What Remains?On October 11, 2019 by WhatRemains
At twelve, I was a latch-key kid.
I was supposed to be in charge of my younger siblings, but since we lived on a hobby farm I would just put them outside, let them play in the goat pen while I microwaved myself a bowl of canned creamed corn and settled into my dad’s recliner to watch Biography.
I loved Biography. The actors, the politicians, the filmmakers, the professional wrestlers whose hearts were always the strongest muscles of them all.
Everyone loves a good triumph-over-adversity story.
Mine isn’t that story. Not yet, anyway.
You can punch some people in the face and plunge them into a bucket of hot dog juice and they’ll just shake it off. Half an hour later they’ll be fluffy and clean, bright-eyed and determined to shine shine shine! Me? I refuse to bathe for weeks and secretly enjoy making people uncomfortable with my hot dog juice smell.
Smell it. Know it.
If I had a better personality, I could create a charitable foundation to raise awareness of substance use disorder. I could do TEDx talks about how grief is actually a gift and an opportunity to practice gratitude for the things you still have in your life. At the very least, I could be a fucking excellent mother who sets a good example by getting up at 5 am and meditating and then eating dewy ferns during my forest run and then preparing a delicious vegan breakfast hash with freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. I can’t even do that.
I spend the very little free time I have compulsively jamming my brain with pointless garbage on the internet. Trump tweets, Reddit, The Onion, celebrity gossip sites, CNN. At night I dream of Taylor Swift and Anderson Cooper.
Back in the olden golden days when I sat in the corduroy recliner gobbling creamed corn and dreaming of the day that I would get to have a limousine accident immediately following the premier of my first feature film, nothing would have convinced me that I would end up this way.
My 30s are nearly gone and I am still refusing to wash off the hot dog juice.
“Well, you could have been better by now if you’d tried just a little bit harder,” my mother clucks at me as I brush my teeth.
I lean forward on my elbows, brush my tongue. Rinse, spit. Shhhhh, I tell her.
Then I stand up straight, put my hands in the air and announce:
You can petition the universe for abundance, but if you’re shattered and angry, the Universe will see right through you. Why bother trying? I pine for Kris and the life that was supposed to be. It’s not just what I do, it’s become who I am. The hot dog juice has sunk into my skin and become part of my identify, and letting go of it means letting go of love. What kind of a person lets go of love?
If I was a time traveler, I would go back and tell myself what to expect.
It would go like this:
-Greetings from the future.
-Hi, I’m sad.
-I know. And I’m sorry to say that you will not feel any better one year from now.
-Oh. Not any better?
-Not any better.
-Well, as long as I start to come up for air after that.
-What about the two-year mark?
-Computer says no.
-Don’t do that.
-Sorry, but we’re cyborgs in the future so I’m programmed to say that sometimes for jokes.
-How about the three-year mark?
– Oh God.
– You’ll probably just never feel better. But I don’t know, I’m only from 2019.
-Okay, let me write this down – hang on.
-Also, Donald Trump is going to be President.
-I don’t believe anything you’re saying now.
Around the one-year mark, Elsie May died.
She died a suitcase, just as I’d predicted. Actually, I think she might have had one arm and one leg left on either side of her body, so she looked more like a suitcase with one arm and one leg and an old person head sticking out, but I can’t be sure because I didn’t see her.
I could have visited Elsie May, but I didn’t. I was too busy being sad about Kris. Anyhow, the main point of me telling you this is to let you know that the night after she died, an owl came.
I woke up in the middle of the night and saw her sitting outside my window on the fence, so I put on my housecoat and went outside.
She let me approach her. When I was about an arm’s length away, she puffed out her feathers.
“Who,” she said.
“Hi Grandma,” I said.
“Who,” she said, blinking slowly.
“I’m sorry I didn’t visit you.”
She came again the next night, and the next.
Three visits from Grandmother Owl, and on the third, she brought a suitcase full of treasures.
One night in June of 2016 I drank eight fancy cocktails and four beers before spilling out of Clive’s Classic Lounge so hideously drunk and emotionally charged that the very last thing I needed to do was smoke a thing called Purple Kush marijuana.
I was with a man who had just spent four hours watching me get drunker and drunker. He had, in fact, spent the entire night with a look on his face that said How do I politely get away from this woman?, which meant that I had to drink more to help me pretend I didn’t notice.
The man was a friend. Or had been, once. I thought he was a good friend, especially right after Kris died. He was attentive and kind. He sent me Rilke poems on facebook messenger to make me feel better about loving dead people, and he also emailed me a draft of the novel he’d been working on so I could focus on Great Canadian Literature instead of grief. He was the only person who would come over just to hang out with me in my hot dog juice madness. And he listened. He’d listen to me go on and on about Kris and my parents until the wee hours of the morning.
After a couple months of this, we had sex, and very shortly thereafter the man decided that my vagina and grieving person stories weren’t to his liking after all.
This was a very confusing thing to have happen at that particular juncture. I simply could not accept that I had been selected for sampling and then tossed aside, so I did what any human in that situation would do: though he wasn’t speaking to me anymore, I sent him an email demanding that he never, ever speak to me again.
I am removing myself from your world, I wrote, for my own wellbeing!
Naturally, when he responded with a brief and businesslike I understand, I did the most dignified thing that a person could do by following up with a series of increasingly unhinged emails, some begging him to please be in love with me but also leave me alone, some soliciting an objective list of what exactly was wrong with me, some imploring him to forgive me my hysterical womanbrain, some to advise him that he was the worst person in the entire world for pursuing me so intensely at my most vulnerable and then compounding my feelings of abandonment by discarding me.
What else was I supposed to do? I was a piano with broken keys! All I needed was the right piano tuner to come along and replace them so I could play songs again without missing so many notes!
Good sir, would you consider tuning the piano of my soul?
Somehow, he met me at the bar that night, against what would have most certainly been his better judgment.
It was definitely my idea and not his, and he didn’t look surprised when I drank and talked too much. He looked bored, pained.
After last call, walking up Burdett Avenue, I announced that I would like to have some marijuana.
“You have some, right? I think I’d like to have a doobie now.”
“I thought you didn’t like pot?”
“I don’t. I hate it because it makes me paranoid and terrified!”
“So it’s probably not a good idea then, right?”
“But I actually don’t hate it anymore. I actually just love it now.”
He looked at me skeptically.
“No, really, I actually do!”
He lit up the doobie.
I took a puff. Stumbled along some more. Got a fuzzy feeling that made me giggly and full of love.
This is fun, I thought, and now I should try to hold his hand!
He pulled his hand away.
“Don’t touch my hand. Why are you trying to grab my hand?”
“I don’t know, I-“
“Don’t touch me.”
“Okay, but I need some more of that boodie.”
I grabbed for the doobie.
“Hey, I think you’ve had enough,” he said.
“Oh, do fuck off,” I said (maybe in a British accent. Probably.)
I wrestled the thing out of his finger with mine.
“I’m a doobie lovaaah now,” I exclaimed to the night!
I took another toke.
At that point, I vaguely recall launching into an impassioned monologue about how I didn’t care if he didn’t want to hold my hand, because I was going to become the greatest slut of them all and sleep with a thousand of the world’s most eligible bachelors and joyously contract chlamydia and embrace a life of free-love debauchery and wanton lust.
Another deep, sloppy suck. I sucked that doobie like it was air and I’d just come up from the bottom of a lake.
Three minutes later, I was positively fucked.
Anyone who’s had a baby will tell you that it takes time to get used to the new shape of things. The deflation, the balloon-empty swollenness of a body after birth. Everything feels split apart and bruised and suffused with mammalian softness.
Kris was so gentle about it.
“Don’t touch my stomach,” I said, “please. I mean it.”
“I wish you wouldn’t move my hand away. I love you. I love your belly.”
“I don’t. It’s a bowl full of jelly now.”
“Sit up, turn around. Look at me. This? This is perfect. This is the belly that carried our son. I love every possible version of you.”
“Well, I’m sorry that you have to love this version.”
“What if I grew hemorrhoids all over my face and smelled like old bum sweat and burnt rubber all the time?”
“I’d probably need to wear a gasmask and lobster gloves, but I’d love that version too.”
“I might as well do that then, if you’re just going to love me anyway.”
Even in those twilight zone weeks after giving birth when we were both bleary-eyed and exhausted, when my boobs were leaking so much the sheets were soaked in breastmilk, we would reach for each other. So it was the physical aspect of loss, the experience of severed attachment, that was most bewildering after his death. It was a felt sense that was so overwhelming that it was impossible to describe, and the best way I can think of to describe it now doesn’t at all suffice, but here it is: I was without. Before, I was within love, and after, without.
This sudden physical isolation in the world, this withoutness – it was like I was carrying a bucket of feelings around, but I didn’t have anywhere to pour them. I had to be careful not to pour my feelings into the wrong well, or at the very least learn to cover my bucket when the vulture was circling.
By the time the night at Clive’s Classic Lounge rolled around, it was too late. I had chosen the wrong well, had persisted in pouring my love into a mouth that didn’t want it, a mouth that had searched me out hungrily but was now pinched shut in disgust.
Once, when having sex with the man, I covered my belly with my hands to hide the softness and stretch marks.
“What are you doing?”
“Just… nothing. Please don’t look at my belly…”
He stopped and shook his head, looked down at me with cold annoyance.
“Do I not look like I’m turned on right now? Fuck.”
Shortly after the last long, sloppy suck of Purple Kush, I found myself slumped against the brick façade of a closed Subway sandwich shop on Blanshard St.
“What are you doing? Hey, hey hey, are you okay?”
“I feel weird. I feel so weird. I can’t move.”
“You drank too much and then you smoked pot. You need to go home and go to bed.”
“I think I’ve been poisoned. Somebody put something in my drink. This can’t just be the pot – I can’t move.”
“Fuck,” he said, mostly to himself, “poisoned? Are you going to tell people I poisoned you now? Please don’t say that.”
“No, I’m not saying you poisoned me, I’m saying this doesn’t feel normal. I can’t move.”
“Listen,” he said, “I shouldn’t have let you have any weed. I’m sorry about that, okay? But you can’t tell people that you’ve been poisoned. People are going to think you’re saying I poisoned you!”
“But it feels like a poison.”
“You just need water and to go to bed. I’m going to get you some water.”
My pulse was sluggish, moving through me in deep, resonant thrums, my heart thumping hard.
I tried moving my legs, but they were filled with lead.
Though my right hand was resting on my knee, I noticed the left one moving up and down, slapping the pavement as if it had a mind of its own. It seemed to take an hour before I was able to gain control of it, but it happened with a lot of concentration– the left hand was mine again, though barely.
It was about then that it started to dawn on me that the man had gone somewhere.
“Where did he go?” I asked the night, but it sounded more like “Wallhere’dee gah?”
I could hear my voice talking, but the audio had been decelerated and deepened like they do to voices on The Fifth Estate when you only see the silhouette of the person talking. Thick and slow as molasses.
I considered what it might be like to die right there, in front of the same Subway where I used to buy tuna sandwiches on Twoonie Tuesdays in my early 20s.
If I die here, at least I will die leaning against a place that brought me the happiness of tuna with extra pickles at an affordable price for students on a budget.
How sad it was, I thought, that I wouldn’t get the chance to say goodbye to my kids.
“Baaahkihlldssss,” I said to the night, waving bye-bye.
I pictured someone finding my body in the morning. Kicking at the lump of me.
Clearly the man had jumped ship and I was on my own, facing certain death on the cold concrete. So much for dying with dignity in a nice warm bed surrounded by candles and crying people with Joni Mitchell playing softly in the background like my mother did.
And the seasons, they go round and round
and the painted ponies go up and down
we’re captive on the carousel of time.
We can’t return, we can only look
behind from where we came
and go round and round and round
in the circle game.
Luckily, I wasn’t dying. I was just really, really drunk and stoned.
Slowly, slowly, I managed to pull my phone from my purse.
Then, I was able to configure my finger in such a way that I could poke it against some numbers.
“Nine-one-one emergency, do you need police, fire or paramedics?”
“Do you need police, fire or paramedics?”
“You need help? Are you injured, Sir?”
“Sir, I can’t understand you. Do you need an ambulance? Where are you right now, Sir?”
The phone fell and landed on the ground. I couldn’t reach it, so I tried falling over in an effort to put my face on the pavement, closer to the receiver. It was then that I noticed the swirling hole in the centre of my vision, floating towards me from across the boulevard.
It was hovering over the yellow line in the middle of the street.
Death. Coming to get me. Coming to pick me up and take me to heaven where I could eat twoonie tuna sandwiches with Kris and Mom and Dad forever.
I closed my eyes. Clenched them, ready to be sucked into the abyss.
And then a voice came out of nowhere, bellowing like an angry uncle.
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE!
But it wasn’t an angry uncle – it was the Narrator, who had helpfully decided to come online just when I finally felt resigned to dying.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
OH, I SEE – DOOBIES. FOR FUCK’S SAKE! DON’T YOU REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME YOU SMOKED A DOOBIE? I TOLD YOU NEVER TO DO THIS AGAIN, AND YOU AGREED, AND YET HERE YOU ARE. I GO AWAY FOR A FEW HOURS AND COME BACK TO FIND THIS NONSENSE. WHY ON EARTH DID YOU SMOKE POT?
“I din’t,” I said.
YOU BLOODY WELL DID SO! AND ANOTHER THING- A HOOKIN DOOGIN DLARBY FLACKASH HOONS BLAH BLAH BLAH!
I tried to ignore the Narrator by falling asleep, but there was a buzzing noise from the swirling hole that was growing louder as it approached.
HOLY MACARONI, WHAT IS THAT THING?!
“I wannatuna sammich.”
Things went dark.
Bette Davis lost her spouse when she was 35. His name was Arthur. Guy was just walking down the street when he dropped dead. After his death, she became a violent alcoholic.
Pierce Brosnan, on the other hand, was a much more stable individual. Even though he lost his wife when he was 38, he became James Bond.
When Bette drank, she was frequently in the habit of believing herself to be a witch named Adalberht from the 1600s. She would close all the curtains and pace around her mansion, cackling, throwing china at the walls, muttering spells. She also carried scissors with her everywhere just in case she bumped into one of her nemeses. If she did, she would sneakily snip off bits of their clothing. When she got a good collection of enemy fabric, she’d pile it in a garbage can lid and light it on fire on her veranda, and she would yell incantations and cry and get naked and dance around.
Pierce remarried. He openly admired and squeezed his beautiful new wife’s enormous bum in candid beachfront paparazzi shots that were splashed all over the tabloids.
The point is that some people are Bettes and some are Pierces. Betty went nuts, Pierce went 007 and admired big bums before they were cool.
I came-to inside the ambulance, puking into an elegant cardboard tray.
A young paramedic with a buzzcut was sitting on the fold down seat across from me, sneering in disgust. I peaked out of one eye, searched his face for some kindness. Didn’t find any. Heaved again then wiped the vomitdrool from my chin.
“Jesus,” he said, “What did you take, eh? What did you use tonight, eh girl?”
“She drank a lot, then she smoked some pot. It wasn’t very much. But she hasn’t taken anything else – I’ve been with her all night.”
The man. He was in the ambulance.
“She doesn’t use drugs. She’s not a drug user at all.”
“You mean except for the alcohol and marijuana, because those aren’t drugs, eh?”
Shame flooded me.
When I woke up on the third night, the owl wasn’t there yet, but I put on my housecoat anyway and went outside to wait, sure she’d show up. I stood on the deck looking at the oak tree and imagining what it would be like if its branches held the treehouse Kris always wanted to build there.
After about fifteen minutes with no sign of the owl, I sat down. Sighed.
Maybe she wasn’t coming, or maybe I was supposed to yell for her. I decided that must be it, so I took a big breath and hollered, “Graaaaandmaaaaa!”
As soon as I said it, there was the unmistakable sound of owl wings flapping in the night. Floosh, floosh.
And there she was, looking as regal and grandma-ish as any owl ever has.
She settled on the fence and dropped something from her beak. It landed with a thud on the patio steps; I rushed down to retrieve it while she preened her feathers. A suitcase. A teeny, tiny suitcase that looked like one of those vintage camera bags – cracked leather, olive green. There was a six-digit combination lock above the buckle set to 0-0-0-0-0-0, but when I tried pulling it open it wouldn’t budge.
“Grandma, this is locked.”
“Who,” she said blithely.
“Why would you bring me a locked suitcase? I don’t understand.”
I shook it. There was stuff inside. Papers, sounded like.
Just then, I heard a rustle in the grass. The owl heard too. She bobbed her head and opened her beak into a hiss, and in a tornado of feathers swooped down.
Her prey made a terrified squealing sound.
Then she landed right beside me on the patio, a large rat in her left claw, velvety and twitching.
“Oh my God, Grandma,”
She swivelled her head and gazed at me dispassionately, blinked, and then daintily plunged her beak into the rat’s belly and pulled out its guts while it was still panting.
Upon arriving at the hospital, I was helped into a wheelchair and pushed into a curtained ER room, where I received a bolus of IV fluids. I had to put a blanket over my head on account of the sharp white ER light, and also to be in disguise just in case the swirling death-hole came around looking for me.
I don’t know how long I was under that blanket. I fell asleep, but I remember waking to a soft voice calling my name, asking me to please show my face. It was a doctor, a kind one with dark hair and gentle hands.
“You were very dehydrated,” she said, “go home to bed and rest.”
“I’m so embarrassed,” I said.
She shrugged and put her index to her temple. Use your head. I nodded.
The man, it turned out, was still there with me. I called a cab. He sat in the front and directed the driver to my house. I curled up in the back seat and tried not to breathe annoyingly.
When we got to my place, he came inside and stood awkwardly while I rolled down my pantyhose with great difficulty.
I lumbered over to my bed, crawled in, pulled the comforter over my head.
“I’m going to walk home now,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” I said from under the covers, “I’m so very, very sorry. I am so ashamed of myself.”
“It’s fine. No big deal. I’m going home to bed.”
“But … could you stay with me? Please?”
He sighed a huge, heaving sigh.
“I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
When I woke up, the mid-morning light was a ball-peen hammer.
There were streaks of vomit all over my dress. My head was pounding.
I hope he’s not here, I thought, and then, I hope he is…
I peered around the corner to the living room. He was sitting on the couch flipping through a cook book.
“Hey,” I said, “this is my sheepish way of saying Hey and being normal after I totally humiliated myself.”
“Thanks for staying with me. And thanks for making sure I got home safe. I’m mortified. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, we’ve all been there. No big deal. It’s a much bigger deal in your head than it is in reality, I promise. And I really wanted to make sure you weren’t going to tell anyone I poisoned you, ha!”
“Should I give you a ride home?”
“That’d be great.”
At his house, I got out and gave him a hug. He winced.
“I am truly sorry,” I said for the two hundredth time, “I’m so mortified. That was one of the worst experiences of my life.”
“No problem,” he lied, “It was really nice seeing you.”
I wish I could say that the lowest I would ever feel was the experience with the man, and that it culminated in the humiliating death-hole night. I also wish I could tell you that it gave me the determination to be a Pierce and not a Bette. It didn’t. There were depths yet to explore. Depths with more creatures, with wizards and oracles and third degree burns across my thighs, with scar tissue that took on a life of its own and became a Tulpa that followed me for an entire week. Depths containing astrophysicist incels, carpet con-men, naked horseback riding on beaches full of garbage, botched quantum jumping and Red River time travel and fast food barbie cunt fights.
Yeah, all that happened. And it’s only 2019.