A Feast of Friends

“I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car –a really nice car– and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.” Anthony Bourdain

 

Today is always a hard day for me. A day to be endured and survived.

Lived through.

When I awoke and saw the horrible news that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life, and on this particular date, I was slammed by so many feelings at once.

I know many are mocked when they grieve a public person in a personal way, but the ignorance in that sentiment is that these people have been in our homes. Sometimes daily.

We spend time with them when we can’t face the thought of being with our own people and trying to explain why we hurt. We hope they take our minds off our own shit and we feel not so alone in the world when they are with us.

Sometimes it is just their voice on the television, during our self-imposed disconnection to space and time – on our couches or in our beds, that keeps us tethered by a delicate strand to the rest of the world.

June 8 2002 is the day I had a horrific accident in my car with a freight train.

My passenger, a beautiful young girl, died on top of me in the car. (Official version to keep questions to a minimum.)

In reality, her head was severed from her body and was in my lap.

I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following that accident, and had no control over the thoughts that appeared in my head forever after that.

Over the years, I have gathered many tools in my toolbox, and am pretty happy with my ability to quickly pull them out as needed. It is exhausting, but I always quickly remind myself that the alternative to surviving and being left in this state is not and has never been an option for me.

I am fortunate in that I have not ever suffered with depression as so many others do. My thing is crippling anxiety and panic attacks, and as long as I can get myself to my safe place internally, all is good.

Following my discharge from the hospital all those years ago, I spent many, many days at home on my couch, watching Anthony on A Cook’s Tour, and would drift in and out of my opiate dreams to the sound of his voice. I could fall asleep on a tour of Tokyo, and awaken in Cambodia with Tony, traveling the narrow aisles of the market, joking with the locals and joyously taking in the beautiful tastes and culture of the places we traveled together.

I just knew his was a soul I connected to. He had the same absolute enjoyment, interest and fascination with other cultures and their ways of living that I have always had. The intuitive respect and understanding that the differences are what brings us closer together.

His was a wandering spirit, as is mine. I know he was not always in the same place his physical body was in, and that his mind went even more places than he ever showed us on his many programs.

And to be superficial but honest? He was so hot.

Most recently, his passionate support for the #metoo movement made me love and admire him even more. For a man of his age and generation, to stand beside and sometimes in front of women that were being brutally crucified on social media, showed me his heart and what a wonderful human being he was at the core.

To have someone like Tony as an ally for this movement, firing shots at misogynists on Twitter and in the press, made me so incredibly happy.

Years ago, after recuperating from my physical injuries and in a good place with the mental ones, I thought of writing him and thanking him for “being there” for me during my recovery. I wanted him to know that he played such a huge part daily in my healing. And then I scoffed at myself that someone as famous as him likely receives so much mail, that he couldn’t possibly have time to read it all.

Hearing that he took his life today makes me wish I had reached out to him back then. Just on the off-chance that he did see that letter.

So he would know in those places inside him that hurt, that he had healed another person just by being himself and sharing his life and experiences with us all.

That he had made a difference in my life and at a time when I was most vulnerable and alone, he provided me with something more important than a culinary masterpiece – he gave me hope that if I could survive one more day, I could perhaps travel with him from my home to the next exotic place.

Rest in Peace Anthony – what a life and legacy you leave behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sticks & Stones

From the comfort of my chair this past week, I have bemusedly watched the extraordinary ruckus evolving over one woman’s use of the c-word as a descriptor towards another woman. And while in my younger years, that was the worst word that anyone could use to describe a woman, I am pondering why it just doesn’t strike me as the worst,  or even newsworthy anymore.

Add in the fact that the recipient of that particular arrow of truth deserved that and even worse, made me shake my head in disbelief that in a week full of horrifying news about 1500 missing children, reversals of women’s rights and vile racist twitter rants (shame on you, Roseanne), the fact that one woman called another woman a feckless cunt is what rang the outrage bell for so many.

There were times in my past that even having the word bitch thrown my way would have staggered me if flung carelessly from a male mouth in my direction. But I grew up and I grew older and I staggered and sometimes crawled through the struggles and losses that were written into my book of life, and I came to realize that words spilling from someone else’s lips, especially someone whose opinion I neither asked for nor could care less about, meant nothing.

Yes, words hurt, and history has shown that the female gender is incredibly adept, sly and manipulative about the ways in which we can tear each other apart and spit each other out. What we lack in physical strength, we have always compensated for in our emotional arrows and insults that we fire at own kind. We have always been oh so careful in our roles as nurturers to not tear the males down within our orbits – making excuses for them, protecting them- falling on our own fucking swords over and over  again and then proudly showing them the blood of our self-martyring as symbols of our love and sacrifice for them.

I hold women to higher standards than men, and while I am aware that is wrong and feeds into the martyr syndrome I just described, it has been my own personal experience that women are just better at the loving emotional support that most of us need during the changing seasons of our lives. (minus our middle school ages).

I expect women to support and mentor and teach and raise each other up. To correct and school each other when we damn well need it, but to also be there with arms wide open and with intentional, focused love and forgiveness when we stumble and fall. Tearing each other down at the first sight of blood in a feeding frenzy just alienates us further, and increases the perception that we are indeed those derogatory words so often used to hurt and minimize us all.

I would give anything to gather up the 3 women who were discussed ad nauseam this past week. To invite them into my home and offer them tea or a shot of bourbon and then question what the hell got us all to this place where one was tearing other women down in racists tweets, another was posting a clueless picture of herself holding her child with pithy wording about how nice it is to have your child in your arms, during a week when almost 1500 misplaced children were reported . Ask the last one how frustrated and angry she had to have been to aim and fire that taboo word out on public television at the complicit one whose life is so entitled that she is blissfully ignorant and unaware of the walls that most of us have had to kick down in order to find our own places and spaces within this patriarchal society.

I would sit with them and try to understand what their individual experiences have been  thus far that brought them to those penultimate moments in their lives this past week. Listen with non-judgmental empathy, and hopefully work toward a commonality of some sort that we could all embrace together. Dig through the layers, peel the onions, and cry the necessary tears. Laugh together, and listen and learn from each other how we get to these moments where we forget that most important learning passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter since time began.

In telling our own stories and sharing our pain with each other, we can only grow stronger. It will  only be in the safety of our sacred goddess circle – in the telling and re-telling of these truths and in the sharing of our crone wisdom to our own daughters and other women’s daughters, that we will be able to open the doors to healing and understanding.

At the times that I have been most broken in my own life, it has been my tribe of women who have stepped off fearlessly and then down into the morass with me and held my hand.

It is women who have made the choice to suffer beside me in my pain. To unflinchingly absorb that which was simply too enormous for me to endure alone.

Joanne, who came hundreds of miles immediately to tend to my sons’ hearts and well-being following my accident, when no one was sure I would survive another day. Who has answered her phone too many times to count, only to listen to me cry long distance without saying a word. Who has listened with her whole heart to my jagged pain, and who has healed me in so many ways without ever saying a word. Who once asked me the question that jump-started my journey of discovery, ” When are you going to love yourself as hard as you love everyone else?” If I ever met my soul mate, it is Joanne. That is a truth I know on such a deep soul level, that nothing and no one could ever convince me otherwise.

She was absolutely sent to me by a divine entity and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I would take a bullet for my “Dodo”.

Cindy, who taught me that softness can frequently get you far further than strength can, and who showed me by example that forgiveness is often the best way to heal your own broken heart. Who sat with me following the loss of my first child, in my own dark night of the soul, holding my limp, cold hand in hers. Who refused to let me slip away into madness, and who held onto me so tightly and lovingly for the rest of her short life, that I was able to endure her loss by reaching down deep to the lessons she taught me and sharing them with the child she left behind.

Marilyn & Evelyn, the sisters. My mother and my aunt. Who stood beside me as that impossibly small casket was taken out of the car and carried toward us all. First their hands intertwined. Then their arms around each other, a merging of strength for each other and for me. Both of them reaching for me after it was all over. Pulling me between them, and holding me up with them. Infusing me symbiotically with the knowledge of their combined years of suffering and of the fact that it is in the enduring and the surviving that we grow from girls into women. Pulling me along to walk with them, until my legs were strong enough that I could walk again on my own.

It is now the time for me to share these lessons with the younger women I know, and to pass on the wisdom of those that have walked and suffered and endured long before me. To share the love and strength that has been shared with me and to work to keep the circle intact long after I am gone.

All of us have been called bitches in our lives and some have even been called *cunts, but no matter what you call us, there is absolutely no way we will be silenced, or kept down, or defeated.

 

* even spell-check doesn’t approve of this one!

 

 

The Last of the Bad Boys

What door have you closed in your life, and why?
Will you ever open it again?

I almost recall writing something for a prompt like this one time, and should go see what I responded then, but in reality, it was likely something completely different, and that would make perfect sense to me at this point in my journey.

I have been in 3 relationships in my life that I would classify as serious.

One I married and two I didn’t. To add to the confusion, I am still legally married to the 1st and likely will be for the rest of my life, as I took a stand and refused to pay the paltry $ 230.00 to file for the divorce, insisting he do it, and I am rather afraid that after years of towing the line with that stubborn man, I decided that refusing to suck it up and pay would be my hill to die on – my last hurrah- my middle finger adios to that man.

That first relationship started when I was 17 and ended when I was 34. In all honesty, it likely should have ended 10 years before that, but there were children to feed, and thoughts that boys needed their father, and a definite dread of the unknown. My wings had not even started to bud yet, so stay I did.

For awhile. Physically.

The second , who we will refer to as Rebound – began when I was still tied up in the first and the third – let’s call him Broken Billy – began while I was untangling, not so graciously from the second.

I understand my part in the breakdown of these relationship and take full responsibility for my lack of communication in at least two of them. There is only one of them that I allowed to see the whole me – the saviour, the sinner, the grotesque, and the reprehensible.

Broken Billy is my last relationship, which took place from 35-52, and in the most literal sense, almost finished me, in every way possible.

I really should back up a bit, though, and talk about Rebound for at least a paragraph. He was an American that I met through work. He had a contract with the software company I worked for and used to frequently be at my office for weeks at a time. Due to the sad state I was in at the end of my marriage, it was so easy for my eyes to see him as my knight on a white horse. He was handsome, charming, very witty, and so, so smooth, compared to what I was used to in men. He was educated. He dressed really well and smelled even better. We had a mutual love of music, which I had never experienced during my marriage. Anytime I put on music, my ex husband would yell to turn it off. I know this sounds crazy, but if you are a music lover, you will understand this on such a deep level.

So, as these things usually go, I allowed myself to be swept up by Rebound and when he wasn’t in Canada, I was down in California with him. I must have known he was only with me for a season, as my children never met him, and he asked me many times to arrange that. I will always be eternally thankful to him for building me back up, after the years of wilting on the vine I had done with my husband. He made me feel beautiful and desirable and pampered me in ways I wasn’t aware were even possible. He was very financially secure and took me to restaurants and bought me clothing and flowers and it was like living in a dream state. He eventually wanted me to move to California and live with him, but I couldn’t take my sons so far away from their Dad, so sadly, I ended it with him. Not in a nice clean way, either.

In the way I always do.

Drift, drift, drift away until I have disappeared without you even knowing I am gone.

Don’t feel badly for him – he is married now and retired to Phoenix and apparently raising his wife’s granddaughters with her, which is nice, as he never had children of his own.

During the time I was with Rebound, I saw a well-known psychic in California and not one of the hucksters. One that was very successful for many years and built quite the empire with books, media, and appearances. I asked her one question and it was if Rebound loved me. She looked me right in the eyes and said ” yes, he loves you, but the next one will love you more than anyone ever has or ever will for the rest of your life.”

Broken Billy showed up in my life thanks to my ex husband. We used to laugh about how he introduced us, actually. How ironic life could be sometimes. I think about that sometimes now, looking back and it makes even more sense now that, of course he showed up that way.

My brother was couch surfing at my place at the time, and had left my phone number with BB, as the last time he saw him, he didn’t know where he would be, but his sister would always know, so gave him my phone number at the house I no longer lived at- hubby refused to leave, so I moved out with the kids.

So, BB shows up at my place, looking for my brother, and finds him. I just happened to be having friends over that evening, and he stayed, as he hadn’t seen my brother in a year or so. It was a beautiful summer night, and some of us were outside and some of us inside, and at one point I walked back inside to refill a drink or grab more chips for the bowl and came upon the sight of BB sitting with my older son, who was about 13, in a corner, looking through his sketchbook with him. My son looked so happy to have the attention and I felt a profound overwhelming love in my heart, that he dragged that sketchbook everywhere with him, and someone was showing interest in his talent. His own Dad had shown little of that, and it hurt us both.

I had just sort of bookmarked BB into the “brother’s friends” category, and they were mostly a motley crew, so I was surprised to see one of them choosing to spend time talking with a teenager at a party where there were plenty of adults to socialize with. It saddens me now, that I would be struck so deeply at the time by a simple act of kindness towards my child.

It made me look at him differently.

I had always been with big men, tall men, loud men.

BB was only an inch or so taller than me. Soft spoken. Slight.

He almost looked like an accountant, which is hilarious if you knew the types of men I usually go for.

He made no sense to my friends and even less sense to me, but he was persistent!

I now know that a lot of what occurred should have been red flags , but I was too stupid and naïve to see any of them.

He moved in with me 2 months later. It made sense. He was there all the time anyway and when he wasn’t there, he was on the phone to me constantly. Checking up on me and the kids.

Asking if I needed anything.

Making himself indispensable.

Weaving himself seamlessly into my life.

He shared so many secrets with me about his childhood. Horrific tales of insane, abusive stepfathers, and molestation and neglect. I held him while he cried, and my maternal, nurturing, codependent self just inhaled all that pain and suffering like it was oxygen and I needed it to survive. I engulfed his agony in all its glory and made it my own.

He checked himself into Casa Shannon and totally absorbed me in every way.

I asked him one pitch black night to just go slowly. I begged him to not make me fall in love with him. I was terrified. I had never experienced a symbiotic relationship like this before and must have had some precognition that I would not survive it if I allowed myself to fall.

The highs were so high with him….oh, but those lows…they were absolutely death-defying in every way.

Broken Billy had found his parasitic twin soul in me, with my dysfunctional childhood and lack of attention my entire life. Grown up in chaos and unpredictability and now madly pin-wheeling backwards right into the womb of uncertainty and danger with a partner by my side.

He will always be the love of my life and I don’t have the energy to tell that entire tale today, but it wasn’t pretty and it ended very, very, very badly.

Hurt people hurt people.

Broken people reach for things that will numb them from the memories that will not give them a moment’s peace, playing over and over and over again in their minds.

They steal goodness, and hope, and dreams and love, and they feed and they feed and they feed over and over like piranhas on anything pure and honest and full of light, trying to fill themselves in all the places they are empty.

Even when you give them everything you have, and are, and eventually turn into someone you don’t even recognize.

When you disappear totally from the inside out and fear you will never find yourself again.

They never let go.

Not because they love you more than anyone ever has or ever will, but because you are their last branch to hold onto when the river is rising and it is human instinct to pull someone under to drown with you, even when they are trying to keep you alive.

The door that is closing for me and never opening again is loving anyone more than I love myself.

Hey Mom

Hey Mom,

It’s such a beautiful day today and I know how much you love warm sunny days and taking every opportunity to spend your time outside during them.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the back step watching you with clothespins in your mouth, carefully hanging all our whites out in the sun so they would be dry by noon, and the line ready for all the heavier clothes to dry in afternoon heat.

You always seemed so much happier outdoors. It was like the sun soothed you, and the fresh air somehow carried your many worries away with the breeze. You would find any excuse to be outside the house, whether that was coaching baseball, spontaneously deciding the house needed repainting, or just sitting in a lawn chair in the evenings, having coffee with the neighbours or my friends as we grew old enough to take part in adult conversations.

While going through your things, I spent a lot of time picking through pictures in a box- snapshots in time of you as a child, and teenager. Formal shots lined up in front of Grampa’s stunning flower beds, and silly shots of you being at the lake with your Mom.

Those pictures made my heart ache for some reason. I never knew that carefree you, with the ear to ear grin. I wondered at what point in your life that apparent sass left you and the more somber, reserved you appeared.

Was it Dad and the price you paid for loving  a broken man like him?

Was it the weight of carrying all the responsibility for keeping us all alive, as the only adult in the room?

I so wish I could have magically traveled through time just to spend one day with you back when your smile was like that and your eyes sparkled with fun and mischief. If we could have somehow been contemporaries, living in the same time and place- would we have been friends? I think we may have been, you know. I see traces of myself in those pictures of you. I had that same trust in my eyes looking at you, as you had looking at your Mom. Not crystal-clear and evident in a quick glance, but there if you spent the time analyzing the snapshots closely.

Definitely there, Mom.

We always struggled, you and I, but always came back together, after a time out- a cooling off period. You would just suddenly call like nothing had ever happened, and I would respond back in the same vein, our problems buried instead of resolved.

You never apologized once for any disagreements or arguments we had. I felt so overpowered by your opinions and beliefs that I could feel myself shrinking in your presence, fumbling, stuttering for the words that I could never seem to find in order to  defend myself or my choices, or my actions.

You were right in the end about oh so many things, Mom, and I should have listened to you and followed your advice. I certainly became the queen of cutting off my nose, to spite my face, now, didn’t I? I can hear you laughing right now at me dusting off that old gem. I still use “gallivanting” and “jack of all trades, master of none” on at least a monthly basis, though, so your words didn’t totally fall on deaf ears. I heard you even when I was pretending not to.

My boys adore you, Mom, and did from the first time they looked into your eyes as infants and felt your overwhelming love for them. Your most uninhibited and loving moments were your moments with my boys. Mark and I would laugh about how you transformed into a woman we didn’t know at all with them. The woman who would give potato chips on the side rather than vegetables with a sandwich. The woman who actually cut the crusts off the bread for the picky eater, or who suddenly thought Popsicles and Freezies were suitable main courses for that same picky eater, while simultaneously coaxing Flintstones vitamins into him.

Watching you with my children thawed something inside of me, Mom, and made our relationship better than it had ever been in the past; closer, more authentic and honest. I would frequently ask your advice and heed it, knowing you knew better than I did and had raised children to adulthood, while I was still a novice. It was suddenly me, rather than you, coordinating time with each other. It was me calling you you crying and scared about how high a fever could go before it was an emergency, and it was your calm, soothing voice I clung to for dear life, as you explained all the times you had sat up yourself with feverish babies and children during the night hours.

Showing up at my door after working all day and insisting I hand the colicky, screaming baby over to you so you could walk with him, which allowed me to take a shower and get out of my pajamas at 5 P.M. Reassuring me that he hadn’t stopped crying for you because I was a horrible mother, but had just cried himself tired and that he sensed my fear, so kept reacting to it. Then you told me to grab my purse and go for a walk or a drive- to go away for an hour or two and leave you with him and his brother. God, if you only knew how much that hour provided me with the strength to come home and start it all over again. I cannot even remember if I thanked you properly for that or not and that dismays me now. Thank you, Mom- your help made me such a better mother than I could have ever been on my own without your sage advice and counsel.

You have always, always, been there for me, along every stage of my life and I know I have hurt you over the years, as our children always do.

I remember the way your face fell the day I looked at you incredulously when you commented that we were best friends, and I let a lifetime of feeling oppressed by you colour my response to your perception of our relationship.

I remember your trying to comfort me following Dad’s death, and my pulling away from you, and suggesting in my grief that I would be just fine and that your attention and comfort would be better received by Mark, your favourite. What an utterly bitchy, mean thing for me to say to someone reaching out to care for me.

I know you understood and forgave more for it. But I also know I had a part in taking some of your shine away that day forever.

Every December 20th for 42 years, the first thing I heard was your not so great voice singing happy birthday to me either in person or over the phone line. That makes me smile and feel so loved and wanted, Mom, and always will.

In the time since 2006, I now have to purchase purses, pillows and my own underwear, which has turned out to be a colossal pain in my ass. I know that makes you laugh, as well, and I am sitting here laughing with you.

It provides me with so much comfort that you and Mark can talk daily now, as you were always so close, but makes me sad that I only have this one day in the sunshine with you.

Sitting in the sunshine here with you now, I see you raise your face up towards the sky and close your eyes, much like you did another time we were sitting together outside towards the end of your life.

I watch the worry lines fading from your face, and suddenly you are once again that sassy, beautiful young girl outside and away from the walls that surrounded you most of your life.

I reach over and take your hand in mine, put a soft kiss on your cheek, and whisper to you that in spite of the many times you doubted it, I always loved you best and realize now that I would not be where or who I am without you as my guide.

XOXO

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boys of Winter & Prairie Things

I was sitting in Dairy Queen on Saturday, grabbing a quick bite before heading to my friend’s husband’s memorial service, when I was suddenly, and without any control at all, overcome with tears. I sat there for a few moments, trying to stop the flow, and kept my head down, in order to hide my face from those at tables surrounding mine.

People that were with their children, no doubt fueling up prior to spending a Saturday running errands, taking the kids to indoor leisure centers or movies or even the pool. Endless possibilities and even more activities that every Canadian family has spent Saturdays doing.

Maybe even headed to play hockey.

The tears didn’t start because I was heading to a memorial. My friend’s husband had lived a long, full, productive life and after a relatively quick battle with cancer, had succumbed to the sweet hereafter, with his family and loved ones surrounding him. Medicated, pain-free and at peace.

On Friday evening of April 6th, a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team  was struck by a semi trailer 30 kilometers north of Tisdale, Saskatchewan. The team was on its way to Game 5 of a semifinal against the Nipawin Hawks, also in Saskatchewan, when the crash occurred around 5 p.m.

I heard about the accident on Friday evening, saw brief new items, which were very minimal, as the accident scene was still active, with reports of a code orange event having been called. I systematically shut down as many visceral imaginings as I could, took some medication, and called it a night. Due to my own intimate experience with motor vehicle accidents, and the subsequent post traumatic stress disorder that evolved following, I simply cannot see too many disturbing images or sit with tragedy for too long, before the anxiety starts for me.

I am ashamed to admit that.

Who am I to have the chemical luxury of not fully feeling and empathizing with the pain and suffering of those whose experiences so closely mirror my own?

I feel like a coward when I do this. When I reach for the medication.

I can rationalize that I am only protecting myself and my fragile mental state. I know I have to keep myself safe from intrusive thoughts and anxiety. I can cognitively defend my decisions, having been diagnosed by medical professionals. I instinctively know when it is time to disconnect from the world around me in order to regroup and still my racing heart, my shaking hands, and slow the talons of razor sharp fear digging at my insides.

But I will never not feel like a coward when I do it.

I am a mother of boys. I grew up on the prairies in Canada and most of my memories of childhood are being out in the cold, with my friends, on the ice. Skating, sledding, snowmobiling.

Prairie Winter
Photo credit: Ian McGregor https://www.flickr.com/photos/ian_mcgregor/

It’s how we make the best of so many months of cold weather and snow.

Most of the boys I dated as a young girl had dreams of making it in the NHL. They were on community flooded rinks by the age of 3, with hockey sticks in their hands. My parents and my friend’s parents billeted boys from other places, who chased their dreams of being the next Bobby Orr or Ken Dryden. Boys who left their homes and traveled…by bus…every weekend…to play hockey. Across highways and secondary roads, with the hoarfrost on the trees and the piles of silvery snow glinting the sun’s reflection for miles and miles of farmland.

Boys that age are so full of life! That young male energy, with testosterone bouncing off the walls. There is nothing that can come close to the sound of a group of young males that age all laughing and horsing around. The communal ebullience of the upcoming game zapping through the air on the bus like chain lightning. That bravado that seems to be worn so comfortably and without apology only by boys that age, with their entire lives ahead of them.

I won’t go into details that I have since read or seen via media, as my words today aren’t meant to focus on the logistics of the accident.

It is about the tragedy of so many young lives taken far, far too soon, and the years of recuperation and recovery ahead for the survivors; the timeless grief that those left behind will now live with for the rest of their lives.

As a mother, my heart breaks for the parents, spouses, siblings, and children left behind that have had their worlds turned upside down. Those broken souls that will now begin the very real and painful work of trying to put as many pieces as they can back together again.

As a fighter myself, I pray that the survivors who lived through the terror of that crash can reach deep down inside themselves and find the strength they will need to live long, productive, happy lives in spite of this tragedy. I hope that all that know them will stand with them in support and hold them up when they feel weak and scared.

I hope that they never have to explain to anyone in the coming years why they suddenly start crying in a random Dairy Queen  on a sunny Saturday afternoon and that their communities of loved ones and friends realize that things will never, ever be the same.

This morning, I read that one of the victims, Logan Boulet, was an organ donor- he signed up for one when he turned 21. Because of his selflessness at such a young age, 6 lives will be lived due to his generosity of spirit.

A gofundme account set up shortly following the accident, has so far received  $5,730,448.00. I think the original goal was something like $10,000.00.

Ryan Straschnitzki, upon being given the news by his parents that  he is paralyzed from the chest down responded with “well, I’m gonna get onto the Olympic sledge hockey team.”

May we always hold the prairie boys of winter, those boys that were lost, within our hearts and memories and may we always be ready, willing and able to help those that survived in the coming months and years with putting the pieces back together once again.

Oh, Canada.

 

Circles, Chains & Old Men

He leaned close to me as he left my home 2 weeks ago, and I moved closer, as well, expecting his customary good-bye kiss on my cheek. With a rattly whisper that only the elderly have, he said in my ear ” July 1968. Look for me and help me understand.”

I said “of course” as I received the good-bye kiss and after making sure his coat was buttoned right, I sent him out my front door, wondering what he meant, and worried a bit about him, as I could sense his distress.

I met Moe almost 20 years ago, when he was speaking at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that I was invited to attend to watch my friend pick up his 1 year chip. As I walked out of the meeting and to my car, Moe started walking faster to catch up to me and walk by my side. He told me he had sponsored my friend and had witnessed his many struggles, that he believed until my friend loved himself, and came to terms with his trauma from his childhood, he would continue to struggle with his addictions. We walked together, talking, and I felt myself warming to this wiry little man, who in his 60s, had me walking faster to keep up with.

When we arrived at the parking lot, he handed me what he called his “card” – actually a scrap of white paper with his name and phone number hand written on it, and told me to call him if I ever wanted to grab a coffee or chat. I think at the time, he thought we could work together as support for our mutual friend.

Over the years, he has been in and out of my life. We have gone years without contact, and then he will reappear suddenly or call me out of the blue and ask how things are going with me and my boys. When his wife died, he took over caring for her developmentally delayed daughter, who is a few years older than I am. Sometimes he needed advice on medical issues with her, or just someone to write a letter advocating for more care for her. He seemed to struggle with bureaucracy.

Shortly after I met him years ago, he shared with me that the last time he drank, he woke up in jail in Toronto, and suffered his last hangover there.  He spoke of the struggles he had endured, but didn’t share specifics and I didn’t ask, always cognizant of the A.A. code of silence and the promise of anonymity. I didn’t feel it was my place to start asking questions, as he was simply “old Moe” to me and had, within the short time I had known him, taken on a fatherly sort of role with me. He showed up for birthdays, holidays and even once to help me move. By then a 70-something year old man, he convinced my teenage son that knocking down the back fence was the smartest way to get the trucks as close to the door as possible.

A true rebel, with a twinkle in his eye and a wise cracker if you ever met one.

Every pet and every child or baby in the world goes straight to Moe. They sense his gentle nature and he sits quietly with them, frequently putting them so at ease, they fall asleep in his arms or lap. He talks about his love for his mother and how she never judged anyone. How I remind him of her. The Catholic upbringing and the altar boy stories. How once he had his first sip of wine at 7, he was at church so often, his mother thought he had aspirations for priesthood.

He told me so many stories, I wondered if they could all be true or were they just  ramble-bragging of the sort that old men do, once their virility is starting to fade and the days ahead are much more mundane and boring than the days past. Lots of war stories and hints of knowing “connected” men back in his Cabbagetown days. Stories of stealing anything that wasn’t nailed down- beer off the back of trucks, racks of women’s fur coats left unattended, and fruit and vegetables stuffed into pockets, for eating later, during the time of day that those more well off had dinner plates in front of them.

This past year, he has suffered falls and he broke his collar-bone 6 months ago. He is slowing down now at 83, and has lost 3 close friends in the last month. He blames himself for one of them, telling me if he had driven over to this place when he didn’t return Moe’s call, maybe he would still be alive.

It seems to me he has always loved to take the blame for things out of his control. I reassure him that life is like that- random, and that we all have our time on this earth and our stories are written before we get here, so basically fate or chance carries us along. I sense he knows the end is nearing for him, and while that eventuality has made him less impatient with the little things , and more accepting of his limitations physically, there is an undercurrent of urgency buzzing within him, like a hot electrical wire.

He has been visiting more often, laughing after our chats, with the comment ” how much do I owe you for the therapy, dear?” or “cheapest head-shrinker I ever saw!”

I gave him a key to my house, as he lives in the basement of his step-daughter’s house, and sometimes feels unwanted and expresses a need to “run away”. Hearing that broke my heart , so I quickly fetched a spare key I had lying around and tucked it into his tiny hand, the skin so thin and tissue-papery that I could feel the bones underneath like a baby bird’s. I patted his hands gently and told him to use that key anytime he needed.

I have the sense he is wanting to close his circle in a neat fashion and be prepared for when he meets his maker. He is cleaning house, wanting to make his peace, and in the twilight of his life, searching for answers to all the why’s he still has.

So when he left that day, I thought about his request and decided I would look up that date and his name in Google, and see what he was asking me for. I knew instinctively that it must have to do with his past and understood that if it could be found with a simple Google search, it must have been something fairly news-worthy.

I remember feeling a bit apprehensive as I typed his name into search engine. My hands were shaking a bit, and I felt uneasy, like a voyeur.

It was one of those moments that you know have the ability to change your life in an instant.

And it did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distance Makes the Soul Forgive

The place I called home was not typical and I have spent all my years since leaving there trying to assimilate the emotional damage done , while at the same time trying to put the pieces of myself back into some semblance of a “normal” human being.

It has not been an easy exercise, with much of the old one step forward, two steps back going on. I mostly try to focus on the steps forward and tell myself every day is a chance at a new start.

Distance and time has assisted in my work, and always brings to mind how when someone dies, suddenly all the bad they did during their lifetime disappears, with only the good memories remaining behind. I used to cynically scoff at that, actually.

I used to wonder how a sinner became a saint overnight.

In my jaded youth, I would think to myself that I was more than capable of reminding them of the shitty behaviours, moral ineptitude and sketchy actions of the dearly departed, if they only agreed to granting me 5 minutes of their time.

Now, I find myself in that same group I used to internally scorn, when remembering my family who have all left me behind on this mortal coil. I am not sure if it is the distance of time or aging, but something has softened the edges of the shards of pain that their memories used to cause.

My memories are hazier and softer and are mainly composed of times spent together laughing.

I have to try really hard to catch hold of a bad memory anymore.

Is it my own need to find peace or resolution that has caused this shift within me?

Is it the passage of time or is it a willingness to let go of resentments and grudges and laying blame for all the mistakes I made after leaving?

Maybe it is all those things combined.

All I know today is that I am grateful for the peace and I feel much lighter from letting the weight of bygone resentments disperse as I walk along the rest of my path.

 

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