Saturday, 7 November 2009

Nanowrimo Day 7

This morning life has led me astray ... but once again, everything gets shoveled into the mix ...

November 7, 2009 Day 7 ... end of first week of Nanowrimo

I dreamed last night of stripping painted furniture with a palm sander, not of women dead for the past many years, women who worked and played and wandered the streets of Montreal in the twenties. My night life is reminding me that I should likely be working and playing with old chairs and other furniture, not trying to solve a mystery for an irascible old ghost, a murder that is almost a century old.

But I keep being drawn back to the computer where I have found as many clues as I have been given in dreams, so the sanding will just have to wait a while.

This morning the first thing I found, though, was an email that shattered me, making me unfit for much of anything. My dearest friend, a woman I have known since we were silly fifteen year olds, sent a message telling me that she was in hospital; that a primary cancer has spread and she is undergoing radiation.

We have spent surprisingly large amounts of time together since Pat moved to England in the sixties, most of those days and weeks and sometimes months when I have stayed with her in London. Hundreds of thin blue aerograms,. her almost indecipherable writing scrawled across them, have crossed the Atlantic in the past fifty years. And now there is email. She got sick in June but in the more than 50 emails we've exchanged in these past five months, we've discussed my children, her grandchildren, art shows, the illnesses and health scares of a mutual friend and of two of my children, one of whom is her godchild, and the illness and deaths of friends we didn't share but whose lives mattered to us.

The only mention of her own illness was in the newsy, cheerful email she sent me September 25th. Embedded in the happy news and chatter was a hint of what has now downed her. Her back was causing her problems and her husband was doing the heavy lifting jobs for now. I never suspected a thing. Perhaps she didn't either.

On Thursday while I was hiking and later limping all around Montreal, I thought of Pat often.
This might seem prescient, but it wasn't really. I often think of Pat. Many things remind me of her, especially trips to Montreal.

This had been her old stomping ground when she was a student at McGill, when she wore long dark clothing, frequented dark intimate places lit by candles stuffed into wine bottles; coffee houses where bearded men read poetry, drank, and flirted with long haired girls wearing black leotards, long skirts and no make-up or bras.

This is where she lived with Tom when they and Peter were my good friends. My thoughts as I tramped around moving my briefcase from one hand to the other were about grungey student digs, and about the meals Pat managed to prepare in the worst possible kitchens, meals in which stewed chicken, hamburger and green peppers figured prominently. Tom had arrived in 1956 from Hungary, a poet who began his Canadian life as a student at Acadia University. It was there that he met Peter. They came to Montreal together when they were kicked out of Acadia for writing about chastity belts in the school paper.

Tom and Pat have lived apart for for waht seems centuries now. Peter committed suicide in 1964. And now Pat is very ill and too far away for me to hug her.

The ghosts who accompanied me as I wandered up St. Laurence Main past Lorne and then returned and mingled with impossibly young McGill students on Sherbrooke, were my friends, not my grandather's.

In Pat's latest email, the one sent by someone close to her from her home computer, likely by Nolan, she mentioned the brilliance of the fall leaves seen from the ambulance that ferries her back and forth between hospitals for radiation treatments. She wrote of the fiery red of the single maple, the one that reminds her of Canada and me. I look out at the shriveled brown leaf remnants that still cling to tree skeletons and think of those who have fallen, and those who are left.

I think I am beginning to understand why Grandpa wants the peace of having history remembered and put to rest, why it is important to him that I, his own flesh and blood, know his story, the story no one really knew while he was alive. Peter remains alive because Pat and I remember, because his sister knew his story. His story will become history when all of us who loved him die. But our children, the ones who never knew him, will still remember the stories we told.

Grandpa was loved by his mother and her husband, I am sure, but his daughter never knew him, and he squandered the love he received from women just as recklessly as he frittered away the money his parents showered on him. He wants to be remembered. He wants his life to have been more than simply a flashy reputation as a playboy.

I decided to find his story. The manner of his death mattered less to me now than the life that has remained so shrouded in mystery because he loved no one enough for them to tell that story.

11ish ... time to stop for a while ...

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