Bucket List, Memoir and Reflections, Throw-back Thursday

Speeding Up and Slowing Down

“Speeding, ‘cause it feels good.”
—Lights

Lights, Speeding, on YouTube

For the first full week of January and the new year I have moved passed writing a round-up of my 2014 goals and achievements. This is a different post entirely, but let me start here.

I took on a lot of firsts in 2014 and a lot of things I’d always wanted to do and try: started a blog, began writing on a consistent basis (facing rejection and learning I could survive its many forms), walking around the outside edge of Toronto’s CN Tower, and making the leap of starting something for myself and my future with a travel website.

I wouldn’t be able to call skating one of those firsts, but it has been on my bucket list for many years now. Before 2014 would end I would be back on that ice, for the first time in more than twenty years.

***

Out in our back yard (which seemed huge enough to me already), over the fence, through the field, and then we were there.

During the winters, when the snow covered the ground, we would all walk back and back, my younger brother often pulled on a sled, until we arrived at the frozen pond: our frozen pond.

It was our family’s own private skating rink. I have only vague memories of it now, not so clear yet never totally forgotten.

There was the box, on the sled, my baby brother would sit in beside the ice. He hadn’t learned how to skate, but there was always his boots. I marvelled at the fact that this surface was so hard and thick, that we were able to skate over it, water beneath our feet. This all seemed magical to a five-year-old, but first the built-up layer of snow had to be shovelled off and this seemed to take forever, when all I wanted to do was skate.

I probably remember more the lengthy bit of tape devoted to one of these family skates in particular we have captured on record on our home movies.

Okay, so every time we’d watch, my brother and I would fast-forward past this part. It was long and all we could really make out were shrieks and calls of our siblings and the friends skating that day. I was there, sure, but I could never spot myself on the screen, having less sight than I did as a younger child.

I think I was skating, but all I could hear was the scraping sound of the skates on the pond’s icy surface…oh, and my baby brother, at the time, screaming and crying in his buggy. I could detect, even as I fast-forwarded, the dimness on screen, as we continued to skate and the evening grew darker. We had to stop and walk back home then.

I don’t remember my first time on skates, but I think I became pretty practiced at it and it was something I enjoyed as a child, for the first ten or so years of my life.

We used to go to family skates and I would go with school. I would race around the rink, holding onto someone mostly, with the music playing through the speakers. I must have grown quite comfortable with the motion and the movement.

Then one day, something happened that would be the beginning of the end of my love of skating.

My braille teacher came with my class and I for one of those class skating trips. She offered to skate with me and off we went, me holding onto her and then suddenly, down she went …

I remember the ambulance arriving and picking her up off the ice, whisking her away to the hospital. Visiting her there, her and her broken ankle.

“They were skating and Mrs. M fell,” the other girls in my class repeated. “Kerry was skating with Mrs. M and she fell and broke something. She hurt herself. Kerry pulled her down.”

Just girls being girls. I don’t recall for sure if they blamed me directly, or if it had been simply an accusatory tone I heard in their voices. We were eight after all, but I heard them talking there, off the ice, in the stands, as we waited to return to school.

I felt guilty for what happened and I felt responsible. Had I done this terrible thing? It was an accident, wasn’t it? No matter how many people assured me, then and since that time that I had nothing to do with it, something about it stuck with me all these years.

Over time it became less and less about family skates and more about hockey games, our family time at the arena. My brother played for a few years and my younger brother (who never really got the opportunity to skate) and I would spend most of our time in the warm room with the concession stand, eating pop corn and drinking slushies.

I would get sick with kidney failure soon after that and was in no real state for skating.

I still remember the fun of skating and, although not much of a lover of hockey, I would occasionally turn to a game being played on TV and listen to those familiar scraping sounds of the players skating madly around the rink.

My father played hockey. I am Canadian and hockey, to most Canadians, is a pretty big deal. I see the cultural pride and feel my share, somewhere deep down.

For a long time I used to watch figure skating on TV, imagining I’d stuck with skating and had become a figure skater like those leaping and twirling athletes I would watch. Figure skating was one of the sports I was able to see clearly enough on television. I would stare hard at the figure skaters, spinning and zooming around, imagining how much fun it must be.

For twenty or more years I have wanted to try it again, to step out on that ice, but never made it happen. Then, I got a new pair of skates for Christmas and it seemed like a good family activity for us all, now that my niece is starting to learn.

I wondered if I could even stand up on skates now. A lot of time has passed and I am no longer that nimble kid. I have terrible balance and my ankles often turn over on the smallest unevenness in the sidewalk. Could I skate anymore? Would I fall on my butt immediately? Would I even be able to move, even a little? I had to find out.

Last year I was starting to seek out those things I wondered if I could do, just to find out for certain. I had been looking for thrills and wanting to try new things, or at least newish. Twenty years seemed like a lifetime ago. What did I have to lose?

I jumped at my first chance, when my uncle offered, to come to a private party skate. Perfect. The rink wouldn’t be packed like during a public skate. I could get my bearings and there wouldn’t be as many people there to see me fall.

I loved the security of the way the skate felt as it was tightened and the laces pulled, fitting snugly around my ankles. the skates seemed to keep my rolling ankles in check and held firmly in place. I stood up and began, one foot in front of the other, to walk in my new skates from the change rooms to the ice. I was surprised at how easy it was to walk on skates.

I loved it immediately. The memories came bak to me as I felt the cool air on my face and saw the bright white of the ice. I always liked that I could see dark shapes of people against the glaringly bright background.

I held on for dear life to the edge of the boards as I took my first steps onto the ice in more than twenty years. I loved to smell the fresh coolness of the rink, that smell I always loved and never forgot.

I had no immediate plans of letting go of the side, but right away I felt something familiar as I began to get the feel of the ice again. I followed the side along, relearning how to move and propel myself forward on these seemingly thin blades. I listened to the scraping noises of the other skaters and I suddenly had the urge to release my hold by the open door and go go go.

I held onto the boards, onto my sister, onto my father. He and I began to skate, him taking my hands and then he was skating backwards. The first fall of the night. He and I were talking and he did not notice the hockey net sitting there on the ice. He backed into it and we both fell. I landed on my knees, getting slightly entangled in his legs. He took the brunt of the fall, but something flashed me back to being eight years old and my poor teacher going down.

My father stood up painfully, my sister rushed over, and the both of them helped me up. I clung to the boards once more, feeling nauseated and dizzy. I knew he was okay and hadn’t broken anything, that once more I hadn’t been responsible for anything, but I was immediately brought back to the past and I felt as close to a panic attack as I’ve ever felt.

Finally I could move again and I began to slowly make my way around by holding onto the side. The skate was almost over and I took my chance, just in case we did not return with the rest of the family the next day. I let go and moved a little distance from the side, but still close enough that I could grab on if I needed to. I had to learn how to move my feet, how fast to go and how to slow myself down and stop. I tried to learn how to keep my balance and how to distribute my body weight.

I moved a little and then I went down, hard, on my behind. This was okay. It was painful, but I was proud that I had taken the chance. Maybe skating with another person would be a good idea, for a while still, but I continued to yearn for the freedom of skating, fast and with confidence, all by myself.

So you might fall, I told myself. So what. Life is like that. You can go through it, never letting go of the safety of the side, or you can let go and see what happens.

Even with the falls and the flashbacks I felt a high as we left the rink and headed for home. I felt strangely exhilarated. I had felt a familiar feeling of comfort. I had felt at home, like an old memory. Muscle memory of some kind. It came back to me, like when you learn something from such an early age. It always stays with you and helps you as you grow older. I felt, even with the ever-present risk of falling, that I was home again.

It seemed, this time, like a much longer and farther distance to fall than as a child. If nothing is risked nothing is gained, I told myself to push this thought out of my head. I never wanted to leave that rink.

We returned the next day and this time I had my older brother too. I felt a certain certainty in skating with both my father and my brother. They were both tall and sturdy. They had a comfort on skates that I could feel the moment I held onto them and we began to round the rink, the side feet away and me loving the feeling.

I noticed how good it felt to work up the sweat, under my thick winter coat, the rink not even feeling cold anymore. It was a good natural high of moving forward on the ice. I wanted to speed around and around the ice, like everyone else there. I wanted to skate and skate and never stop skating. If I slowed down I wanted to keep moving again.

I was actually glad I had fallen. The next day I did not fall once. I took the risk of broken bones because I felt a sense of rightness and like I was somewhere I belonged and where had I been all this time?

It’s hard to feel comfortable and really go for it when I am at a public skate, with people whizzing by all the time. I think back to our private pond now and wish I were back there, on a silent snowy night.

I want to be able to skate and to practice and get better. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to me, childhood traumas notwithstanding. I am home. Skating is ingrained in my memory, part of my past, and hopefully, my future.

I want to make skating a yearly family tradition around the holidays, something we can do together. A totally Canadian pastime for all of us to enjoy. I can and always have handled falling down, as long as I have them there when I get back up.

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Memoir Monday

The Year I Almost Missed Christmas

The year I almost spent Christmas in the ER.

I’d been on dialysis for nearly six months. Christmas was a mere few days away, but something wasn’t right.

I began feeling ill and something going on in my abdomen grew steadily worse and worse, the pain growing and building.

I spent most of my time downstairs, in our basement, covered in an afghan to stay warm. Grandparents and visitors stopping by for the season, a loving hand tucking the knitted blanket tightly around my trembling arms.

I had come up against all the unforeseen secondary medical issues any doctor could have predicted on the list since starting dialysis in the summer: losing an eye in the process. What more could go wrong? What could this be?

Each evening my mother would go through the checklist: turn on dialysis machine by bed, unwrap and lay out all the necessary tubing and medical supplies, make sure machine was going and the bags of dialysis fluid were placed on the machine and warming up, and finally to commence safety measures to prevent any spreading of germs.

I was on peritoneal dialysis, overnight while I slept. It was a repeated cycle of fluid inserted into my abdomen and then removed, as a way of clearing out toxins. Kidney failure treatment was supposed to be making me feel better. It had been, but not now.

My stomach began to cramp up as the machine began the first cycle. The fluid, on my mother’s inspection, appeared to be a cloudy colour. This, yes while unpleasant to imagine, meant infection.

It was comforting to have doctors on-call anytime, day or night and now only a day or two before Christmas. They told us to come into the emerge right away.

My father was away by the time I had gotten to bed, one of his men’s hockey league nights. We drove to the nearby town where the arena was and switched vehicles with him, not wanting to rely on his old Trans Am to get us all the way there.

My brother came along for support. It was into the front seat of the low-to-the-ground car, ten minute drive to arena, out of low front seat and into the family van. Not so easy in my condition. Stomach hurting so much with the unsuccessful attempt at a PD run earlier.

The whole way to the hospital my big brother sat in the middle seat of the van, holding me up and secure to all the bumps and the jolts. By this time the pain in my stomach was getting even more intense.

Finally we made it to the hospital and I was taken right in, given a bed and a curtain to close off the rest of the hustle and bustle of the overnight ER.

I spent a few hours on that bed as I was given antibiotics to try and stop the infection, through my abdominal catheter, same procedure as any other night’s dialysis routine.

We returned home, early on the morning of Christmas Eve and I spent the next few days horizontal.

First my brother and I both collapsed on opposite ends of the L-shaped living room couch, exhausted from the excitement of the previous night.

I had no idea what it was going to require in that emerge, so close to Christmas 1996 and if I would make it back in time to celebrate with my family. In the end I spent a somewhat uncomfortable Christmas Day, opening presents, grateful for dialysis and it’s many surprises (often unpleasant) but still necessary.

This holiday season I reflect on that particular Christmas and so many more, while I appreciate the almost twenty years that I’ve been dialysis free since that terrible, memorable night.

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Fiction Friday, Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, NANOWRIMO 2014, National Novel Writing Month, Writing

NANOWRIMO 2014: End of Week Two, Rebellion

Welcome back to my weekly Fiction Friday post, all the month of November dedicated to National Novel Writing Month, 2014 and we have arrived at the close of Week Two.

Last week I spoke about the somewhat hesitant decision to take part for the second year,

Here.

This time I will explain what I mean by the title of today’s post: Rebellion.

Yes, I am a NaNoWriMo rebel.

What does this mean?

Writer Alana Saltz writes an excellent blog post about this and I wanted to share it here, before I explain how I fit into this category:

How to be a NaNoWriMo Rebel.

Now, anybody who knows me knows I am routinely known as a rebel anyway. This is, therefore, not all that far off.

🙂

Actually, I like to follow rules, when I can. It’s the OCD in me that prefers this.

So last year I wrote my daily word count, writing one novel, and it was only a frustration with the site that was so bothersome that I resorted to Twitter to keep track of my progress.

I felt I did everything I was supposed to do, according to,

NaNoWriMo.org.

This year I thought I would give it a try once more, but from the beginning I did not feel like following any rules, whether this might disqualify me or not.

I did not have a new idea for a story. I barely got to editing after last November and I never did finish last year’s story.

I had that one floating around in my head for several years. There was no way I was going to finish it in one year or even to put it aside and focus on a whole new story, but I did not want that to disqualify me from participating this year.

My novel “Till Death” is a story of great love, the hardest of times, and finding one’s way through grief and loss.

I thought this year I would continue the story of three generations of a family: a teenage daughter, her father, and her grandfather.

I wanted to answer the question: how does death affect people at different stages of life?

I thought, why not? Why couldn’t I continue that story this November?

Who says it has to be a brand new story?

Who was going to stop me?

I will use the motivation, but not necessarily stick to the rules others are following for the month.

When I heard Alana speak on how she wasn’t following the rules either, I felt a freedom and like I had been given some invisible marker of permission to be the rebel I always wanted to be.

Next week I will write about setting goals and meeting them.

What do you think of my themes and storyline?

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Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, Kerry's Causes, Memoir Monday, Special Occasions, This Day In Literature

Special Magnificence

It’s the start of a new week once more and once again, on this Memoir Monday, I participate in:

The Redefining Disability Awareness Challenge.

Last week I answered Part A of this question:

If you have a medical diagnosis, do you see yourself as having a disability? Why or why not?

And

HEre, was my answer.

And Now, in Week Four, Part B: My mother speaks to the following:

Q: If you don’t have one, how do you view the concept of disability or the people in your life who have them?

A: Disability is such a broad term, it can be physical, developmental, very minor in it’s effects or all encompassing.

When you’ve had little experience with someone with disabilities, you often only see what someone is unable to do. The longer you know or more people you know with disabilities, you see them first as the person that they are and don’t even see their disability.

Everyone does their best to cope and deal with their own disability.
One of the hardest parts is when you are closely related, feeling helpless to fix or make it all better for the people you love.

Thank you to my mother and father for their sincere and heartfelt answers to the questions I have asked them to answer these last few weeks.

Next week, together, we answer the following question:

What have your experiences been with medical treatment and/or therapy been like? Do you have positive, negative, or mixed feelings about your experiences?

***

“The Bagginses had lived in the neighbourhood of the hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected. This is a story of how a Baggins had an adventure and found himself doing and saying things altogether unexpected.”

The above quote is from J.R.R. Tolkien, on this the eve of the first day of autumn and Hobbit Day.

This, in Middle-Earth, is when the celebrations take place: The Big Birthday.

This, around the world, is the start of the autumn season and Frodo, Bilbo, and Tolkien are celebrated by fans everywhere.
I love this particular season, feeling a shift and a change.

September 22nd is a big day for Frodo and Bilbo in those books and for me, I feel it too.

This week and day were first recognized and celebrated back in 1978 and since then parties have been thrown, food consumed for the occasion, and Middle-Earth literature and films have been screened. Both Tolkien and his son Christopher (just like Bilbo and his nephew Frodo) are celebrated all week long.

In past years my favourite holiday was always Christmas, but this year in particular I am looking forward to the theme of harvest, the apples and the pumpkins, and the bright colours of the leaves and the cool and crisp fall air.

It was the start of a new journey for both Bilbo and Frodo. Sure, the journey was just beginning and their were many cold, dark, and difficult days to come still.

I know winter naturally follows fall, but these autumn months are just the break from the crazy days of summer that I have been waiting for. Those two loveable creatures of my favourite stories in literature give me so much joy.

“Today is a day of special magnificence!”

Happy Hobbit Day to you all.

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Kerry's Causes, Memoir and Reflections, Special Occasions

Angels

Today is a day to celebrate!

It’s one year since Brian’s kidney transplant and I wanted to share something I wrote only days afterward. There are ways to write a letter to the family of a donor. I hope I am not stepping over a line here, but this is my way of speaking to the people who gave my brother his life back.

***

July 20, 2013

Dear Anonymous Angels,

I will try my best to keep this letter brief, but because my gratitude to you is both endless and boundless, it can’t possibly really be expressed using any words to any real satisfaction. Yet, here I go anyway …

This is fresh because I am writing to you all one week after it happened, after the accident that would change your life forever…and the gift you would give to my family as a result. I go back and forth as to whether or not I want to write this, at all, but I am doing so now because I need to say this. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to hear it, but maybe that’s just my own guilt talking; maybe you’d grasp for what I have to say…if only because it is something to show for your loss, when there is nothing I nor anyone else could ever truly say to make your pain any less.

Before one week ago you were alive…full of life and laughter and love. You walked and spoke and thought. You had a beating heart. How do I know this? You signed your donor card. You spoke to your family about what your wishes would ever be if the unthinkable happened and your family had to make the ultimate in painful and heart-wrenching choices. The ethics of organ donation are so widely debated, but the real discussions are had between couples, families, and inside each individual’s own thoughts. I have been directly involved in such discussions, on the one side, for years and I still find myself torn deep to my core. Your selflessness is evident, no matter what else I could say or wonder about you. I don’t know you and never will, but I get to know a little piece of you now, inside my loved one.

I went first. I got sick. That wasn’t what I wanted for my little brother. I want you to learn a little bit about the life you’ve just saved:

I have read and heard many a definition of the word “soulmate” and I know what most people think when they hear it. To me, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with romantic interest or attachment. My younger brother is my soulmate. He is one person out of billions that I have an attachment to which I won’t, don’t and will never have with anyone else. He is my brother, my support, my friend, my pal, my conscience, and my hero. He challenges me, calls me out on things, pushes me when needed and pulls back at just the right time. He is my best friend and my toughest critic. People make jokes about how they must be adopted…well I say my brother and I must be twins, but not fraternal or identical: just twins of every other name.

We are the youngest two born out of four: we share the same syndrome, with its lack of sight, damaged kidneys, and the rest. We think so similarly that it often frightens me to think of it. He knows me, sees me, and reads me more clearly than anyone I’ve ever met. We’re family, but so much more…we’re accomplices in crime and two-of-a-kind. We’re quite the pair. I am his protector and he is mine. No one has my back and my best interest at heart like he does. His humour makes me smile whenever I need cheering up. We laugh until our sides hurt, about our own private jokes, the private language we two alone share. We talk and philosophize about the world and everything in it, desperate to understand our place.

I want you to know all this about him because you gave him back to me. You have given him his new lease on life. Nothing will stop him now. His determination and his strength continually astonish me and they are there more than ever; now his physical limitations can’t hold him back.

We’ve done this before, been here before, but that last time was different. There’s no question in a parent’s need and desire to give a kidney to their child; my father and mother…I got his and my brother got hers. This was never the end of the story and we all knew it, but I could never have imagined how it would feel now. I ache for you all; I hurt, and for unnamed and unknown people somewhere out there whom I have never met. You didn’t know us, or have reason to help, but yet here we are and you did. Why …?

***

I realize the abrupt stop above. I got to that point and my emotions took over. That is as far as I got and thought it best to leave it there.

Please! Today take the time to be thankful for the life and health you and your loved ones have. Not everyone has that now.

Thanks for listening.

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