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Fiction Life Memory Lane

Tending the Garden

Sara watched him drive away and waited until his car was out of sight before she felt the warmth of her tears on her cheek. When she met him, he had been a stranger to her and after all this time he still was. But there was something about him.

They’d both been through bad marriages and were both still figuring out how to move on. When they’d met, they had found a common thread that connected them; this shared grief and confusion about how to go on.

Victor was a strong and stoic man, and she’d never really had the chance to see his emotions. He did what he did best – he worked. He saw that she needed help, that she was feeling lost and he’d started showing up at her door early in the morning on weekends. There was work to be done.

He motivated her to get things done, to get fresh air, to go outside and walk. He helped her fix things in her house and had even taken to calling her late at night during the week to ask how much she had done. She’d resented it at first; she knew she was lost but he was making her feel inadequate, as if she was lazy. She wasn’t lazy though – she was scared. Scared of the overwhelming task that was facing her.

But even though he pushed her, he was there to do the heavy work. There was furniture to move and walls to prepare and paint. In the spring, he’d helped her edge the lawn and trim the trees and bushes. And when summer came, he told her to plant a garden.

“A garden?” she thought, “I don’t have time to garden”. She planted it anyway though. As Sara and Victor worked in the garden together, they talked about their childhood and the different paths they had taken. She found out that he wasn’t actually that knowledgeable about gardening – this was something they were learning and discovering together. Even the choice of plants was new to him; they weren’t things that grew in his country. Squashes, zucchinis, kale and swiss chard were all new to him and together they were learning how to make them grow.

She found herself going outside daily to weed the garden and she watched with delight when her favourite vegetables grew. She shared what she couldn’t use with friends and made new friends along the way and all her friends dropped by to help tend the garden. She created create new dishes for him to try, and made soups and stews and sauces, and filled mason jars to share with friends.

Weekends became a routine; Victor came over and whenever the weather wasn’t nice, they worked together inside the house. When the weather was nice, they worked in the garden or went on long walks. He talked about his childhood, about escaping a communist country, about his love of history. Sara had never left her country, or even her county and was fascinated by his stories of growing up in a communist country, of fleeing through Austria, and arriving in Canada. Just as she had needed help, he did as well. Sara became his confidant and with her he’d learned to be appreciated and cared for.

They talked about their childhood, their marriages, their disappointments and their successes. They talked about their children and the kind of people they had become, about the importance of remembering your heritage and language. They held hands on their walks, awkwardly at first, and then comfortably. They were learning to be friends, and to trust again.

He promised her nothing, but gave her so much and she knew she’d never forget all that he’d shared and all that he’d given. He was leaving now, but he hoped to be back in six months. He was going to visit his children and then he was going home to Poland for a few months. He hadn’t been back there since he’d left and it was time.

Summer was over now, and the last of the garden’s produce had been gathered. The leaves had fallen from the trees and snow was in the forecast. It was time for the soil to rest, and to wait for spring.

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Fiction Life

Frozen

She hated winter despite the fact she’d lived up north for many years. The cold seemed to kill something inside her, and year after year, when she put away the patio furniture and her summer clothes, she cocooned herself inside the house and waited for the frozen world to thaw. Through four long months of bitter cold, she functioned on automatic – get up in the morning and go to work in the dark; come home in the dark and go to bed. When the darkness outside her started to creep into her mind and soul, she used her Feel Bright light visor that claimed to prevent SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD – what an appropriate acronym. She became sadder each day, waiting for the rebirth of nature, the reappearance of the sun, and to feel its warmth on her skin again.

It was still early March and winter had lasted longer than anticipated. That silly groundhog was always wrong. This winter had been particularly hard for her, her first year on her own. She had learned to use the snow blower; she had chipped away ice, and closed up all the water lines herself. She’d sat in the dark most nights, worrying about every creaking noise the house made, worried about the power going out or the furnace dying, and imagining herself freezing to death with nobody even knowing for weeks.

She stood beside the frozen canal and thought about the changes in her life and the separation that had been her idea. She’d had enough of being taken for granted in a loveless marriage without even holding hands for more years than she could remember. The only role he’d played in her life was to criticize her and put her down. She was never good enough. She could work and cook and clean and pay for everything but somehow it was never enough. Like the cold, her marriage had killed something inside her and year after year she’d been going through the motions, unable to imagine a future that included happiness.

Not that she was happy now either. Maybe there was no such thing as happiness; maybe it was all just an illusion, like a dangling carrot to keep a person going, this eternal search for happiness. She wasn’t ready to date again. For years she had thought better the devil you know than the devil you don’t and now she realized that no devil at all was the best solution. So, she’d learned to paint ceilings herself, rip up carpets and remove the staples. She cried the entire time out of pain, frustration, and loneliness, but she had persevered.

Things had changed. She was learning to manage on her own, to motivate herself and to keep going; only winter still needed to be conquered. She had avoided dealing with the sham that was her marriage for too many years, now it was time to deal with winter, to draw upon her inner strength, to be a better person, a more resilient person.

She removed her skate guards and stepped out onto the frozen water. Like riding a bike, one never forgets how to skate and it didn’t take long before she was soaring down the canal, arms outstretched and face lifted to catch the rays of the sun. Alone on the frozen canal, warm within her layers of clothing, she was finally flying.

She was finally winning.

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Fiction Life

Daily Commute

She saw the young man sitting across from her on the train flash a look of annoyance as someone brushed his knee with her bag. She wondered why he was annoyed when he was clearly mansplaining (that is the term, isn’t it?) with one leg in the aisle. She studied him more carefully and noticed that his light blue eyes had a very sad look. He was well-groomed with a neatly trimmed short beard, but the woolen gloves that held his mobile phone were frayed with holes along the edges. She looked down and saw his boots were badly scuffed and the sole on his left boot was starting to become detached.

The most obvious thing though was his woolen coat pulled tight at the buttons, so tightly in fact that she was surprised the large brown buttons didn’t start popping off. The jacket was of excellent quality, definitely not some cheap off the rack coat from Walmart, but it was at least two sizes too small. She wondered about his situation as she looked again at his sad blue eyes.

He could feel her eyes on him and he looked down at his phone to avoid returning her gaze. He couldn’t tell if this older woman was just curious about her fellow passengers or if she were somehow judging him. Even though he didn’t know her, he didn’t want her to judge him; he didn’t want anyone to judge him. He had just spent the last of his savings to cover his rent and didn’t even have enough left to pay his utilities. The local welfare office had covered his monthly transit pass so at least he could keep going to interviews. Next month he might end up sleeping on the train if something didn’t turn up.

He caught the train every morning at 7 am and made his way into the city. He was taking a job search program through a library downtown and he usually lingered after the workshop to use  their internet to search for jobs and submit his resume. The location was close to most of the major corporations if a job interview was scheduled; in fact, he was averaging one to two interviews a day. He was trying hard but nothing was working out for him.

This was probably the worst year of his life. He’d moved to the city with his girlfriend and everything had been great until a few months ago when he’d lost his job. It’s funny how you really get to know someone during difficult times, isn’t it? That’s right – his girlfriend had dumped him and moved out, leaving him stuck with a lease he couldn’t afford and no job. His parents hadn’t wanted him to move so far away and they’d actually argued about it, so he wasn’t about to rush back home and eat crow, not yet anyway. He knew it might come to that though; he felt like a complete failure.

Suddenly his mobile phone rang, waking him from his introspective mood.

“Hello?”

“Yes sir, this is Jason. I can absolutely start on the 15th. I’ll be there before 9 a.m. Yes sir, thank you for the call, I’m looking forward to joining your firm.”

The call ended and he just sat there looking at his phone. Then he looked up at the woman sitting across from him. She was smiling at him now.

He smiled back.

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Fiction Life

Pretending

“I’m tired. I realize I’ve been tired for a very long time. Getting through each day, pretending to be normal, pretending to be like everyone else, is exhausting.

“I’m not like everyone else. I came from a different place. Life has shaped me and made me who I am; but somehow that’s not enough and it’s not okay to be who I am. I’m supposed to pretend that nothing that happened to me mattered, that none of it affected me and that at the end of the day, I’m just like everyone else.

“Except I’m not. I’m tired. Tired of living in a world that expects me to conform – to fit a predetermined mold. A world that refuses to let me be me. I live inside my head too much, and I know that’s not healthy. I come out from time to time and pretend to be who others expect me to be but that makes me tired. So very tired.

“Every single person sees me differently. If they all got together and talked about this person they knew, none of them would realize they’re talking about the same person. I am someone different to everyone that knows me. Which means that nobody knows me. And now I’m tired.”

I listened to the man sitting across from me, looking him directly in the eyes. I could feel his confusion and despair and wished there was something I could do to give him hope, to convince him we all had the same thoughts, we all felt the same way. He was just giving a voice to the thoughts that we all had.

Because I was tired too.

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Fiction Life

Forever

It was a windy October day, and she stood at the edge of the park, lost in her own thoughts. She was alone in the park and she watched the empty swings swing back and forth, their chains rattling in the wind. The day matched her mood – solemn, reflective, and overcast. The clouds above made the park seem grey and dingy. Each leaf falling from the trees seemed like a final pirouette through the air towards its inevitable demise.

She used to bring her son here when he was younger and he would squeal with delight as she pushed him gently on a swing.

“Faster Mommy” he would cry, “I want to go higher, I want to FLY!”

Nothing scared him; and he laughed his way through childhood, through school and soccer, through life. He loved playing soccer and he brought an exhilaration to the game, running faster, jumping higher, almost flying. It was hard to keep your eyes on him.

Today was the anniversary of the day he went away. She still felt the ache in her chest, the pain of not having her ray of sunshine. She knew that with time she’d learn to accept it, and that it would get easier, but she couldn’t believe it yet. It felt as if she’d feel this pain forever.

Forever. That was how long he’d left her for. That road of no return. It was probably the only day in his life when he wasn’t laughing. The day she’d come home and found him hanging in his room. She hoped he was flying and laughing again, wherever he was.

Forever is a long time.

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Fiction

Marking Time

Fifteen minutes to three o’clock.

I was nervous. I had flown into Vancouver early this morning. Why did I agree to meet him today? By the time I cleared the arrival gates and taxied to my hotel, I only had time to quickly wash up and unpack my suitcase before heading out to Gastown.

Ten minutes to three o’clock.

I had promised to meet him at the clock in Gastown. It’s one of only a few landmarks I know in Vancouver. I haven’t been here in twenty years; things have really changed. I’ve changed, and I’m sure he has too. Would we still be able to relax and laugh together? Time will tell.

Five minutes to three o’clock.

Time moves slowly on the west coast. Or so he always used to say. I have no idea why we lost touch. Same country but different ends of the world it seemed. He told me on the phone that he had never married. I wonder why not. Is it rude to ask someone that question?

Two minutes to three o’clock.

I hope I don’t embarrass myself by talking too much about myself or asking weird questions.

Now I see him (at least I think it’s him). Did he always wear such thick glasses? Recognition slowly dawns on his face (at least I think it’s recognition – we agreed to meet here and I’m the only one here).

“Sarah?” he asked. Just for a moment I saw the doubt in his eyes.

I smiled. “Hi Mark, is it really you?”

His face lit up with a grin as he wrapped me in the biggest hug I’d had in years.

Then at exactly the same time, we both started to laugh.

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Fiction

On Devil’s Rock

She stood high atop Devil’s Rock, looking down on Lake Timiskaming, high above the surrounding expanse. From her vantage point she could scan the areas all around her, each one holding a precious part of her past. She could remember when she used to jump from this rock into the water below. The first time she was terrified and she had no idea how she had finally found the courage to take the plunge. Perhaps it was peer pressure or not wanting to look weak in front of her friends.

Through the years there had been accidents though, times when people took a chance and didn’t jump far enough out and ended up crashing onto the rocks below. Those ones never survived. Others had been caught by undertows and couldn’t make it back up to the surface for air. While some of them managed to be rescued, others ended up being carried on the current until they landed on some unfortunate person’s beach.

The houses all around her were reminders of her friends; she could associate almost every single one with a friend’s name. Most had moved away over the years and she wondered if they ever reminisced about their escapades, such as the time they climbed to the top of the water tower and sat drinking an entire bottle of Black Label whiskey. They ended up far too inebriated to be able to find their way down and so they slept on the cool surface of the water tank until the morning.

She thought about how each of them had grown and changed so much. As time goes on, people drift apart and start new lives, lives that didn’t include them. They started new families, in new cities, and had almost no ties to the past. She’d kept her ties though and faithfully made the trek to northern Ontario every summer, to reconnect with family and to remember who she was and where she came from.

Like she was doing today, standing here on this rock reliving memories of her youth.

She raised her arms above her head and stood on her toes as she slowly started her dive.

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Fiction

Reflections

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person or place is unintentional.

“You seem much calmer lately; much more relaxed. What’s changed?” she asked.

I was a bit flippant in my response. “I’ve stopped worrying about everything. We’re all going to die someday; it’s just a question of when, so why worry about it” I replied. “The more I convinced myself I didn’t want to get old, the longer I seemed to live. Now I’m trying reverse psychology on Mother Nature. Maybe that will help me live a shorter life.

“I’m just kidding though. I’ve actually come to realize that tomorrow’s going to happen whether I worry about it or not, so I don’t. “

“Well it definitely suits you!” she exclaimed. “You’re even wearing your hair differently these days, and is that mascara you’re putting on?”

“It doesn’t hurt to at least try to look good,” I said in my defense, “after all, this is the best I’m ever going to look- it’s all downhill from here!” She grinned in response. Then she became serious.

“I also noticed you’ve even been treating me better and not talking down to me anymore. You used to be so rude and insulting sometimes.” I knew she was telling the truth; I had been terrible to her.

“I’ve decided to treat you the way I treat my friends, and I’m trying really hard to do that,” I admitted. “but we ARE friends, aren’t we? I think we should be.”

“You can be my friend or you can be my biggest critic” she said, “but I like it better when we’re friends. We all needs friends who motivate and encourage us. There’s going to be enough people criticizing us, we should be more supportive.”

We were silent for a few minutes. I finished putting on mascara and carefully applying my lipstick. This was going to be a good day. I looked in the mirror and smiled; my reflection smiled back. We had finally become friends.

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Life

Overthinking Things

An associate of mine (recent immigrant to Canada) told me that in his country, the work ethic was very different. Companies took responsibility for their employees, and looked after them. Part of Management’s compensation was based on their employee retention rate. The culture is very different in North America. When a company reorganizes, they eliminate the “skill sets” they no longer require and hire the skill sets they need. These “skill sets” are people. Gone are the days when you worked for the same company for most of your life and they invested in your development and progression. The average statistic for employee retention these days is 3 to 4 years.

For some people, this can cause anxiety and a tendency to overthink things. People plan their lives over a longer period of time than 3 to 4 years. The success of plans often depends on a level of security or at the very least not financial instability.

This recent article from Kaizen-Habits explains the very real effects from overthinking things:

View at Medium.com

“Many people overthink because they are scared of the future, and what could potentially go wrong. “Because we feel vulnerable about the future, we keep trying to solve problems in our head”

David Carbonell, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It.”

I used to have the same problem; for years I used to overthink everything. I became incapable of making a decision, because I was sure if I kept thinking, I’d come up with a better decision. When I found myself on my own again, I was constantly worried and was overthinking everything. The world became overwhelming and I resorted to using podcasts and meditations to distract my thoughts and quiet my brain so I could sleep at night.

I’m proud to say I’m much better now. I’m working hard at distracting myself, just like the article describes, and I now have a different perspective on life, and on myself. I’m learning to worry less and that any decision is better than no decision.

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Life

Fear of Flying

I was driving down the road the other day and I saw a tiny house fly hanging onto the outside of my driver side window. His little wings were flapping furiously as he struggled to cling onto the window. I wondered why it was so important for him to hang on – he had wings, he could fly away anytime he wanted. Was there something sweet on my window that he wanted? Had I simply taken him by surprise when I started to move?

I glanced to the other side to change lanes, and when I looked back the fly was no longer there. I didn’t know if he’d left on his own or if the air current had swept him away. For a brief moment I wondered if he would be okay – if he’d survived, and then I gave my head a shake. Of course he would be okay – he had wings and he could fly.

Then I realized this was a good analogy for life as well. Sometimes we cling onto things far longer than we should. We hang onto marriages, friendships, jobs, and even houses, when sometimes it’s better to let go. We hang on out of fear, out of a sense of obligation, out of pride, for financial reasons, and for a plethora of other, personal reasons.

We worry about what will happen if we let go; will we survive? Change is scary! People use the expression “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”, or “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”, but that usually doesn’t justify not taking a chance. We recite those types of quotes to make ourselves feel better about not making life changing (and often scary) decisions. I now know that sometimes it’s better to have no devil at all, and that sometimes even one bird can crap all over you.

“Action may not bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

We’ve all had those moments when we knew we needed to do something but seemed frozen – like a deer in the headlights. We all want to make the right choices, the right changes, and we’re terrified of making the wrong decision, but even doing nothing is a decision – and it’s the worst possible decision you can make.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

When I look back through the years, I realize that most changes were thrust upon me – broken relationships, lost jobs, relocations, and many more. There were changes I needed to make but didn’t. I stayed in jobs when a change would have been better for my career. I stayed in relationships long past their best before dates. Hindsight really is 20/20 though isn’t it? I’ve learned that it’s important sometimes to reflect on our lives and decisions and to use that insight to learn and grow.

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in”. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Sometimes that means making a decision to let go. To feel the fear and do it anyway. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Maybe we’ll find out that like that tiny fly – we too have wings and we too can fly.

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