Fatigue can be overwhelming. There is so many things happening right now that one can feel like they are drowning.
My work right now is difficult. Time consuming. Draining.
We are also in the middle of a pandemic sweeping the globe. Thousands have died, while millions simply refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. My city has hundreds of new cases reported daily.
Peaceful protests and violent riots are the occurring on a daily basis. Injustice is being faced an called out. The people are tired.
I am tired.
How can one live in this world? How can I live in this world? Can any of us?
I turned 46 years old.
I have seen many things. I have experienced many things. I understand so little of the universe. I fear I never will.
Fear is a constant companion. I suffer from depression and anxiety. I fear.
But I got forth day after day into the world. I face my fear. I work and surprisingly, I enjoy my work
I step out every day knowing that this day, I could be infected. Or this day, I could be racially discriminated against because of my ethnicity. I could be assaulted during my shift, it is a frighteningly common occurrence in my line of work.
I act, in spite of myself. I achieve, in spite of myself. I am loved, in spite of myself.
Things are, oddly enough, all right in my life.
He rolled over in bed as the alarm went off for the tenth time.
“I am going to die,” he thought to himself.
He thought that thought every time he woke up. At this point in his life, it was almost reassuring. Still, he dragged himself out of bed and got in the shower.
The day awaited.
The city was empty. Almost empty. A sharp wind swept through the downtown core, forcing him to pull his jacket close against it. The sun was bright and intense, yet when he stepped into shadow, the temperature dropped instantly.
The change in the world was most noticable in the core. Buildings were mostly deserted, manned by the slimmest of work crews and security. The bus drivers of the public transit system were the most obvious, in their matching uniforms. They gathered were they could, singly, in pairs or less frequently, in larger groups. They were extremely noticable, like a cult perhaps. They always acknowledged each other with a nod or a word.
They were required to be in the downtown core but there was nowhere for them to BE in there.
He coughed suddenly. That old worrying cough. It had nothing to do with the current crisis sweeping the land, but he cast a furtive glance around to see if anyone noticed. An approaching elderly man caught his eye, then the old man intentionally adjusted his face mask in response and provided extra space to separate them.
A sensible precaution, he thought, as the old man wandered by.
He was sick, it was true. It had nothing to do with the global pandemic sweeping the world however. The cough was likely from growing up in the house of a chain smoker. His was a mental illness, a disease of the mind, of the soul. It would take his life as sure as any cancer though, if he was not careful.
The social restrictions in place were meant to keep the disease from spreading, to limit it’s spread and keep it to a manageable level. That meant keeping people at a distance. Staying away from them. He had no problem with this. This was his normal. Reaching out was always the hardest part for him, and now he couldn’t do that.
He was drowning inside himself.
He looked up at the sky, squinting against the hard glare of the sun. The universe spread out before him, a hard and indifferent place, vast and unknowable. He was insignificant, he knew that, accepted that. A mote contemplating infinity. Strangely enough, this thought brought him peace.
Wars erupted continually across the planet. Civil unrest grew here and abroad. Illnesses swept through the world. He would survive these, or he wouldn’t. He understood that his actions didn’t matter in the long run. He could still get sick, or shot, or jailed.
So, he wore a mask. He washed and sanitized his hands regularly and maintained as much social distance as was required. He also kept his mind open to the racial unrest that was happening out there. He listened, and tried to understand.
He was hopeful, at the end of the day. The world would get better. It would survive this. Or it wouldn’t.
The next morning, he woke up and thought to himself,
“I am going to die.”
Then he pulled the blankets over his head.
I try to exorcise the demons in my mind by writing them down. Perhaps they will have less power over me. Sometimes it works.
My father drunkenly staggered into my room one night. Not an unusual occurrence when he drank, he hated drinking by himself. I usually hid myself under the covers and hoped he would forget about me. Not so that night.
Also, this time he had a gun.
I hopped out of bed and stood there. I had no idea he had a gun and would he PLEASE stop pointing it at me? His incoherent rambling swept right by me. All I could see was the barrel of that rifle pointing straight at my chest.
I endured a lot at his hands over the years, abuse, neglect, disinterest. This however, was new. Was the rifle loaded? I had no way to know. I stood there, hands at my sides. There was nowhere to run, he was blocking the only exit.
He mumbled something, then raised the gun and sighted down the barrel. He cocked the hammer and aimed. At his son.
At his son.
Some say that your life flashes before your eyes in these moments. All I saw was the barrel as he pulled the trigger. Click.
He laughed, then stumbled out of the room. I stood there for several minutes after, disbelief and terror warring inside me. Numbly, I sat back down on of my bed.
Only by cutting these memories out can I be free.
Ellis was never a conventional man.
This was the most apparent when he died.
His beloved common-law wife, in the midst of her grief, found his will amongst his various possessions. Reading it with trembling hands, her eyes skimming the words until a passage caught her attention. Shaking her head in disbelief, she began to laugh, tears of laughter mingling with her tears of grief.
His last wish, his final wish, was scribbled in on the very bottom of the last page, in his typical, barely human version of the written word. “Dearest beloved”, he began, “what I am about to ask won’t be easy. It may well be impossible. But, I know that you have the strength, the determination, and the smarts to pull off the impossible.”
“Babe,” he rarely used that word, “I want to be out there, among the stars. I need you to send my brain into outer space.”
She sat for a time, pondering the implications of his last request. Wheels began to turn in her mind. Then the plan came into focus.
The immediate needs came first. She had his brain carefully removed and stored, preserved in inert fluids and sealed in a clear, see-through jar. She refused to look at it, being far too unnerved by the sight.
She cremated his remains. He was indifferent in his will as to what should be done with his body, he considered his brain as the center of himself, his soul as it were. She never agreed with that, considering his heart to be his greatest strength. After an emotional three day trip, she scattered his remains under the tree that she planted as a child on her family`s plot of land. The tree, grown now to a majestic size, solemly accepted the new company.
She took some time afterwards for herself. The next step would require all of her focus. She knew it would not be simple.
She sent several querying emails to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. She was looking for general information about booking passage and estimated costs. She received no response. She was not surprised.
She looked at SpaceX, a private industry that dabbles in space work. Their response was swift: a return email with the question, “Are you serious?”, with several laughing emoji. She calmly responded with the details of Ellis’ will and simply asked for an estimated cost. They responded with a number. She was not surprised at that either.
With limited funds at her disposal, she turned to social media. A crowdfunding campaign swept throughout the internet. She had considerable experience in managing her social prescence; she knew how to get results.
The novelty of Ellis`s last request under her management caught the internet`s attention.
A first, local celebrities, some she knew personally, lent their support. This caught the attention of local media. Before she knew it, she was managing interview offers from around the world.
The world, then, so full of fear and uncertainty, was entranced with her work. The notion of once again reaching out into the stars was a welcome diversion. The crowdfunding campaign far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Soon, she acquired had the funds to professionally pursue SpaceX to fulfill their initial agreement.
They were happy to take her money.
The plan was simple. The container holding the brain was to be shipped into Earth orbit during one of SpaceX’ routine supply runs to the International Space Station and launched onboard a rocket. Their only request was that they broadcast it live for publicity purposes.
The rocket was a basic yet sturdy design, with a limited chemical propellant. A fire and forget model. With the excess funding, she was able to modify Ellis’ container with plastic googly eyes. She knew he would have wanted that. She also wanted him to not be alone for his final voyage, so she sent with him the ashes of his beloved cat, Wesley. The pair were inseperable in life, so it seemed fitting for them to be together again for this trip.
The rocket was launched with much fanfare. The world watched and wished it a safe voyage. The destination was the center of the Milky Way galaxy, a supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A. The estimated time of the journey would take 450 million years, at a rough guess. The world moved on, and soon forgot about Ellis and Wesley.
Attempting to hit a target at that distance, some 28 000 light years away, even a target as large as a super massive black hole, was not going to be a simple task. This was compounded by the fact that the navigators working for SpaceX did not take the task very seriously. They mostly just eye-balled a flight plan. No one would be alive to find out that they erred.
So, in the fullness of time, Ellis missed his final destination.
The little rocket and it’s two occupants bore silent witness to the life of a galaxy. Stars were born, other stars died. Life flourished on some worlds as it also died on others. Various gravitational forces made the googly eyes fastened to Ellis’ container jostle, just a little, as though they were actively watching the passing of eternity.
The aged and decaying rocket, after a significantly longer period of travel then anticipated, was finally captured in orbit around a small blue-green world. Mostly ocean, with a few large land masses, life had found a foothold here. The ancient Milky Way galaxy was crumbling, collapsing really, but life, beautiful, wonderful, life, had once again reached out and up on a small and insignificant planet.
Trapped in an inexorable death spiral around the planet, the rocket began to heat up as it entered the upper atmosphere. The aged rocket swiftly disintegrated under the immense pressure. The container holding the brain of Ellis and his beloved cat evaporated and spread out along kilometers over the surface of this new world. The googly eyes frosted as it encountered atmosphere but soon it too was destroyed, the frost appearing as tears on the plastic eyes.
A pair of life forms witnessed the fiery demise in silent awe. Lovers, they each made a wish upon the fallen celestial object. One reached down and picked up a small domesticated felinoid creature that it loved as well, though in different measure. The felinoid nuzzled affectionately against it’s owner’s chest.
Home, they all felt. They were home.
I haven’t written much lately, I have a lot on my mind, and a not inconsiderable portion of it involves the Coronavirus. I worry about Us. All of Us. I know, I know, big thoughts from a small person.
It doesn’t feel right to talk about what’s happening in the world. It feels more like a private matter, like I’m violating a private taboo. Which is of course, completely ridiculous.
We all face death on our own, that much is true. Some beg. Some cry. Others accept it with grace and solemnity. I can’t say for certain, but I might laugh at mine, or perhaps challenge it to a game of Twister.
We, as a species, are facing an event that we haven’t seen in generations. The people who survived the Black Plague would have some sage advice for us in the coming months. We are not ready.
We choose not to be ready.
This is a vital distinction.
I work in a postition that can be called ‘front line’. I drive a bus for the city. Every day, I drive hundreds of people to and fro. I am frequently exposed to the illnesses of others. I have little to no protection against the common diseases that people spread, in fact, I am more susceptible because I have Type II Diabetes: I get sick easier and stay sick longer.
In the wake of the announcement of this new pandemic, many employers have had their people work from home. This has certainly affected the number of people on my bus. I’d hazard a guess that I pick up about a third as much as I used to.
That still leaves about a hundred people I encounter per day. Any one of them could be infected. I think about that any time someone coughs on my bus. And I get a lot of people who do.
I transport a lot of seniors. My route passes through numerous retirement residences. I hear them talk about why they are going out; several don’t believe in the seriousness of the situation and scoff at those who do. Others say that they don’t have much choice in the matter, They have errands that need to run, food that needs to be picked up, bills that need to be paid, and no one to help them. It breaks my heart to hear them talk so.
I pick up day workers and others who can’t afford to not work. A lot of people live Hand to Mouth, living day by day. I was once one of them. It is hard to see them, determined but also fatalistic. They know what they are doing is dangerous, but they have no choice.
Those are the ones I see that are coughing the most.
So here I am, sitting in a bus in Canada, watching the world respond to this outbreak. Some countries are trying to be responsible and get ahead of the situation, others, less so. I am also watching some world leaders use this pandemic to further their political agenda. And I fear for us as a species.
Not that I fear that this disease will wipe us out, but I fear that we will learn the wrong lessons from our survival. An Us vs. Them tactic, an isolationist approach. Things that only divide. Already, many countries are more blatantly espousing old hatreds and pulling out the drums of war.
We will be reduced if this allowed to continue.
We have made so many steps forward, we cannot allow ourselves to slide backwards.
We can get through this if we work together and stay together.
Please, pratice safe distancing and wash your hands.
A friend posted this photograph of a sign they have in their house. Simple, yet ever so powerful. Damning, despite the cheery background.
At this time, Wet`suewet’en protesters are blocking the construction of a pipeline on their lands. Indigenous people across Canada are blocking railways in support of this issue, crippling transport and passenger train service. Standoffs are occuring, people are being arrested. And this photograph has never felt more succinct.
I am a Nakoda Sioux, from the Carry the Kettle reservation near Wolseley, Sask. I am First Nations. I am Indigenous. I am Native. I am Indian. And I am about a dozen or so racial slurs that have been invented for us over the years.
They are fighting…no, WE are fighting for control over our lands. For acknowledgement that this land was ours. We are fighting to reclaim the knowledge that was destroyed by colonization. We are fighting to recover the identity that was stolen from us.
My parents were taken from their reservations, from their families and homes, then placed in residential schools. What they experienced there was something they would never speak of, except in alcohol slurred whispers. The memories were far too much for them to endure.
They were children.
They were fragments of people when they returned. Bits and pieces of indigenous and christian teachings, jammed together, neither fitting well with each other. When they found each other and began a family, this little bit of knowledge was all they could give. They could understand their language, but my mother could not speak hers, and my father, only a little.
I grew to adulthood with this little amount of knowledge. I was native, and proud of it, though I knew so little of my ways. Practically none.
I was an adult when I first heard of the Canadian government’s attempt at reconciliation. Money. Lots of it, being thrown around at the survivors of the residential school system. Just money.
I spent my entire life watching my parents struggle with their experiences, with their traumas from living in a residential school. The government seemed to think that money would solve everything. But would it? Did it?
It didn’t. Reconciliation is a simply a word, a concept. Writing about it, making a speach and broadcasting it to the world doesn’t make it any more real than the positive effects of the phrase “Thoughts and prayers.”
Reconciliation happens when two groups of people finally open up about their experiences. The problem as I see it is that the government is essentially a faceless organization with multiple, sometimes contradictory, urges. Urges that are fulfilled by various levels of bureaucrats. How can true reconciliation begin when the faces of the government change as if with the season?
The leaders of these protests have perhaps learned from the lessons of the past. The protests and standoffs that are taking place across Canada are perhaps a new form of communication. One that the government of Canada cannot afford to ignore.
The government will listen. We will make them.
Reconciliation is Dead.
But communication is still possible.
*Credit to Rebecca Holm for the excellent photograph and the kernel of an idea.
My memories of my past are ofttimes hazy, so here I will commit this story before I forget completely.
It was mandatory for the kids in my elementary school class to exchange Valentine’s cards. Usually, they would be harmless and cute cards featuring the cartoon characters of the era. We each had to cut and paste a large envelope to hang in front of our little desks so catch all of our received cards.
Convincing my mom to take me to the store to pick out a pack of cards was a chore. Ever practical, she thought it would be easier to purchase only one, and give it to the person I liked the most. Secondarily, they were not cheap, and money for us was always tight.
I was too young to understand her meaning, I was required to give a card to everyone, so that was my intent. She bought for me a large economy pack of Valentine’s cards. Much cheaper that way.
Once safely at home, I opened the box and began to sort through the selection of cards. I immediately encountered one problem. Well, two actually.
One, I had WAY more cards then I needed.
Two, I honestly could not remember even half of the names of the students in my class.
I was extremely shy and socially awkward. Friends for me were few and far between. And so, knowing each individual student’s name was not something I needed to know.
So I had this large stack of cards and a small amount of names to use. Keeping the leftover cards for next year was unthinkable. They would be worn out and out of style for whatever was new that year.
I am also somewhat literal. I had made my mind up to use the cards, all of them. And I did.
Using what names I remembered, I spent the day writing and writing. I wrote cards for everyone, everyone that I recalled. They each received 2 or occasionally 3 cards each. And some classmates got none.
The next day, my class spent a half hour delivering their cards. We all left the classroom and one by one, went in to drop off our cards. As I did mine, I noticed how many envelopes I left empty. I shrugged.
We all filed in and began looking at our cards. I was pretty impressed that I was able to use all of my cards. Then the looks began.
The children whose names I remembered looked at their multiple cards from me, then to me sitting at my desk. I blew several little minds that day, I think. The kids who thought I was wierd before now didn’t know what to make of me.
I just didn’t get it.
At least my social ranking couldn’t fall lower.
There was a time that I had largely given up on ever finding love.
I was never bitter about it however. I never felt that the world “owed” me a lover. My self-esteem, my self-worth, was so catastrophically low that the notion was practically foreign to me. My life was a punishing reminder that it, and I, was unimportant. And I believed that. Wholeheartedly.
There were attempts made however.
I never knew how to express myself. I was extremely shy and socially awkward. I didn’t know what to do, and my mouth would fail on me, making me mumble and stutter. Few were patient enough to wait for me to work past my issues and I just came out of it looking like a creep. A wierdo. Someone that you would not want to spend time with.
As a child, my family once spent a summer in Regina, Saskatchewan. I met a girl there. Perhaps she was related to my family, maybe we were cousins. I no longer remember her name. She was tall, taller then me at the time.
As was usual for me, I didn’t know anyone there. My parents were being social, visiting their friends and family. I was by myself. But then she was there. She asked if I could ride a bike. I said no. She said no problem and took my hand.
Learning to ride a bike was exhilarating. In a dusty, hot alley in Regina, I learned. Crashing. Falling. Landing on unforgiving asphalt. Pedaling into garages because I hadn’t yet learned that you drive towards what you are looking at. She taught and I learned.
She was a tomboy, as they are sometimes called. Short hair, scuffed knees, dirty from playing in the street all day. She formed an ideal in my mind that persists to this day.
She also taught me about breaking and entering. Perhaps I will speak of that another time. Soon, our vacation ended and my family returned home. I never saw her again but I still think of her from time to time.
I met my first girlfriend in my last year of highschool. She was a year behind and recently transferred in from another school. My counsellor noticed a large influx of Native Canadian students and decided to put us all together to help us learn about our collected heritages. A brilliant idea I thought.
We went on several field trips together, and sat by each other. We started to talk, A rariety for me, I had precious few friends in highschool. I put up a tough exterior during those days: long black hair, black leather jacket though I recently traded that in for a long coat. I also started to learn to play the guitar, so I would be seen carrying it to and from class. I also started drinking that year, for which I was much the worse for.
We dated! My sense of self worth could not take it. WOULD NOT take it, in fact. In response to this new, unexpected influx of affection, I started to drink more. She wisely withdrew. I was convinced that this was the end of the world, that I would never recover. My heartache was only worsened by booze.
I wasted so much time like that. It took many years before I was even somewhat whole again. Then I met another woman. Was I ready? I wasn’t even close. There was so much healing that I needed to do, but I fell headfirst in love again.
And she rejected me. And I was crushed, again. More time passed.
In hindsight, it is curious to see the pattern emerge; a broken man, seeing a woman who can perhaps fix him. Make him whole. Failing must mean that I am worthless. Garbage. Unworthy. Such mistaken ideas. Only I can fix myself. I know that now.
In time, I met someone else. Kind, funny, caring. She too, turned down my clumsy advances. My heart hurt for some time, but there was a change.
For the first time, the thought appeared, “It’s her loss.” Those simple words changed things for me so much. Was I growing? Was I developing self-esteem?
The pain of rejection was diminished.
I realized that I was not ready. I came to understand that I needed to work on myself. I didn’t know how much I had to do, but it was a start.
I focused on my self. On my work. On my hobbies. On my friends. I got a new job, far superior to any I’d had before.
Then I met someone.
Both of us were in training for our new employment. We were both uncertain, but excited, about the path ahead of us. We connected, a smile from across the room, standing closer then neccessary to discuss the lesson of the day.
But we also knew it was too soon. Our employment demanded too much attention. We both chose to focus on that for the time being. We became friends.
Later that year, she asked what I was doing for my upcoming birthday. I had nothing planned, but with her looking at me with those green eyes, I determined to come up with something.
The plunge had begun.
Because I was no longer worried about being “fixed”, I could be more relaxed around her, more honest. I was myself with her, a first for that. I told her about my experiences, and she did the same. Our connection became profound and instant.
She loved me. Her strength gave me the courage to seek help for my trauma and finally make peace with my past. I loved her. I supported her through serious injury and a major career change.
It is not always easy, but it is in those small moments, where we lie in bed together and smile at each other, or sit beside each other on the couch to watch our favorite shows while holding hands, that love exists.
Those are the moments I live for.
I hope this letter finds you well. I am doing well here in Calgary. My wife sends her regards. I find myself ill at ease of late. Mayhaps a visit from you would be a balm for my soul.
Who writes like that anymore? Well, you probably did. With pen and paper. Probably an ink well. Learning cursive and whatnot. I can clearly imagine you at a table, writing a letter to your brother or sisters, telling them about your experiences. I don’t ever recall seeing you write anything at any time however.
Who even writes letters anymore?
Now, through the technological magic of the digital age, we can do this:
85 years is a delightful milestone! You’ve seen so much history: you witnessed a World War, you gained the right to vote in 1960 or thereabouts, you saw the ending of the Residential school system of which you were a part of. You saw so much.
I wish you were here. Writing is so impersonal. Perhaps that why I do so much of it. Disassociating the self from the emotion. It’s easy to write of disturbing things. After all, it’s just part of the story right?
But no, you’re not here. You’re not anywhere. You passed away some 3 years ago.
Passed away. A nice way of saying you died. Deceased. Pining for the fjords.
Sigh. I can’t stop cracking jokes, even in the face of death. I must have gotten that from you.
Dammit, I miss you.
I am writing this letter to you as a means of therapy. Of maintaining the relationship I had with you prior to your exit. Connecting with people has been difficult since you left.
I mean, I understand that everything ends. Our time here is limited. Our very breath, once spent is never recovered. So why can’t I let you go? Why can’t I move on?
I digress. Pointless musings on the nature of death. We have had millenia to consider it and no answer is better then the other.
We die. We are done. The End.
Argh, more digressions.
I am doing this to update you, to keep you in the know of what is happening to me, your son. One of many of your offspring. But also, the last of your children.
So, where was I? The past year, right. It was a doozy.
Around christmas 2018, it hit me hard. Depression. Harder then it has ever been. I almost didn’t recover.
I’ve been dealing with depression most of my life. Almost all of it, it seems. It hounds me, creeping around my every thought. You must have seen me as I struggled with it in my youth. You had a lot on your plate back then.
Work. Money. Bills. Money. House repairs. Money. Missing you. Money. Missing you. Money.
I used to always visit you at christmas, either at home, or the senior care facility later. We would open gifts and share a meal, sometimes with tea or coffee. You always liked tea over coffee. I am kind of addicted to coffee.
But you weren’t there that year. And it hurt. The year before, christmas went by in a daze, I can barely recall it. The newness of your absence must have masked it.
So yes, depression called, and I answered.
I couldn’t sleep. I was overeating. I started having panic attacks. My heart would race, I couldn’t keep a thought in my head except to run. Just, run. A blind, mamillian response to stress.
I couldn’t work like that. I had to go on long term disability. The cut to my paycheque hurt even worse. But work had good programs in place to assist.
So I got help.
Cognitive Behaviour therapy. Very wordy, but it has been incredibly helpful to me. Medication helped as well. It is a wonder how changing how you look at things can change so much. I was so close mom, it frightened me.
Part of my healing has been to write. My teachers all said that I had talent, but I never had the belief in myself to take them seriously. But I am now. I think you would be proud.
I wrote a novel!
I want to be published. To make a name for myself. Recognition. I am afraid, but exhilarated at the same time about that.
I look to your strength for inspiration in this. You endured so much to bring us all, your children here. So much of it must have been abject misery, but you did it.
My cat, Wesley, has been a constant companion. You met him once. I think he liked you.
I have had the extreme fortune of meeting several strong women like you in my travels. I always mention you to them. They are suitably impressed by you.
So, it is your birthday, and I am writing this letter to you. I should burn it, it would be cathartic, possibly. I just need you to understand how things are, how I am doing.
I am better now. This last christmas, I thought of you, and was happy. You would have enjoyed it, you always do.
I should wrap this up. It is late, and I am tired. Writing is easy but at the same time, draining, if that makes sense. I want to continue this conversation with you though.
My wife says Hi! and Happy Birthday!
You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten. I will continue to speak of you to any who will listen. They will remember you.
I love you.