50 years… how has it been 50 years…?
I think about you every day, miss you every second.
Whenever I have cause to go to Vancouver I look for the places we lived, and remember the early days of our life as immigrants, how excruciatingly hard you and my mother worked to build a life, from nothing, absolutely nothing, in a country and culture so foreign to us it may have been another planet… but it was exciting, and your energy, your never give-up was, is to this day, palpable, and it lives on inside me.
When I lived in Switzerland and started going back to the old country, I sought out Nerudová 1, every.single.time, and remembered the old coal storage downstairs, what you hid there, in preparation for our escape… When I went back there with mama and my boy in 2014, tread upon some of the same cobblestones in Karlovy Vary that we had all tread upon at some other point in time, I drank up mama’s stories of where the two of you had spent time together, regaled my son, one of the grandchildren you never met, with my own recollections of the first 7 years of my life there, and my recollections of you… and I cried like the small child I once was there, when we visited Božý Dar, our old ski cabin, and vague memories of being on those ski hills, on your back, in a rucksack, and then on my own tiny skis, came to life brightly, and as it does in these moments, time stood still…
When I went back to Stewart a few years ago I walked until my feet bled, until I found our old townhouse… and the nearer I knew I was, the more intensely I felt your presence, and I remembered the 20 foot snow banks, and that we had walked this road together, and desperately I tried to make out your voice, failed, for it had been so many years… decrepit, rotting, moldy, the carport caved in by decades of big Northern BC snow, and overgrown by the vegetation that takes its environment back when we abandon it, but also seemingly untouched, it was all still there, frozen in time…
Walking through the front door was the single greatest moment of surreal of the entirety of my years, and no drug on earth would match this high, the emotional crash of it, rolled into one intensely profound experience… so intense profound, because while I cannot buy into the spirit world, you were there, because I was there, because we had all been there, at another time.
I walked into the small square of a kitchen, and I remembered you shaking up the resourceful man’s milkshake, for you were nothing, if not resourceful, for my big brother and me, in a mason jar – canned milk and strawberry jam… I walked into the living room and saw the giant tree through the streaky, fungus-covered window panes, that tree our Collie Sheba chased a bear up into… and I as I made my way up into our bedrooms, where the lamps you had so skillfully MacGyvered for us once hung, I remembered your words, but still, could not conjure up your voice as you told us to put the sheets on our beds… when I walked upon the molding carpet, the same one we had all walked upon all those years ago, I heard your footsteps, coming home from the mine that took your life.
I could not bring myself to walk the rotting stairs down to the basement, where you kept your rifle, the one my mother was tempted to use when we were told you were dead. For that news was and remains the single most impactful event in our respective lives. The mine, the people associated with it, took your life, and with it, my mother’s joy, and my brother’s and my childhoods, in one fell swoop. And while I am aware that it is an exercise in futility, I cannot help but wonder, often, what life would have been like for all of us, had you lived beyond 36 fast and furious years, to see a birthday past that one, to see this day, what would have been your 85th year.
Your rebel lives on inside me, and maybe even some wisdom, which only years can bring, I see more of that in my brother, and I like to think that you would have been like him, at this age, and so in this way, and so many others, you live on inside him. Your rebel, your energy, your wild, your survivor, your wise-man, and sometimes your impulsive adventurer, they all live on inside me and my brother, in a thousand different ways.
October 24, 2020 (re-posted July 07, 2021)