“The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm. “

30 Jan

Julie asks “What’s a pivotal childhood memory for you? And how do you carry it with you now?” for her Hump Day Hmmmmmm

My childhood memories are a mangled mess of horrible things, and beauty. Quiet, peaceful times like sitting with my father in our darkened living room, my tiny body pressed against his as we spoke softly as stared at the Christmas lights glowing in the corner. Holding my mother’s hand as we walked to the store my father owned for her daily coffee with the girls. Hours spent in the backyard, regardless of season, alone in my little worlds, spinning universes in my hands, weaving people to life between the ferns.

In many ways, I’ve considered my childhood to be idyllic, with the exception of a few things. Mainly I remember being very naive, very innocent almost. I was a shy quiet little girl, scrawny, all arms and legs and wild hair, stuffed into dresses only when absolutely necessary. Wide hazel eyes that took in everything. I was afire with curiosity for everything around me, reading everything I could find. (At least, until my mother found what I was trying to read and took it away)

I was your average, intelligent little girl. Who had the misfortune of having a mother diagnosed with breast cancer in the late eighties.

My father tells me that they found the lump fairly early, but that the doctor didn’t get excited and my mother didn’t press the issue further, or see another doctor. She accepted his word that it was “just a cyst” and moved on. I don’t know when it go bad enough that she went back, soon to suffer under chemo and radiation. I just know that it did.

I went with my mother to those appointments, to Kingston General, the hospital it turns out I was born at. We’d ride the elevator up to “her” floor, to oncology, and she would pat me on the head, and leave me to sit with the old men and women who mostly filled the waiting room, with the cookies and puzzles. It was comforting to be surrounded by age, but people who would watch me, smile fondly when I was excited at completing a section, offer the last Oreo since they knew I liked them. Always cookies.

Sometimes the nurses might let me play Space Invaders, hidden away in the children’s rest room. I blocked from my mind the idea that kids could be sick too, yet played the game as the posters on the wall suggested-imagining the invaders were cancer, and I was defeating it. Yet it was my mother’s cancer I was trying to destroy, not my own. It was my pain I was trying to annihilate, even if I didn’t know it then.

My mother would reappear a little while later, looking pale, and would hurry me out the door. It was a bit of a drive home, and she wanted to get there before the vomiting started. She never puked in the car. Out the door once I think. But we always made it home. Later, the Cancer Society made her accept someone else to drive her-the radiation made it too difficult for her, but pride kept her from asking for help.

Later, I’d hold my mother’s arms as we walked down the uneven driveway. I’d carry her warm vomit to the bathroom. I’d help her dress, get her boots on.  Before she died, I remember we had one last conversation. I played with the cookies on the table (always the cookies at the hospital, near oncology or palliative care) I don’t remember her words, or her face. I know that I pushed her in a wheelchair down a long corridor, but I cannot remember what words were spoken.

But before this, maybe in the midst of all this, I lost something. Perhaps it was when Air India Flight 182 went down, or much later when Pan Am Flight 103 went down over Scotland. We sat in the living room, sunlight streaming in through the windows, as we watched footage of a plane in pieces, strewn around. We were curling my hair for church, me sitting ramrod straight, my mother always managing to burn my ears since the one side never cooperated. We stared at the TV for a moment. She continued on with what she was doing, while I stared.

“Why do people do that?” I asked her.

“I don’t know.” she said.

In that instant, I shot from being a child, thinking the world revolved around me, to being a person, aware and awake in the world. I could grasp the meaning in there being many dead. I could relate to children dying, being hurt.

I could fully feel the fear I had of losing my mother. My mother was sick, and she was most likely going to die. I was going to be left without a mother-our family was going to fall apart, I would hurt, my father would lose his love.

She would die.

I don’t mourn the loss. It happens to everyone eventually. You can’t stay little and clueless forever. But I can’t help but wish it had happened in a way that was less violent, less drastic. It’s always felt like my childhood was ripped away from me-that I tried to hold on to it, but life just wouldn’t let me. I woke up that morning a child, and went to bed that evening a lot older and wiser.

But not necessarily happier.

It’s funny-I’ve had doctors say they don’t believe that I could possibly remember this, but I do. It shaped my life. I suddenly knew that bad things happen-at any time, to anyone. It’s no one’s fault. You don’t get cancer from being bad. You don’t die in a plane crash from liking the wrong people.

Things happen.

Life happens. As does death.

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8 Responses to ““The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm. “”

  1. Julie Pippert January 30, 2008 at 12:37 pm #

    I don’t know how anyone can say someone can’t possibly recall something, unless they haven’t reached the level of self-actualization to comprehend that not every person is like them or like a cookie cutter from a book.

    This was very, very moving and vivid, so much emotion and description. I felt with you and for you, mourned with you and for you. As a mother, I worry most that in some way me and my life will somehow be the pain point for my kids. In my mind, in some way, parents are to be the background taken for granted, as much as we are a major active part of every day. KWIM? But things get beyond our control.

    I came to the same realization as you, but maybe not as early or in so shocking an insight. I’m not sure it’s any easier, either way, in the end. I guess the only difference is taking time to come to it or coming to it at an age when you are more capable of managing it.

    I wish you’d had that, too.

    Beautiful post…

    You bring so much.

  2. thordora January 30, 2008 at 12:51 pm #

    Thank you Julie.

  3. Hannah January 30, 2008 at 2:00 pm #

    As so often is the case when I read your work, I am humbled. I don’t know what to say.

  4. Sara January 30, 2008 at 2:16 pm #

    As always, beautiful writing, you made me think.

    You also hit me on a personal level. I lost my beloved aunt Lynda in the crash of flight 5191 at bluegrass airport in Lexington Kentucky, on August 27th 2006.

    I’m really sorry your mother died. I’ve always said losing is part of living, but just cause it’s bound to happen doesn’t mean when it does it hurts less.

    Just out of curiosity…do you know any girly girls, um you know the kind that wore dresses because they wanted too etc that are bipolar. I have 2 friends that I know very well, and now you, that are bipolar and we’ve all had similar tomboy experiences growing up. I know I know that’s stupid, I just find it interesting.

  5. thordora January 30, 2008 at 2:17 pm #

    The only other bipolar I know is a good friend who defines butch dyke for me. 🙂 No girly at. all.

    I wonder if bisexuality/homosexuality/gender confusion is part of it?

  6. sweetsalty kate January 30, 2008 at 2:32 pm #

    hmmm, mmmm. Just sitting here reading of your mom, and you as a girl, imagining and being with you. So vivid. You honour her so beautifully, thor.

  7. Emily January 30, 2008 at 5:24 pm #

    Heartbreakingly Beautiful.

  8. Kelly O January 30, 2008 at 7:52 pm #

    *sniff* Word.

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