Thu 7 May 2009
every year on the 30th of April, Dave’s parents set the lobster traps. out to sea, to open the season.
some part of me finds this fitting, that this day is also the date of Finn’s death. blood inheritance and heritage and salt water all swirl around incoherently in my imagination, making me wish i could cobble an Alistair MacLeod story out of it all, set the bones of the frame, tidal and unforgiving, around what is not there.
this year, we went to New Brunswick for the opening of the season. Dave went out with his father, the small boat loaded down with traps and bouncing in the whitecaps. the kids and i watched on the beach; i buttered toast for the return to shore. i am useful that way.
Dave and i met on that beach behind his house, almost thirteen years ago. we thought we’d like bring some of Finn’s ashes to the beach…and scatter them on the first day of the season, four years to the day of his death.
except i, uh, forgot them.
huh. one gets used to things…to a white ceramic urn that sits at the back of the dresser top, to packing the car with suitcases and diapers and snacks and videos and wet weather clothing and asthma meds and plastic in case of puking. one does not normally trot about on family vacations with an urn. the two do not relate.
and so Finn got left behind. i realized my mistake about two hours into the drive, halfway there. and i felt simultaneously ill – wracked with guilt – and wryly bemused – wracked with laughter. what kind of mother forgets her child? i whispered over and over in my head, first in lament, then with the increasing mania of a dawning joke, until the contorted expression on my face caused Dave to turn his head and stare. we forgot one of the kids, i nearly quipped, but caught myself. our skins have thickened, mine and his, over the metaphorical holes in our hearts, but there are places where there are still thin patches. one does not want to stick a foot through.
i wrote his name, instead, in the sand on that gravelly beach, that night when the other two were safe in bed and watched over by grandparents. Dave & i took some wine down to the beach, our bodies bundled up against the bone chill of the night, and we sat and watched the sun go down over the Gaspé Peninsula and there was driftwood and the smell of the tides in the air and we were peaceful.
and the dead child, he did not mind. that is the thing about the dead, the gift they give in the end when the life’s blood of sorrowing is finally bled out and you realize that they are still there with you, in their way. what remains is steeped in forgiveness.
so the little urn still sits upstairs, some of its contents under the trees in the backyard, the rest waiting until we are ready – or just, erm, smart enough – to remember to bring them with us some lobster season. maybe next year.
in other news, i – lifelong disdainer of seafood, and shame to my Maritime roots – was the one who managed to convince Oscar to try some lobster the next day at lunch.
Oscar has been an adorer of lobster – in their living, tank-swimming form at the local Superstore – for some time. i don’t know how it started…but every time we’ve gone grocery shopping together for months now, he’s clamoured to go see the “los-bter.” he waves, and they sit there prehistoric and piled up on each other pitifully, and i cringe even if their brains are the size of peas and he calls out joyously “bye bye los-bter!” and we roll away. i tell him it’s Seaworld. it’s as close as he’s getting.
but Shamu is unlikely to magically show up on his plate, fished by his beloved grandparents. so when he turned up his nose at the morsel in front of him that lunchtime, we all hesitated a little, unsure whether his rejection was just the usual toddler turndown of anything new and non-cupcake-related, or a far more complex emotional quandary surrounding the eating of his fun marine friends.
i told him lobster was good with butter.
he downed most of a claw, dipped in hot gold goodness, and wanted more. so much for the fun marine friends. though we have yet to return to Seaworld the grocery store since our homecoming…i wonder if the los-bter will retain their in-tank crustacean charms?
while we were in NB, an old friend and colleague from our Korea days dug up a video of Dave and i rehearsing a two- person play we later performed at one of the local expat poetry slams. i’d never seen the footage, had forgotten it had even been taken. me, platinum blonde, spiky-haired, smoking, Dave without sideburns, both of us lighter. perched awkwardly in the big wooden chairs of the bar i liked to call my “living room” in that strange, liver-rotting year…familiar chairs, obviously, but ill-suited to the frenetic body shifts blocked by our director. i resemble wooly-headed insect, all limbs and corners and bravado and unladylike postures; Dave a comic study in intensities. we play out scenes of courtship and bawdy humour, alternatingly awful and amazingly connected, we who had been friends almost five years and had started sleeping with each other only weeks before in that far-away land where we were both so unmoored. time capsule, June 2001.
the video confirmed two things. one, that Academy Award acceptance speech of my dreams? i don’t think i need to worry too much about polishing it. i am the twitchiest, most physically unnatural creature ever to grace a stage. i need confine future acting aspirations to voiceovers. two, i was not that much better-looking when i was thinner. so there, muffin-top. take that.
it’s been eight years for he and i, now. our anniversary the other night coincided with the unfortunate splash of my IWK “news” all over the local media in a manner that pandered to the cheap stereotypes of “grieving mother complains” and brought the best of the trolls out from under their rocks. it was ugly, and distinctly unromantic. the fact that my radio interview even got picked up by the news cycle was a shock to my naive ass, o lesson learned, and the shoddy and inflammatory way in which the story was misrepresented disappointed me immensely. but Dave, chivalrous internet knight, had my back with tweets and emails to the troops…and with support from many of you and me repeatedly stating my actual position in the comments section, by yesterday afternoon i had a direct apology from one of the trolliest trolls and the tide had utterly turned. a small victory, i think, of social media over mass.
the issue of how the story was taken up in the first place is something i’m addressing with CBC. in the interview broadcast i made it clear that i was actually in a good place, giving me the strength to address the issue and risk exposing myself as a bereaved person, which is always draining because there is no comfortable cultural place for the narrative of child loss. but the story pulled from the interview immediately recast me, and then used the headline term “complains” to represent what i had hoped was a constructive and respectful point. such is the discourse around motherhood, unfortunately, and so go headlines. but, as i said to CBC, if anything related to a supposedly grieving mother making a point consistently gets reduced to a story that sounds like someone playing victim, then comments will be vicious, the discourse about language being important will never get anywhere, and people will clam up for fear of being attacked at their most vulnerable.
i do not want a public apology or anything, though. i’m too afraid of the trolls that would drag out of the pond bottom.
in terms of the story that should have been told if indeed the interview even warranted clipping into a newsbyte, the IWK Foundation has been admirable and prompt and open in their response to me, and ultimately we’ll be sitting down together next month to try to work towards a positive fundraising strategy that respects all the families served by the IWK. the CEO of the Foundation, the Mr. Shaw to whom my letter was directed, also lost an infant daughter at birth. her dates almost coincide with Finn’s. i am grateful to him and his staff for being willing to give the issue of language and wording their attention, and for being gracious enough to include me in the process.
now i just need to keep thickening that skin of mine.