Looking back in 2018, it was a full year: full of changes, anticipation, and surprises.
The first day of the year was brought in from Melaque, Mexico, while on the epic trip where my daughter met her father for the first time. New Year’s Eve was spent with friends, as we dined and danced in a warm beachfront restaurant. My daughter rescued a scrawny kitten from the streets and in a matter of a few days, did everything in her power to prepare the little Lechuga (lettuce) for relocating to Canada: several visits to the vet, neutering, vaccinations, papers, travel crate, and the last space reserved for animals on the flight back to Edmonton. As she angsted over the decision, the taxi pulled up to take us to the airport. In the final ten seconds before sliding into the back seat of the car, she gave the kitten one last kiss and squeeze before handing Lechuga to a Canadian friend and said adios.
We were later informed that Lechuga had been adopted by another Canadian family and resided on Salt Spring Island, BC.
My mother had had a stroke in November 2017, so I decided that after I finished my teaching contract in June, I would move to Perth, Ontario to care for her. I started a profile on the school board website, paid the fees, and every so often, perused the job opportunities. By May, I was receiving phone calls from schools in the Perth area looking for substitute teachers. I took this to be a good omen.
But the end of January brought on another, more severe stroke for my mother, as the family rushed to her bedside. We were gathered together in her hospital room, quietly talking, listening to her favorite jazz and easy-listening genres of music, and mending strained relationships. We were waiting, wondering, wishing for a miracle. Although she wore a DNR bracelet, she hung on two weeks longer, slipping in and out of consciousness.
What impacted me most was the care and compassion my brother exuded for our dying mother. The way he caressed her forehead and cooed in her ear showed such tenderness and vulnerability. He softly talked to her, making light of the hand gestures pointing to nothing we could decipher or folding and refolding the edge of the blanket she kept flat with repeated smoothing. We tried to make sense of or understand what she was experiencing, what she wanted, how she was feeling, but there was no way to truly know, so we imagined instead.
We wanted to be there with her in the final days. A calm acceptance eventually washed over us as we witnessed the frailty of our mother who had been so active, full of joie de vivre, and vibrant throughout her life. My mother left this world just after midnight on February 11, 2018. The day before my daughter’s 19th birthday.
Returning to Edmonton, I drifted through the days in auto-pilot. Numbed from the event that just passed, I continued at my job in the Islamic school but with a heavy heart and sense of leaving. Spring Break in March brought some respite from the monotony by taking a short trip to Florida – a getaway to somewhere warm.
April was uneventful. May marked another birthday celebrated at Rogers Place to see the Eagles concert on the cusp of Ramadan. I plunged into fasting and daily Quran reading glad for the discipline.
My brother, as Executor of the Estate, announced that he was putting the house on the market. My stomach plunged. I mentioned it to a friend, who suggested that I buy the house from my brothers as in rent-to-own. Without giving it much thought, I reacted, “Why not?” and sent them an email. What did I have to lose? I had nothing. I was in a state of deep grieving where my plans to move to Perth to care for my mother had fatefully been kiboshed. The contract at the Islamic school was not going to be renewed. I would be out of work. I had already started the application to teach in Perth. Edmonton was not the city I wanted to die in, so any change was welcome. The response from my brothers was to get a mortgage. So I did.
The process to purchase my mother’s house was smooth. Incredibly smooth. All communications and transactions were done long distance between Edmonton and Perth. The bank, the lawyers, the insurance, the appraisal, all fell into place neatly. I pre-planned to be in Perth on July 6th to sign some papers with my lawyer, and to close on July 9th – my father’s birthday.
With the car packed full, a cat and a dog, I left Edmonton the morning of July 1st. As I put the car into gear at 6:00AM, my sleepy daughter leaned on the windowsill to see me off, glanced at my packing job saying, “Looks pretty unsafe,” and dangled the spare car key. I laughed, “Oh good. I might need that if I lose my car keys.” Premonition or what?
The prairie skies were vast, the winds strong in Saskatchewan where I stopped to refuel at a friendly Co-op station. The goal was to reach Winnipeg on the first day, while a heavy storm made it challenging, I pulled into a Motel 6 just west of the city by-pass in time to relax in the hot tub and eat a leftover dinner I had packed. After a restful sleep and a shower to perk me up, I was on the road at daybreak.
Driving across Canada is a head game at best. After crossing two provinces in one day, the expectation might be to reach the destination by the end of day two. But Ontario is a huge province with Lake Superior to circumnavigate. It takes two full days to edge around the northern shore lined with endless pine trees. Patience and spotting the inukshuks up on the rock ledges placed by previous travelers appease the slog of it all.
The sun was setting at the end of day two as the gas tank signaled empty. I had to stop at the next station, no matter what. I pulled into a station off the highway in Marathon, Ontario, where some men were chatting and fueling up their trucks. I tried to use the pump beside them but it wouldn’t turn on after accepting my debit card. It was Monday on the Canada Day long weekend. Looking around, I asked the men, “Is the station closed? Where can I fill up?” They directed me to go into town a few kilometers down a side road off the highway. As it turned out, they were military and had fuel passes which explained why they could use the pumps after hours. I hopped in my car, a little annoyed at the unexpected detour, and stopped at the next station on the left. I filled up while a man placed orange neon traffic cones in front of the other pumps. He told me I was lucky. He was closing because the pumps were almost out of fuel due to extensive long weekend travelers fueling up. I smiled and thanked him, “For sure!” I paused to think of the consequences of running out of gas on a long weekend in the middle of nowhere, then removed the nozzle from the tank and placed it back on the cradle. I was in a hurry to continue since I had lost time looking for gas, but I knew the dog needed a pit stop if I was to do another long stretch without stopping. I let her out to do her business in a grassy lot beside the gas station. Absentmindedly watching the dog, I thought I had better scoop rather than be a jerk dog owner by leaving her mess behind. I ran across the field to the spot before I lost sight of it. Afterward, I dropped the bag in the garbage can at the station and reached in my pocket for the car keys so as to hurry on the road again. I could not find the keys anywhere. The keys were not in my pockets, or in the car, on the floor, between the seats, or where I retraced my steps when running to catch up to the dog’s pooping spot. I scoured the grassy lot back and forth. What was I going to do? I knew I had the spare key my daughter had handed me, but I wanted the other one. I kept searching. The sun was setting and it was almost dark. Time was ticking. I grabbed the old Islamic school lanyard I had placed in the glove compartment as a keepsake, slipped the spare key on it, and returned to the highway to get back on track. My mind wanted to solve the problem, identify when and where exactly the keys disappeared, but I fought hard against dwelling on it. It was in the past. “Let it go. Moving forward.”
I was heading home.
I stopped for two nights to visit my relatives near Georgian Bay, which was a welcome rest and a perfect way to recharge before going to a job interview scheduled for July 5th in Brockville. With record high temps, no air conditioning in the car except for open windows, I decided to make a quick stop at 51 George Avenue in Perth. This made for a rather anti-climactic arrival to my new home, but the heat in the car would have been too much for the animals. No fanfare. I had just enough time to stop, unload the animals in the cool house, change clothes, and get back on the road again to Brockville. It was going to be tight.
I made it.
The interview went well, and I discovered that as a French teacher, job opportunities were likely. I celebrated everything with an ice cream cone from DQ and ambled the back country roads to start my new life. I felt a sense of wonder and reverie and anticipation for new beginnings.
I spent most of July and August puttering in the garden, de-cluttering the house, and looking for lakes and rivers to cool off in. The magnitude of owning a house started to sink in when two weeks upon arrival, the roof leaked during heavy rainfall.
I continued to apply for teaching jobs in the Perth area. No responses from Principals who were looking to hire. It was still summer, so I didn’t expect too much on the hiring front, but I needed a job to meet my new obligations as a homeowner. I tried to enjoy each day by keeping busy with gardening and puttering around the house.
As September 8th approached, the day of burying my parents’ ashes in Labelle, Quebec, work prospects continued to be in a state of suspension, which I rationalized was just as well. My daughter flew into Ottawa, there was driving to be done, coordinating rides to and from Montreal, plus I was leading the ceremony. One of my mother’s sisters hosted the reception at her home in Mont Tremblant where family and friends gathered to share good food, memories, and look at old photographs. The day was significant to mark the final resting place for both my parents, as my father’s ashes had waited on the shelf in the living room in my mother’s house since 1999. They were buried side by side in a grave site reserved by my grandfather for the Valiquette family. As we paid our respects, the breeze rose up to dance lightly with our hair, a sign of my mother’s spirit gently touching us one more time.
Ten days later, I started as a full-time French teacher while rehearsing for a significant role in a play and taking an online French as a Second Language course. It was too much to juggle, so I defaulted the online course until January 2019. The play took up every weekend in October, which I thoroughly enjoyed jumping back into the craft of acting after taking a 12-year hiatus from performing. As the cast members struggled with colds and cough backstage, the show was well-done and well-received. A friend surprised me in the audience by showing up unannounced after seeing the promotional post on social media.
Needing to find balance and to remain physically active once the play was over, I joined the Sakura Martial Arts Academy and returned to karate training. At school, the hype from Halloween was over as I buckled down to plan lessons throughout November. Christmas celebrations started way too early as the students checked out mentally in early December. My grade one and two students closed the Christmas concert with a French song. I baked one hundred and twenty-five gingerbread men to give to my French students on the last day of school only to have it be declared a snow day. A mere thirty students showed up on that day. I left for the winter break not knowing who my Secret Santa was and toting back home more than a hundred cookies.
With three days remaining in 2018, I write a blog to reflect on the past year. No revelations. No regrets. No resolutions. I might be a little curious as to how these life events have affected me, but that has yet to be revealed.