I love Christmas. I love it with the fiery heat of a blazing winter fire and a million twinkling fairy lights. I love the sparkle and the twinkle and the plum pudding and the eggnog and the tinsel and the gift wrap and the stockings and the carols and the hymns and the stories, all the stories, every single one, from the manger to the magi to old St. Nicholas to the Grinch (spare me the pieties about not telling tales to children. A childhood without the magic of stories, woven so brilliantly as to obscure the lines between fact and fiction, make-believe and make-of-that-what-you-will, is no childhood at all, in my opinion.) I love it, all of it, the snow-globe perfection of it, the gentle sheen of protective glass over perfect, brilliant moments in time, the way that it can just take one such moment – a moment in which the crackle of the fire makes you feel perfectly, contentedly warm; the flash of belief in a child’s eyes when you tell her that the jingling of bells that she hears is the music of flying reindeer; the fleeting frost-kiss that is a snowflake landing on your cheek – and make that moment expand almost infinitely and make you forget that outside the snow globe, life’s storms come pelt hail and bend your umbrella and soak your mitts.
When my sister was very young, she appointed herself my protector. It didn’t matter that she was two years younger: I was a shy, ashmatic child, gangling of limb and totally lacking in physical grace, whereas she was athletic and boisterous and tending toward ferociousness, and those qualities more than made up for our age difference in confrontations with bullies. If somebody teased me, she’d be right there, waving chubby fists and hollering profanities (where she learned them – raised, as she was, in the bosom of a very Catholic family – my parents were never able to figure out) and daring, daring, whoever it was that had the temerity to confront her sister to take on her as well. And there we’d stand, together: me, tall and awkward, blushing and stammering and willing myself to disappear, and her, chubby and gap-toothed, stomping and yelling and demanding our antagonists to BRING IT, and although it was sort of embarrassing to me – having my little sister stick up for me – I was also always grateful, and proud.
We have a nice life, my husband and I and our little family, in our pretty little house in our pretty little town in Ontario. We have a verandah, which is something that I always wanted when I was growing up: a verandah with a pretty wicker bench and soft cushions and a hydrangea vine climbing up to the porch overhang and providing dappled shade. And Emilia’s school is just down the road, as is Jasper’s daycare and the dance academy and the karate dojo and the cafe that brews perfect lattes. It’s a perfect, picturesque, exurban existence. And one that I think I might want to walk away from.
It is, of course, our greatest fear. It is the bogeyman in our closet, the monster under our bed. It is the shadow that lurks behind every tree in the wood, it is the crackle of every twig, it is the sudden silencing of birds, the darkening of the sky, the unexpected chill in the air, the thing that stops our breathing, that quickens the beat of our hearts. And we cannot tell ourselves that it isn’t there, that it is just the stuff of fairy tales and scary stories; we cannot shine the flashlight into the closet or under the bed or out toward the trees and reassure ourselves, because it is out there, it is, maybe just as a possibility, maybe just as the faintest possibility, but that possibility is what gives it air to breath and matter to take form.
We could lose our children. Some harm could come to them. They could be erased from the landscape of our lives and our hearts could, would, break, shatter into a million, billion, trillion pieces and we would never recover, not really.
It’s my birthday. I’m forty years old today. Forty years old. Isn’t this the birthday where I get canes and bifocals as gag gifts and t-shirts that say things like I’m not old, I’m vintage and at least one coffee mug with the words lordy, lordy look who’s forty printed along the side?
I’m not old enough to be forty. Really, I’m not. It’s not that I fear aging or think that anyone over forty is hideously uncool – it’s that I just cannot believe that I am grown-up enough to have the numbers 4 and 0 apply to me in any context other than grade point averages. I’m not a grown-up; I’m a girl in a state of arrested adolescence. Sure, I have kids, but if anything that has only driven the point home more clearly: ain’t nobody here but us childrens.
Today, Tanner goes to the doctor. This is, in itself, nothing new – Tanner sees a lot of doctors – but today, he’s seeing the doctor so that they can start fumbling toward answers to difficult questions concerning when and how and how long. How long until his food needs to blended? Until he needs to be intubated? Until he can no longer sit up on his own? Until his lungs are compromised? Until he cannot breath on his own? Until my sister can no longer look after him on her own? Until, until…
The clock ticks so much louder now. Tanner’s condition is aggressive, relentless: his muscles are breaking down quickly, and as his muscles break down, so does hope.
There are trolls, and then there are trolls.
There are the anonymous trolls that live under the virtual bridges of the Internet, coming out to swat and bite and snarl. And then there are the trolls of real life, the trolls that you know, the trolls that you maybe even loved, the trolls that you didn’t know were trolls until, one day, the claws extended and the fangs bared and the shredded hem of your pants told you – if the sting from the venomous spit of the troll hadn’t alerted you already – that something was amiss.