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.

 

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Jack of All Trades

Following my accident, while being transported by ambulance, the paramedic asked me who they could call to inform them about my situation. Even in the depths of my pain, I knew I could not give them my Mother’s number. She could not have survived a long distance phone call like that.

My older son was at my home, but there was no way I was going to allow him to get a call from a stranger telling him that his mother had been in a horrible accident and struck by a freight train. I couldn’t bear the thought of his 13 year old psyche taking that kind of hit.

So, I gave them my brother’s number. He was tough, and while I knew he was irresponsible in numerous ways, I also knew he knew better than to just call my mother on the phone and drop that kind of news on her. He lived in the same city as her, so could, at the least, drive to her house and inform her in person, which he did.

Unbeknownst to me until months later, at the exact time I was beginning my trip to the hospital, my brother and my son were chatting to each other online.

When my brother got the call from the RCMP, he hung up the phone and then chose to relay the information to my son that his mom had been in a horrific car accident. Hit by a train. Not likely to survive. Then closed the chat by adding that he needed to go tell Nan about it in person, cus she couldn’t handle that sort of news over the phone.

My son then apparently jumped on his bike and flew over to his father’s house, three blocks away. As he was turning into the cul de sac , he spotted his dad pulling out of the driveway with his 11 year old brother in the passenger seat.

He jumped off his bike while it was still in motion ( remember having that skill as a kid?) and screamed at his dad to stop.

This 13 year old child (man), then had the emotional maturity to tell his little brother to go in the house as he had something important to tell his dad.

I can’t tell you with absolute certainty what my ex husband felt in that moment, but I can guess, based on the look on his face when I woke up in the trauma room and saw him looking down at me.

“If she dies, I’m going to have to raise these boys on my own.”

“I can’t believe she did this to me.”

” I wonder if she was still paying the life insurance policy?”

“I hope I’m not on the hook for a funeral-we were separated. For all I know, she’s seeing someone else already!”

He looked scared shit-less, for lack of more flowery prose. Absolutely terrified.

And seeing his face like that gave me the strength and will to fight through the pain and continue living.

Because I knew he was at the core a very unemotional and intellectually barren man. I had been married to him long enough to know all the reasons why.

In the beginning, he told me all of his sad stories of his childhood.

I shared not much at all, to be honest. There simply wasn’t enough room within our relationship for anyone else’s pain but his, and I was OK with that. I was already such a skilled enabler and codependent that I was the perfect girl for him.

The time was never right to open up to him, and I quickly learned to watch his expressions and those big blues, for signs of boredom or distaste.

He was and is an incredibly selfish man.

A man who keeps an internal list of who owes him and who he has helped in the past. For someone with that kind of memory of wrongs perpetuated, he has no side of the ledger where his trespasses against others are tallied.

He is the judge and jury of everyone he has ever met or interacted with his entire life.

He once wrote off his favourite nephew for borrowing $ 400.00 for a hungry wife and babies and not paying it back. It didn’t cause him to go hungry, or take on extra hours at work, or even cut down on his daily 6-pack, but it ate him to the core.

To the core.

Any time that particular nephew is brought up in conversation by someone, he just has to share that story with everyone, and I find THAT more distasteful than the act of not paying someone back that you borrow money from.

I have a PhD from the esteemed schools of Shit Happens and Hard Knocks.

I get how you can start a day with great intentions and end it with the covers over your head and shaking inside at how much shit has flown down the hill your way and knowing you won’t have the strength to deal with any of it until the next day.

My ex husband, father of my children, has always been such a dichotomy to me.

I began seeing him shortly after my father died suddenly. He was 27 and I was 17.

He was big and strong and loud and fierce in appearance. He had the bluest eyes I had ever seen in my life.

He liked to drink and he liked to fight. He had boxed for years semi-professionally and missed all that action, I guess.

What he saw in me, I really don’t know, and he wasn’t the sort you asked silly questions like that to.

I asked him once about 10 years into our marriage if he loved me. It was while we were laying in bed together in the dark, waiting for sleep to take us, and I spontaneously asked him.

His response was a loud sigh of displeasure and then he said ” That’s a stupid question. I’m here, aren’t I?”

I never asked again.

Another time, after watching a segment on the Oprah show, I closed my eyes and asked him what colour they were. We had been married about ten years by then, and he guessed wrong.

He also shared with me that he has read 2 books in his entire lifetime and both times, they were mandatory assignments in school.

Oh- and he doesn’t really like music.

I tell these anecdotes not to disparage him, but rather to give the most precise examples I can recall from our relationship in order to best describe him to someone who has never met him.

I truly believe that my children are the reason I survived that accident but I must give Jack his due, as well.

There was no fucking way I was leaving those two amazing, intelligent, loving boys in his solo care…ever.

I knew he would damage them in ways they would never recover from. Not from anything intentionally done, but by his negligence and lack of ability or sense.

He would forget them, or their needs, or give to himself first, as he always had.

They would receive the scraps and there was no way I could allow that to happen to them.

They would have figuratively been like two small trees drying out and bending until they snapped from lack of water and the nutrients they required in order to continue to grow and thrive.

Their roots would be weak and rotting from the inside.

They would never survive strong winds or sunless days.

They needed me to provide for them in those ways, and I believe the fates knew that and allowed me to survive for that reason.

While they were fixing all my broken pieces in the trauma OR following my accident, my sons were in a quiet room (rooms in hospitals where they hide people who are likely going to receive bad news and they can smother the sights and sounds of grieving) with Jack and another family member, and my older son shared with me years later that his father kept muttering , ” she won’t survive this, she’s a goner, it’s just too much damage.”

Apparently to the point where my son snapped and screamed at his father that I would, in fact, survive. He pleaded with his father to stop saying those things he knew were not the truth.

As I was being put back together in a state of nothingness, that little sapling of mine was railing against strong wind, rain, lightning, locusts and the mighty oak, Jack!

You already know who was right and won that one, don’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lonely

Lonely is such a strange word to me and forces me to think about how being lonely and being alone are entirely different things, which bring up very different feelings within me.

It arouses no pangs from within me, but the sight of the little bunny in the picture brought tears to my eyes, so there must be something lingering, likely related to my sons in some way. My youngest had a Peter Rabbit themed nursery, so that is where my thoughts have taken me today.

When cleaning out my sons’ rooms, after they moved away, the sight of their things made my chest hurt and tears sting my eyes, but I didn’t take the time to process the feelings inside me. There was work to do and things to stuff deep, as that is always easiest, right??

I think the only loneliness I feel right now is one for those sweet little boys and those simple days of routine and ruckus all rolled into one.

The days where I couldn’t think straight for lack of sleep, but recall laying in bed or on the couch, with little ones in my arms, their sleeping breaths fanning my cheek. Tickling my face from tendrils of my hair drifting back and forth.

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The absolute mess and devastation of my bathroom at all times, but particularly around seven in the evening, following their nightly bath. The time my oldest ran screaming down the hall to tell me his baby brother had decided to try and get the poop off his butt by using his Dad’s toothbrush.

The sight and smell of them together tucked into one bed. Always had their own beds, but the younger always seemed to find his way into the other bed by morning, so they woke up together.

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Their chubby little legs running through tall grass to get to the swings or slide. The way the sunshine made their cheeks so pink and hot. The smell of wet puppy that little boys always seem to have lingering on them after a day outside in the sun.

My oldest wanting Willow every single night for almost a year as his bedtime story. Reciting every word by heart. The expression in his voice and the sparkle in his eyes.

 

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My regret that I hid Curious George because it was 40 pages long and I had more important things to do than read a book that long at bedtime. Funny how I can’t remember now what was more important than poor Curious George- likely dishes or laundry. That saddens me.

My baby serenading me with Bryan Adams playing in my old Camaro. 2 1/2 years old, every lyric in his tiny little memory bank; him strapped in his car seat maintaining eye contact with me in the rear view mirror, ” Ebberyything I dooooooo…….I do it for YOU!”

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Assorted action figures, some with no heads, some missing arms and legs, buried in yards from the past. Pieces of paper with every colour of crayon utilized- torn, taped, and stuffed into file folders in a chest rarely opened, unless someone needs to know if they ever had chicken pox for their HR department.

The time they found a box of tampons under the bathroom sink and proceeded to soak them in the sink and then tie them around their Batman and Superman action figures ( parachutes – duh) and fling them down the hallway. Unfortunately, during a Tupperware party being hosted by moi.  The looks on the faces of the some of the ladies present and the roar of my Mom’s laughter filling the house.

Explaining over and over and OVER again that it is not OK to try to get up on Gramma’s lap, but that it WAS OK to kiss Nanny square on the lips if the feeling over came them.

Hearing their voices raised together ” Brudders stick together!”  – my lazy-ass version of a family mission statement.

The sight of them dropping their shorts to pee on the camp fire and try to put it out that one summer at the cabin. Still not sure where they got that idea.

Endless knock knock jokes and magic tricks from my eldest.

What I thought would be endless kisses and strokes of my hair by my youngest.

Their clear gazes- no blinking at all- staring at my face as if they were trying to remember it forever.

Those memories make me lonely now and I would give anything to go back for even one more day.

The Last Time

From the moment you hold your baby in your arms,
you will never be the same.
You might long for the person you were before,
When you have freedom and time,
And nothing in particular to worry about.

You will know tiredness like you never knew it before,
And days will run into days that are exactly the same,
Full of feedings and burping,
Nappy changes and crying,
Whining and fighting,
Naps or a lack of naps,
It might seem like a never-ending cycle.

But don’t forget …
There is a last time for everything.
There will come a time when you will feed
your baby for the very last time.
They will fall asleep on you after a long day
And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child.

One day you will carry them on your hip then set them down,
And never pick them up that way again.
You will scrub their hair in the bath one night
And from that day on they will want to bathe alone.
They will hold your hand to cross the road,
Then never reach for it again.
They will creep into your room at midnight for cuddles,
And it will be the last night you ever wake to this.

One afternoon you will sing “the wheels on the bus”
and do all the actions,
Then never sing them that song again.
They will kiss you goodbye at the school gate,
The next day they will ask to walk to the gate alone.
You will read a final bedtime story and wipe your last dirty face.
They will run to you with arms raised for the very last time.

The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times.
And even then, it will take you a while to realize.