably thinking about her boyfriend, wherever the fuck he was right now.


She felt the same. She smelled the same. We folded our bodies into the same position we did years before, my right arm draped over her waist, bent at the elbow with my hand between her cheek and the pillow. She curled her body into a zig-zag, and mine zig-zagged right behind hers, pressed right up against hers. We fell asleep.

“I should go,” she said.

We got off the bed and the spell was immediately broken. It wasn’t 2010 anymore, we weren’t a couple with a present and a future; it was 2014 and we were exes with only the past. We walked to Bloor Street where she could flag a taxi. She was on my left so I grabbed her right hand with my left. It felt wrong, so I switched sides and grabbed her left hand with my right. She took my hand in both of hers and manipulated this knuckle, shifted that finger. “This is how I used to hold it,” she said, and then it felt right.

In the morning, we messaged. I mentioned something about a girl, an ex, I can’t remember. WHO CARES ABOUT YOUR EXES. FUCK YOU AND YOUR FUCKING EXES and I suddenly remembered this side of her.

We would fight mostly about this, that she thought my exes were more important to me than her. “Impossible,” I would tell her. “You’re my fucking girlfriend. You’re the woman that I’m in love with.” I remember it so clearly, that I was always trying to convince her. She always needed convincing, she always needed proof, on an almost-daily basis. I can’t live like this, I thought after another fight, which finally kicked off the events that would lead to our demise.

“I might’ve suffocated you,” she told me, years later.