The Brightness of Remembered Love

The story opens with a little girl about 9 years old running out of her house to play hide and seek. The little girl was me, of course. Of all the memories I have in my collection, I keep the cherished ones in a jewel encrusted, hand carved wooden box that sits just up and to the left of my heart. My children’s birth, my marriage, my Father’s death. All of these are contained within that small box. I only open it on special occasions to shake off layers of dust and admire again, the brightness of remembered love.

This is one of those memories.

Playing hide and seek may sound a little mundane but it wasn’t. All together, there were about 50 kids who ran around the subsidized housing complex that summer. And we all played the game. During the day we kept to our own small group of friends. But when night fell, we returned to our roots, crawling out of the primordial soup on wobbly legs, learning to walk, splitting into species, gaining the power of thought, dancing raucously around a fire, eating roast beast, painting our bodies, and running around naked under the stars. Well, maybe not that so much, but we did play hide and seek.

It was curious that we all played together at night when we didn’t during the day. After nightfall, any child was welcome to the game. The big kids, big enough to smoke cigarettes and steal from their parent’s liquor cabinet. And young kids, young enough to need someone to hold their hands when they crossed the street. A truce fell over the legions of the young on those nights. Youthful energy came together in a frenzy when darkness wrapped its wings over the sky.

And I was a master of the game. Somehow, I knew instinctively that if I turned my eyes away from my captor, they wouldn’t see me. I knew that looking at them would draw their eyes to me so I kept my eyes trained at the ground and froze my body like I was fixed in death. Stillness came to me out of some glimmer of innate knowledge that I didn’t understand. Most nights, I was the last one hiding. The big kids didn’t know my name but they called me “that girl.” As in “Did you see where that girl went?” And I might be only a few feet away from them but they couldn’t find me. I was a ninja in a child’s game, a game that did nothing to further the cause of humanity but brought us all together under the stars.

One memorable night, a night that I keep in that little wooden box next to my heart, I saw those glorious northern lights. I was crouched beside a wooden fence, the one that separated Mrs. Lee’s house from the strip mall parking lot. And I happened to look up and notice the lights. Anyone who has ever seen them will never will never forget their splendor. Looking up, sky black as coal, colors streaming across the heavens like the fine silk hair of a Goddess draped over the cosmos and crackling like twigs on a fire.

I sat by the fence and noticed that the shouting of the game had stopped.

Around the side of the house, I saw everyone abandoning their hiding places. We stood in the street with our heads held back, looking up at the sky. We watched the lights streak across the stars. The hide and seek game was finished for the night and we all knew it, and none of us cared.

“Mum. Mum. Come see the lights.” I shouted to her when the northern lights were so brilliant that even the most boorish of the bullies had to stop and admire them.

“I’ve seen northern lights before.” Her voice tired, annoyed. But we’re from the Yukon so I imagine that was true. I had probably seen them as well though I didn’t remember.

“No Mum, come see.” I insisted.

She came to the door, warm light glowing from the inside like a lantern. She walked outside without looking down, her eyes trained on the sky like mine. She let go of the door absently and it squealed shut. And I saw the look of astonishment on her face and I smiled. She wasn’t a cheerful woman when we were young, often tired, often angry, often bitter. But on that night she shared something with me that was only communicated with a look. We smiled at each other and I felt like I gave her the most precious of gifts. Like I had magicked up the lights just for her, just to give her a break in her narrow life.

I remember thinking it was odd on those summer nights that my mother let us play so late into the night. And I’m surprised to realize, with adult clarity, that it was a moment of kindness. I can imagine the ghost of my mother wandering to the door to call us in on a warm July night. But when she saw us playing with all the kids in the neighborhood, she let us continue. Sometimes the games went on until past midnight. And she was happy to let us play. I wasn’t grateful then, but I look back now and see that I should have been.

I took this memory of my youth and many others and slipped them into that box near my heart as if I knew, even as a child, that I would need them. I collected them as people collect salt and pepper shakers or commemorative spoons. I carry my collection inside of me because one day I will no longer be here. And I don’t want to feel like my journey will disappear into the air like smoke although that’s exactly what will happen.

That night with the lights, I belonged to everyone else as much as they belonged to me. All of us, tiny dots on the surface of a rock flying through the chasm of space, an almost invisible streak over the black that means nothing to any force in the universe save us. At that moment, we were one. We were happy to be insignificant, to be the small ants on an anthill together. All the tiny ways we try to best one another, try to exert our independence, argue, bicker, fighting our way to the top to some unknown end. This all disappeared under the lights. We weren’t adversaries anymore. We were all just creatures standing together and it lasted as long as the lights glowed. And it lasted the span of my life. The next day the bullies would be bullies again, the fraidy-cats would be fraidy-cats. We would all resume our place on the totem pole of child seniority. My mother would once again be a tired, angry woman with four ungrateful children. But on that summer night, we each wore one another’s skin and felt the warm trickle of companionship that takes away our differences.

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Standing in front of the Sun

My earliest memory is of my father. But I’m not sure the event is genuine or if it was manufactured in the lonely mind of a girl who wishes she could remember him.

The memory is both simple and complex. I remember being a fat baby and sitting on the floor of our subsidized home in Dickensfield. The close quartered row housing with the thin walls. The home of our poverty, the home of our grief, of loss, of loneliness, the home in which we became wards of the state, dependent on hand outs, sitting at the bottom, filtered to the lowest level, waiting for life to begin or end. This is a simple beginning but it becomes more complex when I realize that it might not have occurred that way. I don’t doubt that it happened but I recognize now that I wasn’t a baby in that house. I was three years old when we lived there. So maybe the memory I have is manufactured from the limited knowledge of my own life and the desire to have a memory of him. The thought of not having that memory is akin to being a bad daughter.

I am sitting on the floor of this home and I look up to see a person walk to the door. This person has no face. He is standing with his back to the sun, a sun that shines so brightly that it washes out all his features and blurs his outline. This, I’m sure, is an erasure of time but not of intention. I’ve lived this moment over so many times that the reliving has knocked off the edges of all the images and deleted essential elements. Because how would I know it was my father standing there unless I recognized his face at one time, even if I don’t see it now?

I have the distinct feeling of joy as I look up and see that it’s him. I reach my arms up. He opens the screen door and embraces me. And that’s my only recollection of him. That one small moment when I felt perfectly safe and wanted to be no where else. Part of me says this didn’t happen because he was never at that house. My mother left him and took us to our new life in Edmonton, leaving him alone in Whitehorse. And we never saw him again. And he never walked through the door of that house. Another part of me says that the details are unimportant, that I filled them in with things that I knew. Like taking a piece of a puzzle and putting it in the earliest house of my memory where it almost fits but not quite. I need to believe in its truth because, other than half a dozen photos, I have nothing left of him, only my reflection in the mirror, the olive skin on my face and the shape of my eyebrows.

I don’t even remember being told that he died. I just remember always knowing. One time, my older brother asked my mother “Dad’s dead right?” and my mother answers yes. “He was hit by a car right?” and she nods. “Didn’t he see the car coming?” and she says “I guess not.” I perked up when I heard this confirmation of something we already knew. We just accepted it as part of our lives. She must have told us what happened but this piece of the puzzle has been lost to time.

Funny, he died two weeks before my little sister was born and I remember that event. I remember being brought to our Godparents house because Mum was having the baby. My creepy Godfather always called me his girlfriend when I was only three years old. I squirmed to get away from him while he held me firmly on his lap and everyone seemed to think it was a great joke that I was his prisoner. But I don’t remember my father dying even though I remember all of this.

As an adult I think how difficult it must have been for my mother, who just lost her husband, to explain death to us, even if her marriage was colored with discord and I feel certain it was. How hard it must have been to speak to her fatherless children who had to learn of death in the most unerring way possible.

Years later, I contacted my father’s brother, my Uncle David, and I learned the truth. He told me how sad my father been, how lost he’d been without us, how much he wanted us back, all the things I wanted to be true. And they were true. He confirmed the suicide I had suspected. In Prince George, there was an old highway where people used to go to kill themselves. The road came around a sharp bend and pointed downhill. So on a dark night, a tired driver might hit a person who threw themselves in front of the vehicle. And if the vehicle were large enough, the human remains would not be salvageable. There were many deaths along this stretch of road. It was called “Suicide Corner.” And that’s where he went when he was too sad to deal with losing us, when he knew he didn’t want to live without us. Was it a truck? A car? A semi? I would have chosen a semi. Did he live long enough to regret his decision or was he killed instantly? I want to know the answers to these questions even if it gives me pain. Because there is also pain in not knowing.

My mother might know the answers to some of these questions but I can’t bring myself to torture a 77 year old woman with that recall. And I have come to understand that there are more questions than answers in this life. What I need to do, is take this memory and bed it down, and cover it over with soil so I can make room for some new experiences that don’t include the sad end of his life. It’s become too convenient to hide behind it, blindly clinging to the darkness of his image. I need to do what he could not do. I need to find the courage to stop living in the shadows and put my face in the sun.

Is There Bacon in Heaven?

“Art is a line around your thoughts.” Gustav Klimt

I love diners almost as much as I love churches. They smell of lard and pancake syrup. And there’s the constant sound of sizzling, the lick of bacon grease hitting the heat, the cook shouting from the back “order up.” And let’s not forget the fact that they serve breakfast all day. I could eat breakfast foods any time. I’m not sure why other foods exist. Sausage, bacon, pancakes, Belgium waffles, syrup, butter, eggs over easy, eggs sunny side up, eggs scrambled. All of them hot with salt and pepper. Fried potatoes with ketchup. Buttered toast with peanut butter or jam or sometimes both.

I haven’t eaten in a while.

Anyway, this drawing was sketched at a diner in Cardston, Alberta. I ate there with my little sister once, and the waitress stayed with us talking as if she were really interested in our lives. We left her a good tip. She was just a local girl with a quick smile and a friendly nature. She probably grew up on a farm, one of a million small town girls who make the world a nicer place to live in but have no idea that they do.

I’ve eaten at a lot of breakfast places. Years ago, my husband and I made it our mission to find the best breakfast diners. When we started the search, the breakfasts were $2.99 or $3.99. You can’t find deals like that anymore. My older son was just a baby when we started the search and we sat him in a high chair and handed him pieces of potato and bacon as he drooled. We could never decide which restaurant was the best. We preferred the privately owned diners with torn upholstery and chipped table linoleum. Maybe some photo displays of staff and their families. Maybe cow shaped creamers. It didn’t matter where we went, they were all good.

I haven’t eaten at many of those places since I lost him. And on those few occasions, I would sit alone at a table and watch as his ghost came to visit. He’d smile a ghostly smile and laugh his big laugh which I couldn’t quite hear. I always loved the sound of his laugh. So I pretended he was really with me. I wanted to people watch with him or make up conversations for the other customers like we used to, but of course, I couldn’t. Now, I just sit quietly in my chair and look at the place where his face used to be and I can almost hear his soft voice. And I can almost smell his aftershave and run my finger along his jawline. He’s quiet in death, the way he never was in life. And I pretend to take his last piece of toast or bacon when he’s not looking just to see the look of shock on his face.

Even after he got sick he still went with me to a few diners although he lost all interest in food. He went with me because he loved me. But he could only sit with strangers for so long and the greasy food made him sick so he just picked at it. His vision was almost gone so we couldn’t watch the other customers. And for some reason, when I made jokes, he just didn’t seem to understand my humor anymore. But he pretended he did because he loved me.

I tried to keep going with the breakfast search but it was too sad for me. Every time, I went I would see my young, healthy husband arrive and watch him deteriorate to the blind old man with bad kidneys and a bad heart. I would spend the rest of the day fighting back tears and swimming through a quagmire of regrets. So I had to stop. I still eat breakfast foods though, who wouldn’t? But I can’t go to the diner’s anymore. I look at them longingly whenever I pass. And I wonder if there’s bacon in heaven.

This image can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com. Remember to visit me on youtube and subscribe.

Looking for Strength

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” George Bernard Shaw

I drew this church years ago, sitting on the edge of the North Saskatchewan River overlooking the water and the valley. It’s dwarfed now by the city that has grown up around it. Many of the buildings tower over the small structure. But I imagine when people first saw it, they looked to it as one of the largest buildings in the area. I’m sure they were as enchanted as I was the first time I saw it. It’s a marvel really. Every line and angle perfect. Eight sided domes. How does a person even make eight sided domes?

I imagine what it was like when it was built alone on the grass a hundred years ago. I imagine the pride they had fitting the fragments together, each like a puzzle piece nestled next to the other perfectly, colored windows arriving from the east by train. Shy women gathering, bellies big with children, small hands clutching their skirts, colored cotton washed and ironed for the day. They gathered together to be with other women like them and feel less alone.

The prairie was a lovely place. And it still is. But it was dreary in the early days of our country, especially for the women who stayed at home with no distraction. Imagine the darkness of the dugout home made with patches of prairie sod, no windows, staying inside for months at a time under two feet of snow with only the wind to whisper its insanity to your ears.

Then the church was built and brought with it a weekly reprieve. They woke up early on Sunday, pulling on their clothes and running a brush through their hair. They climbed out of the small hollow of their home and set out on the cold, bright prairie towards the congregation. Hearing the church bells must have been like hearing the voices of angels.

Every building whispers the hints of its past, people who have touched its walls, men and women who have felt both pain and pleasure, their short lives peppered with dead babies, hunger, diphtheria, measles, cooking for 20, pregnancies after 40. All of these women came together to be with others, looking for the strength to work hard for something better.

A hundred years before that, women might have met on the same land. Brown women wearing leather, cooking deer meat, tanning hides. They stood on the same spot breathing the fresh air, listening to the rustling leaves and singing birds and moving water. People who never recovered from their swift and brutal disenfranchisement.

I like to think that the people who built this church could hear the whispers of others who are long gone, their voices saying “this is a good place,” “this is where people belong.” And they breathed the air warm from the ground smelling of leaves and mud and sage and love and bitterness all mixed up into the fragrance that fills our lungs. They gathered every Sunday at this church to feel a part of something larger than themselves. All the people, in all times past, most recently, brightly colored immigrants with broken English, and earlier, darker women, quiet as whispers, standing still as death. Each of them held their children as women have done from every time until now. They found strength in one another, sustenance in community. This church is on the bluff above the water calling people to it, sitting on earth as stable as any stone.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

The Field Where I Died

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” Leonardo da Vinci

OK, so I didn’t really die in this field. I took the title from an old X-Files episode where Mulder meets a woman he knew in a former life. She remembers how he died and where and it’s a pretty good episode. It’s also a fascinating subject matter. Like most people, I find myself wondering what happens beyond this life. Reincarnation is a little like being immortal, to become someone else and become someone else over and over until the end of time. To be united once again to our senses. To make love again, to breath air, to feel water running over skin, hear whispered moans, see colors. To live again this painful, joyful, journey of physical existence. Maybe we all have this choice after death. It’s an interesting thought.

So I didn’t die in this field but I had planned on killing myself there. At first, the place I died didn’t seem important, just somewhere my boys wouldn’t find my body. Initially, this field was convenient. Later, I found that it became a friend, a warm companion who would embrace me for one last time on earth. I grew fond of this field with its barn and outbuildings all leaning crookedly against one another, the plowed field, the clouds sitting low in the sky. I came to love this field but, as I say, I didn’t die there.

In my 35th year, I entered the dark shadow of my soul, taking on the failings of others as a cloak that blocked out the sun. Asking myself why I wasn’t enough. Asking why he strayed, why he left, why he came back and finding no answers. I looked up at the world from the bottom of a deep pit, my hands reaching towards the light. I wanted someone’s strong arms to lift me out. But no one came.

I heard of people who attempted suicide but didn’t quite make it. The woman who jumped off a bridge and woke up in ICU with a tube down her throat, ribs wired together, fractures to her face, arms, legs, back. She never walked again. There was also a man who overdosed on medication. He passed out, vomited, and was rescued only to discover he had destroyed his liver and needed a transplant. So I knew if I attempted suicide, I didn’t want to come back. It had to be absolute. There was no plan B.

But as it happens, I didn’t need to depart this world. I found my way out of the pit on my own. I don’t remember specifically what changed my mind, what turn of events made me look in a different direction. But I found after time that happiness occupied more moments than misery. I’d like to say that some specific incident occurred so I could offer help to other people in the same position. But I have no wisdom to convey. I only remember feeling better after a while and thinking how lucky I was to have this life, as flawed and glorious as it can be. I remember sitting near that field and being grateful that I didn’t take my last breath there. I looked to it as a gravestone, marking the time when I could have let my sadness destroy me but I didn’t.

And one of the things that helped feed me during the dark days of my soul was my art. I saw things when I drew them that I didn’t see otherwise. Drawing them helped me see. And in that seeing, I found a fundamental truth of our existence. We are all one. We are all the same. We all suffer the same emotions. And it’s in our shared emotions that we belong to one another. I could see the sadness of other people and I realized I was not the only one who had such thoughts. I was not the only one who was stuck, backed into a corner, attacking anyone who came near like a kicked dog. I found, by looking at others, that we are more similar than different and it’s in our similarities that we can find peace.

This drawing can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

Running Away From Sadness

“The Artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.” Leodardo Da Vinci

I spent much of my youth wanting a different family. Maybe everyone does, I don’t really know. But I wanted something different. All around me I could see happy families, families with both a mother and a father and smiling children. They’d play games together, and sing songs and help each other with homework. They always had clean clothes and clean homes and every toy they could imagine lined up neatly on their shelves. Not like our house with the mountain of smelly laundry on the concrete basement floor of our subsidized home, our welfare palace, our monument to poverty. Dirty faces, once weekly baths, home grown haircuts and hand me down clothes that had to last through four children. And a mother who was too tired from facing the world to see that our unhappiness was the same as hers.

So I created a dream family. We lived on a farm. And that’s where I wanted to be. A green place where I could listen to the quiet, rather than hearing the bedlam of the inner city. I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, to live in the country with animals and great, broad expanses of prairie around me. I should have been born years ago on the rim of the great frontier, a pioneer full of strength and heartiness. Just like Laura Ingalls.

My greatest wish was to own all of her books. My mother couldn’t buy them for me but at the end of every school year there was a book fair. And if I got good grades, she let me buy one book. So I made it my focus in life to get them all. And through hard work, I got my yearly reward. I had already read them. I spent most of my time in the library. But I wanted a set of books for myself so I could read them whenever I wanted and not have to return them.

I remember playing at a friend’s house and up on a shelf by the door, I noticed a full set of the Laura Ingalls books. They were still in the original plastic. I pointed at them. “Wow, nice.” I said “Oh yeah.” She shrugged. “I got them last Christmas but I don’t really like reading.” And I placed a hand over my heart. How could you get such a wonderful gift and not read it? How could you not love Laura Ingalls? I did eventually achieve my goal. Seven long years and I finally had all the books. By the time I bought the last book in the series, the first book was tattered from so many readings.

Dissatisfaction with life is a difficult habit to break. It followed me into adulthood. So when I got married, I wanted to make things right. I clutched the opportunity to start a new life with my husband. We were going to be the perfect family I had always wanted. I tumbled into the promise of a wonderful future with arms open wide. My children would have all the books and toys they could dream of. We’d eat dinner every night around the table and the house would be clean and there would be enough for everyone so we wouldn’t have to fight over scraps. And when we moved to John D’or Prairie that was when my wonderful new life would begin. I couldn’t believe my luck that we were moving to the country. My life was going to be perfect. At least that’s what I thought in my sweet, optimistic, naive heart.

We moved with our baby son to a place that seemed like the end of the earth. No paved roads, miles from any town, living with strangers in a place flavored with generations of bitterness. And watching eyes wherever we went. No, people, but the feeling of eyes followed us everywhere.

My only solace during that time on the reserve was my art. Artwork puts me into a place of serenity. And that’s where my drawings live. And that’s where I go when I see them. When I make my art, I can feel the bottom. I can touch the source of all that we are, all that makes us the same, all that connects us with each other. I see art and I see infinity. On the reserve, my drawing took my mind away from my loneliness, and made me feel the warm wetness of life all around me.

I had to sketch this John D’or Prairie home. As soon as I saw it, I had to. The satellite dish sat right next to the outhouse. And much like all the other homes on the reserve, it was an interesting mix of modern and ancient.

We didn’t spend much time at John D’or Prairie. Four months or so. Long enough to understand that moving to new surroundings doesn’t change much of anything but our surroundings. If you’re running away from sadness, you don’t leave that sadness behind, you take it with you, the heaviest of baggage.

I’ve come home now, after many years away. Enough time has passed to put lines on my face and streaks in my hair. I’ve returned to the place I wanted to escape as a child, waiting in the starting blocks for the gun to go off so I could run away from it as fast as I could. I returned to this place and the place is the same but I am not. And the thing I discovered is that we are what we love, not what we fear. But here is the unique miracle of our existence. Of all the creatures that have ever risen and fallen on this tiny round stone travelling through nothing-we are able to choose. Imagine an alligator deciding one day to be a vegetarian. It can’t happen. Alligators don’t have the capacity to choose. But we do. We can choose. We can wake up every day and choose. So what do we choose? Some choose anger, some bitterness, some loneliness. But some, far too few, choose peace and happiness and love. And every day we all have the same day, the same now, the same choice. No matter what our outer circumstances, we can choose how we regulate the inner world where we live. And today I choose here. And I choose now. And I choose love.

This drawing and many more can be downloaded at dalegreenearts@bigcartel.com

Breathing the Night Air

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” Maya Angelou

I remember the day I drew this picture because I fought with my husband. And in our 23 year marriage, it was the only time he hit me. I don’t even remember what we were bickering over. Just the same stupid shit that all couples argue about. He wasn’t paying enough attention to me, or our son. Maybe that was it.

I was pregnant at the time. About seven months. Large enough to be slow an emotional and uncomfortable almost all the time.

I didn’t think he would hit me, so when his hand slapped me across the right side of my face and cut my lip on my teeth, we were both shocked. He stood there looking at me and the thin trail of blood running from my mouth. And I crumpled into a heap on the floor. I sat there for some time, long enough to hear his footsteps leaving the house and hearing the door shut behind him.

I sat on the floor weeping and felt a tiny hand push my hair behind my ear. Our little son, three years old reached up his sweet baby face and kissed me on the exact place where his father had struck me. It was the sweetest kiss I’ve ever had, maybe the sweetest kiss I ever will have. And I felt so badly for him that he should have parents who could be so hateful.

I put him in the car and we drove to the coast, only ten minutes away. We walked along the docks that night. I smelled the green wind and looked up at the darkness and felt soothed by the same stars that were gazed upon by every human from the beginning of time. And my problems seemed less significant. I loved looking at the boats at night. They bobbed up and down in the waves like corks. The wind blew in from the water smelling like death and life at the same time. I could forget how homesick I was living in a foreign country with not one friend.

I drew this picture while sitting cross legged on the dock, my large belly spilling over into my lap, my little son leaning on my leg and watching my hands. I wondered at the time what he would be like as an adult. And now I know that he wears the evidence of his parents discord on the surface of his skin, and he explodes with anger unless medicated. And I see a younger me pursuing an idea I had, an idea of love, when I should have left it alone. And things have changed between my son and I. He no longer puts his head in my lap and smiles up at me. And I wonder how much less pain there would be in the world if there was no love.

This image is available for download at dalegreenearts@bigcartel.com