Archive for March, 2011

Persephone

CHAPTER ONE
In The Beginning

I have never known the precise moment that I became pregnant by Immaculate Conception. I suppose some women don’t know when exactly they conceive, but I have always felt that my particular situation was deserving of special notification. I do know however when this concept, not as an actual possibility of course, but as an ancient story transplanted into a modern context, entered my consciousness for the first time.

I was living on College Street and working in the Religious Studies library stacking books at the University of Toronto. I realized, while placing a copy of the King James Version of The Bible back on the shelf, that my period was late. The question must have been formulated on the way home from work. Walking usually instigates thought.

“If I became pregnant by Immaculate Conception would I have to follow the religion of my child?” I asked my roommate as I walked in the door. He was sitting on our blue velour sofa, in our Ramona painted living room, watching his cigarette smoke hang, suspended in the air. After a minute he responded, “No, as long as you supported it, that would be fine.” At the time this was a hypothetical question based on one fact: My period was late and I hadn’t slept with anyone in months.

During my late teens and early twenties I would go through five-month periods of celibacy every year. This was usually induced by an especially negative or positive sexual experience, never a mediocre one. The unfavourable experience would turn me off sex because I would have to take the time to figure out why it had happened and the positive experience would remind me to avoid bad sex. Mediocre experiences could never evoke an extreme reaction like celibacy. I can’t remember how I used to exit these periods, except that they always seemed to end after about five months.

The sexual experience prior to this particular period in question was a negative one. A man i had met in a bar, that I use to frequent, had wormed his way into my apartment, into my bed and consequently, into me. I didn’t want to sleep with him but unfortunately at the time I felt it was easier to submit that to deal with his ego. This threw me into a period of heavy analysis as to why some women do such things. Being involved with men, I find, is not conducive to this type of examination.

After a few months, I came to the conclusion; that women aren’t often taught to do what they want to do. From this I decided that I would, as simple as it sounds, only sleep with men that I really wanted to sleep with. At the time, I didn’t think of it as missed, it was late, and would come again just as it always did. I continued my life as if it were still my life.

“How can we be 98% water? It definitely doesn’t feel like I’m 98% water.” I asked as I took another toke of the joint.

“That’s great. We should get T-shirts made up with that on the front. ‘I sure don’t feel like 98% water.’ Let’s write that down so we don’t forget it.” Joe said excitedly as he pinched the roach from my fingers.

“Didn’t it use to be 70%? No aren’t we 80%?” Dave asked. He had been a bad experience from four years ago. I ignored him, as I reached for the pad of paper we saved just for these moments of what we thought of as “moments of genius.”

I had met Joe, my roommate, five years earlier at a party. He was introduced to me by my boyfriend of the time. When I moved back to Toronto years later, we bumped into each other and went for lunch. He had just moved back from Vancouver and was looking for a roommate. I had been living at home, trying to avoid the inevitable adult life. Over that lunch, we decided we would move in together and within four days we had found our apartment. We used to sleep together on occasion, never when I was with someone else, but often if he was. In retrospect, I wanted to be with him in my strange, incapable of commitment kind of way, and we had sex whenever he wanted to.

As I wrote down the quote, the phone rang. It was a sound I always hated when I was high.

“Joe, please get that, I got it the last time,” I pleaded. This was a game we often played.

“No you didn’t. I’m not answering it.”

“Fine!” I stomped off into the kitchen and grabbed the phone just before the answering machine picked up.

“Hullo?”

“Lea?” It was my best friend.

“Les, thank God it’s you.”

“What’s up? You stoned?”

“Yeah.”

Leslie and I had been friends for three years but it felt like forever. If something important happened in our lives it never felt real until we told each other about it. We had met in Montreal where we went to university. I was in Religious Studies and she was in Jewish History. I had always noticed her in the library because of her amazingly enormous hair and her silver nose ring.

The first day we met, we were in the smoking room on the fourth floor of the library. We were both in there by ourselves sitting across from each other. In the centre of the badly ventilated, garbage filled room there was a group of men discussing feminism loudly and crudely. We kept giving each other knowing glances of disdain and finally she said to me, so that they could hear, “I don’t think we need to subject ourselves to this bullshit. Shall we go?” The men turned to look and I felt my chest tighten. All I could do was nod, put out my cigarette and follow her out the door. From that point on, until my pregnancy, we were the best of friends. At the time of this call, she was in New York doing her Masters.

“Les, is it possible that I’ve been getting my period for the last four months but its all been a facade and really I’ve been pregnant all along?” I finally expressed my growing concern about my missing period. This verbalization to Leslie now meant the situation was placed on a level or reality it hadn’t been on before.

“God, you are stoned.” She laughed.

“O.k., I’m kind of serious. I mean, how can my period be almost a month late? I haven’t had sex in four months. Can you think of any reason besides Immaculate Conception?” I said this jokingly because at the time I of course felt that say this was simply an expression of my bewilderment surrounding the situation and nothing more.

“Maybe you should go to the doctor. Are you stressed? Have you been exercising more than normal? I would ask you if you’ve lost weight but I know you haven’t. I don’t think it’s remotely possible that you’re pregnant. Your period is late for some reason but it will come eventually don’t worry.”

“You think I should go to the doctor?”

“Why not?”

I made an appointment the next day.

“I’d like to make an appointment with Doctor Movak as soon as possible.”

“What is it regarding?” The secretary asked in a nasal voice. She was so protective of his time.

“Um. Well, my period is quite late and I’m not sure what’s going on.” I said nervously. Would this problem be taken seriously enough to grant me some time with him?

“Have you taken a pregnancy test? She asked accusingly.

“Well, no. It’s not possible that I’m pregnant.”

“I can give you a time on August 27th. 3:00.”

“But that’s in a month.” I whined.

“Dr. Movak is going on vacation in two weeks and he’s booked solidly until then. Is this an emergency?”

“I suppose not.”

“Fine.” She hung up.

I felt rejected. Wasn’t my problem good enough for them? What if I had ovarian cancer and I had to wait another month while it festered in my body? What if I was dying?  This month was going to be hell, unless of course my period arrived.

In the month that followed, I preceded to do copious amounts of drugs. In retrospect, I believe I did this to help me forget about my ensuing death, and/or destroy whatever could be growing inside me, be it cancer or the impossible child. The reality was that, more often than not, drugs enhanced the situation. Coke, was good for the rush but it made me talk about my circumstance to strangers in bars. Pot was usually good, however, if I thought too much while high, paranoia would take over and death was all consuming. Hallucinogens weren’t the best either. On occasion, during the month of August, God himself spoke to me about our coming child. The only time he did, I might add.

In the end, I found the combination of large quantities of alcohol, which dulls the mind and the ability to communicate, coke, after I was already drunk, with pot to take the edge off on my way down. This was the most effective ménage a trios. I had always believed Joe’s theory that three mind-altering substances at one time was the limit, and if you stuck to it, you would be fine in the end. My graduate fellowship helped me pay for this month of extreme debauchery.

“What if we aren’t really here? I mean, yeah, we’re just a figment of someone’s imagination, like God’s.  Yeah know what I mean?” Dave took a large swig of his beer and waited for my response.

“I don’t think that matters at all. Can I get another gin and tonic? Thanks.” I was on my sixth and feeling no pain, except in regard to the conversation I was having with Dave.

“How can that not matter? What if it’s all a sick game?”

“Dave, I am no longer interested in this conversation. I’m going to play pool with Joe.” Dave had this habit of not being the brightest of people. He also felt the need to challenge me constantly on any issue especially if it pertained to theology and philosophy.

From as far back as I can remember, religion and philosophy had always fascinated me. My parents got divorced when I was three and I lived with my mother. She was searching for god and took me along for the ride; my dad didn’t want to go with us. Not because his father died, which happened the same year, and not because I turned three, which is what I thought, but because he said my mom had started to change, fundamentally.

According to him, it was that she read a book about Carl Jung and he still was into Sigmund Freud. He told me their break up was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to him, other than his father dying.

I don’t remember my grandfather very well, he died young.  I have a vague memory of riding my tricycle up to him at my aunt’s house. I also remember my dad being very sad when he died. They say these memories can’t be true, but they are to me.

I’ve been told my grandfather was a smart, kind man. He collected stamps and wrote for the Globe and Mail. My father just recently found out what liver disease he died from, on the Internet, (the same thing his best and oldest friend has), they didn’t know at the time. Needless to say, it was not a good year for the whole family.

My mother was Christian by birth and so Christ was always present in her travels, however far she would stray. As well as Christ, we also explored aspects of Jung, The Gestalt and Buddhism. Once when I was three, we went to the Astrodome in Texas to see a man speak who said he was the Son of God. My Dad told me that he drove a Ferrari and got his secretary pregnant. Was this before or after Jung?

My mom spent many hours in the closet meditating and when she wasn’t doing that she was cutting out squared from coloured construction paper. She would arrange and rearrange them all over our apartment walls. From age four through eight, my mom and I use to visit a man who changed his name every week. It was here that I had my guardian angel painted and learned to meditate. It was during this period of my life that my mother told me that God knew what I was thinking even before I did. I use to lie in bed for hours and try to outthink God.

We used to live in an attic apartment above a family. I would wake up in the moring and go down to their place for breakfast while my mom spent time with the closet. For three years they were my surrogate family. They had a son my age, Paul. We were in the same class a t school. When we moved, I didn’t see Paul again until my first year of university in Montreal. Seeing him, reminded me, that children often become more extreme than their parents, in order to please them.

“ Clea is that you?” A voice said as I walked in the door of one of my first university parties.

“Oh, my God. Paul is that you?” I said, hoping desperately that it wasn’t. He was a witness, unlike any other, to the time in my life, I didn’t want to remember.

“Of course it is. How are you?” He asked, a little too concerned for my liking.

We got to talking, despite my obvious discomfort. After the catching up chatter and quite a few drinks, he brought up the time we lived on Woodlawn Street together.

“I have so many memories from that house,” he mused. “Like that game you use to make me play, remember?”

My stomach tightened, “No”. I really didn’t, unless he was referring to “Playing Doctor” of course. He was the first and only boy I played that game with, curious about the penis and vagina. I held my breath.

“You use to make me put on rubber boots and rubber gloves and we would dance around in a circle chanting the same thing over and over again for hours. What was it? It was like a mantra or something. That was such a funny thing to do wasn’t it?” He started to laugh.

I didn’t know which was worse, this, or playing doctor. “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom,” I said, as I barged to the front of the line and just made it before I vomited on the floor. My God, I hope it was worth it to me to have been like that then so I can feel it’s worth it now.

For the rest of the night, I tried desperately to avoid him. When I eventually bumped into him again he was drunk. He put his arm around my shoulders and begain to introduce me to his friends as “the girl I use to live with.” I tried to explain it wasn’t quite like that but soon gave up out of shear emotional exhaustion.

Once Paul and I shared a ride back to Toronto from school; he convinced me to come in and see his parents. I felt nauseous, but acquiesced in order to appear normal, as I often did. As soon as I saw them and the way they looked at me, I knew it was a mistake to be there.

“How are you?” His mom asked with too much concern.

“Fine, fine,” I replied shortly, I started to see stars.

How is your mom?” Her expression of warmth, concern, combined with the knowledge behind it almost broke me.

“Great?” I said over-enthusiastically, my face twitching.

Suddenly, we were alone in the kitchen. She didn’t waist anytime, probably sensing this would be her only chance. She was right about that.

“I remember when she really withdrew, your mom. We were so worried about you two. I use to call your Dad and let him know how you were. You spent a lot of time with us you know.”

“Yes. Thank you, thanks.” I felt like I always had to thank these people, people who I had been left with as a child. I needed to get out of there, fast.

“Paul?” I called. “Do you mind dropping me off now? I really have got to get going. Thanks again, nice to see you all.” I said, as I backed out of the kitchen. I had spent so much time with this woman in the kitchen.

When I was seven, my mother took me out of my school and we moved away from Paul and his family across town to the Zencentre. Things started to go downhill. The man with the changing name had suggested that this would be a good place for us, I disagreed but we went any way. I hated my new school. Everyone seemed to have oversized heads and swore too much. They scared me.

There were ten adults living in the Zencentre and me. Of all the people who lived in the house I only remember Sherry. She had curly brown hair and I loved her. When I left almost a year later, she gave me an orange flowered lacquer box. I still have it.

Every day, the adults would gather together in the main room, it was long and narrow with a Buddha at the end, and stare at dots on the wall for two hours at a time. They eventually had a robe made for me, so that I could join in. It was gold and yellow and I loved it. Being seven however, made this daily ritual unspeakable torture. I couldn’t move or talk for two hours every day. They didn’t make me do it, I wanted to. It was a way for me to belong, to spend time with my mom. I would inevitably leave before the two hours were up. I would go up to the third floor and pull the phone our from Sherry’s bedroom. I would sit in the middle of the white hexagonal shape created by the position of the doors and call my father.

“Daddy?”

“Hi Sweetie, how are you?”

“Daddy…please come and get me. I hate it here. Please come and get me. I want to live with you. I want to go back to my old school and live with you.” I would often cry.

I don’t even think he could respond with anything but, “I know honey. I love you. I know. You’re coming to visit in two days. I know, I know.” Although I had confided my true feelings to my father, it hadn’t done me any good.

We use to eat on the floor out of brightly coloured bowls of various sizes. We would sit cross-legged on the floor and ritualistically eat without speaking, always noodles. Until I was in my late-teens, I couldn’t taste Asian style noodles without getting nauseous.  Every weak we wither couldn’t speak for three days at a time or couldn’t eat for the same length of time. My mother would sneak me yogurt and whisper, “Shhhh, eat quietly.”

A cat started to come and visit me at the house. It became my sole friend and confidant. I named the cat Zebulon and loved him intently.

One day, I heard it meowing outside the back door. I went to look and on the porch was a half dead bird. I started to shake with fear. How could this cat that I loved do this to a poor little bird? I shooed Zeb away and brought the bird inside. I kept it in a cardboard box and tried to feed it with a dropper, just as my dad had told me to do. I couldn’t ask my mother for advice because the whole event was too high in negative energy for her to handle.

During the last days of this bird’s life, I remembered a conversation I had had with my father a few weeks prior on one of my visits.

“Dad, do you believe in God?” We were driving to Canadian tire, a favourite pastime of ours. I use to love to put the bolts on my fingers like rings. He would buy me one every time. Visiting my Dad up until this moment was always such a relief.

“No. I don’t.”  He responded.

This was unbelievable to me. “Why not?”

“I decided when I was a child that I didn’t, and I still don’t.”

“How.”

“I once found a bird that had flown into a window but hadn’t died yet. I took it home and tried to nurse it back to health. I decided, if God saved the bird, he existed, if he did not, then he didn’t. The bird died.”

“But Dad, how can that be proof?” I always wanted proof. I desperately wanted an adult to be able to prove to me whether or not god existed and this, although shocking, was not proof.

“It was to me.”

I told my mother about what my father had said. She told me that his was not a good reason to dismiss God and that what had happened to my Dad was a test from God and my Dad had failed. I found this greatly disturbing. Even though I was young, I knew this meant that in order to please my mother, if the bird died, I had to see it as part of God’s plan and not as a declaration of his absence.

To my father, I now had to simulate his previous experience. I was caught completely confused in the middle. I didn’t realize at the time, that the feelings of relief I felt when I was with him, were in fact because of his secular nature. Of course the bird died and I tried to believe it meant that God was dead, but I just couldn’t take this event as proof. The cat killed it. It just wasn’t enough. My mother was pleased.

When I would stay with my Dad on the weekends, in the Bathurst apartment, soon after my parents got divorced, he used to leave me a snack in the fridge. Sometimes I had to remind him. I would get up at 7am, go to the fridge and get the snack. I would sit down, in front of the T.V. until he would get up around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. He slept all the time. He was not happy. Sometimes Sophia use to come and play with me, I think this must have been later, though I’m not sure. I remember every night, when I would go to bed on the mattress in the living room, there was a shadow on the wall that looked like a man with an axe, I would be paralysed with fear. The next morning I would forget to tell him.

He was much happier once he was with Sophia. When they lived together my Dad and I use to play all the time. “Footy”, was one of my favourite games. It was a way for him to stay in bed longer, I would sit on the floor at the end of the bed; he would hang his foot out and talk his foot. I remember thinking it was a real little creature, not his foot at all. I use to slap it around when he would fall back asleep saying, “Footy, Footy are you there?” He would get hours more doze time with the Footy game. He told me, I use to talk to his foot for hours and all he had to do was twitch it every once and a while. I also remember “Shark”. We would be in his bed and I would have to secure the fort around me with the covers, and he, The Shark, would try to attack me. I remember loving these games.

Then there was the “Dirty Foot Monster” game. In order to ensure that I would wash my feet in the bath, he would tell me stories of the Dirty Foot Monster who ate dirty feet. Every once in a while, he would turn into the Dirty Foot Monster and chase me into the bathroom. I would run screaming and lock the door, while he would stand outside to make sure I washed my feet. I eventually, after years it felt like, got so scared of the dirty foot monster that at bedtime he once told me a story, like he always did. Sometimes I wouldn’t let him read, he had to make it up. He told me the Dirty Foot Monster had discovered turnips, which supposedly tasted just like dirty feet, so he went to live on Farmer Browns farm to eat turnips all day. I was so relieved.

He used to tell me stories about furry newts, (I had newts, not furry of course) that use to travel around the city on people’s faces masquerading as their eyebrows. I loved those stories. He even rewrote the end of Stuart Little for me, because it was so sad to me that Stuart got separated from the Robin. He wrote it on his typewriter. He put me into the story. I loved the new ending. I still have these pages, now yellow with age. They are in the back of the book, the happy ending.

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