Monday, 23 July 2012

Two Months, Five Days: A Circle of Friends.

Today was a pretty tough day; weekends are always tough. We have time to think and get inside ourselves, always bad for the bereaved. Calista would normally be home for the weekend, doing laundry (or having Roni do it), getting her fill of cable TV and eating three squares a day.  She would also have camped out at Coast Fitness all Saturday, scoring as many fitness classes as she could. All that fitness and what did it get her? Dead at twenty.

My older brother Ivor called me today; he had received and completed a preliminary review of Calista's medical records of her last living moments.  The hospital did everything they could and maybe a few things that were beyond the call of duty. The medical records were insufficient to diagnose her cause of death exactly, but Long QT syndrome remains in the running.  Her initial ECG reading showed ventricular tachycardia with some prolonged QT segments, but nothing immediately fatal. It should have been convertible to normal rhythm with the applied electric shocks.  Subsequent rhythm traces showed a deteriorating condition as if some overwhelming toxicity was circulating and causing progressive damage. Of course, by that time, after over forty minutes of practically no circulation, there were all sorts of toxins building up in her blood stream. In fact, by the time she reached the hospital, declaring her dead was likely a mercy.  If they had revived her body, her  beautiful mind would have been permanently vegetative.

If there is a solution to this mystery, my brothers Dana and Ivor will figure it out.

Friends were such an important part of Calista's life, without meeting some of them, a reader would be left with less than half of the story. From the beginning, when she stood upon the couch in our front window at 409 Cook in Whitehorse bemoaning her "fwends" from the daycare, her comrades were probably as important to her as her parents.  Unfortunately, with my crazy long hours at work, I met so few of her circle that I am left with just a few characters to give you, but they may be the most important friends she ever had.

At North Island College Calista immediately fell in with  a tight knit group of young women in their early twenties. She was the youngest of the bunch, just nineteen at the beginning of the college year.  They were all, at heart, artists and photographers, so they had common ground; they spoke a common language.  Of course it helped also that they also loved animals and would have entire conversations about how they wanted to be reincarnated as cats in the next life. I know that Calista would be a really great cat; an animal who likes to sleep 18 hours a day and have her every whim catered to by hapless parents. Of course, the whole eating raw mice probably would have been an issue with the princess.

I never actually met any of Calista's friends for the first six months of her course at NIC.  I just heard about them in detail. Every call home contained another adventure with the girls: photo shoots in used sporting goods stores smelling of mould and unwashed hockey gear, late night movie outings and dance parties (documented on her iPhone). The names I heard were always the same girls: Jesse, Kareen, Amanda and Hannah. There is a natural rhythm to the names and they just felt right together.  Somewhere along the way I started to think of the group of them as "The Musketeers", inseparable friends with a common mission.

Over Christmas Calista told me that her friend Jesse had an injured dog which she was financially unable to get repaired. "Lucky", sporting the most unfortunate name a pet can possibly have, had ruptured his cranial cruciate ligament and as a result, probably destroyed the meniscus in his knee.  The border collie was unable to use the leg much by that point and if it went on much longer, I believed he would be permanently crippled.  As a favour to a friend of Calista, I offered to repair the knee at a substantial discount.  I am sure that my staff got a kick out of the notation on the bill: "Friend of Calista Discount".  This is how I met Jesse; she came and stayed with us in Powell River as I implanted an artificial ligament in her dog.

I cannot say I was completely surprised by Jesse. I knew she was an accomplished landscape photographer, so I sort of expected an outdoorsy type. Indeed, Jesse is a quiet  relatively tall, blond girl who prefers to dress in basic colours, loose fitting  comfortable clothes and sensible shoes. Calista and her made quite a team; the fashion forward princess with her mentor woodsman to introduce her to the west coast ways. Jesse was certainly the young woman we heard the most about; Calista spoke about her photography in practically worshipful terms and actually had bought a quite expensive photography magazine just to have a copy of one of Jesse's award winning photos.

I cannot say how grateful I am that Jesse came along.  I have photos of Calista playing on the snow of Mount Washington that even at my lowest ebb make me laugh (albeit through the tears).  She is wearing snowshoes and trying to run, jump and I swear at one point the group of them are dancing.  Calista went camping with Jesse the weekend before her last trip home and actually loved it. Despite the whole outhouse experience.  Even dealing with her prejudice against public washrooms (and really, does anyone like public outhouses?) was a comedy routine. The hapless Lucky was shanghaied by Calista into inspecting the outhouse prior to her entry; just in case there was a bogey man hiding in the hole.  I am sure that Calista setting up a tent was amusing, at least to the outdoor-ready Jesse.  Jesse's mom Anne even made a run at teaching Calista how to ride a bike, something she never mastered in Regina with it's 8 months of snow and cold. Anne failed as everyone before her had, but I do have a picture of Calista trying, laughing the entire time and really appearing to enjoy herself. I have to believe that Jesse had a lot to do with the metamorphosis Calista underwent those last 8 glorious months.

My only regret with Jesse is that I was the one to inform her that Calista had died and I did it in such a poor way that it had to be devastating to the young woman.  There are words that can never be unsaid, no matter how hard one wishes.  From the first few moments after I was notified of her death, completing her college certificate became my immediate reason to live.  I had no idea what projects were outstanding and how much work completing the certificate would entail, but I was sure Jesse would know everything and be willing to help.  I called her that afternoon and asked her to send me a list of Calista's outstanding projects and where I might find any work she had done on the assignments.  Jesse replied, with growing confusion, "Why not just ask Calista".  I paused, caught my breath, and replied "Oh God Jesse. I am so sorry. I didn't realise you didn't know yet".

"I didn't know what?"

There was a long pause while I pulled myself back under control....and then I just told her everything.

I didn't know until weeks later that she was home alone and that it was hours before her parents arrived to comfort her.

 As I said above, there are things that can never be undone no matter how hard you wish.

The other three girls that I knew the most about I never met until after Calista had died. More is the pity; I would have liked to meet these girls in much better times to completely see the joy in their hearts that Calista described to us. The whole troop came over to Powell River the Sunday following her death to pay their respects. They will never know how much we appreciated the effort. It made all the difference in those horrible first few days.

Amanda is the eldest of the Musketeers. At 26, Amanda seems to be the most organised and determined of the bunch.  She is a woman who knows what she wants and really does seem to know how to get it. For Calista, Amanda's claim to fame was her family's beautiful home down on the water near the ferry docks at Little River. Calista used to leave her little red Smart Car at Amanda's during her "home weekends" and just walk-on to the ferry, saving herself close to 60 dollars in ferry fare. Calista also liked to go down to Amanda's during the winter storms to watch the waves crash onto the beach. Prairie girls can be easy to entertain sometimes. Amanda's claim to fame with Roni and I was her amazing organisational skills as we arranged Calista's memorial. Amanda found a photography studio and arranged with Karen, the owner, to hold the memorial there (it helped that Karen was an NIC instructor and knew Calista), she sent Roni and I a list of caterers, and she worked all day decorating the studio perfectly. Without the Little General, I am not sure anything productive would have come of my efforts. Instead, the memorial was a truly beautiful goodbye to my little girl.

Amanda was the poor fool that ended up partnered with Calista for the black and white film course segment. The girls had to share an old but serviceable 35mm SLR loaded with some high speed black and white film that we had bought specially from a supply warehouse in Vancouver.  The first trip out was to a used sporting-goods store to photograph heavily used sports gear.  The first thing Amanda and Calista noticed was the overwhelming smell of old sweat and mildew emanating from the piles of hockey gear that filled the store. The immediate decision was to get-in, get-out and get it over with before both girls died of asphyxiation.  Unfortunately, neither girl counted on Calista's obsession with perfect composition (thanks to months of tutoring by one Jack Cowin). Calista became mesmerised with some old roller skates from the derby days of the eighties and near them, hung on some rafters, some ancient leather boxing gloves.  Instead of a drive-by photo shoot, poor Amanda had to sit by patiently while Calista spent the next hour trying to get the perfect shot in the low light conditions.  She also got to return to that same stinky store the following day and, I believe, the day after that because Princess Perfectionist still did not get the perfect shot she saw in her mind's eye.  I have that photo series stored in her portfolio here at the house; the final results were likely worth the effort . (one shot of boxing gloves went to her old beau Jared)

Hannah was another girl I heard many stories about.  Hannah was Calista's foil when it came to religious matters. You see, Hannah was a very strict Baptist Christian, which made her a perfect target for Calista's fervent and outspoken atheism.  After twelve years of a relatively strict Catholic curriculum, Calista was pretty clear on what her beliefs were and they did not come from a dusty book of unclear origins. Calista really did believe that ones morals should come from a rigid personal code rather than any external source. This perhaps explains Calista's very rigid morals: no free sex, no free alcohol, no free drugs, and no free ride were pretty much her personal motto.  Poor Hannah likely bore the brunt of many of Calista's caustic comments on organised religion.  The most humorous of these situations came from the famous engagement announcement.

Calista was always the first to class, usually by at least fifteen minutes. She would be already hard at work organising her day by the time most of her classmates meandered through the door.  One Monday Hannah arrived second to class, bubbling with joy and wanting to tell someone, anyone, the big news.  She pounced on her friend Calista, hastily erupting that she had gotten engaged that weekend. Calista just looked at her dumbfounded, no reply whatsoever.  Other people arrived in groups of twos and threes, and Hannah turned to tell everyone else her big news. Thirty minutes pass as the class settles into work. Finally, Calista stands up, slowly walks over to where Hannah was sitting and looks her in the eye. Calista says:

"I've thought about it. I guess I am Ok with you getting engaged.  Even if you are only twenty-one....I'm not a huggy type person, but I'll let you hug me if you want."

The following day Calista gave Hannah a condolence card.  I assumed that the condolences were for her rather despicable first reaction for the announcement rather than the engagement itself, but now I am not so sure. I guess we will never know for sure.

The last of the Musketeers to meet is poor Kareen. Kareen was one of the tight core consisting of Calista, Jesse and herself.  Those three were so inseparable that Boomer, the instructor, had taken to calling them "The Three Amigos" (of Disney fame). The three seemed to feed off of each other, finding inspiration and support while pushing each other to greater heights.  They also seemed to thrive on being just a little irreverent in everything they did.  I guess there was at least one photo shoot where they broke into an impromptu dance party: "I'm so Sexy" in the forest made everyone laugh, including Boomer.

Kareen was unfortunate enough to be the hostess of the bar-b-cue the night before Calista died.  She was the person that convinced Calista to sleep over rather than test the new, strict blood alcohol levels for driving. Kareen was one of the unfortunate souls who tried so very hard to give Calista CPR when her heart stopped functioning properly.  I'm not sure Kareen knows the success ratio of CPR, but someone should tell her that CPR has less than a ten percent chance of success if help is more than fifteen minutes away. She was sure, even as the paramedics were loading my daughter into the ambulance that this was all just a speed bump and that Calista would be back smiling and trading war stories that evening.  The possibility that big, strong irrepressible Calista could die never crossed her mind.

When Kareen appeared at my door that sad Sunday after Calista died, I could see the apprehension in her eyes. She, no doubt, felt that Calista's parents might hold her somewhat responsible for her death. She entirely misjudged the situation. We were grateful to Kareen.

The second words out of my mouth to Constable Kenning was to ask if she had been alone when she died. I could not face the idea that she was alone in her apartment, scared and unloved during her last moments.  It came as a huge relief to both Roni and I to know that she was surrounded by friends all trying to save her at the end. I hugged Kareen as she introduced herself, welcomed her into our home and asked her to tell her story. I remain indebted to Kareen; she cared for my girl enough to make her stay and she cared enough to try to save her. She stood her ground when Calista needed her the most and that counts for a lot.

The girls have all gone their separate ways for the summer. Jesse is isolated at an exclusive resort for wealthy yacht owners, catering to them as they ply the waters just east of Norther Vancouver Island. Amanda is working for Karen, owner of the "memorial" studio and Kareen is immersed in helping out an interior designer fulfil diverse commitments throughout the Comox valley. I had hoped to keep in touch with the "Musketeers" as a bridge to Calista (there is a word I learnt at the grief counsellor today), but I realise that, for everyone else, life is moving on. I cannot expect young women with an entire world to conquer to act as crutches for two broken middle-aged parents looking for a way back home.

Without Calista, neither Roni, nor I have a home anymore.
kareen, jesse, calista, and amanda

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