When Grief Strikes

I’m waiting. Patiently.

Then again, perhaps not so patiently because if I were, that would mean my shoulders would be rolled back and I would be happily staring at a wall.

But I can’t seem to do that. Ever. While seated in the waiting room area of the doctor’s office I’ve already read about shootings, stabbings and earthquakes. I click on another article about an elderly couple who were victims of fraud and lost over $100,000 of their retirement savings. My mood begins to trudge dangerously close to despair. I realize I need to change gears. I rummage through my purse and pull out my paperback book and a few moments later, I giggle a little.

Tina Fey’s, Bossypants, is a good distraction from the world’s misery but it still can’t hold my attention completely. When the door chimes, my eyes bounce up to see a woman who’s pulled the front door open and carries an infant slung to one side of her hip. Behind her, two small hand-holding girls follow them. One of the girls is probably five or six-years-old and she continues to hold her sister’s hand. The little one wobbles in her boots: obviously, new to the walking thing.

The six-year-old is Deputy Mom.  I smile.

Mom switches sides with the infant while she simultaneously fumbles to get her wallet out in search of her Health Card.  The woman glances over at the older child, wearily sighs, and says, “Mandy, can you take Julie and sit down over there?” Her head bobs in the direction of the clustered chairs.

I glance up briefly to see the older sister slowly guide her unsteady little sister to a chair. A second later, I notice the older girl unzips her sister’s coat, tugs her hat off, and places them on the chair next to her now seated sibling.

I stare down at my book. Deputy Mom clearly takes her roll very seriously. I continue to smile at the beauty of it all. Big Sister takes care of Little Sister. After all, Mom’s hands are full.  Big Sis is ever watchful, always guiding – forever there.

I continue to force a smile. It’s hard though. Something is tugging at me and is bubbling its way to the surface. I push the emotion back down by taking big breaths in and try my best to focus on Bossypants. I can’t sob in the middle of the doctor’s office. There’s no clear reason. People will wonder about me.

I miss him, a voice quietly whispers in my head.

Falling Down

“It hurts,” Kara says while tightening and releasing her hand. A few moments later, she stares down at her bleeding elbow.

“Suck it up, Buttercup,” her mother responds while washing the pots from last night’s dinner. She reaches for a towel and moves on to drying as the dishwasher hums in the background.

“Where did that saying come from? The Princess Bride?”

“Don’t know. But it seems appropriate given the level of whining you’re doing about it. Everyone falls. Get over it. Brush yourself off and move on. That’s what everyone else does.”

“Do they Mom? Does everyone? Because it seems like if the fall is too hard, and you hit your head or something, sometimes people don’t get up.”

Her mother blinks wildly as her hand stops wiping the speckles of water off the pot. “Are we still talking about the fall?”

Kara takes a deep breath in. Should she go down this road with Optimistic Momma to Buttercup? Sighing she says, “Sort of.”

“Listen Kara, everyone falls. Whether that’s literally, or figuratively. Just get back on the horse, or the bike. Or whatever, they say nowadays.”

“Really, Mom,” Kara responds. “What happens if I don’t want to? What happens if I’m tired of constantly falling down by tripping on a curb, slipping on ice, or someone, or something knocking me over.”

Her mother throws her towel in the dish drainer and places her hand on her hip. Lips twitching she says, “Lots of people have it worse than you, Kara. And everyone has their problems. They don’t act like you do.”

“How do you know? Did you ask them? Maybe they do complain, but no one’s listening!” Kara exclaims in a fit of exasperation. Her neck is stiff. Head throbs.  Muscles all over her body ache from the jarring that she felt when she slipped on the icy driveway.

Quietness settles between them. “I think it’s ridiculous, Mom. There are all these books and movies out now that celebrate people being different. But what we still say is each person’s experience is the same. So, we say everyone has the same life. They don’t. They simply don’t. Some people live on the streets. Yeah, I know there are people that have it worse than me.” She stares at her mother for a few seconds, pauses and says, “But some people live in wealth their whole lives, stay married to the same person for fifty years, and die two days apart, as well! Everyone has different lives. And how they translate those life experiences are different too.”

“Well,” mom says with a huff.  “What do you want me to say, Kara? That it’s terrible that you had a miscarriage, your husband left you shortly after, you lost your job because you had too many doctor’s appointments after, and your friend died at the same time?”

Kara blinks back the tears. Her mouth trembles.

Quietly, her mother says, “Boxers get back up whenever they get knocked down.”

“Not always. Too many hits can be fatal. They hit the right part of the body, and their life is over.” It’s a statement of fact. But there’s honesty there too.

Mom shifts uncomfortably. Eyes well up with water. She hesitates and nods at her only daughter saying, “I don’t want that to happen to you, Kara.”

Through tears, Kara says, “Me, neither Mom. I just need some time to heal.” There’s a pause and then she says, “And yes, it does help when you acknowledge I’ve had a shit time of it,” she says giggling.

Mom smiles through the tears, nods, and stretches out her hands while saying, “We didn’t do that in my day. I’m sorry. Come, here,” she says as she hugs her daughter.

Flatline

“Grandma, Grandma? When are we going to bake those chocolate chip cookies?” five-year-old Jessica says.

“Come on, Grandma!” the little girl shouts. “You’ve slept enough!” with that she reaches over to shake nana’s arm. Instinctively, she pulls away with a sudden snap of her hand as if she’s touched a hot stove. But, it’s the opposite of that. Instead it’s as if Jesse, as her grandmother liked to call her, has placed her hand on ice that cuts.

“Grandma?” Jessica whispers.

***

“What the hell, man? Just cut me off like that!” Brian’s hand makes a fist at the driver now ahead of him.

Shaking his head, he says, “Jesus. People are driving like we’re in the middle of a heat wave here! Look at the roads people: that’s black ice on the road, mixed in with a whole lotta snow!”

Brian’s eyes flick up to his rear view mirror. He’s not certain the reason at first. But then he catches sight of the Nissan Pathfinder that’s barreling down behind him as it pushes snow off the road and onto the sidewalk. The driver still isn’t slowing down.

There’s nothing he can do. There’s a crunching sound as the SUV hits the breaks. The truck’s wheels lock on the brown, salted, icy, snow-covered road as it begins to slide slowly at first, and then swings around and charges into the driver’s side of Brian’s car.

The SUV doesn’t stop. Medal twists. Glass smashes.

***

 “Hey, you!” Carmen shouts at the red coat-wearing woman she hasn’t spoken to in almost six months. It’s not because the ladies had a fight. The reason is a simple and a common explanation: lack of time because of too many other obligations; and because at the end of the week they’re too damn knackered.

“Hey! Oh my goodness! I haven’t seen you in ages! How’s everything?” Dana enquires.

“Good, good. Jobs great. Kids, are getting big. Oh, Brent and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary on Saturday!”

“Has it been that long?”

“Yup,” Carmen says with her chin raised proudly.

“Geez, that’s fantastic! Congratulations. Are you guys doing anything special?”

“Yeah, we’re having a party with friends and family. You should come!”

“When is it again?”

“This Saturday.”

“Are you guys still living at 185 Wimbledon Lane?”

“Yeah, still there,” Carmen says chuckling. “Now, you have no excuse NOT to come! Okay, well, I’ve got to dash as I need to pick the kids up from their music lessons. Shit. Didn’t even ask though, how are things with you?”

“Good, good,” Dana says. “We’ll catch up on Saturday. Go!”

“You’ll come then?”

“Absolutely!”

“Great. See you on Saturday!” Carmen says as she turns and continues to jog in the direction of her car.

(Later that day)

“We admitted her into the hospital today. She was complaining of indigestion: felt some nausea coupled with chest pain. We gave her some aspirin as a precautionary measure. She was in her mid-40’s and on observation, was well within her normal weight range. Unfortunately….”

In The River

Water criss-crosses stones and pebbles and creates images in the water. Reflections of gold-orange leaves that cling to trees behind Karen are clearly a mirror of what’s behind her.  Along the river shore it’s peaceful: with the sound of lapping waves and the dots of white, blue, yellow, orange flowers – there are so many wonderful colours!

Karen stares into the bubbles that twist and turn over the rocks. As she gazes into the water, her face instantly contorts and her expression changes from a relaxed-I’m-on-holiday-manner, to one of fearful concern. She braces her hands against the railing of the wood bridge and stretches forward as she struggles to see what looks like a white cloth in the water.

The material bubbles to the surface and rests on a rock. Karen stares at it for a few seconds. Then waves wash over the ivory fabric, and it disappears below the surface once more. With nothing more to be concerned about, she turns and walks away.

Beneath the water, two eyes stare blankly at the people who cross over the bridge, waiting for someone to notice them.

Rich Man

Gouda cheese, fresh baked bread, and home-made jam are the necessities of life. If you don’t have these things, well-; what’s the point of it all?

At the front of a six-bedroom grey brick stone house is a $100,000 black BMW that sits on the interlocking stone driveway. A corner lot property, the house is nestled on five acres of woods: This all belongs to Mark and Barbara Raystone.

The exterior of the house dates back to the late 1800’s when Mr. Elijah Nettie, who was a Superior Court Judge in Ontario, lived in the home. Mr. Nettie wore his black robe to court while he applied his white law to every man and woman. He was good at it some said: well, good at applying the law with a particular rigidness that was commonplace back then. No exceptions to the rules. After all, rules were meant to be followed.

When Mark and Barbara purchased it in the spring of 2009 at the end of the stock market crash for a deal, they gutted the place and rebuilt the house. But the face of the house, the shell of it, remains the same.

“I forgot to pick up your dry cleaning,” Barbara says as she scrapes the yolk from the breakfast plate that belonged to Mark.

“What do you mean, you forgot?” he asks without even glimpsing up from his laptop.

Shoving the green Denby plate into the dishwasher, her eyes won’t look at his. He would have found out as soon as he went upstairs to put his blue button-up shirt on and noticed it wasn’t there.

“I forgot,” she says turning and facing him for the first time all morning.  The right side of her face stings a bit from what happened last night. Hopefully, it won’t bruise. Barb’s tired of answering questions.

“What were you doing yesterday?”

Meeting my lover.  “Baking cookies for Joshua’s Christmas lunch and making Hannah’s costume for the school play.

“What kind of cookies?” Mark asks.

Weird. He never asks any specifics about their children’s lives.  “Chocolate chip cookies.”

“Chocolate chip cookies aren’t a particularly festive cookie. You should have made sugar cookies.” His eyes are locked on her as he leans back in his chair.

“They are if you add food colouring.”

“Think of that yourself?” he asks in his normal argumentative tone.

“No, I found a recipe.”

“What costume did you make for Hannah?”

His interrogation of her annoys her.  Breathing out, while sighing heavily, wearily she answers, “Why? Did you plan to help me?”

“I’m curious,” he says weaving his fingers together as he now leans forward on his elbows that rest on the kitchen table. “They’re my kids. I’m entitled to know what they’re up to.”

Her husband’s a hypocrite: he’s always yelling at the kids to get their elbows off the table. “She’s one of the three wise men.”

“She’s a girl.”

“Well, there could only be only one Mary.”

“Who did they give the part to?”

She places her hands on the kitchen counter and leans heavily into it. “I don’t know,” she answers hanging her head.

“What’s wrong with you?” he questions.

“Tired, I guess.”

“Anything I can do to help?” he asks in a voice that oozes with sympathy

When she looks up again, she watches his eyes. There’s a light to them she hasn’t seen in a long time.    “No. It’s fine. I just need to get through the Christmas holidays.”

“Okay,” Mark says closing his laptop gently.  Then he rises from his chair, crosses the kitchen, and stands in front of her. He gently kisses her on the forehead while saying, “Don’t worry about the shirt. I have another one I can wear.”

In his embrace, she’s not certain how to feel. His breath is warm against her cheek and she wants to relax in his presence. Scanning his eyes, she gives in to this need. Answering with a smile, she says, “Good, good. I felt bad about forgetting.”

He cups one hand around her face, pushes down on the skin, and squeezes it hard. The pressure hurts her jaw bone. Barbara’s eyebrows furrow together as she blinks back tears from the pain. She raises her hands to push his hand away to stop the crushing sensation, but he thrusts her back against the counter. Mark’s eyes narrow at her as he  growls in a whisper, “Don’t forget again. And, don’t you ever backtalk to me again!”

With the words said, he releases her face, turns, and marches away.

Speed of the Perfect Man

“Whooo!!!” Every rose has a thorn bounces off the interior of the red 1967 Mustang.  Vibrations from the stereo make the words crackle. “She’ll be sorry,” he says to the darkness, stars, and the passing street lights as if these inanimate objects were his friends and would agree with his statement.

Greg Smith. Smith. What a boring name. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with his fourteen babies; Mr. and Mrs. Smith work in retail for the rest of their lives and they’ll both die penniless and alone.  All the time they spent raising those kids will leave them with just each other because their kids will realize what he already knows: Mom and Dad are dull. Every now and then when his ex-girlfriend, Kim, sees him on the street she’ll stare at him because of his toned arms, legs, and chest and she will realize she should never have left him, David Gatrick, for Greg Smith. Yeah, she’ll regret her mistake.

After all, he’s the fun guy, the guy who gets things done, and who lives his life in the fast lane driving at 90 KM/hour, 100, 120 ….

David’s foot pushes on the pedal harder.

She’ll be sorry.

130, 140 ….

David’s life will be so much better than Kim’s.

Proudly, he smiles down at his bulging bicep.  He’s the tougher guy, the smarter guy, the more adventurous guy with his rock climbing, skydiving, and driving fast.  Dave’s a man on the move who’s always going places.

Dave places his hand on the seat next to him and begins to pat the passenger front seat in search of his cigarettes. Eyes glance over to the empty seat next to him for a second too long and his mustang pulls to the left. Fingers placed casually along the steering wheel he jolts the wheel and the whole car shifts back to the right.   But he’s back in his lane. Dave chortles with laughter.

Indestructible.

Hands grapple the pack of smokes and he knocks one out of the package and places it between his teeth.  Foot to the floor, he speeds down the highway at 190 KM while patting his front right blue jean pocket in search of his fire starter. Leaning to the left side, he presses the gas down and the speedometer reads 192 as he reaches into his pocket to pull the lighter out.

Deer.

Between Worlds

Some say that I always had it. Others say that I lost it. Somewhere between dimensions is me. I am a person who is neither here nor there; a person who finds herself between today and tomorrow. Forever caught between the stages of life and death, it is a place that I do not wish to be as I waste away in nowhere.  I never meant for this happen and I would dare say that I am a victim, except it is not true.  Simply, I am a woman who wanders dark paths alone in overgrown woods and in cities you can find me in narrow alleyways among the rotund vermin. This is where my story begins.

Beneath the Surface

If I could reach her, I would. But there’s a distance between us that I can’t describe. She’s not far from me, but she’s close. Yet, we still can’t touch. The person I write of is a relic who’s always been there but I never noticed; really it should have been as clear to me as raindrops that fall or a rainbow that suddenly appears after a terrifying thunderstorm or sometimes even after gentle droplets.  Or perhaps a better way to describe her is this: She’s always been a slumbering being long dead that was buried a thousand years ago. Only when a new building is built like in Rome and London and hard hat-wearing construction men and women delve below the surface through dirt and mud do they find the stone walls that reveal there was an ancient city thousands of years ago.  Piece by piece, an archaeologist will dig and dust the surface of the stones mapping out a wall, building, or city and other hidden treasures such as pottery, plates, and cutlery that divulge who once lived there. Eventually, the archaeologist might be able to tell you who the people were that lived there, when they lived, and what life might have been like. She is there, always has been, and only with a steady hand, a thoughtful mind, and a strong heart will I find her again.

Losing It All

When things begin to deteriorate it sometimes strikes swiftly and with a fierceness of a single white dazzling electric thunderstorm bolt. But sometimes it also moves like red lava that slowly seeps down from the mountain, creeping towards everything you love devouring grass and trees in its path until it swallows your home.  And there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Miles away with hands clasped over your mouth, and tears in your eyes, you watch as everything that belonged to you is swallowed up by the lava.

The Better Man

“How many times did she ask you that?” Brett asks while his fingers tug on the Budweiser label. It shreds a little more and another part of the label falls to the counter.

“Man, it was only a couple of times. But it was like she didn’t believe a word I said: like I was building a different life behind her back while she was at home making mac n’ cheese for Brianna and David.” My fingers slide down the cold Labatt Blue bottle as I shake my head. Tina Turner’s, What’s Love Got To Do With It, plays in the background of Jackson’s.

This bar, Jackson’s, is a dingy joint with dark lighting. The women here walk by us with dresses too short, and wear pants and shirts that are too tight.  My eyes casually pass over a blonde woman as she walks past us wearing a black dress and stilettos.

My thumb pokes at the label of the bottle. I’ve been fighting this fight for a decade. I’m sick of it.

“Maybe you should buy her some flowers, or something? Make sure she feels appreciated for the stuff she does. Puts up with your belly-aching and all?” Brett says as he throws his head back and takes another slug of his beer hiding his smile.

“Who are you, Dr. Phil?” I snicker at Brett. I swivel around on my bar stool adding in, “and, who’s side are you on anyways?” I ask as I peer over at my best friend. I’ve known him since eighth grade when we went to school together and played hockey. We lost contact for a couple of years when he went off to College. But now he’s back. Brett was also the best man at my wedding. I’ve had lots of good times with him. I can tell him almost anything.

My phone buzzes. I flip it over from the bar counter.

The text reads:

Kaitlyn: Where are you?

“Look,” I say while shaking my head. “I can’t even go out for a drink with a friend before the warden’s checking in on me.”

Brett’s eyes quickly pass over the text message. He half nods in my direction when he finishes reading the message.

“Well,” he says standing up, “I’ve got to get home. Jessica needs me home by 8:30 to watch the kids. It’s her book club night.”

I snort at him saying, “What the hell, man? Who’s in charge of your relationship?” My mouth twitches into a half smile.

He looks past me, smiles, and says, “Make no mistake. It’s her.”

“Fine,” I say as I pull out two twenty bills and shout at Mike, “hey, is that enough?”

Mike moves towards us, flicks his eyes over the money, and says, “Yeah. That’s good. Want change?”

“Nope, we’re good.”

Brett and I walk out the door together and I pull out the package of cigarettes in the pocket of my jacket and light a smoke. While holding the cigarette between my lips I mumble, “Want one?”

“Nope,” Brett says with a wave of his hand. “I’m trying to quit.”

My phone buzzes again. “Who’s that now?” My cheeks twitch in response to the annoyance. I wave my hand at Brett that holds the cigarette and say, “Go ahead! It’s probably Kaitlyn again.”

Brett gives a laugh, nods and says, “Okay, we’ll see you later.” Then he turns and runs through the snow to his car.

My phone shows this:

457-892-3675: Are you coming over tonight?

I type: Yeah. Leaving Jackson’s now. Be there in 10 minutes.

My fingers punch at the keys. After I’ve sent the message I delete both of them. Then I take a slow drag on my cigarette.