Sunday, February 14, 2016

Annual Emotions

This winter has been long, wet and grey and now it is Febluary. This is how the months feel to me:
  • In January I feel clean.  Call me simple, but at elementary school one of my greatest pleasures was starting a clean pew page in my exercise book. They were ideal books for someone with my dual passions of drawing and writing. I would run my flat hand over the smooth clean page, its top half empty for drawing, its bottom, lined for writing. I hated writing on the back s of pages. The imprint of the past pushing through into a present I wanted to be clean and new. So when I started on a new, clean right-hand page, I was in heaven and that’s how January feels: Like starting a new page in my exercise book.
  • February feels frustrating. Hide and Seek is a favourite childhood game. I couldn’t play it. As soon as I’d hide, I’d have to go to the bathroom so badly I thought I would die. I’d always reveal myself so that I could go to the bathroom. I could never win and I thought, as I got older, that it was a psychological problem I had, not a urinary tract problem; it seemed logical that a kid who’d once been an orphan would not want to hide from his friends. But I wanted to play and even to win, so I’d try and try not to reveal myself but I’d be practically bursting with pee and that’s how I feel in February — full of life that can’t get out (because it’s forever dark and wet outside).
  • In March I feel rich. In our history with gods and our worship of them, nothing makes more sense to me than worship of the sun (not the Son). It is the source of all life. During much of my youth, I had a mother in an institution, an absent and abusive father and no brothers and sisters. When Daylight Savings Time came, however, from three o’clock on every single day and all weekend, I’d be with Dougie and Marilyn D, my best friends and surrogate brother and sister. I’d feel happy and rich in their company, flush with newly extended daylight, and that is how I feel all March.
  • April is about converting. Trapped in an unhappy adoptive family and with no siblings, an early escape from loneliness lay in my relationship with our neighbour, Mr. Jackson — Ralph Jackson. He was born to father but the shrew he married refused him and so Mr. Jackson, for several years, was my best friend. Imagine being a little kid and having a best friend with a convertible. He also had a gorgeous Red Setter named Benji and he’d drive Benji and I around with the top down. I remember how I felt on those days; that’s how April feels.
  • Every May I feel grateful. I have a cousin who was a Vancouver Alderman for many terms. He was also a card-carrying Communist. He joined the party when he was young and remained an active member all his life. The current president of the party in Canada spoke at his funeral just last month. He was the smartest member of my adoptive family and he dedicated himself to the common man. I am immensely proud of him and the values he taught me, so May is about pride in myself and all other people of modest accomplishment.  
  • June and I feel free. This was the month when school ended for decades of my life as a student, teacher and prof. It’s the month of the summer solstice, the highest tides and when it’s light out until 10:00 pm at 49° 13 Minutes North Latitude. Life does not get better than it does in June and July. In June 1965, my high school had a graduation ceremony for all us grads and our families. Five years later, UBC did the same thing, in the same month when I got my B. Ed. My father said he’d come to both but came to neither. The first time, it hurt me deeply. The second time, I realized I had a choice: Be mad or use his absence for the strength I'd need to walk away from my adopted family and that is what I chose to do. But not in anger, in gratitude. Although he’d been a huge disappointment, he’d given me a home but now I was free. I feel a renewed sense of freedom every June.
  • In July I’m hot. As a kid, I exploded into summer in July. As a teen, I earned my first real money thanks to summer jobs. Or I went to summer school to earn scholarships. I loved school. But summer school was even better. And summer school at UBC came with a bonus: Wreck Beach. After classes or at lunchtime we could climb down the cliffs on campus onto the largest and most famous nude beach in the country. And one summer there, I met Meriwether. He was a big humpy Italian man from San Francisco with an entourage and a Volkswagen Van — a consummate hippie with whom I fell deeply in love. Every July I remember him and that this is the month we all look our best.
  • August and I feel comfortable. The days shorten and that day comes when I get up and go outside the air smells different — there’s an unmistakable smell of autumn in the air. It’s a smell I learned walking to elementary school as a kid that I have never forgotten. It’s as meaningful to me as the smell of the sea air that hits you like a kiss when you arrive back in Vancouver after being away. These are the smells of comfort: the sea and the smell of Autumn. In August, I feel comfortable.
  • In September I get cozy. Often my dogs would turn circles in their beds before collapsing into sleep. Leon, my cat does the same thing. When he wants to change position, it always involves standing up and turning a circle before he returns himself to a new comfortable position. That movement — the circling — is how I feel in September as I get cozy for winter.
  • In October I feel determined. Once, a friend said that he had only one day to live. I was horrified. I was confounded too, because he looked very healthy. Then he explained that the single day he had for dying was eighteen-to-twenty-four months away and that every day until then was going to be more full of life than any of his previous days on earth. That acceptance (that winter is coming) is how I feel about winter in October. I become determined to find a good way through it.
  • In November I remember. When I was a child, I moved my bedroom into our basement. My new bedroom had a fireplace and was lined with bookshelves full of books my parents had inherited. My father had been a soldier and it had made him a pacifist. My bedroom shelves had books about war that filled me with horror. I knew I could never be a soldier. It also turned me into someone for whom war memorials and Armistice Day have unfathomable resonance. I weep for lost soldiers and broken families. In November, there is little to be happy about. It is endlessly dark and wet. It could make me feel horribly sad but it doesn’t because I think: I am not, never was and never will be a soldier in a trench in winter (even though it is endlessly dark and wet).
  • In December I feel the love. It’s a month with a thoroughly insipient soundtrack and it’s a time when there’s just too much of some things (food, social pressure, things to do) and not enough of others (light, quiet, calm). It's the month in which I was born — twice. On the 4th of December 1965 I woke up feeling there was nothing to celebrate even though it was my birthday, and I felt worse about Christmas. I could not face another Christmas with my adoptive parents in my mother’s sanitarium. I had a cousin in Trinidad and so, on impulse one day, instead of going to school to write an exam, I went to a travel agent and bought a one-way ticket to Port-of-Spain. It remains a very significant event to me because it was the moment I was “born” again. The day I left was December 22nd and that morning I told my father I was going, I didn’t ask him. I became my own person that day, so December 22nd has had more meaning for me than the 4th. It is the month I feel the love of being free. 

I'm in love.

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