Where I Live Does Not Suck

29 November 2015

I returned from The American South with a hunger for the forest, my forest, my pacific rain forest. A friend of mine reminded me that, upon my return home, I needed to get inspired by my own locale - where I live. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Indeed, it did. It also enabled me to see with new eyes the beauty of nature within my grasp. And so, on Tuesday, on the day my sister would have turned 55 had she not died in that car accident nearly 22 years ago, I set out to fill my hunger for the forest. In Vancouver we only need hop on a bus to get to the seclusion of nature. We have a choice - Stanley Park, Pacific Spirit Park, Cypress Falls and Deep Cove to name only a few. On this day I decided on Stanley Park, Vancouver's jewel. 

I set out on a very sunny afternoon, the temperature 5 degrees celsius with only a wee light breeze. The park wore a palette of gold, copper, emerald, russet and even red, convincing me that many trees choose to wear their finery in autumn, not spring. I began at Lost Lagoon, worked my way to Tatlow Trail, to Lover's Walk, the Rawlings Trail to the Seawall at Second Beach and finally to Sunset Beach, where I caught the tail end of the sunset.

Lost Lagoon - A landlocked, artificial lake developed with the creation of the Stanley Park Causeway at the Coal Harbour, an extension of the Burrard Inlet. Once a tidal mud flat and a rich source of clams and other sea creatures for the Musqueam, Squamish and Burrard First Nations, it has become a nesting ground for many bird species, both migratory and non-migratory.

An urban oasis, home to more than 200 species of birds, including a large colony of great blue herons, Stanley Park consists primarily of second and third growth and contains many grand Douglas fir, western red cedar, western hemlock, and Sitka spruce trees as well as an abundance of ferns and moss.

Walking amidst the lush emerald green moss dripping from the trees, I felt like I'd travelled to an entirely different dimension - a magical one, the kind that not even the mind's eye could conjure up. I could scarcely believe this place I called home had so much beauty. I knew, yet, I had no idea. All along what I sought, lay right here, almost at my feet. No need to pack a suitcase, purchase a plane ticket, have my passport in hand. What a blessing!

Beauty seems even too cliche to describe what I saw, smelled, felt, heard.

And so, welcome home, I tell myself. Welcome home. Where I live does not suck. It never did. 

A New World (Part 2 of a Series)

22 November 2015

And then I opened the door. A new world appeared before me. A world of mundane bliss. A world of peace, where obnoxious creditors could not find me. A world without inane wastes of time such as Twitter and Facebook. A world where cell phones and blogs did not exist. A world that had a ready supply of toilet paper. And food. A world where I would never experience hunger. A world where I would never experience solitude. A world where I would never experience the sensation of high or stoned; I felt ambivalent about these last two, yet welcomed them nonetheless. I welcomed the alien freedom from the obsessive need to fill my self with things and substances from outside myself.

This world looked as though I walked into a time machine. The winter white Queen Anne sofa drew my eye immediately. If I still had grandparents, this tiny sitting room would belong to them. The place smelled of fresh bleach. A girl ~ one of the residents ~ came into the room to vacuum, while I waited to get processed. The vacuum smelled like a combination of burnt rubber and doggie, though no dog lived there.

I had not signed my name so many times on so many different pieces of paper since my RN days. I looked at my bags, and tried to hide how shell-shocked and ashamed I felt at having reduced my entire existence to the things held in those 3 suitcases. The staff member rifled through my things, confiscating my notebook computer, my cell phone, my camera and my wallet. And, of course, looking for anything with which I could harm myself. She had me place all of my clothing and my pillow in the dryer on high heat, just in case I had bed bugs.

I felt that uncomfortable uneasiness known as humility. I felt especially wretched for having skipped out on my landlord. I simply walked away from it all, leaving the mess of my former existence for him to remove. Did that make me a bad person? Yes, yes it did.

Ten girls lived in the house; I would make it eleven. The girls whirred about, like automatons in a giant machine. Each, a cog that knows her part, knows what to do and when to do it. I felt blinded by my new surroundings, needing someone to lead me around and tell me where to find everything. I wondered how long it would take to feel like I lived here. Because, right then, in that moment, I felt like a guest.

Room 1025

17 November 2015

December, Ottawa, oh ... so many years ago. I remember. I never forgot. I even remember the room number: 1025. You did not want me to meet you there. I didn't listen. I cut my visit with my best friend short to travel across the country, to follow you, a married man who never had any intentions of leaving his family. I, a naively hopeful 21-year old, insisted. You acquiesced. How could you refuse me? You never could refuse me. I knew your weakness: me. Looking back, perhaps your lustful desire for me, rather than me myself, made you weak. When I arrived at the door of 1025, you answered, wearing all black. You had the Monday night football on the TV. Desire oozed from your pores. 

I felt wow, exhilarated. Was this really happening? I had waited so long to spend the night with you, and at times believed it would never happen. Then suddenly, it happened. It felt good. Like a dream. We enjoyed each other. I forgot about the reality, the unchanged reality, that waited at home. We ate together, walked together, talked together, slept together. I got so hot under the covers I had to go out onto the snowy balcony -- melting snow you called it. It became our inside joke after that. I believed I loved you -- I secretly always wonder if you ever loved me. I told myself you did. I had to believe you loved me, I felt as though my very existence, my heartbeat and breath, depended on it. 

I still carry in my heart your leaving on that Friday morning. You had to go to Hull, you said. And so, at 7 am you arose and got ready in silence. You showered, shaved, dressed, and gathered your things like some kind of mute automaton. You had already started to shut me out. You behaved as though I wasn't there, with you. I  felt invisible. I laid there, under the covers, paralyzed by the despair swelling inside me. It sat like a stone inside my throat, rendered me unable to speak. Would it have made a difference if I did speak? I believed it did not. Did you know that this crushed my soul? Did you care? I now think you did not. I now feel as though that's why you told me not to follow you there, to Ottawa. And then, you left the room. Just left. You took a cursory glance around the room, smiled that phoney smile and closed the door behind you. 

Do you know how cheap and used I felt? I cannot even tell you. I was so young and vulnerable. You left me. Though, really, what did I expect? Still. Approximately 25 years later I can still recall the desperate, inconsolable heart crushing pangs the surged through me as though they fresh. I feel a certain darkness in my heart when I think of you leaving me that Friday morning in Ottawa. To me, room ten twenty five will always be the leaving room.

Room 408

That's where you died. I know you can hear me, out there, somewhere, soaring on a trail of stardust. you're there - with your eyes wide open ... singing, shouting at the top of your voice, the voice that got so cruelly stifled toward end of your earthly existence. 

 I have thought about you these years since your death. wanting, so many times, to put your story in words. wanting to share your courage, your pain, the rip-off of your life ... and death. wanting to share this with others. but, until now, I could not. could not give a voice to that very painful story -- your story. you seem so far away, ... and as I revisit bittersweet memories of you that linger in my heart, i think each day since your death must seem an eternity to your children. I hope that you can watch them grow, and silently, wrap your loving arms around them. Fifteen and seventeen years old ... that's far too young to lose your mother. 

 Know what I remember? 

I remember that angry, stubborn and fiercely secretive woman who brooded in the corner of a 4-bed hospital room. angry ... so very angry. and - I don't blame you. Though it sure made nursing you a challenge at times. Even though the rapidly growing cancer on your thyroid gland, and the tracheostomy it necessitated, had silenced your voice, your outbursts could be extremely vitriolic just the same. In those early days of your admission you lashed out at us all. Possibly, you hoped to keep us beyond your towering wall? I cannot imagine the journey you took, battling your cancer alone. Your children ... so lost and alone, too. Such desperate sorrow silently gushed from their pores each time they came to visit. How did they manage, so alone? Forbidden, by you, to tell their father that their mother had terminal cancer. and ... that acrimonious relationship between you and your ex ... it left you with a bitter taste of antagonism in your mouth even as you contemplated your death. 

I remember your denial. How, at one point, you decided that the oncologist made a mistake. Maybe that's why you had not really prepared yourself, or anyone else around you for the inevitable? The reason your head was swelling so severely that it made your eyes close, you announced, was because of an undiagnosed heart condition. Oh, how this made me feel so sad about the job I had to do. How could I guide your passage through this dark and difficult tunnel if you did not want to even walk inside it? We watched you lose each tiny battle with the cancer. Day by day, week by week. Eventually, silent, sad resignation cross your face like a shadow, and rested there. 

What a rip-off! How cheated we all felt for you. So intelligent, so determined, so much mothering left to do, and one course away from your PhD, and cancer washed it all away. You hung on, for as long as you could. Maybe for too long? We all just wanted it to end. (Does that seem a cruel admission? I don't mean it like that. Though, it does seem selfish, perhaps.) You hung on. It hurt. I remember trying really hard not to let the other patients see me cry whenever the harpist would come and play for you. A small, simple pleasure, a beautiful one that drew a smile upon your face, a beautiful smile. We marvelled that you could still smile. We cried that you could not even talk to your own mother on the phone, because you had no voice ... you could not even tell your mother you loved her, missed her. no words can express it. 

I remember marvelling at how you could write out what you wanted to say on the paper so neatly, so legibly. Even with your eyes swollen shut, your handwriting looked like schoolmarm script - perfectly formed and readable. I'll never forget your reply to my declaration of your strength and bravery: don't make me brave, make it easy. I'll never forget the feeling that descended upon me - best described as a shard of glass thru a soft, ripe fruit - as these words sunk into me.  

I watching you wither, fight, then fail over a period of 8 months. Each and everyday I worked with you, you took my breath away. When i think of you now ... you still do. You challenged us every day, you made us feel it. You taught us courage, hope, compassion, patience ... and above all - humility. Thank you ... for your eternal lesson. I feel so privileged to have shared so intimately the raw moments of your life and to have made a difference in your death. 

I remember you ... for so many reasons. I'll never forget how you said goodbye to your children. On mother's day they came to visit, spent the afternoon with you, pinned their artwork to your hospital room walls. Then they said their goodbyes - that was the last time they saw you alive. Two long and lonely weeks later, you died, alone, in the hours before dawn, in your private and dark room, room 408. I remember. Four oh eight. I will never forget.

Meeting Mayden

13 November 2015

I arrived on Saturday night, late. Exhausted and in disbelief. I'd known Mayden for nearly 10 years. And she'd known me, far better than most people in meat space know me. It's surreal, finding friends in the blogosphere. It's a knowledge gained only through writing, the language of the soul. And nothing more. There's no opportunity to fabricate any pre-conceived notions based on physical appearance or sound or scent. This affords a sort of x-ray vision of the heart, of the mind - it facilitates the ability to see past the all the detritus, all the masks we wear, to the real, to what animates the person. When you meet someone through their writing, you glimpse directly into their soul. 

Our writings contain qualities and characteristics that tell the story of our souls, like the way we walk, our comportment, the cadence of our voice all do. It fascinates me, this way of meeting people. And humbles me, too. Because it forces me to face how easily I can develop preconceived notions of people. How easy I did fall in love with someone, believing they were someone entirely different than in actuality. Surprisingly, I found that I still loved this someone, in spite of feeling misled: discovering their true identity seemed to right things for me in my mind, you know - make things make sense.

And then came Mayden. Complete WYSIWYG. A breath of fresh air. Because, you never know who's behind that blog persona, as I discovered somewhat ruefully. I definitely have a certain naïveté about me and confess that I've believed people too readily, welcomed their words as honest and true, when in fact they had not a lick of truth within them. So, Mayden. Her realness frightened me, at first. Me, who struggled to discover herself by changing blogger pseudonyms like I change my knickers. Me, who for a while became obsessed with self-transparency and also, being someone else entirely other than me. Parts of me used disbelief, suspicion and mistrust as a sort of carapace. 

Mayden presented herself without pretence. She loved, wholly. Despite the shadows in her own life. Despite the fact that she attempts to conceal and minimize them while they still cast themselves upon her. She maintained a steady presence all through the times when my life flickered wildly like a candle in the wind. And time passed, as only it can. And here am I, sitting on her bed, late at night, writing this post. And I have to say, thank you Blogger, thank you blogosphere. Thank you for being a web that draws people together - people whose paths would otherwise never cross. It has touched my life.

My Saving Grace, (Part 1 of a Series)

12 November 2015

A using friend of mine thought I should hide my plan to enter drug rehab, implying that I should feel ashamed about reaching out for help to kick my addiction. Why, I wonder? He failed to understand. Failed to understand my desperation, and my utter indifference at the opinions of others. I had left myself no choice, painted myself into a corner. I faced homelessness because I spent all of my rent money on drugs. This time, no one but me could or would rescue me from myself. I have to become my own saving grace. I had finally met my rock bottom. As I wallowed in it, I felt both fright and relief at the same time. You mean I have to leave Vancouver? You mean I will have to move to Abbotsford

Going to rehab embodied one of the most difficult choices I've made. I felt uneasy leaving Vancouver, my stomping ground. I had to give up all my belongings (except what I could pack in three suitcases), basically just walk away from it all. After putting the keys in the mailbox, I turned around and walked away from my life. Suddenly I had reduced myself to 3 suitcases. A Vancouver outreach worker drove me from Vancouver to Abbotsford. She could scarcely believe how quickly after first speaking with her I decided to go to rehab. Perhaps she did not understand that I had little choice ~ rehab in Abbotsford or homelessness in Vancouver. 

As we entered the rehab house, I tried hard to hide my fear and apprehension. I told myself that after the program's 12 weeks, I could and would return to my former life in Vancouver. I really had no idea that going to rehab meant giving up doing drugs forever, including weed. I didn't have a problem with weed. Nope. Not at all. Not me. I came to this house, to LIFE Recovery, for cocaine, in particular crack cocaine. 

For the first few days I felt strangely emotional, almost contrite for letting myself get to this point. Also, I had not prepared myself for 21 days without contacting the outside world. 21 days without calling my mum? No internet? No laptop? No more dysfunctional text messaging to and from dysfunctional people? No daytime television? No more late, late night soirees with myself, Sir David Attenborough and The Life of Birds on Knowledge Network? No more sleeping in 'til noon? What do you mean, a wake up time of 7 am? AYFKM? What do you mean I have to share a room? I'd never shared a room with anyone in my entire life, except for the man I married! What do you mean I have to live in this house, with 10 to 15 other addicted women? 

Looking back, it all seems like a monumental adjustment to make, moving into such a house. Strangely, at the time it did not feel that way. I felt grateful, so grateful, to have found a clean place to live, in a town where I had no idea how to get drugs. 

I tried telling myself, it's only just begun
Indeed, it had, though I don't know that I really realized that in the moment.

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