When I was in the ninth grade, I had two absolutely amazing teachers: Mr. Maz and Ms. Helm. They were smart, hip and highly influential in the shaping of my entire identity. Together, they cooked up the idea for a "literature” class for the 2004 school year and opened registration to all grades ten and up. When the year started, what we had was Brenda, Devin and I from grade ten, Steph and maybe one or two other girls from grade eleven and Huey, Duey and Louie from grade twelve. With the small number of students, but wide swath of high school archetypes, it started to feel like the Breakfast Club and became a very free place where we'd just talk about books and watch movies while discussing the ideas behind them. It stands to this day as the best class I've ever had.
At the time, my favourite band was Megadeth, and I had about two feet of flowing blonde hair to display that fact. Growing up with a balding father and three women in the house, there was always shampoo made for volume in the shower. My hair was magnificent; a total babe magnet and the catalyst to my first real encounter with the woman I'd go on to marry.
She approached me as I sat in the Spanish classroom. Our rag-tag group migrated around the school on a weekly basis because we were so small; our classroom would always be stolen by other, more substantial classes.
She comes up to me and innocently says, "can I touch your hair?" Now this was, and still is, my Kryptonite. So, for the next eighty minutes, I had a gorgeous young lady running her fingers through my hair as we talked about music, movies and anything else high school kids talk about. I could have gotten a job with DeBeers as a diamond cutter in that moment, I can still feel the ache that took over my entire body near the end of that class. After that day, we always kept in casual contact.
I had two girlfriends in high school. One for about six months in the tenth grade, and the other for the rest of my time at St. Joe's, starting at the end of that same year. Steph and I were never a high school thing, she had a boyfriend at the time and for the next four years until they broke up. That was when I was in college.
As we all know from art, internet porno and life itself, college kids want to get it on. That was certainly the case with me, and although there weren't a lot of girls, I got to know a few pretty well. One of those girls was Stephanie. Years passed, she moved away to Edmonton and I settled into "adult" life in Grande Prairie. She came and went, always going back to Edmonton after a night together. We'd use each other, like young people do, get high, watch movies and talk about books and music. She became a great friend without me even noticing from behind the wall of sex.
It was 2011 and I had been living in a bachelor's suite in downtown Grande Prairie. Steph was in the city and came in to see me at The Store; we made a dinner date for later that night. We met at the Tony Roma's on the west end and she looked absolutely phenomenal. I still have the image of her sitting at the table wearing a thin blue and white stripped hoodie, looking at me with those big blue eyes of hers just seared into my brain. We instantly clicked in a way we never had before, diving head first into a conversation before we even really sat down. Our server had to come back twice before we had even opened our menus. The dinner was amazing, and the night that followed was even better. In the morning before I went to work, I dropped her off on the north side at her vehicle, and I realized something had happened between us in the night when I couldn't keep myself together that day. I was moody and angry, like something dear was taken from me. In hindsight, I figured that it had been. Steph was all I could think about, it was my Wayne Campbell moment.
"She will be mine. Oh yes. She will be mine."
So, about a week later, I swallowed the ridiculous pride that a twenty-two-year-old can have, and I text her.
"I can't stop thinking about you."
Turns out I wasn't alone in thinking that the night was too special to let slide away. We had a few really intense talks, and when the dust settled we decided to give it a shot, five hundred kilometres apart.
We trucked through nine months of that. Every two weeks, one of us would make the five-hour road trip to the other's house. When I look back at the first few years of my twenties, those were some of the best times I had. I felt alive bombing down the highway, listening to The Chronic 2001 and 808s and Heartbreaks, rushing to see the woman who waited. I loved it even more when I'd get to come home from work and she'd be waiting for me in my own home.
Eventually the distance became too much and we had to have the talk. She was done with Grande Prairie, there was nothing there for her except for her parents. I, on the other hand, had nothing to really keep me anywhere at that time. I figured, why not have an adventure? So, in the middle of the night we packed up what little I had and took off for Edmonton.
That was my twenty-third birthday. Steph had to work that day so, at five o'clock, she headed down the highway. She got to me at about ten that night and we loaded her Equinox with the remainder of my possessions and started the trek back. At three a.m. we hit Fox Creek and had less than a quarter of a tank in the truck. All stations were closed, Whitecourt was out of reach and there was nothing on the way. We pull into the FasGas parking lot and scope out their hours: open at 5:30. Defeated, we drove around the building and found a cozy little spot against the side of a motel, put on Stevie Wonder's greatest hits and smoked a joint in the light of the street lamps.
I've never felt closer to nirvana in my life than in that moment. All of my key possessions were packed behind us. Our heads were inches from my four-tonne electric piano that we hauled up from the basement to cram into the vehicle through the hatchback. My bass and guitars were nestled under the back seats behind us. There was such a sense of peace and new beginning that we just faded away into the leather seats until dawn shined into our faces and took me home.
Some will tell you to follow your brain, some will tell you to follow your heart. I say you do what feels right, no matter what part of your body is leading.
We married in April of 2016. I was twenty-six, she was twenty-seven. Throughout history, it seems like the average age for marriage and births has gone from between sixteen and seventeen, to somewhere between twenty-nine and thirty-two. I felt like we were getting married young, and I guess we were. We were smart about it though, it wasn’t a surprise engagement—the event was, but not the plan. We had talked everything through. Career goals, life goals, opinions on the important things—not that we hadn’t before, our relationship was five years long at this point, we were just going through the checklist and making sure everything was copacetic so I’d have a(n) (almost) guaranteed answer waiting for me.
The very first thing we talked about was children. Neither of us want them. We’ve each had children in our lives, we watch our friends with kids and we have wholeheartedly agreed to abstain from them. Now, personally, I haven’t always had these feelings. When I turned twenty, I announced to my family that I was an adult now, and that I had a five-year plan to marry and have a kid. Twenty (20) years old. I type that out and I’m still bewildered that I thought it was a good plan. I was working at The Store (a big box electronics retailer) and thought I was lining myself up for a career. I thank God every day that I didn’t go down that road; I can picture 35 year-old Joel, 16 year veteran of The Store with a thick neck and a thin neckbeard. Huge gut; perpetually leaning back. I worked with six of those guys. Half of them lived with their moms, the other half lived together.
I had my wife in mind too. Her name is Joan, we worked together while going to different schools together and always seemed to stay in touch. Ultra-casual, ultra-easy friendship. One night, I somehow managed to convince her to come to the formal Christmas party The Store was having. She was a knockout that night—I was so insecure being with a woman that looked like her. I even borrowed my mom’s Cadillac so I didn’t have to drive my damn hooptie with her in a beautiful dress and me in my ill-fitting suit packed inside.
Note to all boys/men in their teens/early twenties: you don’t look good in that suit. You look dumb—you’re in the mall for God’s sake. But, props to you for matching the fedora; I’m just glad you’re not wearing a hoodie and jeans with that fucking thing. But seriously, find a tailor or seamstress. Off the rack makes you look like a hobo.
From that night on, in my head, I was playing the long-con to somehow marry Joan. Con is a word I chose deliberately: it was going to happen. We were going to have kids and everything. I told her this, and she didn’t react badly, but she did live in a different city. I was an ineffectual kid, I didn’t do a lot. Didn’t make a lot of moves. I could never bring myself to do anything other talk big when it came to Joan. Eventually I gave it up, thank god. When I was co-hosting The Semi-Awesome Podcast with Tyler Fudge, there was an episode where I found a letter I had written to Joan but had never sent. In my mind, this letter was the first step towards making her fall in love with me. And yes, again, I chose my language correctly. That was my mentality back then. I can make her fall in love with me.
You see, I was a nice guy. Yeah, one of those guys. “Have sex with me, because I’m a nice guy who never tries to have sex with you. I guess you could say you owe me one for being so cool.” I was a disaster; a horrible excuse of a boy, especially one who was raised by women. My late teens and early twenties really bother me to look back at because of how I treated women. I had that disgusting mentality of entitlement and white-knighthood. I pushed boundaries and made people uncomfortable. I was, truly, trash. I was such good friends with girls in elementary and junior high, and never with expectations—very innocent friendships. But then, puberty came along and completely poisoned my brain to my training by women.
When I gave up on my five-year plan, Steph came along. That’s how love works. You bang your head against a wall for years, and the second you decide to give up and get a bandage for your wound—you fall in love with the first-aid kit.
When we first got together, I still had a fixation on children. They were my end goal. When Steph and I talked about it, she would express how she didn’t want them at all. I heard this, I understand that it’s her body, and if she doesn’t want to put a baby in it—that’s cool, but she didn’t want kids in any form (this includes the types you grow, farm or pick out.) That was a blow to me. And then, somewhere, my outlook changed. The babies that had been in my life were now old enough to walk, talk and go to school, and to tell the truth, I only liked half of them anymore. By the time I popped the question, we were unanimous in our decision and confident in the life we had planned.
After the wedding, it started like clock work. Almost the first thing said to us was, “now when’re you having kids!?” We’d smile and laugh and give a very non-confident, “Oh, I don’t think kids are for us,” or something of the like. The responses are almost all the same, “Oh, you’ll change your mind,” or, “Oh, you never know—accidents happen.” And, at the time, we were okay with it. We knew those questions would come, and in the euphoria of the wedding, it was easy to laugh off and move past—especially because of the amount of people, and the fact we were in Cuba. When we got home though, is when things started to turn.
Our families are one thing; our mothers know we don’t want children, so they only ever asked once. They have their answer and respect their children. Extended family is another thing. It seems like when it comes to this question alone, they fit in more with strangers than family. You see, strangers, acquaintances, co-workers—when you tell them you just got married, or they notice your ring, or whatever happens that causes that fucking question to come up; when you tell them in very black and white language: “We’re not having kids,” the answer is the same as it was on the beach, only this time there’s more meaning and gusto behind it. I cannot state how much I do not need my wife to “poop a fuck-trophy out of her front-butt” to be fulfilled as an adult. That quote is from Chris Hardwick, Funcomfortable (2016).
The answer for extended family, strangers, co-workers and whoever the fuck else wants to ask, isn’t good enough. “I’m not having kids,” is an unacceptable answer to some people. I don’t know how many times my wife and I have wanted to scream, “THEN WE’LL GET AN ABORTION!” at the people who tell us that “accidents happen,” with a wink and a smile. But, what really gets me thinking, is that fact a lot of people can’t conceive naturally.
What if Steph and I had dedicated the entire first year of our marriage to getting pregnant, only to come back empty handed? What if we were infertile? What a horrendous thing to be asked about by strangers when you’re trying your best. If you valued the ability to have children, it would probably hurt your ego, your self-esteem and pretty much your entire sense of worth. That’s not my truth, but it is for some people, and they don’t deserve to have you poking at an issue because society dictates that you get to be nosey about that particular subject. It’s time for that to end, because traditional marriage is over. My wife and I will identify with the phrase partners for life over husband and wife any day of the week. I, as a man, am not the provider. I am a contributor, as is she. She, as a woman, is not the homemaker, she’s the WIDOWMAKER—Appearing this Sunday at the Northgate Lions’ Senior Center, taking on her arch-rival, THE PATRIARCHY, in a no-holds-barred cage match!!! Tickets $10 at the door or free with a food bank donation! (No pie filling, please).
Well, no not really, but she is a balance to me. Gender roles in our marriage have largely been abolished, and we feel no need to bring another life without paws into our house.
We’re not having kids because we’re not having kids. I don’t need to go into any more detail than that, because I can see what good it does for some people—we are not those people. We're not selfish. We're not broken. We're not “hoarding our love.” We're making a choice, and god damn it, we will be respected for it.
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.