Human Flow

 

“Being a refugee … is the most pervasive kind of cruelty that can be exercised against a human being.”

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I watched a documentary the other evening on the refugee crisis which has been steadily escalating for years now. There are some pretty scary statistics shared and the numbers of human beings displaced is rising faster than can be safely or humanely accommodated, even by those countries willing to offer refuge.

Maha Yahya, Acting Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, shares her wisdom that  if children grow up without hope, prospects, or a way to make something of their lives, they can fall prey to exploitation, including radicalization.  “Many of them are traumatized by unimaginable losses at home.  They’re angry, frustrated, they want to make a difference in their lives… they’ve seen their homes demolished, their families killed, and there are children who themselves want to go fight.”  “They think it is a way they can get revenge for the horrors they lived through.”

Ai Wei Wei filmed this documentary in more than 23 countries at 40 of the world’s largest refugee camps, and he shares the lives of victims of conflict of every age, with both words and heartbreaking images that you will never be able to forget once seen.

I have so much respect for Ai.  My son, the artist, introduced me to his work a few years back, and I follow every move he makes very closely now. He has lived such a unique life and always highlighted social injustice with his art in ways that make it impossible to look away.

 

Until I watched Human Flow, my awareness was limited to the Syrian refugees, as many of them came to Canada, and their stories have been shared on the national news frequently. I interact with them in the stores, and hear many wonderful stories about how easily they have integrated into our communities.

Last month, when I started hearing about children in cages in the US, I broadened my reading and researching on the subject, as I truly couldn’t understand why anyone could or would deny children safety and care. The images I saw and the audio of the those children crying for their parents broke my heart.

As a mother, I wanted to hold them and rock and rock and shush them and tell them everything would be ok.

I understand the need for limitations and vetting and security for countries.

I understand fear of difference and how bigotry exists and blooms within society.

I even understand to a certain degree the decisions that need to be made to maintain law and order. There’s a reason I am not in charge of those decisions.

I don’t believe in borders.

Borders are a social construct designed in my opinion to separate, and that is something I find almost humorous, in relation to how I see the world.

How can an arbitrary line no one can see on the ground keep anyone in one place?

The displaced humans of the world are growing in numbers that it is not sustainable to safely manage in the near future. We need to do the work now to make space for these people, both in our countries and in our hearts.

The human spirit is strong, and while many give up due to age or fear, the strong will continue moving into and over borders, either with permission or with force, either legally or under the cover of darkness, if necessary.

And while that is frightening to many, it is reality, so the time to do the right thing, the kind thing, the human thing –  is now.

 

Rise Now for the Syrian Refugee Children

 

 

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/btf-syrian-refugee-program/

 

 

CAR: do refugee children go to school?

 

 

 

 

 

Photo courtesy of: https://www.coopi.org/en/car-refugee-children-go-school-2774.html

 

 

Alan Kurdi lifeless body.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47737832

Forgiveness

 

I have spent a fair bit of time in the last week thinking about what forgiveness means to me and how much better my life has been since I decided a few years back to start forgiving folks for my own good. I wasn’t particularly concerned with how it made them feel, and in most cases, they aren’t even aware that they were forgiven for their trespasses against me.

I wrote a few months back about a horrific accident that occurred here in the country that I call home and my own survivor’s perspective of the aftermath of these sort of events. I was focused mostly on the hope that all the support the boys and their families had following the accident, would continue through the years to come.

This past week it was announced that the driver of the semi that struck the bus has been charged with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. The general consensus seems to be that he blew through a stop sign. He will have his day in court, or many, and based on the comments I have read (don’t ever read the comments section!) he will likely be far safer in jail or prison than he will ever be out on the streets again, unless he changes his appearance drastically. That saddened me. Really saddened me and brought up feelings I have long held onto related to my own “accident”.

Prison will not be the worst punishment he endures- not even close.

While I was never charged with anything following mine, my passenger in the car with me died that afternoon. She was very young- only 20. So, I am in the unique position of actually somewhat understanding what is going through that man’s head right now- and none of it is good. The only reason I didn’t receive criminal charges was because it was a known trouble spot of an intersection, and following my crash, the transportation safety board removed that particular vehicle crossing and made a new entrance. Here, it takes so many accidents/deaths by number, before they will make changes like that.

I was sued twice following – once by the step-father of my passenger, and once by the train conductor- each request was for a million dollars. I had been warned it would likely happen, as in the case of family members who lose a loved one, it is pretty standard practice. In my relative naivety, until the insurance company contacted me, I thought I was personally responsible for paying those millions, as I received my copy of the first letter prior to the insurance company receiving theirs.

I was still recuperating physically and hadn’t even begun the work on my psychological wounds when I received the letter from the step-father. I was in a pretty dark place and only dealing with those things that were absolutely necessary, like finding someone to drive to grocery store with my bank card to buy food for my kids, and doing my best to wake up alive every morning.

Every night/morning for over a year, I would jerk awake sometime between 1 and 3 hearing the horns and the screams and tasting the blood and smelling the gasoline, and feeling the weight of April’s body slamming into mine as that train hit us. Every single sense I had, wide awake and stabbing at me like unforgiving needles.

Not one inch of my body or mind was spared on those nights.

I would lay there and look up at the ceiling after the terrors and wonder if this was why I had been spared death, and not her. I wondered about suffering and retribution and about heaven and hell and how we all pay the piper in our own ways and in our own time.

I would try to understand the why’s.

Why her? Because she was pure and full of light and love and her journey here was over. She had done everything she was sent here to do. She had taught and learned the lessons and fulfilled her contracts with others.

Why not me? Because I deserved to suffer and be in pain. I had run and dodged and slipped my way through every dangerous event and place I had allowed myself to be a part of. Now I had taken a life. I had murdered a young girl with my stupidity and inattention to my surroundings. Only the good died young, as my mother used to say, so I was pretty damn sure I was left here with the purpose to feel this pain for the rest of my days. 

I worked with a psychologist who specialized in PTSD, and slowly started to heal. She utilized EMDR therapy on me, which was exhausting emotionally, but was extremely successful with my psychological trauma. It was the first and only time in my life that I went in search of help of that kind, having been brought up in a home where we kept our private problems in-house, and not to be shared with outsiders. During my time with Robin, other things came out that I had long forgotten, so it turned into much, much more than it had originally been meant to be. I saw her until my extended health benefits dried up. She had provided me with the tools I needed to take my first steps onto the path of actually living again.

Not surviving, not healing, not enduring- actually wanting to move forward and live again, for my sons and even for myself.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for her help in showing me the way through it all to the other side. At the end of our last session, she gave me a big hug and told me I needed to truly forgive myself or I would never recover fully.

5 years after my accident, I received a letter from a psychologist that was treating the mother of my passenger. He asked me if I would allow him to send me numbered questions from his patient, who was struggling to move forward with her own life following the loss of her daughter. He was working with her on forgiveness. On forgiving herself for past events during the time she was raising her daughter, and on forgiving me, in order to let go of the hate she held in her heart.

I sat on a chair in my kitchen for over an hour, holding that letter in my hand.

I traced my fingertip over and over the stamp edging, round and round, while my mind wandered to how I was going to deal with this request. In the days following, I asked my son, and my mother for their advice on what they thought I should do.

They both told me to not respond at all; their concern was for me and the progress I had made, and they worried that I would slide back if I had to relive any of it again.

What neither of them knew, was that I had never stopped living it. Not for one moment of the time since it had occurred. It was so entrenched in every part of me, it was now cellular.

Like the blood flowing through my heart, or the oxygen moving through my lungs.

I wore it like a branding on my soul and always would.

I ended up answering her questions and sent them back to the psychologist. I was more concerned with her healing than I was with my own. Some of them were very difficult to answer.

I lied on the ones that I thought would only hurt her more. Questions about her relationship with her stepfather. Questions about why she left home. Questions about if she had ever shared information with me about her mother’s decision to side with her stepfather, rather than with her. I lied about her forgiving her mother for that. I lied and said she told me only a day earlier that she loved and missed her mother very much.

I answered truthfully on the questions that related to the accident itself.

She was dead instantly- she didn’t linger or suffer- she didn’t cry out in pain.

In the moments leading up to the impact, she was laughing and singing and excited and full of life and love.

I licked the envelope when I was done answering her questions, and walked the letter to the nearest mailbox.

I remember sitting on a rock after and looking at the clouds in the sky, through teary eyes, watching them slowly move and morph in shape as they drifted lazily above me. The sun was in the exact position it was in on that day in June, casting the same warmth, blinding me with the same dazzling rays, but this time I was alone.

While I was sitting there, a white butterfly caught my eye, and I watched as it fluttered and danced and flew closer and closer to me. From blade of grass to tree branch, to post, eventually landing on the top of my hand.

Its wings were transparent in the sunlight and I slowed my breathing and sat perfectly still, watching it settle in on my hand, twitching its wings softly on my skin. Seeing the flesh of my hand through its wings- watching in wonder as it sat there on my warm hand.

It stayed with me for as long as I needed it to and then flew away up towards the clouds in the blue sky.

I watched it until it disappeared from my sight and then got up and headed home to my children.

 

Heeling(Healing) Soles(Souls)

I have been feeling a little vulnerable lately and not even well enough to tap away at the keys.

Today I decided it might be good to wander about on Word Press for a bit and the first place I always wander is to Calen’s.

Her Sandbox Challenge this week was this:

What message just for you is hidden in this ancient writing?

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My first thought upon looking at the image was how remarkably similar it was to my heels. Then the thought popped up that I have been meaning to book a pedicure for the last month or so but that real life has intruded on even that one hour of peace and comfort I could have provided for myself. I really could have booked that appointment- had the number on my cell and would be basically two taps with my finger directly to the shop.

But I have been so tired. SOOO incredibly tired and low energy. Useless.

I have completed the tasks that need doing, like working and taking care of my cat, but other than that, I have basically sleepwalked through the last few weeks.

I know what started it.

It was seeing the news that humans have now sunk to the low of caging children.

I like to think I am pretty cynical and jaded, and I truly told myself that there was no possible way he would be allowed to sink this low, without someone…ANYONE…stopping him and his need to feed his fractured ego with evil-doing.

But, as has happened many times in the past- I was wrong.

I read, I watched, I listened to audio and then I shut down. I just could not take anymore.

And my feet and the rest of me suffered for it and continue to suffer.

I have some sort of strange rash appearing on my back, which I think is atopic eczema. The irony of this affliction is that the worst thing for the little dry patches is water.

Dry, itchy, aggravating. Especially when I cant reach it except with the spaghetti scoop which comes to bed with me every night.

My feet and my back and my soul all make me feel dry and itchy and aggravated and out of sorts.

Barren and empty, like desert flowers begging for any sort of nourishment to make the cracks disappear and replenish the cells with the fluid of life.

I need to know that I am not the only one feeling the cracks and caverns and schisms occurring right now in the world.

Am I the only one who sees fire and burning and hears children crying for their parents?

I don’t take good care of myself when I don’t feel well emotionally.

I really let myself go.

I am not sure why that is.

Is it the effort and energy required from an exhausted woman or is it disinterest or the knowledge that one day this husk that carries the me that matters will not longer require tending?

What any logical woman would do would be to book that appointment for the next few days and even add a manicure to the appointment, as there is no better feeling than having both sets of nails done and pretty.

But it seems so pointless to me right now.

I instinctively know that my looks are not going to matter in the next while for the work that may need to be done and what my part in it may be.

I’ve let my hair grow long and rarely wear it down unless I am brushing it, which I do often. Brushing my hair soothes me and my spirit, for some reason. My hair is drying out too, and I have stopped colouring it. It is pure white like my mother’s in the front- beautiful white. I frequently braid it, to keep it off my face and out of my way. Then I unbraid it, while reading tweets about monsters and the people who lie and abet them with their evil.

I don’t speak of the terrors I feel often, as I can tell people are sick and tired of all things political and don’t want to hear it. Those people would rather sit back and then moan and wring their hands once it is all over. I know those people. There were so many of them during the Holocaust.

So, so many.

My hypervigilance is a symptom of my PTSD. I know that. But I also know I am not crazy and I can feel the danger.

I can even taste it some days. It tastes like metal or copper. A bit like blood, in fact.

I am doing what I can in order to soothe the trauma-beast within me in whatever way I can to keep it from becoming more hungry.

I might drive out to the mountains this weekend and spend a day sitting on a log thinking of nothing but the scent of the air around me.

It is supposed to rain.

I can tilt my head back and open my mouth and let it in.

I can wiggle my feet while the rain falls over them.

Maybe it will fill up the cracks and heal them.

Maybe I will breathe deeply again.

Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Akhilandeshwari

Akhilandeshwari is a South Asian Goddess who is known as ‘She Who Is Never Not Broken’. Akhilan-“ means, “never-not-broken” and “deshvari” is a Sanskrit term for goddess.

As human beings, we are broken over and over during our lifetime. Broken from grief, from heartbreak, from loss and traumas, both physical and mental.

A question I am frequently asked is how I have endured and survived some of the times I have been broken- both literally and figuratively.

The truth is that it was at those times in my life when I was most broken that I have made deep acquaintance with my pain and suffering. Mostly in silence, frequently with hot tears running down my face, but always with an open soul and inquisitive mind.

I learned at a very young age that I was going to be the only one to save myself.

For many years, I ran and ran and then ran some more. I managed to keep my life busy and full. I kept the lessons and the learning and the inevitable time for reflection at bay until I was forced to face all the broken pieces of me.

As a dear friend calls it- the time was coming for excavation, a time that would be forced upon me for digging deep inside.

To remember. To reflect. To open doors leading to places I had been trying to avoid going for years. And I had a whole lot of places I had been avoiding.

Emotional pain was always something to be avoided at all costs, and if I had to hurt in that way, it was best to stuff it deep and forget it if I could.

Maybe i could find someone else in even more pain than me and try to help them. That sounded better than having to look at my own. Find someone even more broken than myself and try to love them back together again. I have had whole relationships that started from that very criteria.

Distractions. Deflections. Denial.

I am indeed like Akhilandeshvari, she of “never not broken”.

I like to think that I finally stopped running and invited my pain in for tea.

But it didn’t really work that way.

One day a few months following the death of my brother, I found myself crying and quite honestly couldn’t stop. I sat on my couch, totally alone, and for the first time in my life, I allowed it all to wash over me. All that sticky, hot, aching pain.

I invited it in and let it wash all over me. I sat with it, my home growing dark as the hours slipped by around me.

The losses, the abuses, the neglect, the regrets – everything I had kept behind those doors for years. I felt at times like I was psychically shattering. My heart ached and my lungs felt full. Every part of my body was like a sponge, taking in more and more pain as every one of those doors opened, one at a time.

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Look at it. Deal with it. Look at your part in this.

Call it a Come to Jesus moment, or a transformation, or even a nervous breakdown if you will. All I know is that once I allowed it to happen and really spent the time picking through all the broken pieces, I began to see the prisms of light within me and within my broken pieces.

I believe that people are drawn to me because of my brokenness.

I think they must sense that if they share their own stories of suffering with me, I will listen and be with them in their pain.

I am not fearful of pain anymore, mine or anyone else’s.

Pain has provided me with the lessons I most needed to learn and has been the best tool for growth I could ever ask for.

1977

We had been parked out at the camping spot outside our town for almost a week with our Dad in charge. The summers usually consisted of them taking turns with their holidays, her one week, him the next, back and forth like that, usually culminating in 2 weeks all of us together at the end. This plan was likely made with the idea of constant supervision during the summer break, and also with the intent to minimize the need to pay someone to watch us.

We always looked forward to the weeks with Dad, as he never bothered or nagged us, and by 4 in the afternoons, it was doubtful he even remembered he had 2 kids out rambling through the wooded areas and down by the river. By that time, he was well into his cups, and either snoozing off his uninterrupted day-drunk, or listening to his Johnny Cash 8-tracks and hazily formulating supper ideas.  He was never the kind of drunk who forgot to eat, or skipped eating in order to leave more room for the rye.

All the successful professional alcoholics I have known during my life have always taken the time to eat. In their minds, it keeps them within the “normal” zone on the barometer of boozology. Dinner may be rock hard from warming in the oven, or burnt to a crisp from idling in the frying pan too long, or even served at 11 at night, but they made dinner, didn’t they?

My mother, the warden, usually kept a pretty close eye on my pops, for good reason. We loved him to death, but his irresponsibility scared her to death. He never said no to us, but always deferred to my mother if she was present, and just wanted us to be happy and free. One of my jobs was to do dishes and clean the kitchen up after dinner every night, but if it ran late, my friends would already be ringing the doorbell wanting me to go out with them. My dad would sneak down to the kitchen, and grab the towel or broom from me and whisper “go- go- be with your friends, I can finish this up for you-shhhhh.”

I am sure, looking back, that he had been doing that with me since I was a very young child. He was always so affectionate with me, always pinching my cheeks softly between his second and third fingers. Always brushing my hair out of my eyes when I was reading, and he would notice it falling forward. Always such affection and adoration from my Dad. It made me love him so much and want to “cover” for him with my mom.

I’m pretty sure that is how it started- my covering up for him and his negligence with us. My doing my damnedest to make sure anything she left for him to complete, was completed by me if he was too drunk to do it. Everything from subbing in and taking my brother for his haircuts, while my dad drank at the bar, to stealing his own wallet from him to ensure he came home with the amount of money for bills she had asked him to bring home. He was always thankful for my interventions and assistance, and loved me even more, if that was possible.

He had a pretty good system going. My mother told him what to do, or what she expected from him and he let me take care of all the pesky details and also the worry.

More time to drink.

The only phone out at the campground was by the little store- a payphone.

People didn’t need to be in constant contact back then, so it wasn’t strange to go the entire 5 day work week without talking to my mother. She knew where we were and unless we called her from the payphone, everything was assumed to be fine.

I was standing in line for a slushie with some of my friends when the man who ran the joint said to me ” Call home, kid.” I was confused, as i didn’t know he even knew who I was. I asked him if he was sure he had the right person, and he nodded, his smoke hanging off his bottom lip, and said ” yup- your mom described you perfectly, right down to the bathing suit. Call home.”

I left the line and walked toward the payphone, already feeling a twisting in my gut. I pulled a dime out of my sneaker (where all smart summer kids kept their change), and dropped it into the slot of the phone.

My mom answered immediately and told me my Uncle George had died and we needed to get home immediately.

Now, this is where this story takes a humorous turn of sorts, in spite of the spectre of death hanging over it.

I had two Uncle Georges.

One was married to my mom’s sister, and was my favourite man in the world after my Dad.

The second was married to my Mom’s best friend, my godmother.

I didn’t think to ask which one died before my mother hung up the phone.

So, off I ran to the tent trailer to tell my Dad that we had orders to get home as fast as we could, as George had died and my mom wanted us home.

As I approached the camp spot, I could hear the train whistles and Johnny Cash – Orange Blossom Special, and knew my mission might take a bad turn. The louder the music, the drunker he likely was – of that you could always be certain. I was still 4 camp spots away when i heard the music, and felt even sicker….slowed my running to a walk. I tried to calculate how many hours he had been left alone by us. It was about 4:30, and we had taken off to go swimming around 9. Even allowing him an hour for coffee, he had likely been smashing it hard since 10 A.M, secure in the thought that it was going to just be one more lazy, hazy day camping, and we wouldn’t need anything until at least 6 or 7, as we packed bologna sandwiches with us when we left.

I saw him sitting in his lawn chair, with his head slightly forward, nodding along a bit to his music. As I approached him from the trees, I could literally see him try to focus his eyes on who was walking toward him. His eyes were bleary-looking and he blinked a couple times before he smiled at me and said ” Hey shishhhhhowshh yer day going?”

I told him we had to go home and it was like it didn’t even register. Nothing.

Once again, I explained that “George” had died and that we were told to get home as soon as possible, and he looked up at me with a child’s eyes, and shook his head a bit, muttering, “can’t, can’t drive”.

We were 20 miles from home, with direct orders from the warden to get our asses home, there’s been a death, and he was sitting there, like an errant toddler, shaking his head back and forth and telling me “can’t.”

It took me about 4 minutes to assess what would be our worst case scenario – my little brother and myself dying in the car on the way home cus he was seeing double already, or dealing with my mother, who gave us a direct order.

I chose death for all of us, and quickly rounded up my brother, packed anything outside the trailer into the trailer, turned off Johnny, and threw water on the campfire he had been half-assed playing with all day. All while he sat in the lawn chair blearily watching me. He almost looked like he was pouting- sulky. Like I was also pouring water all over HIS party by making us leave.

I got my brother to help me drag our father to the station wagon on his wobbly legs and stuff him inside the driver’s door. I remember my brother giggling during all of it. He thought it was like a game- an adventure- something that plopped itself into a boring summer day that ran into all the other boring endless summer days. The idea of his sister “bossing” his dad around seemed to really amuse him a lot, in retrospect.

I got myself and my brother into the car and we sat there. Sat there for what seemed like years, waiting for him to focus- to come back to his senses- to open his eyes to the fact that  he was behind the wheel of his car, us waiting for him to turn the key in the ignition.

He didn’t move a muscle, just slumped back in his seat and started snoring quietly- he was sleeping. Passed out. Blotto.

I suddenly felt more anger than I had ever felt in my life up to that point. My chest felt like it was going to explode and blow my heart right out the windshield and into the trees beyond the car. My head hurt, my chest hurt, I was seeing stars.

I jerked my door open and ran around to his side of the car and opened the door. Then I started hitting him in the shoulders and chest and yelling at him to wake up. He jerked awake and looked so startled and then sad that his little angel, his little girl, his little co-conspirator was striking him and yelling at him.

I told him to shove over to the passenger side of the car and then grabbed my mom’s little pillow she kept in the back for when she was driving and put it on the driver’s seat.

I slid in and shut the door. With my brother’s help, I got the car started and adjusted the rear view mirror. He talked me through finding the lever to pull the seat forward and even helped by pushing with his little legs from the back seat. It was a good thing he had paid attention to how the car worked, as I never had. I must have been secure in my belief that there would always be an adult around to take care of that sort of thing.

In that way, my brother was much more of a survivor than I was. His eyes and ears never missed a thing, whereas I was always doing my best to not see or hear most of what was going on around me.

As I attempted backing out of the narrow parking spot, I nicked a corner of a tree. I remember twisting the wheel back and forth, as I didn’t understand how to move it to reverse in a different direction, so it took us some time to get the nose pointed in the direction we needed to be in. In fairness to my young self, I highly doubt after driving almost 40 years, I could reverse that big old countrysquire station wagon out of that narrow spot!

As we drove along the bumpy gravel road towards the exit, I remember panicking a bit about the directions, as I never paid any attention in a car. I had my nose in an Archie comic, waiting for the car to stop at my destination. Luckily, my brother knew where we needed to turn and how to get us out of the country and back to town.

I remember driving us, my dad snoring beside me in the passenger seat, my brother leaning into the front seat in the center, telling me when to turn left or right, when to slow down, where the “coppers” hid in the trees to nail the speeders. I told myself that if I saw any “coppers” I would just run us all to our deaths straight into the nearest tree, as that would be better than them showing up to embarrass my mother at our home. (The neighbours!!!!!)

Someone was watching over my brother and I that day and it most certainly was not either of our parents. After what seemed like forever, I turned that big old car into our driveway at home, took the keys out and threw them in my father’s lap.

My brother and I went into the house and met our mother in the kitchen, where she was waiting. I remember falling into her arms and sobbing. She believed it was from grief, I suppose. She never asked me why, just held me while I cried and shook.

She asked where my dad was, and I told her he was still  in the car, but that was all. I had already sworn my brother to secrecy on the way home, promising him all the money I had saved and also any candy I had stashed in my bedroom.

I don’t know if she ever went out to the car and figured out what had  happened.

More likely, he just woke up and came inside and nothing came of it, as there was a funeral to attend, and people coming and going, which gave her no time to question any of it, and he certainly wasn’t going to open that Pandora’s box on his own.

I remember when I finally found out which George it was that died, I felt very guilty as there was a sense of relief it wasn’t my favourite Uncle George. The guilt came because the George who DID die, had a daughter the same age as me, and was a drinker like my dad.

I remember feeling so confused about my anger towards my dad, all mixed up with a sudden fear that HE could die, too. It all became very real to me that people can die any day, from any number of ways.

Kids could wake up on a lazy summer Tuesday with a dad and by the time they went to bed at night, he could be gone.

Cold and dead and maybe the last thing his daughter said to him was “I hate you!”

Or perhaps she really let loose and uttered her first curse word directly at him…something like ” you fucking DRUNK, give me those fucking keys, RIGHT NOW!”

It could happen. ( It wouldn’t for a few more years, but not many.)

So better to just shove it deep down inside and forget about it.

I was 12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’ll Be the Day

[[TW] Domestic Violence[TW]

Things had been getting worse for 3 weeks. She had not been sleeping well at night, because after the darkness fell, there were always two scenarios. Either he was not home, but would surely be back later- pounding on the glass patio door, roaring to be let in. Threatening to smash his way through the door if she didn’t open it and allow him entry. Or on worse days, he was there at home, trashed by the time she arrived after work and fueled up to fight.  

One time she arrived after a 12 hour day of presentations and meetings to find the 48 inch flat screen torn right off the wall, an ugly mess of metal and torn drywall where it had resided for years. Plants she had babied like children laying torn in pieces in piles of dirt all over the white living room carpet.

Glass from picture frames destroyed beyond repair, laying in the dirt….her children’s faces looking up at her from under the scattered leaves and dirt. Delicate glass ornaments of her dead Mother’s that she had carried from her childhood home wrapped oh so carefully in oven mitts to keep them safe….crushed under the weight of his dirty boots.

The fact that the television was nowhere to be seen could only mean that at some point during the day a coke run had occurred. She could smell the alcohol the minute she walked through the door and felt her stomach spasm and grip inwards, almost like it was trying to hide.

She wished she could hide, but there was nowhere to go.

No one to help anymore. All the helpers gone like the wind.

Dead – like she stayed awake at night thinking she might be soon. Laying there in the dark, listening… analyzing how and when it could possibly happen; realizing that there were things to be endured during life that were worse than death- things that made you think that death and the release would be nothing compared to the chaos and constant gut-wrenching fear you had dealt with.

She called 911 twice during the month of escalation. Escalation was their word- the ones who took the notes in their little spiral bound notebooks.

But that was after.

Both times they came and put him in the police car and the older cop looked at her with a smirk and told her they couldn’t arrest him, as he had broken no laws. A man is allowed to drink in his own home and did she provoke him in any way?

“You seem pretty hysterical in my eyes, lady.”

Asking why she didn’t just go to bed and let him sleep it off.

“That’s what usually happens” they said.

Twice they drove him down town and let him out of the car and both times when she woke in the morning, he was sitting on the couch when she came down the stairs. She could smell the alcohol from the 4th step from the bottom…could feel everything recoiling…feel every nerve ending preparing for what would come.

Would it be today? Was this the day that it would all come to an end? Any end? Good or bad? Anything to stop existing in this hell of her own making?

“You chose him, lady.”

(Oh my GOD, do you think he was like this when I met him? This monster who makes every day an unpredictable tightrope of survival has the same hands that used to brush my hair so gently and who I would catch looking at me with eyes full of love.)

She stayed at home from work that Tuesday, as she had fallen down the stairs the night before, running in the dark, with the phone in her hand. She muttered to herself that it felt like she may have cracked her tail-bone, although she already knew it when she hit the third stair from the second level, banging down the rest of them on her ass. Every one to the bottom and the hardwood floor met her as she landed.

She hobbled around all day in pain but wouldn’t go to the hospital, as she didn’t want to leave him alone in the house to ruin anymore of her things.

Her memories.

Why did she care more about her things than herself?

She cleaned from the night before as he slept, snoring on the couch…trying to be quiet, trying to make right the mess all around her. Everywhere she looked- glass, plants, dirt…so much dirt.

The smell of dirt and beer and vomit like a fog that would never go away.

He woke at 5:03 P.M.

She remembered the time exactly later that night when the questions came. She heard the sound of the tab being sprung on the beer can from the kitchen and looked at the clock- her instinct was to look at the clock for some reason. She finished with the garbage bags and then tried to quietly get up the stairs to the bedroom at the sound of the second can popping.  Her back and legs were not working well-angry and rebelling at her from her clumsy fall down the stairs the night before.

At the fifth step, she felt his hands in her hair and was yanked backwards down the stairs, falling against him and to the floor at the bottom. Wrestling with him, scrabbling on all fours in her old flannel pajamas, trying to get a grip with her bare feet to get up and away. Moving as fast as she could with her poor, poor back screaming at her. Going for her purse- her keys- then feeling his fist slam into her cheek, knocking her sideways, her ears ringing and her ear throbbing heat.

Whimpering but quiet- knowing things would escalate if she got loud with him. Pulling her purse back to her chest, while he pummeled her head and face and shoulders and breasts with his fists.

Feeling his spittle striking her face as he swung……barely registering the words he was screaming at her; the vile curses he spat out at her, the ENORMITY of his rage.

She grew winded from the wrestling required to block her face and chest and dropped to her knees, trying to catch her breath, all the fighting- she was not young anymore, and already so broken from so many other things and events and she smoked and didn’t have enough air to keep defending herself.

She heard him moving toward the kitchen, his boots- from the carpeted living room to the kitchen tile. Heard him slamming drawers open and closed- searching for something.

She made it to her feet and had just turned towards the hallway; thinking she could make it out the front door if her back held out; gripping her purse tightly to her body. The purse which held her keys and her escape.

Before she could take a step, he was back and all over her again, swinging, and hitting her in her face, her head, her neck- punching her with his fists in her chest and arms-trying to pull her purse away from her, her keys, her escape. She barely registered the feeling of wetness on her face, the feeling heat running down her arms- the stinging pain in her head.

She dropped again to her knees in front of him and then looked up . Looked at him fully, gripping a pair of scissors in his fist. Her vision was wavering and she was having difficulty focusing on him. There was a soul-slamming realization that this was likely her last day on earth and suddenly she felt all the air and fight whooshing out of her, like a deflated balloon.

He was swinging down at her, randomly now, like a robot. His dead eyes- nothing behind them at all. No humanity left inside the body that kept hitting.

A thought tickled her brain- the thought of her youngest son. How he had pulled away in the last few months and how they had barely spoken to each other. Somewhere inside of her a small voice said ” if you die today like this, he will live the rest of his life regretting the time lost leading up to your death. He will never get over this…it will shape every day of his life until his own death.”

She swung her arm out towards him,  her purse swinging and hit him right where her father had taught her all those years ago to swing/kick at if a boy was getting “fresh”.

He staggered a bit – off-balance and to the right- just enough to allow her to get to her feet and to keep swinging that heavy purse at him. At his head, at his hand holding the scissors, covered in her blood. She kept swinging and swinging and felt her own rage rising in her like a thick hot bile. Her arms were soon covered in scratches from those scissors, but she didn’t even notice. She pushed at him and pushed until she had a clear path to the door and she ran.

Ran like she was 15 again and competing in track and field day.

Ran like she hadn’t smoked cigarettes for decades.

Ran like she wasn’t bleeding and broken and exhausted and depleted.

The clumsy girl who could trip on a gum wrapper high hurdled the low fence in the front like she was competing in the Olympics and  jumped into her truck and locked her doors JUST as he came out of the house towards her.

She tore out of her parking spot in reverse and was shifting into drive when she heard a loud thump from behind her and saw in her rear view mirror that he was in the bed of the truck and moving towards her in the cab.

He had taken the time to grab a knife on his way out of the door after her and it was catching the sunlight and making kaleidoscopes of colour in her rear view mirror.

She hit the gas hard and heard him slam back into the bed, but as soon as she slowed down, he was back up on his feet again and moving toward the sliding window behind her in the cab.

That was the moment that she stopped thinking and moved into autopilot, not stopping or slowing at all anymore, oblivious to pedestrians, or traffic, or strollers, or lights or signs.  She flew across 4 lanes of traffic, hitting her gas and then her brakes, like an automaton….no longer looking back to check his position in the bed of the truck- looking forward only, and grinning a bit. GRINNING- every time she heard that loud slamming in the back of the truck- knowing he had been thrown back on his ass again and wasn’t any closer to getting to that sliding window inches from her back and neck.

She didn’t look back for 10 minutes that seemed like 10 days- just kept driving- speeding up and slamming on the brakes- as she drove herself to the nearest neighbourhood police detachment.

To this day, she is unaware of the exact moment or location that she eventually threw him out of the back of the truck with her erratic driving.

She sat in her truck in the parking lot of the strip mall, waiting for the police to arrive and smoking a cigarette. She looked around her at the people coming and going, buying KFC or Pizza Hut to take home to feed their families.

She held a forgotten sweater she found inside her truck to her head to slow the blood from where the scissors went into the top of her head.

She didn’t think about him at all.

Not once.

She pushed all of her thoughts and all of her feelings to a safe place for a later review and slammed that door shut.

She lit another cigarette and enjoyed the newfound stillness inside of her.