20 Years On

It’s Sept. 11, 2021. This week I watched an excellent documentary on 9/11 and I’ve listened to various pundits discussing the events of New York in 2001. It’s triggered a lot of memories for me, and as much as I hate to say this, the horrible day for the US that changed everything was a pivotal moment for me as well. It may seem odd that as a Canadian I say this but I am. I remember that day very well indeed.

The events of that particular day actually started for me a few months earlier with a dream that I shared on an online fellow webmaster/writer’s blog. It was a weird one but I thought he’d appreciate it for its detail. One thing that spoke to me was a fence. At the time I dreamt it I understood it as an allegory of what was happening in my life.

So first, the dream: I was walking down a street that was mostly fields on both sides. I saw plane flying so close I could see the pilot’s face and I thought that was weird and then it dove to the ground and crashed. I ran to the crash site, hoping I could help the pilot but I couldn’t get to him because it was behind a fence. I tried to find a way around it or over it but I just couldn’t it was too tall and I decided to run back to where there were buildings to get help and as I ran back I saw another plane crashing and then I was terrified and ran into a building that had (oddly) a Chinese restaurant where I went in with other people and we all hid under the tables.

I woke up wondering what the significance of all of this was except that I was in the very last days of my marriage at the time so for me it was maybe a symbol of the two of us going down in flames. I couldn’t save it, it was not possible. Just like those burning planes beyond the fence to me salvation was unreachable. To this day I have no clue what the Chinese restaurant meant. It doesn’t matter though – it was so vivid I had to share it and see if somebody else on the blog could figure it out. So my Connecticut friend let me post it.

That summer was strange and I was exiled to the couch while waiting for my rental townhouse and it was spent in sad stony silence in between decisions about furniture and the basics of unravelling the tangled mess life had become at the point. I was trying to smile for small children and stay professional at work while inside walking on emotional thumbtacks. That was a dark time indeed. Necessary, but oh so difficult. I try not to think of it. There are some points in a person’s life it’s better to not dwell on – just mentally close the door. By the end of summer that’s what I did physically.

In 2001 I was in the Toronto area working in an aviation environment where I was dealing with things at the international airport and other airports across Ontario. My online friend was involved with a non-profit radio station in Connecticut. We shared writing we were working on, helped each other with web programming problems and enjoyed being part of a group of like-minded creative folks who would have group MSN Messenger chats where we talked about life and all that was.

That group was in fact where we met in 1999 and I am pleased to say I still am in communication with several of those folks. I was focussed mostly on being a mother, trying to learn web programming on my own and fitting in my hobbies while working full-time at an office where it felt like I drove halfway around the world to get to. Most of the time it was an hour and half drive each way. Looking back I have no clue how I did everything I did in a day except that I do know I rarely got more than five hours sleep, and never without interruption. Which is how that dream was even more remarkable in that I even had one long enough to remember. Everything I did back then – dreams included – was in snippets and usually simultaneously.

At the beginning of September 2001 I was in a rental townhouse with brand new furniture (ask me how fun it was to build a bunkbed almost all by myself – thank you Andrew for saving the day when I simply couldn’t finish by myself), and trying to figure out the next minute in life. Until then, my Messenger friends were a lifeline when in the deep of the night I needed a listening eyeball to chat with – no one knew what I was going through because I just didn’t want to share that except to real life people.

It gets exhausting going over the tough stuff all the time, so those chats were also me listening to their lives and talking about creative things so it was refreshing. However, at the advice of my lawyer, communications with friends of any type that could be used against me in any way had to go. Since pages of fiction shared between us could be misconstrued I told the world the truth, that I had to delete any drafts of anything or shared worries about life and that included my Connecticut friend’s stuff. Of all the people I chatted with at the time, he was the one who was mostly likely to be on when I couldn’t sleep and I had to tell him also to please keep anything important, I have to delete it all. I was going to be offline the few days in early September and it was at that time I explained why.

I came back on line a day or so before my friend’s birthday on September 9th. We were both working the morning of September 11th. I got email notices of news bulletins and there was just the weirdest one about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Our Director had a tv in his office that got turned on. Then there was people exclaiming and the emails were coming one after the other. I phoned the children’s father and asked him if he was watching CNN. He was. Daughter was in school, son at the babysitter.

My office crowded in front of the t.v., dumbfounded, not sure what we were seeing. A couple were crying – they had relatives there. Others were worried about friends or family who happened to be travelling in the States. Our building was on lockdown for the forseeable future – there had been threats against it so nobody was going anywhere except for a few who had to leave. The day went in a blur of worried voices, stunned silence and the occasional stress-induced dark humour jokes. Sometimes you gotta just laugh instead of cry.

There were employees who deal with emergency situations – I was one of them in an administrative sort of way. It was a very long day with not much I could do except pretty much okay whatever the folks at the airport needed; there were hundreds of international flights over North American that were landing in Canada because the airspace over the US was closed. We were the next best thing. There’s a wonderful play that explains that very situation that happened in Gander – the airport that by far had the most planes landed. My concern was not the planes but more providing what area staff needed and we’ll leave it at that. What was worrying to me was that the local news was going on about what was happening at our airport, mentioning on occasion the place I worked and I wasn’t back several hours after school being let out because we were still in lock down.

My little girl was going to her dad’s after school and was going to be hearing about that on the news after not being told by the school what was happening. I know because I was told she first found out it from the tv and was a little bit worried hearing about the airport and the name of where I worked being said in the same time as some huge event of buildings falling. To this day I wish the schools had told the children about it. I mean, we were told the tough stuff. Regardless, it was late when I got home and I had many many longs days and nights of work ahead of me.

Late that evening I was on the computer trying not to look at the tv anymore, too wired to think about going to bed. My Connecticut friend was online – and more wired than I was. He was at the radio station that day, 50 miles from New York City, and talking all day to people who knew somebody, people who spoke to people who said goodbye from the planes and people who knew people in the Towers. For him this was real.

So we listened to each other that long night after that shocking day. I was glad he was alive across that now closed border. The next few weeks for both of us were mind-boggingly long and scary and strange. In my place people were threatening Muslims and I worried for the many neighbours we had that suddenly had become targets. I swore I would take in whoever would need to hide if it ever came to that and I hated that for even a minute we considered that was even a possibility. And my friend’s blog? The servers hosting it were in the basement of the World Trade Towers and so were lost.

When the border opened again and after a war was started, there came a time of fierce nationalism to the south of us which, while understandable got a bit ugly after Canada didn’t join that war. There were tales of people with Canadian license plates being turned away from gas stations and hotels when going across the border. I thought how strange after helping in the best ways we could we became one of the countries like the French (remember Freedom Fries?) .

So after the coming together and being there for one another, the anger crept in which was sad because there’s also a kindness that was lost after 9/11. I don’t know what can bring that back. What really hurts is that the anger festered and it’s boiled into a binary way of looking at things, of divided politics and a me-first thinking that is now literally killing people in this pandemic where it really will take unity or a whole lot of time for this to be over.

I get ahead of myself here though, because I found something that many other people did at that time. I found my soul. I realized then just how important it was to follow your heart because tomorrow everything can be taken away.

My online friend became my phone friend and we talked for hours. Some months later when there was time to breathe, we got an opportunity to meet in person for a coffee at least. One year later we were choosing to spend our lives together as a couple. For us, 9/11 was where several hours commiserating turned into a connection that would be strong enough to stand the test of time. We took a chance on a relationship that was unthinkable just a few months before. That’s something that this event did for a lot of people – it shook our lives so profoundly we took a chance on us. I’m glad we did.

So at the 20 year mark, I’m pleased the Afghan war is over and I hope that if there is a lesson learned here, it’s that we need each other. As we go through the second year of a pandemic one thing I’d like people to do who were around in 2001 is to remember how it felt, how no matter where we were, people wanted to help. They did what they could however they could even if there was a border between us. My allegorical fence has been almost a real one twice now – once with sick actions of terrorists and now with a terrible illness. I wonder what it will take for us to realize that if we had compassion for one another we can overcome anything?

I’m beginning to think I won’t be here if or when the world ever figures that one out. So I think I’ll just say that in my little world I did let compassion in, and I was fortunate enough to take the time to talk to someone who just needed to be listened to 20 years ago, as did I. Good things happen when you let love in your heart and truly listen.

So maybe with today’s challenges can I just ask one thing from people? Can I ask that maybe we think of other people during this pandemic and maybe try to care for one another without the divisions, recognizing that at the end of the day we’re all just people? Can we do that please?

–30–

Catherine M. Harris (c) 11.09.2021. All rights reserved

Dream Last Night

Had a dream last night
Everywhere I turned I 
Looked for you
I heard that you
Were dying in
One of those
Beds down the corridor
Full of doors - locked
Barred to me.
I didn't know why.
I couldn't say goodbye.
And when I awoke
From that dreadful
Place inside my head
Still lying in my bed
I'm thinking:
Here we go,
One more thing
Fueling my PTSD
And wondering why
The very ones
Who should be
Feeding my heart
Are instead
Tending to 
My nightmares.

--30--
(c) Catherine M. Harris, 21-Aug-2021

2020 Clearly Speaking

Back stairs painted finally

For once I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know that there’s anything I can say whatsoever that is anything new to the hundreds of words spoken and written about 2020 so far. It’s a colossal homunculus of a year if I want to be anthropomorphic about it, we’re all been turned inside out in some way, a roadmap of nerves exposed to the elements. And lord, do we have elements.

Now it would be too easy for me to talk about everything covid19 that’s already been hashed out to death, pun intended. So I won’t. What I will say is don’t listen to politicians to tell you medical advice, listen to the experts. Be considerate. Wearing a mask is less about protecting me from you but you from me. I care. That’s why I wear one. Besides, it’s kind of fun being all stealthy in public.

Of course all lives matter, but there are some lives that are particularly treated as less than, and no one should be treated as less than. That’s something that I’ve experienced at various times in my life being a woman, single, married, separated, younger, older, intelligent, less experienced, and oddly, more experienced. There are a million reasons to treat a person as less than, none of them good. To do that for whatever culture or colour you are is worse than being a woman or too old, it touches entire populations and it needs to stop right now.

Any form of discrimination is ridiculous and I don’t to hear any more excuses from anyone how it’s okay to demean someone for being something else. I want the world to finally wake up to what human rights and equality really mean.

In my own life I think the hardest thing to come to grips with was being discriminated against by other women. It’s a theme going back my entire life. I’m still not sure how it was okay to make me less than in my own family. I wasn’t a “(insert my mother’s family name here)” so I was told to my face years ago, for some inexplicable reason. I don’t know why except that it meant being at arm’s length from the family. My mom, when she was in full capacity, always made sure I was treated at least somewhat fairly but that all stopped when she got dementia. Whatever. At this point I don’t care any more. I just want to live the rest of my life in peace.

The thing is, I can do that. If it were because of my race, it would be inescapable.

I bring that up because I shudder to think what it must be like to feel that from total strangers every single day of your life, from your first breath, not knowing if you’re going to live to see the end of the day or what injustice is going to happen to you today, and if something does, little gets done about it.

My tiny tastes of that kind of cruelty is a sliver of what others endure all the time, and it breaks my heart. I truly hope that 2020 is the wake up call the world needs, and maybe for once we listen – really listen – to the people who have been diminished for hundreds of years, and more than that, do something about it.

I was still aching over 2019 for the losses I endured, but also still healing from the other losses that happened over the last 4 years. Life isn’t fair – I know this – but boy it was a gut punch. I was finally able to get some help and a diagnosis last year: depression and PTSD. As 2020 started I felt I was in a bit of a repair mode, but restrictions ended the therapy. The thing is though, what I needed most, I got. To me that was space, and time, glorious time.

When you have depression every waking moment is spent wrestling with the thoughts in your head, and the endless loops of memory, all of them confirming the awful person you think you are. People treat you badly, a part of you thinks you deserve it. Why wouldn’t they think badly of you? You never quite feel the pleasure of success because there’s a part of you always making you feel like a fraud for succeeding. Now add people who actually treat you that way. Whee!

So yes, for me 2020 is a breath of fresh air. I’m almost afraid to say it because I don’t want this to get taken away (as often happens when I say I like something, oddly enough). I have been working from home, at hours that suit my unusual night-owl internal time clock. For the first time in a very long time, I started getting more than 5 hours sleep a night. I wake up before the alarm. I have the time now to do the simple things again in my own schedule: gardening, working on the house, working on the things I love most that I’ve put aside in my depression. I’ve written and submitted a poem, a couple of creative non-fiction pieces, a short story. I played the piano one day, the guitar another. I dream (literally) of finishing the painting of my son as a small boy I started 3 years ago and then stopped because it made me feel sad to continue.

I think the biggest revelation has been that dwelling on the day’s events happen less when I have more control of my life, which I do here. I can eat properly, exercise instead of sitting in traffic and running errands on the way home. I can throw a load of laundry in while my lunch is warming up; I can load a dish into the dishwasher right away instead of dealing with an overflowing sink full of dishes at 1 a.m. It clears the mind. I am starting to think of what I want to do next, instead of trying to get through the day in one piece. If the van should decide to break down again, I don’t have to panic over what I’m going to do for two weeks since I don’t have the money to rent a car, how do I get to work? My work is in the spare bedroom. This should always be the default, not the exception. It’s so much easier to focus on my work when I’m not constantly worried about one thing or another and being interrupted.

I know that were my children still small the situation would be drastically different – in fact I doubt I’d have been able to stay working had this situation happened 18 years ago. But this is also where equality and human rights come in. Employers stand to gain when they allow for flexibility, and children are the heart and soul of employees who are parents so it has to be recognized. People just work better when they know they are valued and it’s shown by how they are treated. I really do hope this is one of the lessons we learn from this.

Another thing is that people have had time to consider what is truly important to them. Anytime you lose something (or someone) it’s a time to reflect and then move forward a little wiser. It’s a time to consider what it is that you really want for tomorrow, and then think – how do I get there?

Most of all though, I think having all this time to really be yourself is also a good way to honour yourself. People have taken to learning new things, taking up online classes or going for walks or losing those extra 30 pounds. Amazing things can happen when we have the time to breathe and reflect.

More than anything I hope that when all this is over people have learned to be a little kinder and appreciate each other, and to appreciate all that life has to offer. Life is fragile and tomorrow is not guaranteed for anybody.

–30–

Something that stayed in draft from summer 2020.

Bees and Bones

Here’s my latest short story that hasn’t been picked up so it’s about to be part of my upcoming short story collection but in the meantime, it’s here for you to enjoy.


The day that I died began with me wondering how in the hell it had come to this.  Arm in a sling, face swollen from bee stings I didn’t know I was allergic to, throat sore from the anaphylactic swelling and my desperate attempts to call out and oh yes:  I got all that from being somewhere I wasn’t meant to be in the first place.

So basically, one perfectly shitty day that’s led to, well, this situation. I was trying to sneak into my ex’s shed to get a box I really wanted back and had put away there because he had gotten in the habit of rifling through my things in the last days of our marriage. He was sleeping around and looking for something to pin the whole bloody mess on me.

The silly thing is, it should have been easy to just go in there and get it, I’d hidden the spare keys in a crevice under the eaves near the top of the door. There were some anxious nights where I worried that someone had seen me hiding the keys and would use them to break in and kill me.  That was when I didn’t know where my husband was or when he’d come home.  Back when my whole life was a question mark.

Since I’d been the one to do all the repairs, I knew he wouldn’t have fixed it.  He hadn’t.  What I didn’t count on was the big hive in the opening on top of the door where I had hidden a little plastic pastille tin with all the keys inside, including the key to the lock on the door. 

I was perched on that wobbly wooden Adirondack chair – the one with the faded and peeling red paint – when the slat cracked and broke, me with my hand just reaching in to get the tin, reacting in reflex and grabbing a handful of bees. I landed on my arm with a crack!

I didn’t know what I was hearing, whether it was my arm breaking or the chair, but I do remember screaming in pain and my hand swelling like a water balloon, my fingers like the ones we used to make out of condoms: Texas medium of course, coloured and ribbed for even better effect. The ones we had pocketed from the drugstore where, in our 12-year-old wisdom, we were sure no one saw. The ones my mom wound up paying for when her friend Shirley – who had seen me do it and was too embarrassed to stop me – went to a pay phone in the mall to call mom and tell her that she didn’t want to have to cover the cost. If losses happen too often, she might get fired you know and being a mom of four she really can’t afford to lose this job, what will they do for Christmas? 

Mom was livid.  Apparently.  She never told me about it.  She told my brother, which was a punishment worse than she would have done.  I don’t know if she knew he was so mean, I’m sure she was just asking him what he thought she should do since he is 4 years older than me.  I don’t know.  But hey, maybe I can ask her since, well, I’m dead.

All things considered this was a really stupid way to die.  Too mundane to make the paper, ridiculous enough that I know my whole life will be overshadowed in everyone’s memories by this one thing, if they ever think of me at all.  I will admit I was never the family favorite.  We can’t all be the star of the show, right? 

But I am now!  So for my little bit of time in the spotlight, what do I do with this?  I’m standing here at the foot of the hospital bed, staring down on myself, a heart monitor sounding a constant noise with flat lines scrolling across the screen and I know I’m not where I thought I’d be on this sunny Sunday in May.  I think I planned to dig up the garden and turn over the soil for this year’s crop of failure.  I’m a terrible gardener.  But I guess you probably might have figured that out given what you know of me so far.  Just call me fubar Annie.  And I really am beyond all repair! Ha ha.

I should be sad.  I should feel something.  I don’t.  Looking at myself in these quiet moments, timeless, I could have been standing here a thousand years or is it only seconds?  I want to stop looking at myself.  I want to see if I can put my hand through a wall, I want to fly, I want to swim underwater and circumnavigate the globe.  Where’s that light everyone talks about?

A hand touches my shoulder.  Hi mom, I say.  It doesn’t strike me as strange that I’m talking to my mom.  It should, she died five years ago.  Yet here she is.  I think she’s trying to say something but I can’t hear her.  Maybe it’s the opioids they probably gave me talking.  Maybe all of this is that.  What if I’m not really here, I’m at home in bed dreaming because it’s Sunday and I get to sleep in as long as I like?

No, I know I went to the old house.  I plotted this for weeks.  I waited for a day he’d be out late afternoon when I had time and nobody would be overly concerned.  I wonder how many neighbours even know we’re not together anymore.  I don’t care.  We all kept to ourselves.  I barely knew them.  If we’d have had kids, maybe I would know their names.  Neither of those things happened and here we are.

How long does it take before anybody notices that alarms are going off and I’m dead?  Were they even watching me at all?  I wonder if they have tried to find someone to call and noticed there’s no one.  My brother hasn’t talked to me in years, I don’t know if he even knows I left my husband.  My dad died ten years ago.  Work might wonder where I am but it’s not a weekday yet and they only check if I don’t answer the phone or emails, my status is showing as offline and I haven’t booked the day off.  So that’s going to be a while.  They’ll notice when that report is late probably.  Nice to be loved isn’t it?

Wait.  Isn’t being dead supposed to be all sweetness and light, angels singing, brightly lit doors, escalators and things?  Maybe some apparatus that sucks you up there like a pneumatic tube?  So okay, do I have to wait until my soul gets stuffed in screw top jar that gets shoved into that tube?  Who is stuffing me into that jar?

Oh wait, there’s people running.  It’s only been what, an hour, a year, a millennium, a minute?  There’s a lot I don’t know in this state but right now what I do know is I can’t feel my feet, my mother is mouthing words at me that I can’t understand and I am waiting for that wonderful playground in the sky I’ve been promised by churches all of my life.  Not that I went to church much after I left home.  Pretty much only for weddings and funerals.  Regardless, this better not be my afterlife. 

What if I’m one of those stuck people like those ghost shows that spend their time in shut down hospitals?  They’re calling out to dust motes and squirrels in the walls to communicate with them and somebody picks up what they think is a voice and it’s probably some person staked out in another room with a megaphone up against the wall so it sounds muffled; or maybe it really is someone like me stuck there staring at my lifeless body forever while eons go by outside? What if I’m just a cold spot on somebody’s temperature gauge?

Enough.  I’d say breathe to myself but that’s pointless. 

The frantic activity is gathering steam, more people are hovering over my bed, things being checked and reset, and oh they’ve got those paddle things.  I wonder if I pretend to jump can I go somewhere. I crouch down and spring up and damned if I’m not out in the parking lot watching moths swirl around LED lights casting shadows on the hoods of the cars beneath the poles.  Ooh, that was fun.

My mom is here, she’s standing by a picnic table wearing a blue striped floaty summer dress she loved.  I never actually saw her in that dress but I saw pictures of her in it.  She was in her twenties then I think.  She’s beckoning me over.  Sure mom, I’ll go over.  What have I got to lose?  Don’t say my life, if I’m given the choice of staying or going, I don’t have any reason to stay, I’m more a problem than anything else.  A gnat if you will, sucking the joy out of the leg of hapless wanderers who flit through my life. 

My mom gives me a big hug and I am flooded with love, so much so I can’t stop crying.  Mom, I say in my mind, I miss you so much.  I’m sorry I’m such a fuck up.

Love is warm, and she infused every atom of my being with it.  I am surrounded by white light so much I can’t see.  So, this is what heaven is like.  Heaven is a mother’s love and you are in her arms. 

My eyes were closed while I saw that beautiful light and when I opened them, mom and I are sitting at the picnic table, holding hands.  “So here you are dear,” she says, “it’s so wonderful to be able to speak with you.  I try to say things you know, but I don’t think you hear them.  I tried to tell you that wooden chair was broken and that ladies your age shouldn’t be balancing on rickety chairs.”

I laugh from the depth of my soul at her words, oh my Lord how I’ve missed her sense of humour, and of course she is right.  Middle aged and menopausal, size 0 is a distant memory for me.  What was I thinking standing on that chair?  Of course it was falling apart, I wasn’t there to fix it.

“Dear,” she says, “people pay attention to what matters most to them.  Adirondack chairs aren’t necessarily something that matters, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I wanted my box of memories, mom, the one with my baby stuff and my old diaries.  I wanted to remember stuff.  I needed to remind myself that once upon a time I mattered to the world.  I don’t anymore mom.  I just don’t.”  The strange thing is, this is the point where I should be bawling and cursing myself for being so self-pitying.  I feel nothing but love radiating from mom.

She smiles.  Her smile is an energetic hug. 

“Mom, what’s heaven like?”  I ask her, “Is that where I’m going?  Are you here to collect me?”

She smiles.  “It’s not what you expect.”

“I don’t know what that means, mom.  Is this heaven?”

“What is the one thing you think you contributed most in your life? Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.”

It took me no less than a heartbeat – were mine doing that – to answer.  “The kitten.  The one I saved.  It was going to die.”  I thought for a second.  ‘I don’t know if it did.  Did they just put it down when I turned it over?  Did I save it just so it could be killed at a shelter?”

She put her hand out in the “stop!” position. “It’s better not to concern yourself with what has happened when you turn over care to someone else.  It’s out of your hands.  You can ask, you can plead, but what they do is up to them.  It will drive you crazy if you worry too much about stuff you can’t change.”

“But that was a life, mom.”

She smiled. “I was given a dog when I was a child.  It became too much, kept getting out, destroyed things and one day the dog wasn’t there.  Father said he had given the dog to a farm.”

“But that’s a good thing isn’t it? More room for pup to run around?”

“When I was growing up it was common for nuisance animals to be put down.  That’s what they’d say to you when they took it away.  They were taking the animal to a farm, but they weren’t.  Or maybe they were dumping them at farms thinking they’ll be happier there – people still do that with cats.  My father swore he took the dog to a farm that his friend owned but when I was old enough to know what it meant, well, I wondered.  It hurt me to think I’d been lied to, that they could do this and not feel bad about it, I hoped that just maybe this was the exception.”

“Didn’t you ask?”

“No.  In truth, I didn’t want to know the answer.  Would you?  Do you really want to know the fate of that kitten? Or do you let it go and hope it had a nice life.  Better than being hit by a car, yes?”

“Yes and no, I guess I don’t want to know everything.”

“Exactly.  Sometimes what you don’t know is better for you, especially when there’s nothing you can do about it.  You can’t go back and change it, it’s in the past.”

“Mom? Are you mad I couldn’t be there at the end?  That I couldn’t hold you or your hand or even be in the room?  I know it hurt for me that I was never able to sit alone with you in your silence and just speak my heart.  So I say it to the walls.  If you want to make me cry, make me think of not being allowed to do this.  When did I stop being your daughter mom?  And why?”

“I love you always dear.  Before you were born, and every day thereafter.  I didn’t put the restrictions on you, I couldn’t, I was sleeping really.  Even when I seemed awake, it was all pretty much a daze for me.  I didn’t know time or who or what or where, I just was.  Know that whatever decisions were made, they certainly weren’t mine.  I was never spiteful or mean to you.  Not intentionally.  I loved you dear, still do.  There was no harm talking to the walls, it helps but also, how do you know I don’t hear you?  I carry you in my heart, just like you do me.”

I reached out to hug her, she shook her head and pointed.  For our vantage point at the picnic table, a scene in the parking lot like a hologrammatic movie screen played out in front of us.  It was the hospital room, the doctors and nurses a whirlwind of activity.   

Her hand grasped mine and it felt just like it always had.  “You have me now darling, is there anything you want to say to me directly?”

I thought for a second.  “Not really, just that I’m glad you were my mom.”

She squeezed my hand.  “I’m glad you are my daughter, and I’ll always be your mom.  Anything you want me to say to your dad?”

I laugh.  “No, just that I miss him.”

“He misses you too.”

“Are you still married?  Are you still together?” 

“It’s ‘till death do you part.  That would just be cruel to be married in perpetuity, what if you married a complete ass or somebody cruel?  No, it’s only for as long as you chose on Earth.  That’s all.  But we talk.  It’s different here.  Relationships are respecting the energy of it; sex isn’t really a thing you know – no bodies.”

That seemed a little sad to me and I told her so.  Then she reminded me the power of a hug.  That was much stronger certainly than anything sexual.  Her hug just now, and holding my hand, it really was just energy yet you express it differently when you have crossed over.

She told me that the truth of emotion is that light, for some it is gentle; for some, it’s very strong as it’s the depth of your emotion.  Desire is a physical thing, what the body wants.  No body, no desire in that way.  But you do desire the beingness of someone, much like what you miss when someone dies.  It’s the beingness, their energy in your orbit that leaves that gaping hole when it is gone. 

Tired.  I have gone from a bubbly happy lightness to very tired.  Mom tells me to close my eyes and rest my head on the table.  I ask her if this is where I get to choose whether to stay or go, she tells me simply that sometimes it isn’t a choice.  Then I fall asleep.

There is a space where you just aren’t.  You get a sense of that in a dreamless sleep, or when you are under sedation.  One second you are conscious, the next you are not.  Is one state more real than the other?  Regardless, there were no trees falling in this forest.  I just wasn’t.

“Is she your wife,” the nurse at the counter asks, “or your former wife?”

“Does it matter?”

“It does.  Mister – what is your name please?”

“Stone.  Mark Stone.”

“Her name is Anne Raphael.  Are you married?”

“Yes, sort of.”

“And who is this?” She points to a woman – slightly younger than he is – who stands beside him.

“My wife.”  The nurse glares at him.  “Common-law wife.  We live together.”

“I see. Now to answer my question, do you have any legal authority for Ms. Raphael?”

“Uh, I don’t know.  We’re separated.  Legally, documents and everything.  Long time now.  Like six years.”

“I see.  I’m not sure if you would be considered family or not.  She would normally be the one who determines that.  Is Raphael her legal name?”

“Yes, I guess?  It’s her maiden name, she never really used her married name, at least not like on her passport.  We handed in our marriage certificates when we got separated so I guess it is.”

“If all her government documents are in the name Raphael, it is.  A name is person’s own choice, and certain jurisdictions you must do a legal name change with a judge to actually change your name to your spouse’s.”

“Right, I never thought about it.  She was the one who insisted she keep her name but she used the married one while we were together.”

“Okay well she’s not that now so I need a blood relative or a common law spouse who she’s designated as a next of kin to make decisions or receive information about her condition.  You’re not on the list of family, but of course it’s blank, she was just brought in here.  Is there a blood relative I can contact?”

“No, well there’s her brother but they don’t talk and he doesn’t live around here, at least I don’t think so, he might have moved. Her parents are dead.”

“So that’s a no.  Please think about who we can contact about her condition, maybe a close cousin or someone?”

He leaves, mumbling to his partner that he’ll kill her himself if he winds up responsible for her as a cripple or something, and the nurse catches a glimpse of part of the reason why she might no longer be with him.  And she thinks, she should have got the brother’s name and the city he lives anyway.  Right now though, it’s probably better she’s under state care based on her condition. 

When Mark and Nita got back to the house, he did what he always does when he gets home for the day.  He lit up a joint and turned on the tv.  Nita thought about pouring herself a glass of wine but then she thought what if we have to leave quickly in the evening?  Neither of them had enough for a taxi or anything like that.  One of them would have to drive.  She decided it would be better if she held off.  Instead, she went out to the yard to see if she could figure out why Annie would have fallen from one of their chairs. 

One of the slats was cracked, and the tall grass was stamped down where she fell and there was a pathway trampled from paramedics she guessed.  The chair was up against the doorway.  It didn’t make sense.  She heard a muffled telephone chime – she touched her pockets.  Wasn’t hers.  Reaching around she found it in a small purse that was under the chair.  It had Annie’s car keys, some cards, her phone and some tissue.  She answered the phone.

“Hey Annie,” a cheerful male voice said, “we’re all going out for a drink, want to join us on the patio?  It’s a nice night out.  Figured we’ve got a busy week ahead so a toast to the team might be in order.  What do you say?  Don’t say no, Annie, we know you’re not busy.”

“Ah, this isn’t Annie.”

“Oh, guess I’ve got the wrong number.”

“Wait, don’t hang up.  This is Annie’s phone.  This is Nita, I, uh, her phone is in my backyard, she fell from my chair and she’s in the hospital right now.  You’re work people, right?  Does anyone know who her next of kin is?”

“Wait, what?  Is she okay?  What do you mean next of kin?”

“They won’t tell us but I think it’s bad.  I’m her ex’s girlfriend and her car was here. The neighbours said she fell off the chair and was really sick, something about bees and bones.”

“Holy shit.  Sounds horrible.  I don’t know who her next of kin is, that’s in her file at work, we’d have to ask her supervisor and he’s at the cottage, I think. The cell reception is the pits there.  What hospital?”

“The Town.”

“Right, I’ll give them a call.”

“They won’t tell you anything, they didn’t tell us and Mark’s her ex.”

“Yeah, I don’t think all exes are friendly, they’re doing her a favour.”

“Okay what do you want me to do?  What should I do with her purse and phone?”

“Where are you, I’ll swing by and pick them up, bring them to her in the hospital, she’ll need them.  Has it got all her ID and everything?”

“Yes.  I don’t know if I should give it to you.”

“What’s your number?  I’ll send you a text so you know it’s me, I’ll give you my details.  I’m pretty sure Annie is probably flipping out without her stuff.”

“I would be. Okay.”  She gave him her number and her pocket vibrated a little. 

Inside the house she pulled out her phone and responded to the text with her address.  Mark was calling out asking what was for dinner and where did she go?  She told him the yard and dinner would be few minutes.  That was cool.  She pulled out a smoke and went to the front porch to wait for Gary.

Halfway through the cigarette, Gary arrived. He looked worried and showed her his phone with the text to prove it was him.  She handed him the purse and thanked him for looking out for Annie like this.  He told her anything for a friend.

She liked that.  She was glad Annie had some friends.  The way Mark talked it was like she was a hermit or something.  She waved bye and put out her cigarette, then went back inside to cook dinner.

Gary went to the hospital, told the nurse he was her boyfriend and showed her Annie’s purse.  He gave her the information, numbers and stuff that the nurse needed for the file and said he’d have to check to see who exactly Annie’s next of kin was but he’d do that first thing tomorrow since he’s a consultant at the company she works for.  Could he see her?  He asked.

The nurse checked and he was told she was sleeping; he said that was okay, could he sit with her a few minutes?  The nurse said it was touch and go there for a bit, they might not let him in the room right now but he could wait outside if they don’t.  He said fine. 

That’s exactly what he did.  He waited in that blue plastic chair outside of the room until someone shook him gently and said she was awake but maybe not very lucid, she had taken a bad fall and an allergic reaction – just be prepared she’s a bit swollen.  He said okay.

There she was, moon faced and in a form of traction, her fingers ten sausages sticking straight out.  If it weren’t so scary it would be funny, he thought.  “How are you Annie?” he said to her as he pulled up a chair.  “I brought your purse.”

She looked at him quizzically.  She couldn’t place who he was.  “Do I know you?” She asked.

“I wondered if you’d remember me.  I tried to ask you for a drink and I found out what had happened – this is awful!  I have your purse, your ex’s girlfriend had it – she answered the phone and she told me all about this and I offered to bring it to you.”

“Thanks, I’m a little shook up and on drugs, I think.  You’re from my office?”

“A consultant. I started a couple of weeks ago, been trying to talk to you.”

“I see.” She winced as she tried to move her fingers and couldn’t, they were still too swollen.

Gary laughed a little.  “I’m sorry, I can’t help but think your hands look like the water balloons we used to do out of those latex gloves that my mom had.”

“What’s your name again?”

“Gary Benoit.”

She tried to think then it came to her.  Gary! The one from down the block.  “We used to climb trees in White Father’s Woods together.”

“That we did, and we’d run through the cemetery and light all the candles in the grotto.”

“Oh my God, it’s so nice to see you.  I’m sorry you’ve found me this way but I’m glad you brought me my purse.  Guess I won’t be at work for a few days.”

He smiled.  “Guess not.  That’s okay I’m working on a report myself so I do it on my own schedule at home much of the time.  You don’t have family here, do you?  Where’s Tim at?”

“Gah, I don’t know.  Please don’t look him up.  Nobody left but him so, nobody.”

“I’m sorry but hey, how about I swing by tomorrow and we can catch up.  You never forget your first kiss.”

She smiled.  “No, I actually had forgotten your name, but no never your face.  We had fun way back when.” She blinked hard, trying to keep her eyes open.

“Yes, that we did.  It was a good time to be alive.”

He put her purse in the drawer of the nightstand.  “Sleep tight and belles rêves, my Annie,” he said, kissing her lightly on the top of her head.

She didn’t reply, she was sound asleep so he wrote out his number and address and tucked it into her purse.  Someday maybe he’d tell her she’s still as pretty as she ever was, even after all these years gone by. 

One day long ago and high up in a tree, they’d sworn they’d be married someday.  They made blood pacts with finger pricks and promised never to ever tell anyone they had kissed.  Then life swept them apart, as it usually does to preteen lovers.

Serendipity?  Perhaps.  Maybe it was the answer to a prayer, or the answer to a promise, or a gift from heavens above.  Only time will tell.

–30–

(c) Catherine M. Harris, 2020 all rights reserved

Cathi’s Comments Dec. 31, 2020

The end of a year like no other. While this has taken some getting used to, I have lived through far worse years personally.  What’s different about this one is that much of what I was going through so was everybody else.  Being an introvert at heart I have taken this time in a positive way – it has been a year of healing emotionally and physically.  The basics tenents that have shaped our life since March were things I needed:  working from home, not going anywhere unnecessary, working with what we have on hand. 

This gave me the space and the time to do more of what I needed to get back to things such as dealing with the weight I gained since moving to New Brunswick.  I went from high end of normal to fat and since I have lived most of my life at the low end of normal being heavier was something that made me feel awful.  So in honour of the fact that this isn’t me, my healing has taken to signing up for Noom.  It’s a good program I think, it is sensible help and goes into psychology and nutrition instead of doing weird stuff like eliminating food groups or making you pay for prepackaged meals or memorizing systems.  So far it’s working.

Also on the bill was exercise because staying in the house and puttering around the yard isn’t really healthy.  I have an under desk cycle machine (think of a form of recombinant bike) that actually works without sliding across the floor in the set up I have it now – this comes in when I have a lot of reading or long meetings where my video and sound is off and I’m just listening.  That plus using the elliptical has me doing around 5 km a day again.  For my resolution I hope to hit 10 km a couple of times a week – that’s a bit optimistic though because that is a little more time exercising than I really want to spend frequently (would be about 2 hours).  Most of all though is having less stress which more than makes up for the talk therapy that stopped when they ended in person visits to offices.

I had the opportunity to be flexible in my schedule and I am happily working my night owl hours for clients on the west coast.  This means I am sleeping a regular night sleep instead of 5 to 6 hours or so. Last year when I went to B.C. for three weeks it was clear to me that there I’m functioning on what is normal time for them; I would be asleep by 11 p.m. instead of the middle of the night like I am here.  So being true to my internal clock is a good thing that I hope I get to continue doing if at all possible. 

What I have realized in 2020 is that what’s important to me is to be where my knowledge and experience is needed and I can be paid appropriately for it; it’s just where and who that’s the question. I’ve been looking, bearing in mind that telework and the west coast schedule is what suits me best. I also stood up for myself this year which was a good thing, even if it didn’t change anything. With an eye on the future though, my focus has been paying everything I can off and it has been easier this year with fewer daily expenses.  One 10 year headache is finally paid off; that was a huge relief and a cause for celebration.

At the start of the year I was on assignment travelling to deliver training and updating web pages, things I loved doing in a previous job and it was fun to do it again temporarily.  I went to Burlington, Moncton and Yellowknife which was great to see, I have always wanted to go up north for a visit. 

However, on March 12th we were told to go home and stay there.  It was odd trying to navigate how to get what we needed and wondering about rescheduling appointments.  I’m going to stay away from politics here but I have to say it was so insane in the US that I actually did learn a bit about the US political system in order to try understand what was happening. 

Early on in the pandemic I followed the lead of many people and posted a creative thing once a day, whether it be writing or music or art for about two months until I figured I should actually put more time into creating new works.  So that too was my focus:  submitting my writing to various publications.  I made the final version of the paperback edition of I Ching Jukebox and retired the hardcover version.  Now if someone is adventurous enough to want to read it, it’s less expensive.  I did Nanowrimo again and while I didn’t do 50k words I did get very close to the completion of a novel I’ve been working on for five years.  I do want to finish that this year, edit it and have it published, likely through Tablo with the marketing option since a big problem with my work has been that I am useless at self-promotion where it counts, like my creative works.

There were losses this year though, more of people I used to be close to or were people I had met but were dear to people I know.  The first death was really unexpected: the best friend and housemate of my childrens’ grandmother and who lived with my son and his father; I did keep in touch with her and the suddenness of her passing was a bit shocking.  Later in the year two people I knew well years ago passed, one of covid19.  Then a couple of others who were close to people I know.  My heart aches for people who have lost a close family member; you don’t know how that feels until it happens to you and each time hearing that I hurt for the people left behind. 

The last five years or so have been pretty rough for me in a few ways so what I have been trying to do is to keep my focus on the now and the future instead of looking back; it’s better just to move on.  A lot of what has been fueling depression has been the mourning of what I’ve lost.  The realization that given there is no going back to change things, it’s better to let it go is huge.  A weight off my shoulders really.  I promise to stop boring people with stuff that has hurt me and instead do what I used to do which is to look for the next step in my evolution. 

Understanding that maybe, no matter how hard you try you’ll never fit in is something that has been an echo in my life once in a while and it is a bit of what’s been happening since we moved to New Brunswick, lovely as it is here.  I’m now anxious to find what it will take to be in a situation that is kinder.  Life’s too short to be around those that aren’t. I guess one thing that’s struck me the last 7 years is that I just don’t feel like I belong here and I don’t know how to fix that.  I’m sorry also that I’ve brought my partner into a place where there’s not much but us two.  It’s been a little hard going from a town where we had things to do outside of  work and our hobbies and meaning something to people to feeling unwanted.  So hopefully 2021 is a year we can find some resolution to that.  I’m not sure how, but I’m thinking about it. 

So, to end out this year I do believe this has been a growth experience for all of us, whether we wanted it or not, and I hope that we’ve learned to see what is valuable and what isn’t.  I always end my new year’s comments by saying to please show some compassion so at the risk of sounding like a broken record I’m going to say it again:  please show compassion, we need it more than ever.  Understand too that you can have different opinions or beliefs and still care about one another.  This year that empathy has meant life and death.  So let’s be kind to one another shall we, even if we need to agree to disagree?

À la prochaine,

Cathi.

Predictions for 2021

Here we are, at the end of what has been a completely ridiculous year. I don’t think anyone saw this nonsense coming. Doesn’t mean I don’t like to try though 🙂

So, if you haven’t read these before, every year I put up my predictions. I do this because occasionally I’m right; plus, it’s fun. What I do is to relax by meditation and then imagine that it is Dec. 31st 2021 and what do I know is in the news at that time if I look back? While I focus on 2021 I write down what pops into my head. It’s actually a form of remote viewing. So if you’re curious about this, before you read what I put why don’t you try it and see what you get? Or try it for your own personal life (I actually do that too but will never post anything from that, it’s more of just a mental check in on people I love).

So for 2021, here goes:

  1. Damage to infrastructure is a theme for 2021. This is a year where failure to maintain infrastructure to save money is coming into focus. Bridge collapse?
  2. Lost generation – the sense of being a lost generation is hard for youth who cannot seem to hold on to what education cannot give them: an actual job. But out of desperation comes innovation and this where the younger generation will shine.
  3. We’re on the cusp of major breakthroughs in science, enough that I would say it’s a new age, the age of biological science.
  4. 2020 was a year of introspection and personal learning of ourselves, 2021 is that of learning about humanity in general both from a medical and psychological point of view.
  5. People are tired. Radical anything is becoming tiresome because there has now been two years of this at the end of 2021. 2021 is a year of more conflict and anger more rioting and destruction but also of people paying attention. Things will settle down but not until some the deeper issues are addressed. The realization of this is 2021’s gift to the world.
  6. Us and them mentality is fading by the end of the year as people realize we need each other. Something has to give and how much tragedy does it take? What brings that isn’t just of individuals dying we’ve seen much of that especially with covid but in natural disaster – loss on a common scale is what wakes people up.
  7. More severe hurricanes on the Atlantic seaboard – Atlantic Canada gets hit twice. On the west coast more earthquake activity but nothing serious in the north, in the US though California has another tough year. Severe earthquake in the early fall.
  8. A lot of what happens in 2020 happens in 2021. We will have refugees trying to enter other countries because of weather events. Drought is a major issue in Africa and in North America.
  9. One of the driest years on records even though in the east and in central Canada there will be some major storms this won’t make up for the dry weather. Reminiscent of the dirty 30s with clouds of dust in the air and abandoned farms. With this comes wildfires and all of Canada will have them as will the US and Australia again.
  10. An energy breakthrough that is practical makes home heating and energy and personal items charged easy and inexpensive.
  11. Breakthrough in dementia treatment. Also a simple cataract treatment coming.
  12. Megan and Harry back in the UK for a few months (spring I think) and then return to the US.
  13. Virus in chickens causing loss of livestock also will cause people to rethink backyard chicken coops because of the fear of the virus jumping to other species especially humans. This is temporary though because an existing treatment for something else will work so fortunately not a lot of loss of poultry.
  14. Bat populations are rebounding, as are the bee populations.
  15. A new musical group from South America becomes very popular – not a boy band but one that is more rock and is multilingual – they sing in Spanish, English and German. I’m thinking from Argentina maybe? Original, great sound.
  16. An explosion from a volcano causes major problems in Europe – possibly from Iceland? Similar to the previous big eruption that caused trouble with air traffic in Europe.
  17. Good news from Africa about a new company that gets world-wide attention. Not sure but think it’s technology related.
  18. People turning towards more heartwarming, sentimental, kindness-focused everything: relationships, arts; cut-throat tactics less acceptable now.
  19. Politics is changing around the world. Old systems being re-evaluated.
  20. So many unemployed people, focus now on what exactly do we need and how do we put people in jobs in areas they are needed? Lots of moving locations happening in the next few years, also more national – manufacturing returning to every country, so this is where the jobs will come from but more AI and less hands-on work. Covid creates new workplace standards that will be kept beyond the end of the pandemic – it won’t truly be gone before 2023 so that changes won’t be temporary – not all of them anyway.
  21. At the end of the year there is more of a sense of kindness and true equality overall and a breakdown of old inflexible ways are happening including religion, politics, education, and society in general. Celebrating differences.

And that’s it! See you this time next year, and take care please, people.

Happy New Year.

Instant Pot Eggplant Turkey Casserole

This was a great way to use a medium sized eggplant, spaghetti sauce, left over turkey and some shredded mozzarella cheese and end up with a fairly light meal. I cobbled together instructions from several recipes to come up with my own version. This is a meal for 4 people, and it was made in a 4 quart instant pot.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup spaghetti sauce that is divided into 1/2 cup sauce and 1/2 cup water for the bottom of the pot, and 1/2 cup sauce for between layers.
  2. 1 medium sized eggplant
  3. 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  4. salt to put on the eggplant for a few minutes
  5. 1 cup shredded mozzarella (you can use other kinds of cheese instead if you like such as Tex-Mex cheese)
  6. 14 oz left over sliced turkey, shredded
  7. Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top
  8. Optional: fresh spinach , onion, zucchini, tomato slices

Prepare the eggplant by cutting the top off and slice into thin slices that will fit in your instant pot. Salt and let sit for a few minutes to draw out moisture then pat dry with a paper towel before putting in the pot.

Mix 1/2 cup of spaghetti sauce with 1/2 cup of water and pour into the bottom. Don’t put thick sauces on the bottom of your pot unless you are doing a pot in pot dish because it will cause the eggplant to stick and burn.

Layer about a third of the eggplant on the bottom, sprinkle with half the spice and some mozzarella, put half the turkey on top, put 1/4 cup sauce on top. Put another layer of eggplant, turkey, spice, mozzarella, and sauce. Put remaining eggplant and cheese on top. If you want to put other vegetables such as zucchini, onion, spinach, sliced tomato you can also put that in the layers for extra flavour.

Cook 15 minutes on high pressure, natural release.

I served this with white rice and cooked spinach on the side and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. 1/4 of the recipe works out to about 306 calories. (1216 for the whole 4 qt pot based on the quantities shown here and using the PC spaghetti sauce).

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