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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, May 30, 2005

restorations and breakups

An eventful few days.

Yesterday Kimmie and I attended the New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society's annual homes tour--about 13 heritage houses dotted in the Queen's Park and Brow of the Hill neighborhoods of New West. Among a press of other old-house enthusiasts, we queued up and entered, carrying our shoes, houses in various stages of restoration dating from between 1891 and 1936. Most of the houses have been rescued by passionate owners from long declines as rooming-houses or nursing homes, sometimes even from city-mandated demolition.

Our favorite was the 1891 Marshall English house called English Corners. A dilapidated mansion of 9,000 square feet, half-hidden behind overgrown shrubs and trees overlooking the impersonal highway of Royal Avenue, this house was a classic "before" picture of the restoration process. The inside was a series of large, high-ceilinged rooms around the central hall and staircase leading to a spacious mezzanine floor with bedrooms. The walls had been stripped to their underlying laths; the floors were all their original dark hardwood, scuffed and unfinished. Period mantels, lintels, mouldings, sinks, and toilets were piled in various rooms, awaiting their recall to duty. The restoration will be an immense project, which the new owner, a tall bearded guy who was on hand to talk about the place, is already zealously attacking (he has raised the whole house and poured a new basement, and is framing it to be his family residence while they restore the upper floors). Kimmie especially is excited at the rescue of each old house from destruction.

That kept us busy all yesterday. The evening before, Saturday, Robin appeared with her boyfriend Trevor, and they told us that they would be moving apart so that Trevor can "find himself." Trevor was the one who asked us whether Robin could move back home with us, which I found odd: why would he be Robin's spokesman to us?

"Of course," we both said. "This is Robin's home."

When Trevor, a beefy, black-haired half-Spaniard, first uttered the words that he would be moving out (he intends to return to New Westminster, where he lived when he and Robin met 4 years ago), Robin, usually calm and not given to gushing expressions of feeling like her mother, burst into tears. Kimmie went to comfort her. Trevor, softspoken and deferential, talked about how he needed some time apart to figure out what he wants in life and find a job to tide him over till 2006 when his driving-record abstract will be clear enough to allow him to get the job that he claims to want, as a professional driver. Meanwhile, he doesn't plan to "see anyone else."

I was both surprised and relieved at the news. Surprised, because Trevor had been so keen for them to move in together 2 years ago; relieved, because I never have felt that they were a good match.

We sat through a number of long silences, Kimmie and I sitting on our leather loveseat, Robin and Trevor on the matching sofa. They plan to be apart by July 1. I asked Robin whether she wanted to stay over that night, but she said no.

After they'd left, Kimmie said, "She must be devastated. I feel so bad for her."

"You feel bad now," I said, "but that's how I felt when they moved in together two years ago. In my opinion, every other possible outcome would have been much worse. Much better this than pregnancy and a shotgun wedding."

"I know," said Kimmie, "but she loves him. Her heart is broken."

"You might call it love," I said, "but I'm not so sure that's what it is. I feel like a surgeon. Yes, you'll hurt for awhile after the tumor's taken out, but that's just a blip."

"I know it's for the best," said Kimmie. "But she must be hurting so badly, I just feel for her."

"Yes," I said, "of course."

Today is Robin's 24th birthday. She's coming over in a few minutes, with Trevor, to a celebration brunch before they go on to celebrate her birthday together. Tomorrow is Robin's grad ceremony at Capilano College for the Medical Office Assistant program she has just completed. I thought about the weird synchrony of all these events at just this moment in her life. She is under stress.

Robin met Trevor 4 years ago at Seymour's Pub at the nearby Holiday Inn, where he was a DJ. He also worked as a DJ at Mugs 'n' Jugs, a strip bar in New West. Suddenly, they were a couple: none of Robin's usual slowness there.

Two years ago, in June 2003, Kimmie and I had a picnic dinner at a viewpoint bench on Capitol Hill in Burnaby. While we munched the excellent sandwiches she'd made, looking out over the spectacular view of Vancouver and the North Shore and the distant blue mountains of Vancouver Island across the water, we talked about the news we'd just received that Robin and Trev were going to move in together. I was annoyed and unhappy.

"This is folly," I said. "Folly."

"It's not our decision to make," said Kimmie. "I want to be supportive. Maybe Trev will turn himself around."

I shook my head. "I see a river of tears," I said.

In truth, it hasn't been as bad as I'd feared. Trevor has made some effort to get himself on track to a more focused life--left Mugs 'n' Jugs, improved driving record--but now he's unemployed again, and has just got his loud Camaro back on the road. I see a guy who has found domestic life to be a burden and a crimp on his lifestyle, who wants to feel freer to hang with friends in bars and drive fast among like-minded buds.

Take it, friend. Good luck. In my view Robin needs to look within to see what it was in her that saw so much appeal in Trevor in the first place.

Oh--and my book? Just some notes the past couple of days: True Believer, Origins of Scientific Thought, and a new book I just got at Coles in Park Royal: Rubicon by Tom Holland, a narrative history of the last years of the Roman Republic. So far, excellent.


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