Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Back Home, Days 5 - 7: The Rest of The Story

First, my apologies for dropping out of sight for the past several days; aside from the whirlwind that was my trip back home, I have taken the past few days, since being back in Vancouver, to emotionally regroup and gain some perspective on my latest experience with my family.

Mama Didn't Lie

The day after Father's Day, we went to visit my surviving (paternal) grandmother, whose was of English ancestry, at the care facility she was living at. Similar to the situation with my now deceased grandmother, this grandmother had spent some time shuffling around between different facilities and battling severe health problems. In this case, however, Alzheimer's did not seem to be an issue.

The senior's facility was in an old hospital building in the nearby neighbourhood of St. Michel, about ten-fifteen minutes away. My grandmother's room was on the top floor of the sixth floor building. Hardly any staff (a few custodial workers and one care worker) were to be found and the hallways and help desks were generally empty and unoccupied. Although very clean, well lit and quiet, the atmosphere was still eerily isolated. When we got to her room, it took a moment for my grandmother to realize who we were, and in particular, who I was. Once she did, however, she seemed very pleased that I had come. She was just finishing her lunch on a tray which a staff person soon came to collect.

As we chatted over the next couple of hours, mostly about the wedding (which she had not been well enough to attend), my grandmother asked me the usual questions: "Still working at the same place?", "Have you gained any weight?",  "Are you eating meat, now?" Something else she said nearly threw me off: "You're wearing a scarf in your hair, the way a lot girls are wearing them these days." My stepmother pointed out that a lot of guys were wearing their hair that way, too. I nodded, swallowing the irony of the situation.

The surrounds became a little disturbing when a elderly woman a few rooms away began screaming in anguish. There was also an elderly man in a wheel chair who kept trying to get into my grandmother's room. Apparently, he was notorious for barging into everyone else's quarters on that floor, even sifting through other people's belongings. My father put up the velcro barrier over the doorway to the room to keep the mam out.

My grandmother generally seemed content, expressing only minor complaints about things like not having a breadbox for keeping the sliced bread that one of my aunts brought her. Folks at the end of the lives, like my mother and other grandmother had years earlier, tend to find contentment in simple things.

Later that afternoon, when my father, stepmother and myself were out for a smoke meat dinner several blocks from our apartment, I thought about what a good visit we had had. I had also planned to have the Conversation over dinner. But, it somehow just did not seem like the right time. I could not resist kicking myself for my perceived failure of nerve. On the way home, through the Italian flag wavers and honking drivers (Italy had just won against Ireland at the Euro Cup in Poland), I tried to put it aside for the time being.


The omnipresent heat wave, even unusual in Montreal in mid-June, and the resurfacing of our old family patterns and roles made for a very cooped up experience. My folks seemed quite paranoid about going downtown for fear of being caught in the midst of a student demonstration (which the local media had already suggested was becoming less and less common) and they tried every way to convince me that going too far away was dangerous. I had also forgotten my father's tendency to become obsessed with gloomy news reports and histrionic call-in talk shows. It was the household atmosphere of my youth. We left the apartment together, shopped together and came back home together. When I bought anything, my father rambled on about what it cost. At home, I began to retreat into the spare room that I slept in, playing songs on Accuradio or YouTube for escape. I was reverting to old patterns.

Fortunately, there were two outings on Tuesday to go to. One was a lunch get-together with an aunt and uncle at a nearby Italian restaurant; my father and stepmother had received several gift certificates for the restaurant among their wedding gifts. The food was fantastic; I ordered a linguine dish in an arrabiata sauce (my favourite) with mushrooms, Italian sausage and Kalamata olives. My father and uncle each had the all you can eat mussle special (in a marinara broth). The wine was also flowing. When tipsy, I tend to crack jokes. At one point, I leaned over to my stepmother and, pointing at my father, said "Well, you wanted a guy with mussels, and there he is!"

A great lunch was had by all.

That same day, a good friend of mine who was studying journalism at Carleton University drove down from Ottawa to do some freelance business and also to touch base for dinner that evening. When, she came by, I introduce her to my folks; I had already told them how important this friend had been in helping me through my bad patch a few years earlier.

My friend and I went to a Chinese-Japanese-seafood buffet in a strip mall a couple of blocks west of the apartment. While there, I filled her in on how difficult it had been trying the breach the subject of my transition to my family. I actually could not believe that they could not see a change in me: my face, my lack of facial hair, my longer head hair. They had asked me no questions, none. Though my friend made a valid point, that usually parents do not think of their "son's" subtle physical changes as evidence of "him" transitioning, I still had trouble believing it. I had no idea if I was even going to be able to tell them. One thing became clear, that staying with them had meant a loss of my personal boundaries; I no longer felt safe to have an important discussion about anything.

Catching up at the buffet, however, was great fun and I was glad that my friend could make it down. That night, for the first and only time since I had arrived, the temperature was cool enough to sleep well in.

Go Where You Wanna Go

My last full day in Montreal had nothing scheduled, so we had lunch at a local Italian bakery/cafe and then, walked over to the strip mall to do some window shopping. While in a kitchen store, I suggested my father think about getting his mother a breadbox. "It would make her happy," I said.

That night we had macaroni in homemade sauce, the way we used to years ago.

The next day, I packed my two bags and we left for the airport around noon. We spent a few hours at a Tim Horton's nearby, during which I was certain that the Conversation was imminent. It was not. And maybe just as well. I decided that I could only do this from the safety of being across the country, in my home of seventeen years with most of my friends and my support network. I could write and blog without the sense of and eye looking over my shoulder. I did not have to hide taking my hormones or other medication. I would be better this way after all.

I hugged my father and stepmother at the Domestic Departures drop-off at the airport, wishing them well and knowing full well they were missing me already. This was how it had to be.

I sighed with relief as the plane lifted off over the West Island through the layers of extreme heat and haze. When I landed back in Vancouver, it was chilly and cloudy. But, it was home. It was mine.

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