Grieving for Blake: a ghostly affair

Persistent readers know that I have been documenting the demise of my ex-husband Blake here at 115journals. I’ve told of his remarkable 8-year survival with stage 4 prostate cancer, and lately his decline as he began to lose his grip on his perch. He passed away last Monday.

We have been divorced for forty years. We were married for only nineteen. We had two children, who are themselves middle-aged now. To protect their interests, I agreed to act as his executor. I knew it was a bad idea, but I wasn’t aware that I would be chief mourner and ghost-whisperer as well.

When it comes to Kubler-Ross’s  seven stages of grief, I’m a rapid cycler.

Saturday, I set up a little altar in the loving spirit of letting him go, or to be precise, getting him to go. He had turned up in Georgia’s bedroom at 5:20 a.m. in his hospital gown, trailing his blue hospital blanket, confused but vividly Blake. A few days later, Georgia’s daughter jumped off the floor and screamed as something brushed past her in a doorway. Admonitions to go to the light, to go find Leyla, his second wife, fell on deaf protoplasm, as did a final plea to go find his pet Sheba Inu.

In my place, his presence was more diffuse and business-like. He has left me to file several years of income tax, as well as deal with Alice, his resident gold-digger. On Saturday, that seemed charmingly chivalrous, so I set up an auxiliary shrine on the dining room table. As a Taoist, I keep a family shrine with pictures of my people, past and present, Kwan Yin, the Mother, Buddha and candles. I put a picture of 23-year-old Blake in his graduation gown, his obit, a book of Rumi poetry, a dozen tea-coloured roses, incense, Kwan Yin, Buddha and lit bees wax candles. It was the Saturday after his passing, the day we would have had his funeral if he hadn’t opted out of such ritual. I read him Tennyson:

Sunset and evening star
and one clear call for me
May there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.

Then I got on with my own taxes.

In the evening, I sat down to finish watching The Girl on the Train on Netflix. I had read the book some time ago, and, although I had forgotten it mostly, I knew I hated all three neurotic women and especially the drunken protagonist, who just wouldn’t let up on her ex’s new wife and may have killed her neighbour. About an hour later, my mood had swung from loving a farewell to dear Blake, to get back here: I’ll kill you myself. For my lovely Blake was every bit as good at gas-lighting as Tom, the husband in the story. We – ex-wife, daughter and step-daughter – had compared notes at dinner one February night when the family had travelled from near and far to say goodbye to papa. And he wasn’t beyond blackening each of our names to the others. Then, of course, there was the question of Alice, his latest triumph, 45-years younger, who wouldn’t let us in to see him without a hissy fit, and who had been helping him work his way through the home equity line of credit at a good fast clip.

I repurposed the altar in the name of love and told Blake to get lost.

So here I am, middle of the night, suddenly awake and sobbing with grief. I knew him longer than anyone still extant. I may have loved him best. I certainly hated him best.

He’s gone. I can’t call him up to lament about one ‘child’ or the other. I can’t depend on his caring as much as me. And no, I can’t tell Blake – whatever – anymore.

He believed death was the absolute end. There was nothing after.

In that case, settle down, Boy.

 

House of Cards- season 2: a personal response

THERE BE SPOILERS HERE.

The best thing about the release of Season 2 of Netflix’ House of Cards is that it made this interminable northern winter more bearable for two weeks. Yes, I rationed myself. The worst thing is that it led me to lower my estimate of my IQ.

I could follow the Zoe story, the Rachel story, the Freddy story, the Adam Galloway story, even the hacker story, but the Tusk/Walker/Underwood story not so much. More than once I said to myself, “Wait, what just happened there?” Nobody else was at the same episode as I was, so the only available answers were on-line. I got Donald Blyth, chief Underwood congressional hater, mixed up with Michael Kern, Senate Whip. I didn’t figure out where that damn bridge was/was not going to built until yesterday. Over Long Island Sound?! But mostly, I couldn’t believe that a sitting president could be impeached on such flimsy grounds.

I told myself to suspend my disbelief. Shakespeare played fast and loose after all – Birnam woods coming to Dunsinane! Perhaps I don’t understand the U.S. government. True, I studied it in my senior year in high school for a whole term, but as a Canadian, I find it easier to see how a British prime minister, in a parliamentary system, can be put out of office by a vote of non-confidence. (See U.K. House of Cards by Michael Dobbs, adapted by Andrew Davis) Really, I felt I needed a flow chart to figure out which side of Xander Feng Underwood was on this week. Tusk would automatically fall on the other side. In the end, of course, Xander, sexual proclivities and all, found himself on the altogether wrong side.

Still is it believable I kept asking myself that Walker can be impeached? He knows absolutely nothing about Feng’s money being laundered through the First Nation Casino into Democrat coffers. When Tusk breaks his silence at the congressional hearing, he lies. That Senator Kern would rather see the president impeached than face a Democratic minority, I couldn’t believe either. And Walker’s approval rate sinks to single digits, lower than Nixon’s. Whoa, those Americans can sure get riled up over a little incomprehensible financial hanky-panky. And possible Xanex!?

But, really, I didn’t care I was so sick of Garret Walker! He was so naive, such a git. How is that possible to rise to the highest office in the world and be so un-calculating? For a brief moment, he actually has Underwood’s measure and freezes him out, but then Frank “cuts out his heart and hands it to him” in a letter typed on an -wait for it- Underwood typewriter. At that point when Walker welcomed Frank back, I didn’t care that he was being railroaded He was in Kevin Yeoman’s words ( http://screenrant.com/house-of-cards-season-2-finale-review/ ) “the most feckless, susceptible individual on television today”. He needed to be put down.

I can see the illogic of this opinion. Shouldn’t I be blaming inept writing?

Some of the best writing was in Season 2, episode 1, which packed a real wallop. Even for me and I had been expecting it, having seen the U.K. version. It was brutal enough, but Francis Urquhart push for self-protection did not involve such sudden, noisy violence. And Mattie in the British show had a creepier relationship with Urquhart. Zoe was more likeable, more of a warrior, a worthier opponent. Indeed with her gone the game got less interesting. Lucas is less self-assured, more easily outwitted. (Lucas, don’t fall for random internet invitations!) As devious as Tusk can be and as powerful as he is -turning off the power and plunging Camden Yards into darkness just as Frank is about to throw out the first pitch – he doesn’t hold up.

Jackie Sharp, a military hero, whom Frank has chosen to take over his old position of Democratic Whip now that he is vice president, is a strong woman who makes up for the loss of Zoe. I predict that she will continue developing into worthy opponent for Frank, just as devious, but possibly slightly more principled.

Doug Stemper’s fate didn’t surprise me either, although it’s manner did. The U.K. version was filmed during the ongoing IRA crisis, so the odd, extra car explosion involving a Chief of Staff was taken as par for the course. As I remember it, I didn’t care much that such an evil manipulator had met his end, but this Doug Stemper had been turning into a human being, albeit, a creepy one. He had fallen in love with Rachel and loved to have her read to him. But you can only drive a person so far. Rachel leaps out at a stop light and flees into the woods where Doug, like Augustus Underwood in days of yore, finds himself a goner.

The British House of Cards dealt with political problems as they emerged, including the effects of Conservative politics, increasing marginalization of the working classes, homelessness, civil unrest. Indeed production came to a standstill when Margaret Thatcher resigned. Fiscal debate and uncompromising party lines bring Walker’s government to a standstill. White powder in the mail causes a lockdown, trapping Frank in the Capital. But these events don’t seem as raw as the U.K. version, perhaps because each of its seasons was shorter and real people, more clearly referenced.

The American series had good currency this week when a general faced charges of sexual abuse. Claire Underwood reveals in a television interview that she was raped by a man who is now a general. She works to pass a bill providing civilian oversight in such cases. It is possible that this is actually well-intended and not just another manuoevre. In the end, that turns sour and with a witness attempting suicide and Claire sitting at the bottom of the stairs, crying in genuine regret.

She doesn’t show much regret when she throws her former lover, Adam Galloway, under the bus. And talk about creepy – she has a thing for Meechum, the security guy. And not only that… Well, I wondered how the Underwoods were going to resolve their wandering ways, given the tight security around them now.

So what’s to come in Season 3? No more early morning ribs at Freddy’s. Freddy, like Galloway had to be sacrificed. Like Claire’s brief dream of a child. Like her brief excursion into humanity. All in the name of ambition. So Frank Underwood is president, what lies in wait for him? Or who?

Jackie Sharpe: Remy Danton; Rachel Posner who knows too much about Russo; Tom Hammerscmidt  and Ayla Sayyad, investigative reporters; Gavin Orsay, hacker; Linda Vasquez, former presidential chief of staff: Heather Dunbar, special prosecutor? All of the above? And what about Claire? is she actually the more villainous of the duo? To those wondering if there will be a season 4, I recommend season 3 of the U.K. series.

Macbeth and his lady wife rose to the top in their murderous ambition, but they were doomed to fail. Birnam Woods did come to Dunsinane.

Septuagenarians on the Road: #3

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASo Georgia and I decided to take a sentimental journey, back to our roots. We started out on her birthday, the day after Labour Day (See https://115journals.com/2013/08/31/labour-day-weekend-reflections/)

We didn’t make the decision lightly. We divided hip stiffness into the mileage and arrived at a two day trip. We reserved a hotel room at the Waterfront Holiday Inn in Kingston Ontario, which we thought was half way from Toronto to Ayres Cliff, Quebec. We were wrong. It was more like a third of the way there, but when we got to KIngson, we realized that factoring in the fatigue of packing and hefting bags made it a good choice.

When asked if we need help with our bags, my macho sister says no. Being older, I know better. Imagine the most awkward grocery cart you have ever tried to steer, turn it into a luggage cart, top-heavy with a hanging bar, add a tiny elevator and thick pile on the hall carpet.

Still it is a beautiful room that looks out over the ferry docks and one of the six squat, round Martello towers that guarded Upper Canada from the American invaders.

Martello Tower, KingstonWe stayed in a similar room 4 years ago when we last made this trip. The place is not much changed. The question is are we?

We rest. Resting will be a recurring theme in this blog post as it is in our lives. I would say ‘in the lives of septuagenarians in general’, but Blake (see http://115journals.com/2012/05/26/septuagenarians-on-the-road-part-1/ and https://115journals.com/2012/05/27/septuagenarians-on-the-road-part-2/ ) doesn’t rest much. Resting like Archemedes’ lever makes all things possible.

Then it is time to pop the cork on the Veuve Cliquot. It is a birthday after all.

It seems wise to find a restaurant within walking distance, so we search through the available literature and come up with Olivia, an Italian restaurant two short blocks away. As it turns out there is live jazz from the Dave Barton trio with Amanda Balysy on vocals. Amanda has a retro look, blouse and skirt out of the 50s and songs to match. So the ambience is delightful. The day’s special of wild boar sausage seems too demanding for my digestion and I willfully ignore the black cod and order risotto. As soon as I lay eyes on it, I know I have been wrong. I’m used to risotto at Marcellos in Toronto where they don’t even add cheese. This dish is swimming in cheese and oil. But the optimism of the moment prevails and I take the risk.

As evening falls, the Kingston City Hall across the square becomes ever more beautiful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kingston_City_Hall_Andrew_pmk.JPG). Its limestone glows silver and its lovely dome stands etched against the sky. After dinner, we sit in the park at the water’s edge and enjoy its beauty.

Kingston_City_Hall__#3All in all, the day has gone well, we think. Georgia settles down to watch Netflix on my Mac Air Book and I lie down to sleep. To no avail. Yes, I am tired enough to sleep, but my body has other ideas. I am aching all over. The pillows labelled soft are so soft, I feel smothered. The ones labelled hard hurt my head but don’t support my neck. But most of all I blame the risotto. Years ago, in this same town, I spent the night sitting on the bathroom floor reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp.I might have been better to spend this night there as well.

I’ve had considerable experience with insomnia – who hasn’t at this age?- and developed strategies to deal with it. In between bathroom trips, I try them all. First, I roll up a bath towel and put it under my long neck, a softer version of the wooden Japanese head rest. I do my three part deep breathing exercise over and over. I take a sleep aid. I put in my ear buds and hit the white noise App on my iPhone. Even the continuous swish of heavy rain doesn’t send me off. By now, Georgia is soundly asleep, or so it seems for she is very softly snoring. At what seems like 2 a.m, but is actually much earlier, I get up to do tai chi exercises in the dark. That seems to calm my system down. Then just as I begin to slip into sleep, someone hammers on the door next to us and calls out in a aggrieved voice, “Come on Michael, I forgot my key.” Apparently that is just the ticket. I am gone. I don’t even wake up when Georgia spends an hour reading at 3 a.m. Of course, in the morning, she maintains not only that I had kept her awake, but also that I was groaning. Perhaps she is right.

So unrefreshed, we find our way to the complimentary breakfast with a view of the water. I am unenthusiastic about eating but I need to take on fuel. Fortunately, Georgia is able to enjoy the free meal, which we have earned by being members of the Canadian Automobile Association.

There is one more little hiccup. I neglected to bring down our parking stub. There is no attendant. Fortunately, someone from the bar across the street yells out instructions on what button to push to contact the office and my car is finally released. That is one drawback to this particular hotel. We call them parking Nazis.

So we set out on the second lap of our journey and a very long lap it turns out to be. It begins with a Google Map gaff -you have surely experienced at least one of those. Instructions are to head north on Princess St, which is, as luck would have it, one way, going south. We do what we can and find ourselves crossing bridges we’ve never seen before and confronting signs to west bound 401. We reason that east bound 401 has to be in approximately the same place, but the west bound signs proliferate and get larger. Just a little kick of adrenaline from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Once we have achieved the elusive east bound highway, we feel as if it can only get easier.

The newly renovated ONroute service centres are a plus, clean and up-to-date. You can take your own lunch in and eat it at the tables or make one up from Tim Hortons and Subway or Burger King. I carry in my rice crackers and home-made salad dressing, and manage to scrounge up salad and chicken to go with them. We take turns driving, trading off every hour or so. Some time after lunch, we cross the provincial border into Quebec. I recall that there used to be a lovely stone building in the old style, which served as an information centre. A few of those stones seemed to have been recycled into the service centre that has replaced it. I line up at the counter to ask the same question as everyone else. Google had told me to take exit 29 to new highway 30, but the maps show no bridge there. What gives? The bilingual receptionist has the interesting skill of being able to write on a map upside down and she assures me that there is now a bridge, which will cost me $1.50 to cross. If you have ever had to drive into the city Montreal to cross the St. Lawrence River on the Champlain Bridge, you may understand what a cause for rejoicing that is. As we discover the bridge is really two bridges, the first one low to the water and the second soaring up over the widest part of the river to let the ships pass up the St Lawrence Seaway.

So we skirt Montreal in that low level river land, which is fertile but also being eaten up by industry as time passes. Now all signs are exclusively in French. Sud and nord are simple enough and easy to figure out as south and north. Est and ouest are trickier. I keep reciting “est” as a clue to finding the right exit to #15, which will take us toward Sherbrooke. “Traveaux” is pretty clear, including as it does miles of orange cones and on occasion, actual workers and machines. The sign that orders us to respect the security zone or so it seems, puzzles me, until I realize that I am to pull out into the left lane when I see someone stopped on the shoulder. Then there is an urgent LED sign that absolutely eludes me. I can not catch even one word. We fly by oblivious.

Like all Canadian children, I have studied French, in my case until I was in grade 12. Moreover, I have a brother who lives in Belgium and speaks French most of the time. I have spent long holidays there and in France. I just finished watching Spiral on Netflix, a made-in-France police drama, with  sub-titles, it must be said. I’m more than willing to give it my all, but really! Nothing but French. The stop signs say “Arret”. Even in Europe, they say “Stop”. When I am flying along at 110 km, I could use a little help.

We can just glimpse Mount Royal over the river on the horizon. Then a solitary mountain rises from the plain, a volcanic cone. The country grows more rural. The road begins to rise and curve and finally, we begin to see the soul-soothing mountains of our childhood, the northern-most Appalachians.

By the time, we round the corner into Ayres Cliff, we have been on the road for six hours. I seem to think I know where the Auberge Ayres Cliff is and I am not wrong, although I hadn’t realized it was right in the middle of town, a quiet tourist town of one main street and side streets leading down to Lake Massawippi. I stayed somewhere near here 16 years ago, but it takes me a full 24 hours to realize it was the same place and when I do, I seriously wonder if senility has crept up on me. It is a hard place to forget. It is said to be 200 years old and while that may not be an exact number, it is certainly very old. (www.aubergeayrescliff)

It has a huge patio at the side, full of expensive wicker seating and those outdoor heaters and little canvas-covered nooks, all on wooden decking. It also has seating on the veranda. We check in at the bar where some of the locals are having lively conversations. I’d like to join them, but we have to go up to see our room. Up is the operative word. We are the only guests, but we have booked two adjoining rooms, which are on the third floor. The second flight of stairs is made up of a large number of steps -each one 14 inches high.

The rooms are furnished with a double bed each, with good mattresses and dressers in a VIctorian style. And a  fan. There are no chairs. There certainly is no television set. No mention is made of this but apparently we were warned on the website. I give Georgia the room that has a more or less level floor, it being her birthday, and allot myself the one that slopes so dramatically that it takes all my tai chi balance to walk across it.

And yes, we want to have our bags brought up, a task that falls to the slim bartender/receptionist/ farmer’s daughter and a guy who gets up from dinner with his family to help her.

It is clear that we would not have got much sleep if we had come a few days before, on Labour Day weekend, but summer is over, the temperature has fallen, the tourists have left.

True to their hype, they have an excellent Angus beef fillet mignon. After dinner and the long slog back up the stairs, I get Georgia set up on the internet to watch Netflix: she is well into season 5 of Weeds and well fed with simple food, I fall fast asleep in my Alice in Wonderland room.

to be continued