Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
Today is the day my uncle died in 2005. It was a Tuesday. Ted. Teddy, my cousin Alexis corrected me, sitting in this very room, sun splashed, warm, this was weeks later, maybe May. She was ten, she turned ten while he was in hospital—did we know he was dying already?
The last time I saw him, he was conscious, but not alert in any meaningful way. It was probably the weekend before. I had asked everyone I could think of, everyone I knew who could drive for a ride out to Truro before Rick said he’d take me. I donned the hospital garb—yellow gown, white mask. (I told Kim recently that those masks are stuffy, and it takes me a moment to realize I can in fact breathe in it.)
He reached his hand out to me. Did he know it was me? This is uncertain. If he did, why me? If he didn’t, that makes more sense. We hadn’t been close and the wellspring of emotion that broke (sprung?) forth the long half-month when he was dying surprised me.
He’d had a massive stroke at the beginning of April. The story I heard after was that he had called a friend, I think the woman he sponsored through AA although my memory fails me here. Her boyfriend/brother/husband/someone hung up with him, told her he’d sounded drunk. She said “Ted wouldn’t do that. Something must be wrong.” Had she called for help or driven for a visit? I don’t remember, of course it’s been years. He was rushed to the hospital. They didn’t get to him in time. They said, “Time is everything.
The earlier you catch these things, the better.” Years later when Audrey had what is colloquially known these days as “her episode” and my fellow admin asked me to check on her before I left, she didn’t want to go to the hospital, I knew better. Like I say, he earlier you catch these things the better your chances. It wasn’t a stroke though with Audrey, it was cancer.
My grandmother called with a sound in her voice that is unique to grief. She sounded untethered, her voice wavered and cracked and was full of suppressed sobs. To this day, when her voice sounds distant on the telephone, “untethered”, or my grandfather calls, I immediately think the worse, I can’t help it.
My mother wasn’t going to take me, but I, crying in the library said I wanted to go—that I’d have Adam or Josh or someone drive me if she wouldn’t. She knew I would, so she relented.
I remember sitting in the stuffy family room, rising from the couch when I was asked if I wanted to see him. Wandering the halls of the unfamiliar hospital. Making awkward small talk with family I hadn’t seen in years. Crying over Coca Cola in those little glass bottles—you know the type, splashing tears on formica tables.
When I was asked if I wanted to go to his house, I said yes. Anything to get out of the hospital, really, so long as it was related to being at the hospital. He had books. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, assorted others I didn’t recognize. When my grandmother asked if I wanted something, later, after he died, I said yes. She gave me a heavy fleecy sweater that I wore for days like Sue Heck and her cross country sweater on The Middle.
I remember sitting across from my grandfather at my grandparents’ eating soup with saltines in silence.
I remember the day he died, I’d been brushing my teeth when my mother called to say “have a good day at school.” My stomach was full of butterflies. (M would ask if it was my intuition. Maybe.) When Rick picked me up at 4, he told me Ted had died that morning.
My uncle has been dead 9 years today. I missed my sociology test for the funeral. Lew pointed out the distant, long dead relatives buried at the cemetery, or maybe that was at great nanny’s, there were so many funerals and in such a short span of time. Despite shedding buckets of tears over chipped formica tables, and books, and my laptop, while he was dying, once he was dead, I did not shed a tear.
We take ourselves to have our sugars, and cholesterol, and related stats checked yearly. Now that we know what to watch for, we are vigilant.
Sitting there in that room back then, we lamented: oh to have the lost time back. To have more time for hugs, conversations, we would understand, we said, Christmas dinners. (Not incidentally, Ted was born on Christmas day.)
Time and again I think of this, when Bonnie died, and then Audrey, Lauren, Rob, Brandon, and most recently Reid, each time I aim to do better, to love better, to leave nothing unsaid. (This is vain, no?) 2013 was the first year I felt I really did it. I really did better.
We have all been here –
each of us in the stuffy room
with the fan blowing
cold air on his face
“Ted, you have hands like mother’s.”
"Surprise, surprise!" My aunt wrote, "Well I’m still alive and in Cayman."
The card is undated, I found it while sorting through my papers in the spare room. It is a SimplyShe card, the front is blurry. A woman in a long dress, are those flowers she clutches? Is she dancing or falling? Is she on fire? Is that fire or smoke or the gauzy material of her dress?
The typed inscription, the one that came with the card makes it ambiguous. Is she celebrating her one wild life* or clawing at her cage?
For a time from elementary school to high school, my aunt was my favourite person in the world.
Her birthday was Friday. I didn’t notice until I’d torn the previous days’ pages off my two page-a-day calendars. I looked down at some point, thinking about the birthday e-mail I had to send out at work. April 11 leapt off the page in its size 18 all-caps Arial.
When does it happen? Is it gradual? That change from noting the first day someone irrevocably marked the earth with their beautiful presence? From anticipating it at level that rivals the anticipation you feel for your own birthday? To not noticing it at all?
I told M about my aunt. I told her about how my aunt didn’t call. For the love of god, I told her, call. My eyes still flashed as if it was a fresh wound, instead of one that scarred and faded with the years.
Although I can’t remember when I received the card, I remember the excitement the envelope invoked, it took three weeks to receive things from/to Cayman. By then the entire world could have changed.
I received her last letter while Hurricane Ivan was bashing her island. She suggested I read Clara Callan, which I devoured, and The Lovely Bones, which I didn’t read. I read about the bodies, uprooted from the cemeteries, that were floating in the street in the newspaper, and on the internet. The grief of the people was palpable in the news.
She promised to call. On her last day—force evacuation to Canada—she called. My father and I picked up the phone at the same time, the stars must have been align. We said “Hello?” in unison. She heard his voice, not mine.
"Aless won’t mind that I didn’t call, I was busy… Had people to see…"
I stifled the sob rising in my throat and pressed the phone down quietly. I remember staying up nights past midnight. It was only 11 where she was, an hour behind.
She called, installed back in her island, spoke of the destruction. I got a tattoo, I told her. You did? She asked, puzzled. I cut my hair, I said. Got new glasses. The line was all static and delays, like live events after Janet Jackson’s breast on the Superbowl.
I love you, she said. You too, I said.
The best advice I’ve received about relationships is this:
Don’t make someone a priority in your life if you’re only an option in theirs.
I think it has relevance in all relationships—platonic and romantic, and even in where you choose to do business. Don’t go back to the restaurant you have to do acrobatics at to get service.
Last year I e-mailed her a poem I’d written, that my father had encouraged me to send. She said something about how it’s so easy for relationships to come apart at the seams, in response. Oh, I know.
(Rereading the card, sitting crossed-legged on the floor, I wondered if there wasn’t a clue in the garish pink typewritten line. I am who I am,it says.
Did I ask her to be someone she wasn’t?
I argue with myself, do I not get points for being young? A teenager? Foolish? Inexperienced? All the while knowing I shouldn’t get points.
I also shouldn’t make excuses for her.
All the same, I wonder if I should have extended a little peace, love, and understanding.)
It is easy for relationships to come apart at the seams, to fray, and pull, and give way under the pressures of everyday life. But that’s why you fight. That’s why you trade slim lines about the weather, and check in, and go for supper, and buy text packages, and when you see that perfect something, you buy it, and why the first words out of your mouth are “it’s okay” and “I’m here for you.” And call, you call when you’ve been through a hurricane, literal or metaphorical, to say “This happened but I’m okay.”**. Because without love, what are we? The best advice I’ve read about that is this, I think from Maya Angelou:
Trust love one more time, and always one more time.
* Mary Oliver again, I’m predictable.
** KD and I used to check in, before flights and after “Leaving now. Love you.” “Arrived safe. Love you.”
And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.
My ten year high school reunion is on June 28, 2014. That was quick. I feel old.
(M would say “How do you really feel?”* or something, she’s been away two weeks and I’ve already forgotten her speech pattern, what words she uses. I play a complicated game of semantics, choose this word for her over this one. Nevertheless we would agree, I, who did not feel old when I dreamt I found a grey hair, do not feel old now. Melancholy, a bit nostalgic, and unaccomplished, yes.)
We started high school, an indeterminate number of us—because although Josh encouraged me to guess at how many were in our graduating class, I was never good at guessing the jellybeans in the jar, and always, unfailingly, demurred—days before the twin towers fell. Perhaps that was THE sign to watch for that we would struggle. Labor Day was the 3rd of September, we started school days later, days after that I walked into what would be Ms. Tynes’ English class, to find the substitute, Maynard, I think, frenzied. The air was frenetic. Her parents were in the air, were they on one of the planes?
The idea that planes could be maliciously flown into buildings was new to me, had it occurred to the class? The school? Did we even know what terrorism was? Did the word itself experience an upsurge in usage in the wake of 9/11? All of these things preoccupy me now.
I watched the towers fall, and people jump—why wasn’t that censored from our media? Was it to say this happened?—on loop. Turned the TV on in the mornings flipping through the Daily News, and eating breakfast, or more often, not eating.
(I remember walking out to the edge of the driveway after Rick drove me home on September 11th, 2001, it was so quiet, the sky, the street. Unsettling.)
We ate lunch on the slopping, grassy hill at the front of the school that first year. I ate with Jess, who eagerly pointed out Josh. She was smitten. Did I meet Adam before or after September 11th? I remember him in his football jacket, gesticulating wildly, his large grin, his long hair, standing up in the throng.
(When I met Adam, Jess imagined double dates, she would eventually be with Josh she knew, and me with Adam.)
High school felt like the start of something. What exactly, I wasn’t sure, I’m still not, but something.
I wrote Olga who I wouldn’t meet for years yet, recently that “Things are… not how I expected them to be. I think I could write a book about heartache, heartbreak, sorrow, and oh god, grief, but I sit down… and nothing.” Add to that dashed dreams and expectations. What were my dreams that first year, in grade 10? Did I have any better idea what I wanted to do with my “one wild and precious life”** in 2001 than I do now in 2014. The summer between grade 11 and 12, I think, my expectations were that I would live the life Josh had imagined for me, much better than anything I’d imagined for myself. Live in a sparsely furnished condo, write, be artsy (pretentious, as well? I never asked.), cook elaborate dinner parties. Play Frida Kahlo in my own culturally appropriative story of Frida and Diego. I still can’t cook much.
Olga writes back something about hoping to have everything on track by thirty, what she’d hoped to have on track by now. Does anyone ever have it all figured out?
I don’t tell her that this train of thought echoes M and mine over our last brunch at Estia, (oh god, she doesn’t know Estia’s closed, so much has happened these last two weeks that she knows nothing of), or what M said. She would find it depressing, I tell myself, I tell her.
Reunion was the name of a TV show that aired briefly in 2005. It was good. The Class was also good, that started the year after. I watched the first episode staring out into the darkening street through the screen door waiting for Josh. Waiting was as much a part of my life then as now.
I take Kim to YouTube and we watch the stop sign hit the blonde girl in the face, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, before he was on Modern Family. Maybe The Class ending was the best thing that could have happened to Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
Maybe separating ourselves from high school is the first best thing we do for ourselves.
You either find yourself, or you don’t, in high school amid the rigid confines of cliques and petty grudges and teasing, and classes, did you choose the right ones? Are you doing what you thought you’d do? Are you at least on your way? The first step counts!
I have an urge to read Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which I don’t own, and The Year of the Gadfly, which I do. They’re making a broadway show of Heathers. It’s been ten years—can you believe it?—since Mean Girls.
We never found out about Ms. Maynard, were her parents on one of the planes? To the best of my, possibly faulty, recollection, we never saw her again, either. The next day Ms. Tynes was there, she who would be there for the entire year, and also teach African Canadian Studies, which I also took, and our first assignment [in English 10] was to write a poem about the catastrophe.
I remember lying in my grandparents’ bed, watching the rivers of French wine run down the streets, and freedom fries, and drawing shitty Pinky and the Brain-inspired political cartoons starring George W. and Stephen Harper. (Now I also remember watching the flood of people celebrating Osama Bin Laden’s death. I found the mob scary, like anything could happen in this moment of frenzied patriotism.)
Our high school experience in any case, was surrounded by world strife. A sign, perhaps?
I tell Olga I understand her reluctance not to go to her graduation, although we’re no longer talking about high school. Olga is in university, becoming a writer. I am proud, as if I have any right to be. Even so, she does not want to go to her graduation—is this universal?—and I write that I understand.
Most of my friends graduated in 2004, I stuck around an extra year, took Sociology 12, and Geology-whatever, and talked to Mrs. Jack, the librarian at lunch and on off-periods, and skipped class as I always had. I was not a committed student. I wonder if there is a book on apathy.
I attended my graduation even though none of my friends were there. Saw Adam talking to his brother, who was graduating with me, walked past my mother in a blind haze as she tried to take a picture. Ms. N. mispronounced my name, I did not shake her hand. I walked past her, shook the vice principal’s hand. He was a nice guy, I wonder where he is now. Afterwards I talked to Ms. Bowlby who had been my favourite, gave my mother my cap and diploma, stood looking at the quad a few moments one last time before leaving.
(I remember standing in the quad while KD was above us, staring out the window, would she jump? We sang Sarah McLachlan’s I Will Remember You.
She didn’t jump.
I remember laughing so hard and suddenly chocolate milk went through my nose, in the quad, over a card game. It’s happened twice this year, laughing so hard and suddenly. Hot chocolate this time. Is that a sign?)
I did not attend my graduation from college—career college. I put my foot down, refused. Felt that same good riddance relief exiting the school for the last time. Am only occasionally nostalgic. Chris hugged me before I left, we went for coffee days/weeks/months later, was I still on my work term? More or less lost touch afterwards, are Facebook friends now.
I wrote Edward a few years ago, do you know it’s been ten years? Ten years! he said, I don’t feel older, do you?
When I met Edward I was 11, I was 21, of course I felt older, but I still felt promise pulsing in my veins, the world still felt like my oyster.
(Incidentally, in The Sims 3 University, my student always starts a blog I call “The Oyster” or “My Oyster” or “The World Is My Oyster”.) What is it about age and time that makes us forget our infinite potential?
Kate messages a group of us, “Given that you all probably know about the reunion…” I didn’t, what reunion, she messages me the Facebook group privately, she didn’t want to add me but I should feel free to add myself. Asks if we’re going. No, I say even before she sends me the group, wondering if M will be game for giving me my choice of restos, Halifax, Dartmouth, Truro, on June 28.
Have we talked about reunions, M and I? Or have more important things always got in the way, existential things, life or death, tarot, laughter? Does she go to hers? She’s had more, does she question her accomplishments before each one? Or is she more secure in who she is than I am in my flighty sense of self?
The things I am most proud of are not the things you will find on a resume, or that you will parade out in an interview, or at the mall in front of a former classmate or teacher, even someone like Ms. Bowlby. The things M would understand, and Olga, maybe Olivia too, but few others without extensive back story. I am proud of blogging for TheBody.com, I wish I could think of what to write now.
The group implores us not be self conscious of where we are, or aren’t, right now. No one is where they expected to be. I wonder where they are, if they are at least on their way, probably, and if anyone else has these questions.
I won’t ask, though.
* A mutual somebody to M and I lamented that her life would be over when she turned thirty in six months, this in a room full of women over thirty. Six months later, of course her life did not end.
** That’s Mary Oliver, y’all.
I guess it wasn’t really the place I missed, it’s you. I’ve always been homesick for you.
My great blessing is the capacity for radical silliness, and self-care.