IF WE HAD ONE MORE DAY

 

I pull up to the house[1] at 6:45am, ‘perfect, I thought, fifteen minutes early, no way she can get mad at me now’, I have always had a bit of anxiety visiting Ma, but it is our day, it is our last day. Today was the day I was going to ask her everything. It’s the day I have been waiting for all my life. I am thirty-one years old and it is a miracle that she is here, I am perplexed, surprised, thankful, scared, and excited. It’s raining, ‘it’s always fucking raining in this city’, I think to myself. I get out of the car and grab the umbrella, I bought this especially for her, I absolutely hate umbrellas but I knew she would want one covering her hair so I went out yesterday and bought one. I walk around the car and onto the sidewalk. The smell of juniper and roses is my absolute favorite smell, the rain heightens the smell and I am thankful for that, I have missed this smell. I walk past the junipers and come across the first rose, it’s yellow; I stop and smell it, instantly memories flash back of my childhood. I once picked these roses and made potpourri, or at least tried to. Ma would always get mad at me for picking plants from her garden. I jump down the steps into the shallow puddle, to relive my childhood memories, and skip up the step to the door. I knock lightly; I hear her coming up the stairs from the downstairs living room where she has the television booming. I never understood why she has the volume up so loud; her hearing seems fine anytime we speak. Ma opens the door, ‘Hi Ma’, ‘Hi Carrie’; she steps aside to let me in. I give her a big hug and kiss on the cheek, she laughs to herself and shakes her head. I have always been a touchy person, one willing to hug and give love whenever I feel it, Ma, not so much.

Ma shuts the door behind me and we walk up the stairs together. Pa is sitting at the table drinking coffee and reading the paper, she walks into the kitchen. ‘Hi Pa’, ‘Hi Carrie’. ‘How ya doing?”. He taps me on the back and says ‘you’re a good girl’. Ma rolls her eyes and says ‘he’s been losing his mind for the past few years’ she sets a bowl of granola in front of him, ‘eat up, ya ol’fool’. My grandfather has always been an obedient eater, if a plate is set in front of him, he’ll eat it without even looking at it. ‘Ok, Ma, so you ready?’ ‘Ya, grab the bags near the front door will you? I need to drop those off at the dry cleaners before we go shopping.’ I grab the bags and head out to the car while she’s getting her coat on. I can hear her yell at Pa and tell him not to get into any trouble. I put the bags in the back seat and open the passenger door for her. She walks slowly to the sidewalk, I take her hand as she lowers herself into the passenger seat. I walk around to the drivers seat and hop in. I see her holding the safety handles at the top of the window. I laugh to myself and say, ‘you know I am not that bad of a driver Ma’. She rolls her eyes and tells me to drive. I follow her directions to the drycleaners and help her out of the car so she can go chat to the cleaner about the things she wants done. has always been particular about cleaning, well about everything really. I help her back in the car and we head to The Bay. Ma said she wanted to go Christmas shopping. It’s odd to me that this is her favourite place to shop. ‘Ma, do you still shop here because it reminds you of your childhood?’[2] She looks at me coolly, ‘no’ she says sharply. Ma has always had a hard time being honest about her past. She never talks about her history, her childhood, her family or her Cree culture. But today is the day, today is the only day I will be able to break through. Today she is back and it is the only day I have to ask her the questions I have been stewing over for the past ten years.

I leave her alone for now; I hope she will open up more around some tea and food. She’s always warmer when her senses are heightened by comfort food. I let her off at the front door and park the car, I run in, jumping over puddles and watching for cars. I find her near the front door. We walk past the aisle of Christmas trees, all colour-coded and decorated evenly, I find them boring but Ma doesn’t, I can see her from the corner of my eye marveling at them, lightly touching the decorations. I grab her hand and we head to the housewares department. She soon notices we are holding hands and lets go. I laugh and she tries to hide her smile, pretending to be irritated but I can see the hint of love behind it. We walk to the towels. I am not even sure what we’re doing here, I don’t need to shop and I am pretty sure she doesn’t either. She’s just touching things, remembering silently. What exactly? I have no idea. I have never been able to read her and being older and ‘wiser’ is no different. I kind of wish I was young and ignorant again. It would be easier to just enjoy the day, to be in her presence and not wonder every moment what she is thinking or how she is feeling.

Ma has always been silent company. Though, I expected it to be different because she is only back for one day, I expected her to be talkative, engaging, and insightful. Willing to share. I guess history and memories run deep even after death.

We walk around the department store aimlessly, silently. We walk by the classic Hudson Bay Company point blankets, complete with their ‘seal of authority’, Ma touches it lightly. I wonder how many times she’s come into contact with these blankets. I wonder if she has memories of these colonial markers. I wonder if she is as critical of their presence as I am?

We leave The Bay and go to a hole in the wall dim sum restaurant. Ma knows the best, cheapest restaurants. She has always had a connection to the Asian culture. Maybe she sees parallels between the treatment of First Nations peoples and Asian peoples. Maybe it’s nothing deeper than her enjoying the food. I walk behind her as she is shown the table. She is particular in our seating arrangement; she has to be close to the wall, no chance of anyone bumping into her. I shift the chair for her to sit down in it and hang her jacket on the chair next to her. She grabs her utensils out of her jacket pockets and sets them where the restaurants should be. I smile to myself. I remember I used to think this was so embarrassing, her bringing her own eating tools, but now I just find it comical and charming. I sit next to her and try to hold her hand. Her hands and skin have always been so soft and white. She looked as though she hasn’t seen the sun in decades. I wonder if it was a conscious effort to avoid the sun, I wonder if she’s always done it so she could pass as white? To make her life easier?

She pulls her hand away and waves the server over, she rudely asks for green tea. When they bring the tea over we wait the proper amount of time (it’s an internal clock for Ma, she knows exactly when the tea is ready to serve) she pours it into the cups. We sit there in silence for a while. I am trying to contain myself. I had imagined this to be so much different. I imagined a flowing conversation, like the rivers I have beading. I imagined her to ask questions about my life, about my art practice, about how my Masters is going, what I am writing my thesis on, about my partner and I deciding to get married; I imagined so much more. I feel as though I am about to pass out or throw up, or get up and run out the door. I am so anxious and nervous and my head is spinning and all I can think of is all the questions and how so has nothing is being said. I want to scream.

Ma touches my hand lightly, bringing me back to the present instantly. ‘What are you good for?’, I smile slightly and remember all the times I have heard this and how I will likely never hear it again. ‘nothing’ I say smiling. Ma smiles, she taps my hand twice and looks at her cup. ‘I love you Ma and I miss you everyday’. She looks at me; it’s a look I have never seen before. It’s a look of recognition, of pain, of genuine confliction, a mixture of understanding and uneasiness. She looks away abruptly and waves the server over.

 

[1] 6640 Halifax Street, Burnaby, British Columbia.

[2] Ma was born in the depression, from the research I have done it’s very likely Ma visited the HBC trade store in Grouard, Alberta.