As I sit on my bed i Fort McMurray, wrapped in a Ravenclaw robe that was a Christmas present from my husband, writing consciously for the first time in a couple of months, I find that words have taken on a new form. They feel different, almost foreign. They are less grandiose and uncovered from an unfamiliar cavern within myself. Words used to unravel from somewhere slightly outside of my mind, a space created right above my head – now I dig them out from a place existing much lower, from inside, they are unearthed from a subterranean area starting just below my rib cage and expanding down to my calves. They no longer fall from above my head, whirling through my mind to be siphoned out by my fingers – I have to dig for every single thought and expression, the words leave damp soil under my nails.
My energy has been almost completely withdrawn. There are no tendrils of virility bursting out, no fireworks waiting to explode near the surface – everything is concentrated deep within myself, slowly pulsating. I feel like a freshly sheared tree, neatly and efficiently pruned of the many twigs excitedly and haphazardly growing all over me – all those tendrils pulled into hibernation, to open up a new space.
This is not me regrouping.
A month ago I had just woken up from a long, dreamless sleep and emulated my cats by stretching luxuriously when my phone suddenly rang. It was the phone call we all dread, because we all know that at some point in our lives we will receive it. It was news from home. News that my father had gone to sleep the night before and not risen in the morning, that he had slipped into a coma and that it was very unlikely that he would ever wake up.
It felt as if my insides had been neatly scooped out and put through the garbage disposal.
A few hours later, I was on my way home. It was the absolutely fastest journey to Sweden I had ever taken – not a single delay, no waiting around at various gates, no hiccups with trains or luggage – and it lasted a life time. I have fractured memories from it, the only conscious thought I can recall is a never ending string of words, repeating themselves in my mind like a broken record.
Dad, hold on. Dad, I’m on my way. Dad please, wait for me. Dad, hold on.
He held on. The entire family gathered at the hospital, my mother and my three brothers, staying with him during his last few hours. Telling stories and singing songs, letting him know we’ll miss him, we love him, it’s alright to let go. And he did.
In the weeks that followed, parts of me shut down and withdrew. I didn’t think twice about releasing my commitments in Canada and allowing my being to slowly sink, like rapidly swirling sand in a river that comes to rest at the bottom when the tide slows. It wasn’t difficult, it wasn’t even a deliberate choice, it was the only means of existence available to me.
My brothers and I spent time together, I met with friends and visited my 95 year old grandmother. I caught Pokemon, watched shows, organised the memorial and made phone calls. We talked a lot, my brothers and I, remembering and forgetting the past like watching dust motes drift around a sunlit room.
A lot of who I am comes from my father. He was my mentor, my friend, my soccer coach, my cheerleader, my reality check and – sometimes, especially when I was troubled and angry – my emotional punching bag. He taught me how to push myself, how to change a tire, how to stop and enjoy the little things in life and how to pull off elaborate pranks. Sometimes, he was also my teacher of things he never quite learned himself – how to take care of yourself because you and your health matters, how to be vulnerable, how to ask for help. Many times, we helped each other.
With the final day of this year looming and talks of how by passing a line on the planet things will be different, I sit perched in my wizard robe. Listening to the talk of how the new year is a brand new entity, the old cleared away and the rubble neatly swept into the past, a new pristine expand of flat ground that eagerly awaits the building of our freshly remade selves. But the past isn’t ours to forget and clear away. A part of us need to live in it, within the decrepit old buildings and ruins of battles and mistakes. We shouldn’t deny the pain any less than we should turn away from beauty and happiness.
Sometimes, we look around us and realise that we are covered in ash. It can be a desperate feeling, a hollow and overwhelming feeling that is laced with despair, but in the ash grows plants you would otherwise never see, emitting hypnotising scents and iridescent colours. Sometimes, they are small and smell odd. That’s okay too. Lamenting over weak muscles doesn’t make them stronger, we have to sweat and push for that to happen. Strength develops and cultivates through difficulties, from sorrow we can learn empathy and patience. Emerging from times of turmoil and chaos is when we can see things with absolute clarity.
It might sound pretentious, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
We do what we do and then one day we die – what happens next is out of my realm of understanding. Maybe one day in the future, the tendrils of energy and the surface explosions will come back and be a part of me again. Maybe they won’t. At the moment, I don’t miss them.
I will miss my father every goddamn day, as I miss my family and friends back home, as I would miss my family and friends in Canada if I were to move back. It’s a good thing, being able to miss them and having them to miss – it means there are people of consequence in my life, people of a certain robustness, like nutrients and oxygen. They’re not perfect, and there’s absolutely no need for any of us to be.
It doesn’t make it hurt any less. It’s part of living within the ruins, of building beside them, of letting them merge and co-exist. Because to miss, we have to love and where there’s love, there’s also loss.
We are all children with responsibilities, running around this tiny and vast planet, doing our best – so we might as well go play in the rubble.
Happy New Year
I wish the best for you.