The sound of the cat jumping off the bed. The smell of lemon-oil soap. The heart with its bleats and whinnies. The sound of the rain. The traffic moving through the alley–Smart Cars, bicycles, delivery trucks. At 3, children’s shouts. The white garage across the ally. The Spanish tile roof. The turquoise biffy for the workers at the laneway house that’s going up. The smell of cedar. The pressure-treated kick-plates. The man in the blue fleece carrying lumber, his white cap, his dangling keys. I live below grade and now, with my fence gone, my windows are peepholes.
Yesterday, I wrote the crisis in my novel The Lost Boy. I had no clue the book was going where it went, exploding where it exploded, but when it blew up, I thought, Of course, of course, nothing else was possible. Now I will wrap up the denouement, then I have to go back to feed in sub-plots and image motifs.
People push grocery carts past my windows and the fencer says I need to dig up more clematis for a reinforcing pole to go in. The condo board says no vines can be grown on the new fence.
I was surprised to discover bulbs coming up now, those crazy things, in December before winter has even started–hyacinths whose tender heads have been summarily stomped.
After I didn’t fall out of the sky when my plane had an emergency landing, my friend and I sat in her living room with just the tree lights on drinking wine in the middle of a snow storm. You couldn’t see much outside except that white snow mounded everywhere, covering the sharp edges. It was minus something but with the wind chill -40, which I learned is the same in Celcius and Farenheit. Two cats, one all white and one all black, curled up beside us or under the tree. It smelled like apple cider–cinnamon, cloves, cardamom. Blue lights, red lights, yellow lights. Wrapped presents.
My friend said to me that when the Jian Gomeshi news broke, she kept remembering sexual assaults; they were like zombies breaking out of the ground. She had one of those moments where things suddenly got clearer–she realized that when women get violated, mostly it’s just another event in a long line of assaults. We get away as best we can, we brush off, we probably don’t report it (because who in their right mind wants what would happen then?), we may not even think of it for long because it’s happened so many times before. We just go on. We’re women. That’s what we do. We go on.
The white cat started climbing the trunk of the Christmas tree. My friend shooed her away. The cats went outside though I thought they’d freeze like cattle in Alberta fields, from their feet up. I told my friend that I had a cat once in Cochrane and I slammed the door too fast during a cold snap and her tail broke off. Verushka, her name was. The cats came back in and weren’t frozen anywhere. We refilled our wine glasses. For a long time, we talked about divorce court, but then after all that, we didn’t want to pour more wine; we just had to go to bed.
The wonderful poet Méira Cook is interviewing me for Brick Books about a long-ago poem I wrote from the imagined perspective of Ted Bundy’s mother during his execution. I had to keyboard in this long poem tonight because I no longer had it on a computer. What a surreal experience to be inside the imagined voice of an onlooker to violence while also being inside my young poet’s voice. I remembered that mother-blaming was even worse then than it is now. I remembered how enraged I became that Ted Bundy had caused so many women and their families pain and incalculable losses (my word, I had daughters, I could almost–), and how confusing was the struggle in my conscience when he was executed, since I remain against capital punishment.
To add to this, of course it just the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique this past weekend (along with the anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death, from whence many losses issued). Here in Vancouver, there was a Saturday vigil in response to Montreal, then a Sunday vigil for Canada’s missing and indigenous women.
I have been worrying a lot about police violence, too, as everyone has. Recently I watched Brian Lindstrom’s film Alien Boy about the Portland murder of James Chasse, and again footage of the Robert Dziekanski police murder at YVR. Did these murders presage the militarization of police in N America and the new wave of shootings of Black men across the US? A Vietnamese man in Vancouver, Du Na Phuong, waving a piece of lumber in a crosswalk, was also shot and killed by police a few blocks from here a couple weeks ago. Story here.
And even as I watch footage of these men dying from police brutality, and try to come to terms, I know that women also die in police custody, and that reporters don’t note it the way they do male deaths.
Let’s see it. Let’s name it. Let’s not look away. Can we not look away?
Can I not avert my eyes one more time?
My wisteria takes my breath away. When I moved in, I thought I would haul it out by its friable roots and plant another, better one in its place—a darker one, a white one, one with longer recemes. Mine is just that common one you see around—W. sinensis. Blah, I thought.
But in the end, it was so magnificent that it made the mess of the rest of the fledgling garden that kept killing plants dead (alliums! O poppies! Delphs!) bearable.
Isn’t that the way? You think something’s going to be terrible, and it knocks you over with sweetness and flash. Or vice versa.
I thought today was a wasteland, even with all the sun, and then Clara Shandler, the Sidewalk Cellist, said, “Impromtu concert?” and I got to spend a luscious hour on unmown grass at King Ed and 25th soaking up her terrific-ness. Cello makes me soar; I lift bird-like—pumped, strong wings into cerulean sky.
I tried to clear my head while I listened, but it drifted into thought, and I ruminated about the fleshiness of our human condition, our bodies resilient and fragile. Able to take so much—or so little. The mystery of why one person sickens and another stays well. The mystery of the quick accident.
Because it was Mother’s Day, I thought of my mother, and my mother-in-law, and what missing the dead means, and I thought then about how motherhood positions women in the world. About step-mothering, or smom’ing—of my daughters.
I thought about women’s rights, and their lack.
I thought of my sister and her lost son, and the moms at Women’s and Children’s Hospital and Canuck Place who’d lost their babies. I thought about how they went forward.
Role models. Women to look up to.
There was so much sky up there, so much atmosphere, so much vacuum, so much science.
But right down here, just feet in front of me, was Clara’s music. At home was wisteria, ten feet of it dripping. Right here, right now, there was redoubtable human spirit. Thanks, women-in-my-life, for all you’ve generously given me. Hope, determination, examples, willing ears, strength, passion, incisive brains, character, depth, ready love.
You are the best.
It is so funny to stumble across old bits of writing. When I wrote this piece, I hadn’t yet joined the marriage case in Canada, which I did in September of 2000. We have had the right to wed in Canada since June of 2003, but the issue is still very current in the US and other countries.
I remember having a to-and-fro with the editor who originally published this essay about whether the parlour game was 20 Questions (as I asserted) or 21 Questions (as she asserted). See–must have been before it was easy to look things up on the web. She was wrong, but she won.
Oops, here’s another reader review I just found: