Thursday, April 28, 2011

M Part 2--A Good Bye

M said good-bye to my Dad at the end of March, in the Oshawa hospital. He (M) was leaving to go back home in the days following, and, without acknowledging it, or saying anything about it, we (all) knew that this would be the last time he would see my dad.
It wasn't planned, it wasn't really thought out, because at that time, after a month of driving to Oshawa on a near-daily basis, my ability to plan anything was at an all-time low.

I stood outside in the hallway when M said bye to my dad. Not sure if M knew I could hear snippets of what he was saying; I could not hear anything my dad was saying, as he could no longer speak on account of the trach. I leaned up against the wall, not caring about the germs, almost rocking back and forth against it, for comfort.

M had met my dad, and my mom and my aunt, for the first time the previous October, right after my parents had celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. It was a sunny, beautiful Sunday the day that we went out to visit them, in the town they live, east of the city. We sat on the porch, drank pinot grigio. My dad was still recovering from his eight weeks of chemo/radiation, and was slowly trying to gain strength. M was comfortable around them, as he is comfortable around everyone. His gregarious nature, coupled with his brash (not at all in a bad way) American forth-right-ness allows him to fit in everywhere.
He promised my dad at that visit that he was not to worry; he was going to take care of me. On my own, I wondered, what exactly did that look like? No man I had ever been with had ever 'taken care of me'. It was something I put away to take out and look at later. By the way, when I say take care of me, I mean it in the purely emotional sense. I've been taking care of myself longer than I care to remember, and in this spirit I was intrigued.

M's been home almost a month now. We talk on the phone every day, sometimes more than once a day. Sometimes our connection on the phone is poor and we can't hear each other. Sometimes one of us is driving and is experiencing frustration on the road. Sometimes M is beginning to enjoy the night, enjoy talking, as I am dropping off to sleep, getting ready to face six-thirty am for the millionth morning in a row (that's how it feels lately). He's drive-able, as my aunt describes it, but eleven-hours drive-able. The US is our closest neighbour here in Canada. But M is not my neighbour. My neighbour, as I've described here, before, is a difficult journalist who certainly would not provide any type of emotional support. M does, but I find it hard to look at the phone and believe he's in there.

As I said, I heard snippets. Snippets like "she's my best friend", and again, gallant and kind, "I will take care of her". And to my Dad, facing his end of days, "I wish I could have known you longer".

I wish that too M. I wish I had the wedding day for both my parents to see me seen to. I wish I had those photos, regardless of what may have happened after.
I am childless, and it's times like this that remind me of a line in a long-ago novel (when I remember where I read this, this beautiful line that I will paraphrase now I swear I will post the author's name and book right here, in its own post); the character is the novel realized how much her children would help her cope with the death of her own parents.

I am taking care. Of me.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Journal 6--Theological Realizations

Still reading the L'Engle book. It's entrancing. Truth be told, it's very..."God-questioning" which is a place that I find myself in from time to time. Not that I don't believe, more that I just don't understand.
This theme was explored in the chapter I was reading last night, and as I was reading I felt myself drift away the way I do when I'm immersed in a new idea, one that is taking me somewhere I don't often go, am afraid to go, or is simply somewhere I've never gone.

It was after midnight, all was quiet on a deep Saturday night, really, early Easter Sunday, this most holy day, when I realized, for the first time in my life, with all my consciousness, that I will one day die. No exaggeration. I intellectually have known this, as we all do, since a certain point in late childhood. But never had I psychologically digested it, and allowed it to flower inside my brain, the thoughts popping up like little blossoms:
I will one day, (I have no idea when) die, no longer exist, cease to be.
No more me, worrying about tomorrow or the next day, or will I ever get married, or get some insane stroke of genius luck, write a book, create a new idea, have a thought that no one else has ever had.

Before this thought set in, I was reading about L'Engle's questions for God, ones that we've all asked ourselves, if we're inclined to think theologically--why is there suffering if there is God, why is there evil, disease, untimely death, war, poverty, all those unpleasant things that take the lustre of off life? Because, the answer inevitably is, we have our own free will here in this life, this life that was created for us, given to us, we steer the ship, even if the ocean was already there first.
I guess that's the simple way of thinking about it.

I've spent an inordinate amount of time lately thinking about life, death, life after death, life right before death, and I've also spent, aside from my workdays in a busy office, a huge amount of time alone. When I'm alone I try to put some order to things. My thoughts, my feelings, my perceptions. Where am I in this phase of my life?
I managed to name the feeling a couple of days ago, maybe on Good Friday, a day I once again had free, and spent totally alone (by choice).
Derailment. That's what I came up with. I'm derailed right now. I like to have a mental picture association for all words, especially ones that are not part of general conversation. For derailment my mental picture is a bit literal, but it doesn't define the word.
A train, slogging along a set of tracks, not surrounded by a city, but rather tangles of trees, all leafless, it's before spring, or late autumn, and the colours are smoke grey and dun brown. Off to one side of the picture, a child walks alongside the tracks and looks straight ahead. Maybe that child is me. The derailment I'm experiencing makes me feel removed and remote from my adult life with its demands of emotional repression, or of trying to create a life that looks like it 'should'. My life doesn't really resemble the shoulds of others' lives. And surrounding circumstances make me feel this keenly right now.
Still reading, writing, running, organizing, but really, treading water.
Waiting, for the inevitable, the next phase.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Journal 5--Books find me

I feel guilt alot, alot of guilt. It's a side-effect, a twin sibling of my anxiety, I believe. Both emotions (feelings? afflictions?) take very little to ignite them from a small fire to an inferno.

I've thought alot about not fighting life lately, as my friend A. so wisely puts it. I thought about that as I talked to my bank last night after finding out my credit card had somehow been compromised and I needed to cancel it to prevent any further fraudulent activity. I thought about how that would have affected me a few years ago. I would have panicked, tried to control the situation. But now I just let the bank handle it. Their area of expertise after all. Since spending the last few weeks dealing with the situation my father and mother find themselves in, nothing else really does, or can ignite me.

Signs truly do keep finding their way to me, obscure books, lines from songs, messages from people.

Reading in bed last night, I realized that I'd mistakenly gotten a book out of the library that was actually number 3 in a series (the fact that the book said number 3 on the front cover was somehow, not a clue to me). I was reading the first chapter of the book, "The Irrational Season", it's called, filled with diaristically-fuelled thoughts by the author (it's a journal-type series, part autobiography, part poetry, written by Madeleine L'Engle). After finishing the chapter, which was quite profound, the writer talking about being awake, alone, in the middle of the night, staring out the window of her New York City apartment, having a warm drink, something I could certainly relate to; I turned the book over, to read the reviews and reactions of critics, other writers. They had the bones of Book 3, as well as the other books in the series (Books 1, 2, and 4).

Book 1, A Circle of Quiet, sounded good too. The quote, from Jean Kerr, in part read:
"I know it will give great consolation to ordinary people who sometimes wonder why they bother to get out of bed in the morning". I was immediately reminded of my recent 'day dread' thoughts and had a moment of pause.

Book 2, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, had this quote from the Washington Post:
"Anyone who has dealt with, or will soon deal with, the death of a parent will find some solace, understanding, and companionship in this perceptive book, which is, in the end, more about living than about dying". I had to stop and look around my room at this point. Was this some kind of joke? How could I have not noticed these quotes when I took the book out of the library? I must have been distracted, hungry, tired, looking for my next quick read, and grabbing this book off the shelf in the memoir section was done by rote. I like non-fiction, I like memoirs, check.

Book 3, the one I am currently reading, out of sequence, clearly, had the more generic description by Publishers Weekly:
"It's hard to imagine readers failing to get a spiritual lift from The Irrational Season". I have faith that they are correct in this assertion. What I've already read, one chapter, fifteen pages, I definitely took in, digested, and thought about, am still thinking about.

Book 4, entitled Two-Part Invention, is reviewed by someone named Diane Cole from USA Today (the books are circa-mid-seventies timeframe) and says this:
"L'Engle's chronicle is filled with a sense of the adventure of life, as well as with an awareness of the terrible surprises that lie in wait for all of us..."

At this point I really thought that I had not chosen to read this book. I felt, rather, that the book had chosen me, to read it.

It gives me something to mull over when I am awake in the middle of the night, staring out the window of my Toronto apartment, having a warm drink.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Journal 4--Dr. Call

"I hate this kind of cancer, I hate it, I hate it"....Dr. B. trails off. He is speaking to me on Friday, March 25th, at about one in the afternoon, and I am in my office, with the door closed, most of my co-workers on lunch on this beautiful, new-spring day.
I had only just arrived at work about two hours before, to a kind-of-kitchen-crisis, and I can tell you, I was in no mood for any of it.
I was late because I'd spent the morning at the Oshawa hospital, where my father had been staying for most of the month of March. We'd had a 'team meeting' that morning, my father, upright and clutching his dignity in an open-backed hospital gown, my wide-eyed, terrified mother, not taking anything in; my aunt and cousin taking notes. The ward physician, holding court on the only comfortable chair in the room. The Social Worker, the Respiratory Tech, the Home Care nurse, the Nurse-in-Training. Me and my sister, on my dad's hospital bed, because there was no where else to sit. All we are trying to do right now is figure out how to control my dad's ongoing pnemonia and get him home, where he wants to be. Where we want him to be too.

Two days earlier, spring was far away. It was a freak snowstorm and the date of my father's scheduled appointment to Princess Margaret. His original cancer doctor, Dr. C., had retired at the end of 2010, when my dad's prognosis was still looking good. Now, post-tracheotomy, the surgery that saved his life after the tumour had recurred near his trachea, this appointment was a grasping at straws. But we still needed to do it. My dad and mom arrive, after a three-hour journey in the snow, to Princess Margaret. I have left work early to meet them there. On the way, to save time and parking anxiety, I pick up my sister, and my aunt, who is still staying in Toronto to support her younger brother, my father. My cousin looks after my sister's children for the few hours we will all be at the hospital.

We are all on time, and God bless Dr. B., he is too. And I know he is busy. There is a full waiting room at this office a few floors up, and he has more than one emergency page during the time we are there. He is young, not much older than me, young in doctor years, and does not appear rushed or hurried. For this I silently thank him. Oshawa, of course, has had some hand in f*cking this appointment up--although I give them credit for arranging the ambulance, getting them there; but we are all there, for this critical appointment MINUS the CT scans that Dr. B. needs to see. I catch my sister's eyes, her furious expression, mirroring mine, across the stretcher my dad is lying on after Dr. B. tells us about the missing scan. We have dealt with so much this month with our Dad, being his advocate, trying to keep this house of cards from being completely blown to bits. We both hold on to our composure while Dr. B. arranges for a scope for my dad, so he can get a better look at things.

Afterward, my dad resting, my mom sitting down, processing in her own way, I imagine; we take Dr. B. aside. He draws a rough diagram of what he has seen in the scope, what, upon instant visual clues, he imagines the tumor is doing. I take the diagram in, (he says, attempting a joke "I never claimed to be an artist". My sister and I are silent, not in judgment. I think we are both, truly, unable to speak.)
He talks about needing to see the scans, look at the images himself. My sister and I divide, quickly, the tasks between us; she will obtain the scans and get them to Dr. B. by tomorrow. I will talk to my father and assure him that no one has, or will, give up on this.
We give Dr. B. our respective cell numbers to contact us. He has promised to look at the images by Friday and call us to discuss.

We get my father ready for his ambulance ride back to Oshawa with his nurse, R., whose name means "born again".

Dr. B. calls my sister's cell number Friday afternoon, and she misses the call. For this I am glad; the conversation that ensues once he called the follow-up cell number--mine--was an exercise for me, in self control, and in not crying as Dr. B. tells me his very learned opinion, for not losing it when he speaks in terms of weeks, not months, and for being able to take notes, somehow, about his recommendation for a Plan B (that's how bad it might get). I thank him as we end our conversation, this young doctor who has already seen enough of this type of cancer for him to almost chant his hatred of it. I salute him for this, for his passionate hatred toward it.

For me, I am left with the task of calling my poor sister, and relaying this news to her. I break it to my mother later, in the days that follow, in a Coles-notes version, one that is easier to swallow than the real book. For my father, I steel myself. We have a kind of conversation that I am now used to having with him, since he can no longer speak. He talks with his eyes. This time, I talk with mine too. I speak through them and let him respond in kind. I simply can't put this kind of news into words.

It is only (how?) three weeks since that conversation; three weeks out of the rest of the months and years that will likely compose my life. But three weeks out of my father's countdown seems much larger a timespan. Still, I can scarcely believe that this much time has passed, will pass again, and I will look back on this scattered time as a time of innocence and of being gifted.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Journal 3--Bad Day

I did not have what I would describe as an inspiring day yesterday.
I was frustrated (with myself, with the situation I've found myself in for the last few weeks).
When I got home from what felt like an incredibly long, endless work-week, I put my running shoes on, went immediately outside, and, despite the pain that has been plaguing my right foot for the last week, I ran 10 k.

Huge mistake. I returned home, slightly better, but not in a great place, and proceeded to have my dinner and then go immediately to bed (we're talking 10pm). Waking up this morning, my foot was even worse. I have no idea what I've done to it. I have no idea why I've had a headache, off and on, for approximately the last ten days. Ok, I have SOME idea, but as I have previously discussed on this very blog--we all have our own brand of denial--this might be mine. It's all fine.

This morning, rain pouring, I got myself out of the apartment by 830, was at Starbucks by 845, and nursing a grande bold by 850. I got a nice dose of vitamin D at my local tanning bed (beside the Starbucks). I returned home, dripping wet from the monsoon outside, and after picking my sister and her family up from the airport mid-day, found myself at home, alone, for the rest of the day/evening.
My foot was so bad I didn't even attempt to get to church.
Mood soured, I talked to M for a bit this afternoon, in between doing laundry and washing the floor. Below is one of the pictures he sent me, photo-shopped from his new MacBook, that truly made me laugh. I couldn't quite think at first what part of the image was so funny to me. Part Mount Rushmore/part new cover for the Kahlil Gibran book of poetry I love so much, The Prophet.

Thank you M. Again.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

M Part 1--How we met

Scrolling through the list of "blogs I follow" I thought I saw the line "people do live in other places you know".
I scrolled through again (alot of scrolling). I couldn't see or find the line on the second scroll. Another sign? Or just a prompt?

I've been dating M for over six months now. I just had to count it out. He lives in another place. Yes, it's drive-able, but eleven hours drive-able. Our love is still new. Not brand new, but very new to us, two lonely people, who somehow, despite the eleven-hour-drive distance, despite the twelve years ago we met, found our way back, to each other.

I realized, as I scroll back through my blogs of the last few months, I've barely written about him. Just my own tradition I guess. Despite previous long relationships, I've very much been a 'quirky alone' for most of my adult life. And it suits me. I can be alone and enjoy it to the point of reclusive. But I don't consider it reclusive when you like it.

Back to M.

I may have mentioned I worked in a restaurant for years, practically half a lifetime. Even while holding down my full-time job. I met unbelievably fascinating people. Much more so there than in the corporate world, with its' unimaginative drones and auto-pilot non-thinkers. I loved the hours, I loved the environment. Let's just say it--I had a thing for badly behaved waiters. That was how I met M. But not the way you think. No, I didn't work with him. No, he was not one of the many badly behaved waiters whose attention I couldn't do enough to get. He was the best friend of my favourite person. A person whom I worked with, worshipped, would have done anything to get the attention of.

M visited his friend on a fairly regular basis in the late nineties. We had the odd rapport, upon meeting, of each of us having a 'list' of foods that we would not eat. Not for any dietary or allergic reason. But simply because we hated them so much we felt the need to list them, categorize them and keep them ordered. I had never before (or since) met anyone else who had this list of foods. Our lists differed, but our fascination for each having said list was mutual. Mine contains (in order):
bananas, all fruit, cinnamon, all breakfast food, pre-made sandwiches of ANY kind, weird wraps (related to the sandwich thing), avocado (shiver), and many, many others, too numerous to list here. All I know is this: I remember each and every food I hate when confronted by them. One of the first things I ever said to M was, "What's on your list?" and I didn't need to explain that question. Our mutual friend had given us the heads up that we each had this peculiar oddity. M, without a pause, the true litmus test of a REAL list; "Mayonnaise, peanut butter, mushrooms". Those were just his top three. There were (there are) more. I could sympathize.

We also had the same odd habit, eleven hours apart, twelve years gone, of setting the clocks in our apartments to different times. One clock of mine would be forty minutes ahead, guaranteeing I would make it on time for work. He did the same thing. But other clocks would just be ten minutes ahead, that 'just-in-time' feeling. He did that too.
We hung out, casually, driving here and there around the city when he visited from his city, staying up all night in the company of our mutual friend, whom I focussed on. Going out for drinks, sharing snippets of each other's far off lives. I was about twenty-six, twenty-seven at the time, and he was six years older, already into his thirties. Truth? I barely noticed a whit about him except that he had his list and the time thing, that we both wanted to hang out with our mutual friend all the time, and that he was a gifted conversationalist who never seemed to run out of things to say, but not in a way that was annoying. He was genuinely engaging, asking questions, wanting answers. He once, in a dark pool bar, in a corner, alone, invited me to come and visit him in his home state. I looked at him like he'd grown another head. I only had one guy on my brain at the time, it was all wrong, but the blinders were on. And they would stay on for quite some time.

Twelve years dissolves quickly in this land of adulthood, where your routines are established and yes, despite wanting to live your life to the absolute fullest, you do sometimes sleepwalk through your days.

Until one day, one abnormal day, you are jolted awake.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Return in Thought

It's sixteen months ago. You've been gone approximately ten days. I make it to your funeral. The next day, in one of the rarest moments of my life, I simply cannot think of a single reason to get out of bed. I finally do and write a bit about you. I read a poem that always makes me think of you, think of the dark parts of life. That open up to the light.

It's fourteen months ago. Something is on the horizon. I can't put my finger on it yet, but it's causing me great disquiet. I try to swallow down my fear. You, are having trouble swallowing at all.

It's twelve months ago. I'm in Chicago for the first time, on a business trip. On the second night, I opt to stay in my hotel room to read a book. You visit me there, a calm presence. I feel like I should heed your warning. But I don't know what I am being warned about. Yet.

It's eleven months ago. Life is upside down. He has his diagnosis, and the other he has another she. I drift through the beautiful month of May watching the sunsets as I run through the streets of the city, running away from my pounding anxiety. I am fighting with life right now. Then May is over. My sister arrives with flowers, sushi, and champagne. We toast to a rosier future.

It's seven months ago. I drive east, by myself, looking for someone I haven't quite found yet. Crows chart my progress. This time I visit you. This time I let you go, finally. I run through September, too. I run through Central Park, the leafy greenness overwhelming. You are sitting on a bench, a stranger, and I catch your eye. You are alone, and sad in your aloneness. You give me a brief, sad, smile. I feel the same sense of warning I had in my Chicago hotel room, that previous April, before everything imploded.

It's four months ago. The disquiet is back. The worry has returned. I don't believe the doctors, but I want them so badly to be right. Yes, it's fine! It's all ok! New Years eve away from home, I sip champagne weakly and wait for my flu to pass so I can visit again.

It's last night. I am on a northbound subway, headed to meet a friend with many gifts. The platform is packed, I have to wait for the next train. I sit down, people all around me, doing crosswords, texting furiously on cellphones, shutting themselves away. I can't see behind me. One stop before mine, a stranger, standing out of view, sings one line of an obscure song. But I know what song it is. It is an old favourite.

"And, when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown".

His voice is young and clear, perfectly pitched. I stare at the subway window, it's blackness reflecting nothing. I can't see the stranger who has sang this random line, out of nowhere. It is my stop. I get up and off the train without turning around. The back of my neck is prickly with curiosity.

It's today. I need strong coffee and a strong outlook. Was this my next warning?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day Dread

I've been wondering, of late, as to why I blog. Why I read blogs, why I read, why I do anything, really, at all, as it all feels like it amounts to naught. I mean, not naught, but just...let's just say I've had a case of the hopeless-nesses and I can't shake it. Recent circumstances would point to this being entirely normal. The thinking part of me who knows how good I have it rejects this feeling of self-pity.

I've titled this angst 'day dread', where I lie, in the morning, in bed, exhausted, despite how many hours sleep I've managed to get. And I think about the day ahead. And I don't want to do usually even ONE of the tasks that lies ahead of me, until I somehow shake it off, get myself upright, and somehow try to meet life halfway, even though most times lately, it feels like life has driven a semi into the side of my consciousness.

Back to my original thought. I've stumbled, (truly, stumbled) onto some incredible writing on this thing called the internet. They are not books I hold in my hands, lamplight peeking over my shoulders, curled up in bed; they are not stories told by faceless people whom I will never meet, or even KNOW. They are often real stories. Heartbreaking ones.
People who've lost children. Others who've lost their way of life and are trying hard, with whatever tools they have, to re-build. And make no mistake--for me, with my fear and loathing of change, re-building is something that inspires dread in me. Real stories relate to worrying about money and worrying period. About everything. Work. Family. Trying to keep it all together. To trying to find love, elusive and wispy as air. Trying to act like the adults that we are, out in the world, trying to look like we have it all together, while inside, we're patching it up with tape.

Lately most of my writing has to do with notes I make myself on pieces of lined paper. I staple people's contact info that I've scribbled on scraps onto said pieces of paper. I use post it notes not as reminders, but as whole documents of information. I summarized the last conversation I had with my father's oncologist onto a medium-sized yellow post-it. I took the notes while sitting in my office, at my desk, several weeks ago. My writing is neat, block-lettered, arrows connecting the information the way I do when I make notes in meetings. As always, when I take these kind of notes that I have been in recent weeks I close my door over, take a deep breath in, and deal with the wave of day dread. It DOES pass.
Maybe that's why I blog. Somehow, these thoughts must get out. I don't always verbalize them. The exhaustion of the feeling, whether it be valid or not, that I must deal with everything, right now, and how overwhelmed I'm left. There are neglected friends whom I've not seen for weeks. There is the feeling of me of not wanting to see anyone. Some people become more social in times of angst, it helps them meter it; for me, not so. More solitude. More sleep. More private worry, worry I don't share, can't talk about it, people would think me nuts, or so I muse.
Do other people have this level of disquiet? Authors seem to be able to work it out with their books. But bloggers, those like me, writing, in some cases, to no one, to themselves, and others to an audience of thousands, do seem to experience a higher level of angst which perhaps propels them to the online journal format. Don't get me wrong. I can judge with the best of them--there is some poor writing out there.

But there are also unbelievable levels of insight in the midst of the monotony of our habits and routines, the things we do all the time, that everybody does. Picking up the mail. Driving to the store. Cooking meals. There is brilliance in the depths of the deep pools of our lives, those subjects we avoid, for the most part. The dark-hearted parts, the mistakes we make, not meaning to, that often twist the path we are on. All I can do is keep walking.