Still ashamed, still sick of myself, still vibrating with insecurity and regret and comparative failures but one morning I sat up in bed and looked around and realized that I couldn't see much of the floor. Clean clothes and dirty clothes, mine and theirs, tossed in heaps. My groggy head absorbed this and then imagined the other bedroom, the teeny tiny hallway, the kids' room, the stairs, the kitchen, the living room, the woodstove, the dining room, all littered with discarded remnants of play and streaks of red marker and half-eaten croissants and torn books and crumpled pipecleaners and pieces of dust-covered scotch tape and a single pea and it all spills out into my car, knee-deep. Even out to the street, lining the driveway, there's a tangle of weeds taking over, knowing that someone's living here but she's not looking right now, and there's no better place to be, if you're a snarly opportunist. Hey man, let's grow right here because this is the House of a Depressed Person WOOT!
I sat up in bed and looked around and thought Gosh, the house is a mess and I guess I could clean it up, and that's all I thought, just only that.
The cloud had lifted, that chemical cloud that appears and dissipates as randomly as those in the sky, the cumulative effect of pressure and change. It literally poisons the air, doesn't it? It makes all the muscle and slime inside you that should be a healthy pink into a foul sort of grey, like old ground beef, and it makes you stink just the same. Thoughts, heart, flesh. It casts a film over your eyes so that you only ever see, all around you, evidence of how you're not needed, not worthy, at fault, inept, and light years away from fresh pastries and cut flowers because those are way down the unaddressed list after 1) Put That Pea In The Compost, If It Still Qualifies As Compost; 2) Stop Walking Right Past That Crumpled Tim Horton's Wrapper With The Smear Of Mayonnaise On It Because It Really Shouldn't Be On The Couch; and 3) Hey Look! Ants In The Sugar Bowl.
It got bad. You can see it here, if you scroll, though it's got a bit of a sweet coating on it sometimes. For a solid two years I've tried the patience and exhausted the ears of loved ones and been quite possibly the most self-absorbed, melodramatic twit in all of ancient time. I told the trees to suck it every time I went outside. It got to be a bit of a ritual, a daily meditation on discontent. Shut up, trees, with your stoopid blossoms and your stoopid swishing. Stoopid universe. Suck it, universe. You used to be magic and all you are now is stoopid stoopid stoopid dumb just like me. I spat at everything. I stopped coming here because I didn't want you to think I thought I deserved help. And that made it all worse, not writing.
Then the cloud lifted, entirely without ceremony, just one morning, but it's not like I suddenly leapt up feeling like a blue sky. I just swung my legs around, stood up, and bent over, and started to pick stuff up and put it in drawers. And the stuff I picked up, sniffed, and categorized wasn't evidence of anything. It was just stuff being put away. The house noticed. Oh look, she's awake.
I'm going to make a new banner that says KATE'S FANTASTIC DEATH REVELATIONS but I'll keep it lite with blinking Vegas bulbs, like Beetlejuice's purgatory whorehouse.
It's just that death, however unwanted and unfair, is the best teacher, or at least it's tied for first with Screaming Babies or Stubbed Toes. I've just been to a funeral, the most unwanted and the most unfair, my first proper one with a real urn and pallbearers and church people in robes and a eulogy, damn it all. I stood in the rain with hundreds of others, listening second-hand, waiting for the procession. There was no getting into that church, packed as it was with so many friends and so much love, so many red coats and shiny boots. I didn't mind at all. The rain felt like it belonged. I looked down to see a green box with a door and hinges at my feet, and a temporary marker, and a velvet bag that waited, and I realized I was looking at Derek's hole in the ground. My grade twelve prom date, my favourite goof with the best-ever smile. He'd hear a siren in the distance and he'd leap to his feet like a live wire, hungry, eyes lit up, and say GODDAMN! How I wanna be in that car. I'm gonna. I'm gonna be in that car, Kate. You heard it here first. And I'd say No Derek, I heard it last week too, and the week before that.
He died in that car. He'd made it, a mountie. Then he hit a moose and he's gone, and after the piper led his ashes down the hill and into that spot, an unending block of R.C.M.P. and paramedics and cops and firefighters saluted, two-by-two, while his smallest girl snored on someone's shoulder from the middle of a huddle of love. And that's all you could hear. Silent salutes, tall boots on grass, muffled crying from hundreds, and the rhythmic in-again-and-out-again life of a little snore, the future, the way forward, a piece of him.
I hadn't seen Derek since prom night. I moved away and he became one of many high school phantoms, people you never see but who live vividly in your heart. People you wonder about, like I always did: Did he make it? Did he do it? Did he get into that car, finally?
On the way home I needed some fresh air and I'd been crying for what felt like days so I drove home with Cuff the Duke, and this is the first one that came on, pulling out of the parking lot, and it's become Derek's, for me. It just sounds like him. I can't tell you why. It just does. If you knew Derek, you might agree, maybe.
A funeral is a dark day but it's also some of the freshest air. It reminds us that we've all got a patch of grass that quietly waits, and that all the clichés are true: time speeds up, everything is finite, and we all ought to be nicer and kinder and more compassionate to each other. Anything else is frivolous.
I emptied the fridge and scrubbed it out. I pulled some weeds. I vacuumed the ceilings and washed the floors and took out the ash. I straightened the books and hosed down the car and found lost things. Then I took the kids camping and it was one-half excellent and one-half complete and total disaster and that's another story, but the point is that now the house is wall-to-wall sleeping bags and valley dirt and cheese string wrappers and festering t-shirts but somehow, when you've recently recovered, you figure you can recover again.
Please don't offer condolences to me, as they're not mine to accept. Instead, tell me about what you knew of Derek, if you knew him well enough to remember his Impression Of A Pregnant Man, or the way he'd walk when he was totally psyched, with great big springs under the balls of each foot. Or tell me about the last funeral you went to, or the first, or the person it was for, and what it all added up to, or just about whatever's woken you up lately. I'd like to hear about it.