12-Epiphany

The winter semester began and Martin returned to work. For the first time in a while, Abigail accompanied him as well as Bobby and Anthony on the morning commute. Despite the many new starts Martin was still having difficulty shaking the funk that had descended on him over the holidays. It was more than Philip’s new job; he was aware of that–the frustrations and let-downs that had led into the holidays played a role too, but still it was that move that played most on his mind. The thought of his son so far away from home and so very much alone followed him through all of his morning routines.

A 1 PM meeting brought him across campus. Martin tried to contribute but found he could barely stay with the discussions and knew his contribution amounted to little. Mercifully, the meeting ended early and Martin found himself with a little bit of time before he had to be back at his place. He decided to take the long route back, a way that would take him through the thickest of the throng of students and instructors, all trying to re-establish their now rhythms. That sounded comforting. As he walked Martin paid particular attention to those he passed hoping, maybe, that some measure of whatever it was that comprised normalcy would somehow be transferred to him.

“Martin!” a familiar voice called out.

“Alim!” Martin broke his stride and walked over to him. “You’re back! How was Istanbul? I want to see pictures!”

Alim was a young student Martin had befriended three years earlier when he was in first year. He’d spent the Christmas holidays in Istanbul doing charity work and Martin had been looking forward to hearing of his exploits. Alim held out his phone. “Here’s a video of the first thing I saw when I went through the door there.”

The video began. Alim’s phone died. Alim shook his head, “I guess I’d better get to class”

Martin smiled–first time that day. “It’ll wait until we have more time.”

“Wait!” Alim reached into his backpack, took out an envelope and handed it to Martin. ‘This is for you. I tried to drop it off to you this morning but you were not there.”

Martin took the card.

He choked.

There were no words.

Instead he gave Alim a hug. “You’re the best!” he managed. They waved and went their separate ways.

Back in his spot Martin found a quiet place and opened the card. It was beautiful! Clearly hand-crafted and with a leather-ended chain dangling down the side. Inside was a handwritten message. In it Amin expressed gratitude for how Martin had made him feel at home since he’d attended university.

Martin knew that Alim had just made his day so he decided to just enjoy that moment for a bit. He closed his eyes and just let that gratitude run through him. In that moment a realization hit him. Somewhere, far away, further than Alim had just been, someone was doing exactly that for Philip. Rich, Philip’s friend from university had taken him while Philip was awaiting delivery of the furniture for his appartment. In that time he’d refused all efforts Philip had made to repay him, just laughing it off and saying, “c’mon, man, we’re friends.”

Martin’s funk lifted and he smiled. Second time that day.

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11-the Martin

“Worst decision I ever made.” Though Martin couldn’t bring himself to look directly at Philip he could feel the remorse in the way Philip’s voice shook. From the dim light of the dashboard he could see the glint of the tears that were running down his cheeks.

Martin thought for a bit, then offered, “You did this for the right reasons. Your current job was not taking you where you need to go.”

“I’m just throwing away my life!”

“No you’re not! This move presents such a huge opportunity for you. It will give you the P.Eng you need and will provide you such a wealth of experience. Besides, there’s the snowboarding.” Martin tried to smile. It didn’t work.

Martin didn’t try to press it further. He trusted that Philip knew what he was doing was the right thing.

Martin could feel the all-too-familiar longing ache from his own heart, could sense his hands shaking on the wheel. It had been that way for the past month. This was not his first time, though, and he knew that, in time, it would change–no, he would change; maybe become stronger, maybe not, but a way would come. It always did.

It would be that way for Philip, too, except there was absolutely no doubt in Martin’s mind that Philip would become stronger, better. He just needed time.

“Philip, can you do something for me?”

“What’s that?”

“Imagine the person you need to be two years from now. Spent your time in BC becoming that person.”

Philip didn’t reply. Martin knew he was just trying hard to keep it together, as was he.

They hugged at the airport. For a long time. Neither Philip, Anthony or Jenny could hold back the tears. Martin couldn’t look at Philip as he moved through the security line. He went upstairs to the observation deck. He thought about how powerless, how totally defenceless this whole thing had left him. He knew he should not be trying to hide it. Who knows, perhaps his family might, in time, get used to seeing him as anything but positive, composed and steadfast, as was his assumed role? This–the quiet and solitude–felt so much better, though. He took out his phone and composed a message, waited until departure time, when he knew Philip’s phone was off, and then hit ‘send.’ He watched as the tail lights disappeared into the early morning sky and then drove home in silence.

Rossland BC is further from St. John’s than is Istanbul. Martin had no idea why he thought that was relevant and just satisfied himself with the notion that nothing much made sense these past few weeks.

He moped; tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. Presently he found himself inside Philip’s bedroom. He sat wearily on the disheveled bed. Laid down and tried to sleep. It didn’t work and after a while he was back sitting on the edge of the bed taking stock of what Philip had left behind: his gaming computer; his amps, his synth, his music interface; his electric guitars; his acoustic…

Absentmindedly he took it off the wall rack and began playing it. Gently. He did not want to wake anyone else up. The tone was too deep. He reached for the capo on the headstock and placed it on the second fret. Easier to hum along from there.

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His eyes spied the words on the headstock. “Same name as mine. Never thought of that before. Well, ‘Martin,’ for now I guess we’re in good company.”

His fingers did what they wanted and Martin found himself playing an old song of unrequited love. “Yeah, ‘Snowbird’ feels about right,” he thought, “Unrequited love can take so many forms. Sometimes it can be a place that doesn’t love you back. It still hurts the same, though.”

Martin continued playing. He heard himself singing, “And if I could you know that I would fly away with you…”

This solitude felt better. Change can be okay but sometimes old habits are all you have. Through the quiet melody, and in the soft glow of early morning light Martin’s tears dripped on the polished spruce of the Guitar’s body.

10-Tootsie Roll

Abigail had been looking forward to this for the past month. To her this was the light at the end of a long, dreary tunnel.

The semester had been, all in all, a miserable POS.

About one month in she realized that the program she’d just started was not for her. She had really wanted to drop it all and give up but Martin had insisted that she finish the term. They’d agreed on a compromise. Instead of the six courses she’d signed up for she would stick with four. She still didn’t like any of it much.

“At least it’s over.” She’d written her last final and was on the way to the studio.

The dance studio, without doubt the one place that Abigail felt whole. Since the age of three dance had been at the centre of her entire being. Each week revolved around her dance schedule and, for her, the highlight of each year was the spring recital. Her best friends were her dance friends and her best times were spent at the studio.

The owner, Abigail’s teacher and lifetime mentor, had long ago established something of a Christmas tradition. They’d dance to ‘Tootsie Roll!’ Not much of a Christmas song, for sure, but still an uplifting, joyful and goofy one. For Abigail, this was just what was needed.

She entered the studio, smiled at her friends and took her place on the floor. The music started and Abigail, along with her friends, enacted the moves they’d rehearsed over so many years.

The dance gave Abigail her voice, her vision. As she moved she found herself letting go of the stress and pain from the semester that had passed. Soon she found herself  just surrounded by the music and the motion. Life, which just a few minutes earlier, had seemed so constrained, so, constricted, shed its shackles, leaving her finally free, caught up in the moment, and ready to consider a whole new path that she could finally start to see.

09-Albert’s Pots

Seventeen years ago, when he’d turned sixty-five, a few people began referring to Albert as “retired.” Not the ones who knew him well, though. Though no longer officially a fisherman he did not slow down one bit. He rebuilt his vegetable garden, starting small at first. After a few years, though, next to his house, the entire hilltop, which had lain fallow for decades, was transformed to its former glory, complete with a root cellar. He continued mending fishing gear and soon became the go-to-person for any fisher who needed nets and lines repaired.

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And then there were the lobster pots. He made them by the hundreds, and all from scratch.

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The bows were made from saplings he cut himself, across the harbour, a trip only possible by boat. The heads were hand knit too. In the evenings, after he was done in the “store” where he did his work, he would spend several hours in the dining room, seated on his office chair expertly using the twine needle to turn out head after head. The laths and other wooden parts were all hand made too, from strips sawn one-by-one, with a bandsaw, from discarded palettes he’d rescue from one business or another.

All-in-all, Albert was a busy man.

These days, perhaps, that was more important than it had ever been. Earlier this year his wife of over 55 years, Greta, had passed away, leaving a void in Albert’s life. For him, then, the ability to continue his work was an important part of dealing with the ever-present grief. That, and, of course to continue caring for his very much extended family.

Boxing day was approaching. A family get-together at Albert and Greta’s house was a longstanding tradition. Albert’s eight children, their significant others, along with a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren would all be there. There would be food–lots of it, music and singing and, of course gift-giving. Albert and Greta had always made a point of ensuring that each and every person received a gift from them–a tall order given the size of his family.

“What does Bobby want for Christmas?” Albert had asked Jenny earlier that month. Bobby–the only one of Jenny’s four children who’d chosen a life at sea, and who’d been named for his now-deceased eldest son, seemed to hold an extra special place in Albert’s heart. Jenny didn’t know what to say. After all, her dad had only his old-age-pension plus the few dollars he’d get from the lobster pots–and he needed that to keep his truck running.

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Bobby overheard. “Ask him to make me a lobster pot,” he called out to his mom. She shushed him, whispering, “You can’t ask Dad to do that NOW!” Fortunately Albert had his hearing aid on–a rare occasion–and shot back, “Let me see what I can do.”

The next morning found Albert down in his store surrounded by his tools, jugs and various materials he used in his pot-making. He sat for a time on the wooden chair and surveyed it all. At length he went back over to his work bench, took a pencil along with some plywood and began sketching out a jig from which to make bows for the pots. This one was much smaller. By lunch time he had it completed, carved out and even had several bows already turned to the correct shape. The afternoon found him at the bandsaw, creating much smaller laths. It took a few tries before he got it right but in time he had a shape he was satisfied with and made a bunch. That night he figured out patterns for making much smaller netting. It took him until late into the night but he didn’t mind.

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The following day he was back down in the store. Methodically, he laid out, on the workbench, all of the parts he’d made the previous day. It was colder today so he lit the woodstove and, embraced by its gentle fragrant heat he carefully went to work putting together a very special Christmas gift. The job, as it turned out, was not that unfamiliar–it was just an issue of scale and soon Albert’s hands became adjusted to this slightly different groove.

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Time passed.  Albert took no notice and decided to make a few more. His thoughts turned inward…

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Outside, as the evening disk deepened, the smoke from the wood stove wound its was lazily upwards. With it went Albert’s fond thoughts of Greta.

08-Bobby’s Tree of Six

Bobby had a bit of a quandary. He was basically broke. His last work-term had been a particularly good one–at least in terms of experience. It had provided him with loads of time spent fixing and maintaining the various propulsion systems on an offshore supply vessel. It had given him more than enough sea time now to qualify for his certification once he finished next semester–his last academic term. It had also been a supportive and uplifting stint, one that had left him with high hopes of employment once he finished next spring.

It had also been an unpaid one. All he had was what was left from a basic stipend; almost, but not quite enough, to pay for next term’s tuition. Here, now, in the days leading up to Christmas he was feeling stressed. His brothers and sister had enough money for gifts. He didn’t and he felt an expectation to try and do something anyway.

Rather than making it too crazy, for years now, he and his three siblings had picked a name from a hat. He’d marshalled enough to deal with that. Likewise he’d managed to afford something for his girlfriend. It was only a small token but, like Bobby, she was not someone who expected or even wanted that sort of grand gesture.

“What to do for Mom?” Jenny loved Christmas, loved everything about it. For weeks now she’d been busily shopping and wrapping. She had gifts for everyone–family, friends and even co-workers–and Bobby knew that if he couldn’t find a way to get something for her she’d be hurt.

He looked through his clothes, his closet, even under the bed in hopes that a few stray bills had found there way there. Nothing. He re-checked his bank account. Same thing. He considered hitting up his dad for a loan. Or maybe Philip–he seemed to have saved a lot of cash from his job. His eyes traveled about the room, thinking of a place he might have a bit of cash squirreled away. His gaze fell to the tote that held his paints, brushes and a few unused canvasses, remnants from the times from way back in  Junior high, when he’d been taking art lessons. It had been so long since he’d tried painting anything.

That was it! It was time to get painting again. He wondered if the remaining tubes of paint were still good. They weren’t. The brushes and canvases were fine though. He figured he had just enough for a set of paints. Philip gave hima lift to the store and soon Bobby was in business.

He thought of what he’d make, letting his gaze pass through the window and onto the young forest that had popped up over the years behind his house. When Martin had first bought the house twenty-five years earlier there was only an easement for a possible road there. In the intervening years a veritable forest had spring up–black spruce, dogberry and beautiful young firs, just like Christmas trees.

Of course! Bobby closed the door to his bedroom and started to work. Hours later he stood back and admired the finished job. It needed time to dry.

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The next morning he carefully wrapped it. The forest behind his house, or rather one fir tree on it,  had been the inspiration. He now had a picture of that tree, just right from its fall glory, surrounded by new fallen snow and decorated with exactly six bulbs, one for each member of the family, arranged from top to bottom, in order of age.

Bobby was pretty sure his Mom would love it.

07-Folding Laundry

“Can’t you just stop leaving your dirty clothes lying around everywhere?” Martin couldn’t  recall how many times he’d said it. To Anthony. To Bobby. To Abigail. But mostly to Philip. Philip just “came out of his clothes” whenever he wanted. It was not unusual to find his coat slung over the couch, pants on the living room floor, socks strealing down the basement steps. Anywhere they could be tossed, it seemed, there they’d be found.

It was generally left to Martin to pick them up. It was not that he loved doing the laundry but, rather, due to the fact this his tolerance for out-of-place articles of clothing was less than anyone else’s. For a long time Martin did the laundry. All of it. It was not unusual for him to spend hours on a Saturday shuttling back and forth between the laundry room and his bedroom, where he’d fold basket after basket. He needed the bed. “It’s the only way I can do it. Gotta lay them flat on the bed and take it from there.”

It was a love / hate relationship. Part of him found it relaxing. A bigger part, however, over time,  grew to resent the incursion this made into his precious personal time. At some point Martin found himself drawing the line. “I’m not doing your laundry any more,” he asserted to the rest of his family. “You’re all big and ugly enough to do your own.”

Then the pileup started. Basket after basket down in the laundry room. In frustration, Martin restarted washing and drying the clothes but he refused to have any more to do with folding them. In time, and to Martin’s chagrin, the kids came to just use the baskets as clothing storage, grabbing what they wanted whenever they needed.

And leaving whatever fell out of the basket right there on the floor where it landed.

Martin just threw up his hands.

Until the week before Philip’s move. He’d done the housework and there was nothing that needed doing outdoors. Jenny was busy in the dining room wrapping Christmas presents and Martin knew that was not exactly where his skills lay.

Idly he went down to the laundry room and noticed several baskets of Philip’s clothes. Without thinking about it, he toted one upstairs to the bedroom, put some Christmas music on and began folding. Time passed. He finished he basket.

He got another and began anew. This time he moved more slowly. Each and every item of Philip’s clothing triggered a memory. A pair of jeans, of a walk together. A shirt, of listening to him play guitar. An old, battered hoodie, of teaching Philip to drive. On and on. Martin paused from time to time to wipe tears from his eyes. “This is likely the last time I’ll ever do this.”

He went downstairs to fetch the last one, moving even more slowly this time.