grief

spring forward, fall back

When my father died, I was in the middle of a punishing Toronto winter. Salt caked the bottoms of my shoes, my knuckles split from the dry air. It was my first one away from the West Coast, and I was unprepared both practically and emotionally (for the winter, that is – but I suppose also for death). The next morning I was on a flight home to Vancouver. As the plane took off, the man next to me immediately tried to pick me up. I told him my dad had just died. He persisted. When we landed for the layover he asked me if I wanted to go to the bar with him. A flight attendant found me hunched under a chair at the gate and asked me what was wrong. She booked me into a new seat for the next flight, sitting in a row by myself. As soon as the plane took off, a man moved into the aisle seat, spreading his legs so that his knee touched mine. I took off my parka and stuffed it into the seat between us.

It was spring in Vancouver. My friends were already waiting at my apartment when I arrived, ready with snacks and magazines and distraction. My eyes kept drifting to the open window, and so we went for a walk in our t-shirts and jean jackets. The cherry blossoms on Victoria Drive were raining sweet-smelling petals on the sidewalk. Cliché would have me had me believe in that moment that it was all a cruel irony, something along the lines of how-can-things-be-so-beautiful-when-life-is-so-unkind or perhaps if-only-he-were-here-to-see-this. But branches snapped, synapses misfire, somehow all I could quite get out is ‘look at that. Look at that.’

I was 28, half my father’s age, when he died. The symmetry of this young death set in motion this thought, this undercurrent, slow like sap – what if I were already halfway done? I was always an empath, but this part of me has been set on fire. I am constantly in a state of this relentless feeling of being alive, and if sometimes too numb to feel alive, at least consistently not dead. I am overwhelmed now by the colour green. Green like my eyes, which every person at the funeral took care to tell me are just like his. (For the record, my mother’s eyes are also green – but fathers’ contributions tend to eclipse mothers when they are sparse enough to be named). Green was in short supply when I returned to Toronto the next day.

And now, two years gone, the smell of spring is now tied to the bright horror of that day. So much of the memory is redacted that the final cut makes little sense – the boozy breath of the man on the plane; cherry blossoms falling on my friend’s upturned face; standing outside the bar crying with only a sweater on. I look for myself in the frame, but it feels like a soap opera where they replace an actor mid-season and hope no one will notice.

For every part of me that didn’t make it through that winter, something new has grown in its place. Something that is too new to fruit or flower, but is growing nonetheless. The dead parts I’ve shed are like things that grow and see their season pass before their utility is known – like chestnuts, like dandelion puffs, like fallen leaves. I itch and ache from these new appendages that have not yet shown me what they do. I feel it most in the spring.

It’s the harsh glory of the sun on subterranean winter eyes, it’s the splitting husks of bulbs making way for a mighty green shoot. It’s cherry blossoms crushed underfoot on pavement.

It hurts.

But look at that. Look at that.

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