Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Black Ice

I'm writing this from my parents' kitchen table. It's 11:34p.m. and I'm staying over as I live a long drive away.

And other winters, other snowy nights, I'd have risked the drive back home myself. HAVE risked it. Many winters. Many other snowy nights. But I never had a baby in a carseat those winters. So I err on the side of caution tonight.

Sonshine and I were in town this evening when the snow starts falling pretty steadily and black ice forms. I had some errands to run and put him in his stroller, bundled under blankets while he and I skate around the sidewalks by foot and wheels in Uptown. These are the kind of snowy nights I adore (when one is not driving in them). It is the type of night where people who are going a little too fast in their cars when they thought they were going slow enough still skid into the intersection. So, not a good night for driving, but an absolutely stunning night to be walking/skating around amazed at the beauty of the season. (I'll add some photos when I get home tomorrow.)

This year they built a new gathering centre in the square for people to congregate and, new this winter, skate in a public, outdoor skating rink! Next to the rink stands a regal evergreen all alight and the outline of a flashing train glows alongside the train tracks which wind right through the middle of town. Trains still chug through there. I love when that happens! It's not often, but all the traffic has to stop while the train slowly crosses town through the main thoroughfare. Even as I write this, just now I hear the whistle of a train in the distance. It's an absolute crime to me that someone had the bright idea to decrease train travel in this country. To rip up railway ties and dismantle miles of tracks, remove routes and convert train stations into little stores and such. Europe got it right. Even when I've visited Chicago on and off the last twenty years since moving from just outside The Windy City in the early 80s back up to Canada, little towns are connected by rail to the famous Loop. Trains are my favourite method of travel and it's so magical hearing that train in the distance tonight. Something I don't get to hear at all where I live now. It's in my blood though. My love of it. My grandfather drove trains all around Ireland.

As I write this, both my parents are asleep. And my boy is asleep in the playpen in their living room. The couch has been made up for me. I insisted. There's a guestroom downstairs with a proper bed and everything, but I prefer to sleep by the Christmas tree, all lit up.

And tonight, my thoughts turn to Tracey. She had just turned 20, the night she and her boyfriend attended her parents' 25th wedding anniversary. She was the first official friend I made my first year of university. I was sat alone in my dorm room when there came a knock on the door. I opened it to a fresh-faced, smiling girl who said, "want to come to my room for popcorn and smarties?" To this day, I mix smarties in with my popcorn. Try it. It's outstanding. The heat of the popcorn melts the chocolate a little and it's all sweet and salty. Just perfect. Like her.

During our second year, I didn't see that much of Tracey. She was in Math and I was in English. And her dorm room had been assigned further away from mine. But I bumped into her sometime in March of our second year at the student centre and we bought ice cream cones together. She was down when I spoke with her. She was in the co-op program and she'd been placed for a summer job. But the job itself dissolved. The computer still had her recorded as having been placed though, so she hadn't been considered for another job and wasn't sure she'd find one or be placed in time for the next term. She was worried about it. She also confessed that she hated Math. That she was doing it because it was the program her parents wanted her to take. I could somewhat relate. Even though I liked English, I had wanted to study Theatre, but my parents did not want me to pursue that degree. They felt it would be a waste of time and not a dependable degree to acquire. It would be later that I realized the irony of the ice cream flavour she'd chosen: Heavenly Hash. It is the last time I see her alive. It's the Tuesday or Wednesday when we bump into each other and share the ice cream. By Saturday, she will be killed returning from her parents' anniversary party in Newmarket. Her boyfriend is driving. They will hit a patch of black ice, enter the oncoming lane and collide with another car head-on. When he turns to speak to her post impact, she will already be dead. Twenty years of age.

When I was in second year, I still hadn't stopped going to church yet. I was trying to give the Catholic faith a final chance even though I knew pretty much by then in my heart it was no longer for me. That Sunday, I recall waking up and not going to church in the morning. There is a 5:00 p.m. service I can catch later that day. And that's what I did. The strange thing was that I visit my parents. And they weren't home so I do their dishes while waiting for them to return from church that morning. And with my hands in soapy water, I am suddenly overcome with tears and have to sit down and let myself have a good cry. And just as suddenly, the feeling leaves me. I remember feeling odd and shocked at what had overcome me, unlike any prior crying session I'd ever had where I knew the reason. I finish drying the dishes. It's that evening when I attend the service at the campus chapel with a friend, a Chinese student named Mary, that I hear Tracey's name announced. During the service it's announced that she's been killed tragically the night before. I'm sure I've heard the name wrong. Your mind plays whatever tricks it wants to sometimes while you are grappling with the truth of what you hear or see. I approach the priest at the end of the service and ask about the girl who died. And he says, "I know she was from Niagara." And I knew it was Tracey. MY Tracey.

That Sunday, the temperature is unseasonably warm for March. All the black ice from the night before has melted. Disappeared. Just as she has. I had a real problem with God for a while after that. And I left university for a few years. Tracey had been unhappy. She'd spent the last two years of her very young life doing something she didn't have her heart set on and I didn't want to waste another moment of my life doing something I wasn't sure my heart was crazy about either. Years later I would complete what was required for a Joint Honours English AND Theatre B.A. and graduate to pursue acting because of Tracey.

Needless to say, I miss her. It's 22 years since she's been gone. And every time there is black ice, I think on her. And if I could right now, I'd make a big batch of popcorn like I sometimes do. And I'd sprinkle it with smarties. It's the way I celebrate her and her memory. It's the way I let HER know that I miss her and am thinking of her.

I only had that feeling again one other time since years later. The feeling of being overcome and racked with sobbing without knowing why and then it suddenly passing from my body. The second time was also connected to a death I would learn of within 24 hours of experiencing it. It is the kind of thing I dread to feel again. Seems to be some kind of physiological/emotional/spiritual beacon inside me, warning me of the approach of bad news. Of sad news. I hope not to be gripped by it again.

Tracey's loss was the first I'd experienced of someone my own age dying. It taught me valuable lessons I have carried in my life, thankful to have lived the life I have when others have had theirs cut short far too young. Lessons like not to risk bad weather like tonight. Lessons like definitely taking the sort of risks such as leaving university for a time and pursuing one's dreams.

I look at my sleeping son and know full well in the depths of my heart that whatever he wishes to pursue in his life will never be my agenda, but his own. I want him to live each moment happy and with his own purpose, driven by his own dreams. He's dreaming now, his little mouth moving in his sleep. A smile. Maybe he's talking to Tracey and she's talking with him. I've been writing/editing for over an hour now. There goes the train whistle again. My cue to head to bed.

Beside the tree. All lit up.
It's a comfort right now to see it. Aglow like that.
Like her smile the first time I ever saw her.

Keep safe out there, everyone.
Keep warm and keep safe.

Music: Barricades of Heaven, Jackson Browne


Brian Miller said...

a sirring tribute to a friend...growing up death seems so far away, and then something happens to someone our age and it becomes a reality. keep putting smarties on the popcorn, i am sure it still makes her smile.

i love trains as well. we used to have one run by the bottom of the hil by our house, whistles moaning into the night...we have only ever taken one trip by train, but romanticize about long train trips...


the b in subtle said...

Brian. I've been writing this blog for two years now and I haven't even written that much (28 posts in total since two years ago). In the beginning and for the most part, I'd only write when I was moved by something to the depth of my core - I was just dipping my toe in writing waters and feeling out the temperature, on shaky new legs after leaving my marriage. I didn't even know anyone else was reading what I'd written until I received my first comment on a favourite piece of mine about the morning I took my last pregnancy test. I tried recently to start writing more - about less emotional things in my life (how my knitting is going and such), but I kinda suck at that kind of more mundane content (not that I excel at the other - I just FEEL the other stuff much more). LOL. Also, I type 87 wpm so I tend to type far too much, I admit (not only in my posts but also my comments - clearly!) I put the "suc" in "succint". It's why I am always surprised when I realize someone has taken the time to go through my heavier, more verbose pieces. It's very touching, also considering I've only discovered your blog recently. Thank you for taking the time a) to read and b) to comment. It means a lot.

Carrie Snyder said...

This is very beautiful, Nancy. Beautifully written, and a beautiful reflection and tribute to your friend's life. It's amazing how people we've known and love live within us, pretty much forever, I think.

Jeff Orchard said...

I was looking through some of the comments on "Things I Want to Punch in the Face", and randomly clicked on one of the commenters' names. It was yours (I was intrigued by your screen name). Turns out, you know my wife, Tricia. We also live in Waterloo, and have a son named Lauchy. Small world.

Jeff Orchard said...

Oh yah... sorry to hear about your friend. I did math at Waterloo, but 1989-1994.

I was also UpTown last night... was out for a run, checked out the rink for the first time. Geez, we might have passed each other. And, to add one more coincidence to the pile, I slipped on ice in the park. My butt and lower back are damaged, but I'll make a full recovery.


the b in subtle said...
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jaboopee said...

hello and pleased to 'meet' you too and thank you for extending the hand of friendship ( following ) , i would like to return the complement.

love your blogs name, your post just goes to prove how weird and strange the mind is....

i too love chocolate and popcorn .....and peanuts in crips with chocolate buttons...mmmmmhhhhhhh

the b in subtle said...

would these be cheese n' onion crisps? heh heh. i will have to try that out! thanks for stopping by and clicking "follow". you're lovely.

Cabo said...

I'm the better for reading your words.

I'm glad you found me simply because it means I'm the lucky one to have found you.

I hope you keep talking. There are a lot of people listening.

the b in subtle said...

thanks for the kind words! wow. i feel like i'm meeting so many great bloggers lately. s'wonderful!

Ciara said...

HI Nancy. Been meaning to stop by!

Beautiful post.
We recently lost a dear friend who was only 28, and I am still in shock and disbelief about it. I have no doubt in twenty years time I will still be reminded of him. Of his humour and kindness. And I will always miss him, and everything he took with him.
Thanks so much for sharing.

Btw, trains. We love them! They pass by our house every day, literally outside the window. Thankfully, being a rural line it's only enough to be exciting to little boys, but not enough to drive us insane!

the b in subtle said...

I'm so sorry for your recent loss, Ciara. As my friend, Carrie, says, people we know and love do live within us, "pretty much forever" - the Celts were big on the spiritual realms existing very much alongside our own world. I've done Celtic readings (with cloth and cards) for about 17 years now. I really do believe that those whom we love who have passed on can be closer, somehow, to us even than when they were living as we do. They can be right beside us and we can feel their presence in our thoughts and dreams and memories. Your friend is not far from you, nor will be ever as long as you remember him.

Yes, trains are wonderful (and living rurally has been a treat) - i will miss it, but as i explain in Taking flight, i will carry some wonderful memories when i move next spring - i think moving into a town will be better for us both - it's a bit remote where i am right now with him and being on my own raising him. i think it will be good for both of us to be around more people. i can live vicariously through your blog once i move, though, and remember my rural existence! ;) thanks for stopping by...

Life with Kaishon said...

Oh. I am so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a wonderful person to have encountered! I love your parents Christmas tree. And I love that you think of her often with such fondness.

Only A Girl said...

You've made me cry!! Now my make-up's all smudged....

You are an excellent writer.