Within the Embrace of Entropy and The Arrow of Time

There is a row of spruce trees at the back of the yard. The tallest was struck by lightning. I was two rooms deep into the house and the light that came in was the most incredible thing to see. There was a wash of the coldest white and blue. And though there were no shadows everything was eerily defined. The noise that followed was felt as much as it was heard. The tree still stands but almost four years on it hasn’t healed. The strike left a scar that runs down the length of the trunk to the ground. With every season the crack gets deeper.

I had a lovely thought last week. I was driving in the car and just out of the blue it came to me. It was a wonderful memory – well two sort of but they were connected. The memory was of my youngest nephew, Matthew, when he was small.  We had rented a hockey rink for a birthday party and Matthew was so excited to come and get on the ice. He must have been around 4 maybe…I’m not sure… but I do remember how happy he was. The second part also had to do with an arena. My sister brought her boys to see my stepson play and as he came out of the dressing room he said hello to Matthew. Matthew’s whole face lit up because he’d been acknowledged by this older boy heading out to the ice to play. I honestly don’t think he could have been happier that day. He would have loved to play hockey. I’m sure of it. He never got the chance. He was born with an adorable sideways smile and a progressive neuromuscular disease.

Picture time as a hallway broken up by consecutive doors. Each door represents a unit of time. The doors are sheer enough to look back through but there are layers and layers of them. Each one takes you further away from where you have been and try though you may you can never bridge that space between now and then. No matter how much you may long for the “before”, just thin doors of time away, there is only what comes after. We say things like “I would give anything if I could have just one more day…one more hour” but the truth is one more hour or one more day wouldn’t be enough.

The night that Matthew died always comes back to me in sound bites and still pictures – the phone call – the car ride – standing on the porch as they return from the hospital – my sister opening the car door – her face as she tells me and it’s like that flash of lightning filling everything up with something alien and terrifying as I move in slow motion to take her into my arms. The rest of the night, the weeks, the months, the years, are marked by moments of awful clarity distinct as pale figures caught naked in the stark flickering of a strobe light.

Matthew lived 16 years. The brevity of his life along with much of what he endured and what has come to pass since he left us is beyond difficult to fully grasp. I am grateful for the things that offer a counter balance to the downright unfairness of it all. I need those things; like those days in the arena, or any moment I’m called to mind the good things that were a part of his life and what good things he brought to all of ours.

I like to watch the birds in the garden. I can see them as I gaze out the kitchen window. The blue jays scream and argue. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are a circus of acrobats as they negotiate the expanse of tree trunks. There are different kinds of sparrows, cardinal couples, and flocks of dark-eyed juncos. In the summer there’ll be hummingbirds and orioles. Several times a day the birds will suddenly scatter. I don’t know why. Perhaps there’s a noise, a movement, or a falling shadow that sets them off. Often it’s nothing and they quickly return. Sometimes though, that shadow will be a hunting hawk. Maybe a red tail but more likely a Cooper’s hawk. There will be a flash of darkness and then silence as a few stray feathers float to the ground.

The garden will be silent then, sometimes for hours.  I watch to see if the birds return. And they do but I can never tell if they’re the same ones that were here before.  At dawn and dusk there’s always the call of the mourning doves. A storm might blow in and I’ll watch as a curtain of rain sweeps across the fields before it engulfs the house.

I wonder how long it will be until the spruce tree finally falls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music for this post –Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers- Day is Gone 

 

 

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

I can’t tell if this plant is dead.Hmmm What seems to be the problem It looks dead but maybe it isn’t.  Things do seem pretty dire but this plant has a history of fading only to suddenly spring back to life; quite on its own with no help from me. It’s never looked this bad though.

I’d like to say that I try really hard to keep my house plants going. I’d like to say it – but I can’t. The truth is I don’t. As long as the weather permits they’re outside on the porch under the auspices of Mother Nature. The spring, summer, and early fall are a great time for house plants on the porch. It’s winter inside that’s the kicker.

It’s not that I don’t care. I try to position them out of draughts and close to light sources. I cover the soil with tin foil and rocks so the cats can’t dig in it. But I don’t have that green thumb thing going on. I don’t always remember to water or I over water. I’ve tried plant food but with limited success. I don’t talk to my plants. My mother talks to her plants. My mother has the touch. She is the reason I have house plants. I’ve never bought a plant for inside (plenty for outdoors- they seem to respond well to my plant ‘em and leave ‘em alone approach). For my mom a house isn’t a home without plants therefore I have house plants.

My mom’s house is full of beautiful, healthy plants. She collects plant clippings and she’s not shy about it. Public gardens, shops, doctors’ offices- if she sees a plant she likes she grabs a bit to take home. Once whilst attending a family funeral she snapped a sprig from a plant in the funeral home lobby. She wasn’t the least bit discrete about it. It was after the service and everyone was drinking coffee, expressing their condolences, sharing memories of the deceased. She dampened a napkin with water from her drinking glass, grabbed some Saran wrap off a sandwich tray that was being unwrapped, and packaged up her clipping to keep it fresh for the trip home. There’s no way that this situation I currently find myself in would ever happen under her watch.

I just read a story about a guy who was in a vegetative state for 12 years. They thought he’d never recover. Well he came to and now he’s right as rain and happily living his life.* It wouldn’t make a lick of sense to compare an individual’s life journey to that of a plant. It’s not the same thing at all. But there is some kind of parallel in that things aren’t always the way they seem to be. I could be wrong obviously. After all, my mother does steal plant clippings so my world may be a little more grey (or green) than black and white. I think I’m going to tuck the plant back on the shelf and see what happens. It can’t hurt it and relatively speaking spring is not that far away.

Music for this post
Frank Sinatra and Eddie Hodges High Hopes

*. Well he does have quite the hate for Barney the Dinosaur. Turns out that he was aware but trapped inside his body for 10 of those years and they didn’t know it. Whilst in care they would prop him up and pop a Barney tape into the old VCR for hours at a time. They probably thought they were doing a bit of kindness when in fact they were irritating the snot out of him.

Christmas Wine Drinking Tips From My Home to Yours- Cheers

Step 1: Wait until less than a week before Christmas to purchase your Christmas tree.

Step 2: Decide it’s a good idea to purchase your tree in the after dinner hours of a moonless December evening.

Step 3: Head out to the farm you usually buy your tree from to find the farm yard dark. Uncertain as to what to do, wait because you want a tree and this is where you usually get one but it looks like they’re done for the season. After what seems like an uncomfortable amount of time someone will come out of the house.

Step 4: Turn down the farmer’s generous offer to let you head back into the snow covered bush and cut down your own tree.

Step 5: Pick one of the four pre-cut trees that you only just noticed as it is extremely dark in the yard. Pay for the tree. Load it into the van and head for home

Step 6: Once home unload the tree and leave it in the backyard where it will stay for the next day and a half even though you were certain it was absolutely necessary to get it that very evening. Notice the farmer short-changed you a dollar. Well it’s dark, that sort of thing happens, and it is Christmas…so ho ho ho. You will have gotten your tree though and success deserves a glass of wine. Go ahead and indulge.

Intermission- It will rain all the next day and night. Friday morning the winter wonderland will be a sodden muddy mess and it will be very apparent that the “snow drift” in your front yard was just a light cover of snow over top of a huge pile of leaves you never finished raking because someone broke the good rake.

Step 7: Get your first look at the tree in the light and notice the elbow bend in the trunk that you missed when you bought it in the dark. Trim the stump but not too much because you paid for a big tree and dammit you’re going to have a big tree.  Make sure you lay lots of plastic sheeting on the floor as it is hardwood and you don’t want that to get wet while the tree drips dry. Drag your sodden tree round the front of the house, in through the front door (pine needles, pine needles everywhere!), and spend a fair amount of time trying to anchor it straight in the tree stand. Realize this tree was just born crooked, you paid for it, and you’re going to have to live with it. It will look okay if you only view it from the front. Anyway it’s the holidays and there’s no need to get in a flap about little things.

Step 8: Shoo the cat away from the tree. Tidy up a bit. Pull the cat out of the tree. Get ready to go out to dinner and the theater with family and friends. You can decorate the tree when you get home. Shoo the cat away from the tree. Close the door to the living room. The cat will not be pleased.

The cat WILL NOT be pleased.
The cat WILL NOT be pleased.

Step 9: Head out for the evening. Make sure the person you’re driving into town with hates city traffic and, despite knowing it is the exact hour of the Friday evening rush hour and that Christmas is less than a week away, will become so incensed they won’t be able to enjoy the restaurant and then later, exhausted, will sleep through the first half of the play. Your other friends will stay awake so you will have people to talk to. Decide that a glass of wine during dinner might be nice. Hell, why not make it two? You should probably super-size those because it is Christmas after all.

Step 10: Return home and check on the tree. Shoo the cat away from the tree. Notice most of the water in the tree stand is gone. Put more water into the bottom. Pull the cat out of the tree. Pour a glass of wine. Check the water level and THEN notice the water leaking from a crack in the bottom of the stand onto your hardwood floor. Grab the shop vac. Turn it on. Don’t panic when it doesn’t work. Grab some towels and sop up the water. Drag the tree outside. Google shop vac trouble shooting. Fix the shop vac despite its horrible design weaknesses. Spend an hour drying your floor with your hairdryer hoping it won’t stain. It will. Drink another two glasses of wine. Go to bed.

Step 11: The next day after your breakfast meeting head to the hardware store where a clerk will convince a dubious you that their puny tree stand will indeed hold your 8 ½ foot tree. Go home.

Step 12:  Realize the clerk lied to you. Hate the clerk and wonder if it’s okay to have a glass of wine even though you haven’t had lunch yet.

Step 13: Plop a bucket into the old cracked tree stand, drill holes into the bucket, and run the tree screws through it. Take your tree, which is now 6 feet tall because you so wanted the new stand to work, and put it in the old stand. Voila it’s up. Decorate your tree. Make sure you don’t put a single solitary breakable ornament on it…shoo the cat away from the tree…no tinsel either.

Step 14: Shoo the cat away from the tree. Get a spray bottle to shoo the cat away from the tree. At one point notice the tree has fallen over. Spend a half hour trying to get your already decorated tree to stay upright in the broken stand until you admit it’s just not going to work. Grab some picture wire and string it from the picture rail to your tree. Your tree will be standing upright again. Who knows for how long but yea-a-h! Have a glass of wine.

Step 15: Leave the spray bottle on the ground in front of the tree as a warning to trespassing cats. Have another glass of wine and consider whether or not it’s time to start on the hard liquor.

The music for today’s post is Neil Young’s Comes a Time. When taken in the proper light the lyrics strike me as particularly appropriate for this post.

Octogenarians Want Love or Something Not Even Remotely Like It (Too?- Hell I don’t know)

I like reading the weekend newspaper. I work on the NY Times crossword that runs only in the weekend edition. I enjoy the letters, the editorials, the comment pages and perusing the classified ads. I recently came across a slice of life in the singles column of the Classifieds.Singles Ad

The singles section in my regional paper is located near the euphemistically titled “adult entertainment” ads which are followed by the escort ads. I don’t know why adult entertainment and escort services need different headings because as far as I can tell they seem like the same things. For those who can’t find “Twoo Wuv” I suppose it’s convenient to have the services that replicate the mechanics of said relationship for pay advertised nearby. This gent seems to be trying to cover all bases-wide age range, possible marriage (based on a 2 hour a week get to know you time schedule) and cash for…well…“stuff”. I’m guessing he’s not shelling out $500 a month for 8 hours of holding hands at the movies. I have no idea what the hell is going on here but there is no denying that his hope, or something else, springs eternal. Whether it’s for love or a cash transaction only is uncertain. Will it be wedding bells or is this a senior ready to “mingle”? There is no doubt that age has no bearing on desire. I’m no expert but I’ve had my own little run in, rather unfortunately, with that truth.

I worked as a museum manager for almost 5 years. As a not for profit organization funding was always an issue. I was the only employee (with the exception of summer students). It would have been difficult to operate the site without volunteers. During my tenure I came into contact with a number of seniors.  I unintentionally managed to secure the “affection” of a married man more than 45 years my elder. Unbeknownst to me he had a reputation in the community for womanizing.  If I had known that, when I got to the end of the line of seniors I was giving a quick hug and a peck on the cheek to after an event, I would never have included him.

An explanation might be in order as it may seem strange that a professional would engage in such behaviour.  The individual who had held the position before me had complained about visits, from volunteers and members of the society that established the museum, hampering his administration. When I was hired it was made very clear to me that it was a part of the job and as such took priority over other administrative tasks. I was to have an open door policy and work to establish strong ties with any local individuals who chose to visit or participate on site. It led to a very interesting dynamic developing with a number of senior members who were involved with the organization. The closest term I might use to define that relationship would be “familial”.

I once had a senior volunteer end a phone call with “I love you” to which I responded to without a moment of hesitation with a “Me too. See you tomorrow”. For months I spent several hours each week visiting with a gentleman (not the not-so-secret admirer) whose wife was confined to a care facility as the result of a stroke. He would stop by my office and bring samples of his wood work as well as photos of his former property and harness racing horses he had raised. As the manager of a historical site with a mandate to preserve local history people would come by to share stories of family histories, traditions and of course gossip. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t enjoy sharing a bit of gossip whether it happened last week or a hundred years ago.  Living and working in a small rural community, as well as the nature of my job, meant that the lines between my work and personal life were at times nonexistent. It wouldn’t be unusual to have someone drop by my house on my days off to talk about something work related or to drop by my work to talk about something personal.  So hugs and pecks on the cheek for pseudo grandparent figures were not out of line.

It wasn’t even a week after the event that I realized I had unintentionally created a problem for myself. That small gesture of affection had fanned the flames of a desire and I found myself the subject of some very unwanted attention. Suddenly I noticed that my not-so-secret admirer was around more often. He would make excuses to speak to me (not that he had to, it was my job after all) but he didn’t really have anything to say. I began to hear about him asking for me when I wasn’t on site, wanting to know when I would be back. He would take any opportunity he could to come into contact with me. At one point he took my hand and wouldn’t let it go. I can tell you it is very awkward trying to disengage your hand from an 88-year-old man’s grasp without hurting him when he’s determined not to let go. At that point I was embarrassed and I felt a bit sorry for him as well as his wife. I blamed myself because you know maybe I shouldn’t have hugged him (even though it had never been a problem with any of my other seniors). I had no idea this was a regular thing for him. If I had, I would have faced it head on. He wasn’t making any attempt to hide his interest. I began to make sure I was never alone with him. That wasn’t so hard during the summer when there were students working through the busy season. The slow season began in September. The students would be heading back to school and I was going to be alone on site. So of course you know that’s when it came to a head.

It was just a normal weekday when he showed up. I was sitting at my desk doing some administrative work on the computer. I kept working as he came in hoping he would see I was busy and leave. He stood behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. Well I tell you I was at a loss. I began to explain what I was working with on the screen. I looked up at him and he said “You look sad” and then he bent down AND KISSED ME ON THE MOUTH and said “Does that make you feel better?”. HOLY-CRAP-IN-A-HAND-BASKET. I was stunned. Just then out of the corner of my eye I saw the gas lady walking across the lawn to check the meter. “Oh it’s the gas lady” I exclaimed and I almost ran out of the room. He followed me. Now this man was in his late 80s at the time. He then had and still does have a Tweedledee Tweedledum physique. I wasn’t afraid of him. I’m pretty sure I could take him in a fair fight. But I was extremely uncomfortable and angry. I was angry at him. I was angry on his wife’s behalf and I was angry at myself for waiting and just hoping the whole thing would go away.  I turned to him, making no attempt to hide my anger and asked “Does your wife know you go around kissing other woman?” My tone of voice made it clear it was both a question and a threat. I walked away to talk to the gas lady and my not-so-secret admirer left.

I wish I could say that was the end of it but of course it wasn’t. A year later he showed up for a site event. He tried to speak to me and I walked by him without acknowledging his presence. Later that day I had a chat with one of the organization’s board members and related the whole thing to him. It was agreed that this man would be “discouraged” from participating on site. I don’t work at the museum anymore. I made sure to warn my replacement during her orientation. Sometime later I mentioned to a friend who had grown up in the area that I’d had a problem with a senior volunteer being inappropriate. I didn’t even have to mention his name. She knew who it was right away. Then someone else mentioned another incident they’d heard of.  With all the gossip I had been privy to while running the museum there’d not been a whisper of his womanizing.  On reflection I realized the majority of those talks on site had been mostly with older women. It seems that younger women had borne the brunt of his attention. Don’t get me wrong I’m not one of those people who believe love is only for the young or that May-December romances are wrong. I do believe if you’re married, YOU’RE MARRIED. And if you want to carry on like you’re not, then you shouldn’t be anymore. I also think that a healthy dose of reality should temper every ego. If the person who placed the ad I pasted above is single and ready to mingle by all means he should go for it. I hope he finds someone who is looking for what he has to offer. All things being equal both of them should meet on common ground regardless of age but equal in availability and desire.

I still have strong ties to many of the people I met while I worked at the site. I’ve heard my not-so-secret admirer still stops by to ask about me. There’s that hope (in his case that can be translated into an amoral and misguided ego/libido) springing eternal I suppose. Obviously I’m no longer contractually obligated to talk to any and everyone but when I hear that he’s been asking about me I like to imagine I might allow a very brief discussion with the desired effect on my part of further crushing that hope like a nasty bug beneath my heel.  The reality of course is that hope is indestructible.

Songs for this post

What a Fool Believes by the Doobie Brothers because delusion played a serious role in my unfortunate incident. His for thinking he had even a smidgen of a chance or mine for hoping it would just go away-pick whichever you’d like.

Backdoor Man by the Doors. Not because my not-so-secret admirer believed he had that Jim Morrison thing going for him. Rather he was hoping to sneak around with someone, anyone, as long as she was decades younger than him and not his own wife.

Hair Raising

My sister got the good hair. Her hair is thick and dark with just a hint of a wave and grows at what seems to me to be an unfairly quick rate. My hair on the other hand is made up of delicately fine strands that take forever to get to any real length.

Crazy fly away hair
Crazy fly away hair

When I was small I developed an aversion to having my hair brushed. Because it was so fine it would constantly knot (still does). Apparently brushing my hair when I was a child was such an ordeal that my mother once lost her temper and hit me over the head with a hair brush. It was one of those hard plastic ones. It had a pink handle and white bristles. I’m not sure if it was a defective brush or she just hit me so hard that it broke but I do remember it coming apart and her being left holding the handle whilst the rest of it flew across the room.

Years later I think my mother just gave up. I'm pretty sure my hair isn't brushed here at all
Several years later I think my mother just gave up as I’m pretty sure my hair isn’t brushed here at all

I’ve had all different lengths of hair from a shaved head to almost waist length and there was a time when I wasn’t really sure what my natural hair colour was (my hairstylist assures me that’s normal).  I’ve always had to work to keep it under control. I am the grown woman you will see sporting a high ponytail  even though I once saw a tongue in cheek comic that stated the higher a woman’s ponytail the lower her IQ was (take from that what you will). I’m no stranger to pigtails or braids. Sometimes I rock a little Princess Leia bagel earmuff action and pile it up on either side of my head above my ears. Why do I do this? Well other than it’s my hair and I can do what I want with it (you judgemental hair police can keep your snarky comments about age appropriate hairstyles to yourselves) it’s just a practical way of avoiding “Hair-maggedon”.  It doesn’t always work though.

The other day I woke up and found a big clump of what I think was pine tar in my hair. The day prior I had been in the garden shed, my hair piled in a loose bun atop my head, clearing out old gardening pots and the like so I hadn’t been near any pine trees. You’d think as a mortgage paying adult I would have a handle on stuff coming into contact with my head but apparently I don’t.  I still have no idea why/how I woke up with a pine tar head but having lived with this mess of hair for many years I’ve developed a list for fixing this and other sorts of Hair-maggedon issues.

What it takes to get the job done
What it takes to get the job done

Pine tar or anything really sticky can be removed with Goo Gone (in an emergency you can use WD-40 but it’s really greasy) and then shampoo. Really bad knots require a lot of patience (frankly that’s a given for any method) a comb and conditioner. Latex paint that has dried will come off with a regular wash and then brushing the flakes until it comes out. Oil paint requires a solvent to remove followed by a wash and a good deep conditioning pack. Wood glue can sort of be scraped off but if you want you can soak it until it softens beforehand. If your hair catches on fire PUT IT OUT and then trim off the singed ends as they will smell horrid and look ratty. For the most part food items can just be rinsed out but there are some exceptions.

I don’t only fall victim to knots and pine tar. If I’m enjoying an ice cream cone at the ice cream stand it’s more than likely my hair will come into contact with my ice cream, drag over my cheek and leave a streak of dairy goodness across my sunglasses (you should never lick that off as it just makes a big smudge).  Campfire marshmallows are like delicious booby traps and I have multiple memories of waking up in the tent after falling asleep in my bathing suit (don’t judge me I was a child) with clumps of hair and marshmallow glued to my face.

Dale Keys knows what I'm talking about- http://dalekeysillustration.com/
Dale Keys knows what I’m talking about http://dalekeysillustration.com/

I sometimes have to pull my hair out of my mouth whilst dining in areas that aren’t even the least bit windy. I’ve tooth-brushed my hair right into my teeth and chewed my hair into my gum. Gum by the way is one of those things I very rarely can get out of my hair because the strands are so fine. I’ve tried ice and peanut butter just to name a few methods but depending on how much hair is stuck there may be no other recourse than the scissors. Many years ago I was dating someone and we were joking around. I spit my gum out at him and he responded by picking the gum up and mashing it into a tress of hair at the back of my head as hard as he could. Yes we were adults. Yes it was immature and again it was years ago. I had to cut it out. I lost a section at the back of my head that was an inch across and about 6 inches long. I was lucky it wasn’t right against the scalp or I would have had a nice little bald patch to grow in.

There’s an old saying that states a woman’s hair is her crowning glory. I wouldn’t say that’s true in my case …for me it’s more of a conversation piece.

Currently I'm a brunette which I enjoy much better than being a sun-streaked blond with "oh my God she should do something about those roots" accents.
Currently I’m a brunette which I enjoy much better than being a sun-streaked blonde with “oh my God she should do something about those roots” accents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music for this post

Lady Gaga with Hair

Hair from the musical ‘Hair’

Fire and Rain

There’s been a downturn on the health side for a friend of mine. He and his wife stopped by earlier today to drop off some stuff and let us in on the news. Years ago he was the victim of a virus that damaged his heart. He and his wife have never made a big deal about it but it’s always there in the background. Lately he’s been feeling a little more tired than usual and decided to find out if there was reason for additional concern…unfortunately there was. His heart is now only working at a 20% capacity (compared to the 40% it was at before). It’s time for a pacemaker. I can unequivocally swear that though this man’s heart may be physically weak it works overtime in the generosity and caring department. He’s the type of person that is always trying to figure out how he can make life better for those around him (whether they want him to or not- I say that with the greatest affection). He works in an industry where he is exposed to the lowest of the low when it comes to the awful things that people can do to each other. Although it’s made him a bit jaded he does his best not to let that drag him down. He’d give you the shirt off his back if his wife didn’t point out that other people don’t need or want used shirts with bold Hawaiian themed prints on them. My friend isn’t a small guy and he enjoys “orange chips” (Nacho Doritos), the occasional libation and bacon- lots and lots of bacon. Though his weight didn’t cause his heart problems it doesn’t take a genius to determine that his heart wouldn’t be as stressed if he weighed less. They’ve decided a paleo type diet might be the way to go. It calls for lots of small meals, lean meats, no processed food or dairy and (unfortunately for my friend) as much fruit and vegetables as he’d like. To be honest the amount of fruit and vegetables that he would like would be “zero” so they’re going to have to work on that.

It’s always hard to know what to say at times like these. Obviously it’s upsetting and the first thing you want to do is offer comfort and support. Sometimes though I’m an idiot and I either say the wrong thing or I try to say the right thing but I don’t say it the right way. Case in point…My friend is a writer. It’s not his primary occupation but he’s been published in local print papers. For as long as I’ve known him he’s been mulling over the idea of writing a book. He wants writing to be his legacy. I can understand that. My family makes jokes about how my work will be worth more after I’m dead (SO hilarious every time they make that joke-NOT). They don’t understand that one of the most important things for me, after the all-encompassing fascination of the process and how “whole” I feel when I’m painting or drawing, is that it does carry on even when I’m gone but it’s not about money. Though that would be nice for my family (don’t tell them I said that). I want my work to have a life of its own, to touch people and continue to develop in ways I can’t even imagine. In a way I’m endeavouring to leave my mark on the world. History decides what constitutes culture. I have no control over that but I still want to be part of the mix no matter the outcome.  You might wonder who I think I am; to have such a grandiose ambition. My answer would be, I am merely my own self and as such I’m free to dream my own dream…as is anyone. So what did I say when my friend told me his heart is literally breaking? I said “It’s time to write your book”.

Not the first thing out of my mouth but pretty damn close. I’m surprised it could make it out from around the foot that I was determined to wedge in there. I meant what I said in the best possible way. He wants to write a book. He is more than capable. He has just never got around to starting. To be someone who creates regularly you have to feel a sense of urgency. You have to make it a priority. I, for example, get terribly distracted by the minutia that makes up a day-to-day routine until I sometimes find all the time in the day has been used up by things that only take me further from where I want to be. You can’t let that happen if you want to produce a body of work. I repeat that to myself daily as I try to focus on becoming who/what I want to be. You have to remove the barriers that you’ve created. The first thing my friend said when I told him he should write his book was that he was concerned about the stress working on it might bring. I told him that if he would just try to write an hour a day he was not going to up his stress level (it might even reduce it as he would be doing what he’s really meant to do). So I had opened up my mouth and said this thing and of course his wife, who is also my very good friend, started to cry and then I started to cry. We ended up hugging and laughing because despite my inability to keep my mouth shut, she knows I love them both dearly. After they left I spent an hour online looking up paleo snacks that he could have at the bonfire we’re having next weekend. Apparently you can buy organic paleo hot dogs so he can have those (if I can find them locally) with no bun while everyone else has the regular ones.

I don’t think my friend is going to up and die on us just yet. There are no guarantees but even if he had a smidgen of a thought about giving in without a fight his wife would never have it. That doesn’t mean this isn’t scaring the shit out of him. He’d be a fool if it didn’t and he’s no fool. You may be familiar with the saying “Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred percent”. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned more about the latter part of that quote than I would prefer. I have had people I love leave suddenly (the unfairness of a child’s death will ever be a mystery to me). I’ve said good-bye to loved ones who suffered terribly before they left. I never did say good-bye to the one who decided he would just rather not be here. Although I accept all these as truths, there is still a part of me that can’t help but find it all utterly surreal.

Years ago I had a wonderful friend. Her name was Sue. Sue and her girlfriend were originally friends of my mother and her 4th husband.  She and her girlfriend were breaking up at the same time that I came back to live at home after leaving a horrendous relationship. I had a 3 month old baby, a crazy stalker ex-boyfriend, I was 20 years younger than her, and I had returned to live with my mother because I had nowhere else to go and I was in terrible trouble. Despite our differences we became great friends for the year I lived at my mother’s house. When I moved back out on my own our lives grew apart but we still kept in touch. Several years later Sue was diagnosed with cancer. She made it through the first treatment and then the cancer came back. She couldn’t go through it again and opted to let nature take its course. The last time I called to talk to her was on a Wednesday evening. She was lying down and didn’t want to come to the phone. She died that night. She wasn’t alone though. She’d met a woman and taken a chance on love again. Sue was a person who enjoyed everything that life had to offer. That didn’t mean she hadn’t struggled in her journey. She was gay well before there was any kind of advocacy for lesbians. She was a large woman and had faced negativity because of it. She had an 18 year long relationship with a woman who had physically and mentally abused her. That partner had come to the relationship with a child that Sue helped raise as her own until he was killed when he rode his bike out of the driveway into the road without looking. She hadn’t had it easy but she was full of joy. Sue loved children, cats and dogs, food, and talking about her big boobs, and laughing at her own farts. You may think those last two things are childish but she rocked who she was and when she laughed she made you laugh too. And then one day she wasn’t there and the world was a poorer place for it.  I had known people before who died but this was the first person I considered not just a contemporary (despite our age difference) but an actual friend. I’ve been thinking about her lately. She had this fantastically big booming laugh that made you want to be in on the joke and when she said my son’s name you could actually hear the love in her voice.

What does this have to do with my heavy-hearted friend and the foot in my mouth? What I really want for my friends is what I want for myself and for my family; for them to be fulfilled and to live life to the fullest. Ugh…that sounds terribly optimistic but it is how I feel. Truth be told, as a rule I run more along the pessimistic line. I always expect the worst. If it turns out bad, well that’s what I expected. If it turns out well, I get a happy surprise. Despite all that, I still believe in “the dream”. There are factors we can’t control like cancer or a heart virus but if you have something you really think you should be doing, do it. Now I’m not advocating abandoning your family or shooting hobos (if that last one is your dream I feel compelled to tell you that’s definitely a “no-no” and  there are better things you should be doing with your time “treatment” than reading this blog post). What I am saying is stop getting in your own way. Find a version of your dream that works for you. You want to act? Register with a talent agency or try community theater. You want to sing? There’s an audience of millions waiting for you on U tube. Are you going to make big money? Probably not but then again …you might. Is everybody going to love you? Who knows?

As far as I could tell Sue always remained true to herself, living life and facing her death on her terms and to the best of her ability.  She owned her death like she owned her life. None of it was easy but she took everything she could from it and she didn’t apologize for that. I’m not saying she didn’t have regrets. What I’m saying is she didn’t let fear hold her back…not from life or from death. That’s what I meant when I told my friend to write his book. Not “Hey you’re going to die you better get on it” (because really that could be said of us all). What I was trying to say was “Wow that’s scary but you’re going to get through it – one way or another (as a reader of this blog please feel free to substitute whatever bit of shittiness you prefer for the word “it” in this context). While you’re working your way through it why not look for a bit of happiness (immortality if you so desire) doing that thing you were born to do?” In addition to the wonderful friendship that Sue gave me during a difficult time in my life she taught me this great lesson. You’ve got to own it. It’s yours so why not? I really hope my friend writes his book.  He was thinking about it. I could tell.  In a way I guess it would be a story within a story. Whether the subplot has a happy ending is really up to him.

Music for this post

Ben Taylor’s ‘Not Alone’ as it speaks to friends, relationships and changes that come. Then there’s the Fabulous Thunderbirds with ‘Stand Back’, a song that captures the spirit of “getting it done”. Lastly for my dear friend Sue (pictured below having a chat with my son when he was a baby) because this post is not only about how much I miss her but how she continues to be a presence in my life so many years after she left, James Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain’.

Chatting with Sue

The Protagonist

A protagonist is defined as the main character in a drama or other literary work. The tone of the story, the moral to be expressed, determines the nature of a main character, that being good or evil. To follow the narrative from the perspective of the protagonist is an opportunity to gain an understanding of the rhythm of the times that are presented to us in the telling of the tale, fictional or real. Some synonyms often cited are champion, adventurer, paladin, exemplar, star…in a nutshell, for better or worse, the hero.

 

The shrill screech of the telephone woke me from a deep and empty sleep.

“Hey…”

“Hey.”

“Have you read the obits today?”

“No why?”

“Someone from Dinosaur Club died.”

I sat up in bed, “What happened?”

“Don’t know yet, he was only 17. He had the same type of MD as the boys.”

“Do you want me to come over?”

“No I ‘m okay, thanks any way.”

“Okay… I’ll talk to you later?”

“Alright, love you.”

“Love you too”

     My sister broke the connection and I sat with the phone in my hand processing the information before the buzz of the empty line brought me around to the here and now. I dropped the receiver into the cradle and lay back down. The birds were singing outside and the heat of the day was trying to make its way into the room through the slats of the wooden blinds but it was still cool away from the window. It was harsh news for Sunday morning especially when my Sunday morning was Sunday afternoon due to a late night Saturday. I didn’t know if I said the right thing. Maybe I should have insisted on going down there. I knew she wasn’t okay but I also knew that I couldn’t take it away or make it any better.

      Both of my nephews have Duschenne Muscular Dystrophy and are confined to wheelchairs. There is no cure for Duschenne. There is no treatment. In the rare circumstance when it comes up in conversation whomever I’m talking to will invariable say something like, “Both of her kids…wow …that must be pretty rare both having it.” and I answer as always “No it’s not rare at all for siblings to experience the same genetic disease.” But I know why they say it. To them it must seem a greater injustice, insult to injury really, that not just one great tragedy should strike a family but two or even three. But it is a great fallacy to think that the birth of a child unafflicted by the circumstances of the sibling would lessen the suffering of a parent of a disabled child. There is no joy or leavening of that particular pain.

     My sister and her husband do what they can, what anyone would in their circumstances. They love their boys. They try to do right by them and be good parents. It’s hard in ways that someone who doesn’t have to live it can’t even imagine. They aren’t alone. They are one family in a largely invisible community of parents and children who struggle through, taking joy in small victories and refusing to allow the set backs to drown them for very long. They support each other when they can, walking intersecting paths on a winding and steep road. Dinosaur Club is one of the places where the families can connect. 

  

    It’s a warm spring day and my sister and I are killing time after watching my son’s track meet. We’re in a drug store and after we finished an aroma critique of the perfume aisle we decide to browse the book section. Her attention is caught by the bright picture of a Robert Munsch book that she picks up and exclaims over. To me it seems much too young for the boys and I tell her so. She counters by showing me the cover emblazoned with a young girl roaring away on a souped up wheelchair. She tells me that it’s really difficult to find stories featuring kids with disabilities so she’ll consider it even though the age group isn’t the best. No one seems to want to tell tales that have wheels or crutches, braces or harnesses.

     I cast my mind back over the years and the pages looking for heroes that roll or limp through story lines real or fictional. Raymond Burr comes to mind, his hard eyes staring back at me from 3 AM reruns, fascinating in black and white. The boys are way too young to know about him. If I didn’t have an addiction to late night television I probably wouldn’t know about him either. There is Rick Hansen with his Man in Motion Tour but that’s before their time as well. They’d be more likely to know about Terry Fox as his run to raise money for cancer research is still commemorated each year at most levels of education. Even though Terry died young he would seem like a full grown man to boys my nephews’ ages. It would seem that pages recounting the adventures of the Hardy Boys on wheels or those meddling kids with walkers who break the Case of Evil Zombie Island et al are a rare find.

       Later into the week the after dinner clean up was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. It was my sister. She and my mother had gone to the funeral earlier that day. I knew that it would be difficult for her with the parallels she could not help but draw to her own life nevertheless those were also the reasons it was important to her to be there. I asked her how it was and to my surprise she said that it was okay. She had thought that the mother would be a mess but she said she was holding her own so far. As odd as it sounds my sister said that the 17 year old boy had brought comfort to his mother and eased her suffering in the last hours of his life.

     A flu had run its course through his family and he had died from respiratory failure. The mother told my sister that she had been afraid that her son would fight the end but he hadn’t. He had turned to his mother and told her he wouldn’t need the oxygen anymore and that he just wanted her to hold him. After awhile he slipped away, peacefully. His bravery and dignity, the love that he showed in the last moments of his life, brought her a great comfort.

     These aren’t the sort of things that you usually read about in books. The protagonist is usually made up of more media savvy or lionized epic traits. Children dying of horrible diseases don’t make good light reading. Regardless, this particular story, by the best definition, this narration of a brief life, would define this 17 year old boy as the exemplar, the mainstay, the standard-bearer, the warrior…the protagonist, the hero.

     It’s not a story that anyone should have to live, but of course they do. When my sister talked about books for her children with characters they could relate to I know this isn’t what she meant but maybe it is a story that everyone else should know about. That boy wasn’t a noted athlete, a famous detective or a great romancer. He was a boy that life had dealt a really, really unfair hand to and he played it as best he could.

     That is not the story of a secondary character. That is not the life of a marginal individual. That grace and dignity in the face of the almost incomprehensible contemplation of ones own end is something we should venerate. In the end we are nothing more than ourselves. That can be base or in the case of this boy, a glorious shooting star, the light of which is brief and intense but more beautiful in its brave blaze.

 

Portraits

     There you are staring back at me from black and white and old faded colour. You are a mystery really; A figure not only relegated to the background but virtually forgotten over the years. No lingering scent of cologne or the sensation of a scratchy 5 o’clock shadow kiss as the blankets on the bed settle the sun and bring on the night. But there you are none-the-less staring back at me from white framed memories, moments caught in time. I’m there as well, suspended in some of those backgrounds. Not the “me” I am now, but the “me” I was then.

     That person still resides inside here but those roly-poly limbs and wisps of white blond fuzz are buried under the layers of experience, dirt and grime that time and life heaps on all of us. That must be where your memory is as well, stuck under there with the old me somewhere in the foundation. I don’t think that there’s enough of you to constitute a load bearing wall. If I “guesstimate” correctly you had less then three years in and then you were gone like an errant wind never seen and only heard about once in a decade or so.

     I wonder if I loved you. I wonder if you loved me. Did you even ever want me? I suppose that must sound bitter and hurtful but really I’m just curious. I can’t hate you. I don’t know you. The idea of hating someone I don’t know, even a little, seems like a waste of time. What could I hate you for? I don’t remember if there were arguments before you left. I don’t even remember when I first knew you existed or the first time I saw a picture of you. You are so much not a part of my experience that you should be a total stranger to me except that I am there, with you, in those pictures. And there are the both of you. There’s my mother, auburn beautiful in a borrowed wedding dress against a pink painted wall in someone’s apartment and there is you.

     My mother says, “That was your father.” like you are dead or something. There’s big history there, I can tell by the tone of her voice. “I don’t know where he is now,” she continues, “still in Welland I suppose.” It really doesn’t tell me anything. I do have a memory about you. But you aren’t in it.

     Years before my brother was bloodied in a fist fight at a wedding. I don’t have to really say drunken fist fight but I will because it says a bit about my family. He must have been 17 at the time fighting with one of my uncles over a slight to the father he’d never met. His pride was stung as if it was a reference to him when they said his father spent all his time drinking in strip clubs. Now I think, well who cares if he did? Lots of men do. Nowadays it’s a big first date thing to do, take your date to a strip club. Supposedly it’s empowering to the women and well… what it always is to men. Though I’ve known a number of strippers and as odd as it sounds there is nothing less about sex to a stripper than stripping (the wallets who walk in the door don’t know it but that’s life really). Regardless, 17 saw a stain and tainted by the sins of the father he fought for a man he had no memory of. They did meet years later but it did not go well. Funny that, my brother spent much of his childhood blaming all his life’s ills on an absentee father and then turned around to walk away from two of his own.

     He left behind a beautiful brown eyed girl and a blue eyed fair haired boy who now walks in his father’s footsteps of blame and anger. He left behind the rest of us as well to lead a tidier life with a younger more pliant wife who spoke a new language and lived an old world culture behind a white picket fence along with two more girls that she would raise because that’s what is expected from the women in her world. Now his face too can only be found in the matte and shiny squares marked with the dates of days too far past to reclaim.

     Black and white photographs, old Kodak coloured edged with white frames and the month and year printed at the bottom are heaped and spread out on the table. Each are connected back to me by the threads of time, memories and the common occurrence of what passes for humanity beating in the cavernous expanse beneath our ribs. These could be pictures of anyone’s family.

     Many of the people in the photographs are nameless to me. Though these are my mother’s pictures some subjects are also unfamiliar to her as the pictures reach back through her childhood and beyond. Regardless each and every image is an intimate portrait in code, out of context. The faces of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons are all paintings that fade in meaning with the passing years becoming half remembered stories and vaguely familiar features. Just like your face and the face of my brother.

     Both are now a mystery to me, the images overlapping in my mind’s eye.  I know that someday the faces will be a mystery to someone else. It might be that another’s scrutiny will coat it all in a patina of nostalgia. Not knowing any better they will paint us all as one in a family; mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, joined together in black and white, matte or faded gloss, surrounded by the empty white frame of distance and time.

Snow in Spring

     Autumn is the time for ghosts as the green summer languishes having fed its youth to the dog days of summer. It is the job of winter, with its frozen winds and grey skies, to sweep away those ghosts and lose them in the blind swirls of chill blizzard and time. With tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow, mercy decrees that only the treacherous heart can find those ghosts in descending frequency under the soft white blanket of memory. Spring is a time of renewal on the plane of the planet and in the cycle of the life. If winter has done its job and buried the ghosts, hope can be sought in the signs of the earth’s perpetual and eternal motion.

     This past winter was an impotent soldier, a deserter of the faith, and now it lingers overlong. The first buds of spring, the snowdrops and blue scilla are covered in a late season snow. Within this final weak volley lurks lost moments freed by the faltering ministrations of the milquetoast pretender. Shorn of any power, it could not bury the spirits of last year and they call to the brethren vanished years ago. Melancholy waits for the sun to melt the ice and loose the new life impatiently waiting in the wings. It will come. There is no denying it but first the ghosts will have their way.

     A visual image, a trigger, even though we carry a dictionary of cultural symbols, for each person the trigger can be something different. In my mind’s eye I see that particular shade of purple, not the royal blue purple but a crimson tide of bloodied maroon on the dark side of red. At the time I wouldn’t have described it in that way. At ten I didn’t have those words and her raw voice screaming his name as she tore open the white door would have drowned them if I did.

     I don’t remember the colour of the door handle. The house I live in now is old and the doors are painted white but they aren’t hollow core like I know that door must have been in that house. The door knobs here are black and old, older than that house even though it was my home decades ago. I think the door knob must have been one of those cheap brass coloured ones. It would have matched the cheap hollow core door. In that moment, before she tore out into the hallway, I must have seen the door knob turn. It had to turn for the door to open but I don’t remember it. I only remember her pullover in blood red maroon velour and her voice, her panic.

     I see her white face. The image is frozen in my mind. Dark, above her porcelain features, a black chiffon scarf covered her curlers. They were the old kind with the really sharp bristles inside that make it hard to sleep because they stab into your head. The metal wire wrapped around the outside was to help keep the round shape of the curl but it didn’t stop the bristles from sticking out through the netting that covered it. She’d set her hair in curlers the night before and covered the whole thing with a black chiffon scarf. I didn’t know she’d been to the hospital with it up. I didn’t think about that either or why my grandmother was there to pull her back into the bedroom. But I heard her scream his name and I knew then that something was very wrong.

     I never saw her wear that pullover again. Actually I don’t remember her ever wearing it before that morning but I think that might be one of those tricks that the mind plays on us for reason or sanity’s sake. And then things were different for a long time. It was the last time I remember ever having to go to bed at a regular time. The house was filled with people, at first family and then friends and then finally new people that came in late at night and mostly left before we were awake in the morning.

     We weren’t allowed to go to the funeral. It probably would have been better. Maybe then we would have known what we were dealing with, this dying, this death. We could have seen it and then we might have understood what was happening and what would happen. Or maybe not, our childhood unknowingly behind us we were still only slightly broken adrift in a new grown up world.

     I asked her about him years later. She had created a shrine to him in her heart, in her mind and I wondered about the reality of the man. Was he deserving of her decades of devotion? I can tell you, with no slight certainty, that it is true that the dead can do no more wrong. They are dead after all. I thought that the years had lionized him for her. Lord knows that he was her great love or at least death had made him so. No man could stand against his memory and one by one they fell. The damage caused by his departure would last a number of years and all of us would carry it to some extent for the rest of our lives. She has a lover now who I think might make a go of staying the distance. He has set himself to live in a ménage a mort accepting the minor deity of a perfect memory enshrined in the pantheon of her life.

     I have very few memories of the man himself only the chaos that his leave taking set into motion. I knew there was a world that ran beneath the light of our every day but it still lurked in the corners of our youth. That death, his death was the death of our childhood.

     Years later I asked her how she knew that she loved him. Her answered surprised me as the memory of their love, bolstered by her grief and annealed by her suffering, was an absolute. She said that she hadn’t known the conviction of her heart until she saw him standing at the end of the church aisle waiting for her. Her, with her checkered past and a soul that felt battered and unworthy. There he was waiting for her and her three children (what kind of man would want a woman with three children she asked herself and answered- a good man). She thought she was marrying for security and then she saw him standing there in his baby blue tuxedo, waiting for her, for their life together and it was then that she knew that she loved him for sure, right then.

     I wondered, but I didn’t ask. I wondered, if she’d known then that 6 months later she would wake up in the middle of the night and feel the wet stain beneath her, if she’d known that she would wake up and realize in the slow spreading dampness that he was gone, if she would wish it away, never done? She had told me that was how she knew he was really gone because his body had let go of what it held. I wondered if she regretted anything. I wondered and I wanted to ask her but I didn’t.

     How could I when the winter lingers over long and ghosts come to call, walking old halls and opening up doors better left closed? In my mind I see myself in my white flannel night gown, the one with the small peaches printed on the material (I still love flannel, so soft and warm, so comforting), my hair bed head rumpled and my eyes gummy with sleep standing in the upstairs hallway outside my bedroom door right next to her bedroom door. I see myself watching my grandmother drag my mother back into her bedroom. My mother was screaming his name, clawing at the door frame. Where was she trying to go? Was she running away from him or to him? Her eyes were black in her white face, stark above the blood maroon of her velour sweater and crowned with the thorny bristles of her curlers.

     This ungraceful thrust of winter rapes the green of spring and brings old ghosts with it. The sharp thorns of the still naked branches are black against the ashen blanket of late, late snow. I can see the new maroon shoots bleeding up through the cold white. I don’t want to dream tonight. I hope that tomorrow the snow and its ghosts are gone.

Beloved Enemy

     My mother had three children, one boy and two girls. I am firmly in the middle. My birth came as a great surprise to my older brother who assumed, I believe, that he would always be the one and only. Upon my arrival, though he had reached the venerable age of 18 months, he once again took to the bottle and his pram. It was not a huge inconvenience to my mother given that my brother had, at that stage, become a quiet wanderer. During nap time, which she enjoyed as well, and in the evening when he was to be fast asleep in his crib, he was often AWOL. In desperation she had taken to covering his crib with chicken wire, caging him in to stop him from wandering off. Immediately after my birth, his jealously kept him close at hand. He could be found as near as the pram or only as far away as the green eyed monster would let him wander. He eventually got over it and we settled into an uneven constantly broken and renewed truce that would last as long as convenience allowed.  

     When my sister came along several years later I reacted to the usurping of my title of Darling Baby with the same grace as my brother before me. Although I’d been allowed to name the baby, I promptly decided I hated her and set out on a mammoth campaign to make sure she knew. As she grew she learned to give as good as she got. The pitched battles in our shared room and the sharp cruelties of girls were so much more vicious and coldly dismissive than anything our brother could have thought of. His forays were all brute strength and oafish bullying. My sister and I were skilled surgeons. Our battles were built up in scalpel sharp incisions of disdain, delicate balances of power and emotional distance. Our contention was so great, our abhorrence so pure, it does not surprise me, that such strong emotion brought about a closer friendship than that uneasy truce with my brother could ever have accomplished. There were signs that we would be good friends but the seeds did take a long time to grow. As long as we did as a matter of fact but that in itself is not unusual.

     And so we are now friends, not my brother with us, but my sister and I to each other. My brother has chosen to walk apart from all of us but we two walk more and more together. Looking back over the years now the bloodiest of our skirmishes are the ones we bring out to parade around for the amusement of ourselves and others. Our greatest battles have taken on the sepia toned patina of nostalgia. I maintain that my victories were the greatest in number and the most definitive in nature. I’m sure, if asked, my sister would say the same. But I can not deny that there was one moment that must live on in infamy in the pantheon of sisterly rivalry. On that day, my sister, through luck or chance, stood supreme.

     She must have just turned 10, which would have made me 13.  There had been tragedies in our family and we were much on our own in those days. She was just starting to come into her height at 10 with maybe 8 more inches to go. She was thin with dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair, all flash and temper. At 13, almost 14, I was an inch short of as tall as I was ever going to be with stick thin arms, fair skin and strawberry blond cold disdain.

     Our white stucco house was bustled in the backyard by a raised stone patio (those being in fashion then) which in turn was sheltered by a large oak tree. The ground between the tree and the patio was rutted and bare. The dirt had been scraped and flattened by the feet of innumerable neighbourhood kids who’d taken a ride on the tire swing hanging from the lowest branch. The end of the yard was marked by an old battered metal shed. We had avoided the shed since my sister’s birthday when my mother had managed to step on a rusty nail while playing hide and seek. The nail had passed through the bottom of her foot and out the top necessitating a break in the festivities and a hospital visit. No one had gotten around to moving the offending board and nail and so the shed sat abandoned with its motley collection of bikes, croquet mallets, horseshoes and lethal metal tipped lawn darts.

     On any given afternoon any of us usually could be found throwing those deadly projectiles straight up in the air and then running like hell to avoid being impaled by the rapidly descending death spear or trying to hit each other with croquet balls or mallets if we thought we could get away with it . But given the recent threat of the rusty nail I had opted for a reclining ride on the patio swing instead while my sister turned slow circles on the tire. My sister had wearied of swinging on her rubber perch and was ready for a ride on the patio swing. I was comfortable, lying fully reclined and stretched out to my full 5 foot 4 inch length, and had no intention of accommodating her.

     Vitriol began to flow and the curses flew back fast and hard. All those arguments and we never raised a hand to each other, but this day was a day the line was almost crossed. That was something we would try on briefly years later but as children physical pain was our brother’s territory. Ours wasn’t the way of force or the fist. We fought dirty and pummeled each other with words.

     My sister’s frustration began to mount and I felt that victory was at hand. Still lying down on the swing I opened my mouth for one more cutting remark and she leaned forward and spit at me. It might have been the wind, it might have been fate taking a hand or it might have been pure luck, who knows? Whatever it was, it sharpened my sister’s aim and my cutting crow of victory became a nauseous gargle as her glob of saliva plopped into my mouth.

     Shock on her part and spit in mine silenced us both, but only for a moment. In a frozen plateau we paused while both of us absorbed the act and its consequences. If I hadn’t been lying down I would have caught her. I still don’t know what I would have done if I had. She made it into the house and up the stairs in record time. She hit the bathroom door a split second before me where she locked herself in until the coast was clear. And really even if I’d caught her what good would it have done?

     On that day, nothing could have been more perfect than that one moment. All the forces had conspired and there was no offensive I could have mounted to equal that one magnificent act. I tried. Later on that night I brushed my teeth and spit my toothpaste into the tub while she was having a bath but it was an empty gesture. She knew it and I knew it. On that day, I had to concede the field of victory to her. But I did live to fight another day, many other days as a matter of fact. I had my own victories just as complete and undeniable but those I will save for another time.

     She was to me, as I was to her, my most esteemed and beloved enemy. We are still soldiers of a sort but life and time have made us allies. As an adult I don’t know if I could love her as much as I do if I hadn’t hated her so completely as a child. I know the depth and breadth of her. We have passed through the fire and have come away tempered, annealed and strengthened in ourselves. I know some of her sins and all of her foibles as she knows a measure of mine. We have warred and like old campaigners we share a past that binds us together. Once my enemy but always and still beloved, she remains ever my sister and finally, my friend.