Thursday, 7 June 2012

Three Weeks: She Who Might Have Been

I am finishing up the third book of the "Hunger Game" series; it is almost the last thing I will be able to share with Calista.  She begged me to read them over the last two months, repeatedly telling me just how great they really were.  I never got around to it, preferring to read Hemingway because. For some reason, I thought he was a great writer.  It turns out my girl was right again: if you want entertainment and enjoyment, go with popular fiction every time. The "Hunger Games" trilogy really is addictive (she warned me).  It is tough to finish this series though; once it is done all I have left is memories of pleasant times spent together rather than actual experience.  I am limiting myself to a few pages per day to string out the pleasure.

Sharing stories with her friends near and far and her instructors this last three weeks, I am meeting a whole new Calista whom I did not really know. She had matured into just so much more than I had hoped for and, I expect, if she had  lived, the entire world would have been her pearl. Without appearing to be too self-centred it is hard to understand how Roni and I managed to produce such an incredible young woman and what sin we committed to have her ripped from us just as she was truly coming into her glory.  Anyone that thinks the world is "fair" is just a fool.

The repeated theme I am hearing from all my "witnesses" is her maturity and confidence. Calista did not feel obliged to fit her rounded body into society's square peg holes.  She was her own woman; she dressed with her own sense of fashion, she did not worry about her personal body image (hence her love of chocolate and sweets) and she pretty much spoke her mind. I am not sure if Calista was very diplomatic, but it did not seem to limit her socially; the number of people I have met that were absolutely crushed by her passing speaks loudly to how many friends she earned in her lifetime.

Calista never seemed to discriminate based on any of the artificial boundaries our society imposes on us.  When she was a high-school senior she was just as happy to hang with a bunch of grade ten drama-geeks (or artsy-geeks, or improv-geeks) as she was to party with grade twelve divas.  I remember her 17th birthday party in her senior year; the crowd assembled in my basement, fresh from a night of bowling, were an even mixture of kids representing practically all the grades at her school. She did not care what "clique" you belonged to, if she liked you, you were one of her people. And God help anyone that objected; her tongue could be as sharp as a bull-whip. Oh yeah, at that party she was wearing her famous birthday tiara for the whole night, even while bowling.

That party was a bit of a hallmark for me actually.  It was the first (and likely only) time that I had to play "father" rather than "witless sidekick" to my darling daughter.  About midnight I wanted to go to bed because I had work the next morning, but I really did not want to leave her party without some semblance of a chaperon (her mother had long since surrendered and was asleep on the couch upstairs).  I finally decided to split the difference and just go downstairs and read the kids the "rules of the house".  I coughed loudly, silencing the bunch of them, and then proceeded to make a complete ass of myself. "Kids, I have a don't ask and don't tell policy here. If you have been drinking tonight, then don't let me know it and I won't check you on it.  Anything that happens here stays here, I won't tell your parents......BUT if you have a car here, you are not driving. You are to come upstairs or send Calista and make any lame excuse you can muster to the effect you need a ride home. You lost your keys, you ran out of gas, you feel sick. I don't care.  If I find out that any of you have been drinking and then drove home, you will not be forgiven. I will talk to your parents and I will make sure you are punished. So just come and wake me up".  I thought I had done the "cool dad" thing; what I found out later is that I was forever more "the scariest dad of the high school".  I am not sure that Calista was not a little proud to have the scariest dad, but she was a little steamed at me that night. It did not help that half the kids there were on the MADD committee at school;I should have known that my daughter was not going to hang with the drinking and driving type kids.

Calista had such a wide spectrum of friends; I knew that likely in spite of my jaded, polarised view of the world, she was not prejudiced. Her boxing coach, whom she practically worshipped, was a very dark skinned man from the Dominican Republic.  I am sure if the young man had not been happily married, my daughter would have been after him like a cat on a mouse.  Roland was charming, and handsome and he had taken my girl, a hopeless slave to fashion and turned her into a skilled boxer despite the fact she was terrified of hitting someone or being hit herself.  She never actually got the chance to enter the ring for a real bout; life and then death got in the way.   Her best shopping friend was a physically beautiful boy that was so outwardly gay that it hurt me to realise his mother did not appear to know he was gay.  Calista adored Craig; it did not hurt that he was about the handsomest young lad in her group. Age, race, religion or sexual orientation just did not seem to register on that girl. She did seem to enjoy tormenting her religious friends with friendly jibes about their faith; that probably came from me.  I guess the joke is on me now; without faith that there is an afterlife I know that I will never see her again.

Her current group of friends really represents her very open view of the world.  My girl would never think to leave the house without checking to make sure she had proper colour matches or colour clashes (and cute shoes too).

 Jesse, her most common "wingman" is practically the opposite: she is a outdoorsy type who prefers practical over fashionable and comfortable over trendy.  Before she met Jesse, Calista's idea of camping was a room with a view billed to Visa; two weeks prior to her death she went tent camping with Jesse on Hornby Island and loved it. I think Calista even left the high heels at home that weekend. On the other hand, she did have designer rubber boots with high tops and a "lips and skulls" pattern emblazoned on them. I guess one need not abandon fashion for comfort and practicality.

 Kareen, who was the unfortunate soul who was present when Calista died, is a vivacious young woman who likes to mother-hen and protect her younger friends. I am sure she was the brunt of Calista's wry humour frequently since she was engaged to be married. Marriage was not an institution that Calista had much appreciation of. (Not that she had much reason to dislike marriage; her parents have been married happily for 24 years. She just could not see letting any boy get in the way of her photography carreer). I am just thankful that Kareen convinced Calista to stay the night prior to her death; otherwise my girl would have died alone in her apartment to be discovered hours or days later once people missed her.

 Hanna, her other engaged friend, found out how little Calista believed in marriage; Calista took over a half hour to reply mildly politely after Hanna announced with joy in her heart that she was newly engaged. Probably the worst reaction to an engagement announcement ever. Twelve years of Catholic school did nothing but feed my girl's irreverent approach to life. Calista probably frequently teased Hanna about her devout Christianity, but no doubt only with good thoughts in her heart.

Amanda had to deal with Calista's habit of just taking over people's lives and running them "Calista style". Once Calista got used to the idea that Amanda's family had an open-door policy to friends, she would just invade Amanda's house whether Amanda was at home or not. I heard that the Halloween candy supply was decimated by her regular attendance. I can only apologise for all the photo shoots my daughter inflicted on Amanda while they had to share an old film based 35mm camera during their semester of Black and White Photography. I guess Calista would just get mesmerised by one particular subject.She would waste immense amounts of time setting up one shot and then, when she was inevitably unhappy with the shots,  drag Amanda back to the site for more shots.

We have been leafing through her myriad of photographs, some of them finished product, some of them not so much.  I am amazed at both my daughter's productivity and her creativity.  She had a portable hard drive, several flash drives and two camera memory cards filled with images in various form. All in all, there are thousands of photos stored in those files.

  Since Roni and I are resolved that Calista complete her requirements for graduation from the Professional Photography Program, we have to complete her portfolio, a huge part of her final mark. Calista's file system probably meant something to her, but to her "left brain" father they were pretty much a mystery. Her mother and I were left with sifting through the images one by one, which was really quite a task since we had no idea how to view them except by laboriously opening each image individually. We did not even know the difference between a RAW file, a TIFF file or a JPEG file. We were in deep trouble.

  It took Jesse and Amanda together to find all the images we needed to complete her portfolio: it seems that one of her programs can open the photos in a multiple photo array. Once we found that, things got a little easier. Unfortunately, then we are faced with hundreds of photos of the same subject (typical of a photographer) and no idea which photo SHE thought was the best.  Once again Jesse and Amanda came through: I guess the photos that had been heavily edited had annotations next to them. That narrowed the search down to just three or four images that were the possible "finished product".  Luckily Calista had showed us most of the finished versions that she was going to select for her portfolio and we were able to fill the requirements for the 20 images.  Unfortunately, while we knew that her "major" was going to be advertising "product photos", we had no idea what her "minor" was going to be.  We finally settled on "creative explorations", a sort of grab bag that covers everything that Calista would have called "artsy". That's just fine as far as I am concerned; we then were allowed to enter some of her more unique photos that her mother and I liked.  I am not sure how her marks will be, but if the judges trash her, I give her full permission to haunt them (on the proviso that she come and haunt her mother and I after).

I really am going to have to return to Calista later, after the sharp edge of grief leaves me.  There are just so many things about her that were bigger than life that I probably need help to fill in the blanks. Her friends are assembling a book of memories for us to read later.  I have seen most of the stories and they reveal a person who lived life completely and absolutely.  Certainly there are moments that she had down time where nothing productive was done, but I realise those few moments were those she spent with us, her parents. Her trips home were her time to let down her hair and relax from all her labours out in the real world forcing it to bend to her will.   I guess everyone has one safe place they feel they can let go; I am glad we could give our girl that refuge.

I received an e-mail from the college registrar today. Calista will be awarded her certificate at the college graduation ceremonies June 22nd. The registrar was asking if her parents would stand up and accept her diploma for her.  My only possible reply was that I would indeed stand up for my girl. Of course I would.  That one little e-mail broke me; I cried uncontrollably for five minutes after I replied. All I could think of was all the times I will never see with her; I will never stand up beside my girl ever again. But I will stand up for my girl June 22nd....with tears in my eyes.

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