When I was younger, I fell hopelessly in love with a book called She’s Come Undone. Like the novel’s protagonist, I’ve reinvented myself, stopped and started, so many time that I’ve forgotten who I was when I began this journey. I’ve been reinventing myself again for the past 2.5 years. It started with a massive flood in Calgary in June 2013, when I realized I just couldn’t be there anymore. Maybe it started before then, but that was when it all clicked together. This wasn’t the life I wanted. And I left Calgary early that September, on a Greyhound bus bound for southwest Ontario. My homeland. Every ounce of my being was vibrating – with anxiety and excitement and sadness. I had always wanted Alberta. I had always loved it.
In She’s Come Undone, Dolores finds herself in the face of a beached whale, and she’s propelled toward a new version of herself. She recognizes herself in the whale, and everything is changed.
On the morning of January 21st, 2015, two days before my 30th birthday (a milestone I had been looking forward to for more than half my life), I watched my sweet, quiet, proud 80-year-old grandfather die of a heart attack after 6 days in the cardiac care unit. I held his hand and told him repeatedly that I loved him. I thanked him for teaching me about manatees when I was 10, sparking a lifelong love for marine mammals. That evening, on January 21st, I watched my beautiful, loving, girlish 78-year-old grandmother die after 6 days in intensive care following a brain stem stroke. I held her hand, told her I loved her, and looked in her eyes as she took her last breath. The earth opened at my feet and swallowed me whole. Everything in me felt broken and I was dragging my feet through wet cement. Surely at some point I would wake up and none of this would have happened. I forgot who I was. I wasn’t ready to consider the ground as an alternative to flying, but I fell anyway, totally unprepared. Nothing would ever be the same. I didn’t know how to survive a world that didn’t include my grandparents.
I was paralyzed for months. Every decision seemed earth-shatteringly impossible and I was running on autopilot. Days blurred into weeks and I couldn’t decide whether I’d slept or just watched mindless TV all night. The stupidest things made me cry, and I laughed at the most inappropriate moments. Laughed until I was sobbing, almost screaming. I cried while knitting, showering, dreaming. I cried until I was dehydrated, until there was nothing left and I was numb and raw. And, numbly, I got on a plane in March and traveled back to my Alberta, to Edmonton, to see my best friend and fall apart in his embrace. It seems like a dream now, my time there. I remember laughing, and crying in the shower after he’d left for work, and telling his mom what a wonderful man she’d raised. I remember walking around Edmonton, criss-crossing the city until I was lost, following women who looked or sounded like my grandmother. And then it was over, and I was back on a plane to Toronto, and none of it seemed real. I kept waiting to wake up. Waiting for the tide to come in and pull the beached whale back to sea, breathe life into its empty body. Some days it feels like I’ve been waiting a thousand years.
(To be continued…)