Piano

My aunt’s piano
Rests reminding
Of notes
Played beautifully
Up until she left us

I don’t play
The songs she did
I miss them

And then coming home
I heard some long ago
Songs, played by mom
Scores in books
With girlhood signatures

Sweet memory

©Catherine M. Harris, 2004

Menthol Cigarettes

Drumming the fingers of her left hand on the table, she turned the cigarette package over and over, a forgotten one nearly burned to the filter curled oddly in the ashtray.  She opened the package with her right hand, pulled out the last cigarette, put it in her lips, realized it was turned the wrong way, turned it around and lit it, almost without thinking.

Rita wanted to say something but really, sometimes there are things more difficult, and more immediate than the threat of cancer, either hers or Marney’s.  There’s other types of cancer than just the obvious ones.  Sometimes there is cancer of the soul.

“If I’d have known I was one cigarette short of the end I’d’ve saved this one, now what am I going to do?”  Marney asked no one in particular.  She took a drag and pulled the smoke deep into her lungs.  Too deep.  She coughed.

Bea tsk tsked just loud enough to be heard as she stood at the sink and Rita told her to hush up, that was enough from her, couldn’t she see Marney was upset already?

Bea slammed the glass she was drying onto the counter but said nothing.  Rita could just tell from the angle of her shoulders that she was biting her tongue, holding back some snarly comment, but then again, Bea was always either biting back a snarly comment or giving one.  Definitely not a woman who radiates joy, by any description.

Rita placed her hand softly over Marney’s drumming fingers, but she paid her no mind.  Fingers drummed in stacatto rhythm; Rita wondered if Marney was thinking of a song in her head or this was just mindless tapping.  Who knew with Marney.  No one ever knew with Marney.

Rita said, “Marney, sweetheart, I hate to see you so sad like this.  You’re one smoke shy of a pack smoked here while you’ve been just sitting.  Talk to me would you?  Please?  I don’t know how long you’ve been here now, but you know, Bea and I we’ve eaten and done the dishes, and your plate is just over there, bone cold I’m guessing.  So won’t you talk to me dear?”

“You know it’s over a man, Rita,” Bea snapped, “it’s always over a man.”

“It isn’t,” Rita shot back, “and Marney, never you mind.  Would you talk to me now please?  It’s getting late.”

“I’m tired,” she said, rubbing her eyes, “I’m outta smokes and it isn’t about any damned man Bea!”

“Then what is it?”  Rita asked.  Marney just shook her head.  She leaned over and whispered to Marney, “What do you say we go get ourselves a drink, get some more smokes while we’re at it.  You want that?”

Marney cast as glance over to Bea, who still had her back turned and likely didn’t hear the question.  She nodded yes, and Rita smiled and winked.  “So Marney, let’s go get a Tim’s.  A coffee ought to perk you up a bit don’t you think?”  And without waiting for an answer, the two stood up, chairs scraping.

Bea bristled.  “Next time there’s not going to be any of that smoking going on in here Marney, you hear me?  You take it outside.  You want to kill yourself, you go right ahead, but you’re not taking me with you!”

“Okay Bea,” Marney replied softly.  “No more smoking in Bea’s kitchen.”

“You just remember that!”  Bea shot back, but the two were already out the door.

Rita laughed.  “That Bea.  Do you remember when we were kids, she smoked like all hell and now here she’s all holier than thou now that she quit.  Like we don’t remember going to school our clothes all stinking of the smoke.”

Marney looked straight ahead as they walked down the street.  “My clothes still to stink of smoke Rita,” she said softly.

“And you know what?”  Rita replied, “Times like this I’m glad they do.”

The walked in silence for the block and a half it took to get to the Mac’s Milk store.  Bea always said everything cost twice as much as it needed to at these convenience stores, but hey, when you need something right now, chances are they’re the place they have it.  Marney bought a large pack of cigarettes, and Rita, a small menthol.  Rita rarely smoked but when she went out with Marney, which wasn’t often, she liked to have one or two.  The rest she would hand to the next homeless person she walked by, with a loonie tucked inside.  If they didn’t smoke she knew one of their buddies would be glad to have them, and a loonie made for a hot cup of coffee on a cool fall day.  Both good things.

The lottery said the jackpot was $10 million tonight, so they both bought a couple of tickets with a quick pick.  Longshots always, but, as their dad used to joke, the Canadian retirement plan.  Now they were older, they both knew that he was probably closer to the truth than either cared to admit.

Tonight though, dad was far from their minds.  Something was bothering Marney, and Rita had to find the answer.  Marney is just a bit different, you see, and Rita knew that with a bipolar sister, anything was possible.  Anything at all.  Things had been good lately so it was a bit sad to see her at the table, lost in her own world again, the burden of life sucking her into its very dark depths.  She was probably off her medication, or maybe she missed a dose.  Whatever, the dark had her in its maw again.

Rita knew that giving a manic depressive person a drink is like pouring gasoline on a fire.  But sometimes it did act as a medication, and it was that that she was hoping for this evening.  She just had to make sure she watched her closely and make sure she didn’t drink too much.  There was a Mexican restaurant nearby that had sangria jugs – that was always a good option because it was a wine drink but mixed with juice and ice so it was more of a punch than a straight up drink and with nachos filling their stomachs, it was likely to be okay.  She hoped.

They were lucky.  Being a little later than eight p.m., on an evening that had been raining, the restaurant was less full than it would normally have been for a Thursday night.  There were seated right away, and near a fireplace which was nice on such a chilly evening and soon there were steaming hot nachos and tall glasses of sangria to warm their insides.

Rita told her all about her day, and the people on the bus she took to the next town every couple of days (she worked out of two different offices, one here, one is the next town 60 kilometres away).  Normally Marney liked her stories of the hooting and hollering people drinking beer in the evening from paper bags and telling dirty stories at 5:30 in the morning, followed by shrill laughter.  And how they have these weird bus rules about queue jumping and the names they gave to the uncool patrons like the farter and the guy with the lumberman jacket they called axeman and that sort of thing.  Tonight though, there was no response.

After a plate of nachos, which Rita was very glad to see Marney had eaten most of them, and one jug of sangria down that they were both responsible for, Marney pushed her plate away, and chewed on an orange slice from her drink.

Rita called the waiter over for another jug.  She’d pay for this one in the morning she knew, but life with Marney mandated such evenings.  They just did.  If she were ever to understand her, if that were at all possible, then this is what she needed to do once in a while.

Marney poured herself another glass of sangria from the fresh jug, and poured her sister one too.  “Hey Rita,” she said, her words a little slurred, “boy is Bea going to be pissed off at you.”  And she giggled.  Life was good when Marney giggled.  That also meant the door was opening and she would talk.

“Remember I told you about Daniel?”  She asked.  Rita nodded and inwardly smiled.  Bea was right, this was about a guy.  “Well he’s an okay guy to work with, you know?  Nothing special there like, between us type of thing, strictly platonic, but I really admire his way of speaking with people.  I wish I could speak with people.  Like that I mean.”

Rita smiled and took a sip of her drink.  Marney continued.  “So on our last trip for that presentation in Timmins last week, I told him about my manic depression.  I said, I’m bipolar and I’m on medication and I thought he’d be all proud of me.  He didn’t say anything, nothing at all, he changed the subject.  So today he comes in to the office with his girlfriend.  Or his wife.  Who the hells knows.  She’s just one of those ladies all makeup and hair done just right and she works out all the time, you can tell, and she’s got these effing manicured nails that these girls have, you know?”

Rita laughed.  “Yeah I know the type.  Wish I had that kinda time.  We’d all look that good if that was all we did, making ourselves look gorgeous.”

“Yeah.  So okay, so he’s introducing her around and all and me he just says really loud in her ear like I’m deaf or something and tells her, “that’s Marney she’s manic depressive, you know how they can be,” and this broad she like, backs away and I am so damned tired of this, Rita, I really am, like what am I, some piece of trash or something?”

Rita grabbed her hand and squeezed it.  “You’re nothing of the sort and you know it.”

Tears rolled down Marney’s cheeks, and for a moment, Rita envied her open emotions.  Marney laughed like that particular joke was the best thing in the world when the wheel was spinning in the up direction, but that dark, that horrible, horrible dark that clawed its way into her soul.  That she didn’t envy; but then she thought, what exactly would it feel to be like that?  Those highs and those lows, both far stronger than she could ever reach, even perhaps with the right drug if she had it.  Still she knew that Marney’s disease meant that having a stable loving relationship was hard, and the possibility of children less that hers was.  Not that either one of them were the type of woman Marney was just describing.  No trophy girls here.

As Marney bared her heart and her feelings over these comments tumbled out, the patrons at the remaining tables stared and then tried not to, and the sangria jug emptied without her even realizing how it happened, and before she could flag the waiter down he was there, cheque in hand with that usual ‘please pay and get out’ look she’d gotten used to.

They walked home in the damp November air, a light drizzle cold enough to chill the bones, they smoked and somehow Rita got Marney laughing again and she knew that life was good for this one day.  Marney had quit yet another job today, and one more person walked through her life not knowing how badly one small remark burnt her heart.  But that was today and tomorrow would be what?  High?  Low?  She didn’t know.

Rita walked Marney to the door, hugged her goodnight and told Marney to please call her in the morning, and Rita lit another cigarette.  She coughed.  She hated menthol, which is why she bought them.  There were 12 left she counted, and as usual she put a loonie in the box.

Two blocks away from her apartment, an old guy she often saw was curled up on a parking garage grill; steam from the heating below poured around him in the misty air like a ghostly shroud, and he petted his dog and talked to it as she approached him.  “Hey,” she said, “how are you this evening?”

“Good ma’am, good,” he replied.

“I’m trying to quit smoking.  Here, have this, for you or a friend, whatever.”  She held out the package and he took it without looking.

He turned to his dog and said, “See Angel, she is a nice lady.  Looks like someone I went to school with.”

She squinted at him as he said that, and you know, there was an inkling of something there but he looked about 20 years older than her.   She bade him good night, and as she turned her back, she heard him say:

“Good night sleep tight don’t let the bed bugs bite you Rita.  And now I sing you a song in the key of Q.”

She kept walking, some rambling song this fellow obviously wrote himself while she tried to remember that boy with the dark blue eyes and shock of black curly hair.  It was there, just in the tip of her mind, somewhere far in the reaches and she knew someday after he’d moved on to some other place.

As he tucked himself in for the night, the menthols all smoked and the loonie in his pocket, he hugged his dog close and whispered, “I loved her Angel, I did you know, I loved her, all that long ago.”

 

—-30—

 

© Catherine M. Harris, 2006

 

Mikey

“No, no, no, no!  This is not how it’s meant to be!”  The young adult yelled.

“Oh sit down,” I replied.  “This is exactly how it’s meant to be. Look around you.  What do you see?”

He scowled.  Took a furtive glance left, then right.

“Well?”

“Nothing.  There’s nothing here.”

I tried to take his arm but he would have nothing of it.  I walked on ahead, expecting him to follow.  He didn’t.  I turned back around.  “Oh for heaven’s sake, get over here,” I told him.

He shook his head.  Arms crossed, this fatigue wearing man-child stared at the ground.

“You can’t intimidate me you know.”

Silence.

“Alright then, you can follow me or be stuck here forever and as you’ve already noticed, it’s not much to look at.”  And I carried on.

Behind me he started to move.  To be fair, this boy who used to call himself Mikey once was probably wondering what was going on.  I planned on telling him, just not right now.

I slowed up for him to catch up to me.  Reluctantly he did.  I kept walking for a while, though it wasn’t necessary.  When it felt right I stopped, and with a wave of hand we were on a dock by a lake surrounded by green trees and light glinting off gentle waves on the water.

I sat down at the edge of the dock, letting my feet swing off the end.  Not looking behind me, I patted the spot next to me, telling him: come, sit.

He did.  I took a deep breath, letting it fill my lungs.  “I can never get enough of this place.  Beautiful isn’t it?”

He said nothing.

“Well it is.  It’s my cottage.  Well, not really.  It’s the cottage I always wanted.  I’m not going to ask you what your dream is – if it’s something silly like virgins or something, that’s not happening.”

He glared at me.  At least it was something.  It’s always a surprise to find yourself here, even when you know that your number is up.  It’s surreal and in a way it is, though this is more real than life.  This is timeless.

After a bit I invited him to swim.  He continued to stare at the water.  “You don’t remember me, do you?” I ventured.

He looked at me then, but there was no sign of recognition.

“You probably wouldn’t.  I knew you when you were Mikey.  I was a teacher of yours.  If you’d’ve asked me then what you would grow up to be I would have said a painter.  You finger-painted the tables, the chairs, the walls, even a toilet seat if I remember correctly.”

That elicited a smile.  And just as quickly as it appeared, the smile turned into a scowl.

“So Mikey, care to enlighten me on what happened to you?  What made you turn into” – I looked him up and down –“this fine example of extremism?  Was life that bad for you?”

Again, silence.  If he was going to be like that, I was going swimming.  I dove into the water, splashing him, swimming underwater until I was far beyond the dock, almost at the float in the middle of lake that I climbed up on.

He stood up, brushed the water off, turned around and walked away.  “You’re not getting off that easy!”  I yelled.

He took one more step and was in the middle of a war zone, desert sand underfoot, rubble of ancient buildings around him.  There was the screams of wounded and dying people, the stench of gunpowder, blood, feces, urine. Bile. The sun beat down on clouds of dust.  The thump of shelling hitting the ground in the distance.

That woke him up.  He dove behind a partial rock wall.  This was my chance.

“There you go, boy, your paradise! What do you think?  Isn’t lovely?”  I pulled him out from behind the wall.  “What are you doing there, my fine soldier?  Be a hero won’t you?  That’s what you want isn’t it?”  I pulled him behind me, him trying to get away and not realizing that he too could be as strong as I were he to just try it.  I pulled him into sight of a sniper, and held him there as a barrage of bullets zinged towards us.  He felt them hit, jerked with each one.  Then, as he closed his eyes, I slapped his face and he was lying on the ground watching a bomb come whistling down.  Again he felt a direct hit, I gave him the pain and the fear, slapped his face again and he was in a small house where a crying woman cowered in a corner clinging to a young child, her husband shot dead on floor before her.  The gunman turned his sights to Mikey. He motioned with the gun for him to move.

“Careful, Mikey,” I told him, “what he sees is a twelve year old girl. He can’t see me.  You’re going to have to choose, do you stay and die with your family, or do you go with him for unspeakable things before you die?  Which is it?”  He looked at me, horrified.  “What, it’s not fun to be here?  Make up your mind boy!”

The gunman rushed over to him, grabbing his arm and pulling him away as he motioned his fellow fighters to deal with the family.  Mikey was grabbing at my arm as he was pulled away but for all the clutching his fingers slipped through my countenance.  He screamed as a terrified girl.  I snapped my fingers.

He stood on dock facing the water, his hands covering his face, shaking with fear.  “Oh for fuck’s sake, open your eyes.” I told him.

He did.  He looked around, then crumpled to the dock, burying his head in his hands, turtle on the dock.

“Not so much fun when the shoe’s on the other foot is it?”

He sobbed.

“Oh buck up.” I told him.  “Don’t you know that what you’re doing has a fine tradition in Genghis Khan, the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, most of the perpetrators of WWII, a lot of WWI people, and every other war that’s ever been or will be.  So, while you may feel like you’re this big powerful fighter going far away to fight for who knows what, you aren’t original.  Yeah, the Knights Templar did that too.  And the Crusaders.  And, oh you get the idea.  They won’t miss you, you know.  You’re collateral damage.”

More shuddering sobs from the turtle on the dock.  I resisted the temptation to roll him off it into the water.

“So buddy.  You want to tell me what the hell you were thinking getting involved with that group?”

Silence.

“Think you’re trying my patience?  Think again.  I have eternity.  Really.”  I lit a cigarette and pulled the smoke deep into my lungs.  “Ah, there’s something wonderful.  Quit when I was thirty five at the nagging of my wife.  But hey, no problem here.  I can hold out my hand and get a whiskey too.”

“A hit.”  Sounded like, “Ahaamdaf.”

“What did you say?”

“A hit.  Can I have a hit?”  He asked, so I punched him.  “No, a hit of smack.”

“Aha.  The truth comes out.  No bevy of virgins, it’s the poppy you crave.  Okay, no.  I don’t have that. Was never interested.”

Another sob.

“Get a grip, boy,” I told him.  “Don’t you know that everything we do is part of a bigger plan?  It’s not about crosses or mosques or temples or whatnot though.  Nope.  Too specific.  There are some things we can partake in though.”

A sniffle.

“Phony smokes and booze, yeah, we can do that. But I’d like to hear why the Mikey I knew turned into this mindless killing machine to better understand you.  It’s not really about religion is it?  Not for you.  This isn’t your war, not your country, not your people.  Do you think this is a real life action movie?  Is that it?”

He shook his head.  “To be something.  To matter.”

“So you didn’t matter before?  You mattered to me however briefly.”

“I couldn’t be what everyone wanted.  Not the best at anything.  These people, they need me.”

“No they don’t.  Not specifically you.  They want the body, which they got. They want the ‘in’, you here where they can’t be.  They damage.  They cause fear.”

He nodded.  “I want to start over,” he mumbled.

“Someday.  When you do, fight for something that really counts.  Fight for unity, not division. Fight for compassion.  Fight for love.  Then you’ll matter.”

Mikey stood up, dove into the lake and swam to the dock.  Gone were the fatigues; a pair of swim trunks was his uniform.  He held out his hand and a can of beer appeared.

Welcome home, Mikey.

 

©2015 Catherine M. Harris

Only Time Will Tell

20200410_070403

The house is still warm
From last night’s fire
Good Friday snow
Lies on the ground
The world is a hush
Cloaking frustration
And fear
We are all lonely
Together tonight.

Church services
Broadcast on t.v.
Streaming messages
From various
Leaders guaranteed
And as much as we
Venerate one
Dead man’s rising
Such glorious things
Aren’t for you and me.

We remain human
Celebrating
That there is still
Chocolate and coffee
Television and beer
Animals to pet and
Children to remind us
There is a tomorrow.

All of us can grow
If not in body
Then in mind
Appreciation I hope
Is something we learn
Better at the end of these
Very long days
In this time of

Silence and
Stillness and
Learning to feel
Whole in the
Time of contagion
A little bit
Free in this
Time of containment
The Universe’s
Giant Easter Egg on
Our sorry souls.

When we emerge
From the ashes to
Open the door
Will there be
Kindness
Thankfulness
Joy?

Only time
Will tell.

©Catherine M. Harris, 10-April-2020

April 9, 2020

I’m writing this today from my locked down silent life that I and pretty much everyone else in the world is doing right now.  It’s the Easter long weekend starting tomorrow and I am fortunate enough to have a turkey breast roll in the freezer and all the food we need for the time being.  I work from my kitchen table and while there are some limitations in the bandwidth on the VPN, so far my colleagues and I are getting by.  I am one of the fortunate ones – I know this, though if things take a turn for the worse here in Canada I am also very much aware that I could just as easily join the many thousands no longer working.  I’m needed for now but not essential.

I’ve resisted the temptation to post a tribute to my parents today. The first anniversary of my mom’s passing was on the 5th and the twenty-fifth of my dad’s is today.  I have several essays on both of them here so I thought that I’ll  do quiet appreciation for them in my own way tonight.

It’s been a while since I last posted anything and that’s okay.  I’ve been working in the shadows on an essay that I sent in for the CBC Creative Non-Fiction contest, on myself and am trying to heal after what has been a brutal 2019.  A huge part of me wished I could just go away for a while so that I could heal my broken heart and soul and find myself again.  Fate has taken an ironic turn though, and I actually have gotten what I thought I needed all this last year: the time to reflect and to step back a bit from life to do that.

We are living in dangerous times and for many it is really hard to understand what the big deal is.  What the point is.  “Aren’t we overreacting?” They say.  It’s going to be somebody else.  It’s not fair.  It doesn’t make sense.  It’s half a world away.  It’s just a cold.  It’s only the flu.  It’s …[place your favourite saying here]… It can’t happen to my family.  The thing is, it can happen.

My mom was born in 1919.  She came into the world on heels of the end of the Great War, the War to End All Wars that didn’t.  The Spanish flu had claimed thousands of young peoples’ lives among others, this at a time when so many Canadians had died fighting for King and Country.  She was born at a time of ice boxes and model Ts and crystal radio sets.  She was a child in the roaring twenties and then the stock market crashed and the Great Depression set in.  As a young woman she saw many friends and relatives go off to war in WWII and some never came back.  She was around for the inventions of penicillin, insulin, vaccines, plastic, television, talking movies and technicolor, ball point pens, computers, cell phones, travel to outer space…the list goes on.

My mom always was concerned with the fragility of life.  It seemed a little silly to me but as someone who has had relatives die and lie in state in her drawing room, who had a childhood friend die of blood poisoning from an infected cut (“never wear red!”, she warned me – she thought the red dye in her friend’s clothes had poisoned her), who lived through so much on a grand scale that I did listen to her. I was always quick to point out how much things had changed but the reality is people die in unexpected ways no matter how advanced the world is.

I thought for the longest time that the evolution of society had fixed so many things and she – rightly so it turns out – was always just a little skeptical. She appreciated these advances even if some of them like computers and VCRs scared her just a bit.  To be honest I think what scared her most was the change in society’s mores and our lifting of the veil on so many hush-hush topics.  That subject is for another essay though.

Today I’m focused on how much we’ve taken for granted.  This is a lesson that was hammered home to me in 2019 when I realized that you can’t count on people to put aside their differences in hard times and that the senior officer position I tried so long and so hard for that I finally got in 2006 would get taken away with the stroke of a pen 13 years and 1000 kilometres later.  I was faced with the certainty that nothing is forever and that there may not be that open door waiting for me when a door closes.  I’ve always liked to think there was one.  What I did learn is you can’t hope that people will be kind or considerate when you think they will be and that makes me terribly sad.  I’ve always liked to believe in that there is a better day coming, and deep down inside everyone has a heart.  Maybe not.

With 2020 there is the knowing that sometimes you need to look at the past for lessons and use those lessons to look ahead.  What’s happening now in peoples’ attitudes is a little like Y2K when there was the big “oh my God everything’s going to fail” worry and the relief of the “I told you so”s when the world didn’t end.

The thing is,  I worked in assets in the late 90’s and we spent a good couple of years identifying all the possible equipment big and small that had software that potentially could crash and either had the software upgraded or replaced them.  It was an exercise carried out worldwide and of course the critical equipment was upgraded first.  That’s why the Y2K crisis wasn’t:  not that it didn’t exist, just that you couldn’t see it.  Most of it was fixed before it became a problem.  Which is what should have happened here but it’s a bit trickier with viruses.

I was in the Toronto area in the SARs era and it was kind of scary.  Driving by the hospital you could smell the hand sanitizer from the street.  On the doors there was a sign saying “If you are sick don’t enter” which I though was particularly funny given that this was a hospital.  But I knew what it meant, which was sick visitors.  Still it gave me a laugh every time.  SARs didn’t become the big deal that it could have but what we are dealing with now is a cousin and it is a big deal.

I grew up very much aware of the 1918 pandemic thanks to my mom and her family.  They had stories of people who suffered and died.  Their reality has shades of what could happen now.  And that’s the thing:  it hasn’t become that – YET – but it could if we don’t take the lessons learned from that and other pandemics.  Even the black death and the doctors who wore those crazy bird noses realized distance and a mask can help, even though that was caused by poor sanitation and rats.  Keeping people inside isn’t new, they knew even then that keeping people apart from one another helped.  In the early part of the 20th century there was a typhoid epidemic that killed hundreds and it, like the recurring yellow fever epidemics from the previous centuries were eventually stopped by better sanitation and vaccines.  And so it will be now if we make the effort not to spread it.

I’ll stop proselytizing now.  I’m beyond up to the eyeballs with corona virus information.  I’ve taken to not watching television news much and just catching the headlines, watching when there’s something important I want to see about.

Some things that I am appreciating is that like it or not, things are changing.  Right now, the Earth is taking a deep breath.  The skies are clearing, water is going from dirty to clean, people are having this time with their families and getting back to basics.  We’ve proven that teleworking is a functional way to work and save time and money. Children are being home schooled, people are taking up or getting back to hobbies they may have put aside years ago, instead of shopping we’re baking and cooking from scratch and contemplating victory gardens.  Dogs are getting walked and for pets, this is the greatest time ever! Time alone means time to think.  Time to read, to catch up on things you’ve put aside, to step out of the rat race for a while.  I wonder whether we will be as anxious to be living non-stop lives again when the world reboots itself, and it’s important to remember that it will.  After the black death that killed half of Europe’s population there came the Renaissance, a flourishing of art and culture and learning.  I wonder what kind of renaissance – and I hope there is one – will we see?  I just wish that people actually start to show compassion for one another, that’s my dream.

What do you want to see at the end of this?  How do you think we will grow?

 

2010-2019: A Look Back, and a Look Forward

2019 was a very difficult year for me but it certainly hasn’t been the first bad year this decade. The previous one was 2012 which led to me think about two things: one, that 7 year cycles are a thing, and two, that it would be good for me to see just how far we’ve come in the last ten years. Overall, things are looking up.

In 2010 we were living in Arnprior; son was busy with Air Cadets (somebody remind me to contact the Air Cadets here to return his boots and uniform if they want them) and band, daughter having moved to Ottawa with her dad at the end of 2008 was dating the fellow who would become her husband and started university at the Ottawa U nursing program in Pembroke at the Algonquin College campus and was in her very first apartment. Jim and I appeared as animators in The Prince and The Prior. That was a good year!

I was working on a long term assignment that I loved doing which was being the Procurement Module Team Lead for our Oracle Upgrade project. Jim was working for Cogeco where I was volunteering and we were both doing a second job as a night cleaner team. Think whatever you like about cleaners, I actually enjoyed doing that because first, it was exercise, and second, cleaners are some of the invisible people. It was nice spending a couple of hours a day walking and blending in with the wallpaper. I was also working on a university degree that sadly I wound up not continuing because of the money crisis that happened and my while my mom had helped a little, somebody told her that Athabasca University (an accredited university in Canada) was one of those correspondence schools that you see on the back of magazines so I was on my own with all university expenses after that.

I would stay on that project until 2012 and daughter would move to London to attend Western University with her sweetheart; her dad stayed in our house until 2011 when he moved back to New Brunswick to help with his mom who had developed a form of dementia following a heart attack. 2011 then was kind of a turning point year that led to the havoc that 2012 was, part of it being that management changed at my work and the project I was on was winding up in early 2012 so I took a chance and volunteered to work at a new Department that was being created. I was accepted and was expected to start work in the Fall of 2012 working in assets again.

2012 was one big black hole of a year where I was left scrambling trying to cope with some serious situations; it wasn’t just me either but in my case my choice to volunteer was a bad one because they didn’t honour what they promised and then made me a pawn in a management spat between two Departments and clawed back pay to the point that I was on the verge of bankruptcy. I went from being an expert and appreciated to being a number and treated terribly.

It was also a year that son was offered a chance at a fresh start and stayed in New Brunswick that year. I had applied to two jobs in the Maritimes, one of which they had checked the references and then the axes fell. Job was cancelled; I contacted one place I had heard needed people of my category in Fredericton – they wouldn’t consider a transfer so I had to apply when the job posters came out. Apply I did. I also went to financial help because a few months with only enough to pay the mortgage sent everything else spiralling into pay-up-or-else. I was told I had too much equity in my house, I had to sell that before considering any other options. I decided that if I had to sell the house, I’d move to Fredericton. At the same time I realized I could do early retirement and amazingly there was an opportunity to alternate with someone who was being laid off. That would solve the money problem at least a little. Alternate I did. At the end of the year I was still waiting for payment but I did do a job interview for two jobs in Fredericton though I told them I had already left. Still, I could come back. So 2012 ended in relief and a whole lot of what to do next in front of me.

2013 I was offered one of the two jobs and the other I was put in the pool for language reasons; I told them I couldn’t start because the offer came at the same time as my money finally and I would have had to pay back more than I was given (gross versus net). At the same time I was trying to figure out how to sell the house and get to Fredericton on my own – I spend the months thinking about that but never could figure it out, everything needed money upfront which I didn’t really have, not in that amount. I eventually accepted the job offer after turning it down twice. So back to work I was in June, and we were on our way to Fredericton. The house sold, some of the bills got paid and we all got a fresh start. Or it was for a bit anyway. All told, accepting that job I wound up paying $47k, $11k of which I still don’t know how I’m going to pay but I’m going to have to. Lesson learned – next time I leave (this was the second time) is the last. Jim retired in the sense that he couldn’t find a job until a short term one in 2018. But that was okay.

2014 was a fun year – daughter and fiance lived in the same city as me that year and things all in all were pretty good. 2015 was a time of a couple of goodbyes, of discovering how it felt like to be blatantly discriminated against (it made me feel old); me painting a new painting that I donated to The Ville and I did a bit of work on my publishing.

2016 was a sad and happy year all at once. Jim’s mother passed away, mine nearly did and remained in care after that, but daughter got married and that was a wonderful day indeed.

2017 was the year the clawing back had me living on 35% of my salary – this lasted until well into 2018. 2017 was also the year the childrens’ paternal grandmother passed away suddenly. All in all there wasn’t much going on in 2018 except that Jim worked for a little bit for the Museum here which was interesting. We also did a bit of night cleaning for the Museum which helped at a time I really needed it, and again, there’s something honest about being a cleaner – it just is what it is and no more. A little less stress than my regular job I must say. Anyway it was welcome extra money. With his job at the Museum we also got to attend a few functions and meet some new people – something that was nice to do. 2018, sadly was also the year we lost the last and most charismatic of our cats and our big-hearted big black lab.

Oh 2019. My mom passed away, I spent a couple of weeks out west, but mostly laid low wondering about life and what to do next. I don’t know where I’m going but I do know something has to change. So that’s where I’m at.

Looking forward I don’t know. I hope I’ll be able to retire comfortably but that will take paying off the remaining bills and that $11k and putting aside a couple of years’ worth of money to live off of. At this point, I’m beginning to think I may still be working 10 years from now which makes me sad so I won’t think of that. I do plan to finish a painting I stopped when the depression hit me so hard I couldn’t do what I love anymore and to paint the several I plan to; add to that the books I haven’t finished and started but I plan to. I also want to make 2020 the year I find myself again. Maybe I’ll have enough to take another course in anything again? This coming decade will the beginning of the next phase of my life and I look forward to that. So you see, things are looking up.

À la prochaine,

Cathi

 

 

 

2019: One Long Dark Night of the Soul

I’ve been grappling with what to say for my year end message, even considered not publishing one.  It feels a lot like I’m both under the spotlight and totally ignored which is a little weird.  There’s also a whole lot I’d like to say but really shouldn’t.  Someday those things will show up in a novel or short story or two – I’m leaning towards horror stories for this year!  I have a conundrum because there really are things I have to leave out and I will eventually speak my truth, just not today.  If you know me you know I always do eventually let my truth be known.

Why is letting your truth be known important anyway?  Does anyone care?  Honestly I don’t know.  But I do know there are some things that I have learned this year that deserve to be said.  That’s all.

In general, it’s been a year of loss, of coming to grips with peoples’ perceptions of me, of really looking at my own perceptions of myself, of diminution and starting a long road of what I hope will eventually be a healing of mind and soul.  I can honestly say I never thought I’d be where I’m at right now and it’s a little disturbing.  Perhaps when some time has passed maybe I’ll feel better about this year but that remains to be seen.

When 2019 started, I was missing the companionship of my wonderful dog who died a little unexpectedly.  I say a little because he was old and somewhat infirm.  We knew he was going to go but it happened sooner than I thought was all.  I do wonder if had I been able to afford the ACL surgery if his health would have been better.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that for now, I don’t want anymore animals I can’t afford to fix, and don’t ever want to have to wonder whether I should take an animal to the vet when they may not make it or have enough for cremation like I did with our wonderful orange cat. He died before I had to make that a firm choice.  Still, it isn’t right.  I know there’s pet insurance but like a lot of insurance having to pay first and hope the claim is honoured won’t help if you don’t have it to begin with.  So no more menagerie for now, maybe ever.  I just can’t face those kind of decisions again, at least not for the foreseeable future.

If this year were a tarot card it would be the six of swords – the dark night of the soul.  Not to be maudlin but it is how I feel. One good thing about this year is I got off the waiting list to see a therapist before my mother died.  Fortuitous timing.  Having a listening ear that you don’t need to filter or weigh your words is a good thing, especially if people get offended easily by your thoughts.  I recommend it if you can afford such a thing – I’m lucky that I have insurance that pays quickly and I’m in a place now that once or twice a month I can put aside the amount needed to pay up front.  The year before I wasn’t able to say that, so that’s another good thing.

In February I was told my mom was in hospital and back out but the next time would be the last.  Being far away (I assume is the reason since I was her daughter who she loved), I wasn’t on the list of family so it meant getting news second hand most of the time.  Not sure what to do and not having enough money yet to travel on my own accord I stayed put though it would have been nice to see her one last time and say what was in my heart. I didn’t feel a burning need to though because we were always on good terms so I really didn’t have much more to say.

In April I got an email saying she was in the hospital and wouldn’t be leaving.  The next day I got an email saying she had died that morning.  She had been in the hospital for three days at that point, but I didn’t know.  I missed being there when she passed. I wasn’t invited.  If I knew what hospital she was in I suppose I could have gone but I didn’t.  So there we have it.  I felt like I was somewhat less of a daughter and I don’t know if leaving me out was intentional or not.  Doesn’t matter though because there is no going back.  What has bothered me about that is that for my dad he wanted me to go see him the weekend he died, I said sure and then I was to told to call him back and tell him we’d come the next weekend so I wasn’t there when he died – not my choice.  This time I had no choice.  Me, the daughter not deserving.  That’s how it feels anyway.

The nearly two months between the death and funeral could have gone one of two ways – coming together in love as family putting aside differences, or magnifying differences.  It was the latter.  Just before the funeral I got an email telling me to sell my GICs (I’ve never had one) and the piano because my children were grown now (I play the piano – badly, but I do) and be there.  My ex and my son were also expected but not welcome was my common-law spouse of 17 years.  I wrote a long letter back that got filtered through people and was never read by its intended recipient.  I think I can safely say they will never read it.  All I was doing was clearing my name from misconceptions about me.  The truth is not welcome. The bright shining light in all this was my daughter and her husband, who went above and beyond and then some in all of this.  I will always be grateful for the help at this time because I know my daughter was hurting too – she lost her grandmother.

The obituary came out and I was in it with my former married name – something I haven’t used in 18 years and I legally can’t anymore. No one who knew me in my home town knew my mother was dead because the obituary had the name I went with when I lived in the GTA and that isn’t where it was posted.  They also didn’t allow public posts on the obituary. I don’t know if there were any kind words posted at all. 

I am not entitled to my own name.  My identity is not my own apparently.  My ex wasn’t impressed either being put beside me as my husband.  I’ve been together with my current spouse 4 years longer than with him but my current is vilified which means I’m also not allowed to decide who my spouse is.   I felt like I was living in the dark ages with all of that, honestly.  When did I lose my right to decide what my name is and who my spouse is?  You see – there is a horror story in here somewhere.  Someday I’ll write it but for now I’m just trying to figure out how this can be considered acceptable.

Shortly after that I wound up on an interesting assignment that lead me to spending a little more than two weeks in Vancouver and Lillooet.  A welcome break from my life with my work, at a time where I got to swim in the ocean and just have some quiet time by myself.  I attended the Vancouver Pride Parade that went outside my hotel.  It was an experience for sure, that trip.  I also wound up swimming in both the Atlantic and the Pacific that summer.

In the Fall there was a work restructuring that kind of wound up being a demotion for me.  That’s all I should say, but I will say I’m now in 5 different job pools and just recently applied for another.  It’s one that has as a minimum my now lapsed language level but coincidentally I need to now prove that at my current place so what was going to be a quiet end of year is being spent refreshing my knowledge of French grammar.  It is what it is.

Going forward I need to stop looking back.  There’s too much I can’t change, and it is hard to realize that no matter how hard I try there are people who will never accept me.  I have to look forward now because there is no going back.  So in short, I don’t know where I’ll be this time next year.  I like Fredericton but I don’t think Fredericton likes me.  Six years is a long time to feel like I’m “less than” and to lose so much:  my mother, all my animals, my jeep, a couple of friends, a couple of mothers-in-law, alive people who were close who aren’t now, my seniority at work.  To that end those 6 job applications are not for here.  I don’t think they are going to come to anything but if they do, it will be somewhere else in Canada. Chances are this time next year I’ll be right where I’m at now, older and hopefully wiser.

My goal for this year is to bring light back into my life.  To lift the sadness and depression and start shining my light back into the world again with my words and my artwork.  I miss being me.  And that’s enough of the navel gazing.

For the world all I can say is we must stop this trend of needing to be right at all costs, of wilful disregard of facts, of divisiveness and attacking people verbally when there’s a disagreement.  Having an opinion doesn’t mean you’re right, it means you have an opinion.  There also needs to be an end to the resurgence of racism, of ignoring human rights in favour of dogma be it secular or crouched in religion, of putting political parties above all else including the law.

This year we need to see kindness.  We need to see a laying down of swords. We need to see the return of empathy, of understanding, of listening, of caring.  Most of all, like always, we need compassion.

À la prochaine,

Cathi

Predictions for 2020

Yes, it’s time for my annual predictions. Just a reminder that I do this for fun, and how I do it is basically to imagine what the news will look like on December 31, 2020 in the year in review. That’s it.

Here goes:

  1. Big volcanic event in the Pacific – looks like Hawaii but I’m not sure about that.
  2. Trump:  illness, hospitalized, something to do with the blood, stress is a factor.
  3. Politician dies falling overboard from a ship.
  4. Worldwide call for simpler times.  Rejection of current society.
  5. Schism deepening between hardline “my way or the highway” people and more moderate, flexible, open minded people – especially in the US and the UK.
  6. More Brexit drama, more delays.  Assassination attempt but not sure against who, someone who is connected to the EU?
  7. Ireland seriously looking at reuniting.  Diplomatic talks begin.
  8. Staying the course – looks like our own Canadian government is fine for 2020 no major upsets.
  9. Market upheaval – major spike followed by a crash in the Fall starting around May.
  10. Water and ice is there for this year’s weather.  Volcanic eruptions in the Pacific rim, earthquake activity on the US west coast, severe hurricane activity on the US east coast but not touching Canada this time.  Canadian weather fairly moderate for 2020 except for a resurgence of fires in the west.
  11. Hong Kong issues continue – are now striving to be an independent country.  There is western support but general decision is to remain out of it.
  12. Religious tensions arise in India related to more regulations being passed that are deemed to be anti-minority.
  13. African powerhouse – new entrepreneur from Africa starting to build new industry that will be appreciated world wide.
  14. Child of someone well-known – perhaps a celebrity – will pass from a vaccine preventable illness and will spearhead a vaccination campaign in the media.
  15. Royal family lying low – trying to anyway – out of respect for the Queen and Prince Phillip – age is an issue this year, age-related press.
  16. New form of treatment for schizophrenia to be in trials and appearing to be somewhat successful.  Comes from an unexpected source (happy accident).
  17. More regulations on credit cards coming, interest related.  Hopefully it’s something that actually is helpful to consumers (that’s just a comment from me).

How accurate was I last year?  See for yourself here:  https://mrssauga.wordpress.com/2018/12/26/2018-annual-predictions/

 

 

A Farewell to Yahoo Groups

I posted this message to Yahoo Groups as it is being shut down on December 14th. I was a moderator of the INFP Group (the original one). So here for posterity is my goodbye to what was once an wonderful place to be.
—–
October 27, 2019 – So Long and Thanks For All The Fish

A blow to the heart it was to see that Yahoo Groups is shutting its doors, you can’t post after October 28th (Monday) and I’ve spent the past few days trying to figure out how to download my history. I did ask Yahoo to provide me with my user data which might give me some of what I posted but not all. The thing is, it’s been 20 years since I joined the INFP group. I wasn’t who I am now, and my original email has long ago been shut down with the demise of Netscape. I tried to search for my very first post but so far haven’t found it – it would be among the first 3 or so volumes in the history but I’m not sure if it was a response or what.

A whole generation has gone by since that day in April of 1999 when I was home from work for a week or so because I had pulled a tendon in my right foot and had to stay off of it. I was a married mom of two children, a 2 and a 7 year old and I had recently found out through a work Myers-Briggs session that I was an INFP.

To say that it was a life changing moment is an understatement. I had grown up being that odd duck who created stories and paintings and songs and would act out stories with my friends before I could put my stories to paper. I also had freaky dreams that sometimes came true and I kind of just knew things that resulted in adults getting annoyed and telling me to stop being so precocious. I was a shy little thing who kept to her own company and had a few close friends who got me. I was an alien in the land of rules who saw things slightly differently and was a tomboy at a time when little girls wore frilly dresses and wore hats and gloves to church. Me, I climbed trees and went fishing with the boys. So imagine discovering that there were other creative folks who fiercely held to their beliefs and didn’t quite fit in. In my convalescence I decided to search on the internet for anything INFP related though at that time there were more questions than answers on the internet as many can recall.

Still, I found a really good site and read everything in there, and when it came to a link section I was so happy, there were message boards where people could discuss the topic. There were others out there like me. How could I not join? The INFP group was originally located on One List and I joined this remarkably busy list. I found a home.

So fast forward to today. I am the moderator who rescued the group from the ravages of spam and trolls when Yahoo (which had bought out One List and started Yahoo Groups) allowed people to petition to become moderators of abandoned lists. It wasn’t abandoned, but our original list owner wasn’t able to sign in and got busy with life. I’ve been a quiet moderator, mostly reading without comment but approving people and removing spam because over the years I had a whole less time to devote to this list and I have to say while I miss the camaraderie, since this list was created so too were sites like MySpace then Facebook and Twitter and all of the other ways that people can connect. A lot of things have happened these past 20 years.

For me though, this list indeed was a life changer. I went from married to single to living with my sweetie; I’ve moved from Mississauga to Arnprior to Fredericton. My children are grown and one of them is married. I changed my job 4 times and even retired for 9 months before I accepted the job I’ve been in for 6 years. That’s a lot. I lost several people close to me, including this year my mother who was 1 month shy of 100. I’m older now and I’d like to think wiser though I’m not entirely sure about that one.

I met my sweetheart (Jim Wellington a.k.a Talerocker a.k.a. Quaeglan) here on this list – he was 500 miles away in the US and we were fellow writers and web site programmers who just got on well as people. On 9/11 as I was unpacking my newly separated life in my new townhouse Jim and I decided to talk on the phone (he was 50 miles from New York working at a radio station the day it happened, me I was working in Canada at a place that was responsible for landing all those planes trapped in the airspace over Canada and travelling to the US from Europe) and we both just needed to talk to somebody a little more involved than having watched the endless television loops. We haven’t stopped talking since and have been living together for 17 years. Thanks, INFP list.

I’ve come to know some wonderful people I’d never have known had I not joined; a few I’ve met in person – one became my son’s piano teacher. Many of these people I am acquainted with on Facebook and I’m very glad we have shared this journey together.

Thank you everyone.

p.s. I am on Facebook as well as Twitter. You can read my writing on my WordPress blog at https://mrssauga.wordpress.com. Oh – and Douglas Adams is still one of my favorite writers. So for me the answer to the meaning of life and everything will always be 42. So long, list.