The Cat(s) in the Hat

May 3rd, 2015

WARNING: This entry is challenging to follow as pivotal details have to be omitted from the story.

And this mess is so big and so deep and so tall. We cannot pick it up. There is no way at all…

San Francisco, Montreal, Ottawa They say great love and great success both come from taking great risks. But the reality is that taking that leap or putting yourself out there doesn’t always lead to victory. No, you won’t always end up with your dream guy in the end. Or become an instant millionaire as a result of your hard work and sacrifice. Yep… sometimes life has a way of blowing up all over your face. And I learned that lesson all over again prior to my Florida Panthers double header weekend.

On a recent trip to San Francisco I learned the hard way to be careful what you wish for – and what I had wished for for five years was to make a life for myself back home in Toronto. I can’t discuss the details at this time for legal purposes, but all you need to know was that an act was carried out against me in Northern California that was so heinous, sinister and unconscionable that it still seems surreal. This incident is easily the worst thing that has ever happened to me, and the sheer blow of it nearly destroyed me on the spot. I think after six years of reading this blog, you know just how strong a person I am by now. So, it should speak volumes to you when I say the devastation nearly obliterated me.

Normally when someone declares war on me my murderous Spanish rage kicks in, but this time I felt all the negative emotions – rage, loss, fear, vengeance – with such a red-hot intensity that I completely flatlined. I was basically the emotional equivalent of Theon Greyjoy after a couple of snips, or a problem-gambler in Vegas, who had just bet the farm and lost it all riding on #11. And the worst part of all was that I was totally alone in a strange, strange town. What a perfect time for the knight of this tale to enter the scene, eh?

In my 29 years and 11 months, it is my extremely jaded opinion that all men need to feel needed. A weak guy usually seeks out an even meeker girl. And I’ve definitely noticed that most guys lose interest in me when they figure out that I’m not weak and that I don’t need saving – not realizing that a man can still be appreciated even if he isn’t my hero. But that day in San Francisco, for the first time in my life, I did need saving. And I suppose that in my emotional state I would have been catnip to pretty much any guy, but especially to my knight in shining armour – a personal trainer with “life coach” aspirations.

He dragged me out into the daylight on that evil day and bought me lunch – tomato soup, which is my favourite food (I’m boring, I know) – and sat me down on the pier to listen to my tale of woe, as we watched the boats go by along the bay. I’m not sure why he cared or why he wanted to make such an effort with a deflated, puffy-eyed Canadian girl, but nevertheless, his protective male instincts seemed to have been triggered. He told me that I needed to eat, as he tried to force-feed me his grilled cheese and strawberry sandwich. Despite being broken, a small flame still flickered inside me that rolled its proverbial eyes as my knight attempted to rescue me from the brink. However, what probably irritated my internal spark most of all was that I didn’t hate it. In fact, there was something nice about being helpless for a change.

Lunch turned into dinner and dinner turn into exploring the lesser known parts of town until the wee hours of the morning. I’ve often said that I’ll someday write a book or start a dating blog, and that every chapter or entry will start with “The one who…” Like, “The one who bought me two flights to the Bahamas and then didn’t show up.” Well, the title of this chapter would be, “The one who went down on me for four hours and then sent me a Dr. Seuss book in the mail.” Though, I suppose it could also be called, “The one who saved me from my blackest day.” Like I said, I didn’t understand why he thought a total stranger, who was hopping the red-eye out of town the next night, was worth all the effort. But he claimed he just wanted to make me forget about everything that had happened to me that morning. I’ll never understand his motivation, but perhaps he’s just simply a better person than I am. Anyway, my trip to San Francisco will certainly go down in history as one of the great unsolved mysteries of my life – for many, many reasons. And, yes, he did actually send me a Dr. Seuss book in the mail!

I will say, after all his hard work that night, he did actually succeed in making me forget about what had happened. But once my knight left for work the next morning, the harsh light of day stung my sleepless eyes with a mean dose of reality. Being kept awake the entire night with a face between my legs tipped me over the edge. I got hit hard with a string of stress-related migraines, dizzying nausea and some sort of cold-flu hybrid. I barely survived my conference that day, and killing time before my flight that night was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. By the time I was airborne and bound for Leafs Nation, I looked so damn pathetic that the guy, who was sitting next to me on the plane, actually wrapped his blanket around me while I was sleeping! See, helpless female = man-nip!

This story doesn’t end when my plane touched down on Canadian soil again, though. I was bedridden from my mysterious illness and the illness was room-spinningly bad. My family and friends urged me to cancel my trip to Montreal and Ottawa the following day for the Florida Panthers double header. They believed I needed the weekend to recover both physically and mentally. They felt so strongly about it that they even offered to buy my tickets from me, not to go themselves, but just so I wouldn’t feel like I had lost my money on top of everything else.

It was true, I probably could have used a couple extra days to recuperate, but I just couldn’t do it. I guess when everything is stripped away you rediscover the permanent parts of yourself that are buried deep down. After you’ve been squashed, you become this lump of clay that can be reshaped into whatever you want to be next. But the clay itself is always the same. For me I knew that hockey was a huge part of that clay, and something told me that I needed those games more than I needed bed rest, especially if my life was going to start to take on some sort of form again by the time Monday morning rolled around.

And so, I stocked up on Advil Cold, got in my car and headed toward Habs territory hoping to literally recapture my lost soul when the puck dropped at the Centre Bell. Strangely enough, before the game, I got a message from one of former my students in Saudi. She was telling me about how much she missed me and reminiscing on an incident that happened last fall. It was very serendipitous that, as I was trying to remember who I truly was, someone had sent me this message to give me the answer.

We often wondered why I was the teacher who got showered with the most gifts and affection in my two years in Saudi. Some of my co-workers speculated that I must have been nicer than the other teachers. Others theorized that I was meaner and the students were trying to buy my love. I never knew the answer until that day in Montreal. I wasn’t nicer, meaner, easier or tougher. I was simply on their side no matter what.

The incident she was referring to was on the last day of class in the fall term. The university had attempted to confiscate all fifty of my students’ phones because they were taking a photo of me as a keepsake. This photo shoot is a fairly common practice on the last day of class. However, since photos of women are taboo in Saudi – a leaked selfie could cost a woman her virtue – students are not allowed to take photos on the women’s campus. So, when the university refused to let them off the hook and fault me for giving them the go ahead, we had a major stand-off. For the first time ever, I collected all their phones so the university couldn’t. The students were afraid that I would get in deep shit because of them. But I told them I didn’t care. I’m not Muslim. I am allowed to have my photo taken. I gave them permission to do it. And I wasn’t about to have their privacy violated because of me (the school has been known to go through everything on their phones and erase it). The students didn’t lose their phones that day, and some of them later told me they learned how to stand up for themselves for the first time that day too.

I didn’t think much of my actions that day. I would have done the same for anyone I was responsible for. But it wasn’t until I moved back to Toronto and saw how people are in the real world that I realized that I was actually the strange one. When I read my students message in my Montreal hotel room, it occurred to me that the reason I was “so loved” was because I was unlike any teacher I had ever had. I ran my class with an Us vs. Them attitude. We were a team and the university was the force trying to keep us from winning the cup.

What I learned in San Francisco is that in the real world of adulthood, you are always alone. It is a shark tank out there! You will always find bad teachers, horrible bosses and terrible coaches who care more about their pay checks than about doing what’s right. No one is going to help you, defend you or put themselves on the line for you. It’s every man for himself. And people like me will get burned again and again for trying to protect those who can’t protect themselves. But the reality is we all need a saviour once in awhile. I was lucky enough to have met Dr. Seuss in San Fran. My students had me. But, anyway, that day in Montreal, my former student encouraged me not to give up the good fight, and by the time I was rink side to see the Habs face-off with the Cats, I started to feel like I knew who I was again.

By the second game in Ottawa that Sunday, as I sat next to the Florida bench, I felt stronger still. I’m pretty sure hockey arena A/C is actually my life force! I may have lost it all, but instead of worrying or being afraid, I was starting to get excited about the opportunity to become something or someone else I had never dreamed of before. And that’s where I’m at right now. Of course, there is still the fear that before I can successfully rise from the ashes of my former life as a Phoenix, the winds will move in, and I’ll simply be blown away. I guess we’ll see what happens next… hockey season?


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