“All women are squirrelly” a very close friend of mine once told me, “but the trick is to find one that’s the kind of nuts you can live with”.
I had become so obsessed with this restaurant life and achieving success, that weak attempts at a personal life had become a distant distraction. An enviable string of beautiful, intelligent, yet ultimately disappointed women had passed through my life, and I soon discovered that I was becoming a stereotype, and not a good one.
I’ve always loved women. The kind of spellbound, obsessive sort of love that cherishes tiny details, subtle hints, and the magnificent power of persuasion they can toss about whimsically, like giggling despots keen to test the loyalty of their subjects. I was always extremely particular, but there was always at least one thing about each one i met that could make me weak, and I revelled in it.
I learned over time that this wasn’t at all something to make my life easier, but instead a living curse. To have 52% of the population with an unreasonable amount of control and power over me, an uncanny ability to convince me to make poor decision, or simply to leave me struck dumb with fascination as i gawked at the latest target of my attention.
I asked the question so many times, ‘why would I be made to be so in love with women, why on earth would I have needed this evolutionary glitch in my DNA?’ The answer, it seems, made perfect sense.
When I met Susanne, she was my server at an East side joint run by a young aspiring restaurateur named Andrew Wong (who went on to famously build Wild Rice, with a second location opening soon). Susanne was one of those rare types that you find in the business. Carrying herself with a coy confidence, holding court over the entire dining room, and barely concealing the bounce in her step as she moved seamlessly from table to table. I wasn’t simply smitten, I was entranced.
When we eventually collided some months later, I was ravenous for her. She matched me strength for strength, and had as little time for me as I had for her. Within months, I ambushed her with a public proposal that she awkwardly accepted. It was clear that while I had managed to trick her into biting the lure, there would still be quite the fight before I could bring her into the boat.
She was strong, stubborn, and willing to fight, and I loved it. I was about to build a second restaurant, I had a beautiful, strong woman by my side, and the future was looking bright. I had no idea what was waiting for us in the coming months and years, but I would come to love and hate her stubborn will to fight, although it would eventually save both of us.
Shortly after LMB opened, Susanne stepped in and took over the reins at Fiction. She was a natural leader, and the staff, regulars, and locals embraced her immediately. As LMB grew, and overtook my life, she became the steady hand for our relationship, organizing the tiniest of details as I ran around town trying to cover the broad strokes. She managed the PR for LMB and fulfilled my dream of landing in the pages of Wallpaper* magazine, and brought us the press and coverage that eventually saw us earn Conde Nast Traveller’s coveted Top 50 New Restaurants in the World.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer some months later, neither of us were ready for it, but knowing her fighting spirit I knew the cancer didn’t stand a chance.
Life got harder, and so did we. We fought a little more, and as the chemo started taking its toll, depression kicked in. Her hair started coming out, she lost weight, and still refused to stop working 6 days a week (one day off for chemo treatment). She explained that it was the only distraction she had, and sitting at home with chemo drugs running through her was making her certifiably insane.
She kept fighting, we shaved her head (very sexy, by the way) and I was inspired to do the same (sadly not sexy on me). We kept fighting, and for years she battled cancer, we battled each other, and the battles at the restaurants continued.
She started to throw charity fundraisers at the restaurant, to raise money for other breast cancer patients to get spa treatments so that they could have one day of feeling pampered and pretty. She did work with a company that made wigs for women whose hair was falling out from chemo, and she did it all while running the restaurant, working 80 hours a week, and taking one day off for chemo.
She was a fighter, but she was getting weaker, and more frail, and prone to fits of depression. She wasn’t winning this fight, despite putting everything into it.
After a few years the doctors were out of solutions, and it was clear that it was time to fire everything we had at it. The bouncing step, easy smile, and honest, hopeful eyes had all faded, and she had the steely silhouette of a shipwrecked survivor. Her hope had faded, and she looked at me simply and asked ‘why bother?’ I loaded up the credit cards and flew us to Mexico, desperate to find some way to bring some sunshine into her life and restore the optimism and hunger for life she used to personify.
We made a plan, to take tiny little happy steps. We swam with dolphins, we para-sailed (she peed), we snorkelled in caves, and we lived only in the moment. We got as greedy as we could with every hour we had, and started to fight a different fight, a fight to answer just that question, ‘why bother’. When we returned we looked at everything we could do, and changed our diets first, and then started removing anything that might be a negative presence in our lives. There was a lot, it turns out, and it was time to clean house.
Six months later, she received a clean bill of health.
The doctors didn’t seem to care what had changed, but it had worked. Her cancer had literally shrivelled up and disappeared, and the last of her chemo treatments blasted the last bits away. (I still maintain that the tequila did all the hard work, but so far big pharma is keeping that miracle cure under wraps). We were stunned, and relieved, but the good news was dampened when they let her know that the damage of years of chemotherapy had ruled out any chance at becoming pregnant.
We kept on the path that brought us there, and proceeded to sell the restaurants (there were three by this time) and take some time to re-evaluate. For the first time in our lives since either of us were young teenagers, we weren’t in the restaurant business.
I was lost, and spent a year trying to find a job that would give me the sort of fulfilment I had gotten out of building the restaurants, and never really did. I found consulting work, and renovated the house, and started trying to figure out how to fix the world’s problems. Sue got work with a career coach helping people change their lives for the better.
One year into retirement, I couldn’t help but notice that Susanne had been sick every day that week, and a dark cloud entered my mind. Panicked, I forced her to go to the clinic and get herself checked out. In my mind I imagined the worst, and started preparing for another long battle with cancer. I did my best to keep my thoughts to myself, but I knew she was probably just as scared. The look of concern on her face when she came home from the doctors told me things were not quite kosher, and she was having a very difficult time starting the discussion.
It turned out she was pregnant.
33 weeks later, Evangeline Victoria was born 7 weeks premature while Susanne was visiting me on a work trip in Victoria. It was an emergency c-section, and it happened in seconds, but when they opened up her guts and pulled out that tiny little thing, I knew instantly the answer to both my lifelong questions. I was built to love women, their quirky bits, their silly bits, and their batshit crazy bits, so that I would fight the world for them, and not stop fighting even when it gets so hard that I think ‘why bother’. They are why I bother.
Both my girls are squirrelly, and they’re the kind of nuts that can drive a man crazy, but this is the kind of crazy I’ve been trying to find my whole life.