Mental Health

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Bummer, Blues and Visions of a Radiated Sea

Published February 15, 2014 by megdedwards

murmurationI had some good thoughts yesterday but I have forgotten them now.  I am thinking in colours and textures.

Did I have an insight about death? No, nothing there,  just a flash of darkness that passes through me. But not an actual thought. 

We are approaching the first year since my Mom died and I have some pretty strong memories of her cold body. Physical memories that hang around inside of me like shadows.

I find I cannot articulate the sheer outrage of having a soul pass away into the air, leaving a body that gets so cold it is colder than the air. Becomes icy and waxy. I thought that having talked to her and said good bye and seen her body move from life to death would make it easier to mourn. Maybe it has. But it sure is weird. I cannot express it.

I had a dream about trying to warm a small old female cat by the fire. Her legs were so cold I could I thought it was too late. The cold was in her bones.

Mom was one to experience life very intensely. I know she was right there until the moment she opened her eyes one last time. She might have been frightened, but I think she was more curious than scared. She had a brain that was capable of scientific inquiry while her heart raged and her eyes teared.

She died and knew what it felt like to die. She always told me all her terrible nightmares and her thoughts so I am waiting to hear from her. Her death would become an anecdote at a dinner party. She might even get a wobbly chin as she told us. But she is gone, with no looking back, she is off adventuring in some other time and space.

We have boxes of photos and files of writings. We have family history and genealogy. She kept it all so fastidiously, but never did anything with it. Now my sister and I are breaking into boxes marked ‘precious’ and pulling out crumbing letters, shaking out dresses from the 1930’s reeking of mothballs.

A cat broke one of her precious bowls the other day and I was somewhat relieved. One more precious thing that is free.

I was feeling so tired and questioning of myself yesterday. Parenting, in all its glory, was wearing me out. I wanted to talk to my Mom, not for comfort but just for company. It is hard to lose someone who knew you so well that you did not even have to say anything for them to know you don’t feel well.

She would have complimented me and said that I was doing everything very well and I would have felt good that she enjoyed my call. We would have made each other happy by being nice to each other.

I started dancing to music yesterday and it was very nice at first and then it just made me want to cry. It is as if my sadness is bound up in my body and when I move it to music it releases it. It makes me realize that I am holding down the fortress on any given day and emotions are boiling away just under the surface.

I tried a dance work shop a week after my Mom died and the more I released my body to the music the more I wanted to cry. Well I did cry, and my friends were nice enough to not mention it. I just want to talk to my Mom about all that. Take some Vitamin B or D or something,  she would say.

I don’t know why I continue to blog. I don’t need to add my voice to the masses. In the past I would have written in a journal, as my Mom did. Why do I add to this public domain?  No good reason, I am just trained into it now and I feel that some people are comforted to hear a voice that they recognize.

I am overwhelmed by the madding crowd chattering away about so many things. People getting outraged. people stating their opinion, people having opinions about subjects they know so little about. People complaining about this and that. It is exhausting.

We all know the amplification of the voices is exhausting. It is very hard to tell what is important. Everyone’s cause is so important and we need to ‘share’ everything all the time. It makes nothing important, it flattens the horizon; it is white noise.

I had a horrible foreshadowing vision regarding Japan’s radiation of the ocean. I saw quite clearly that we will have to stop eating what comes from the sea, and that one day I may have to tell my daughter not to swim in the sea in case it makes her sick. I don’t want to dwell on this because it is too terrible. It is more important than ‘fracking’ and train accidents even though those are important. But we go ahead with plans to re-open our nuclear plant in New Brunswick, now that it is ‘fixed’.

What a bummer. Sorry, will try to rally and think of a brighter future.

When I first wrote this I decided not to publish it on the blog because I felt bad about being depressing. But I will publish it today because it is here and it is true, and I have written about all the other stages of grief.

But I have to say more.  Is it my change of life, or is something else happening to me? I am feeling a lot of joy. I am celebrating every moment with my loved ones and I feel joy, joy so deep and layered  like the earth’s many layers from crust to burning center. 

We are going to have a party to celebrate a year since my Mom’s home death. It will be nice to see all her friends and family because we all recognize her in each other.

She was confident, proud, beautiful, and a little unpredictable. A talk -too- much, put your foot in your mouth quality. A  snazzy style that was a bit shabby, a challenging mix of indifference and independence and a simple  joie de vivre that lit the eyes.  That was Natalie, she had an effect. It is fun to see her effect ripple through life.

Stark January

Published January 25, 2013 by megdedwards

jan 11 002Are you feeling a bit tense and irritable?  Did you just unfriend someone who annoyed you? Are you reconsidering your job, your marriage, your hair style?  Are you questioning every life choice you have ever made?

Do not act on your impulses at this time of the year. Leave your hair as it is. Changing  your circumstances is not going to change the weather.  Most likely you are just going a little ‘wintery’ . It is a saying I just made it up.

As January creeps  inexorably into February we begin to twitch and give hard stares to strangers.

Now let’s just say this, any mood swings or feelings of cramped irritation at the restraints that are part of your life , they all count as ‘first world problems’. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

It is stressful to have debt, it is stressful to be unemployed or badly employed, it is a drag that you can”t afford a holiday, or even a dinner out, but in the long run we all have good food and warm shelter and it is a fair bet that we always will have  these comforts.

But still, there is a harsh quality to a freezing January day that tests any good humor.

When I find myself standing at the window staring at the icy sea, and wondering whether I should make really chocolatey brownies, I know it is almost February.  When I find myself  thinking fondly of an evening glass of wine, in middle of the afternoon, I know the days are cold and short.

Today the sun crept up over the hoary frozen vista like a warning.  ‘Appreciate the day, Godammit’, said the Sun. I heard it distinctly. Last night the full moon lit up the frozen slippery garden and peeked in the windows, and it sang a sweet melancholy song,  ‘Sleep peacefully, all bundled up in warm blankets.  Be a happy beast, hibernate when you can’.

I know what I have to do this coming month.  The first thing is buy a big box of wine. The second is invest in good chocolate. The third is plan some dinner parties; have people over, make food, open my house.

And of course, feed the birds and critters, walk in the woods and, very important, take vitamin D and a massive stinking Vitamin B complex.

Found: Old Poetry

Published February 18, 2012 by megdedwards

Crazy Kate

My sister, sweet soul,

deer doe eyed beauty.

 

Vain selfish fancy-

Full lovely girl.

You always laugh until you cry.

 

I wish you were still,

All there.

 

Black moth on the fridge,

Fluttering and fragile,

blown in by the storm,

Stark against the antiseptic white.

 

Shivering, giggling,

Pissing on the white sheets.

Black coal dripping from your mouth.

Large eyes, all pupil, wavering

Between crying and laughing.

 

You were young and full of fantasy,

All green eyes and sparkle,

Translucent, tendrils,

Drifting and catching,

Stinging and floating.

 

Falling so lightly

Off a bridge so high.

Not grounded, even then.

Too light hearted to die.

Rising again, hardened and confused.

 

Lady, light, you are floating away

And leaving your angry bitter body with me.

Killing your sweet self.

 

Confessions of a Humble Belly Dancer

Published January 18, 2012 by megdedwards

I started belly dancing about 12 years ago. And no, I did not slowly work my way up the ranks to head belly dancer and start my own belly dancing school.

I don’t have a series of a velvet outfits and a business card with my dancer’s name on it, Megara’s School of Dance.  But a lot of my friends who started the art of belly dancing that long ago do actually have dancer’s names now.

I am not sure why I cannot bring myself to move to that apparently inevitable next step. But it says a lot about me.

Let’s go over the information you have about me  if you have been reading this blog: I was shy as a kid, I didn’t know I was in any way good looking for quite some time, maybe still don’t know that deep down. And I never, ever, wanted to be a princess. I never looked at myself in the mirror and smiled coyly, or wafted about like a princess.

Knowing these essential facts about me, you and I both would be surprised at see how good a dancer I am now in my late forties.  I have learnt how to move really gracefully, I can move like a queen and whip that scarf around like a real dancer. I can move my shoulders in a delightful wiggle and do nice little dance steps with my body pulled up in a lovely dancer’s posture.

The really great thing about belly dancing is that it is quite difficult, and your mind will have to focus on the actual mechanics, leaving no place for embarrassed inhibition. It is hard work to isolate a hip movement or move only your rib cage, and it takes a lot of practice.

I feel like I am pretty good now, and I have heard that once or twice from a generous friend of mine. But most prima donna belly dancers are stingy with the compliments. That has been a bit hard for me as I admit that I need positive feedback to continue tackling a difficult challenge. I am one of those people that sort of withers up under constant criticism. So I have had a bit of a battle keeping at belly dancing.

But I am drawn back because I love to dance, and I love the music. And my back and torso love the exercise. I am not saying that I have abs of any form.   As far as I am concerned you can only get abs by doing exercises that are not natural to women.  I tried this out last year with a  misguided  ‘8 minute abs’ video (‘you can’t hurt yourself doing these exercises’, says the man, and I answer, “ yes, you can’)  I think I gave myself a hernia in my poor stretched stomach, but I have never hurt myself belly dancing.

I still love to dance and I still love belly dancing, in my own way. But I have stopped classes. For the most part that is because in order to have belly dancing classes in Baie Verte I have to rent the hall, call all the gals, collect the cash, run the class and pay for the hall no matter how many people come.

As you can imagine this makes the whole decision as to whether I want a weekly dance class a little burdensome. I don’t get to go down to the Y and just sign up and then just do my best. I have to run the dam class and I can tell you being a dance teacher was never a private fantasy of mine.

I have tried to write positive articles on body image and belly dancing before but they turned out a bit formulaic. I even had a neat metaphor comparing the colored belts of Tae Kwon Do with the self-anointed jingly belts that belly dancers buy themselves. I liked to make the case that belly dancers have no master and promote themselves by buying increasingly jingly and colorful belts until they buy themselves entire outfits.

But something was missing in my writing about belly dancing, and that was the honesty that I take to the personal blog.  I was not being entirely truthful about how I felt about belly dancing and it just made the piece flat. That is what I love about this blog. I ain’t selling it and I don’t care if anyone is buying it, so I speak my mind.

I confess I am a belly dancer who is at the stage where she should be teaching, but does not want to teach. Like the martial artist that moves away and starts his own school, I should be renting my own space, selling my wares and sharing the art and experience of belly dancing to newcomers. I know I can teach a beginners class in belly dancing no problem, but I seem to be lacking the hunger to do so.

I stopped running my weekly class about a year ago and my body is not thanking me. It is a great work out and dancing makes me happy.  I keep thinking I will start again but I am not enthusiastic about the class. What I really wanted was a collaborative work out class in which no one is really in charge. I ran it like that for quite some time with a friend and I thought we did really well.

Neither of us had the desire to be the leader so we split up the exercises and had a free form class in which we followed some routine and just made it up as we went. Some women did not like that no one was officially in charge.  But there was a core group of about six who managed quite well – we danced, we got our heart beats up, we laughed and talked, we stretched.

As I describe the class I am tempted to start again but our hall is becoming expensive and we only have a few women right now who could come. One hard core dancer took a break from belly dancing and threw out her knee in an ill advised attempt to get abs in a Tae Kwon Do. Never aim for abs.

I had one really fabulous class which I taught myself of which I am still proud.  We did our yoga stretches to lovely music, we did more and more dance moves until our hearts were beating fast, we practiced an old dance and we practiced improvisation.

We have one song in which the gals form a circle and do dance moves on the outside ring while one or two gals go in the middle and dance a sole for a short amount of time. We take turns, and no one really watches the gal in the middle that closely because they are thinking of their moves on the outside, so it feels safe in the circle.

I had my old pal from Halifax visiting, a friend that goes back to high school, and she is a dance student from way back so she leapt into the class with  enthusiasm.  We have danced together many times, often shoving the men out of the way so we could have fun dancing.

When we went into the middle of the circle we worked together and traded moves back and forth and looked at each other as we danced. That is the way I want to belly dance, with women, and in a causal noncompetitive mode.

What I find disappointing about belly dancing is the singular quality: one girl dances on the stage and everyone cheers for the princess of the moment.  But I want it to be collaborative and communicative.  To me, this is the way belly dancing should be. It is about the joy of dancing.

I am sure that women dance for and with each other more happily than for an audience, or at least most of us do. At its best belly dancing is a conversation with the body, and the best performers connect with the audience in that way.

It is a craft, and it is entertaining. But for most of us it is an exercise class that throws women together with movement and laughter.  By the end of that class we did something that I believe in my heart is the true origins of belly dancing; we danced together, a group of gals dancing with each other.

 

Illness onto death, or let’s just not talk about it.

Published January 17, 2012 by megdedwards

Portrait of Phyllis Anderson by Meg Edwards

We happily live in a bubble of health until we are struck down.  It is very hard to live in a constant state of appreciation for your present health without getting maudlin or morbid.

It is probably best not to think about it at all. The people who live best do seem to have a way of pushing death and illness away from their thoughts.

I was sitting at the hairdressers the other day enjoying my splurge. My hairdresser has a way of not only making me look fantastic but feel great too.

And I have been watching; she does this for everyone who walks in the door. She is a miracle worker. I can truly understand why hair stylists don’t get into social media because when they are off work they must long for a less social life.

But my luxury buzz, a cup of green tea and the new Elle magazine handed to me by the delightful Susan as the die sinks into my poor head, was being brought down by the general conversation.

The women were bringing their stories to the chair, and quite a few of them were nasty stories; for example, a friend of someone who had a pain in the elbow that turned out to be cancer and was dead in a few months, another story of a child who went from having pneumonia to palliative care in a few weeks.

With two children on antibiotics at the moment I had a horrible chill when I heard that. The woman telling the story said it made her focus on the happiness of her family.  I understand this reaction but it does not resonate with me. First of all, the point of the epiphany is that shit can happen at any moment. How am I supposed to relax thinking about that!

Illness and death was chilling my innocent giggles over Tabatha Southey and Guy Saddy’s always amusing columns in Elle. People get a little heavy in the cold months.  My theory about life is that I will face each challenge life hands me as bravely as possible, but I will take no unnecessary risks. (I am a Rabbit in Chinese astrology.)

Not for me the bungee jumping that plunges me into an African river. But, if I actually must leap into a river in order to save a child, I will.

A lot of the time I think that I will be brave when the call comes for me to leave this life.  But as I sat in the chair with die sinking into my hair, I realized that I can’t really know. I am pretty sure I will freak out and mourn pretty intensely.  I have a lot of things I want to do and the way I am going, it is going to take me a few more decades to achieve all my dreams – like learn how to dance Samba, finish some dusty stories, play a ukulele in a band, return to India, and maybe even foster children.

I remember thinking about aging when I was young, and picturing a life that was not far off to what I have now.  I thought my husband might be bald, but he isn’t!

But my vision had this very rosy light hearted emotional halo around it that cannot be carried into aging.  I felt light and strong and as if anything was possible, when I was in my twenties and now I carry more weight, figuratively and actually.

I do my best to stay young. I have studied the best role models around me.  I had a good neighbor and friend, Phyllis Anderson (nee Goodwin) who was 100 years old when she finally agreed to move to a home.  Up until that time she crept about her house, put her bed in the study, got meal on wheels and managed just fine.

When I visited her in her house, delivering her mail or bringing her soup she didn’t really like, she was always up for a visit.  She would pull herself out of her armchair where she had passed out while reading the paper or knitting, and make her way to the kitchen. With her back bent over and her hands gnarled with arthritis she would fill the kettle and get ready for a good gab.

I never heard her complain. She once told me, in passing, that she had breast cancer in her sixties and lost one breast. She kept everything in perspective for me. I realized in astonishment that she had spent my entire life being an older woman and widow; the last 40 years of her life made up my entire life.

She had been a nurse in Montreal in the twenties. She had gone to all night parties; she had married late, in her forties, and her husband had not lived much longer. Much of her midlife disappeared into one short line about delivering meals, taking in borders, and being on the Church committee. I have a few of her old journals, she kept them all, and they mostly talk about the weather and what she had achieved that day.

“A fine day, got the laundry on the line. Planted some daffodils and cut lawn. Alice came over for tea”.

Her memories remain in my mind. One time she was being pulled on a sled by her brother and a dog, and the dog took off with her behind it.  When she was about 10 years old she made up her mind to have her long hair cut by the blacksmith into a bob and shocked her family. She got measles one year and lost a year at school and was very annoyed that her friends got ahead of her in their studies.

She went to Fredericton to study in Normal School and became the school teacher at the local one room school house and walked or rode a horse to that school.  Later, she went off to Montreal to study to become a nurse, being called back at one point because her Mom was dying. When her Dad’s second wife became ill later she had to give up on living in her own new house with her husband (the house I live in now) and go live with her parents to care for them.

You can see why I stopped in for coffee at the end of the day. She had a collection of anecdotes that mostly focused on her life as a child and how it always stormed on her father’s birthday in March. And a few stories from Montreal when she lived the high life. I heard the stories over and over, relishing some in particular. When she worked the night shift in Montreal at the Royal Victoria Hospital the nurses would sometimes take their break on a balcony of the hospital. They would pull out a chair and a big blanket, and then just sit and look over the city lights and hear the hum of the city.

She loved company and she seemed to love life. She loved to see my children and would pull out any old cookie she had to feed them.  A visit from a man, whether he was an antique collector, a nephew or my husband to help her with her taxes, always brought out her best and most lively personality.

I have many strong memories of her. Some of my new neighbours implied that I would not have liked her when she was younger as she had a strong Conservative and critical nature. Maybe we would not have got along, I don’t know. But when we met we were friends.  We enjoyed each other’s company.

And to be quite frank, I had more in common with Phyllis than I did with many of the other neighbours who had never left this hamlet. She was an educated and traveled gal.

From a selfish point of view, I liked her because she liked me.  She knew when I was lonely and she knew when I was sad. We would talk and have coffee in the late afternoon, and after a full day of childcare and no friends, I would leave feeling more like myself.

I did cry when she died, and only for myself.  I loved having her there. When she went to the hospital with a sore hip I went to visit her with the kids almost every day. It was a cold bleak spring and I would stop at the Tim Horton’s to get her a small hot chocolate in a ‘roll up the rim’ cup and a buttered bagel.

She lit up when she saw us, and there was nothing more hilarious than her determined strong fingers working that rim. It took about 10 minutes but she would roll the rim! I saw her pleasure in the buttered bagel and the deep chocolate taste.  I have never seen anyone enjoy an afternoon snack more.   I think  it  reminded her of her days as a nurse when she would take the trolley around in the afternoon and offer the patients  tea or hot chocolate and biscuits.

She did not mourn that those days were gone; she did not live in the past. But she did think that the casual outfits of the nurses were very odd. In her day she wore a pristine white dress with starched hat and sleeves. She had one repeated story where she found herself on the back elevator with a bundle of used diapers. An important personage had been invited to use the staff elevator in order to avoid attention and be able to visit his wife. She was mortified because she had folded back her starched sleeves before entering the elevator in order to avoid mussing them with the diapers. So she was puzzled by the present day nurses’ wrinkly pajama style uniforms and the casual look of doctors as well.

When she moved to the local old age home she still fought off the wheel chair. At 101 she had liver cancer and it was, of course, untreatable. I visited her there with my kids and often found her completely absorbed in a game of bowling or bingo. She had a competitive nature and liked to win.  She had been a strong and athletic woman.

The last time I saw her she was lying down, and basically quietly dying.  She tried to sit up and eat a bit of cake, and she dawdled her finger back and forth trying to catch the attention of my baby Maud.  She was still in the present moment. Then she fell asleep. The next time I went to see her they sent the nurse to tell me she had died. Her room was bare. They auctioned everything out of her house.

The house sat empty for a while, and god I wish I had just bought it (I did not have the money but maybe I could have raised it) because the next thing I knew Anglophones from Montreal moved in and cut all the trees down and molested my daughter. I am not kidding about that, it is all true, although presumably the molestation was more important than the tree devastation, but it is just funnier to me to say it that way.

I am laughing because I have a dark sense of humour.  Phyllis would have laughed too, because she knew that what didn’t actually kill you, was just food for conversation.

So, let’s have a tea, and talk about that, have a bit of a gossip, and let’s not talk about illness and dying.

The Life and Death of Jackie

Published October 20, 2011 by megdedwards

Jackie was my Mom’s best friend and was always in our lives, sort of swinging around the outside of family events like a satellite for as long as I can remember.

She worked as a nurse, and then got her MA and taught nursing. She was a calm, practical person, who was great in a crisis or just out for a nice lunch.

She always remembered what was happening in your life, she showed interest in  other people without looking like she was following a polite protocol, she told amusing anecdotes about her life but never complained or ever showed self pity.

She was present when the family was still together and we had happy raucous Christmas parties and long summers at the cottage.  She remains part of our childhood memories. She had no children of her own, so we were hers by proxy; she  accompanied my Mom along the path of parenthood with a sense of fun and adventure.

My Mom first met her in the sixties during a night class in art history. Mom was older and married but they became fast friends, talking a mile a minute all the time. Jackie was tall, 6.2 possibly, with long black hair and piercing blue eyes. She always dressed carefully and was incredibly poised. I secretly thought of her as 99, the sidekick to Max in Get Smart; graceful, well mannered, lady like.

She was there when the whole family moved to Clinton, N.Y., feeding Mom cigarettes on the long drive while four kids were packed in the back of the VW bug (I was stashed in the boot with blankets).

Jackie was there when my sister Kate was hit by that bullet in Clinton, and Jackie was there when my father found out about my mother’s boyfriend, and returned in a drunken heartbroken state.

Jackie had come to support my Mom. I remember watching them from the kitchen window as they sat having a drink in the backyard. Jackie was trying to maintain a calm atmosphere and Dad eventually broke that social convention, calling her names, something I have never seen him do before.

After Dad moved out, Jackie lived with us in the old family house. Jackie rented a room from Mom while she was separated from her husband.  I enjoyed the fun feeling of a friend in the house, as I see my kids do when I have an old friend visiting.  I was studying  Grade 9 history and British royalty while Jackie was studying for some nursing exams. We commiserated in the kitchen.

I loved having her there, she made me feel safe.  When I had difficulties with my Mom’s impulsive and competitive nature, Jackie stood strong. She was still Mom’s best friend and said so, but she was also my supportive friend.

Over the years she attended my children’s birthdays and went out of her way to buy me little presents and take me out for lunch. She was the absolute best person to talk to when you had a problem; her area of expertise in nursing was psychiatry.

When I was in shock and pain upon discovery of my youngest daughter’s sexual assaults, her response was to be outraged, angry, even unforgiving.  No one had given me the permission to be as angry as I was; she raged for me. I will never forget how grateful I felt, and relieved.

We had a few long talks about sexual abuse when she was in palliative care with pancreatic cancer.  I learnt that Jackie’s  Mom, who had tortured Jackie with unpredictable cruel, critical rages, had been sexually abused as a child by Jackie’s grandfather.

She quoted the Bible, which is not often done in our house, to emphasize her point; the sins of the Father shall be visited upon the son. She meant that the sins of sexual abuse continue to poison the family in unexpected ways.

She sent me a short story she had written a long time ago, called Bitter Black Tea, about an especially painful week visit with her mother in England. In my heart I connected her health break downs with her visits to England with her mother.  She did not deny the connection when I mentioned it in the hospital.

When it came to dying, Jackie was supremely organized. She talked about it openly with her loving husband Paul, who she did end up staying with, and her doctors. They were impressed with her ability to face death. She planned a living wake in one of their favorite pubs and she made Paul promise to go for counseling and not drink more than beer, and get out a bit.

The only time she ever cried with me was during one of our calls when she was in palliative care.  She said the only reason she really did not want to die was because she did not want to leave Paul. And her voice cracked.  Far away and trying not to cry myself, I told her that Paul would sense she was with him, and she would be able to comfort him that way. I hope that is true.

I never cried when I visited her in palliative care, and even when I hugged her good bye on my last morning in Toronto, she was controlling, “Go now Meg, you have to make your plane, and you have a loving husband and children waiting for you”.

She told me that she needed to be able to talk about herself and that she did not want to cater to other people’s moods on her deathbed.  But even so, our chat ranged all over, just as if she was not going to die at all. We had such a lively talk about family history and she was sitting upright in the bed, with her morphine unit attached directly to her body.

“Oh, you made me realize something, now that is really interesting”. She was thinking, her bright eyes searching ideas in her mind, her long white fingers at her mouth.

This is how I remember her, engaged in ideas, excited about our conversation, sitting up straight with her long legs stretched out, her bright eyes snapping, her long white hand at her mouth; beautiful, alive, analytical and in this world.

My Sister Kate

Published October 6, 2011 by megdedwards


My Sister Kate

A friend pointed out to me that I always preface my sister this way; My Sister Kate. I could also say, My Crazy Sister Kate, and she would probably not mind.

She called herself Crazy Kate when she was a giggling preteen. Laughing so hard that she would bring tears to her eyes, finding the social world of middle school a hard place, making macaroni and cheese and brownies for dessert for my little brother and me.

Practicing piano with real talent, wearing her hair in a headband when she did math homework because she felt it made her concentrate more, making card board houses for the troll dolls with me. She was beautiful and dreamy, not brash and confident; a delicate gentle girl who loved her indulgences and laughter.

She sometimes signed her name Crazy Kate, long before she had actually been diagnosed and institutionalized at around 18 years old.

I don’t believe she would have inevitably gone crazy, we just don’t know that. After years of contemplating the subject I can say she had some factors that statistically began to add up in favor of a life outside of the norm, in and out of institutions, in half way houses, on the street, and always medicated one way or another.

She was born in February and my Mom already had two small children. It could be that a lack of Vitamin B and D in my Mom’s body did not help.

When we were living in the States and she was about 6 or 7 she was shot in the top of the head by a bullet from a 22 gun shot that made its way through the woods before finding her scalp. This trauma could have set up some imbalance within. My Mom remembers that she would cry every morning when she woke up at about this time.

She was and is a very magical person with a vivid imagination and a lack of mental discipline. This does not mean that she was inevitable going to become a street person with massive drug addictions, but I do believe that her addictive personality is more trouble to her than the voices that used to crowd her brain.

She took a lot of chemical drugs in the year preceding her first institutionalization giving her the label at one point in her career of a ‘drug induced schizophrenic’.

Add to this whole mix the fact that our parents were separating the year she went off the deep end and you can see why I wonder whether her descent into madness was inevitable.

She could have lived a fairly sound life with a home, a job, a husband and children. I can picture her calling me to complain about her husband or job at some inconvenient time of the day. I can also picture us laughing to the point of tears over some silly thing.

But now that she has lived this way so long, my siblings and I have begun to love and respect her as she is right now. She will never be the sister that we may have imagined. But she is living her life.

I joked with my aging Mom that she is really less trouble than some kids. She is completely independent, asks for nothing and has a whole system of hospitals, refuges, and social workers at her fingertips. Other children might call every day complaining about their foot pain, but Kate, with her broken feet from her unsuccessful suicidal leap from the Granville Bridge when she was about 21 years old, never complains.

She wears extra socks, and says that she likes the croc sandals with padding. The last time I saw her I promised that if I saw any I would buy her a few pairs. There is no point giving her any gift that cannot be carried in her purse on her body.

I was happy that she had been institutionalized for 10 days last time I was visiting Toronto, it gave me chance to see her. On my second visit out to see her at Saint Joseph’s hospital, a grand old hospital overlooking Lake Ontario in the far west of the city, I brought her presents that she had requested.

On my list were red lipstick, eyeliner, black leggings, fingernail polish, new underwear, baby powder, and cheap perfume. She was very pleased with the gifts and put them on right away. With the door to her room open a crack allowing the pacing young medicated male patients a view, and a roommate buried in blankets in the corner, she stripped down and pulled on the new underwear, giving herself a liberal bath of baby powder. Then she sprayed a copious amount of perfume on herself leaving me choking.

Of course I also brought some food from a restaurant which she ate with her hands, telling me, when I could not locate a fork, not to worry at all about it.

She is very thin, and she picks her outfits with great care. Her huge green eyes are often  surrounded by theatrical eye makeup. When she talks to me it is a rambling fast talking monologue that moves from one subject to another in a poetic manner, with words suddenly becoming portals to a separate part of her brain.

Sometime she is sensible, ”Meg, you’ve got to take care of Mom”, sometimes she is cruel, “That guy is bad, he is evil, he is a lapsed social worker”, and sometimes she is bizarre, “ You know that Dad’s Egyptian blood made him eat out his own brains, but then he married Marilyn Monroe”.

While sitting listening to her, murmuring assent, and sometimes adding my two cents, “You know, Uncle Jim is not dead actually”, “Are you angry because …”, “Well, I don’t know what you are talking about…”, “No, I am not setting you up at a new bank”, I try to imagine writing the monologue down. It is so free floating and associative that I would need to be drug induced in order to replicate it.

I was so happy to see her, and because she was medicated and fairly calm, the meeting was very pleasant. I hugged her many times, which is something she would not always be capable of handling.

I told her how much I loved her; I brought my 18 year old daughter to meet her, and I brought her the essentials of life for a woman with no home; cheap perfume, lipstick, eyeliner, leggings and nice new underwear.

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