Wednesday, July 27, 2005

"If they give you ruled paper, write the other way" - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Wednesday: a Micro-Story

He lays with the sheet twisted about his waist, palms pressed against his naked chest as it gently rises and falls, long lashes resting peacefully on his cheeks. I adore him in dark silence. My 4am indulgence makes for a golden day.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Christine and The Massage

When Christine would arrive in my house, she was nothing if not polite. She would remove her Barbie back pack, and her Care Bears fanny pack, and her velcro running shoes, always in that order. Then she would tell me that she was very, very thirsty, and that she hoped I had lots of drinks made for her, with ice, because "you know how much I love your ice here!"

And then she would do some sort of armpit-sniffing ritual that you would think would be to detect odour, and yet, though she often had a stunning odour about her, it never got noticed in the sniff test. But often her clothes would be drenched right through, just from the short walk from our driveway to the door, and if that was the case, she would ask to borrow clothes.

Now, you may remember that Christine is a 300lb woman, but people who have known Christine tell me that this number is a bit too generous. A more accurate number may cause you to round up another, oh, say 100lbs, but this still doesn't do her justice. I am all for a chubby woman. I like meat. But Christine was not a chubby woman. She just did not wear her weight well, I'm afraid. She just didn't fit in her body at all. At any rate, she knew better than to think that she and I could possibly share t-shirts, so she would ask to borrow one of Jason's. Poor, poor Jason. He always looked like a deer caught in the headlights when Christine started barking orders. Jason lives with me, so he's forgotten how to say No to a woman. But with Christine, that word is imperative. You need to keep it handy. Jason would look at me frantically, searching for an answer, the right answer, and I would be generous with my Nos.

Now usually I would give her a towel to dry herself with, and we'd prop her in front of the air conditioner for a moment or two, just to do away with the excess moisture before she plopped down on our furniture. Christine was not particularly fond of the word No (although frankly, what woman is?), so she would use it as a bargaining tool. If she couldn't have X, then surely we would not deny her Y.

With Christine, you always got an exercise in deny, deny, deny. She must have thought we were no fun at all: no I wouldn't pluck her eyebrow, no I wouldn't give her piggy back rides, no she couldn't take home random contents of my home to keep. She got smart to my pattern of denial, and so she went to Jason, and she went straight for the jugular:

"Hey Jason...give me a massage!"

Honestly, I thought he was going to faint dead away. But he stayed conscious, so I'll give him that much. But, he did turn green, and he did run to hide behind me.

I sat with Christine and explained to her that Jason was not allowed to massage her "because husbands and wives are only allowed to massage each other." She nodded at that. Seemed to think it was reasonable. Phew. Dodged a bullet with that one. But that's me, quick on my feet, I am. You have to be with Christine around.

Anyhow, her attention was easily diverted because the very next week was a big occasion for her and I: I would be graduating from University, and my mother and sisters were coming up for a dinner afterwards to celebrate. You cannot imagine how excited Christine was to meet them. Every day we would walk to all the framed pictures of my family in the house, and we would point to each one, name them, and say something clever about them. She was determined to "make a good impression" on them.

So the big day finally arrives. My Mom arrives, with a good friend of the family, Joan, and my oldest little sister Shirley, and her boyfriend Dave, and my 2 other sisters, Curly, and Blondie. A whole big group. And we sit around chatting while we wait for Christine to make her grand entrance. I prepare them for her eccentricities. My Mom is amused; she works with special needs children, and has loved the Christine stories I have related. Joan is up for the challenge; she's a visiting nurse who has met a few characters in her day. The rest of the group is apprehensive. The two youngest sisters tend to be shy with "normal" people. But they don't have to worry, because the appointed time has come and gone, and no Christine.

I call her house, all concerned, and inquire as to her whereabouts. Oh, Christine is still at home, I'm told. She's playing Barbies. I tell her that's too bad, but since she's an hour away by bus, I guess she won't be able to make it after all. The food is ready to go. I'm not waiting for Christine. She's supposed to be learning responsibility, and consequences for her actions, and really, this is my day. But Christine starts to cry. And cry. And cry. So Jason kindly goes to get her by car, and she arrives monumentally sweaty and flustered, eager to meet everyone, and impress them with her knowledge of them.

Christine is nothing if not entertaining during dinner. She is flanked by my mother and Joan, who marvel at her appetite. She sucks down the shrimp appetizer and looks around her, eager to snatch spare ones from other people's plates. My sisters sit shakily on the opposite end of the table, eyes as big as saucers as Christine regales us all with tales of summer camp - "My favourite strict rule is, no girls showering with boys!" she tells us. Yes, yes, we agree, that is indeed a great rule.

And then she takes her pills, and passes out on the couch for a while, and everyone watches her snore up a storm. When she wakes, she is hungry again, or still. She has eaten me practically out of house and home, but she's ready for 3 or 4 slices of cheesecake, she tells us, and anything else I might have on hand for dessert.

Then she looks around the room, and her gaze lands on the person she knows least about, Dave, the boyfriend. "Hey you" she commands, "give me a massage!"

Dave is not as brave as Jason. He doesn't faint, not quite, but we have to ply him with cold drinks and fan him with throw pillows to prevent it.

"Christine," I say, "remember about the rule?"

Oh she hasn't forgotten, she assures us. "But they're not married" she points out, and it's true. Christine has found a loophole. Luckily she grudgingly agrees that boyfriends and girlfriends are kind of like married people, and so Dave is exempt.

Jason piles her into the van. She is making groaning noises, and is not looking well. "I told you you ate too much" I tell her, and she only groans louder in response. Off they go, and when Jason finally returns, he is stricken. It has been an awful ride he tells us. We understand that Christine has been "gassy" and that when Jason rolled down the window to save his own life from the noxious fumes, Christine yelled at him to shut it. The rest of us find this hilariously funny, but Jason doesn't want to talk about it anymore. Everyone else gets to go home now, but Jason knows that Christine will be back again next week, when it will all start over again. With Christine, the stories don't ever stop.

More Christine stories found here:

The first installment
the second,
and the third.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Hello all. In yet another selfless act with the aim educating the public, Jason and I dedicated a small portion of our ultra-bizarre weekend to the scientific study of bubbles.

You might remember not so long ago, that I asked if anyone had a burning, unanswered question, and indeed, many of you did. Any further questions you may have can be passed along to me at my email address (check the profile). Today's question comes to us from the brilliant mind of Mr. Zydeco Fish. He's a librarian on the tail end of parental leave who hates Franklin the Turtle and has some interesting opinions on trampoline retail. You should check him out.

His burning question:

This is actually the wife's question: Why are the bubbles in Perrier smaller than the bubbles in soda water? When I questioned if that was indeed so, she said they even taste smaller.
Carbonated water, also known as soda water, sparkling water, or seltzer water, is water containing carbon dioxide, which bubbles out when the drink is depressurised. When bottled or supplied for final consumption without flavoring, it may be called club soda.

So they all belong to one happy family, and would be better classed as soft drinks than as water. In light of this, we also added 2 more controls to our experiments:

Club soda, which is just carbonated water as noted above.

And tonic water, which is actually a little different from all of the others, because it has the addition of Quinine. The Q adds a somewhat bitter taste and medicinal properties, including anti-malaria ones. I wouldn't count on it keeping you safe deep in the jungles of India though, because today they use significantly less Q, and they sweeten the whole thing to boot - still, there's enough to make it glow under a black light, which is pretty creepy.

We decided to just pour ourselves 5 drinks apiece, and observe away. Right away we encountered problems, because both the tonic water and the S. Pellegrino exploded upon opening, with absolutely no provocation. The Perrier does not explode, but it's the most fizzy as we pour it.

Finally, we got every glass filled for inspection. Now, keep in mind, we were looking for a Why, as in Why are Perrier bubbles smaller? And you know what we found? We found that Mrs. Zydeco is full of shit.

In a 5-glass comparison, the Perrier bubbles appeared to the naked eye to actually be the largest bubbles, excepting perhaps the tonic water.

Put to a taste test, I confirmed that none of these are to my taste. I made crazy faces and spit in the grass numerous times. Who drinks this shit? Do you know what makes the first three "mineral"? Mineral water is water containing minerals or other dissolved substances that alter its taste or give it therapeutic value. Salts, sulfur compounds, and gases are among the substances that can be dissolved in the water. That's right. Mineral water is just water they haven't bothered to clean! It still has crap in it. It tastes foul. It's like drinking silt. Blech. But my Dedication to Science is unwavering, and I soldiered on.

Tasting them comparatively, it seems as though the Perrier actually tastes the flattest, so if you consider no bubbles to be the smallest, then I guess you're on to something. Otherwise....the whole theory has just fallen apart. But that's okay, because when you're doing Science, you can't just look to confirm your theory; you have to report evidence as it is. And this is how it is: Pellegrino has tiny bubbles, makes your lips tingle, and is ticklish under your tongue. I still don't think it, or any of them, are fit for consumption.

So we did one final test, being the bottles were still 3/4 full. We took each of them out into the grass, shook them up for a good 10 seconds each, and uncapped them in the general direction of each other. The Perrier gave Jason a decent soaking. The Pellegrino was a disappointment; even the MC stuff out-effervescented it! Finally, it was a showdown between the club soda and the tonic water. I shook my soda with vigour, but before I could really do mine justice, I was pelted in the head with the cap from the tonic water, and then a split second later, I was hit by a wave so wet and so surprising that it almost knocked me off my feet. It soaked me completely. So if you're purchasing water expressly for the purposes of a water fight, I totally recommend the tonic.

This is all well and good, but we're still left with an unanswered Why? Why are Perrier bubbles the smallest? Well, they're not. If they were, I was ready to crack a joke against the french and being small in general, since Perrier is bottled in France and S. Pellegrino is bottled in Italy, but sadly, the MC being bottled in Quebec, even the joke falls flat on its face.

So here I am, hours after experimentation. The mineral waters have dried on me, leaving behind their undissolved crap. I am sticky. Everywhere. Some of me is salty, lots of me is sweet
(the tonic water alone had sugar). My foot still hurts. And I find that there is only one plausible conclusion to all of this:

Mrs. Zydeco is insane in the membrane. I know that sounds harsh, but really, Mrs. Zydeco should look at her insanity as a wonderful opportunity. Insanity is not a medical diagnosis; it's a legal concept. So, if Mrs. Zydeco has ever entertained thoughts of murdering the Mr. in his sleep, this is the time to do it! Carpe Diem!

Otherwise, say, if Mr. Zydeco values his life for example, you may want to attempt to cure it. Historically, insanity has been difficult to cure since it's not actually a medical condition, but popular attempts have been made in the name of exorcism, violent blows to the head, the administering of Croton oil, better bowel movements, and of course, Opium.

Now, even with my background in psychology, it still came as a surprise to me that constipation may be a cause of insanity. But it makes sense. Long before I proclaimed Mrs. Zydeco was insane, I proclaimed her full of shit. So there you have it. Zydeco, I suggest you first slip some laxatives into her Perrier (the stuff tastes awful anyway, I'm sure she won't notice), and only if that does not work, think about contacting your local exorcist.

I hope this has been helpful!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Fuckfest: An Especially Bitter Rant

Fuck-alls of the week:

This week, since I've been saving it up for a while now, all of my beefs revolve around Coldplay: the band, the shitty music, and Gwyneth's husband.

Eww...even they guys in Coldplay know they stink.

Why I Hate Coldplay, an Essay by me, told in Bulletpoints because I'm Lazy:

1. Every song they have ever written and/or recorded has been "Yellow", but should actually be called "Whiny Bitch." Seriously. They all sound exactly the same.

2. I once told a fervent Coldplay fan that the band "bored me to tears." "Oh really?" he responded. "They usually just bore me to sleep." Ahhh.

3. The songs are wussy. They "aspire" to be U2, they've been compared to Radiohead, minus everything good about Radiohead (read: blatantly, but feebly copy), but really, they're like Sting, except in comparison, Sting is a bad-ass rocker.

4. Coldplay is pablum. They take no risks. They're dull. They're like the training bra of rock and roll. Their crappy little records should be made out of plastic, ready to be loaded into various Fisher -Price toys, which can then be thoughtlessly discarded by toddlers when they're ready to progress to the likes of Sting.

5. Of course, I don't hate children as much as that. I really don't wish Coldplay on anyone. The only thing Coldplay is fit for is to be played in the elevators of government offices where the bloated workers won't be bothered by the chamomile effects of the band anyway.

6. A friend of mine recently purchased her copy of their newest album X&Y (which I think we can agree would be more aptly titled XYZzzzzzzzzz). I asked her why she liked Coldplay, and she told me that they make pleasant background noise. Aha. So that's it. Me, I've just been running the vacuum cleaner.

7. Perhaps the most alarming thing about letting a band like Coldplay rise to any amount of success is that they are ugly. And frankly, they're not even the kind of ugly men that can seem a little cuter knowing they have million-dollar bank accounts. Nope, just plain old ugly, and as I told Jason recently, there's no room in rock for ugos. If you are ugly and want to make music, you should stick to jazz or cbg.

8. Really, though, I don't blame Coldplay. I mean, if I was an ugly dude who tended toward mediocrity, I'd be pretty stoked to sell a million albums too. I really blame the people who pay good money for their worthless CDs, which only propels the myth that Coldplay are any good. They're not. But the public just eats them up, because let's face it: the bulk of music-buyers have no taste. They also buy Clay Aiken and Britney Spears records. Case closed.

Now, onto my problem with Chris Martin.

1. I promise not to hold the fact that he accidentally impregnated horse-face against him. In fact, I hold much hope in her, that she may prove to be a Yoko.

2. I will not, however, look the other way when an upper-middle class born boy bemoans his 'riches to even more riches' lifestyle. And not just the regular "oh poor me, I'm so famous" bullshit that all celebrities like to spout, but such gems as "my greatest fear in life is going bald". Oh my bleeding heart, poor emo-boy!

3. The only thing worse than his pity-me lyrics is his annoying voice. I think that Chris Martin is a transvestite currently in the closet - but his voice is being primed for the many future trannie cabaret acts he is sure to star in once Coldplay's welcome is worn out. As much as I hate the sound of his voice, my dog hates it even more. When Chris warbles on the radio, my puppy runs and hides her head between the sofa cushions, trying to drown him out. I feel her pain.

4. What I really respect about him though, is the long, disjointed political diatribes he now makes to the know, "free trade" this, and "fuck the shareholders" that. Right. And if you believe that, then you belong on this list. Send me your name and an unflattering picture of yourself immediately. But really. Chris Martin, shut the hell up. We have enough rock stars getting all self-righteous on us, and we don't buy it. No one's going to say boo-hoo for the guy with the fattest wallet in the room.

This week's most fuckable:

Pierce Brosnan: I know, I know, how has he not made this list before this? He is devastatingly gorgeous, achingly charming in all of his movies, a dedicated family man, and a sensitive soul as evidenced by the thoughtful journal entries and poetry (recent topic: London bombings) found on his site.

I consistently fall for both his lilting Irish accent, and the sexy silver at his temples, but its his sense of romance, and pride in fatherhood that make him truly attractive. During his first marriage, he adopted his wife's 2 children after their father died tragically. He and this wife also had a child of their own, before she died in Pierce's arms of ovarian cancer the day after their 11th wedding anniversary. He raised those 3 children on his own for the next decade, choosing only the movies that would allow him to remain dedicated to his kids. Ten years later he was ready to marry again, but wedding plans had to be scrapped last minute when his son was badly injured in a car accident. Finally, Pierce and his new love were married, and have had another 2 children together. He has recently taken time off from film schedules to spend more quality time with them.

Mushy stuff aside, let's not forget how dashing this man looks in a suit. While I am also a fervent Sean Connery fan, I must admit that I've loved Pierce in the James Bond role. I can imagine myself drinking many a martini (shaken, not stirred) with him, and the rest of that fantasy is unmentionable. Pierce Brosnan has made 007 synonymous with yum!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Asking the Big Questions

How is it that ants have learned to walk on ceilings without falling off, and I have not?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Jason has this thing, where if he wants to tease me in 10 seconds or less, he hums the theme to Love Story. And if you don't know Love Story, then get the hell out. I mean that. The ignorance of youth is no excuse. Lift those baggy jeans over the crack of your ass, and shuffle those heavily-branded sneakers right on out of this space. No room at the inn. Shoo.

Anyhow, the reason why Jason so successfully drives me crazy with this little piece of music history, is that I cannot for the life of me reproduce it myself. Whether hummed, or whistled, or mouthed in any other way, I warble out the first few bars, and from there it disintegrates into the Zales commercial. Damn my brain! This is apparently my kryptonite. That, and the fact that I can't spell kryptonite and I'm too obstinate to condescend to look it up. As far as Jason is concerned, my inability to hum the theme to Love Story is the only flaw I have (and yes, if you must know, he's right). I find it very aggravating to find that there is in fact something of this world that I cannot quite do, but especially aggravating is that my stupid husband can.

And it's not just the song from Love Story. Oh no. If he has the song filed away in his head, even parts of the song, he can hum it, and it will be perfectly recognizable to anyone. His ability is so astonishing that my mother introduces him as The Great Hummer. And she won't stop, cause she can't stop. And I am mad with jealousy, and Jason knows it. Jason milks it.

He hums all the time. He hums in the shower when I'm still too sleepy to punch him in the kidneys. He hums in the car, when I'm strapped safely in another seat. He hums when we're in bed at night and my hands, well, otherwise occupied.

Now, when I started telling this story, I definitely had a point. And then I forgot it, but I kept writing because I believed that if I gave myself time, I would remember it. But I haven't.

Ah well.

Fuck the po-lice.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

He lied to me. He stole from me. He told me I was nothing.

He knew we were hungry and wanting, but he preferred prison to palimony.

He locked me in a car once, for hours, so that I could not escape his abuse.

He kicked me out of the house for wearing shorts to a family BBQ.

My tears were his fuel.

He used his children as:
a) tactical weapons against our mother
b) ornaments to be paraded around family events twice annually, and then ignored

He hit me, and called me names, but it was never enough to dull his anger.

He taught me to be wary of everyone, and that some bruises you wear forever, and that 'deadbeat dad' is not just an expression, but a pretty apt description.

And then when I told him that his services as a father were no longer required, he never looked back. Not a trace of regret in his cold, blue eyes. He took his family with him. My aunts, my uncles, my cousins, my grandmother, and my godmother, orchestrated a simultaneous turning-of-the-backs. A whole family history, wiped away in one fell swoop.

Most days, I do not think of him. Most months, I do not think of him. If there were good times, I don't remember them. If he ever hugged me, or said kind words to me, they are lost now, forever. I haven't seen or spoken to him in years, but I woke up today and thought It's his birthday, 6 days after mine. Did he think of me then? Does he think of me ever?

I wonder sometimes if he knows where I am.

I wonder if he knows what I'm doing, or if I'm even still alive.

I wonder, when he meets someone new, if he says he has 3 children, or 4.

I wonder when it will all stop hurting.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Christine Revealed

If you're just joining the adventures of Christine, please read the beginning of her story here, and the second part here.

It's impossible to forget that Christine had a multiple diagnosis: the manic-depression was one of the lesser aspects of her illness; she was developmentally disabled (she was 30, but acted 3), she was autistic, and obsessive-compulsive. That's a tall order. She was on more medication than most pharmacies stock for a month, and they made her crazed.

If she was at my house during one of her "pill times", I could always see the effects of her medication wearing thin. Then, she would take another dose, and it would put her under. Within minutes, she would drop onto the couch and start snoring as if she were a hibernating bear. Her big, lumpy, hairy body, slumped over on the couch, did little to dispel the illusion. She would be solidly knocked out for 20-30 minutes, dead to the world, and she would drool all over my couch. After her rest, she would pop up like bagels from the toaster, ready to go, go, go. Thank goodness the fabric on my couch was removable, because I washed it like crazy after every visit.

Christine was needy. Her mother had little to do with her; after 30 some years of caring for 2 special needs "children", she was burned out. She had no energy left. She didn't check up on them, she turned a blind eye to everything she could, and she used 911 as a bargaining tool. She called the police to her house often, and her son spent at least as many nights a month in jail, as at home. When Christine's mom wanted the house to herself, she would call me and insist I take Christine off her hands. Christine didn't know any better, and she was always excited to spend time with me. She called me in the middle of the night to remind me of her birthday party, which was only 7 months away. She expected me to quit school so that my schedule would open up to her. And then summer came along, and neither she nor I had classes to attend. I had a job, a husband, a home, friends and family of my own, and other volunteer work that was important to me, but Christine could not imagine that I did not want to spend 24 hours a day with her. She wanted sleepovers and dinner parties. She liked to be introduced to my family, and to included in holidays. I spent hours with her to make a "budget" on the social assistance that she received. I brought her to special group outings, with potential friends for her to make, but she clung to me and was more obstinate than you would think a person capable of.

Christine did not know shyness, and so she asked me for everything. Would I shave her? Would I clip her toenails? It was a battle every day. My role as mentor was to get her out into the community; my end objective would be to phase myself out of her life, leaving her with friends of her own, and a system in place for functional living. I was prepared that my job may take me several years, but at some point I had to be honest with myself, because it didn't look like I would ever extricate myself from her life. And that's something you really have to think about when you volunteer: she is a lifelong commitment. I may as well have babies; at least they move away when they turn 18! Christine would be calling my cell, ringing my bell, showing up unannounced, until the day that she, or I, died.

I was not a personal care worker, so I did not clip her nails, or bathe her, or do any of those tasks. The one thing that I could not get out of, however, was doing her hair. Christine thought having her hair done was a real treat, and sadly, she was right. Only her mother had ever cut her hair before, so even my clumsy fingers did a much better job (my mother was a hairdresser, and I seem to have gleaned the basics from her). Sometimes she would even colour her hair with an at-home kit that her mother bought. So one day, Christine showed up at my house with a box of colour and a long list of commands.

The box that she had was older than I was. Her mother had bought it from some discount bin; it was a discontinued colour, but the box was so old and dusty, I thought it likely that it was decomposing right in front of our eyes, and even more likely that the dye inside was questionable, but who am I to argue with a 300lb woman? I left her in my bedroom, looking through my photo albums for the billionth time, to retrieve a towel to put around her shoulders. When I came back, I found her naked on my carpet.

Have you ever seen a naked 300lb woman? Wait, make that a HAIRY, 300lb woman, who was crazy and it showed. She apparently had not been shaved in some time. Pity for both of us. But that was the least of it. Christine had one good eye that looked at you when you talked, and a second eye that was less obedient. It was usually looking at something else, far across the room. Her large jaw jutted out; her teeth stuck out almost horizontally from her gums due to 30 years of an oral fixation. Her knuckles were each as big as jaw breakers, swollen and chapped from much abuse. There was nothing pretty about Christine on a good day...but naked was much, much worse.

She had taken off her shirt so as not to drop any dye on it. She had taken off her bra because it was "new", which meant it had more or less recently been bought from a second hand store, like all of Christine's wardrobe, and all of her "gifts" to me. She had taken off everything else because she felt silly being half naked. Well, not quite everything. She left on her socks, unmatched, and floppy. I saw things that day I hope to never see again.

During the next 45 minutes, she proceeded to splatter hair dye all over my house because guess what? When you're covered in permanent hair dye, and all but completely naked in someone else's home, there's no better way to pass the time than to twirl your baton in the nude. Hair dye got everywhere. When she left, I had to repaint several walls entirely, and yet, to this day, I have never been able to paint over the memories of every ripple, every jiggle that big body of hers made as she pranced about, singing songs that only she knew. I wasn't thrilled with this course of activities, but when I disagreed with Christine, she always played her trump card: "I'm older than you" she would boom, "and that means I'm smarter, too." And really, how can you argue with logic like that?

She couldn't understand why I wouldn't get in the shower with her to help rinse out the dye when her time was up. Somehow, I resisted. I had seen quite enough of those big, pendulous breasts, thank you very much. They were the kind of breasts you see in National Geographic, so completely asexual they depress you. They were huge like dinner plates, but somehow, also flat like dinner plates. And the nipples, my god, the nipples. But it's the hair, the fur really, that I can't get out of my find. Her father was East-Indian, and to look at Christine, the poor dear, you would have believed her mother must have been a yeti. But of course it's the medication that makes the hair grow...I just never thought I'd have to see it.

Christine wasn't pretty, but she was lovable in her own way, if you cared to look for it. Most people don't. Most people would cross the street when they saw us coming (Christine would always hold my hand when we were out). And it's a shame that more people don't know Christine, because she is full of love, and hugs. Some hugs would overwhelm me, when she was sour with perspiration and smelling like something not quite human, and some hugs would threaten to crush my rib cage. But they were always there. And she would remind me how much she loved me several times an hour, and command that I should never "die, quit, or move far away." Christine was a character, and you haven't heard the half of it yet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Christine, Continued

If you're just joining the Saga of Christine today, you can read the first part of her story here.

Christine loved the bus. She sat in the first seat behind the driver, and told me to take the window seat, where I sat squashed and apprehensive. Christine had two volumes: loud, and deafeningly loud, and so as we sat on the bus and she told me how her mom had shaved her that morning, legs, armpits and mustache!, the whole bus heard of it too. Of course, Christine had no shame; she didn't understand that you shouldn't be so vocal as to what you shaved, and who helped you. She then proceeded to explain how her upper lip always smarted right after shaving, and she had me inspect its redness and rawness.

And it only got worse from there. Other conversations she saw fit for loud discussion on the bus: when I had first gotten boobies, whether I had ever seen a boy naked, whether my VAGINA ever itched like hers.

Jason waited for us at the bus stop near our home. Christine was excited to meet him, and even more excited to convince him of what she could not convince me: Over the past few days, and certainly over the course of this bus ride, she had tried valiantly to induce me to have children.

"But Jamie, I love babies! I would play with them all the time," she told me, as if that was the one thing preventing me from wanting them. "My Mom says I'm not allowed to get married, and I'll never have babies" she confided, and my heart was sad that she had some knowledge of her diseases, and that they caused her to miss out on things other people take for granted.

When we got off the bus, there were a few people at the stop, and she demanded to know which one of them was Jason. The other people look confused and perhaps a little scared, so I steered my massive friend away from the crowd, and there introduced her to my husband. "You need to shave," she told him, as she formally shook his hand. Then she asked for a piggy back ride. Jason blanched. I thought it was good of him to meet Christine in the first place; if you haven't been exposed to the mentally ill, they can be a bit intimidating. I had not prepared him for this scenario however, and he looked at me with panic in his eyes.

It's worth repeating again that Christine is a big lady. Jason is a big enough guy, but she outweighed him by more than a hundred pounds. I covered for him, let her down gently, and apparently a little too gently since she then expected me to take up Jason's slack, and carry her home on my own back.

Not bloody likely.

So, we made it to the grocery store, all three of us on foot, to pick up baking supplies. Inside the store, I learned quickly that Christine was not shy to ask for anything, and that for as long as I would know her, she would constantly ask me to buy her things. In every aisle we perused, she found hundreds of things I could give her as a gift. A hundred times, I refused her. She asked for canned peaches, raw hamburger, and an ice cream scoop shaped like a cow. When we passed by the bakery, she stood admiring the cakes.

"I'm getting a chocolate one for my birthday" she told us. "I'm having a party, and you're invited, Jamie. You can get me a present. I think I'd like a new Barbie. Jason can come too, if he shaves. He can get me a My Little Pony. Make sure to wrap it nice, I like lots of bows. The party is at 2pm. You can come early, but don't come late."

Christine would always be inviting me to her birthday party. She had it planned well in advance; this was currently in May, and her birthday was on boxing day. Every day that we saw her, and sometimes several times a day, she would invite us to that party. When the party finally came and went, she started inviting us to the next year's.

When we made it to the apartment, I thought I was home free. I was wrong. The baking thing did not pan out; she informed me that she did not want to help, but that I should make the brownies without her, because she definitely wanted to eat them. So, I put in The Tigger Movie, and left her with a juice box and a bowl of Cheezies. In 10 minutes she had wolfed down the whole bag of Cheezies, and 4 boxes of juice. She wanted more. This was habit with Christine. I had to suggest to her that she'd had enough, and even then she told me that I was mistaken. Christine could literally eat indefinitely, and so I learned to watch her like a hawk to make sure she didn't eat herself sick.

When the brownies were ready, she perked back up again. She decorated them herself, basically making a mound of pink on top of them, with candies generously applied in an indiscernable pattern. I wrapped up the tray so she could bring them home to share with her mother and brother.

We waved goodbye to her, as I tried not to cry tears of exhaustion and frustration. I knew that the next visit was only a week away, and I felt desperately that I was in over my head.

And then my cell phone was ringing. Christine was home, and wanting to chat. She would call me obsessively, not just daily, but hourly, and sometimes more. She would leave long and disjointed messages that would make me smile at the sheer lunacy of the situation. She told me that next week I should make two trays of brownies, because she'd eaten the whole tray herself on the busride home. I tried to think of things as funny, and not discouraging, but I wasn't always successful. Making Christine a part of my life was the most difficult, and ultimately the most rewarding, thing I have ever done.

Every week, I deleted dozens of messages inviting me to her birthday party, still half a year away. Even when I showed her pencilled in on my calendar, it was never enough, and she never gave it up. "You can come early" she'd say, "but don't come late."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Christine's Story

Christine didn't walk into the office; she bounded into it like the big ball of energy that she was. She was easily 300 lbs and from what I could tell of her blur, she gave the impression of lots of dark hair. She zipped around the room, from one chair to the next, over to the desk, then the window, then the potted plant. She ran her fingers along the backs of old textbooks, handled all the office supplies, and wielded the stapler as if it was a weapon, emitting a round of staples as she added the "bang, bang" soundtrack for the rest of us.

Finally she was induced to sit down, which she did uneasily. She had worked up a sweat with her antics, which I would soon realize was a permanent state for Christine. Once seated she turned her attention to me. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

Christine's name wasn't Christine. It was Barbara, but within 30 seconds of shaking her big hand, she told me firmly that Barbara was an old-fashioned name, and that she preferred to be called Christine. And so Christine it was. She was big, and broad. She was 30 years old when I met her, but her mind worked at the level of a 4 year old. I was her new volunteer, her mentor, as the centre called it, and she was wary of me from the start. She inspected me from head to toe, scuffed my shoes with the toe of her velcro sneakers, poked at my necklace and asked if my hair was always the colour of fire engines.

Finally she pronounced that I would do, and she presented me with a gift: not one, but two sweat shirts that she produced from her Barbie bookbag. They were old, faded, stained. They were immediately identifiable as circa 1980s, but the fact that they were Winnie the Pooh had to be pointed out to me because the decals on the front had all but peeled off. She had pulled them out of boxes in her basement; they smelled of mothballs and mould. I was afraid to touch them with my bare hands but Christine insisted I wear at least one of them right then and there.

Luckily, I was able to finagle my way out of the impromptu fashion show. Christine was always full of bad ideas, but the good thing about Christine was that she was so easily distracted, it would rarely take more than a well-timed question or two to lead her astray, and on to safer topics.

I knew Christine's diagnosis before I even met her: learning disabled, manic depressive, touches of obsessive compulsive behaviours, and autistic tendencies. She was on enough drugs to kill a horse, and had weekly visits with a psychiatrist even though therapy would never do her any good since she was too simple-minded to even understand the point of it. She went to "school" a couple times of week, mornings only, although it was really just a babysitting service for other adults like her. I asked her often what she learned in school but all she ever told me was math, and walking.

She had been employed briefly. She shredded documents at a government facility. But keeping Christine on task was a job from hell, and it's not surprising that she didn't keep her position very long. When I met her, she lived in a wing of a long-term care facility, but she wanted to move back home. Home was with her mother, but her mother didn't want her. The mother already had one son at home, who was a bit older than Christine, and a bit bigger if you can imagine it, and violent with psychotic tendencies. When Christine and her brother were together, it was like mixing dangerous chemicals, and the results were often explosive.

Still, within a month, Christine had whined her way back home. The first time I went to her house to pick her up for a visit, I nearly peed my pants. The care facility had been just up the road from me, but her mother's house was all the way across town, on the end of a winding bus route that took me over an hour. It was raining lightly, and my steps were somewhat heavy as I made my way searchingly down her street. I had the directions (as Christine had given them to me over the phone) written on a paper in my hand, but I didn't need them. Within a 5 km radius, I could hear her and her brother screaming. I don't know how I ever mustered the courage to walk up the driveway and ring the bell, but I did. And when a 6'5 350lb man with a wild look in his eye answered the door and growled "What?", the sensible thing to do would have been to turn and run, but I stayed. Christine collected her backpack, and her fanny pack, and off we went.

Christine loved to talk on the phone, and every phone call was crazier than the next. As I mentioned before, Christine was manic depressive. What that means is that she has very up moments, where she babbles incoherently with excitement, is enthusiastic about everything in the world, bounces off the walls and cannot be contained, but then she has down moments where she is fearful, paranoid, tearful, and depressed. Some phone calls would go from one extreme to the other in the space of a second, but more often she would have whole days or weeks in one extreme or the other. It was exhausting keeping up with her on the phone, so you can imagine what it was like to chase after her in person.

When asked what sorts of things she would like to do, she gave me a list: bowling, swimming, shopping, baton twirling, eating at McDonald's.

On our first date together, I thought that all or any of the above might prove to be too much trouble, so I opted to take her home and do some baking with her. She seemed excited when I told her this, and so the visit was a happy one already, and we were still just at the bus stop near her house. She rooted around in her backpack while we waited, and found her baton. She showed me "her moves" as we stood in the sprinkling rain (she was afraid of umbrellas). She was delighted when I faked being very impressed with her skills (twirling was beyond her, she mostly just shook her baton at me), and her jubilation was the loudest thing I had ever heard in my life. It was all I could do to calm her down as we boarded the bus...I should have known that this was useless.

Welcome to Christine week, everyone. Christine is quite a presence in my life, as if you couldn't tell by now. I have so many Christine stories to share that I have decided to make a little serial out of it. I don't intend to make a clown out of Christine; she is a dear person, a human being with some severe challenges that she has had to live with all of her life. I only hope that I do her honour my sharing her story.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

On Saying Goodbye.

Jason grieved for Betty;
Jamie grieved for Grace.
Jason prayed to Heaven,
And Jamie prayed in case.

As many of you know, we lost Jason's Grandma Betty this past week, and we thank you very much for the many emails and comments of kind words and prayers.

Two years ago, we lost my Gram, Grace, almost to the exact day. Her funeral was on our 1st wedding anniversary. We did not attend.

We didn't attend because my grandmother had disowned me (my whole paternal family did, in fact), when I broke all contact with my father a few years prior. I invited them all to my wedding, all except my father of course, and one by one, the RSVP cards were returned blank, salt into the bleeding wound. I grieved for the loss of my entire family: aunts, uncles and cousins alike, all at once as if I had been hit by a major disaster.

So when my sister called me with the sudden news that my grandmother had passed away, I felt torn. On the one hand, I felt like I had already lost her. I also knew that it would be near impossible for me to walk into a funeral parlour filled with relatives who hated me, and my ex-father, with any grace or dignity. On the other hand, she had been my grandmother for almost 20 years, and I longed for closure if nothing else.

But I did not go. I stayed away, alone, and tried to feel something. My sisters resented me for not being there. I resented my position. It hurt.

I have carried that hurt for 2 years. I did not cry for my grandmother's death. I cried once, a few weeks after her death, when my mother told me about how coldly my father had treated my sister at the funeral. I did not cry for Grace.

I visited her grave a while after that, and found that her name and dates had simply been added to my grandfather's stone. I was mildly disappointed to see the discrepancy between the flourish of his, and the plainness of hers, though I was not altogether surprised. I did not shed a tear.

And then 2 years later, on our 3rd anniversary instead of our 1st, Jason's grandmother passed away in a very similar manner. The floodgates opened, and I realized that while we buried one grandmother, I was making my peace with two.

We have spent the last week in the bosom of family, eating tasteless food and picking out flower arrangements that no one ever noticed.

Betty died 49 days short of her 54th wedding anniversary, and as I watched Jason's grandfather Chuck grieve quietly, but gravely, I couldn't help but think that even 54 is not enough. She left behind a brilliant legacy of 5 children and 9 grandchildren, and will be sorely missed by many more, myself included.

Tonight, Jason and I took a walk in the moonlight, and I tried not to think of the tender way Chuck kissed his wife of nearly 54 years, so gently on her lips, for the last time right before they closed the casket. I know that Betty is in a better place, and I know that Chuck is not. He is alone in a house that seems empty without her. He has lost his partner, and his soul mate. He is crushed when he sees her chocolates in the fridge. He's been left behind. I hold Jason a little closer now that I know the truth: even 54 is not enough.

We made our way to the park by our house tonight, around 2am.. It is not lit up at night, so we tripped our way in the soft grass to the sandy area of the swingset. We took swings side by side, and we sailed back and forth into the tranquil night. We saw the greenish blue of the horizon turn into violet, and then to grey, and finally into the inky midnight blue of the vast ceiling above us. The sky was dotted with stars more numerous than our heads can imagine, and when we looked beyond the stars, we saw Betty, and said goodbye.

As for Grace, well, she is still a shadow in my heart. I hope that I am learning to let her go, bit by bit. If nothing else, Betty has taught me there is no such thing as an easy goodbye. She was only 74, young at heart and not very old yet in body, but still it gave out. When Betty's heart stopped beating, Chuck's heart broke. She was surrounded by loved ones, her life was long, her marriage was solid, her suffering was ending, she believed, but still...

54 is not enough.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Happy Birthday To The Greatest Country In The World

On July 1st, Canada celebrates its 138th birthday!

I am a proud Canadian every year, because I was lucky enough to come shooting out of the birth canal right in the middle of the most beautiful and prosperous country to grace the globe. Only 30 million out of the 6 billion inhabitants of this Earth can claim to be so lucky, and I am honoured to be counted among them.

I am proud to be from a country where peace keeping is valued over war mongering; where health care is a right, not a privilege; where people of different ethnicities, cultures, and religions stand shoulder to shoulder as a mosaic instead of melting pot; and this year in particular I have PRIDE in my country because the bill has passed to change the constitution, redefining family, and granting equal rights to all Canadian citizens.

On July 1st we check our quiet patriotism at the door and become unabashed and fervent with love for our country. We welcome the long weekend. Barbecues will blaze in backyards. Flags will flap, neighbours will congregate to compare sunburns, and the beer will be consumed in such massive quantities that you'd swear we'd all been dying of thirst. But no, it is only the Canadian way.

At night, families will drag their lawn chairs and bug spray to the park. Children will light sparklers and pester their parents for red and white cotton candy. We will stand and sing our National Anthem together, half in English, half in French. The fireworks will start, and most people will watch in quiet awe at the impressive display.

When it's all over, the streets will become clogged with every car trying to exit at the same time, while streams of pedestrians pour out of the park, sticky toddlers in tow. We'll all head to the one place in town that serves ice cream, and we'll all wait politely in line, waving and smiling at each other like idiots, savouring the fact that there are still 2 more days off, and that the beer store will reopen tomorrow morning, restocked and waiting.

Have I lived in Canada all my life? Not yet, but I plan to.