I had to apologise to my wife last night. I realised that my zealous atheist rants of the last few weeks have been more than a little hypocritical. Certainly, I still have a grudge against whomever or whatever God you may want to quote to me, but deep down I still have a little mystical faith left in my heart: faith there is some meaning to all of this and that I have some chance of seeing Calista again. My rantings at how meaningless life is was hurting my wife terribly; she needs to believe that she will see her little girl again in such a bad way that denial of the existence of an afterlife is nothing short of cruel. Of course, the corrolary of the existence of a God and an afterlife is that our God, the God that took my little girl, is a cruel and unjust God unworthy of our worship. Vengence may rest only in the Lord's hands, but contempt is all mine.
I can understand now why people who have lost loved ones tend to turn to mysticism and the occult. The store-front offices of the mediums, sooth-sayers and palmists are filled with bereaved spouses, children and parents looking for some contact, some last words from their dearly departed. There is nothing I would not do to hear my Calista one more time, perhaps find out what really happened that fateful morning and maybe find out where the growing list of "lost" personal items may be. Of course, just one contact would never be enough for either Roni or I, so that would explain why the quacks of the occult have so many repeat customers. PT Barnum once said that a sucker is born every minute; not all of the suckers are new born babies; some are newly bereaved family.
Harry Houdini spent most of his professional life debunking spiritualism and, if you believe his family, planned on dedicating his afterlife to his quest as well. Houdini told his wife that if there was any truth to heaven, hell and the afterlife that he, the greatest escape artist of all time, would find a way to escape and come back. Houdini's wife died many years after the great magician was gone (he died quite young from a ruptured appendix) and she went to her grave without the slightest sign that Harry had found his way home. My Calista was not a famous escape artist and had no belief in the after-life either, so I am not waiting expectantly for any calls-home from the nether world.
On the other hand, I am seeing mystical omens around every corner. The things I am imagining or wondering about are just so scattered that I have to question my sanity.
I have been reviewing everything I did with or said to Calista over the last few months of her life, looking critically for things that I might have missed that could have saved her. I realised that our relationship had matured quite a bit over the last two years of her life; I had stopped treating her like my child and had started to treat her like my adult daughter. The comfortable cats-play teasing and taunting that we had between us while she was growing up was gone and had been replaced with a far more mature friendship between two people that genuinelly respect each other. When Calista was at work in the clinic, I had treated her like an employee who was expected to perform well and was rewarded when she exceeded my demands. Out in public she was now my adult companion rather than my youthful charge, while at home she had become my IT and entertainment advisor ( she told me how Facebook, Google Chrome and Twitter worked...and picked all the good movies). I remember that I had been consciously preparing her for the inevitable day when I would not be around anymore to help her when she needed a father. I know I was making sure I had left as few loose ends as possible for her should I die suddenly (I guess my trip to the ICU in December was hanging over my head). I wanted to make sure that there was nothing left unsaid if tomorrow never came. I just never considered that our positions would be reversed. When I started wrapping things up, did I see something that made me think that an end was coming? Did my conscious brain miss something my unconscious brain picked up? Perhaps my self-centered concern for my own health issues allowed me to overlook something in her that I should have seen. That is something I will think about for the rest of my life.
At Christmas Calista gave her mother a "tryptic series" of photographs. As the name implies, the pictures form a sequence that tell a simple story. In this case, the photographs are a stark, black on black study of an hourglass with light violet sands of time slowly running down the glass. The first picture shows the glass half full, the second almost empty, while the third shows "time is up". The obvious message our daughter gave my wife for Christmas was that "Time Is Running Out". Her friends tell us that Calista just really liked the visual of the tryptic and did not attach any importance to the sequence. In retrospect one has to wonder if she did not unconsciously see some momentous change coming. Calista never got to see the pictures framed; their custom ordered frames arrived the Monday following her death.
The portraits that Jesse did of Calista are breathtaking and beautiful. Consider for a moment how fortunate Roni and I are to have not just one, but a series of professionally done portraits of our daughter as she was a few short weeks before her death? How many parents are left with nothing but cloudy memories and poor quality high-school year-book photos when their child suddenly dies? Roni and I have at least ten top quality photos of Calista, some of them beautiful candid photos of her just goofing around being a worry-free young adult. One of the pictures, the best of the lot probably, shows Calista in a grassy field, half turned toward the camera, smiliing in the sunlight, her head cocked slightly to the right and her hair cascading down onto her shoulders. Depending on my mood, I see her either turning toward me in greeting or just saying goodbye as she turns away. Which is it I wonder? Is she saying goodbye? Were the portraits just some miracle of serindipity where fortune and tragedy collided, or did my girl see the coming storm and prepare?
How many of us have our affairs in order to the extent that our family could just pick-up where we left off and finish our life for us? I personally know that my desk is buried under half completed case files and unfinished management issues. If I died tomorrow the unGodly mess that would face Roni and my staff would be impossible to fathom. It would be a disaster. On the other hand, Calista left us with all the heavy lifting already done. The only outstanding work left to complete her collegiate certificate were projects she had not been assigned yet: a couple of business course assignments and one big landscape field trip scheduled ten days after her death. Even her all-important portfolio was practically completed; it took us about an afternoon with the help of her friends to assemble the portfolio into a presentable file. The marks for the portfolio were returned this last Friday; in a class of 12, four failed outright and the highest mark awarded was in the mid-seventies. Calista came in at a very respectable 71%; not bad for a person that had been dead for 6 weeks, don't you think? I can only imagine how she would have done if she had been alive to apply her detail oriented perfectionist hand to the task.
Throughout her life, Calista never seemed to have a sense of fleeting time. Her school assignements were often completed very late the night before their due date and often were far less than polished. It really was only this last two years that Calista was taking complete control of her life and becoming the ultra-focussed task master that she was at the time of her death. I guess I have to wonder if she sensed that time was of the essence. Tempus fugit and Carpe diem: did she sum it up with her tattoo "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live"? Why, after a lifetime of procrastination, did Calista embrace such a rigid organisational and work ethic in the last year of her life? I love her all the more for it, but did she sense something coming?
Then, of course, there is the tattoo. "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live". How fitting that something said to an grieving orphaned boy in my daughter's favourite book has become a mantra that both Roni and I have to embrace if we are to move on from this tragedy. If we two cannot stop dreaming for a day that will never come we will remain just treading water in the deep end of this dark and sour-smelling pool that has become our life. Right now we take no joy in anything and those quiet moments left for introspection that most adults anticipate, we only cry harder as we consider what might have been. Why did our Calista have that one small quote that has come to mean so much to us tattooed on her arm less than a year before leaving us? Did she want to leave us with some light to guide us, or was it just another coincidence?
As I said, there are omens everwhere for members in the Club of the Damned.
I have started dreaming about Calista just these last few days. She has not spoken to me or given me any worthwhile advice. My dreams are running to my standard nightmare: I need to be somewhere in a few short moments and everyone is pretty much either telling me to hurry up or impeding my efforts in every way possible. I guess this is a pretty common nightmare: it is recalled by the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland as he runs because he is late for a very important date (the mad hatter's tea-party I can only assume). In my dreams these last two nights Calista is just a silent partner to her much more vocal mother telling me to hurry up. Alice in Wonderland was Calista' second favourite book after the Harry Potter series. She had two copies of it over her bed, had purchased and watched Tim Burton's version numerous times, had themed one of her major photographic projects around Alice in Wonderland, and had even started a new large tattoo of Alice herself on her left shoulder. How fitting is it that a girl who was running out of time was entranced by a story that centers much of its tale around how fleeting time really is? The tattoo will never be completed now; it was her original creation and Van will never use that template again. Time ran out.
I awoke yesterday morning with a smile on my face; I had remembered a Calista story in those few peaceful moments I have each morning before I remember that she is dead and gone. When Calista was about four she and I got into a habit of going out on short excursions around Regina just because I liked showing my daughter off to the world (and also giving her mother a short break from motherhood).
Perhaps our favourite field trip was to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, found in the down-town core just off Wascana Park. While most of the kids seemed to gravitate to the large dinosaur fossils, Calista always headed for the dioramas of Native Canadian Life which filled half the bottom floor of the museum. She seemed intrigued by the life-like depictions of traditional native life from the nineteenth and early twentieth century and could spend hours pointing and chatting in baby speak to me about the displays. One day, while my back was turned for a moment, she decided to crawl into one of the exhibits; I guess she wanted to see what a dog-sled was like to ride in. She managed to set off the motion sensor alarms and all of a sudden we have horns going off throughout the museum. I did not have an idea what the heck was up, but she obviously knew exactly what had happened, since by the time I had turned to check on her whereabouts she had departed the exhibit and was running like a cut-cat down the museum hallway, past the security guards sprinting to respond to the alarm, laughing her fool head off all the way. By the time I caught up with her and scooped her into my arms, I was red faced and embarrassed (by this time I knew what the alarms meant) and she was just laughing to the point of tears. It was impossible to be angry with her because she obviously thought it was hilarious (especially how red-faced daddy was), but we departed the museum like Lot leaving Sodom: we did not look back and we did not return to the museum for a very long while (hoping that the guards would forgive the trangression over time).
I keep on on hoping that this nightmare is just another example of Calista running away from me, soon to be scooped back into my arms laughing her fool head off at my inconvenience. Just let it be a dream.