Thursday, June 24, 2010

One Black Crow

One crow sorrow, two crows joy, three crows a letter, four crows a boy.

I can't remember the rest of the rhyme.

They have a majesty. This time of year, the pre-summer months, April, May, June. I see them alot, black shadows sillouhetted against the blue-white sky. I hear them, their loud tone-deaf calls filling me with a calm dread.

Ancient cultures (which ones? somewhere I read this) felt the sign of a single black crow was a bad bad omen. Lately, I have seen lone black crows everywhere. Even when I'm not looking.

I lived in a basement apartment near Thompson Park during the Summers of my Discontent (late last century). The mature trees invited crows. During my spring/summer/fall walks, runs, and roller-blades, there was a pair of crows that seemed to follow me along my route. It was un-nerving. I tried to give them personality by imagining they were the embodied souls of my paternal grandparents. It wasn't nearly as disrespectful or anti-Catholic as it sounds. I needed to anthromorphosize them somehow. They seemed, the pair of them, friendly, albeit stalkingly so, but they were big, tough crows, and they had no problem standing, fearless, on various patches of grass in Thompson Park, staking their territory. I watched them at first with fear, stemming from a recent trauma from a violent crime; my motivation at the time to even get outdoors was to battle depression with outdoor exercise. The crows seemed to be vocal supporters of this.
Lately, as I complete one of my many runs outside during the week, near my office, far far away from that Thompson park roller-blade route, I am seeing crows. Well, not two together. One, One ominous black crow. But lately, not so ominous. I see it flying high up above me in the blue June sky. Circling for a while, then settling on a lamp post, looking down at me, it's black eyes intent. But not threatening. Unagressive. Watching. Protective.
I shake my head as I run. I am, again, in time of life-stress and strife, attributing a kind-of personification to the common crow.
And then I stumbled across a blog entry by a writer I admire about seeing signs and spirits, as birds. It was late at night, I was labouring over this blog. Writing about something so 'out there' in the physical world for alot of people. When I saw this entry about signs and relating said signs to birds, I felt, for the first time in a few fleeting months, that I hadn't completely cracked.
And that I can acknowledge all my recent life changes, losses, and shifts of mind in the past few months without letting go of my sanity.
I'm a human being not a human doing, it helps to remember this sometimes.

I'm taking the omen away from this symbol and attributing it to a soul watching out for me, just a little bit. I need it right now.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Alone (Down) Time

Once coined as a clever acronym, "SSB" stands for Secret Single Behaviour.
Not so much! Here is my life, distilled in my alone-time for things I do (and enjoy doing)
now that I live alone again:

1. leave my make-up out on my bathroom counter. all the time. forever. or until someone comes over and I clean it up, put it away on a shelf, to make it look like I have a clear, uncluttered bathroom counter.
2. ditto to my nail polish collection. which is much larger than anyone might imagine.
3. leave my undergarments all over my bedroom floor. they also spill out of drawers.
4. leave flip-flops everywhere. everywhere.
5. have chardonnay for dinner.
6. blare my ipod to a decibel level that most likely deafens my neighbours.
7. suntan on my rooftop deck for hours at a time on the weekend while my floors wait to be cleaned.
8. keep my fridge one level above empty. I am a confirmed bachlorette. I have every type of condiment, hot sauce, and salad dressing ever made. And no food in the fridge to put them on.
9. organize my books on my bookshelf by colour (the shame. THE SHAME).
10. leave my bed unmade. i quote the credo i have used my entire life "why make it when you're just going to sleep in it again that night?"

Realizing that my alone-time, Phase 2, takes some adjustment, I am letting my normally neat Virgo self indulge some of these whimsical, messy habits. They just seem to work....I can pick up where I left off at the end of the day, without coming home to anyone having moved a crucial piece of (weeks old) mail, or wondering where is Black Cardigan # 3, or what I did with the last crumbs at the bottom of the chip bag.
Stay tuned for more weird behaviour.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Out the Window

Last night I was writing, alone in the dark, the only light the glow of the laptop screen, no noise but the sound of my keys on my keyboard being punched, rapidly as my hands tried to keep up with my thoughts and I heard a noise, not a loud one, but loud enough to give me a pause.

I stopped typing. Waited, listened. A couple more noises, one louder than the others, then a steady increase in the level of the sound until I got up, and looked out the window.
It was the sound of the first few raindrops falling. I could hear them, one, because I'm living alone again and things are quiet. I could also hear them because I have become more attuned to sound, like I had before in Phase 1 of Living Alone. You do that as a woman.

But the sounds of rain are not alarming. Once you know what it is you go back to the moment you were just in, the rain enriching it, the rhythmic sound soothing.

It helps. I have intense fear right now. I have to manage it. I cannot let it take over and control my life. A blog I admire, a writer I admire, wrote about how much grief can feel like fear. Fear has its own set of unique characteristics too. Fear of the future, about how I can try to manage it, fear of yesterday, of events that transpired showing me how masked we humans can really be. How we hide under layers of smiles and vanilla who we truly are.
How ugly we can truly be.

Then I realize something, whether it be a perception or a reality. I survived an abusive relationship. Emotionally, not physically. But abusive nonetheless. It was my cousin who named the affliction for me in a phone conversation one night. I detailed to her, on the phone, how things had been hanging by a thread. How he had found somewhere else to stay, to live, and I had no idea where that was. How, after a period of time when he felt he could deal with the bullsh*t he had created, he emerged from his hole and finally gave me, his then-girl friend, the common decency of letting me know he had found somewhere to stay, somewhere away from the home we shared. (that took two weeks). How can I not feel grief, and it's very close cousin, fear?

Emotional neglect is abuse, make no mistake. I have no tally for the times he left me alone at an important event, worried about where he was, if he was okay or not. No tally for the disappointing last-minute cancellation of plans, throughout our relationship. The emotional toll for his up-and-down mood swings, how I tried to accomodate that frightening pendulum, all by myself, a tiny boat, bobbing up and down on open water, praying for some sort of repreive from my fear.

I blamed myself. I went back for more. My self-esteem, my self-image, was not cohesive enough to tell him to go f(ck himself and put myself first. But it's ok. Any realization (no matter how late it is) is better than nothing at all.
A bad person disguised as a good person? He used to tell me, when we were first dating, getting to know each other, and I was suspicious of his motives, as a man, he would repeat, over and over; "I'm NICE. Why can't you just accept that?" I don't like the word nice. I don't like to hear people described as nice. I don't want to be described as nice. Kind, generous, a gentle spirit, complicated, big-personality, strong; not nice. Hearing someone described as nice, either by themselves, or by someone else, sets off an alarm bell for me. I'm almost never wrong about mistrusting this very bland mis-leading word. It makes me nervous.

That being said, a conversation about the dual natures of most people, with a friend on the phone the other night, does help me in terms of not demonizing him. I also take my own role in this very seriously. I am no angel, and anyone who knows me knows that I pull no punches, that I stand up for myself, and sometimes, I make glorious mistakes, arcing free-falling ones, right from the sky. Sometimes I think I can defy gravity. I can't.
They love me for how I am, anyway.

I delayed telling my parents about the break-up, the move-out, the spectacular ending, for a number of weeks. I was so disappointed in my failure, and they are dealing with so much right now. At my dad's first appointment at Princess Margaret (PMH as we affectionately call it), we were, the three of us, my parents and me, waiting for the doctor, when my mother suddenly asked
"How is ________? We haven't talked to him in a while." as if this had just occurred to her. I stiffened slightly, unsure of what to say.
I answered lightly; "Oh, he's fine. Just working away...I'll have him call you..."
And we left it at that. I left out the part about the previous evening about the explosive fight we had had, as he hadn't yet moved out at that point. About the five hours of sleep after his screaming at me escalated. It was not the first time I'd been afraid of him, but it was, when I look back now, a turning point of making a clear decision not to participate in this anymore.
I wondered, aloud, to him, if I was some sort of catalyst for bringing out the absolute worst in him. If, when my comments to him about whatever he happened to be ranting about, delievered in a calm way, without raising my voice, inspired him to even further temper.

It's now June; he moved out in May, my home feels like my own again, the negative energy dissipating at a rapid rate. I am at PMH with my dad one evening, while he has his chemo treatment. He brings up ________ moving out, cautiously. We don't talk about emotion and difficult subjects in my family very often. We keep it light, jokes, laughter, and block out serious.
When he speaks, he ambles sideways up to the subject.
"So ________ moved out." Pause. "You know, you'll be much better off. Much better.
Poor ________".
I don't say anything, my eyes are filling. I don't trust my voice. I nod, a couple of times.
I can finally speak.
"Yes...I know. I'm fine Dad. Fine. Everything is ok".
I think of his words, 'Poor ________'.
Poor nothing I sneer in my head. But I correct myself. Yes, he is poor....poor in the sense that life gave him an opportunity to make a go of being happy, and it involved a bit of work on his part, but in the end, he traded it off. I've said it before--no bother.
I know life, as you get further along in your journey on this revolving-door planet, doesn't just hand out chances at happiness left, right, and center. When one comes along, it's worth taking it in hand, and trying to preserve and care for it.

I'm lucky I guess. I know how to be happy.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Give Us Today

It's been a long day. I lay in bed this morning, thinking of an early meeting, a busy schedule. June's blue skies, a lovely month. My tasks seem diminished in importance thinking about my dad's first treatment.

Work. My messy desk, that jittery but much-needed third cup of coffee. A pile of unreturned emails, my normally on-top-of-it memory muddled. Distracted, emotion, what, what memory what do you need to keep it together?

I'm drifting. I'm eleven. I'm serving my sentence, my childhood torture of unending surgeries, of long stretches of hospital stays, wondering which one will be the last. No one gave me a treatment plan. I would have liked to have seen one. After all, I could read. I could tell time. The doctors directed their conversations to my parents, not addressing me, the patient. They didn't know. I didn't even know--that I could have comprehended what they were saying, and that I could have used that knowledge to at least give me an end-point.

During those long stays (they were usually not more than a week or so, in my child's mind it might as well have been a year) I looked forward to a few things. Not eating hospital food topped the list. To this day, at thirty-six-years of age, I will not, ever, eat a breakfast food. I can't go to brunch. I needed only the food my mother brought me, in unending variety, at my request; deli sandwiches and chocolate milk. The nurses thought it was hilarious. I thought it a necessity.

I also looked forward to visits. A break from learning to speed-read. To ignorning the well-meaning stares of strangers. I was an introverted, private, wary child. I'm an adjusted, but still introverted and very private adult. Being around people I didn't know when I was at my lowest was mortifying for me.
Back to the visits.

At the time, through out my childhood, my father commuted downtown to his Richmond Street office, and when I was at Sick Kids, he would visit me on his lunch hour. I never really thought, until I had a niece and nephew (I have no children of my own); what that would be like--to visit your child over your lunch hour. God. It puts a whole new spin on 'bad day' for me. And I wasn't terminally ill, or anything like that. I had a medical condition that required surgery and adjustment to match my growth, unfortunately making the hospital stays necessary and part of a ghastly routine. Had I been a sociable, extrovert these stays may have meant nothing more than a break from school, home, chores, obligations. Being what I was (what I still am) it was being shuttled off to another planet.

I thought alot about these times as I drove home after a long day today. I was heading home to drop off my car downtown, then get walking over to the hospital where my father was staying the night, getting his first chemo treatment. I understand hospitals--the slots of time, how boredom can set in--and I was looking forward to visiting with my dad, having some conversation, and at least alleviating some of the tediousness of sitting in a hospital bed, while choemo drugs drip, innocuously into your veins.
We talked about alot of current goings-ons. The impending summit, which would ensnare the hospital in a security net; traffic in the city, summer weather. My dad's dinner arrived. It was difficult for him to eat, so I ran downstairs to the hospital deli and got him a tomato soup and a roll. A simple meal, one that was easier for him to eat. He enjoyed it enormously. I returned in thought to eleven and my deli sandwiches. When you are in a hospital, no caviar is needed. Those familiar little foods will do it. He ate while the amber-coloured drugs dripped from the IV into his veins; catching the light out of the corner of my eye.

When I was getting ready to go, I made sure he was comfortable, checking the bed, and asking him if he was okay if I left. "Oh yes, of course, Carolyn, I'm fine, dinner was delicious"...nothing irritated him, not a certain patient wandering by, IV rattling, innumerable times; I asked,

"Dad, are you sure" and he reassured me.

Of course he did.
Parents spend their whole lives worrying over their children; you, as their child, spend your whole life from age thirteen on, or so, rolling your eyes at such worry.
So I left; he was in a nice bed, he had been well-fed, he had two magazines he wanted to read, and the drugs needed to continue to drip until the bag was empty.

I hugged him good-bye, re-assuring myself to allow myself to leave.

I was going to walk home, to my empty condo, and just have some dinner. I wasn't going back to my office for the afternoon the way he had so many times before.

The day, with all its nuances. Sometimes it's all we have.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Back in Time

I'm eating dinner on the coffee table again. The major step forward is I'm using a placemat. And it's a different coffee table, not the one I had for almost 12 years, square, stained pine. This is an elegant cousin, dark wenge-like wood, circular, organic.
I'm alone again. I'm not surprised, or really that hurt (not as much as I have been) but I am just the slightest bit bereft by this turn of events. Everything happened so quickly, really. But it's okay. I drew the alone card a long time ago. When I decided, somewhere around the age of perhaps fifteen, that I was not going to be able to participate 'fully' in the milestones and markers of adult life. I just lived too far inside my own head. Time passed, I came out a bit, I made a life for myself, one with lots of sociability; it's just that pieces were still missing, things I didn't want that everyone else wanted.

I had a message 'conversation' with a long-ago ex and I talked to him about being alone again and how perplexing it was on the one hand, and on the other hand, achingly familiar. He was, in his way (so familiar with the complexities of my personality) reassuring; there's a difference, Carolyn, to being alone and being okay with it. He's right. I look around at my place in the world, my little life, my little condo, the huge base of people I am lucky enough to love, and everything does feel right.
Saturday night was my first event out as a singleton again. I was in a group of 14 people; 6 married couples, myself, and one other singleton, a male friend. I realized, as I sat at dinner (my two best friends had positioned themselves on either side of me--my protectors; making sure this night, a night without "him" was more than okay, that it was FABULOUS); and I felt more loved than I had in the whole last year of my relationship.

True friends can do this for you.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Courage My Love

I became a grown-up the other day. Just by chance, in passing. I didn't realize that I would know the exact moment it would happen in the way that I did.
You assume, you go along. You celebrate birthday after birthday. And you reach the milestones

And you find out all those things.
That no one ever tells you.

My aunt is one of those women who conjures up, to me, an old-school type of person, in all the positive nuances of that label; one who sees the world, and all of its' paradoxical nonsense and utterly devestating moments with unobscured vision, a clear head, and a sense of purpose that borders on the divine.
She gets excited over current events (as do I. as does my father. I am convinced this is some sort of Irish way-of-life). She spouts out quotes (as do I. as does my father. see previous sentence for my point-of-view on this particular character trait..).
She doesn't mince words. But she knows when to hold back.
She once said to me, that if you don't have courage in this life, nothing else counts. Guess what?
She's right.
She once said to me, that if you can get through this life without losing a child, or without anything else completely distastrous happening to you--then you got off easy.
At the time of both these utterances, I was in my late-twenties, maybe early-thirties; far too tender to understand the underlying truth to both of these shatteringly accurate statements.

We have our discourse. I love her beyond reason.
And now my father is sick. My father; her little brother.
I can't take my fear to my mother, I can't lay this on her right now. She is in denial, a denial that she is fully and completely entitled to.
The other night, I took my fear to my aunt on the long-distance line.
Not sure what my first turn into this conversation was. Maybe talking about my dad's impending treatment. Maybe going to lunch with my mother and sister, and sitting at a table for four, with one seat empty. But somewhere along the line, during our phone call, I went to the fear place.
So did my aunt.
She listened to me cry; albeit in a hysterical, gasping-for-breath fashion. Then she talked about how my dad was determined, in his stubborn Scorpio "I-can-take-care-of-myself" fashion, to take the GO train to his treatment.
And she said, "And he drove to the GO train station to see what it all entailed...." and suddenly her words fell off; she was crying, high-pitched, agonizing; sobs for her little brother. I have never, not in person or on the phone, heard or seen my aunt cry. It stilled me to my soul.
It was then that I realized; that is how much she trusts me; with her feelings, with her pain, with the burden of what she is carrying.
I won't lie. I continued to cry right along with her. But this time, I realized after; I was not crying as that little girl, her niece. I was crying as her equal--in the reality of the situation, in the prison of our shared experience.
Her little brother; my father. Who had children so young, he should be entitled to enjoy his grandchildren and see them graduate from university.
So that 's how it happened---out of nowhere, from that place where life likes to whip that curveball right at your head. Christmas; together as a family, enjoying amazing food and drinks with my then-boyfriend's family; to Family Day, a lovely lunch, the four of us, our family of origin, me, my dad, mom, and my sister.
To today and to tomorrow. To cancer treatment, and outcomes, and stages, and predicitons.
Ah courage. Don't leave me now.


Friday was six months
Or maybe it was Saturday--
the dates conflicted so I am not sure
except somewhere deep within me
Whether it was the 4th or the 5th.

I still think of you every day
Some days more than others.
I think of things I meant to tell you
and I think about conversations we had.

At times, something you once said to me
Will come at me,
Out of nowhere
When I'm lying in bed late at night, alone.
Often it's something funny, something only you
Could have thought or come up with.
And I will admit, I laugh into my pillow.

And then a hole opens up in my chest
A void so expansive
That for a second, I cannot breathe in.
And I remember you're gone
You're no longer out there living your life,
In peace and in waves and in sunshine.

I have to keep living mine
No matter what turmoil surrounds it.
And as you probably already know,
There have been some situations lately.

The weather is warm, "June's long days",
and I am sad you will miss this summer
and all the summers after
But I know you are somewhere where
you are still being yourself, and being loved
for exactly that.

I wish I want I would I could
But maybe not ever understanding
Is what keeps us all going.
photo credit: Craig Ross Waterfield