November 21st, 2014
The in-between nature of the last few weeks has done a bit of a number on us. We had a bit of a scary time with our attached-to-us-neighbours, which resulted in us having to call the police, which is the last thing on earth one wants to do with attached-to-you-neighbours. The situation has calmed down now, and the panic has started to subside. My bike is away for the winter, so I don’t have that outlet, I’m barely reading these days, so my brain feels a little mushy, and I could always be eating better, so you know the 3PM sugar cravings are just about doing me in. Still, I wasn’t prepared, like so many people in Toronto, for the absolute onslaught of winter. Freezing temperatures, an icy-cold walk home from the subway, big coats, hats, mittens–today I wore sneakers and said f*ck it to the boots. I’m just not ready yet.
But you can’t avoid the weather, just like you can’t avoid the truth of your own body. Blasting you in the face like a snowstorm in January-November, that’s what my roots were, a meditation in how my genes betrayed me, yet again, sapping all of the colour from my hair starting when I was twenty. So, I’ve decided, like wearing my sneakers in the winter, to f*ck it, and let my hair go grey. There were parts of my hair that had turned a greenish tinge from too much colour, from trying to hold the colour in, and I’ve given up paying a bananas amount of money I don’t have at the moment to keep myself groomed, which I was never truly successful at anyway. My mother’s hair turned grey when she was young, really young–in the above picture, she’s thirty-four–this is the summer, I think, just before the accident (it might be the one just before that, too). She could be thirty-three, if it’s the year before the accident. I’m not sure. And that’s okay. The timeline isn’t important any more. She, too, battled the grey, henna, hair dye, perms, you name it, my mother tried it. It was a different time. It’s a different time now, with so many women suspended in terms of their aging by being able to keep their hair in colour instead of black and white. By the time of her advanced stay in the hospital, toward the end of the second decade, her hair had turned white, so white it looked like down, and it was a beautiful colour. So like my grandmother’s, and I think if mine turns out half as nice, I can live with it for the next forty years I’m on this earth.
So, we’re I’m in the in-between stage, between giving up the ghost of my youthful looks and embracing my age. I’m in the middle of so many things these days. Waiting for the hammer to drop at work, maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Waiting for a big project I’ve been working on to drop, which I hope it will in December. Waiting for our neighbours to act bananas again. Waiting for the good weather to return and waiting to accept winter on its own terms. Waiting. And so much of my feelings around my mother, and what happened to her, and what happened to us as a result was about being in between, too. She was in between life and death, we were in between mourning and acceptance. She suffered, and we felt guilt. Those are complex emotions that are hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t been in the situation.
The theme of being in-between has, haunted me–I don’t really want to use that word because it implies a sadness, an echo of malcontent, that I don’t think is accurate. Being blessed with the in between has allowed me, after much therapy, to be able to see around the edges. Without the sadness, and the heartache, and the simply hard bits of my life, I would have no context for the rest. And I crave context. It’s what allows me to write, and to wonder about the world, and to feel empathy–a most important aspect of emotional life.
My book club has been reading Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. It’s not a book that I would have ever come to without my ever-generous, ever-brilliant Vicious Circle. And I am finding so much in it, it’s a rich study, both because of Jamison’s writing, but also of her particular perspective, of her time, of her place, and how she relates to her life. She says, in an essay called “In Defense of Saccharin(e)”: “But why is it that my memories offer me back to myself in my most trivial moments? Why do I hunger for significant barometers but find myself tethered to banality instead.”
Here is my in-between. I am writing a post about being vain and letting my hair go grey. It’s banal. It’s not particularly saccharine, but I could inflict more of that within my post if I tried. But this toss and turn, and back and forth, and up and down–these are my memories at the moment. I’m reaching back for the everyday, to be tethered to the banality of the life I lived when my mother was alive, and I can’t get there. I find myself, raking back through my tired brain, and come up against the very happy or the very sad. The moment when I cut my bangs way too short (and all by myself) in grade eight because I was babysitting for the Andersons and was kind of bored. How my mother laughed when they dried and were about eighteen different lengths. How the principal made me take off my hat until he saw what I had done, and then let me wear it in school because it was so bad. How my mother laughed at me, giant, gaping, huge, laughter. And I mortified I was, but I was always doing stuff like this–half-sewing a skirt and wearing it to school anyway, threads trailing along down my legs, my seamstress mother and grandmother horrified, I’m certain in the wings. I have always been utterly myself. I’m sure I was born this way–barreling through life–through my own trivial moments hoping that they’ll own themselves up to me in a way that I’ll remember. Because there are moments that I can’t bare not to remember her. There are moments when I wish I had more than the memories I have. Where I wish, with everything, to ask her how I learned to read or what I was like when I was small, and was I anything like my boy who is so open it makes my heart ache.
So yes, Leslie Jamison, I remember the banal because my life was so boring–it was there and it was happy and I was a kid and I was awkward and silly and bright and loved and loved and loved. What I don’t want to remember, too, lingers on, and on: the hospital, and the deep welt of sadness that defined my life, and how it affected my brain, and my being and who I became. The in-between girl.
Still, even with all of this on my mind lately, wanting to write more and more about my mother and about these experiences, there are moments when I simply can’t help myself. We were coming home from the Santa Claus parade last weekend. After the cold, but before the snow, and there was a giant pile of leaves in Dufferin Grove Park, and I wanted to lie in them SO BADLY. So my husband took a picture and it was a lovely day. The small parts adding up, a bit of extra sleep, homemade waffles for breakfast, a parade, a long walk home, and the fading light of a fall afternoon. I was happy. But I’m sure I’m not at all making sense. I’m sure that’s okay, too. I’ll walk home in the cold, in my sneakers, ride the bike in my basement, work some of it out, and start again tomorrow.