Saturday, February 25, 2012

The beginning

July 1, 1978.

The sun is setting over a peaceful lake, casting shadows of pink and purple over everything. With a crackling fire in the background, a holiday party is just getting started.

Brenda is visiting her girlfriends in Northern Ontario. As an unfamiliar face in town, she’s being eyed up by the local boys as she sips on a beer and chats with her friends.

Suddenly, a burst of happy shouting, as someone new joins the party.

“Billy’s here! Hey Billy, how ya doin’?”

A crowd forms around the newcomer, people shake his hand, slap him on the back, give him hugs.

She is impressed, intrigued. He is a shorter man, wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and cowboy boots. As he walks around the party talking to everyone, he oozes charisma.

Later, there is a beer drinking contest. She is standing directly behind him as he gulps. He notices he is losing, and tosses the rest of his drink over his shoulder, narrowly missing Brenda’s head. 

He holds up his empty glass. “Done!” Everyone cheers. 

He turns to look at Brenda, a mischievous look in his eye, puts his index finger to his lips.  

She smiles, giggles, raises her glass to him.

That’s when he knew she was the one.
Over 30 years later, cleaning out the spare room at her dad’s new house, Kate will knock over a pile of books. Her mom’s handwriting will startle her, staring out from a small, white book. It is decorated with bells and flowers and “Our Wedding Memories” on the cover. She opens it and begins to read. 
Bill and I became officially engaged on November 16, 1979. It came as quite a shock when we went to Timmins to pick out a ring and I ended up wearing it home.
He had wanted to pick one out, get rid of me for a minute, pay for it and hide it in one of my ski boots for Christmas. He couldn’t get rid of me though, so he told me if that was the ring I wanted he’d buy it for me right then and there. 
And it is so beautiful. One big diamond in the middle with two smaller ones on either side of it.
Up until now, this is the happiest day of my life.

They are married on a beautiful day in August, 1980.

Brenda’s bridesmaids wear dresses of soft lavender. Always a classic beauty, she carries a few simple, white Calais lilies.
Before going into the church, his brother says something to him, which later turns into a family joke. 
“Are you sure? It’s not too late to back out…”
Bill just looks at his brother and laughs, as the reverend’s eyes widen. 
As Brenda walks down the aisle, he can’t keep his eyes off of her. Can’t believe she’s his.
He’s never been more sure of anything.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Still as vivid as yesterday

Let me just preface this by saying I do not get a kick out of making people cry. I remember being a teenager, when we had people over for dinner, my dad would always make me play the piano. After a soulful rendition of "My Heart Will Go On," I would stop, take my hands off the keys, and look up to 5 or 6 tearstained faces. They'd coo about how good it was and I'd smile.  
"Look at her!" my dad would say, laughter in his voice. "She LOVES making people cry!"  
What I loved was touching people. Making them feel emotions with my music, or my words, so strong that it would pour out of their eyes.  
The following few posts are part of a project written for a short story competition. I didn't win the competition, but I think it's time to share my story.  
Fourteen years ago today, my mama passed away, and we've all come so far since then. The next few posts are little windows into the past 14 years.  

This is where my little family's biggest journey began. 

She hasn’t yet opened her eyes, but knows it is the middle of the night. Opening one eyelid, she looks at the digital clock, glowing red by the bedside. Four-thirteen a.m.

She turns over, and suddenly realizes she is in her parents bed. Confused for a second, until the sleeping aunt beside her brings her to full consciousness.The days’ events come crashing down, flooding into her mind like poison.
All at once, she remembers the ambulance attendants, walking slowly up the driveway with a stretcher. Just another day on the job.
She remembers her Dad, crashing through the door, a paper cup in his hands. He brought Mom a coffee every morning.
Her dad yelling at the paramedics.
“Get ‘em in here!”

The coffee got cold sitting on the counter that morning. Eventually, someone poured it down the sink.

Amid the turmoil, she realizes her sister has disappeared. She walks up the stairs to their bedrooms.
“I’m in here,” her sister replies. Her voice sounds cold and hollow.
Gillian is sitting on her bedroom floor, her arms around the family dog Cal, a yellow lab. He has the same stunned look on his face as his “sisters.” Every time a sound is heard from downstairs, his ears go back.
Kate sits down with her sister. Winnie the Pooh stares out happily from the wallpaper.
“She must have had a seizure,” says Gillian, almost inaudibly. She is staring straight ahead, her hand running over the dog’s coat again and again.

In her own little world, Kate thinks aloud.
“I wonder what she’s gonna say when she wakes up. Do you think she had an out of body experience? Saw a bright light?”
Her sister doesn’t answer. Just kisses Cal on the head. A tiny moment of comfort.

She remembers the phone call from the hospital. They’d been waiting all day.
“Kate, can you put Nana on?”
“Dad, is mom going to be ok?” she asks, her voice shaky.
Her dad doesn’t speak for a second. Weighing the pros and cons of how to answer this impossible question, he takes a deep breath.
That’s when she knows. Her life is changed forever.

She remembers her dad coming home, sitting her and Gillian down in the bedroom, while a dozen friends waited in the living room.
“We’re going to be just fine,” he says, his tear-stained face a portrait of pure, heartbroken sorrow. “We have to stick together. It’s going to be ok. I love you guys so much.”

In that moment, lying in bed at 4:13 a.m., pictures and sounds swirling around her head, she begins to cry. She’s only 15 years old, and her mama is gone. Her sleepy aunt wakes, rubs her back.
“Oh, darly girl. I don’t know what to say.”

The thing that sticks out most in Kate’s mind about that day is the colour of the sky. It was the colour of concrete, of unpainted drywall. As if the earth knew their pain.

She closes her eyes, and opens them again. In the bedroom doorway, backlit from a light left on in the kitchen, is her mother.
As she speaks, colours start appearing around her. Shining aqua blues, soft purples, calming yellows and oranges.
“I’m ok,” says her mom. “There was nothing you could have done.
“I didn’t feel any pain. Everything just went black, and that was it.”
Chalking it up to a dream, she goes back to sleep.

The colours are still swirling, in the back of her mind. Despite her broken heart, she feels warm, comforted. A little bit of hope on a dark, grey night.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I believed him right up until his hair was on fire

This morning, I'm hanging frames in my new apartment. I brace myself, and push my bed away from the wall, not taking into account my wool socks (it's a basement apartment) sliding against the floor.  

Nosedive. Right into my mattress. I didn't even have the time (or the reflexes) to catch myself. My eyes well up, and a couple of seconds later, my nose starts to bleed. I'm sitting on the couch, with a frozen chicken breast on my nose, telling my sister my most recent mishap.  

"You seriously are the clutziest person I know!" she types in a text.  

I'm not going to argue with her. Ever since I was a little girl, I've been falling down, scraping my knees, banging different limbs, and knocking stuff over. I've become accustomed to finding weird bruises in weird places and shrugging them off. Someone who doesn't know me that well will sometimes see a multicoloured bruise and recoil in horror.  

Me: "What? Oh. That....Yeah. I'm not really sure. Could have happened when I brushed up against that drawer at work a couple days ago. Could have been the time I banged it getting out of the shower. Or when I slammed the car door on it yesterday. BUT DOESN'T IT LOOK LIKE JESUS?"  

Ever since I can remember, my dad has been blaming my clutziness on my mom. He'll smile, shake his head, and say "Wow, you really got that from the Weber side." "Clutzy like your mother." "You and your mom are twins."  

Then he'll go on to tell the story about when he took her on a hike up a mountain on their anniversary for a romantic picnic and she fell all the way down.  

"She just tumbled down, ass over tea kettle." Miraculously, she wasn't hurt. That's the gift I guess we'd been given, Ma and I. Bruises, scrapes, cuts - all signs of our one genetic downfall - but SO FAR my clutziness has not lead to any serious injuries. KNOCK ON WOOD.

And I always believed my dad. 

While stumbling on the sidewalk in front of hundreds of people during Canada Day celebrations, I'd think "goddamn you mother!"  

While running from first base to second and trying to ignore the snickers coming from my team's bench during baseball games I'd curse the woman who'd given me the gift of clutziness. 

"You run like a sack of hammers falling down a set of stairs. Just like your mother," my dad has said on more than one occasion.  

Aww, thanks Pop. Warms the heart.  

Lately, though, I've been starting to think I'm doubly cursed.  

Little drops of blood on the floor of my dad's workshop.  

"Oh, I cut myself yesterday."  

Curse words echoing through the kitchen.  

"OWWW! I pinched my hand!"  

Then one day he set his hair on fire. (Although I'm sure he'll blame me for this one.)  

He was staying with me last weekend, helping me set up my new digs. I lit a candle on the ledge of the bathroom sink.  

Laying in bed, I heard "Oh my god! Kate! Your candle just singed my head!"  

While brushing his teeth, he'd leaned over to drink directly from the tap and poof! Let's just say his bald spot is a little bigger now.  

I will admit, I've lit other people's hair on fire before (don't ask,) but never my own. 

I rushed into the bathroom to find TONS of burned hair on the floor and in the sink. The candle was doing nothing to quell the scent of burnt hair.  

Once I confirmed he was ok, the laughter started. 

And it hasn't stopped. 

With a mom who tumbles down mountains and a dad who lights his hair on fire, let's just say I'll never be a prima ballerina.