Thursday, 31 May 2012

Two Weeks: The Family Dynamic

Well, I re-read what I wrote yesterday. That was some pretty bad writing. I saw a couple of glaring typographical errors, which I can live with, but the prose was rambling and had no common thread. I will try to write better from here on in. The problem with all this is that I am tying to describe every facet of Calista and that is a hard thing to do.  Impossible without covering some ground about our family dynamic.

Well, if you have been here at all, you know that I am a veterinarian. As veterinarians go, I am fair to middling.  I certainly did not graduate at the top of my class; in fact I might have been somewhere near the bottom.  Its not that I am incapable or dull; what I am is scattered.  I tend to be passionate about everything and focused on nothing.  I am fanatical about maintaining my fitness level, sometimes to the point of neglecting my professional responsibilities.  I lift weights, I used to swim close to 25,000 meters each week, and at one point I was teaching karate three nights a week. I have thousands of dollars invested in references on karate and martial arts.  I have managed to get myself published on the topic of karate several times (albeit by the same magazine). When my daughter showed an interest in art, I immersed myself in art. I studied art history, various schools of art, and the art of architecture. I studied this with my typical passion: bought books, attended museum shows and watched DVD lectures on art history.   Calista used to find it amusing: her dad was a modern day Mister Toad, Esq, going passionately overboard on just about everything he did.

When Calista was young, I used to drag her to the various art shows that the local museum was sponsoring that year.  I believe the first show was a collection of Impressionist paintings that actually covered the period of the late Realist period right into the early post-impressionist period.  I got the feeling that Calista was less than impressed, but when I got her a Monet poster for Christmas that year she was absolutely overjoyed. That poster hung over her homework desk in our home for years and still hangs in our spare bedroom.  She must have enjoyed something about that show.  After that first visit we rarely missed any of the local shows and actually took in two major shows in Vancouver while on holidays. ("The Dutch Masters" and "Realists through Surrealists"). Her favourite of all time was Andy Warhol Retrospective in Regina. Even now I see Warhol's influence on much of her work.

My wife was the driving force behind most of Calista's athletics.  She dragged her out to gymnastics (my girl enjoyed the trampoline, but the stuff that involved pain was quickly off the list of fun stuff), we tried dance (Calista did not have natural rhythm. She had my rhythm. That girl loved music, but could NOT dance), and we finally settled on swimming.  The swimming all came from my wife.  Roni cannot swim a stroke; sinks like a rock. She swore her girl was going to know how to swim, so into lessons she went. Roni made her take ALL of them, and eventually Calista really was a good swimmer.  Eventually she ended up in competitive swimming and she seemed to find a home there.

Competitive swimming was not my first choice for my daughter. I personally was a pretty decent competitive swimmer; I actually made it to semi-finals at the 1980 Olympic Trials. That just was not the life I wanted for Calista. Competitive swimming is too focused on one skill set and it REALLY does not do much for coordination. Swimmers are usually clumsy.  I also had nothing good to say about the early-morning work-outs because you know it was never Roni's job to get up at 4:30 am for work-out.  Furthermore, the competitive swimmers social life was limited to a few close friends who are also swimmers; three to four hours a day in a pool pretty much edits your social interaction time.  But, as my old Cree friend said to me, you rarely get what you want, but you often get what you need.

I eventually did end up doing the 4:30 am wake-up call for nearly three years. Once at the pool, I decided that I might as well exercise myself and ended up right back where I was 30 years ago; paddling up and down the pool. I trained right next to my daughter most of the time.  Funny thing is that I found myself enjoying the mindless strenuous repetitions. I lost close to fourty pounds and eventually was performing sets that I would have been proud of as a teen-ager.  I think my daughter was proud and embarrassed for me at the same time.  Having a cool dad is Ok, as long as he is not constantly around to say inappropriate things to your friends at the worst of times.  I personally think my daughter increased my life expectancy by decades by helping  lose weight and get fit.  Of course, now that is a double edged sword: I will now miss her for decades longer before finally being allowed to rest. I doubt I will every enjoy swimming laps again: that is something I did for her and with her.

All through this I have managed to ignore the person who really was the most important person in Calista's life: her mother Roni. How does one describe such a complex relationship?

Between Calista and Roni, the relationship was closer to twin sisters than mother and daughter.  My wife is blessed some sort of vampire anti-aging gift, so she does not look anywhere near her mid-forties.  Add that to the fact that Calista acted like a lively thirty year old since she was about ten, and you have a pair of women that were constantly mistaken for sisters. And they acted like it.  The two shared clothes, make-up and jewelry.  This was handy for me since one excellent gift of an expensive accessory often would make both of them extremely happy. Typical of siblings, there were fights, many of them. I often had to step in and become the peace-maker, which then made me enemy to both. Of course, once they had a common enemy, they would then make-up immediately and go shopping. I would then pay in two ways: hours of the silent treatment and major traumatic credit-card injury.

One particular incident I remember clearly occurred when I had travelled out of town for a conference, leaving the two of them alone for a week.  I had just made a down-payment on the treasured Smart Car for Calista and was looking forward to delivery in about three weeks. Roni was not terribly happy with me for buying a car nicer than either of our own vehicles for our teen-aged daughter. I had my motives though: Calista was a terrible driver and the Smart Car is an incredibly easy car to drive and has superb safety ratings. Besides, I am pretty sure that no teen-aged pregnancy has ever happened in a Smart Car. A boy was going to get a back spasm before he gets fresh with my girl.  Anyway, about three days into my business trip, I get a text-message from Roni to the effect that Calista was going out with her friends without so much as a please and thank-you. She was not telling Roni where she was going, who she was with or when she was home. She was breaking the only rules I actually ever made for her with regards to going out at night.  The car deal was hanging in the balance, and around our house whatever Roni says is what is going to happen. I finally texted Calista with the message "Calista, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? I know you think you are right, but if you keep up this behaviour, you are not going to be happy. Tell your mother the where, who and when before you leave the house or something really bad is going to happen".  Typical of Calista, all I got back was a one letter reply "K".  On the other hand, she was true to her word; since that one note until May 16th, the night before she died, she checked in with Roni every time she was heading out. She figured out early that we did not want to control her, we just cared for her.

I will always treasure our trips to Las Vegas.  Roni could be a big kid sometimes and, after one very boring year in LVN, Roni took it into her head that Calista had to go to Las Vegas with us each year so Roni would have company for shopping expeditions.  And my lord did those two shop.  The first day Calista visited "The Strip" she only wore a pair of cheap flip-flops (it was so warm, it was like going to the beach). The poor girl could barely walk by noon due to blisters and she ended up walking home in bare feet (four hours later though) rather than suffer those flip-flops one more moment. Its a good thing the LV Strip is kept so clean. Calista enjoyed the shopping, but she was never seduced by the bright lights of the big city.

Calista could not figure out how thin skinned Americans could be about their country.  She also never did pick-up how well her voice carried in public. On our first trip to Las Vegas, as we descended along the landing corridor, she stared out at the bleak Las Vegas scenery and loudly commented that it was the ugliest city she had ever seen (not that she had seen that many cities, but that was still rich coming from a kid that grew up in Regina Saskatchewan).  I pointed out that she was likely surrounded by Americans, some of whom were returning home. Typical of my girl, never worrying about what people thought of her, she just shrugged. She also did not learn subtlety the first time around: six days later, as we waited in McCarren International Airport for our plane to load, she rejoyced that she now had a good feeling about writing her essay on why she loved Canada (after six days in the ugliest city in the world I can only assume).  All the shushing in the world could not silence that girl sometimes.

On our last trip to Las Vegas, Roni checked in with Calista nearly hourly. Each time she found some new, unexplored and unexploited shopping experience she had to drop a line back to the girl on how much she was missing.  We actually started collecting some of the unique marketing magazines Las Vegas supplied hotel guests for Calista.  Calista was the only person I ever met who fingered through magazines to critique the advertisements rather than the articles (specifically the photography in the ads rather than the ads themselves). Calista was disappointed that she had to miss this year since there was a huge photography conference being held at the same time as my annual veterinary conference; she thought she might just crash that party.  We had made tentative plans to get her a pass to the photography conference next year somehow.   I guess she will be missing that show now.

I am not sure how my wife is going to survive this loss. I have remained quite strong through this, mostly because of my writing, memorial planning and scheming to get the scholarship plan going.  I am at my best when I am in action and I fail miserably when I pause. Roni, on the other hand, is a person who isolates herself and goes into lock down when faced with adversity. In many ways my wife is stronger than I; when she finally comes out of this (if she does) she will be tougher than I have ever been. In the mean time, I have to try to be strong for both of us. Its tough though: I fear that I may alienate Roni by not appearing to be hurt by the loss of Calista.  If there is one thing this has taught me, its that grief does funny things to people.  I have become more driven and less tolerant of fools than I ever thought I could be.  My attitude now seems to be "Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way"; something that is far from a good point of view when you need people's help and support to attain your goals. Roni, on the other hand, is so fragile that a simple curt word from anyone is enough to cause her to fold and cry.  The problem here is that to heal you have to want to heal, and neither of us can see the point right now. We literally lived our life to give our girl a better life and future than either of us; what do you do when your reason for living is gone?

Today I returned to work. I agreed to do this without actually considering the day or date.  Two weeks ago today my world cracked open and burned.  I did not have a good day. When I finally escaped work and drove home, I could only remember the last time I came long Joyce Avenue during a business day I was returning home to a hysterical wife, a young police officer, a grief counsellor and my own version of hell.

Tomorrow I return to Courtenay to attend the opening of the College's annual photography show. All the artists have to be present for opening night; Calista's portrait will be there in her stead... and so will Roni and I.

1 comment:

  1. Bryce,
    You paint such a wonderful picture of Calista that I find myself deeply regretting that I didn't know her myself. I'm not surprised that she was an amazing, glowing, golden girl as I don't remember her father as a little grey man at all. I'm sure the combination of you and your Roni could only produce something spectacular.

    Your generosity (even if it is because you must in order to survive) in sharing your golden child with us all is much appreciated. I find myself laughing out loud at your descriptions and the various memories on the Facebook page.

    I hold my 'babies' (now 25 and nearly 29) tighter these last two weeks and am grateful for their being close at hand so that I can do so. To become a parent is to live at the edge of the cliff, always knowing (even if it is just a distant knowledge) that the abyss is there and you could end up at the bottom with no warning.

    Hold tight to each other now as you are as much Calista as she was you. Our thoughts and love are with you both as you navigate the abyss and make your way back toward the light.
    Muff and Doug