Song Dedication: Woke up Wandering by Peiter De Graaf
The last time I saw or spoke to him I was twenty-two years old. Just graduated with my BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Fuck All…depending who you ask). My life was all about me then. I wanted to backpack through Europe because it felt like a suitable right of passage from 4 years of post-secondary education to an uncertain future. This had been my plan since high school. After 4 years of Art History and the democracy of the slideshow (where all images are presented at the same scale) I wanted to witness them in person, see the brushstrokes and chisel marks of masters long departed from the physical world with only their visionary two and three dimensional work left as legacy. Sounds romantic doesn’t it?
Because it was. I drank wine, ate baguettes with cheese, kept my own schedule, stayed up late, slept in late, got as much beach time as gallery time, got lost, got found, repeat, repeat, I met wonderful humans also searching for themselves in foreign countries, I filled my senses with architecture, sculpture, Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, I sat on the steps in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria by (what were by then replica’s of) Michelangelo’s sculptures as I read the Agony and the Ecstasy. The precious moments were not lost on me, perhaps finding my first windows into presence and beingness.
During my two months of travel I chose to carve out a week at the tail end of my journey to see him. After starting in London, going to France, Spain, Southern France, Italy and back up through Switzerland I had come full circle back to the UK. With a better sense of independence, surviving all sorts of unknowns and outcomes, I was as ready as I could be to see the family I had slipped slowly apart from after turning 12.
The week passed, as they all do, and for various reasons – time, space, an already well established disconnect with them and ultimately with myself, I could not nurture the relationship and so it slipped, once again without so much of a squeak, mumble or thud, like a smooth stone gently dropped into a still pool. It just was.
His older brother, my uncle had re-established contact with me after I had earlier this year, written a letter, mostly on behalf of my son, who felt compelled to reach out. I dropped it in the mailbox, letting it all go without any expectation. A month or so had passed, and I began to wonder if he even lived at the same address or for that matter was still alive, knowing he was in his early 70’s by that point. Then one day I had an email, sent on his behalf, expressing an interest to reconnect and thanking me for writing. At this point the idea of a phone conversation was presented, which is a natural suggestion certainly, but for some reason it placed my heart up in my throat region.
For anyone who has followed my journey to this point in blog posts, you are able to piece together the difficulty I had finding space in my life for this part of my past even with (or especially with) my new open mindset.
A phone date was requested for the beginning of summer break and in true form the timing (or I) didn’t co-operate (or surrender) completely and a discussion did not take place. In hindsight, I see now I was still very much in the thick of the self-healing work; which by the end of summer would bring some of the most significant progress in my troublesome symptoms, like the submission of chronic migraines, completely subsiding like a burnt out lightbulb (nearly at 5 migraine-free months!).
Life kept happening, just like the way weeks pass and soon December was upon us. I had at least established some semblance of contact through old school letters and photographs. Me sending them and then hearing back from my Uncle that they were appreciated and received.
At this point you may be asking Why the Fuck are you sending snail mail and printing actual photographs on photo paper…is it 1992?! And well, yes, in a way it is, for him.
You see, in or around 1992, my biological Father who still lived in Canada at the time, continued his battle with alcohol addiction (and possibly drugs too) and was preparing to enter rehab on Vancouver Island. The story goes, as I was told, in a last ditch effort to get the party out, he went on a bender the night before checking into the program and hitched a ride home with another party-goer, who had also been drinking. Hopping into the box of a drunk drivers pickup he fell out of the back into oncoming traffic and was struck by another vehicle. He suffered a TBI, lost an eye and had to face many, many months of recovery to heal from this traumatic incident.
He was left with no other choice but to move back to Wales where his parents had returned, from Canada, years before, once he was well enough to travel. For whatever reasons, of my own or my Mom and Dad (who had recently legally adopted me) I did not see him after the accident and would not see him him again in person until I travelled there at 22. Over those ten years I still wrote letters and sometimes had an occasional phone conversation, with the mediation of his parents to assist in communication.
The lasting affects of his accident, left him with long term memory difficulty and vision and hearing impairment, thus the time freeze of 1992, and how we have chosen to communicate (or not communicate).
As I said, December was here, and with it all it’s happenings – our son’s birthday and preparations for Christmas Holidays. This month of generosity also marks his birthday, in a strange twist of fate, the day following our son’s.
Two weeks ago I sent a birthday card selected by Jack that read “Happy Birthday Grandpa” on the front, enclosed were some more recent pictures and a drawing of the Titanic fictionally docked in London, made by the 7-year-old family artist. I bought the correct postage and affixed the familiar blue air mail stickers to the envelop. Another tiny step, but significant for me.
With more of a concerted effort on my behalf we were able to arrange a phone call on his birthday. He turned 72. The last time I saw him he was 55. Another significant detail, as so much can change over these stretches of time, I know how much I have in only a year!
We had arranged the call to happen at 10:30 am our time, being 6:30 pm in Wales. I had meditated that morning, attempting to bring myself into as much presence as my mind would allow, realizing I had been doing some pretty strong projecting about how the conversation was going to go.
Knowing he had suffered a TBI and this combined with a 72 year old brain, I presumed his memory and disposition would be worsened by these related factors. I feared his speech would give away his discontent and frustration, wondering if he would even be able to communicate with me effectively.
At 10:05 my Dad (the one I have regarded as so, since I was 7, when he married my Mom), arrived unannounced on our doorstep. It was an impromptu drop in, which we enjoy more often now since he recently retired. He wanted to quickly look at the vacuum, which was in need of repair. He only stayed for about 15 minutes joking the whole time with his grandson, assessing the vacuum, shooting the shit and away he went. The reason I include this detail is it served as an interlude to my building anxiety waiting for the phone call to begin.
I also found it interesting that it was the man who chose to raise me as his own child who showed up in a timely way – although he had no idea what I was waiting to do in a few short minutes. The universe reminding me that there are many ways to parent, show love and be there for your children even when you don’t know they need you (so thanks Dad, for the welcome distraction and bolster of support in a moment of anxiety).
Anyway, I went to the bedroom to sit in “The Chair” (moving a small stack of yoga wear) so I could channel some of Donalda’s (Andrew’s Grandmother whom the chair once belonged) common sense and wherewithal into the moment and it worked. I sat and I breathed and as 10:27 turned into 10:28, I sought further diversion if only for a few remaining minutes naturally flipping through my phone which was in my hand anyway.
I found myself opening my blog and choosing a piece to read to remind myself that like the collection of mindful moments I have amassed since December of 2017, that I had this as long as I breathed into the bottom of my lungs. I randomly chose Alignment Part II which I had written a month earlier and just so happens to be about me working to acknowledge the positive masculine energy around me and how to channel that…10:31…10:32…just keep reading (I saw blue fish Dory sing in my head). 10:34…as I read the last line the page was interrupted with an incoming call from the UK.
I answered and heard my uncle’s smooth calm english accent on the other end. I could hear the smile in his voice as he shared how good it was to hear mine. I felt the same and told him so. All the while my estranged Father listening in to our preamble on speaker phone. With little delay, he took over on the other end and his voice was warm and filled with joy.
A relief washed over me as I listened to him ask questions like an inquisitive young man. He didn’t sound old or broken or forlorn. He was present and in that, jubilant! I soon realized his struggles with linear time had become more pronounced as he mentioned I had “such a lovely voice” and it made him happy to hear it, noting it had been a while since he had heard me, suggesting it had been a year or so since we last talked. At first my heart dropped but I recovered quickly, feeling my intuition choosing honesty as the best approach.
I told him it had actually been 17 years since our last conversation, reminding him of my visit to Wales in 2002. He was genuinely surprised and unable to remember my visit, but did not seem disheartened. It was in that moment I realized it wasn’t important to have counted the days, weeks, months or years that had stacked between us, it was the present moment that mattered more. More than the absences over nearly 2 decades (or for that matter my entire life). The gravity of our abilities to be this present to each other right here, right now, grounding us in this space together.
It was a light-hearted conversation as if we had only spoke a week before. He laughed a few times (even with a snort – which is something I also do from time to time) and this brought ease to my body and a warmth within my chest. He told me I was funny and had a great sense of humour – which I loved hearing from him.
I can’t be sure he was entirely aware of who I was to him – his daughter. But it didn’t really matter to me. We were connecting the best way we knew how to in this situation we had been given – our lives finally coming to a crossroads once again.
He really wanted to talk to Jack and wish him a happy birthday. Jack was nervous and ran away from the phone but like the very reason I fell in love with him, my husband stepped up big time always being able to engage in conversation no matter who it is, so in Jack’s temporary absence Andrew took the opportunity to introduce himself to the man half responsible for my genetic make-up. Andrew, so calm and poised chatted with him and I sensed a genuine connection – this was also helpful so our son could hear that both his parents could be present to this new man who was a stranger, even though biologically a Father-in-law, Father and Grandfather.
When Jack was ready he sat on the floor of his bedroom and timidly said, “Hello?” His Grandfather hearing his 7-year-old grandson’s voice for the first time.
They wished each other a happy birthday and their exchange only lasted about a minute and a half but for that entire 90 seconds I smiled, trading each of their words shared for gratitude.
It is not about when we last saw or spoke to each other. He is now 72 and I am now 39. This is where we are now and here we are sharing and holding space for whatever that will look like now. Because this is all we have. This is all we will ever have. I needed the previous events and self-work to meet him in this present moment, unable to ever do so before this point. The gift of presence abundant for this family in this month of generous spirit and togetherness.