The end of March marked 6 years since I woke up from a coma. On the evening I came to, there was a sign at the end of my bed that said ‘Today is March 31, it is sunny outside, you are at Guelph General Hospital’
I immediately and simultaneously thought 3 things:
1- What the fuuuuuuuuuccckkkkkkk
2-Water. Dear God. Water. Please. No coherence. Will never ask for anything ever again. Dying. Give me water. Only water (hours later I was offered a disgusting faux-mint moistened swab to quench a two month thirst).
And 3-I cannot BELIEVE I have missed out on being able to play the world’s BEST April Fools joke by ONE FREAKING DAY
Okay, jokes aside, my post-coma year in 2011 was one of the worst periods of my life. When I finally was discharged from the rehab hospital, I had nowhere to live, was too sick to work, had a goddamn tracheotomy tube sticking out of my neck, a brain injury and was in a painful haze from being weaned down off a boatload of fentanyl. I could barely talk or walk. You know that cliché about when things go to hell you find out who your true friends are? It’s an unfortunate truth. The guy I had been casually seeing for months met another girl while I was having my big nap. A bunch of my friends bailed on me. My body, my mind, my relationships, my heart- everything hurt. To be clear, this isn’t a ploy to air my grievances with those who I felt abandoned me, not at all. People, particularly people in their mid twenties, are not always emotionally equipped to deal with a friend with critical illness and the grapple with mortality that comes along with it. I harbour resentment towards no one and I bring it up only to illustrate what it was like for me at the time. As anyone who has had their health taken away from them can tell you, the road to recovery isn’t just about your physical health, it is multi-faceted, long and overwhelming.
One particularly bad night about week after I went ‘home’, I laid awake in bed in a friends spare room, my possessions piled around me in boxes, staring at the ceiling, trying to figure my life out. I was mentally in such a dark place, I didn’t know where to start or how to do it. Then a song I had never heard came on my spotify that had been playing randomly in the background that straight up saved me from giving up. You hear emo kids say trite things like ‘music saves lives’ all the time, but for me it was really true that night. I needed that exact song so bad in that moment. It was William Fitzsimmons ‘Beautiful girl’ and I listened to him sing ‘girl you will get better, you will get better’ over and over and in that moment, for the first time since getting sick months before- I believed it.
A couple years ago I ended up working merch for William at his Toronto show and I got to tell him that story. When he went on stage and started playing that song, I watched in wonder at how far I had come from that sick person clutching her stomach on that bed. I only recorded this short clip towards the end because cause I was so caught up in the moment but here it is below, along with the full song. I keep it on my phone and still watch it when things are hard.
At the risk of adding to the faux inspirational garbage that saturates the internet: Wherever you are in life right now, no matter how daunting the road ahead of you seems, however far you need to go- you can get there.
Thanks to William for writing this song and telling me that I would get better.
It worked. I did.
Victoria is in full bloom right now, it’s basically a cotton candy dream around these parts. Here are a few photos of my dear friend Rachel and I playing in the cherry blossoms.
Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.
You are like nobody since I love you. Let me spread you out among yellow garlands. Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south? Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.
Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window. The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish. Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them. The rain takes off her clothes.
The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind. I can contend only against the power of men. The storm whirls dark leaves and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.
You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry. Cling to me as though you were frightened. Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.
Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle, and even your breasts smell of it. While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth
How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running. So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes, and over our heads the gray light unwind in turning fans.
My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
In spite of the fact that my mother has been gone for 23 years, I wish I could be one of those people filled with divine peace about Mother’s Day, one that could commemorate her life and legacy with nothing but serenity every May.
But I look around at everyone celebrating and I’m suddenly that pissed off little kid in the 4th grade being forced to make a Mother’s Day craft. I try and practice good self-care (my friend Ashley has a great post here on tips for the Motherless on Mother’s Day), and be kind to myself. I usually spend the day reaching out to friends who are also alone today; we are all members of this same crappy club that no one wants to be in. Now that several of my friends have lost their own mothers, the internet is awash with tributes to them. Going online today is like trying to dodge landmines.
I woke up so hopeful that this year’s celebration of Motherhood would finally be just another day. By 11am I had dissolved into tears reading Jason Najum’s ‘Remembering my Mother‘ piece on the HuffPo. I read so many beautiful words online today about incredible ladies, there is truly a tribe of the motherless out there now, making sure the world doesn’t forget about the women who brought us here. Many of my friends have recently become new mothers, a development that I am both in awe of and terrified of, equally. I watch their serene devotion to their children and feel humbled and excited to one day be in their shoes, to get to know my mother through being a mother myself someday. I read all their posts about their first Mother’s Day and how they finally know their purpose and calling and immediately became irrationally upset. I cried to my boyfriend, at first trying to be funny: ‘This is bullshit! How come so-and-so gets to be a mother and have a mother?! That’s just greedy!’ Before long, I was a sobbing mess, so angry at myself for not getting through the day without turning into a basketcase. ‘I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I?’ I asked him through tears, ‘My mother has been gone longer than she was in my life, what the fuck am I crying for- I barely remember her!!’
What a dumb thing to say, what a lie. I couldn’t forget her entirely if I tried. She is everywhere, and I don’t mean she is the rain and the sun and in the rustling wind and all those other silly platitudes people spout. She is somewhere much more tangible than that. She is on my bookshelves, she’s the reason I am kind to strangers, she is my small shoulders and long nails. She is why I can read 1500 words a minute and know the words to every Roxette song. She is still here in many ways and every year on this day I remember her by writing about her. Here is one of my favorite pieces from Mother’s Day 2012:
May 10, 2012
I should have went and got groceries yesterday. I should’ve rallied myself after the 14 hour journey to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, which was comprised of a 2 hour drive to the airport in Buffalo, 8 hours of planes and a 4 hour drive back down winding roads. I should’ve turned down the dinner invitation from my friend Kyle, should not have spent the precious 2 hours left in my reserve of energy eating Mexican with him and his friends, locals who are all mechanics and hydro workers, men who have permanent grease under their fingernails and refer to me only as ‘Canada’.
If I had just went and got groceries yesterday I would not have spent today being exposed to the never-ending siege that occurs on Mothers Day. The day when it seems the entire world celebrates what I don’t have, the only thing in the world I can’t find or meet or buy myself. At lunch, the waitress tries to talk me into the special, a chicken cordon blue sandwich ‘inspired by mom’. If I had went to get sustenance the day before as planned, I would have been able to just hide in my oceanfront cabin, the one I rented expressly for the purpose of hiding out from the world for a few days to write and be alone in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
But I didn’t, so it was off to the grocery store to stock my little kitchenette. Forks is home to 3500 people, and the grocery store comprises a traditional grocery and hardware/outdoor outfitters shop, to save time in the event you want a garden hose, some overalls and a pint of milk. Today, it is my personal hell. Even fertilizer is on sale to honor Mom. Everyone in here has flowers in their cart, pink and lavender cards tucked in between plump hams to make dinner for their giver of life. Me? I’ve got mangoes and vegetable crackers. The stuff best eaten alone, over a sink.
Women in here walk proudly down the aisle, everywhere they go today they are reminded of their achievements in procreation. They all recognize each other and say ‘Happy Mothers Day’ over the displays of teddy bears and balloons. These women purposefully pick out their groceries; they scrutinize melons and load up family size boxes of foodstuffs according to their children’s age and preferences. I follow one woman around the store who has an overflowing cart of child-sized snacks and a ring with different colored birthstones; this is obviously someone’s mother. She walks with a sort of serenity that I don’t know if I will ever have. It looks like she knows her purpose, even if it’s just to buy snacks and braid hair and kiss scraped knees.
I hit the check out after wandering aimlessly for an hour, and decide at the last minute to buy a 59 cent red carnation. It looks so lonely and hopeful and I decide I will bring it to the ocean. I would have preferred a red rose, her favorite, but I can’t really be that choosy an hour before closing on the most popular day of the year to buy flowers. The teen clerk loads up a big paper bag of my purchases and hands me the flower, carefully, like she is about to ask me to the dance. I take itand walk out of the store, proud of my decision to do something symbolic outside of my usual yearly tradition of bring angry and hiding in my apartment.
Just outside the store there is a huge native man. He wears a grey tracksuit, and has a shiny, jet-black braid that hangs to the middle of his back. His chest is expansive, kind of like bitch tits Bob from ‘Fight club’. Tribal tattoos dot his upper forearm and his skin is the color of burnt butterscotch. He doesn’t intimidate me like some of the other men out at the reserve where I am staying, his huge size seems protective as opposed to scary. He spots my hopeful flower and me and calls out ‘Happy Mothers Day, especially if you’re a Mother!!!!’ and shoots me a wide, toothy grin. I almost lose it right there. I want to shout at him ‘ACTUALLY, I DONT HAVE A MOTHER SO DON’T ASSUME THINGS!’ I want to dissolve into his huge caramel arms, collapse into his bosom and have him stroke my hair and tell me I will be okay. I just know he would comfort me and have some sort of wisdom on how to heal a 20 year old broken heart and I’m certain he would smell like leather and pipe tobacco.
But I just smile at him and walk to my car, will myself to drive back to the ocean and be miserable in peace without fantasizing about paternal-type comfort from big Indians. When I get back I put on my rain gear and grab my flower and head down the short path to the ocean. I watch the swell and waves for a while, take a picture of the carnation resting on the sand, and think of my mother. Finally, I walk a little toward the tide and throw the flower as hard as I can. But the head of the flower is so much heavier than the stem, and since I am holding the end of it when the wind comes in, a part of the bottom breaks off. I pick it up and try again and it finally hits the water and disappears below the angry white water. I watch its red petals bob up and down a few times and then come swishing back out, landing about 10 feet from mine. I retrieve it and try again, but it comes back again. I keep trying and trying, getting madder each time. DO YOU NOT WANT MY FLOWER, MOTHER?! I want to yell. I MISS YOU SO MUCH AND I’M SO SORRY THAT ALL YOURE GETTING FOR MOTHERS DAY IS A 59 CENT CARNATION THAT IS BECOMING MORE RAGGED WITH EVERY ATTEMPT. I AM AWARE THIS IS NOT A FLOWER THAT IS BECOMING OF WHO YOU ARE OR IN LINE WITH WHAT YOU DESERVE.
Finally, I give up. There are hot, angry tears are streaming down my face and the cold rain and wind are turning my cheeks to stinging red. I leave the flower sitting where it came back the last time at the edge of the surf between two shiny rocks dyed bone china white from the constant salt. I stalk off, angry at myself for trying, angry at my mother, angry at the rain, the ocean, and the world.
I get to a piece of driftwood and sit down and try to not freak out and collect my thoughts, my back to the traitor body of water that won’t accept my offering. I end up thinking of Stephanie Ratza. When I was a kid, after my mom died, a couple of her friends would take turns taking me on outings. They were well meaning, but I always took them as pitying. However, they usually ended up being afternoons of them buying me things, so I ended up welcoming them. Once, her friend Stephanie Ratza asked me ‘Do you miss your mom?’and I quickly and defiantly answered ‘No!’ for I was already full into my ‘I am so tough that I do not need a mother’ phase. Already at 8 I was not okay with vulnerability, I had a father that was falling apart, I had to be a stoic rock.
As I sat on that driftwood I thought of Stephanie Ratza and how I am stillafraid to miss my mother sometimes. I mean, as much as I’ve practiced it over the years, its not entirely true that you can’t celebrate Mother’s Day if you’re mother is not here. I mean, I DO have a mother. I got here, didn’t I? She is no longer here in front of me and I can’t ask her for advice on clothes or love or how to iron linen safely, but that doesn’t really mean that she doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s all people really want when they miss someone who has died. They just want them acknowledged; they don’t want people to forget someone so integral to their being existed. Just because my mother can’t meet my new boyfriend or like my new haircut doesn’t make the fact that she was here any less real.
I have a mother. Her name was Palma. She liked red roses and Bruce Springsteen and long nails and short hair. She was kind to everyone and she is still the most beautiful person I have ever seen up close. She smelled like vanilla mist, had the faintest accent when she pronounced her ‘B’s and was so wonderful that 20 years later I am only now beginning to understand what it means to lose her. If I saw that Stephanie Ratza tomorrow and she asked me again if I missed my mother, I would say without hesitation, ‘Everyday’.
When I finally got up and looked back, the carnation was gone.
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The end of March marked 6 years since I woke up from a coma. On the evening I came to, there was a sign at the end of my bed that said
‘Today is March 31, it is sunny outside, you are at Guelph General Hospital’
I immediately and simultaneously thought 3 things: