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More Than Birds

** 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 →

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Between Him and Me

        They told me his body lay on a mattress in a room that wasn’t so bad. They told me he was covered, and peaceful. They told me he spoke of love that night, that he laughed. They told me he made plans for tomorrow before he closed his eyes.

        Next morning, in the warm heart of summer, my son’s body lay cool and slack, the scaffolding that held up his being for twenty-one years, now absent. When his soul flew, the tent poles collapsed. Only a quiet skin inscribed with markings remained.

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        Confusion isn’t new, Holden wakes up in weird places all the time. He is an accomplished couch surfer because he isn’t picky. The first question he asks himself most Saturday mornings is, where am I? The second, who is beside me? Continue Reading →

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The Biggest Headstone

I have no grave to place flowers by.  I have no headstone to polish and sweep.  I do have a beautiful, smooth, wooden box, made by my husband Cam, that we keep on the same shelf as the vodka. We don’t reach for the vodka often, or the box for that matter. The box contains the burned bones of my son.

And now I also have a sixty-five foot cement wall in a parking lot in East Vancouver covered in glorious red paint, at the centre of which there is a huge and uncanny portrait of my son Holden in black and white, smiling out at the world.  He looks truly happy.  I hope it’s true. There is no good resting place for your child, but this wall makes sense.   If there has to be a symbolic location for Holden to be recognized, well, this is his kind of place.  

 Continue Reading →

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Permission

“Mothers are all slightly insane.”

― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

*****

        First there is the sigh, then, “Why are you doing that to yourself, Babe?”  His voice drifts toward me from the other side of the king size bed jabbing at my bubble.  Just a slight whiff of exasperation trails along behind his words.  I wondered what he is talking about?  Doing what?  I blink a few times, sharpening focus.  He has cracked the shell leaving me no choice but to  look at what is exposed.   Oh God… it’s me, a curled up feverish child tangled in the rumpled duvet, clothes unchanged and musty, hair unbrushed, breath of the morning though it is night.  I have been here for hours, for days, for months sobbing quietly, or not so quietly, with a book in my hands and an unending stream of hot, fat tears rolling sideways across my nose onto the damp pillow.

        I am reading “The Catcher in the Rye.”  Well, trying to.  Swimming in it is more like it.  The quirky words, that gorgeous dialogue and the vivid scenes it creates scrape my heart raw but somehow this etching and scouring feels … right.  It’s a good kind of pain, like the sore muscles in your back after a day of gardening in the Spring. It feels right to me anyway.  As right as a table with three legs can feel.  I am desperate to spend time with any Holden I can find. Continue Reading →