Old Hands

Age spots, lines, and scars scattered here and there are etched into my frail nearly one-hundred-year-old hands. What do you see when you look at them? Are they only the fingers you remember from your childhood when I scrapped peanut butter and jam on to bread for your lunch and then shoved you out the door onto rainy or snow-covered sidewalks to shuffle your way to school?

Do you know these hands served other purposes?

As a chubby toddler, I used these same hands to wipe my face when my father came in with red eyes and no tears, to tell my brothers and sisters and I, that mother had died. Tuberculosis had killed her. I was young, too young, to know what that meant. My brothers didn’t cry because that’s the way it was back then. My sisters, on the other hand, howled and sobbed. Father did his best to comfort them as he wrapped his arms around us girls. This moment of grieving was short-lived for my family though; my sisters and I were expected to do Momma’s chores now; Daddy still had to put food on the table, and my brothers had to help with the farm. In that way, our family was a team.

These same fingers were intertwined in John’s hands when we walked along storefront sidewalks in the early moonlit evening. John was my first love. And, he was not your father. John’s hands slid along my clothes and I used my fingers to stroke his arms as we kissed and caressed each other by a small river not far from my house before he took me home. This was away from the prying eyes of father and my brothers because this form of affection was frowned upon back then. As well, my father who was always gentle would not be, if he found out.

When John was killed in the war, my fingers were wrapped tightly around my white handkerchief as I quietly cried in the back pew of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. I was not considered acceptable by John’s parents; a non-Catholic, poor farmer’s daughter and for that reason, I was not welcome at his service. I went and hid in the back row with a couple of my girlfriends. I needed to say good-bye to the first man I had ever loved.

These hands were my instruments when I was young too and made love for the first time. Sure, you shift uncomfortably in your seat when you hear these words because all you see is an old woman who would never have had such desires. However, I was more than just a mother. You, my son, have never seen that. Or, you’ve always kept your blinders on to it.

But I am not resentful for my role as your mother. I love you. I hope it showed when I placed the back of my hand to your forehead to make sure you didn’t have a fever; or, if you had a fever, the way I gently placed cold cloths to your forehead and read to you until you fell asleep.  Indeed, terrible fear washed over me every time you were sick or injured because I didn’t want to lose another son. When I lost your three-year-old brother, Michael, because of measles it was by far the worst day of my life. (John’s death years earlier, was nothing in comparison.)

There are other things I could tell you about: the time I worked as a nurse at the end of the War and comforted and tended to injured soldiers beside doctors; or the one time I pulled your delinquent childhood classmate James (who skipped school that day and yes, I also knew he bullied you) from the river after he fell in and was almost swept away by the current. But I did not tell you that, or your father. I kept the secret. Terrified, James confessed to me that day he was frequently beaten by his parents and worried about what they would do to him if they found out he had walked too close to the embankment. After that day, you and James became friends, and our house became his refuge.

Did James tell you that before he died in a car accident in his fifties?

You do not know me, my son. But I suspect no one knows another person completely. We are complex and emotional, with things we want to share with others, and other things we don’t. But I wish you would ask me more questions, instead of believing you already know the woman I am.   

Affordable Housing: Why It Matters

I’ve been living in a bubble, and I know it. I’m lucky to have a roof over my head and have not given it a second thought in over a decade. Last year though, my eyes were rudely awakened to the fact that Ottawa is facing an affordable housing crisis when I searched for several months to find my mother an apartment. I was astounded to see that a one-bedroom apartment was expensive at over one thousand dollars per month and only increased from there. To my horror, a bachelor apartment began at nearly nine hundred dollars.

I found my mother an apartment after several months of searching.  Nicely settled, this is where I should no longer care.  Something continued to bother me though about the affordable housing crisis in Ottawa because I already knew both Vancouver and Toronto struggled with the same issue over the last several years. I pondered if the issue wasn’t only in a few cities, or if it had ballooned to a national epidemic. A few months ago, my worries were confirmed, when I read multiple articles in the CBC, The National Post, and in The Toronto Star that outlined multiple Canadian cities grappled to contain the housing shortage and included the small maritime town of Charlottetown, PEI. (https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/charlottetowns-housing-crisis).

I grew up in a family where my parents struggled financially. I know what happens when you live from paycheque to paycheque and “get by”.  A time comes, when you no longer have a paycheque, and there’s nothing in savings.

Then what? 

Then you borrow as much as you can and hope things will get better before you reach your borrowing limit.  Lucky for my family, I never experienced what comes after that. We managed (barely) to keep the roof over our heads, the heat and lights on, and some food in the fridge.

My father told me, you can always find work. I believed it. I also naively, believed, I could never be homeless.

Canada is not the only country attempting to address the affordable housing crisis.  Both the United States and the United Kingdom are attempting to tackle and correct the same issue. (I know about London, because I saw a Tube station sign there last year, stating the Mayor was working to address the issue.)

Recently, we planned a vacation to visit Portland, Oregon. We were aware affordable housing was a problem there too, and they now also tackled a homeless issue. (https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2019/08/38000-in-portland-area-were-homeless-at-some-point-in-2017-study-finds.html )

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw there though. Along the interstate and under bridges, tents were pitched. Garbage littered the side of the highway and included a crumpled umbrella. In the city, we saw discarded socks on the paved sidewalks. In the city of Portland, during the day, homeless people sat on the curbs and stretched out and slept on the streets.

One day when we were on the train, I noticed a woman standing on the side of the road with a sign around her neck that read, “Houseless”. Below the word, was a simple request for a little money, whatever could be spared. The woman never looked up but focused her eyes on the sidewalk. She only raised her head, when a woman in a truck called to her and gave her some money.  The woman smiled at her gratefully and looked a little relieved.

I was mistakenly under the impression, homelessness occurred under particular circumstances such as drug addiction and youth fleeing an abusive home.  These were not excuses to ignore the problem but provided some context in order to explain how a person ended up on the streets. However, the reasons also conveniently and falsely reassured me, I might never be homeless.

If affordable housing continues to be a problem, I now know I could be. Examples of circumstances that may reduce my ability to earn an income include: if I’m unable to find work; if I suffer a serious health illness where I’m unable to work, or not able to work for a long period of time; or, when I’m a senior and need to find a rental apartment on a fixed income. As well, even if it doesn’t affect me directly, there’s a greater possibility it could affect family and friends.

Homelessness isn’t a risk for a small minority of the population if it ever was. There’s a risk it could or already is a national problem.  I know the time has passed where I can protectively fold my arms and say: It can’t happen to me. The point is passed too where I can shrug my shoulders and mumble: Someone else will take care of it. It’s not my problem.

Truth is I know affordable and low-income housing are problems in this city and in this country. Based on a December 2018 article in the CBC, it stated that homelessness in Ottawa had “risen by 21 percent.” (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/shepherds-good-hope-ottawa-homelessness-1.4946896) Somehow, I failed to notice it.

I have lots of reasons to step back on this topic: the politicians are addressing the issue; Canada has a large social system that might be able to manage and take care of those who are close to becoming homeless; and finally, who am I to make suggestions and try to help? I don’t have the experience and should leave it to the experts.

Portland’s changed me though. Now, I know I need to absolutely help if I can. Assuming, it’s not already too late.

Stop. Start. Try Again.

It’s a weaving road, this writing journey.  There are no markers, or signs, that I’m getting close to the end. Instead, I feel like I’m trapped in a forest, I’ve lost my compass (which is double fun for me because I don’t know how to use one!) and I keep passing the same dead tree, over and over again. It’s the only sign, that I’m going nowhere.

I’ve heard of various ways, writers have become successful. There are writers who have had a blog or Twitter feed go viral and from there, they secured a literary agent; some have written an article that got them noticed by those in the publishing word; finally, there are those who wrote a book and it became a Best Seller, either through traditional, or self-publishing.

I’m at a point now, where I’m not certain the method I’ve used in the past, is still working for me. It might be time to find out if there’s a better way to do things. Shall I take a course? Apply for an MFA? (Will they accept me?) Work on building a platform? Attend Writing Conferences? (Full-disclosure, I attended one recently, and it was wonderful just to be around other writers! That alone, might be worth it.) Or, dare I, self-publish my book?

I’m currently, still in a holding pattern, at least for the next few months. But while I’m waiting, I think I’ll learn how to read that compass. At least then, I’ll have a better chance of finding my way out of the forest.

If that doesn’t work for me, I’ll find another way. After all, I know there’s more than one path to success.

Love Rules

It’s not a promise, nor a command.

It’s a feeling that rises within you, that asks you, to take a chance on others.

There’s no scoreboard where I win, you lose.

A “bill me later” card, with a high interest rate, doesn’t exist.

I’m not a banker, where I take far more than I’ve ever been given.

My only wish for you my friend: Be happy, be healthy.

For I know that if you’re alright, it was definitely, worth the fight.

Chains

Knotted chains clink against the freezer that stores leftover meatloaf from last Thursday’s dinner.

Maria’s eyes are wide. She flicks them from right to left, then left to right.

Tugging at the sheets she pulls them up to her chin.

Pressure pinches against her temples.

Sweat gathers on her back.

Heart palpitations begin.

One second later.

She falls….

over.

The Lighthouse

Green hills overlook the North Atlantic Ocean. In the water, rocks protrude from the watery abyss. The sharp edged natural swords have sent many ships to their graves with those who travelled on them.

On top of the hill is where I stand.  A white light blinks at me. Thunderous electric lightening crashes above the historical watchtower that helps to guide ships into port. Briefly, the light illuminates the dark sky.

Thunder crackles again.

In the window of the lighthouse I see a small, pale, angelic singular face peer back at me. I’m too far away though and I don’t trust my eyes. In these conditions, I know my mind will play tricks on me.

Somewhere in the distance I hear a screeching sound of a baby’s cry.

Instinctively, I turn, searching for the location of the noise. But I know the infant isn’t real. It might be a phantom baby that’s come to haunt me.

Thunder crackles.

Glancing towards the lighthouse, I search for the child. He’s no longer there though. Ghost child and a phantom baby are working together today playing with my subconscious.

I inhale the cold sharp air that surrounds me.

The baby’s wail begins again—louder—and with a fiercer intensity this time. In that moment, I’m hit and I’m lifted high into the air, before I fall backwards on the emerald fields.

I can’t move.

My eyes flutter at the four-year-old boy who stands above me with soft curly hair and green eyes who holds a small infant. He gently moves my arms together to form a cradle and places the crying baby there who’s wrapped in a pink blanket. Tears roll down the sides of my cheeks when the little girl’s crying slips into a contented gurgle. She rolls closer to me and then drifts off to sleep.

White light illuminates the boy who smiles down at me and my sleeping baby.

The Words Whispered By The Fairy

“I wish I could.”

“I can’t.”

“I shouldn’t.”

These are the slithering, hissing sounds of absolute words that protect me—from me.

Conformity is a harness that holds me up, preventing me from falling off roofs, off buildings, or down cliffs and is my life preserver that keeps me alive.  But a harness is weighty: my feet drag along the roof as I fumble to manipulate the line while scouring for the tools I need to place the next shingle down. After some time, physical fatigue sets in and I misjudge where I’m placing my feet and hands; I slip and start sliding down off the roof only to brace myself lace minute before going over the edge. The harness provides protection, but is not absolute. I’ve heard stories of people who’ve died while wearing such a device.

When I finally unstrap the harness from my waist it’s a release and I glide down sidewalks as if Tinker Bell has given me fairy dust to move.  Once my body is able to move freely, the fairy leans in and sings-whispers Shakespeare’s words from Hamlet into my ear to unclog the gutters of my mind:

 

“To Thine Own Self Be True.”