I am 38,358 feet above Thunder Bay—the first leg of a western trip to speak at a memorial walk—with a cranky gut and eyeballs that sound like a creaky hinge every time I turn my head. The cheese on my sandwich tasted like peppered nitrate grease. I forgot my glasses. And I don’t know what to say other than I can’t figure out what the hell it is to be happy.
A glass of champagne at the wedding of a beloved friend. The first public reading of the book. A Chinese trough and bribing the kids with Spiderman stickers. Fossilized chicken balls and cubes of orange and blue jello. It was a weekend full of blessings, but I can’t seem to shake this teary gig. I cried all the way home from the book festival. Not bawling, mind you. Just sheets of drippiness. Because every time I’m happy—you know, the really really life-affirming kind of happy that makes you feel like you need a Tums—death pops up to say Think you’ve got it all, do you? Think you’re getting somewhere? Remember this. You hurt him. You failed him. He died.
I imagine him here. I see a tiny wheelchair. Dammit. Further, deeper, more. I imagine that it never went wrong. That I had twins. That a bottle of hydrochlorothyazide could present itself and I’d have no clue what it was for.
38,708 feet above the Manitoban border. Bugger off, Martha Wainwright. I’ve only got two more provinces to pull myself together. But Kate, you said three minutes ago that you don’t want me to bugger off.
I know, Martha. I’m changing my mind. Three minutes ago you wanted me to sing Bloody Motherf*cking A**hole. Again. You got all teary and you hoped the salesman two seats over wouldn’t see.
You’d be more useful, Martha, if you’d slap me across each cheek with a wet fish.
A few nights back, cleaning up the dusty book-o-lanche of our old dining room hutch, I found my high school yearbook. I stared at myself and saw a terrified facade.
In 1991, I was a twitching gaggle of nervous energy. My skin was made of sandpaper, it chafed that much to be inside it. I clung like a limpet to anyone that struck me as confident. I studied them, mystified. How do we ever find ourselves? I don't know. But we do. Right around the time that fate begins to settle itself upon us and our peers like a sucker punch. I needed to be sucker-punched.
I'm happy. I'm so melancholy. Blessed and cursed. I miss my missing son. This weekend I'm speaking at a memorial walk for bereaved parents, tasked to leave them feeling that somehow, they'll find themselves again. Should they want to, though? I don't. Well, maybe I do. I don't know anymore. Life is pain. Without pain, and struggle, and discontent, there's nothing to amplify joy. Except a chupah, buffeted in brilliant sunshine by Atlantic spray. And Chinese buffets.