Thursday, November 25, 2004

Late November, 2004.

I work in an office where one cannot check web-based email or blog. This isn't unusual, nor particularily unreasonable, so I escape to the cafe downstairs to use a computer and drink a coffee whenever the volume of work gets to be too much.

It is almost December. The stores nearby have an assortment of perfect gifts that are past their best-before date relating to my life. A Coca-Cola replica radio would be perfect for my Uncle 10 years ago. 5 years ago. Maybe even last year. Now he is too tired and largely too ill to appreciate it. It would take too much effort to turn the dials, to learn a new mechanism when he has a transistor radio that does the job just fine and is familiar.

For my father, an assortment of sweaters. A few books. A collection of stories on CD. Nothing that can help him now. And this is exactly what I am trying to strike from my mind this season. I am trying to figure out exactly when the last unencumbered Christmas was, and I have to go back to 2000, new millennium, consistent job and just after a raise.

2001 brought a layoff. In 2002 my grandmother died and my father started Chemotherapy, and it was horribly obvious (if ignored) that it would probably be his last Christmas. 2003 was the first without my father and it would have been unbearable if it were not for the fact that we, as a family, were still being thrown clear from the demolition of his death. We sailed through the holiday, rather than appreciating the trappings. It would hurt too much to associate, to compare.

Example

My sister's dog. No creature looks more mournful than a Pug.

Last year, my mother invited my all of in-laws to her house for Christmas dinner. I arrived, gritting my teeth and asked what I could do to help. She said "Drink champagne and smile," so I did, filled with the momentum that one collects in the wake of a tragedy. Last Christmas was not a treat, it was insult to injury given the events of the year. The wounds were still fresh- what's another scratch while you wait for the bones to knit?

This year is far enough away to be...and I hesitate because I can't find the verb. To be new, and thus sterile at least of all Christmas' past. I can dwell on the loss of my father or I can breathe deeply and recognize all that is around. It is the survivor's instinct, it is what my father would have wanted- to carry on. I have a beautiful wife and a good job and my family, thus far, is healthy or maintaining and therefore anything - everything - else is gravy.

But there is price to this, an occasional wrinkle in the sheet that covers everything so it looks like reason. Something is waiting for me. A slide of my father viewed through a small projector. A tactless comment from a stranger about cancer, meant as black comedy and followed with a profuse apology, and still, cutting, intrusive. I can laugh about it, I can grit my teeth and mutter my dark joke about A Chemotherapy Christmas ("and we all have a lump in our throat") and even notice the hypocricy of trying to laugh at the horrible and being hurt when somebody else does on my time.

Hurt, in the sense of bruised, of reminded, rather than offended. It is Christmas 2004 and I am walking through downtown Toronto trying to either find some semblence of when there was not an hole in this season, or to navigate that hole, to find a way through.

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