Sunday, 19 August 2012

Three Months, Two Days: Ghostwriter

Teen-Aged Basket Case circa 16yo

Some wise man once said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity. While I hardly consider myself a genius, there are some things I have personal insights into since Calista died.  I understand where all mysticism and faith comes from: it does not spring from the wonder of this beautiful world, it comes from loss and sorrow. When you have lost everything, all you have left is faith that there is more to this world than what our five senses perceive and a mystical belief that there is some balance to this world. Be it a belief in heaven, reincarnation, fate or ghosts, it all springs from the desperate need of the bereaved  for there to be more than just our bleak world.

One of the things that has been bothering me lately is the nature of time and specifically anniversary dates.  For example, Roni and I mark a milestone each Thursday at 6 am: exactly one more week has passed since Calista died. Then there is the 17th of each month; that represents one more month without her.  On the other hand, is this more significant if the 17th of the month falls on a Thursday? Is that some sort of special milestone?  How about the true anniversary of her death next year? It will fall on a Friday rather than a Thursday; so will that change it's significance? In fact, May 17th will not fall on a Thursday until 2018, 6 years from now. Even that will only occur because we will have a leap year inserted in 2016 because our perception of time does not actually match the real time of the cosmos. So that brings us to the whole galactic time clock.

We don't actually know why Calista died. Perhaps it was her time simply because all the stars, planets, moons and asteroids aligned "just so" at that moment in time and caused her poor heart to misfire without any prior warning or episodes. Maybe something about the planetary alignment and the interacting gravitation fields was just wrong for her.  Extend this: If I live long enough or wait long enough, will the cosmos align just perfectly once again on some May 17th years from now and let her come back? Maybe just for a few moments  to set things right with her mother and I?  Hell, maybe she could just tell us what really happened and where the missing photographs and Ipod have gotten to.  Or she could dispense with the words and give us a hug. That would be something anyway.

Faith and mysticism is all we have left.

Friday, three months after her death, we received a letter from our Calista.  It took 6 years and two weeks to get here, but I hand it to Canada Post, the mail did finally get through. If there is any afterlife, somewhere Calisa is simultaneously laughing at the irony and cringing in embarrassment. You need a little back-story though.

Way back in Grade 9, when the princess was barely 15, her Social Studies teacher had her write a letter to herself when she was 20. I guess the idea was to create a little time-capsule to remind the graduates what their original dreams had been and how far they had come.  The teacher would hold onto the letters and send them out when the students were twenty.  Even back then, barely out of pig-tails and knee socks, Calista knew she was heading out to BC to chase her dreams.  With her best friend of the day Danielle, she cooked up a scheme to make sure the letter eventually was delivered.  Calista put our family home address in Regina on the letter, but had a return address of Danielle's  family homestead farm.  The obvious result would be that when the letter arrived at our home address either Roni and I would intercept it and forward it to wherever she landed, or it would bounce back to the Danielle's family and Dani could forward it.  The plan worked out perfectly; it's nice to know that something worked out for my girl.

Danielle contacted me through Facebook two weeks ago and told me that she would be sending us the letter.  We had no idea it existed and needless to say it created quite a stir. The anticipation of that letter, a letter written six years ago by a teen-aged Calista we hardly remembered nearly killed us.  Each day we rifled through the mail at the clinic, the disappointment growing each day until we started to  get scared that that precious letter had survived all those six years only to be lost on it's last short trip to Powell River.  There is some irony to the day of it's final arrival at the clinic: Friday, August 17th, exactly three months (or not since it was a Friday rather than a Thursday?) after her death.  Roni found the letter sandwiched between a bill from Revenue Canada and an advertising flier from Staples. You never seem to get enough of that type of mail.  Quietly, she slid it into her purse to be left until later,to be read in the privacy of our home.  Anticipation had become reality and desire had become fear. How would the words from the past touch us? So far, all that sort of thing had broken us down nearly to primal screaming and mindless crying. 

I finally finished work and got home about 7 in the evening. My head was pounding and I was completely exhausted from a busy and frustrating afternoon that culminated with an ancient and decrepit dog flooding my waiting room floor with urine before collapsing into the newly formed lake from exhaustion. The smell of urine permeated my clothes and filled my nose as I drove home, dreading what I might find when I arrived. 

Much to my surprise, Roni was in good shape, all smiles and serving up a warm meal.  I looked around for the open envelope and found the still sealed letter from Danielle atop the kitchen island. Roni had felt it more proper for us to open it together and probably be there to help each other cry.  We decided to leave it until after dinner when we could sit down with drinks in our hands and open it with clear, calm minds. 

After the few dirty dishes (each meal reminds us that there are only two of us now) were washed, rinsed, dried and put away, we retreated to the deck to enjoy the warm evening air and read our mail.  We tore the envelope open and found inside it a second envelope addressed to Calista in her childish teen-aged scrawl. The writing was certainly hers; spidery, small and rushed but clearly legible.  With baited breath we carefully opened the second envelope and slid the paltry single sheet of lined foolscap out into the light for the first time in over 6 years. And we exhaled and laughed.

I am not sure what we expected, but common sense should have prevailed at some point.  She was barely fifteen when she wrote the letter, so why we thought it might be profound I have no idea.  The entire sheet, both sides, was filled with disorganised, grammatically deficient incomplete sentences basically telling us her favourite bands, favourite songs, favourite movies and a long list of her friends of the day. There were many self-depreciating comments to the effect she was "just so Emo", whatever the hell that means. There were a couple of comments about how lame her parents were (I think every teen-ager on Earth is sure their parent is the biggest loser on the planet) and there were several good shots at whoever her boyfriend of the day was. Then there was her final parting shot to herself: "get a good job or marry someone rich". Nothing deep here at all; just teen-aged angst mixed with hormone driven emotional hypebole.  Roni and I were positively deflated after weeks of anticipation.

I sat and thought about the whole letter and realised that there was much, much more value in that letter than our original reaction would suggest.  The letter is a mirror showing just how far Calista had come, how amazing she actually was and what a great person she was going to be. The fifteen year old Calista was clearly a typical, immature self-absorbed teen-ager who still felt the entire world revolved around her belly button. The disorganised structure, the hurried writing filled with many hastily crossed out corrections, the many shallow statements about herself, her friends and her parents are all characteristic of someone who really thought the entire assignment was "bogus and a waste of her time". This is the young girl I remember. The Calista that scoffed at house work, considered our family poor simply because we could not afford to send her to New York for Easter break and text-messaged her boy friend to break up with him. Please don't assume I sit in judgement of her now; I am actually basking in pride at the pleasant mature young woman she became.

Fast forward six years later and we would meet an entirely different Calista.  The mature Calista spent hours just setting up a single photographic shot and then redid the entire session the following day simply because her shots were great but not perfectly great. Comox Valley Calista always remembered to bring her friend's pets treats whenever she visited their homes and took the time to find the perfect birthday card for her Godmother in Regina (but we still have to wonder about the condolence card to her newly engaged friend). The adult Calista was not just mature; she was confident and proud of who she was, what she stood for and how she looked. This Calista was just as happy in front of the camera posing as a forties style pin-up girl as she was behind the camera photographing big tough biker-tattoo artists. She had earned the right to tell people to "just suck it up" because she lived it; she embraced her whole life and lived every day like it was her last.  It really is a tragedy that one of those days really was her last. I just picture her laughing loudly as she played her first game of bocci ball with all her friends during that last fateful evening bar-b-cue and know that she had learnt how to really live.

Roni and I no longer know how to live. We pass each day with an eye on the calender for the next "anniversary". The next Thursday, the next seventeenth, the next uncelebrated birthday or the next empty Christmas are always just ahead of us. And, of course, there is always going to be another 6:10 am on May 17th.coming over the horizon at us. Intellectually we know that we have to let our daughter lead the way on this.  She may be gone, but she can still set an example for us on how to live. We need to live for today and the hell with worrying about anniversaries.  Those milestones are more like millstones tied around our neck, pulling us back into the undertow and under the wave. And the wave is always there to welcome us back.

What a hypocrite I am.  I sit here typing away at a memorial journal, with a new memorial tattoo of a Canon camera on my left breast over my heart and a silver locket with some of her ashes hung around my neck (its a whale tail, in honour of that fashion conscious, smiling baby Orca whale I am waiting to come by and spit on me).  I am no where near ready to step out of the undertow and away from the wave.

Twenty: confident enough to play pin-up girl


  1. This is beautiful in so many ways and I don't know if I cry because it is so beautiful or so sad; perhaps both. You are correct that faith is more about giving meaning to suffering than explaining the everyday world. As a scientist, with my own existential crisis. that meaning came to the forefront. My head had to agree with my heart in matters of belief and as such turned to science, specifically, the nature of consciousness and its place in the cosmos. It had been a gift in so many ways. "Consciousness After Life" by Pim Van Lommel, the writings of Dr. Roger Penrose and Dr. Stuart Hameroff, many physicists such as Dr. Andrei Linde...all regard consciousness as a force which does not behave under the rules of either relativity or quantum physics but in ways yet to be discovered.I am taking my journey this way (and I have also read many Buddhist texts that actually agree with physics in that there is the gross reality which is what we see and the subtle reality, that which we cannot see and try to understand). You might also be interested in "The Essence of the Upanishads"; these writings were the foundations of Indian Hinduism and Buddhism and it is an amazing book. I offer you these things as a gift from a stranger who knows suffering and has found these of some help and while nothing can actually cure such pain, there are some things that can take the edge off it. Calista is a blessing to you and you a blessing to her. She has returned to the cosmos but has not disappeared.

    1. Thank you. I will check those books out. Solace comes from faith that there must be more.

  2. It's "Consciousness Beyond Life" by Lommel. The book has a "woo-woo" Oprah Winfred title, but it is anything but. Dr. Brian Greene also has a DVD out (which I lent out!) which explains time and parallel universes etc. from a science perspective and some of the conclusions are astounding. You might look up his name on the well...many articles from eminent scientists on Journal of Consciousness If consciousness has an energy stored within quantum energy, and DNA acts within quantum mechanics, it is then possible that DNA carries all plants and animals at various levels. DNA may even exist prior to life..recent evidence suggest this. Some physicists suggest all information, including consciousness is stored at the INFINITE planck scale and like everything else, cycled. As Dr. Hameroff has stated, he is not taking reincarnation off the table (he has, with Dr. Penrose, a rather elaborate theory of how consciousness exists within the microtubules of the brain and how that functions under quantum mechanics). There is so much out there now it brings to mind that the universe is far stranger than what we imagine or CAN imagine...and while you cannot wrap your arms around Calista, I, for one, hold onto quantum entanglement and that you and your wife will forever have Calista, over and over again....and in some way I cannot fathom, Calista is there as is everything and everyone within this universe. You and your wife will know, instinctively, when it is right to step out of the wave and see the sun on their crests again and you are right....Calista will lead the way.