Death, Grief, Bereavement

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The Light Streamed Beneath It
Excerpt

 

The swings of my childhood were bone-breaking tetanus-laden tests of fate. Warped planks tethered to decommissioned hydro poles with rusted chains; discs of plywood threaded with a knot only slightly bigger than the centre hole; spindly branches of a willow tree gathered, clutched in a fist, and held onto for dear life. There were no safety stops or rubber crash pads.

The objective was to gain enough momentum to launch yourself into the air, to defy gravity for a split second, to hover weightlessly. Then fall, ever so slightly, and feel the jerk of a taut rope catch your body weight and hoist your stomach into your throat. Of course, there were the daredevils; the hearty farm kids who jumped mid-air and flew like Superman and broke their arms like Clark Kent.

I was a fan of Batman. Batman drank Diet Coke.

All summer long we encouraged each other to “go higher, higher” knowing the rotted seat could crack in two and send us plummeting to the hard earth below. “Don’t stop!” Our flapping t-shirts and the skin on our faces measured velocity, our feet dug trenches in the sand grain by grain. “Higher! Higher!” Knowing the closest adult was fields away drinking Seagrams coolers and Labatt Blue.

It was early morning when my cousin Heather and I sneaked outside to practice our circus flips off the A-frame of her blue swing set. We were beginner trapeze artists who had graduated from seated swings to swinging while standing, from balancing on one foot to hanging by both arms off the top bar.

The morning dew had not evaporated before my first attempt on the top bar. My hand slipped as my chest cleared the rung. As I fell, my torso caught the rusted ridges of an eye bolt and tore my skin from my navel to chin. I landed with a thud. My aunt and uncle woke up to the sounds of me sobbing and bleeding as Heather led me into their bedroom. My uncle calmly reached for a tin of ointment in his bedside table. He began slathering a thick wave of goo over the torn flesh, using his fingernails to graft parts of my skin back in place. I can’t picture my uncle’s face then, but I remember his enormous calloused hands sealing my wound. The sensation back and forth of a thick index finger cauterizing the bleeding under grease. His touch coagulated my tears.

What practice I had as a child moving from extreme to extreme. To sit in the seat of emotions, in conversation with my body; with gravity, friction, tension; with the physical world. To then glide, back and forth through time, between the past and the present. From sheer terror to happiness, up and down, unconsciously asking, “Who will catch me if I fall?” Unwittingly I prepared for the disorienting moments ahead. For that day when the branch breaks, the rope snaps, the seat cracks, and it all comes crashing down to the earth.

 

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