I’ve rewritten this sentence about three hundred times in the last five hours. There’s been a stream of people in and out of my office and I haven’t heard much of anything they’ve said. Since noon today every drifting thought has shot to a flash of what I was doing this time four years ago.
It’s now 5:26 and at this moment four years ago I was standing out on the front lawn of the house in Glace Bay with a couple of the neighbours who stopped by. I had a pot of food in my hand. Maybe a ham. People brought so much food. I started to feel like a summer tour guide explaining to the stream of friends and family how Dad had died of a massive heart attack while putting in a basement window on his house. “On your right you’ll see the trampled grass and stray pieces of paper and packaging left behind the paramedics.”
There were dozens of family members in the house and a couple of dozen more in the back yard. For the first time I realized I didn’t have anything with me that was mine. I was still wearing the clothes I had worn to work at 4:30 that morning. I lived in Sydney. I didn’t have any of my stuff at my their place in Glace Bay. I was really tired but there wasn’t a single quiet corner of the house. There wasn’t a place to sit down. There was nowhere to be alone.
Actually, I hadn’t been alone at all since that drive from Sydney to Glace Bay – the mad rush from work to the hospital. I hadn’t been alone since I went to make a phone call and stood by the open doors of the ambulance outside the emergency exit. My mother and father were just on the other side of the wall. His lips fading to steel. Her eyes swelling red. Both of them now lost in different ways.
It’s 6:51 now. Four years ago I was sitting at the kitchen table as my friend Jenn elbowed her way through a house of strangers to get to me. She made coffee. She cracked inappropriate jokes. She looked at me in a way that let me know she’d be there when I crumbled, because I hadn’t yet. There was still too much to do.
Four years ago I had no idea how hard this would be. I had no idea how much losing him would challenge me, infuriate me, and motivate me. I knew his death would change things, but it took me awhile to realize it changed me. At the time, I didn’t know his death had anything to do with me. It was like it was all happening to someone else.
It’s 8:03 and four years ago was actually in my own house in Sydney, tossing some clothes in a bag to take back to Glace Bay. I took the car and drove in myself. It was a chance to be alone. Finally. There was family with Ma. My brother was trying to make plans to get home from New Brunswick. I sat in the living room and picked up the guitar my girlfriend had bought me for my birthday the year before. Dad had been trying to show me some chords. I got a blurry picture of him sitting in my recliner with my guitar on his knee. I held the guitar, just like him, and I sang Fiddler’s Green. I tapped my fingers against the body to keep time. I didn’t touch the strings.I don’t think he even knew the song but it was just about the saddest thing I knew so it seemed to fit.
“His tiny knotted heart
Well, I guess it never worked too good
The timber tore apart
And the water gorged the wood”
Back in Glace Bay, laying on a towel-covered mattress in the basement at 4AM, I tried to imagine his Fiddler’s Green. His Elysian Fields. I tried to imagine it and I couldn’t. Still can’t four years later.