With enough time, perpetual stubble can be classified as a beard. I have a beard because I think shaving is a waste of time. My Dad has a mustache because he won a bet in the 1960s—or else he is still trying to win the bet. Moustaches and beards serve us well on this trip. We make friends easily with other bearded and moustachioed men. Kurdish men, Cretan men, Cypriot men in small villages and Iraqi men in Nicosia; they are all curious about these two Canadian men with facial hair.
One half of one fifth of three quarters of one other fifth of her father’s ancestral land in a small village on a remote island located between the Ionian and Aegean seas.
+ will you get a dog?
– you’re allergic to dogs.
+ i think they make allergy free dogs now.
We have travelled far. Probably we have come all this way through Greece and Cyprus and Istanbul merely to say what we could not that starry white night before Christmas when we were relegated to the non-smoking fish bowl section at Hooters restaurant in the industrial end of town just after my Mom/his Wife died following eight months inside what they called “Yellow Wheat Room” on the second floor of The Salvation Army’s Hospice. Which is a mouthful, I know. My memory of the time is clogged with these oddly mixed mouthfuls. My hope is that this account will keep the flavours straight when I am his age, and thrown for such a loop.
It was simpler in the beginning, like your own memory, maybe too hell bent on deciding which of them would have to go first. Which has nothing to do with whom you love more—only who has to die first. If you had to pick. My mind had trouble with the selection. It could not allow itself to picture them apart. Over and over it would say fuck it, they will die together at exactly the same moment of premature old age—perhaps with your parents (all our parents)—just as the bomb goes off between the tusks of Salvador Dalí elephants jostling for position in the locked trunk of a Trans-Am that is skidding through the icy cargo hold of a 747 with broken wings, piloted to the bottom of a hurricane, to the bottom of the Mariana Trench by ninjas whom I—whom we —would spend the rest of eternity tracking down.
Always they returned, though.
And always I thanked God when they did. But always I was baffled that they would. That the universe kept misfiring gave me hope that the path of life had not already been pre-carved by He and his filthy head ninja.
The mind thus unhinged began exploring the which-one-first question in more specific terms. Terribly specific terms. Boyishly specific terms. Dad was a better provider. Mom would be capable of soldiering on. He hit sharp ground balls at me, she stuck my hands in raw ground beef and said my little chef. He would X, but she might Y, him and her, on and on, and never could one actually separate in my mind from the other. Only once. As we drove home from school in her orange Chevette in one of those full blown Mom/son moments, before the son is too self-conscious and ironic. We’re laughing so hard about something, and I love her so much, turning off 24th onto Crowchild Trail, with McMahon Stadium in the rear view mirror, a Friday afternoon in spring, a tumour growing in the frontal temporal lobe of her brain that had not being growing before we turned. Slowly. Slowly—
For years, slowly. Biding its time, gaining pace until twenty years from the turn, it created such immense pressure in her brain that the normal electricity which allows cells to communicate became too erratic and her body seized violently, convulsing, breaking, a neurosurgeon drilling through her dark hair, then the olive flesh beneath, the skull, into the left lobe, my Dad’s mind bartering with God’s, trading away the proverbial farm, just to get her through this one craniotomy. And the next. And the next after. And all the treatments and experiments, what-nows and what-ifs that followed. He stopped drinking (even though he never really drank more than a beer in the first place), he sponsored starving kids in Mali, he stopped caring about his sports teams, he pretended to like vegetables—just give us this, his mind said. Neither he nor I would hope for anythingbut this. Continue reading