Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Five Months, Two Weeks: "Flatlander"

Yes, the prairies are very flat. Get over it and see the beauty.

It's Halloween, Calista's favourite day of the year (with perhaps the exception of "Tiara Day", aka her birthday, November 14th). Put a costume on, have fun and enjoy yourself. Create your own reality. You just know she would be having fun.  They say the veil between here and there gets thin on Halloween; look for her and don't let her catch you not enjoying life absolutely. We all know what she was like if you made her angry; nobody wants to meet an angry phantom Calista (though Roni and I will go for even that these days). And keep an eye on your chocolate Halloween candy; she is likely a little chocolate deprived over on the other side.

Ten days ago Roni and I escaped to Vancouver for just a short  two day and overnight excursion. I had been invited to the 50th birthday of my oldest friend George who lives in the tony South Surrey suburb of Crescent Beach. It was pretty far from the home base of my Vancouver family and we were stretched for time, so we just booked a hotel next to the largest shopping mall I could find and planned for a visit with friends and a little retail therapy for Roni. I decided to visit with my family on our next trip to the city. We had a bit of a surprise in that one of Roni's young cousins, Katy, came into Powell River for some family time just a couple of days before, so we suddenly had a wing man for the Nevada Kid on a shopping mission. Young women are quite healing for Roni until they leave, but I can predict the post-parting depression and plan for it now.

The visit with George was great. His family is just so "family" you would think that he was the model for Ward Cleaver of the "Leave it to Beaver"  show without the clip-on ties, sweater-vests and penny-loafers. My wife is still raving about the sweet potatoes and sweet pepper dish. Not so much about the parlour games; acting out in public is not her forte. It's amazing how much George's kids are a blend of both him and his wife Lynn. I find myself doing that a lot these days; critically assessing the children of my friends and family and,yes, coveting those kids just a little bit.

I have forgotten what driving in Vancouver at night in the pouring rain is like. I used to call it "Zen" driving because you feel the road more than you actually see it. I drove blind most of the way back to the Holiday Inn, staying on the road by faith and unfounded belief more than anything else. It's nice to know I still have faith in something, though my driving is hardly worthy of faith at the best of times. Forty-five minutes of misery driving back to the Holiday Inn adjoining the Metrotown Mall convinced me that I should forgo any plans to escape the shopping expedition with Roni and Katy and just resign myself to four hours of retail tedium in the biggest damn shopping mall in BC.(at least it feels like that).

Who said idle hands serve the devil?  I would add that evil lurks in idle minds. Shopping may occupy Roni's mind and keep her from having walking nightmares, but it just gives me time to get sloppy. Less than five minutes into the mall trip I found myself staring at an expensive form-hugging dress in a shop window, thinking how the low-cut back would accentuate Calista's muscular back and the thigh length hem would compliment her toned legs. And it was pink, always popular with the princess. I found myself making a personal note to tell her all about the dress the next time I saw her.  I guess my days of shopping for Calista are pretty much finished; perhaps someone should tell my brain.

"Give me a home where the buffalo roam and the deer and the
antelope play." Oh, and it will be darn cold most of the year.

I grew up a true son of the West Coast. Mountains towering above, oceans crashing below and beaches in between was all I knew until I finally saw the prairies when I was about fourteen. My first trip east of the Rockies was on a sports trip to Calgary in the early spring of '76.  I was so unimpressed by the brown winter killed grass, the forever view in any direction and the bitter cold billowing off the nearby mountains that I just assumed people lived there in penance for past-life sins. I never really warmed to the prairies throughout my teens and twenties, but I certainly lived up to every cliche the flatlanders have for the lotus-land softies. On swim trips we always bitched about the cold, the flat, the heat, the dust, the mind-numbing "sameness" everywhere we looked.  And yes, the prairie athletes did convince us that our spit would freeze before it hit the ground at minus forty Celsius, so we would all risk frostbite while standing around spitting, haplessly trying to get our spit to bounce.  I am sure all the kids from from the local swim clubs just killed themselves laughing at us.

I attended the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, graduating after 4 long years in 1987. I visited Regina once during that time and I swore then that of all the places on Earth a man could settle down and live, Regina had to be at the very bottom of my preference list, somewhere 
Richardson Ground-squirrel. The most
common wildlife seen in Regina. Except for
the teenagers.
below the the Gobi desert and Soviet Siberia. Now there is irony; I happily chose to raise my daughter literally in the last place on Earth I could imagine living. Regina is a place that has to grow on you, because, with the exception of maybe two months in mid-summer, nobody will ever get a good "first impression" of that city.

The north half of Regina. That's the parliament buildings in
the forground. Wascana Lake actually is very nice for a
dredged out slough. The ducks and geese love it.

There just might be something to astrology; at least the part about the day of the year influencing the course of your life.  Calista was born November 14th, 1991 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories.  Sometimes November in the Yukon is really quite pleasant. That November was not one of those times. Winter had come early that year and I remember it being cold enough that the transmission and the power steering on my big 4x4 Toyota were distinctly sluggish as we drove Roni down to the hospital in the early morning hours. I know Roni was damn cold despite being buried under many layers of shirts, sweaters and parkas. On the other hand, Roni gets cold just watching documentaries involving ice or snow. That November proved to be one of the coldest Yukon Novembers on record and I believe that influenced the rest of Calista's life. 
The key to always being warm is dressing
appropriately. And be a warm person
like Calista.

Throughout her entire life I cannot remember one time that Calista was ever cold. That girl always seemed to instinctively know how to dress appropriately for the season and she never once complained about being chilly. On the other hand, she did not enjoy heat much at all. The old "sourdoughs" say the Yukon always holds onto its own ( and calls them back).

Being cold resistant is a wonderful trait if you live anywhere in Canadian prairies. It can be darned cold any month of the year; I can remember having to don my insulated winter cover-alls on a July long weekend to provide veterinary supervision at the Pilot Butte Rodeo. The winters can be downright despicable. While the Yukon had lower average daily temperatures, the territories rarely have to deal with the dreaded wind-chill factor. The ever-present prairie wind made Regina exponentially more unpleasant in winter. There is nothing quite as miserable as shovelling snow in a driving wind at minus 25. More often than not you are merely building a snow drift on the driveway to the east while your neighbour to your west sends you more snow to shovel. This sort of misery was merely an inconvenience to Calista, the ice-princess.

To a four year old this was an Olympic bobsled run. Cold does not
describe that day adequately.
We had a pathetic little drainage berm at the back of our property in Regina. It amounted to maybe a ten foot high hill rising from the middle of our back yard. In the spring all the water from the snow would gravitate to the shallow depression in the centre of our yard from where it would drain west through  all of the postage-stamp yards of our sub-division. In late March we would have a shallow slow moving stream dividing our yard in half where a few scant weeks earlier there had been up to two feet of ice and snow accumulated over the winter. In January, in the depths of winter, that little hill was a virtual Everest to a young Calista who, at four, insisted on dragging Dad out for "sledding" on a "crazy carpet" foolishly bought at the local Canadian Tire. In the dilute winter sun it might have been all of minus thirty Celsius out there and I was glad to have the tall fences blocking the light winds of that day.  After an hour of me dragging  Calista up the hill on the cheap plastic mat and watching her edge slowly down the gentle hill, laughing the entire 
time, I was cold beyond all sensation. My feet were painful ice blocks, my hands were immobile prosthesis and my face was becoming a solid mask. Calista was comfortable  and still had warm, rosy cheeks. She had no complaints other than how lazy her hard-driven father was while pulling her up the hill.

The amazing GT racer
Sledding was such a success that the following year Roni and I bought Calista a racy looking sled with three neon orange runners and a steering wheel. It looked fast just sitting under the Christmas tree. My wrapping job hardly covered it's identity; the only thing stopping Calista from guessing the package contents was her ignorance of the existence of real sleds. She was not even sure what it was when we unwrapped it. Calista loved that sled; she spent many hours just sitting on it in front of the television that winter. We test drove it several times by dragging her through the neighbourhood on the end of a pull rope. Unfortunately the whole point of sledding is the thrill of racing down a hill barely in control and Daddy dragging you about at the end of a red and white tow rope was hardly Calista's idea of thrilling. We needed to find a hill for her to discover bob-sledding.
Winter Jackrabbit on the drainage berm
behind the house in Regina.

The land immediately around Regina is billiard-table flat. You need to go several kilometres to the north and west before you find the respectable hills of the Qu'Appelle Valley. The less-daring city dwellers find their hills in other ways; Regina had retired garbage dumps and the artificial hills created by the dredging of the Wascana Slough to create Wascana Lake. The small hillocks that surround Wascana Lake are the result of two dredging efforts over a century. Those hills are steep and have busy roads or a muddy lake at their base; all the thrills that come from sledding down them come from the break-neck speeds you can reach on them and the fact you are never quite sure of surviving the landing at the bottom.  The only relatively family-safe hill in Regina is up at "Mount Pleasant", which is actually the long-retired city dump complete with exhaust pipes to release methane gas from fermenting garbage. From the bottom of the "Mount", on a pleasant summer's day, the hill does not look like much of a challenge. From the top of the mount, on a icy winter day, from the eyes of a pair of hyper-vigilant parents, the sledding hill looked like an invitation to the emergency ward at the hospital.

The front side of Mount Pleasant. The back-side is much
shorter and steeper.The trees you see are a virtual forest for
The first and only sledding trip the Regina branch of the Fleming Family took to Mount Pleasant was a terrifying experience for Roni and I and a big disappointment to Calista. We arrived at the base of the back-side of Mount Pleasant (the front side is little more than a long gentle slope dotted with dwarfed pine trees and hardy elms) on a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon. I had thought it might be more pleasant since there was a sun on the sky, but the sun-dogs that ringed the golden orb should have warned me that it was much colder than it looked out there. The brisk north-west breeze cutting across the top of Mount Pleasant did not add to the enjoyment of either Roni or I. Typically, Calista did not care. I was a little sceptical about the rutted track to the bottom of the hill; the passage of thousands of toboggans and sleds had packed the snow into a slanted skating rink surface and I am sure terminal velocity was assured by the half-way point of any sledding run. Unfortunately Calista was off and running with her speed-racer before I could catch my breath from the climb up the hill. She immediately aimed for the single jump built on the course and tucked tightly over the wheel of the sled to minimise wind resistance; she apparently forgot or never knew the sled had breaks as well as a steering wheel (oddly predictive of her future efforts at driver training). Both Roni and I held our breath, preparing to run to the inevitable crash site below the small jump. Sure enough, Calista's landing was far from graceful; there are dead Olympic ski-jumpers with less spectacular landings. Roni was furious at me for suggesting Mount Pleasant, I was furious with myself for not calling off the foolish outing the moment I realised how icy the hill was, and Calista was merely calculating how to get more speed and a better landing on her second run. It took me several minutes to talk her into the much less adventuresome run down the snowy and unused  gentle slope of the front side of Mount Pleasant.

I am not sure Calista forgave her cowardly parents for nixing the second run down that hill. Both Roni and I got the "stink-eye" all the way home from Mount Pleasant that day; we obviously just were not "fun" people. I am curious to know what they will name the current city dump when they finally retire that massive hill just north of Regina; "Prairie View Heights" or some such innocuous tag ready made for real estate developers I suspect.

Ten years later that speed-racer sled was one of the items that Calista sold at her garage sale to raise spending money for her European tour. It had sat practically unused over those ten years and was in "like-new" condition. The young grandson of our neighbours eyed it up that warm summer afternoon, diligently explaining to his doting Grandmother Dorothy how that sled was "just the right size" for him.  I noticed the rabid interest in the lively little carrot-top, so I had Calista just put the sled quietly to the side, knowing that Dorothy would likely be back within  minutes to claim the sled for the the four-year old boy. I think it sold for $5. It could not have gone to a better home; that little boy looked quite durable; I bet he bounced down Mount Pleasant without a blink the next winter.

Winter blizzards tend to develop a certain self-reliance in the prairie folk; the combination of wind and heavy snowfall can shut down entire cities in a few hours as towering snowbanks and glistening rinks of ice replace the normally high-speed city causeways. Regina and it's surrounding school districts never have "snow days"; it's against the law to close the schools during inclement weather simply because the schools may be the only safe refuge from the weather in some of the outlying school districts. Calista never missed a day of school due to winter storms. This caused problems a few times since it was common for Roni to get stranded at work by a sudden winter storm and there was at least once that I was over three hours late getting home from work, having taken over two hours to traverse the ten kilometres home from the clinic. Thanks goodness Calista was always pretty level headed.

My first year at Airport Animal Hospital, when Calista was all of twelve and still attending the elementary school about a kilometre from our house, a massive winter front moved through Regina, bringing with it about a foot of snow and gale force winds. The snow itself was no big deal, but combined with the winds it meant that snow drifts as high as ten feet were accumulating along the highways. There were stories of cars careening out of control and virtually disappearing into massive snow banks that blocked the Number One as it passed around Regina. The highway east was closed by 5 pm and Roni phoned me to say she was stuck in Balgonie. Calista had been home from school for an hour by that time and it never occurred to me that I would have trouble getting home, so I was not worried. Heck, I was only ten minutes away on a normal day.

Three hours to go 12 kilometers to get home to my girl.
"I'm have to feed me!" was her comment.
About 6:30 my boss Jim Randall and I decided that we might as well make a break for it and try to get home by the city streets. Both he and I usually bypassed the city via the Ring Road freeway, but that had been closed even before the Number One east of Regina. The traffic was sure to be a complete mess. Despite living in a cold climate, the people of Regina are usually completely disarmed by even the most benign snow storm and this storm really was a major front. There was not going to be any quick way home that night. Jim, with me following tight on his tail-lights, dodged through the residential streets heading north and east, altering course as needed to avoid yet another bottle neck. We finally could no longer avoid the snake of red lights and head lights heading down Arcola when we got to the one overpass that crossed the now abandoned Ring Road. It took us about fifteen minutes to make it from the clinic to that choke point and two hours to cover the last two miles to our homes. I arrived home by 9 pm to find a very hungry and quite angry young Calista.

We were excellent parents in many ways, but Roni and I really failed our daughter in that we never did teach her how to cook for herself. Calista had been scavenging junk food since she arrived home at four and I am under the suspicion that the cat food was starting to look palatable by the time I broke through the snow banks blocking our garage doors.

The following day the schools opened as if nothing had happened, but there was no way the school buses were going anywhere through the city streets clogged with massive snow drifts and abandoned cars. I managed to get Calista to school on time but it took me nearly two hours to make it to work that day. I finally had to illegally skirt around the barriers blocking the Ring Road access and inch my way along the ice covered freeway, nearly sliding into the ditch several times as my car skidded down the banked speed corners. I was the first veterinarian to make it to the office and the third employee through the door at ten am. Roni did not make it home until late that night, exhausted and irritable after sleeping on the couch of one of her work-mates. After our experience, I had new respect for the fortitude of the original settlers of Regina, but no respect for their judgement in settling in such a barren and forsaken stretch of prairie. There was a reason the Indians never camped near "Pile of Bones" for very long; it was a death zone back in the day.

Calista never quite learnt to ride a bicycle. Regina is tough on bicyclists; winter six months a year, very few safe bicycle trails and that darn wind everywhere. The toughest riders can manage to squeeze eight or maybe nine months commuting on a bicycle,  but they will always deal with the vagaries of the prairie weather. Thunder storms can roll in over a short hour and in a few minutes dump a month's worth of rain, flooding the streets and reducing the visibility to near zero. I have seen water jetting like a fountain out of sewer drains just from the sudden overload. With those spectacular storms come winds that border on hurricanes and sometimes actual tornadoes. On the other hand, if you do manage to avoid getting drowned or blown away, there are always the drivers to contend with. 

Certainly the speed limit in most of Regina is fifty kilometres per hour, but the majority of the drivers there consider it barely more than a suggested guideline. In fact,  the law abiding driver is usually considered a road hazard preferably run off the road at the first opportunity. Bicyclists are considered slightly better than road hazards; they are coveted targets. I swear many of the younger drivers paint a new wheel on the side of their car for every biker successfully sidelined. Roni and I never embraced the idea of Calista learning to ride a bicycle; we envisioned her becoming a hood ornament on some bondo and primer refugee from a junk yard. It was just as well; Calista actually enjoyed driving everywhere; first in Dad's car, then with the boyfriend of the day, and finally by herself in the Smart Car.  Of course, she had to learn how to drive first, and that is a real challenge in a city buried in snow and ice for six months a year.

Good try Ann.  With just a bit more time she might have got it;
and then drove everywhere anyway. Love the smile though.
Ann Cavenaugh, the mother of her college friend Jesse, tried to teach Calista to ride a bike in early May of 2012. It was too late for her to learn quickly and she had too little time left to learn slowly.

Calista actually dragged her heels when it came to getting her license. Certainly she got her learner's license at fifteen like every other Saskatchewan kid, and she took the required driver's education at school, but once all that was over she basically just sat on her laurels and avoided taking the actual road test. I asked her about it once and her flip reply was that there was always going to be some boy to chauffeur her wherever, whenever she wanted.....or daddy. It was only when I suggested I might get her a Smart Car for her own vehicle that she started making any effort to learn to drive. Teaching her to drive was the most frightening year of my life. That's right: she dawdled for over a year before finally taking her road test. That has to be some sort of record.

There was never any doubt that it was going to be my job to teach her how to drive.  Roni never questioned that decision in the least; she barely lets me drive without her constant advice. Neither of us thought Calista would benefit from Roni's ongoing critique. The few times that Roni did take Calista out driving just underlined that fact; the two would last less than a minute before starting to snip at each other and usually Roni took over at the wheel on the trip home from wherever they had visited.  From the way Roni tells it she narrowly escaped violent death on every excursion.  Calista never drove with her mother in the car after getting her license. Not once.

People that know me find it hard to believe that I have the patience and self-control to be a good teacher.  Frankly, I find it hard to believe too. On the other hand, I do seem to do a pretty good job of keeping my cool under stress, especially when doing so might preserve my life. I approached Calista's driving lessons exactly that way; I assumed losing my cool with her while she was driving would just make her flustered, and flustered leads to panic, and panic leads to crashes. I wanted to avoid panic. I mastered the "calm, cool and controlled voice" over that year, though there were definitely a few times my calm voice was high pitched, clipped and squeaky from fear.

Dad's Loser-Cruiser. The Pontiac Vibe: it just looks sporty.
Great car for swim-team transport though. Amazing
what you can fit in this car.
Like every other parent since cars were horse-buggies, I sought out an large, empty, flat area to start the driving lessons.  In our case it was a Catholic church near the home of one of her boyfriends. I had picked her up from a date and figured that a bitterly cold and quiet Sunday afternoon was as good a time as any to start her behind a wheel. We pulled into the lot, made sure it was empty, and switched seats after I said a quiet prayer to whatever God watched over that parking lot.  I was worried, Calista was terrified (I'm not sure why since we were driving the every-ready Pontiac Vibe, possibly the most boring car ever manufactured. A few dents would have just made the car interesting). For the first session we just learnt forward and drive in circles, backward and drive in circles, circle left and circle right. It took us nearly five minutes to get past "start the car". It was going to be a long year.

At that time Calista was still involved in competitive swimming, so those 4:30 am departures for the pool were perfect for driving lessons. The only people on the road at that time are police, criminals and madmen taking their kids to early morning sports training. All Calista had to do was get us out of the subdivision, drive in a straight line for 5 kilometres, periodically stopping for red lights, and drive peacefully into the empty parking lot at the pool.  At least she had empty parking lots mastered from all our excursions to local church lots. Who would think that driving a straight line in your lane and judging the difference between a red light and a green light could be so challenging? It took several weeks before I could relax for the majority of the simple drive and even then I had to remind her that accelerating aggressively around corners made remaining on the road (and avoiding wild attacking telephone poles) a real challenge. Of course, I should have been more understanding; there are only a few inches between the break pedal and the accelerator pedal and those two really look so much alike. I think I wore a hole in the carpet where the imaginary break pedal on the passenger side might sit and I know there was a hand-print wedged into the dash board where I braced for impact (the same finger-print pattern that appeared on my father's car after I learnt how to drive).

There are some advantages to living in a geographic ice-box when it comes to driver training. You have all sorts of opportunity to teach snow driving and skid-control. For her first lessons on snow and ice, we decided to become Baptists since the local Baptist church was just a few blocks away from home.  The white, modern evangelical church must have been strapped for cash since they had really poor snow removal on their large parking lot. On the other hand, since they had a huge congregation, that snow was packed down to create the largest open air hockey rink you can imagine. I would take Calista into that parking lot, tell her to stomp the pedal to the metal and just spin those wheels. We would lock the breaks up at fifty kilometres an hour or just crank the wheel without slowing in the least while circling that icy lot. I am sure that the neighbours thought we were just stunting and I am sure the police would have had some choice words for me if they had come by, but I had to make sure my baby knew what it felt like to lose control in a car. More importantly, she had to know how to regain control once she had lost it.  I'm not sure those sessions really worked; Calista never really embraced the idea of purposefully reckless driving.

In the middle of winter in 2009, with snow piled high on the side streets and ruts to rival a wagon road on all but the main streets, Calista finally decided to attempt her road test.  It meant that I had to take an afternoon off just for the test since Calista would only drive my car (she was terrified of crashing her Mom's VW Beatle, but the Vibe was expendible since it was Daddy's loser-cruiser). I am not sure I had ever seen her that nervous. We had done a crash-course (now there is an appropriate term in this context) in parallel parking and down-town driving since all the road tests in Regina are done in the down-town core and parallel parking is the most common cause for a fail. I knew Calista was as ready as she ever would be, but I guess I should have told her that (and maybe the DMV too). She failed her first time up at bat; that seems to be common if not expected in Regina. There were some choice words said about "stupid turn lanes", "stupid bike lanes" and "stupid male examiners".  I guess there was an outbreak of stupid that day. We had four weeks to mull about it; there was a mandatory 14 day cooling off period after each fail and it would be at least another three weeks before I could get an afternoon free for the repeat. I got to know the down-town core of Regina like a seasoned taxi-driver over that month. She passed easily the next time around, but the "very nice" female examiner got all the credit for the pass. It had nothing to do with the many gallons of gasoline burned while circling the mean streets of Regina.

She named it "Jude" as in "Hey Jude" from the Beatles.
She knew all the lyrics to all the songs from the Beatles.
Go figure; they broke up 20 years before she was born.

I never really finished my driver training with Calista. My own father used to force all his children to do some long-haul highway driving with him riding shotgun before he really felt confident that we were capable drivers. There is a huge difference between puttering around a city in a Smart Car runabout and cruising through winding mountain roads at highway speeds.  Kelvin Orr used to pound into us the mantra to slow down before the corner and accelerate out of the corner and as a result, to this day, even after decades of living in the flatland, I remain comfortable on the narrow, serpentine roads of BC. The closest Calista and I ever got to highway cruising was a short jaunt west to Moose Jaw, north from Moose Jaw to Chamberlain and home to Regina from there. Barely more than 200 kilometres of straight, flat and mostly divided four-lane freeway. It felt so insufficient that I never really felt Calista was truly road worthy for the hazards of the west coast highways. I just always assumed I would have time to fill in that gap with Calista. That was quite an assumption and we all know what they say about assumptions.

There are many things I miss about the prairies. Regina is a very comfortable city to live in; it has all the amenities of a big metropolis with hardly any congestion or pollution.  I miss the freedom of travel that the wide, flat and straight highways afford the flatlanders. I miss people I have known for nearly twenty years, people who watched Calista grow up and know how much I doted on her.  Most of all, I wonder if Calista would still be alive if I had not chosen to move the entire family out of our protected little cocoon of Regina and start anew 2000 kilometres from everybody and everything she grew up with. There is some real guilt about the big move; I abandoned people who depended and trusted me back in Regina, I brought my family west to the home province I had not really lived in for nearly thirty years, and then my girl just died. Are the two related? I don't know and I never will.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost
She took this on a trip to Waterton; the little critters live in the lawn in
front of the Grand Hotel there. Visitors to my clinic will see a similar
photo taken years later in Manning Park.  She loved marmots.

Years later, different park. She took nearly an
hour setting this up...and half a bag of natchos.
Jack Cowin loves this photo.The pink natcho
was "pure Calista". A full size print hangs
in my clinic next to the front desk.


Friday, 19 October 2012

Five Months, Two Days: The Unread Poem

I have taken a little hiatus from writing these last two weeks.  Writing comes easily to me normally, but I find my head has to be in the right space. There is a certain spirit that needs to be with me when I compose these journal entries and that spirit has just abandoned me.  Maybe Calista, my muse, is off whispering to somebody else just now. Somebody with greater need or perhaps more deserving of her inspiration.

Watching her with a telephoto in Waterton

I have tried to keep things on the upside lately; tales of her youth and perhaps some amusing stories of my well meaning but sometimes bumbling efforts at parenthood. It's tough though; I might be giving people the impression that Roni and I are well on our way to healing. We're not. We are just returning to our daily lives because we have no other choice.  Clients still need my help, payday still falls every fifteen days, bills still come in the mail every single day.  The world continues to turn and Roni and I remain attached to it, regardless of our wishes.

Roni cries for long periods every single day, but the tears are a little different than they were first off. The sorrow has taken on a certain sense of permanence now. Gone are the breathless. exhausting crying jags that leave her empty and nauseated lying on our bed. These waves have been replaced by a subtle, red-eyed tearing that can be maintained with only short breaks while she visits with friends, staff or clients. On the other hand, I still get caught with waves of sorrow periodically, but really I am for the most part just one angry, old man left without any foreseeable personal future.  I see either conspiracy or apathy at every turn when, truthfully, I know what I am really seeing is life moving on for everybody else.  As I really hope it will for everyone Calista's death has scarred.

Outside my grandfather's home in Vancouver. Not sure who lives
there now. It was just her and me coming home that year.

Years ago I enjoyed a movie called "Interview With a Vampire", one of the few Hollywood efforts that surpassed the mediocre novel upon which it was based. Brad Pitt plays a young vampire damned by his own existence, lost in sorrow at the dual loss of his young family and his own humanity. The antagonist/ villain of the story is the Vampire Lestat who "turns" his young victim simply to regain some sense of his own, long lost mortality.  He wants a bridge to the  ever-changing modern world.

The term "bridge" is used by our grief counsellor for things that help Roni and I find some link to our dead daughter. Her pictures, her car, her room and it's myriad of possessions, and our tenuous relationship with her friends both near and distant. The "undead" vampire needed a bridge to the living while we, the living, need a bridge to the dead. One bridge was just fiction while our bridge is completely unrealistic.  We can cross all the bridges we want and Roni and I will never find Calista waiting  for us at the far end.  The sad thing is that we basically understand that...but we keep on trying anyways.

The heroic Dalton who took point home in Regina
when she died. At barely 19 he had to break the
news to all her old friends. That's maturity.They
were in costume for a play about the Holocaust.

The "unread poem", of which the only first stanza is reproduced above, remains my stumbling block. I just cannot read beyond that very first stanza. For the sake of this journal entry, I actually covered over the rest of the poem with a sheet of foolscap whilst I scanned the document into my computer. It's very sad; the person that sent Roni and I that poem was a wonderful friend and only meant to support us in our loss, but that little poem is a bridge too far for me. Thankfully, Roni loves the poem and it has taken a place of honour in her memorial box where she keeps the cards and letters sent to us over the last five horrid months. The box itself is a work of art; my brother designed, built and decorated the box himself. He finished the unique piece by writing a long, rambling letter to my broken wife on the inside walls of the box. The box itself is a letter surrounding cards and letters.  Typical of my brother (and, I guess, myself) he felt a need to create beauty in the face of ugly loss.

That poem touches me where it hurts the most. Calista, as we all must, passed into great void beyond alone, unguided, without Roni and I to stand beside or, even better, in front of her as we always have. We spent her entire lifetime going point for her, protecting her, gathering her up into our arms when she faltered, wiping her tears when they fell.  On May 17th, the one time she really needed us, we weren't there. We didn't even know she was gone until hours after her death. There was no prescient inkling, no dark cloud over our head or cold chill up our backs; May 17th was just a beautiful sunny spring day filled with potential. How could our daughter die without us having some suspicion that the one person we absolutely treasured in this world had died without so much as a nod and a wave goodbye? 

Friends: treasure every single one: you may need all of them


I'm not a religious man, though I appreciate the prayer for my girl. It's the imagery of the word "bewildered" that cuts me; Calista standing alone, lost in the great unknown without me there to back her up.  That was always the understanding we had: Dad would always be there and in her corner no matter what.  Certainly there were times that she and I butted heads, but by mutual agreement we followed the military code: always praise in public and criticise in private. In the public eye, regardless of what Calista might have done, Roni and I were always her champions. And the devil take anyone that crossed us.

Just like her, I am just fooling around here. It has nothing to
do with the journal entry. It's just for fun
My stalwart defence of Calista started before she was born actually. In Whitehorse the selection for doctors was always pretty slim; you could choose between the hippy-dude wearing leather sandals and wrinkled grey woolly socks or the hippy-dudette wearing  leather sandals and wrinkled black socks. The doctors would remove the socks if the temperature outside was anything above freezing, but the worn neutral-colour cargo pants were a standard part of the uniform. Our regular GP was an agreeable older man who had an easy, comfortable relationship with my Roni, but he did not do obstetrics, so the moment Roni was diagnosed as pregnant, he referred us to one of the younger female practitioners that seem to cycle through Whitehorse on a semi-annual basis. It was not a good fit to say the least. Putting those two women in a small exam room together was just asking for a fight, and, unfortunately, I had to attend most of the pre-natal check-ups. Which put me in the middle of the war-zone.

The turning point of the relationship between Roni and Ms. Doctor came over circumcision, of all the stupid things.  Those two argued for a full ten minutes over "to circumcise" or "not to circumcise" (kind of like Hamlet discussing a Bris) with  no discernible compromise appearing whatsoever.  Ms. Doctor was firmly against, but had some of the most daft arguments any woman could come up with.  The best moment came when she started telling me that boys that are circumcised are made fun of in the showers after phys-ed class.  By this point I was laughing more than a little (not endearing myself to the doctor at all) and I finally, between chuckles, had to tell the poor woman that boys do not under any circumstances comment on another boy's equipment while standing together naked in the shower. In my day that was not something you did safely and I doubt things have changed much now. Anyway, my humour about the situation seemed to just inflame the antagonism between Roni and the doctor and the argument started to get out of control.  I finally lost my temper and finished the combat for both of them by slapping my hand on the table and pointing out to them that none of us had any idea if the baby was a girl or a boy, so we hardly needed to make any decisions about circumcision that day. We had over 4 months to get details like that ironed out. Silence followed my outburst and things were glorious for a moment or two.  And then we started the discussion about breast feeding.  A new set of war trenches were excavated and grenades started flying immediately.  Thank goodness time ran out for the pre-natal examination.

JT, soon to be a famous dancer, and her, immortalized in Rome

A cease-fire eventually was called between the two combatants, at least until the day Calista was born. Anywhere else in the world the good doctor would have referred us to someone else just to be shut of my wife, but this was Whitehorse and, as I said, the pickings for MD's were pretty slim.

Roni has proved herself far tougher than she appears over and over again. In this case, Roni managed to sleep through the majority of her labour and then waited until the contractions were coming every three or four minutes before waking me up at 5:30 am. Typical of me, I told her to go back to sleep because it was too early both in gestation and time of day (I like my sleep).  According to the good doctor we had nearly a month to go before that baby was to grace us with its presence. Roni begged to differ and forced me to get her to the hospital right now.  I grumbled about having to be at work by 7:30 and how it had to be all a mistake.  That was pretty much the doctor's take on things too when we called her from the hospital (and woke her up at 7:30 am). Thank goodness for firm and forceful maternity nurses.

Our doctor, sure that my pretty and pampered wife was just being a drama-queen, arrived in a whirlwind of dissatisfaction. She performed one of the briefest, superficial examinations in the history of obstetrics and was prepared to discharge my petite wife without further ado (and please don't let the door hit your ass on the way out!!). It was only the solidly built nurse standing in the doorway insisting on a full pelvic examination that stopped our rapid retreat from the obstetrics ward. The doctor sighed, grumbled and shrugged, obviously put out that the nurse was slowing up her trip to the cafeteria for breakfast, but then gave in and acquiesced to the nurse's demands. Ms. Doctor came away from that exam with a look of wonder on her face and new respect for Roni; my wife had managed to sleep through almost all of her labour and was actually nearly fully dilated by 8 am. If we had left the hospital I would have been able to deliver my own daughter, probably on the floor of the veterinary clinic. It might have served me better in the end.

Again, caught through the long-lens from the parking lot
I was always nearby.
I have all the respect in the world for the pain tolerance of women; they can withstand things that a normal man would soil his pants over. On the other hand, there are limits to toughness and a full episiotomy with a pair of large Mayo scissors and no anaesthetic is about ten steps beyond what Roni can tolerate. I was sitting dutifully next to her bed alternating holding her hand with first my left and then my right as her steely grip crushed the circulation out of my fingers.  I had been told to just keep my mouth shut after I had told her that it was "a little late for second thoughts" earlier in the process, so holding hands silently was my safest option. I wish the doctor had given us some warning about what she was about to do; I think my pinkie finger on my right hand sustained a green stick fracture as the doctor performed the episiotomy. Personally, I still believe the major reason Roni and I never had any other children is the grudge Roni holds to this day over that unannounced surgical procedure.  I still think the doctor was just in a hurry to get her morning cup of java and wanted to be shut of this young, outspoken woman.

I would love to say we were finally finished with Ms. Doctor, but life is never quite that simple, is it? Roni and Calista were discharged from the hospital about eight hours later and neither of us had a faint clue about raising children. I had never had any interest in babies and had managed to avoid everything to do with them up to that point. Roni had done a wee bit of babysitting, but there is a world of difference between babysitting toddlers and caring for newborns. Calista, quite frankly, is lucky to have survived the first 24 hours with us. Her first feeding at home she managed to snort a mouthful of milk up her nose, spraying it out into her mother's face and then crying like a banshee at the resulting nasal irritation. Who would think that simple baby's milk could be so inflammatory? Her nose was instantaneously stuffed shut and she was miserable immediately.

Roni and I had to take turns with a crying newborn all night. She couldn't breath through her nose, she couldn't feed and breath through her mouth at the same time, and feeding then, as always, was a priority for Calista. By 5 am Roni was an exhausted, teary-eyed mess, sure she had killed her baby on the first day, and I was beyond tired and ready to chew the ass off the first person who crossed me. Unfortunately that person happened to be our old friend Ms. Doctor.  We called emergency and told them our problem; the nurse on the phone told us just to flush her nose with some isotonic saline.  That seemed a little rough to us; our baby was already having nose issues and they thought I should just shoot some more crap up her little nasal passages.  I finally decided to take control of the situation; I told the nurse we were on our way in with a newborn and I didn't really care what time in the morning it was.

Ten minutes later, at minus 40 degrees Celsius outside and with a really hungry and angry baby Calista,  the entire Yukon branch of the Fleming family arrived at Whitehorse emergency.  I'm not sure what the emergency is like now, but back then it was a series of open cubicles with such limited privacy that by the end of my visit that day I both knew how to treat alcoholics suffering from detox seizures and the opinion of the duty nurse of said absolute detail.  It was hard to respect that nurse ever again when she visited my clinic with any of her pets.  Thankfully we were taken under the wing of another quieter and more professional nurse who tried to help us with some timely advice and a small nasal suction unit.  Unfortunately by that time I had lost all sense of reasonable public behaviour for a young professional and I started firmly demanding that the doctor be called down.  I was told that there was no need for a doctor, that we had a fairly common problem that a simple squirt of saline and some suction would solve. The nurse defended the doctor saying how hard she worked and how challenging the weekly night on-call was for these young residents.

Poised but posed on the top of Mt. Washington
Crying about the agony of emergency on-call to a veterinarian is kind of like telling a fireman that flames might burn him.  I was not particularly sympathetic. In fact I think I said something about what might happen if a doctor did not examine my newborn baby within the next five minutes. Roni, by this time, had become quite silent, realising that I was about to go volcanic and only the timely appearance of a doctor was going to avoid the eruption.  Sure enough, a very short phone call to the doctor's suite up on the top floor brought down the resident on-call. It was our good friend Ms. Dr., properly arrayed in hideous green hospital scrubs and the obligatory sox with sandals.  She was not happy in the least; in fact she was really quite upset at being rousted out of bed at 5:30 am. She tried to give me a hard time about it, but within the first minute of her lecture to me, she realised that her best strategy was to speak quickly, fix the darn baby and get the hell out of the emergency ward before things got really ugly.  That pretty much set the standard for the rest of Calista's life: cross my daughter for any reason and you are walking on thin, rotting Spring-ice that is ready to crack and dump you in the foul early run-off.  Anyone crossing my girl very quickly became "unforgiven" and the target of my most vile verbal abuse.

Calista came home that day and spent the next month sleeping in a laundry basket next to my side of the bed. It was not that I did not trust Roni (believe me, you would be mistaken if you ever suggested Roni was not 100% mommy at all times), it's that I am a very light sleeper. The faintest whisper will awaken me; it's a side effect of years of packing a damn pager. That month of responding to Calista's every midnight whim bonded us for life. I never could ignore that girl.

Roni and I discussed philosophy last night. Actually, to be more exact, I discussed while she cried. We were out at our favourite restaurant because the cupboards and fridge at home were once again barren (that happens a lot these days since we only shop for ourselves now and we really don't care much about eating). We just fell into our old habit of the last 20 years; we talked about our daughter.  Of course there was a few laughs and a sprinkle of tears, but nothing too personal to be done in public. Then my mind started wondering about life, death and life after death.  I have been reading again.

Surrounded by friends. Hopefully she will find new friends
wherever she is now. None of her old friends should join her for
at least 60 years...understood?
Roni asked me to read this little paperback called "Heaven Is For Real", which is a autobiography of a Midwest Baptist pastor and his experience with his young son's near death experience (NDE). The book is very heavily flavoured by his Christian ideals and is more of a call to join his church than it is a testament to his son's experience.  In the book his son comes close to dying due to a ruptured appendix and during those few moments where the boy walked that thin grey line between this world and the next he experienced what can be described as a "typical" near death experience. And yes, there are such things as "typical" NDEs.

NDEs are relatively common and actually well documented. While each survivor of an NDE has their own interpretation of what they saw, heard and felt while walking in that near-death limbo, there is are some common elements to nearly all the testaments. The victim of a NDE usually starts his trip with an out-of-body experience where their "soul" hovers above their body, seeing and hearing everything that is going on around them. Their "soul" may overhear real conversations they could not be privy to, they may even leave the immediate area and observe activity in adjacent rooms. Blind people see, deaf people hear and wheel-chair bound paralytics can walk again. Inexplicable, yes, but still reported on a routine basis.

If the NDE extends longer, the victims describe being drawn through a dark place or tunnel toward a bright beautiful light. They typically are filled with a sense of peace and overwhelming, unconditional love.  Once the NDE survivor enters the "bright light" they may be greeted by dead relatives and apparently Divine spirits. They may hear beautiful music and see wondrous colours. In fact, the typical NDE experience really does sound like the standard Christian description of heaven; one has to wonder if the original biblical descriptions of heaven did not originate with some ancient NDE survivor. Of course, you could turn this around and suggest that the heavenly interpretation of the NDE experience is just the survivor interpreting his experience through his own cultural and religious beliefs.

The young boy discussed in "Heaven Is For Real" pretty much goes through all the above stages before he is pulled back to his hospital bed by timely and excellent medical care. He describes seeing his parents crying and praying, he describes seeing the doctor sweating over his prone body on the surgical table and then he goes on to describe a truly heavenly experience. He meets his long dead grandfather and sits on the lap of Jesus Christ, he meets a series of angels, all sporting wings and white robes and he tells how everyone has halos in a land of bright colours and lights.  His father, the author, just cannot imagine where these images spring from unless they are the absolute truth: heaven is all about clouds, colours and music and everyone has wings, robes and halos.  Of course, the author ignores the fact that his son was raised in an evangelist Christian household and was entertained from illustrated bible primers since he was in the cradle. The boy's imagery of heaven could be pulled directly out of any of the bible-story books I was exposed to back when my mother was still sure I could "be saved", including a Caucasian Jesus surrounded by Northern European angels. 

My point, whether you believe NDEs are real or are just the random ignitions of a dying brain, is that everyone has their own version of "the afterlife". Christians may believe in a massive toga party where everyone flaps their wings to the beat of a angelic jazz band. Re-incarnationists might just see more of this Earth, but better or worse depending on how you conducted your present life, while the Muslims dream of a heavenly garden with geometric water channels.  Personally, I think they are all wrong and I think we all need to change our approach to both this world and the next if we want to be happy with our own lives.

Just a little Mom n' Pop clinic with
my girl working the desk.

My heaven is last year. My heaven includes my quiet little Mom n' Pop business where my wife does the books and my beautiful daughter works at the desk.  In my heaven I will have a meaningful job and my family will work with me, exchanging playful teasing and generally just enjoying each others company. My daughter will be planning an exciting career with her own adventures that she will share with us on frequent trips home. There will be future trips to the big city and my wife and daughter will have a real budget that will challenge them to find good deals (and enjoy getting those bargains). There will be holidays and rewarding work days, progress and accomplishment, plans for the future and memories of the past. In fact, my heaven is pretty much what I had last year...and I did not appreciate what I had. So very few of us appreciate and treasure what we have now until we lose it.  We are so busy having an ambitious future that we fail to appreciate our wonderful present.

I would trade a hundred years of ambitious futures for just a few more years exactly like last year. I would give anything to have my Roni and Calista, living in my little bungalow on the big hill, commuting to my small family business in the quiet little village on the edge of the deep, dark forest.  You can keep your heaven, whatever your vision of heaven may be; I just want my past.

A colleague said to me last night that none of us need fear hell because "this is hell", as in this existence, this world.  I heard what she was saying, but I don't agree. This world, our present world, is whatever we make of it. It can be both heaven or hell, depending on how you approach life. If you don't like how things are turning out, then change them until you find your heaven on Earth. And here is the most important point: learn to recognise when you have found that heaven and appreciate your treasures when you have them. I had everything a man could ever dream of and I squandered that time.

My mouth ran away on me at the restaurant and from Roni quiet tears had turned to quaking sobs.  I realised I had crossed a bridge too far for her and we needed to go home and nurse our wounds in private. I know that imagery in words is powerful; my unread poem reminds me of that every time I try to read it.  I just forgot for a short time as my mind wandered. As my mind is prone to do these days.

I paid the bill and took my wife back to the small, empty bungalow on the big hill at the edge of the deep, dark forest and hoped that my hugs were some replacement for the person she really wanted to embrace.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Four Months, Three Weeks: Eight Simple Rules.

  1. Use your hands on my daughter and you'll lose them after.
  2. You make her cry, I make you cry.
  3. Safe sex is a myth. Anything you try will be hazardous to your health.
  4. Bring her home late, there's no next date.
  5. If you pull into my driveway and honk, you better be dropping off a package because you're sure not picking anything up (Alternative rule #5: Only delivery men honk. Dates ring the doorbell. Once.)
  6. No complaining while you're waiting for her. If you're bored, change my oil.
  7. If your pants hang off your hips, I'll gladly secure them with my staple gun.
  8. Dates must be in crowded public places. You want romance? Read a book.
from the Wikipedia entry on the old sitcom "Eight Simple Rules" starring John Ritter.

I hope this week's journal entry will be more humour, most of it at my own expense. If you ever watched the "sitcom" called "Eight Simple Rules", my fatherly parenting skills were somewhat akin to a cross between the ineffective John Ritter and a scrawny Chuck Norris. The boys all thought I was tough like Chuck and my daughter knew I was pretty much useless like John as far as disciplining her.  She was my princess and if she was happy, so was I.  It didn't stop me from tormenting the odd boy whilst he skulked in our doorway, waiting for Calista to make her grand entrance.

I am expecting a visit from the honourable Jared this evening. I have not seen him since the evening of her memorial and I have heard from him only once this long summer.  I am told by Debbie, his mother, that the two paragraph note I received from him via Facebook in early August was quite wordy for him.  I guess Jared tends to be quite private. I hope to get to know him a bit better this evening; I never really got a chance before between Calista protecting him from me and then the move to Powell River.  There are just so many flowers that were cut down before they bloomed; anyone my daughter loved was probably pretty special. Its a terrible thing for a relationship to be cut short like that.

That is the prescient Emily bringing up the rear, looking relaxed
as Balance-Beam Barby inches her way across the log.

One of Calista's close friends from college contacted me late last night, once again by Facebook. I actually knew Emily before I ever met her; she was the good soul who "texted" Calista the day she died, concerned because the absolutely dependable Calista was missing class for the first and only time. We found that text hidden away on Calista's phone when we retrieved it from the RCMP evidence locker. We also found an iPhone video of all the girls, including the prescient Emily, having fun playing a video game that involved bad dancing. None of the girls should quit their day jobs and audition in Vegas, but they sure knew how to laugh and have fun.  Between the note Emily sent me and the very heartfelt note that she left on Calista's Facebook wall yesterday, it seems that the scars of her death extend well outside of the immediate family.  Everyone that knew Calista loved her and those that didn't love her didn't really know her. (We all miss you honey, it's time to come home!)

Boyfriends and dating is always a sensitive topic for fathers. I would love to say it is due to our fine, upstanding morals and protective nature, but I would be lying. The reason father's hate boyfriends so vehemently is because we all remember well what we were like when we were "the boyfriend".  I can absolutely guarantee that when dealing with boys, the last thing on their mind is any concern for their girlfriend's intelligence or opinions. Unless it involves sex, a boy is pretty much apathetic about "girl stuff". Truthfully, many boys would be just as happy to skip all the friendship pleasantries, including fairly important things like names, birth dates, and interests, and just skip to the physical basics.  I personally admit that there were several girls I dated along the way that I never bothered learning their full name even after going out for a morning-after breakfast.  Boys, especially teen aged boys, are all bad dogs and a girl is best to assume that until the boy proves differently ( Even then, I believe most boys are merely faking sincerity in hopes of future sex. A rolled up newspaper or a firm baseball bat should be kept handy for disciplining most teen aged boys.).

The first boy I remember Calista showing any interest in was a young man I nicknamed "The Magnificent Andre".  For most of grade 7 and grade 8 Roni and I heard so many tales of Andre from our clearly star-struck daughter that we half expected to see a Hollywood star with angel's wings once we finally met him.  I must admit I was a little disappointed when Andre finally graced our doorstep and I had to look down...way down before my eyes finally met the top of his head.  I hope that boy has grown some since that time, because if he hasn't he is still going to be shopping in the junior section of Walmart. On the other hand, Andre certainly did have beautiful golden locks; his hair was reminiscent of the big-hair rockers of the eighties. Kind of a miniature version of David Lee Roth.  It was no surprise to learn that Andre fashioned himself a musician; he played the part. At one school social function, Andre regaled all his grade 8 class with the famous guitar riff from "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple . I am pretty sure that was all he had for skills though. Calista always did love the musicians regardless if they were any good or not.

Andre is the first boyfriend (and maybe the only one) that I actually scared off.  He turned up at the door one blustery fall afternoon asking if Calista was available to "go to the park". I didn't mean to be "scary", I just thought it would be funny to tell the little guy that he had to go at least one round with me bare-knuckle boxing to date my daughter.  I am not sure which part of that statement scared him away; the part about fighting with the 200 pound man or the fact I referred his request for my daughter's company as "a date".  All I know is that I never saw Andre at our door again. If he ever came by the house again, it was not when I was around. I can't say I feel all that guilty though; she was all of 12 years old at the time and he was a musician, after all (someone tell me why the first riff every guitar player attempts is from "Smoke on the Water?).

In later years, after Calista had gone to Leboldus while the rest of her friends ended up at the much closer Miller High School, I used to see Andre with his latest girl-friend in the local park.  I'm glad I scared him off now because that boy was not shy about inappropriate public displays of affection.  At least now I know that "going to the park" with Andre did not mean a pastoral walk through the trees and over the grass.

I guess I was being a little optimistic or hopelessly naive, but I hoped that, after leaving Andre behind when Calista transferred into Leboldus, in the far south of Regina, I would get a respite from boys and moody teen aged daughters.  I am not sure what I was thinking of; I guess every father hopes he will never see his little girl holding hands or hugging a drooling, knuckle dragging teen-aged boy.  I believe Calista managed to take the summer and maybe the first month of school off from the subject of boys.

Since Martin Leboldus Catholic High School was about six blocks from the clinic at which I worked during those years, I always dropped off Calista first thing in the morning on my way to the clinic.  It worked out really well and actually established a life-long habit for Calista; arrive early and use that extra time for home work and preparation. Calista had all sorts of short-comings when it came to academics, but lack of work-ethic was not one of them. Throughout the warm days of September that year Calista was frequently greeted at the door by a tall clumsy-looking boy. I saw the same boy shadowing her on the few occasions I could pick her up after school. By early October I had to ask Roni who the boy was and if Calista was dating him or something. The reply was "He's Patrick and yes, I think they might be dating. Calista says he's really funny". Oh great I thought, from musicians to stand-up comedians. And it had to be Patrick, of all the boys.

Patrick was not unknown to Roni and I.  By the time Calista was in high school she had been competitively swimming since she was seven and Patrick had been on both teams she had trained with. Patrick was one of those kids that everyone knows; quite vocal and not always in a good way.  We had watched the boy grow from a round-faced, cherubic kid who could be frequently found whining at his coach's side to a six foot clumsy colt, all legs and arms who actually showed great future potential.  I tended to remember the pouty whiner while Roni saw the potential. Calista just saw the class-clown. I just never considered Patrick anyone she would date; they had practically grown up together so I just assumed that familiarity would breed contempt.

For the next ten months or so, Patrick was a regular visitor to my house and Calista was over at his house just as often or more so.  Typical of that age, the dating was awkward and a very quiet affair; it's pretty hard to get too hot and heavy when dad is either waiting outside in the car or just around the corner in the next room, chomping at the bit to either pick one young lady up or evacuate one young man home. There were very few classic dates involving anything like dinner and a movie; at fifteen everything has to be economy class or "dutch" if the relationship is going to work at all. The majority of the young couple's socialising was done at school (under the supervision of the strict catholic teachers) or at swim practise (where coach made sure the only heavy breathing was due to hard training).

she took her swimming seriously in those days

The one great advantage of Calista dating Patrick is that she actually took her competitive swimming seriously for a change.  Patrick was actually a talented swimmer with lots of potential. His long arms, big hands and big feet, combined with good stamina and an excellent work ethic meant that he could eventually hope to make national championships and maybe more. Long gone were the days of Patrick the whiner and everyone could see that we might see Patrick the winner eventually. Very soon after starting to date Patrick, Calista started to adopt his work-ethic and train with passion. And it showed. Very quickly Calista hardened in, slimmed down considerably and saw her training times plummet.  She soon found herself training with the senior swimmers, including Patrick, and doing sets and sessions she could only dream of months earlier. I was warming to the idea of Calista dating Patrick.  That should have been my first hint that things were going to soon go sour on everyone.

summer camp while she still cared
There always was some friction with Patrick's mother over my daughter. His mother never warmed to the idea of Calista being part of her son's life. I like to think it was just a mother watching out for her little boy, but truthfully, I believe this was a case of the "sins of the father" being visited on my Calista.  Roni and I had never quite gelled with Pat's mom; we butted heads on just about ever subject and things had pretty much degenerated to "fragile polite" and silence on both sides by the time Pat and Calista were an item. Relations did not improve much after that. While I doubt that Calista would ever stop seeing a boy simply because their collective parents could not agree on the time (daylight savings versus Greenwich Standard; that's a Saskatchewan dig if you don't know it already), but I doubt our obvious animosity helped things when Pat and Calista  finally started growing apart. I know I was cheering for a break-up the entire time, even if I actually liked Patrick.

The final and permanent schism came in early August.  Roni and I suspected the relationship was on the rocks for weeks as Calista ducked calls and made faces when she couldn't duck the call. And, of course, there was the constant flow of text-messages between Calista, Patrick and Calista's best friend Danielle.  I finally came right out and asked her what the scoop was while driving her over to Danielle's house for the afternoon. She said that she and Patrick were "done" and she had told him exactly that yesterday.  I paused, thought about it, and asked when the hell she had seen Patrick to break up with him. She rolled her eyes and told me she had "texted" him.  I think my face went crimson and I had to actually pull over I was so angry. I fumed for a couple of minutes, counted to ten twice, and then, as peacefully as I could, asked why the hell had she done that? Well, I guess, because she said so, that was the only alternative. It seems Patrick was going on vacation right away and she wanted to make a clean break of it before he left.  I just looked at her and asked how she felt about ruining his summer vacation by giving him the axe suddenly right before he left. She shrugged and rolled her eyes, on the verge of tears (the absolute silver bullet for an angry father).  I counted to ten twice again and, with little else safe to say about it, just told her in no uncertain terms that she was never to send a boy to the curb by "texting" again (or e-mail for that matter; now I would have to add Facebook too).  It was never an issue again, but I suspect only because Calista's dating record was so short.

Oh, I don't kid myself. My daughter knew she
caught the eyes of many admirers. Even way
back then.

Now I have to admit the absolute truth here; I knew what was going to happen next.  I actually tried a preemptive strike before the war of the roses started, but the heart wants what the heart wants. You see, over that last couple of months Calista was seeing Patrick, I had noticed one of Patrick's close friends paying a lot of attention to Calista and she seemed more than willing to receive that attention.  I hoped by forbidding her to date anyone on her swim team I would cut that little avenue off with huge cement traffic blocks.
 Silly man, what the hell was I thinking of?
 My wife actually had already arranged a date for Calista with the boy in question; it seems Calista wanted to go to the annual fair down at the exhibition grounds and Roni thought she needed a male companion for security.  All I could think of was that my wife had just put the fox in charge of the hen house. Damn.

Ok, so she wasn't shy. She was oblivious
to her admirers.
The next boy to grace my dinner table is an example that proves that good intentions will be forgotten if things end badly. And things ended very badly on this one; it soured both my opinion of boys who date my daughter and my daughter's opinion of boys in general. 

Since you are not supposed to say anything if you can't say something nice about a person, I am going to make this little tale about some imaginary boyfriend who shared my dinner table, the welcome of my home, spent over a year trying to get in my daughter's pants and then spent another year making her life miserable because she chose to keep her pants right where they belonged.  Did I say teen-aged boys are all bad dogs?

Roni and I knew the newest cling-on from early childhood as well. Again, the boy, let's call him "Bubba" for simplicity, was a member of the close-knit competitive swimming community in Regina and had competed with Calista for years. I never had much good to say about "Bubba"; he came across as a arrogant, smart-ass jock type. Even after starting to date Calista he never did much to change my opinion of him. Certainly he was charming when he wanted something and no doubt he was handsome, if you liked that blond athletic Adonis type. Unfortunately he also knew he was handsome and charming and tended to take  all the liberties that afforded him. Calista was besotted with him from the first and by mid-September I had been relieved of most of my chauffeur duties because Bubba was marking his turf by picking her up after school every day.

"Bubba" became such a fixture around our home that I started to wonder if he had a home of his own. I never aspired to have a son, but for that year I certainly did learn the expenses of feeding a teen-aged boy. That kid had a healthy appetite; there were rarely any left-overs in the fridge anymore. Bubba did seem to treat Calista well and I started to warm up to him. There were even a few comic moments that can only happen when you have a beautiful but naive daughter and a suspicious mind.

By the time Calista was turning 15, she was all about photography. I decided that I was finally going to get her a decent digital camera for Christmas and I did my research and found a relatively expensive little Panasonic point-and-shoot that would fit the bill. Needless to say, it was "the best present ever" and Calista immediately took to carrying that camera absolutely everywhere. This is where her naturally trusting nature got her in trouble. The camera was stolen from her locker at the pool during swim practise, along with her wallet, her cell phone and all her cheap costume jewelry. She learnt the hard way that you should only trust yourself and assume everyone else wants something from you.

The day the camera went missing I was home on an afternoon off. It was late January, and I was puttering around in the basement when Calista arrived home with Bubba in tow.  All I heard was the front door opening and a broken "Daddy" bubbling between sobs of sorrow.  I ran upstairs and found Calista at the front door, school bag on her shoulder, swim bag tossed on the floor, winter boots half off. Her eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, she was crying so hard that she was having trouble catching her breath.  She could not speak a coherent sentence for many minutes.  Finally, Bubba, standing behind her, head bowed and shifting nervously from foot to foot, as nervous as a mouse in a cattery, speaks up and asks her if she wanted him to break the news.  The blood drained from my face and I am pretty sure my body went numb.

Put yourself in my place. You have a beautiful fifteen year old daughter who is hot and heavy with a seventeen year old boy with his own car and she stands before you crying uncontrollably as the boy paces behind her nervously. There are just a few things going through a father's mind at that point and some of them end with a shotgun wedding or just a shotgun blast. Thank goodness for Calista's quick recovery when she saw her poor old dad going into shock.

Finally, between sobs, she blurted out "MY CAMERA WAS STOLEN!". I caught my breath, laughed and gave her a big hug. "Honey, stop crying. It's no big deal. It's just "stuff" and we can always replace stuff".  I'm not sure what she thought I was going to do. The loss of the stupid cell phone and the wallet were bigger issues; those things had abuse potential if someone got hold of your I.D. or abused your cell phone.  The camera could be replaced in a day and everything would be right with her world again.

 Bubba did not come away from the incident unscathed though: I turned to him almost reflexively and said "Jeez you are lucky this time. For a second I thought I was going to have to kill you". He never quite forgave me that statement and I am pretty sure he kept an eye on me at all times whenever he was over in case I decided homicide was the best idea for the day.

Later I heard from one of Calista's friends how upset she was with my reaction to her blubbering.  I thought I had scored "daddy points" by keeping my cool over the camera theft. What I had actually done, I guess, is infer my daughter was "a slut" by making a much worse assumption. What can I say; I was a teen-aged boy once and I know what goes on in steamy cars. On the other hand, I also knew my daughter so I should have known better.

I replaced that camera the very next day. I tried to keep the incident hidden from Roni, but she noticed the $500 dollar Visa bill for Don's Photo which came a few weeks later.  Roni was not quite so forgiving as I  and for many months after she rode Calista hard about leaving the camera at home. I was not so upset about the whole thing and I felt that the whole concept of a purse-sized point-and-shoot was that she could pursue her hobby spontaneously. That same camera, well used by now, was in Calista's purse when we picked it up from the RCMP evidence locker. I just used it this week to take some photos of sunrise over Comox.

In retrospect, Roni and I indulged Calista's romance with Bubba far too much. Much of what followed was as much our fault as it was the fault of teenage raging hormones.

 We had set up kind of a private little den for Calista down in the basement so she could have her "own space" at home to entertain friends. We had an old couch and some comfortable chairs arrayed around an old second hand TV. Calista would retire to the basement with her beau whenever he came over for dinner and we just trusted our girl to set some proper boundaries for behaviour under our roof.  And that is where the beginning of the friction between Bubba and her started. It turns out we really could trust her to set boundaries, but not so much Bubba.

Throughout the spring and early summer Roni noticed that Calista became progressively less interested in retreating to the basement for privacy. She preferred to share her movies with dear old mom and dad, forcing Bubba to perch sullenly on the couch, his hands safely in his lap or carefully draped across her shoulders. The unspoken complaint was clear on his face and there was no doubt that there was growing friction between the two love-birds. It did not help that one of the girls on the swim team, an old friend of Calista's, was obviously throwing herself at Bubba. Ten-dollar Tijuana prostitutes are less obvious than that girl was. Calista remained very loyal to the young horn-dog, even to the point of wanting him to come along on our family vacation and participate in her Tom Johnson Swim Camp with her. Roni and I reluctantly agreed to this. It was our second major mistake in young romance.

The family trip was far from being a bonding experience. I am not sure what "Bubba" thought was going to happen, but surely to God he never expected to get bed privileges with my daughter while on a G-rated family excursion.  Throughout the trip the boy seemed to get progressively more sullen despite the fact Roni and I were treating him like he was already family. I tried to attribute the moodiness to simple homesick blues, but that was hard to swallow since Bubba was a nearly grown man of eighteen by this time.  I had left home at eighteen myself, so I just assumed all eighteen year old boys were men by that time. Roni thought there might be something else going on altogether; he was not getting his share of private time with Calista. I thought nothing of it and Roni was absolutely not sympathetic to his grievance. By the time we arrived back in Regina two weeks later conversations with Bubba had degenerated to one syllable grunting.

The couple broke up about two weeks later.  We never knew who broke up with whom or why, but to this day Roni believes Calista was being pressured to give "it" up and finally pushed back. She got the impression that Bubba dumped Calista and somehow expected her to just relent and give in to his lusts.  He obviously did not know my Calista anywhere near well enough.  Calista was nothing if not rigid once she had made a resolution. All the pouting and moaning in the world was not about to get her to spread her legs for anyone. The relationship should have ended there. It didn't.

Hey, Jack-ass: this is what you threw away
just because you could not wait. And then you
bullied her for nearly a year while everyone
looked the other way.
Once Calista returned to training with the swim club, the atmosphere was completely different from the past. Girls she had been pals with for nearly a decade snubbed her, gossipping behind her back. The entire male contingent of the swim team were overtly hostile, falling just short of physical abuse.  There appeared to be a cadre of four boys who consistently tormented her at every turn, all obviously under the direction of Bubba. The old girlfriend of Calista's which had shown such interest in Bubba through the spring had now taken her place at Bubba's side.  Calista was completely fine with that, but she was not prepared to deal with the locker room whispers and snippy comments which had replaced the friendly banter of the past. Foul, insulting e-mails appeared on Calista's computer and there appeared to be a constant stream of nasty little text-messages on her phone.  Calista had one  openly gay friend with whom she would spend the odd evening out shopping or at the movies; the boy would receive threatening texts on his phone while the two were out together.  The entire situation was vile. No girl would stand up under this sort of barrage for long; Calista lasted nearly six months before she broke.

I attended many of her training sessions and the bullying was far from covert. I could see exactly what was happening and I spoke up about it several times.  I guess I was being a bit naive in my hopes that her gutless coach would step-up and put an end to the tormenting. Bubba was one of the coach's star swimmers and Calista (an emotional wreck by this time) was quickly becoming a liability to the team.  It did not help that the usually polite Patrick had joined in on the feeding frenzy; he was clearly the "star" of the team and the coach was not about to upset his boat to support some young trollop. The coach repeatedly denied any bullying was going on under his nose, though I am pretty sure the three monkeys of justice (hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil) would have spotted that shark pack. It eventually came to a head in March; Calista came to us after yet another barrage of text-attacks and tearfully demanded to be taken out of swimming. I immediately agreed on the provision that she replace swimming with some form of organised physical activity immediately. The relief in her eyes was obvious; she was glad to be shut of these horrid people that had been her closest friends for nearly a decade. How sad is that?

Beauty and brawn. We actually have
three pairs of practically new boxing
gloves now, two of them pink.
She took up boxing  not more than a month later.

After Calista had quit swimming and was out of the reach of the obviously biased coach and her ex-team mates, I sent a nasty note to the swim team executive.  I basically told them that if my daughter received even one more threatening e-mail or text-message or if I even got a hint that one of the swim team had spoken to her about anything I would be contacting a lawyer and I would end up owning the team. I saw that gutless coach several times in public after that; the big brave man dropped his eyes and turned away each time. I didn't flinch.

Patrick approached me two years later and begged forgiveness.  I told him he was a bigger man the moment he apologised, but he needed to apologise directly to Calista.  I think Patrick and Calista eventually smoothed things over.  His mother was one of the first people to send condolences when Calista died. Bubba never made amends and he always turned away if I saw him in public. Coward.

Adam and her on graduation day.

After the whole "Bubba" experience, Calista swore off boys altogether, much to my relief. There were a few dates along the way but they never amounted to much. Adam, a close friend of Calista's since kindergarten, escorted her to the graduation ceremonies.  Adam and her never were anything more than friends, but he was a really good friend. There are pictures of those two together at school enjoying a cooking class together (Adam cooked, Calista took 
advantage of his cooking and they both received good marks in the class) and at various historical sights throughout Italy and Greece on their grade 12 European trip. He was a real gentleman as an escort and I think she might have passed up on a keeper by overlooking that boy.  But, by that time she wasn't looking.
 Adam, her big buddy in Greece.

I believe over a year passed without Roni and I having to suffer through an uncomfortable dinner hosting a nervous boy who might want to court my daughter. Sometime in the fall, maybe November, I started hearing about this Jared boy who seemed to share a lot of interests with Calista.  She spent quite a bit of time over at his apartment watching some cheesy horror show called "Supernatural" (I notice she has all the seasons on DVD stashed in the collection in her room).  I repeatedly asked Roni if this Jared was a "boyfriend" or just a boy who was friendly.  Roni told me that Calista was firm about the fact they were just working on a friendship, nothing more. I reserved judgement. I knew it was just a matter of time before we were hosting a "meet the parents" pizza night. The boy was a musician for goodness sake and Calista had always been sweet on musicians.

I finally met Jared in the early spring. My first impression was that he was a tall, good looking kid who desperately needed to put some meat on his bones. And he was quiet; really quiet. As a couple, the two made a pretty good pair. They seemed to be in tune with each other; there were very few discussions and there never appeared to be any conflict. Roni and I hoped that the lack of conflict didn't mean that Jared was just letting Calista have everything her own way. Calista could be a little forceful from time to time, maybe even a little bossy, and she already had Daddy-dearest to jump at her every whim. I now know, from Jared's parents, that I need not have any fears that Calista was bullying Jared. Those two just seemed to get along that well.

One occasion illustrates how apathetic I had become about Calista's romantic interests.  One evening weeks after I had met Jared for the first time, I dropped into Calista's boxing club to watch her train and shoot the breeze with Roland, her much beloved boxing coach (it didn't hurt that he was handsome and had a unique and very foreign accent). I watched my girl spar with a couple of the regulars; they were careful not to hit and she was careful to make them pay for their courtesy.  After a few rounds she stepped out of the ring and a tall, gangly looking guy stepped in and squared off against her former opponent. The new fighter showed some promise despite being skinny like a rail and all arms and legs. He slipped punches easily, kept his guard well in place, and took all the right chances at scoring.  I pointed out the fighter to Calista and told her that of all the fighters present he was the only one who showed any real potential.

"Who is he anyway?" I asked "I haven't seen him here before".

 "That's Jared, Dad!" came the offended reply.

In all fairness, Jared was wearing full head gear, I had no idea he was boxing with Calista, and it was completely out of context.  At least that's my story and I am running with it.

Jared and the Princess

After I moved out to Powell River, the writing was on the wall. Time was ticking down for Jared and Calista; the likelihood of them maintaining a long distance affair at their age was so remote as to be laughable.  The plan had always been that Calista was going to stay behind in Regina and finish her contractual commitments with LifeTouch Photography and then follow Roni and I out to the coast once she was free.  Calista settled in with her Godmother Sherry and spent all her free time with Jared. Sherry would call us frequently with updates, making it very clear she thought it was  very sad that Roni and I were splitting up the obviously compatible couple. They were just so cute together she said, half accusing us of being home wreckers. We had to remind Sherry a couple of times that it was Calista who wanted to move west and we were just going out ahead of her to establish a home base at Powell River. Besides,it was not like Powell River was the end of the earth; Comox had direct flights from Regina daily and Jared could visit anytime.

Eventually Calista did move west to live with us and the star-crossed lovers were left trying to manage a long distance affair.  Every call, text-message and e-mail (and a couple of Skype sessions that were labelled "lame") brought more frustration to my darling daughter and by the time Jared finally visited she was definitely having mixed feelings about the whole situation. Jared's visit in the late winter of 2011 was a little uncomfortable for everyone and the silence around the house after he finally went home was deafening. Calista camped out in her room for a couple of days after and I was cut out of the loop altogether. I am pretty much sure that every member of the male species was the enemy right about then. It was Roni that informed me that the two of them had decided that 1800 kilometres and two provinces was just too far to keep things going at their age.  I thought that decision was incredibly mature at the time, but in retrospect I realise now that it was a poor decision for them. They really were a good couple and had things turned out differently, they probably would have made it.

A memorial tattoo on Jared's arm done less than
a week after she left us.

I never heard about Jared much after that. I understood Calista still kept in touch with him; they exchanged e-mail and the odd call, but I didn't think much was going on.  Calista showed no interest in dating, even when she was on her own over in Comox, but then she was busy, immersed in her photography program. Since her death, I have had many blanks filled in about the entire situation and I now agree with Sherry; it was a very sad thing that Calista and Jared were split up.  It seems that all her friends over in Courtenay had an intimate knowledge of Jared; Calista talked about him constantly and nearly went nuclear every time he even suggested he had been out with another girl.  She kept all this from Roni and me, but then I saw the stuffed giraffe that Jared had given her as she left Regina sitting right next to her bed in her apartment.  It was the only one of her hundreds of stuffed toys she took with her to Courtenay,  so I knew that the door was never closed on Jared. That's something really: Calista was quite good at closing doors on boys so Jared must have been quite special to hold her attention despite the geographic challenge.

I sat down and had a beer and a burger with the honourable Jared this week.  I saw the good, decent and thoughtful young man my daughter cared so much for and I truly believe that Jared was one of the people she held in her heart as she walked through whatever door we pass when we leave this earth.  So many people have been scarred by her death, but while Roni and I will never completely heal, I hope that everyone else, Jared especially, can move forward, strengthened by having known my daughter rather than weakened by her loss.

One of her great loves: Hermes, the red-devil.
Kitty kisses from a cabbage-patch kitten.