Friday, 27 July 2012

Two Months, One Week: She Wasn't Perfect.

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can't remember who to send it to

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again

James Taylor "I've seen fire and I've seen rain"

Mr. Taylor has it slightly wrong; even after they are dead you think you will see them again.  You look for them on the streets, in crowded restaurants, in the face of the twenty-something waitress who bares a vague resemblance to your daughter. Is it logical or sane? Define sane in an insane world where 20 year old healthy girls just stop living for no diagnosed reason whatsoever.  I am not sure if I ever will stop looking for her.  I doubt it will be any time soon.

So here is a little neat psychological pathology for my readers.  Veterinarians have to provide euthanasia to diseased and suffering animals as a daily part of their profession. It is unavoidable and, for the most part, a truly important part of providing humane veterinary care.  The process is pretty smooth usually: I sedate the animal heavily, place an intravenous catheter, and then inject a rapidly fatal dose of barbiturates that stops the brain first, followed immediately by the majority of the body functions.  The one hold-out in the body is the respiratory muscles; they usually continue to operate by simple reflex for several minutes after death. It can give the casual observer the impression of life, but for us trained clinicians it is just a natural part of the dying process.  Unfortunately, I now know enough about Calista's death that the vague description of "strange breathing" the witnesses observed translates to me as simple post-mortem reflexive breathing. Calista was probably dead long before the ambulance ever arrived. We never had a chance. 

Now, every time I euthanize an animal I see that "strange" breathing and I think about her death.  Every time I pronounce an animal dead I run through the same check-list that appeared on her last medical records: cyanotic mucosa membranes, fixed, dilated pupils, absent heart contractions. I relive my daughter's death with every euthanasia and I have to provide that service on a daily basis.  That concrete wall is looming in front of this crazy train a little closer ever day now; something is bound to break.

By now everyone is probably sure that I am incapable of being objective about Calista.You all probably assume my overwhelming love for my daughter makes me overlook most of her shortcomings. That is likely true; everyone has shortcomings and parents tend not to see them in their children, preferring to paint their offspring as some sort of sainted angels. On the other hand, I would never pretend Calista was an angel; in fact, she could be a bit of a demon from time to time.

Calista was always severely lax when it came to simple housekeeping. Helping out around the house was just not her thing and I am not going to sugar-coat this: it irritated both her mother and I to no end.  She would rarely help to clean up after dinner and doing dishes was practically a new form of torture as far as she was concerned.  Throughout high-school there was always some extremely important homework assignment that was due practically the next moment that would call her away straight from the dinner table. I frequently arrived home quite late from work or from teaching karate at a local dojo to find the dishes still waiting for me in the sink. I never expected Roni to do them by herself;  I am not a "that's woman's work" kind of guy, but it would have been nice if Calista could have stepped up to the sink regularly.  On the same token, its kind of unfair to complain about it now; we let her slough off the work for years, so we made our own bed.  I laughed about it after she died; the first thing I did when we entered her empty apartment was clean the dishes left over from her last home meal. It seemed too sad to me to leave them soiled in the sink.

You would think that Calista's unwillingness to do laundry would be an issue, but my wife really liked doing that little thing for our daughter. After Calista died, one of the soothing things Roni did was wash and press Calista's laundry that was left in her apartment.  We did laugh quite hardily when we found new bottles of laundry detergent and softener sitting unopened and unused months after Roni had bought them for her newly emancipated daughter off to college.  Calista actually did bow to domesticity a wee bit by buying a fancy steaming system for pressing clothes (as an alternative to ironing I presume). I found her steamer hidden away in a trunk under her stairs; it might have been used once.  Roni tried it last week to see how it performed; she quickly gave up and was back at the ironing board after a few minutes.  I think she might have been ironing some of Calista's dress clothes.....just in case.

Cooking was a complete comedy show with Calista.  She rarely tried and when she did it was like watching one of those Hollywood reality shows depicting the pampered and useless starlet playing housewife.  She actually called her mother at work routinely for solutions to common sense problems most of us had figured out by seven. She called once when she wanted to make soup and had no idea how to operate the manual can opener. She called back about ten minutes later having got the can open, but having no idea how much water to add to the contents of the can (instructions were on the label).  Then there was the call to her mother on how to make hard-boiled eggs. Her chocolate chip cookies were tasty, but because she guessed at all the measurements on the ingredients, the cookies all melted together to fill the cookie sheet in one big blob of cookie crisp.  I was sure my poor girl was going to starve to death when she left for college.  Calista actually got top marks in her grade 11 cooking class because she partnered up with Adam, an old friend, who also worked part time as a short-order cook. And that brings us to boys.

The truth be known, Calista really had little use for boys. For the most part she considered them similar to buses, if she failed to connect with one, well, there was bound to be another coming down the road any time soon. Besides, she didn't need a bus, because she had a car (driven by Daddy).  I still remember being absolutely horrified when she started dating at 14. To make things worse, she was dating another member of her swim team who happened to have a mother who really could not stand either Roni or me. The boy happened to be a talented and dedicated competitive swimmer, so the liaison benefited Calista's swimming immensely (she was really focused during that eight month period), but I am pretty sure it permanently hurt our relationship with the boy and his mother. Especially when Calista decided to throw him over for one of his best friends and informed him of her decision by "text-messaging".  She cried that day when I told her that under no circumstances was she ever to do that again; she was to avoid dating boys on the swim team, she was to avoid dating "best friends" and she sure as hell was to never break up by "texting" again.  Of course, maybe it was all for the best since the next boy taught her everything she needed to know about teen-aged boys and probably saved her a lot of wasted time.

The next kid, "the best friend", was a pretty good catch for her right off the bat. He was bright, athletic, popular and handsome in his own way. She broke my first two rules (no swimmers and no best-friends), but the heart wants what the heart wants.  I didn't mind the kid actually, even though I was pretty sure he was more intent on my daughter's bra size than her IQ score. They were practically inseparable for nearly a year, but we noticed some deep cracks forming towards the end as the boy applied more pressure on her to "give it up" as the case may be. Calista was not about to discard her virginity at barely sixteen and he was desperate to test-drive his breeding equipment, so something had to snap.  The fiery break-up came in early September, just as the school year started and the competitive swim season began.  Calista's situation pretty much spiralled down the toilette for the rest of that year as an ex-boyfriend became a new stalker and co-opted all his friends into a campaign of bullying and harassment that was apparently invisible to everyone except Calista, Roni and me.

I am not sure of what is going on with boys these days.  When I was a teen-ager and I broke up with a girlfriend, I pretty much went out of my way to avoid contact with the girl any way I could. If it meant leaving town for the summer or playing  secret ninja until tempers cooled, that's what I did. Now days, the boys break-up and find a new girl-friend immediately, but then continue harassing the old girl-friend and being possessive over her. I half expect to see vagrant boys lifting their legs and peeing on trees to mark territory around their "ex's" house.  This particular boy tormented Calista until she quit competitive swimming altogether, threatened any boy that so much as talked to her and verbally abused any girl that remained friends with her.  He even physically threatened a clearly gay friend she used to go to movies with on the weekends. How insecure must a boy be to threaten an obviously gay boy who happens to befriend an ex girl-friend? 

One of the boys involved actually approached me a year later to offer his heart-felt apology; it was the original jilted boyfriend. He felt terrible because he had watched the harassment go on for most of the year and had not had the guts to step up and step in to stop it.  That boy became a man the day he came forward and shook my hand, at least in my eyes.

After that Calista pretty much swore off boys for nearly three years until the star-crossed Jared fell into her life. Even Jared had to work hard to prove his worth; I'm not sure she actually accepted any dates for over two months of courting from the boy. Jared must have been a pretty determined young man and, in the end, he proved his worth. As a couple, those two never fought and never seemed to be co-dependent to the point that they had no life without the other.  This is yet one more tragedy that has come from her loss.

Calista was possibly the worst driver I ever saw. She was so bad that she did not even know how bad she really was.  Teaching her to drive was absolutely terrifying.  Many a time I thankfully kissed the ground after one of our lessons, just glad to be alive.  As Calista drove anywhere, she would watch the road like a hawk, but she did not actually see the road or the traffic.  I am not sure if she ever realised that there is far more to driving than just operating a motor vehicle; you have to cooperate and interact with all the other people on the road at the same time.  To her, the laws of the road were kind of the like "The Pirates Code"; more general guidelines rather than actual rules. How an artist who presumably understood "colour between the lines" could not figure out the line down the centre of the road was more than just a suggestion I will never understand.  The little red Smart Car was a bow to her terrible driving.  The Smart Car is one of the safest vehicles on the road. It has sturdy Mercedes construction (those doors need slamming), a re-enforced roll cage surrounding the driver and it is incapable of really dangerous speeds. Furthermore, it would take a gifted Yoga practitioner to get pregnant in one of those cars; a true bonus to a man who was not ready to be a grandfather.  She did get progressively better at driving with experience, but the Smart Car remained a perfect Calista car right to the end. (Oh, and as far as I know, she never washed or cleaned out her car once in all the years she drove it; I guess that was my job...and I did it happily.)

Calista suffered from foot odour. Yes, foot odour.  She had several pairs of shoes that she described as "no longer house friendly". Liberally translated that means "something died in those shoes and it is now a rotting zombie".  In all fairness, her worst shoes were the many pairs of canvass high tops and skater shoes.  Canvass shoes always get pretty rank eventually.

Calista could be downright mean from time to time.  She was not mean very often, but, quite frankly, her nasty streak was predictable.  She could not suffer a whiner. Chronic complainers got about two chances with her and on the third strike she cut them off and basically finished the relationship with the classic words "Oh, just suck it up!!" She would have said that to Roni and me about a month ago if she were sitting in judgement.  Calista could not tolerate drug users or "Stoners" as she called them. Stoners did not even get a first chance with her; the first sign of marijuana use and you were given the short line to the door.  One poor girl in her photography class came to the first day of classes surrounded in a grey haze of cannabis fumes and Calista never even tried to be polite to her; I saw a note on Facebook from the girl trying to find some way to reconcile with my girl.  Calista never answered the very polite letter.  Alcohol was something Calista would just barely tolerate, but God help you if you drove while intoxicated.  That was a relationship finisher. Finally, her attitude to girls who just settled down and had babies with the first boy they came across out of high school was downright caustic.  She just could not see  "settling" as being a worthwhile lifestyle and she was pretty open with her attitude.  Diplomacy was not my girl's strong point by any means.

Finally, I have to admit that my darling daughter could be a wee bit arrogant and condescending from time to time. There were two instances that come to mind immediately, one which makes me smile while the other makes me grimace.  While Calista was living in Courtenay it snowed maybe three times. Courtenay gets a disgusting wet, greasy snow that challenges a person to walk safely much less drive.  When you consider that the majority of people living there do not have snow tires and rarely get experience snow driving at all, its a wonder that any of them leave the house at all when it snows.  The Smart Car is very good in the snow, we had winter tires installed on it every November, and Calista got her license driving in the ice and snow of Regina. To say she held the Courtenay drivers in contempt would be an understatement. She just could not fathom how the town would just shut right down the moment a few flakes flew and would crow her "snow driving" skills quite loudly.  Hubris, nothing but pure hubris.  Roni and I laughed and rolled our eyes because we knew the truth on her driving skills.  Calista was pretty confident in her computing skills. Sometimes she liked to lord her skills at the keyboard over Roni and I and we would just smile and tolerate it. The problem is that she tended to be a bit condescending with the clinic staff, not realising the visual of a 20 year old girl playing school-marm to women older than her mother was not very appealing.  I had to ask her to tune it down a notch several times while she worked at the clinic. I notice now that many of the helpful instructional notes she left behind have been quietly discarded and replaced with less irritating and more helpful lists now. Perhaps we could have done a better job preparing her for the corporate workplace where she would have to deal with people of all ages, not just her generation.

Some people may find my frank assessment of Calista a wee bit surprising.  Up till now I have portrayed her as pretty much a perfect angel sent from above to save us all from bad taste and poor art.  Some people may think that I might love her less because of these supposed shortcomings.  Not so.  I loved everything about that girl (Ok: the canvass sneakers stored in my garage not all that much) and it was perhaps her shortcomings that I loved the most.  Its kind of like watching that dreadful show "American Idol": the singers with perfect pitch and flawless tone all seemed so vanilla and boring to me, while the singers with some special, unique flaw were the performers that I always cheered for.  Calista was unique and her rough edges were important parts of that individuality.  It's the nature of this world: you cannot have the good without the bad, the "yin" without the "yang".

 It comes back to my earlier post where I quoted Garth Brooks song "The Dance": I could have done without the pain, but then, I would have had to miss the dance.

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