Gifts

Tags

,

“Not to be lonely, not to be scared – Boaz had decided that those were the important things in life.” – The Sirens of Titan

A friend recently passed on a lesson about family. We grow up and cultivate relationships of our own choosing, but our families show up for us, he told me, in ways no one else can.

I thought of you then – of how lucky I was to recognize the truth in his statement. I recalled all the sentiments scribbled on birthday cards purchased in haste, and wondered if I could do better this time.

Easiest to articulate is gratitude for the gifts I can grasp with my own palms.

The door to a home whose warm comfort we’ll seek always, even if we protest your refusal to adjust the thermostat (“Why don’t you put on a sweater?” you say with a smile).

The meals and recipes that make it possible to fill newer homes with the familiar scents of old traditions. Dishes piled high with enough food to feed an army. The chicken soup that you fret over despite our insistence that each batch is better than the last. All the carefully labelled lunches packed in our bags when we go.

The arms outstretched to greet us, to soothe us, to say goodbye. Never too hurried, even as we hurry away.

Harder to compose are thanks for gifts that cannot be held, though we grip them just as tightly.

The hours, years, and adventures we’ve stitched into a rich tapestry of shared history. The reassurance that we are not the sole keepers of the stories we’ve collected, both wonderful and strange. The laughter that grows louder with each retelling.

The voices at the end of the phone, listening patiently, devoid of judgement. The advice that is given with no strings attached. We fail to heed it, fail again, forget the words entirely, and your patience is an astounding blessing.

The knowledge of our capacity for ugliness, and the acceptance you extend when we say things we wish we’d never said. You weather the onslaught of anger, frustration, and grief reserved for those we trust will see who we are, and love us still. You forgive first so that we might forgive ourselves.

I am certain that this is the source of all my attempts at bravery. Every chance I take, I take because I know that I can fuck up completely and return to the same home, the same laughter, the same understanding. I can navigate pangs of loneliness and moments of uncertainty with occasional ferocity, because I am fiercely aware of your presence, wherever I find myself. There is no greater gift.

Run.

Tags

,

I am not a good runner, but running has been good to me.

The trick is to propel my feet forward faster than my mind, at its most anxious, dares spin. Kicking up dirt I can gather the words and worries that had, until then, made sleep troublesome, and cast them off gently. The more breathless I become, the easier it is to breathe and simply be. New words form – the beginnings of stories I’ve been searching for in vain. A handful of passages to be collected here, at the top of this hill. The conclusion waits patiently there, at the end of the last sprint.

I suspect that it is not the healthiest habit. Several weeks into training and the aches become more pronounced. I’ll take off a bloody pair of socks, patch another blister, and curse my shins. My body responds so poorly that I limit myself to a few months of running a year; my shoes will grow dusty in the back of the closet once this race is over.

I am aware that I may pay for this mileage later, and also certain that the pleasure of the act makes the trade-off worth it. They say life is too short, and this truth presents us with a choice between the pursuits that might extend our years, and those that cause us to ask for extra time.

If instinct tells me that words rest in the shadows of fleeting twilight, I will choose to write instead of sleep. If my heart asks to return to the last time we spoke, I will play the song too loud again. If the days passed blissfully next to sand and surf are winding to a close, I will paddle into another wave, ignoring the throbbing pain in my maddeningly sensitive ears.

I make these choices knowing that subtle marks are likely to remain long after the final wave, or verse subsides. Enough precious early morning runs, and the whisper of sore muscles will gradually increase in volume until I’m forced to rest, at least until the next spring thaw arrives. On rare occasions the consequences of happiness are sketched more immediately. I will spend several hours laughing next to him and find the grooves on my skin deepened more by a single evening than what feels like an eternity of responsible days spent in quieter company. I will be cautious with this life, yes, and careful too, but not so much that I miss the chance to inhabit moments that expand beyond the confines of minutes or years.

Running is not good for me, but there is no doubt that it does me good. My body braces to absorb the impact of each step, until soles are left as battered as the soul is soothed.

 

Knowing.

Tags

,

 

parents walking

My favourite story is the one I force my parents to tell me, again and again, about the night they met, and the short succession of months that passed before that night could be called with certainty the beginning.

My mom had moved to London from Montreal, and my dad was a recent implant from New Orleans, by way of England, Israel, and his first home in South Africa.  She was a teacher, and one of her student’s parents had met my dad at the local Squash club. They asked my mom if she wanted to be introduced to him, and she said yes. It was November.

The night he called her, she had been in a car accident. She told him that no, a date was not possible, but it would be once she had recovered. He thought this sounded like a convenient excuse for declining a blind date, and asked that she call him when she did want to meet. He had a stronger accent then, and I like to think that the minute she heard his voice for the first time she sensed that this stranger would become something else entirely.

In February of the next year, she did call him, and they went on their first date. The last first date for them both.

Before I tell you what happened next I have to emphasize that my mom’s recollection of that night is more precious to me than any other part of the past that I’ve inherited from my family. More precious even than the name given to me to honour the grandfathers I never knew.

She came home, called her mother, and told her, “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.” Time and again she tells me: when you know, you know.

parents

Marry him she did, in December, barely a year after that first phone call. I understand it was made bittersweet by the absence of their fathers. She had lost hers only a year and a half before. She had a terrible migraine that day, and hated her dress, but she loved him, and he her, and I imagine that the bright spark between them was undeniably felt by all who attended. I feel it now, whenever one of them joins the other in a room, regardless of the length of time spent apart. If you are lucky enough to meet them, watch her eyes find his as she calls to him. Listen to the tenor and warmth of his laugh when he teases her.

That my dad’s recollection of the same first date was slightly different than hers, that he remembers meeting a woman who possessed several qualities he had sworn off in potential mates, does not lessen the story’s magic. It only serves to remind me that our stories are never wholly ours. We can write the first few lines before they take on lives of their own, bending and opening up space for the characters we could never have given shape to ourselves.

He tells us that she was a nail-biter, who smoked and had terrible taste in fashion, as evidenced by the ugly brown pants she was wearing (his assessment, not hers). He also had a girlfriend in New York that he had not quite broken up with yet. He did not call her after that night; he had other chapters to close. Had it not been her – had it not been them – this might have been the story’s conclusion. If you are lucky enough to meet them, you will understand why it was not.

She called him, and he answered, and almost all at once their lives became this life. It is one that I do not give thanks for often enough – one that has become so much more than its beginning. The beauty of falling in love pales next to the beauty of accepting and continuing to love another person through all that comes next.

He supported her while she earned her PhD and they raised two young children. She welcomed his mother into our home as she neared the end of her life. He helped her pack up her mother’s apartment after she died. My dad’s nomadic tendencies have not lessened with age. He tells her he plans on scaling mountains, and I know that she wishes she could walk next to him. I also know that theirs is a relationship of deep respect for the other’s independence and wholeness of spirit. She will let him go, when he needs to go. He will never begrudge her the hesitation.

Careers expanded. Adventure called them to far corners of the earth, both together and apart. Children grew up (mostly), and left for new homes. Sickness brought darkness, and recovery even greater resilience. The spark remained. My chest swells contemplating the ways they have loved each other in those moments. Such is the weight of their story.

So when she tells me that she knew, the night she met him, that this life would be theirs, her words are precious.

There were times that those same words made me uneasy, because I had never come close to uttering them. Then I shared this story with someone for the first time, hoping to pass on at least a tiny sliver of the magic it contained. To tell it, I thought, and still be as stirred by the words as I was; to believe this deeply that such a meeting of souls was possible, was enough.

I don’t know if ours is the story I will be asked to retell, but I know that it will find its place on a blank page soon.

I don’t know how this ends, but I know that I am grateful for its beginning.

I don’t know if this is the story, but I know it’s a good one.

I know.

 

Here.

Tags

, ,

I stood at the countertop, sweat forming on my furrowed brow, and kneaded the dough just as my father taught me. Sinking my weight into it over and over, I worked in the flour until the cracks were made smooth and it felt as I remembered it should. Patiently I let it rise – three times – and broke it into small pieces for braiding. Accepting that my fourth attempt at a six-strand braid would have to do, I carefully coated it with an egg wash that I hoped would impart a deep amber shine.

Home, I thought, is in a hot kitchen made dusty with flour. Here, where cookies cool by the window and chocolate babkas wait to be drenched in sticky sweet gloss.

Home, I thought, is by the bookshelves filled with volumes collected since childhood. Here, where I scan the titles for the next escape. Here, where I stop speaking long enough to look for words worth sharing.

Home, I thought, is in the garden I’ve barely begun to tend. Here, where the flowers died before autumn, and I promised to do better next year. Here, where the mums planted as summer departed are blossoming still, lending colour and warmth to grey stone steps.

Home, I thought, is in a bedroom dotted with pictures that remind me of the places I occupied before this one. Here, where I dream of the beauty I’ve left behind and the less fully formed possibility of what’s to come.

The challah was nearly finished baking and the house was filled with the scent of so many other holidays and Friday afternoons in a home several hours away. I pulled the tray from the oven with relief. The braided loaf was golden brown, and, albeit slightly misshapen, still unmistakably round – a nod to the holiday I was hosting for the first time.

Home, I thought, is in the dining room where friends gather to celebrate. Here, where I stumble over phrases I barely understand to honour traditions that will survive far longer than these four walls. Here, where I create the memories that I will pack along with my belongings when I go. And go I will, though I don’t know when.

For now it feels right to settle in. Here, where I leave my keys with quiet gratitude on the mantle each evening. Home, after all, is in the place you rest before the next door asks to be unlocked.

Mary’s Island

Tags

,

I am reminded that the sun will set soon, in shades of warm amber to ease us into the quiet of day’s end. The bay is rocked by a soft current, sending gentle waves dancing to the edge of the horizon. Standing close to the water I take stock of the soil and rock at my feet and I want to sink in as deep as the ground allows.

Strange that on countless evenings I hid dusk behind closed blinds and welcomed nightfall. I was tired and racing to finish one day so I could try again in earnest the next. Tiny regrets were gathering and I flung them away with the covers before I settled into sleep. Tomorrow I would correct all the errors and address the careless omissions, if only tomorrow could come a little faster.

Now breath slows as I watch the golden crest dip and disappear. The light remains for a short time, bowing to the hands of the clock that chase it into oblivion. There is an unnerving distinction between the minutes that pass like hours, and the hours, like those spent tucked away amongst sloped granite and old pine, that depart as suddenly as dust flies to the wind.

The dreamscape of pinks and blues gives way to muddied pools of black, until I’m bracing against an endless darkness pierced only by stars. I am caught halfway between bliss and aching. I find immeasurable joy in places like this – the corners of earth with landscapes mighty enough to make me feel small. These are also the places hardest to leave. The city bursts with noise and hurried movement, but it is here on a near silent shore that time moves too quickly.

Tiny cracks

There are indulgences that satisfy in small pieces.

A single square of rich dark chocolate. Its bitterness perfectly cut with barely detectable sweetness. A sprinkle of sea salt and the hint of citrus meld with the deepest cocoa to envelop the senses.

A single tot of good tequila. A steady pour and the soft clink of ice meeting spirits. The first sip goes down hot, then smooth. The second tickles my throat, and the third is delectable contentment.

Sometimes I wish that more of life could be savoured then put to rest with so little trouble. If I could treat more moments like this – if just a taste were enough to quiet longing – it might make it easier to walk away free of regret.

I fear the unrequited wanting.

One wave will never be enough. After the shock of the first drop, and the tenth tumble in relentless current, you will love it more deeply than you did the day before. Curled up under blankets, you will watch the snow fall heavy and yearn for sand and surf.

One night spent under a canvas of stars will never be enough. You will arrive terrified of the dark, strange howls turning your spine cold, until the calls of beasts become your lullabies. You will leave to be confronted by a city whose silence is unsettling, even as sirens blare and traffic screeches by.

A handful of days in an unfamiliar place will never be enough. There is something about walking amidst a sea of strangers that makes it easier to return to yourself, to abandon the worry that you already knew mattered little. This, and the thrill of turning the next yet to be discovered corner, will beckon you to chase the next adventure again and again.

It would be safer to step around that which you know will not satisfy. I certainly have. I certainly do.

But then I would miss it. 

The first time his gaze meets yours and pauses there. You smile without meaning to, before the fragile space between his eyes and yours can be disturbed with nervous chatter. Your breath catches. Stay here, (you say to no one), in the still innocent embrace of this exchange. Blink and it vanishes, leaving some small part of you awakened to the possibility of the next beautiful disaster. 

Back in the familiar comfort of home, I stop to take stock of all the tiny cracks bored by those moments I cannot forget. When my eyes grow heavy I will visit the waves again. I will be warmed by the gentle glare of a delta sunset. I will eagerly cross an unfamiliar street. I will feel the weight of his hand in mine. Broken open by all that has slipped through my fingers I will find sleep, whole at last.

Washing dishes.

Tags

,

Colour me chocolate

An odd thought occurred to me as I submerged a bowl in the soapy water at the washing station this evening. I was midway through the weekly baking class I’ve been taking for the past month or so, and I thought, nearly aloud, about how much I hated washing dishes. In quick succession I considered my dislike for piping cookie dough, my disdain for piping icing, and my frustration with the way shortening sticks to the spoon when scaled. On each of the past eight Mondays, I have silently cursed the weight of my bag of knives and steel toed boots while forcing my way onto the subway. Still, something was bringing me back to those dishes each week. Something was gently slowing the pulse of constant worry as I struggled to shape cookies into hearts that looked more like puddles.

Baking, like writing, calms me as much as it invigorates me. I knead dough, scrub dirty pots, or play with a turn of phrase, and the minutes that pass are consumed by the task at hand. Generally distracted by attempts to edit a past I can’t change and shape a future I’ve already imagined, these moments of presence are rare. Baking, like writing, requires a focus that pulls me back from the stories I tell myself about my life to the life I am actually living.

Sometimes I feel uneasy in this body. Sometimes I feel unsteadied by the accumulation of years and the growing list of unknowns. I know that I have no business complaining, but I won’t deny that there are days when it’s difficult to sit with it.

Let me start over. Scraping the chocolate off of a measuring spoon, I was struck by a simple truth; I am, in fact, existing and breathing and loving at this very second. I paused, soapy water up to my elbows, and wondered what life might be like if I allowed myself to sink into more moments as deeply, to let the mess gather, to stop drifting backwards and forwards to anywhere but the space I occupy. Back home fighting sleep I will my body to make room for this lesson. It is as true now as it was when I stood there by the kitchen sink. There is nowhere to be but here.

Burn.

Know that I examined this possibility of us. I picked it up and let it rest in my open palms. I knelt to the weight of it, considered the shape of it, and said okay – I might – I will. I dug my soles in deep where we stood to decide if I could settle there. I looked up, waiting to see it, wanted badly to feel it, hoping most of all to know that it was there. I dug my soles in deeper, but I never found my footing.

Doubt speaks in whispers before it becomes too loud to shut out. Give even an inch and it arrives to take up space that should have been reserved for you (and for me and you). It was sweet, yes, and you were kind. It was comfortable and good, but good is not enough anymore.

Sometimes the match never catches. Sometimes the light flickers and fades. However it begins, we end in the dark.

Know that I wanted to stay, to keep holding this possibility of us. It nearly fit, there in the hands that searched for yours as day turned to night and the room grew colder still.

Know too that we both deserved a brighter fire.

Spark.

Tags

It happens like this. A glance lasts longer than expected. A hand finds the small of your back and you don’t pull away. His hand tugs at yours and warms you from the tips of your fingertips to the pit of your stomach, like good whisky when it first meets your mouth. You’re scared, but you’re exhilarated too, standing on the precipice between a playful exchange and something altogether different. You look away, afraid he’ll kiss you and disappointed that he hasn’t. You say that you’re leaving, but you’re taking your sweet time and that’s when you know you’ve found it. It’s here in the room, somewhere in his arms, and you aren’t quite ready to step outside.

The land of stones.

Dear reader,

I have been at a loss for words, and it’s not for lack of trying. I’ll begin to write, each time with new resolve, and quickly find myself unsatisfied with what fills the page. I could blame the setting, as I have before, but that feels cheap. I’m not living in the wild anymore, but the city has offered up plenty of opportunity to seek adventure. Still, I can’t write a damn thing that’s worth keeping. I’ve said this before, but now the sentiment comes with an answer. A brief word of warning; if you came here to read a tightly woven narrative, you may be disappointed in what follows.

I am a great performer. I don’t mean this in the traditional sense. I mean that I am very particular about the way in which I’m perceived. In subtle (and not so subtle) ways, I bend to meet the demands of my role. When I was with safari guests in Botswana, I played the host. When I was navigating a new workplace in Toronto, I played the professional. When I was sitting down with a date for the first time, I played cute. I would eventually ease into a level of comfort with the people I met, but I never revealed the rough edges too soon. Of course, we all do this. Life and work demands it of us. In truth, I was always being myself, just not all at once.

Thanks to some gentle nudging from the people who know me best, I am finally learning to let it go. I know that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I’ve even made a public declaration amongst friend to just. give. less. f*cks. Try as I might, the way I am received by others will not be moved by my efforts. Take it or leave it – all I can do is offer up something honest.

The thing is, words are far too easy to bend. I have always edited faster than I could write, smoothing the jagged edges before the lines were fully formed. This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the process. I am proud of every entry and story I’ve shared here. It’s given me purpose, and reason to preserve the bits of my own history that I know I’ll return to for comfort and wisdom. I’ve been honest, but I’ve also omitted a great deal. I thought that if I wanted to be a writer, each passage needed to be free of roughness and error. Mostly, I wanted you to love it. I decided long ago that I needed to present my words in a very particular way, and as evidenced by my lack of activity here, I was stubborn as hell about it….until today.

By way of explanation, I want to address the rest of this entry to my sister, who is equal parts gentle and powerful in a way that those who have the privilege of knowing her will understand well.

Raphaela, I have never met another person who dreams as confidently as you. Just when I think I’ve figured out where the trajectory of your incredible existence is headed, you surprise me by throwing out the map altogether. You’ve never bent. You’ve never let fear or doubt stop you from becoming exactly the person you are meant to be. Through the simple act of living as you do, you’ve imparted a multitude of lessons, the latest of which brought me here this evening. I asked how it was that you could so freely change the course of your life and maintain faith in what would come to pass as a result. I suppose I thought that some choices were already set in stone, and were not likely to shift. Well, in classic Raph fashion, you laughed and told me “there is no land of stones.” It sounded slightly silly at the time, but I knew it was true. It was also a gift.

You see, I’d been quietly collecting stones of my own, each one a place I imagined my life would land. There was the “perfect” career, the “perfect” home, and even this “perfect” little blog. But under the weight of all these stones, I stopped taking risks. Then you reminded me that I was completely missing the point.

I’m not sure what that means for this blog. I am certain that I want to omit less. It won’t always be pretty. It might not be any good at all. Here is what I do know: when I promised my sister that I would keep writing, I meant it. In order to do that, I’m going to have to give less f*cks about how my words are received. Keeping this promise might mean that my sister is one of the only people who keeps reading, but no matter. That she, whose brilliance never ceases to astound me, continues to call me a writer, is enough.

Love, Abiella