Today is Holden’s twenty-fifth birthday. There is a small rock sunk deep in my ribcage, my throat is cement and my eyes are overflowing. When that happens I go to my keyboard and let go. I want his name to be spoken, his face to be pictured and his laugh to be heard. I want him here, and because that is not possible, I want him present in whatever way he can be conjured.
I imagine birthdays past. Cupcakes and blue icing on cheeks, water guns soaking hair, laser tag all sweaty and smiling, slip and slide in the backyard, the coveted Complete Calvin and Hobbes Collection; the shouts and laughter. A summer birthday has fewer guests and more outdoor fun. As he got older, new cel phones, clothing, dinners out, a trip to New York, a case of Ichiban noodles and that first legal beer. I recall practical gifts for a burgeoning new adult life. Continue Reading →
Canada Day long weekend is a rough one for me, for our family. There is a building heaviness like the whump of low pressure before a storm. The rain and mercury sky make perfect sense. July 3, 2018 will mark 3 years since Holden left us and continued on his journey. There is a deep ache in the soft-quiet place where he should be.
I’ve been trying to remember Holden in ways that are not associated with photographs. There must be more than these rows of squares. The rewatching of a glance or a touch or a word with no visual reference to hold it. Today I’m envisioning the last time I saw my son. He is standing in the doorway of our kitchen saying something ordinary like ‘see ya later.’ The top of his head nearly reaches the door jam and his smiling cheeks, above the auburn scraggle of a beard, are light pink. I can see his green eyes and hear his deep voice vibrating in the air between us and re-know how grateful I was to have him so close and solid. Continue Reading →
When a friend delivered the brown cardboard banker’s box from the Vancouver Police evidence warehouse my reflex was to tear the lid off and see if my son was inside. Or rather – – what of my son was inside. There must be something in that box to explain it all.
Summer light spilled in the kitchen window and I was searching for ways to make his sudden death untrue. I flipped open the lid and saw the box was filled with several sizes of brown paper bags and envelopes. There were intricate labels on all of these items. Rows of stickers like the ones on prescription bottles. I ran my hand over the bags and envelopes and my chest contracted. passport – one of the labels said. bank card. work-boots. socks.
“Are you sure you want to do that now?” My husband asked. What is the appropriate action to take when the last personal effects of your son arrive on your kitchen table? Our eyes met across the box, “I mean, maybe you could just think about it for a while.” He knew better than anyone that I had the resilience of damp tissue paper. I nodded. He gently closed the box, tugged it from my reluctant hands and took it down to the basement where he placed it on a high shelf in the storage room with the camping gear and Christmas decorations. Continue Reading →
** This essay was originally broadcast on The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright on CBC Radio. February 4, 2018. It is a response to the 2017 BC Coroner’s Report stating that 1422 people died of overdoses last year in our province. There is a link to the audio at the bottom of this post.**
I was unpacking toilet paper and library books when a police officer in a bulletproof vest knocked on my door. I don’t remember his face, but I do remember his heavy black boots in contrast to my bare feet. It was a bright, warm day and he asked me to come outside, into the driveway out of earshot of my daughter, then he informed me that my 21-year-old son had died early that morning.
I have hated our driveway ever since.
The officer wouldn’t tell me how Holden died, he just kept repeating, between my howling questions, that foul play was not suspected. He stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to do with his hands, while I curled like a fetus on the paving stones and felt my life slip sideways, several degrees off its axis. I remember thinking that the wrong person was wearing the bulletproof vest — I should have asked for it before he started talking, that may have prevented the bullet from entering my heart — but of course it was already much too late for that. Continue Reading →