Las Meninas

Similar to the famous painting, my family appears charming and beautiful at first glance. And it is. I treasured my time with them this weekend. To be back among family, knowing the old jokes, the nicknames, the sideways glances, the nuances and gestures was water to my thirsty soul. Watching someone walk the same way I do. Seeing someone lift a cup of coffee to their mouth the same way my brother does, makes my heart squeeze. 

What doesn’t appear at first glance is the missing pieces to this jigsaw of people. You have to look closer, peer harder, look around corners to realize that half of my family isn’t there. Like ghostly mirror images, the dead in my family reach out to tap me on the shoulder. I feel their hand brush lightly on my arm when I see a cousin, an uncle tweak up their mouth. Roll their shoulder. Walk in that particular stooping walk, bent at the waist. When I hear the slow, low words. The laughter. 

They’re there. I miss them. I love them. I wouldn’t be here without them. 

Memory

Some nights, lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come rescue me, I flip through my memories like a great big scrapbook. My scrapbook is divided into sections – Happy (subsections: Family, Children, Funny Stuff, Accomplishments, Friends), Sad (subsections: Death, Anxiety, Lost Opportunities), Angry (subsections: Ex-husband, Injustice) and Calm. Depending on how far Prince Valium has to ride, I flip through the sections, deciding where to delve in and where to just turn the page. If sleep is far, far away, I have to go straight to Happy or Calm. If I can barely form a coherent thought, I can spend a few minutes looking at the memory snapshots of friends who have passed away or of things done or said to me that are extremely unjust.

Calm is one of my favourite memories. It’s page in my scrapbook is dogeared and thumb worn. I concentrate on a memory of a sunny day at the beach when I was six or seven. We lived in Fort St. John and we were at Charlie Lake. The sky was always blue in Fort St. John. Winter or summer, the sun smiled out of a blue sky that surrounded you on all sides. It was never quite hot enough to get a sunburn or to cajole parents into the frigid waters but I remember it being lovely and warm.

Someone had brought a rubber dinghy. I had never seen one of these contraptions before. The man showed us how to sit on the edge of the dinghy, bum sinking into the rubbery flesh, bang our feet together to get rid of sand and then swing our legs over the side and into the boat.

I’ll never forget that shocking, sensual, surreal feeling as I rested my feet on the bottom of the boat and felt the water not more than 5 mm. beneath me. I could feel the water move and play under my skin and yet I wasn’t in it. It was unheard of! I wasn’t wet and yet I was right next to the water, skin against skin.

When I struggle to sleep, I go to that memory and imagine myself lying full length in that dinghy. I hear the water lapping, splashing, laughing. I close my eyes and feel the sun, not too hot, on my face. And most of all, I feel the water beneath me, holding, supporting, loving. Free to float around all night in my brain, I let the winds take me. Like the Lady of Shalott, I want to float to Camelot to find my true love.

Breathe Again

Running. Terrified. Like a thousand hungry hounds from Hell, he’s biting at my heels. Corners. Kitchen table edge in my hip. Tripping. Almost falling. Running.

Breath caught in my throat. Chest so tight it seems frozen in time. Can’t breathe. And yet all I’m aware of is my chest’s seismic heaving. Breaths so huge that all I see is my chest, fighting for air over swells so large I’m going to drown. I can’t breathe.

Out the door. Down the steps. He’s gaining. His fingers swipe the back of my shirt and I’m down. Snow up my nose. In my silent screaming mouth and down my throat. He’s on me. Dragging me backwards. Getting enough breath, finally, to cry for help, I see a neighbor looking through their window. I swallow the cry, the breath, my pride, my sorrow. I get up and walk silently back to the house. I breathe again.

Drive

“Drive me to the end of Thrums. I’ll run from there.”

“Where the welding shop is?”

“I guess. You know, where the greenhouse is.”

“Will you run far enough? Should I drive you to the deli?”

“Yeah. That’s far enough. Maybe too far. Don’t make me run too far!”

“I’ll drive you anywhere you want, Baby!”

“You already have.”

Who’s gonna hold you down,
When you shake?
Who’s gonna come around,
When you break?

Innocence

Beguiled

Innocence. The definition that resonates with me is, “…the absence of guile.” Guile means “…treacherous cunning; skillfult deceit.” To be beguiled means you are so enchanted by a skilled liar that you are trading your hours, your days to engage in a useless pursuit that, on the surface, feels pretty darn good. Like watching tv or looking at Facebook.

What is it about that colourful, squawky box or the endless scroll of status updates? I’m enchanted. I can’t get enough. I sit down in front of either of them, just for something to look at while I tie my running shoes and adjust my iPod, and I stay there for half an hour. I’m bewitched. I’m not nearly as enchanted by the idea of going for a run. The run – well, I could take it or leave it. But what’s interesting is that the tv and FB offer me the same things as a run – promised state of happiness, health, firm thighs (if the ads are anything to go by). But, only the run’s promises are real.

Over and over it’s been proven to me which promises are real and which are false. And over and over I go with the false promises. When I sell my body, my soul, to the false promises, I feel sullied. Unwashed. Undesirable. I go back to the real promises, sweat out the guilt in a 7 km run and make my own false promises to never desert the good life again. Maybe that’s the end of innocence. When you make wonderful and good promises to yourself that, even in that very moment, you know you will break.

Heaven

Heaven, I’m in Heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak;
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing, cheek to cheek.

If I could choose a dancing partner to dance with the rest of my life, it would be A Promise Unbroken. Tall and straight, never compromising, he would hold my hand fast in his and we would dance merrily through the days. One after the other, the hours would ripple by with hardly a notice because the minutes, the days, would be smooth and seamless. No obstacles in our way, no lies to trip us up, no smears, no scandal, no sorrow.

Most sorrow comes from Promises Broken. Never take him as your dancing partner is what I will tell my daughter. We bear our children under Society’s promise of Health & Happiness! and feel tricked when they are not altogether Healthy! Not altogether Happy! We marry our Lovers and they break their promises, one after another, like bricks through a glass window and we are left shattered. We work at our jobs with the promise of a Secure Future and are duped when we hit old age. We buy with the promise of Satisfaction and find we cannot return our purchase and must leave with the bitter taste of Promises Broken under our tongue.

What is Heaven? Heaven is a promise unbroken.