Friday, 14 September 2012

Four Long Months: Masquerade

Halloween 2011

Most people spend the majority of their life trying to fit themselves into the role they believe society has written for them.  Personally, I have worked my entire life to be the professional that I am now. I never once questioned if that was my one true calling or if I would be happier doing something else altogether.  I just followed the lead of my parents and siblings before me and put my nose to the grindstone, buckled down and worked my life away following the dream that I was told to have. The few times I tried to break from that predetermined path, it was by half measures and I resisted the breaks as much as my family and friends discouraged them.  One will always fail if one is determined to fail. My one success was Calista; I spent a lifetime training her to follow her own path and define success by her own terms.  I truly believe she understood that happiness is defined by yourself, rather than what society tells you it should be.  A favourite line I used to say to her was "Mozart is probably the most famous musician of all time and yet he died a pauper, owing money to everyone. Don't define success by wealth".

I like to believe that Calista's infatuation with fashion statements and costumes mostly stemmed from her effort to constantly redefine "Calista".  "Calista" was not one constant person, Calista was an constantly evolving character who never felt bound to fit into anyone's peg hole. Calista was independent without being contrary. She did not feel obliged to flow against the tide or march to the beat of a different drummer just to to be "different". When Calista followed her own current it was because it served her own sense of destiny. She also never really felt obliged to drag anyone along with her. She was neither a leader nor a follower, she was just Calista.

I know we dressed her
this way, but that outfit was
really a favourite for years.  That
"Please Mom" stuff was pricey
but durable.

Holidays were always a big deal around our house. Not so much from my end of things, but Roni really liked to go overboard on the seasonal decorations. Christmas was a six week affair with every form of decoration imaginable filling every corner of the house. It was as if I had my own little North Pole elf who dedicated her life to making my home into Santa's work-shop.  Easter was no different, nor was Thanksgiving.  We have several very large, very full Rubbermaid Totes for every season filling our basement.  Halloween was not overlooked by any means; we have ghosts and ghouls, tombstones and bats and, yes, numerous costumes collected throughout the years. Even quiet and demure little Roni has a few costumes packed away, some of them really quite questionable for public consumption (her "Loreena Bobbit" costume was always a big hit with women; not so much men though). Calista looked upon Halloween as her special day; she could wear anything she wanted without anyone so much as blinking.  She took full advantage of that nearly every year right into adulthood.

Halloween in Regina is always a difficult celebration to plan. Typically the winter snows hold off until November, but the sub-arctic cold that comes with the prairie winter usually strikes just before Halloween. October 24th you can be outside comfortably in shirt sleeves and Halloween night it can be minus fifteen degrees Celsius with a blistering North wind that takes the wind-chill to minus twenty or lower. There is precious little loitering outside done on Halloween; "Trick or Treat" campaigns are more of an exercise in physical endurance than fun. One thing a parent learns in the prairies: always have two costumes planned: one for school or parties and one that fits over a snow-suit for doing the neighbourhood rounds. Lots of kids just surrendered to the cold and traipsed about dressed as "Skidoo Racers" (read that: just put on the bulky snow-suit and a helmet, grab a handy pillow case and run before the little kids get all the candy). We quickly followed suit once we learnt the "Tricks and Treats" of Halloween in the prairies. Of course, sometimes it was hard to separate costumes from regular clothes with Calista; there tended to be a lot of overlap with that girl.
Not a costume: she dressed
herself this way
Hats were always to be worn
sideways, Gansta-style. For years.
That smile: it was always there
Sometimes with more teeth,
sometimes with less teeth.
The fetish for cheap sun-glasses started
Road-warrior Calista. Escaping the Yukon
in December 1995.


Roni found this one.
Note the winter cover-alls on me.
It was minus-fifteen Celsius with the
wind chill that year.
Disney-couture junior-sized.
Some of the costumes we put together were more elaborate than others, and I am afraid some of them were more about helping Uncle Walt Disney make a profit on his latest video release than they were about being creative.  One year "Esmeralda" of "The Hunchback" fame was very popular. The difficulty that year was not getting her into the costume; it was getting her out of the darn thing.  She wanted to wear it to school before and after Halloween and I think she actually was caught dancing around the house as "Esmeralda" into the new year.  I think that was the period during which she was sure she could sing: gypsy tambourines and off-key singing was oft heard in my house for months after that.  Calista never could carry a tune, nor did she ever have much sense of rhythm; all those years at the dancing academy were pretty much a bust.
One Halloween was particularly memorable, if only because Dad got overly involved that year and tried to ruin it for everybody. 
Anyone that knows me understands that periodically I will get a bit obsessively creative and just start some massive artistic project with little or no planning and absolutely no capability. My wife has learnt to just tolerate my "Mr Toad" moments over the years, but I know a few people along the way who have thought me just a little mad at times.
One Halloween it crept into my head that I could build a pair of angel's wings for my girl that would be so far over the top that the neighbourhood would talk about it for years.  My inspiration came from the John Travolta movie "Michael"; I thought I could do at least as well as Hollywood when it came to giant angel wings. I didn't actually consult either Calista or Roni if they thought it was a good idea; I just ran out and started gathering supplies...without a clear plan on what I was doing.
First thing I did was build a frame out of heavy-gauge (number 9) wire. My angels wings were going to be 4 feet high and wide. I ignored the fact my child was barely four foot two at the time (or I more likely I did not even think about it).  I then started layering the best quality paper-mache mix from "Michael's" with stolen newspapers ( I hope my neighbours did not notice the missing recycling stacks from their garage).  I managed to build up a pretty impressive set of wings over several sleepless nights hidden away in the basement.  Once I had the basic form completed, I contoured the wings so they had an arch to them. I thought they were pretty darn cool at this point. It was about this time that Roni and Calista caught me puttering away at my creation down in the dark recesses of the basement.  They immediately started finding problems with my creation.

Roni's first criticism was that wings usually have feathers; my wings had paper-mache and white painted newsprint. The second thing Roni pointed out was that the wings weighed a minimum of twenty-five pounds and stood four feet tall. Calista at this time was only about sixty pounds and about 4 foot 2.  Calista then asked how I planned to mount them on her back.
Well, I am usually a reasonable person, but when I am in one of my obsessively creative moods, you just cannot discourage me.  The plumage was a minor issue as far as I was concerned; nothing that a few bags of craft feathers from "Michael's" and twelve hours with a glue gun would not cure. The weight and height issue was waved off as "minor"; my Calista was far stronger than she looked. The mounting issue was the fly in the ointment.  How to get those suckers to stay on Calista's back.  She declined my offer to just staple them on.
I finally settled on butchering a perfectly good nylon back-pack to make a harness for my wings of glory and I conquered the height issue by mounting the wings really high on her back so the tips did not drag as she made her rounds.  Roni solved the feathers issue by giving up a night's sleep to glue about ten thousand pink feathers onto my paper and wire monstrosity.  Needless to say there were very few smiles coming my way for about two weeks.
Before the angel fell.  I was just a little out of control \
that year.
The costume would have been a great success if the weather had held for just one more day. Unfortunately that brutal north wind coming howling down on Regina about 5 o'clock Halloween night, clocking in at about 50 kmh with gusts up to 100 kmh.  Who would have thought that a 60 pound child with a four foot wing-span could fly that far on one gust of wind?  We only made it half-way around the neighbourhood that night, most of it dressed as a "Fallen angel" because one of the heavy wings broke during a particularly lusty winter gust.  I was lucky the cold wind kept the trick or treat crowds to a minimum that year; we ended up with lots of left-over candy to compensate Calista for her practically empty pillow case.
 That was the last year I was allowed to get creative for Halloween

Always have two costumes. This
was a simple outfit for a school party
on the infamous "wings of glory" year.
She stopped doing the "trick or treat" rounds
quite young. It was always about the costume and
never the candy for her.  She answered the door dressed
like a neon purple witch one year.

Before I give you the impression that Calista in costumes was just about Halloween, I should move right along to high school.  What would high school be without costumes? It would be just a routine education, and there was never anything routine about Calista.

Calista really embraced her years at Martin Leboldus Catholic High School. I think she was on student council three out of four years, dedicating much of her time to elevating school spirits by...wearing crazy clothes?  Some of the best pictures Roni and I have of that kid involve something termed "decades week".  It was a real blow to Roni's ego when her closet was raided for "vintage" clothes for a costume.  Roni never quite saw her wardrobe as memorabilia.  That being said, Calista really seemed to be in role when she was dressed to mimic those big-hair days of the eighties.  I guess Roni had all sorts of "eighties" memorabilia (of course neither she nor I consider the eighties all that long ago; I guess that ages me.)  One thing I really have to emphasise here: Calista never considered herself to be "too cool" to jump right into whatever was going on at school with both feet. Her absolute rabid zest for living life fully started to come out during those four years. There is a lesson here;she showed us all that it is better to act and live with the consequences that to sit idle and live with regrets of what could have been.  I doubt she ever regretted much of anything (though that God-awful pink rubber wig left much to be desired when it came to tasteful decoration).
future Calista.  I'm not
sure why the pink rubber wig, but
it got lots of laughs.
Super-hero Calista. I guess cat's-eye glasses
and a cape make you "super"
Don Johnson and his posse during 80's week. Big hair Calista
was aided by the queen of big hair, Roni.

Easily my favourite picture from her high school years. I think this
was supposed to be a "hippy costume", but this was, again, one of those
areas were reality and fantasy blurred.


"Jackie-O" Calista.  I'm not sure this was actually
a costume. There was always a fine line between dressing
and dressing-up.

We still have this mask stuffed in a box in the basement.
Just another piece of flotsam and jetsam from a life cut
One year, when she was in Grade 11, Calista became convinced that one of their proms should be a masquerade ball along the line of a Venetian celebration with masks and everything. She already had an elaborate Venetian mask, feathers and all, on her wall and I must admit I thought it was a superb idea. Unfortunately her colleagues on the student council did not share her vision. Some of her choice comments about the affair had to deal with a "control freak vice-president"; I kind of thought the term "control freak" was a little like the pot calling the kettle black at that time in her life, but smart fathers know when to keep their mouth shut.

It was with great pride that I read one comment in Calista's high-school year book the other night: she was voted the girl with the most unique fashion sense in her graduating class.  In this progressively more bland world where independent thinkers are often pounded down by the logo-covered  homogeneous masses, ``my unique`` girl was applauded. Her honour roll diplomas were not nearly as satisfying.

I know it's not a costume, but
doesn't she look like some Hollywood
starlet.  Very Marilyn Munroe.
In the scant three years she survived after high school, her sense of "self" changed dramatically.  Without the peer pressure of grade school constantly chipping away at her individuality (we all remember those horrid years of high school; the bullies back then were most likely to be wearing designer jeans and wearing only this year's colours), Calista started to blossom into a person who could and did get away with wearing truly original outfits.  That line between dressing and "dressing-up" was fading with each passing month.  I wish I could have seen the final result; Hollywood stars would have been impressed.

Marie Antoinette.  She painted a red "cut here" line on
her neck.  And I am pretty sure she did not bend over
often in that dress; it was very short. Dad was not there to
council on proper dress length. Not that she would have listened.
A self portrait while she was putting together
her "pin-up girl" look.

Roni and I still cannot figure out how she did
this by herself. That is all her own hair. She did it
because she could.  You have to love a girl who
would do something so silly "just because".

Just to show you two things: costumes are for
everyone and I have the easiest going cat
in the world.  Calista did this just to show me
she could. Merry Catmus.
I believe that Calista was more than just a girl who liked dressing well and dressing up. I could see a maturation process happening, especially over that last pivotal eight months. I am positive she had embraced the concept that you create your own reality and you define your own happiness.  She tattooed "Believe in the Impossible" on her left shoulder and she was certainly trying to live that way.  Calista was  destined to be successful but not necessarily because we (society) saw her that way, but because she defined her own success. As one of her friends so epically tattooed on her left side in bold letters "Life is too short to be anything but happy``. She certainly seemed happy. And her life was short.
The seasonal decorations will stay in storage now. Originally we started the decorating for our daughter and she loved it. As she matured the decorations became part of the family tradition and, for Calista, coming home for the holidays meant coming home to decorated ambiance.Unfortunately, for us, home is where our daughter is and the decorations will just underscore her absence.  Lots of things are stored in our house these days. The remnants of an entire life actually.
She was about fourteen. I took this with my old Canon Rebel with a telephoto while sitting at Spanish-West in Vancouver. I loved this picture and still do. It sat above my desk at work for years. You can almost see her West-Coast Dreaming.


  1. Great article/post Bryce. I know these posts are about Calista and not about your ability to write a good story but I really enjoyed it. I also know these posts don't require any comments to validate what was shared here but it seems a shame to not have someone at least say 'I hear you' and I just hope this is helping in some small way with this senseless loss.


    1. Thanks Mark. I love the comments. Many of these stories are about your family too.

  2. Decades Week...I started that event, and Calista was one of the few people who I could always count on to get involved, promote the event, and dress up, even when other council members wouldn't. There was never a good enough excuse for Calista to not be dressed up for Decades Week. (Or a Superhero improv fundraiser! I think she may have outfitted all 3 of us in that picture. She brought her polaroid camera that night - I still have one of the pictures on my mirror).

  3. I also have to comment on the Decades week... Calista brought an off the shoulder sweater for me to wear (sorry about the closet raiding for that week) and I have the same picture you posted on this blog in my room right now. I have such great memories of Calista - especially together with SRC - she had the best ideas and was definitely one of the most creative people to plan things for the school :) Decades week highlight - ending our grade 11 AP English class early (with Mr. Davies I believe) to take pictures of all of us dressed up in the hallway. Thank you for all of these blogs, I am loving to read and remember, and I hope that our comments help to paint a more vibrant picture of your daughter when you couldn't see her every move; we will never forget the wonderful things she did during high school to create school spirit!

    1. Roni and I just looked at that picture again Carmen. That is the way high school is supposed to be, friends goofing around with friends. Relationships are your most important possession; in the end everything goes except your memories of good times spent with good people. Thanks for sharing.