Dark before dawn
Today was garbage pick-up and recycling pick-up day. The sound of large annoying trucks, sirens from assorted vehicles and whatever the hell that Justin Bieber song is, wafted through the window. And seems to be continuing. The assorted wildlife of Rideau Street cursed and screamed and yelled for most of last night. Assorted black or white cars, stereos blaring stop and start mostly in front of the building across the street. Some woman is screaming at her child about how she cannot buy him anything at the moment. Just now two dogs being walked got into an aggressive-like altercation while their owners tried being polite and shouting at the same time. I heard an angry sparrow on the tree outside my window. Someone in hard shoes is clacking their way down the sidewalk. In the city, peace comes from sealed air-conditioned apartments and nature videos on television. The longing for green solitude just a memory, a vacation, a brief respite inside the cement their souls have hardened into. I thought I saw a bluejay but it was a recycling bag caught fluttering at branches. It is a wilderness here. It has evolved beyond irritation into a silence of the soul.
Better I should return to my paints. I could paint the grey man on the grey sidewalk who digs into the bins for grey bits of food. I could paint the grey glass of grey buildings that scrape the grey sky until it bleeds pools of rain. And the gutters that run with the detritus of cigarette butts and candy wrappers and the tears of the addicts who tremble and shake. I could paint the old drunken man who shaved half his head and soils himself while he begs for a cigarette or a kind word but the kind word isn't really what he wants. He wants a bottle and a place to be for just the night. One night. The ones in suits and designer shorts wear earphones and spend their gaze on iphones. They search but don't find. They see but don't look. They love but don't know love. Better the man in the gutter, his fingers in the grey dust who sees you as you pass; who cuts you with his pain, his disenfranchisement, his humanity. Better the man who watches, shadowed eyes, scanning, moving panther between the cars, his hands hidden, face flat with a seasoned indifference. Born to it. Bred to it. And he hands out little packets, quick like a bird, disappearing magician hands into dark pockets.
And the women, sheathed black like sleek crows shuffling that odd gait that speaks to what has happened to them as little girls. As little girls in the hands of monsters whose acts are proscribed by traditions foreign, mad, bad, hatred of the feminine. Fear of the feminine. There is nothing there in their eyes that can be read. Sometimes I catch a smile but it is rare here, as if there is some cage we cannot see around this part of town, this block, this place, these women. They do not want to know you. They live in a fear I don’t understand. But they don’t see it as fear but as duty, as dignity, as an act of deference to an unseen God. And I wonder what God was there when the little girl cried? What God would deserve such deference? What God would wear black and drag the hem of that garment through the snow and slush trailing a kind of despair, a kind of haughtiness, a kind of penitence? A skeleton of love. A tribute to resignation. To duty? To deference? To The Man.
“Yo the Man,” he said slapping palms. He laughs hyena-like; a whooping animal, a wounded creature. A man loud with the right of the gender of his birth. I see him on the street. I hear him every night in an apartment above me somewhere. I have once seen him in the elevator. He is quick with a smile but his eyes move back and forth so much so I could almost hear them shifting, gliding in their sockets. They hide something. Those eyes. They hide something I don’t want to know. I smile back. I make no comment except to say the weather is fine. And he smiles frighteningly.
I always talk in elevators. How can you not? About the weather. About something people are wearing that they are inordinately proud of. About the children who do not smile ever here. They are serious little souls with wide eyes. One young teenager seems riveted to my hair when I wear it out long. It is as if he has never seen long hair before. I ask him if he plays on a team because he is standing there awkwardly with a basketball in his hands. He says “no” and looks at the floor. He gets off on my floor but he does not live on my floor. He makes his way to the stairwell. I am slightly amused.
At the end of the hall when I head to the garbage chute a woman is carting in groceries. Her son is with her. He is about 5 years old. His name is Hemmie. Short for Abraham. Her cart tilts and falls to the floor and I say to him, “oh, I hope the eggs are not broken. The chicken would be sad.” He looks at me seriously and explains that “there is no chicken.” And I laugh and say, but “who made the eggs then?” And he looks confused. “There is no chicken,” he explains again. His mother tells me not to correct him. She says it laughingly, even lovingly. But I had a sudden flash of a future man: Little Hemmie who was not to be corrected grown into manhood. Yet now, he is ripe with the curiosity and certainty of a child. He is ripe with the opportunity that life allows, for a short while.
I want to take his mother by the hand and sit with her. I want to tell her about the 70s here. About how we as women had to fight for so many rights and how we cried sometimes. But how could she understand? Her battles are monstrous compared to ours. Yet she is a proud woman. And who am I to say that she is wrong, sheathed as she is? For have we not lost sight of what mattered? We women? Does this woman not have a certain dignity? A certainty? She is not unhappy. She does not care about how hard I might have struggled in my life to come to terms with sexism. The coffees I refused to serve; the fight for wage equality; the insistence on personhood. How lost the cause. Because I see them. The young girls there on the street. Did we do battle for their right to be objectified? To objectify themselves? I don’t remember now what it was all about. Sometimes I want to shake them, these Kardashian girls with whiney voices. Don’t you see what you are doing I want to say.
I like her though. Hemmie’s mother. She smiles at me. She is not on an iPhone. She has clear and intelligent eyes and is warm with laughter. We will not be friends though. The divide is clear on her part. Polite but no further. I wear my hair long perhaps. I see that she is happy in her world that I could not abide. But that is me. That is my prejudice, my hard-fought struggle to gain what little ground I have. And I in turn, cannot imagine the struggles she has gone through. Far worse I’m sure than mine. I leave her behind as I wander back up the hallway, the acrid smell of some spice I don’t recognize there yet again.
Yesterday I went to the window because a man was yelling. His voice was loud and deep and he kept yelling. He was a block away making his way down the sidewalk. “You’re a fucking bitch! You’re a fucking bitch! You’re a fucking bitch!” He said over and over again. I looked to see who he was addressing but there was no one there. He was screaming to himself, pasty white chubby striding at an unfathomable pace down the sidewalk, his backpack wobbling at each step, his beard skyward. He said everything three times. “You don’t fucking know anything. You don’t fucking know anything. You don’t fucking know anything.” He never breaks stride. “When the wolves come don’t come to me. When the wolves come don’t come to me. When the wolves come don’t come to me.” No one else breaks stride. They glance up, move on. They must be used to it. I will never be used to it. I hear him blocks away but cannot make out his words anymore. Partly because there is a man across the street. He is retching horribly. I don’t look. I can’t look anymore.
I don’t like the city. Around me of course are the happy and content, the middle upper classes walking their designer dogs and laughing with each other. The retirees and the students and the ones in between who are too busy to actually be where they are. I see them, the happy ones. I’m not all bleak with the world. My neighbour is a kind man. A good man. He has lived in his apartment 30 years. Retired from a government job he had for 25 years. He has routines. They are very important to him. I don’t much care to know beyond a nod anyone else in the building. People tire me. I am tired of them. I did my best most all these years, helping, hoping, holding hands. But I am old now and disillusioned with people. There is not enough time, love or understanding left in me. And the problems people have seem beyond redemption now, at a certain age. If you’ve been a narcissist, a fool, a user, a selfish idiot, a sanctimonious arse, a neurotic control freak, a greedy monster for 40 years, it’s unlikely now you’ll change and I don’t care to help you do so even if you want to. I do not ask to understand you and I do not ask you to understand me. Let it be.
Of course I do not mingle with the happy ones. In my grief I look at them as if they are mad. I can’t relate. I try not to hate them.
Today I got an e-mail from a friend who says “I think of you often,” and I just wonder if that was true why he did not pick up the phone, in all those times he thought of me so often, in the seven months since last I heard from him. Am I to be grateful and gracious and respond with all the manners I’ve been raised with? Am I to be grateful he even thought of me at all? If I am not grateful I’ll end up all alone. That’s beyond funny in a dark kind of way. Aren’t we widows supposed to be grateful for even the slightest indication of interest by anyone? No. I think not. Go away. I’d rather keep the company of my small dog and cat. They are better beings than humans. They don’t make promises they have no intention of keeping. They love you even when you’re sad and have been for a long long time. They love you even when you have nothing left to give, when you aren’t who you used to be. They love you without an agenda.
In truth, the only ones I relate to now are my fellow widows. They know things. They know things I have yet to find out. They have learned to deal with the inappropriate comments, the outrageous behaviour and the pain of silence they’ve been forced into. They know things and I am grateful for them. They know things about the people who come in to fill the void that others have left behind in their desperate effort to keep away from all that grief. They have to get on with their happy lives after all. Lives you no longer can relate to. Lives you know are as vulnerable as a lighted match in the wind. You almost cringe to see their happiness. It is not a given. You do not envy them. You just wait. You do not wish them what you have gone through but still you wait. Because that seems to be what happiness is, ephemeral, a silence before a storm, a waiting room.
The ones that come in, the selfish and the dangerous people who use and abuse and control, feed on the vulnerability of loss to serve their own agendas. And there are many agendas. And oddly, my widows do not think it necessary to forgive anyone despite having had the same nightmares. My widows. They say “fuck them” and move on. And so I say “fuck them” and move on. I feel relieved that I don’t have to forgive anyone if I choose not to. Forgive them they know not what they do. “Fuck that.” Some people say that forgiveness is the antidote to bitterness, so I respond as I’ve learned to, “fuck that.” It is not a fairytale world. Ask the old man on the street who sits on a bench and cries. No one knows why he cries. But he does. I want to tell him what I’ve learned. I want to tell him to say “fuck that.” I don’t of course. Some things we really can’t say. I just know that forgiveness is a luxury of the deranged. There is no God patting you on the back. That God died a long long time ago. Personally I think that God died from grief. Even he could not handle a prayer that said "Our Father who art in heaven, I think of you often.”