Let the sun find its way to you

HARRISON LAKE 1I used to always feel nostalgic about love during summer. I think the kisses I had in a little park with my first boyfriend made it that way. I would lay with my head on his chest and he’d lazily draw a blade of grass over my shoulder, then slowly along my neck then gently over my ear, finally making me giggle and turn away. And we’d do that for hours. So innocent. So perfect. So sweet.

Lately, I’ve been hugging summer close to me, stretching out in its warm embrace and letting it romance me like I was fourteen again. It isn’t always easy to move towards the present, to really be in it and let go of the past, but once you have life feels as it was meant to.

It feels like the sun can make its way to me without any need for someone else to improve it or a song to score the sunset so I can enjoy it or a book to describe the feeling for me or lover to whisper in the night and tell me what it really is.

No, it’s just seeping into my skin and heart, fully saturated with ripe possibility.

Sweet Sun

 

The sun bleaches all the bruises–

sweat hard, forgive the sun

she’s a guest here, she’ll be gone.

 

Moon gives you blue light

just blue light with no strings–

hold it in, let it go with your lungs

at ease at last in bed alone.

 

Summer

lazy as a cat on a couch

coy and calling in a bowl of berries

finally

you sit down too

content it’s only you.

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Summer Laze

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Holiday. It can be a state of mind, sure, I’ll give you that. But it truly only happens in a specific place. When we tell each other memories of our vacation, we usually start with the place. The way the trees drooped down over a boulevard or how the sun set every night beyond your balcony or the way the lavender smelled in the air long after you’d hiked beyond those purple fields lit by a moody afternoon sun or the sound of waves, crashing in the dark just beyond your window.

My holiday place every year is in Kelowna, British Columbia in a region called the Okanagan. It (as in life) has usually become so unbearable in Vancouver by the time July rolls around I am itching to hit the highway and get to my happy place where peaches hang from trees and counters overflow with fresh berries of every kind and I am at peace under the hot glare of a true summer sun. This time around I drove a slow, lazy route up to the Okanagan, stopping in Osoyoos which is a desert and hot as, well you can imagine a desert could be, and then meandered up to Kelowna where I stayed with my ex sister-in-law of nearly 30 years who isn’t an ‘ex’ anymore but a dear friend. She cooks, I eat. A lot. We talk, water the garden, cocktails are made, plans hatched, relationships pondered and dreams unfurled for inspection. Everything is extraordinarily ordinary and simple and satisfying. Salad and herbs freshly pulled get tossed in a bowl with homemade dressing. Magazines get sticky from the heat, and are turned slowly, as you drift off to sleep in the sun. But best of all, I get to laze around with a small dachshund by the name of Louie who is my favourite animal in the entire world. You’d love him too if you met him. You can see him in the slideshow below.

If you are reading this and thinking of coming to BC, please, spend a few days in Vancouver, but ensure you get up to Osoyoos, Oliver and Kelowna and all of the amazing wineries that abound in our beautiful Okanagan. It’s really heaven on earth. And don’t fly. The backroads are what make it a holiday.

 

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Surrender to the green prayer

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Setting sun on my left cheek as I stand near the bean stocks that are expectant with summer, tendrils of bursting tender beans twirling in the soft air. Verdant respite of whispering conspirators–the poppy least of all, she’s done her dance and slumps now, out of the chorus of tubers and crawling vines–all vying for space, nudging one another as they race towards the sun each dawn.

Here I am in the unexpected moment: an intervention by root vegetables, dill, chives, cabbage, sweet peas, tomatoes, basil, surrounding me with their green insistence to awake, awake! Swallows swoop past my head and hummingbirds tread air wildly, waiting, waiting, for my decision. Will I let go of it? As in really let go of the weight of it, the life before and be in the life that is? Now?

Yes. Yes.

Waking to abundance, the garden goes on, the trees go on, the birds go on and the green prayer comes in each day like a wave, calling me to answer, surrender to forgetting and live the new.

 

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Another kind of Father’s Day

Much of what I remember of my father is steeped in fear. His mythical reputation for losing his temper was handed down to me from my 10 older siblings through epic tales of survival to cautionary tales from my younger siblings on how to carefully navigate that temper.

I resented it. I wanted to be free of the yoke of his glowering persona. I longed to be free of the hard and terrible consequences that came with being a child in his world. So, I started up a small revolution in my heart against him. I knew I was the youngest, the smallest and female in a family of nine boys–with the only other female my sister who was the seeming apple in his eye–and because of this, knew there was little I could do other than to take a stand against the monster who seemed to dictate life in our home.

I couldn’t stop the blows that rained down on my brothers but when it was my turn, I was prepared. I was in trouble for coming late to dinner and it was time for my reckoning. I walked solemnly over to the drawer where the spatulas and serving spoons were kept, that were, up until that moment, loving symbols of my mom’s cooking, and pulled out one of the less dangerous looking utensils and walked over to him. This ritual was part of the torture: You had to pick the weapon you wanted to be hit with.

“Here.” I handed him the spatula, which was metal (for some reason my mom had no wooden spoons in the drawer that day, why Mom, why?) and he took it and began to slap my open palms with it. Hard and with fire behind it. I stood firm like a soldier and stared him straight in the eye without flinching. I was four. I was fierce. I would not be broken.

My dad never hit me again. But what was lost in that moment was never regained. He died only six years later when I was ten. I didn’t mourn him. I didn’t know him. I was glad the reign of fear was over.

Many years later now, I am able to look back with more compassion on my father who was, at the time of my childhood, dying. He was dying and it was a slow, awful death where his heart was slowly failing him, and he was slipping from life while at the same time trying to control it.

I started to peel back the violence from my memory and searched for moments when he was kind to me. It took some time. But I remembered he bought me a small lamp for the dark when I was 5 or 6 because I was so terrified at night I would creep down into my parents bedroom and crawl slowly up into my mom’s bed (in those days they had separate beds) stopping when I heard his gruff complaint at my presence to which my mom always answered, “It’s only Margaret, dear, go back to sleep.”

I remember another time I was dancing in our dining room to some music in my head and he snuck a photo of me. I was really shocked that he’d cared enough to capture the moment but also didn’t know how to act–it was too intimate for such a distant relationship. Or the time he let me keep the kitten I found in a box–begrudingly, with complaints of future fleas and cost, and a Pinteresque pause before yes–then his small gesture to bring the kitten to him as he peered in the box and petted his small head. I can see now he was there, albeit far away, trying to be a father to me, but I was running in the opposite direction and he never had the emotional or physical ability to run after me.

More recently, I found an old letter of his to his older brother in a pile of photos, from a year or so before his death. He acknowledges he’s dying and is clearly sorrowful; at the end of the letter he writes about me, saying “Most of all, I think about little Margaret. That Margaret is really something, full of beans and always surprising me.” That I was in his mind at all came as a complete surprise to me but the tone is even more surprising–one of delight, tinged with deep regret and sorrow, knowing he will never see his daughter grow up, and perhaps having never really been a father to her at all.

Now, a single parent for two decades, I have a much better understanding of what my father must have been feeling and the challenges he faced during that time and wish I could sit with him now and pour us a stiff drink. I think I’d see that he wasn’t a villain. I think I’d see that I’m full of his best qualities: Courage, leadership, tenacity, vision. In fact, I think we’d be close friends.

Here’s to you Frank, wherever you are, bottoms up. See you on the other side.

My dad in 1977, the year he died.

My dad in 1977, the year he died.

 

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The Vulnerability of Air

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Air. We take it for granted. Well, I know for sure I did. I woke up, took my breath in, leapt out of bed, hummed along to music each morning as I put my makeup on, yelled across the room to my son I love you, laughed and chattered like a songbird with my friend at work, sighed when overwhelmed at the end of the day, cooking, bone-tired and feet-sore, then a last deep breath in and out as I meditated before bed.

I can do very few of these right now.

I look at people running on the street below and watch their lungs with a hungry desire as they puff out and relax in, giving the runner as much oxygen as they need to drive their sweat-covered muscles down and around the corner in a flash of health.

I’m left to sit and look out the window and wonder how I got here?

It seemed like I could will myself to do anything. I never asked my body, are you okay? Is this too hard? Are you tired? Do you need a break? Are you completely burnt out and feeling you can’t go on? I only cared what my mind wanted and the body could go to hell in a hand basket.

And it did.

I recently found myself wanting to lie down on a public sidewalk in the middle of the day. I wanted this more than anything I’ve ever wanted. The brown brick was calling to me to curl up on it and just stop. I managed to make it another 20 feet into my doctor’s office where I staggered in and lay down, shaking uncontrollably, the room spinning all around me. I was convinced I was dying. My lovely, compassionate doctor said, in her matter-of-fact way: “Your body is shutting down and you have to go to the hospital.” For some reason I couldn’t speak and couldn’t make my limbs do what they were supposed to do. I was playing second fiddle to my body and had no say in what happened next.

Luckily for me, an unusually heroic friend from work offered to drive me as I live in an area where cabs take up to half and hour and apparently so can ambulances unless you are hit by a car or actually dead. It was the longest car ride of my life, longer even than the one I took from my house to the hospital on a bumpy country road when I was knotted in contractions and in labour. She had to get a wheelchair for me because I couldn’t walk. I realized suddenly as the doors opened with a whoosh to the emergency room that I’d not been there for seventeen years since my brother had died of head trauma in that same hospital. I quickly pushed that devastating thought away and focused instead on my shallow breath and tried to keep it steady.

I had been on antibiotics for pneumonia for a week but then still very sick, headed back to work and about one hour in found I couldn’t’ finish sentences and was out of breath and having that feeling of wanting to lie down on the ground and sink through it. Did I listen and go home? No, I stayed until 3 pm, until I couldn’t breathe and when I was driving home nearly blacked out from lack of oxygen in my blood. Was it really any surprise I was now in a hospital gown?

At the hospital they wanted to test for possible blood clots so they wheeled me into the CT scan room. I’ve never had one but it is an unsettling experience. They place you on a narrow bed and put an IV in you which they fill with dye so they can take better pictures of everything happening in your body. They slide you into the circular machine that whirs and whirs around you as you feel the heat crawl up through your body from the dye being injected into your veins.

I began to think, what if, just say, this comes back and it’s bad? Is this my life? As in, what I’ve done to this point, this is it? I started to cry. I really didn’t feel like it was a story that was fully written yet. In that moment, I realized how much I wanted to live and be well again. I promised my body to listen to it and care for it. I promised to be a better steward of this vessel I’d be given.

There were no clots but there were some dots and they’re hoping it’s just the pneumonia and it will clear up. It’s nearly four weeks since I first got sick which is the longest I’ve been incapacitated since I was in the hospital as a kid. I have to rest and rest some more. My lungs ache. I am unable to walk up and down my apartment stairs. It’s humbling. My body is in charge. I’ve softened and opened up to its needs. I am gentle when it tells me to lie down at 10 am then again at 1 pm then again at 7; I don’t argue, I don’t ignore, I don’t minimize. I read things that will soothe it and eat things that will nourish it. I calm the interior voice when it screams get back to work! I pray. 

I ache to breathe deeply again. To walk as far as I want. To finish sentences without running out of air. To sing off-key, very loudly in the shower. Most of all, I want to hike with my son again and be able to keep up.

You knew that I was going to say this but I’ll say it anyway: don’t take your body for granted. You are as vulnerable as air without it.

*I want to give a special thanks to the amazing nurses and doctors at Vancouver General Hospital. I saw genuine compassion under mind-numbing hours and challenges. I was wrapped in warm blankets and cared for and for that I am deeply grateful to live where I live and have access to the hospitals I do.

**Special uber thanks to my friend A. I’m so grateful it turned out to be her with me. That was a gift.

 

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Mrs. Everett Goes to Australia

After nearly two years, I’ve finally come near to the end of my Mrs. Everett story. Only one more chapter to go! For those of you new to this blog, Mrs. Everett is my around-the-world transmedia story of Prue Everett, a woman who went rogue on her life and traveled the world in search of a new one. In this scene, she is at her long-lost sister-in-law’s to mend old wounds and in the process re-discovers her love of animals and a simpler way of life. It’s a long one, so pour yourself a coffee or glass of wine and enjoy. The transmedia version of this chapter will be posted shortly on my business website so keep an eye out for that. (It includes photos, text and phone conversations with Mr. Everett-very juicy stuff.) Sorry it’s so long but as I often say, a writer has to serve the story, not the other way around. Final chapter will be posted shortly: Can you guess where Mrs. Everett ends up?

***

Mara looked older but the lines around the sides of her mouth and eyes made her appear warmer, the brittle pointedness of her face now softer with age. Prue studied her, trying to assess how Mara felt about her arrival–if she was genuinely happy to see her or if she was welcoming her out of a sense of duty as Edward’s sister.

“Welcome traveler! You should be fine to park up there by that truck just beside the house.” Mara had picked up the Australian accent and Prue was surprised at how much it suited her.

Indeed, it seemed like Australia had been good to Mara. All her younger prickly energy had fallen away and replacing it was a generous openness in her body that Prue had never seen in her before. Not that Prue had seen much of Mara in the past; Edward had made a point to ostracize his sister and often belittled her in front of Prue. Pure always admired Mara’s spirit and more so when she made the leap to live on her own just after high school. That decision, Prue remembered, came after an enormous row with Edward not surprisingly. Mara was always the rebel and Edward the hero; it was a hopeless situation that Mara wisely chose to leave.

Mara closed the gate behind her and Prue drove cautiously up the dirt road towards the house. She looked in her rearview mirror and watched as Mara whistled and made a small gesture towards the field. A spark of black and white whipped through the tall grass towards her and leapt up to her thighs as Mara leaned over to stroke the dog’s ears.

Prue shifted into first gear and eased into a spot next to a dusty truck with hay still in the back of it. She felt proud of herself she’d learned stick shift in Italy. She would offer Mara a ride to make sure she didn’t think of her as the same woman she’d been when she’d seen her last–sitting in the back of a car with a driver, never in the driver’s seat.

You don’t have to prove anything. You are who are you now. And that is enough she told herself. 

Yes. It was enough. 

With that, she grabbed her leather pack and stepped out of the car and walked towards Mara.

“Prue, you are driving that car!”

Prue beamed.

“Yes, indeed I am Mara. And would you believe it’s manual?”

Mara let out a deep laugh and slapped her hip.

“Does Edward know? My god, that is just delicious.”

Prue stepped back on one leg, pausing, pulling up her inclination to hug Mara short. Just the mention of Edward had yanked her back and she hesitated, unsure now of her place here, unsure why she was here even.

Mara measured her face and body and stopped.

“I’m sorry, you know, I shouldn’t have brought him up, it’s just the thought of him seeing you behind the wheel–

“Oh, forget it, you know? You have every right to be surprised.” Prue wanted to let the past be the past but here, with Mara, it was thick in the air, a layer they had to cut through and discard before they could be at ease with one another.

“How about a drink? You must be parched after that drive.” Mara walked by her and towards the steps, stopping to give a look that said, I won’t take your bags for you so you’d better hurry up.

“Yes, a perfect suggestion Mara, a drink would be grand.”

Behind Mara banged a screen door, the same kind of bang you’d hear in the background in movies. It was an idyllic porch . With an idyllic door.

Prue opened the back door and looked at her worn bags, flopped over with her folded hat spilling out onto the far seat. She felt worthy for once in her life. Those bags had seen the last year of her life. Transatlantic flights. A heartbreak in Italy. Coasts, mountains, oceans, taxis, buses even. Many happy solo adventures.

She held the screen door behind her with the tips of her fingers until it made a puff and settled into its dusty soft worn frame.

Inside it cooled in temperature, and Prue became aware of how wet her hair was against the back of her neck. She craned her neck around an enormous bookshelf and saw Mara. She was swirling a dark wooden spoon in a pitcher of red liquid. Oranges circled the bottom.

“Am I lucky enough to be in the same house as a cold jug of Sangria?”

Mara tilted her head and smiled. “You, my long-lost sister-in-law, my world traveler, are correct in that.”

Prue walked towards Mara, unsure of how to say what she had to say. It needed saying. It needed saying before drinks were poured or masks were tied on.

“Mara, I want to just be Prue if that’s okay? I want to just be Prue and you just be Mara. And we get to know one another like that? Is it possible, that we can do that?”

Mara looked up at her and was as calm and settled as the floor beneath them.

“That’s a relief Prue. I’m really happy for you. And yes, of course we can. I’m  really happy you came.” Mara leaned in and pulled Prue’s shoulders towards her.

Prue laughed. Mara’s hug felt incredible. It had been months since anyone had touched her and at least several years since anyone had hugged her and meant it.

“I hope you have an extraordinarily–obscenely– large glass for me.”

Mara burst out laughing again, a sharp punchy laugh that leveled you and made the room feel like a party had just started.

“Well, all right then sister, let’s get our sangria on.”

They sat in the shady living room, with afternoon light filtered by the long overhang and uneven lead windows, making the room have the air of an antique store. Prue sat in a rattan chair with a peruvian blanket draped over it. She pushed the sleeping cat to the side to make room and settled down with her sangria, hoping the loud creaks were not a harbinger that her bottom was about to break through the chair and drop to the floor.

“It’s a little less glamorous than you’re used to I think Prue?” Mara leaned back and took a long sip of her drink. “But it’s our home, a little torn on the edges but we’ve been really happy here.”

Prue paused and looked around the room. She remembered how she might have looked at this room and been uncomfortable in it in the past. How she would have noticed each picture, whether matted or framed, archival or cheap backing, crooked or straight. And she would have gone on from there, noting each imperfection like a coroner, making notes in her head like, ‘for christmas remember to tell Edward they need a large gift card to Ikea’ or ‘remember to tell Edward they could use a decent rug from 1st Dibs’ and on it would go, from wall to wall, a ticker tape of judgement that buoyed her up while at the same time fencing her in like an old Victoria torture chamber, it’s iron lung staged in her mind creating a vacuum of feeling, a mirage of humanity.

“It’s so lovely Mara, really, to be in a home, and your home, it has such meaning for me now. Trust me, after a year and a half of traveling in hotels, seeing photos in frames of real people, lived in furniture, the smell of meals, and…family is lovely. I had no idea how alone I’ve been until now.” Prue paused and Mara waited, calmly petting another cat nosing her hand for attention. Prue made an attempt to put what she was feeling into words. “When I first left, I reveled in the anonymity. It felt like I had jumped from a great height and was hang-gliding in my life, just swooping and landing wherever the wind took me and never having to think about answering to anyone, recognizing anyone, or being recognized and I could be entirely…”

“Selfish?” Mara laughed then and lifted her glass to Prue. “Way to go is what I say Prue. I salute you. I do, really. It took some courage to do what you did.” Mara lifted up her glass to Prue.

“Yes, well it didn’t come without a lot of pain upon landing but I kind of got the hang of it. Though I think it took Edward a little longer.”

“Hey, you know what? We’re just the two of us in the room. I’m in too good a mood to talk about Edward.” Mara made a silencing gesture with her hand. “Besides, you know once he figures out you’re here the phone will start ringing until we hup-ho and give him answers.”

“True.” Prue paused and looked down. “Should we bring the pitcher in here then or?” Prue smiled and pushed herself out of the low chair with some effort.

“Bring ‘er on in Prue. Pour us both another. I gotta bring in the horses now but will be back in a jiffy okay?” Mara called out to the kitchen and Prue yelled back. “Horses? I didn’t know you owned horses!”

“Yes we do and you’ll meet them all tomorrow don’t you worry. No one rides for free here, we’ll put you to work.”

The door banged behind her as she left and Prue heard her boots hit the three porch steps hard. That was Mara, thought Prue, sure of her step, no wavering or pausing or gingerly doing anything. Straight on, assured, with purposeful blinders on that filtered out what wasn’t useful or needed and kept her life one that answered to her deepest instincts.

She realized Edward was the same but his intense focus didn’t serve anyone beyond himself. It didn’t serve to deliver goodness or kindness or empathy and this was what Prue had come to realize was missing for her. She needed, more of her life spent being in service. She had no idea how she would do it but she was sure that being here, being in Mara’s world, had something to do with it.

***

Was someone calling her? Prue looked up from her book. Mara stood at the end of the drive, waving vigorously. Prue stood and letting her book fall onto the cushioned bench.

“You should come and see this!” Mara yelled, motioning excitedly for Prue to come to the paddock that was home to her many horses. Mara had long been a devoted animal lover, taking her passion into a career as a large animal veterinarian. While she may have grown up riding and jumping posh show horses, Mara preferred to work with sport horses or ‘equine athletes’ as she preferred to call them. She took a scientific approach to nursing lame horses back to health and their owners paid her well for it. She was the top vet in Australia for thoroughbred race horses and was careful about who she took on as a client. It was hard work and it consumed her.

Prue was looking beyond Mara where a sleek brown horse and elderly woman who looked like Jane Goodall, appeared to be nuzzling one another, deeply intent on some mysterious conversation only they seemed to understand.

“What is that woman doing?” Prue asked as she came alongside Mara and perched her feet on the lowest run of the fence to get a better look.

“Prue, you’ve no idea–you know me, right? Well, maybe not in the last decade much–but I know when a horse is untreatable, when there’s just no hope for it. I’ve made that call only a few times and was ready to on this handsome chap but I met this woman and she said she could turn him. He’d just become impossible for the polo field but…” Mara tapered off, staring at the horse in disbelief.

“Does he bite or something?” Prue asked.

“Oh lord, does he bite?” Mara slapped her jeans and puff of dust rose up as she did. “He bloody well kicks, bites, screams like a little angry toddler, just impossible for the rider and owners. But me thinks that last rider really made him go off–what a prick he was. “

Prue watched the woman alternate nuzzling with the horse and holding his face then laying her arms along his sides in small increments. He gave a small kick when she got near his hind quarters and she immediately went back to forehead contact and talking to the horse in what appeared to be an earnest dialogue.

Mara turned to her and smiled wide. “This horse would have bitten your face off a few weeks ago. Stunning to watch this.”

“Who is she?” Prue asked.

“Oh, why that’s my dear friend and mentor Olivia Bruselez. She’s what some might call a horse whisperer but I call her a practitioner of spiritual horsemanship. Sounds slightly less kooky, right?” Mara laughed her big open barking laugh and the horse abruptly jumped and ran out of Olivia’s embrace. Olivia looked over at Mara, shrugged and started to walk over.

“I just love her to bits.” Mara walked down the length of the fence and met Olivia at the gate. They hugged tightly and Prue felt self-conscious, as though she shouldn’t be looking then realized it was because she hadn’t been in normal life for so long she’d forgotten real friendships and what they looked like.

“Prue, Olivia, Olivia, Prue, my sister-in-law.” Mara extended a gesture to Prue and Prue shook Olivia’s hand. Olivia placed her hand over Prue’s and held it as she talked.

“This is wonderful you are here Prue. Mara’s told me lots about you. It’s really quite an incredible undertaking traveling around the world as you have been.”

“Well, thank you but it’s not quite around the world just yet. Happy to be taking a reprieve from hotels and be in a home for a change.” Prue didn’t know how to make small talk about why she was here. The story was too complicated for sound bites.

Olivia had deep-set eyes, and even deeper wrinkles. Her head was framed by gray hair that looked like a soft yellow halo in the sun. She smiled at Prue and Prue realized they were still holding hands, looking at one another. She reminded Prue of little of her grandmother and felt instantly drawn to her.

Olivia turned to Mara: “She not at all what you said she’d be Mara, she’s wonderful.”

“Olivia! Don’t poke the bee’s nest when we’ve just calmed it down, alright?” Mara scolded Olivia but not with any force behind it.

“It’s fine, really, both of you would have been right about me six months ago even. I get it.” Prue gave a resigned shake of her head and pulled her hand away from Olivia’s.

“You know, actually, I think I’m going to go in, this heat is zapping me of all my energy. “ Prue turned and walked but to the house, hoping they’d give her some space. She suddenly longed to be on the road again, alone, with no history, no husband or need to explain herself. She let the screen door bang loudly behind her and took solace in her small, quiet room at the back of the house. She was followed by her married ghost self here and she didn’t like it. But what else did she think would happen at Mara’s? Did she think that all could be forgotten so easily? Prue pulled the light sheet up to her waist and buried her face in the pillow. She let the sounds of the farm, sangria and heat eventually lull her into sleep.

***

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Books, Bras and Coming of Age

I am working on a digital story series called Summer Reads with some writers (many famous, lucky me) and I’ve asked them to write a memory piece on a book that changed their lives one summer. Then I’m going to film them reading from it. So it will be a sweet little interactive experience when I’m done with it. But my interaction designer and story partner said, ‘just send me exactly what one of the pieces will look like‘ as she is prone to do (being precise and logical).  I always forget that she isn’t wired into the pictures that appear in my head. So to that end, I wrote one myself. Enjoy.

*****

I was eleven years old when I read Judy Blume’s ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.’ It was a book my friends had read before me so I was pretty late to the Blume party and often felt self-conscious at sleepovers when quotes from the book were read out loud with a display of tween pride mixed with a nuanced air of a just blooming (no pun intended) awareness of sex.

But my house wasn’t the kind of house where you’d ever find Judy Blume. No, in my house you might find Steinbeck or Lord of the Rings or Farley Mowat or more commonly, technical manuals on how to make your own kayak, weld, or build a boat engine. Owning a Judy Blume novel would have landed me in some serious trouble in my household and so on my bike I went to the Kitsilano library. I slid the Blume between books on Ancient Egypt (I was after all doing a book report on Sphinxes) and some innocent looking P.D. James mystery books for my mom.

Nothing happened when they scanned the book. No alarms, no ‘Are you old enough for this material young lady?’ from the librarian. I was scot-free and peeled out of there on my scuffed up second-hand Raleigh straight to the beach with my literary contraband. That day under a willow tree at Jericho, I saw my own world, a secret world hidden from my parents and my nine brothers, unfold like a mirror where I could see mood for mood, experience by experience, a character just like me, even with the same name, the same internal struggles and worries and physical doubts I was having that I couldn’t share with anyone in my world.

My father had just died from a long illness and I was adrift in a home with no rules or structure or even a parent. My mom had essentially checked out. When I did get my period that year it was alone in a bathroom with no supplies and no one to tell me what to do and it was terrifying. Judy Blume’s Margaret became my surrogate sister and Judy my surrogate mother. As I flipped the pages hungrily, with french-fry and vinegar-soaked fingers staining each page, I half expected a flock of priests to descend on me from my local Catholic church and rip the book from my pre-adolescent hands but no one busted me and I read the entire book in one uninterrupted day at the beach.

That night at Sharon Bideshi’s sleepover I quoted effortlessly from the book, skimmed scented grape gloss across my lips and posed in my faded hand-me-down Queen t-shirt, and admitted I’d bought a bra by myself that didn’t quite fit. Then we all mimicked the book’s now-famous mantra and exercise ‘we must, we must, we must increase our bust‘ and I peed my pants a little laughing so hard. I’d unhinged myself from my family, the church, and perhaps even childhood. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was but it was a better place that included boys, bras and makeup. And still a little bit of God for good measure.

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