Three weeks sailed by, in all the usual ways. I can’t remember which is the cruelest month but if I had to choose it would be February. I was glad it was over. March came in like a lion. It snowed plenty but not enough to cancel the busses, much to Jody’s dismay. Jody and I spent at least one grouchy week during report-card time. This was a standard outcome and we understood it, even though it took a couple of days each term to remember why it was Jody was so touchy. I was grateful to have my monthly week of evening shifts in there so I could stay of her way. We attended the talk by the Buddhist monk, that we learned about thorough yoga. It was held at the library, just a short, brisk walk away. He was a charming young man who told amusing but meaningful stories about the conditions and consequences of life. There was a pretty good crowd assembled so we hoped he might come to visit Carter again. The monk’s easy words were not quite enough for me to convince Jody that the condition of report cards provoked the consequence of suffering. But it was enough for me to appreciate that the condition of whining about your partner’s mood provoked the consequence of more mood.
Bridie was deep into her palliative radiation. I kept in touch with her by phone, every few days. I came to work, I talked with people and I tried to be helpful. For instance, I raised my hand in a team meeting and was included in an internal hospital review regarding elopements. In institutions, elopement has nothing to do with the thrill of running off to marry your lover. For us elopement means that a person we are supposed to keep safely on-site got out of hospital. I was particularly interested in how we could improve our way of managing these situations because I was involved in a recent elopement situation. A woman I had just finished assessing eloped from the emerg. Thankfully we were able to track her down and get her back intact. But since it involved no boots, no coat and a stroll down Jenkins Street, the hospital was under scrutiny and understandably there were a lot of questions to answer.
My assessment recommended transfer to The North, where she had previously been treated on a long-term care unit. The North didn’t accept admission after hours so we made arrangements to admit her to our local mental health unit. On the surface it seemed reasonable to everyone except the woman. With the result that she decided to take a flyer from the back emergency exit and visit the Dairy Queen a block over. Ei yi, yi. On a cheerier note, the Leafs were on a winning streak!
Lowell and I continued to meet. He did finally take a month to tell me his story, which we examined and critiqued along the way. The rascal disclosed a suicide attempt at age seventeen, when he was struggling with his sexual identity. He insisted he forgot about it during all my initial interrogation. It reminded me just how much we have to rely on the power of interpersonal connection and relationship to hear, and sometimes truly understand, the personal experience of another person. Anyway, as we worked through his story, Lowell decided to pull aside the other teacher who knows about his orientation and confide his worries with her. She was savvy, which will buy him some time to decide when and how to disclose who he is, in a way that he is in control of. Through the teachers’ federation, he has connected with some other gay and lesbian teachers in Toronto, and that has been very supportive for him.
March is a magical month for teachers, so it is probably the farthest from cruel. Midway through the month there is a March Break. A week off work! Ordinarily, Jody and I would fly off and enjoy a warmer clime and be silly for the week. Sadly, this year, we had some repairs scheduled for the house and we were grounded, financially. Nevertheless, I couldn’t watch Jody suffer for the seven long days. So, I booked two vacation days and on the Tuesday and Wednesday she and I headed down to the city for a small vacance. We went to the Art Gallery and soaked in beauty while dodging the rooms that contained the March-break children’s programs. We had a primo Mexican lunch in the Market area, topped off with fresh churros, tubes of dough flash fried then rolled in sugar and cinnamon. I liked my plain; Jody liked her tube filled with dolce de leche.
We had planned a special Tuesday night. Mary Gauthier, a brilliant but alarmingly dark songwriter and musician was playing at a small venue, and our Christmas gift to each other was tickets to the concert. Dinner was available at the lounge so we didn’t have to scurry around looking for a place to eat, and we could get there in ample time to catch a good seat. Me, I’m always worried about getting a good seat. At my height the right seat is very important. Jody, not so much; she can see over the others. We managed to slide in one table back from the first row and tucked into our plates of pasta and bread, carbs be damned. We even splurged on a salted caramel brownie to share. “Why hasn’t the person who first put the salt in the caramel been nominated for a Nobel Prize?” Jody wondered aloud.
“Is there a Nobel Prize for dessert?” I moderated, not wanting to spoil the ambience.
“Think about it!” She laughed. And I really did have to agree with her.
Mary Gauthier was as magnificent as we remembered. The words to her songs take your soul, wring the life out of it then, coincidentally, with ‘Mercy’, the name of one of my favourite songs, her striking voice pours it back in. Even she jokes that after a performance she feels better after emptying the hurt out to her newly bummed audience. But she laughs kindly as she says this, so it makes it all easier to take. In all, it was a wonderful day with my love. After the concert, we walked to the subway and took the train back into downtown to check in with Jody’s brother, Chuck. He was expecting us at his condo. We proceeded to spend the next two hours exchanging tales and laughing at each other. And, snacking!
We rose late the next morning, luxuriating in our light schedule. Chuck was also a teacher, so he was enjoying March Break too. That meant he could enjoy a stroll around the corner with us for café au lait and croissant at a hole in the wall French bakery. Yes, this joint had multiple bakes, so the croissants were almost always fresh out of the oven. Crispy, flakey, buttery; decadent! Somehow we scrounged up another two hours of stories while breaking our fast. Chuck asked Jody about her poetry, a topic I didn’t talk enough with her about. Every few days I see Jody scribbling in either the small moleskine notebook she carries in her bag or keeps by her bedside. She usually lets me know when she has something to share but I’ve had no announcements lately so I was a bit shocked to hear she had finished a poem she started two years ago when we drove through Virginia in March.
“Jody!” I retrieved her hand in mine. “You haven’t shared that with me yet. Spill!”
“Well, really I just finished it last week; I’m just finished. You know me I go back and over and around and make changes each time I read it. So, I think I’m finished…”
“Hattie says: Spill!” Her brother echoed.
“Okay, Okay”. Jody zipped open the main component of her bag, then dug in deeply and unzipped an interior compartment, then pulled out a moleskine worn on the edges and help closed with an alligator clip”.
“Sweet Jesus Jody! That is secure.” Chuck laughed. Are your poems state secrets”?
She opened the moleskine, turned it toward Chuck showing him a page with a crossed off grocery list. “No secrets”. She laughed back. “Unless soy cheese is code for ‘the nukes are in the garage’.” I knew that the elaborate security system was to keep her work private, until she was ready to share. That being so, I felt a little sheepish about putting her on the spot. “Jody, only read it if you are ready…”. Her tender smile recognized my guilt. Nevertheless, she opened the page to a page midway through the notebook where a passage was outlined in a box.
“This is my first reveal” Jody smiled nervously. “I scratched a few images while we were driving through one of the rock cuts off the interstate in Virginia a couple of years ago. It was cold and icy. Water was seeping through the rocks and had frozen into clear icy drips that sparkled in the sun. I found the notes about a month ago while I was looking for something else and I got back to playing with it. I call it Virginia’s Veil.” She bent her head slightly and slowly recited the words inscribed on the page.
pasted like hope
on fractured stone”
Jody stopped and looked up at her tiny audience. Neither Chuck nor I had fully absorbed the beauty of the words. “Once more…please?” I asked. I watched her carefully enunciate each syllable as she spoke the poem the second time. “I absolutely love it” I whispered when she had finished. “Thank you”. She beamed in response.
Chuck agreed but with more vehemence. “You have to get that one published Jody”. Despite several rejection slips, Jody had two of her previous poems published, one in a poetry magazine and one in a high school poetry textbook. This poem, in my estimation was her best work. We chatted on, developing a strategy for Jody to be famous and overcome her inherent humility. Finally she agreed to give this poem a shove out into the world, where Chuck and I thought it belonged. The time was flying because we were having so much fun. Chuck and his wife had separated almost three years ago and his kids were off at school, so he was grateful to enjoy a break from his lonely days. We bade him farewell after walking back to his building and fetching Jody’s hybrid from his guest parking.
We weren’t headed straight home yet. Along the way, just off the main highway, is a small gallery devoted primarily to the Group of Seven painters and this was our next stop. We both loved the Group of Seven. I was a fan of Thom Thompson and last summer we finally made the pilgrimage to the Leith Church in Owen Sound so see his supposed grave. Apart from his use of colour and contour, Thompson’s life is a parallel mystery. He might have been murdered, he might have fallen out of a canoe but without a doubt he was dead. Jody preferred Lawren Harris. His work is stark in its genius. Our rankings were pretty fluid however and we easily enjoyed the whole brilliant lot. We pondered the paintings, dodged the March Break children’s programs and walked back to the car in the wind, arm in arm, me and my precious poet.
One last stop was a natural grocery store where we could stock up on a few essentials that weren’t available in Carter. We exited with three bags of goodies, including duck eggs and curried tofu! The snow began to tumble out of the sky about a half hour before we arrived at our street and since it had been clear all the while we were away, the driveway did not need to be shoveled to let us in. Just a short run over the short furrow of plough slop and we were home.