original writing: the hand of somebody

June 12, 2012

Been dreading this day. This anniversary of the day Shaun Best died. This terrible remembering. And I figured I’d be sad. I’d be coming apart at the seams.

And I was not alone in that fear. Not a week ago, a friend with a huge heart and a rock throughout this past year, looked at me over cake and coffee and said: “I’m worried about you. You haven’t had your … you know. You have broken down yet.”

And I said to her as I say to you, that I have. I have. In private mostly. On the walk home from the Royal Victoria emergency department last June 11, wearing a broken flipflop that it did not occur to me to take off. I broke down nine days later, upon exiting the hall where we held the Winnipeg memorial, under the gaze of my niece Sydney who exploded in worried tears that were soothed by the holy-shit-I-couldn’t-have-planned-this-better moment that followed in the church bathroom, where somehow many of Shaun and my former Winnipeg Sun coworkers converged and pulled Syd and I back together.

I have broken down in journals, a crate full of journals (from which the world is spared). I have broken down in more formal writing (from which the world will not, it appears, be spared). In the supermarket checkout line. In the west bathroom at The Gazette building at Peel and Ste. Catherine. In movie theatre, in all the movie theatres. On the phone, often late at night. On Mount Royal, always Mount Royal. This past weekend, on the beach at Ogunquit, Maine.

I have broken down at a friend’s wedding, at another friend’s 50th birthday gathering, at Christmas, at Easter, at sunset, at sunrise (okay that last one’s a lie; i’m never up early enough for sunrise). I’ve broken down at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve broken down and broken down and broken down.

But goddamn it if it Shaun Best isn’t always there to build me back up, make me laugh. Shaun Best or something.

Like the morning of June 12, 2011, after I had slept only a few minutes and dragged myself into the bathroom to shower before picking up his parents at the airport. I looked at the mirror and saw not just the ragged eyes of a shocked-out widow, but a gigantic, red mound of a mosquito bite in the centre of my forehead. Inspite of myself, I squeaked out a laugh. Who could possibly take me and my grief seriously with this bull’s eye on my forehead? I smiled as I reached for the first aid tin, and then began full out laughing. The tin was crammed with pins, the kind of special-event pins that Shaun brought home from sporting events by the handful and hid around the apartment to vex me. These were from curling, a couple of months back.

There was my recent trip to New York, part of my keep-busy-before-the-anniversary campaign of travel and visiting. New York was special because the last time we’d been there together had been to see my brother Richard perform from his brand new and excellent album. Shaun had met Richard before only at my father’s and then my mother’s funeral. I fretted for naught. New York was a great couple of days. Shaun took brilliant photos of Richard on stage. We hung out. All good. But one detail had disappeared and it was driving me crazy. While Richard rehearsed, Shaun and I had wandered around lower Manhattan, and he spotted a joint that had been named by Esquire magazine one of the best bars in the U.S. We went in, had great bowls of soup and chili and a couple of pints and it was dark-wood, grotty-floor, nice-but-not-too-nice-bartender, sports-on-the-TV heaven. There on my own a few weeks ago, I had worked myself into a lather over not being able to name and revisit the spot. But then, I decided to just let it go and just wander. It was the first time of dozens of times I’d been to New York that I was setting out without a map in my bag. Somehow, thought, I felt I couldn’t get lost. So I wandered and turned on whims and just as daylight was slanting through the westside and the neon signs were sputtering to life, there it was. Old Town Bar. I looked in the window to make sure. Exact right spot. Didn’t go in. Didn’t need to. The rest of my walkabout was filled with oh yeah we were there. And there. And there too. Walking with a ghost. A happy ghost.

There were other moments before and after and I hope there will be many more, but I’ll leave you with this one because it is especially Shaun.

Walking to the Ogunguit public beach this June 11, 2012 morning, I spied tourist crap in the shop windows on Main Street and thought, I guess I should buy some souvenirs for the nieces and nephews, as we had done together in past. But, to the beach. And so I went. And on the beach, I walked for a couple of hours, as far north as the beach would go, under light cloud that parted for moments here and there. And on the way back, I spotted three black rectangular stones. Perfect skippers if, and that’s always the worry, IF they are thin enough, or so Uncle Shaun had advised Matthew and Abby back at Matlock on Lake Winnipeg during our August visits. All three of these Atlantic blacks were wafer thin. Bending over to rinse off the sand to take them home, souvenirs, I had a thought. Famously … let’s say frugal, I think those rocks were the hand of Shaun Best. And right there, that sound you don’t hear, is the happy sound of Shaun Best’s wallet not opening. That, THAT is Shaun Best.

But is that really, REALLY Shaun Best? Because he didn’t believe in an afterlife. “Nothing. That’s it. Over,” he answered when I asked him, shortly after my mom died in 2010 and such things were on my mind.

If it is you, my love, thanks for watching over me, us, from an afterlife you don’t believe in. Also, if it’s not crass to state the obvious, I was right and you were wrong.

But if it’s not Shaun sending the signs, if the iPod is shuffling all on its own to the absolute perfect song as the different stages and months demanded – Springsteen’s You’re Not Here from The Rising last Christmas and just the other day John Mayer’s My Love For You Is Real and (this split me in two) Pete Townsend’s Let My Love Open the Door; if the cheese monger decided all on hiw own to display the gigantic wedge of Drunken Goat in the Chelsea Whole Foods in New York on the only day I’d ever stepped foot inside, completely unaware I had not seen that cheese in a year, when I bought it for what turned out to be the last plate of crackers and cheese I served you; if it’s not your hand in all this, my love, then it’s … it’s everything. Then everything is conspiring to see me, to see us through this.

And while lovely, perhaps even as lovely as the idea of you hovering angel-like over me and us, that would mean that you were right. And that would irk.

So, one for Bella.



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