Saturday, 7 July 2012

Seven Weeks,Two Days: Land Mines and Cheap Sun Glasses.

We spend so much of our time denigrating our fellow humans and sometimes with good cause, but often with little other reason than it is the popular thing to do. I am here to tell you today that in general humans are much better than we all think; the measure of anyone is not how they perform in the best of times, its how they stand-up in the worst of times. Practically everyone, even complete strangers from the other side of the planet, has been absolutely wonderful and supportive over these last horrible 7 weeks.  Thank-you: even when words fail, the very fact people tried speaks loud and clear.

When a person dies suddenly, there always is little secrets and treasures that turn up sporadically for weeks and months after their death. My own father had bank accounts peppered all over the city in some of the most unlikely financial institutions; my mother found secret cash accounts for three years after he finally gave into the Parkinson's Disease. My daughter, while less than a quarter of her grandfather's age when she died, still has had a few surprises for her mother and I.  Little land mines ready to just explode when we least expect them.

I have commented on the appearance that my daughter was subconsciously preparing for some momentous change in her own life.  Projects organised weeks in advance, repeated omens that "time was of the essence" and catch phrases that might be interpreted as prescient to those left behind. That general trend came back this last week at least twice. I am still left wondering about my girl and what she sensed might be coming.

My wife finally settled most of Calista's financial matters this week. She had two accounts in two banks, one which she seemed to use as a daily operating account while the other appeared to be a savings account. I have no idea what was in her operating account; we have not received the details yet from the bank ( banks never seem to be too willing to give your money back once they have it). On the other hand, my little girl had over $9000 dollars sitting in her savings account.  I was floored. Where the heck did that come from Roni and I wondered? The last time she had been home she had been asking for another draw on her trust account because she was getting a bit shy on the operating finances. What the heck is up with this we thought?

I had my banker look into her finances and he could account for every penny. It seems Calista had been living on her own savings for the most part and leaving the "trust" money alone in her savings account. I am not sure if she had a plan for that money (I know she had her eye on the newest version of the Canon D1s, a ten thousand dollar camera body; I am not sure if she had taken into account the fact she was going to have to get all new lenses as well) or if she intended to just return the money to the family trust unused. I know she was a little defencive about the fact she was a proverbial "Trust Fund Kid"; all her friends were either living at home still or struggling to just get by while she lived pretty well with very few financial worries. There seemed to be a rebellious insistence on being fully independent lately, so I think she might have just being trying to prove she could make it without dipping into the dreaded trust fund.  Either way, it is a bit ironic that the largest single contributor to her memorial scholarship will be Calista herself this year.

Financial responsibility coming from a kid who could never pass up on purchasing a pretty pair of shoes and who owned an amazing number of pairs of sneakers. Especially pink and purple sneakers.

Late Wednesday night I was playing with her treasured iPhone, just cruising through some of the files I had already looked at. Those iPhones are one amazing piece of technology. Really.  I finally found her Facebook page; it was filled with outdated personal messages (they all stopped right around May 17th, imagine that!) that I skipped over and some inane advertising from various shopping and entertainment sites.  My daughter was a Facebook follower of all sorts of celebrities, the only one I actually knew was Ellen Degeneres. Finally, I came across the "photos" setting where most of us have maybe two or three poorly composed, exposed and focused phone-camera candid shots. She had over 200 photos stored in the memory of that phone, most of them pictures of her taken and shared by friends. Think about that for just a moment...

My daughter had left behind a treasure of  candid photos of herself taken by her good friends. These are not posed portraits (which are very nice to have, but hardly show the inner soul of anyone), these are pictures of a young woman goofing around with friends, having fun and generally enjoying her life.  These are glimpses into the real Calista, the Calista her friends knew and loved rather than the mature, serious Calista that Roni and I always saw at home or at the clinic. While I will always love those portraits of Calista  that Jesse gave us, these candid photos are pure gold and they will never fail to make us smile in the years to come.

Calista had also archived a bunch of photos taken over the years; some of the shots were taken by Roni and I, some of them by friends and some of them are school shots. There were many from her high school graduation: she was wearing purple high top sneakers with the gold and red cap n' gown. That was certainly a fashion statement. There were quite a few from her after-grad celebration; I guess off the shoulder dresses were very much in vogue that year. In fact, I think off the shoulder dresses are popular every year, despite the fact very few women of any age can pull that type of dress off successfully. Gravity can pull them off, but not most women. The women reading this will understand as they remember how often they had to adjust their last off-the-shoulder creation. There was an entire series of photos dedicated to her final high-school drama-club play "I Never Saw Another Butterfly"; an excellent production of a dreadful story of the Jewish Holocaust. I loved the effort, hated the play, but my girl loved acting, so I attended (and was quite upset to find that she only had one short line in the entire two hour play). Then there was any number of shots taken while she worked on the Student Rep Council (SRC).  Calista actually ran for student body president one year; I loved her original  campaign advertising DVD, but I was very glad she lost the election. Diplomacy was never her strong point and I think she would have made a lot of people very angry as a president.  And then there were all the pictures of her European trip in grade 12.

Way back in grade 9, Calista came to me all excited about a planned school trip to New York City; for just short of $2000 she could spend 5 days in NY,NY; she would see a Broadway play, visit all the big art galleries (a huge deal for her and I) and get to shop till she dropped.  I was somewhat less than thrilled; two thousand dollars was a pretty large amount to put aside in just a few months and the truth be told, neither Roni nor I was all that happy about our little girl going to the Big Apple for any reason.  At the time, rather than just say no (something I really never learnt to say to my little girl), I deferred and told her that she could go on the next trip that came up.  I guess I did not realise that the school did trips every year, I kind of thought I was deferring the trip idea for a lifetime rather than a season.

Eighteen months later, in the tail end of Grade 10 Calista sat both her mom and I down at the kitchen table for a "family meeting". This was a first for Calista; usually she just asked and received whenever she wanted something. It did not bode well that the conversation started with "Dad; do you remember when you promised you would make the New York trip up to me back in Grade Nine ?".  I tried to play dumb but, uncharacteristically, Roni failed to back me up. Roni did remind me that I had promised Calista that she could go on the next school trip that came up. Then the bomb dropped: this trip was a ten day excursion to Italy and Greece. Oh crap.

I was pretty unhappy about the turn of events, but I must give it to Calista, she did her financial homework. The trip was not actually scheduled for another eighteen months, to fall over the Easter break of her Grade 12 year and EF Tours had an entire program where they automatically charged a monthly fee to my Mastercard, so the full amount would be paid in full long before she ever left the ground. How wonderful! I get to send my child thousands of miles away with strangers and go even farther into debt with my good friends over at Mastercard. I have a suspicion that Roni and Calista had discussed the project in detail before I got home from work and that the decision was never really in my hands at all. So of course my girl got to go to Europe in Grade 12 and I am pretty sure she never did a lick of fund raising to help me pay for it; everything was as it should be in the world for Princess Calista.

The trip itself was really quite something and I wholeheartedly recommend the EF Tours program to anyone. They do a pretty good job really and it is quite affordable if you have enough leeway to pay in instalments.  On this trip the kids fly through the night to land in Rome in the early morning. From that moment onwards their days are pretty much planned to the second. Three and one half days in Rome, one day in Pompeii, and then an overnight ferry ride over to Southern Greece. The students then spend four days touring Southern Greece and fly home from Athens.  We heard from our darling daughter twice; once when she landed and once on the way home (from some airport in Germany I think; I am pretty sure she just wanted to make sure we were at the airport to meet her and that the cat had missed her).

Calista was in fine form for the whole trip. The road warrior of her youth was still hidden down inside the princess of her teen years and jet lag was something other people suffered from.  She was terribly disappointed with her class mates though; they were supposed to enjoy tour excursions starting from the moment they disembarked the air plane, but most of the kids were so tired and sick that they had to forgo all day trips that afternoon.  They settled on coffee and scones in the Piazza del Popolo.  Now how cool is that? Really? I would have done anything to sit beside my girl and watch the Romans stream by, surrounded by Renaissance buildings and fountains built over the remains of an ancient coliseum.

When Calista was off to Rome, I asked her for photos of just a few things: The Pantheon, St. Peter's Square, anything inside St. Peter's Cathedral, and possibly the Sistine Chapel.  She got great pictures of the Pantheon (predictably the outstanding domed roof), a few pictures of St. Peter's Square and one of two God-awful pictures of the inside of the Cathedral.  We misjudged one thing though: it was Easter and there was hundreds of thousands of people in Rome for the high holy days. Furthermore, the Sistine Chapel was off limits for the Easter masses. The other thing I forgot was that any tours through St. Peter's Cathedral are going to be done at a constant marching pace so the tens of thousands of pilgrims that travel to Rome every year can see the church. Has anyone out there ever tried to take a picture in low light conditions while keeping up the constant pace of a tour-guide? I have a blurry photo of Michelangelo's Pieta behind bullet proof glass and that is as good as she could get.

One classic Calista story came out of this.  When the school originally arrived within the Vatican compound, the tour had not actually planned for the students to visit the Cathedral. The papal Easter speech was scheduled and the tour thought that there would be no time for a walk through of the church. As it ended up, the Pope was short and to the point (Calista was pretty sure it was the Pope, but from 450 yards, the little guy in the white hat could have been a trained chimpanzee as far as she knew) and they actually found themselves with plenty of time to visit the Cathedral. The problem now was that my little girl had worn shorts on the excursion and there was no way any woman was entering the Pope's church with bare knees.  Not to be denied, Calista tracked down a street vendor who sold large scarfs that could be made into skirts that would just cover her knees.  Success!!  My girl still owned the holy scarf when we cleaned out her apartment; that and a whole load of much nicer scarfs that she wore around her neck practically every day.  How very continental.

Calista amassed quite a collection of cheap sun-glasses on her European vacation, each pair more gaudy and tasteless than the last. In each photo we have of that trip she seems to sport a different pair; some green, some orange, one pair of huge aviators which seemed to be a favourite, and a couple of pairs that only a teen-ager would wear. One of the classic photos that we had to laugh about was a group photo of some of her close friends in a circle, each one sporting another pair of Calista's collection.  When we retrieved her car from the house that she died at I had to collect two pairs of cheap sun glasses off the seat before I could even sit down. Those pairs are still kicking around her little Smart Car.  We must have close to a dozen pairs between her car, her bed room and the basket hidden in our front closet.  They were just a variation on her costume fetish.

The best pictures of her trip had to be the "kids goofing around" shots.  There were a series of pictures with her and two or three of her friends doing "Vogue" poses while standing on top of various Greek monuments. I am sure the Greeks were very pleased to have our good Canadian kids climbing up their 3000 year old marble antiquities just so they could "strike a pose".  I also am sure that my girl Calista was behind the whole escapade since she seemed to be very good at posing for the camera (and that is exactly what her portrait photography instructor told me too).  Right now, there is no greater treasure to me than these photos: they show my kid at her very best; having spontaneous fun with her friends. That is something parents rarely ever see.

I expect to run across many "land-mines" as we sift through the flotsam and jetsam of her young life cut short. Most, I hope, will bring a smile to our face, albeit with a generous helping of tears at the waste.  The windfall of memories that came with the finding of those photos Wednesday night was a two edged sword though.  Both Roni and I laughed and cried at the same time, but after the lights were turned off and the quiet of the house was ascendant, the wave took Roni and dragged her under deeper than it had in weeks. She cried as hard as she did that very first terrible day, perhaps even harder.  The sobs wracked her body and I was sure she was going to either pass out from hyperventilation or vomit from the abdominal heaving.  The only coherent thing she could say was "Why?".  The sooner the coroner can come to some conclusion the better.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing about your beautiful daughter. A parent should never have to bury a child. I am so sorry for your loss.