If I want to get my kids to roll their eyes, all I have to do is remind them that in 1981, I had my high school’s record in javelin. I let them roll their eyes, but winning the record was a complete surprise, and a super boost for my then non-existent ego. I had been unimpressive at running track, believe me. I think I looked like I should have been fast, like I had some fast-twitch muscle somewhere, but I did not. During practice one day, I picked up a javelin and threw it for a lark. The track coach came walking purposely down the hillside of the stadium and asked me if I could throw the javelin again as I had just done. I did so, and his face lit up. I won all of the javelin throws at meets from then on, and brought big points to our school. At the end-of-school assembly, I had to stand up while one of the track coaches read out the points, and I couldn’t have been happier. All of the previous summers hoisting hay bales seemed to pay off right there.
The girl’s record, which I think might have been an unimpressive 88 feet(I thought it was meters)(hahaha), was shattered by the time I went back for my five year reunion, but I was still proud of lifting the numbers out of the basement then. The other meaningful trophy that I have was given to me by my ski coach when I started racing at a local resort. It’s a small, crossed pair of skis on a little white pedestal, engraved with 'Most Promising Racer.' This one is my most cherished award, came before my javelin hardware, and was the first real acknowledgement by anyone that I had potential for something. I used to sit and watch all of the ski races on TV, and knew all of the racer’s names, and studied their technique. It was by watching ‘The Wide World of Sports,’ that I learned how to throw that javelin, and oh, look at me go, right? Nothing happened with either sport, other than I think I won a nice pair of bindings after winning a slalom race in college. Not so much opportunity to go out on a day and toss a javelin, but perhaps I didn’t look hard enough. Both of those events offered my first experiences with validation, and it felt good. I certainly wasn’t getting it from home. Thing is, you don’t realize how nice it is, how much you need it until you get a taste of it, and something opens inside and you move more toward wholeness; you are acknowledged, appreciated. Damn.
I suppose being noticed, and getting married to a then recognizable actor was exciting. He was funny, but he was an actor, with an ego. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I used to go for these long runs, around 11k on country roads, training for triathlons, which might have had decent outcomes if I didn’t swim with the grace of a filing cabinet. I enjoyed running the longer distances, and one day, just after Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras and Central America in the fall of 1998, I decided that I would run around the block in the small town where we lived, until I had raised $500.00 that I could donate to the cause. Others ran with me, and the money came, and the Canadian Red Cross gave me a citation for it. I have it up on my wall, but I forget about it mostly. That’s probably why dating has been so slow.
The citation came a few years after I received a certificate from the local airport where I did my first solo flight. I had passed my written flight test, a rather stressful hour or two down at the ministry of transportation, got my radio licence, and was working my way toward doing my flight test. I liked flying in a small plane. The little Cessna I was using wasn’t really much bigger than a Volkswagen Bug, plus wings and tail. I remember very clearly the moment when my instructor who had been with me doing a few take offs and landings, stepped out of the plane with directions for me to do a circuit on my own. She wasn’t very heavy, but the difference in the plane being maybe 120 pounds lighter, was noticeable. My heart was badonkers. I took off, flew up, around, and landed. That was one of the most thrilling moments in my life, more thrilling than throwing the javelin if you can believe it. I was nine flight hours away from qualifying to take my practical flight test, but it was expensive, at least that’s the excuse I was given for me having to stop, and I get that. I have an inkling though that the in-laws might have had something to do with my grounding. They loved me but not the idea of the mother of their grandchildren up flying a plane. Thing is, my then-husband broke the news to me while we were sitting in the stands in a crowded hockey arena. I had to leave because I was crying, and I know I sound spoiled. I know it. I do, but it would have been nice to have someone’s arm around me. I didn’t have my citation yet to prove that I was worthy. I carried no javelin. Note to self; go and buy a fucking javelin.
I liked flying. I was good at it. It was technical, and it was mine. I would go up and do a spin, where you plummet toward the ground from 4000 feet, follow a specific protocol, regain proper flight, and when I would land and get out of the plane, I felt like I could tackle anything, like I had power–I existed. Nothing else has come close. It seemed things in my life began falling apart after that. There was no more 'airplane' spinning, but I certainly was. Oh, I suppose in 2013, I wrote a perfect paper on suicide for a psychology class I was taking, this after my father committed suicide in 2004, and my marriage ended in 2011–that big, old 'Get Out of Jail Free,' train wreck. Now though, the validation I was seeking had nothing to do with medals, or records, or any prizes. I medalled in some cycling races, winning, or at least placing in my age group, and getting those medals was nice, but I had no friends cheering for me at the finish line. Those were some very lonely moments. Why no friends? Well, I didn’t know who the hell I was? My now ex-husband was well, now an ex, so that was out. My sister did her best. It wasn't a great time. Most things sucked.
You know I participated in a Survivors of Suicide group during the winter of 2023, a weekly meeting, for 8 weeks, for people who had lost a loved one. In the last meeting, we were to go around and describe something that the person we had lost did that we loved, or that made us laugh. When I thought of my father, there was nothing fun, or comforting that came to mind. Nothing. What I did remember was when he pulled one of my teeth before it was ready. He was preparing to retire at 55 from his stressful corporate job which meant that we would not have dental coverage, so I suppose he was wanting me to hurry up with losing my baby teeth. I was something like 8, and had a front tooth that was hinting at being loose. One afternoon, he decided that he was going to try to pull it. He took me into the bathroom and I made him promise that if it started to hurt, he would stop pulling the tooth. Well, he didn’t stop. I was screaming, but he continued until he pulled the tooth out, the sink and me covered in blood. Who does that to a kid? I mean, to see that your kid is in pain, but you keep going? What the hell is wrong with you? I don’t remember being comforted after that. I must have been though, don’t you think? I don’t remember if mom was even home. The idea of my father offering physical comfort is a bit of a stretch. It’s too much of a stretch. Where was my javelin when I needed it? Where were my siblings? Or the dog?
What a family. You want the people around you to be cool, to be the best group of people you know, but that’s usually not the case. Sometimes, in consideration of your family of origin, I think you should get a medal just for breathing out, for persisting. My aunt had a wading pool full of kitty litter in her apartment for all of the neighbourhood cats she was feeding. I was shocked when I saw that. I think my father should have taken me aside right then and explained that this was going to be a rough ride, but there was no acknowledgement of how screwy that was. Nobody talked about it. My whole life with that family felt like I was treading water in a pool with no sides to grab on to, or push off from. Nobody explained anything.
I am struck by how painful this is right now. I’ve come far, and I’ve healed so much, but the world doesn’t stand still while you’re working on yourself. There’s this quote from Father Georges Lemaitre, a scientist as well as a theologian, who challenged Einstein about the beginning of it all. He said, the earth must have had “a day without yesterday.” Think about it; all of this began, and we had opportunity, and choice, and here I am, alone in this apartment, doing my best to keep from slitting my wrists every day. I’m trying to recover from looking after my mother during covid, and realizing that my brother is a jerk. Nothing really matters, does it? “Camerado I give you my hand,” says Whitman, and I say, “Like hell.” Like hell. Like hell. Like hell. I am unlikeable; have no listener but the therapist. David Whyte's definition of Friendship, from his book, 'Consolations,' “…the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.” After a tough couple weeks, aiding a troubled friend stateside, and after asking my remaining family to try to be compassionate, to feel deeply, to be authentic and stop communicating with ‘business speak,’ my therapist asked me what I had learned from it all. I sat for a moment and let the answer emerge from my beating, hopeful heart, and what came was that,
“for the first time in my life, I feel that I am worthy of finding someone to be nice to me.”
Sitting with this realization, and Whyte’s words on Friendship, my hope felt poised toward an abyss, and I almost feel lonelier; It is easier, safer to expect nothing. To understand how long it has been since you have felt cared for, if ever, is hard on the soul. There is no award for enduring such pain, only the wind, and your own whispers that you offer yourself as reasons to continue; all of them fiction.