All posts in the Literature category

Mom and the Old Bitch Above

Published June 23, 2012 by megdedwards

There was a time in my youth when I wished my Mom was dead.

As soon as I wished it I realized that it was a terrible solution. I knew that my Mom drove me crazy in various ways but it was certainly not fair to request her death in order to set me free from my reactions to her.

I knew that she enjoyed living and I did not begrudge her that.  I did not actually wish harm to her.  She did not need to die, I knew that. I just needed to separate myself from her.

Mom was always there for me but sometimes her love or maternal attention felt destructive. I would inevitably regret reaching out for help. Whether it was emotional or financial, her help was like the well intentioned rock walls that people put up to save their sea shores, the effect of her attention sometimes caused more erosion than protection.

There was something about my relationship with my mom that was claustrophobic and dangerous.  She had a way of watching and commenting on my life that was suffocating. And while she could be maternal and caring, even almost doting at times, she could also be cool and dismissive.

If there was a battle of the wills then she had to win, and she would use whatever tools necessary, mockery, sarcasm or even physical power in order to rule supreme.  She was competitive and fiery.

If I was in pain she assumed I was exaggerating and would imply that I was weak. If I was in love she would question my judgment. If I wanted anything at all she would suggest I was greedy.

Maybe I made our relationship more painful by wishing she was something that she was not. She could only be who she was. When I read about Martin Amis talking about his relationship with his father, Kingsley Amis, I saw that what I had with my mother was not unlike this relationship.  It was more competitive than maternal; it had a manly air about it. She nurtured and then she fought. She prepared us to fight.

I kept wishing for a soft mom with soft arms who was a refuge against the world, but I did not have that. And in fact my Mom did not have that either, with her steely blue eyed librarian mother with the feminist leanings.  As I age, my sense of certainty that I have managed to avoid the same pitfalls and personality faults of my mother fades into a more sympathetic notion that maybe my Mom did not fail.

Maybe mothering is not about constant nurturing and altruistic sacrifice at all times. Part of what we do in weaning our children is push then away from our breasts, even when they cry. If they don’t learn to survive without us then we will have failed.

We may sometimes push our children away in order to set them free. That might be true. But we also make stupid mistakes and have moods. No one’s fault, no one deserves it, it just happened. Not only do I not know what I have done already that has hurt my children, I don’t know what I will do in the future. I will try very hard to be a good mom, but at times I will fail, quite by accident.

As the grains of sand drop one by one into the hourglass, the witch watches us and laughs. This image, from the family favorite, The Wizard of Oz, is definitive of my mother’s effect on us. My Mom was not the bad witch, she was kind hearted and fairly powerless, but she conjured witches.

Mom created a feckless and humorous God-like character, the Old Bitch Above; this mythical creature had a looming presence over our lives. OBA, as she was known in our home, would punish those who became too confident. OBA may give you a bad hair day just when you thought you were pretty, or make you trip when you were proud of your shoes. She had that kind of power. She brought you down off your high horse. Like a Greek God, or even the emotional Hebrew God, OBA had moods and emotions and you never knew what she would throw at you next.

Looking back, I see that my Mom was the physical form of OBA. She was unpredictable; you had to watch your step. Sometimes she was nurturing and sometimes she was harsh.  And she never said sorry. I learned to keep my dreams or opinions to myself because if I turned to her for comfort it would come back at me like a boomerang at another time, with a sudden attacking reference to that private conversation.

Even now, while we embrace in love and forgiveness as her energy drains out of her body, she can still throw a knife.  While I was telling her about a business idea that I had (once again forgetting what this admission would lead to) I said, “If it is any success at all…” and she said without thinking, “Well, that’s not likely”.

I laughed in my head, back on the same ground, aware now that the constant negativity that had accompanied me all my life was just under the surface.  She was aware that she had done it again, but, true to fashion, would not take it back. We let it go. But sometimes I see my life, and those of my siblings, as plants struggling for light, twisting and contorting to find the nourishment that we need to thrive.

As I accompany my Mom around the track, on her last lap, our faults are forgotten and our desire is to show love and acceptance. She says wonderful things about my writing; we talk about philosophy, writing and ideas. In fact, even in our hardest times we have always been able to talk about ideas. That has always been our connection.

Sometimes her  past rises up to torture her, she feels ashamed and irritated with herself, acknowledging that her strong pride and stubborn nature may have been unnecessary or harmful  to herself  or others during her life.

But I have no argument or anger anymore. Life is like one of those mysterious Irish folktales that show life as a meaningless struggle punctuated by madness and magic. My Mom likes to quote from some tale that she studied, lost now, “A man longs and longs and nothing comes of it”. She likes this line; it satisfies her on some deep level.

A Cuppa

Published May 17, 2012 by megdedwards









My friend looked at me with an expression of dismay, “Well”, she said, “I don’t know what to do now”.  I was at a loss too. Her husband was lying dead on the driveway with my favorite scarf jammed between the ice and his grey hair. He was splayed out in the look of death, absolutely relaxed, feet in odd positions, his snow shovel abandoned beside him.

The First Responders, there with their truck, were neighbors and past students of her husband, as they often are in rural areas where firemen are volunteers.  They stood together quietly.  “Let’s go inside and have a cup of tea”, I said.  My friend was certainly in the first moments of shock, and although teary, she was her usual thoughtful self, getting chairs organized for everyone and finding cups.  The men quietly moved her husband into their truck while we were inside. She gasped though, when she saw her husband’s hat on the back of a chair, saying softly, ‘his hat’ and patting it protectively.

So we made tea, a restorative drink and an important human ritual. First we have to boil the water, and then steep the leaves in the water. All this takes a certain amount of time and cannot be rushed. The water must boil, the tea must steep. It is a calming ritual because we must stop and sit and wait. While having tea we gathered ourselves, and waited for the officials. My friend prepared herself to call her children. We took a moment and talked about her husband, and how well loved a teacher and coach he had been.

A brewed cup of tea or coffee is an offering of friendship, an invitation to sit down and be heard. If someone offers to make you a hot drink that means that they like you, and want to make you feel at ease.  When we offer an upset person a hot drink we are giving them time to gather strength as well as caffeine and sugar to fuel their next move.

I have discovered that I love reading about hot drink rituals as much as partaking in them. My favorite authors use the tea or coffee break as a sensual reflective moment.  I first noticed this with P.D.  James.  I don’t read any murder mystery writers except P.D. James, and my favorite moments in the James novels are when the detective Dalgliesh is on a road trip investigating a crime. The detective loves to get into his car and go on a trip, and he also loves a good cup of coffee.

I bet I could find a lovingly detailed description of a good cup of coffee in every James novel. The aroma of just ground coffee beans rises up from the book.  A feeling of joy in the small comforts of life seeps into your bones as Dalglieish settles in before a fireplace with his fine brewed coffee and a puzzle before him.

I became a ‘red tea’ drinker because of Alexander McCall Smith’s series set in Botswana, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  I was addicted to this series during a very stressful period of my life. The books calmed my nerves and lifted my spirits when I was a shattered person, nerves frayed, digestive system shot. When the wonderful Precious and her assistant decide to make a pot of tea it meant the ladies had to stop and think, or give special time to hear a visitor’s story. During the time that I read that series  I went out and bought some Rooibos tea and started to drink it rather than over doing black tea.

When my life had settled down and my body had stopped being on high alert, I moved away from that series and went back in time to a writer I loved as a child, Tove Jansson. We were in the midst of a long dark winter, with snow piling up on the roof and storms burying us every weekend when I found my old Mommintroll books that my Mom read aloud when I was little. By the time I was 11 I would ask for them for presents and I had read them all.

I started to read the Moomintroll series to my seven year old daughter that winter, settling into our cozy bed every night and traveling to that odd world. Here too I found the hot drink ritual. Moominmamma, who clearly resembles me at this point in my life with her big black purse full of useful things and her motherly skills, is always the one to brew a pot of coffee for the family, no matter what the disaster, flood or comet.

Settling into a picnic on an island it is Momminmamma who buries the butter jar in the sand in order to keep it cool and starts a small fire to brew up some coffee.  Her insistence on continuing the small pleasures of life in the face of any other excitement makes her the comforting presence in the books.

When she brews coffee it reminds me of my intense memories of the family cottage. As a child, and as an adult, lying in a bundle of warm blankets with the cool air around your face, opening your eyes to sunshine on the trees and the sound of someone tinkering in the kitchen.  Water is being poured into the old coffee pot, the gas has been put on, and soon the delicious smell of coffee will waft through the air.

I read a short story in a magazine a long time ago in which a few images and an offered cup of tea stayed with me and lingered in my mind. I knew the story was by Rohinton Mistry but I did not know the title so it was hard to track down.  The images of the story stayed with me, and it was by doing some vague searches online that I finally found it.  My first searches turned up nothing at all because I kept including ‘tea’ in my search.  When I remembered to include a red stain on the white garments I found the story. Not everyone has my obsession with the tea ritual.

It was my memory of a red stain of beetle juice on the older gentleman’s white clothing that lead me to right story, Rustomji the Curmudgeon.  I remember a fussy old man and a younger wife. The older man was having  a tiring and troubling day as a day trip to a religious event is unsuccessful and instead he gets involved with some street confusion or uprising, and returns home with his good white clothes stained by red juice from someone’s spit.

In fact, I could not remember all those details at first. My mind was focused on the tea at the end of the story. Mostly I remembered how much I had enjoyed the journey of the story. I could see the red stain in my mind and smell the dust of the streets. And I felt the calm of the orderly home, and the loving offer of a cup of tea.  I wanted to read the story again to study the effect. There was a contemplative circular effect that had struck just the right tone, and the cup of tea at the end of the story had resonated like a note on a bell.

The story made me stop and think about marriage and happiness. Always egocentric in my analysis of literature I may have been looking for an answer to a question in my heart. I thought the offer of the cup of tea was the essence of a good marriage. When she lovingly offers the tea you realize that they do have a better marriage than you would have first thought.  Her offer of tea described or defined her love, and made him seem lovable. She created love, by offering the tea, and hence created her marriage.

I thought about the tea for some time. Marriage is not just about two characters and their compatibility; instead it is about what they create together. It is a third thing, something created by two people working together. A cup of tea offered, is the action and definition of love; it is a necessary tradition in a relationship and in all human relations.


Magical thinking, magical writing

Published April 6, 2012 by megdedwards

My Mom and I were talking about memory and writing; recollection. She said it is too bad she cannot write down all the things that she is thinking and remembering, recollecting and sorting.

And  and I said, does it matter, after all? Do we need to record the details of our lives, does it matter?

Mom has been an artist and an archivist when it comes to her personal life, with illustrated journals and photo albums documenting every stage of her life. And we love that about her, and treasure the products of her creativity.

But I was talking about the bigger picture and she joined me there. If everything we drew or wrote burnt up in a fire, would we have lived less, felt less, had less of a place on earth? It cannot be that our lives are less important when not examined, documented,  given symbolic value.

It is a convergence of chance and timing that we know about certain people of the past, and not others.  We don’t know what writers we will read 100 years from now, nor what films we will remember, and it does not matter. But every day we continue to document our thoughts and our actions in attempt to clarify them to ourselves, to see ourselves, and to place ourselves in reflected light.

Our own dreams do that every night, building symbolism and metaphors into our thoughts and actions, taking anecdotal experiences and merging them with poetic writing. Why are we driven to create poetry and art where pure life stands before us?  Consciously, unconsciously, we cannot help building symbolism and trying to find patterns in the maze of life that is unmapped, uncontrollable and unpredictable.

Mom says that she has recently picked up the pleasurable habit of traveling in her mind. She settles down comfortably, or as comfortably as she can, her aging body crying out against time, and allows her mind to travel to a place in her memory. If she focuses on that pace in time she can go deep into it and see details of the scene as if she was living in it right at the moment.

It is like daydreaming, a fantastic pursuit, but backwards.  When people sit and stare and their minds are elsewhere, they should be left alone to dream. I remember a writer; I think it was Alice Walker, thanking her mother at the front of one of her books for mopping around her when she sat on the kitchen floor in a dream world.

As my Mom sits and thinks and prepares for death, something she dreads and fears, she has certain memories and stories that keep appearing. Some of them I have heard before, like when a crow came and pecked a t her brass buttons on her coat when she was a little child left outside on the back porch, and no one believed her that it happened.

But other stories are emerging that I have never heard before.  She told me that she used to scribble long pages of nonsensical ‘fake’ writing, as my first child did very diligently as well, and she told me that if she took that paper to her Mom she would read the story to her, making it up as she went.

I was taken with this story for a few reasons. I too had a very creative child who did fake writing, and in some ways I feel like I may be a bit like my Mom’s mother, who I never met. I have tried to picture her through my Mom’s stories but her stories are naturally colored by her complicated emotional feelings of being a daughter.

I have always had the impression of Mom’s Mother being a bit cold, an intellectual who later in life was given to stress headaches. A librarian and a reader, a feminist and a quiet activist, but I could not picture her being frivolous in any way. When I picture her reading aloud from her little daughter’s scribbles, putting words where there were none and creating a story out of her mind on the spot, it gives me a different view.  She was a full blooded creative mother scrambling from task to task like me.  She wrote poetry in her mind, words flowed and created stories even if she did not write them down.

My Mom has called that memory, ‘magical writing’. It has a title and a place in her mind, as if it is the first chapter in her autobiography. The next memory that keeps emerging could be entitled ‘magical thinking’; I have given it that name as I am writing this for Mom as if I am her official biographer.

As she tells it she was being put to bed in an odd room, possibly the attic, where the bed had a frill with a colorful red and green tulip pattern.  I think she was being put to sleep in the young live-in maid’s room but I may be making that up. It was clear, at least, that she was in a different bed and could not sleep.

The young girl taught her how to relax and go to sleep by imagining something fun like designing clothes. That day  Mom discovered that in her imagination she could design clothes any way she liked, and not be limited by what she could afford or sew.  It was a break through moment in which she came to recognize the power of her mind.

The young babysitter had only suggested that she design paper doll in her mind in order to calm her and distract her.  Being born and brought up in the depression, Mom knew how to cut out paper dolls and create clothes for them, and she wanted to get up and do it, but the babysitter told her to lie still and just imagine the clothes and build them in her head.  From then on little Natalie knew how to use her mind to create, distract and placate.

Now suffering from every sort of indignity of old age Mom goes into her mind to relax. She can conjure up beautiful detailed memories replete with the scents and sights. Much of her mind travel is pleasant but not all of it. Her vivid imagination has only given legs to the hallucinations and delusions that accompany her Parkinson’s medicine.

She creates such detailed people in her mind that she finds that she must try to engage them in conversation if she wants to discover if they are real. She has discovered that her hallucinations never respond and avoid looking her in the eye. I compared it to the dreams I have that I am writing, but that I cannot read my writing as I dream it. She said it was like that.

She sees people in such detail that she can describe very detail of their outfits, and then her active mind makes up a  story for why they are there. She has a film crew in her house who are forever moving things, boxing things and making her world seem to be in a state of flux. When she mentions this crew of workers I ask, ‘did you create these people”? And she sighs, “Well, that could be, but they do seem very real”.

The brain is our best mystery; we cannot really analyze the workings of our brains while we are using that very brain for our analysis. It is somewhat like trying to look into the eyes of our own hallucinations.

Thinking is our best action. We can do very little harm by thinking, contemplating and recollecting. Our brains can connect with the larger energy, flowing along a river of cyclical and symbolic imagery, creating something beautiful for no reason at all.

This is the first line of a poem that my Mom is writing,

“Along the sides of the river Illyses, scents of roses, scent of lilies…”

Stay Calm, Be Brave and wait for the Signs

Published March 10, 2012 by megdedwards

I have been spending much of my time thinking and writing in my wonderful philosophy class that I am taking long distance from Memorial University in Newfoundland.

Prof Craig Cramm offers a gem of a course for students looking for an elective, and the class has more engineering students than philosophy students.

This is my last class towards a Library Studies Certificate. This class was not a mandatory feature of the program, but I made it so.  In fact, the university had a required course called Business 2000 that was mandatory except that they no longer offered it. The long distance department didn’t seem to have any control over whether the business department would ever offer it again, and I was not willing to take the university up on their alternatives: apply to a separate institution that offered the same course for more money or take a first year English course.

Actually I was really annoyed and frustrated by the university’s disinterest in providing a solution and that made me question my years of dedication to acquiring the certificate. So after a series of terse emails that ascended eventually to the director of Lifelong Learning, I made it clear that not only was I not going to take another business course from a different institution in order to graduate, I wasn’t going to take a first year English course either.

I explained that most people in the library certificate course were sitting on a BA anyway and were trying to upgrade their hire- ability (not really a word except in places where people actually work).

I think they got tired of hearing from me and agreed with alacrity when I suggested that I take Philosophy of Technology instead, a second year philosophy course with no prerequisites. I argued that the course was in line  with the general theme of the library certificate that emphasized, repeatedly   in each and every course, how librarians must accept the modernization of the library and ‘get with it’.

Make the library more like a community center, create promotional material and book displays as if you are selling a product, start blogs and websites: technology savvy librarians need only apply, no ‘shushing’ allowed!

So this winter I took advanced technology, which taught me a lot and made me pretty darn comfortable with playing with technology and figuring out things like ‘deep linking’.  Then I moved into the philosophy of technology and it has provided a intellectual challenge and pulled everything together beautifully.

I am reading and thinking about technology, morality, ethics and action. It is fabulous.  It was just what I wanted, a real course with serious reading and thinking. I have written better essays for this course than I ever wrote when I was a young undergraduate.

The prof has asked us to make a leap with the last essay and write about how the ideas that we have discussed in the course apply to our own lives.  I am thinking about that with the intense mental application that this almost fifty year old woman seems to apply to everything she does.

Of course I could write about how in the last ten years of living in a fairly isolated community I have had regular work with a daily paper without ever meeting my editor face to face, and taken 12 courses from a university in a province that I have yet to visit. Technology has been a bonus for me. It has kept me engaged and even employed while living in an isolated hamlet on the side of the sea.

But my mind is thinking about something more slippery. While living in this area I have brought up my kids, home schooling some of the time, and volunteering and organizing much of my time, to the benefit of my family and the community.

If I needed or wanted a program for myself or my children I created it from library clubs, to toddler drop ins, to dance classes.  I did it for myself as much as for other people.  But I seem to be burned out now. Not only do I not want to create or plan any community event or activity, I don’t even want to go if someone else plans it.

I want to retreat, and be peaceful with myself. I want to write and think and be left alone.  I want to stop engaging with a community that gives back so little to me.

I am turning inward and reserving some time and space for me.  Acknowledging this fact has been cemented into place by a recent rejection. The school’s retired principal asked me to apply for a job in which I would teach GED (high school equivalency) to local adults. I thought about it and decided to apply although I realized it would be a huge commitment.

Of course I went through the letter writing and interview process just to be rejected. And this for a job that I did not know existed until someone asked me to apply. I felt like a big idiot and sucker. They hired a staid and putty faced woman of the community who is known for her religious fervor and judgmental glare.

I should not have applied at all. I should have known better.  It stung, slapped my ego, because it reminded me of all the times I have not got the job. It might be partly a generational thing where there were always too many of us with similar credentials and not enough jobs to go around. But I have always scrambled to create my own jobs.  The recent gig with the paper was great because it paid and gave me some respectability within this community.

So I am wondering how to put this in perspective. For me personally, I do not want to reach out to my community anymore. I want to offer something but from a different place. I do want to be part of the bigger picture, but I think I need to go back to my shy self contained self to do so. Something like writing literature for children, a place where you know you will have an effect albeit a quiet one. That is what I am thinking about.

So back to the blog, which like all the things in my life, is something I have created out of nothing.  It is an open journal and a map that shows you your path while you are still traveling.

And back to my general mantra, which came from a really cool and hilarious Canadian radio show that you can find on youtube called Dead Dog Café:

Stay Calm, Be Brave, and Wait for the Signs.

Writing about Writing

Published February 1, 2012 by megdedwards

  I wrote this post three years ago. Now I live without my Mom’s voice and I am doing what I promised. I am working on a big project, writing a novel and my mind is playing on a big canvas.

My blog posts arrive quietly in my mind while I am cleaning, sorting or putzing around.

Thoughts develop, themes appear, and I want to talk about them. Sometimes I need to just sit quietly for a while and then my ideas arrive and start bubbling.

I thought I was going to write about love yesterday, but today I find myself writing about writing.

Writing is something that my Poor Mom misses.  Her thoughts bubble about and are delicious, metaphoric and deeply insightful, but she can’t write them down anymore.

I call her My Poor Mom now that Parkinson’s has taken over her life and fogged her hard working mind with apparitions and paralysis. All her life she was a woman with ideas and creative outlets; now she struggles to have a conversation.

We talk about blogging and writing a lot and she remembers her days when she wrote for an internet writing group called NerdNosh.   She wrote episodic memoirs of her life with the caveat that it would be good for her family to have those stories written down.  This was a very happy time for her; she had her own writing room where she would work on her albums and write her Nerdnosh remembrances.

This was as close to being an artist as my Mom got, and believe me, she could have been an artist. During one of our recent poetic, speculative and superbly honest conversations I told my Mom that she could have been a novelist (or painter or filmmaker).  Even now, her imagination and her ability to analyze her imagination are incredible.  When she woke from her weeks of semi-consciousness after her heart operation she told us all about the novels she had been writing while she was resting.

Recently her mind has been creating stories to accompany the hallucinations that crowd into her life. She told me that it is tiring living in the middle of a film set as people are always moving things and putting labels on things.  Even after I confirmed that this was just her own personal apparitions, she went on to tell me that the theme of the film was quite interesting, as if she was writing a film review. “It is all about the dark spaces of nothingness between the frames” she said. I said, “Mom, you are blowing my mind”, and she laughed.

And we went on to talk about why women find it so hard to take themselves seriously as writers or artists.  She told me that her life as she was living it right now would be a good premise for a novel. “I’d make an interesting character”, she said.  As a busy mom she told stories, painted, drew, and played the piano. She surrounded her children with creativity, worked as a journalist, an administrator and an agent. But she never created a story that was parallel and separate from her.

We wondered together what type of personality it took to sacrifice time and energy to a novel. We know that men and women do it all the time, even women with children, (which is truly remarkable) but we wondered what it is that drives them to produce purely fictional material.

What stops so many of us from grasping the full title, or aiming for the highest achievement? Can I create more than patches on a quilt of my life stories, or ‘mere light nothings’ as my Mom calls it? I feel that being a fiction writer may require a bigger ego than I have, or possibly, more mental discipline and stamina. But as I near the age of fifty I know that I not only have a perfectly good ego, but stamina and discipline.

I am fascinated by women’s writing and why they write and how they write. I am interested in the entire debate of a ‘woman’s voice’ and whether you can say there is one.  An old text book on Feminist Literary Theory, my conversations with my lapsed writer mom, and my blog are all leading me irrevocably down a path.

In respect of my Mom, and with love to my Mom, I feel that I have to take the creative process one step further.  Women are often content to create as we go; our story telling, our art work, our sewing and knitting adorn our lives and others, but are washed away in the current of life.

Maybe that is best. I don’t know. I don’t think that ‘fine art’ is better than craft; it is just defined and valued that way. But sometimes we hold back from creating something big because of a lack of confidence, and that is not a good reason.

In our latest conversation I told Mom I would attempt to take writing to the next level.  My mom has always said you are not a writer unless you have a manuscript hiding at the bottom of your files.  I have those, a pile of them, and they are very old and dusty or in ‘word’ files that can no longer be opened by any proper computer.

I told her I would try. It is a big commitment, promising a dying woman that you will write stories for her sake, but my only saving grace is that Mom may forget what I said.

So I have a project I am handing myself,  I am going to take all my lost children, my unfinished stories, and work on them with the same upbeat, sensible wordsmith practicality I take to my journalism or public ‘journaling’ (blog).  No self-loathing or recriminations, no high expectations or fear of failure, just a person who is happy to have her mind and fingers still working together.

And I better work quickly so my Mom has enough vigor to be able to criticize what I create; I don’t mind, I can take it.

Rape, Sordid Sex and Self Actualization

Published January 23, 2012 by megdedwards

I was reading The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay, the second book I have bought on my kindle, last night before falling into delicious sleep.  My interest in the book was twigged by an interview with the author on CBC Radio.

The novel is told by a 12 year old girl in the 1800’s in New York City.  The young girl named Moth is poor, homeless and vulnerable to everybody, but she is an attractive protagonist because she is a tough little survivor. Apparently the author’s great great grandmother was a doctor in New York and this set off Mckay’s interest in the period.

Extensive research has been done by the author to give the real details of the time.  All though we see the world through the eyes of Moth, the other voice we hear from is Dr. Sadie, one of the first female physicians, who travels from bedsit to boarding house (or brothel) to back rooms of burlesques. She tries to protect Moth from contacting syphilis; a deadly disease at the time that some men believed would be cured by having sex with a virgin.

I have always enjoyed books with bleak environments and strong characters, I read Mare Claire Blais when I was 13 as if her books were a Nancy Drew series. Last night I was drawn into the story.

Usually I read until I am passing out and I can’t tell what I am reading. The Kindle has confused that process a little because as I become closer and closer to an unconscious being my mind goes into auto pilot and my fingers and hands want to turn the page. Instead I have to train my mind to push a button and if I find my mind is confused by this I know I should be sleeping.

I miss the tactile quality of a book although I did appreciate the immediate satisfaction of wanting to read a book and it turning up in my hand a few seconds later.  With an actual book though, when I pause with my reading, I contemplate the cover, or read about the author, or look at illustrations. With the little black book like thing called a kindle, you just put it down.

The narrative of Mckay’s novel is interwoven with bits of literature from the time period:  posters, newspaper articles, lists, advice.  This might be appealing in a book in the hand, but the electronic version just offers you separate texts that seem to pop up in a jarring manner.  The different type or font used for the separate texts just makes it harder to read and it doesn’t have the same effect.

But nonetheless, into the book I went. And just as I was going to sleep, after reading about a young girl being raped in the streets of New York City, my mind woke up. I thought about rape and losing your virginity and my mind went back to my first time, which if I describe it as it happens will sound as sordid and sad as a rape in the street.

Except it wasn’t rape at all, and I don’t think that my experience of losing my virginity was terribly unusual, just completely, and somewhat hilariously, unpleasant. It was the seventies in Victoria B.C.  Girls flicked back their hair like Farrah Fawcett and wore huge bell bottoms. I was living with my Dad, and sort of going a little wild. He said all I had to do was keep up my grades in school, that was our deal.

Anyway, I went off with a pack of young people into the dark night, up a highway and through the woods to a cabin the woods. Sigh. And we drank beer and vodka and then later I went upstairs, or up a ladder, to a loft with some guy.

I was extremely drunk, and I took a lot of risks that night. About the loss of virginity I only remember that I really had to pee.  I faintly remember the desperate thrusting of some fellow.  Afterwards I may have peed on some idiots’ clothes, thankfully not mine.  Even in that state of inebriation I have a faint memory of thinking, ‘Ha!’ I went along with the ritual willingly, but drunkenly.

As I lay in my bed last night the non-eventful evening came back to me, in little flashes of memory. We walked back through the woods and decided that a good short cut would be to cross the highway on an unfinished pedway with no fencing or barriers of any kind. As we filed on to the unfinished cement bridge, I thought ‘shit’; I could die if I fall off this on to the highway. So I remember taking all of my mental energy, of which there was very little, cutting out the raucous noises coming from the other teenagers, and walking firmly and steadily across the highway on the cement pathway.

I remember a nice boy, not the one I had slept with I noted, helping me get up when I had decided to take a nap in the middle of the road further along our travels.  Somehow, I got home to our idyllic cottage on the side of the sea. It had a little sign over the garden entrance that said “Dieu Donne”. I must have crashed in and gone to bed, with the blood between legs the only sign that I was no longer a virgin. My Dad must have thought, “Oh good, she is home”.

Living in beautiful BC after being brought up in Toronto was odd. All the teenagers were a few years behind in style and schooling. Because I was ahead in my schooling, and separated from my wild and beautiful sisters, I had a chance to be a wild girl myself. The teenagers in suburban Victoria did not appreciate the physical beauty of their surroundings, regularly cursing and throwing their garbage directly into the sea.

I remember feeling the dichotomy very strongly between my mostly angry foolish comrades, and the peaceful beauty of the town.  Big city girl that I was, I found the sea and the mountains majestic and fantastic, and realized that my school mates could not see it because they had become accustomed to it.

So I lay in bed with the cold wind swirling outside the window and thought about sex and self-actualization. And I thought about the many people who I know who were sexually abused when they were little, and how their experience is different from mine.  How much does it change a person to have that decision taken from them?  Being over powered, assaulted and attacked, or being tricked into giving away their inner power.

Although my experience was sordid and unremarkable, at least I was not raped.  I remembered another sleazy party where a man started shoving me towards the bedroom and onto a bed. I gave him a hard knee to the balls and got up and left the room. I don’t remember being scared, I didn’t leave the party; I was just saying ‘no’.

I have a very strong sense of self worth.  So does the little girl in The Virgin Cure.  I wonder how late I will stay up tonight reading, and then thinking, my Kindle slipping from my fingers as I fall into sleep.

%d bloggers like this: