I Fell Down

“How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise – the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream – be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book – to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.”

The introduction to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row is wondrous. Reading that first page as a fifteen year old girl, the effect on me then, and still, is the same…

When last we left me, it was one full year ago, and I was living in my little home beneath the tall firs that rose above it. I could not speak my stories that Spring and the Summer that followed. Things had quieted me down to mute. I was preparing for my leavetaking of the Shed, and Fort Langley. And with the Fall’s approach, the spiders began again to make their presence known. They were looking for a mate. When a male detects signs of a female nearby he checks whether she is of the same species. Laying in bed at night reading my book I sensed movement out of the corner of my eye. Bounding towards me was the biggest, hairiest fellow yet. Did anyone hear that scream? I had to laugh. I flicked my arm so wildly, (I sounded so demented), and off he ran towards the side of the bed. As he jumped, his purple cape billowed out behind him and I heard the sound of numerous little boots hit the floor. Oh my, there’d be no sleep tonight. Where was he hiding? Exactly where was he reconfiguring his position so that he could run at me again?

There were three of us, best friends; Garry and Roland and me. I would be walked home to my parents’ house by eleven, and Roland and Garry would turn around and head back across Niagara Falls to their apartment on the other side of the tracks. It was a shanty, just off River Road. They told me about the rats they saw rustling through the cans in the dark alleys, then disappearing over the old stone walls that lined the embankment. Diving down through the bushes and trees of the escarpment towards the river. They both swore that one night they were terrorized and held hostage in their own kitchen. Huddled up off the floor on chairs against the wall, they tried to stay out of the way of two large rats that had taken over their apartment for a meeting. The rats wore plaid lumberjack shirts, one green, one red, and they stayed for hours. Later, when my friends described the incident, I looked beyond the pot smoking. I saw how shaken they were, and I believed them. Seeing with my own eyes the hairy little hustler that made a move on me, reminded me of Garry and Roland’s misadventure. Another aggressive species attempting to camouflage themselves, also with poor taste in clothes. Even in the dim light on my bed I could see that the purple sheen of the spider’s cape was very eighties disco.

I eluded that spider all night and by dawn I was victor. No details. I was definitely not going to miss spider season in the Shed.

Let’s skip ahead (if only figuratively). I landed in the west end of Vancouver, only blocks from English Bay and the mighty green of Stanley Park. The sun seemed to imbue the whole month of September with the colour of gold. My friend Roslyn bought a home just up the street from where I was house sitting, and we giddily created our modest little bucket list. (Neighbours at last!) Spontaneous invitations to walk, crepes off the cart, sitting on a bench with fish & chips, two beers on the beach at sunset time; seemed so idyllic. I was asked to help a friend’s friend with his memoir and the next six weeks whirled by with another round of projects.

But for all the lightheartedness things had weighed me down. There had been so much work to do. I had lifted and hauled, purged and divvied all of my possessions down to one last pile. My significant treasures, but mostly books, were delivered to my friend’s basement; stored at Cathy’s for my future home. I felt compelled to stay on my path of lightening up my worldly load. I liked that Jonah had my bookcases and the family table, that Sarah and Adi got my bed. The manuscript was finished, my rolly suitcase packed. I arrived at Roslyn’s door on Halloween night to stay for a few days of fun before at last, at last, heading south to Texas.

It was not to be. I fell down. Completely stopped. I was going nowhere.

In the months that followed my friends and I have talked a lot about illness. It’s been a humbling experience realizing (living it), that I, that no one, is exempt. The irony of the conditions that have un-abled me, does not escape me. While I have determined to become lighter, while I have thrown everything overboard in acts of generosity and intentions to be free, I lost my anchor and my ballast with a double whammy that literally slammed me down to earth.

Last week I sat in the window of a coffee shop with my friend Brent. We watched the world rush by. I said, “What is it about my neck? The little butterfly in front is crushed and struggling (thyroid), and inside at the back the crystals are out of whack (vertigo). I seriously think that I was strangled in another life.” He looked at me and said, “You were guillotined. You were a young, male aristocrat in the French Revolution accused of collaborating.” My neck hurts. I believe him. I once phoned Brent from an old phone booth in the parking lot of the IGA. I’d arrived early for work at the bookstore. (Oh bright and shiny morning in a sleepy little village; I’d felt a surge of happiness.) We were catching up when suddenly he said that he’d just had a vision of me crouched beside a fire under the biggest, blackest night sky. I was a good looking man with really white teeth. He said I lived a solitary life working outside. By choice, at peace. I often recall that picture that Brent re-created. It ignites in me still an upswell of inordinate joy. Brent, my looking-backwards-through-time-and-space auger (who also makes me laugh (nice touch with the teeth)), I believe you. Some things just feel familiar, and true.

“If you cling to the edge of the wheel you can get dizzy. Move toward the center of the cyclone and relax, knowing that this too will pass.”

November crawling, December staggering. January back down. February sitting, March walking. The Buddhists say that if you are pointing in the right direction, keep going. Good advice. In the bloom and bud of April, I am looking inward waiting. I know my compass will stop spinning soon. I have donned my Superwoman costume (tattered, knock off) and the S will stand for story. Talking tough, I am back.

Good Life

2 Responses to “I Fell Down”

  1. neil says:

    good to see the superwoman costume is finally seeing the light of day 🙂

  2. Cylia says:

    Good to see you writing again and on the mend, love, cylia

    Tea and dessert soon, I hope.

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