We sat in the living room of our little yellow bungalow on Patterson, whether the day was grey by nature or filter of memory, I couldn’t tell you; we were waiting for my father to come back. The house was quiet, and I sat next to my sisters on the couch, our mother across from us, elbows on her knees as she sat in her chair, preparing us. She talked about something called Parvo and how they can get it by eating poop. I was still too young to understand the process of getting sick and dying, this was the first time we had to face the truth behind our lives. The seconds blurred into minutes and suddenly, our father was home.
As he walked across the kitchen, towards our seat in the living room, he lifted the hat off his head by the brim and smoothed what little hair he had left against his head. It was a move that we became intimately familiar with—the flag in the face of danger. He sat down, and with a heavy face breathing heavy words from behind a heavy moustache, informed us that our puppy, Lilly, had died earlier that morning. She was between shots and wasn’t yet strong enough to fight off the sickness.
My dad owned a well-operating company, Caliber Well Operators, and ran it almost single-handedly for years. We left the house together and went to the truck, where he showed us the shoe-box containing the little body of our former puppy. We loaded in and drove out to one of the leases he was managing at the time, and, in the rain, dug our friend a small grave just inside the treeline.
In hindsight, the imagery is almost too perfect. It’s one of the many situations in my life that are unwritable. I could become a master at this craft, one of the world’s greatest storytellers, and there would still be things that have happened in my life that I could never even dream of. My young mother, barley in her mid-thirties, with a five, seven and a nine-year-old, bundled up and standing in the rain, as her husband, a father and a step-father, digs a grave for the corpse of the first great family test.
We had failed, but we would become stronger. We tried again when we were a little older, but again, we failed—luckily this time without a death. Dogs, it turns out, were not our thing. There is no one thing any of us could point to that defines us, but there are several things that come to mind when I think of my family. Boats and snowmobiles; the spray of snow and water and the stench of gasoline. The quote, “Perfect Movie Experience.” But, my family has always avoided definition; I believe it always will. We fail our tests, over and over again. We splinter and fight—we lose respect and faith in each other, but the love never fades. It changes shapes, it looks like rage or passive aggression, but we always circle back around.
I met a woman months ago, affected with some sort of late stage dementia. Our interaction moved me deeply, because I could see her life reflected back into her own eyes from mine. She stared at me deeply, through slightly cloudy—but ever-vibrant blue halos, searching for a memory in my face as another woman spoke for her. I preformed my duty, and when finished, I smiled and thanked her for the interaction. She was incredible; a vision of the future—the catalyst to a heavy soul of obligation, wrapped in a blanket of slow moving clouds. She touches her cheek to remember. Every time she got close to something, she touched her cheek. The left one, right at the peak of the round apple that made her so endearing.
The romantic in me travels back in time to when she was my age—long enough ago that she would have been married for years. Maybe the boy she loved when she was a child kissed her on that cheek, and as that cheek grew, that boy grew. Maybe that boy became a man, kissing a woman and stealing pecks on the cheek before trudging to work on a snowy morning or simply heading to his newspaper at the table.
I used her name as I thanked her, and she once again locked eyes with me, I said thank you one last time, and she smiled and held that cheek. The tears moved quick and I felt my face flush. The memories lost in my eyes had turned into wonder and premonition. Was she really what my future held?
My family has failed many of the tests laid out for us. We’re a house full of grief-loving addicts who will wallow until our sense of self-righteousness is destroyed; until our self-esteem is nothing. Only when our backs reach the wall, and have stayed long enough to be uncomfortable, will we allow the help. I am determined to break this cycle, to align ourselves for the coming tests, because if there truly has to be one thing to point at and define my family by, it has to be perseverance. But, it’s not the Hollywood, or even Facebook style of perseverance that we’re used to. It’s the real kind. The kind that involves whining, complaining and feeling sorry for yourself—all the while picking your shit up off the floor and making yourself right.
I’m terrified to get help for my mental health issues because I’m scared I won’t be able to write if I'm happy. This is one of the best times I’ve had writing in a long while, but I’m starting to think that it’s because I’m in the pit again. When I’m depressed, it’s easy to think a lot about a single subject. It’s easy to sit here and spew words at the page until it resembles something. What not easy about it is literally everything else. I had a sour interaction at work that managed to sour me for an entire day and my mood hasn’t really bounced back.
That’s just the surface, though. This morning, Steph and I had a fight, that once resolved, left me with the impression that I am highly paranoid about expectations. The paranoia drives me to act in a way that under serves my own personality and builds a silent resentment towards my family and friends. I thought I had my issues in line, but I was wrong. I’ve mainly been wrong when I think I’m “okay,” and I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can get over myself and make a phone call.
I’ve woken up sobbing twice this week, and that’s not right. I’m working towards something with a real future, and for the first time in my entire life, can I picture myself above age forty. On paper, this should be a happy time for me, but I wake up sobbing, I wake up angry. I literally tear my clothes off me in a rage as I wake up to temporary circumstances that I feel weighing me down. I feel closer to suicide than I ever have, the self-harm is alarmingly unconcious in moments of crisis. Yet, in the midst of all of this—this mess that clouds my head for hot minutes at a time, I’m lucid. I’m anchored by the possibility of a career, and will fight tooth and nail to obtain it, and that’s given me clarity. I can see how it affects me, I can see how it affects Steph, I have premonitions of how things could go sour on a moment by moment basis now, and it’s a gift.
I’m not kind to my wife; she doesn’t deserve this, and I don’t deserve her—not as the man I have sunken into. I’m better than this, and I need the help to get back to where I was. I have to make that phone call. I owe it to the woman who can go toe to toe with this mess that I’ve brought into the world with me to make a phone call and help myself. I have finally found personal value, I see what others see for the first time—it scares me, but it feels great. For the first time, I think I actually like myself. That’s kind of a big deal, and I'd like to hang on to this feeling.
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.