This post is a long time overdue.
On some level, I have been waiting for the right elements to come together, so I could put this together as well as can be. I have been waiting to get some pictures so I could embed them in this post. I still don’t have the pictures. And I don’t seem to be sleeping, and things Catherine-related seem to be occupying my mind, so here I am.
I’ve thought about the process of writing this post for quite some time. I’ve tried to anticipate in advance just how candid and exposed I wish to be with the big old world about this.
I can’t say just how that will go, because, even after two months of trying to work through the details, I still have no idea what I will say here. What is there to say? Why, there is the need to say everything and the need to say nothing, because how can I ever, really, explain.
Without meaning to sound maudlin or self-indulgent, I don’t really think I have met anyone who knows how I feel, because how could they? Just like I have no idea how anyone else is feeling, except for what I imagine they might be feeling. But I am still imagining.
So, the nuts and bolts, the meat and potatoes, of this thing is that my…. ex-girlfriend, very dear friend and a bunch of other things I don’t have words for, died in a plane crash off Saturna Island on November 29/2009. There is a lot written on the internet about that. It was in the Globe and Mail, on the CBC website, it was everywhere. It was a big news story. You can google it.
There is something very strange about losing a loved one and having that loss be national news. On one hand, people around you are perhaps more kind, because everyone knows a lot, real or imagined, about the situation. It also means that you are confronted with the facts of your loss over and over and over and at times when you may not be expecting it, like sitting at work or a diner and glancing at a newspaper. It also means that some people will make a point of speaking to you about the details they have heard on the news, whether they are part of that world or not. It means your grief is news, and that makes a hard process more than a little strange.
One of the weird aspects of all this has been the internet. Because Catherine was not a very cyber-ish gal, she was much more in person, in the flesh, and it’s strange to see how her death has been handled by the internet. I mean, how much the internet has been a tool that allowed people to meet or converse or grieve, in a way that would have been much more difficult without it. Maybe that’s irony. I hear people always think things are ironic when they are actually just odd coincidences, and I don’t want to make that embarrassing mistake right now. But if the situation was different and the roles were somehow swapped, it’s unlikely that Catherine would have relied on the internet for information and communication the way many of us did for her death. She wasn’t a Facebook-y sort of gal.
So, Catherine died and I’ve had about 2 months to start processing that, and yet I find myself not quite up to the task. I raise my hand in unabashed admittance that I am in a profound state of denial. I quite literally can’t imagine never seeing Catherine again. It simply makes no sense to me, so, it seems I don’t believe it. I hear denial is a bad coping mechanism, but for right now, it’s what I have to work with. It will all turn into some sort of train wreck at some point, and that will be ugly but right now, that’s what I am doing. The closest I have come to dealing with it was when I was really sick with the flu a couple of weeks ago. I was too sick to sleep, and I ended up laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, letting some tiny speck of it all seap in.
I suppose it’s rude of me to be charging ahead and not giving you the back story, the history, the where it all began.
The world of Spike and Catherine began at a Hallowe’en dance in 1985. We danced together.
I don’t really dance.
It started something.
I was seeing someone at the time who, in retrospect was probably suffering from borderline personality and who treated me in ways that probably qualify as abusive. Catherine was horrified by how this woman treated me, and actually drilled it through my thick melon that I deserved to be treated better than that.
To every woman I ever dated who thought I expected to much, I say, take it up with Catherine. Seriously.
No one had ever treated me as well as Catherine did. She found out what my favorite flowers are and made a habit of having bouquets delivered to my home. No one has ever done that. She would take me out for brunches of eggs benedict and mimosa’s. I had never had a breakfast that was more complicated than bacon and eggs. I could go on, but the point is, she looked after me, and no one had ever done that before. She put great thought and effort into it, and it was completely and utterly about me, not what her last girlfriend had liked so I would probably like it, too. Catherine had a way of paying attention and making you believe you were worth it. I haven’t had a lot of that in my life.
We went out, and we broke up and we kept the parts of our relationship that we liked and made ourselves friends. For 25 years, we were there in each other’s lives.
When I knew I had to have this big spooky surgery for what might turn out to be cancer, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t, Catherine was out of town, on vacation with her partner. A mutual friend was picking them up at the airport. I told him, before he picked them up, “You can’t tell Catherine about the surgery and all that crap, not when she first gets home.” And, he’s a good guy, so he didn’t. I spoke to her about it a couple of years ago, told her I had told our friend he shouldn’t tell her. Not like she couldn’t know because that is obviously stupid, but she had just had a holiday and I wanted her to be able to stay in that relaxed frame of mind for a little while, before my big exciting dramatic life came crashing through her door. So, I told her about my moratorium on the news, and she told me that when she heard I was in a sticky situation, medically speaking, the words than ran through her mind were, “You can’t take my Spike.”
Because that’s what we were, or it’s part of what we were. When I was struggling to stay alive, one of the considerations in the plus column was that it would have upset Catherine if I didn’t.
I find this part difficult to express. We don’t really live in a culture that values relationships with ex-lovers. And the having been lovers part was significant and was the base of the thing, but it really was an old love and was way more involved than simply ‘ex-lovers’, in the standard sense. Catherine was, among other things, the person I knew would remember my birthday, would make sure we exchanged presents at Christmas and would call on Saint Patrick’s Day. People who have family might not understand how big those little things are, that being remembered stuff. Catherine did many, many things for me over the years and those details of remembering me through those times was stuff that made me feel loved, even when things in my life were hard.
In some ways, I have hesitated to write about Catherine’s death because I have been so overwhelmed by some many details and so many people. It’s probably not hyperbole to say that there were 600 people at Catherine’s service, There was a lot of crying. And some singing. And some laughing and story-telling. And a great deal of whiskey was consumed. A lot of emotion was emoted that night. Catherine knew a lot of people and helped a lot of people and lots of them showed up to thank her and talk about their relationships with her. And that was good.
And not to sound maudlin or self-pitying, but….
I heard what people said, and it sounded true and I certainly believed them, but it all sounded so different than how I related to her. One of the differences was, if you love someone for 25 years and were in a ‘relationship’ with them, odds are you may have had an argument or two over the years. I knew Catherine well enough to have gone to the mat with her once or twice, and it wasn’t to grab a quick kiss, and I knew the 360 degree, stereoscopic, surround sound Catherine, and how she could be angelic, or she could flay you with a sentence and leave you there wondering where your arterial blood had disappeared to. I say this about her because I could and can do the same. I knew her well enough to fight with her, because our relationship was worth fighting for and, because I thought that one of the points of our relationship was to be there for each other and to also tell the other one if she was full of shit, As sweetly as possible, but at the end of the day, one of the great values of knowing someone so well and so long is that you know when they are full of it, and you also know when they are starting to come unwrapped or maybe steering their little sanity bus too close to the cliff. We did all those things for each other over the years. During the time when my parents were dying, I had become really isolated, which made all the hard things harder. I was really really hurt and really really nuts, and Catherine made a point of reaching out to me in those dark times.
I don’t know what else to say. It’s already too much or not enough, but probably both.
It doesn’t make any sense to me. And when she died, I realized that somewhere along the line I had decided that Catherine would live longer than me. Now, I admit, I had about a year to lay in bed and think about things like that and at times it seemed the only person I might outlive would be the Queen Mum. I’m not sure if that’s where the idea took root, or whether it just logically seemed that if Catherine could survive her adolescence, she would probably live forever. In my mind, she was on a porch, with her long hair turned silver and white, and she was still helping people, listening, making people feel listened to, subtly nudging people in the right direction. Not to be maudlin and self involved, but I don’t know how to make sense of a world where I am here and she is not.
Now don’t go freaking out… it’s not a statement that has an undercurrent of dramatic action.
I just mean it doesn’t make sense.
And I have a curse, well several actually, but one of them is, if something doesn’t make sense to me, and it’s important to me, oh my, do I keep turning that thing around and around and around and thinking about it and trying to make sense of it.
It’s a curse. And I have it going on now.
And it’s not the garden variety, ‘why would the universe take Catherine and leave George W Bush or… name your favourite dickwad tyrant here.’
But it’s just so stupid. The world was a better place with Catherine in it, and she had lots of life left in her, so why isn’t she here?
You don’t have to answer that. And if you say everything happens for a reason or some other Shirley MacLaine crap, I’ll send you a virus in the return mail.
The world, if it wants to be good, is going to have to put more effort into that with Catherine gone.
That’s the corny thing that I would like. I’d like people to just try to be nicer, kinder, more forgiving, more inclusive as a way of honouring Catherine and as a way of trying to balance the void left with the loss of her. I’d like it, but I am not sure people can do that, including myself. No one knows better than me that we can say all sorts of lofty things about how we will behave in the future when we feel our little earthbound cages being rattled. I’d like to think we might all really try to be better about whatever our particular selfish defect of character might be. Stretch ourselves. It’s like some sort of psychic socialism. We all have to be better in the world to replace the good things the world lost when it lost Catherine.
If that’s too flakey for words, I am gonna blame the lateness of the hour and the fact that tomorrow marks the beginning of another string of check ups and pokes and blood draws and being jammed in a tube, etc, by my pals at the cancer agency. I really should be asleep by now. But I also really should have written this about 7 weeks ago. I’m sorry it is sans images. As soon as I get some, I will slap them in to this post.
And so, little munchkins, it’s late and we should all be asleep by now and I am going to go bunk down. And leave you with the immortal words of Catherine and Tim Curry.
“Don’t dream it. Be it.”
or put another way, in the immortal words of Spike Harris, “This is not a dress rehearsal.”
I’ll try to remember those things if you will.