Six minutes into my early morning run I started to cry. I dabbed my tears as I ran along MacKay Park creek where Monty had cooled off for nine summers. Past the fence where the West Highland Terrier barked before we had even appeared. Now silent. I ran across the road where an invisible leash had yanked us back as we watched a beaver galumphed across the industrial street and slipped into a pond. I ran through the linear dog park where Monty had once greeted Labradors, shepherds and seniors. Two-legged and four-legged.
Every stride opened a story and I sprinted to flip the pages faster.
Half hour later, I reached the shared pedestrian/cyclist asphalt pathway beside Bridge Road -- underneath the Lion’s Gate Bridge -- and approached Kwumkwum Street, the entrance to the Squamish Nation Reserve. I darted between the crosswalk barriers and obeyed the painted warning:
As I ran, I looked right – painted Owl eyes that covered a single garage door of the first house on the reserve. Left -- a makeshift shrine on a chest-high green pillar of the bridge.
Ten feet past the shrine, I stopped. I squirted water into my mouth as I walked back to the shrine.
An engraved rock the size of my running shoe -- Nathan Baker, December 23, 1962 – February 18, 2013. A yellowed James A. Michener paperback, The Drifters, sealed in a Ziploc bag. Four empty Brava 5.5% beer cans – the cheapest you can buy. Cigarette butts. A card wrapped in plastic -- “Thank you for all your love and for loving and being a friend to my son. Marlene”. A black neoprene and mesh mountain biker glove. Eight separate Primulas in green flower pots. Dead. A wrinkled page ripped from a spiral-bound notepad and taped to a beer can -- “Rambo, thanks for being my friend, miss ya.”
The thump-thump-thump of cars on the bridge deck high above reminded me of my goal. I stuffed my water bottle away and plodded up the west side of the bridge and dashed down the east.
Twenty minutes later, I was back at the shrine.
A native woman was squeezed into her walker’s bench seat. A 50-something native man was sitting on the low, grey cement ledge adjoining the shrine, beer can in hand. A 20-something native man, dressed in an oversized hockey jersey (local team?) was the final mourner. A Molson Canadian beer can in his left hand and a crushed one in his right.
I stopped, grabbed my water bottle and joined the unexpected twist in this running story.
“Hey, that doesn’t look like beer!” said the older native man.
“Oh, give me a few more hours!” I said.
“Okay then, cheers!” he said, and laughed as we clinked our mismatched beverage containers. The younger man grinned, his middle tooth missing.
“Hey, did you guys know this fellow?” I asked.
“Yeah, Nathan, he lived under the bridge,” the woman said.
“Over there,” said the older man and pointed towards the Capilano River overpass, leading to the Park Royal Shopping Mall.
“His mom, Marlene, was so thankful for all the love, that’s her card, there,” said the woman.
The younger man grinned and held his beer can to his mouth for long sips.
“And the book?” I asked.
“Yeah, Nathan loved to read, he’d share all his books at the shelter,” said the woman.
“Sounds like he was well loved,” I said. “And what's the story of the biker glove?”
“Oh that, I found that on the ground so just stuck it up there,” said the woman.
My giggles caused her to release a rowdy smoker’s laugh. The young man snorted out beer from his nose.
And the older man held out his beer can for a departing *clink*.
Copyright © 2013 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact. Photo by Michelle Sevigny
On a sunny late January day in a crowded park, I told a stranger to fuck off. And two days later, my heart thanked him.
My rottweiler, Monty, couldn't walk too far after a diagnosis of bone cancer on November 27, but he was social and I had a strong desire to take him to Stanley Park, to enjoy the sun and say hello to dogs.
Stanley Park had been my place for peace and healing and I needed it too. I was exhausted. I was emotionally low. We hung out for an hour but only one dog walked by. And as I thought about nine years of shared good times in the park, my sunglasses could no longer hide my tears. It was time to go.
As I walked towards my car, a man sitting on the ledge watched Monty limp by and asked, "What's wrong with your dog?"
"Um, he's got a tumor in his leg,” I said.
"Is there an operation for that?"
"So you want to leave him like that?" he asked.
"You're just going to leave him like that?” he said, “why don't you take him to the doctor?"
His words lunged and tackled me in the gut. My face burned as my vision narrowed on this man’s face. I no longer cared that 4-year-olds were playing within arm’s reach. I no longer cared that the seawall was wall-to-wall happy people. I saw the thousands of dollars – six and counting – that I had spent in the last six weeks, the ten-hour road trips for specialized veterinary care, the loss of income for closing my business for two months. All done with commitment and pure love, and, regretting none of it.
"You have no fucking idea what I've done. Take him to the doctor? Fuck off. Fuck you. FUCK...YOU!"
I yanked Monty to the car as I swiped at the tears that dripped off my lower cheeks. “Monty, c’mon, please!”
I clenched the steering wheel as I sped to West Vancouver’s Ambleside beach. Monty needs dogs! A few dogs came near but walked around Monty to go to the dog park.
C’mon dogs! Come say hello to my dog! Please!
A lady walked towards Monty and he suddenly stood up, looked at her and wagged his stumpy tail. “Oh, and who are you waiting for?” she asked Monty with a big smile. Monty leaned into her legs.
“Apparently you!” I said.
"Oh, what a sweetie, is he okay?"
I didn't want to tell the story. I didn’t want to keep the cancer story alive. And if I opened my mouth, I’d cry.
“Um, he's had cancer but I wanted to focus on his wellness now, he loves dogs, I wanted to bring him around other dogs--"
And I burst into tears.
“We’ve all been there,” she said as she looked me in the eyes and put her hand on my shoulder.
"I was okay until, just, right, now,” I said as I smiled and swiped under my sunglasses.
She gave me a hug.
“Thank you,” I said.
“He’s beautiful, enjoy him,” she said as she walked away.
Monty and I drove the twenty minutes home. I picked him up and laid him on my bed. I stayed on my bed with him the rest of the day, that night and the next day too. I balanced quiet time with reading and watching movies on my laptop.
I thought of the man-in-the-park. I told myself that he deserved my outburst. But that didn’t feel good.
Because it wasn’t true.
I cannot control other peoples’ comments, only my feelings, my reactions, to them. I knew that if I reacted strongly, it was because it had triggered something within me.
Why did I react so strongly to the man-in-the-park?
I thought of my first homeopathic appointment I attended a few weeks before. While I’ve used homeopathy as part of Monty’s total health care, I never considered it for myself. A friend had mentioned a recent homeopathic seminar she had attended and the next day, I found myself in the offices of homeopath, Susan Drury. I had a general request for help with fluctuating emotions related to Monty's declining health, but I wasn't sure exactly why I was there. I suddenly remembered a question she had asked:
“I wonder what’s coming up that needs to be healed?” she said.
Did I feel I wasn’t doing enough for Monty’s care? No. I was clear in my intentions and decisions I’d made for Monty. 100% percent. Fully committed.
As I rested beside Monty, I asked aloud again, “was this about Monty?”
What was this about?
What was coming up that needed to be healed?
"Okay, heart, I'm open to what this is about," I said.
Did I not do enough for my mom?
My chest braced against the boulder that pinned me to the bed. My hand shot to my mouth and stuffed my cries back in my mouth. Tears leapt from my eyes. I yanked my wool comforter over my head.
My bed shook for one or two minutes as I hid under my covers and wailed.
My mom died in 2006. I wrote about us in My Mother’s Daughter.
I whipped open my laptop and re-read the story. Again. And again.
In the middle of the story, I wrote:
“But after five years, my help wasn’t helping. So I distanced myself – maybe too much. I was sad when she lost her apartment, her business, her beloved sailboat. But I kept saying no. Even when an emergency room nurse said, ‘what kind of daughter are you, you won't pick up your mom?’ The worst kind I guess, but I don’t know what else to do.”
The italics. The only sentence written in present tense.
I didn’t do enough.
I wasn’t enough.
How could I possibly allow in life's goodness if I had a deeply held belief of unworthiness?
Let it go.
I hugged Monty and wept for three hours. I let it all go.
My tears evaporated. The boulder on my chest floated away. My hands unclenched and I stroked Monty's ear.
I loved my mom and I did the best I knew how. It was enough.
I am enough.
It's okay to Shine. I will allow light to Shine through me, around me and back into me too.
Thank you for sharing your light, Monty.
And thank you, man-in-the-park.
Postscript: Monty passed away a week later on January 30th due to neurological complications of osteosarcoma... after two months, I'm beginning to share my stories again.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Thanks for reading my story, truly. If this theme resonated with you, I've written more in Standing On Life's Teeter-Totter.
If you're not already connected, click here to receive future stories directly to your inbox or join the conversation on Facebook. Why can't you comment here? Story coming soon to explain why I've turned off the comment option...
© 2013 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by *_*
“It never rains in Ireland, that’s a myth,” Larry said as he walked the sun beam to our table and set down our teapot.
Larry’s 1950’s-style, white, terrycloth half-apron protected his blue and white pinstriped dress shirt, hot pink sweater vest and dark grey, dress pants. His white hair tussled up for the third day.
He made repeated visits -- in through one doorway and out another -- to deliver maple syrup, hot water and cutlery to four other people in the living room-turned-dining room. Mrs Fawlty? Mannn-uel?
We had found Larry through a free reservation service at Failte Ireland's tourist information centre that we just happened to drive by after arriving into town.
On a Friday night.
By the 7pm closing time, we had two nights booked for a twin room, on-site parking and walking distance to Galway city centre and Salthill Beach. All within our low budget of 25 euros each (about $32 CDN--convert). After we stalked the residential area, a woman in a Jaguar guided our rented Kia straight to our destination:
Dun Roamin Bed and Breakfast.
“It was our seventh house, and we were done roaming,” Larry said as he greeted us at the front door.
Our room, #3 of four, was at the top of the hip-width stairs. Down the hall, an open linen closest, white towels and sheets stacked like documents on a lawyer’s desk. Our windows opened to a dead-end street out front. Sun. Birds. Flowers. We had squished past the armoir with a 12" TV on top and flung our bags on the beds and keys on the linen-covered nightstand that separated them. Our 70’s green bathroom had an intermittent shower, not from lack of water, but from my elbows smacking the lever off every time I turned around in the phone booth-sized space.
My travelling buddy, Kate, and I ate in silence as our minds processed the three-day backload of Galway memories.
Walking cobbled stones of Druid Street.
Flipping coins to buskers with border collies named Keltie and Casey -- “after the randiest Bishop in Ireland!” Casey being disgraced Bishop Eamon Casey, who resigned in 1992 after fathering a son with an American divorcee.
Giggling and connecting with locals at the Tíg Coílí pub as a fiddler, bodhran drummer and acoustic guitarist jammed in the corner. “My country has a place called TOE HEAD?” asked Val, short for Valentine. "That's an unusual name for an Irish man, where's it come from?" I asked. "I don't know, my mom died 42 years ago and I never asked her," he said.
Drinking Guiness at The Dail Bar. Darting into the Skeff pub to avoid a spontaneous downpour. Chips at McDonagh’s. Rolling our eyes at the green/white/orange fridge magnets and shot glasses in Quay Street shops. People-watching in Eyre Square. And following seagulls to beached fishing boats along the River Corrib.
We finished the last of our breakfast -- scrambled eggs, half a tomato, two pieces of white toast cut on the diagonal and a slice of cantaloupe served on white china with cutlery from three different sets -- and pushed back from the table.
As I shuffled towards the hallway, I looked again at the photos that were displayed on each wall and every shelf. Larry. Teenaged children in graduation caps and gowns. Christmas gatherings. Babies held in parents' arms.
And a 3" x 4" snapshot of Elvis Presley.
I looked closer at Elvis. Then at Larry in his pink sweater vest.
“Hey, Larry? Is this, you?”
“Oh yes yes, in the south,” Larry said.
“Oh yes yes, I do wedding and parties,” he said, “thunk you, thuuunk-youverymuuch.
It wasn’t bed head.
It was rock n roll rebellion.
We gathered up our jackets and when I moved my bag, Larry’s concert sign peeked out from behind a small table. "Elvis Lives!"
While Larry wrote up a receipt, I looked closer at the watercolours that I admired on the first day. All three were signed with a two-letter signature in the bottom right-hand corners.
“Hey, Larry? Who’s Jo?”
“My late wife, it’s short for Josephine,” he said and glanced at the lone 1950’s black and white photograph at the end of the hallway. “Buht her real name wuhz Pruhscilluh.”
“Larry, I bet you are the best Elvis impersonator in Ireland, eh?” I said.
“Thunk you, thuunk-youverymuuch. You a smaht luhdy,” Larry said as he walked us outside. “Lut’s get uh photo, wu’ll prutund it’s Gruhcelund,” he said as he stood in his front doorway.
As I looked at Larry through my camera, I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay and hear stories about Elvis and Josephine.
Go. Sometimes paths are meant to cross briefly. There will be more.
Yes. Larry's story was a tidbit, a little something for the road – an fear gorta -- as an Irish-speaking shopkeeper taught me when I darted in to buy a chocolate bar.
I stuffed my camera into my pocket and jumped into the driver’s side – the right side! the right side! -- of our Kia Ceed. Kate and I waved goodbye and I watched in the rearview mirror as Larry held his right hand high in the air.
And his hips swiveled left, his knees right.
Just a wee bit.
--------------------------------------------------------------If this story resonated with you, please leave a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please note that there may be a delay of up to a few days after you submit your comment and before it displays. Or join the conversation on Facebook.
© 2013 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by Michelle Sevigny
“I’m going computer shopping,” said my friend Amanda, “want to come?”
My real 17” laptop died – okay, okay, I pounded on the keys in a stressful fit one night and sort of killed the hard drive -- and I’ve been creating on an ant-sized netbook for the past 2 years. It has Microsoft Office 1983. The speakers have been taken hostage by thugs. The mouse ditched its pad. The battery is a resident senior who will die if I leave my home office. The fan is in pain. And my David Blaine wanna-be fingers cause paragraphs to disappear as they feel for keys on the three-quarter-sized keyboard.
My heart spoke.
“Um, my computer is okay, but I’ll come hang out,” I said.
We walked into the computer department of London Drugs and I bee-lined for the markdown table. I played on the full-sized keyboards. Laptops $399. When did computers get so cheap?
Daniel approached us. Poor soul.
“Can I help you guys with anything?” he asked.
“Uh, hi Daniel, yes please, um, I’m not really into buying something today but, you know, if I was looking at computers, could you just crawl into my head and decide which computer would be perfect for me?” I asked.
He’s your guy.
“Ok, we’ve got these marked down and others on the shelves back there,” said Daniel.
“Hey Daniel, I'm thinking a full-size laptop with a 15” screen, fast, with a long battery life, is under three pounds, thin so portable, has a simple design that is not distracting , no extra coloured ink for the French keys and oh, no loud fan, definitely no loud fan.”
Ok, maybe I have thought about it.
Yours is here.
He led us to the back of the store and pointed out the computers on the top shelf. “These are called solid state, there are no moving parts, so fast, lightweight and quiet.
I stood on my tippy toes and smiled at a solid black sculpture that was as thin as the glass shelf it sat on.
“What are you looking at,” screamed my mind, “you’re not shopping and definitely not up here!”
I landed on my heels like an Olympic gymnast and lowered my eyes to the waist-high shelf. Yeah, these computers were fine. They’d do.
I typed on the keyboard of a $399 Panasonic that had black keys with red and blue ink that beamed like police emergency lights. Sunglasses? I picked up a Hewlett-Packard that weighed the same as one of my veterinary textbooks – all 2392 pages of it. Bicep curls?
Amanda grabbed the Panasonic that sat next to mine -- she didn’t mind its colourful keys.
“Hey, Amanda, can you hold this Asus for me?” I typed a few words.
This is the one.
I put it back.
“These are the new Windows 8 priced at $1095 but we still have them with Windows 7 for $829,” Daniel said, “and I could give you an even better deal if you both wanted them.”
Daniel, Amanda and I chatted for twenty minutes about availability, warranties, return policy and store hours.
It’s the one.
“Um, Amanda, I’d like to go sit with this for a moment,” I said.
We walked a block and settled into a cafe booth to chat.
“I know that Asus laptop is the one yet I still go to the sales table. I’ve never had such a nice computer. My mind is sitting right here between us, yelling at me to get off the top shelf,” I said.
“Is it the money?”
“Oh you know me well” I said, "I know I use that excuse a lot."
“You don’t have a TV, you don’t have many things at all yet you work on your computer all day, every day, it’s your job.” Amanda said.
“I know, it’s not about the money, it's something else,” I said.
“Real computers are for real writers,” teased my mind.
There’s space for everyone on the top shelf.
We walked back into London Drugs and five minutes later we each had a cardboard box in our arms.
"Hey Daniel, you've been awesome, thank you," I said, "did you have as much fun dealing with us as we had fun buying from you?"
I got home, dimmed the lights, lit a few candles and held the box in my lap. An Asus Zenbook. The purple and black box was nicer than my old computer. I removed the brown leather-like sleeve -- it has its own case too! This model was slightly different -- stainless steel grey – and could cause around-the- block-line-ups at the MoMA.
I glanced at the empty top shelf of my book case.
It’s yours. Use it.
I charged the battery. I downloaded software. I transferred files. I changed the default settings. I personalized the desktop. And my dog, Monty, licked the screen.
Then it was mine.
If this story resonated with you, please leave a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please note that there may be a delay of up to a few days after you submit your comment and before it displays.
Or check out the conversation happening over on Facebook.
© 2012 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by me.
I stood at the driver’s door of the Toyota 4Runner and waited as the lone driver yelled, “I didn’t kill anybody, why don’t you go after real criminals?”. As I maintained my traffic stop stance and twiddled his driver licence in my fingers, my thoughts drifted back into my work day ...
My partner and I had a NOK notification earlier. NOK. Next of kin. We had only the basic facts since it happened out of our city boundaries. We do these as a courtesy to the investigating officers and out of respect to the family so they don’t hear the news over the phone.
At the beginning of our eleven hour shift, we headed to a nice south Vancouver neighbourhood. An Indo-Canadian family. Sunday morning. Early. My partner and I walked up the sidewalk, passed the neatly manicured lawn towards the massive stucco house.
I hope no one is home.
I pressed the doorbell and fidgeted with the equipment on my police belt that dug into my waist. Next of kin notifications are never done in plainclothes, they must be done in uniform.
“I've got the Kleenex,” I said as I slapped the thigh pocket on my cargo pants.
A woman opened the door. She was in her late forties. Dressed in a white blouse and dark pants. Both wrinkled. Her eyes were moist. No make-up. Hair unkempt.
“Hello, I’m Constable Michelle Sevigny of the Vancouver Police, and this is my partner, may we come in please?
“Yes, yes, please, please,” she said as she stepped backed towards a man who had joined her at the door. She pointed with her half-open right hand towards the living room. A balled up tissue poked out behind the other two clenched fingers.
I looked at the family portrait on the wall as I walked into the living room. Mom, dad, son. And daughter. Late teens or early twenties. Long black hair. Beautiful.
The mother introduced herself. The man was her husband. Both sat on the couch and a teenaged boy sat on the floor at the end.
“Is this the whole family?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
We had already decided that I’d be the one. No particular reason. Along the way, we had chatted about his kids, my dog, about what we did on our days off, anything but what we had to do.
“I have sad news, I'm so sorry," I said. "Your daughter has been killed in a car accident."
She slid from the leather couch to the floor as if in a Salvador Dali painting.
The father wrapped his arms around his wife. He muffled cries. The son snuggled his mother and buried his head into her right side. And cried.
I re-adjusted my police belt.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to my partner and ducked into their kitchen. I dabbed my index finger at the corner of my right eye and my middle finger at my left. I focused on the tiles in the kitchen. White. Nice. I should use those white tiles in my kitchen. Not this floor though, I don’t like patterned tiles. Stainless steel appliances or white? Bottom-freezer or regular? I breathed in. Breathed out. My bullet-proof vest challenged the strength of its Velcro closures holding it tight against my chest. After a twenty second kitchen make-over, I returned to the living room.
My partner was silent. He knew no words would be heard in this initial minute. I sat beside him and looked across at the broken family, like a three-legged chair that would be wobbly for awhile until everybody figured out how to adjust to it.
“Wha-at happened?” the mother sobbed.
We told her what we knew. Somebody crossed the centre line. A head-on collision. No survivors. We wrote down contact phone numbers for the Whistler RCMP police officers. We explained the next few steps, enough to give her action to do, but not too much.
Next of kin notifications are usually fast. In and out.
“We’re going to be tied up here a bit longer,” my partner told our dispatcher over the radio.
We sat with the family. We listened to their story. We learned about their daughter. We picked up relatives across the city and delivered them to the family. We provided our pager numbers and said we’d check in later in the day.
After a shift full of break and enter reports, keep the peace incidents, street checks and a sexual assault investigation, we visited again. We had to force open the front door because of all the shoes lined up in the foyer. The mother was lying in an upstairs bed with five other women sitting around her…
… the driver continued yelling. I’ve heard all this before. I knew he'd had a bad day. I’ve had thousands of people yell at me. On another day, I might’ve written him a ticket simply because I thought he was a jerk. But I knew his anger was not about me. I let him yell. I let him yell it all out.
“I’m just driving home, I was barely speeding and you’re going to write me a goddamn ticket for that? Great! Go ahead you stupid ass cop, fine! That’s all I need. I don’t even freaking care anymore!
“Sir, I’m sorry you’ve had a rough day. I don’t know what happened but it sounds like it sucked,” I said.
“Um, yes, uh, it did,” he said.
“I’m not going to write you a ticket today, drive safe,” I said as I handed back his driver licence.
“Uh, okay, um, thanks,” he said.
I continued driving northbound on Cambie Street, only ten minutes from the police station. We knew enough to check in with each other.
“You okay with everything today?” I asked my partner.
“Yeah,” I said.
It was time to go home.
© 2012 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by JD Hancock