This past weekend I went back for a visit to the Kootenays. In Nelson on Saturday, I took my brother out for lunch.
Where do you want to go?
What do you want to want to eat?
And onion rings?
Jimmy is bowling this afternoon. I like watching him bowl. He knows when it’s his turn which may seem simple until one of his enthusiastic companions holding a bowling ball is leaping up and down in the way of Jimmy bowling his last ball.
My brother throws/rolls the ball like it’s a discus. It doesn’t matter if all three are gutter balls, or one pin falls, when he turns around his game face is a satisfied expression of getting the job done.
But today is too gorgeous to be inside a dim and noisy bowling alley. And I’ve got monkey mind. Thoughts are whirling; nothing too disturbing but it’s messing me up. I need to hit pause and catch my breath, organize myself. I drive with no destination until the end of Vernon Street. The road veers around a sharp rising mountain of rock, moss and trees, no sidewalk but a woman with a contented smile and partially closed eyes pushes a baby stroller up the hill. This is Nelson.
My first kiss was in the bushes up at Gyro Park. We sat on the bank with Nelson spread out below us. It was sloppy. I doubt the boy owned a tooth brush. Parking beside two vehicles I walk for a bit and find a solitary bench facing the yellow autumn sun. My back settles against the warm wood.
I’ve been reading about meditation. Meditation 15 Minutes To A Stress Free Life by Nathan Farrelly and The Zen Path Through Depression by Philip Martin. I sit and focus on the air filling my lungs, lifting my chest and then breathing out. It makes me yawn and stretch. Fall sunshine is soft against my closed eyes.
Thoughts form and slide by, like fish angling for my hook but a quote I’ve read helps: Thoughts will come but don’t invite them to stay for tea. So, I let them flow by, ignoring the urge to grab onto the merry go round and go for a spin. Nope. I’m going to sit here and let my head rest. And I do. For about 30 seconds.
I hear voices. Automatically my eyes open. An older couple, off to one side, their backs turned are discussing the plants and trees. They admire the varying shades of burnished orange and yellow foliage. In seconds I’m engrossed in one of my favorite pass-times of people watching. After Nicholas died I watched children with an intensity (Oh if wishes came true!) that Ian was unnerved by it and said a person might misconstrue the desperate and hungry look in my eyes.
See how my mind wanders?
I stand up, done with meditating. But I’m better. Really. That few seconds of putting on the brakes and resting my head worked. And it will come easier as I practice. Some of my best creative impulses come after one of these sessions. I absolutely know what I’m now doing. I begin to drive along the north shore beside the Kootenay Lake.
In 1970 my family lived in a trailer park on the lower six mile road. Dad planted a willow tree in our front yard. The trailer eventually melted and has been long gone. Last year I saw that the tree is also gone. My sister and I would swing from its long ropey branches. It hurt more to see the tree gone than the trailer. Who cuts down a tree?
I was nine years old and for seven years rode my bicycle along our north shore back road over the bridges covering the two creeks and to the beach to play in the sand and swim in the icy Kootenay Lake. It’s been 30 plus years since I went to the beach, but my hands turn the wheels onto the leaf covered dirt road, past an entrance that isn’t marked. Thank God because this beach is a secret gem.
In the wee hours after Nicholas’ blood pressure dropped to his boots I took Frankie back to the Ronald McDonald House. Tomorrow, he turns 15. This morning, after less than 3 hours of sleep, he’s back in Alberta Children’s Hospital, thick, almost curly hair rumpled, his young face tired and not in the way a teenager is tired from late nights playing video games or hanging out watching movies with friends, but tired in the way of being heart – sick. FH has been snoozing beside Nick’s bed. He picks his head up off the arm of the chair and groans with a cramp in his neck. Sleepily he says Nick is out of danger. His blood pressure is improving.
Legs turn to rubber and I sit down hard. The realization that Nicholas is dying is a metal stake inch by inch, being driven into my heart. Auntie Betty Anne arrives before the breakfast trays. We are moths drawn to her light. She takes Frankie away for lunch. For a while in the afternoon she sits with Nick and makes him giggle. She doesn’t go back to Strathmore and insists that she stay the night with Nicholas. He beams. FH and I fall asleep holding each other.
September 23, 1999
Happy 15th Birthday Frankie.
For my dear dead mother, in all honesty for myself, and for my son Nicholas who said No at first but then said Yes for me and because he has no idea what this is about, I had him baptized today.
Gerry, our friend and ex neighbor who taught my boys to operate his backhoe, arrived in the early morning. He was clean shaven and wore a pressed shirt and slacks.
“I’d be honored,” he said when I asked him to be Nick’s Godfather.
I found an elderly Catholic priest who amid my stuttering request on a telephone immediately put me at ease and said he’d come as soon I wanted him to.
The priest with holy water gently made the sign of the cross on Nick’s forehead. Nicholas was awake, but other than saying hello to the priest, he kept his eyes closed. In a soft voice with a slight accent the priest told Nicholas that God loves him and that He welcomes Nicholas into His Kingdom. I believe God would let Nicholas into His Kingdom regardless of being baptized or not. Somewhere, my mother now knows that too.
He placed a little wooden crucifix around Nicholas’ neck.
FH at first argued with me. He doesn’t believe in a God who could stand by and let little children suffer. Since he was 9 years old and his father died he’s had a hate on for God. Going to church with my parents was torture. The odd time I felt a sense of something sweet and peaceful while sitting on a hard wooden bench between my parents has never left me. I’ve taken the boys to a catholic mass a few times. They both were bored to tears, and like me, didn’t understand the ceremony. On my own I’ve gone to other churches and attempted to re-discover that flittering sense of peace I vaguely remember.
Today, on Frankie’s 15th birthday, himself baptized as a baby with my proud and approving parents in attendance, I gave Nicholas and his fate to God. What will be, will be. This feeling of complete helplessness since cancer stepped into our lives has driven me half mad. I have to prepare for the worst. Now, God HAS to listen. He MUST be watching this day and we need a miracle!
What’s that saying? … Oh yeah, “God works in mysterious ways.” After the last 24 hours the timing is perfect because we’re all humming along like a well – tuned engine in perfected survival mode. Yes. I can handle this, although at times, the buzzing inside my ears drowns out the noise in the room. Dr. Anderson himself came to say the leukemia has breached the spinal fluid. The next breach would be the brain barrier. Nicky M died with clusters of leukemic cells surrounding his brain.
Tonight, though, is Frankie’s 15th birthday party. Bless his sweet, giving nature and heart. My sister and her family arrive bearing a decadent chocolate cake. Nicholas looks on with interest as Frankie rips the wrapping paper off gifts. We laugh and sing Happy Birthday dear Frankie. And we count our blessings.