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Norm Reynolds

©Copyright 2007 Norm Reynolds

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced,
transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, pho-
tocopying, or otherwise stored in a retrieval system or uploaded via
the Internet, without prior written consent of the publisher is an in-
fringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Reynolds, Norm, 1946-


More than life itself / Norm Reynolds.

ISBN 978-0-9784142-0-7

I. Title.

PS8635.E946M67 2007 C813'.6 C2007-904752-1

N.B.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places—other than mu-
nicipalities, and incidents are either the products of the author’s
imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to persons
living or dead, business establishment, institutions, events, or locales
is entirely coincidental.

Cover Photograph by
Byron Reynolds
This novel would not have been possible without the
much-appreciated assistance and encouragement of my friend
Murray Kennedy-MacNeill.
I want to thank Nancy Reynolds, Sheila Munro, Rennie
Reynolds, Adriana Sphighi, Rozanne Knox, Bruce O’Hara and
Janet Fletcher for their generous assistance.
Norm
Prologue
David Barnett is dead.
In life, we never exchanged so much as a “Hello.” Our paths
crossed, significantly only once—and, that amounted to no more than an
observation in a dimly-lit pub, at closing time, some few months before
he was found dressed in his best clothes and hanging from the rafters of
an old barn across the river from the flour mill. Yet, over the past year—
reading through his sporadically-kept journal, meeting intensively with
those who loved and survived him, interviewing anyone willing to talk
about how David’s gifts, despairs, and struggles had affected their lives—
I have come to know David as a friend, a friend who has fundamentally
altered my understanding of life.
Some—many, it seems— argue that David’s life ended in despair.
However, his final note to his partner, Susan, proclaimed rather optimis-
tically, “I’ll wait for you in Paradise. I’ll be whole in body and mind.” Six
years earlier, my wife, Jane, ended decades of illness leaving a similarly
written note on the kitchen table; “…I hope one day you can appreciate
my need to get away while there is still some dignity…and, yes, I want to
leave while there is still life and love in me to give as my final gift.”
Unable to reach out to friends or properly mourn my loss, I ran
away to Mexico for a year. Returning rested, but without answers to the
troubling questions which haunted my nights and tormented my days, I
sought to lose the remnants of a self in beer, work and an obsessive
fascination with “the news.” Then one day, thumbing through the obitu-
aries of our small town paper, I discovered the news that would, forever,
alter my view of what it’s all about; David Christopher Barnett had hung
himself. In the year I spent researching the life and death of this enig-
matic man, who seemed to regularly erect pillars of hope out of the
ashes of despair, I came to see that even fleeting moments of love,
dignity and friendship are life’s most precious gifts—more precious, in-
deed, than life itself.
While I entered into this therapeutic journal reluctantly, it has
become, over the past year, the most significant event of my life. I realize
now that Dr. Chan, my begrudged therapist, wasn’t exactly right. More
than cut off from my feelings and the ability to express them, I was cut
off from my dreams; after Jane’s death I could no longer make any sense

i
of my life—whether in feelings or anything else; I had lost the story of my
own life.
Seen from the outside, Jane’s death was a major turning point in
my life, but—thinking back over it—I see that the actual loss seeped in
little by little as the illness progressed. I was, perhaps, cut off from Pat (a
close friend whose generosity of being helped both Jane and I through
the dark times) after Jane died not so much because she reminded me
of Jane’s death, or even her life, but because I was jealous, jealous that
Jane and Pat had a story that deepened, ripened, expanded as the ill-
ness progressed; whereas Jane and I retreated into the physical needs,
the daily routine, of the illness—becoming increasingly cutoff from the
story of unfolding love that once connected us.
I am sure the reader will be more than curious to know why I
have decided to publish these two journals as written—with no narrative
to join these two chronologically separate stories into to a comprehensi-
ble whole.
While a novelist’s narrative can give a sense of satisfaction with
the god-like certainty about events and casual circumstances in a story,
reading David’s journal and recording my own, I came to feel that even
painful, irresolvable contradictions and seemingly disconnected snippets
of experience find a surprisingly coherent meaning in simply telling of the
stories of our lives with all their chaos, nonsense, madness, love, joy,
hope and despair.
As Dr. Chan observed, the journaling in Required Writing is about
anything but me. Where David wrote of his love, his anguish, his hopes
and his despair, my journaling is about David (the “Deacon”) and the
news and small town politics and the past—my past, the pre-1998 past.
The rants and ramblings of an angry, lost soul recorded in Required
Writing may seem a tedious diversion from the story of David, but there
are two stories told here; David’s story seems to end January 2005, but—
in the intertwining of these two journals—there is also the story of life
that goes on; in its telling it points to the beginning of a new story, to the
phone call recorded in the appendix of this book. It is the story of a new
Bart who, as a result of his encounter with Deacon’s story, is ready to, at
least, reopen the conversation with life and self.

Bart Johnson

ii
Taking Leave
Bartholomew Johnson’s Required Writing

August 10, 1998


(I may as well begin at the beginning.)

Urgent:
Read this before you do anything else

Dearest Bart, my love,


You have likely guessed what this note
is about.
By the time you read this I will not be
here. I have taken the herbs, which I have
grown and saved for this day, as soon as
you left for the paper this morning.
The inability of my words to express what I
mean almost convinces me to stay around a
little longer.
I love—have loved—you dearly for a
very long time. I’ve searched my soul and
can find no words or any other symbols for
the real thing which can say more clearly
what I mean than I love you.
1
Taking Leave

If there were more of love for us to dis-


cover and fill our lives with I would tell this
tortured body it had to endure a little more
pain, a little more loss. But we have, over
these many years, plumbed the depth of
love, we have gone to the very edge of de-
spair and come back just to know a little
more of love.
I know that you love me; even when I
thought that there was only weariness; that
we had exhausted love, we have rekindled
our connection and gone on finding new
dimensions to the ancient meanings of love.
I know that you will be hurt, I wish
there were no hurt, but higher powers than
I have written that rule out. There is hurt
and there is love. I have never loved you
more than I do today. I hope you can un-
derstand that some day.
I know that you will feel betrayed that
I have left you like this. I have not left you.
I have tried to share with you how impossi-
ble it is to go on with a body that has gone
away. I hope one day you can appreciate
my need to get away while there is still some
dignity, while I can still write to you of my
love, and, yes, I want to leave while there is
still life and love in me to give as my final
gift.
2
Good Bye my love. If you should ever
need to understand more of my decision
today, I have left an envelope with some
notes with Pat. Please give Pat my love. I
have discussed my parting with her, and I
think she understands. If you ever feel need
of help or the desire to just talk to someone
about my decision, please phone her.
I am leaving a separate departing
note for you to show to the authorities
which does not discuss our private lives. Per-
haps you could store this with Pat for a
time.
It’s time to go.
If there is anything beyond this life, I
will be waiting with open arms on the other
side.

Your loving wife,


Jane

——-Six Angry, Hurt, Lost Years——

Oct 16, 2004

Four months off: no house fires, no scandals, no weddings, no


petty politics, no ribbon cuttings, no deadlines, no rewrites, up after
7:00, to bed—whenever.
For four months…well, I’m not exactly sure what I might do for
four months. Schedules and agendas and pressures and frustration, in

3
Taking Leave
fact, any way of organizing time into necessity are exactly what this
stress leave is suppose to cure. No appointments, no “emergency” calls,
no urgency, no catering to the seemingly bottomless pit of small town
expectations—just four months to relax, to do only what seems interest-
ing or important or delightfully trivial to me.
I asked for it—these four months. I didn’t have to ask Earl Grant,
Valley News editor, for the time off. He’d already asked if I needed six
months. I asked Dr. Chan—my recently appointed shepherd I shall not
want. It’s part of the bargain. I bargained down. I don’t want to take his
suggested year off. And I don’t want to do drugs—at least not the legal
ones Dr. Chan has to offer.
Something has to give.
“Therapeutic Journal;” what’s a “Therapeutic Journal?” How
should I know? It’s required—I didn’t choose it. Chan says it goes with the
four months off—like hot lemon and honey—smells more like shit and an
outhouse to me. I took in my accumulated notes—books of them, but he
wasn’t interested. He says as long as I write, I can’t do it wrong—but my
notes aren’t right? Aren’t written? He says I can write about anything, but
I must include feelings. Feelings? What does he mean? Just because my
notes/feelings are insightful doesn’t mean they aren’t feelings. I guess
they aren’t “Therapeutic” feelings. Write about any feelings; I was just
telling him about how frustrated I feel, but that didn’t count. If I had the
money I’d just go back to Mexico for four months, or a year—that worked
the last time, almost—it got me back to work.
Well, I’ll keep the journal for four months as long as Chan keeps
the bargain and doesn’t ask to read it. It isn’t about privacy. What hap-
pens in small town B.C. isn’t private long—or it isn’t worth telling. I just
don’t need “approval” stamped on my writings—nor my feelings, for that
matter.
But…to start with—I’m not so sure feelings qualify for this “hair of
the dog that bit you” kind of cure. Remember these docs are the guys
that used to extract the final pints of blood from dying patients. What’s
he mean: I’m not in contact with my feelings? I’m angry, hurt and un-
happy, but I don’t take it out on anyone—not seriously, not abusively. This
is an unbearable bind: I go to see Chan because of all these people say
I’m so angry and frustrated, but Chan says my problem is I’m not in
touch with my feelings. I need to write about, get out, assuage my feel-
ings.
You know, it really pisses me off—all this talk about anger like it
is a big problem. In a world where supposedly intelligent/sane beings
are, knowingly, cooking their own atmosphere, it seems to me a little
anger and frustration might be considerably healthy.

4
Didn’t I go to Mexico for a year because I had so many feelings I
couldn’t even function on the job? Cripes, I’m already feeling pretty frus-
trated about this feeling thing. I wonder how Chan feels about cooking
our atmosphere. I wonder how the Titanic story might have turned out if
a there had been a few more people angry and frustrated about ram-
ming an iceberg rather than feeling good at the party down below.
I googled Therapeutic Journal, but I don’t know any more about
my appointed task than when I left Chan’s office. Google’s top two re-
sponses to my Therapeutic Journal inquiry: 1. Therapeutic Apheresis and
Dialysis; 2. Therapy Journal: This journal lets you analyze your dreams,
passions and desires. I think I’ll stick with Chan’s definition—feelings.
Feelings. Sometimes I feel like a steam cooker with out any vent.
Sometimes I feel like a steam cooker without any steam. I’m seldom
conscious of snapping at people, but I see it in grimaced faces, in dis-
may, in eyes rolling ‘round in their sockets, in cowering withdrawal. I
used to have a social life—even through the dark times; even for several
years after I returned to writing for the paper. But now what I call social
life isn’t social life—in a sandbox they’d call it parallel play. You know
when the new/shy kid shows up and pushes his toy truck around the
periphery of the sand box while the rest of the kids build intersecting
roads and establish construction sites where they agree to dig/pile the
sand into evanescent structures of the afternoon. It’s like play. It looks
like play. It is parallel play—it happens in the same box and follows some
of the same rules as real sandbox play, but the roads don’t intersect.
TV is kind of second-rate parallel play. I don’t do TV. Well, I do,
but it’s different. For me, it’s not even parallel. When I’ve finished with
the computer screen for the night and I’m not slipping out to the pub, I
turn on the TV and get so bored with the incomprehensible absurdity of it
I just pass out. Then—much later—the ads between programs, which are
much louder than any of the rest of the programming, wake me up, and I
turn the damn thing off—and go to sleep, or go back to the computer
screen after tossing for a few hours.
Why do I turn on something I loathe so much?—hard to say; and
even harder to admit. Could I possibly turn it on just to see how stupid it
can get?—like when there is a terrible vehicle accident that no one would
want to see, but the police have to intimidate traffic into moving on be-
cause we’re all so fascinated with how horrible it can be. Are we ob-
sessed with our luck at escaping, at least temporarily, such a fate? Or,
are we just sick voyeurs in the tragedy of other lives? I mean, when the
TV gets sicker than it has ever been before, they call it “Reality TV”—then
the news comes on! “Feels” kind of sick to me.
Sometimes—somewhere between often and obsessively—I watch
the news. It’s kind of an adjunct to my obsession with the newspaper. I

5
Taking Leave
once thought I was learning something important watching the news,
then I reread Orwell’s 1984 for the third time and it sunk in: I’m not
learning or seeing anything other than what these huge institutions want
me to learn and see—so I will make the decisions they want me to make.
“Smart bombs”—the broadcasters all use the term so easily for such
clever little devices that rain down from the sky and light the city below
with “Shock and Awe”—like on the Fourth of July or Halloween—but nary
a word, or scene of the destruction, or the death, or suffering that these
fire works create, or the teenage soldiers that die because they aren’t
smart enough to run and hide. Lots of carnage scenes when it’s “terror-
ists” causing the damage. In the TV news version of reality, destroying
things is a horrible thing to do with small improvised bombs. We’re cook-
ing our earth, and the night headline is about the Voyager space probe
sending out greetings to aliens in all living human languages.
Sleep. Sleep was my number one on the list for this stress leave.
Haven’t I been telling Dr. Chan, and everyone else who is still interested
in anything I have to say, that I’m tired? I don’t get enough sleep. I get up
sleepy from eight hours in bed. Sometimes I don’t actually wake up until
I’m doing something like searching mechanistically through the file
drawers for a reference, or reaching out to shake hands with someone
who has just come into the office with “news.” Suddenly I have this com-
ing-to experience, like being woken by an alarm clock, and there I am
going through the file, or shaking hands; and—at last—I’m awake. I’m not
sleepy, for a while.

Oct. 25, 2004

I’m beginning to wonder if sleep is all I thought it would be. After


ten days of sleeping in and generally laying around on the couch, I feel
more tired and bored and unhappy than when the buzzer was jolting me
out of bed to spend my—coffee-animated—days recording or—all-too-
often concocting—meaningless “significant” stories for the paper before
retiring in exhausted resignation to an uneasy sleep. It definitely seems
that I am either more hopelessly addicted to doing anything than a four
month stress leave can redress or—perhaps, in my case—doing nothing
is simply not an effective restorative to doing too much.
Dr. Chan suggests Jane—or my unwillingness come to terms with
those dark times—is the real problem that no amount of sleep can cure.
But I think Chan is crazier than me. All of that is now six years behind me
and has nothing to do with the events which have precipitated this semi-
coerced stress leave.

6
Reading. Reading is high on the stress leave list. Personally I put
a great deal more faith in the restorative value of reading than in sleep-
ing or psychoactive drugs. In earlier times, and in better times, and even
in times of distress; I used to read a great deal. I would crack open a
novel and disappear between the pages with all the passion of Jane and
me between the sheets in the first years of our marriage. I once narrowly
missed being run over by an on-coming car when I blindly stepped into
the crosswalk, completely unaware of anything other than the book
which I held in front of my face on the way home from the library. The
winter of the lock out, I went through books faster than the library ser-
vice could deliver them to the remote, rail-side cabin where Jane and I
waited out the snow and the company’s intransigent greed.
Less than two weeks into this stress leave and I’ve already
burned through Rohinton Mistry’s lengthy/heady novel: A Fine Balance.
For three days I did little other than read. For three days my own troubles
seemed so small and insignificant compared to the social and personal
devastation wreaked by India’s class structure and the corruption of a
political system that had learned so little from the Mahatma and so
much from the injustices of colonialism. In the end, I found no lasting
relief from this confused turmoil of meanings which is my life these days.
A fine balance? What’s balanced? Mistry suggests that the prin-
ciple characters carry on with their lives among the tragedy and squalor
because they have learned "to maintain a fine balance between hope
and despair.'' However the most glaring shortcoming of this outstanding
novel is that the central metaphor doesn’t work. The hope and despair of
Dina and the tailors is not a delicate equilibrium balanced by some un-
seen hand on the scales of justice. The novel is, more, a symphony of
corruption, cruelty, hope, desire, kindness and despair in which fortuity
precariously sustains these miss-adventured characters like a sheet of
ice thinly crusted over a raging current of malevolence, injustice and
brutality—kind of like North American society these days.
Much more of that kind of relief and I’ll be giving other remedies
a more serious/considered effort.

Oct. 30, 2004

Dr. Chan is becoming emphatic about taking the little pills twice
a day rather than my nightly sojourns at the pub. But the pills didn’t work
six years ago, and I don’t want them now. Why can’t these doctors see
that depressed people can experience despair, unhappiness, ill fortune
and hopelessness, but none of the above is sufficient to establish a
cellular based/pharmacologically remedial melancholia?

7
Taking Leave
I know the pills can be helpful. My own life was deeply benefited
by the pills that Jane took in bouts over the years of her illness. But the
same pills did little or nothing for me. My drug of choice is beer. It’s got-
ten me through tough times—badly tattered and definitely not intact, but
still together, in a sense. Despite accusations by friends and associates,
my view is that I have never been sufficiently hooked on beer to properly
fit the mold of alcoholism. Outside the rambunctious first few years of
university, I’ve seldom downed more than a few beer in an evening. I’ve
never had a beer before noon—it’s my religion and my defiance of the
alcoholic labeling.
The thing about beer for me is: it’s community. Well, at its best,
it’s about community. It has been for me about having the time to be
with others, to say what one feels, to be intimate—sometimes with
strangers, to “let one’s guard down,” to be silly, to relax, to be, for a
moment, content and—however shallowly and transitorily—happy.
I remember, clearly and fondly the sense of community which
grew up around the renovated Province Hotel, of the 1970’s—before the
fire, in the incipient, yet undiagnosed days of Jane’s illness. I sometimes
think metaphor attracts/draws reality to it. Standing in the middle of a
quiet, once aspiring rural town of outback British Columbia, this wooden
relic—hallmark of the copper mine—stood, once again, in the middle of a
great many lives in this isolated community.
Whether it was lunch, or after school, or after work, or after eight,
or just before closing; one could hardly find a time when entering either
the restaurant or pub one was not immediately invited to join some
friend, acquaintance, or friend of an acquaintance at a table. In the
1970’s beer prices were still regulated by the provincial government,
and they were cheap and easy—like the conversation. It amazes me how
easy it was to strike up a conversation—about family, about the weather,
about roads in disrepair, about rumours of a new grocery store, about
families breaking up, about lovers still hiding from public recognition of
their relationship, about the effort to stop Uranium mining, about Harold,
the would-be mayor and Brian, the long–time mayor, about the antics of
city council, about Humpback Mountain—the collective farm 15 kms up
the Granby River, about the Doukhabours and the Freedomites; about
just about anything.
I remember conversations that began, straight off, with the na-
ture of ethics and the place of meaning in our lives; other times a con-
versation might linger over a poor choice of clothing style or a particularly
poor mix of such styles—I was often the brunt of this last category. But,
for me, the underlying theme was this dumbfounded amazement over
how easy it was to strike up an extended conversation. In retrospect it is
all the more amazing. You could look someone in the eye and feel a

8
sense of connection that you didn’t have to think about—it was just
there. The Province Hotel defined a community that needed no further
definition.
How could all of that just go up in smoke? Surely a community is
more than a building. No buddy, no body was lost in the fire late in the
evening of July 7, 1981. And, if a building is so important, it can be re-
built, or reinvented just down the street. For a community of less than
7,000 people, isolated by mountain ranges on the east and west, by the
American border on the south, and a hundred kilometers of logging-road-
only wilderness to the North, Grand Forks—of the 1970’s—had a remark-
able number of drinking establishments. Each had its own community or
clientele, and all but, perhaps the hard core/early morning to late night
drinkers of the Lorne would likely have welcomed the teachers and law-
yers and hippies and artisans from the Province. Any one of them could,
potentially, have replaced the Province Hotel as the unofficial hip-
pie/yuppyish community drop in centre. But none did. And the Province
was never rebuilt. And, with it, a whole community just withered; it didn’t
die; people still saw each other, and the annual Freaker’s Ball was as
enthusiastically attended as ever. But some community dynamic went up
in smoke and drifted away on the westerly winds of a mid-summer
storm—never to be again.

Nov. 2, 2004

To be absolutely and even remotely honest; beer, these days, is—


at best—for me about a kind of parallel community; like parallel play, the
roads don’t intersect. I still dream about the Province Hotel though the
place and the people are long gone. I kind of recreate an im-
age/impression of it most nights when, around ten, I give up on the TV,
despair of actually meeting the absurd deadlines for my articles, and
drift down to one of the “city’s” drinking establishments. It’s usually the
Alexander, but I mix it up occasionally, sometimes it feels like I’m still
looking for the lost Province though I know there is no trace left—not
even the fire scorched foundations.
These days I prefer the Alexander with its austere Edwardian
Classical Revival architecture and stone-like concrete block with the
extensive heritage-look cornices. My evenings in the Alexander are, al-
most inevitably, a well defined and circumscribed ritual. This evening
was typical—stereotypically typical; boring some would say, but—for me, it
beats the alternatives. Jill, the lanky barmaid, former neighbour and
intermittently single mother of two teenagers, delivered a sleeve of Oka-
nogan Spring Lager to “my” table in the most distant, least frequented

9
Taking Leave
section of the pub—unsummoned. I’d never ask for any other beer. I
assume that Okanogan Spring isn’t advertised because the Vernon-
based brewers are content to let the quality speak for itself, and I don’t
need to know anything beyond that. Well it is much better than promot-
ing beer as the pick of some glacier-bound, fake-furred, silly ape—such
antics make me sick before I’ve even tried the beer.
A faint, fleeting smile of recognition passed between us as she
set the beer on the worn table. ”Good evening,” she said, with a little
more warmth than the usual barmaid’s greeting. I wonder if she was
remembering Jane, or the time she called on a Saturday afternoon so
hysterical about the rattlesnake on her deck. She probably remembers
both and the time she told me “It wasn’t that bad,” after I got suspended
from the paper for slipping on a Grocho Marx mask at an all candidates
forum where I was suppose to be representing the Valley News on a
media panel. I didn’t invest much attention in the exchange, hoping she
wouldn’t remember the night I made the all-too-clearly-intended offer of
an after closing “drink” at my place. Even the thought that she might
have come by scared me out of attending the Alexander for a month.
It’s a transforming ritual—raising that initial beer of the evening,
sliding my upper lip over the rim of the glass and tasting the slightly
bitter hops among the yeasts, sugars and alcohol of that first heady sip. I
like to leave the remnants of the first sip hanging on to my upper lip like
a damp ephemeral moustache or badge of accomplishment. The ritual
takes me home, or--at least--it takes me away from not being at home.
I see other people doing the same thing—raising the first beer, or
subsequent ones to their lips and drawing in the frothy succor. Some
wipe the wet moustache off their upper lip with the back of their sleeve.
A sophisticated few use a serviette. Many are as content as I with a wet,
sticky upper lip—kind of a step up on the British “stiff upper lip”—I’d say.
I see some clientele sitting alone seeking, as I do, with furtive
glances to affirm their place and belonging in this community of beer.
Others sit on opposite sides of a table as a couple exchanging words and
the assurance of eye contact. Some mushy ones stretch their arms
across the table to hold hands in intense gestures of intimacy. I’m most
enamored of groups of, at least, four sitting around a table stacked with
full, half full, and all-but-empty sleeves of beer. I love it when some one
of them rocks back in his or her chair laughing, teetering dangerously at
the tipping point. It’s like a magic show to follow the glint of recognition
as a would-be speaker recognizes that—by common, unspoken, consen-
sus—he or she is being granted permission to speak to those assembled
around the table.
My god, every night I go down there, I end up praying desperately
to whatever gods there may be that I don’t turn out like Old Bill sitting at

10
the bar talking in animated conversation to himself. I wonder what Dr.
Chan would say of that. I wonder if Bill has ever seen Chan or any other
doctor. I wonder if it would do him any good now. It’s almost like split
personalities that appear in the conversation with himself. Sometimes
he gets into such intense arguments, Jill has to ask him to tone it down;
sometimes everyone in his circle of personalities is very agreeable—each
nodding in general/amicable ascent to the point being taken. Some-
times he seems to look my way as though, sitting alone, I should be
interested in joining the circle of his splintered off personalities; or are
they just voices? How aware is Bill of this conversation game? I never
respond to his unverbalized entreaty. I long ago realized that he is actu-
ally looking through me to the dark, smoke-stained, unfeeling paneling
on the wall behind. If it would save me from Bill’s fate, I’d write in this
damn therapeutic journal until the Pope looses his direct connection to
God.
It scares me because I don’t know how he got there at the bar
every night talking to himself. How long did he come and sit at a table
just looking around, watching the others, living this parallel community—
just like me? When did he first start some hesitant conversation with
himself? I’ve heard it—that little voice that isn’t exactly mine, though it
comes from my breath. It’s just a little voice saying something like “I
should hope so,” to a conversation to which I am not invited and going
on three tables away. It just slips out and often it is easy enough to pre-
tend I didn’t hear it; it wasn’t me, but then I see Bill sitting there at the
bar and his bright/glassy eyes seem to be almost visualizing another
character in his solitary conversations and my own words frighten me—
terribly—and I go home alone immediately, disconsolate. It has become a
ritual, going home disconsolate; I do it so often, like from rote. It’s all
ritual; Jill, and Bill, and the mushy couples, and the boisterous mill
hands, and me—all of it; take away the cigarettes, and there wouldn’t be
enough spark of genuine spontaneous life to kindle a gas leak.
But no community is perfect, and no community is whole or per-
fectly healthy, and any community—even a parallel one—is better than no
community at all; so most nights I end up back at the Alexander—despite
Bill and myself. Sometimes acquaintances nod in acknowledgement as
they enter or leave. Sometimes someone I know from before or from my
coverage of community events stops by my table for a word or two. I can
still make conversation of sorts, and it can be pleasant—if they don’t
recall the distant past or get too personal. Once in a very long while,
someone whom I haven’t offended lately will bring his or (almost unimag-
inably rarely—her) beer over to “my” table, and we’ll start a conversation
slowly and build until I hear this buzzer go off in my head, and a little
voice that says, “Hey, look around, you won’t believe this, but you’ve

11
Taking Leave
been involved in intimate—or at least animate—conversation for a half
hour already. And I know that if I just don’t blow it, I will go home content
for this one night, having momentarily rediscovered the lost Province.
The thing I like about beer or the Alexander is that it’s community
without depth, or obligations, or memory. Yet it’s not just parallel; it has
enough of a hint of belonging and community to sustain one’s spirit.

Nov. 15, 2004

I must say that this writing is growing on me. I’m starting to enjoy
this talking to myself—thinking about what I’m thinking about. I wonder if
Old Bill down at the Alexander feels this good about all those different
aspects of himself. The thing about Bill is—well it’s the way he just looks
through you. What is he seeing? Is he seeing through me, or not seeing
me, or not seeing anything beyond the lose nuts rattling around in his
head?
I didn’t think I’d like doing this writing thing. I’m supposed to be
tired of writing. Dr. Chan said I’m supposed to do this writing about “ob-
serving” my self and my feelings, so I wasn’t going to do it—or do it as a
lark, for awhile. But, if it weren’t for my paranoia about Old Bill, I’d say I
am learning to enjoy externalizing a little of my self long enough to take a
look. Not that I like all or most of what I see, but it seems reassuring that
there is still a me—a self—there to look at. That’s to say, of course, that
this rambling about the things I do and remember is really about a self—
a big jump, since I’m not sure what a self is and much less sure what it
means to have one. But after all these years of writing about just about
everyone and everything else in this often stifling valley, it seems a little
fitting and strangely fascinating to become the object of my own investi-
gation.

Dec. 25, 2004

I called Victoria today. No, her name is Jennifer, Jennifer (John-


son)Samwing—my daughter. It’s easier to say Victoria; she lives in Victo-
ria on Gerda Ave. I’ve never been there, but I call every Christmas, and
every Christmas it’s the same thing. “Hello, Jennifer? It’s your Dad,
please…” Click. She won’t speak to me. She hasn’t spoken to me since
her mother died. I don’t think I’ve told you this Chan. Sometimes I pre-
tend I don’t have a daughter; it’s easier that way. Why—on Earth—doesn’t
she answer the phone? I’ve called every Christmas for six years just to
hear the click of the receiver clicking off. You’d think she had been an

12
abused child, the way she just clicks off instead of the loved and adored
centre of the lives of two loving parents. Oh, this just hurts too much to
talk about. She told Pat I “wasn’t there” for Jane when she needed me. I
was there through the whole illness. I was there. I turned my life upside
down and—as you say, Chan—drove myself crazy being there when every
thing fell apart piece by piece by painful piece. I wasn’t there when she
took the herbal “concoction” but I wasn’t invited either.
You know, I was downtown and saw all the glitzy Christmas lights
and heard all the commercial-laden spiritual music, and I just about
puked. The only thing that saves my guts at all is these lines that I picked
up off the internet last year this time:

Good old King Buy And Buy says get it with the see—
eas—un. Buy and Buy and Buy and Buy—never count-
ing cost—ah—ahst. Keep up with the buy-i-ing, until
the vault is em—em—tee. Come the new year you will
pay; Pay and pay and pay-a-eh.

I don’t know; I couldn’t explain it to a rational observer—it just


cheers me up like a mickey on a cold night; kind of caustic going down,
but it warms the tummy and dulls the senses.
I would have long ago given up on Christmas entirely except for
George; George the railway patrolmen that loved Christmas. You don’t
know about George either, Chan, but I’ll tell you a bit about him and his
obsession. I’m done with Jennifer. No I’m not actually done with Jennifer.
She’s done with me. You could call her, if you like—other people have;
she talked to them, but she still hung up on me.
I suppose this should be confidential, though, perhaps it is some-
thing that should not be confidential. You say write about feelings, any
feelings, any time, just get down/get in touch with feelings. Yes, perhaps,
I could start many years ago—many years before all this stuff. I could, of
course start with Jane, but Jane…the young Jane…Jane that danced in
the meadow by fire light…Jane that slept beside me naked in the sleep-
ing bag at twenty below Fahrenheit…that Jane is directly connected to
everything. How could I begin that story without telling it all? But George
brought out feelings in me, deep feelings about life and what it all
means, and George isn’t connected to any of the present. I’ll start with
George.
After these many years, I now feel free to recount the story of a
distant Christmas and one of the most blessed and cursed men I have
ever met.. I had feelings for George—and Shirley as well. Real ones—but
that was long before Jane’s illness, so I suppose it doesn’t really count.
Never-the-less, Chan you say write anything, start anywhere—just include

13
Taking Leave
feelings, so... Besides, remembering George I have feelings, impossible
to explain feelings about more than George—about, maybe, no I can’t say
what it is; just that it is somehow bigger than everyday life.
When I first met George, I was working as a patrolman on the
Pacific Great Eastern Railway which became the British Columbia Rail-
way before it was sold out to Canadian National. George was a man
possessed of a most effusive optimism that, at times, bore him up and
would have carried him off into some greater and happier world were it
not also for the noose bound to his leg and fastened securely to the
earth below. And the worst of it was that often the more the optimism
bore George up, the tighter the noose seemed to fasten its grip about his
leg and weigh him down.
George and I were part of a small crew hired by the railway to run
little yellow "speeders" five to ten minutes ahead of the long heavy
freights twisting their way down the railway grade that had been chiseled
out of the banks of the Green River canyon near Pemberton. These
speeders rattled between the poorly gauged tracks and coughed and
spewed oily fumes into the cab. But we were all glad to take what pit-
tance the company would hand out because, even then, jobs were hard
to come by, and out of a crew of six, only George intended to stay on for
any length of time.
I remember walking down the main street of the small, everyone-
knows-you, village of Pemberton, embarrassed, George at my side. "Bart,
we should have clean, pressed, blue uniforms. And they should have
yellow badges that say PGE Patrolman." He was so happy as he ranted
on about how much he had always wanted to work for the railway, and
his feet seemed to almost dance as he went on to tell me about what a
great company it was. I just wanted to make it through the winter without
getting bounced into the frothing waters of Green River. In the spring, I'd
go home to my farm; and maybe someday the speeder ring would leave
my ears. I hadn’t even thought of journalism in those days.
George was not always so cheerful, and as the heavy coastal
snow settled ever more deeply around our lonely company trailer,
George's spirits sagged and the glitches in his conversation became ever
more frequent. He would start off talking about one thing, then suddenly
the conversation would end and start over somewhere else—someplace
and time that had nothing to do with what had just been said, like a
child's graphite slate that is abruptly cleared with a stroke of the cover
leaf and some entirely new project begun. You know about these things
better than I, Chan, but something was troubling George deeply, some-
thing he could neither think nor talk about.
December 22, these many years ago, we were down to a skele-
ton crew for the Christmas holiday season. The only other patrolman was

14
running ahead of a late night freight, leaving George and I asleep in the
trailer. Around one o'clock in the morning George began to mutter-lowly
at first-but became increasingly loud—as he repeated himself. "I didn't do
it, I didn't do it..." As he went on, his voice rose to a shout. Concerned
about both George and my sleep, I went over to see if I could rouse
George from his nightmare. As I shook him, George sat bolt up; he was
trembling horribly, but he began to recognize me and his surroundings.
Looking me in the eye he began in a broken voice, "Bart, I've never told
you or anyone else around here, but I've seen things no man should
have to see—villages burning and children running and dying before the
rattling guns." He clutched at my arm. "I was there; I saw it; but, honestly,
I never did it." At that he let go of my arm and returned to the earlier
chant, "I didn't do it," he muttered between sobs.
I've never been trained as any kind of confessor so I had no idea
of what to say. I only comforted him as best I could and suggested he
take some time off and go home to see his wife and one-year-old son for
Christmas. To this he readily agreed, and the next day he hopped the
freight south.
New Year's Day the passenger train stopped in front of the work
trailer. The baggage door slid open and out jumped George. With the
luggage came several large boxes. "Happy New Year," he said turning to
the patrolman. "I really appreciate you guys working Christmas for me,
and I got sumthun for ya.” Inside the trailer we pulled open the boxes to
find a whole roasted chicken and bottle of wine for each of us. After
cooking for weeks on an old, defunct oil stove that wouldn't set a me-
dium egg, we were all delighted.
Later George called me aside. "Ya know, being home with the
family was real important—especially this year; my boy's first real Christ-
mas. Hope I didn't disturb ya too much the other night. Guess I was
pretty depressed. Ya know I came here (Canada) to forget—but I guess
it'll never leave me altogether. Still Christmas was really good for me." I
nodded with interest hoping he might continue so I could understand
more of this increasingly enigmatic man.
"The dream the other night was overpowering, but I hope, now, it
may never come again like that. I meant what I said, ya know? I was
there, and I couldn't—or didn't—try to stop it, but I emptied my gun into
the dust in front of me. It has haunted me ever since. You've probably
noticed that I tend to end some of my conversations in the middle of
nowhere. It's just I get close to something I don't want to remember, and
I get all bound up and run from it, then I find myself talking about some-
thing else entirely. Ah-but-Bart, this Christmas was good for me. Ya
should'a seen my little boy playing with the toys—actually he liked the
boxes they came in best of all. It was sort of disappointing for a while. I

15
Taking Leave
mean Shirley and I spent over two hundred dollars on little Jeffry. We had
a great time going from store to store trying to decide just what would
make this first Christmas with our son the most delightful event imagin-
able! But he didn't even give the bright red, three foot fire engine with
the full force siren as much as a pat before he crawled into the box. With
a little coaxing he crawled back out and right past the giant panda bear
to begin passionately tearing up the mountain of Xmas wrap next to the
tree."
"Well, George," I began with a knowing grin, "sounds like you and
Jeffry had a pretty normal Christmas. It seems that it takes kids a long
time to learn that the value of things is more in the price we pay for them
than in the sensuous delight we experience in playing with them." My
god, the cynic within ran wild even then. However, recognizing the inap-
propriateness of such derisive remarks in the face of George's enthusi-
asm for his son's first Christmas, I smiled as gently as is possible for an
old scoffer, and the remark passed almost unnoticed.
"Then the little fella smiled and reached out for me and his mom.
I tell you, Bart, this son of mine has made a real difference in my life."
George's eyes were misting heavily. It seemed likely he had missed my
supercilious remark entirely.
"And some people came to the door singing. Shirley even sang
along with them for awhile. It seemed like the whole world was at peace,
and we could somehow measure our wealth in what we had to give to
each other. All the quarreling Shirley and I went through during the past
two years seemed to melt away. I'm thinking, hopefully, we'll make a real
family yet. It's a magical season—really it is. Even when things, or the
world, seem to have gone so wrong or become so horrible, it gives ya
hope to believe things'll get better. If only we could bottle up a little of
the goodness from this season and save it as salve for some of the inju-
ries we're all bound to suffer in the months ahead. If only I could take
some..."
He broke off suddenly there, then began again—excitedly about
how he had made a New Year's resolution to try to extend the Christmas
season by two days every year until it included the whole year. George
was soaring again, and I resolved to do nothing that would bring him
down. I didn't remind him that in two days the Christmas truce would be
over and the war would go on. How could I have been so damn cynical—
even then?
No one wishes more than I that this story would end here on this
note of joy and hope for George and his family. But, Chan, I have the
curse of the profession; once on the trail of “the truth” we just can’t quit,
like some over zealous blood hound on a fresh scent—we have to sniff it
out—even if the trail leads over the cliff. I feel (Chan!) a need to plumb

16
this beyond just some feel-good romantic tale. So I have feelings—
perhaps I just don’t have “good” ones.
Many years after that distant Christmas, I spent a couple of days
occasionally dropping in on a two week dream workshop which Jane had
signed up for. According to Jeremy Taylor, presenter, principle number
one in understanding the enigmatic language of dreams is: "All dreams
come in the service of health and wholeness." If painful past experiences
arise in your dream material, then a self unutterably larger and more
intimately knowing than your socially constructed ego has decided that
you are ready to deal with it. Even nightmares, suggested Jeremy, are
that larger voice saying, "Wake up your attention! It is frighteningly impor-
tant that you realize that the way ahead, your continued growth and
unfolding, demand that you deal with these issues now. Be forgiving, be
gentle, but recognize that these stumbling blocks to your full awareness
and understanding must be removed.” Strange, as I think of it—how few
dreams, and fewer nightmares, I can remember since Jane died. Per-
haps I’m saner than Chan, or Brass, think.
Perhaps if I had sat in on Jeremy's dream circles before I met
George I would not have been so quick to reassure him in the night of his
nightmares. Perhaps I would not have said, "It's OK." I would not have
been so anxious to see him forget the nightmares and return to his
sleep. According to Jeremy we all have an inner compulsion to grow to
the full height of our awareness. There comes a time when we must
grow, we must know and become fully alive. To ignore those most power-
ful dreams is to enter into great danger.
George never again spoke to me of his nightmares. We spoke of
the railway and the envied yellow badges. I think I can fairly say that we
became close friends for a time. I told him of leaving my California home.
Once I began to speak of the haunting dream that led me across the
border. But George interrupted immediately with an animated account of
how late the Budd Car had been the day before—coming, at last, in the
middle of a shift change at the patrol shack. He occasionally hinted that
he did not mind the weeks spent in isolation at the work trailer nor the
overtime.
"I like to feel welcome when I get home, and it feels good to be
out the door while the welcome lasts," he said uneasily one day. I got the
feeling that the Christmas spirit was waning considerably at home.
Toward the end of January the weather turned bitterly cold for
over a week. The thermometer read a bone chilling -30 degrees F. and
the wind shook the trailer like a giant passenger plane revving for a take-
off. George caught me between shifts and asked if I would consider
taking a few extra shifts now in exchange for days off later in February. I

17
Taking Leave
was, however, little inclined to do a double shift in a canvas draped
speeder during such dangerously cold weather.
"Bart," he pleaded, "as you know, when it gets so cold the sap in
the trees freezes and bursts the bark. Exploding Birch bark sounds like
gun fire—rapid gun fire sometimes, and sitting alone at a turn-around
way out in the middle of nowhere; I get to thinking of things I don't want
to remember." George's veins stood out rigidly in his neck, his head was
strained sideways; he looked deeply distressed.
"Look, George," I said angrily, "if you need the time off—book off.
The railway can find someone to fill in.” I was determined not to spend
16 hours out in the cold. George didn't book off—his strange pride got in
the way of his good sense, I suspect. Twice that week I was asked by
railway engineers (hoggers, we called them) if I knew where the patrol-
man had been the night before. Puzzled I inquired of George who in-
formed me that he had encountered intermittent problems in contacting
the freights by radio. Then one morning on showing up for a morning
shift there was a message from the Roadmaster, "I'll be arriving at noon
with a new man to train for the afternoon patrol"—George's position.
Later that day I learned that a southbound freight had become
stuck in a slide because there was no patrolman. One of the work crew
that had been called out noticed George sitting in the cookhouse drink-
ing coffee.
Many months later, after I had left the railway and gone back to
my farm, I was sitting in the Pemberton Cafe one day when the Station-
master came in. He smiled and sat down across from me. After a few
salutatory exchanges, he lowered his voice and asked confidentially if I
had heard about George. No, I hadn't. My home was a long dusty, deeply-
potholed dirt road north of Pemberton, and I tended to live a very solitary
life. I explained redundantly.
"Well, about a month ago, his wife came to see me. She wanted
to know why the railway wasn't supplying the forms George need in order
to get compensation while he convalesced from the accident.”
“What accident?” I asked, trying to figure things out in a hurry.
“Well, the accident when he got so broken up in the slide and
had barely been able to get out and flag down the train,” she explained.
“I hardly knew what to say, but—in the end—I decided she de-
served to know the truth and besides she'd have to find out one day
anyway." Len looked uncomfortably across at me.
"So how did Shirley take the news?" I asked, realizing for the first
time how much losing the patrolmen's position had meant to George.
"Well, she had a long cry, but then she told me she had sus-
pected something like this had happened when the illusive compensa-
tion didn't arrive month after month. When she left I couldn't tell whether

18
she was more hurt or angry." Len spoke softly. I was fascinated to see
this other side of the man who, otherwise, so fully occupied his position
of authority.
A month later on my way to pick up supplies in Vancouver, I
stopped by Whistler to visit George and Shirley at their trailer. It didn't
feel comfortable, but it seemed important. I felt that our experience
working together and sharing the frightening dream had created a bond-
ing between even the most unlikely of candidates. I cared for George
deeply, though even today I could not explain the grounds of it. Shirley
came to the door and invited me in. George had left on the day she re-
turned from Pemberton. Surprisingly it had been a wrenching, though not
angry parting. She still loved him, she said. “He could be so alive and
present one moment and then so distant, crazy and lost the next.” She
wept in the telling.
I took to stopping by the trailer whenever I made a trip to Van-
couver. Months and then a year went by. Neither Shirley nor I nor anyone
we knew ever heard of him again though one acquaintance of his be-
lieves he remembers seeing him heading down the trail to the bluffs
above the Cheakamus River just after he left home. Shirley tried desper-
ately to find him through all the contacts she knew of and finally made
inquiries to the RCMP. But he was gone without a trace. Whether he
emerged in some new life south of the border, or whether he lived, we
were never able to determine.
But I still remember the joy in his eye when he told me of that
first Christmas with his son who is now a grown man, and—when I last
heard from him—a dedicated father. For knowing George, I am, perhaps
slightly less cynical than I would otherwise be.

Jan. 24, 2005

I picked up a copy of the Valley News today. Pacific Enercon is


laying off again. Pacific Abrasives wants more price concessions from
city council. Our ex-mayor is talking about “hemp” clothing as an eco-
nomic savior. A delegation of religious parents will be making a presenta-
tion to the school board about banning some more books from the
school library and another group of parents—some of them known to
me—are requesting a meeting with the board to talk about banning the
banning of books.
I didn’t have anything to do with this issue of the paper, but I
could have written the whole thing without holding an interview or taking
a call. It’s just the same old story. Just a bunch of Yahoos doing what
Yahoos do best. Jonathan Swift’s account of the travels of Gulliver where

19
Taking Leave
bone chilling cynicism meets reality told the whole story three centuries
ago. We, journalists, just do renditions over and over. Reality TV wants to
say the same thing, it just gets stuck on the glitz and entertainment.
According to Dr. Chan, I’m supposed to stay away from the news-
paper office. I’m not supposed to call Earl or any other of the staff at the
paper. I think Chan would prefer that I not even pick up a copy of the
paper. I’m supposed to rest. But what does rest mean—doing nothing but
writing in this stupid journal? I don’t find boredom restful. What if I’m not
wired to rest? Read? Much as I enjoy reading, and this seems like an
almost unbelievable prescription, it occurs to me that sometimes fic-
tional life can be just a slightly exalted variation of virtual life or the vi-
carious “life” of the boob tube—bloodless speculation about this too easy
to forget, too hard to be without, reality of subjects and objects that live
and change of their own inner dynamic--like mindful puppets. Sometimes
I feel like I’m being force-fed on milk toast or raisin bread when my body
is crying out for a juicy steak. I seem to crave something with more sub-
stance than excited dust on a cathode ray tube and more complex and
meaningful than can be recorded by dots of ink on smushed wood pulp.
I remember; no, it wasn’t a dream; I’m sure I actually lived this
once. I remember summers when Jennifer was young, when Jane and I
knew of the incipient illness, but no one else knew, and it didn’t show
unless you looked for it and knew the diagnosis from the neurologist in
Kelowna. I remember crossing the boarder and driving south and making
a family decision at the intersection of major roads and traveling on.
Jane, with the archaeological guide to the Pacific Northwest in her lap,
chatting with Jennifer. Oh, let’s stop here or there they’d exclaim like two
school girls at an ice cream stand pointing to locations on the map, like
menu items. And on we’d drive (I’d drive); Jane was already too weak for
long stints behind the wheel, and I loved to drive when we weren’t going
anywhere special except that Jane and Jennifer had chosen it that morn-
ing for our next adventure. I never turned on the radio nor picked up a
single copy of the paper. Every day we had only our lives and the wide
and wonderful world ahead of us.
Oh, God, they were good times—then. I guess that is the ultimate
rub. I know something about an inner goodness/fullness to life. I lived it
once, but every copy of the paper, every flick of the channel, every click
of the mouse, every day I go to work or out to the pub just seems like
another step away from what I once had. Sometimes I think…no I don’t
want to think about that tonight. Forget that Chan; I won’t think about it
tonight.
So is avoiding alternative addictions like TV and internet surfing
a suitable excuse for picking up a copy of the Valley News while I was out
for groceries this afternoon; or is this just another manifestation of my

20
morbid addiction to the “hyper ventilated atmosphere” of the news room
and the petty nuances of small town squalor?
Anyway I have a copy so I might as well see how the world’s do-
ing without me. “Councilors locked out,” the front page headline reads.
While I am often accused of “over dramatizing’ the usually petty local
politics, here’s a perfect example of the dilemma one faces in trying to
cover local politics in a small, isolated, interior BC community. How can
an editor not headline something like this even though it makes the
municipal council look like a parliament of Lilliputian fools?
Petty, and perhaps out of character for the mayor, as it seems;
the incredulous gall of this is titillating, and I can certainly see why Earl
would choose to feature it. Imagine, the mayor and three councilors
arrive early at council chambers and vote, over the objection of the ad-
ministrator, who has a modicum of propriety, to close the meeting by
locking the doors. Now the clear intent of this is to exclude the three
“opposition” councilors who include the mayor’s arch rival—who won’t be
arriving until the regularly scheduled council meeting. They justify this
maneuver by claiming they had confidential, “in camera” matters to
discuss. But council regularly reconvenes to consider confidential mat-
ters after the evening’s agenda is concluded and the public and press
are sent home.
This time they failed to even let anyone know there would be a
regular meeting of council at the conclusion of the in-camera session.
So, though they claim to have unlocked the chamber doors at the con-
clusion of the in camera session, counselors Abramson, Miller and Snell,
who had gone home after beating on the doors for an appropriate length
of time, didn’t attend the regular session and didn’t have a chance to
vote on Anderson’s motion to buy all councilors bright red blazers with
City of Grand Forks emblazoned in gold letters over their chests. It
seems, or at least they say, Mayor and council didn’t get enough, or
suitable attention the last time they attended a gathering of all BC mu-
nicipal governments. What else did they discuss? Confidential? I bet.
Embarrassing? Likely—we’ll know within the week.
I see Parta board is, once again, spewing sawdust on its down-
wind neighbours, and its down wind neighbours are once again trying to
get provincial inspectors out and prepared to do something. I see they
are, once again, threatening to sue.
Then there is the usual page of sports—
wins/losses/heroes/errors and, of course unwarranted involvement by
parents in minor hockey games. Junior B hockey is hot this year. The
Bruins squeaked by their arch rivals from Spokane on Monday night: 4—
3.

21
Taking Leave
Sometimes I cover these events (they’re far too serious to be
called a “game” except perhaps in the sense that the Gladiators also
engaged in Roman “games”). Earl demands I write in the same hyped
voice used to report on hockey “games” in every community paper
across Canada. But this is a most difficult task for a non-native.
Despite thirty-five years of acculturation, I still find it passing
strange to go and watch these over-stuffed brutes beating on this flat-
tened plastic ball they call a “puck” with laminated hickory sticks while
skating around on the ice and belligerently bumping into each other
before “dropping the gloves” and publicly forsaking all civility to brawl in
a big heap. Then a whistle goes and amazingly they’re all buddy-buddy
once again—standing round, smiling, hunched over, hands on their
knees real nonchalant until suddenly this guy in prisoner’s stripes throws
an obviously maddening “puck” onto the ice, and they’re all active
again—like a bee hive in a bear raid. Suddenly they start shooting this
puck, firing squad-like, at the two dummies caged at each end of the ice.
And I have to try to make some kind of civilized sounding story out of
this? I wonder if they had “reporters” when they were feeding the Chris-
tians to the Lions—and what did they have to say about such “games?”
The thing that Earl will never let me report on—that really in-
trigues me—at these events isn’t even out there on the ice. Well, I did get
to report on the riot two months ago when the Spokane fan called one of
the Bruin players something offensive, and the player climbed over the
benches into the stands; and the Spokane fans converged on the player;
and the Bruins converged on the fans; and the Flames converged on the
Bruins; and the Grand Forks fans started charging around the rink and
jumping the boards to get into the fray.
I had my recorder on and was taking notes frantically, but I was
staying close to the door when the Mounties came rushing in, eight of
them; the whole available Kootenay force. Slam, bam and they had a few
cuffed and a few corned, and were talking real serious to a few more.
The whole rink seemed to give out a huge sigh of relief as the Zamboni
charged onto the ice to scrape up the debris. As I later learned, the
RCMP had requested the services of this noisy, steam-billowing, ice-
eating tractor as a possible diversion.
The interesting thing I learned in the interviews afterward was
that the Mounties were already massing outside before anything started.
Sergeant Norse, is an avid hockey fan and had been at the game, when
he “sensed an unusual tension” building after the second period brawl.
He’d called in the force, and they were massing outside just as the pan-
demonium broke loose in the stands. Oh, yeah, I got to report that one,
but even that was confined to how many had to get patched up and the
score (the game was officially over when the brawl broke out); and how

22
many Mounties were involved; and the fact that no one actually got
charged with any offense under the law, though several players were
suspended, and a couple of Spokane fans are barred from the arena for
the short remainder of the season.
But even that isn’t what really fascinates me; isn’t what I’d dearly
love to report on. As a reporter for the only newspaper in an isolated
rural BC community of 7,000 people I have come to know, or know of, or
something personal about—it seems like—most of the people who live
here. I know the hockey players and their parents; I know just about all
the fans and their parents and children, and where they work, and how
much they drink, and how often they do so. I know them as Douk-
habours, and Anglicans, and business people, and loggers, and mill
hands, and Catholics, and teachers, and artists, and skiers, and politi-
cians. So when I walk into the aging hockey arena on the edge of town,
I’m always fascinated to know who’s there, and who isn’t, and who is
sitting with whom, and who is sitting alone.
There is this thing about a small town that probably isn’t that dif-
ferent from a big city, but in a small town you just know more about it. I
call it “The Family” or “The Connections.” If you ever did a relationship
chart in Grand Forks, I’m sure you’d find that just about everybody is
connected to everybody else in someway—usually in bed. I mean Brian
was with Jennie, before he was with Carly or Marci—whose former hus-
band was with Jennie after she was with Lyle, and Amber is the child of
Dawn by Dennis before Dennis was with Judy, and before Judy ran off
with April. If you just keep weaving this web of relationship, you’ll get
awfully dizzy to start with, and you’ll likely end up back where you
started—but setting off on another round. As I was saying, a good evalua-
tion of the current state of the web can be estimated from a glance
around the arena just before a weekend Junior B game.
So I know these people to an almost amazing degree. I know who
went bankrupt, and who went to jail, and who’s buying what piece of
property from whom. I know who has “Grand Forks Gold,” and who’s still
planting seeds from the sixties. But then the hockey game starts, and
the masks come off, and everything I thought I knew goes up in smoke
like the puff of a magician’s illusion or a puff of Grand Forks Gold—as the
more likely case may be.
Sally Brown, the elementary school secretary, mother of one of
the Bruins (she was with Bill Brown before…), sits quietly on a bench
sipping from what seems to be a concession pop and nibbling on pop-
corn. Then, as though seized by a demon, she juts up off the blanket-
softened hard, wooden bench, clench-fisted. Face strained with tension,
she shouts out at one of the prison-stripped “referees”: “Hey, ref! Ya

23
Taking Leave
wana get home tonight!...Well, ya better straighten up!” She sits down
gently. Apparently the demon has moved on.
Just a couple of benches down Alice Bruen, Bill’s current part-
ner/wife and book store owner, must have been sipping something
stronger than pop. The language! What words! What vitriol! The last time
I let out a spiel like that I had a whole nest of hornets on my tail with no
refuge in sight. You go into the bookstore, and she’s so soft spoken and
helpful and sensitive. It’s like a whole other reality in here. Halfway
through the third period Ralph Irwin, brother to the owner/publisher of
the Valley News, my employer, has obviously been sipping something
stronger than pop and probably stronger than beer. I mean he’s climb-
ing—precariously—out on the wire net screening behind the goals. He
looks angry, and he is gesticulating with his middle finger—putting his
connection to the screen in grave danger. Some people close to the
goals are cheering him on: “Go for it Ralph,” they chant.
Half way through the third period the floor in the seating areas
and hallways is almost entirely covered with spewn sunflower seed
shells, and peanut shells, and spilled popcorn, and smushed pop cups,
and discarded burger wrappers, and greasy cardboard trays with a few
chips still stuck to the sides. There isn’t enough in the waste cans to
empty, but the floor looks like it’s been snowing steadily for half a day.
Not one of these fine citizens actually lives like this outside the arena,
but it’s like the whole veneer of civilization falls away under the unfa-
thomable pressure of sticks, and pucks, and nets, and blades, and
brawls out on the ice; and the whole assembled mass—of otherwise
utterly rooted normal twenty-first century citizens—goes off into some
other reality where the gladiators and the Christian-eating lions come
from. Maybe they go all the way back to a time when our brutish ances-
tors lived in foul, unkempt caves and pawed and snapped at each other
over campfire-singed rat meat.
Oh, God, I’d love to report just once on what actually goes on at a
Junior B hockey game in the Grand Forks arena.
Yes, Dr. Chan; no one needs to mark in the margins. I’m a nasty,
cynical, unhappy, resentful old shit. You’re the one who keeps saying,
write it.
So what else is in the paper this week? Well there is the real-
estate—hot stuff these days, and the engagements, and the budget-
busting weddings—and the Obituaries.
Few people read the obituaries, but—properly written—an obitu-
ary is essential information about the life of a community and the people
who lived, but now don’t live, in it any more. Properly written, an obituary
tells you fascinating details about the lives of people with whom you
have shared this planet—this fleeting time with. It tells about how long a

24
person lived, who loved them, perhaps what they loved, and did/worked
at. It tells how long they were married to their last wife/husband—though
I’ve never seen one mention all their connections to “The Grand Forks
Family.” It gives their children’s names; it may mention their love of a
favorite pet or their faith. If they didn’t commit suicide, it may reveal how
they died or what they died of—though it never attributes death to old
age, which is what most people actually die of.
Suicide. Earl and I have our arguments about this at times. I
mean I might go out and collect a great story about the life of some
prominent member of the community that for despair, or failing health,
or disgrace takes his or her own life; and I can write about all the ac-
complishments, and the family, and the community organizations the
deceased founded or contributed to; I can write about how many people
come to the funeral or memorial, and about the grief of those left be-
hind—but I can’t write about the fact that this person came to a point in
his or her life where the reasons to go on were less than the reasons to
check out. It was Albert Camus who said: “Deciding that life is actually
worth living is the central question of Philosophy.” But when someone
comes to the incredibly difficult and painful decision that it isn’t worth it
any more, we just leave the cause of death blank—even in a story so
significant it gets all the other details onto the front page.
Earl says that we can’t report it because there is the potential for
copycat decisions. Some people may decide that “if Joe can just go off
and kill himself when ever he chooses, then why should I wait?” Appar-
ently there have been recorded rashes of suicides in a community as the
word spreads. But then one of the primary reasons that unsuccessful
suicides report for attempting to end their lives is the unbearable loneli-
ness of feeling completely disconnected from everyone else around—of
feeling that no one could possibly understand what they are going
through. And how could they when we never even admit that anything
like suicide ever happens.
Cancer, and automobile collisions, and heart failure, and strokes,
and industrial accidents, and even accidental poisoning—but no one
decides that life is just not worth the pain, or effort, or embarrassment
and takes their own life by intention—not according to the newspaper.
So who does someone feeling suicidal turn to? Who could possi-
bly understand this feeling that no one can talk about or admit that it
actually happens? So the loneliness goes on and on inside, alone, until
one is just too alone to really matter. But, oh, God, says Earl: “If someone
took their own life after reading a report in our paper about some one
else who decided to choose their own time of departure, oh, (he usually
puts his hand to his head at this point like he is afraid of falling out of his

25
Taking Leave
chair and dying unintentionally when his soft head hits the hard floor),
we’d be sued right out of existence.”
Now if someone takes their own life in desperate loneliness be-
cause they never read of anyone who could possibly have ever been
through the things they are going through, well that’s ok—the relatives
likely can’t trace it back to the paper. And all the other papers would
have to share in the responsibility for this conspiracy of silence anyway.
So I lose and the article just says, “Died suddenly,” and goes on to survi-
vors and occupations and things—just about anything other than the
decision which this person gave his/her life for.
I remember being called out because some young man took his
dad’s rifle down to the hospital and shot himself right there on the en-
trance steps. I was never sure if he was somehow hoping to be saved, or
he just didn’t want to trouble anyone with an ambulance. However, in
speaking to the family, it was clear that this was an act of passion, and
defiance, and resistance to what he felt was unjustifiable and unbear-
able restraints on his right to decide about whom he might become ro-
mantically involved with, regardless of their gender. Earl and I really
argued over this one. I still feel that this enraged young man deserved to
be able to tell his story, and I think that there might be families who
might learn a lesson about family relationships that could save a pre-
cious young life, even if it inconvenienced the thoughts of some parents
for a short time; and perhaps the community would grow a little in char-
acter. Some day someone in such desperate straights might know
someone who had faced similar struggles to their own and might turn to
them rather than a gun.
We ran a news story about the death of this talented young man,
already well-known for his outstanding performances in our community
theatre group...It said ————-was pronounced dead at the hospital fol-
lowing a tragic accident with a gun. It wasn’t just a slight of hand (misdi-
rection of information). It was a lie that festered between Earl and I for
months. In the end I had to accept that Earl was as convinced he was
saving lives with his rendition of the news as I was convinced the oppo-
site. Earl wouldn’t do this just to placate someone, not the most upittee
ups—not for money, nor prestige, nor circulation. Earl’s most definitely
not for sale—I’ve no doubt about that. He is, just—in my view—-more
thoroughly schooled in the dictums of journalism school.
Earl and I actually have an amazingly amicable working relation-
ship, considering that he is, effectively, my boss—and when ever I get in
trouble, he’s in trouble with his boss and with a number of people who
would greatly prefer that I wasn’t writing for the paper. Well, at least,
they are passionate about my commentary column, “Country Commen-
tary.” In some ways they definitely have a point—how come a reporter

26
who is supposed to be “objective” gets to have a page 3, blatantly left
wing, commentary column that often runs to 1,200 words when even the
editor has only this quippy little “Round the Bend” editorial space on
page 5 which never exceeds 400 words?
I certainly have no idea on that one, other than Earl asked me to
do it. I don’t think Peter likes it, but he needs Earl. And, oh, my gosh, Earl
was smirking the day he called me into the office after thirteen people,
mostly women from the Catholic Women’s League, lined up on the side-
walk outside the office and burned their subscriptions to the paper be-
cause I had commented favorably on the “moral courage” of delegates
to the United Church AGM who voted to begin ordaining openly homo-
sexual ministers. He said, choking back the laughter: “I’ve got a hell of a
story for you to cover today—and you won’t need the company vehicle!” It
took me a minute to realize he was actually assigning me to cover the
subscription burning over my own commentary.
Of course, there was the day when I actually did get fired. Well, I
didn’t get fired exactly. Earl simply offered me the wedding page and the
obituaries and the sports—no commentary, and NO politics, and no by-
lines. It seems the Chamber of Commerce, or some leading members of
this prestigious business organization, got together after the municipal
election and decided that their slate of Mayor and three councilors didn’t
get elected because of my columns. It was, in their view, entirely inap-
propriate for me to point out that if the tax formula was shifted so that
businesses paid less tax, then—by the simplest Algebra of balanced
equations—homeowners would pay more taxes. And, oh, yes, I did, also,
criticize their mayoralty ads which compared our long standing mayor to
used motor oil which needs to be thrown out like so much waste.
So when Earl resisted, they called Peter and put forward the
most poignant argument for ending my work with the paper: “If Bart
stays, our advertising goes,” they threatened. Now, since the Valley News
is the only newspaper and only vehicle for both print run advertising as
well as flyer distribution, I’m not sure what they had in mind for promot-
ing their businesses, but it was a serious enough threat to cause Peter to
lay down the law to his editor. Earl seemed shaken in way that I’ve never
seen Earl shaken before or since. “I really hate to do this,” he said with a
most dour, grim face. As I say I wasn’t exactly fired. I was just made an
offer I couldn’t accept.
Jane and I were still in the mostly denial phase of her illness,
but—before all this started—I had already begun to wonder about my life
in this remote, wintry community and my ability to keep up with the pace
of the job at the paper. Besides, I had a feeling that in a small, very con-
nected community like Grand Forks, there would yet be some fascinating
repercussions to this laying off a journalist due to pressure from the

27
Taking Leave
Chamber of Commerce over election coverage. I was, actually, more
interested in how all that would work out than I was concerned about my
livelihood. I most definitely didn’t want the married, buried, and bored
beat.
I promised Earl I wouldn’t broadcast this, but in a small commu-
nity like Grand Forks you’ve got a lot better chance of keeping the broody
hen off the eggs than keeping this kind of juicy gossip from getting out.
Two days later Earl phoned. He wanted me to come back to my old beat.
There was even a bonus for coming back immediately.
I had nothing to do with the irate phone calls, and I knew nothing
about the information or motivation of the prominent Doukhabours who
phoned Peter, personally, with the same rather Koanish question: “What
happens to a paper that placates a few advertisers and looses its circu-
lation?” I didn’t write those columns on peace, cooperatives and Douk-
habours to win friends or influence people, but it kind of worked that
way.
Earl never told me exactly what Peter said, but I only missed one
issue of the paper before I was back with a handsome raise, and my
column, and my beat As far as I know Peter never again grumbled at Earl
about my “attitude.” I was even a little sensitive and wrote a bit of a
business booster of a column, and the paper didn’t loose a single ad
from any of the Chamber of Commerce.
I was in the process of folding up the paper to toss it into the re-
cycling bin, when it suddenly occurred to me that I vaguely recognized
one of the faces in the obituary column. I didn’t recognize the name:
David Christopher Barnett; Nov. 16, 1956 — Jan 22, 2005. Yes, the face
seemed familiar, but I struggled to remember how I knew this person.
From where? Perhaps I wouldn’t have thought much more about it ex-
cept that he was dead. At 49, two years younger than I, two years short
of a full half century—he’s dead. If I don’t remember now, he’ll just be
dust or ash—and I’ll just forget and never think of it again. Something in
me won’t let go of the idea that I knew this David Christopher Barnett
somehow. Maybe it’s important.
Oh, I just noticed: “Passed away suddenly.” There’s no mention
of “a tragic accident,” or “a brief illness,” or “cancer,” or donations to the
Hearth and Stroke Foundation, or the Kidney one, or even “thanks to the
staff at Boundary Hospital.” I’ve written hundreds of these. I know full
well what the code words mean and the unstated cause of death. David
Barnett has, clearly, taken his own life.
What else does it say? He has a sister in Kelowna, and his par-
ents from Peterborough are already waiting for him on the other side of
the Great Divide—if there is another side, and if it’s more friendly than
the side he has just chosen to leave behind.

28
Here’s an interesting comment, you won’t often see in an obitu-
ary: “He was an accomplished pianist and baseball enthusiast before a
brain injury in 1989 forced him to rebuild his life. He was actively in-
volved in the Granby Theatre Company for many years.” Admitting to the
role of a brain injury in a person’s life is getting close to the same kind of
information as admitting how he died—although it seems unlikely some
one will go out and beat their head against a brick wall just because they
read about a brain injury. None-the-less it’s like a slippery slope, and it
looks like Earl is slipping, or this new (temporary!) reporter must be more
convincing than I.
I see, in a note at the bottom of the obituary, that friends are
planning a memorial at the old stone-block United Church on Central
Avenue on Feb 4. Perhaps I’ll go. The more I think of it, the more I in-
spect the picture of this smiling, yet sad face in the obituary column, the
more convinced I am that I know this David Barnett, but how?—I just
can’t seem to force this vital information out of my tired, abused brain.

29
Taking Leave

30
Discovering the Journal
Bartholomew Johnson’s Required Writing

Jan. 26, 2005

Still thinking about the obituary notice in the paper I picked up a


couple of days ago. I know this may seem morbid, but I am fascinated by
death. I’m actually delighted when I am asked to assist with an obituary
notice or even more delighted when some prominent local passes away,
and Earl asks for a memorial article. I’d gladly trade three weddings or
five sports events for one obituary. I might even give an opportune obitu-
ary a slight edge over politics in which I find an almost perverse titilla-
tion. I probably shouldn’t be admitting to this on paper, but Dr. Chan says
this journaling was supposed to be about being honest with myself—
utterly honest, if that’s possible. I was honest, I think, and had feelings
about Jennifer, and Jane, and I’ve written so honestly about local people
and events, it’s hard to find anyone who will even speak to me; I have,
even written about feelings. Feelings are the key concept. They don’t
often come as a feeling alone, or pure; they come all mixed up—that’s
the problem; they come all mixed up—like Jane, and Jennifer, like travel-
ing, sadness, joy, confusion, loss, like memory and the present, which
was the future when we lived it—then, it was just joy and life; pure, not
mixed up. If you’re reading this Chan, remember this was about—as you
said—being honest, which nobody else is. So if I sound a little wacky, I
am—honestly. Who isn’t wacky? But—tell me, Chan—how many people
are this honest about being wacky?
Most people start with this stupid assumption that every body
and everything else is going to die, except themselves. Just before they
get to The Great Divide the rules are going to change, and the divide is
going to come down, and they’ll just go on and on into this new reality,
and there will still be babies, but the Earth will never get overcrowded,
and there will be plenty of everything for everyone. It’s the biggest lie
31
Discovering the Journal
possible, and everyone lives with it. I did, but now I’m telling myself the
truth: I’m going to die as dead as David. I hope not by the same means—
though, as I discussed with Dr. Chan, I’ve thought about that one as well.
None of this leaving is pleasant, so why is having a say in the tim-
ing so problematic? Is it really better to wait until some of your own cells
go nuts and the nutty ones crowd out the healthy ones while you waste
away in a sterile bed surrounded by professionals who call you mister or
miss because they want to be scientifically objective about this process
and don’t want to get too familiar with someone who may not be here
tomorrow except for the kidney which they’re going to cut out an send to
New York to try to keep some desperate bloke out there from facing the
divide you just slipped over.
Almost nobody wants to talk about death as a personally impend-
ing experience. I mean in our commercial/sterile culture we were very
efficient at death and making a lot of money off of it. Soon as somebody
dies—their final good bye is through—what’s left of their pocket book, or
their relatives,’ the “professional” vermin claim.
I somehow managed to go forty-four years never seeing a corpse
or the inside of a funeral “home;” then, in 1996, friends called to say
Carl, the curator and energy behind the art gallery, had a heart attack
and died that morning. Did I want to go with them to see the body? Well,
I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have the courage to say so. So we gathered
and went together—for support. The thing that first struck me about the
funeral home was that, Carl wasn’t the only thing dead in there. In fact it
was so dry and sterile I was afraid for a moment it’d suck the blood right
out of me.
Actually seeing Carl wasn’t that bad. He didn’t look bad. He just
looked dead. It must have been hard on Connie though, seeing her hus-
band, of eight years, dead—when he’d been so alive just that morning.
However, she put on a very brave face and an even demeanor. It seemed
she missed those lines from Macbeth: “Give sorrow words. The grief that
does not speak, whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.”
I guess some of my fascination with death must have started
that day, and in the days following Carl’s death, as I noticed how little
people actually felt about the death of our friend. (Chan, did you notice
the word “felt” here; other people didn’t and I did.) Perhaps I was al-
ready, unknowingly, beginning to sense that dark truth which I didn’t
want to know. While many spoke of Carl’s art, and his administrative
skills, and remembered occasions almost like a roast, no one actually
spoke of death and our own—always vulnerable—lives.
But I remembered a different time. A time when Carl, and I, and
Connie, and Greg spent a few nights in a small blue tent pitched in a
high alpine meadow above Morrell Creek. We all knew of the story of a

32
Grizzly Bear attack near Peter Lake in the next range of mountains over,
and when the wind changed in the night stirring the grass and whisper-
ing through the trees, we all sat bolt-up, all bug-eyed—not one of us was
sleeping as soundly as we hoped the others believed. In the morning we
woke as such exhausted yet humble and wonderfully alive mortals—
intimately and joyfully related to all the dew-drenched life that warmed in
the sun that bright, blessed morning. A pika called a shrill danger-
alerting, vulnerable “eek!" and scurried under a rock. We smiled to note
that it was as mortal and desperately alive as we.
That morning we walked in the meadows and marveled over the
ebullient life in the delicate, short seasoned flowers. For that one en-
chanted day, all of nature seemed so bountiful and alive and filled with
delight because, for a short moment, we really felt ourselves to be part
of this whole vulnerable, dancing coursing stream of life and death.
Really, didn’t this hiding from death amount to hiding from one of
the most essential and animating truths of our lives? How do we really
know wonder, and humility, and anger, and hope if our view of being
alive is as sterile as a funeral home? How can we understand the myste-
rious source of our deep attachments to other living things, if we do not
acknowledge the source of those feelings in our common mortality? is
not life, or even existence, defined by death and non-existence?
Yes, Chan—I know. The only thing I’ve written about Jane is in
some romantic, idealized past from which my selective memory has
excised the conflict, the hurt and the frustration of a failing body and an
uncertain future. It’s a lie; all I’ve written. It’s an illusion—my insights; my
questions. I haven’t mentioned Jane—not the real Jane that suffered,
and lived with a body that betrayed her, over and over, and yet lived and
gave all she could for as long as she could endure it; not that Jane that
was never angry and unhappy and mad at God, and life, and me, and
just about anyone and everything other than Jennifer. I’m so glad she
didn’t know that Jennifer won’t answer my calls. I remember clearly, her
last evening when she wanted to bring out the photo album and talk
about Jennifer; what a wonderful person to share a part of our life with,
and what a great job we had done of raising her—together; she kept
saying. She didn’t mention, and I didn’t remind her of the time we had to
bail her out of jail nor the time she disappeared for a week—and Jane
almost died of an anxiety attack.
Can you grant me this for a moment, Chan?; perhaps it—all this
talking tripe as though any of it mattered—is a lie that leads to a truth.
Perhaps? Could it be that this “truth” these “feelings” are not something
I can just walk straight up to, and look in the face, and accept. If I get
there it will be by this circuitous route. I must follow this lie around the

33
Discovering the Journal
mountain and try for a more circumspect path to the pinnacle of Mt.
Truth.

Jan. 26, 2005 (evening)

The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that I do
know this undeclared suicide in the paper. Ah, of course; I’ve seen him in
pubs and even in a play put on by the local community theatre group
some years ago. I’ve seen him with people who I do know. How could I
have not recognized him? I even saw him in the last four months. David
Christopher Barnett. Well that may be the name his parents gave him
when he was first born, but I’ve never heard anyone call him anything
other than “Deacon;” though the last time I saw him, he definitely didn’t
seem very “deacon”-like.
How he came to be dubbed Deacon, I don’t know, though I sense
that he carried the designation with ironic credibility and a strange pride,
likely unaware of the less than trenchant intent of others, or life. The
obituary, however, makes no mention of this appellation which—it
seems—he so fully occupied.
Yes, now that I remember his moniker and recognize certain
similarities between the image in my head and the visage in the obituary
column, I remember with some clarity the strange scene in which he
played a central role in dramatic events at the Lorne Pub back in late
October of last fall. But the man I encountered then bore little resem-
blance to the picture in the obituary. Usually Earl doesn’t accept these
pictures of deceased people taken so many years previous, the picture
bears only a faint resemblance to the recently deceased. However, in
some cases, and apparently in this one, there just are no current pic-
tures.
Now that I recognize the similarity between the younger picture
of the deceased “David” and the worn visage of the remembered “Dea-
con,” I recall with clarity seeing him that late October evening because
this Deacon was the very person who created such a stir in the Lorne
pub that I hurried home after closing to record the evenings events in a
portfolio of personal interest stories which I store on my hard drive under
personal/stories/interesting—not useful. Even before taking this leave
with its frustrating writing assignment, I had been trying to get down on
paper(e-paper) some of what the real news of a community actually
might be beyond the trivia, the pandering after moneyed interests, road
kill and petty politics which is the standard/established lineup. I’d been
trying to establish whether the news actually means something to me, or

34
is it just an addictive behaviour with no inherent value? Where is the
news that actually talks about the significant events of human life?
Perhaps I remember it also because it was the evening of the
first snow of the season. Remembering the first snow is a habit I ac-
quired from farm life and living far enough out of town that it is important
to be ready for the first snow. And there is just something to it—like a
ritual, almost like a spiritual tradition—an invitation to participate in the
inhering meaning of the changing seasons. It’s like God pulls up the
blanket and tucks in all his precious creatures for a long night of rest
and restoration. You can just go out and watch it happen as the first
ephemeral flakes strike the ground, and some melt and some stick, and
then they stick to each other, and soon there is no earth—only the white
blanket that may last until the first bulbs send up flowering shoots in
March, and the earth becomes warm in patches, and a new season of
growing begins. Often we get these early snows in the end of October.
They seldom last; the rains will likely wash away the early snow like a gift
to the deer, and the grass, and the hardy violets.
I always remember the first snow even though it was almost al-
ways wet and slushy, and soaks into my shoes because I won’t wear
gumboots to town—especially now that I am living just across the river in
the old, rundown, former mill-hands tenements called Ruckle Addition.
It’s so different from the farm—these little yards in rows and rough, pot-
holed roads to walk on.
I remember the farm, and I remember Jane when the first snow
falls. I go down beside the river where we held the Remembering Circle
and watch the snow floating down, accumulating, covering the river bank
with a white blanket—like the lime-white ash we spread after the cere-
mony.
Last October when the first snow fell and I saw/observed Deacon
for the last time, I had decided, for inexplicable reasons, to forego my
usual jaunt to the Alexander and stopped off at the closer, more run-
down, Lorne Hotel which usually featured some kind of music—country
music which I don’t usually enjoy. But any music—even of the unsuitable
sort—can absorb your thoughts and in doing so soothe some of your
most pressing troubles; it works for me sometimes.
The Lorne is definitely a step down from the Alexander. It’s older;
judging by the looks and the smell, it must be cleaned much less fre-
quently. It’s darker and the beer is cheaper. The clientele are different.
Patrons at the Lorne generally start drinking earlier and end up stay-
ing/drinking later than those at the Alexander. I’ve noticed that patrons
in the Alexander tend to drink more beer per hour over their shorter stay.
I would guess that, generally, Lorne patrons make less money than those

35
Discovering the Journal
of the Alexander though they likely spend a larger share of their earnings
on beer.
I feel incognito in the Lorne. Even though I know one of the bar-
maids, she almost never greets me by name when she comes over to
see what kind of beer I prefer. She doesn’t remember that I drink Oka-
nogan Spring exclusively.
Yes, it was October 24, I’ve marked it in my notes; it wasn’t
snowing hard though it was sticking, even on the pavement. I don’t have
to check my notes for that; I remember that part like it happened yester-
day. I will check my stories/interesting—not useful file to reconstruct the
events of that evening which have taken on so much more significance
after reading this obituary notice.
I didn’t stop at the Lorne to avoid a few extra blocks in the snow.
I was just down. It was the first snow and I’d been to the river. I was tired
of reporting on petty issues as though they meant something, and I was
tired of Grand Forks, and tired of Ruckle Addition, and tired of living
alone, and tired of being asked if I wanted to “meet” someone. I wanted
to be alone, to drink my beer alone in a pub with other people around
who drink beer, and go about pub life, and don’t mind or notice being
observed, and don’t know me, and don’t look my way smiling; and I
didn’t want to be greeted by name; and I didn’t want to risk having
someone sit down at the table with me and look vulnerable like I needed
to smile to help hold up their world and make light talk about things that
don’t interest me.
This particular, disconsolate evening, I paid for my first beer at
the till and took a seat in a dark corner at the back of the pub. It was
11:00—late for just arriving at a pub, though far from unusual for me.
There was nothing on TV; I’d plied that for an hour before venturing out
into the snow. The beer tasted good, despite my generally foul mood.
That’s the great thing about brand names—they make everything so
predictable. I took a second sip before setting down the mug and leaning
back in my seat to check out what might be going on among people who
were frustratingly less predictable, but much more interesting than
brand names.
There were no other solitary drinkers in the pub; every other per-
son in the pub was sitting with at least one other person. I felt this was
especially fortunate news.
Imagine, by way of an antecedent, some poor kid in a sandbox
doing his parallel play thing; running his little tractor around the edge of
the sand, and furtively glancing at the other children with their intersect-
ing roads and interactions. One child is using his heffy loader to put sand
in the back of another child’s toy Euclid-mega-earth-moving truck when,
suddenly, all the other kids, except for one with the earth moving truck,

36
get called inside; then there was just two in the sandbox. Who’s doing
the parallel play when there is just two trucks moving around in the
sand? It’s too close to the real thing—interaction/play. Maybe the poor
kid on the periphery is actually setting the context, doing the real thing.
With just two the possibility of two working on the same project is just
terrifying possible.
God, I get nervous when there is another solitary drinker in the
pub—except for Bill, with whom I have a sort of mutually agreed on treaty
of non-recognition. One time in the Alexander, some guy picked up his
beer, and came over, and asked if I’d like some company. Or, maybe, he
just asked what I thought of the play offs. I almost choked on my beer,
but I got through the evening. I almost enjoyed talking to him, though I
didn’t know much about the playoffs, and he didn’t have any interest in
politics. Strange this fascination with politics; wasn’t it suppose to be
about what people do together? But then I was interested in politics a
long time ago, when I was social; and Jane and I were running the farm.
Why’d I start off so uptight? There were no other solitary drink-
ers; I reassured myself, and relaxed into the familiar surroundings and
the solitary security of the moment.
At the bar, Stephanie, the deeply tanned, tall barmaid with long,
braided hair streaming over her shoulders leaned on the counter and
tried to carry on an almost-end-of-the-shift conversation with the man-
ager. It had, obviously, been a very long day.
The band had already begun to dismantle their equipment for
the evening. Nearby, bordering on the small dance floor, a well-dressed,
middle-aged couple I didn’t recognize leaned over glasses of wine and
engaged in intimate conversation. I’m not much interested in that all-too-
predictable behavior.
Around the scantily populated pub four other tables were occu-
pied: two by couples—much less focused on bed time than the two
gushies by the dance floor; at a table near the bar two jocular, mill-hand-
looking young men sat tipping beer and engaging in familiar conversa-
tion—probably about the playoffs or their wives. To my left, sitting at a
beer laden table closer to the exit door were a woman and two men.
They had undoubtedly been drinking for some time. I recognized the
woman as Susan, the middle-aged, dark-haired woman who started her
own bookkeeping service and comes into the Valley News office regularly
to arrange or pay for advertising, and I met Albert once when interview-
ing his father—a North Fork rancher/logger. Through the eyes of a half
centurion, Albert looked young, though he must be thirty by now, and
lines of care were already visible. He’s a freckle-faced, frizzy red-head
who walks with a lopsided limp due to the car crash that he survived,
and the bank manager’s son didn’t—many years ago. I covered the story

37
Discovering the Journal
reluctantly. I see Albert in Overwaitea, where he seems to have found
stable employment, at last. He showed no sign of recognizing me and
has likely forgotten his resentment about including his father’s concerns
in the coverage of the accident. I don’t know the other short, round,
entirely bald fella at the table, but I heard his name—Sam— in the con-
versation. He seemed tense despite the beer, and I noted a hard hat on
the floor beneath his chair. He must be forty plus.
The conversation was animated as late night beer conversations
tend to be. Albert, unmistakably the heaviest drinker of the three, raised
his glass in what appeared to be the introduction of a toast; held it
steady for a moment then—as though enchanted—swept the glass before
his eye in a broad arc around the room. “Hey, ya should see this! Looks
like somebody just pissed on the whole room.” He, then, set the glass
down triumphantly, pinching his freckled cheeks into the timorous but
self-satisfied grin of a family dog caught in the garbage can.
“Al, you know you…were… a… real... J-E-R-K, don’t you? I mean
you come down here and pretend to be a human being, but really you’re
just a barn house mouse. You know the kind—they sneak out after eve-
ryone’s gone home. You never see one, but the next morning you find the
little duppers and know he’s been around. You’re…” Sam seemed to be
tacking a rising gale and this monologue might have gone on till closing.
But Susan grabbed him by the arm—gently.
I couldn’t tell if this was a budding or faded relationship, but their
eyes meet and an unspoken conversation passed between them before
she spoke.
“Look, we’re all friends. Surely we can get along for another
hour,” She said, imploringly, holding Sam’s arm firmly while she stared at
Albert with matronly authority.
Albert leaned back in his chair with drunken courage, folding his
hands under his armpits like an unmoving umpire in a hotly contested
ball game.
“Ya know the problem with you two is ya come here to have a
good time, then ya just hang your faces on the floor.” He sat quietly for a
moment, leaving his hands tucked up tightly under his armpits to show
he expected a reply, then began again with an abrupt, sardonic expres-
sion. “He isn’t coming!” Albert asserted with a “you know” inflection.
“He isn’t coming tonight; and, no offence Susan,” he proclaimed
with brotherly condescension, “but-if ya ask me—we’d all be a lot better
off, if he never came again.”
Albert was addressing the brunt of his remarks at Susan who
seemed shaken by the attack—perhaps too close to the truth for a cor-
dial evening in the pub. Albert attempted to catch Susan’s eye intent on
driving his words home.

38
“I mean, how many times has he come here, sopped up our beer,
until he passes out at the table? Then, like the fools we are, we pick him
up ‘n drag him home; and always before we leave him on his bed to puke
and wake up stinking and a little more sober than he’ll be at any other
time of the day, he has to slobber through that drunken haze about how
if…if only we could all be friends again—Fuck! You loved him. I just
thought he was a good guy for a while.”
Stephanie fidgeted at the bar. After another quiet evening the
manager was already heading out the back door. Wearily Stephanie
walked to the back of the bar, flashed the dim overhead lights, and an-
nounced, “Last Call!” It wasn’t eleven thirty yet. We all know that old
trick. It’s the same in every pub. The clock is, at least, 15 minutes fast.
The man and woman in the corner were so deeply involved in in-
timate conversation that neither notice the flickering lights nor seemed
to care that they will have to face the final half hour with empty glasses.
Albert fumbled through his pockets looking or a few last dollars;
circled three fingers through the stale air pub gesticulating anxiously for
more beer; then jumped back into the conversation which both Sam and
Susan seemed ready to drop.
“’Teacher!’ Ha! Some God damn welfare bloke gets some make
work job in a school ‘n tells all his friends, and anyone else stupid
enough to listen; he just remembered, he forgot he was a teacher. Ha!”
Deeply gratified with himself and happy to be contending on such equal
footing with his senior friends, Albert leaned back in his chair precari-
ously—a dangerous stunt for anyone, but especially for someone with so
much beer coursing through his veins. Placing his hands behind his
neck, he gave every indication of continuing the diatribe.
“Yes, teacher!” Susan replied with an intense fire in her eye that
had the angry, menacing look I have often observed in short women who
were intent on making a big statement. She glared intently at Albert with
an anger belying the gentler features of a delicate face that has been
tried by the seasons but has not entirely succumbed. She is an attractive
mid-forties woman, and it is easy to see why she is connected to the web
of valley relationships at a number of its intersections.
A flood of tears brooded ominously behind every word, and her
hand trembled so badly she set her glass down quickly.
“Al,” she sighed in a softer voice that was beginning to betray her
emotion, “He was a teacher. I mean you think what you like—to me, he
was a teacher—a good one; not because he had any credentials, but
because he knew how to be vulnerable and different and still make
wanting to learn and grow into a passion. He knew how to get the kids to
actually feel/understand music. He got them excited about learning from

39
Discovering the Journal
the source of knowledge—experience. He made them happy about com-
ing to school and expanded their understanding of what life is about.”
I began wondering who she might be referring to. I had seen
Susan come into the office with a tall, thin man wearing a trench coat of
quality though it clearly needed laundering. But I felt deeply perplexed
over why they all seemed to be so pensively waiting his arrival so late in
the evening.
“Wha-a-you know about it?” Susan wasn’t letting go of this one.
Even the beer wasn’t slowing her down now.
“You think a piece of paper signed by some high falooten huffy-
luffy makes a teacher? Yah?“ Susan was getting worked up. “Well, how
many of those papers did you come up with? I mean really. I mean you
really fooled ‘m, didn’t ya—my little half-brother?
“They thought they had all the best techniques; nobody was
gonna do without an education. If nothing else worked, they’d just crack
open your skull and stuff a bunch of learn’n down it; ‘n you’d be edu-
cated—like it or not. Ah, but you fooled them.” Under such an unexpected
attack, Albert sank back into his role as the youngest member of the
group.
Relaxed; with Albert on the run, Susan reached out for her beer
steadily.
“You really fooled ’m.” Susan shook her head sardonically. “You
just pulled the plug on the bottom side where they couldn’t see, and all
that learn’n just ran out though your asshole.”
I chuckled at such pugnaciousness—suddenly afraid of getting
caught—chuckling; overhearing—intentionally. I’ve seldom seen cocky
little banty roosters rise to a fight so readily and unrelenting as this en-
raged Susan pursued Albert—shocked the hell out of me; I would never
have guessed she held so much fire in her belly.
Albert, the cockiness draining from his face, put his hands back
on the table and looked Susan intently, pleadingly in the eye. I think he
was implying, “Lighten up.”
Sam sat quietly occasionally sipping his beer, deeply amused
with this parlaying colloquy. It seemed he didn’t want into this conversa-
tion.
“Now just imagine for a moment,” Susan continued without low-
ering her eye, clutching her beer, but not drinking, “what-a-ya think might
have happened if one of those teachers with all the papers behind their
names had called ya over from across the ball field, which was the only
place you ever seem to have been awake at school, to talk—just people
to people?
‘Hey, Al, whach ya up to these days. Hav’n some problems?
Gads, did I have problems when I was your age—barely made it. Hey,

40
what about that old heap of yours? It still go lup dup lup dup? Why don’t
you bring it by after school? I think we could get at least a few of the
dups out of it’
“Think ya might have been a little more interested ‘n learning
anything from him? What if he didn’t have a certificate, but he still cared
about you—even though you were the biggest dumb-cluck, screw-up in
school?”
Albert looked pale. His hands remained on the table, but his
forehead was sweating heavily; he wiped his sleeve across his face in
desperation. He didn’t reply; he didn’t shift his eye; he didn’t move at all.
“Think what ya may,” Susan continued—casually relaxing, taking
a long breath; victory clearly in hand, “to me Deacon was a teacher. The
kids loved him. He didn’t have much to say so he just listened. He didn’t
tell them how to play music; he let them discover it as part of them-
selves. He didn’t say watch me; he just convinced them they could do it.
And he had a special perspective on reading also. He’d been there in his
own school years and after the accident; he knew something in his heart
they’ll never teach in a textbook. He knew first hand what it was like to
stumble; he knew what it’s like to get it wrong...again. He’d been to that
dark hour beyond hope and come back. He knew what it was like to not
say anything ‘cause they’ll rap your knuckle with just thinking how dumb
you are. ‘Boy, that’s hard for me too,’ he would say convinc-
ingly/playfully. He looked silly the way he sat up crooked and walked like
he was falling over every time he put his left foot forward.”
Susan turned to Sam with a gentler, more sympathetic eye. “Did
ya ever see him lumber across the grass half ways stumbling along and
kick the soccer ball because they let him, and they’d all laugh together,
‘n roll in the grass, ‘n look silly? But when they had trouble they sought
him out and told him how they felt and listened to his reply because he’d
been there, and they’d laughed together about falling, and failing, and
being silly, and learning, and living.”
“If he’s such a hot teacher, why’d they fire him before he even
got through a year on the job?” Albert looked more awake than he has
for some time. He looked sort of self-satisfied. Regaining some of this
composure, he grabbed at this glass defiantly.
“Ah, come on, Al, You know that as well as any of us. He wasn’t a
teacher, and he never said he was a teacher. You said he was a teacher
to make fun of him, and I said he was a teacher because I thought he
was—a great one without papers.” Susan wasn’t nearly as emotional.
She seemed to be looking for a peaceful settlement of the discussion.
“He got fired for the same reasons he got there. He was just
there on a get-the-bum-a-job training program to try to get him off wel-

41
Discovering the Journal
fare long enough to make some office bloke look good. But he never had
a real chance at it.”
“He had his chance. He just blew it like he blew everything else,”
Albert injected snottily.
“He looked different,” Susan replied reflectively—looking much
more sober than when she started the conversation.
“They told him to go get some better clothes. And what’s he do?
He went to the thrift store and got a bunch of nice clean second-hand
clothes. And not one piece matched any other piece. What could he have
been thinking?”
Neither Albert nor Sam were listening, but Susan plowed on with
the one-sided conversation.
“And then he’d take that ten-years-old sports coat, hook it on his
finger, cast it over his shoulder, and saunter off to school like some
ancient steam roller with its wheels out of round. I used to wait at the
window in the morning just to see him go by—wearing all that new found
dignity like a seven-year-old in his mother’s dress.”
The anger was gone Susan was returning to her gentler, injured
voice. She seemed suddenly aware that no one at the table was actually
listening to her.
Albert, entranced with swirling his beer, had lost all interest in a
conversation that left him feeling vilified, so Sam, who seemed to be
developing a latent interest in the conversation, turned his attention to
Susan: “You know, I could never figure what the hell he thought he was
doing telling everyone he was a teacher. I mean he had a job. Great! But
who…?” Sam had, until now, been paying more attention to his beer than
the conversation.
Suddenly the side door banged open, and a strange figure of a
man stood hesitating in the doorway, Susan straightened in her chair,
put down her beer, and—with the two men—turned to stare in dull recog-
nition at the gaunt figure that swayed undecidedly in the threshold.
The swaying was exaggerated by a tall frame with a narrow
stooping back over which flowed a mess of long, tangled hair. A short,
entirely unbuttoned overcoat that would have been stylish ten years
earlier hung on his shoulders, exposing a weathered, unkempt, plaid
shirt fastened half way up from the bottom. The pale, wizened face was
drawn into an even deeper caducity by the dark lines of a sparse beard
that clung to the lower portion of his chin line. Even beneath the coat his
body seemed gaunt, emaciated. He appeared to be very drunk and lost.
Swaying in the doorway he seemed to struggle with a burden
seemingly more existential than physical—though the weight of it hung
about his body. Dark languid eyes looked imploringly for a familiar face
within.

42
Albert held up his glass and attempted a smile—a weak plastic
smile that stuck to his face like a lie. The unsteady figure smiled and
fought to step with dignity into the pub. Advancing a few steps he
stopped to regain his balance, but his upper body, was already well
ahead of his legs. The weak legs stumbled two steps to the side in an
unsuccessful attempt to catch up with his catapulting body.
“Deacon!” Susan was out of her chair, dashing toward him.
Deacon; the very subject of their earlier conversation.
The other guests sat in dull, stunned silence.
“Deacon,” Susan placed her hand gently over the crown of was
head.
“Deacon!” her voice began to tremble; the dark, languid eyes
rolled importunately up; the drunken remains of consciousness drifted
dimly across the dark figure sprawled full length across the floor. From
the elbow, the arm hinged unsteadily up. A long skeleton like finger
stretched out from the hand to make a point. “I’ll be ahright,” he slurred
carelessly, “I’ll b’ah a-right,” he assured again more emphatically. “I’ll be
alright—don’t worry about me.” His eyes turn away so as not to make
contact.
Stephanie came over, “You alright?” she implored, hoping des-
perately he was well enough to make it back out the door. It was closing
time. She just wanted to close up and go home.
“Yeah. I’m a-right,” he repeated drawing his legs up into a knell-
ing position. Then grasping at the chair he struggled upright and turned
to the door. Susan thrust a steadying arm around him, but he pulled
away and waived her off.
“I’m a-right,” He stammered with resentment. There was history
here that one would have to know to understand what was going on
between the two of them. Gathering an injured dignity about him he
started for the door and would have made it except for the torn rug just
before the entrance. Thud, grasping at the jamb, he fell forward dashing
his head against the door.
“Deacon, let me help you, please,” her voice was soft and tremu-
lous, a flood of warm tears began flowing over her face and onto the
floor.
He clutched at the doorway and eschewed help, but Susan con-
tinued holding him up by his elbow. She looked deeply, assuredly into his
eyes which had swollen with unrestrained emotion. There was a tacit
agreement between them. She slipped easily under his arm, bore his
stooped body up and—after an imploring glance back at the table—they
disappeared out into the snow-streaked light of 12th street.
The rest of the late-night patrons turned their attention back to
the pressing task of finishing their beer before closing.

43
Discovering the Journal
“She loves him; after all those God Damn lies, years of lies after
lies—she still loves him,” Albert blurted with a mix of belligerence and
discovery, then raised his glass and drank heartily.
Sam, who had been more moved by the scene, sat for a moment
then made a reply which he had clearly considered for some time (Sitting
in my Ruckle bungalow an hour later, I have tried to record this lengthy
reply as accurately as possible.) “I don’t know Al... If any one has good
reason to blame him, it’s me. But I think ya get your tail twisted in a knot
and it clouds your vision.”
“Maybe they weren’t all lies,” Sam hesitated. He seemed unsure
of how much he wanted to say. “At least he wasn’t lying to her. If I hold
up this paper and ask ya what colour it is, and you say yellow but really
its tangerine, but you can’t see any better, you aren’t lying. You’re just
telling the truth the way you see it. I’m sure he believed them all—the
jobs, the ambitions, the dignity. And he believed beyond the lies—the
family, the security. He believed it, and she wanted to believe it with him.
To them it was just as real as all this beer sitting in front of us.” Sam
motioned toward the filled, half filled and nearly empty beer which
couldn’t possibly be consumed before they were kicked out.
“Then, why the hell’d he leave ‘er?” Albert asked gruffly, raising
one of the full beer to his lips with determination.
“Well, has she never talked to you about any of this stuff?” Sam
asked with a voice suggesting even a half-brother should know more
than a former lover.
“The job at the school, which you scorn, was real—he began be-
lieving in it the day after he came-to in the hospital. He had struggled for
so many years to put his body and life back together. When it didn’t look
like he’d hold a job again he just kept believing he could do it. He went
through all those years of rehabilitation. Remember how he was going to
inspect homes for real estate sales because of all his carpentry experi-
ence, but he nearly killed himself falling down the stairs? And all those
years on welfare, and taking classes, and starting one little business
after another—he just believed he could do it. And every time, every
indefinite job he took was proof and promise that he would make it. He
just filled his life up with dreams and stories about the person he had
once been and was determined to be again.”
Sam finished a beer off and took up another. His voice changed
from confrontational and strident to softer, more confiding. Albert started
to speak but hesitated, not sure of what he wanted to say and Sam
plowed on: “But the job at the school wasn’t a dream or a promise. He
didn’t just dream it. It was real He went there to work as an assistant,
but he discovered that he could make both children and teachers happy

44
with his piano playing which he had almost forgotten. They loved him,
and thanked him and paid him. He no longer needed to dream.
“And when it came to an end, it was all over. As long as it was
just dreams, the dreams were like a child’s soap bubbles blown from a
straw into the wind—the bubbles break on the hard edges of reality but
the soap and the straw remains. You keep dipping into the soap and
blowing more of the bright bubbles to drift back down again and burst.
The bursting is no problem; you expect it so you keep blowing more bub-
bles. But he believed in the school. He thought he had found a bubble
that didn’t burst.”
Sam’s eyes seemed to moisten; he set down a beer clearly fin-
ished with drinking for the evening. “But the school wasn’t a bubble. It
was a real job and they thanked him at the end of the day, and he
brought home a pay cheque and bought things for Susan and had dig-
nity. He quit dreaming; the children smiled with him and begged him to
play more—so they could ‘feel’ the music. For once, life, itself, was what
he wanted—what she wanted.” After all that feistiness, Albert was suc-
cumbing to the beer and nodding off—little interested in Sam’s view of
his unknowable sister and her men.
I was amazed at this soap bubble metaphor. I wanted to go over
and ask where it came from; or maybe, I just wanted to congratulate this
“hard hat” on constructing such an appropriate and well constructed
metaphor; but that would be so… out of place; and then, what would I
say? I hate it when other people think in clichés and stereotypes, but—
when I’m not editing my own thoughts—it just comes out like that.
Sam’s eyes weren’t on Albert; he didn’t seem to notice Albert’s
inattention. He wasn’t speaking to Albert. “They were both happy.” Sam
spoke whimsically, slowly as though thinking this whole soliloquy out for
himself—for the first time—as though learning from his own thoughts.
“Then he was called into the Principal’s office. I don’t know ex-
actly what was said, but it came down to a litany of complaints—
complaints from parents, some teachers, and the superintendent. He
didn’t dress right; he looked different; he made false claims about being
a teacher. I think some religious group complained that he wasn’t a
‘Deacon.’ The Principal liked him, and was sympathetic, and kept him on
as long as possible; but—he wasn’t asked back.”
“And you know what?” Sam finally noticed Albert’s inattention
and raised his voice while giving Albert a wake-up shake as Stephanie
approached with the clear intent of closing up for the evening. “After that
he just gave up,” Sam spoke hurriedly as though he needed to finish
something—to get something completed. “He went out and got drunk
and—well—you know most of the rest of it.” Sam resolutely picked up a

45
Discovering the Journal
so-far-untouched beer to indicate that he was through speaking, wanting
only to finish a final beer before leaving.
“Sorry it’s closing time,” Stephanie was standing resolutely, but
patiently by the table.
“Ah, yes, we’re just leaving,” replied Albert who seemed stunned
by too many words and too much beer. The two men got up quietly and
went out together—into the, now, untracked, ankle deep snow.
Stephanie headed my way to pick up the last empty glass of the
evening. I was already pulling on my coat. I had been so absorbed by the
three—turned two-some—by the door, I missed last call, and there’d been
no beer in my glass since Susan left with the drunken Deacon. Once out
the door, I noticed that the snow was falling so heavily that it even stuck
to my warm face. Albert and Sam’s tracks, heading off toward Riverside,
were already growing faint though I could see clearly where Albert’s track
wove about coming close to Sam’s then wandering away and back again.
His feet didn’t form a nice row of evenly spaced, left then right tracks in
the accumulating snow, but I was sure he’d get home alright; Sam’s
tracks looked as steady as a deacon’s—cliché, no pun intended. The
snow had completely obliterated any trace of the unsteady steps of
Susan and Deacon; they must have caught a cab.
I was in a hurry to get home, not because of the cascading snow
which I caught on my tongue recalling the distant memory of children
rolling off a toboggan and laughing on the steep unplowed driveway. I
was in a hurry to get home and record what I had just witnessed before
the memory of it faded into little more than another evening of pub bab-
ble.
Arriving home I threw a few more blocks of wood on the fire and
sat down at the computer, anxious to get writing. I had no intention of
actually submitting this as a personally invasive news story, but it was
such a powerful reminder to me that there was more to the “significant
events” of a community than the purview of vested interests, the petti-
ness of petty politics, the winners/losers and sponsors of sports, the
glamour of burning buildings and the carnage on our roads. What the
media, in general, call news is really just a sizzling caricature of life that
almost completely misses the meat of what our lives were actually about
or the substance of what connects us to the organic life of our communi-
ties. Yes, this was an intensely personal event happening to imperfect
people who have no aspiration to be business or political leaders, but it
was about the sinews of existence from which we construct our lives. It is
news to me.
In journalism school I got all the brain-washing about becoming
the agents of a free press entrusted with the lofty mission of acting as a
check against arbitrary power and serving the public in the interest of

46
democracy. If that was ever true it has long since lost all its teeth on the
grindstone of corporate interests and its public face has been completely
made over by the plastic surgery of business absorbed, glitzy marketing
departments who demand shorter, cheaper stories, crime, violence,
celebrity and conflict. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone at
the office or at any of the stupid conferences I attend on “The Role of the
Media” refer to our readers as “citizens.” Whether it is marketing or
news staff, the reader is not even a reader, he/she is ubiquitously a
consumer. News is no longer a community service; it has become, at
best, a marketed product like sausages; at worst it functions as a sinis-
ter tool for altering our perceptions of who we are and what is valuable.
News is just a by-product of business, delivering consumers to advertis-
ing.
I remember writing late into the night until I felt satisfied that I
had recorded every detail of this encounter as fully and accurately as I
possibly could. I knew that if I waited until the next day I would be left
with impressions of what happened but would have forgotten most of
what was actually said. Late that morning, I filed my recollection of the
“Lorne Affair” under D:/personal/stories/interesting—not useful, with no
thought that I might, so soon return to this recollection as a part of my
own journal of “feelings” or as a consequence of such a tragic outcome
to the story I observed unfolding that snowy evening at the Lorne.
Having recalled that snowy evening in October—and even looking
up the journal entry written so late that evening—the image of Deacon is
much clearer in my mind. I can see that the obituary picture is from an
earlier time when the face was happier, gentler and fuller, but the re-
semblance is, in fact, undoubtedly there. The picture in the obituary is of
a much less haggard face but the arching swoop of the nose and the
high cheek bones and the deeply set eyes and even the thin beard along
the jaw line are signs of an underlying similarity. I am convinced that the
Deacon of my late October visit to the Lorne is the David Christopher
Barnett of the Obituary notice.

Jan. 27, 2005

More than just curious to confirm my thoughts about Dea-


con/David, I phoned Pat O’Brian, a teacher at Twin Rivers Elementary
School, today. I know her from some time ago. I remember the last time
we had any contact, when I told her that how I was doing should be no
concern of hers. I started the telephone conversation hesitantly, “Hello.
Pat? This is Bart.” There was a long silence, and then, “Y…e…s,” she
said—slowly, cautiously. She clearly remembered our last contact, though

47
Discovering the Journal
she didn’t mention it specifically, nor did she ask why I would call after
so many years. I felt considerable relief—and I suppose she did also—
when the conversation became cordial, slipping somewhat formally into
the familiarity of when she and Jane shared so much time together.
I asked about Deacon as I figured she would have been one of
his most ardent supporters in the school. Yes, indeed, Deacon was David
Christopher Barnett. Indeed, he did take his own life. He hung himself
with a neatly tied noose of heavy nylon chord strung from the rafters of
the old barn on the Carson Rd property by the river where he had been
staying in the cottage and helping out on the farm in the growing season.
The Mounties had found him after a short search. Susan (clearly
the Susan from the Lorne experience) had called Pat, and gone for help
when she correctly surmised that Deacon was in immediate danger of
taking his own life.
Pat, Susan, and several friends had formed a network to try to
support him after his dismissal from the school. They were aware that
his despair was out of proportion to losing a job and bordered danger-
ously close to life-threatening despondency.
A short time after losing the job at the school He had confided to
a few friends that he didn’t think life was worth living anymore. Susan
and Pat urged him to get counseling, which he refused. They ensured
that someone visited with him every day—a routine that went on from
June 2004 until they found him in the barn in January. Under such inten-
sive care, the old fighter, who had overcome so much, seemed to revive;
but there were “developments.”
“Do you know about the memorial at the United Church?” she
asked sensing that I had some interest in knowing more about the tragic,
yet fascinating life of David Barnett.
“Yes.” I responded cautiously, not wanting to open myself to any
further invitations.
She didn’t ask how I was, nor mention Jane, or the time when I
soaked her blouse with my tears. She graciously made no reference to
my insolent reply when she had been so concerned for my welfare.
Yes, Chan, I talked to Earl, and it’s all arranged. He says not to
worry about Peter. Peter’s quite happy to have me off. He’d be even
happier if I wasn’t coming back, but Earl wants me to come back, “when
you’re ready.” When will I be ready, Chan? I guess I’d seem a little more
ready if I just stayed out of the pub for a month or something; or maybe
I’ll never be ready. Maybe when this Employment Insurance runs out I’ll
still not be ready. And, I can’t afford to go to Mexico this time. I could
afford to be there once I got there, but there isn’t much in the bank
these days. The thing is; I’m still not convinced that I’m the problem this

48
time. Maybe I won’t be ready until the world changes, and what’s the
likelihood of that?
Do you think that if I actually knew what I did that offended Jen-
nifer so much, I’d be able to fix it, and then I’d be ready to head back to
work? You know therein lies the heart of the matter. I think it’s the all the
rest of the world that is really fucked up, but my own daughter won’t
answer my phone call at Christmas. Click! She won’t even stay on the
line long enough to say what I did to be sentenced to The Click. It’s like
Sisyphus sentenced to pushing his damn rock to the top of the hill only
to have it roll down the other side and pushing it back up to watch it roll
back down. I can write articles and join organizations to change the
world and sign petitions, and I can even go without my beer for a time,
but come Christmas, Click, and suddenly I know how futile it all is; noth-
ing I can do is going to unclick the situation with Jennifer any more than
Sisyphus can balance his rock at the top of the hill or convince the gods
to just let it rest at the bottom.

Feb. 4, 2005

The United Church building on Central Ave was built in 1943 with
volunteer masons laying each stone block in honour of the spiritual
community they were building. I have driven by it quite literally thou-
sands of times, and I have never gone by without noting the sense of
sanctuary that emanates from it and the well attended landscaping
which speaks of the loving attention of a community of helping hands.
I have, however, only been inside once. It was Christmas—the
Christmas before Carl died; strange, as I think of it now. He died sud-
denly; he wasn’t sick, yet he arranged to get us all to church just before
he went away. It was almost like a going away ceremony. He said we
should all go and participate in a community tradition. It would be like
living in the art of community. He was always coming up with these
wacky ideas, but Jane, who loved the wackiness of Carl’s ideas and was
always more spiritual than I anyway, said, “Yes!” (Enthusiastically) “I
think we should call up our friends, and go en masse, and surprise eve-
ryone inside with how many people show up unexpectedly at their
Christmas Eve service. We’ll remember it for the rest of our lives.”
I agreed with trepidation because, while the outside of churches
fill me with awe; the inside of churches make my guts start to turn re-
membering the boarding school and the Sunday School of my youth. But
I’m glad we went—Carl, Jane, Connie, Greg, Pat, and I—and the rest of,
what you might roughly call the old Province Hotel refugees.

49
Discovering the Journal
I wonder now if Jane knew then how little time was left of her
own life. It was worth it, if only to hear Connie’s sterling voice ringing out
so triumphantly above the rather muted singing of the remainder of the
assembled congregation. People were so friendly after the service, I—
even I—felt tempted to come back another time, but I wasn’t thinking it
would be like this—coming, so many years later, without Jane or Carl for
a memorial to someone I hardly knew.
Arriving late for the memorial service, I was delighted to find an
open seat at the back. I wanted to be able to slip out. I see his friends
from the snowy evening at the Lorne sitting in the front pews along with
Pat and a tall middle aged woman with, obviously dyed, jet black hair. I
wonder if she may be the sister from Kelowna. There is, at least, 35
people in the church. I opened the Order of Service to find a picture of
David Barnett very similar to the one in the Obituary—perhaps the same.
How come there were no current photos of David? For the service I was
trying to remember him as David, because though his friends at the pub
called him Deacon quite unabashedly, I am not sure how respectful such
a moniker would be at this time.
Under the picture, the Order of Service reveals little that wasn’t
covered in the Obituary notice, but turning to the back page I find a most
remarkable statement signed in script by Susan O’Donnell, Pat O’Brian,
and Crystal Barnett.
“We knew and loved David Christopher Barnett. For much of his
life we knew him as “Deacon” a name he was given in jest, but came to
carry with a nearly interminable pride. On January 22, 2005 Deacon took
his own life leaving behind a community of friends that loved him despite
and often because of his struggles with the great deal of scurrility which
life seemed to throw at him.
“His choice to die by his own hand reminds us frighteningly of
dark moments in our own lives when hope, peace and community seem
like distant islands in a sea of despair, and loneliness.
“Though suicide may be deeply disturbing to even think about,
we must recognize that a life—and most certainly David’s—is about a
great deal more than a single act of desperation.
“David’s life was also filled with happiness and an incredible
generosity of being. He had a most creative spirit and a loving heart.
David’s final choice was not a denial of his life nor the goodness of life
itself; it was—ironically—a cry for more compassion and understanding
among our human community.”
I am going to take a copy of this by for Earl. They just come out
and name it: “suicide: die by his own hand”. The effect of just stating this
is remarkably liberating compared to all those obituaries and funeral
services where the only thing said is “died suddenly”—no chance to rec-

50
ognize or come to terms with the desperate choice that this person
made. I remember the young man who killed himself on the hospital
steps; clearly he had a desperate statement to make about how precious
is freedom. If only he could have been heard, we might know more accu-
rately how precious this freedom is, and what a price is paid for not
recognizing it.
I can only imagine now how suffocating it would have been to
come to this service where everyone is thinking about death by choice,
but it is never spoken. Imagine the emptiness of such a ceremony that
leaves both the living and dead in the shadow of shame cast by the
unmentionable. It’s remarkable how the shame is defused by simply
admitting the truth of one desperate person’s decision.
I rose respectfully for the singing of a hymn which I don’t know—I
don’t know many hymns.
The minister, Rev. Barbara Longland, came forward to speak, but
I was lost in thoughts about Deacon and the snowy evening and the truth
about suicide and how intrigued I have become by this “Deacon” and his
life and death.
Suddenly I realize that Rev. Longland is not actually reading from
the Bible. She is speaking, without notes and seems very reverend—yet
human and sincere.
“We come here today with feelings as complex as the person we
remember: David Christopher Barnett.
“Today we seek the comfort and reassurance of love as we ex-
perience the searing pain of separation.
“We pray for understanding as we attempt to understand why
David remained alone with his struggles while so many held him in their
hearts.
“Today we ask—why? And find no comforting answer.
“We regret that David met with challenges he could not find the
inner resources to heal. Our love of David now calls us to accept with
compassion, David’s decision to end the suffering for himself. We ac-
cept that he alone could fully understand the pain that he experienced.
“We gather at this memorial to honour David’s life and many gifts
as well as to support one another in our loss. David’s suffering is over. It
is now up to us to support each other in grieving our loss and rebuilding
our community.
Rev. Longland went on, covering much of the short biography in
the Order of Service.
I continued to think about the struggles, the hopes, the resil-
ience, the fragility, the loves, the defeats, the incredible will to live fully
despite tragedy, the sudden decision to end it all that was the life of
David Barnett. I had already begun to think of his struggles as a book yet

51
Discovering the Journal
unwritten—a story untold. Having read few biographies and written noth-
ing longer than 5,000 word investigative journalism pieces, I felt no
inclination to take up the story and turn it into print, but I did feel deeply
intrigued to learn, for myself, more about this fascinating character that
seemed to have appeared so suddenly and boldly in the middle of my
life.
Already knowing, to various degrees of intimacy, a number of
people central to the story, I resolved to find out more about the prema-
turely truncated life of this Deacon whose funeral congregation seemed
to have been composed of a diverse and loosely defined community.
Following the opening remarks by Rev. Longland, Pat O’Brian
rose from the front pew to give a moving eulogy which focused on the
high points in the life of David—it seemed no one was going to use his
familiar name at the memorial. She spoke of his love of music and his
talent in getting children to play along on the key board, improvising
harmony and structure into the playful sounds of their fingers dancing
and sliding over the keys. She mentioned the strange mixture of sport
and music which was David’s unique passion. She did name the acci-
dent, and the brain injury, and the indomitable spirit that came back
from so far to create a new life of hope. She named the significant
women of his life, as well as his strange synthesis of cynicism and spiri-
tual quest. She spoke of his amazing rapport with struggling students
and his ability to draw both the competitive and cooperative best out of
the creative talent of students at the piano. She mentioned, lightly, his
mood changes and need to be alone.
She concluded tearfully, “We all loved him,” and I, the old goat
that I am, wondered how personal the “we” might have been, though
even my own eyes were not entirely dry.
A reception was announced in the order of service but that would
mean small talk, and, pleasantries, and questions I chose to avoid, so I
sought out both Susan and Pat to ask for an interview later. When I as-
sured them that I wouldn’t even be writing for the paper for some
months yet, they agreed, though they seemed skeptical of my intentions.
So what were my intentions if they were not to research an arti-
cle or book? Perhaps this was just penance for all the work and attention
I’ve put into petty meaningless drivel. Or all the importance I have given
to stories that are nothing more than promotion of the privileged. It has
something to do with that snowy evening at the Lorne, with wanting to
actually feel connected to a realty that is more than a charade or pre-
tense of what it is not.
Or, perhaps, I just want to wallow in the reality of this most po-
tent of our unspoken mysteries. Perhaps I am longing to return to the
burning ghats that line holy rivers in India where families burn the bodies

52
of loved ones and smash the skulls before sweeping the remains into
the waters of the sacred river.
And yes, Chan, this is also about myself and my “pent up feel-
ings,” and yes, I know it is—most clearly—about Jane and choices which
you say I must “accept” as though there is some choosing in all of this. I
must admit that I feel intrigued by Rev. Longland’s concluding remark
that “death, even this death by choice, is also about life—in its fullness
and diversity; and the pain, and joy, and meaning, and hopes, and de-
spair, and unspeakable beauty of life. Let us go from here remembering
that Death is the harbinger that calls us into a more intimate under-
standing of life.”
Yes, Chan, I’m sure you think this was a good thing this seeking
answers to unasked questions. But perhaps this is nothing personal.
Perhaps this is simply a professional curiosity. Perhaps I am really bored
with this idle life—no work thing. Perhaps I am just seeing this as a
round-about kind of news thing: news about a whole aspect of commu-
nity or life that I never reported on—or more exactly, no one ever reported
on. Albert Camus once wrote that “There is but one truly serious philoso-
phical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth
living amounts to answering the fundamental question…” but no one
ever writes or comments on this one truly serious philosophical problem.
I/they write about a new franchise in town, about new red blazers for city
council, about a new revolution in car design which means a superficial
alteration in the rear window line; they write about just about anything
other than “one truly serious philosophical problem.” Yes, I have this
feeling that, even if it is just here in my private journal, I am going to
think/write about something that actually matters—regardless of how
personal or subjective it may be—even if Chan likes it; even if you like it,
Chan (Dr. Chan).

Feb. 7, 2005

I phoned both Susan and Pat about a time to talk. Pat agreed
readily to meet “sometime.” I think she sees this as a bit of rapproche-
ment. Perhaps she thinks I am contemplating a return to the decent,
likeable guy I once was. Sometimes I think about that—sometimes I think
of it even wistfully for a moment. But that’s behind me. It’s like another
world where I was someone else that held up some sort of ever-changing
mask that magically reflected the needs of whomever it happened to
encounter.
Had to leave a message for Susan.

53
Discovering the Journal
Let Chan say what he will. I think I’m more honest now than I was
then. Not with myself, of course. I knew more of how I felt then than I do
now—I just didn’t show it then. Chan says I was a nice guy in “denial”
about important things. But what’s more important than who I am? I’ve
always, well—at least, for a long time—been this angry, disillusioned guy
that grew up thinking the world was supposed to be fair and honest, then
I found out it definitely isn’t; but I had to smile and pretend it really is.
Then I got tired of it all and quit pretending. Actually I’m happier in some
strange way just being honestly irritable, though Chan says I just don’t
know who I honestly am because of my “denial” or some other theory.
Chan says I don’t know what I feel well enough to say or act who I am,
but that’s about the truth—not honesty. Truth is such a huge concept—so
diverse, and multi-faceted; complex. Honesty is some absolute, concrete,
touchable thing that is the same for all of us. Honesty can be very decep-
tive, like my mother who kept Dad in the dark continuously, with all that
honesty—like the time Dad wanted to know if Murray had bought a car at
his young age. “Most definitely not,” she assured him—she had, in fact,
bought the car; it was even insured in her name. Murrayjust had unlim-
ited access, as though he owned it and had given Mom the money to pay
for “her” car. Truth is relative; sometimes it’s as simple as being straight-
forward, without intent to deceive. So, Chan, how’s this? I am currently
more honest about a self that is less truthful, whereas previously I was
less honest about a self that had a much better grasp of the truth. And
the proof of this is that I looked happier and people liked me better
then?

Feb. 8, 2005

Susan phoned to say she doesn’t feel comfortable talking about


Deacon.
“His name was David,” she said, with a hint of scolding as
though it had been a private, pet name, and just using it clearly demon-
strated that I didn’t know the difference between private and public
information. Whether she would have been comfortable about talking to
someone who inquired using the proper, given name, I’m not certain.
I phoned Pat and was able to arrange a weekend meeting to talk
about David over dinner at her place. I suggested the Alexander, but, as
Pat pointed out, that would hardly be the place for a confidential conver-
sation. I suggested my place and was delighted she turned that down. I’d
be a week cleaning this place up, and then everything would be in a pile
in the basement where I’d have to go get it all back after she left be-
cause it gets damp down there when the river rises.

54
Susan phoned; Pat phoned Susan. Susan will talk to me with
hesitation. She thinks it might be good for her. It’s like my agreement
with Chan—you know it must be good for you because it doesn’t taste
good when you think about it. We’ll meet Monday at her office which has
been closed since David hung himself two weeks ago. She offered cof-
fee. I think that means she wants to keep it short.

Feb. 10, 2005

After a great deal of scrambling through old files of my illegible


notes I finally found it—the notes I originally scribbled to the dream that
angered Jane to tears. I was looking for these old notes because it came
again last night very much like it had been in 1991. Looking at the notes,
I see little significant differences between the remembered parts of this
dream except that this time I have the faint remembrance of experienc-
ing the dreamer of the dream in the dream—of being part of and sepa-
rate from the dream. Interestingly, this was rare for me; in both dreams,
or the same dream both times, I am a character in my dream—not a
symbol; but me, who I am. This time, I do not wake in confusion about
the meaning of the dream.
The dream starts in Victoria, though it had been many years
since I had worked for the Oak Bay Times. Jane and I were catching a
bus to Grand Forks from the Victoria Bus Station. We were, in fact, hop-
ing to board the bus with tickets we purchased weeks earlier. The driver,
a short balding, angry-looking man who seemed to be reluctantly collect-
ing tickets as though his job description has been violated, accepts
Jane’s ticket, but refuses mine as it was worn and water marked from
my rain-soaked shirt pocket. I argue that everything was perfectly legible,
but he directs me back to the ticket booth.
I assist Jane, with her cane, to board into the front seat and rush
back to get a new ticket for this irate driver. In the office I receive an
understanding wink as though there are on-going problems with the
driver and am reissued a ticket.
However, on exiting the building I see the bus leaving the station.
I quickly hail a taxi and urge the driver to race to the next stop in
Saanich. We end up following the bus as the taxi driver is an overly cau-
tious driver. Pulling up behind the bus at the Saanich stop, I leap out
having paid the taxi driver in advance. I rush to the front of the bus and
queue with the few waiting passengers. Once again the driver rejects my
ticket saying that the ticket was issued from Victoria rather than
Saanich. I’m angry, very angry, and I see Jane in the front seat looking
concerned but not particularly distraught. I argue belligerently with the

55
Discovering the Journal
driver pointing out that I need to go with my wife, but he forces the door
closed and backs up to turn into the exit lane. As he is leaving, I become
desperate and run behind the bus finally lunging at the rear window and
grasping onto the rubber trim with my finger nails. We travel for several
kilometers down the highway toward the ferry with me stuck desperately
to the window before I gradually weaken and have to let go as the bus
slows for a stop light. I see Jane inside, and she doesn’t look worried.
She seems, strangely remote/distant/at peace.
I am lost, not knowing what to do. I have this feeling that I will
never see Jane again, and what will her life be like without me? Or mine
without her? Who will care for her? What will I do with my life? It doesn’t
occur to me to find alternate transportation to Grand Forks.
There seems to be a break in the dream but it goes on—or starts
again. I am walking into the Victoria bus station. I am alone. I have been
alone for some time. I have a gun in my pocket, and I am going to shoot
and kill the driver who refused my ticket and took Jane away. I know that
I will be caught. I have no intention to flee or hide. I am going to kill the
driver and spend the rest of my days in jail. And I am (this is what
amazes me to think) I am unbelievably happy, and at peace with myself,
and the world, and with my fate.
I always shared my significant dreams with Jane, she was so
aware of inner things. I could relate a dream that seems preposterous,
and she would play with the various elements. “If this were my dream…,”
she would say and the dream would suddenly make some kind of
sense—out of all that nonsense, and, sometimes, I’d feel this welling up
inside like standing on a platform looking over a magnificent waterfall,
and I’d know that all those absurd dream images meant just what she
said—not only to her, but I could see that the dream made sense even to
me. And I am always amazed at how exhilarating it feels to find the
meaning in my own dream, which I should have known better than Jane,
or even without dreaming. It is like finding a treasure inside myself.
But she didn’t play with the Victoria bus dream, and she didn’t
say, “If this were my dream.” In a way that I had never seen before, she
got angry at me—seemingly just for having the dream. And then she left
the room; and when I saw her again at the breakfast table, she had red,
wet eyes and wouldn’t speak to me; and didn’t speak to me for three
days. And we never spoke of the dream again.
It was the summer she planted the Belladonna in the herb bed.
Looking back it is so clear that she, once again, knew my dreams /me
better than I did—that I honestly couldn’t hear the truth of what I already
knew: that Jane had obtained her ticket, but some unreasonable, unfair
driver wouldn’t let me on the bus; and without an acceptable ticket, I
would, eventually, have to let go.

56
Feb 12, 2005

I’ve been down to the Alexander for a boring evening. When I first
arrived, there was only three couples and Bill. Two of the couples were
squishing around on the dance floor to some forlorn beat though they
didn’t seem moved by it nor were they much interested in the synthe-
sizer-driven melancholy music. One older couple was already to the point
of slurred speech, and the still cowboy hat-ed male was nodding off
while his partner continued to suck away at all the beer on the table and
shake him sufficiently to avoid absolute stupor.
Bill was sitting on his usual stool at the bar, once again precari-
ously perched for a skull splitting fall that might be exactly what he
needs. He seemed more animate than usual sharing the conversation
around with three alter(beer) egos which is one more than usual. One of
the things that fascinates me about these self/other self conversations
of Bill’s is the respect with which each of these persons/personalities
speaks to each of the others and the reciprocating respect with which
each listens to the stories of the speaker. As far as I can tell no one ever
cuts anyone off or shouts out a judgmental “bullshit.” They don’t neces-
sarily agree and clearly have different points of view, but they just have
this uncommon respect. I actually tired to talk to Bill, and who ever else
is running around inside his head, but I’m not sure I was heard. I mean I
started to say something that seemed interesting enough to Bill, but the
point was taken up before I was finished and was quickly going the
rounds of the personality circle faster than I could figure what anyone
else had to say about moving the liquor store out of the mall. I don’t
think any of them noticed when I slipped off the stool by the bar and
returned to my usual table in the back, far corner.
No one sat close enough for me to overhear any new grist for the
mill, and around 11:30 I finished my third beer before setting off for
home, more discouraged than ever with this whole concept of parallel
play.

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58
Deacon Remembered
Bartholomew Johnson’s Required Writing

Feb. 17, 2005

I arrived at Pat’s promptly at 5:30. It was strange coming back to


this beautiful Riverside home with the sloping two stories of greenhouse
glass facing to the southern sun, lighting and warming the whole interior,
and the organic feel to it, and all the memories—memories of dinners
past; of Pat, and I, and Greg, and Jane; of the Buddhist “christening” of
the house with the incense and the red and yellow tulips. I remembered
the conversations with Jane about how Pat, the artist, and Greg, the
scientist, made such a “whole” couple. I remember the discussions
about knowing—“epistemology” Greg and I called it; Jane and Pat called
it “knowing”—late into the night. How fascinating it was to discuss some-
thing seemingly deeper than work, politics, and gossip. But I remember
late in many of those evenings, after wine and liquor, wondering if this
bantering was as light-hearted in the end as it had started out to be. And
why was it both Greg and Pat seemed to get further from understand-
ing/tolerating each other’s differences the longer we talked. Now I won-
der if the perspectives which we dreamed of as so complementary really
were.
Standing in the doorway, wine in hand, I once again wonder how
Greg could leave his energetic, creative, incredibly caring partner of
more than 20 years.
“Come in,” she said smiling and looking a little dismayed that I
couldn’t seem to make it past the threshold.
I smiled a hesitant, warm smile and absentmindedly returned an
offered hug, still lost in thought. Pat took the wine and headed off to the
kitchen inviting me to find a seat in the living room—the living room with
all the book shelves, and the soft cushions, and the cedar railing over

59
Deacon Remembered
the eight foot wide stair well that allowed the sun light in winter to pene-
trate to the back wall of the lower floor.
Pat was making light talk from the kitchen, but I was remember-
ing the last time I was in this house—a snowy Christmas filled with cheer,
and the tradition of our many such gatherings, and with foreboding over
the obvious decline in Jane’s health.
“What’s this about a break from the paper?” She called picking
up a tray of cheeses and crackers to go with the wine she had just deliv-
ered.
“Oh, I just needed a break,” I stammered stiffly, my thoughts rac-
ing for a further explanation in case the conversation continued this
direction.
“So how have you been? It’s been a long time.” Pat smiled
warmly as she entered the living room with tray in hand clearly suggest-
ing a gracious invitation to sit down and relax into conversation.
I was delighted to move on from anything work related; and even
more delighted that Jane hadn’t come up—yet. And what would I say
about Greg? Why hadn’t I thought this out before hand? What, in fact,
could we talk about as light/perfunctory talk? There was history here
that speaks to me from every shelf, from every book, from the Buddhist
icons and meditation chimes, from the expansive feeling created within
this small room.
Is this a recent painting?” I asked pointing to a fascinatingly tem-
pestuous sky-scape that spoke of the beauty of embroiled peace-like
pools below a roaring waterfall. I was trying to move on to safer ground.
“Well, I painted that shortly after Greg left with the floosy,” (Pat
looked away, but I noted that she seemed embarrassed to use such a
denigrating term for another person—even one who had caused her so
much pain).
Pat surveyed the painting as though assessing it even now. “I
was just filled with so much feeling, so many feelings that I had never
known before. I was mad at him, and her, and me, and life. Yet, I also felt
woken up to involvement in life in a way that I had never known before,
so I had to paint. It’s just what I do with my feelings.”
A long silence followed.
I suppose you work out your feelings with creative writing or jour-
naling; do you, Bart?” Pat asked with a softened voice that reminded me
of times I chose not to remember.
“I…I…” I stammered slowly, somewhat intentionally trying to
think, to buy time. “I don’t know what I do with my feelings—that’s why
I’m on this leave”—was the straight forward answer. I could tell her of the
journal of sorts which the psychiatrist down at the clinic had asked me to
keep, but where would the conversation go from there?

60
“I drink,” I replied desperately hoping the truth would come off as
a joke.
Well, I’ll drink to that!” Pat replied hoisting her half-empty glass
toward me and then to her lips.
This was the Pat I remember—merciful, gracious, caring. I once
thought she was an angel, though I don’t believe in that religious stuff—
especially not the literal kind. But, in the last year, when everyone else
called to ask so earnestly, “what can I do to help?” and then disap-
peared, Pat just came by for tea and conversation with Jane every Tues-
day, week after week . I once thought that even if there had been no
angels, she had created and filled the position.
The time I told her how I was doing was none of her business
must have been very close to the time Greg was leaving, though I only
learned of that much later. I finished off the last of my glass of wine
delighted that this slightly humorous diversion had worked so effec-
tively—still wondering why I have so much difficulty with the difference
between, honest, irritable, and stupid.
I let Pat lead the conversation over gentle, safe territory. I wonder
what she thinks of Greg these days though I didn’t ask—for her sake and
mine.
Over dinner the conversation came around to Deacon. “It’s too
bad you didn’t get to know him,” she ventured, “He had a real passion
for the way it’s supposed to be. He kind of reminded me of you in that
way.”
It scares me to think of how much she actually knows about me,
but I am much relieved that she has not—so far—asked about my mo-
tives in wanting to know more about Deacon. She always refers to him
as Deacon, so I ask about that, having been severely rebuked in using
the same moniker with Susan.
“I know Susan wants to call him David, now; it reminds her of
who he was before the accident. She wants to think it means something
to his memory to speak of him in a way that points to what he would
have been and done if it weren’t for the accident. But I only knew him as
Deacon. And I know that when he played with the kids on the piano he
would always, say—with taunting pride—something like, ‘OK, kids, let the
DEACON run this slide for a minute,’ and he’d play a couple of slides
then he’d start to pound out some energetic rhythm on the keys, then
he’d give some kid a winked invitation to join him on the key board; a
few hesitant, small fingers would plunk on the keys. Deacon would re-
spond with a run that drew the young adventurer on into more improvis-
ing, and next thing you know they’d both be pounding on the keys wildly.
The smiles! The glances! As these budding musicians became more
absorbed in the playing, Deacon would take his hands off the keys and

61
Deacon Remembered
say something like, ‘OK and now give the Deacon a slide,’ and the young
hands would cascade up and down the keyboard. Deacon would slip
back into the medley before concluding with a down pour of sounds—and
they’d all laugh and beg to do it again. I knew him as Deacon, all my
students knew and loved him as ‘Mr. Deacon.’ Outside our first, formal
introduction, he never mentioned the name David to me. ”
“So where did he get the name Deacon?” I asked, still puzzled by
the differing perspectives of Pat and Susan.
“Well, Susan told me a little about that, but she could give you a
lot better explanation of that than I,” Pat replied, losing a bit of the pas-
sion she had just been speaking with while examining me inquisitively.
“So what is it you really want to know about Deacon?” Pat asked.
I felt for a moment that she has finally come around to challeng-
ing my motives, but I tried to explain the whole thing about being tired of
news that is all a charade of life; lauding the antics of the privileged and
promoting the interests of money. I told her how I want to actually
feel/discover some real life that actually just happens because there is
some willingness to just be and do anything authentic. Suddenly I real-
ized the irony of what I had just said—that Deacon chose not to be. But
Pat was in listening mode, not looking for logical inconsistencies.
“The more I hear of Deacon and his struggles, the more con-
vinced I become that this is an utterly fascinating story—almost allegori-
cal, so full of life.” I say life—recognizing the irony this time—and mean it.
“I’m not interested in any one aspect of Deacon’s life; I’m not
sure if it is the journalist in me or my revulsion at what journalism has
become, but I feel there is a story here—not a story that I want to re-
search in order to report or expose, but a story that is of particular inter-
est to me. Not to be vulgar, Pat, but it fascinates me to think that the
story of Deacon may be the story of Job when God doesn’t recant.”
“Didn’t Shakespeare say, “The end of Man was to know?” I
asked, completely ignorant of what Shakespeare might, or might not
have said; but grasping for a credible explanation for a quest I only un-
derstood as an urging.
Realizing I needed to be more specific, if only to give some scope
and doable limit to the evening’s conversation, I reduced my plea to,
“Why did he do it?”
Pat, who had collected a decent fork full of linguini, set the whole
utensil back onto her plate carefully. She looked dismayed. I guess she
expected me to be subtle.
“Well,” she said picking up her serviette and wiping her lips as
though there was something messy on them, “I…I…” Now she was stam-
mering.

62
“Well,” she said again, gaining some composure. “I was involved
with the support circle around Deacon, but I don’t know if there is a why.
Perhaps there are several whys.” I could see that she was stalling for
time to think. Why didn’t she think about this before I came? Surely she
knew I would ask.
“You know,” she began slowly, “we’re almost finished with din-
ner. Why don’t we finish up here and take our wine back to the living
room, and I will try to share what I know about Deacon’s decision as long
as we agree that this involves the feelings and lives a number of people
and must remain private, confidential information not to be printed or
broadcast in any form without the permission of all involved—most espe-
cially Susan.”
To this I readily agreed. Not having any publishing interest in this
story—I don’t think.
I told Pat of seeing Deacon come into the Lorne on a snowy eve-
ning in October and of the impact on Susan and her friends at the table;
and how I had over heard this fascinating story about Deacon, and his
injury, and struggles to rebuild his life, and the job that meant so much
to him. I told Pat about going home and writing into the early morning—
so obsessed with this tragedy that had played out in front of me; yes—
tragedy, in spite of Shakespeare, who saw tragedy as only the fall of
privileged from high places. To me tragedy is the inexorable march of
events that takes away hopes, and dreams, and loved ones, yet—
ironically, finds hope, or at least a connecting meaning in telling the
story. I told Pat that I was looking to understand how a person with so
much will to live, so much life and goodness finally gives up. Just in the
saying of it, an image of Jane flashed across my mind—an impression
perhaps, like rolling all my experiences of Jane, from the time we met to
her final good bye into a single timeless image.
“I don’t know how to begin about Deacon. Perhaps some things
are just beyond the kind of understanding you ware seeking.” Pat had
her head down, her eyes almost closed. She was, clearly searching for a
place to begin.
“Just think of the absurd argument that science puts forward
that our universe—and by implication existence—exploded into being at
some “big bang” when all was just a single ball of matter/energy. Sud-
denly complex existence began out of nothing and has been growing
ever since. But what came before the big bang and how did everything
get all balled up like that in the first place? They say it’s just the way it is
because they’ve gone as far as they can to find understanding and ex-
planation, but, in the end, it isn’t much different from my faith in the
story of creation: ‘In the beginning was God.’—not that I’m trying to con-
vince you that God is any better explanation of the infinite than the big

63
Deacon Remembered
bang, but I think we should be clear about our choices and our under-
standing.” For a moment I felt Jane and Greg’s presence almost as
though they were just picking up their wine on the way to the living room;
it felt like times not so forgotten—like conversations gone over in this
room so many times before.
“Bart, surely you remember all this. How many times did you and
I and Jane and Greg sit here in this room and go round and round on this
before concluding rather limply that there are no sure-fire conclusions on
this. We seek final conclusions where none are possible. I think it was
you that once said something like: The only way we can conclude our
conclusions about our world, the universe, or—dare I say—God is to be-
come blind to the alternatives. I don’t know; I feel so inadequate to try to
understand anything most especially a human life, and Deacon was an
enigma among humans.” Pat’s voice seemed distant—this is the conver-
sation which she and Greg never concluded.
“Yes,” I replied nervously—more than a little worried that this
whole evening might come to a few glasses of wine, a fine dinner, some
shared nostalgia, and a gentle dismissal by a “friend” with whom I had
shared a life as remote to me now as the Big Bang.
“Yes, I know we can’t know anything with certainty, and I know
enough of the problems of epistemology to understand what you were
saying, Pat. And yet—despite all that—we try to understand, and we talk
about what little we know, and we trust our words to tell us about some
aspects of existence that convince us that we are learning some vital
information about our lives that we wouldn’t otherwise have.” Ah, if only
Greg were here we’d be right back in the thick of it. Despite the esoteric
argument, I clung to the hope of bringing this conversation back to Dea-
con, but I was beginning to wonder just how much Pat actually wanted to
share of the present.
Pat sat quietly for an inordinate, suspenseful long time. She was
holding her glass, twirling it slowly, pensively. She sipped from her glass
and looked at me wonderingly. She was holding my attention—pondering.
Perhaps she was considering how much of Deacon’s past she was willing
to share with a lost friend, a reporter.
“You haven’t said a word about Jane,” she said with restrained
emotion—without putting down her glass.
Another long silence as I struggled with rising emotion and con-
flicted thoughts. Moments earlier she had practically conjured Jane and
Greg into the room.
I put down the sweaty pen and reached for my nearly empty wine
glass. I swallowed hard at what remained and noted the mustier flavor of
the wine that had warmed in the glass. As I pondered a list of possibili-

64
ties, an almost whispered voice that I own, but did not at that moment
control, began from somewhere beyond my intention.
“Well, I am seeing a psychiatrist who says I have to talk about it (I
realize Chan wouldn’t be happy with “it” where I should say “her,” but I
didn’t feel responsible for this voice, nor capable of giving it instructions
just then), but I don’t know where to start. I’m supposed to be thinking
about just that on this ‘Stress Leave,’ but I’m afraid its kind of like the
Big Bang you were talking about—its all bound up, and once it gets
started, it just might not stop.”
Silence settled over us like ground fog on a wintry day. Neither
Pat nor I had any idea where this conversation might be going, and we
both seemed to have this premonition that it could get out of control.
“But I am beginning to think that this wasn’t such a mere curios-
ity, this interest in your friend Deacon. Recently I’ve begun to think that
maybe talking about Deacon is, for me, a way to start the approach to
topics I haven’t talked about with anyone—except in superficial ways with
Dr. Chan.” I suddenly remembered many years ago when I soaked her
blouse with my tears, but we didn’t say much.
Pat put her glass to her mouth resolutely. Then, setting the wine
glass down, a warm smile broke out across her face, tears brooded at
the corners of both eyes.
“I hope some day we may speak together of those times which
were not easy for me either, though I was, perhaps, not as close as you.”
“At times I thought you were even closer than I,” I ventured, hesi-
tantly.
“Deacon.” she pondered out loud, almost distractedly; her voice
becoming less personal, and her face relaxing. Her whole body relaxed
into the sofa as she signaled to both me and herself, that she was ready
to move on to what she knows of the “complex” story of Deacon. I picked
up my pen in anticipation.
“I hardly know where to begin. Sometimes I felt some unexplain-
able sense of connection to Deacon and his struggles that I can at best
describe as spiritual. Yes, I know you don’t think much of such concepts,
but for me spiritual is a much larger concept than religion, or even God.
It speaks of yet another word, soul, which I remember both you and Greg
had difficulty with. Deacon and I had a soulful connection which means—
as best I can describe it to you—that our connection was not profes-
sional, nor sexual, nor commercial, nor family, nor anything usual or
‘useful.’ It was, for me, a soulful connection that simply does not fit any
other common definitions of relationship. So it, by default, must be ‘spiri-
tual,’ and for you I will let it go at that, though for me the spiritual is a
realm of being as real as any of the realities we so unquestioningly ac-
cept.

65
Deacon Remembered
“The only thing I know about Deacon before he was hired by the
school as a Community Skills Development Program trainee was strictly
hearsay. We never spoke of his brain injury nor his long recovery that
culminated in his position at Twin Rivers. I know even less of his music
training, or his prowess in baseball, or anything else about his early life.
Susan can help you with that. She is the only person living in Grand
Forks who has known him from before his accident.”
I interjected at this early point in the story of what Pat knows to
ask if she would mind me taking notes, “It’s useful when one has as
short a memory as I.” I should have cleared this earlier, without assum-
ing on Pat’s indulgence.
“Given our agreement about not publishing any of this without
clear, written consent by all, all, concerned, I have no objection to your
taking notes, Pat assured, “I may, even, ask to borrow them some time,”
she added playfully.
Pat hesitated, but, after taking a small sip from her wine, she
picked up the conversation, unprompted, “Susan and Deacon were off
and on again lovers for over a decade or more—if you go back to before
the accident. According to Susan, they were planning on a marriage
before his brain injury, but I will leave all that for her to tell from first
hand experience.”
I noticed that Pat’s eyes were no long trained on me and—in
fact—have turned up into recall/story telling mode. “My first memory of
Deacon playing music with the kids is as clear as if it we were watching it
on a video tape right here in this room this evening.
“I was walking down the hall at Twin Rivers around 2:00 on a Fri-
day afternoon in mid-November. I was distracted, thinking about the
holidays, about my students and the weekend. As I was passing the
music room, I heard the most energetic pounding on the piano keys. I
thought I recognized the tune, though it seemed some strange combina-
tion of classical, rock, jazz, and cacophony.
“Fascinated, I looked into to the room where Ralph Sims, our
very conservative, competent, reserved music teacher was standing
beside the piano. His eyes were wide with a mixture of amazement, joy,
and bewilderment. He seemed absolutely overcome with elation—a state
of being which I had never before seen nor ever expected from him.
Deacon, whom I had only recently been formally introduced to as David,
sat on the piano bench, and beside him were two grade four students.
Deacon sat practically erect, his hands moving almost effortlessly up and
down the keyboard while his fingers danced out rhythm and melody.
Beside him the two students looked down at the keyboard, and beamed
up at Deacon, and glanced away for a wink at Ralph; and then they
would grow intense and their fingers would alight on the keyboard, tenu-

66
ously at first, then pick up speed as they became drawn into the beat
that Deacon was so playfully hammering out. Suddenly, one child drew in
a deep breath—and briefly glancing up at Ralph as if for permission—he
skipped over an octave and struck a discordant note. But Deacon didn’t
miss a beat, incorporating every nuance of either student into the ca-
dence, and on they went playing/dancing on the keys/improvising re-
turning to the theme which sounded a bit like ‘Charlie Brown.’ Ralph
looked stunned. I was, myself, agape; I’d never heard the likes of such
piano playing.”
A broad smile spread across Pat’s face—the smile of events
fondly remembered. She drew a deep breath, as though anxious to get
on with this fondly remembered account of Deacon and the children at
the piano. “Suddenly Deacon raised his hands high above the keyboard
and, after a short pause, brought them down in a dramatic TA DA. Our
two grade four students, Marilyn and Jim, followed suit with appropriate
dramatic effect. Ralph struggled to speak. Marilyn and Jim were off the
bench, bouncing up and down, and shouting, ‘Let’s do it again!’ Ralph
returned from space or trance, glanced at the clock on the wall and
announced ‘that’s it for today.’
“As I turned to continue my journey back to the classroom, I no-
ticed Ralph speaking to Deacon earnestly and gesticulating with free
easy movements of his limbs. Perhaps he moved that way when he was
much younger, and such expressive movements had suddenly come
back to this, not staid—but until that day—very reserved music teacher.”
Pat asked if I wanted more wine. I must have nodded in agree-
ment, though the energy and feeling that came from Pat’s remarkable
story seemed to have left me a little shell shocked, even in this retelling.
Pat returned with two full glasses of dark red Merlot. I guessed
that we had already been through the Sauvignon I brought for dinner.
“Incredible,” I said at a loss for more relevant words.
Pat drank heartily from her wine glass almost as though attempt-
ing to quench a thirst.
“So how long did that go on? And why did it end?” I asked—
remembering, at last, what I had come for.
Pat was still into her wine, but having drunk 1/2 of a glass in
short order, she set the glass down and relaxed into her ready to talk
attitude.
“Well, you got most of it in the pub that night. Deacon continued
in the music room for the rest of the year. All the other teachers gave up
any call on his time for Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays—realizing he
belonged in only one place on those days. The kids seemed alive and
animated about school in a way I have certainly never seen in Mid-
November. It was amazing the songs he would play and get the kids to

67
Deacon Remembered
play along. One time I asked Ralph about it, and he told me that Deacon
simply understood the roots of music and the ‘feel’ of music—a strange
term for Ralph to be using, I thought at the time. Sometimes, in passing,
I thought I could recognize Afro-American songs of freedom and soul. At
other times it seemed to be jazz improvisations, once I heard Dylan
tunes played as throbbing dances—but according to Ralph the themes
came largely from adapted Bach.
“Most of the teachers loved it and loved to see the passion to
‘play’ music that had simply never been there before. But there were
objections; strange objections as far as I was concerned. I knew of no
one more devoutly Christian than Ralph who, like an excited electron in
an accelerator, had simply jumped into a more high energy orbit. He
came to school early and stayed late, and he was always smiling. A
number of times—after school—I walked by the music room, and he was
in there pounding on the keys and smiling.”
“But some parents complained about the “noise,” and about the
interruptions, and mostly about ‘leading students astray’ with ‘seculariz-
ing hymns’; and then, some parents complained to the Principal, and
when they got no response from Ted, they complained to the Superin-
tendent. With Ted and Ralph’s support, and with positive letters from
numerous parents about the ‘incredible things coming out of the music
department,’ Deacon’s position remained tenuously secure.”
“I wonder,” I quipped, “if any of these complainers were among
the group that burned their subscriptions to the paper over my column
on ordaining gay and lesbian ministers.” It was just an old resentment
and Pat acknowledged it with only the slightest grimace.
“As you might guess, the complaints grew and became increas-
ingly organized. Apparently a local pastor became particularly concerned
about ‘corrupting the word of God’ (he referred to Deacon’s music as
‘the word’). There were complaints about his choice in clothes—they
didn’t match and didn’t fit and weren’t stylish nor professional. Yet even
that only brought him some relatively gentle warnings about the com-
plaints. I think Ted even offered to help with both choices and expenses.
But Deacon would hear none of it—according to Susan, it offended his
dignity to be told to wear different clothes.” Pat picked up her wine glass
but held it in her lap, looking across at me, catching my eye, clearly ask-
ing how much of this I really want to hear.
“Pat, this is the most fascinating story I have heard in a very long
time.” I picked up the half-empty wine bottle and topped up both
glasses, signaling that I very much wanted to stay and hear more.
“In the mean time many of the staff were talking about private
music lessons—for themselves!” Pat smiled warmly in the recalling of

68
those strange days. She paused to sip from her freshly poured wine. Her
eyes drifted back into story telling mode.
“The amazing thing is that I think he’d be here today, except for
the hassle about being a teacher. No one ever reported actually hearing
him call himself a teacher, but perception seemed to be what matters. I
didn’t think much of it, but it apparently scored big with the Superinten-
dent. ‘We can’t have someone with no formal teacher’s training going
around masquerading as a teacher. Who knows what some people in the
community might think,’ he, reportedly, thundered at a board meeting.
What he didn’t mention was the increasing attacks on the way Deacon
looked and walked. I hear it was even put in a letter to the board that he
‘walks like a degenerate.’ The letter was primarily concerned about
hymns played ‘like a pop hit.’”
At this point Pat’s face took on a saturnine appearance as she
continued. “I don’t know who made the final decision, but he was kept
on to the end of the year, and the program was cut for the fall, and they
‘couldn’t find any other position for him.’ And they never did.”
I looked at my watch: 10:30 pm. I suddenly felt guilty about keep-
ing Pat up so late, and I still had a frosty walk home ahead of me. “It’s
getting late,” I remarked with a yawn. “I appreciate your sharing all this
detail. He certainly was both fascinating and complex. I do hope we can
pick this up another day,” I concluded, trying to make it easy for Pat to
see me to the door.
“Are you afraid of being seen slipping out my front door after
bedtime?” Pat’s glass was empty, and, suddenly, she was laughing
heartily.
“You came here for a story, and I’m involved in the telling right
now. Who knows when the mood may come again? If you really want the
story, as I know it, you might as well stay till we’re done or exhausted.”
The laughing expression still toyed across her face.
I lifted my glass and finished the contents offering to pour an-
other round, to which Pat readily agreed. I’d never before seen her drink
so enthusiastically, and the thought of a soused Pat intrigued me for a
moment before I agreed that, if she was willing to go on, I could certainly
keep the pen moving for a while yet. Actually I was quite delighted that
my host had so graciously offered to go on with the story.
“Let’s see,” she said, rolling her eyes back in search of where we
left off.
“We left off with Deacon not being called back, and it being per-
fectly clear that he wouldn’t be at any future time. This was where I be-
came increasingly involved. It began with a call from Susan.”
At this point in the conversation I noticed or felt some relaxa-
tion/some subtle yet perceptible shift in Pat’s body—or perhaps it was

69
Deacon Remembered
only her eyes, or in her eyes and voice—some perceivable yet inexpressi-
ble change came over Pat signaling that she was moving into the deep-
est reaches of consciousness where memory is still a living experience.
“My involvement in Deacon’s life really began with a call from
Susan.”
Pat repeated herself. I sensed that—perhaps unconsciously—she
was making clear what I already noticed—that she was beginning again
from a different place; our conversation was no longer just chatter be-
tween estranged friends; it had now moved into the realm of unfolding
story.
“She introduced herself unnecessarily,” Pat continued—her voice
almost distant. “I reminded her that we both attend the United Church—
though her attendance is sporadic. I remembered her well for her lovely
voice. She had, perhaps, forgotten, but we had shared a hymnal on sev-
eral occasions. I was about to tell her that I regretted not seeing her at
church for some time, but she interjected anxiously.
“’Yes,” she said with emotion already beginning to choke her
voice, “I have called you because I have felt some connection between
us, and...’”
“She hesitated. I remember the poignant hesitation while she
collected her next words.
“Bart. Do you mind if I frame some of my conversation with
Susan in quotation, even if they are only the closest I can come to our
actual words?” Pat interrupted the story and was looking directly at me.
I assured her that, as a journalist, I fully understood close-as-you-
can-get quotations. Pat smiled thankfully and moved back into storytel-
ling mode.
“’I have a friend Deacon who worked at Twin Rivers last year.’”
Pat blurted out the quotation from Susan’s phone call and her voice
shifted—clearly conveying the urgency, hesitation and desperation in
Susan’s voice.
“Yes, I know that as well” Pat’s voice naturalized to her own into-
nations as she shifted to her part in the call, “Suddenly Susan’s voice
began to choke with emotion.
“’He’s not doing well,’” she managed to stammer.
“’How so?’ I recall asking her casually though trying to convey my
concern as well.”
“Susan then told me that after Deacon lost his job at the school,
he had become down on his luck—or more exactly on himself—in a way
that she have never before seen in him, and she was with him when he
came home from the rehab ward.
“You must understand, Bart; I wanted to console Susan, but I
have no credentials as a counselor, so I was leery of even starting down

70
the advice road. I did all I could imagine to extol the benefits and neces-
sity of professional help.
“But Susan was unremitting. She seemed to desperately want
help from me. She explained pleadingly how Deacon didn’t get along
with the counselors at the rehab centre, ‘and that’s water long under the
bridge.’ Having made it on his own after six weeks in a coma, Susan
didn’t think there was any possibility he would ask for professional help
now. As she spoke Susan became increasingly agitated, perhaps angry
at my slow response.
“’I need your help!’ Susan insisted, with heavy emphasis on the ‘I
need.’
“Yet I persisted in my reluctance. Perhaps, Bart, you were not the
only one who is not yet at peace with Jane’s passing.”
I had been fiddling with my wine glass, listening, but, perhaps,
distant. Why had Pat suddenly interjected my name into her recalling of
this story? I struggled to think of a response, but Pat continued before I
could inquire about what Jane’s passing had to do with Susan’s request
for help with Deacon.
“‘Well,’ I stammered. ‘I’m not sure what you or I could do that
wouldn’t make it even worse for him.’ I’m not a counselor, but I’ve read
enough to know that people have to want to get better—or even profes-
sional help isn’t very helpful.’
“’Yes, but…’ clearly Susan was searching for words. ‘…but I can’t
just go off and leave him because he says he doesn’t want any help!’
“In the books they call this a trap and say stay away from such
traps at all costs. But traps are words or concepts at best. Susan was
asking me, about helping a human being—her friend.
“‘Well, what can I do?’ I relented, giving into Susan’s desperate
need.
“She implored me to go with her to talk to Deacon. ‘He remem-
bers you. He says you are on his side. He says knowing some people
were on his side to the end is good for him.’”
“So, Pat, judging by Susan and Deacon’s response to you, I’m
beginning to wonder if, perhaps, you are an angel—as I once surmised.”
My tongue felt heavy, thick and dangerously unguarded.
Pat blushed deeply.
“Oh, please, I didn’t mean to interrupt the story. I really do want
to hear what became of your conversation with Susan,” I pleaded.
Pat looked at me critically, as though challenging my sincerity,
but she chose to go on with her story.
“I was just deciding that I should respond in some compassion-
ate way when Susan began again in a worried, oh-I-don’t-know-if-I-can-

71
Deacon Remembered
handle-this voice. ‘I don’t like the way he says End. He says it often—in
lots of ways, and it sounds so final.’
“Susan sounded almost defeated as she went on to tell me of
how Deacon had started drinking again, but this time it was not like
before when they would go out with friends for a beer. He was drinking
by himself often and when he was with Susan and their circle of friends,
he wouldn’t quit drinking until he passed out.
“She told me that the good nights were when he would just put
his head down on the table and doze off. All too often she would have to
get him up off the floor and take him home. She would come back the
next day and try to talk to him while he was still sober enough to re-
spond, but he would just patronize her with assurances that he would be
‘ah right.’ Susan began to break down as she remembered the good
times and the unquestioning love that he had shown her—even after she
had deserted him. Then she turned to me with tears in her eyes and told
me how Deacon would say things like, ‘When will all you damn people
just leave me alone?’ He would say it and repeat it again an hour or day
later, and it came with a venom that was completely out of character.
Susan seemed especially upset that, once into these moods, everyone—
‘All you damn people’—was the same in his consideration. At these times
Susan would get so upset she would just run out—not knowing what to
do.”
Pat fidgeted on the sofa and appeared to be struggling with her
own emotions.
“I had just begun to consider whether I could actually help, and
who I might consult, and how we could enlist some more qualified assis-
tance, and—most importantly—what I should say to Susan, right then,
when she began to explain her deepest concern in a quieter more plain-
tive voice—he’d been through so much, but perhaps this was a hurdle he
couldn’t clear.”
“So you did go see him?” I asked Pat, rhetorically, just to stay in
the conversation.
“How could I refuse?” Pat replied with an equal measure of the
rhetorical.
“So what was it like, talking to him as an outsider to his life—as
someone from the school?”
“Well,” Pat tipped up her wine glass as though drawing from the
well indeed.
“Well, it wasn’t what I expected. He seemed genuinely happy to
see Susan and me. We talked of the weather and Grand Forks before we
edged into regrets about his parting from the school. He looked me in
the eye and thanked me for the support I and others had offered. We

72
talked of some of the kids that were especially blessed by his musical
skills. I asked if he would consider private lessons.
“‘Ha’ he said, turning suddenly bitter. ‘You think that I walk any
straighter because I’m not in the school?’ He spoke with such rancour I
could hardly recognize the person or the voice.
“I didn’t know where to go with this emerging anger, so I soft
pedaled as best I could, but at every shift in the conversation there were
new buttons that sent him reeling into self pity, resentment or outright
spleen. I noticed that the house was in a sorry state.
“Listening to the bitterness pouring out of his heart, it was most
difficult for me to remember the smiling, effusive Deacon with the joy
that just emanated from his body. I struggled to recall his lopsided limp
that I had taken as some kind of dance or statement in acceptance of
his own unique self. Had the parsimonious spite of a few erased the
memory of all the admiration he received for his special touch with kids
and music? I couldn’t reconcile the bitterness that brooded in his ges-
tures and contorted his facial expressions with the happiness and joy
that I had seen in him at school.”
Pat drew in a long, thoughtful breath and glanced at her half
empty wine glass. I responded immediately, filling her glass and topping
up my own. I was—by then—thoroughly enchanted with this story and the
power and authenticity with which Pat recalled it. Pat put her hands
together and stretched them over her head—releasing some pent-up
emotion/tension and began again in the soft voice that I found reassur-
ing so many years ago.
How could I have behaved so petulantly toward someone of such
good will?—Jane’s closest friend. My thoughts began to drift off to a
different time, but Pat picked up her story of going with Susan to meet
Deacon.
“Susan said little through the entire conversation. Pensively
glancing first at Deacon then at me, she seemed to be imploring both of
us to find some kind of understanding. I felt like a magician that reached
deep into her hat, and just couldn’t find the rabbit. I tried to shift the
conversation, but it was stuck with only the two gears—silence and dis-
comfort.
“I tried international politics which I remembered was a passion-
ate topic for Deacon. He wasn’t interested.” Susan looked over at me,
perhaps imploring for the understanding I only wished I could give.
“Eventually I glanced conspicuously at my watch and announced
to Susan and Deacon that I had an appointment to keep in the morning.”
Pat seemed exasperated even in the re-telling.
“At the door I once more suggested that Deacon consider some
kind of private music lessons for kids or even adults. He only shrugged

73
Deacon Remembered
his shoulders. I think standing in the doorway at a loss for words, was
the first time I began to realize that his reaction to not being asked back
to a job that he had held for less than a year was really disproportion-
ate—that either things had not been so rosy as Susan suggested before,
or there must be something larger triggered by these events.
“Susan was dismissing herself as well—as we had walked over
from her place together. She hurriedly caught up to me as I was exiting
the gate.
“’Was the job at the school the only time Deacon has been happy
since his accident?’ I asked, knowing that Susan would disagree, but—
Bart--I was becoming as curious about this Deacon as you are now.
“’No!’ She said, emphatically looking at me as though I had en-
tirely lost my senses.
There was no traffic along Carson Road as we walked on in the
cool, almost frosty air of late September—I felt stunned into silence by
the angry emphasis on, No.
“I wondered for a time if Susan was cutting me off over my in-
sensitive question, but she soon relented and began to try to explain
what even she admitted to understanding imperfectly.
According to Susan, Deacon had struggled with anger and de-
spondency immediately after the brain injury and coma. He wanted to
know when he would be himself again, and he had angry, irrational out-
bursts, but Susan felt that, though he had lost a great deal, the post-
traumatic head injury Deacon still retained much of the positive, basi-
cally happy David he had been before the ballgame and before he
knocked his head on the floor of the pub which caused the hemorrhag-
ing in his brain. Yes, he went through a spell of anger and despair, and—
yes—he would never be exactly the person he had been before, but there
was a character structure that was David and Deacon. Her eyes misted
as she tried to explain what she so loved in him.
“As we walked along the narrow, uneven shoulder, Susan re-
called knowing people who went to see him after the accident because,
even with his outbursts and sometimes obsessive behaviour, he seemed
to so easily include their problems in his—like it was just something all
people have to deal with at one time or the other. People would often
come away from a visit with Deacon feeling that they had been heard,
perhaps understood. Perhaps, Susan suggested, people found that in
sharing the load, their problems didn’t seem so insurmountable after all.
Perhaps the sharing was enough in itself.
“We didn’t encounter a single vehicle in walking a half kilometer,
so we moved onto the pavement, navigating by star light and the lumi-
nescence of a half moon that was just hidden behind the mountain,
Susan recalled that even when she lived with him on the farm people

74
would sometimes drop by to talk–Deacon always had time to talk, she
injected emphatically, like there was more than one way of looking at all
this talk.
“Susan went on to explain how sometimes he could be embar-
rassingly loud and frank/blunt, but those who knew him would chalk up
the outbursts to the injury. Eventually—they would learn that it was more
than unchecked behaviour—it seemed at times like Deacon would trot
this expressive behaviour out to exorcise the unstated barriers to just
being honestly human together. It became classic Deacon.
“To this evening I remember her warm smile faintly visible in the
moonlight.
“Resting her case, Susan wistfully glanced over the freshly har-
vested fields and back at me.
“At that, I had to ask Susan about the name which I had won-
dered about for some time. ‘So how did he get the moniker?’” Pat con-
tinued to reminisce about the long walk home from Deacon’s house—still
engrossed in story telling mode.
“Pat!” I interrupted, “I thought you told me you didn’t know how
he got that name?” I felt misled, excluded; I felt the evening’s intimacy
fading.
“Well, Bart,” she responded somewhat indignantly, “if you didn’t
notice, I’ve been sharing a lot more with you this evening than I ever
intended.” She was clearly set to go on with this tone of admonishment,
but I back-pedaled rapidly.
“OK, yes, I see that. Please forgive me; you know my struggles
with civility. I really want to return to the story of you and Susan walking
along Carson Road, talking about the discouraged Deacon.” I picked up
my wine glass and sipped thoughtfully—hoping to signal that I really am
capable of listening agreeably. It seemed to work as Pat smiled at me
condescendingly.
“So we left off with me asking Susan about the moniker.”
“’The what?’ Susan asked, almost indignant with me.
“’The nickname—Deacon?’”
“Oh, well, he got that name in the rehab centre in Vancouver,
Susan explained, and went on to describe how the centre had a piano
that good-spirited musicians would sometimes come and play for the
warders. One day David decided that he just had to know if there was
any chance he would play again.
“So, according to Susan, he asked someone to take the bench
away, and he wheeled up to the piano and tried to play a tune, but he
started out slow and confused, even, the simplest tunes would end in
frustration.

75
Deacon Remembered
“But, Susan continued to explain how he never gave up easily—
not even then. So he went back to basics. He plunked out the simplest
tune he could remember—Happy Birthday, and when that made some-
one smile he tired some other simple tunes. He tried to expand his piano
repertoire to a relatively simple rock beat—he most definitely wasn’t up
to the classical that he once loved to play—but the rock was too slow to
follow and definitely wouldn’t have gotten any hips swaying. Then he just
folded up his right hand and started plunking out, with one finger, the
melody to Amazing Grace and it worked—it was slow, a little uneven—but
amazing; amazingly graceful, you might say.
“I recall that by this point in the conversation we were getting
close to Susan’s house. Fortunately the moon continued to light our way,
so, even without flashlights we were able to navigate reasonably well. As
you know—there were no street lights in the Almond Gardens area, so
after a truck with bright lights approached from in front of us, I stumbled
in a small pothole at the side of the road, and Susan slipped her arm
through mine—sort of like four-foot drive for such uneven terrain.” Pat
smiled across at me—obviously pleased at creating the image of a four-
footed all-terrain humanmobile.
“‘How much of this do you really want to know?’ Susan asked,
leaning away enough to study the contours of my face.
“What an interesting and appropriate question to ask at exactly
that moment. It made me stop to think long enough to realize that I was,
now, fully committed to working with her on this rescue mission—so I told
her that if we were going to work together on this, I needed to know as
much as she was willing and able to tell.
“So he played Amazing Grace over and over; Susan picked up
the explanation where she had left off before the stumble. He did other
hymns, and they improved to the point that some of the warders gath-
ered round and sang to the hymns. David’s playing picked up—becoming
more animated by the encouragement of his new-found audience. Sud-
denly an Attendant just remarked out loud ‘Well, it’s great to have a
Deacon in our midst;’ and it stuck.
“Hard lines of concern melted from Susan’s face as she recalled
fondly how warders came from all over the hospital. ‘Deacon can you
come play us a tune?’ they would beg as his playing became an increas-
ing focus of daily life in the rehab ward.
“David loved the attention and the playing. Friends visiting from
Kelowna heard warders in the hospital calling him Deacon, and it kind of
rang true for them also so they carried the name home with them, and it
just stuck, Susan concluded her explanation of the enigmatic, yet
strangely suitable appellation.

76
“So, Bart,” Pat startled me with injecting my name, once again,
into the conversation so suddenly. I had been entirely lost in the story—
as though I were walking along Carson Rd. on that moon-lit September
evening, “there you have a pretty thorough explanation of how David
Barnett became ‘The Deacon.’”
I asked, rather disappointedly, if that was the end of the story
which Susan shared that evening. To end it here would seem like one of
those infuriating movies that just—suddenly—pops a “to be continued”
frame up on the screen, and you are left disappointed, wondering if you
will ever see the end of the story.
“Well, not exactly, but I thought it would be a good place to take
a break.” Pat rose and went into the kitchen where she emptied a bag of
chips into a bowl to bring back to the living room. “Would you like me to
put on coffee?” She called from the kitchen, but I assured her that the
remaining wine was just fine with me.
“So you want to hear more yet, do you, Bart?” Pat asked after
chasing a helping of chips with some freshly poured wine. I confirmed a
keen interest in hearing as much as she was willing to share “with ap-
propriate propriety,” I quipped.
“Ok,” so I think we left off the story of our walk from Deacon’s
house just after Susan explained where the name Deacon came from
and just as we were entering her drive way. One of those motion lights
came on and I remember Susan stopping abruptly, to face me acknowl-
edging that our rambling conversation hadn’t done much to answer my
question about how happy he had been before getting the job at the
school.
“She asked if I would like to come in and pick up the conversa-
tion over tea—to which I readily agreed.
“We went inside Susan’s cozy home. The fire was still smolder-
ing, so it was quite warm. Susan asked if I would like some fresh mint
tea. As you may remember, I’m addicted to coffee, but I wanted to be
agreeable, and I wanted Susan to tell me more of Deacon in whose aid I
had been so recently recruited, so I agreed readily.
“Susan was rustling around in the kitchen, but she kept up the
conversation. I moved to the entrance to the kitchen, so she wouldn’t
have to shout as she began to explain how, in some ways she was reluc-
tant to answer my question. She seemed—or I think she, actually, con-
fessed to being—deeply worried that if she told me he was happy, very
happy at times, I might feel she was brushing over the times when he got
so utterly discouraged.
“Susan,” Pat continued, “poured a pot full of tea which immedi-
ately filled the room with the scent of garden fresh peppermint. She
handed me cups to bring as we made it back to the dining room table. I

77
Deacon Remembered
remember this all in such vivid detail—like it happened just yesterday. I
think that is generally the way with such emotionally charged experi-
ences. Sitting at the table, tea in hand, Susan picked up the story once
again beginning with how Deacon would take some new training course,
like the business development school, and he’d get all excited about
what he called ‘getting his life back,’ and he’d really make an effort; then
the support money would run out, and the jobs wouldn’t last much be-
yond the end of the funding. And he’d get discouraged and down on
himself, but then something else would come along, and he’d be up and
all excited all over again. Once he was going to open a music store with
another person that he had met down at the ball field. Though he would
never run the bases or even throw a ball very far, he still loved to go, and
watch the games, and revel with the guys. But this one guy—Gene was
his name—he was a real shark. I think he saw immediately how vulner-
able Deacon was. He convinced Deacon to invest a good share of the
money that his father left him in a jointly run music store. After they set
up a join account, Gene just withdrew the money and disappeared.
“Susan speculated that those were particularly discouraging,
dark days because David had been such a money manager before the
injury and then, afterward, he couldn’t keep a loonie in his pocket.
“Once again I felt that the conversation with Susan had become
so intimate that I could ask how long she had known him—‘for a very
long time?’ I inquired.
“Susan told me that they had attended Senior Secondary to-
gether, and three years later they started dating off and on. They were
joyfully planning a wedding and even a family when the accident came
along.
“Our conversation, which had—up to this point—seemed intense
and intimate and completely open, suddenly seemed to cool, and Susan
seemed unexpectedly remote. But I tried my best to recover the thread
of our conversation, asking: ‘So you were there to see him through the
recovery from the head injury?’
“Susan turned to her tea. She looked distracted—lost in an inner
process, perhaps reconnecting with those difficult times.
“’You know,’ she began slowly—looking over at me. I felt exam-
ined; no—Bart—I felt my soul being examined. And I soon understood
why.
“I didn’t know, but it was clear that my question had brought our
evening’s discussion—and perhaps even our relationship—to a very criti-
cal point. Susan continued her reply by first pointing out that she was
sharing a lot of sensitive information with me. Then slipping her hand
into mine and fixing my attention she began to explain earnestly that she
hoped—desperately hoped—that all this intimate conversation would, in

78
deed, lead to our working together to try to draw Deacon back from ‘the
abyss that I see him slipping toward so rapidly,’
Pat paused for several long breaths. She didn’t look my way. She
seemed distant; lost in the emotional intensity of her conversation with
Susan. Then, acknowledging my presence and the need to move on with
her recounting, Pat began again—reflectively, “After our recent visit with
Deacon and our intimate conversation on the walk back to Susan’s
house, I was very comfortable in assuring Susan that I too felt drawn into
a close relationship with her, and that—recognizing that I have no profes-
sional abilities in helping distressed people—I would be happy to be part
of a support network aimed at nurturing Deacon through some tough
times. I assured her that if there were things about Deacon’s injury and
recovery that she don’t feel comfortable sharing, I would, happily, leave it
up to her to decide how much to and not to share.
“Bart, I know what you must be thinking, but I don’t actually go
through life looking for rescue missions. Jane and I were close friends
before the illness and our relationship just grew as Jane’s inability to get
out became a good reason for us to get together on the farm, regularly. It
was very different from what happened between Susan, and Deacon,
and I.”
“I realize that, Pat and I am truly sorry for the belligerent things
I’ve said in the past.” I responded as gently as if I really weren’t a churl-
ish old fart. I fortified my new found sensitivity with a quick gulp of wine.
“Thank you!” Pat responded with a start. “I needed to hear that.”
I was afraid the Jane talk would go on, but she returned to Susan’s ac-
count of Deacon’s injury and recovery quite willingly.
“Susan feels quite sensitive about her relationship with Deacon
after the accident.
“’There were things people do that even they don’t understand,’
Susan explained with heavy emotion and regret choking her voice. She
went on to preface her account of these events by explaining apologeti-
cally that, ‘There were things,’ she had done that she was not proud of—
she wanted me to understand that the accident happened a long time
ago, and she was a different person now.
“My God, she is a guilty one, isn’t she?” I blurted out.
I know it was insensitive of me to barge into Pat’s recollection
with such empty rhetoric. I didn’t actually mean it that way. It just popped
out. Perhaps I just wanted to let Pat know I was still listening. Perhaps.
Perhaps, it’s just me.
Pat looked dazed, like she had lost her place in the story. She
sampled her wine, delicately, thoughtfully. She looked across at me with
apparent bewilderment.

79
Deacon Remembered
“Are you actually interested in the story?” she asked with what
felt to me like restrained resentment, though behind the resentment I
could still feel the connection of the years we shared with Jane.
I back pedaled with an apology for the incivility of my remark. I
held the stem of my wine glass sheepishly, pleading with her to go on.
Pat relaxed back into her account of this pivotal meeting with Susan.
“So, Bart (‘Bart,’ Pat began with a warning inflection), Susan
wanted me to know that the accident, and everything associated with it,
was a time of immense pressure and uncertainty for her.
With all the post-accident work, and every aspect of living, now
falling to Susan, she felt that David’s needs had become the sum total of
all that her own life was about, and she panicked and left him three
months after he got home from the rehab centre.”
“Three months after he got back, she left him? My gosh, that’s
incredible!” I asserted. The warning hadn’t taken.
“Now, hold off on you judgments and be patient. You asked for a
story, and I need to keep going in order to hold this train of thought,”
replied Pat patiently, before jumping directly back into the recalling of
her conversation with Susan. Perhaps she needed to tell the story as
much as I desired to hear it.
“So you got back together later?” I prodded, still unsure about
how much Susan wanted to share. Did she want to say as little as possi-
ble; or was this something she needed to get out in the open, to look at
and forgive herself; or understand herself; or just make peace with what
she had done? Was she asking me to just listen; or forgive; or were we
becoming such intimate friends she simply wanted to share her experi-
ences as a deepening in our relationship?
“Oh, Bart, you know I’m the heady type with all these questions
going round and round in my head. Sometimes I wonder how I ever get
anything done with all this stuff going round and round like a captured
electron in a mushy orbit, obscuring the centre of who I really am.” Pat
looked me in the eye while exhaling her inner tension. She winked
slightly, obviously indicating that I should understand the problems with
this heady stuff. I do. I think she was also checking to see if I was still
interested; I was—definitely. The whole story seemed as real, and live,
and credible as if I were a fly on the wall of that now distant conversa-
tion.
Pat continued, “Susan began without restraint to answer my
question about their relationship. Apparently her scan of my character
produced a favorable response.
“’We didn’t get back together, not as lovers, for many years,’
Susan recounted rather despondently, though—as we discussed—Bart—
this is as much a paraphrase as a direct quote. It’s just the way I re-

80
member it.” And I remember she broke into this beautiful, spontaneous
soliloquy.
“’We never again spoke seriously of wedding plans or family. But
I loved him. I loved him even when he went into those bouts of anger in
the early years. I loved him when he struggled to relearn basic social
skills. I loved him when he struggled to remember what fidelity to his new
partners meant. I loved him when he hated me for leaving him. In time
we made peace.’
“Susan explained that she often wondered what it might have
been like if she had stayed with him after he came home, but she re-
mained unconvinced that it would have been better for either of them to
fall into what she called a ‘black hole of exhaustion and despair.’
“Over the years Susan became more forgiving of herself, even
coming to feel that, perhaps her leaving helped to wash away the anger
in a flood of sorrow and searching for a new life. Out of that—the new
David or—more accurately—Deacon emerged with a fresh look at life that
still remembered the old David, and still yearned for what was lost in the
injury, but—like the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis—this new per-
son was more aware of the precious experiment that is life.
“You know, Bart, I remember Jane telling me that, much as she
hated the disease and all the limitations, it had, in ways, opened her
eyes to a meaning in life that she would not have otherwise known. So I
asked Susan what kind of changes she saw in Deacon. She first ex-
plained that there was, necessarily a considerable distance between
them as Deacon’s injury made him very sensitive to emotional stress,
but—friends told her of his efforts to reach out to others in sympathy and
understanding in a way that he just never would have before. He was
alone and sought to rebuild community around him. Then one day he
just put everything he had that he couldn’t sell into storage and went off
to India and China for two years.” Pat summarized this part of the con-
versation with Susan.
One day, shortly after David returned from his travels, Susan en-
countered him on the street in Kelowna. She didn’t recognize him at
first. He had changed in so many ways, and it showed all over him.
Susan went on to explain how he had become most definitely, uniquely
Deacon. He looked very little like the old David—not even the one who
had come home from rehab a few years earlier.”
“BART!” Pat nearly yelled across the coffee table. I sprung to
attention, nearly snapping my neck. Maybe I nodded a little, but I had
been listening. There was no call to yell. I felt angry, but I muted my
response to, “Ah, come on, Pat, I wasn’t dozing.”
Pat laughed. “You weren’t wide awake either. Do you want to call
it quits for the evening?” she asked with a touch of mocking in her voice.

81
Deacon Remembered
I remembered that about Pat. It put me off then—this, ‘I’ve got something
on you, but I’m too good to play all my cards right now.’ She wasn’t an
angel—not one of those perfect ones.
“Do you want to?” I responded, wishing she’d play her cards face
up so I could know if, in fact, I’d overstayed my welcome.
“What did I just say?” she asked, perhaps mockingly.
“You said that David came home from his travels in Asia looking
like a different person,” I responded, hoping I hadn’t actually missed
something.
“Well, appearances aren’t everything!” Pat replied agreeably.
“Actually, I find it quite satisfying to retell this story from memory. I think I
am, in the telling, discovering things that I didn’t realize when I was
speaking to Susan,” she acceded.
“Now that I know you are, in deed, awake and listening, let’s go
back to my conversation with Susan where I had been trying to under-
stand whether Deacon’s down turn was just a passing reaction to the
loss of a prized job, or if it was just part of some more general response
to the circumstances of his life.
“I still didn’t feel Susan had directly answered my original ques-
tion about how happy Deacon had been before losing the assistants
position at Twin Rivers, but we had covered so much ground, I didn’t feel
like pursuing the question further for the moment—especially as I still
wanted to know why she felt so concerned for Deacon in the present.
“Noting that she had already told me how Deacon lost jobs, a
number of jobs, before, but had always recovered and gone on to the
next project, next hope; I asked, quite earnestly, why she felt so con-
cerned now.
“Susan looked exasperated. I assumed it was with Deacon’s con-
dition rather than my questioning.
“’Well this just didn’t seem like before,’ she began again assidu-
ously. She explained how never before had he been drunk night after
night, and what really frightened her was his use of the word ‘end’ so
ominously or—even more powerfully—‘the end.’ Pouring more tea for both
of us, she noted how, for the past months he looked so washed out, and
he quit talking about any plans for the future—‘And, I don’t like the way
he keeps telling me how much our relationship has meant to him; almost
invariably he uses the past tense.’
“Susan was looking more than a bit worn out herself, just from
going over such emotionally troubled ground.
“We sat silently—each of us mulling over what Susan had just
said—neither of us knowing where to go from there.
“Susan, once again, reached across for my hand tenderly to ex-
press her appreciation for coming out to see Deacon with her. She felt

82
that he seemed a little lighter than he had been for some time, though
she was still deeply troubled by a presentiment about how much he
wanted to go on living. For Susan this down turn seemed completely
different than after the injury or when Gene duped him out of most of his
inheritance. He wasn’t angry, but that seemed little consolation to her.
Perhaps, she mused it would be better if he were energized by anger,
‘It’s not like him to just sit there all day and not, at least, rant about how
unfair it all is.’
“Suddenly I realized that Susan was, all along, building up to this
idea of suicide—suicide from despair, which I think was a whole different
thing from suicide that says yes to all the good things that life has
brought, and is, in fact, a choosing of a life of dignity by choosing to end
it with dignity.” Pat seemed to be, once again, examining me carefully.
I held my wine glass up and sighted through it. The room ap-
peared blood red; kind of reminded me of Albert’s piss-painted pub. I felt
the blood swelling in my face. I remember my mother’s words, “Be care-
ful what you ask for—you might get it!” I asked for this. I put the glass
down. It had been trembling in my hand. I tried to think of a response,
but I couldn’t have said the words if they came to me. I sat, looking
down, dumbfounded.
“I don’t know how you feel about that?” Pat picked at the open
sore gently. “We’ve never discussed it, though I dearly wanted to talk to
you about it. But you said it was ‘none of my damn business.’ I could
never understand how you could say that after all we had been
through…”
Pat was still talking, but I wasn’t hearing her. I had come to talk
about Deacon, and his life, and what might have caused him to take his
own life. I hadn’t come to talk about the past, not the past Pat had sud-
denly switched to.
Two bottles of wine between us and Pat was looking blurry eyed
and earnest. I could find no trace of the playful, taunting smile that she
brought out just two hours earlier. Why hadn’t I seen this coming? I felt
desperate to change the topic, and salvage the evening, and this—until
now—most enjoyable reunion with an old friend.
“So, what was it like finding him in the barn?” I asked, desper-
ately trying to reestablish the intention of our get together.
“Oh, Bart,” she said, pouring the last few sips of wine from our
second bottle. “You can change the topic, I do want us to be on speaking
terms again, but someday we will have to talk about these things. You
know, I actually still pray regularly that you will find peace with Jane’s
decision. And I hope one day we will talk of those times and rediscover
the friendship that I feel horribly cut off from these days.”

83
Deacon Remembered
She swallowed the last drop of wine and sat twirling the glass
like she might be considering opening another bottle. But she put the
glass down with resolve, and, in a changed tempo, she began to speak
clearly. Her eyes seemed red—but dry. She had shifted well back in the
chair—like when you begin a story about the garden, or the weather, or a
chance encounter at the coffee shop.
“Did you know that even though he was in a hurry, he dressed up
in his best clothes for the hanging? He wore a white shirt with a conser-
vative tie; and he had a hair cut the day before, and polished his shoes,
and wore the expensive goretex ski coat that he cherished. Susan called
me in a panic, she had gone over to see him and sensed that this was
it—the end was near. She wanted me to come wait with him while she
went to get help. I believed and trusted her judgment completely. I told
TD I had to leave school as a matter of life and death. He volunteered to
look after my class until a sub could get there. I came as fast as I possi-
bly could, driving more recklessly than you could imagine, Bart. But I was
too late—he had slipped into the dilapidated barn down by the river and
tied a perfect hangmen’s knot. I don’t think he had any regrets. He
clearly had no intention of backing out or being saved at the last minute.
He had hidden a parting note under the pillow in his bedroom.
“Susan told the Mounties that he was in imminent danger of tak-
ing his life, and they brought a dog that finds people—even dead people.
They were only gone a short time before they came back with the news
that he had hung himself. Susan seemed to bear it rather well consider-
ing their long association together. She didn’t want to see him, so I went
down and identified him; they had him laid out respectfully on the barn
floor with a blanket over him; he looked kind of peaceful, as I hope he
was. “There was a note, a second—for public consumption—suicide note
sticking out of his jacket pocket. It said, ‘Good bye, Susan. If there is any
justice or dignity in the beyond, I’ll be whole, and I’ll be waiting. Next time
we’ll get it right. To whom it may concern: what little I have, I leave to my
friend of many years, Susan O’Donnell. Signed, David C. Barnett.’”
I looked down at my watch. It said 12:30. I tried to rise from my
too comfortable chair, but the soft foam cushion, and the wine, and the
long sit were difficult to overcome. I sat back down developing my re-
solve for another—more valiant—attempt. Pat wasn’t moving. She looked
determined/energetic—like she wasn’t finished. She seemed lost in
contemplation.
Pat looked over at me with a glance that was only partially engag-
ing and partly somewhere else—lost in her thoughts. She glanced at her
empty glass.
“If you really want to hear the story, you better go open another
bottle of wine.”

84
Another bottle of wine? At 12:30! We just went over the end of it.
What more could she have to say? I pondered, but my instinct from years
of reading people told me there was, indeed, not only more, but—
perhaps—the most important part was yet to come. I had no idea what
that might be, but I leaned on the arm of the chair and raised my tired
body and without a word I hobbled to the wine rack and withdrew an-
other bottle of Merlot to uncork and take back to the living room.
“So you weren’t afraid of sneaking out of here after bedtime?”
Pat smirked self-assuredly, knowing I wouldn’t come up with a suitable
retort to her tease. I poured two full glasses and sat down into the com-
fortable arm chair. I gently grasped the thin stem of my, now freshened,
glass of wine and proposed a toast. “To the morning,” I said trying to
return the playful gesture and signal my interest in going on with the
conversation.
“This must be confidential, though Susan may share some of it
with you when you meet with her. By-the-way, you should be very careful
with her. She was very sensitive, and she was already on guard about
your intentions,” Pat confided
“There is, despite all I’ve said tonight, much I haven’t told you. I
haven’t explained how I began meeting for tea or even a drink with
Susan and Deacon, and then with some of their other close friends. I
haven’t told you how the more I got to know Deacon, the more I felt a
kind of deep empathy, or—in my words—a spiritual bond. After his trip to
India he composed several books of poetry that he loved to share with
anyone who showed the slightest interest. I found his poems especially
moving in their quest to understand the spiritual—that is the primordial
grounds of our being—regardless of the words we use to describe it. I
began to see his struggle to be whole again—as he put it—as a kind of
archetypical quest for wholeness that all of us go through, though many
are not so aware of the quest that calls them forward to a fuller under-
standing of why we are here.
“I know you don’t have much sympathy for what I am saying, but
I am just offering this to you as part of your quest to understand Dea-
con.” (Why, I wonder, does Pat seem to need to state, so forcefully, the
differences between us?) “One day you may come to see some parallels
between what I am saying about wholeness and you’re seeking to know
more about Deacon which I think you may have already guessed is,
unconsciously, really a quest for a better understanding of yourself.” (I
am also beginning to wonder if she has been talking to Chan.)
“I have a collection of some of his notes and poems that I will dig
up for you one day. Susan has almost all of the journal—My Quest, he
called it—which he kept from the time of his stay in rehab. I doubt she
would share that, at least, not now, but Deacon shared some of it with

85
Deacon Remembered
me, and Susan allowed—perhaps encouraged—me to read most of the
rest of it since his death.”
Pat attacked her first glass of the third bottle and looked at me
earnestly almost threateningly and—with an obvious effort repeated,
“This is all very confidential, you understand.”
“I understand,” I assured her, We have a history, and however
much we may disagree about quests or the hereafter, we have been to
places that only the deepest trust can lead. “I certainly have an unques-
tioning trust of you—even when my mixed up behaviour might seem to
suggest otherwise.” The wine seemed to have loosened but not, so far
twisted my tongue.
Pat relaxed. We have differences of opinion, but she trusts me.
“Deacon, didn’t kill himself because he lost the job at the
school.”
I lost my grip on the wine glass spilling much of it into my lap. It
nearly ended up on the floor.
“He did kill himself?” I asked dumbfounded, with no idea where
this new revelation might lead. I glanced at my watch. I might not get out
of Pat’s house in the dark after all.
“Yes, he killed himself. I’ve told you that. What I haven’t told you
is why, and the part that I played in that.”
I wondered, for a tense moment, if I should actually be party to
this information. Could I be implicated in any unrevealed misjudgment?
“Susan knows this, and the authorities have been informed, and
a few professionals also know what happened. But—other than that—not
even his relatives and other close associates know the actual truth of
what happened.”
I began to wonder if this dark musky red wine might be some
kind of truth serum.
“Over the ten months between his learning that he would not be
rehired and finding him in the barn Susan, and I, and Deacon became
very close as we talked about the things that really matter in our lives
and tried to rebuild the sense of connection and meaning that had kept
Deacon going through even tougher times than losing a prized job at the
school. Deacon shared various journals, and notes, and poems with us;
and we attempted to relate these to our own lives and struggles. At
times, I thought we had actually broken out of the dark times. I thought
Deacon was ready to give up the nightly boozing and go out and face the
world again.
“Then one afternoon Susan and I showed up at his cabin and he
wasn’t there. Thinking he might have left for the pub early we called
around, but no one had seen him. We decided to see if he might have
gone over to Jerry’s house down the block, but just as we were leaving,

86
we heard sobbing coming from the tall grass at the back of the yard.
Going over, we found Deacon sobbing, and striking the ground with his
fists, and muttering ‘Sonfabich, Sonfabich.’ We called to him and he
didn’t respond. At one point he looked up at me and then Susan as
though he was going to speak, but his eyes were glassy and seemed to
look right through us, unseeingly.
“We tried to pick him up begging him to come into the house with
us. But when we had him half up he took off running. He made a beeline
for the rustic tool shed and hit the wall stumbling—head on.
“By the time Susan and I arrived he was up on his knees and
more conscious than before he hit the wall.
“‘Can you help me?’ He pleaded looking into our eyes and seeing
us for the first time that afternoon. It felt eerie; I felt confused—deeply
troubled.
“We each grabbed an arm and half carried, half guided him back
into the house. Once inside he would hear nothing of counselors or dan-
ger, nor would he tell us anything of what had happened, though I doubt
he had any better idea of that than we did. Later Susan confided that
this wasn’t the first time she had encountered this kind of behaviour.
Incidents like this had come and gone over the years, never persisting,
but reoccurring irregularly, unexplainably.
“After this incident/episode I was deeply concerned about Dea-
con. He was clearly sinking into a morass that required a professional,
or—at the very least—very talented help. I too, now, began to worry that
Deacon was becoming suicidally negligent—if not outright suicidal. I
called mental health for advice or assistance, but what could I say with-
out breaking my confidence with Deacon?
“In retrospect there were many things I could and should have
done, but I had no understanding of how fast Deacon was slipping. In
desperation I called a personal friend, from Castlegar, a counselor who
practices a kind of hypnotherapy and helped me greatly when I was
trying to put my life and sanity back together after losing Jane. She
helped me to gain perspective on Greg’s leaving also. She agreed to
come and meet with Deacon in his home if we could convince him to
agree to a meeting.
“In the mean time Deacon was doing better. He wasn’t drinking
at home. He seemed almost cheerful when Susan or I would arrive. He
began talking about actually starting up a studio for private lessons if we
could somehow come up with the space and a piano. He washed his
clothes and seemed to bathe regularly—a welcome change. Occasionally
when I would drop by before school, I began to notice that Susan wasn’t
just arriving for a morning visit. He seemed quite agreeable when I sug-
gested meeting with Lillian.

87
Deacon Remembered
“Well, I see its nearly 3:00 am, if Susan decides to let you read
through Deacon’s journal, you’ll learn much more about this than I can
explain in an evening, or a night as it seemed to be turning into.” It was
the first time Pat mentioned the time. I wondered if the conversation was
winding down, but Pat swirled her wine and plodded on.
“So, Deacon and Lillian formed a bond right away. He seemed to
sense in her some buoyancy that was not connected to all the rest of his
life. He even agreed to see Lillian in her Castlegar office. I think he saw
in her some really strong life force which he was seeking. Once again, I
was beginning to feel that we had made it through the worst times. Dea-
con looked forward to meeting with Lillian. Acting on his promise to make
it over the Blueberry Paulson to see her in her office, he arranged for
Susan to drive him to Castlegar one beautiful, sunny Wednesday.
“Two weeks later we found him in the barn, dead.”
I glanced at my watch, even though I had checked it when Pat
mentioned the time. I wasn’t anxious to go. Clearly, there was a lot left
out of this last, concluding remark. This story was amazingly more dra-
matic than I had thought. I was fascinated and anxious to hear the rest.
Checking my watch was just a nervous habit. I can’t remember the last
time I was up past three, let alone socializing over a bottle(s) of wine. In
any slightly normal circumstance sitting on a soft chair, in a warm room,
having taken in more than a bottle of wine, my chin would be on my
chest, my eyes popping open only slightly to try to maintain the illusion of
a warm body—and my thoughts would all be of getting home to bed
where I could just yield to the urge to sleep. But this night I still had pen
in hand madly scribbling notes and was very much awake and keenly
interested.
Pat sat quietly on the couch staring at her empty wine glass. I
was terribly afraid she may have decided that this was a convenient
place to end the story for the evening.
“So was there a direct connection between Deacon’s visit to Cas-
tlegar and the noose he tied around his neck a few days later?” I asked,
trying to keep the story unfolding.
“Yes, there was but it was something I have a great deal of trou-
ble discussing, because I was the one who coaxed him into such dan-
gerous waters,” Pat almost murmured.
“Pat,” I implored, “everything you have said this evening makes
so much sense, but I’m losing the thread, or just going round and round
this trip to Castlegar so many times I’m getting dizzy. What happened in
Castlegar?”
Pat picked up her empty glass, put it down, and looked me in the
eye intently before beginning. “Deacon went to Castlegar to get help in
reigniting a sense of purpose, a passion for living which had borne him

88
up through so many difficulties; and his first visit seemed to hold out a
great deal of hope; but when I took him for his second visit he discov-
ered, while rummaging through childhood memories, a dark—for him—
unbearable secret that had been sealed or quarantined in the back
chambers of his mind for over thirty years.
“We don’t have time to go over all of what followed, but he did
share his terrifying memory with me on the way back from Castlegar. It
was something, that—for a short time—he just couldn’t contain. He swore
me to secrecy—and if he were alive—I would, most certainly, not share
this with you. I did break my oath and share this with Susan as I became
desperately—quite justifiably, as you now know—afraid of how this would
affect him.
“Under hypnosis he had suddenly recalled being sexually abused
by an adult friend of the family when he was a young child in Kelowna.
While he seemed deeply saddened, confused and agitated on the way
back from Castlegar, when I took my regularly scheduled breakfast by on
Sunday, the following day, he didn’t seem—at first—desperate; he just
seemed closed off. There was none of the sense of intimacy or confi-
dence that we had shared on the previous day. We had even stopped off
at the picnic grounds at Sheep Lake to sit and talk—fearing, perhaps,
that the trip would end all too soon.
“Over breakfast, he seemed lost in a world that I couldn’t reach.
Fearing that he was bottling up things that explode under pressure, I
asked about the conversation of the day before. He became angry, so I
left and called Susan. She went over a few hours after I left, but he was
cold toward her. We continued to take over breakfast and sometimes
dinner, but he ate less and less. I don’t think he actually ate anything in
his last three days; certainly not any of the food we brought over. Even
sitting up, which he rarely did, he looked white like the bed sheets which
he soaked with his tears.
“He continued to write in his journal though, just before he left
for his last trip to the barn he burnt much of what he wrote in those last
pages. He seemed so weak and distracted. I’m surprised he found the
will or energy to write. At one point Susan arrived with dinner, and he
was head down on the kitchen table with the journal spread out in front
of him. Susan asked if he would mind sharing some of what he had been
writing, to which he responded, ‘read what you like,’ listlessly, not raising
his head.
“According to Susan, ‘Dignity’ is the word he used over and over
after his recollection of the abuse. He wrote of the accident and his
struggles to remake a life and mentioned Susan leaving, though he was
forgiving and gentle. Susan feels he had been expecting her to read his
words. He told of his sense of betrayal and his—what he called –‘forever

89
Deacon Remembered
lost dignity.’ I still think it strange that he never told us directly that he
was planning to hang himself. I think that, perhaps, he placed the last
journal on the embers gently because he actually did want to leave some
record, some recollection of the last moments of his life.
“I think, and Susan more or less agrees, that he was likely more
concerned with the symbolic statement that the journal on the fire
made—this is over; the past is now behind me; the future, whatever, or
wherever it is, now awaits me, unbounded. I think Deacon wanted a
clean slate stepping into the next world, but he also wanted to be re-
membered, in his wholeness, by those who loved him. I certainly loved
him, though it was not like with Jane.
“Bart, having drunk all this wine, I can’t help telling you what I
have wanted to say for so long. I was never jealous of you, but I often
thought that I loved Jane, at least, as much as you did, though it was
different—and therefore not the same. Our love was without the daily
tasks and all the things you two went through. For that reason, it was,
perhaps, less, but it was different, incommensurable.” Pat looked over at
me and accurately read an explosive mix of pain, and anger, and regret,
and love, and memory. She throttled back some more wine and moved
rapidly back into the story of Deacon’s last days.
I throttled back some more wine, trying desperately to quiet the
competing voices inside my head so I could actually hear what Pat was
saying about Deacon’s last days.
“Tuesday the day before he was found hanging in the barn,
Susan and I talked about how utterly discouraged he seemed, and we
both felt that we needed to get help—even if Deacon wasn’t willing. I had
an appointment to talk to a counselor at mental health after school on
Thursday, but that was a day too late.
“I guess I was thinking of Jane, and how she called just about
everyone who mattered to her, and she didn’t say exactly what or when—
but we all knew what she meant by good bye, and we knew she was at
peace with herself and her world. I know it was hard on you, but I think
she was as gentle as she possibly could be considering the choices that
she had in front of her.
“I loved her so much!” Pat picked up a tissue to wipe her eyes
and looked over at me somewhat pathetically. I suspected she was ex-
pecting me to engage in this discussion that had once more swung
around to Jane.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
Pat said “sorry” reading my terror, but I know she was trying to
draw me down into discussing memories which hold only bottomless
pain for me.

90
“This was suppose to be about Deacon, but—you know—when I
think of Deacon alone, despite a circle of caring friends; defeated—
despite his many triumphs, and—in his eyes—disgraced, though his
struggles to understand and live a life of dignity were the ever recurrent
theme in his journal entries; I think of Jane, and her grace despite the
pain, and her continuing connection with so many despite her going
away.”
I glanced at my watch to calm my nerves. It’s past 4:00 am. The
roosters were going to start crowing shortly. That’s the interesting think
about Grand Forks. I don’t think they have a bylaw about no chickens in
the city. I think it may have to do with the Doukhabours and their at-
tachment to “Toil and a Peaceful life,” or may be it was just about how
rural this isolated little “city”—which refused to appropriately rename
itself a town because the “city” couldn’t afford to change the stationary—
really is. For what ever reason, they would (the roosters) be crowing
shortly, definitely in Ruckle Addition.
Pat looked like she was finally tiring. I was afraid that if we went
any further the conversation would stray ever further from Deacon and
into what Chan insists is a dark secret haunting my own life, though I
have the greatest difficulty with this idea of a secret which is so widely
known to everyone, and which I have accepted, and very openly partici-
pated in all the paper work and the closing ceremonies.
“Well Pat, it’s definitely past bedtime, but, I guess it might—still—
be better for both of us if I sneak out of here before the neighbours wake
to see me walking out your front door in the early dawn.”
Pat’s countenance lifted and she smiled warmly, recognizing that
I have at last come up with some counter point to her earlier jibe.
We both struggled up from our seats which had molded to our
bodies over the course of the long evening.
Pat reached out to me with open arms. We embraced. I ex-
pressed my great appreciation for her willingness to share this fascinat-
ing story with me and began to release myself from the embrace. As I
released Pat continued to hold on, tightening her embrace slightly. I felt
the soft movement of her shoulder length hair. “Some day, Bart,” she
whispered, “Someday we must talk not of other people’s lives, but we
must talk of Jane and our lives with her, and of her passing, and of who
we are now, and what is left.”
Pat pressed her hands firmly into my back; I felt her soft breasts
against my chest and heard her soft, hesitant breath before she nearly
rocked me off my feet in releasing her embrace. I could see that she was
smiling through tears.
I felt lost, not knowing what to say, so I thanked her, once again,
for sharing so much of her experience with Deacon. I turned to go and

91
Deacon Remembered
turned back to face her. I heard myself saying, “Yes, some day I do hope
we can talk, but not now.” I heard myself saying it though it seemed like
a distant voice, like a recording. I am not creating this voice, but it goes
on.
“You know, I’m not sure that—except for the note—Jane actually
said good bye to me.”
“Oh, Bart, someday we must talk. I know she said good bye. She
even told me how difficult it was to tell you, and how tormented she felt
that you couldn’t hear what she was saying.”
I remembered briefly the torrents of emotion, and how lost I had
felt and the flood seemed to be lapping at my doorstep once again. I
turned to the door and exited with a final “thanks.”

92
Meeting Susan
Bartholomew Johnson’s Required Writing

Feb. 20, 2005

Well Chan, this must— in your estimation—be a step forward. I


told Pat that one day I will be ready to talk. I didn’t mean to. It just
slipped out unguardedly. Pat says it shouldn’t have come as such a
surprise. It worries me this saying things without knowing what I am
going to say. How do I know what I am going to say, if I get no warning
about what is coming out?
In journalism school they claim that a writer, and likely non-
writers as well, only says 30% of what he means—or thinks. It’s a lot
safer that way. I’ve had letters to the editor ranting about what I had
written, but I hadn’t written it, yet my assailants knew, beyond denial,
what I meant— I had implied it—like the time I wrote about the Pope’s
direct line to God; on the intercom; from behind the bullet-proof glass of
the Popemobile. Despite my reservations, the Pope is, in the supposedly
infallible doctrine of the church, the direct attaché of an all powerful, all
knowing God, so the bullet-proof glass probably wasn’t necessary for
God’s main man—even if it is. Every one knew, beyond challenge, what I
meant to say—thirty percent was plenty.
This 30% rule applies to all journalists and likely everyone else
except politicians. Politicians have their “plausible denial” which super-
cedes and makes irrelevant the 30% rule.
But some people seem to be born verbally naked—like Daphnie
who says just about everything she means and then everyone else adds
an automatic 70% and then they conclude that people like Daphnie are
very strange dudes/dudeses indeed. I mean when Daphnie looks you
over and proclaims—to your face, “you look awful,” it doesn’t mean you
look worse than a few hours earlier when a 30% practitioner congratu-

93
Meeting Susan
lated you on how well you look today. It’s just a different language, you
have to get used to interpreting.
Actually I have come to enjoy conversations with Daphnie, de-
spite the seeming insults. I always come away feeling I have learned
something about myself that I otherwise wouldn’t know. And I especially
enjoy her column—they should call it “the naked truth” or perhaps more
accurately “the human target.” I keep thinking: can’t she see that she is
just provoking the hounds at her own heels? But I guess she knows that,
and just doesn’t want to be a member of the 30% club.
So what would I say to Pat, if I were to say anything to her about
Jane? I’d have to start at 5% or 1%. I’d have to practice knowing what
was coming up so I don’t get caught out in the open again.
What does Pat mean: Jane tried to tell me? Oh, yeah, there was
the bus dream, but she didn’t tell me that. She didn’t speak to me for a
week because I told her the dream. And then she accused me of know-
ing what I’m not supposed to know. And she said it wasn’t time yet and
that she would let me know. And she didn’t want to talk to a therapist.
And then there was the note on the kitchen table when I came in after
work and her in the bedroom in the new, red dress—already cold. What is
it about suicides and new clothes?
Oh, God, I thought I had already cried so many tears there
couldn’t be any tears left for anyone. I thought August 10, 1998 was like
some great tear barrier, and that since then I have lived in some kind of
tear shadow like the Boundary itself which lives in the rain shadow of the
Cascades. It doesn’t rain here. By the time coast clouds get here, they’re
all rained out. I remember waking up face down in a pillow soaked with
tears. I’ve had enough of tears. Chan says you have to grieve as though a
flood of tears is not enough.
I have a difficult time with this idea that I’m hiding something—
even if it is from myself; that I haven’t disclosed enough; that if I just tell
all everything is going to be ok—as though the world is some sort of a
truth sleuth; always seeking to know what goes on behind the scenes.
Bring it all out in the open, and everything will be OK.
What kind of a world do we live in? The last time I looked the
whole damn thing was one big deception, a colossal lie, a pretense,
more often the opposite of what it says it is than what it is.
Just look at this corruption scandal in Ottawa. Jean Chrétien says
that Canada is falling apart so they created this sponsorship program to
put it back together again. Now it comes out they were really just lining
the pockets of Liberal affiliated businesses with wads of cash; cash for
work not done; a year’s high paying salary to reissue one check; cash for
keeping Liberal organizers on the payroll of private companies while they
stump for the party. So much corruption the very program that was sup-

94
posed to be the foundation of a rebuilt Canada is now the wrecking ball
tearing it apart. And before that Mulroney sued the government because
they couldn’t trace the money trail, but Mulroney never explained what
the secret, unaccountable Swiss bank accounts were for.
Sometimes my sin seems so small compared to the pervasive
malfeasance of a society that has come to believe that money is all that
matters. Imagine electing a Prime Minister whose money and reputation
were built on taking a Canadian shipping company and moving the
ownership off-shore so the company bloats with the profits of a business
that doesn’t pay Canadian taxes nor obey Canadian labour,
environmental, and safety laws. To me that seems like the kind of
sponsorship that is much more corrupting than a few envelopes of dirty
money in And
Quebec.
then there is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is
mandated to protect Canadians from unsafe food products, but now
must promote Canadian food products as well; which, inevitably, leads to
the kinds of recent actions where scientists who speak up about serious
food safety issues are silenced through threats and dismissal.
And then there is Enron, and World Com, and Parmalat, and on,
and on.
But even this gross corruption is only the veneer of a rot that has
eaten its way to the very soul of our common human vision of peace,
justice, compassion, and sustainability—leaving us with the four-lettered
concept “MORE” as our only inspiration.
With our vision corrupted by this lens of “more,” we can’t even
see that the very corporate engine which produces “more” is the same
engine that is cooking our atmosphere, consuming our Earth, and gener-
ating an ever greater mal-distribution of assets and incomes.
The real ad agency scandal is that while these agencies are paid
vast sums to mine the science of psychology for ever more effective
means of convincing those who already have too much to buy “more”;
35,000 children die every day, mostly because they don’t have enough
to eat. Many of the 13 million children, who have their lives cut short
every year, live in countries where the total food supply is ample, but the
land is owned by foreign countries who find more profits in luxury foods
for the world’s privileged than in addressing the survival needs of indige-
nous children.
For most of us the ever retreating mirage of “more” has so dis-
torted our vision of the horizon that we now venerate the very canker
that is eating our future and consuming the soul of civilization to the
point that we no longer notice the folly at the root of this absurd econ-
omy began with the idea that a corporation is, in fact, “a person.”
But a corporation is—as Wendell Berry observed—only “a pile of
money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance.”

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Meeting Susan
Berry got this so absolutely and eloquently right on: the inherent problem
with corporations is that, unlike flesh and blood beings, these corporate
“persons” go about their business “as if (they) were immortal, with the
single purpose of becoming a bigger pile of money (by the) unrestrained
taking of profits from the disintegration of nations, communities, house-
holds, landscapes and ecosystems.” Corporations, according to Berry,
grow money (artificial wealth) by consuming “the real wealth of all the
world.”
And the depth of the delusions and corruption and lies reaches
right down to: feeding diseased cows to cows (now we theoretically only
feed them to chickens and pigs); the diversion of nearly half of all aid to
overstuffed “consultants” and the rest divided between those who need
it and those who can take it; the gutting of our privacy and freedom
under the guise of defending it; information about our world that is al-
most wholly filtered through the big business interests that own the
media; the spending of a trillion dollars a year on war and preparation for
war while devastating disease and hunger become an increasing threat
to large blocks of humanity…and on, and on for an almost interminable
list.
Oh, Chan I’m a foul and cynical fellow. You know I believe the
Americans orchestrated the bombing of the World Trade towers, just so
they could replace the cold war, which had inspired so much military
spending, with a perpetual war on terrorism which would never again be
faced with the disaster of less spending on munitions and more spend-
ing on schools, and healthcare, and affirmative action, and humanitarian
aid? You know—I believe that the fires in the Pentagon were the pretext
for, rather than the cause of, the end of civil liberties and international
justice.
You know the news that I turn on almost every night, and listen
to every morning, and read about in local, provincial and national
newspapers, and click on several times a day, isn’t news; its
brainwashing. And they’re out to get you and me and suck us into a
vortex that comes out looking a lot like the Big Brother world of Orwell’s
1984. The major difference is that Big Brother doesn’t need to watch us.
We’re watching and waiting on baited breath to hear what Big Brother
says our lives were about, and about how we should be frightened of
terrorists—but not so frightened that we stop buying things, and about
how we dare not think independently because it’s a monstrously scary
world out there. The thing that scares, and disgusts, and humbles me is
that I see all this, yet I’m just as stuck as anybody else!
Orwell used the metaphor of domestic animals to portray our
need to be constantly on guard against the creeping danger of totalitari-
anism. But in Animal Farm he missed the point. It is the fear itself that

96
will consume us—the fear genetically encoded in our ancient ancestors;
fear of snakes and cheetahs, and marauding tribes, and drought, and
fire. It's in our inherent nature to be ever wary of danger. But civilization
was supposed to fix that. Civilization was supposed to make us secure
and free from hunger and disaster and being eaten or clubbed so we
could fulfill some inner imperative, some human dimension, some crea-
tive excellence, some unquenchable thirst for knowledge of the inner
workings of things. What is civilization if it is not the covenant with hu-
manity that—freed of fear and survival needs—humanity would fulfill its’—
commissioned by all existence—destiny to be the eye of life; to know fully
and report back that life, in fact, is?
But the hyped-up style of today’s news does not create security,
nor clarity, nor empower our human dimension. Instead, the raw footage
of death, and destruction, and bankruptcy, and robbery, and corruption
only reawakens our primordial fear indefinitely. News is a fear factory: It
leads us away from life’s commission.
Hey, Chan I’m not speaking down to you or anyone else. I may be
the most desperate news addict in all of Grand Forks. Where do I go?
Whom do I talk to? What do I do?—other than follow the news and wait to
follow the news? I think that the news is a diversion, an interest, a
source of essential knowledge about the world, but really it’s a terrible
absorbing addiction. Does this have anything to do with not accepting
Jane’s decision? If I solve the Jane problem will all the rest of this obses-
sion with the overwhelming irrelevant, concocted news of the world just
go away? Sometimes I think I hate the news like the addict despises his
heroine, then I mainline it.
You say record your dreams; even if you only remember a frag-
ment of a dream, write it down. I guess it has to do with the truth stuff,
maybe it’s just to prove how nuts I am. I’m nuts. When I dream, or as you
suggest, when I remember a dream, it’s nuts. I remember this crazy
dream from last night. I’d rather forget it. It didn’t make sense, yet it
draws me in like a fascination.
The vile vaccine dream:
I’m going on a trip that I need a vaccination for. I go to get the
vaccine and the apparatus for taking it at the post office—probably the
GF post office—though I don’t recognize the post mistress. I open the
package at the post office, and I notice the vial of vaccine is like blood,
but corrupted—kind of frothy, and grayish, and purplish, and brown-red: a
sickly blood-looking vaccine. The vial is cheap plastic with a tinny flimsy
lid. I take out the needle, and it is three inches long, and blunt at the
end, and I can’t imagine how that will actually penetrate flesh; but I pro-
ceed anyway. I try to extract the vaccine into the syringe, but the needle
is only loosely attached so it leaks, and the vaccine in the syringe is

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Meeting Susan
frothy with big bubbles, and I try to tap them out, but that doesn’t help;
so the post mistress takes the syringe, and somehow blows on the
plunger end to force the bubbles out, which kind of works—so I try to
extract some more vaccine, and the needle falls off, but I replace it after
the post mistress—who isn’t very friendly—blows out the air once again. I
don’t know how it ends, but I am dreading the thought of plunging such a
dull needle with such vial stuff into my arm.
So Chan, what a ya think; is this about the truth, or the news, or
both, or some other nasty secret/habit of my life? It kind of reminds me
of the lines in the old folk song: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’
left to lose,” so maybe truth is just another word for all the dirty things
you need to know except for how to live. If this is about the news, I admit
it’s a pretty blunt instrument delivering some pretty foul stuff; perhaps it
would just be better to cancel the trip.
This whole thing about Deacon is fascinating. No body wrote it,
nor filmed it, nor digitalized it. It’s kind of like unnews. It is just life un-
folding in some organic way in front of me, and I follow it just because it
interests me to discover the idea of real lived, unspun—unreported ac-
tual life. I follow it because it is real, and—in some strange way—it seems
so much more healthy than anything else I know right now. It sure beats
mainlining frothy gunk with a painfully dull instrument.

Mar. 3, 2005

I went to see Susan today. Pat had warned me that Susan is feel-
ing uneasy/leery about meeting with me, but she had phoned to arrange
a time to meet. She should have phoned to cancel. She clearly wasn’t
interested in talking to me. At best, I can hope that she was having a bad
day, and we may, yet, speak on a better day.
Ironically I felt up/auspicious about driving out to Almond Gar-
dens for this mid-morning meeting on a bright, warm-for-early-March day.
Already crocuses buds pushed through the ground in south-facing, raised
flower beds along the way. The sun through the windshield felt penetrat-
ing/spirit warming. The day felt full of promise, like the weather.
Parking so as not to block either of the other vehicles in the
driveway, I was immediately taken by a most captivating sight. There in
front of me I immediately recognized the fully come-to-live embodiment
of a cherished fantasy. The garden—nearly a half acre of Almond Gar-
dens fertile soil was stoutly and singly fenced along the south, west, and
east sides. The north side was enclosed by a double fence forming a
corridor along that side. The corridor ends in the Northeast corner where
a well-constructed, pitch-roofed, 15’ x20’ foot hen house stands. This

98
northern corridor makes an obvious run for the chickens, though a num-
ber of them ran loose in the yard at the time.
Here is what captivated me: the inside fence of the corridor was
lined with small, 18” square, guillotine-style slip gates. Running perpen-
dicular out for the full width of the garden from two of the gates were
chicken wire tunnels. Susan has obviously been ranging chickens in
these “tunnels” to cultivate and fertilize the soil while cleaning up the
weeds and pests. It’s a dream I dreamed over, and over, and just never
got around to building on the farm. It’s so logical—you just let the chick-
ens roam in the garden until planting season, then you confine them to
the tunnels which can be cycled among the rows by moving to new gates
as the rows are cleaned up. I thought it was uniquely my dream, but here
it is in highly functional reality. I’m awestruck. Auspicious, indeed, I as-
sured myself.
Despite being so carefully laid out and fenced to exclude the un-
remitting deer, the garden is—with a few exceptions within the tunneled
rows—grown over with weeds. It looks like last years crop has gone
largely unharvested and lies spoiling on the ground.
A small yappy dog stood his ground before the chicken coup.
There seemed to be a dozen or more chickens running free, scratching
up the newly thawed earth or chasing some of the winged insects that
have returned to the garden early this warm spring. Judging by the buck,
buck, buck, bu-u-u-u-u-u—ck, buck coming from the coup, the laying
season has already begun
As I approached the small, obviously aged, but well-kept house a
thirty-ish young-looking woman was just leaving. Susan had come to the
door. The woman with two cartons of eggs was smiling and bidding good
day. She even nodded my way; somewhat knowingly. Susan seemed
distraught. As the blonde, clearly-fit “young” woman passed by me there
was the unmistakable aroma of freshly smoked marijuana. The day
seemed, for a moment to be off to a better start than I had imagined.
As the apparent neighbour drove off somewhat hurriedly, Susan
turned her attention to me. I smiled a greeting and extended a hand.
Short-ish, forty-ish-looking, shoulder length dark haired—most likely not
naturally dark, Susan appeared tired, sad and distant yet charmingly
attractive—quite attractive though her worn, generally disheveled ap-
pearance tended to camouflage the underlying grace. The longer I was
there (not long) the more I saw beyond the tired, sad, distant up front to
the more attractive underlying person. She wasn’t happy to see me;
didn’t invite me in for coffee; wasn’t interested in light talk. Why did she
agree to see me? I withdrew my hand, feeling uncomfortable and foolish.
I clasped my hands nervously. I felt confused with no idea of
where to go with introductions. I complimented her on the chicken coup,

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Meeting Susan
but she didn’t respond. I asked about Deacon, trying to find some bridge
across this unbearable silence.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I really didn’t know what I was saying when
I agreed to talk about Deacon. I thought maybe it would be good to talk
about it, but you’re a journalist, and I don’t know you other than what
little I have read of yours in the paper.” She looked me over, once more—
dismissively. “Deacon made his choices about living, and then about
dying, and I have to respect that. I don’t think he ever made peace with
what was to be shared, and what was private, and I can’t solve that
now.”
She looked at me blankly; she didn’t seem so attractive, after all.
She was clearly out of words. I excused myself expressing an apology for
intruding; and left. She didn’t trust me or perhaps—not anyone. Well, I
know she has a trusting relationship with Pat. But even I trust Pat—when
I’m not being me.

Mar. 19, 2005

Looking back over my previous journal entry I wonder why I ob-


served three times that Susan seemed attractive. I did note she looked
tired, and worn, and seemed a bit disheveled, and lost a bit of the glow
at the end of the encounter (definitely not a meeting). Attractive is not a
description that I have used for a very long time. There was a time when
“attractive” was about the only thing I noticed in a woman. This is be-
tween you and me, Chan.
It is interesting that I didn’t notice that Pat is attractive. She is. I
noticed that a long time ago. But then I also remember when we first met
Pat and Greg. We were at a teacher’s social and sat down at the same
table. As soon as I was introduced, I recall that the word “plain” just
sprung into my mind. I couldn’t dismiss it. I couldn’t help noticing that I
had just never met anyone who seemed to so utterly epitomize the word
plain; no, not ugly—by any stretch. It was like one of Plato’s images, the
word existed, and then the reality came to express the meaning of the
word; Pat was the meaning of plain.
And then I remember many years later; long after Pat and Jane
had become such close friends; Pat came by, unexpectedly, when Jane
was out. I stood in the doorway speaking to her on a bright summer day
with the North Fork Valley visible over her shoulder, and the CPR freight
chugging up the now abandoned railway grade to Eholt and the mill at
Midway. Pat was smiling and making light talk, and I noticed that she
was not just attractive but beautiful. I remembered the first time I met
her, and I thought, “Oh, she is a beautiful person, and you are just seeing

100
the person and not the face.” So—inconspicuously as possible—I exam-
ined her facial characteristics more critically and found she was even
more beautiful. I stepped to one side and tried to unobtrusively observe
more carefully for the features I had noted earlier. But I could find no
trace of the plain that had once struck me so profoundly. It just wasn’t
there. Many times after that day, she would be passing on the street,
and I would catch a wary glance, and I could find no trace of the plain.
She was just plain beautiful, and the strange thing is, I can make no
sense of it. At one time I must have been terribly deluded, though I don’t
do those kinds of drugs these days.
I’ve told you Chan I don’t do/haven’t done those kinds of drugs
for a long time; years before my first encounter with Pat. It puzzles me,
even troubles me, to this day. Was I deluded then; or am I deluded now?
Or did the word lose its enchantment; or is the world really just that
confusing and inconsistent? I tell you Chan, I’ve got problems that aren’t
just about Jane.

Mar. 27, 2005

Susan phoned today. She’s been talking to Pat and says she has
changed her mind again; she will meet and talk to me. I’m invited to her
place for Thursday, but, she is also expecting a call from an important
potential client—we may have to change the day. I’ve heard that she is a
very devoted and capable business woman.
I wonder what Pat said. She probably told her all about Jane. She
probably told her about Chan, and my stress leave, and my observations
in the Lorne. I wonder if she mentioned my brief stay in the psych ward
or the time I got thrown out of city council chambers because I wouldn’t
sit down or stop shouting. That was another time when I really didn’t
know what I was saying; it just kept coming out—all this stuff about Wal-
Mart and prostitution; neither of which exist in the valley, or at least not
by those names. It still troubles me. I think I had something to say there,
though neither I nor anyone else knows what that might be. It certainly
had nothing to do with rezoning agricultural land for a new industrial
“park.”

Mar. 30, 2005

Today, I went to see Susan for the second time. What a differ-
ence. The chickens knew it was spring in the way that only chickens
know about spring. They run around chasing newly hatched insects,

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Meeting Susan
heads down, seriously focused on catching a tasty snack, but so clearly
having fun. It’s like a rite of spring—the way they scratch in the earth—a
scratch here, a scratch-scratch there; a peck here, a peck-peck there.
Like a dozen rototillers churning the earth, dust flying—but not like ro-
totillers, because they were so conscious about the ritual, and so de-
lighted with the Earth reborn. It was the beginning of the nesting/egg-
laying season—the real egg laying season that is about the ancient
rhythm of life which delights their bodies and says, yes, now is the time
to make eggs and get friendly with the rooster. And they cackle in a way
they won’t at any other time of the year, but you wouldn’t know the dif-
ference if you hadn’t raised chickens for a long time.
In the raised beds, the daffodils and narcissus buds had swollen
to near bursting over the past ten days. Indeed, some of these bright
sun-mirrors had already opened tenuously to the new season. Out in the
garden green shoots of fresh growth were poking up through the matted,
decaying weeds of last Fall. Reseeded annuals were beginning to show
as small shoots breaking through the snow compacted earth while the
more cautious perennials remained in winter retreat, but even they were
already showing a softer, slightly greener cast.
Wouldn’t Jane love to run her fingers through the warm, damp
soil today?
The 10 o’clock sun felt warm—spring warm as I got out of my
rust-eaten truck, we once named “Grace” because we were always so
amazed that it started—again. “Amazing” we would say satisfactorily.
“Amazing Grace” it became—and then just “Grace.” Perhaps we were
still looking for/believed in grace—like a saviour.
The dog seemed welcoming this time. Perhaps it’s much like my
judgment of plain and beautiful—it all depends on the perceiver, not the
perceived.
Susan stood at the door smiling warmly. “Come in,” she said and
seemed to mean it. After my last reception, I was a little uneasy, expect-
ing the hostilities to break out at any moment. Once in the door I smelled
coffee. Susan invited me to sit at the dinning room table and offered
coffee. I agreed readily. This was a lot further than I got last time—
perhaps it had just been a bad day. Susan brought cups from the kitchen
with coffee and returned for some home baked cookies.
“You talked to Pat?” I asked matter-of-factly, trying to gently pry
open a conversation. What else could I say? I’d nearly been thrown out
the last time I was here. I tried not to betray my disappointment or anxi-
ety. I recognize that Susan needs to know something about me, before
she can, or will, be willing to share any of her experiences with Deacon
that must still be hauntingly close to the surface.

102
I don’t know what Pat told her. I could see that Pat told her
enough that she leaned forward in her chair as she apologized for our
last encounter. Perhaps her own long, dark winter was also yielding to
the warming sun.
“I am sorry for the loss you’ve been through,” she confided
sympathetically. I tensed, afraid this conversation may not, after all, get
much beyond the last one.
Oh, yes, she and Pat spoke! Now I know some of what she knows
about me. But then, didn’t everyone in this incestuous place know every
thing about every one else? I’ll never forget the time that, over a
neighborly cup of coffee, Dave just came out and asked if I knew Andy
was taking treatment for an impending sex change operation. Lindsey
and John’s dad, lifestyle editor for the paper, my associate/friend that I
thought I knew. Pinching his fingers together and delicately shaking
them like gently ringing an early morning chime before sweeping this
arm away—like dismissing a pesky mosquito, backhandedly—Dave curled
his nose and said “they just tossed ‘em in the garbage like that.” It’s
amazing how little gossip-wise I actually am. Wayne pushing drugs with
this brother and burying the loot in the sock bin at the “Re-New” thrift-
store? Then they had the audacity to report the “theft” to the RCMP!
Somebody had found themselves some valuable socks. And the ever
expanding “Grand Forks Family!” Eventually everyone gets to know when
X was with Y, who used to be with Z, whose children were by O. Some-
times those who should know, learn last.
“Oh, yes,” I sighed—not knowing what else to say— wanting and
not wanting to know what she knows of the “loss” I’ve been through. I
worry that the conversation may never make it around to Deacon, but
Susan jumped directly into the discussion without waiting for an appro-
priate response from me.
“I’m not sure what Pat told you, but Deacon (a rapid breath)
David and I had actually set a wedding date when he had the accident—
the brain injury.”
“Oh, yes,” I reiterated again stupidly. This wasn’t an interview I
didn’t want to interrogate her, but I did want to keep the conversation
going, so I quickly added: “Do you mind telling me what kind of accident
Deacon had and how it affected him?” The journalism thing—it gets into
your DNA.
“I don’t think David (she clearly wanted to revert to his birth
name, I must remember/respect that) ever made peace with the brain
injury. You know the old poem about ‘Rage! Rage! Against the dying of
the light?’ The light wasn’t dying for David, but it always seemed to be
shining from behind him—from the past—casing a shadow on all that lay
ahead. Only perhaps at the school did it ever appear as a beacon from

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Meeting Susan
the future, lighting the path ahead. I think that David felt that, with his
last desperate act in the barn, he was actually stepping forward into the
light. Or perhaps he just felt he was switching the light on to a new life.”
“So how was it for you?” she asked casually picking up her cof-
fee cup—preparing to scrutinize my response.
How was it for me?! I choked, and went flush, and fidgeted, and
felt at a complete loss for what to say. Should I answer for me, or Jane?
Do I have a choice? How could I give an answer for a question for which I
had no answer? I needed a way out, yet I realized, all-to-fully, that I must
make an appropriate response if the conversation was to go on.
“Well,”(Wells seem to be such great places to hide—
conversationally) I hesitated then proceed feeling more confident, “I
guess it is very hard to know what another person’s life is like, especially
in circumstances that most of us would rather not think about.”
There you go. Perhaps we would both make good running backs.
We seem so adept at avoiding a tackle.
“You know,” she began again hesitantly. But I was lost in a
thought. Sitting at the table facing the window with the mid-morning sun
warm on her face, she looked much younger, more relaxed, and even
more attractive than the last time I was here. I remembered “Nibia” the
all black, banty hen that we kept for so many years; the one that laid
eggs every spring for over six years. The one hen that actually seemed
more into laying eggs than hatching them, though once she got the idea
in her mind there was no getting her off the nest until she had a bevy of
young ones following her and scratching in the fresh earth where the
bugs hid. The roosters, every one of them, found her more attractive
than any of the other hens—even when she was three times the age of
any of the rest of them. Even then she was so independent and quick, it
was a rare rooster that got beyond the attraction stage with Nibia.
I picked up my coffee cup and swallowed deeply. I needed the
jolt. All this dozing, this wafting off reminiscing about an attractive banty
hen. I wasn’t present and Susan knew it. She hadn’t gotten beyond “You
know,” She was looking at me like she was going to share a thought, an
important one, and let it go because I was away some where scratching
around in a dusty memory bin.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I pleaded realizing how transparent my absence
had been, thinking that perhaps an admission of the obvious, and an
apology, and some focus on the present might bring us back to the con-
versation we had started.
“You seemed lost in thought.”
“I was. To tell the truth I was thinking about your chickens that
seem so happy that the snow is gone and remembering when I would go
out to the coup early in the morning to let my own chickens out, and how

104
they would rush out the door like children on the last day of school, and
start scratching and dust themselves so sensuously. I was remembering
the time when Jane asked me if I was going to let the chickens out of the
run. It was late in the morning. I had forgotten we had talked about let-
ting the chickens out to start the spring clean up in the garden that year.
And I thought she said ‘free’ the chickens. So I went out with this free
idea, but when I got to the run they were scratching, and pecking, and
dusting, and one of the roosters was after a particular small, black banty,
and I thought they were already free—free to be themselves in a way that
I would never know.”
Susan held her coffee cupped in two hands like the room was
cold and she needed to extract the warmth from the beverage. It’s the
sign of someone, often a prairie person, who has been through very cold
winters in a poorly insulated home. She looked at me softly, acknowledg-
ingly, like she knows me, like now we could talk.
“David kept a journal. It started as notes after the injury. The doc-
tors asked him to keep a journal of how he was doing. I think they
wanted him to be able to keep track of his progress, but I think they also
hoped that in the writing and recording he would come to know, and
understand, and accept who he was; that he would come to see that
recovery from a severe brain injury is kind of like a birthing process. I
suppose if you believed in reincarnation, it would be a great deal like
starting a new life while getting these flash backs of some other life;
some distant, vague, unreachable, intriguing life that was you and will
never be again. Maybe they hoped it would activate his brain and dis-
tract him from his obsession with the unknowable.”
Susan picked up a hard-covered, glue-backed, letter-sized, worn
note book. “This is his first note book; the one he began while still in the
rehab ward. Sometimes the writing isn’t very clear, and some of it may
seem inconsistent or confused, but it is David’s record of the things he
went through starting from several weeks after he awoke from the
coma.”
I reached across the table, hoping she intended to, at least, let
me look at the notes here in the kitchen for a short time this morning.
Surely this would bring some real insight into what David had been
through, and what propelled him toward his fate. But Susan held onto
the notebook firmly with both hands. She was watching me intently, still
asking, with her questioning eyes; who I am and why am I here in her
kitchen asking about the man around whom so much of her life had
revolved?
Suddenly she extended the dark notebook—edges worn to the
underlying white substrate, it looked very fragile. I reached out to meet
her offer, and she released it gently into my hands.

105
Meeting Susan
“I’m willing to lend this to you on the provision that you bring it
back in less than a week, and that you guard it with your life, and that
you do not publish anything that identifies Deacon (she didn’t notice that
she had reverted to the moniker) or any of the people he writes about.
There are other volumes, and if you want you may borrow them—one
volume at a time.”
I noticed that a label was coming unstuck from the cover; it said
July 5, 1989 in bold letters and scrunched under that was inscribed:
David Barnett; Vancouver General Rehabilitation Centre; My Quest. “My
Quest” was in a different ink than the rest of the title, like it had been
added later. I turned a few pages and found that the headings were
simply dates; the first being July 5, 1989; a few spaces over from the
heading date , inscribed in a different ink, was the reiterated title: My
Quest. The handwriting looked nervous, scratchy, uneven. In some
places the pen nearly punches through the page, in others it barely
makes a thin scribble mark.
I looked up in gratitude.
Susan was intently focused. She clearly, still, had something im-
portant to say.
“I guess that before I can let you take this away I need to tell you
that you will find things about me in there. There were things I’m not
proud of. I don’t know what your experience was like, but there was a
time when I felt absolutely panicked, when I didn’t know if I really knew
what was happening; I was so tired, and confused, and frightened, and
alone. I hope you will not judge me too harshly.”
“Reporters are long on facts and short on judgments.” Oh, I hate
this objective, trained, unfeeling hardly human voice. Where does it
come from? Where am I when it speaks? I’m not willing to let it go at
that, not after all Susan has just entrusted me with.
“I’m sorry that was a voice I use too often; it’s someone else’s
words. Actually, I think you were pretty safe from judgment with me. I
know too much about judgment and how it affects the judge. I remember
early in Jane’s illness, hearing of a Kelowna business person that left his
wife of ten years when he learned she had come down with a chronic
degenerative disease, paid her out in a lump sum, packed his things,
and never contacted his family again.
“The judgments I made of that man and the condemnations I ut-
tered would make eternity in the agonies of hell seem like a weekend
spa retreat. And ever after that I bore the damnation of that judgment.
Every time I weakened, and the thought even crossed my mind that I had
gone as far as I could go, done as much as I could do, that I simply
couldn’t bear up under it any longer; there was that judgment searing

106
the word ‘quitter’ into my heart-flesh like a hot branding iron fresh from
the fire.
“Stupid, insensitive, nuts I may be; but judgment you needn’t
fear from me.”
I thumbed the note book. The first entry was July 5, 1989 the
last: Dec 1, 1989. Even over a two month span I could see a steady,
apparent improvement in even just the handwriting.
“So how much ground do these journals cover?” I inquired.
“Other than spells of six months and a year or two in the 90’s he
continued to write in his journal, from the first entries in the ward, to the
day before he hung himself in the barn. In fact the last page is a much
clearer statement of his final intentions than the To Whom It May Con-
cern, suicide note he left in his pocket.”
“Does this first journal cover the actual accident?” I asked in my
interview voice, though I hadn’t intended it to come out that way. It just
seemed that this was a fundamental part of David’s life story.
“Oh, yeah you asked that before didn’t you? I guess I got a bit
distracted.
Well, you have to understand that baseball was more than half of
what life was about for David. He had his music, and he loved it, but
baseball was like the breath of life to him in 1988; he didn’t think about
it, but he couldn’t imagine living without it. Come May of 1989, he was
probably the most enthusiastic member of the team, though likely not
the most talented.
“In 1989 we were living together and planning to get married on
the Canada Day Weekend, but David was already married to baseball. I
know it sounds like a strange mix, music and baseball; but that was just
David. Have you seen a picture of him at that time?” She asked, her eyes
lifting in expectation of an opportunity to get out the photo album.
“The only pictures that I have seen were those out on the table at
the memorial service so I would love to see a picture of David at that
time...” I replied, hoping that bring out the photo album this time would
be more pleasurable for her than putting together the display table at
the memorial service.
The album wasn’t far away because Susan returned momentar-
ily, album in hand. She came around to stand at my side of the table
while opening the album in front of me. She turned the pages whimsi-
cally, then suddenly turned back a page and let the leaves lay open in
front of me.
“Here he is in fine form,” she said with the delight of better times
and memory in her eye and over her face. Perhaps it filled the whole of
her body with some expression of joy remembered that I could never
describe.

107
Meeting Susan
There on the right hand page was the picture of a most hand-
some young man. It’s an action shot. Deacon David was sliding into
home plate, dust in the air, left leg extended reaching for the plate, his
right leg folded back out of the way, leaving no extra exposure to the
catcher, who has just extracted the ball from his glove and is reaching
out, just slightly too late, to tag out this bold runner. In David’s eye there
is clearly a sense of triumph and utter concentration. He clearly believes
that this is the winning point for his Kelowna team.
“You see how happy he is?” Susan asked, smiling, looking
around at me to make sure I have caught the feeling of the moment.
“He was incredibly fit then. He used to run along the lake every
day he didn’t play ball. He was doing eight kilometres in less than 40
minutes. But even then you may notice a bit of a bulge about the middle
there.” She points to the midriff of the dusty, scoring David. “Already he
had a real taste for beer and bakery. You may know the baseball teams
are—very aptly—called the ‘Beer Leagues.’”
She continued flipping the pages. There were pictures of David,
glove in the air, running back for a fly ball, and David at bat, and David in
a team hug bounding into the air as though they had just triumphed in
the 10th inning of the last game of the World Series. There were sweaty
scenes taken in the blazing Okanogan Sun and night scenes with huge
banks of mercury lamps lighting the field.
There were pictures of Susan and David. Sometimes he was not
in a baseball uniform. Sometimes the uniform is clean, fresh—even
pressed. Some times it is filthy with sweat and dirt. He looked happy.
Susan’s gaze was most often turned, at least slightly, toward David. If
there is a difference between their two expressions, David seemed to be
saying “this is great;” Susan seemed to express contentment—she was
happy to be with him.
The last picture in the album is of David holding a frothing can of
beer up toward the photographer. There’s a picnic cooler on the ground,
and other players are reaching into it... Some are standing around hoist-
ing or holding cans of beer which seem to be uniformly white cans with
red and blue lettering. All the players look incredibly happy.
“This last photo was taken on the evening of the accident,”
Susan commented matter-of-factly. “They had just beaten the Penticton
team by a single point—the point David scored on; an error in the 9th
inning. The first baseman grabbed a fast, bouncing ground ball four
meters off of first base and had decided to out the batter before tossing
across the mound to where David was just arriving at third base on a
dash from second. The hurried toss was over thrown, and David got the
nod to go for the winning score—which he made narrowly.

108
“Out came the ice chests from under the benches and the beer
began to flow—flow as fast and steady as if they had poured it from a tap
as they pulled tab after pull tab.”
Indeed, sitting across the table from Susan, who had returned to
her seat, I could almost feel the bite of the ice cold beer and taste the
hint of bitter hops behind the nutty malt.
“I never developed a taste for beer, so—as usual—I went home
expecting David to be dropped off slightly inebriated by one of his bud-
dies about the time the late news came on. However I got this surprise
call from the hospital around 9:30. They said David had had a slight
injury and that he wanted me to come pick him up. The person who
called sounded so casual that I didn’t think much of it. Perhaps he had
re-injured his all-too-vulnerable knee.
“But, actually, what happened was: after both teams moved
down to the Whistle Stop to revel in the fun and joust about the events of
the evening and drink some more beer, David—who was the gagster
among a bunch of buffoons—ended up on Mark’s lap in some kind of
taunt over Mark’s inept throw to third which cast his whole manly capa-
bilities into doubt.
“You probably understand such stuff better than I?” Susan
tossed out the questioning statement, playing with the idea that men
understand men things, and—therefore, men better than women do.
“I don’t know that I understand men or women at all, so we’ll
have to go with what you know for now,” I replied in a candid, uncharac-
teristic way.
“Well, anyway. David was in Mark’s lap, and Mark was a big guy
and didn’t want a guy—no matter how good a ball player—in his lap; and
so when Mark stood up to collapse David’s reluctant human chair, David
rolled over and onto the floor. And that wouldn’t have meant much, ex-
cept that David hit at an angle and sort of whip lashed his upper body
against the floor. No one thought much of it until they noticed that David
wasn’t getting up. A player with first aid experience checked David’s
pulse which was regular and strong, David was awake, though a little
dazed; but a further examination revealed that David’s collar bone had
been fractured. Now the Kelowna Warriors had an injured warrior, so a
bunch of them headed off, triumphantly, to the hospital with David.”
“So there was no sign of a brain injury?” I asked, feeling a little
perplexed at the seemingly casual diagnosis.
“No, David went to the hospital strictly to get the collar bone set.
Apparently he was acting a bit overtired and distracted, but the doctors,
staff and his friends didn’t pay much attention at first as he had been
drinking. If it hadn’t been for the broken collar bone he wouldn’t have
gone to the hospital and likely would not have survived the night.

109
Meeting Susan
“I arrived shortly after his collar bone had been dealt with and
was getting ready to take him home when one of the nurses noticed that
his eyes were becoming widely dilated. Doctors were called for in a hurry,
and the next thing I knew he was being prepared for an operation to
relieve pressure that was building up inside his skull. Actually they took a
piece out of his skull which was why he always wore a hat after that.
“After that everything changed.
“There were complications, or problems, with the first operation,
and he was flown to Vancouver to be seen by and operated on by a Neu-
rosurgeon there. The bleeding was apparently much more widespread
than they guessed in Kelowna. It had progressed all the way down the
stem of his brain.”
The easy going, almost playful mood of our conversation
changed. Susan was not looking at me, nor smiling. She seemed to be in
some distant place, likely Vancouver.
“Once out of the operating room in Vancouver, he lay in a hospi-
tal bed for six weeks—full of tubes; breathing, and pumping blood but
showing no other signs of the energetic, passionate, always-busy David I
was engaged to marry. He got food and water through a tube. His other
needs were attended to by a nurse, when I wasn’t there.
“We held conferences with the doctors and staff. They said we
should talk to him as though he could hear what we were saying. We
should talk of times gone by, and hold his hand, and read poems, and
play music, and vary our tone, and our feelings, and talk about the future
which we couldn’t imagine.
“We took shifts by his bed in Vancouver. I had a superficially
pleasant relationship with David’s mother, but between shifts, we would
sometimes venture into the cafeteria, and we would talk. We would talk
about David; and the first time he climbed onto the piano stool and
started pounding on the keys, and of his patience with the lessons, and
how he was torn between music lessons and the impromptu baseball
game in the empty lot at the end of the block where the city ended and
the ‘pipe’ hadn’t yet arrived, in those days.
“She asked how I was doing, and held my hand saying how im-
portant it was to ‘look after yourself as well.’”
“And how did you look after yourself?” I asked, feeling, once
again, that the telling of the story was so clear and intense that I could
almost see the events as they took place.
“It wasn’t easy traveling to Vancouver, and staying with friends
every other week; worrying that David might never come back; worrying
about the small bookstore which we had started less than a year earlier.
We had part time staff that had been working one day a week and a
couple of afternoons in addition to the ‘emergencies’ which came just at

110
the times I needed off badly. Now Lydia was working most of the weeks I
was away and Adam was doing as much as he could—considering his
studies. I came to the hospital to see David every day I was in Vancouver
and stayed for eight hours or more each visit. Even with the help, we
were getting behind on orders and stocking. I’m not sure what I ate dur-
ing that time.
“One day, on my way to the hospital, driving along the Stanley
Park causeway from North Vancouver, not thinking about the road or
anything other than worrying how long my sanity would last with such
long hours, and so much worry, and such an uncertain future. Whack! I
heard a loud bang against the car just as I was coming up to the Lagoon,
and the steering wheel shook in my hand, and looking behind me, there
was a cloud of feathers—the brutalized body of a Canada goose lay
squished on the road. I pulled over into the bus turnout. A bus driver
shouted ‘you can’t park here,’ but I did. This man carrying the flattened
remains of the goose came running, and shouting obscenities, and say-
ing I was a murderer and an idiot.
“Suddenly I snapped and started shouting back about what an
idiot he was, and cursing angrily, and then I started crying helplessly. He
just stood there frozen, looking stupid and numb until I kicked him and
ran for the car. Clearly, I’d come to the limits of sanity and crossed over.”
Susan seemed to be re-shouldering the whole experience as she re-
called these events. She looked at me questioningly; I didn’t know what
the question was, nor the answer, so I just smiled reassuringly—as reas-
suringly as I am capable.
“The most difficult thing was the not knowing. How long would
this go on? What would it be like when David woke up? Would we ever
get our lives back? Then one day I was about to leave the hospital and
pack for the trip back to Kelowna. I was sitting at the side of his bed
talking aimlessly. Actually I had become quite adept at one way conver-
sations and, almost, looked forward to them. They tended to result in
some clarity and a much needed sense of rest.
“I was just letting go of his hand; I was thinking of how, with his
shaved head and fixed eyes, he reminded me of the Kari Krishnas that I
had seen on the street corner, and I remembered the reading that David
had been doing in the months before the accident. He’d been going back
and forth to the library and checking out books on meditation and East-
ern religions, and he’d been saying that we needed a more spiritual
dimension to the bookstore. Then he blinked! Barbara, his mother was
due any minute, but he had blinked and turned his head to catch my eye
with an expression that could only mean ‘Where am I?!’ A few more
flutterings, and his eyes showed dreary, but clear consciousness—like it

111
Meeting Susan
was a weekend, and he had slept in so late he wasn’t sure it was a
weekend; or how he might ascertain that.
“Six weeks in a coma and he was, at least, coming to. It would be
weeks before he could eat much or talk in sentences. As you know by
now, he would spend the rest of his life recovering.”
“Well,” she said, picking up the photo album, turning it around in
her hands a number of times—nervously. “I guess that was pretty much
the accident basics. You look through the first of David’s notes, and if
you were still interested, we can talk some more. I’m not sure why I am
lending these to you. They are very important to me, but Pat says she
has known you for a long time, and you are a good and trustworthy per-
son. None-the-less, if I don’t get this back in two weeks, I’ll be calling
you, and I won’t be happy.” She let the conversation and her voice drop
suddenly, to add emphasis to the final warning.
“How do you feel about talking about David?” I asked, genuinely
concerned that she might be changing her mind or find it too painful to
talk about the tragically concluded past so soon after the difficult times
of the last few months.
“No, I think it is somehow good to talk about it. He took his own
life, but a great deal of my life is about his life, and I don’t want that to
die just because he is gone,” she spoke with resolution, and I could see
she was struggling to rise above the emotion that was choking her voice
a few moments earlier. She forced a tenuous smile, and, from the lan-
guage of her body, I read that it was time to go.
Out in the coup a matronly Barred Rock hen fluffed herself sen-
suously in the dust dreaming of a clutch of eggs and little ones to be
taught how to find the right sized speck of gavel to facilitate the mushing
of seeds in the crop; a handsome Rhode Island rooster strutted after one
of the laying hens trying to convince her it is, in deed, time for a well
fertilized clutch of eggs. Several Narcissus had burst open while Susan
and I talked in the kitchen. The sun was warm like late spring. The first
cut of hay was already breaking through the winter-trodden fields. The
door to the barn hung open as though breathing in the new season.

112
Recovery
David Barnett: My Quest

July 5, 1989

What’s happened to me?


Write. Write what? My hand doesn’t work. My head doesn’t work.
I have to piss in a bucket. I’ll never play baseball again. I’ll never play the
piano again. Write about what; about how lucky I am to be alive; about
how great it is that every body I know has to give up their lives to be with
me because I don’t have a life? Give me a break. No, I guess my breaks
all ran out.
Write? Write what? Anything, they said; he said: “Just write any-
thing you happen to think about, and then you’ll think about more to
write.” What if I just drive a car that I can’t drive; will I have more cars to
drive? So I’ll just write about not writing, and I’ll be a good boy?
Write; ok. What about getting transferred to this stinking room
with all these nut cases. One flew over the cookos nest, but I got
dropped off—six weeks incubating.

July 9, 1989

God damn; fuck; shit. There! They say I’m cursing when I sure
don’t remember. So there, I’ll write it. I’ll be guilty as well as accused of
guilty.
I have to be in this room because I’m loud and cursing. But no-
body says I’m cursing when I’m cursing, just this doctor comes around
and says I’m cursing—the same one that says I should write; so I guess I
god damn well better write.

113
Recovery
Write what? Oh, yeah, I’m really happy. I’m not as bad off as
some of the guys around here. Some of them have been here for a long
time, and they still can’t feed themselves—or wipe their ass. I’m getting
out of here. They don’t like me here. I don’t like them here. They say I’m
loud. I’m not behaving properly. Who is proper—these guys who quietly
open their mouths every time a spoon comes around?
I tell you, if I could walk, I’d bust out of here today. I’d go be sane
and have my life back. Where’d my life go? Strange how you never think
about it, when you have a life; how your life is just a few brain cells, and
all else is just senseless nothing, just doing something without knowing,
or remembering, or being anything. A few brain cells, I don’t have any-
more. What do these guys think? Do they think a person isn’t going to be
a little angry when he doesn’t have his brain cells? What if I just took
some of theirs? Would they still go around with their finger to their
mouths saying “shush?”

July 12, 1989

Susan was here today. I know she has been before, but strangely
I don’t remember much—not even after I “woke up.” Not only do I not
remember my life before, I don’t remember my life the day after I have a
life. But today I remember. She put her arms around me and kissed me,
on the head first, then on the lips. And I felt wet tears dropping on my
neck. She says I’m doing well; much better than the doctors expected.
Six weeks coming down from Kelowna to sit by me! I love her; she means
so much to me. There never has been anyone else in my life like her. She
says Jake, our border collie, is languishing without me. Oh, I want my life
back.
The last doctor I talked to said I won’t be a carpenter again, but I
will be. And, if not that, we’ll make the bookstore work, and Susan and I;
we’ll work together. We’ll have the best bookstore in Kelowna and make
lots of money. She’s been trying to tell me about the accident, but I can’t
remember any of it. I mean her story sounds so plausible, and I am here
in the hospital, and I’m stumbling around or being pushed around, and
jerking around; and I’m trying to write or talk; and it all seems so broken;
but I try to think about the baseball game, or the hospital in Kelowna, or
falling out off somebody’s lap in a pub; and its just a impenetrable blank.
It’s like reading a book, then some one says this is actually the life of
David Christopher Barnett, and that’s me, and I don’t know anything
about it. What if they said I did something bad? But then how could all
these good people be coming around if I had done something bad?

114
Susan said that if it hadn’t been for the accident, we’d be mar-
ried already. I remember things now. The older they are, the better I
remember them. I remember that Susan and I have been living together
for three years, and I remember Jake—though I haven’t seen him yet. I
think I remember talking about the wedding. It was going to be informal,
we had agreed on that; a visit to a Justice of the Peace, and a reception:
a big reception; a potluck reception; but we’d buy beer, and wine, and a
hall—incase it rained. I guess it did kind of rain on that parade! It was
going to be July 1—the wedding.

July 22, 1989

Oh, I remembered something; I remembered the first time Susan


and I made love. Hey, nobody better be reading this. I was supposed to
write, but no body said anything about reading anything I write. I remem-
ber because it was like no other. Nobody ever made love for the first
time like that. Nobody thought about it like that. We’d been going out for
months—six months and we’d been close, but one day she just said, “It’s
time”—like that, matter-of-factly. She said, “Don’t plan anything this
weekend.” And she meant it. She started birth control, and on Saturday
we went for a ride along the lake, and where the orchards end we got out
and went for a walk with a sleeping bag in the packsack, and when we
came to this peninsula with some scrub bush and a few trees with a view
of the lake north and south, Susan said, smiling radiantly, “This looks
good;” and we spread out the sleeping bag and took off our clothes—
matter-of-factly—in the warm sun, and we lay down to be sweaty lovers
on a hot Okanogan summer day. It was so easy, and wholesome, and
good, and natural; and by the third time that day, we were lovers in a way
I couldn’t explain; we were old lovers and new lovers, oh, we were to-
gether. We were just together in spirit. Our wet, sweaty bodies and our
spirits mingled, and I felt utterly at one with her. I guess we were sort of
married there under the trees, looking out over the lake, digging our
heels and toes into the warm sand, trying desperately to continue our
thrashing around without ending up in the lake which was down slope—
sloping away toward the water.
That’s definitely a part of my past I’d love to redo, just like we did
it before.

Aug. 6, 1989

115
Recovery
I’ve been reading a lot these days. Well, no, I haven’t been read-
ing a lot—not like the books I used to read. I used to read novels, and
how to do it books, and baseball history and strategy. Now I read news-
papers. I can usually get through a newspaper article with a little pa-
tience. If I get lost it is easy enough to glance back up the narrow column
and pick up at someplace I can remember being. I’ve heard it’s written to
grade five standards. If I just give up, I haven’t lost much. These things
are made for ten-year-olds, you know? The thing is, I can read a newspa-
per story, and put it down, and then later start another story, and nothing
has anything to do with anything else—it’s kind like my mind—nothing
has any connection—it’s just little port holes looking out at little things
that happen briefly. Some times it is astounding; I’ll understand some-
thing, even in context, even for awhile, and it all seems so natural, and
clear; and I think, for a moment, I’m there, back where I started, where
everything makes sense and comes together in a package—
understandable. And then it just comes apart like an ice sculpture on a
summer day, and I can see the remnants, but I can’t imagine how they
once were, or how they fit, or what I understood a short time before.
Sometimes I try to re-read the original story thinking it would be easier
the second time, but really its harder because I keep wanting it to spring
back into place, and it doesn’t, and I get frustrated at trying to put to-
gether what I already had together; and I just make a big mess of it.
Sometimes I take it out on the paper. It makes me feel good—this
revenge of a kind—this messing with what’s messing with my mind—if I
have a mind. No body cares what I do to the paper—it’s all waste to be
discarded. Imagine that you cut down trees and smush um up and go
through all that work to put words on the smush; and you have it for less
than a day, and you just throw it out! And they say I’m having problems
when they find crumpled and tattered paper strips around where I am
reading. I do have a mind, and it works at times, and it’s getting better—I
think. Sometimes I read the whole sports page, and it makes perfect
sense—even an hour later. New York—3: Toronto—5. Not only makes
sense, it makes good sense to me. Better than Vancouver—3; Edmon-
ton—14. Even then I try to tell someone who should care, and they say,
“You can’t mix apples and oranges.” What? Baseball and football are on
the same page. The sports page is a cocktail of sports! Ha. A Cocktail of
Sports!
You already said that! You already said that! You asked me about
that yesterday/an hour ago! When are you going to get off the topic?
How many times do we have to go over this? What does it matter what’s
in the paper today? Can’t we talk about something else? You know it’s
hard enough when the lame-brained staff give me this “We’ve heard it
before,” stuff, but even Susan seems overly sensitive. I hardly get inter-

116
ested in something, and everyone else is “tired of it.” How can you talk to
people when they’re already tired of hearing from you before you can
even get an idea out? So what if I bring something up twice—is it really
that bad to care about something more than once? Isn’t it better to be
interested twice than not at all? I’m cursing(they say), but they’re
“shush”ing. They shush on just about everything. Maybe it’s a good thing
this writing—it should be hard to shush on writing! The problem is that
even when I write I hear this shushing in my head. It says—like some
other voice: “Hey, haven’t you said that before?” And maybe I have, but
I’m learning to unshush the head stuff a little. Fuck the shush, I can’t be
expected to be normal when I’m in here, because I’m not. If I can’t talk
about what I think, what’s the use in thinking? Just to hear the marbles
rattling around inside—make sure there are still marbles to rattle?
I bet when Dr. Cowie said, “Write,” he didn’t mean write about Hi-
roshima day. I’m sure he’d shush on Hiroshima Day—or on me talking
about it on any day. This stuff is important—there is two pages of it in the
paper today—but I haven’t found anyone this morning a little bit inter-
ested. The other inmates don’t shush. They just stare at me like some
nonsense-talking apparition. I say, “Hey, did you read this about Hi-
roshima Day?” and they look at me like I’m some sort of mute guy speak-
ing to the deaf.
Cowie meant write about my legs that don’t work, and my head
that doesn’t work, and my dreams that I’ll never live. When will I get back
in the sack with Susan? When will we ever be the couple we were before
the accident? I feel her love whenever she is here, and I know that she
was with me when I wasn’t here, but sometimes, now, I reach out, and I
feel some hesitation, some slowness to respond as though she has to
think about reaching back, as though she isn’t sure.
But, Hiroshima Day. I got a paper, a Vancouver paper today. It’s
the first paper I haven’t smucked since waking up in this dreadful place.
I wanted to know about the Blue Jays. It’s all a farce, I know it’s a farce—
all this team spirit for a bunch of multi-million dollar professionals that
have no connection to the “home town” other than their fat bank ac-
counts. But I want them to be the home team. I want to cheer for some-
thing that I feel a part of. I feel a part of Canada. I feel Canada is human
sized—all thirty million of us. When I see the red and white maple leaf
flying, I don’t feel like pledging allegiance like the Yanks do. I just feel
proud that we aren’t Yanks, that we still have some democracy here, and
we still have public healthcare. And I just feel it is good for the world
when the Blue Jays win.
Oh, Hiroshima Day. The Jays won on an error—winning is winning.
Oh, yeah, Hiroshima day. It’s Hiroshima day; there was a two page article
on it in the paper. I just can’t imagine someone inflicting the kind of pain

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Recovery
that I have suffered onto another person on purpose. What were they
thinking? Sure they wanted the Japanese to surrender for fear of the
power of the bomb. But they had two bombs ready to go. They could
have made demands and offered to demonstrate their hand on a
dummy, evacuated island. They could have hit a military target. It even
says that in the paper. But in the morning when kids were off to school
and people off to work; “Little Boy” detonated over a civilian population.
According to the article, the survivors still suffer the consequences of the
radiation that blasted through their bodies for the rest of their lives—the
images in their mind; how can they possibly deal with such horror? One
hundred and forty thousand people dead within the year; many just
vaporized, others in pieces, others with the flesh stripped off their bones;
200,000 directly attributed deaths.
Funny(strange) I thought of it before. It seemed terrible. I didn’t
like it. I wished it hadn’t happened. But I never thought of just the raw,
naked, incomprehensible suffering of it.
How many people died in the bombing of the federal building in
Oklahoma? How come no one relates those lost broken lives and fami-
lies to the 200,000 dead and the horrendous illnesses that followed and
families looking through the rubble, when there was no massive relief
effort, for hopes of finding a loved one—even if only to bring closure. In
the end, there is little difference between war criminals and war heroes;
it means those who lost and those who won respectively—little else.
I just noticed tear drops on the page. I’m so damn emotional
these days. Life hurts. I haven’t cried like this over my own losses—why?
I’m angry. If I were angry about Hiroshima instead of sad, they’d bust me
out of here for being a subversive or “terrorist.” Imagine those guys who
planned the bombing of Hiroshima, they’re the same bunch that poi-
soned the rice fields in Vietnam, and destroyed the jungle with cancer-
causing chemicals known to cause severe birth defects, and bombed
people with a gel that once it touched flesh just kept burning through the
body, and killed off millions of Asian people to keep them from electing a
communist government. And then you think of what they’ve done in
Nicaragua and El Salvador and Guatemala.
God, I gota get off this thought, or I’ll shred another paper.
I thought Susan was coming today?
What the heck am I gonna do for the rest of my life?

Aug. 14, 1989

You won’t believe what happened today. There is a piano in the


recreation room. It scares me when I go in there. It just sits there and

118
calls to me. “Come try your luck!” it says; it taunts; it knows who I am; it
knows how I got here; it knows more about my future than I do; and it
calls me; it frightens me. I’ll never swing a hammer again. I’ll never walk
normal without all this extra jangling around like all the other “walk-
ing”/broken victims I see around here, I’ll never be whole. And this piano
calls to me “come try your luck!” If I could swing a hammer, it just might
be my first project.
But today you wouldn’t believe what happened. I got someone to
take the bench away, and there was no one other than a janitor and
physio in the room when I arrived, so I steered the wheelchair over by the
piano, and I bent the foot supports back and got close enough to the
keys to reach out and touch them. They called to me like a friend, like a
long lost friend, like a lover lost, who wants to come home from a far
away place. I could see the shiny ivory calling me to touch it like a cat
hungry for affection in the morning, and the black keys like a mouse to
be pounced on. So I raised my right hand, which still moves somewhat
like a hand is supposed to move, and I struck a long resonant middle d
and a and c and a short run of Happy Birthday; it’s my birthday tomor-
row. And I felt awkward, and I had no sense of timing, and—of course—no
beat; but I hammered out enough of a melody that the physio asked
whose birthday it was. I told her I didn’t know because I don’t like being
fussed over. Then I pecked out a halting Tom Duley; and after that Down
in the Valley. And my timing improved, or at least it evened out.
By this time some of the warders came into the room and gath-
ered around the piano and asked if I could play favorites, which I mostly
couldn’t, because they were too complex and need timing, or couldn’t be
understood without a beat. One fella was moved to tears when I man-
aged an approximation to Red River Valley, it seemed to be attached to
fond memories from when he was whole. One person, who had been in a
choir, sang along to Amazing Grace, and I played it over, and the rest did
their best to sing along to this crude, melody-only rendition of this song
of salvation.
Then this guy started shouting, “Deacon, Deacon, we’ve got a
Deacon.” He meant pianist who can in the crudest way hammer out
Amazing Grace, but they all picked up this chant, Deacon, we’ve got a
Deacon.” And I played more songs until I was exhausted, and they asked
me to play Amazing Grace one more time before I quit, and I tried but my
hand went limp and wouldn’t rise above the keys. Still they thanked me
and at lunch they applauded when I came in and shouted “Deacon,
Deacon, We’ve got a Deacon,” together like a chant.
I’m embarrassed in a way. I’m not a deacon, and I’m not even a
competent or capable pianist—anymore. I’m not a Christian. I’ve never
been to a Christian church since I was a little guy, and that was rare. The

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Recovery
Buddhists say life is suffering, so you better learn to deal with it; that
sounds pretty close to the truth I know. I’ll have to look into what they
know. But I’ve been called worse than Deacon, and around here it’s
probably better to be called something you aren’t than the usual memory
challenged, “Hey, you, butch, in the blue chair” and that’s only if they
know you. Otherwise, it’s just like you don’t have a name—a remembered
name—so you can’t be very real. So, for now, it doesn’t bother me—this
Deacon thing.

Sept. 8, 1989

I play the piano almost every day, and I am getting better. I even
play some simple base runs. Sharps and flats are beginning to creep into
the repertoire. Most delightfully I am remembering more and more
songs. I tried learning a new song, but that didn’t work at all.
My friends have picked up this Deacon thing, and they think it’s
funny, and they keep saying it; even though, with them I feel embar-
rassed, and, sometimes, I think they are mocking me.
I’ve started walking short distances. What a giant step for this
human being! Imagine telling your leg, consciously: up, out, extend,
down, relax, other foot, up…and with each step I feel like I am falling
over. They say it’s like the piano; the more I do it the easier it will be-
come.
I’m in trouble. The administration isn’t happy with me. Friends
from Kelowna, from the baseball team, have been by to see me, and we
checked out of this place and went out partying. It’s the first time I’ve
had a life, the first time I’ve had a drink, or smoke since the accident.
Sure we got in late, but I wasn’t as loud as they said. And I sure as hell
didn’t threaten anyone; most definitely not the night security. Can’t any-
one live around here? Do these guys own my life? What happened to
privacy? I didn’t commit a crime by getting injured; why should I get
treated like a prisoner? I sure fooled the bartender when he said I was
too drunk, and I said that as a person with a brain injury, I had rights to
be alive and to look like I was drunk, and be treated like a human being,
and I had lawyers to back me up. Boy, did the word lawyers ever back
him off, like a nest of hornets were after his neck.
Susan came to see me. May be I was wrong. Maybe nothing’s
wrong. Maybe it’s just hard to reestablish a relationship that isn’t what it
used to be, and with someone who isn’t who he used to be and never
will be. What if I were in her place? If she were here struggling to walk, to
“not be so loud,” to remember what life was like before it all came un-
glued? I honestly don’t know. Would I be here as regular as she? Would I

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have driven to Vancouver every other week while the work piled up at
home and at the store? What would I say if she’d yelled at me to “get the
fuck out” over some stupid incident I can’t even remember? It’s just
there is this sadness to her like she is brooding on something serious. It
makes me feel uncomfortable.
But she was here and we went out to eat in China town where we
used to go every time we came to Vancouver, then we went up town to
Granville St. Oh, did I have fun shocking this poor guy—this poor, dumb-
cluck, long-haired freak; sort of like me before I had my head shaved. So
here’s the thing about this brain injury, sometimes it’s kind of fun, kind
of an eye opener because you don’t see things in the normal way—in the
way everybody else sees it. It’s kind of like looking in one of those distort-
ing mirrors where everything is wider, and longer, and misshapen; and all
the parts move disproportionately, and you know it isn’t real, but you see
it, and it looks like a reflection of reality, but different; so what can you
do but laugh—or look away? But, with a brain injury you can’t look away
because the mirror just follows you.
So here we are walking (I’m not walking, of course) down the
street, and this long-hair comes along looking real serious, and underfed,
and not paying attention, and off some where else. Maybe he’s going
somewhere. Maybe he’s just going. And I’m looking at his hair and think-
ing about all the hair I used to have; but he isn’t thinking about the hair I
used to have, or the fact that I don’t have any hair to speak of. He’s just
looking down, when he should be looking up. Granville is a dangerous
place with cars and busses and people. So it occurs to me that if I had
half of his hair, and he had half of my lack of hair, we’d both be happy
and normal, but then we wouldn’t be because we aren’t happy, and we
aren’t normal; and the hair doesn’t have anything to do with it. And then
without thinking of it, and somehow because of all this stuff I’ve been
thinking, I just shout, “Hey, long-hair. Why don’t you get a hair cut?”—real
loud and confrontational like—like he is suppose to realize this is a joke
because this recently shaved, bristle-headed long-hair is shouting at this
unshaved long-hair to get a hair cut.
It just seemed so funny to me. But it didn’t to him, and he looked
at me like I was some kind of freak to have stubble where hair should
be, and to care anything about his hair cut, and it just seemed so utterly
funny to me, and I started laughing and laughing and almost fell out of
the wheelchair, and Susan tied to quiet me. Then she just tried to keep
me in the chair, and by this time the long-hair was already to the next
corner; and I was still laughing so much it was starting to hurt, and that
was funny, and so I laughed some more. And people looked at me like I
was funny or mad; why else would I be in a wheelchair with a bristle-
head; laughing?

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Recovery
When I got done laughing my sides ached, and Susan wasn’t
mad at me any more because the laughing was contagious, and she had
been laughing and enjoying herself; relaxed maybe for the first time
since I wore up.

Sept. 23, 1989

Good news, good news and news.


Good news: I’m walking. I was walking with a walker that I have
to lunk around with me. Now I’m walking with a cane and sometimes
without a cane. This old Deacon is becoming a walking Deacon after all.
Good news: I’m playing the piano and typing with both hands—
sort of. I don’t stutter so much. I get through whole sentences and some-
times a statement without wondering what the heck I’m saying and what
I am going to say next.
News: They don’t like me here. They say I’m loud. They don’t like
my friends. They say I can’t stay here much longer. They say my friends
are loud and don’t follow the rules. I don’t fit here. I’m trying to find a way
out. Susan is worried that I’m not ready to come home; I’m worried that
she isn’t ready for me to come home. I can walk, and I can write, so why
don’t I sign myself out of here and walk out? They say I need more rehab,
but what rehab am I getting? Mostly I just sit around waiting for someone
to show up for a few minutes, and ask a few questions, and suggest I try
to walk a little more. Tests, I get tests and lousy food. I feel more like a
rat being trained to run a labyrinth than like a human learning to get a
life back.
Oh, Susan, where are you? What’s happening to us? I need you
so much. I love you so much? Yet sometimes you seem to look away, just
when we are getting in touch again. A broken body I can bear, and even
it is beginning to mend. A broken mind; I guess I lost so much I’m not
sure what all I lost. But losing you would just be too much. Before the
accident there were so many things in my life: baseball, and work, and
music, and partying, and hiking, and skiing, and swimming, and reading;
and plans for holidays, and you. We were planning a wedding; I remem-
ber. Do you? When will we ever get around to planning a wedding again?
Why did all this happen just when so much of life was coming together
for us? All those little spats about developing the store, or going out, or
staying in, or drinking too much, they just all seem so small beside what
is really important. I remember the swing in the back yard and us sitting
in it. I remember picking apples from the trees and the pears we dried
even though they were scabby. I remember Jake and how happy he
always was to see us coming home. Oh, I want to come home. I want to

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see Bess and Jim next door. I want to just go down and watch a ball
game. I want to put my arms around you and never let go.

Oct. 6, 1989

Home at last. Thank God almighty; I’m home at last. Jake was so
happy to see me. And Susan and I got into our bed and did what I’ve
needed to do for a very long time. Oh, it is so much more than just sex or
love; it’s the elixir of life. For a few moments to feel absolutely at peace—
at one, commingled with Susan like the sea and the shore, or—perhaps—
like the sea and the ever restless, eternally peaceful waves cresting,
coming to shore, and withdrawing to the source, and coming again, and
nothing divided; only this ever moving, always peaceful, utterly one pulse
of existence. I’ve never been happier. I’m home. I remember Martin
Luther King’s magnanimous statement with his arms outstretched to
embrace a truth/feeling that was greater than all the human bondages
of any time. “Free at last; Free at last; Thank God All Mighty, I’m Free at
last.” I’m home, and I’m free, and I’m happy as I’ve ever been—as any-
one has ever been.
The garden looks neglected, but there is a frost-burnt zucchini,
and a few over-ripe, wilted tomatoes on straggly broken vines, and
bolted lettuce, and dill gone to seed, and withered beet greens with
magnificent, full, succulent red beets just above the surface of the
ground. I had a most tasty carrot. And the apples, past picking time, but
full, and ripe, and sweet cider flavoured when you bite into them.

Oct. 15, 1989

Susan says I’m angry all the time. Now that really pisses me off
because I’m not angry. Wouldn’t she be angry if she had this body that
works like my computer with this damn memory eating virus? You move
the mouse, and then wait, and the mouse jerks around, and stutters,
and finally moves up to somewhere like where I point it; but by then I’ve
moved on to what I actually want to do, and the mouse pointer limps
along four steps back, thinking about everything—every little step and
reluctant about anything I ask it to do. And finally I just give up, and go
read something. If I could drive I’d take the damn thing into the shop
myself. I guess I had this body in the shop, and it didn’t help much. Is
there no difference between angry and unhappy?
But I’m not unhappy that much. Can’t anybody give me a little
space? Actually, I’m happy. I was just thinking of Scrooge, you know,

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Recovery
Christmas Scrooge, Charles Dickens’ Scrooge. I feel like Scrooge some-
times—the saved/enlightened Scrooge. Remember how all those ghosts
came to visit in the night, and he was shown his own grave, and he saw
how there had to be more to life than business? I just looked it up:
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered
Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind
was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy,
forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of
my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my
business!"
And remember Scrooge’s elation when he realizes he is not
dead, and he can yet experience the world as alive and full of love?
“’I am here — the shadows of the things that would have been,
may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!’
“His hands were busy with his garments all this time; turning
them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying
them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.
“I don't know what to do!' cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in
the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his
stockings. 'I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel; I am as
merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man.'”
Susan feels I am angry, but really I am as happy as the re-
deemed Scrooge. I am here. The shadow of not being here has been
dispelled. And along with it the shadow of just assuming that I can just
bumble along wasting this precious existence, not knowing, not worship-
ing each moment, each experience, and perception—that’s all gone. I
was just looking at this table, this imperfect kitchen table that I made
three years ago when Susan and I first started living together. There’s
spots where the glue spilled, and the stain won’t hold, and a crack where
the wood wasn’t perfectly dry, and it rocks slightly if the equalizing felt
comes out from under one of the legs; but it wasn’t turned out from
some conveyor belt where nobody knows or cares about anything other
than production quotas and take-home-pay assembly lines. I made it
with my own hands, for us, for our life together, and yesterday I had this
compunction, and I ran my hand all over the table, the top, and sides,
and legs, and bracing; I felt every little grain; I felt how imperfect and
perfect it was. I just wanted to be in touch with the life and love that
went into this symbol of our coming together. And I felt I would never
have done a silly thing like that if it weren’t for the accident, and, mo-
mentarily, I was shaken by the feeling of some strange gratitude for the
accident that makes me alive in a way that I wasn’t before.

124
Oh, yes I was down watching a game between the Kelowna Rock-
ets and the Winlaw Packers. I knew most of the players. For some of
them this was the first time I have seen them since May. It was great.
Then we went down to the Whistle-stop. That was strange; walking in
with a cane unsteady, hesitant like a condemned man to the gallows.
The side walk seemed to cling to my feet reluctant to let me go in. And
inside the whole place shifted beneath me like riding one of the Island
ferries in high winds with big swells—shifting unsteady. I had to see it,
but I felt sick—unsteady. And there it was the very seat where I had been
bounced onto the floor and everything changed.
“Deacon,” somebody toward the back of the pub called me.
“Deacon!” It was Juan Fernandez. He had been on the team for a short
time. I hardly knew him, yet he called out, “Deacon,” and the cry went
around the pub, “Deacon, Deacon, Deacon”—like the old David was
dead, and I’d come back, reborn to a new life as “Deacon.”
“Will somebody get the Deacon a beer?” “Beer! Beer for the
Deacon!” they shouted, and the bar maid came scurrying with beer. “On
the house!” she said. And smiling affectionately she added, “I don’t often
get to serve a Deacon in here!”
I had dreaded this moment, going back to where it all began, but
it was more like a homecoming. I loved it. Susan was mad because I
came home so drunk. I’m not the only angry person around here.

Dec. 10, 1989

Oh, no this can’t be. Why? Dear Lord, God that I’ve never written
to, or prayed to, or known anything about, but if you’re up there and you
can hear; please make this not so.
No. No. No. This can’t be happening to me. Not after all we’ve
been through; all the joys and all the struggles, and being together for so
long, and facing death itself with her at my side; and why did I wake up?
Why did I come back? Why did I try so hard to get better and out of the
rehab centre, if it wasn’t to be with her?
Legs that jingle and jerk and don’t cooperate, and loosing the
memory of a whole section of my life, and never playing baseball, or
performing in a concert, I can take all that, but this—-this is more than I
can take.
I just got out of the hospital, how can she leave now? What will I
do now? She was my whole life. And with Brad; we’ve worked together,
and we’ve played ball together, and I helped him build his woodshed two
years ago. Where’s Alice? I thought once you had kids, you didn’t just go

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Recovery
and take off with some body else like family didn’t matter. What’s hap-
pening to everybody these days?
She can’t leave me; not now. Can’t she just stay until I’m a little
better?—until I have a job?—until I can walk without this cane?—until
there is some chance I might find somebody else also?
Confused? Alone? Doesn’t know me? What does she mean? She
knows me. Maybe we only lived together for a few years but she knows
me. We went to school together; we learned love and sex together; we
started this bookstore. Did I really come home such a freak? And she
couldn’t even tell me face to face, she had to leave this note.

Dear David,
There is something I need to tell you;
something that I can’t just say. Something
I wish I weren’t saying, but I just can’t
change what life does to any of us. I do
want to talk to you, and please phone me
at 792-1564 after you have read this note.
David, I am leaving our house and mov-
ing in with Brad Clark. I know this will be
difficult for you, and you can’t imagine
how I have anguished over this, but some-
where inside me there is still a me; there is
some unique person that has wants, and
needs, and has feelings that can’t just be
about somebody else. Somehow despite all
the wanting it to be different, if I
don’t/can’t accept who I am, then who
will?
I have loved you. Together we discov-
ered what love is. Like innocents we ex-
plored each other, and for a time, I
126
thought/we thought we were each other;
that what one of us wanted, the other
wanted; that we were like one person. I
think in a way we were dazed by sex and
by the newness of being two people living
like one.
But we weren’t one. And well before
the accident we were struggling. You were
so set on first biology and then business,
and I was so focused on the day to day
stuff and then the bookstore, and we kind
of specialized in aspects of life that seemed
complementary, but they were different,
and they were taking us to different
places. Even sex became something we did
because we were in bed together—naked,
and we had to get it over with so we could
go to sleep.
And then came the accident. Oh, I
was so scared. I wanted you to make it
through. I wanted to be with you. I forgot
all the problems we were having. I liked
sitting beside you, reading to you, think-
ing about what it would be like when you
woke up and how perfect it would be this
time.
But then you woke up, and you were
you, and you were so involved in getting
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Recovery

yourself better, as you should be. I felt


alone as I had never been before. I
couldn’t find the David I knew because
this new guy was so angry and loud, and
needed so much, and couldn’t see that I
was hurting also. I needed some support
and some love and caring. I see you get-
ting better, and I see that you are in
many ways more aware of how precious
life is. I think you are a wonderful person.
I still love you very much. But I just can’t
go on as your wife to be.
Please don’t judge Brad and I too
harshly. We didn’t try to do this. We didn’t
want to hurt you or Alice. It’s just that one
time when I was so exhausted and alone
and confused and had no idea who I ac-
tually was other than this frantic care-
giver and over worked business person who
had no idea how I would do all the things
that I needed to do; Brad offered to help.
One day stacking books, I just collapsed
into his arms and washed all the tension
that I thought was going to explode out
with a flood of tears.
We tried to put it behind us when you
came home, but—oh, there is no explain-
ing it; it’s beyond my understanding; I
128
just get confused thinking why something
is what I want and don’t want; it just is,
and I can’t deny it any longer.
Please call me. I love you. Good bye.
Susan
I’ve got to quit soaking these pillows with tears. I gota get out of
bed and get out and do something. Why?

Feb. 8, 1990

I’ve had a good two days. I haven’t written for almost two
months. It’s been some dark times. I didn’t write because writing made it
worse. I could see what I was feeling. I could see what I was feeling, but I
couldn’t see any end to it. I’ve tossed tear-soaked pillows out in the
garbage, when I remember the garbage, because they are beyond recov-
ery. But the last two days have been good—better.
I was out hitch-hiking back from the lake when Alice happened to
be driving by and gave me a lift, first to her place, then later, over to
mine. Her offer of tea was easy to accept. We’ve known each other for
some time, and I guess I was kind of wondering how she was doing.
She had the two kids with her, and—with all the groceries and
stuff—it was almost too much for the little, very old, very rusty Toyota. I
wasn’t sure the door would actually latch behind me after I squeezed in.
Once we got moving the conversation was light and cheerful; never men-
tioning the related troubles that Alice and I have been through lately.
Despite the load, the little yellow car seemed to be humming along,
happy to have such a sunny day in February.
Until we turned into the driveway it was easy to forget the house.
The house? Well, I guess it is better called a cabin at 30x 24 feet. How
did they have two kids, two goats, two dogs, and a flock of chickens, and
“live “in this tiny house, not twice the dimensions of the 12’x 16’ chicken
coup. The grey weathered plywood walls still seem substantial though
Brad was supposed to side them years ago. How come he had so much
time to help Susan out? Oops, I’m tying to forget Susan.
Suddenly I seemed aware of this hut in a way that I have never
been before. I know that Susan and Brad have only recently moved out
to make the place available for Alice, who took the boys and went to live
with her Mom after the breakup.

129
Recovery
A small dingy window breaks the grey of the nearest wall. Near
the front door an Eagles claw still hangs at the bottom of a partly beaded
strip of leather. An old round of fir nearly two feet across sits partly sub-
merged in the damp, mid-winter grass. Years of splitting kindling are
stamped in the rounded edges and splintered top of the log.
I closed my mind, but the memories seeped into my body without
resistance.
“Ah, on second thought, I think I better hit the road, I really
should get home before dark.” The old claw already had its hook into my
heart.
“Oh, you can stay for dinner. I’ll drive you over to your place after
we eat,” Alice seemed to plead, as though desperate for some adult
company.
What could I say? Alice and I had only spoken about the break-up
over the phone. We had much we could talk about over dinner prepara-
tion, while the boys were out playing. But the house had memories I
chose to forget. Long dark nights. Anger. Intense longing. Pain. A flood of
tears. Inside on the high elevated bed, with all the boxes stuffed under-
neath, Susan had chosen to be the love of another man. I guess the
thing that hurts so much is she was probably right to do what she did.
What do I have to offer anyone now? I’ve been going over everything she
said. Piece by piece, I have taken it apart and searched it all for the
minutest meanings. Being methodical is one of the easiest ways to avoid
dealing with the pain.
But standing in front of the cabin with Alice coming around the
car, arm full of groceries, it didn’t come piece by piece. It came as a
package. Standing in front of the grey cabin and the eagle’s claw it was
impossible to distill the words from the feelings.
I was about to insist on excusing myself and go put my thumb out
beside the road to Winfield when it occurred to me that she was gone,
moved in with Brad. Even now they were down at some book fair in Seat-
tle. It was all over—finished. I saw the claw, but—perhaps—it was just
calling me to remember the phoenix that also rises from the ashes of its
own past.
“Tea’s ready,” Alice called from inside. How long had I been
standing with my foot on this stump? What had I spoken of while my
mind was else where? How did Alice get inside and fix tea in such a short
time? I looked up. Alice was looking my way, holding the door open. I
followed her in and sat, still rummaging through my broken memory—
with my back to the bed.
“Yes, indeed, there was a bumper crop of black berries this year.
Mushrooms? Oh, yes I pick a few varieties, Shaggy manes, and inky caps
and puffballs; when I find them fresh enough. Amanita? No it scars me.

130
The conversation roamed over the weather, the changing season, and a
mutual friend, not involved in the break up of our families. We agreed
that he had a heart of gold and a pickled liver.
Alice went to put the spaghetti into the boiling water and fry the
vegetables for a sauce. I went out to get an arm full of firewood as it was
getting cold inside the too-ventilated cabin. When I returned, my arms
full of kindling, I walked straight to the stove and didn’t notice the bed in
the corner.
The spaghetti was excellent, and the boys were impishly delight-
ful and playful with their mom. Occasionally the conversation strayed
close to a nerve but always managed to make it back to neutral ground.
Alice brought out a couple of glasses of blackberry wine for dinner and
proposed a toast to the season and friendship. It felt so warm with the
wood heat and the smiling boys.
“There is a dance tonight at the Deer Park Hall, and I really want
to go,” Alice explained, “I’ve been trying to find a baby sitter and haven’t
had any luck so far. Will you excuse me while I try a couple of more num-
bers?”
I was full of spaghetti and mellow with several glasses of wine,
and content for the first time in a long while. Suddenly an idea occurred
to me. It was really quite simple in content though revolutionary for me. If
Alice needed a baby sitter in order to go dancing, why couldn’t I keep the
boys at my place for the night, and Alice could pick them up in the morn-
ing? Hadn’t I decided to become more aware of the needs of others?
“I’ll take the boys to my place,” I volunteered enthusiastically to a
startled Alice. A stream of protests followed. She couldn’t ask me to look
after the boys just because she wanted to go dancing. But the stronger
the protest, the stronger grew my resolve. From a whimsical statement it
grew into a general principle—it’s like that with the brain injured; stub-
born, very stubborn, and we get this idea, and it gets lodged in our
heads, and unless you’ve got dynamite; it isn’t coming out.
So I looked after the boys and Alice went dancing and stayed for
breakfast when she came to pick them up in the morning.
Perhaps there is, after all, life after Susan.

131
Recovery

132
What’s Jane?
Bartholomew Johnson’s Required Writing

April 4, 2005

I went to see Chan today. Why do I do this? It’s like lying down on
a bed of spikes. Sure, when you get adept, you can do it, and you can
show all the scars where you got punctured, but you didn’t bleed. But
what is the point?
I thought I was ready to start talking about Jane, like he wanted.
But soon as I started talking about Jane he says, “You’re missing the
point. This isn’t about Jane. Jane won’t come back now and won’t fix
your problems. Only you can do that.”
I mean talk about double talk. Talk about Jane; don’t talk about
Jane. Talk about my feelings about Jane, but not Jane, but my feelings
about Jane are about Jane and the lives we lived together for going on
thirty years.
How about if I talk about my drinking problem? But it’s not my
drinking problem. It’s my feelings about my drinking problem, right? Or—
how about my shouting at people and scaring the poor critters? It’s not
the critters nor my shouting, it’s my feelings about shouting and critters.
And my relationship which I don’t have, but I guess I can have feelings
about nothing as well. Or—how about the fact that I’m so unhappy? Can I
be unhappy and talk about it, or do I have to have feelings about being
unhappy?
Most of the time I don’t feel like I have any energy to get out of
bed, or write, or anything, so is one feeling enough; or do I need feelings
about feeling tired? Then there’s my doctor who sent me to see Chan.
I’ve got feelings about him. He doesn’t want to see me because I shout
sometimes, but most importantly I come to see him because I’m not
feeling well, I thought you were supposed to see a doctor when you
weren’t feeling well. But no, he says, I’m not feeling well too much. If I
133
What’s Jane?
really was feeling not well, he, not me, would be scheduling the visits, so
I have to go see Chan. But seeing Chan makes me feel worse than not
seeing a doctor. When I just stay home and feel not well, I just have my
problems to deal with. When I see Chan, I have all my problems and a
pile more that Chan comes up with, that I didn’t have before I went to
see Chan.
Catch 22. I feel like I’m caught in some civilian variant of the,
now, infamous Catch 22. Let’s see, the way I remember it, Heller’s de-
scription of Catch 22 went like this: if you’re psychologically well enough
to know that it isn’t healthy to go to war then you are healthy enough to
go to war. Only if you’re so unhealthy that you want to go to war, are you
so unhealthy you shouldn’t be going to war. But since you want to go to
war when you’re that unhealthy—what the heck, you may as well go to
war.
Maybe they call what I have Catch 33: if you’re healthy enough to
know you’re unhealthy enough to see the doctor then you don’t need a
doctor. But if you’re so unhealthy you don’t even know you need a doctor
then you need a doctor, but you won’t see one because you don’t know
it; at least that’s the way both Brass and Chan see it. The way Brass sees
it, I have to see Chan, so he can work with my head, so I can know if I
need to see Brass about pains that have nothing to do with my head—
Catch 33.
Why should I talk about my feelings about Jane? What is Chan;
some kind of a monster living off other people’s pain? It’s easy enough
for me to talk about my feelings about Jane before the summer of 1998
and after the spring of ’99. I’m at peace with all that now. I’m at peace
with that as much as I am with the first snow that always comes before I
am ready. But I know it must come, and as the season advances I get
used to the idea that winter happens; snow gets deeper. Eventually, I get
out the skis and find a snowmobile track that has packed an early-
season ski trail for me. The early snow feels like a soft white blanket of
peace and forgiveness and renewal.
Why can’t I feel about Jane like I do about the early snow? Why
should I go, dig it all up, and mix a bunch of dirt with it to see how I feel
about all that dirty, mucky, brown snow where once there was just this
accumulating winter blanket?
I’m not sure I need this, Chan. What do I need? Maybe I just
need this break. I need a break—that’s what I really need; not these few
months off. I need a break; I need something to just go my way for a
change.
Ok, bye-the-way, Chan, I’ve asked for and gotten a year off.
I’ve been reading Deacon’s journal. Wow. It’s an amazing thing to
read a journal written as an on-going dialogue with life, knowing the end

134
that the writer doesn’t know. What if Chan or Pat or somebody is reading
this journal knowing the end? What is the ending to this messed up life
anyway? But it’s not messed up, I just told Chan that. But if it weren’t
messed up I wouldn’t be seeing Chan. Maybe we’ll call that Catch 44.
I’m going out to see her tomorrow—Susan, saucy Susan who
feels guilty about leaving her husband-to-be three months after he gets
home from having his brains mushed. I wonder if she can talk about her
feelings any better than I can about mine?
Oh, it’s just about Alexander time! But I want to get down a few
comments on this web “news” cast while I’m still thinking about it. You
think the local press is perverse, my gosh; the nationals are absolutely
berserk these days. They (yeah, all of them—the big money press, the
right-wing think tanks, the overpaid justices, the double-talking politi-
cians, the greedy doctors—they) think they have our public health care
system in their teeth like snapping greedy scavenging hyenas over the
carcass of an unfortunate wildebeest that got caught feeding too far
from the herd by a rogue lion. I like the metaphor. The lion is, of course,
our Supreme Court that caught Medicare too far from the fold of ade-
quate funding to do the job and slew it. They said they were just going to
bite off the hind quarter but the rest they just left laying in the grass for
the jackals—the mighty money-mad health industry to the south. The
court says people in Quebec are waiting too long for health care so they
have a right to buy private insurance to insure that those who have
money get the care that those who don’t—do without. Sounds sort of like
Catch 55 to me.
Every day the big money right wing press runs articles on how
much money is to be made if we just crack open our healthcare system.
They run polls on topics like would people pay for health care if they had
too. By the way, where did Medicare start except that health is the most
precious thing we have, and to get it we’ll sell all, but the thought was
that in a society based on any kind of compassion, health isn’t for sale to
the highest bidder. We, as a people—talking to each other as human
beings, decided we have a responsibility to each other that is greater
than corporate profit. But give it a year from now and there won’t be any
meat left on the dry bones. Ask me how I feel about that and I’ll tell you!
If Brass thinks I was shouting, wait until he hears what I think about this
gang of thieves called the CMA (Can’t Manage Anything) or most exactly
anything that doesn’t serve big money to the insurance companies and
the medical industry.

135
What’s Jane?
Apr. 10, 2005

Having read Deacon’s first note book, I went to see Susan today.
It was raining as it often does in April. Semi-arid means rains in March,
and April, and the end of August, and November. Some years it rains
most of the time that it isn’t snowing. That’s hard on the hay farmers.
Some times it hardly snows at all. Or the snow that falls is so cold and
dry you can’t ski outside the snowmobile tracks which pack the snow
evenly so you don’t hit the rocks. The downhill skiers hit the rocks with
their expensive skis and don’t like it at all. It seems that if you’re waiting
for the right weather to have a good life, you’ve missed the point. But
then I remember the year when, for three months, the sun didn’t shine. I
was absolutely mad to see some colour other than grey—to feel the radi-
ant warm light of the sun penetrating down into my cells calling me to life
and happiness.
I felt like one of those yellow plants that has been under a plank
or box too long and has just forgotten how to grow, and be green, and
prosper. So Jane and I just packed up everything, including Jennifer, and
headed south. We drove through all of the interior desert lands of Wash-
ington and on into the dry, high plateaus of Oregon before, on the sec-
ond day, we found this outline of cloud shadow on the pavement; we
drove through it into the sun and looked for a campground. It was before
the illness, before we knew of the illness—before she went out running,
and stumbled, and fell, and came back to our temporary house—that
became a chicken coup—puzzled.
We were such innocents about life. Finding Sun was our only
ambition. Once we found the Sun, we had no ambitions, no plans. We
explored the sleepy, mid-Oregon town of John Day and drove across to
Redmond where we drank in the warm, vanilla scent of the ponderosa
pine forests.
But this day in April, pulling into Susan’s driveway, the worn wip-
ers smearing away the bulk of the water from my winter rock-chipped
windshield, the warm April rain was most welcome. The sandy soil,
warmed by yesterday’s unusually radiant April sun, drank the rain down
into the water table and smelled fresh like the first rains after a dry spell
always do. The weeds had been turned under by a rototiller, and the soil
looked fluffy, ready for spring seeding of the early, frost hardy plants.
Impatient—like unwillingly idle men milling about a hiring hall
anxious for a chance to snatch up a job—the chickens sheltered under
the eves of the coup, waiting a chance to start scratching in the soil,
occasionally dashing out into the rain after a worm drawn to the surface
by the accumulating water.

136
Susan came to the front porch smiling like an old friend had ar-
rived. I slammed the truck door and dashed for the porch, though the
Spring rain felt invigorating almost sensuous running in an occasional
rivulet through my hair, under my collar and trickling down my back.
“Wet!” I said glancing at the notebook in my hand to draw atten-
tion to the plastic cover that I had wrapped it in before leaving home.
“Thanks for calling ahead,” Susan replied, “and thanks for the
care with the journal. I’ve put on some coffee if you would like a cup.”
Sitting in the kitchen of this small weathered house, holding a
warm cup of coffee cradled in my hands, looking out at the rain that was
streaking down and creating large puddles out in the yard, it was easy to
remember the small, interim, eight hundred dollar “house” that Jane and
I had built to live in while we saved for the “big” log house that ended up
being a 30x30 frame house with a Fisher stove instead of the fireplace.
“So what did you get from reading David’s notes?” Susan asked,
startling me out of a near trance. But before I could answer I needed to
complete the thought I had just engaged. I was thinking of Jane, and the
house, and the farm; and that I had been thinking of Jane just a few days
before, and it had been easy, like when she was here, like there was no
pain. I was thinking that I had come to talk of David/Deacon, but I was
thinking of Jane, and then I was thinking of Jane, and David, and the
rain, and the earth smells, and the freshly tilled garden, and the impa-
tient chickens. I could hear the rain against the earth and against the
window pane. The wood stove was burning in the living room. It was very
warm. I felt a sense of peace, I hadn’t known for a very long time. I
thought of Jane and David and how they might feel if they were looking
on or were here in this warm room looking out at the rain and the recep-
tive earth, feeling the imminent approach of the growing season, of
nature reborn. I felt they—for their different reasons—must also feel this
abiding peace.
“Well…” I drew out the word, well, long enough to come back to
the present, to the room, the rain, the coffee, and the book of notes I
was returning. Suddenly I sensed that this small woman with the intent
gaze was beginning to wonder what kind of drugs I might be on this
morning.
“Well, (I was present and ready to engage) I found it absolutely
fascinating, if I can say that without meaning or giving any kind of of-
fense. The thing that really fascinated me was reading this journal writ-
ten in the first person, mostly present tense by someone who isn’t here.”
Looking into Susan’s eyes to judge my effect, I added, “Some one who
didn’t know what I know reading his journal now; someone who, in writ-
ing then, had no idea what the future held; most especially someone

137
What’s Jane?
who, despite his struggles, had no idea that he would one day die by his
own hand.
“It makes me wonder what our lives will come to; and I wonder
what the ending does to the meaning of our lives. Does the ending say
what our lives come to? What if David’s life had ended in a tragic car
accident while he was working in the school, and doing so much with
music, and having the kids so excited about participating and learning?
Could we even think of it as a tragic accident—if we knew the alterna-
tive? But then what are the tragic—and not so tragic endings to any of
our lives? Don’t we automatically label the end of a life—tragic?”
“So we’re going to take up the light side of life today?” Susan
asked/stated with the bit of a smile that rested somewhere between
mocking, and empathetic.
I told her of my earlier thoughts about David and Jane, and the
rain and peace.
“It must be in the rain, I was thinking something like that myself
this morning,” she replied, leaning back into her chair, relaxing.
“I know it is a terrible thing, to take one’s own life like he did, and
I have cried and cried and when I thought there couldn’t possibly be
another tear in me, I’ve cried a whole ‘nother river. But what he did is
over, and I’m not crying today. Perhaps the rain is enough, perhaps God
is crying today; Perhaps God is feeling badly about treating someone the
way he treated Deacon.” (She doesn’t correct herself; perhaps she
doesn’t realize she has used his more familiar name).
Susan looked down, seemingly worried—fretful. “Do you read the
Bible much?” she asked, timidly.
“No,” I replied gently without explanation, hoping that a gentle,
solitary “no” would be interpreted as “No, I don’t, and I’ve never had any
interest in evangelistic efforts.”
Susan glanced up, relief and resolution spreading across the nar-
row—though soft features of her face.
“Well, I attend the United Church occasionally, but I’m not a
strictly religious person, and neither was Deacon, but sometimes when I
go over some of the Biblical writing I find truths there that seem to tell
me more about life than I learned in school or anything they put on the
television these days. I think that in one of our conversations you were
referring to the problem of having a judgment you made about another
come back at you in a self-damning way later in your life with your part-
ner.”
“Well, yes,” I hesitated reluctant to agree to anything when it
came to Bible talk.
“Well, the Bible says, Don’t be judgmental and you won’t suffer
the condemnation of the judgments you make. I think you pretty much

138
proved that—you don’t need an angry parsimonious old goat in the sky to
enforce the wisdom that people have recorded over the ages.
“You may remember the scripture which we concluded David’s
memorial with: ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I
return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the
name of the Lord.’ A number of people objected to this quote from the
book of Job and didn’t want that in the service. ‘Why would we bless the
name of the Lord that took so much away from Deacon?’ they asked.
But, in my opinion--and David’s—all of those kinds of concerns come
from seeing the whole God/human relationship upside down. We are not
God’s creatures; God is our invention to try to explain our longing for
justice, and meaning, and love in a world that seems so arbitrary, so
cruel, and indifferent to our lives.” Susan drew in a deep breath while I
ruminated, anxiously on where this conversation might be going.
“The story of Job worked this out long ago—there is still good in
the universe no matter how afflicted we may be. I’m sorry that David died
feeling alone and defeated, but I believe that he wasn’t entirely de-
feated, and he knew that. I think he thought of me, and our lives to-
gether, and of the good that he brought into my life. Knowing David as I
have, I believe that, despite all he went through, despite his desperate
decision, he felt it was good being alive and striving—however imper-
fectly—to know love.”
“Does he mention any of this in his journals?” I pried, as gently
as I could, not wanting to offend or cut this recalling short.
“Yes, he did—indirectly,” Susan proffered, “What would love
mean, if it came easy with no challenges? As you know, I tried everything
I could to keep David with us, but what you likely don’t know is that I
don’t see his parting as an absolute defeat or—as you were asking
about—a repudiation of his life. Out of Job’s suffering came the story of
Christ—the story that goodness is a human quality, it can be lived and
exemplified by a human life. And no suffering can change that—in fact it
can only reinforce it. I believe—you may think that I simply need to be-
lieve—that, even in David’s last act, he felt he was choosing the only
option that love—he called it dignity at the time—left open to him. I dis-
agree with his choice, but I don’t condemn him or his life for it.
“Perhaps you remember that the god of Job began as a god-
tyrant who believed that humans could be treated as mere play things to
satisfy his whims and need of veneration. Sometimes life seems like
that—it seems like that to me, often. I know it seemed that way to Dea-
con. I think it is much of what he meant when he kept referring to dignity
in his journal; apparently he discussed this at length with Pat one week-
end morning over breakfast. But the god—come human—in the story of
Jesus exemplifies the meaning of love; a quality of existence which we

139
What’s Jane?
humans are uniquely charged with perfecting. In knowing David, I cer-
tainly know love in a way that I otherwise, most definitely wouldn’t.”
Susan looked my way, clearly asking if I am put off by this unex-
pected turn in the conversation. I was, most surprisingly, intrigued by
such a creative understanding of a topic that I thought you either be-
lieved or discounted. I’ve turned away solicitors at my door for more
illusive religious statements—but I was fascinated to hear more from
Susan!
“How much of these thoughts did David share with you?” I asked,
wanting to indicate both my willingness to hear more and my desire to
focus on David/Deacon and his journals—eventually.
“You may not find the same thing in Deacon’s life and the
choices that he made that I do, but—perhaps born of my sadness—I see
Deacon’s life as yet another parable in the evolving story of love come to
life.” Susan smiled softly, clearly delighted that I was still interested in a
matter that would be difficult to bring up or discuss in many other situa-
tions.”
The rain continued to come down in sheets outside. Behind the
glass door of the woodstove the mix of alder and fir logs, which Susan
had generously banked just before I arrived, mellowed down into a
warm, glowing bed of coals.
“I feel a great deal of empathy with Job’s wife,” Susan began
again, seemingly enchanted by the warm, radiant fire.
“Seeing that this easily provoked god would take away even
Job’s family and health to prove a point with the Devil, Job’s wife admon-
ished him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die’, but
my David did not curse God nor his life, though he chose to die. In the
story of Job the Devil argues with God that justice, and meaning, and all
the higher callings mean nothing to humanity except when wealth and
health allow for such luxuries: ‘All that a man has he will give for his life.’
But David chose his integrity/his highly valued dignity over his life.
“You may not understand a word I am saying, but if you are to
read his journal this is something you must understand in advance. I
won’t tell you all that David went through, but I will say that David didn’t
take his life because of what happened at the school as many think—it
had to do with his core sense of dignity and events I will let David reveal
for himself.” Susan continued staring into the coals and did not look up.
I chose not to share with Susan all that I have learned from Pat
about Deacon’s reasons for taking his life; different perspectives on a
story often lead to a whole new understanding of what happened. I had
simply never heard some one speak with so much conviction, nor with
such creative license around the meaning of the scriptures, so I decided
to ply her with a bit of a challenge.

140
“What a fascinating interpretation of the story of Job. The story
as I remember it was of an argument between God and the Devil over
whether Job loved God because God looked after him; or because God
was a wonderful being and Job, God’s most ardent worshiper, was un-
shakable convinced that the God of the Jews was the most venerable
and sacred of all gods. Then after Job suffers the loss of almost every-
thing but his life, God takes back control from the Devil and restores all
of Job’s fortunes.” In other circumstances this could be seen as a con-
frontational/dismissive remark, but I feel we have entered some other
realm of discussion—perhaps heart to heart; perhaps (though I am
loathe to consider it) soul to soul. I was raised in a Christian environ-
ment, so I know the story, though it had never interested me other than
as another object of scorn.
This day I am deeply intrigued at the possibility of an inner mean-
ing in a story that I so easily dismissed before, so I decide to offer my
own, almost forgotten thoughts, partly for clarification, partly to enter
more fully into a level of intimate and honest conversation that I have
only considered before.
“I had never seen much in this story other than the ubiquitous
Biblical theme that God is great so people must be submissive to God
and his appointed representatives—or else. I have to admit that it is one
of those tales that I never gave a second thought to, but you have.
Where did you get such an unorthodox interpretation of the story?” I
asked with interest.
“Well,” said Susan, raising her cup, tasting the now tepid coffee
and setting it back on the table looking disappointed. Judging by her
obvious disappointment, I am afraid my remark has not come across as
the fascinated inquiry I intended. She has clearly taken my remark as
dismissive. I am deeply relieved when she, never-the-less, begins a reply.
“I read a lot, it’s a habit I picked up from Deacon. He used to get
enthused about a topic and read everything he could find about it. Per-
haps it was part of his obsessive behaviour from the accident. We once
heard an intriguing discussion of the question of Job at the Unitarian
Church in Kelowna, which David began attending after he got back from
Asia. After we got back together, I would sometimes go with him to these
services which I found interesting, but I feel much closer to the more
Christian United Church which I attend irregularly. Deacon seldom came
with me to the United Church; he never was a convinced Christian, and
after his travels in Asia, he was even less so.
“I think the next notebook of Deacon’s journaling that I will give
you is of his two-year spiritual quest through China, India and Indonesia.
He didn’t start off on a spiritual quest. He started off in desperation over
the fact that what he was doing wasn’t working. He couldn’t hold onto a

141
What’s Jane?
job past the incentive pay. He couldn’t hold on to a relationship with a
woman, because he scarred them all away with his desperate need to
hold on.
It became a spiritual quest for him as his travels brought him into
contact with other people and he began to see that happiness is not how
much wealth you have or where you live, or even how healthy you are. In
a letter that he sent to me from China, Deacon described happiness as a
source inside that casts its light on all it encounters. So, as you will read,
he spent time with Buddhists, and Hindus, and Taoists, always seeking
to find some great key that might put his life back together. Even then,
he had this feeling that something inside needed healing, needed to find
its way to peace, and it was much more than his injury.”
“Yes,” I tossed out almost angrily, “but you haven’t answered my
question.”
“No, I haven’t; you are a very impatient person,” she chided. “I
was trying to tell you that my interpretation of Job comes from being
around Deacon and his constant questioning: what’s that (that meaning,
the inner secret of a thing or event)? Why? Is it necessarily that way?
Who said so? He never joined the Unitarians, but he was, most certainly,
at home there.” Susan seemed to be mixing her explanation with a heap-
ing scoop of scolding. However, the fire was warm and mellowing, and
she seemed willing to try to pick up the pieces of our conversation.
“At first it was troubling to me to not share a common spiritual
perspective with the man at the centre of my life, but David was often
playful about our differences. Strangely, the very thing that sometimes
seemed to separate us, at other times brought us together; the seeking;
the questioning became the goo that connected us. It became—like his
music—an escape into the world of ideas and creative play; a world not
bounded by our sorrows, our secrets, our limitations and suffering.”
Once again she seemed absorbed by the dancing flames in the
stove—this time, distant, self-absorbed. I wasn’t sure she was speaking
to me or just reflecting on her own troubled experiences.
Suddenly she looked up from the fire, very present. Catching my
eye with the delight of one who has lost the thread of a conversation and
suddenly recalled it, she began again, earnestly, “My own feelings about
Job arose from Deacon’s continuing spiritual quest that led him from
trying to understand mysticism to an active concern with the Western
concept of god. He wanted to know what is good about a god that toler-
ates or promotes so much human suffering. You may, now, see why he
would be so absorbed by the Unitarian lecture which we heard on the life
of Job.”

142
“Would you like a cup of hot coffee?” Susan asked apologeti-
cally, rising and moving toward the kitchen, suddenly aware of the need
to include me in the discussion.
“Yes please, I’d love some,” I said though I was actually over my
limit and little interested in more coffee—hot or cold. I simply did not
want to bring the conversation to a close just yet.
So did Deacon (given Susan’s ambivalence around his name I
had no idea what name I should be using and opted for her rather un-
conscious habit of vacillating between the two)ever arrive at any conclu-
sions about the nature of God and suffering?” I asked. For the first time I
could remember, I was fascinated to know the answer to a religious
question.
Putting the coffee pot back onto the stove and turning up the
burner, Susan sighed regretfully, suggesting that Deacon had failed
along with the rest of humanity in attempting to reconcile God and suf-
fering.
With the coffee attended to, Susan returned to her chair and,
leaning back, drew my attention questioningly as though once again
assessing my sincerity. I passed; she began an explanation.
“It’s actually a lot easier than you think,” she asserted. “As long
as you think of God as the creator of the universe including humanity,
you cannot reconcile god to suffering any more than you can venerate a
being that willingly tortures a man like Job just to prove a mute point with
another of his created beings. But if we created God as our vision of
justice and meaning, then it is easy enough to accept that suffering
simply is. It’s like the tragedy of exploding stars that create solar systems
and planets and people. Job’s salvation was that, as a consequence of
his suffering, he penetrated through the words and actually understood
what God is and realized that God is our human realization of our part in
the incredible story of evolving existence.
We are not our possessions, nor even our health, nor the things
that happen to us; we are an experiment, small vortexes of existence
looking reflectively back at our larger selves telling the universe we can
make sense of its creation; we can create justice and compassion out of
the same nothing from which the stars were born. And that is, according
to Susan O’Donnell, the story of Job.” She flashed a brief smile at the
irony of objectifying her own name.
“You start by asking what is God in the light of suffering, and,
yes, you end up with some strange answers. Deacon had an insiders
look at the story of Job; I only wish we could talk to him about his per-
spectives now.”

143
What’s Jane?
The coffee had been percolating wildly on the stove, and Susan
rose again to pull the pot off the burner and pour some strong, very hot
coffee.
I was stunned. I didn’t think to get my own cup and save Susan a
perilous journey over to my seat with such a scalding liquid. I had simply
never heard anything like this discussion of a god that isn’t running
around making commandments and demanding obedience. I was deeply
intrigued and wanted to continue the conversation but had no idea
where it might go from here, so I asked, dumbly—once again, “Did Dea-
con share these views?” then, realizing this awkwardness must end, I
hasten to ask, “I’m sorry, I’m confused about what name to use, I don’t
want to give any offense or disrespect, but I hear Deacon, then I hear
David, then I hear Deacon again, and I simply don’t know what to say.”
“Well, I would have said please use David out of respect and in
defiance of those who called him Deacon mockingly. But it’s one of
those things I have let go of. Deacon/David was quite comfortable with
Deacon. It reminded him of his time in rehabilitation and of the joy he
brought to others, and—to him—it was even a reminder of his spiritual
journey. So use David, use Deacon; it really makes little difference.
“As to David’s view of Job, we discussed it briefly after the lecture
(you couldn’t call those intellectual discourses, sermons) in Kelowna; but
it never came up in detail again; it is actually something that I had begun
to think about over the past year as I came to think of Deacon’s life as
not greatly different from a more recent enactment of this ancient story.
What Deacon and I did discuss and agree on was the idea that God,
most clearly, is a creation of humanity—a creation that changes, and
adapts, and learns, and—hopefully—becomes more compassionate and
just as our experience grows.”
I hesitated. I was at the end of anything to say. I wanted the con-
versation to go on, but I needed time to think. A long silence descended
on us, holding our coffee cups. That—at least—conveyed the feeling that
we both wanted the conversation to go on—if only we understood how to
pick it up and where to go.
“So tell me about Jane. What was your life with her like? Pat says
you are sensitive about her passing. Have you made peace with it yet?”
Silence is the enemy. How many conversations have I walked out
on at this point? I don’t want to walk out on this conversation. Well, I
want to walk out; I desperately want to walk out. I just don’t want it to
seem that I am walking out dismissively. I want to come back to our
engrossing conversations about Deacon. I don’t want to walk out like I
have so many times before—and never come back. But what can I say?
“You remember, I was just saying at the beginning of our visit,
that I was feeling a sense of peace about Jane this very day. Remember

144
we were talking about how it could be the rain—maybe God is crying rainy
tears?” Sometimes a small truth can tell a big lie—it’s worth a try.
“Yes, but I was asking how you feel about her passing and what it
was like for you. I feel a little uneasy sharing all this about Deacon and
sharing, or knowing, so little of what you’ve been through.” Susan has
caught the lie and broken it open like a stubborn oyster on a submerged
rock.
I feel exposed and in danger with no where left to hide. Feelings?
This is Chan’s territory. I only talk about feelings to Chan, or I sort of try
to talk about feelings with Chan.
Silence—the enemy.
Silence—silence stretching to uneasy silence; still holding onto
our cups. What can I say? I can’t tell the whole story, if I knew it. Jane
didn’t leave a journal—only a note on the table.
“Well, I could bring a copy of the note that Jane left behind the
next time I come over.” Oh, I think I’ve struck on a line that will work!
“Yes, you could do that,” Susan looked disappointed; unhappy.
Once again she had seen through the gambit, and it didn’t work.
“I…I,” I hesitated, stuttered, tried to think of what to say. I didn’t
want this whole conversation to end on such a sour note. I wondered
how much Pat has already told her. Maybe we could make a more com-
municative conversation around that.
“I know Pat has told you some of what we went through. It wasn’t
easy for me. I felt…” Chan’s right! I don’t know how I felt—other than
awful. “I felt awful.” There you go, I was expressing some feelings. Chan
should be happy. Was Susan happy? She didn’t say anything but seemed
a little less offended by our one-sided conversation.
“You know, most people think that Jane just died as a result of
the progression of her illness. I don’t know what Pat told you about
that?” I kept hoping that what Susan knows already may become the
topic of the conversation. I’d be safe then.
“You’ve already told me that she left a note on the table,” I as-
sumed that it was a suicide note.” I can’t blame Susan for tiring of this
game, I was; I just didn’t know what to do about it. The rain was easing
outside; the chickens were scratching in the yard. Some hen was cack-
ling about the lovely new egg she just laid.
“Well, I see that it is almost lunch. I guess that’s my stomach
growling, it’s a real complainer.” I tried for a light hearted ending.
“You know my shrink says I need to talk more about this. I hope I
don’t seem too rigid. You may find this hard to believe, but the whole
thing about being at peace with it—that was just a moment; I haven’t
made peace with it. After six years, I’m not sure I will.” Wow, this may not

145
What’s Jane?
seem like much to Susan, but, for me, this is a big break; I did, after all,
confess that I’m not doing well after six years.
“Oh,” Susan drew back, somewhat startled. “Oh, I almost forgot,
you want another chapter in Deacon’s journaling.”
Offering the journal—unbidden, felt like forgiveness; it’s OK to
just make a try at a two-way conversation about feelings.
Susan disappeared into the bedroom and reappeared with an-
other, more worn notebook.
“This one is really worn, because it traveled all over Asia with
him, though he did little with it until he returned. Deacon filled up two
other journals between the time he got out of the hospital and leaving on
his quest. But these in-between journals are just details about his frus-
tration at his body and his skills and his relationships—or lack of, I should
say. And they are, of course, about his feelings about my leaving. So it
seems you avoided talking about your feelings about Jane, and I avoided
talking about leaving Deacon. I guess we both did fairly well at the
avoidance thing. See you when you are finished with this.”
So she isn’t going to share the journal with Deacon’s feelings
about her leaving.

Apr. 30, 2005

I went to see Chan today. Chan, if you’re reading this you know
how well things went—ha! I told Chan about the visit with Susan. I told
him about the questions about feelings. I’m like that. I have to accept
that I’m like that. Why can’t I ever learn that it just doesn’t work to take
out a loaded gun and hand it to a guy who you know will shoot you with
it?—bang—right through the heart; he shot me with it. I need to talk about
my feelings. He said the same thing three times in a row. What if I don’t
have feelings, like the kind that people talk about? End of story; I guess;
you can’t be expected to talk about nothing that doesn’t even exist,
except—perhaps—in a novel.
I’ve been thinking about it, if I had something to say; if I knew
what to say I would like to share it with Susan. Maybe I could just record
it and take it over for Chan; sort of like two for one—like a pizza sale.
Chan says my dreams are about feelings, but he doesn’t know
my dreams—or he’d have me committed. Like the other night, after see-
ing Susan, I dreamt I was at the bottom of a deep well with no shoring
(that means it could cave in at any time) I’m standing in shallow water.
Water’s for drinking, I shouldn’t be standing in the water. The problem
with this dream is there is no ladder to the bottom of the well and no
rope so I can be pulled out—or climb out if no one comes to help. I can

146
see the distant light over head, but it doesn’t shine on me. I’m cold and
stiffening up though I don’t seem to be as unhappy or concerned as I
should be for such a situation. Now here’s the really crazy part. As I
stomp around rather aimlessly (what’s to aim for? There is no way out,
and I can’t go anywhere other than around and around the bottom of this
well), suddenly, I have the feeling that I am not alone.
There is more light in the well than is coming from the well head
a great distance above. The well has become, in fact, well lit and per-
haps even warmer. I notice that the well is not, perhaps never was, per-
fectly cylindrical and that on one of the longer sides there is a dirt shelf
about ten feet over my head, and a soft warm light is radiating from the
shelf. I crowd to the far edge of the well and try to see what is on the
shelf, but I can’t make out anything other than a soft glow. I begin kick-
ing steps into the dirt wall of the well, and when I have two steps into the
well, I claw a hand hold that I can cling to while kicking a couple of more
steps. Then, climbing onto these two steps, I see that there is a baby
smiling, and the light is coming from the blankets which the baby is
wrapped in. In deed, the baby is wrapped in warm light. Clinging to the
side of the well, I begin to feel a chill breeze. I begin to wonder how a
baby came to be on a shelf in the bottom of this well. I, surprisingly, don’t
feel like I need to rescue this baby.
I’m struck by how happy/content this baby at the bottom of a
chill well seems to be. As far as I know the dream just ends there.
Chan says dreams are about feelings—if so I feel pretty confused
and stupid. When I was a young kid I used to dream of rattlesnakes and
rescuing young damsels who weren’t distressed but needed my attention
anyway. Those dreams sort of made sense. It’s terrifying growing out of
the safety and support of the womb and your parents and home. Ah, the
girls, now that needs no explanation. I think I may put this dream to
Chan, sort of like a challenge, see if he is up to making sense of this
crazy stuff.

May 5, 2005

I called Chan. This insane dream has been troubling my sleep. In-
terestingly, I recall Freud spoke of dreams as sleep medicine, but my
dream, once dreamed, disturbs me, keeps me awake thrashing it over,
wondering what it means to be stuck at the bottom of a well. Now here’s
the interesting part; I think Chan actually gets passing marks on this one.
I feel a whole lot better anyway. It’s a hopeful dream he says. He says
this dream, that seems so strange to me, reads like an open book. I am
stuck in a dark place with little light, and it’s murky down there, and I

147
What’s Jane?
haven’t seen much of a way out. But this baby, this baby wrapped in light
is a good sign. Babies are new born, in a dream they say that the
dreamer is ready for or about to experience new life. The fact that the
baby is wrapped in soft warm light is an even better omen of hope. It’s
like opening a fortune cookie and reading that your future is bright.
What now? Be patient, he says. Talk to Susan, perhaps. But I’m
not ready to talk to Susan; I’ve only begun Deacon’s journal entries for
his two year trip to Asia. The thing is, that talking to Chan, I felt this well-
ing up like I was going to cry. Oh, but life is strange.
11:00pm off to the Alexander.
I had a hard night at the Alexander. The beer was off; must have
been a bad batch. I tried a couple of brands, and none of them seemed
very satisfying.
I didn’t like the people. For once I didn’t like sitting in the corner,
watching. I didn’t like seeing Bill sit quietly, like he had run out of words.
I moved to the Lorne. I didn’t like being called “honey” by the exotic
dancer. I didn’t like it when Stephanie brought over a “Canadian” without
asking; I’m not in there that often, and I don’t drink cheap beer. It gave
me the creeps to hear the words of the couple two tables over slurring
and the conversation slowing to cheap sentimentality. It was a bad night.
Susan and Sam were sitting by the dance floor drinking heavily. I
nodded toward their table in recognition, and they smiled back timidly in
return. There was a number of beer on the table, like there had been
more company at the table earlier. I felt awkward. I felt that Susan and I
really were strangers; sort of like when you see a clerk from the grocer
store in the pub, and, at first, you want to say, “Hi, how are you?” but you
don’t because suddenly you realize that the only way you know them is
the trifling conversations at the check out; pleasantries forced by com-
mercial necessity.
I don’t really know Susan, though I had stopped to talk when
picking up Deacon’s journal. But this was awkward because I really felt I
knew Susan better than that. Maybe she was the baby on the shelf in the
well in the dream. But, no the baby, Chan said, was just a symbol that
there was some hope for me yet. But just the possibility that Susan
might mean anything like that or that visiting Susan might have triggered
my dream which made me cry and feel less alone made me feel I knew
Susan better than just a nod across the bar. But then it was Susan that
did the sharing of her views when I was sitting in her dinning
room/kitchen. I really hadn’t contributed much to the conversation—only
my interest in Deacon.
Perhaps I am just a nod across the pub to her. I kept up the par-
allel play thing, though I didn’t like it, and it didn’t feel good. I left early
and went back to the Alexander, but it was just a bunch of blokes slob-

148
bering in their beer and listening to a whiny country solo act. I left early, I
took a six pack with me; I didn’t leave a tip. The chill night air felt good
against my face. Things were really looking up the other day.

May 6, 2005

I’ve been thinking about Jane today. Actually I was thinking about
the deep well dream. It was like being in a deep well after Jane left; not
like the dream; there wasn’t any baby, or light, or water. I just felt like I
was at the bottom of a deep well. Everything around me was dark except
for a narrow pin-hole of light over head. And people kept coming to the
edge of the pin-hole and shouting down “are you alright?” But I gave up
trying to answer because the sound of my voice stayed in the well, and
no one heard me, so they looked puzzled and went away and never
came back; except for Pat.
Pat said she would come back some day. I tried calling for Jenni-
fer, but she never came to the well. I guess she couldn’t hear me. She
loved her mother so much. I don’t know what they talked of that last
week, but there were hours on the phone bill to Victoria. I loved her so
much. I remember one time when she was twelve and had just mounted
the Arab-cross pony that we stabled for so many years; she was heading
out for a ride with some of the neighbourhood girls, and just before she
urged old Rusty on, she looked down at me, and caught my eye, and I
thought: you know, no father and daughter have ever been happier to-
gether than Jennifer and I. It was just an epiphany. I don’t expect anyone
to understand or even believe it. It was just how I felt that day. But in the
last year I could tell I wasn’t pleasing her. She wanted me to do some-
thing for her mother, but I could never understand what that was.
Sometimes I felt everyone we knew either thought I was or ex-
pected me to be super-human. There’s movies about these giants that
turn the world upside down to save a loved one. I just didn’t measure up.
I was human. I was just this cynical old shit that tried hopelessly to stem
the tide and couldn’t.
It’s strange how loss is just loss. I mean, when someone dies
suddenly, you’re at a loss because you didn’t expect it, and you don’t
know what to feel, or what to say, and you’re just lost like being at the
bottom of a deep, unlit well. But Jane’s death wasn’t unexpected. Well I
didn’t expect it that day, but at the rate she was going down hill and the
constant struggle just to keep her breathing and functioning, of course I
expected her to leave. I like “leave” so much better than “death,” even
though it sounds personal like being rejected—like a separation—like an
end to love. But it wasn’t like that; it just wasn’t so final like death. The

149
What’s Jane?
note said she was in the next room, and I half expected to go in and
speak with her. Only when I touched her and felt her cold and non-
responsive could I accept that she wasn’t just resting like she so often
did in the afternoon.
Yes, Chan, I accept that the absence of emotion at such a trau-
matic event is neurotic, at best. I’m nuts. I can live with that—or cope
anyway, even though it troubles you. I guess what I experienced was
more like an exhausted soldier who has fought so long and so hard in
the trenches that he doesn’t even know what cease fire or peace means;
or why.
You asked me to write about Jane rather than all this “stuff,” but,
really, Chan, you’re a bit insensitive. What is Jane? Just some physical
features that you can get from a picture? Or a few conversations? Or an
occupation? Jane is all this “stuff” and more. If I look back and try to pry
apart me from her, from events, from stuff, from the farm, from Jennifer,
from Pat, from school, from her church or an almost infinite list from
me—if I do that; if I untangle it all and end up with some single thread
that I can point to and say there…there is Jane; she won’t be there be-
cause she isn’t separate from all that she was entangled with; in my
mind anyway; and this whole thing started to be about what’s in my
mind.
The one thing I can tell you about is her voice. It is the one thing
that isn’t just a big tangle; her voice is just Jane; and Chan, I still hear
her voice. Oh, yeah, I’m nuts, but please don’t cure me so much, don’t
make me so unnuts that I never again hear her voice in the morning, and
go to look for her, and put on the coffee.

150
Asia Travels
David Barnett: My Quest

Nov. 23, 1993

I’m back; restarting my journal which I named, My Quest—in jest;


but turns out to be relevant in ways that I hadn’t begun to guess back in
1989. Who would have guessed that what started out as an adventurous
get-a-way would turn into a spiritual journey through Asia lasting almost
two years? It’s amazing this disembarking from the plane into Vancou-
ver, my home, yet disembarking into a world that seems as strange to
me now as any of the fantasy worlds of CS Lewis—stranger, I would say,
than Asia seemed when I first landed in January 1992.
Equally strange, I am very thankful for Dr. Cowie’s suggestion to
keep this journal. Because of the journal, I have kept notes along the
way; I didn’t keep them Journal style, but they are the basis of recon-
structing my travels into a continuation of my journal. I am looking for-
ward to fitting these pieces into a story of my travels. I don’t want to
forget all I’ve been through for the past two years. I don’t want to start
over where I left off and do the same things all over again. I am differ-
ent—not because I walk funny, or forget details, or can’t follow all the
nuances of social games. I’m different today because I see things differ-
ently and that changes everything.
Getting ready to write about my spiritual journey is hard to do, so
I have decided to just start right here – getting ready, sorting through
notes, deciding where to start. It’s the same as most things; don’t worry
about it—just start somewhere; funny, didn’t Cowie say something like
that years ago?
My travels in Asia didn’t really start as a spiritual quest, but
rather evolved into one. Actually they weren’t really a spiritual quest,
either; more of a personal spiritual awakening that has led me to be
more aware of the inner truth we all possess. I expect this inner truth to
151
Asia Travels
continue to grow as I live, and learn, and synthesize all these things that
have happened in my life into this new understanding.
So did it start when I set out on my travels to Asia; or was it three
years before when—just out of the hospital—I met a couple who had just
returned from Asia, and I decided that when I felt well enough I would go
and see for myself this culture so vastly different from anything I knew?
Or was it the waking up itself—from the coma and seeing my own life
transformed into patterns I couldn’t understand? Or did it start when I
lost the only woman I had ever loved and had no idea if there actually
was a path ahead for me? Who knows? All I can say is the quest contin-
ues and the awakening continues to grow. It’s all just so many impres-
sions:

Impressions
Asia travel one year
gives thirty-six year old
Canadian wanderer
songs to sing
…constant search continues
for I know not what
as so much is always offered
and so little ever taken
-March 92

Nov. 25, 1993

As I look back over two years, trying to understand my travels, it


doesn’t surprise me that much of it comes out in poetry. Isn’t poetry
squeezed like my pressured brain? Is not poetry the language of the
spirit? Is not poetry the meaning/ the feeling/ the understanding beyond
the realm of everyday rational language which so alludes my muddled
mind? As I read over these poems, I see such a difference between them
and the piles of scribbled, almost illegible notes I kept while traveling.
The notes are pieces of things, an observation here, a missed taxi, an
expensive lesson, but the poems condense things; they reminded me
more of how I felt than what I observed. I pinch myself; is it real? Am I
real? Sitting here with poems and papers spread across the desk, a
flood of memories overwhelms me—who am I, this wanderer, lost be-
tween cultures, between selves, looking for himself and his home?
It—this journey away from home, toward a new self, to Asia—
slowly evolved in my mind over three years difficult years. Susan left; I

152
went through three jobs and two truncated relationships; I knew, to the
bottom of my soul, that the road for me did not lead straight ahead.
All my troubles and uncertain future seemed to—so easily roll up
into my inexplicable—yet compelling—desire to see China while it was still
the China that is not a suburb of LA. I needed a fresh window on the
world, and a China that still remembered Lao Tuz, and Confucius—and
China called to me with its offering of a different perspective on the
world—life. The fact that China was changing/transforming every day that
I was there only strengthened my resolve and gave me a sense of ur-
gency. What I did not discover today could be gone tomorrow under the
ubiquitous urge to have more of all things Western.
So in early 92 I left with few good byes, a one way ticket to Hong
Kong, a minimal stash of cash, and no specific plans. What a collage of
cultures to encounter so suddenly; in the crowded masses of Hong Kong
and Taipei, the British presence still mingles with the incense burning in
the Buddhist temples. The silent, graceful practice of tai chi in the park
at sunrise mixes ancient oriental history with modern imperial power.
Whimsically, I drank cold Guinness stout, served by a sweet young miss
from Cheshire in the Golden Bull Pub and thought for a moment I was
home.
Traveling in “open” China was trying, as I needed always to be on
best behaviour, limping past staring crowds. Language was not a barrier
as someone always seemed eager to step forward to practise their Eng-
lish—like when I tried to get a haircut at a main street barber in
Wouchou; a crowd of staring onlookers gathered; blocking the street
outside from passing traffic. Fortunately, it was mostly an obstacle to
passing bicycles. And the smile needed to stay, as it was all I had to
offer. I wonder about how my own culture has almost forgotten how to
smile—away from the check out. What is the point of all this “develop-
ment” if it builds over our inner happiness, our authenticity?
It took time, but eventually I learned the how to of travel in China.
Fortunately their number system is the same as ours, so once I figured
out how to read the train schedule/fare book, it became simple to buy
my tickets for the same price as Chinese travellers and not pay the in-
flated tourist prices. Fare rates are a function of the kilometres travelled,
so all I needed to do was figure out the distance between points of
travel–listed in the schedule book–and then refer to the distance trav-
elled fare chart. The numbers are the same, so this was relatively simple,
once I learned the character names for the start and end cities. I could
always count on an English speaking Chinese person jumping in to help
out. I simply had to utter, “Wo bu dong” (I don’t understand) and the
ticket agents became most sympathetic.

153
Asia Travels
Train travel brought me much closer to the people of China. I
struggled to endure the hard seats and hard beds not only because they
were affordable over the large distances, but because it brought me in
contact with common people. It’s like Canada (distance wise), but the
main difference is that, after a three or four hour train ride through rug-
ged mountains and valleys, the train pulls into a remote rustic village of
150,000 people.

Awakening
waken in morning
by clearing throat
at five second intervals
is as regular
in China
as staring mobs
in a new town.

Not sure if it’s still like that – staring crowds everywhere I went.
Three months of constant staring can get on anyone’s nerves. It makes
me aware of what it must be like to be the queen.
But after three months in China the major memory for me was
the general equality of all. Few believe or understand me, back, here, in
Canada; and even now all this is changing with the inroads of capitalism,
but in the early 90’s of my travels, it was, for me, still a predominant
experience. The traditions and age-old methods continued and boats are
hand-towed upstream over river rapids as they have been for centuries. I
bought a plate of small snails boiled in spicy garlic butter sauce for
twelve cents from a street vendor beside the river. The reality of being
overcharged, twice, for a dim sum breakfast even further steered me
away from five star hotels.
The joy of communication without language is another wonderful
memory brought home for me by an informal acupuncture treatment just
before I left China. After a massage from a blind masseuse that left me
with an arm that I couldn’t lift above my shoulder, I was complaining the
next evening. I was staying in a hotel where some of the workers were
young university students who spoke English. The next morning at break-
fast I was handed a note by a young worker at the hotel. It said, “Must go
to the university today, follow woman who brings note. She will take you
to our clinic to fix. Go with her.”
The intrigue of blind faith led me on, not knowing where I was go-
ing. I followed and listened as the problem was explained in Chinese. At
least I thought that was what I was hearing. I was escorted to a clinic
table where needles were stuck into my arm and vertebrae. I didn’t see if

154
the needles were connected to anything, but my arm began pulsing and
jumping at regular intervals. It felt as if electric pulses were shooting
between my vertebrae and arm. The pain was gone (after 5 – 10 min-
utes) and my arm was back to normal. I was “unhooked” and nothing
more was said, other than smiles and bows. I took out my wallet to offer
payment, but this was met with vigorous head shaking, resistance, and
refusal. After much “she, she” (Thank you), I was sent on my way with a
functional arm. I left China shortly afterward, reluctantly, my travel permit
expiring.

Nov. 26, 1993

After a month of travel through the opium hills of Thailand to the


steady drone of peaceful chanting at receptive temples along the way, I
was sitting in a train station, waiting for the train that would take me
back to Bangkok from a small town in eastern Thailand, when some
locals asked if I had time to go with them to a special temple. Becoming
enamoured of blind faith, off I went. They took me to their local temple,
which was also a residence for foreign monks. They felt any foreigner
would want to visit there. I stayed for two weeks – leading the life of a
novice monk; up every morning at 4 am for an hour and a half of chant-
ing and meditation. This was followed by the monks’ alms round where
they went begging for food from the locals. After an hour of walking
through the village, they returned, and all the food was pooled, and other
locals came to put it all together into a daily feast. After a period of rest
and walking meditation, we all sat down to the daily meal.
The two weeks I was there were also a period of inner reflection
for the monks, so there weren’t any physical chores to do during the rest
of the day. I read about Buddhism and learned meditation practice. The
Abbot at the monastery, Wat Pah Nanachat, was also a Canadian who
selected me as a favoured student. He had been at the monastery for
five years and lived as a practising monk for the ten previous years. He
gave me meditation lessons and reading material to study. I found the
words of Shunryu Suzuki becoming to me: “Without any intentional,
fancy way of adjusting yourself, to express yourself as you are is the
most important thing.” I found, within myself, that peace arrives when
one loosens bonds of attachment and releases into the natural flow of
things. I made peace with Susan. I had, earlier, come to a grudging for-
giveness, but this was different—peace. Still, I had lingering doubt that I
had arrived at anything profound that actually moved or changed me—or
would, yet the feeling was an encompassing peace.

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After hearing that I was planning to visit India, the Abbot told me
about a meditation workshop that occurred in Bhodgaya every New Year.
A former British monk, from Wat Pah Nanachat, led it. I made plans to
attend. I shaved my head, though I had no idea how far down the path of
monkhood I might tread.
When I finally made it to Bangkok, two weeks later, and the rush-
ing traffic screeched to a stop to allow me—with my freshly shaven
head—to cross the street, I was stunned. The streets of Bangkok are the
most congested streets I’d ever seen, yet—even in the crush of traffic—
there is reverence for the monks.
I kept my head shaved for the next year as I continued my jour-
ney that was rapidly becoming a quest to find the meaning of what it’s all
about.

Wisdom
mindful simplicity
in every action
is what its all about.

The urge to see more drew me on, taking me through Malaysia


where Muslims burn Buddhist incense and sell Catholic candles—
separately. The Mercedes bus, with rock music videos, made it hard to
watch the passing countryside and its acre after acre of Goodyear-rubber
forest. I sustained myself on Indonesian gado gado with fried bananas
and deep fried hori as I passed by outstretched hands at every corner.
Where was I going? Was I there? Can a spirit be restless and at peace?
Can a quiet mind ask so many questions? If I don’t ask questions, can
my mind be quiet? Is any of this real? Is anything real? What is the ex-
perience of a word? I searched and found and lost and gave up and
strove to know and came to a restless peace.

Nov. 27, 1993

More British imperialism surfaced in Mameyo, Burma with burp-


ing memories of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, lentil soup, fruit salad,
coffee, brandy, and two-dollar dinners. I luxuriated amidst the country
splendour of linen tablecloth, teak wood spiral staircase, and a sign over
the mantle–built in l904.
On to India where the teeming streets of buy/sell capitalist life
seemed vulgar, with beggars sleeping in Calcutta streets and tourists in
caged verandas. Cold toast and hot tea breakfast in the Salvation Army
Red Shield guesthouse reminded me of my nearly forgotten home.

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I moved on to trekking in the Himalayas, finding perspective
along the trail above the distant, polka dot-sized, stone homes. Lives,
inspired with simplicity you can’t buy at Wal Mart, fuelled the desire to
stay longer. Working for my room and board on a Nepali houseboat,
building a new bed for my recently discovered friends, made me more
aware of a common humanity beyond the divisions of language and
culture. Limited to communicating with universally understood gestures
of hand, and eye, and heart seemed only to cement the bonds of two
men working with hand tools, smoothing rough timbers, chiselling intri-
cate joints into the hardwood renewed home. If my injury has brought me
here to be this more connected person, then I am at peace with that
also.
Christmas time; the commercial, Jesus of British Empire seems
so trivial beside the rites of the passing, ever renewing year almost be-
yond time. I dreamed of Jesus bathing in the holy Ganges with Krishna
and Shiva splashing innocently like babies in a warm bath.

The Eternal
clear light will shine
only
if pond is still
leaving wavy interludes
to swim thru
getting there.

I arrived in Bodhgaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment, to


discover that truth and knowledge only exists in oneself when one pre-
vents stagnant memory worship. Being stuck in old models; we need
gurus. To be finished before starting is to burn unspoken silence; clutter
chatters; distance distorts; only the ethical fountain remains.
And the journey, by now a quest, continued with short stays at
the Vrindaven Hari Krishna temple where the unwillingness to see any
validity in anything other than Krishna worship drove me away. Himala-
yan devotees of various gurus made me aware of how much more there
was to learn. Dharmasala put me in touch with the strength of joy which
surrounded the exiled Dhali Lama.
I began spending all my time at Sikh temples, nightly worshiping
to the harmonium-inspired chants. My need for devotional worship grew.
I stayed at the Sihk Golden Temple in Armristar where Indira Ghandi was
assassinated, I became confused over this unlikely blend of love and
hate.
I traveled to Muslim Pakistan, observing the regularity of bowing
to Mecca five times a day to the public broadcast from what seemed like

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Asia Travels
every street corner. Can state and religion commingle without intoler-
ance or the death of the spirit? Christianity is the secondary religion in
Pakistan, so I was quite easily able to get a copy of the Bible there. I
spent a fair bit of my free time reading parts of the New Testament for
the first time. Coupled with my continuing yoga/meditation practice this
made for a different form of travel as I continued my journeys.
Travel continued, but the form was different. Now, it seems that I
was travelling from temple to temple where I often found housing and
from holy place to holy place. From the Buddhist mountain shrines in
Ladahk, to Hindu holy pilgrimage sites in Kashmir; from regular Sikh
gurudwara stays, to infrequent minor sect sites, the sadhu wanderer with
his shaved head, sandaled feet and simple shoulder bag plodded on for
another year often selling his newly published book of travel poetry to
fellow travellers.
I continued to travel around India for most of the year, but was
somewhat deflated after being robbed one night at Goa. But people’s
basic generosity that I experienced after this unfortunate incident rekin-
dled my faith in human kindness. Upon waking virtually naked after
foolishly sleeping one night on the beach, I approached many of the
same people who I had sold poetry books to the day before, this time
panhandling with my tale of woe. I had lost my shoulder bag with all my
valuables and was now basically naked as I appealed, again, to them.
People were very generous, and I quickly raised about $100—enough to
buy a train ticket back to Delhi where I was able to apply for a new pass-
port and get replacement traveller cheques. Fortunately my income tax
refund money for the year prior to leaving was also waiting for me as
well, so I was able to get a fresh start in many aspects.

Nov. 30, 1993

Another visit to Boldgaya for a refresher meditation workshop re-


kindled my sagging spirit and regenerated the desire to travel. So I
started backtracking, returning to Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indo-
nesia before I began to hear my distant home calling to me once more.
Once home I could only think of my poetry—saying as much as I
could in as few words as possible. I was drawn to haiku–a form that I
consciously started working with in China.
In Kelowna, Alice had joined the B’hais—a faith that seemed to
bridge East and West. I feel attracted to their main belief that all relig-
ions are basically saying the same thing, “The spirit of God is within
oneself, and one just needs to find a devotional practice for it to blos-
som.” This may only be my interpretation, but it felt good to me. If this is

158
not the B’hai teaching, it has become my personal creed. I didn’t be-
come an active participant in the B’hais because, while I liked what they
were saying, I had a hard time with the rules. Perhaps Crystal is right:
essentially, I’m just hippy.
I’m pleased that my books continue to sell, though the return is
far less than a living.
I came home a seasoned traveller with a new outlook on life, and
new tools to work with, and a renewed vision of being alive—even with a
gimpy leg and an imperfect understanding.
Of all my regrets, my greatest is that I feel like every day I slip fur-
ther back into old patterns and give up too many of my new spiritual
habits. After returning to Kelowna, my old troubles seem to grow on me
like barnacles on a moored ship. Is enlightenment only for travelers?
This is becoming more of a life history than a journal; so I’ll stop
here for a short time and consider where I want to go with this journaling.
It’s been years since I’ve seen Dr. Cowie; what I do with this journal is
entirely up to me now, though I must confess to liking it more than I
would have thought, and certainly more than when I began with all that
resentment about being told to write; and all the other resentment. I’d do
it different today. There were good people in the ward with the ability to
help in ways that I wish I had stuck around for. They were so right—I was
so angry then; just all balled up angry.

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Bartholomew Johnson’s Required Writing

May 8, 2005

I just finished Deacon’s journal entries from his Asian travels.


Once again, I find it fascinating to think of him traveling, writing, visiting
Ashrams, meeting gurus, having these insights into what it means to be
human or to be alive, and me reading it, knowing that in less than 15
years he would be dead by his own hand. Does it mean that it all meant
nothing? Or that the wisdom just ran out? Or that these truths are only
half truths?
What does the ending mean? Does the way it ends change the
way it is, when it is? Or is the is enough in itself? Why do I ask so many
questions? You’d think a person who asked so many questions would
have a few answers, or at least he would believe that there are answers.
Me, I just keep asking, even when the only answer is another question.
It’s kind like mucking around in the bottom of a deep well with a little
splashy water, but little light, and no way out; so you just keep splashing
around because it’s all you know how to do.
It seems a month since I last went to see Susan. I’ve seen her in
town several times and even stopped her on the street to assure her that
I would be bringing Deacon’s journal by. Each time I searched her
face/her words/her willingness to linger and talk further to see if there
was any trace of familiarity beyond a nod across the bar. Had our previ-
ous discussion about Deacon and Job created any sense of kinship of
feelings between us? Oh, there it is I said it—“feelings,” as though it was
important, as though it meant something to me? Chan may be danger-
ous. Susan is always in a hurry, I can never read anything into our en-
counters one way or the other—I suppose a nod across the bar is what it
amounts to.

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May 11, 2005

Susan called around 11:00 am today. She seemed surprisingly


friendly, or it surprised me as when I saw her at the Lorne she seemed to
barely recognize me. She recalled our last discussion; apologizing for
“getting a little too heavy.” She suggested that I come by her place in the
afternoon for “a spot of tea in the garden.” I readily agreed. Tea in the
garden sounded most relaxing, and I was looking forward to asking
about some of Deacon’s travels.
When I arrived Susan was out in the garden planting. Chickens
were running up and down the tunnel-like runs between the rows. Susan
was pacing along some newly turned soil. My gosh, it’s beautiful this
newly turned, Almond Gardens, soil. It’s a gardener’s delight; dark and
rich with organic content, sandy enough to remain crumbly in your hand
even when it is saturated with water, few stones to rattle the bones and
dull the instruments as you work in it.
Susan looked up smiling and wiped her brow. It was warm like
June. “I’ll be right over,” she called, but she continued dropping large
seeds, likely beans, into the furrowed row; then she grabbed a rake that
was leaning against the fence and covered over her planting. I keep a
small garden patch behind the house in Ruckle, but it tends to overgrow
with weeds rapidly, and I get discouraged before I can harvest very
much.
Just looking at Susan’s deer-fenced, beautifully organized garden
with its small, labeled, row stakes, and its poles for beans neatly stacked
at one end, and the trellis for the peas, and the straight rows already
showing seedlings popping through the soil—likely lettuce, radish, onion
shoots and chard—and the frames over which plastic film was stretched
to protect the tomatoes from frost. Beyond the vegetable garden, but still
inside the deer fencing, were rows of strawberries and vigorous well-
pruned raspberry canes. Susan was more than a casual gardener.
Having finished her seeding, Susan came over to me smiling.
“Sorry, I had to finish up a bit of planting.” She needn’t apologize to me. I
was remembering the asparagus that would be already springing out of
the ground on the farm. As long as it hadn’t been over-harvested the
previous year, it should be ready for the table right about now.
“I’ll put the tea on,” she said, “You have a seat.”
There was a round cedar picnic table with a sun-shading um-
brella on the lawn between the flower beds and the garden. Two seats
across the table from each other waited, invitingly.
I sat sloppily in the chair, drinking in the warm day, and the good-
ness of the earth in planting season, noting the quiet of May that

162
absorbs even the lip-e-tee-put-put of the neighbour’s rototiller into a kind
of peace that is quiet—despite the sounds. A hen was proclaiming all of
her efforts in laying such a fine egg, and a rooster crowed an afternoon
crow that roosters crow because it is a warm sunny day in May, and still I
could hear the faint murmur of the river as it made the bend behind the
flour mill.
Susan kicked open the screen door and appeared with a tray of
tea, and cups, and biscuits.
“Well,” she said settling into the chair opposite, “I’m glad you
could make it on such a fine day.”
I was delighted to be there on such a fine day and thought of a
hundred things I might say at once, but the question that popped out of
my lips was, “So, how did you and Deacon end up in Grand Forks?”
“Oh, of course, you haven’t come to that in the journal yet have
you?” she asked rhetorically.
“No, I am just bringing back this journal which covers Deacon’s
travels in Asia.”
“Actually, Deacon talks about that quite a bit in the notebooks
that I will lend you today. You know the last time we met I talked a lot,
and you were pretty quiet. I guess much of what I had to say was a bit off
topic and a little doctrinaire. But I only make a slight apology for that. I
don’t think that discussing something written in a holy book is necessary
doctrinaire, or preachy, or evangelistic.” She caught my eye across the
table defiantly.
I was feeling mellow (perhaps it went with the weather); I was
even—uncharacteristically—intrigued to hear more of what Susan might
have learned in her independent assessment of the holy book. I hoped
she could see that.
“Sometimes you can just see that people who have written in
other times had human insights that we can learn from without being
owned by it, word by literal word—just like you referred to the psycholo-
gist Jung the other day. You don’t think that his every word is gospel,
though he clearly knew a great deal about culture and people.”
“So, you don’t want to talk about you and Deacon moving to
Grand Forks?” I prodded falling back into my journalism 101 habits.
After you’ve done enough interviews (not that I was interviewing Susan,
but a habit of thought exercised over and over just doesn’t go away when
you happen to change seats)diversions really stand out, sort of like when
you’ve taken magic school, the slight of hand movements just become
so obvious it’s hard to see why everyone doesn’t see it.
Susan shook her head slightly as though coming back from a
thought or distant place and put down her tea. “No, you have your pri-
vate spaces for your reasons, and I have places that I find uncomfortable

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also. But you should be happy to know that after thinking it over I de-
cided to let you read all of Deacon’s journals including his comments
about my illness, and our coming together, and his euphoric dreams
about coming to the Sunshine Valley, which—for a while—meant the
same thing as heaven to Deacon. When Pat read the journals I wasn’t
ready for anybody else to share in the knowledge of how David had given
so much to me when I needed it—even though I had walked out on him
shortly after he got out of the hospital. It was wonderful for me to feel so
unconditionally supported, but some other part of me just never quite
got over feeling some embarrassment over the difference of how he
treated me in my need vs. how I treated him in similar circumstances.
Some times I think I never got over it completely, and that probably had
something to do with the on and off relationship we had over the years.”
Susan sipped gently from her tea, catching my eye over the rim of the
cup, acknowledging that it was my turn to respond.
“I saw you in the Lorne a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn’t sure
you recognized me.” I just had to get this out in the open about how
familiar or stand-offish our relationship was becoming—no, no Chan I
mean in the common, un-spun vernacular not in the “seeing” version of
“relationship.”
“Oh, yes, I saw you there the night they were having that ‘exotic
dancer.’ Kind of out of character for the Lorne, don’t you think? Actually
seeing you there, I remember seeing you in the pub a number of times;
sitting by yourself, looking bored and unhappy. Didn’t I see you one time
with your note book like you just couldn’t leave the job behind? You
know, I almost invited you over to the table except you seemed so en-
sconced, so locked into your own private world. Do you ever go out to the
pub with anyone?—or…well, I guess I just have a difficult time under-
standing someone going to a public drinking place to just sit alone all by
himself, looking around like a lonely spy.” Susan hesitated. Perhaps she
was considering where to go with this conversation.
Why do I continue to believe that I can hide in the corner and no
one notices? I notice Bill; Susan notices me; it’s what happens in public
places.
“Have you ever heard of what they call parallel play at the day
care? It’s where…”
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” I interrupted anxiously. “I know about parallel
play”—do I ever. It’s easy enough to talk about in a journal, but to have
someone else just point it out, and point directly at you—that’s hard.
“Actually when I go out I seldom (‘Actually when I go out,’ like
‘rarely’ by the twist of the tongue!) show up at the Lorne. I find the music
a bit grating.”

164
“Oh, yeah, and back at the Alexander, you’ve got old Bill who sits
alone with his circle of friends inside his head, like you will one day, if
you keep drinking alone.” She looked across the table at me; into my
eyes, making the message a little softer than if she had just hurled it at
me like a pie in the face.
I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? I was cornered—with
no graceful way out. The problem with conscious diversions is you have
to think of them—they don’t just pop out like it does for a politician. I held
my tea and sipped and let my thoughts race. I picked up a biscuit and let
my thoughts race—like a turtle in a hurry.
“So… you have a beautiful garden.” Alright! It just popped out—a
perfect diversion.
“I’ve been at it in this same place for a long time. Actually, I do
love it. I love the planting and seeing the first seedlings breaking through
the earth. I like the feel of the earth in my hands, and I even enjoy the
weeding, though the chickens do most of that these days.” Susan looked
back over her shoulder toward the garden and seemed lost in her
thoughts about gardening.
We talked on and Susan went for more tea. We talked of Pat and
Greg and discovered we had a number of common friends –almost eve-
ryone in Grand Forks has a number of common friends, or they’re di-
rectly related through “The Family.” It was easy just talking, and I felt so
human just talking light talk; being social. It’s interesting; I’ve been so
obsessed with “the real news” but maybe the biggest news is that, de-
spite all the news, people just sit outside on the lawn, by the garden, and
talk pleasantly. It’s significant news for me.
I can’t remember much else that was said—only that it was su-
perficial, about things and pleasantries, and pleasant, and we laughed. I
stayed almost to dinner time and went away happier than I have been for
a long time. We didn’t talk about Deacon’s travels—perhaps another day.

May 12, 2005

I am addicted to this damn thing. It’s two o’clock in the morning. I


was on this thing until 10 o’clock last night when I went out to the Alex-
ander for a couple of beer. Then I came home to flop into bed, but I just
had to peek to see if there were any messages or breaking news; then I
went on to check the weather, and googled tornadoes, and on it went.
Now, rather than just do what every stupid chicken knows is the natural
and right thing to do and head to the roost for the night, I take up this
inane, virtual conversation with my shrink. Why? I’m addicted to the

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clacking of the keys. Maybe I need a quiet keyboard. Do they have with-
drawal wards for virtual junkies?
Isn’t it fascinating how computers—and more specifically, our
rapidly evolving virtual world—is one day our savior and the next day it is
delivering us to the gates of perdition?
One day computers promise a nearly (virtually doesn’t work for
this any more) paper free world—why print it when it is already in manipu-
lable, easy-to-share-at-no-cost text? But the bins are overflowing with
copies of documents that are printed at every draft because it is so easy
to just click the print icon. One day the internet seems like the great
equalizer, delivering a world of information to my private desk at any
hour of the day or night. The next day memory banks and the intercon-
nected access to “security” information makes Winston Smith’s Big
Brother look like a pussy cat and turns border crossings into a nightmare
of long forgotten offenses.
Forgive me if I say this a bit tongue in cheek, but there is also
some truth in saying that earlier today I encountered a mind boggling
scene in which, for a moment, it looked like the immensity of computer-
generated virtual reality might save all of us from our devastating urge to
consume the natural world.
It all started at the outdoor equipment sale which the local Fish
and Game Club puts on each year in its rustic, river-side, log building and
grounds at the end of Riverside drive. I had come to this incredibly popu-
lar event out of idle curiosity—I certainly have no extra money for new
sports equipment this year. Outside there were archery contests, and
kid’s games, and booths with a wide array of fishing equipment—most
especially sports fishing boats and accompanying equipment of every
sort.
Parked cars jammed the lawns and stretched for five blocks
back down the road. The air was electric with the excitement of so many
people on a warm spring day amid so many things to do and see.
I was looking for cheap beer which I knew was waiting inside.
Once inside, the crush of people and booths and exhibits was dif-
ficult to navigate, but toward the centre of the room there seemed to be
a bit of open space surrounded by a particularly animated group of peo-
ple. So I shouldered my way around the snarls of people locked in con-
versation or queued before a booth checking out the latest in waders,
lures, reels, poles, sounders, coats, boots, and a seeming endless array
of stuff.
As I approached the small clear area in the centre of the room, a
most remarkable sight began to appear. There in the centre, with a
whole ring of people looking on, was a most earnest looking young man
with a fishing pole held firmly in hand. This was clearly not like the other

166
shoppers idly examining one pole after another from the racks of poles
of every sort, for every possible occasion, for every species and sub-
specie of fish, for every body of water whether flowing at a wide variety of
rates or standing perfectly still. This young man, with the pole held so
firmly, wasn’t examining the pole at all—he was—in fact—working it ac-
cording to the directions of a voice that—on close inspection—turned out
to be a stereo speaker system.
As I drew closer, I noticed that this pole was most definitely not
being idly examined because it bobbed and bent and relaxed into its
rigid straight resting form then the tip would suddenly draw down wildly
toward the floor. Suddenly I noticed that the pole was in fact strung with
translucent fishing line, and I could hear the whine of the drag on the
reel as the line ran out wildly, and the tip dove, and the young man held
the pole higher according to the instructions from the excited voice over
the speaker.
Coming around more to the centre of the on-looking crowd, I no-
ticed that the almost transparent line ran up through the eyes of the pole
and then stretched tautly down though the excited space to a tub of
water! It was one of those galvanized tubs like you use for watering live-
stock. Strange! But stranger still; just behind the tub rose a large video
screen and on the screen the sleekest, and most beautiful, energetic
twelve pound steelhead swam, and dove, and leap.
It was a magnificent scene, telecast in such stunning Technicolor
that, for a moment, I forgot my surrounding and felt I was right there on
the river bank engaged in this resplendent display of the verdancy of life.
“Hold your tip up! Reel in! Let ‘m run!” the speaker was becoming
even more excited, though it continued to speak in a voice of convincing
assurance. I watched for a time fascinated by the absorbing reality of
this virtual world. After an extended struggle, the steelhead played out
and drew resignedly close to the digital boat. The net came out, and the
young man, the flesh and blood “real” person smiled with satisfaction. A
man dressed like a salesmen came forward; “Next?” he said.
I was repulsed. I’m an old man; the digital world to which I am
addicted, scares me—this making images of reality as real as real. War
games seem too real to me. I’ve seen young kids playing them, and
something in their eyes when they shoot down “the enemy”—it seems
too real. And when I see news shots of pilots dropping “shock and awe”
on cities so far below that they look less real than digital images in a
game to be played for fun—it frightens me to think what this may do to
our consciences and to the real people down there in that distant city.
So I left. I passed the beer garden and wandered down the
street—thinking; being uncomfortable.

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Then this fascinating/reassuring image began to spread across
my thoughts. I saw this barn—this huge barn like a football stadium. It
was filled with people—fishers and hunters—and it was divided into
booths, and each had a bucket of water or a potted plant. At the back of
every booth, was a screen playing beautiful images of rivers, and lakes,
and meadows, and forests, and rock bluffs, and mountains. At every
booth there was a hunter with appropriate dress and armory or a fisher
dressed for fishing, some standing waist deep in a bucket of water hold-
ing the tip of their pole up; watching with utter absorption the darting
and diving fish on the screen.
I heard what sounded like a gun, perhaps a 30.06 rifle. I looked
up just in time to see a magnificent moose stagger and fall then rise; I
hear a voice saying, “shoot to kill,” and another shot, and it fell with a
heavy splash into the virtual marsh.
Yes! Oh, Yes, Yes! This is it! This virtual world to which I turn for
my nightly fix is not so scary after all; it’s going to save us from ourselves
yet. What is a sustainable harvest of virtual moose or digital trout? It’s
infinite—without limit; and what is the effect on fish populations if we
increase the catch limit of digital fish to limitless? Virtually nothing, of
course. In the virtual future people will fish and hunt to their hearts con-
tent. They can bike down to the covered outdoor sports stadium, which
will cut down significantly on the CO2 that currently is spewed into the
atmosphere so abundantly by the heavy vehicles we drive out into the
ever more distant wilderness every weekend—to relax and be in unpol-
luted natural beauty.
If we can do it for hunting and fishing, imagine the benefit of vir-
tual, off-road 4-wheeling. Really, just image tearing up sensitive virtual
ecosystems and churning up the mud in stream crossings that spawn
limitless fish in gravel beds that are covered 6 inches deep in digital
mud. Oh, my heart raced with joy for the thought of such a limitless and
sustainable virtual future. Hey, what about virtual logging, and parking
lots, and subdivisions?
It all seemed so healthy and good and promising until this eve-
ning.
This evening, I heard some devastating news. There has been a
most disturbing development in the world of virtual outdoor sports. It
seems that some enterprising company has connected the idea of virtual
outdoor sports to the webcam reality of instant broadcasting from any-
where to anyplace. So instead of virtually hunting digital animals one can
now, for a fee, sit behind your computer screen, mouse in hand (your
real, plastic, computer animating mouse) watching a webcast of an all-
too-real animal grazing on the kind of grass that needs water to grow; in
the bushes is a rifle mounted to a machine that allows it to be digitally

168
directed to point in any direction—so you, sitting at your desk in suburban
Kelowna, can—by moving your plastic mouse—aim the real rifle, and pull
the cold metal trigger, and take the life of a most unsuspecting, warm-
blooded animal.
I don’t know how this will adapt to sport fishing—that seems a lit-
tle more complicated. So now we can kill without any virtual limits, but
without reference to, or thought of, or feeling for the natural world which
is becoming ever more limited in its ability to survive the onslaught of a
nearly omnipotent technology directed by a species whose conscious-
ness has yet to crawl out from the cave.
Imagine the possibilities when all this is connected to laser tech-
nology directed from an envelope of satellites! You select an area on a
digital map, and click; a whole forest just falls down. Imagine every ani-
mal, and fish, and plant mapped digitally; and imagine also, that long
before the last moose is virtually registered as the property of You Kill
Virtual Hunting Unlimited—long before that—imagine how much freedom
you’ll actually have with all those monitors following you everywhere you
go and pop up screens on every wall with messages just for you on what
you can buy that is just what you want because everything you do—
especially buy—and every where you go is recorded; and like all the other
critters of the Earth, you will be targeted as the property of Total Ad Envi-
ronment Unlimited.
What the hell are we doing?
And Chan says that I’m nuts! I say Chan, and all the rest of them,
are nuts—absolutely bonkers—if they can’t see how utterly crazy all this
destruction is. I’m, relatively, OK.
Actually this whole virtual world effect really worries me. Even
when I weigh the benefits of real hunters and fishers and 4-wheelers
hunting and fishing and tearing up computer generated dots, I can’t help
wonder what becomes of those essential qualities of being human that
we learn from contact with a real world when we no longer sense the
changing breezes against our face, and the virtual stream is not cold to
the touch, and we can just turn down the volume and not hear the pain
we inflict. Who are we when we can no longer remember the benefits of
sitting under a tree or jumping into the river—when we can’t actually feel
anything?
My, God, Chan, where’s the context for this idea that I have prob-
lems with feelings? Who exactly does have all these much vaunted feel-
ings?
Wasn’t the Titanic some sort of pre-computer age omen of the
dangers of a technological world that disconnects humans from under-
standing/sensing/feeling the reality of a world with meanings much
deeper than the dots on a computer-driven monitor?

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As the largest ship of its time, it was supposed to be unsinkable.
Eat, drink, be merry, and let your senses grow dull for on the Titanic
human existence is no longer subject to the canons of nature—so the ill-
fated passengers were told.
Perhaps what bothered me most about this whole scene with the
virtual hunting is that it seems to me our whole technological/economic
view of the meaning of life is really little more than another colossal
bubble like the Titanic.
In order to keep warm and fuel our factories we build nuclear re-
actors that generate waste so toxic we can't go near it for tens of thou-
sands of years. But we believe we can just shove the waste into a rock
somewhere (in someone else's backyard) and it'll never bother us. We
read of fish kills and dead lakes but continue to believe it has little to do
with us because, as former US Secretary of the Interior, Earl Butz, once
said, “We no longer need to worry about the environment when we can
so easily create an ecology of information.”
Oh, this is—virtually; or not so virtually—enough for tonight.

Jun. 16, 2005

Thinking about how little of Deacon we actually discussed over


the “garden tea,” I phoned Susan to arrange a time when we could talk
about the Asian travels and—hopefully—this intriguing bit about their
getting back together and moving to Grand Forks.
Susan seemed friendly and mentioned enjoying the tea in the
garden. She asked if I knew that Bob Olry was in the hospital after catch-
ing a bicycle tire in between the planks on Carson Bridge, then surpris-
ingly she suggested a dinner with Pat in a couple of weeks. To this I
readily agreed, though I felt a little disappointed. I had been looking
forward to another intimate, person to person conversation, and I feared
that a three way conversation might not be as open, and confidential, or
personal as one-on-one. But it should bring an end to wondering what
Pat has told Susan and what Susan has told Pat. Actually two women
may get into a more frank, less guarded, conversation than a woman
and a male reporter—even one that isn’t reporting.

Jun. 30, 2005

I showed up at Pat’s house Friday evening 6:00 as we had ar-


ranged. Susan’s car was already parked outside. Being just passed the

170
solstice, 6:00 was still early evening. A magnificent butterfly bush
bloomed in the front yard attended by a swarm of bees.
Coming to the gate, which was on the side yard of this corner lot,
I noticed the peas that climbed a six foot trellis in the back yard. I could
imagine the heavily composted soil and immaculately weeded garden
with the straight evenly spaced rows so typical of the fastidious Pat, the
teacher, who kept everything so well organized.
I brought a bottle of Zinfandel, I can’t remember ever coming
across Pat in any of my pub crawls, but, then teachers tend to congre-
gate down at the Legion. The last time we met, wine had definitely lubri-
cated the conversation. Entering, to Pat’s enthusiastic welcome, I nod-
ded to Susan, but she reached out an inviting hug, to which I readily
responded. It felt much better than a nod.
“Well, I see Bart has brought some Zinfandel which I quite enjoy,
so could I get everyone a glass?” asked Pat, the super host. Hors d'oeu-
vres were already on the coffee table in the living room. Susan and I took
seats across from each other, leaving the comfortable looking recliner
for Pat who promptly appeared with the wine. Light conversation ensued;
the weather, which had been good for this time of the year; the last frost
in early May; should be an excellent year for tomatoes and corn; the road
repairs on Central which are a real pain, especially with the school year
ending.
“So I see you’re frequenting the Alexander these days.” I raised
my glass to indicate I was addressing Susan though there was no doubt
as to whom I might have encountered in the Alexander. I was teasing her
over our previous discussion about the quality of various pub experi-
ences.
“I don’t know about ‘frequenting,’—that seems a bit of a stretch
for having seen you there once since our last visit,” replied Susan
slowly—obviously wondering where I might be going with this. “We were
expecting Albert, my brother, but he never showed up—not even for his
birthday. He seems to be developing a circle of friends that don’t have
much room for an older sister. Susan smiled, recognizing the absurdity
of an older sister expecting an adult brother to show up to an invitation
to socialize with his sister on his birthday.
“Well” Pat raised her wine glass as in a toast, and, in deed, pro-
posed a toast. “To friends; old and new; to dinner which I hope will yet
come out cooked.” The inflection in her voice left ample room for doubt
on this last point.
Pat continued with an explanation. “I have a roast in the oven
that should have been done by now. I’m afraid that something is not
working right. But, the mashed potatoes are ready. And we have fresh,
sautéed snow peas, and Susan has brought a beautiful cake.”

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I brought wine, but not enough. What to do? Should I honestly
declare that I need to get more wine, or should I invent a reason to leave
and return with an excuse like—“Oh, I remember that I left the sprinkler
on, and it’s probably flooding my neighbor’s garden.” Or do I just let Pat
serve wine from her cellar as well as prepare the food? Letting Pat pro-
vide the next bottle of wine is the path of least resistance and least
obvious embarrassment.
“So where are the kids,” I asked Pat.
“Oh, they usually spend the weekend with Greg.”
“I haven’t actually seen Greg lately?”
“Oh, yeah he moved to Rossland where he has taken a job cook-
ing in one of the Trail spaghetti houses. Sally, the woman of his life,
works in the hospital there. Pat held up a smile, but it looked
weak/forced). They met there when Greg had his skiing accident.” The
smile may be forced, but Pat seemed perfectly comfortable explaining all
this in detail.
“I have a toast—also,” I proclaimed. “I want to toast, or more ac-
curately thank, both of you for sharing some of what you know about
Deacon’s life with me. The fact is; I am finding it absorbingly interesting
to read these journals and get to know someone I wish I had met earlier.
“Susan, I have greatly enjoyed the conversations we have shared
over the past couple of months.”
“Pat, you must think horrible things of me the way I just checked
out of your life, just as you and Greg were hitting troubled waters. But I
hope that we can make that up in time.” Everyone seems satisfied with
my comments like I had, in deed, said something mildly agreeable with-
out falling into a puddle of mucky maudlinity.
“So Bart, what did you think of Deacon’s travels?” Susan asked
inquisitively.
So even a half glass of wine is enough to begin delving into the
conversation we had come together for.
Pat rose looking apologetic. “Forgive me, but I’ll have to get up to
check on the roast frequently until it is done. I’ll get another bottle of
wine while I’m up.”
I hope she isn’t ducking out of the conversation. I very much
want to know how much each of these women know and how much they
have shared. I don’t exactly know how close their relationship is. How
common and how much difference is there in their perspectives on Dea-
con’s last year of life?
“I don’t want to keep you, but Pat, I just want to start by asking if
you have read these journals that Susan has been sharing with me.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve read through them all. Deacon actually shared
most of them with me before he died. As you know, Susan, and I, and

172
Ralph, the music teacher at Twin Rivers, formed a sort of informal sup-
port group around Deacon for the last year of his life. We loved him very
much, and I have to say that we have received a great blessing from our
efforts to help Deacon find his way. But, anyhow, I better check the
roast.” And she left.
So, as Pat was exiting, it occurred to me that if Pat “read through
them all” then, clearly, Deacon was sharing some things with Pat that he
wasn’t telling Susan about. Already this meeting with the two of them
was proving informative.
I was just turning to Susan when we heard the most despairing
groans from the kitchen.
“This is hardly any more done than the last time I checked,” Pat
moaned—loud enough for us to share her consternation.
“Tell you what; you two go ahead with your conversation. I think I
better cut this in pieces and fry it, or we won’t have a dinner tonight.”
I turned to Susan intent on moving the conversation along.
“Well, I have been thinking about this ‘quest’ of Deacon’s a great
deal. It amazes me how he seemed to sense what his needs were and
where he world find what it was he was really looking for. He didn’t start
on a spiritual quest like some pilgrim for Jerusalem or Mecca. He just
needed to be on this journey, and it called him—so it seems to me. It
fascinates me this idea of evolving into an understanding of spirituality
and ones relation to it, as opposed to the common Christian motif of a
sudden, mesmerized, otherwise unexplainable, conversion. I don’t think
you would call Deacon’s spiritual journey a conversion, would you?”
“No, Bart, I think you are entirely right about his evolving spiritu-
ality. In fact as soon as he got home he began a study of esoteric Chris-
tianity—he wanted to know more about what he called spiritual Christian-
ity. Spiritual Christianity meant to him the undogmatic search for the
underlying experience. I know he occasionally attended both the Baha'i
and Unitarian churches. He read and read—anything and everything he
could find—whether it was overtly religious, or just literature concerned
with spiritual themes—like Tolstoy’s stories and novels.”
Surprisingly, Susan jumped right into a discussion of Deacon and
his journal. When I had been at her house, I had guessed by the way she
handed over the journal—like it was a very precious book, almost a reli-
gious text—that this spiritual questing was a very important point to her,
but she had been so taken by the beautiful day that we had almost ig-
nored Deacon. I wondered at the time if it might have been intentional.
“OK,” Pat called from the kitchen, “Dinner—as it may be—is just
about ready.”
Susan grabbed the remaining Zinfandel and Pat’s full bottle of
wine, as we moved to join Pat at the table. Pat offered a short grace:

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“Today we are thankful for friends, and food, and life.”—short, but I can’t
remember Pat offering a grace before, and its very shortness makes it all
the more moving.
Conversation at the table avoided Deacon and his journal. We
complimented Pat on the tasty dinner. We asked about her classes. I
asked Susan about her business. Pat asked about when I would be going
back to work, to which I gave an evasive reply, having just extended my
leave and feeling that not much had changed/improved so far.
Pat and Susan carried most of the conversation over dinner,
though I was amazed and delighted to see myself occasionally engaging
in the light conversation. It is sort of like when the new kid in the sand
box leaves the periphery of parallel play zone and occasionally runs his
toy truck down the communal road, then goes back to the periphery, but
he feels confident about his successful foray into real participation. I felt
good. I felt almost included, like someone with social skills might. By
social skills I mean the light stuff that is so hard for us loners. The heady
stuff—that’s no challenge; even I can talk heady.
Our glasses were kept full. I was beginning to wonder about Pat.
She used to have a glass before dinner and one with dinner. But the last
time I was here…and now she seems so robust about keeping the
glasses filled. Was this a new habit; or was there some tension that she
felt needed to be masked, or overcome?
The cake was a rich moist chocolate cake that Susan announced
as a zucchini chocolate cake—which she made from this year’s zucchini.
“This year!” I rejoined, astounded that even in the undiluted sun
and rich soil of Almond Gardens the zucchini could already be ready to
pick.
“Yes,” said Susan, “I grow it in a cold frame at the back of the
house.”
“Zucchini?” Pat asked, incredulously. “What a fascinating idea,
growing zucchini—in a cold frame. In all my years of gardening, I’ve never
actually encouraged the zucchini. It just grows no matter what I do to it.
One year I let the quack grass have the zucchini end of the garden, and I
still couldn’t give the darn stuff away fast enough to keep mountains of it
out of the compost. My father used to say that he simply couldn’t under-
stand the logic of a world in which there is zucchini and hunger. It just
didn’t make sense to him. I remember he used to take bags of it to
church to give away, and it came with recipes. Some people say that the
only time you need to lock your car in downtown Grand Forks is during
zucchini season—you might end up with a back seat full of it.”
Pat raised her glass—“to zucchini!”
Susan raised her glass to the toast, but she looked a little miffed,
or offended.

174
“Actually,” she said defiantly, “I cover it in the fall to extend the
season. I always feel its better to have a little zucchini over a long period
than a great deal at once, although I seem to have a great deal at once
also. The chickens love it, and I freeze a lot for soups, and breads, and
cakes. Actually any time you are over burdened you can just throw any
extra into the chicken run at my place.”
I detected a bit of cattiness that I hadn’t expected. But we fin-
ished our cake with compliments and returned to the living room with
our, once again, refreshed glasses of wine. I walked, Susan drove. I
wonder how she will be getting home as she must be already pushing
the .08 level, and so is Pat.
“So, Susan,” I began querulously, just hoping that my curiosity
did not come across as unacceptable prying, though we did come to-
gether to talk about Deacon and his journal—at least that is the impres-
sion I got from Susan’s invitation, “I’ve read Deacon’s journal entries
about the accident, and recovery, and the break up of your near mar-
riage; and I’ve even finished the journal he kept while traveling in Asia,
but what I haven’t read is how the two of you got back together and how
you ended up in Grand Forks. Please forgive me if I seem to be too pry-
ing, but you’re getting together and coming here just seems to be such
an important part of Deacon’s story....”
“No, I don’t feel you are prying, I told you the last time you came
to my place to borrow a journal that I have made peace with the idea of
sharing what I know of Deacon’s life with you. I didn’t expect this to hap-
pen, but having decided on it, I am actually enjoying the process in much
the same way that I felt so blessed when Pat and Ralph became part of
the circle around Deacon.” Susan looked my way reassuringly.
“In fact, the more I think of it, the more I actually appreciate and
value having someone become so interested in Deacon’s life—I think he
would be very happy about that.”
Pat looked agitated, like she very much wanted into the conver-
sation, but was having difficulty finding a place to break in, so she
jumped as Susan took a breath.
“So Bart have you thought of doing anything more with this in-
formation, other than just reading over it? I mean, it just seems to me,
that it is the nature of a writer/journalist to want to write about what
interests him, isn’t it?” Her voice rose with that characteristic Canadian
end of sentence up inflection.
I drew a breath to try to set my thoughts straight and try to ex-
plain that this is a personal quest, but Susan broke in. “I know you prom-
ised that you wouldn’t write about any of this, but I’ve thought about it
since, and, actually, I’m at peace with that also, as long as you alter the

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names enough to protect the innocent and the not so innocent—as the
case may be.”
“Well,” I replied somewhat stunned over what has come up—that
I had never intended to come up. “It occurs to me that what is intriguing
to me, would, also, be interesting to others. In the end I guess I am not
that different from the rest of humanity, but, no, I made a promise,
Susan, and I haven’t thought much beyond that since. I find this explora-
tion a most valuable exercise, even if it only comes to my own personal
understanding of another person and the tragedies and triumphs of his
life.”
Throughout this laboured reply I had been wondering if Susan
was avoiding my original question. I decided to raise the question once
more to see if she had just become distracted by the talk about a more
public telling of Deacon’s story. “So, Susan, I was asking about you and
Deacon getting back together and coming to Grand Forks. Did you come
together?”
“I wasn’t avoiding you,” Susan looked my way, perceptively read-
ing my intention perfectly.
“Oh, Good!” I replied sheepishly as though it wasn’t an embar-
rassment to be so transparent.
“Yes, Deacon and I came together, in a way—though we were
never together again in the David and Susan kind of story that we were
living before the accident. I suppose I closed that door at least as much
as the accident.”
“This is interesting,” said Pat jumping in, I read all of Deacon’s
journals, and yet I never understood how you got back together, nor why
you came to Grand Forks.”
“You didn’t actually read everything,” shot back Susan, with an
inexplicable fire in her voice. “Some things, some of the most personal
things I have kept to myself. When it comes down to it, I found it easier
to share Deacon’s writing about my own betrayal than to share the love
letters and our getting together again.”
“Do you still feel that way?” I asked, trying to be sensitive, not
wanting to get caught up in anything Deacon might have shared with Pat
privately. In fact, I felt out of place, like I had plunged into a private gar-
den.
“Yes and no,” Susan replied softly, “Yes, I still feel very sensitive
about Deacon, and our getting together, and the love letters, which I may
never share with anyone; but, no, I no longer feel a need to keep all this
inside my chest.”
“So if you don’t interrupt me for a few minutes I will share with
you some of the story of our coming to Grand Forks—together.”

176
Susan drew a deep, pondering breath. “About a year after Bret
and I broke up over our irreconcilable differences around money, I went
for a routine medical exam in which my doctor found a small lump in my
breast that biopsied as cancer. I had two operations, the second being
the radical mastectomy. Along with the treatments, the second one
seems to have been successful, though I still live with a certain amount
of fear.
“Any way, Deacon somehow heard of my second stay in the hos-
pital, though we hadn’t even spoken for years. After a time I just couldn’t
take the going back over his insisting that I try, once again, to explain
why I had left him after he got out of rehab. There is no explanation, I
tried to tell him—just accept that I am a rotten person. But he couldn’t
accept that. He kept looking for something he had done to chase me
away. So I began avoiding any places I thought we might encounter each
other. Then we just didn’t. I didn’t go to the ball games, and then he was
off in Asia.
“But he did hear of my stay in the hospital and came to see me
there. It was awkward at first, but it was a time for forgiveness. At that
point I wasn’t sure how long I’d be around. I guess he just forgave me; all
those travels through Asia really shifted his way of seeing things. Or
maybe the brain injury had healed enough that he could let go of some-
thing and not bring it up over and over.
“It wasn’t romance at first, but I began to see that he wasn’t who
he had been, that he was someone else. Some one who was gentle and
loved me when I needed love—we just put the past behind us. After I got
home from the hospital we met for dinner a few times, and it was easy to
tell him of my fears and of my desire to live, and he told me of his Asian
travels and how he felt like a different person—one who could live with
necessary limitations as long as he could live, and feel, and dream. In
time romance bloomed again. Though it was a new romance, neither of
us could completely forget our past, and we never spoke of marriage.
“Deacon wanted me to move in with him. He told me of his many
failures at relationship—being ‘too needy.’ I felt leery; I didn’t want to lose
what we had by asking for too much. Then just as I was thinking that
maybe we could share a house again on a trial basis, Deacon’s mother
died suddenly. She had been a heavy smoker and had begun hacking
like it was catching up with her.
One day he called to say that he’d just received the ‘telephone
call from hell.’ His sister had gone to pick up Barbara for a trip to the
mall, and, when no one answered the door, she broke in though a rear
window to find Barbara on the floor cold.
“So, am I boring anyone so far?”

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The Observer
We shook our heads, utterly absorbed by Susan’s recounting of
this part of the story.
“Deacon’s father had died not long after the brain injury leaving
him a relatively small bequest that he lost to a shyster, but with Bar-
bara’s passing, Deacon split the remains of a considerable inheritance
with his sister.
“At first he was thinking of buying a home in Kelowna, and we
had begun to look through real estate flyers. It seemed that the whole
universe was saying its time for you two to live together again. And I just
let that happen. I had been thinking about it for some time, and this just
seemed to be the flow to which I readily acquiesced—I needed some
external help in actually making a decision, so I was happy to go along.
And we were becoming very close. Some of the love letters from that
time are just so personal, I may never share them with anyone else.
“Then one day Deacon bumped into an old baseball buddy at the
mall, and he was all excited about Grand Forks and how you could get a
whole farm for the price of a three bedroom home in Kelowna. He and
Deacon talked of some sort of cooperative effort at garlic farming, but
that never got very far. David had been through a painful partnership
with the shyster, and he had a difficult time putting much energy into this
one. We did, however, drive over to Grand Forks for a look around one
weekend.
“We had been this way before, but we were just passing through
and didn’t think much of it other than how lovely the maple lined street
in front of the elementary school seemed.
“But this time, coming to see the place for the first time with any
thought of living here, we rounded the bend on Highway 3 just above
Danshin Village on a sunny day in June, and this whole magnificent val-
ley spread out before us. It felt a little like passing through the gates to
heaven and finding that the streets are not paved with gold, the whole
place is one verdant, green, fecund valley with a meandering gentle river
winding through it. In the distance we could see the outlines of down-
town Grand Forks, but even that was mostly treed; the old post office
standing out—its red brick and clock tower framing, in our minds, the
ambiance of a country village.
“A patch work of small farms broke the valley into small plots
that seemed to reflect a community character that was still functioning
at a human level—yet uncorrupted by the gigantic corporate investments
that run all the rest of the world—notably Kelowna—by their insatiable
greed for profits. It was like falling in love. We made an offer on ten acres
in Almond Gardens that weekend which we finalized by phone over the
following week. We were elated. We truly believed that all our troubles
were over; that we had, in fact, purchased a small plot in paradise.

178
“We were very happy there for the first few years, planting crops
in the sandy soil and swimming naked in the river from the banks of our
own property. Deacon began to talk of adopting children. After we broke
up over money management and drinking problems, Deacon signed the
property over to me, though I kept a will stating that, in case of my death,
it would all go to him, and I secretly paid him a small rent as my business
could afford it. It was best for him to not own property when he applied
for assistance.
“So there, in a nutshell, is how we came to Grand Forks, and how
we got together again and broke up again. It’s hard for me to know how
much to tell and how much to leave out. I suppose that, Bart, if you ever
actually want to write anything about this you’ll have to come and ask
me some more specific questions. I will add that once we broke up the
second time we never lived together again for any length of time, though
by that time our lives were so intertwined that we never fully separated,
and I loved him—even when I found other partners for short periods of
time, and even to the very end.”
Susan picked up her glass of wine and leaned back into the sofa.
She looked relaxed, but I sensed a residual tension. None of us knew
where the conversation might go from there and choose to fill the empty
time finishing off the second bottle of wine.
“Well, thank you Susan,” Pat began, “I didn’t read that part of the
notes, if I had them, but it makes me feel kind of jealous of you and
how—oh, I don’t know how to say it—robust, for lack of a better word, you
are at—oh, everything; but I mean life and relationships. When Greg left;
or I threw him out (I’m not sure which, I was pretty agitated those days) I
think I just hated him. I didn’t want to see him, and, if it weren’t for the
kids, I probably wouldn’t see him. But it seems stupid to my more ra-
tional thoughts to just pull the plug on a relationship that once meant so
much; that once seemed so full of all of our highest hopes for what our
lives would be about.
“Bart, how about you? You must have had ups and downs in your
marriage as well?”
I hear this ringing in my head like my skull was some sort of a
gong, and someone has just given it a tremendous whack—calling all the
faithful to vespers.
“Bart, how about…” I hadn’t anticipated this not in front of
Susan. Doesn’t she know? Didn’t she and Jane share the minutest detail
of their lives? How many times did I suspect that Pat knew everything
about every nasty thing that I ever said or did?
“How about you and Jane?” Surely she knows everything about
Jane and me. I even showed her the letter.

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“Ah, Pat, Bart is a pretty sensitive guy, I think you may be sprin-
kling salt on an open wound here?” Susan jumped, unexpectedly, to my
defense while I searched, desperately, for something to say.
“Do you know how long it’s been?” Pat asked, almost cranky.
“It’s been six years now. If this is still an open wound then the
dressing needs changing, and the whole mess needs to get a little fresh
air.” Pat had tears in her eyes. I couldn’t tell if she is sad or angry. Can a
person be both? Can tears of rage and grief commingle?
“Come on Bart, wake up, warm up, share just a little of all those
feelings that you keep bottled up inside like an urgent fart in a church
service.”
I wondered how much wine she has had; I wondered if she in-
tended the fart idea to be humorous, but speaking of open wounds, this
one may have closed, but it hasn’t healed—not in six years. Where’s this
coming from? What can I say? Can I just slip out?—hardly—not unnoticed.
“Well! Pat! Your husband runs off with some young, just gradu-
ated nurse chick, and you think you’ve encountered tragedy. Come on,
you’ve got your kids, and your job, and your house, and your whole life
ahead of you. Nobody left any God Damn note on your table about being
stiff and cold in the bedroom. Greg didn’t tie a noose around his neck
and jump off a stool; he just moved to Nelson—big deal.”
For one fragile moment I couldn’t tell if I just thought or had ut-
tered these angry words. My cheeks felt swollen, my eyes felt wet; my
head ached. I’d only had a couple of glasses of wine; I wished I wasn’t so
agitated; I wished Pat and Susan weren’t looking at me like I had, in
deed, just spewed all this mean stuff.
Pat got up and headed to the can, wiping away tears.
Susan sat looking across at me intently. I think she was pretty
pissed with me. This wasn’t going well.
“You know, Bart,” Susan said calmly, “I think this is good for
you—letting out your feelings; even misdirected ones.”
“So, sort of like the knock on the head was good for David,
makes ya kind of stupid so you don’t know when the old bird is tending
another nest?” I growled snarlly, meanly.
I didn’t like saying any of this, I wish I hadn’t. It didn’t make
sense; I wish I could get it back; I wish I wasn’t the old shit that I am.
Chan, you can’t fix this; it’s (I’m) incorrigible. Where the hell is the baby
wrapped in light? Dreams are for nuts.
Pat was still in the can. Susan looked like she was going to start
crying or hit me.
I got up; I glimpsed, jealously, the note book that Susan brought
lying on the coffee table. I grabbed it. I had come for it. I wasn’t thinking.
I turned and found the door out.

180
It was cold out, despite the advanced June weather. The cool air
felt refreshing against my face as I stormed along the sidewalk heading
for the Alexander. Old Bill was at the bar, babbling away to a circle of
imaginary friends. At least, he has friends. I don’t even imagine friends
any more, unless you could call beer friendly. In that case I had an abun-
dance of friends this evening—enough that I had to call a taxi—or Jill did
for me—to get the few blocks back over the bridge and home. I stumbled
to bed, too drunk to know how stupid I’d been.

July 5, 2005

Oh, I’ve made a big mistake, but I don’t know how to fix it. I can’t
go see Chan with this. He’ll have a perfect case—I am nuts. The world
may be nuts, but I’m nuts-er. I’m not very good at apologies. What do I
say? I’m sorry? I should have thought of that Friday night. Now all I have
is empty words; I don’t like empty words. You could say that for me: I
don’t like empty words—if I say something I mean it. But I didn’t mean all
those insults—I’m nuts. What’s to be done? I gota get out of here for a
break. Employment Insurance is coming in. I can afford a trip to
Kelowna. Maybe when I get back things will have settled down and…and
what? Maybe, with a little distance, I can make an apology mean some-
thing.

July 15, 2005

Kelowna; in the middle of summer. Why did I come here?—just to


be some place different from Grand Forks? I’m haunted by the saying I
heard the other day: wherever I go; there I am. Here I am. I don’t like
shopping, but I put in half a day at the mall—it’s different than Grand
Forks; it’s all glitzy and people smile when they think you’re going to
spend some money. And none of them know my name, so I can just
wander around aimless; imagining that I’m just like all the other people
wandering around aimless. Well, at least, they do buy something.
But this; this was fascinating. After the mall and a walk along the
spiffy waterfront, I was in the truck on “the strip” (really it’s the gauntlet—
like Cache Creek King Kong sized). I was heading back to the hotel for TV
(65 useless channels and beer—it’s my idea of social life).
The sign just before Orchard Park Mall said something about In-
ternational Smorgasbord. I was hungry; dog-hungry; having only the
appearance of a meal at the mall earlier—International meant choice;

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Smorgasbord meant lots! I didn’t need to see a menu. I just wanted a
plate from the steam table.
I don’t know how to say this any other way; in my whole life—in
states of mind deluded by drink, exhaustion, or fasting—I have never
chosen a meal as disappointing as this one. The broccoli was as limp as
soft ice cream in a mid-summer sun, the prawns were as mushy as
whipped potatoes, and the pierogis were as greasy as warm lard. And
still I ate it and regretted it. Afterward I almost put our fingers down my
throat in order to make room for something appetizing.
And I would have except that, on stepping out of the restaurant, I
noticed a sign saying “Great Canadian Casino.” Now I’ve never been in a
Canadian Casino. And the curiosity of it diverted—or, perhaps, I desper-
ately hoped it would divert—my attention from my recent alimentary
disappointment.
Clearly this was going to be a night of disappointments. In my
mind I had this picture of dancing girls, and trays of cheap drinks, and
entertainment, and crowds of passionate gamblers with lights and buzz-
ers going off all over the place for excited winners and free (TASTY)
snacks!
What gave me this idea, I don’t know. It’s not the first time my
idea of reality has fallen a few steps short of the top rung. I was in a
casino in Reno once. I was a LOT younger. It seemed flashy/alluring
then. I bet a whole roll of nickels before becoming totally discouraged at
the odds—I’m what you would call an incorrigible ungambler.
But in Kelowna: I mean they’ve taken the handles off the slot
machines! I thought the whole idea was this psy-
cho/physical/financial/almost spiritual feeling about raising your hand
up like opening to a higher level of being and sweat-
ily/hopefully/desperately/graspingly clutching to a knob at the end of
this long handle, then plunging down with wit, and strength, and magic
until the telekinetic cylinders spun wildly round with their conjured fate.
Then there was the elation of winning, or the exhaustion of defeat—like
the wilting triumph of sexual completion.
But in Kelowna they’ve cut out the heart of the ritual. And what
remains?–a little button. Hey, you don’t even have to hold onto a bib full
of coins. You can just stuff a bill, even a big one, in a hungry slot, and the
computer will dish out your bets in the denomination of your choice.
And what remains?—rows on rows of these armless, feature less,
at best—ribald, translucently lit plastic boxes side by side like the impris-
oning mesh cages of factory egg farms. And every box has a little button
sort of like the little hinged tab a productive chicken can peck to cause a
few more pellets to roll into the feeding tray.

182
Actually, as I watched in silent awe, I noticed that the people who
sat limply hunched—even listlessly—in front of these tawdry plastic boxes
had, almost to a person, formed the shape of a chicken head out of their
dominant hand; three lower fingers folded under the thumb formed the
head. The index finger hooked beak-like as it poised with anxious pen-
siveness over the vulgar little button that made the larcenous cylinders
go round.
Peck, peck, peck. There seemed no emotive force; not even a
rousing greed—just peck, peck, peck: all of them in rows after rows;
isolated from one another, from any sense of a natural, or even social, or
economic world; perhaps even isolated from themselves—peck, peck,
peck—with all the joy, sensation, and connection of masturbation in a
dark closet with a condom and glove.
When you think of it, it’s quite the story: our government taking
income from an addictive activity that destroys lives and families to
make grants to charities that try to build community health, help indi-
viduals to put together the pieces of broken lives, and rebuild the frame
work of healthy families.
But standing in the Kelowna casino, I wasn’t thinking about prob-
lem gambling or state organized corruption of citizens. What struck me is
this broader, more subtle meta-message (a statement whose meaning is
in the methodology/structure of its message rather than in the expres-
sion of its words) that arises from people in these self-imposed cages of
abject isolation, pecking at these inane little buttons, oblivious to the
money they’ve spent, hoping—joylessly—to participate in the charade of
getting something for nothing; unaware of, unconnected to, unconcerned
about anything else.
It seemed for a moment the once absurd dreams of mercantilism
and the monetarists had sprung into a living reality—the core of human
experience could be reduced to isolated monads pecking at a machine
that recognizes only the circulation of money as the meaning, measure,
and circumscribing reality of human experience.
I wasn’t having fun except in my snide dismissive of everything,
better than everything because I can condemn it all, kind of way. So I
bolted. I ran out the door for some breathe-able air. Outside, the twilight
air was refreshing; and the concrete, and asphalt, and neon seemed
refreshingly organic compared to that utterly mixed up world inside the
casino.
Now all of this could have put me into a heck of a tail spin except
that standing on the sidewalk outside, assaulted by the cars going by,
and blinded by the flashy lights, I suddenly remembered a night a very,
very long time ago. Jane and I had gone on a hike up Lynch Creek. It was
our last hike. We knew it was our last hike. We already had the diagno-

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sis, and we could already see the weakening. It was a bit risky going on
this last hike so far from anyone, so long before cell phones. But we
went, and the hike along the river bottom was beautiful. Several times
we stopped to swim naked in neck deep pools where the current carved
away the bank in its wandering back and forth across this narrow valley.
Warm, spa-like, gravel bars remained as testaments to the meandering
stream and the summer sun.
That evening we camped in an open glen at the top of a headwall
where the river plummets down in a series of rapids; almost falls. It was
early July; the meadow was dotted with wild flowers, especially the Indian
Paint Brush and spent anemomies. We sat up around a small camp fire
savoring our last hike. Around mid-night the moon rose full over Morell
ridge like a goddess rising in her splendor to enchant the earth, and the
glory of it seemed enough to light the inner sanctum of the soul.
Standing on the sidewalk thinking of my room, and 65 channels,
and beer, I remember for a moment that evening so long ago when, for a
moment I was convinced the mercantilists, the monetarists, and the
casino operators hadn’t won—not everything; not yet. We didn’t have a
TV those days so we were balefully ignorant of the fact that the “more”
which our souls longed for had been marked down by fifty percent at The
Bay.

184
The tide rises;
the tide falls
David Barnett: My Quest

Apr. 4, 2003

Greetings, old friend,

After all these years I think it is time to stop being so distant. You
are now the only friend who has stuck with me through everything; from
the time I had just recovered from the brain injury to Susan’s leaving,
through all the training and the jobs that never paned out, through all the
relations that came and went because I wanted them to last too much,
and getting together with Susan again; and her leaving again and again;
through the move to Grand Forks, and the farm, and leaving the farm to
Susan. I’ve certainly never had a more enduring and loyal friend. When I
read over these lines, I am struck by how much you have meant to me
always being here, always listening.
Oh, yes, you have been critical, but there has been much to be
critical of. Sometimes I wonder who that other guy was, what would he
be like today, if he had lived— the one who was doing so well in business
school, and seemed to have such a talent for the piano, and loved base-
ball, and had plans for a marriage to his Secondary School sweetheart;
even plans for a family.
I’ll never know because he went away in 1989 and never came
back. Now here I am, with you, my friend—the only one who knows me or
really wants to know me, or cares. I am so glad you care; I just don’t
think that I would find much in life worth having without a friend like you.
This working in the fields is getting harder every year. How can a
guy like me do the work that is meant for the young kids with the healthy

185
The tide rises; the tide falls
bodies that don’t ache when they bend over, and who don’t fall down
over every little obstacle, and can get right up when they fall down. It’s
for people that can take the heat and the long hours. I guess I’m kind of
like old faithful, not that I erupt, I don’t do that any more, not most days.
I mean I just keep showing up, like clock work; I can be counted on to do
some work, even if it isn’t as much as some able person. I can be
counted on to come back—no body else is going to hire me.
I saw Susan in the Lorne last night. She was with Sam. I think
they are together these days. I think that’s why she wouldn’t come over
last week when I called. How many times have we gotten together and
gotten apart now? Or where is the line that says when we are together
and when we are apart?
She’s my next best friend. She’s been around longer than you;
sometimes you are still around when she isn’t; but there are sweet and
bitter differences. We’ll never be together for good. That’s a dream gone
away a long time ago. Sometimes I wonder why we still get together at
all. Is it the farm? I don’t think so. She could take a mortgage and pay
me out if she wanted. Actually we have no agreement other than the Will
she wrote years ago and keeps on file—theoretically—down at the office--
which she could change if she wanted and doesn’t mean anything
unless she’s dead. And if she’s dead, what good’s the farm to me? I
don’t know, I don’t think that what you and I have is enough to make life
worthwhile. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love you and all, and you are a
most precious friend, but sometimes listening isn’t enough. Even speak-
ing as I think you sometimes do, isn’t enough. Sometimes I need a hug,
or I need to get laid or loved as I am separate, a different human being
with unique qualities that can be loved by more than just his own journal.
There’s been others, as you know. Sally, and Linda, and May, and
even more, but it was different than with Susan. They were just passing
through. They thought they saw something that wasn’t there, and they
thought I could become what they thought they saw. But I can hardly be
me let alone someone else. So they go away and don’t come back like
Susan does, Susan loves me; I think. I think that this isn’t just guilt about
leaving me so soon after my accident. No, I know it isn’t that. She came
back, but it wasn’t back—she fell in love with this other guy—the one who
loves his journal and appeared suddenly or gradually actually, in the
rehab ward and has been being born ever since.
I like me, you know. Susan worries that I don’t like me, but I do. I
wish, or I used to wish, I was that guy that went away after the accident,
the other guy that could throw a ball, and run bases, and didn’t have to
think about every little thing like even just getting his right leg up, and
over, and down, and steady enough to make it back onto the left leg. But
this other guy, he has limitations, but he sees things David, the Able,

186
didn’t. He sees that life is more than just doing what you’re supposed to;
more than a job, or an income, or a holiday, or a picture perfect family in
the gilded frame on the mantle. He sees that, even when you don’t ex-
pect it, people care for others—even when they have nothing to gain. He
sees that it is possible to give, even when one doesn’t seem to have
anything to give. Oh, yes, he sees that he can make people happy playing
the piano, even if he will never play to a concert hall again. He sees that
it is a good thing to make people happy inviting them to sing, no matter
how out of tune their vocal chords may be, or how drunk, or poor. Music
is the gate way to the soul, and even a rusty gate will get you inside for a
peek around.
I went to see a woman today about jobs an unable bloke like me
might hold; she seemed different than the others. She didn’t begin with
a bunch of condescending bullshit. She was a big woman, a short
woman. She smiled a lot, but none of it seemed forced or phony. She
seemed like no other bureaucrat in a find-work-for-the-irredeemable job
that I have ever come across before—and I’ve come across many of
them. She was a large woman, the kind that you’d have a hard time
getting your arms around, if you knew her that way.
After talking to her for an hour, I felt she had to be large; she had
so much more humanity to her than any of those lesser beings that I
encounter in these positions. I wouldn’t say she was motherly, mothers
are almost universally overbearing, but I am trying to think of a word like
motherly that doesn’t mean overbearing. Caring is way to thin, and flat,
and formal. I liked her, I really liked her, she never once said “I think you
should…” like an overbearing mother who doesn’t know the difference
between what her poor suffering child wants/needs and what she wants
for him. She asked what I wanted and wouldn’t take “nothing” for an
answer. What makes you happy?--she asked as though that is what we
were talking about.
What makes me happy? I haven’t thought about that for a long
time. It’d make me happy to not have to work on the farm where I ache
and get so little done. I’d like to not have to ask welfare for money ever
again. I’d like to be independent to make my own decisions about what I
want to do. I’d like to work where, when I ache or just get tired of work, I
can take some time off and still come back to work when I am doing
better. I’d like to live happily ever after. I’d like to be so independent that
Susan and I could base our relationship solely on us and none about my
need. I’d like to have a car that I could go places in—and take Susan, if
she’d still come. One time she said she’d go any where with me, but that
was to Grand Forks. We haven’t gone anywhere since.
I’d really like to learn things, and use my head, and be around
people who are full of life and hope. I’d like to make people happy play-

187
The tide rises; the tide falls
ing the piano—more people than just the drunks down at the Lorne. Most
of all—may be the sum of it all is—I’d like to hold my head high with dig-
nity and have people see me for my abilities.
I don’t think I communicated a lot of this to Noreen; at least, I
didn’t say this much. But, here’s the incredible thing about this after-
noon, I don’t think that words were all that we communicated. I think
there were things which I said without speaking and she heard. It was a
most satisfying experience. Usually I say lots, and nobody hears any of it,
but this afternoon, things I didn’t even say got heard! What do you think
of that, old friend?

Apr. 14, 2003

Greetings old friend,

Noreen phoned today, wanted to talk to me again. She says she


has found a program for me. Oh, another program, maybe I should just
stick my finger down my throat and barf now.
But she is really excited about this program, so I got a little
revved up as well. It’s kind of like when someone is laughing really hard,
like from the belly, uncontrollably, really hard, and you’re standing there,
and you start laughing even though you haven’t the slightest idea what
all the laughing is about. It could, and may well, be that your pants are
split up the back and your cheeks are showing, but you don’t know that,
and even if you did, you just can’t help laughing along with this idiot.
There is this program where I could attend classes over the sum-
mer, and learn something about classrooms, and working with kids, and
with teachers helping disadvantaged kids. According to Noreen the
disadvantages may be physical like mine, or it may be just plain slow
learners, or kids who have no idea why they should be learning all this
stuff.
And in September I could start working in the classroom. I’d have
to look dignified, she said with a bit of a knowing smile. I don’t know if I
told her about dignity or if she just knew it. I’d need some new clothes,
and people shouldn’t see me stumbling out of a bar. But, you know, I
haven’t actually drank that much for a long time. I go to the Lorne be-
cause I know people there, and we talk. Who else am I going to talk to?
And they really like it when I drag out the piano from the back and play
tunes they can kind of drone along to.
I’d need a police check. I just about took offense at that one. Just
because I look funny, doesn’t mean I am some kind of deviant. But
Noreen said, “I know, I know, but everyone has to go through this kind of

188
check to work with kids.” Well, if everyone has to do it, what the heck?
I’ve never been in trouble with the law, though there have certainly been
enough dumb cops that thought that just because a guy staggers down
the street, he must be drunk—fooled them. Too bad I couldn’t sue ‘m for
hassling me.
So I signed up. I’m gonna do it, for a while, until I see how it goes,
and they see how well the whole program is working. I start classes the
first of July. Wish me luck. I wish this doesn’t turn out like all those other
incentive programs; carpentry, clerk, ski tech, internet sales. Ha, internet
sales, that was a joke, selling what you don’t have to get the money to
sell what you do have.

Sept. 15, 2003

Greetings old friend,

You’d been proud of me today. Despite all that fear about how it
would go for my first day actually working in the school and what people
and kids would think of me, it went really well. I spent the day in the
classroom with Sandy Riley, the teacher that I did most of my training
with. Sandy doesn’t actually teach a class, she teaches kids from classes
who come to her for extra help. These are kids who aren’t doing as well
as they are expected to; they aren’t progressing along the conveyor belt
of education at the pace the conveyor is programmed to run, so they
need some help. The system hopes this is just like a tune-up for a slow
moving vehicle, so it will keep up with the traffic, but the reality is—a
bunch of these kids are going to just keep chugging. It’s hoped they
won’t stall out on the next uphill stretch.
The thing I like about these kids, these 7—10 year olds, is they
are so fresh, and happy, and innocent, and curious, and funny. I wonder
if they don’t lose as much in the school system as they gain.
I liked it; I really liked being there and being around the children;
they are so full of life, and energy, and hope! What I really liked was
listening to them read, and hearing them stumble, and look up like they
had done something wrong; but I know a lot about getting it wrong, and I
don’t have to say, “It’s OK,” they know its OK; like Noreen knew the
whole thing I have about dignity—without even saying the word.
I met some of the other teachers, and they seem so genuine and
so real, and they seem to really care about the kids; well except for one
guy, a grade six teacher—way down the hall, I could actually hear him
shouting at some of the kids to take their seats. He sounded angry;
already, this second week of school. He must be the guy who was in the

189
The tide rises; the tide falls
paper last year for telling some young student to sit in his seat, and not
get out, and “if the school burns, burn with it.” Interesting that he is back
and already so frustrated. I hope he can retire soon.
Oh, I overheard one of the young girls that came to Sandy for
“learning assistance” (reading) ask in a very perplexed voice, “How come
I have to come here to learn more about reading, but I can play the piano
really well, but I don’t see any of the other students taking remedial
lessons in piano or music?”
Wow, what a perceptive thought? How come education seems so
narrowly focused on such a narrow range of learning? If it hadn’t been
for the piano, I might still be trying to learn to put my shoes on back at
the rehab ward.

Sept. 28, 2003

Greetings Old Friend,

It’s still going really well at school. I think Sandy likes me. I think
she likes how I work with the kids. She seems to be able to see that the
kids like working with someone who stumbles on the way into school,
and stumbles when he reads, and knows all the feelings of not being
good enough, but has learned to laugh, also, and to hear laughter when
he is fighting with anger and fear over how to respond to getting it
wrong—again.
They have such beautiful voices. Oh, children seem so precious.
It makes me think of how much Susan and I have lost by our doodling at
a loving relationship. At times we tell others like we’re proud of it, that we
have a special relationship—which means we aren’t willing to work hard
enough at getting over the rough spots to have much of a relationship at
all; and we don’t have the wit or the courage to say, “this isn’t working,”
and just get on with something that does work.
I’ve been working with some of the other teachers—learning as-
sistance ones—as well as Sandy.
I stopped to see Ralph, the music (mostly band) teacher who
shares his time around the district schools. We had a pleasant conversa-
tion. I shared the story of the young girl who wanted to know why other
students didn’t do remedial music. Ralph laughed because, with one
shared position, it’s lucky they do any music at all. We were just leaving
the stage where much of the music is taught and played; I stopped by
the piano and hammered out the melody to When the saints go march-
ing in. I don’t know why, I just did it. Sometimes it’s hard to pass a piano
and not get some small blessing from it.

190
Ralph asked if I knew any other songs on the piano. I asked if he
meant hymns. He was just curious about whether I knew any other
tunes. So I played a little rock, and he seemed interested or entertained,
so I played a little classical, not well, just played it like someone who had
taken lessons for a time and become distracted. I played Battle Hymn of
the Republic and Imagine. A couple of teachers stopped by and asked if I
happened to know any of their favorites. Pat, a learning assistance
teacher who I’ve seen in the United Church choir, asked for Amazing
Grace and sang along in her beautiful soprano voice. I played Four
Strong Winds and everyone sang along. It’s kind of like an unofficial
national anthem; more people know the words to the off in Alberta song
than they do to standing on guard.
It all ended in some really good feelings. I felt wonderful.
It’s amazing that Noreen could have sensed how happy I could
be here. I pick up my first paycheck at the end of the week.

Oct. 23, 2003

Greetings Old Friend,

I’ve been a bit remiss; leaving you on the shelf for so long. I really
don’t intend to talk with you solely when things are going badly. But
things are going so well, I get lost in this cloud of just enjoying my life,
and living in this new reality, and it’s actually a lot of work getting up
every day, and all spiffed up, and making sure everything is tucked in,
and then it’s a half hour walk to school. You know that’s one of the really
great parts of this job; walking to work; watching the last of the harvests
coming in; cracking the delicate layer of ice over the puddles. I guess if
you are around kids enough you start to see the world with a little more
playful eyes—like being drawn into laughing just because someone else
is... It’s crisp even when there is no ice, and the early morning sun fills
up the valley like a philosopher’s attention—finding some reason to cele-
brate, some meaning in every little facet of life.
I took Susan out to dinner. She drove down to Curlew for some of
that outstanding Mexican Food. I was careful not to drink much as I
didn’t think it would be good to be hauled over at the Danville border
crossing; not with my new job and all. But it was hard to resist celebrat-
ing with one more bottle of beer. Susan had a new outfit, and she looked
young again and not tired like she has seemed so much lately.
She came to my place after, and we did the whole routine; danc-
ing around in the living room before bedtime. We had waffles and coffee
in the morning, as we usually do. She didn’t say anything about getting

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together again, though she did laugh incredulously when she acknowl-
edged that the last time we had done this was January after we shoveled
both our driveways from the fresh snow. It may not be what most people
call a relationship, but it blesses my life in ways that I otherwise wouldn’t
know. She didn’t say anything about Sam.
Things are still going very well at school, although the Principal
did call me in to suggest that I pick out some clothes that match. He was
gracious and enthusiastic about my working at the school, but I still find
it hard to follow his, “You know how people are,” comment. I’ don’t. I’ve
bought some really nice clothes for school. How are people? I wonder if
“people” are people or just a way of saying he has doesn’t like having
brain-injured people around.
But, the little incident over clothes aside, things are going very
well. After a few afternoons around the piano with the teachers, Pat and
Ralph talked the Principal into creating some music time when I can play
piano and get kids involved in singing along. I’ve learned a bunch of kid’s
tunes off of some CD’s that a couple of teachers have lent me. However,
I find the kids like any playful tune like Stew ball, and Clementine, and
Down in the Valley, and Red River Valley, etc. etc. I hear, these kids have
been signing up for music time and asking if we couldn’t do it for a while
after classes. Sometimes I get one or two kids up on the piano bench,
and it’s amazing how easy it is to get them mimicking me to begin with,
then improvising, and then trying to memorize short runs of keys. A num-
ber of them can play several songs already. They are so quick to invent
harmonies, and side bars, and just about anything you can do with
sound. Several parents have asked about doing private lessons after
school. I hardly recognize myself these days. Imagine, me the limp-
legged, skin-headed loser, in demand. I can honestly say I can’t remem-
ber ever feeling like this.

Nov. 18, 2003

Greetings Old friend,

You wouldn’t recognize me to see me now. I’m walking straighter


than I ever thought I could. I’ve been seeing Susan weekends regularly.
She says things she hasn’t said for a long time, like “I love you,” and “I’m
happy for you,” and, “What are we going to do this summer?” And she
means us together, going camping or maybe for a trip down to San Fran-
cisco. She says, ”I’m so happy that things have finally gone your way.”
She comes to see me and walks right over and gives me a hug,
we don’t have to go through all that maybe yes, maybe no, let’s see how

192
it goes, even if this comes to something, it doesn’t mean anything. It
does mean something; I think we may move in together soon. I think her
business is doing well also.
Oh, things aren’t perfect, and I get more anxious than ever when
she doesn’t call, I want her to call. It’s sad that this comes too late for a
family, I sure would like to have had a few bambinos running around the
place with Daddy me this and Mommy me that. I know Susan feels that
way also. Some times I wonder if all I went through might not have been
just some great trial to see if I really could just let go and trust the uni-
verse to be fair or benevolent.
Murray, my brother from LA, phoned this evening, the store he
was working for just got bought out by some big chain outfit, and pink
slips are flying like a heavy wet snow in November. He’s been replaced
as store manager by someone who will be looking after outlets all over
the county. This means a considerable cut in pay though it is still several
times what I make. But it’s hard on him. When you’re on the way up it
feels like a launch pad. When you’re on the way down it feels like a plank
greased for a burial at sea.
It’s interesting knowing him—may be it’s as close to knowing
David Christopher Barnett, the Able, as I will ever come now. Last
Christmas we were down in Chico for an extended family Christmas get
together. And I was just sitting on the sofa resting, thinking that Mom
seems strangely forgetful, when he plumps himself down aggressively
like he has a sales pitch in mind. But I notice he curls his lip snarlingly,
looking at me disdainfully, and says, with obvious scornful intent,
“Profit’s not a four letter word.” It didn’t sink in at first. What the hell is
he talking about? “What?” I asked looking at him like he’s either nuts or
strung out on something. Curling his upper lip exaggeratedly, he re-
peated himself with no explanation, “Profit’s not a four letter word; YOU
KNOW!” Oh, and? But I couldn’t imagine what I could possibly say.
I guess that he thinks the same thing that just about everyone
else does: if you walk with a limp that throws you from side to side so
much it looks like a drunk weaving his way along, then you must be
some hippie, environmentalist, dope smoking low life. Strange because if
any one fit that bill it was Murray before he started selling vacuum clean-
ers door to door and worked his way up the ladder—or down the capital-
ist trough; depending on your particular point of view. I bought one of
those super-filter, last forever vacuums that did a great job for 2 years
before it needed repairs that cost more than the vacuum.
Murray has two lovely red-headed, fair-skinned daughters, I won-
der if he has considered what it would profit him to make a fortune full of
profits manufacturing and marketing ozone depleting cholorocarbons
only to find the depleted atmosphere let through enough UV to stimulate

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cancer on his daughters. Would he still be so blind to the consequences
of profit—the six-lettered four letter concept he so venerates?

Nov. 20, 2003

Greetings old friend,

Hold on tight friend, the boat’s rocking. I’d say its listing badly in
a high wind.
Imagine, a whole delegation of parents went to the Principal to-
day to complain about me. I look strange. They said that; I heard it. The
Principal insisted that if people had complaints about me, they could
make them in front of me where I could respond (defend myself). Now,
here’s the crux of it: I’ve been playing hymns, and mixing them up with
jazz, and even with rock, and changing some of the lyrics, and “making
fun of sacred music.” The Reverend came with the delegation, but he let
the parents do the speaking.
Clearly this was well discussed and rehearsed before hand. They
don’t like my name that everyone calls me by—“Deacon.” They say I’m no
Deacon and shouldn’t pretend to be. One of them claimed that I am
telling people that I am a teacher. Now that one is absurd. Sure a few of
my close friends have chided me mockingly with “teacher.” I guess I just
get so carried away with how much I like to be around kids, and maybe I
used the term teach them, but I do teach them. Parents teach their
children all the time, though they are not accredited teachers. I can’t
help that a few of my friends thought it funny to call me teacher. I guess
these parents would rather they called me welfare bum, or useless, or
lazy. But the whole thing is a lark because they are really only concerned
that I mix up tunes and get the kids playing with music that includes
hymns from their hymnals.
Oh, but you should have been there when the Principal, Ted
Davidson, spoke. He said that, yes, I have a disability. I was injured in an
accident, and it has left some of the motor areas of my brain blocked so
I walk what they call funny. But there are laws; he said “laws,” that pro-
tect persons with disabilities from arbitrary discrimination. And that is
what the parents were asking for “unjustifiable discrimination against a
person with a disability.”
“We all have disabilities,” he said, “just some disabilities are ob-
vious physical ones and some affect how people get along and relate to
one another.” It was such a sharp barb I thought a couple of them were
going to duck.

194
As to the music—any of them were free to ask that their kids not
participate in the music program. Some parents, he said, are actually
asking when I might start private lessons because their children are
interested in school in enthusiastic ways they never have been before.
He then asked me if I had ever presented myself as a teacher or a dea-
con. To which I started to explain how I came about the name, but he
interrupted, “I just want to hear if you have presented yourself as a dea-
con or a teacher;” to which I could quite honestly say that I never have.
This really is the dark side of religion, I had a hard time not say-
ing piss off to the obnoxious jerks, but I was able to restrain myself es-
pecially as TD was doing such a great job of drawing a line in the sand;
then one of them said, “just look at the clothes he wears. He can’t have
any respect for the school, or the kids, or the rest of the staff, teachers,
or even janitors”—they said.
Oh, gosh, I’m going to have to get someone to help me with this. I
thought I had a fine set of clothes: slacks, and white shirt, and sports
coat. What on earth could they be talking about?
“Kind of reminds me of a musician,” quipped TD cracking a
smile, but the attempt to lighten up didn’t work. They remained stern
and heavy browed. They went away unhappy; they said they were going
to talk to the Superintendent. I got the feeling they had other issues with
TD. Interesting, they didn’t mention the School Board. Talking to TD
afterward I found out they aren’t happy with the School Board either.
They wanted any mention of the possibility of children being happy and
having loving parents in a same sex union banned from the school li-
brary. Instead, the Board flagged certain books as not available to the
children of the concerned parents. But they didn’t want to keep these
books out of just their children’s hands; they didn’t want anyone to read
that a same-sex relationship could be normal or healthy.
TD sent for me after the meeting. He says don’t do the hymns; it
isn’t worth provoking these easily provoked church groups. I can do that.
I actually thought that hymns in rhythm and blues made sense, it calls
the words of the hymn into an experience where it can be felt in ones
body as a joyful experience, it allows one to think/feel these soulful
messages in a way that says it is not just a Sunday dirge or some mu-
sic/message utterly out of touch with the times. I thought a group such
as theirs would actually appreciate it. Many times I was called to lead the
singing at the Unitarian Church in Kelowna, and I did the same kind of
thing, and they begged for more.
TD says get someone to help me with the clothes. Even he says
there is a problem; don’t wear plaids; don’t wear a stripped suit coat like
it was a sports coat. The idea is that this mixing and poor matching says
Thrift Store; it says that I haven’t made it to the level of professionalism

195
The tide rises; the tide falls
expected in the school. Don’t wear a suit; it sticks out as over done. A
new looking ski coat would look better or a sweater that isn’t pilling.
Anyway, I don’t feel good about all this pretentiousness, but I think
Susan can help me. She always gives me a once over before I leave—if
she is there in the morning.

Dec. 1, 2003

Greetings Old Friend,

Hello my friend. I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but we aren’t
keeping any secrets, you and me. We are friends completely and to the
end, this is our agreement.
I wish I could get this back. I really screwed up today. I didn’t
mean to and it didn’t seem like much, but it is. There is this kid, Johnny
Monst. He just isn’t interested in the program, and he wouldn’t be there
except that I’ve been doing a lot of the work with Ralph around organiz-
ing the Christmas Concert.
Anyway, Johnny will not focus, and he will not stop talking or pro-
voking the other kids around him that do want to learn the songs we are
practicing. Oh, the concert is going really well. We have so many interest-
ing songs and so much creative interaction by the children, and they
have put their hearts and souls into it, and they’re so proud. The concert
is going to be fantastic. But Johnny keeps getting up, and poking the
other kids, and shouting silly inanities in the middle of a rehearsal, and
desperately signaling for attention like he has to get to the can quickly,
then he says, “Hi, how ya ding?” with a smirkish little wave.
I’ve loved the process, but I have also felt a lot of pressure,
mostly from myself—it just seems that we are so close to such an out-
standing Christmas concert. I can almost feel it, but it needs a little more
focused practice. And without realizing what I was saying—Johnny was
jumping up, and down, and waving around, and distracting everyone—I
just burst out with this: “Sit down in your God Damn seat and keep quiet
for a moment.” I wanted to get it back, but it was said, and there was
nothing I could do. Johnny was elated. He shook his finger and said
almost threateningly, “You shouldn’t say that, bad boy!”
I went to see TD after practice and told him what had happened,
and he wasn’t happy, though he seemed more worried about the impli-
cations for me than with any judgment of what I had done. He said
maybe it wouldn’t go beyond him, but he would need to record it in my
employment record and record that I was warned that this is unaccept-
able.

196
Oh, I wish this hadn’t happened. I want this job so much, and so
many people think I’m doing such a good job and want me there. I’ve
never been really needed and respected like this any other time in my
life.

Dec. 8, 2003

Hello Old Friend,

I wish you could speak. I wish you could put your arms around
me and say it’s going to be alright. The church people were there early
Monday morning—early, and the pastor came with them, and he spoke
this time, and he was indignant about “taking the name of the Lord in
vain” and “cursing a child in the name of the Lord,” then he concluded
with the most nasty look on his face, “Deacon! This is no Deacon of any
decent faith I know. This”—pointing accusingly at me—“is the Deacon of
the cesspool.”
TD spoke up, and he said he wouldn’t tolerate abusive language
by anyone, and he looked straight at the pastor, and then he thanked
them for their interest in the school and told them that a disciplinary
committee would be looking at this, and he said that I had come to him
immediately with remorse and apology, and perhaps they would like to
hear from me.
I didn’t know what to say, so I told them mostly what I had told
TD, and I explained how it had just slipped out in a moment of exaspera-
tion, and that it was just a reflex letting go of a lot of pressure around the
concert, and that I had started a policy as a result of their earlier con-
cerns of eliminating hymns in our practice—except when they can be
played in traditional ways. I apologized again, but I didn’t see any sign of
acceptance, or forgiveness, and certainly not a mote of sympathy.
Susan and I are talking about a trip to California over Christmas.
I need to get out of here—to let my head clear—to try to restart this whole
experience at the school. Oh, I’m looking forward to traveling with Susan
as a couple, and stopping in motels, and eating out, and visiting interest-
ing places along the way. We did a trip down the Oregon coast many
years ago, and we were really together, and the beauty of it just seeped
into who we are; it’s part of our memories of being together in good
times.
This time we’ll go down the less traveled 395 through the dry de-
sert-like interior and past Lake Tahoe and Donner Lake where the pio-
neers were caught in a horrific snow storm in covered wagons and were
stuck for a winter. Susan loves the art galleries of San Francisco, and

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we’ll spend four days there visiting the galleries and the Golden Gate
Park with its Asian Gardens and De Jong museum, then we’ll stroll along
the galleries and seaside cafes of Sausalito. San Francisco has a reputa-
tion for decent weather around Christmas. We’ll spend Christmas day in
the idyllic community of Carmel-by-the-Sea and be back home by Jan 3.

Dec. 21, 2003

Hello Old Friend,

Just a brief note. The concert went as well as I expected. All the
kids, even Johnny Monst, were perfect and the parents were elated.
Ralph thanked me in front of all of them.
TD says he is giving me a week off after the break as a symbolic
discipline, but that will be the end of it as long as nothing else like that
happens. He says when you are different you have to be aware that
some people will see that as a reason to put everything you do under a
microscope. He doesn’t like it, but, “you just have to know that that is
the way it is.” I can take an extra week off. I wonder if Susan and I might
take a little more holiday time?

Dec. 28, 2003

Hello, old friend,

Isn’t it great being in San Francisco and riding on the trolley cars
and eating out in China town. I really enjoyed the museum of Modern
Art—even if the first display was just a urinal on its side. I couldn’t see
that as art, but Susan was impressed, and we had a conducted tour that
kind of made sense of paintings that looked like they were just stripes,
or just jabbing at the canvas angrily, or paint that ran down the canvas
like it had been spilled and the artist wasn’t very careful, and a huge 8x8
canvases of white background with white pieces of paper stuck to it with
a bright red quarter crescent orb painted in one corner.
Susan is happy, and we walk close together wherever we go;
sometimes we hold hands and swing our arms as we walk along, and
she leans against me when she wants to tell me something about some
exhibit we are exploring. And we have sex like an old married couple—
sort of matter-of-fact, but wildly anyway, and we both fall asleep ex-
hausted and content afterward. I know she’ll still be there in the morn-
ing—that’s the really great part.

198
I really like the climate here, and the museums, and the water-
front cafes, and china town, and the incredible park in the middle of the
city, but it’s strange visiting here. After all the jokes about granola, and
veggie dogs, and gurus, and ecofreaks, I thought that there must be
some substance, some reality of health food bars, and health retreats,
and spirituality camps behind all those jokes; otherwise where did they
get the ideas for the jokes; but it’s not that way.
I mean, just to start with, they threw out their governor half way
through his term and elected some Mr. Macho actor as Governor—not
that they haven’t shown a propensity for acting ability over grasp of the
relevant facts before. But Reagan was, at least, a good guy in the films
who seemed to be a kindly old fella, but Schwarzenegger? California is a
joke; it’s just that the joke isn’t about healthy stuff.
We’re staying with Susan’s brother, the computer guy. Maybe he
is a programmer, what ever that is. Maybe he does something else with
computers. I have to say I’m not much interested in computers. I would
have been if I had stayed with business, but I’m not with business, and
I’m not interested. Susan has a computer and sends letters and does all
kinds of work with programs for keeping business accounts and report-
ing taxes. I’m not interested in it, and it seems to me, it isn’t much inter-
ested in me. I mean every time I touch it something goes wrong. After I
deleted a whole week of Susan’s work, she won’t let me near the com-
puter—not even to send a letter. She will find things for me and send
something, but I have to stay away from the little plastic nurd. I can’t
explain it; sometimes I see it there and it reminds me of a nasty little
obnoxious dog the neighbour once had—the one that was so noisy and
belligerent. The computer isn’t noisy and belligerent, but—still—when
Susan isn’t home, sometimes I think it kind of thumbs its nose at me
and I want to go kick it; like the little grunt next door.
But I was saying about Phil; he makes his living using computers,
and I still like him. He’s obsessed with politics, and I still like him. I like
politics more than computers—I guess that makes me more than a bit of
an exception, right off the bat. Susan and Phil talk computers. Phil and I
talk politics—American politics mostly; not that I care for American poli-
tics, but Phil does and he’s so charged up over it, it is just kind of fun
watching him get all stirred up. He grows oranges in the back yard; the
blossoms are already open—at Christmas! By early June, just as I will be
taking the hot caps off the tomato plants, this southerly fruit will be
sensuously orange and bursting with juicy flavor; wow! You know there
are places out in Alberta where they don’t even grow apples? And these
guys come to BC and think it is really something to grow apples on a tree
in Canada—sort of like it felt for me when we last visited the southern
Bay Area in June; kind of miraculous reaching up and pulling an orange
off the tree—it felt kind of unnatural, like oranges come from bins in a
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The tide rises; the tide falls
the tree—it felt kind of unnatural, like oranges come from bins in a store;
not from trees in early summer!
Phil was at work and I was just reading through one of his news
magazines about this recall thing: it seemed pretty amazing. The Repub-
lican Party spent two million dollars paying people, per signature, to go
out and bring back a petition forcing a gubernatorial recall referendum.
When Phil got home, I asked him about the recall and he got really
worked up. After the petitions came in, Californians faced a ballot which
could remove a governor with 49% support and replace him with any one
of 400 colo(u)rful candidates who could win on less than 5% of the vote!
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr Blazing Guns, the pack leader for the Repub-
licans, won because—Phil sneered as he told me this—in the actor’s own
words “I'm for the children and stuff."–talk about a rolling blackout!
By the time we got done with the referendum, Phil was excited—
someone to talk politics with! He pulled a couple of beer out of the fridge
and sat down on the sofa excitedly. “Speaking of California jokes,” he
started sarcastically, “this is the birthing ground of Enron styled deregu-
lated energy supply—I know things are much saner up north!” he con-
fided. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the BC Liberals and their
plans for Hydro.
“It’s still in the papers,” Phil chronicled, guzzling a half a beer be-
fore charging on, “In principle, deregulation of the electrical supply was
supposed to use the discipline of free markets to generate just the right
amount of electricity at the right price. But electric power, it turns out, is
not like ordinary commodities and deregulation sent prices through the
roof, destabilized supply, and seriously corroded the ability of the system
to even function. There were brown outs, and black outs, and prices that
would have been a joke except they came on official looking bills; and it
sounded like somebody was thinking people would just hand over their
bank accounts to the robber energy giants.”
“I bet people didn’t like that,” I stated agreeably, launching into
my own beer with equal gusto.
“Like the beguiled doctors of yesteryear, politicians continued to
believe that the only way to cure the disease was to bleed the patient,
and the failures of deregulation became the rationale for more deregula-
tion.” I tried not to chuckle out loud—it might be taken the wrong way,
but there is something immensely entertaining about Phil when he
catches his stride in a political discourse; well I don’t actually think any-
one could call it a discourse or discussion, but it’s not a harangue either.
I don’t feel beaten up on during these lectures; I don’t feel much in-
cluded either. I wondered what Janet, Susan’s sister, thinks or has to
say. She and Susan were out shopping while us boys were getting into
the beer and the politics.

200
“Sometimes, I read these papers, and I think I’d be better of sta-
bling with the Houyhnhnms!” Phil asserted philosophically and rising for
another beer. He brought one for me even though I was only half way
through the first.
Phil picked up a paper from the coffee table and turned the front
page toward me. He looked disgusted. I tried to read the headline—
something about the homeless not welcome in San Francisco.
“Can you believe that the City Council of San Francisco passed a
by-law making it a punishable offence to offer food to the homeless in
downtown San Francisco? You wouldn’t believe it, but it’s right here in
the paper—and, down here, nobody seems to object to the inhumanity in
all this!”
Just then the front door squeaked open a notch and there was a
bunch of banging and groaning as Susan and Janet struggled to get into
the house with more plastic bags full of stuff than could squeeze through
a thirty-four inch door. One thing I really like about down here is the
ability/permission to give a measurement in feet and inches and not feel
guilty. I always give measurements in feet and inches—and I always feel
kind of like an inferior citizen. I have adjusted to kilometres! I really like
that feeling of just thinking in Kilometres—not converting from miles; it’s
14 km from Grand Forks to Christina Lake—that’s just how far it is.
Anyway, Susan and Janet got into the house. I think they left a
few packages at the door and went back after depositing the first arm
load on the kitchen table. Stuff. They were excited, and happy, and to-
gether. I loved it—being family—being happy—with Susan. She was smil-
ing deeply, like there were no cares in the world—in her world. Happy like
before the accident—before everything—almost like after we made love
by the lake the first time. The first thing Susan pulled out of the bag was
a thirty dollar bottle of California Merlot; thirty dollars US! “It’s out-
standing wine,” she said—smiling, knowing how extravagant it was to
spend thirty dollars US on a bottle of wine; smiling almost sheepishly, but
defiant—the devil-may-care, she said with a impish glance. I beamed
back at her: I was thinking that sometimes we need to just let go and
celebrate being in the warm sun in winter, with family, us together, and
she knew exactly what I was thinking.
It was hard to let go of such easy, good times and head north. I
didn’t tell Susan, but I was worried about how things might go with the
school. How could I make such intense enemies so fast?
Later that week, heading North East out of SF, I turned on the
radio in hopes of finding—well, I would like to have found CBC–but that
wasn’t available so I was looking for any light entertainment that might
distract me from the rolling waves of barren hillsides.

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My gosh, it didn’t used to be like this in California. Even three
years ago during our last visit, it hadn’t gone so utterly bananas; but,
now, nearly half the available stations –am,fm1, fm2–were preachers
telling me that a sinner like myself should be sending them money–
regularly. The other half of the stations were divided more or less evenly
between belligerently asserted talk shows, in-your-face rap, nostalgia,
and hype. Fortunately I had packed a couple of CDs.
Just south of Sacramento I started feeling real hungry, but what
were we going to eat? I mean out in the fast lane all I could see were
blurs of hamburger stands behind penitentiary-styled blinds of chair-link
fencing. Even the exits advertising food—as fast-food—whipped through
my field of vision like just another one of the cars and trucks with the
strained faces looking at me like I must be from Canada or Mars–-driving
the speed limit on a freeway!
Remember when California was snickeringly noted for being the
granola, salad, and falafel capital of the world? As I say, it certainly
doesn’t deserve that reputation any more. Double bacon and cheese
burger kind of food seems to be the order of the day, everywhere. I finally
found a salad bar and an off ramp I could get to with only a mild eruption
of hypertension. Unfortunately the seafood salad was embedded in
mayonnaise. If my doctor knew anything about how I ate while I was
down there, he’d surcharge my next four visits to the office.
Coming out of the restaurant, I walked around the truck kicking
each of the tires. I was becoming concerned about the rumbling noise
and uneven ride I had begun to notice out on the freeway. It reminded
me uncomfortably of a flat coming on, or the time I was wondering about
the noise in the front of the ’55 Chevy–and a front wheel fell off.
Back on the road/freeway the noise came back. It sounded like
whirrrrrr with a little crick between the r’s. Overriding the whirrrr, the
truck seemed to be bobbing up and down to a somewhat regular beat
like a small skiff on a medium swell.
Suddenly, I looked down at the road, and my bewilderment
snapped. It wasn’t the truck; it was the road! Just looking at it, I could
see the problem. The surface of this “highway” is more like cobblestone
than pavement–it’s worn right out. And the bobbing came from the fact
that what had once likely been a flat surface was now a long stretch of
inverse hummocks created by pavement that clearly wears more rapidly
between the seams than over them.
Now there was one more disconcerting thing about this road:
there were old white lines–mostly scratched out, and there were reflec-
tive lane markers, and there were holes where old lane markers had
been pulled out. Intermingled with these there were fresh white lines.
None of the above went to the same place, nor was it clear which ones

202
described the lane I was suppose to be in. Thank God, I wasn’t there in a
rainstorm.
I could still hear Phil’s words as we split the thirty dollar bottle of
wine and he kept talking politics while Susan and Janet kept trying to
steer the conversation around to table talk. Eventually Phil and I walked
down to a pub (I think they call it a bar) to continue the one-sided dis-
cussion on American politics and the girls…oh, I really don’t know what
they did after we left—but I’m sure they didn’t talk politics. I like Phil; I
like hearing what he has to say; I’m sure I’d get tired of it as a steady
diet, but—every few years—it’s fascinating; sometimes he even listens
while I embellish the story with a little Canadiana. The thing about the
States, Phil says, is they, now, spend more money on the military than all
of the next 15 largest military spenders combined. They’ve given the
wealthy so many tax breaks, they’re broke. They can’t afford their chil-
dren’s education, their bus system, their parks, their museums, and
libraries, or just about any other public good. Phil didn’t mention the
roads, but—driving north on I-80 it’s abundantly clear, now, they can’t
even afford to keep up their roads. I mean when Americans talk about
defending “the American way of life,” they mean their cars. When the
American roads go to pot, there just isn’t much left.

Jan. 10, 2004

Hello, Old Friend,

Well we’re back—early. Getting away was a good idea that grew a
bit wearying in the “New America.” I still have another week before I can
go back to working (NOT TEACHING!) with the kids at school. It’s difficult
sitting around waiting. There’s a bit of snow on the ground, and I went
out x-c skiing along the back of the fields along the river, but it isn’t
enough snow, and I kept hitting rocks and branches. I hate this just
waiting around. Guess I’ll stop at the library for a book. Susan has
helped me pick out some new clothes; boy, were they expensive! I’ve
bought my clothes from the Thrift Store for so long I had no idea that you
had to pay: $70 for a pair of pants and $200 for a ski coat—at least
$200 for a ski coat. But I bought them, and hopefully all this stuff about
what I wear is over.

203
The tide rises; the tide falls
Jan. 15, 2004

Hello Old Friend,

I’m back and all seems to be going well. I have my kids back, but
they have cut the number of hours, and I’m working back in the class-
room with Sandy more now. TD says I can’t just say I don’t want Johnny
to come to the music lessons. I have to identify what he does that is
disruptive, and send him to the office a couple of times, and warn him
that he needs to do better before I can ban him from the class. I just get
this creepy feeling that he has something on me, and he knows it, and
he intends to use it—sometime when I’m at a weak point. But I can’t
send him to the office for that.
I don’t know, but I feel something is different. I don’t feel as, well,
smiled on. I feel appreciated but with a slightly different feel to it. I don’t
feel so much like I am part of the staff. It hurts a little, but I’m sure it will
get better with time.
Oh, you should see the young girl, Katherine, who asked the
question about why other kids don’t have to do remedial music. She
really is talented. She can just dance up and down the key board, and
she knows some difficult classical pieces by heart, and she can pick up
pop tunes after only a few tries. And you should see the kids gather
round, wide-eyed—and her smile! If I wasn’t getting paid for this, her
smile would keep me coming back; it warms my heart and likely my soul.
I see her walking down the isle with two or three other kids bevied about,
and talking away about when she is going to be playing next, and can
they come, and can she show them how to do it; she looks so happy.
You know what? Sandy feels that Katherine won’t be in learning
assistance next year—she doesn’t need it. It’s hard to say whether more
willing attention has brought about a learning spurt or whether she just
always had the talent but was too discouraged to actually apply it. Susan
says she is sure the music has been wonderful for Katherine.
Susan and I and Sam and Albert, her brother, were out at the
Lorne over the weekend. I didn’t drink much, but at one point I felt really
confused and hurt—I wasn’t sure if Susan was coming home with me
after the dancing. She did, but it’s different when you don’t know.

204
Feb. 14, 2004

Hello, Old Friend,

Valentines day. I was in the library, and I checked out some more
books. I’ve taken a renewed interest in reading. I reread Herman
Hesse’s, The Stephen Wolf. What a fascinating tale; it intrigues me the
sort of final scene when Harry is asked of all the things he could have
done with this beautiful woman; why did he chose to kill her? Life is like
that—totally absurd. Imagine of all the things we could have done with
this earth, and we choose to consume it rather than love, and admire it,
and learn to live with, and respect it. It’s just more than I can under-
stand. And I loved Tolstoy’s story: How much land does a man need? We
all—in the end—occupy a 6x3 plot; in the mean time, surely there is more
to life than the insatiable acquisition of land or just things.
To me the tragedy now is that we aren’t even moved by real
things like land, we’re just greedy for more plastic things and these
scraps of paper we call money. I got a book of poems; I haven’t written
poetry for some time, and I thought that a little reading might stimulate
me. I feel this urge to write again; maybe I’ll branch out from the haiku. I
feel different from when I did the haiku. I was really impressed with
Frost’s poem about a dust of snow—so simple, so haiku-like but earthy. A
crow shakes loose some downy snow that in cascading down gives the
poet a whole new view of the day ahead—and perhaps even a new per-
spective on being alive.
It’s just so simple and so moving. I think of times when that sort
of thing has happened to me. I am all caught up in knots about some
trivial thing, but I had fastened onto it with my mind, and I couldn’t see
any of the rest of the world, and then some silly little thing like a crow
shaking off some snow from a tree wakes me up to look around and feel
the absolute magic of this day in which I was alive and able to see, and
feel, and just experience so many beautiful/wonderful things. It’s like
that. I think I’ll write some poetry one day soon.
School is going so well, I don’t even think of it until I’m heading
off in the morning, and its cold, and I have on my new coat that every-
body likes and keeps me warmer than the old Thrift Store suit coats. I
don’t know if other people feel this way, but I feel really alive when it is
cold, and my mind feels as crisp as the weather, and the sun smiles on
this beautiful valley, waking up, throwing off the hoar-frost blanket of
night. I’m going to school, to my new job, where people want me, and I
make the kids happy and enthusiastic about being alive, and creative,
and in school.

205
The tide rises; the tide falls
On the weekend Susan and I took a great big inner tube—one like
they use in the summer to float down the Kettle River with a bunch of
people hanging on the sides, and laughing in the warm water, and
splashing each other, and getting picked up by friends at the city park—
we just hiked up the back road up the Gilpin range, and when we got to
the top we jumped on the tube, but it wouldn’t go down the road; it was
too gradual. So we went over the edge, but the snow was too deep and
loose, so we had to push one another along; hoping to once in a while
glide over the snow. It was a hard walk out through the 18 inches of
unpacked snow when we got to the bottom, but it was good times, and
she smiled at me like a little girl that doesn’t have any cares and doesn’t
know that life can be/will be full of troubles.
She just smiled at me, and I loved her more than when we were
going to get married. We had borsht at Dan’s sandwich bar after. It was
so tasty with all that dill and just eating it, it felt hearty like the peasants
that first created it to sustain them in their labours and through the cold
nights.

206
Last Act
David Barnett: My Quest

Mar. 18, 2004

Hello, my old friend,

Well I got the word today. The program won’t be funded next
year, and there isn’t any other money to hire me with. But this was sup-
posed to be a two year program and they like me so much; surely they
can find some money. I cost so little for what I do. I’d even take a pay
cut, and I suggested that, but TD just shook his head, and I thought he
was going to start crying. His voice sounded sort of choked, like he was
losing control.
Oh God, I didn’t think it would come to this. TD said that if I took
a week off that would be all the discipline, and I could get on with all the
good things I was doing. I know that the church people went to the Su-
perintendent, and the Superintendent spoke to TD, and he wasn’t happy
with TD. I know he and TD have been spatting for years over funding for
sports, and music, and how causal a Principal can be about letting stu-
dents call him by his first name, and playing with them like he was just a
kid himself. I guess the Superintendent has a lot to say about where the
money goes.
I went right down to see Noreen after school, but she said it’s out
of her hands, and she has been instructed not to say anything. She
looked at me sort of like you look at road kill that somebody has to come
and take away. I knew then that it wasn’t the money; it is me.
Oh, what am I going to tell Susan? She, she, she…Oh, I don’t
want to tell her I got fired. I didn’t get fired, but I did, but—at least—there
will be Employment Insurance checks for a while, but it isn’t about the
money. I was so me there. I was so happy there. How can I even go back
there for the rest of the year? Actually I don’t have to tell Susan, not just
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Last Act
yet. Maybe what I need to do is just go on doing this whole thing like
nothing happened. Just savor it for a little while longer, like a con-
demned man and all his fine meals before the hanging.
Yes, my friend, stiff upper lip, stoic, and all. We’ll just go back to
work like nothing has happened.
Actually, my friend, I think this is good bye for a little while. I’m
not sure you would want to share in this deception with me. See you in
June.

Jun. 04, 2004

Hello, again, my friend,

Sorry to have been away for so long. But I have been busy, and
you know the deal. Well it’s all over. I got through the year without any
further incidents, and the pastor and his congregation seem satisfied
that the knife in my back is, in fact, a mortal wound, so they haven’t
been back into the school. Oh, but did we have fun in my last week at
the school. My program was scheduled to end two weeks before the kids
got out, but TD found money somewhere, and I stayed right to the end.
We played When the Saints Go Marching In to a swing that was so sen-
suous it might have made a dance hit played to different words. We
played “soul” music which need no modifications to be visceral. We
played Amazing Grace with the most spontaneous harmonies and break
outs, and it all worked like we had rehearsed it, but it just came from the
heart—the heart of all that we have been doing. I don’t know if the pastor
has spies and heard about it, but he didn’t come in. Even little trouble-
some Johnny was up singing his heart out!
There was a great after-school party, but I didn’t take Susan be-
cause I haven’t told her about not going back yet. The interesting thing is
that I’ve actually deceived myself as well as any body else. I have hardly
even thought of not going back. I love walking to school through almost
all of the seasons. Now its early summer, and the birds are singing in the
morning, and people are out planting or weeding. Occasionally a pheas-
ant flies up, and then is lost in the fields. It’s warm. I don’t take my coat,
and I don’t need my collar buttoned up tight around my neck, and I just
walk along; usually I think about the day ahead and practice some of the
songs we are going to be doing. Sometimes people look up from their
early morning chores and smile or wave. It’s a great thing going to work
in the morning.
When am I going to tell Susan? She’s going to find out soon
enough. But maybe I can just savor this for a while longer. She wants me

208
to move in with her, but I’m afraid, I’m afraid of what happens when she
finds out. It’ll be worse because I didn’t tell her, but it’s been good, and
I’ve enjoyed all this. She might have gotten depressed and filled the last
few months with some terrible resentment, or appeals, and protests, and
all that stuff that I don’t want. It’s over. There is nothing I can do about it.
Life is like that: sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. I won for a
short time and lost a lot, but it’s better than not winning at all.

Jun. 28, 2004

Hello, my old friend,

I haven’t planted any garden. I just don’t feel like it. I don’t feel
like there is much point. I won’t be going back to the school this fall.
Maybe I’ll just starve to death. I could do that. It’s really the easiest,
cheapest, least painful way to go. People with terminal diseases do that.
They just quite eating and maybe even drinking, and after a few weeks or
a month, they’re gone; they’re safe; nothing can harm them, or insult
them, or take anything away from them any more. They just quit eating.
Boy, they talk about assisted suicide, and legal implications, and all
kinds of complex stuff, but if you don’t eat, you die; you don’t need any
assistance to just not eat.
I’m still paying rent. I don’t have to work in the fields this sum-
mer.
I told Susan today. I told her the program is over, and I was going
to leave it at that, but I couldn’t. I told her that Noreen couldn’t say any-
thing because some bully above her wanted to keep all the politics of
how important people get their way—quiet.
She wasn’t mad! She was worried about me. I knew she loved
me, but this is really something. She loves me, even if I’m not working at
the school. I remember she didn’t love me when I had my brain injury,
and I needed her so much; but now she still loves me even with no job,
and no body to look up to me, or care about whether I get up in the
morning. She kept asking: how do I feel about this?—and am I OK? She
still wants me to move in, and I want to, but I can’t. I don’t feel good
about what it will be like not going back to the school in the fall. I don’t
want to work out my problems in front of Susan. This is something I must
do alone.

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Last Act
July 6, 2004

Hello, my old friend; Hello, Summer,

I had the damn-ed-est dream last night; strange I should remem-


ber it so clearly, but I believe I have the most of it.
I see a dam; a regular dam, seemingly; concrete arching up be-
tween two narrowly converging mountain sides. There is a
grassy/touristy area beside the dam with a look out point and a spotting
scope, free for tourists, for looking over the dam and surrounding area. A
few people are around, and there are deer grazing nonchalantly on the
lawn. The deer look up occasionally to check out what seems to them to
be rather curious creatures who arrive in strange boxes, make annoying
noises, and march around on the hard stone/inedible pathways. I notice
one person who has been at the spotting scope for some time. He seems
very intense. I identify with this person enough to see through scope
which is pointed at the top of the dam.
At first it seems like a pretty mundane scene, until I realize that
there are workers on the dam, and they are building with concrete
blocks. They are, in fact, raising the dam rapidly, and I realize they are
making a big mistake because they have forgotten or neglected to in-
clude any kind of spill way or outlet. The water keeps rising as they build.
There is no water below the dam other than a tiny trickle that must we
oozing up from the ground water. I want to shout at the workers that they
are making a mistake, but just then I notice a crack in the bottom of the
dam, and it is spreading up the middle of the dam like an over ripe wa-
termelon when you puncture it with a knife.
Suddenly the water is rushing out of a great rend in the dam, and
the workers are washed away in the cascading water that forms a wall of
water as it races down the canyon. Just then I see a single worker, or
person anyway, down the canyon some distance, and he looks up to see
this wall of water coming at him. He takes off running down stream trying
to outrun the water, which is gaining on him rapidly. Suddenly he realizes
the futility of running and stops, turns around, opens his arms and wel-
comes the on rushing water. The water breaks over him and disappears,
leaving the man standing wet but joyfully alive.
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, I’m free at last,” I
think to myself and awake shaken by the powerful feeling of this dream.
Perhaps I’ll see another shrink one day like Dr. Cowie, and I’ll see
what he can make of this strange dream. I suppose Cowie would be
happy to know that I still keep this journal though not for the reasons he
supposed. My Quest has become my friend, may be my only friend soon.
Susan and I aren’t doing well. She got mad when I wouldn’t move in with

210
her. But she doesn’t want me as the lovers we once were. She hardly
ever sleeps with me these days though she keeps saying how much she
loves me and asking over and over, “Are you OK?” Why does she keep
asking if I’m OK when she knows I’m not OK? I’m miserable. I went out,
and scratched around in the garden, and planted some of last year’s
seeds—lettuce, and carrots, and chard, and beets, and dill. It won’t come
to anything, but I just wanted to scratch around in the earth and pretend
like I still had hopes, and dreams, and a future.
What could this dream mean? What is building up with no outlet
and is bound to break one day because you can’t just go on building and
holding back the water which never stops accumulating? And why didn’t
the guy down in the canyon (who turned out to be me) drown in the wa-
ter, or get washed away? Is this a good omen that what ever is coming
won’t kill me? Or does it simply mean I need to be ready to accept what-
ever is coming?
I went out and scratched around in the garden and planted some
seeds (oh, said that already!). I’ll probably get some radish and lettuce,
but it doesn’t matter. I just wanted to scratch around in the dirt and feel
connected to something. Susan’s such a great gardener. Susan still
wants me to move in with her, but I can’t. She says she loves me and
keeps asking if I’m OK, but I’m not OK, and I won’t be and certainly ha-
ven’t been since 1989. It’s been a month since she made love with me.
She doesn’t love me, she pities me, feels sorry for me, wants me to be
OK, so she can go on her way. This is it. We aren’t getting back together
again—ever.
Crystal phoned today; wanted to talk about Mom and Dad and
how much she misses them; and—by the way—am I OK? Susan phoned
her; I know she did. Crystal doesn’t just phone out of the blue to ask if
I’m OK. OK=Outstanding Krock-of-shit.
Noreen phoned. How am I doing? She asked. Sort of like “Are
you OK?”—if you ask me. I wonder if Susan phoned Noreen. Noreen says
she wants to talk about other training, but I don’t want other training. I
don’t want to get out of bed. I’m still on EI.

Sept. 1, 2004

Hello, my old friend,

We need to talk. I’m not doing well all alone. I think I have
pushed Susan away completely. She hasn’t called and certainly hasn’t
come by. I went out to the Lorne last week, and I didn’t see anyone I
knew. How can that be? I thought I knew just about everyone who comes

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Last Act
into the Lorne, maybe not on real friendly speaking terms, but it’s the
sort of thing where you’re aware of people who are there, and you even
have a kind of community just because you drink in the same place.
Nobody would have been interested in piano music not the kind I play.
Last month they brought in a Celtic group, and then had to send them
packing half way through the week because all the regulars were moving
out to other pubs where they play country music, and no body has to
clap. I drank until late and stumbled home falling and skinning myself a
number of times.
One year ago I started work at Twin Rivers. I walked by the school
today twice. I got up early and went out in the almost frosty air. I wore my
nice $200 ski coat that all the nice people wanted to see. I just walked
by on the side walk outside. I was afraid someone would notice like
when a pervert cases the place. I saw some kids were already playing
and recognized a couple of them, but they were, luckily, completely ab-
sorbed in their play and didn’t notice me walking by.
I went down to the Alexander for coffee and had an order of toast
with it. There were other people in the restaurant, and—for awhile—it felt
that us, us early birds, had some kind of community, but they all went off
to their jobs where they’re wanted, and they have a place, and get paid
so they can do things with their families and partners and have a life.
I left my second cup of coffee half drunk; it tasted bitter. I went
by Susan’s office, but she wasn’t there yet. I wandered around the town
as people were busy scurrying around setting up shop. By 9:00 the sun
was warm, reflecting off the concrete and asphalt. I went and stretched
out on a park bench and thought about my first day at the school last
year and all that happened after that. It was like a dream. I remembered
a dream from a few nights back about a guy going out into a pear or-
chard to pick pears, but none of the pears were within reach, so he went
back to some shed, and got a ladder, and climbed up to pick pears; but
the first time he reached for one this swarm of angry hornets came flying
out like he had attacked their home, and he started down the ladder, but
it collapsed, and he fell with a great thump that hurt his side, and the
hornets started stinging him in the face, so he started running as fast as
he could go with the hornets in pursuit. Then suddenly I see the seer of
the dream looking down from way above all the trees; he sees this poor
guy running from the hornets, and I am the seer—and the guy running.
The seer looks down, and the runner looks up, and they see their two
selves which are the same person, and the dream ends. I wonder if Old
Bill—the nightly drunk down at the Alexander that talks to himself—is just
stuck in some dream where the pieces came apart and won’t go back
together.

212
The bench feels hard and cold so I get up, and walk around the
park, and remember the flood this spring that covered all the grass.
Everyone was afraid it would wreck the whole downtown and all the fine
businesses of all the fine people who wear suits and ski jackets, and no
one ever complains about what they wear. I went home and thought
about cleaning the place up, but I just stretched out on the couch, and I
thought about the kids and TD saying that everyone has a disability, and
I remembered waking up in the hospital after the accident and wonder-
ing what was going on, and why was Susan so excited, and calling for the
doctor, and grabbing my hand, and kissing it over and over. Didn’t last
long though—all this happiness about seeing me. She was gone within
months. I’ve forgiven her a long time ago—but it’s not the kind of thing
you can forget.
I’m unhappy, maybe I should see a doctor, and go back on the
antidepressants, and feel all OK—or not feel at all; just not complain—or
feel bad that things are so fucked.

Oct. 4, 2004

My dearest old friend,

Susan came by today; Pat, the teacher from Twin Rivers School,
came with her. It was like the Deaconesses coming to see the defrocked
Deacon—the Deacon of the cesspool. They were all smiles. The place
was a mess, and Susan wanted to know why I don’t answer the phone.
Who says you have to answer the phone. I don’t wear my nice ski coat
any more. I puked on it the other night when I didn’t take it off before
getting into bed. I used to hold my beer better than that.
Pat misses me at the school. She says I should set up a tutoring
service. Lots of people do that, and it works out really well. But all those
people don’t have to have some one pick out their clothes for them, and
they don’t walk like a drunk even when they’re sober, and they don’t
have a hole in their heads where what matters got ripped out. Susan
says she wants me to move in with her even just as a roommate, but she
can see the pig sty I live in. Who wants to live with someone like me? Pat
says, bottom line is, she would like some piano lessons that she would
be happy to pay for. Well I can’t say no to that. So I agreed to every
Thursday afternoon; $30 for an hour lesson.
Actually I was happier to see them than I let on. I’ve got Alfie, the
lab, but all he wants is a full bowl of dry dog food and a pat on the head.
He doesn’t know I’m all fucked up. You, my friend, are very precious, but
sometimes talking to you isn’t a whole lot different from the old fart

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Last Act
down at the Alexander that spends the night in animated conversation
with three or four glasses of beer. Oh, I hope I’m gone before that hap-
pens to me.
What really pisses me off is when they keep saying “How are you
feeling? Are you OK?” Fuck no; I’m not “OK.” Is anybody who has lost
everything they ever cared about OK? Do they just want to wallow around
in all this muck with me? Maybe we could just be like kids and throw the
mud back and forth snow fight-like. Then they can just go home and get
all cleaned up, and I can go feed the dog.

Oct. 22, 2004

Hello, precious friend,

I just did a piano lesson with Pat. She seemed distracted. She
kept asking if I was OK. She asked if I have been eating. Have I been
eating? I don’t know. There is food in the house, but none of it tastes
very good, and it’s getting stale. The God damn power company turned
off the power just because I forgot to pay a few bills. I better order some
wood, or it could get real cold. Now I have to pay some hook up fee and
wait a couple of weeks to get the power back on.
Pat wasn’t playing very well and didn’t seem to hear much I was
tiring to explain to her about cadence, and feeling, and just forgetting
that there is any world outside of the music; that the piano wants to play
with you—like a dance. Pat didn’t say anything about coming over to my
place during the lesson, but she was knocking on the door less than an
hour after the lesson. She had gone down town and bought me a battery
operated lantern that lights the whole room. I could read a book on the
sofa, if I wanted.
“Deacon,” she said, “You know I care about you, and you can call
me anytime you want to talk.” Some kind of music lesson; more like a
visit to the shrink. I felt like I had just come out of surgery again. Can she
come over and help me out on weekends? I almost asked if she might
like to come snuggle up, seeing as Susan hasn’t been much interested
in snuggling. I see her down at the Lorne; she and Sam seem to be
spending a lot of time together these days.
Now this is interesting. Less than an hour after Pat left, Susan
called, says she wants to come over, so I say OK—must be a place for
this over valued OK somewhere.
“How am I? Am I OK? Have I been eating?” Somebody put this
ditty on the top 40 these days, or is the record just stuck?

214
I don’t look well. When did I look well? I’ve been drinking lately.
She sees me down there often enough. She even brought me home the
other night. Good thing the cops didn’t see her. She wasn’t doing a
whole lot better than I was. She wouldn’t come in with me, which proba-
bly is just as well. I wasn’t up to anything other than passing out on the
couch.

Oct. 23, 2004

Greetings Precious friend,

I just wrote to you yesterday, but this is worth talking about.


Susan stopped by this morning early—around 8:00. She brought coffee
and waffles on a plate, wrapped in a towel to keep them warm, and real
maple syrup—like she knows I like. I didn’t know what to think. Why
couldn’t she just sleep over if she wants to be here in the morning? She
kept saying how much she cares about me, but she didn’t say anything
about coming back tonight. Anyway the coffee was good. And the waffles
were good. I guess I haven’t been buying many groceries lately. West
Kootenay says it will reconnect the power within the week.
Would you believe it? This afternoon Pat stopped by, and she has
two Overwaitea bags full of food. And she has jumbo orders of fries and
hamburger from A&W She stayed for dinner. I’m gonna get fat again if
this keeps up. I must be down to 150—less than when I graduated from
Secondary School. I never thought I’d look like this ever again. I’m kind
of proud. I mean I’ve lost all this weight even with the nights I’ve spent
out at the Lorne.
I don’t know about Pat. She did the dishes and straightened up
the house. She never even kissed me good by, so I don’t think she is
thinking of moving in. But hey, I don’t mind all this female attention. I
never had two women looking after me before!

Nov. 2, 2004

Hello, my old precious friend,

In some ways it really feels good having Susan stop by for break-
fast. Sometimes it feels like she doesn’t go away—like we were in love
again. We aren’t. Well, we aren’t in bed. Who knows what love means?
Maybe there is love that isn’t about bed. Clearly there is all kinds of love
that isn’t between a man and a woman that is still love. I just can’t un-

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Last Act
derstand Susan—who is she? Why does she come around? Has she
forgotten all we’ve been through? Has she forgotten what it’s like to just
let go of all/everything and just drift off to another world where nothing is
hidden, no games are played, no judgments made, and it doesn’t matter
how we walk, or how successful the business is; we’re just happy to-
gether for a few blissful hours; and out of that we are together like it is
supposed to be?
Susan’s been around almost every morning for the past week,
and Pat stopped by one time with Ralph. Ralph brought his guitar, and
we all sang along like we were around some campfire in summer.
Susan wants me to go see some mental health people. She says
she’s “worried about me.” I wonder if she’ll keep coming for breakfast if I
go see these mental health people. I don’t like mental health people,
and they didn’t like me. I don’t think any body was quite sure whether I
left the rehab ward, or they kicked me out. We were both happy to be
done with each other.
What’s wrong with me anyway? I got two women coming to see
me. I have a few beer down at the pub, but I don’t drink alone—much;
not at the pub. I mean I see this guy down at the Alexander every once in
a while—supposed to be some kind of reporter gone sour on his luck. He
just sits in the corner drinking beer by himself and looking around like a
peeping tom sneaking a peek from around his beer. One time he had a
notebook like he was officially spying on everyone else in the bar—like he
was so much better than anyone else; too good to talk to anyone;
doesn’t have any real feelings; he may as well be some kind of human
tape recorder. He doesn’t know how to act like anybody else is actually
alive—but he’s the real dead one. How come they aren’t shipping him off
to talk to some mental health people, or just ship him off to some where
they can treat people like that?
Tell me, friend, is there anything wrong with me that I need to
see some pompous official about? How many pompous officials does
one person have to see in a life-time? What’s the point? They just collect
some big salary because they tell me what’s wrong with me. They wear
suit coats, and nobody cares about how unprofessional that is. No, I’m
not going to see any mental health nut! Oh, but I do hope Susan keeps
bringing the breakfast, even if I don’t get my head picked apart another
time. I even like seeing Pat.

216
Nov. 5, 2004

Hello, my precious friend,

This is interesting. Pat isn’t coming in the evening any more. She
comes over in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, and Susan seems
to be coming around all other mornings except Wednesday. I’m so
spoiled that I can hardly get through Wednesday morning. I feel lost and
alone all Wednesday. It’s like Susan and I have this new relationship that
is different than before, but it is about love, and I love her, and I even tell
her so. I don’t love Pat, but I thank her for coming over. I don’t think I
could love Pat. She is a wonderful lady, but she’s just too professional for
me. There is something starchy about her. I can’t remember ever seeing
her out at a pub. And it’s hard to imagine her doing the bogey. But she
fixes great food, and she pays a great wage for piano lessons that aren’t
advancing nearly as fast as my more enthusiastic ten-year-olds. I like her
timid, questioning, unsure, “Hello, is everybody up and decent” greeting
when she opens the door a crack in the morning. It’s so different from
Susan who just barges in like she owns the place. I wonder what Pat
would say if I called back “No, were fucking right now!” Ha! oh, she’d
have a tough time with that one. But she brings fresh fruit, and fried
potatoes, and eggs—straight from her stove to my table. I haven’t eaten
like this for a very long time. Yes, I am putting on weight. Pretty soon it’s
going to be an effort to drag myself down to the pub.

Nov. 14, 2004

Friend, my friend, my precious, old friend,

It doesn’t hurt so much when I walk past the school; the kids are
running and jumping into the big piles of maple leaves. I saw little Kathe-
rine in the school yard, and she had a bevy of friends with her, and they
were chattering excitedly about something. I hope she is still moving on
with her music. Actually, God damn, it still hurts. I was so good for those
kids, and they made my life worth living.
Pat says she knows a woman over in Castlegar that isn’t a men-
tal health official and isn’t a shrink, but she works with people to help
them find “their way.” She can hear people and let’s people talk about
what really matters to them. She can sometimes hear what people mean
even when they don’t actually say it. Pat says this woman has helped her
to understand and accept her husband’s leaving, and to quit moping,
and get on with what is important to her. She sometimes uses a tech-

217
Last Act
nique called hypnotherapy to help people recognize what it is that really
matters and what they are actually looking for.
I’m thinking that I might just go see this woman. Pat has offered
to drive me over—or she might come over to see Pat, and we could “get
acquainted”—just talk a bit, while she is here. Pat may be stuffy and
professional, but she certainly has been good to me. Where would I be
without these two mothers?

December 1, 2004

My precious friend,
Susan and I drove to Castlegar to see Pat’s friend Lillian. Susan
and I had a great trip over the summit. It amazes me these days. Susan
seems so friendly—but not friendly like we used to be. December—yet the
roads were bare and the sun felt warm. We hardly needed to put on the
heater in the car.
Oh, that Lillian, she’s a looker!—almost made me regret going
over with Susan. I like her; no, it’s not just the looks. She’s so friendly
and easy to talk to. Even with just meeting her once before in Grand
Forks, she just seems like someone I might have known for a long time—I
wish. But, you know, it still feels a little too much like a doctor’s office—a
shrink’s office. And the whole hypnosis thing seems a bit strange. I mean
it definitely felt relaxing, but saying things like you were talking to your-
self—like you were teaching yourself to be someone you want to be but
aren’t. I don’t know. If this wasn’t Lillian and she wasn’t so sexy, I don’t
think I would have booked another visit on Saturday.
Now saying all this, it did feel good. I felt sort of relaxed after-
ward, and Susan and I had a great trip back—laughing and remembering;
God, we have a lot to remember; all the way back to school in Kelowna.
Interesting, we don’t talk about the accident or breaking up. We just talk
about…you know, we talked about the first time we made love. I wanted
to pull off at Sheep Lake and do it again, but Susan just laughed—I
meant it!—damn straights, I did; right there at Sheep Lake, in the car
where it was warm. My gosh, we’ve done it before right there—except we
got out the sleeping bag and hiked back in the bushes aways. Um, um,
um—we do have memories.
You know, I think I’ve been feeling better. Maybe that hypnosis is
like a kind of psychic tune up. I’m actually looking forward to going back
over with Pat. I wonder what Pat and I could talk about? Music? Kids?
School? Not fucking; I don’t think we’ll end up talking about stopping off
at Sheep Lake—but one never knows what might happen on a sunny day
coming home from a therapy session!

218
December 4, 2004

My precious friend,

No, NO, NO, NO!—a thousand times no! No, this can’t possibly
have happened to me. How could it happen? How could it happen and I
haven’t remembered a wink of it for all these years. It’s nightmare. I’ll
wake. Oh, I pray I’ll just wake up and it won’t be so. There I was—back
remembering; no being there; it was just like being there. I could see our
house and the dead end street and the park down the way and the
school and I was just visualizing the house—my house; Mom and Dad’s
house in Kelowna—and suddenly I saw George Harper—my dad’s friend,
the barber, our neighbour. Oh, I hate him. There he was with his pants
down—smiling, happy. He’s happy. But what about me?
THAT’S WHY I WAS SICK FOR SO LONG; sick?—that’s why I hated
going to school that year; that’s why I didn’t want to get up in the morn-
ing; that’s why I thought I was going to die—all the time. That son of a
bitch. Oh, if he weren’t dead already. What the hell, how could I have
forgotten all this? That’s why I couldn’t study or remember anything. Oh,
God, could this; is this…is this what my life has been about? Say it isn’t
so; somebody say it isn’t so. It didn’t happen. I wasn’t there. Wake up.
Wake up. I don’t want this dream.
The thing is I told Pat. I told her to never tell Susan or anyone
else, but I couldn’t help myself—I told Pat. Poor Pat. Man, did she look
uncomfortable. What’s she mean, “It’ll be alright?” It won’t be alright.
How could it? What’s she know anyway? Why did I tell her anything? Oh,
come on; don’t take this out on her; after all she’s been doing why take
this out on her? She’s a good person—I know that. But god, did I ever get
tired of this “I think you should see a counselor” routine—that’s what
Lillian said and I told her no. I don’t want to see some overpaid, uppity,
nosy “professional” counselor. If only I could just forget all this stuff.
I’m going down to the Lorne. Nobody down there knows anything
about this and they won’t ask. Prescription? Lillian says “prescription”
but all I need for my medies is a pocket full of money—$3.50 a glass!

David’s final words—recorded and extrapolated by Bartholomew


Johnson.
Here I will summarize as much of Deacon’s entries in the last
book of his “Quest” as I can make sense of—so very little remains that is
not burnt beyond recognition.

219
Last Act

On one page Deacon seems to be ranting about George Harper.


The date and salutation have burned away; the rest is crispy and broke
into pieces as I tried to gently turn the page. I see his dog, Alfie, men-
tioned affectionately on another page, but everything else is too brown
and crisp to read. There is a surprising number of pages that have been
written—surprising in that he seems to have written so sporadically for
several years. One page, which Susan was able to delicately salvage a
portion of, mentions the Biblical Job and his wife’s admonition to “curse
God and die.” “Why curse God and die? Why not just die at peace with
God and planet and friends?” he asks rhetorically. He went on but all of
that is lost to the heat and flame. I could find no reference to any
thoughts of forgiveness toward his abuser. I wonder what he thought
about that, or if he thought of that in his last few days.
Obviously Deacon tossed his final journal onto the smoldering
fire face down so that, while the ends of some lines are burned away,
much of what Deacon wrote on the final page can be read or extrapo-
lated from the rest by considering the context. There seems to be a title
of sorts that must have followed the usual heading. The rest reads,
loosely, as a litany of memory.
As best I can decipher this portion which was clearly addressed
to Susan (she has not only approved publishing the journal; she has
specifically approved publishing this personal address:

“I remember that we were young together (who sought who out, I


can’t recall).
I remember that those early years we were happy together (oh, I
was so happy to be with you).
I remember that it was your idea to make love the first time (oh, I
loved making love to you—any time we ever made love; I loved making
love to you; love it was.)
I remember that we nearly fell in the lake—that first time; that I
was dizzy with my love for you.
I remember that life was so full of hope—that you wanted chil-
dren; oh, if…if only…if only.
I remember that you left me after the accident—and I hated you;
not really, but I hurt, oh, I hurt and was confused and lost.
But I remember also that I found myself on my trip to Asia—or
was it someone else I found, and I forgave you.
I remember the day in the monastery—contemplating compas-
sion; when I forgave you, and me.
And I remember how good that felt.

220
I remember dark, lost years without you—and then I found you in
the hospital, and I loved you—once again; no, I never actually stopped
loving you.
I remember our “expedition” to Grand Forks and coming around
the corner and seeing this magnificent, verdant valley opening before
us—like heaven; surely like heaven. And you looked at me and I at you,
and we were home. Oh, God, I loved you that day as much as when we
first made love.
I remember difficult times—why? Perhaps we can both under-
stand that better now.
Remember the job at the school? And the kids, and music and
teachers, and Principal?
Remember how happy we were?
Remember picking out that silly coat that seemed to make such
a difference—such a silly, stupid, real difference?
I remember that you loved me—when it was over. And you cared
for me—when it was over. And even now when…well I don’t know how
you will feel when you read this.
But remember, please remember—that I love you.
I remember that you believe there is life beyond. If there is; if the
life above is fairer than this one below; I’ll be waiting and I be whole and
healthy of body and mind.
And yes, oh, yes, …”

The last few words of the sentence and remaining lines are burnt
beyond even a possible guess.

221
Last Act

222
Healing
Bartholomew Johnson’s Required Writing

Aug. 26, 2005

Oh, Chan we may have our struggles, but now I know Brass is
right; I need help. Can you really help me? I’m such a complete ass. I’ve
been reading this journal that was kept by the guy who hung himself in a
barn back in January. Pat and Susan were going over to his place every
morning, and fixing breakfast for him, and trying to get him re-involved in
music which he loved, and they were trying to get counseling for him.
They really are special people; Pat was Jane’s best friend. I think I told
you once before I thought for a time she was an angel, but I blew our
whole relationship with a few stupid remarks a few years ago. I blew it
once, and now I’ve gone and blown it again.
I really need some help. I was even reading in this Deacon’s
journal about how he noticed some stiff clod in the bar who had no feel-
ings and couldn’t relate to people; didn’t seem very human; and, you
know what?—I suddenly realized he was talking about me! Who’s watch-
ing whom here? Who’s the biggest screw up of all? God, I hope nobody is
reading this knowing the end, as I know the end that Deacon came to
when I read his journal.
Will Pat or Susan ever talk to me again? I’ve got this journal I
have to take back to Susan, and I definitely want to read what comes
next, but, what the hell am I going to say?—Susan, I’m sorry about the
other night. Sorry? How lame can you get? Sorry is what governments
say thirty years after the fact, when everyone knows what their real mo-
tives were, and no one can make them give back the land, or get the
toxins out of the river bottom, or bring back the lives that will never come
back.

223
Healing
Sorry? I’ve got to do better than that. Will they even speak to me
again? Some wounds just don’t heal, and some fester for a long time; it
takes a major effort before any healing can start.
I’ve got an idea. I’ll throw an apology dinner at my place. I’ll get it
catered with the East Indian food I know Pat loves. I’ll send out a formal
invitation to both of them calling it an apology dinner. I’m bringing in a
caterer, and buying wine, and begging for forgiveness. I’ve never done
anything like this before, but perhaps what I need is to start getting a
little more out of character. I sure as heck can’t go on with this character
the way he is.

A formal apology dinner


Your are invited to a formal apology dinner

When: Saturday Sept. 5, 2005 6:00 pm


Place: The residence of chief idiot Bart Johnson
RSVP: Please state wine preference.
Dinner: Catered East Indian by Dhaba Fine Food
Wine: as much as you like and any kind you choose
Free taxi rides home gratefully offered on request
Please forgive a fool such as I.
I am sorry!
Bart
They are coming, both of them. This is a good start. All I need to
do is get the wine and set the table. Candles would be in order. There’s
hope yet.

Sept. 7, 2005

It went well, very well. I feel I actually did something right. I feel
they may yet forgive my obnoxious behaviour. I feel, perhaps overconfi-
dently, forgiven and blessed with a new start—if I can manage to just not
blow it again. What a fool I’ve been. Chan gets a good wage; I don’t need
to invite him—it wouldn’t be appropriate anyway. I didn’t actually insult
and run out on him.
These two are quite the pair. They came together wearing
smiles—attractively clothed also; I don’t want to start off giving the wrong
impression. They each offered a hug once inside the door. I offered an

224
apology immediately and started to explain that I realize that I need
some help and am, in fact, talking to a counselor, but they brushed it off.
“We all have cranky nights,” Susan said.
”And, besides, everyone has the right to privacy,” Pat said, light
heartedly, then continued, “Actually we have a confession and apology to
make ourselves. You know, when you had your break down, I came out
of the can and you were just going out the door; I asked Susan what had
happened, and she looked real sad, but she started to try to explain
what happened while I was in the can—about your grabbing the journal
which she had brought for you and running, and, suddenly, it just
seemed funny.
“I started to snicker; Susan looked at me and snickered; we both
started to laugh. The next thing you know we were in this laughter fit that
we had to calm with a copious amount of wine. We spent some time
remembering Deacon and all we went through with him in the last cou-
ple of months of his life—forgive us—but we even found some humor in
that and all the breakfasts we had at his place; how it took him so long
to figure out that we were coordinating all of these breakfasts, care bags,
and music.
“We were up very late. Susan ended up sleeping on the couch.
We wondered, and laid bets on, how long it would be before you would
be man enough to apologize. We didn’t think it would take this long, but
we didn’t think it would be this good either. So bring out some wine
‘Chief Idiot’!” Susan was smiling like she concurred with everything Pat
had to say.
I brought out the first bottle of wine and we made pleasant, cas-
ual, light talk. We shared the most delicious meal with great gusto and
many thanks to the Dhaba.
After dinner we moved back into the living room and poured
more wine. I encouraged them saying I had already spoken to the taxi
company, and they would come at any time. Susan asked mockingly if
this is how I always woo my women. I retorted that if the wine companies
relied on my wooing for their business they might as well empty the vats.
Susan looked at me, holding her wine; she seemed to enjoy the banter
and the retort, but the look felt almost personal.
After a conversation of light talk and reminisces that made even
difficult times seem bearable, there was a lull in the conversation. No
one jumped in; none of us knew how to make the leap to where we left
off last time.
“So, Susan, I have Deacon’s journal, and it was an amazing read
about his struggles, his time at the school, and his sense of loss, but it
really makes me want to get to the next volume.

225
Healing
“I hope you have brought the next volume and that you are still
willing to lend it to me,” I pleaded in my still remorseful voice.
Susan looked at Pat who was looking at Susan, then she turned
to me.
“There is no next volume.”
My gosh, the air in the room stopped circulating. Silence held us
like a fox in a leg hold trap for bears. But in time I managed to ask gra-
ciously, “What do you mean, no next volume? Surely Deacon doesn’t just
suddenly stop writing to his ‘precious old friend’.”
“No, he didn’t suddenly stop writing, but there is little substance
left of that journal other than the last few pages and some very fragile,
sometimes legible, charred leaves that smoldered without catching fire.
You see, when we were cleaning up the house, after he killed himself, I
opened the door to the wood heater; and there, lying on what had been a
bed of suffocated coals, was the remains of his last journal. The fire
must have been only dying embers because the whole thing didn’t burn
up, but most of it browned, and scorched, and charred to the point that it
crumbled when I started to pick it up. I got a board to slide it onto, but,
still, only the last few pages, which were on the side away from the coals,
remained enough intact that you could hold and turn them. Most of the
rest of the pages browned or burnt to varying degrees from the outside
in. I’ve kept even the pages that broke up into crispy bits leaving only a
patch in the middle that might contain a few words that one could read—
if you could get them apart in one piece. I’ve saved what I could in a
plastic bag pressed between two heavy Sears catalogues. I know you are
probably curious about anything that remains, and I am willing to let you
come to the house to look at them. I can’t let them out because I’m sure
they can’t be handled without falling apart completely.” Susan sipped
her wine, savouring the full-bodied Merlot, considering where the con-
versation might go.
“As I say you can come and look over these few pages, but I want
something in exchange,” She hesitated long enough to let it sink in that
she was asking something in return, “You must, of course, handle them
with care, but I would also appreciate it if you could write down anything
you find that makes any sense so that I can have a record of as much of
what Deacon said as possible. Even though most of these last pages are
just little broken scraps of parched paper, I would like to recover as
much as possible.”
“Why?” she asked, self-reflectively.
“I don’t know,” she responded, still lost in self reflection. I sup-
pose you could say it is about closure, but maybe it’s not about closure;
may be it’s about understanding and still opening to this huge part of my
life that isn’t here any more.”

226
To this I readily agreed—delighted that there was at least some
remnant of the journal left and that I could be of some service.
“But I can’t understand why someone who had kept a journal for
so many years, who had come to call his journal, “My precious, old
friend,” would burn it up. Or, it seems especially hard to understand why
he would burn only the final volume,” I queried.
“Well,” said Pat, clearly ruminating on a thought. “I’ve told you
that Deacon didn’t take his life because he couldn’t bear being let go at
the school. What I haven’t told you is that under my urging he went to
see a hypnotherapist in Castlegar. I had hoped that he would see this
gentle and insightful healer when he wouldn’t see any traditional mental
health professionals, and that she might be able to help him get over
this hump.
“He did mention suicide to Susan and me several times. It
scared her, but whenever she suggested getting help he would dismiss
any thought of actually talking to someone about his troubles because—
in his words—he was just being schmaltzy.” Pat looked over at Susan,
obviously inviting her to join the conversation.
“I should let Susan pick up the story here as she is the one who
called me for help when Deacon seemed so distraught and incorrigible.”
“You have to remember that Deacon not only didn’t want help,
he adamantly refused to hear of it,” Susan began, earnestly, “We were
afraid that getting unwanted help would only make things worse—
perhaps he would not even talk to us then. Besides he didn’t say any-
thing that sounded like serious intent, and—most definitely—not immi-
nent.”
“I felt so good about having Pat on-board. It felt like a team. It felt
like the flowering of a friendship. It felt like the kind of community that
Deacon so often longed for. He seemed to actually respond to our going
over for breakfast. He seemed to look forward to seeing us. It became
like a ritual, like the kind of community rite that Deacon and I had so
many times talked about as sadly missing in our lives. He seemed to be
getting better, though it was uneven. One day he would greet one of us
at the door; the next day we would struggle to get him out of bed. Some-
times dealing with this despair seemed like driving through the heavy,
valley fog—despite the clearings, it just continues to creep back over
everything, completely obliterating the path ahead.
“Despite the successes and the good mornings, he was still
drinking excessively. We were becoming increasingly worried about this
darkness of spirit that hung about him. Given all that he had overcome,
this hopelessness seemed disproportional to losing the learning assis-
tance job. He had been through so much and always came out with new
reasons to live. What worried us most was how Deacon seemed to be

227
Healing
connecting his troubles at the school to a whole new, larger pattern of
belief about his life and the maleficent intent of existence toward him
personally.
“Pat and I talked to anyone that would listen. We talked to peo-
ple we know who have been through depression or know of people in
depression. We even talked to the mental health people as much as we
felt we could without seriously risking alienating even ourselves from
Deacon’s confidence…trust. We learned that there are times when pro-
fessionals have to be called in–even against someone’s adamant objec-
tions—even when it can mean being forcefully removed to a psyche ward
for treatment. It was all so indefinite and scary. We didn’t know what to
do. Eventually, Pat suggested that she had a friend, a hypnotherapist in
Castlegar, who was very open and easy to talk to, who helped her a great
deal in her painful family break up, who might be willing to come and talk
with Deacon. We decided that we could introduce Lillian as a friend of
Pat’s, and it wouldn’t be so scary.”
“I called Lillian,” Pat jumped into the conversation almost like it
had been cued, “and she agreed to come over to meet Deacon. I told
Deacon that I had a friend coming to see me who had helped a great
deal when Greg left, and I was having a hard time facing the world. I
asked if I could bring her over with me on a Saturday morning. Deacon
readily agreed to having another woman come to share breakfast at his
place.” Pat smiled gently, obviously reflecting warmly on her efforts to
help Deacon.
“I was amazed at how well the two of them hit it off—right from
the start. Being an attractive woman probably had some impact on the
amicability of her reception. Over breakfast, Lillian talked to Deacon
about her own trials, and her work listening to people, and helping them
to contact a source of understanding in themselves that is ‘more expan-
sive’ than just the ego, which Lillian called, ‘a socially created fiction
about who we really are.’ They laughed together over some story, and
Deacon brought out a book of his poetry which she seemed fascinated
with.
“After the breakfast meeting, Deacon was willing, even anxious,
to see Lillian at her office. So one crisp Wednesday morning, Susan
drove him over to Castlegar.” As Susan drove him over and was there
after the visit, she had best tell you how that went.
“Judging by our conversation on the trip over,” Susan began with
a surprising expression of unease, “Deacon was really looking forward to
‘working with’ Lillian. As you know, ever since his Asia travels he had
seen himself as on a spiritual quest. He told me that he felt this hypno-
therapy could help him to find a greater understanding of himself. He,
actually, apologized for some of his recent behaviour and talked about

228
having more friends over and ‘reconnecting’ with people he hadn’t seen
for some time.
“Very little happened on the first visit, though he enjoyed it and
felt that the affirmations he learned were good for him. He spoke highly
of Lillian and clearly wanted to come back to her office soon. Lillian
made a Saturday appointment. On the way back over the pass, Deacon
told me how much he appreciated all the help he was getting and how
he wanted to ‘make some changes.’ Maybe he would talk to Noreen who
had called about a training/assistance program in Kelowna that might
get him set up teaching or tutoring music to special needs children.”
“I only wish the following week, the second visit, had gone as
well,” Pat jumped into the conversation with a sigh. “Susan had set the
next appointment up so I could drive Deacon over the hill for his second
visit to Lillian’s office. The week and a half hadn’t gone well. Despite the
resolutions and the expectations, Deacon was drinking a lot. He was
never up in the morning when one of us got there for breakfast, and he
didn’t seem very happy to see me when he did get up. I know he didn’t
call Noreen, and he didn’t seem much interested in personal hygiene. I
was somewhat reluctant to make the trip over the pass in such wet snow
knowing that, under the new maintenance contract, the roads are often
poorly plowed.
“To tell the truth,” Pat confessed, “I was beginning to grow a bit
tired of Deacon. It seemed that much of my own life was being crowded
out by all the effort it took to just keep his reluctant spirits up to barely
functioning level. The thing about Jane and I was that we were friends.
We were always on the same side. I loved her. She thanked me for com-
ing to visit, but I wanted to be there every time I came out to your place.
But…I digress,” Pat paused, caught a breath, looked over at me apolo-
getically and returned to recounting Deacon’s second trip to Castlegar.
Deacon started the trip in a surly mood, but once we were out of
Grand Forks, he warmed up considerably. He told me how he would like
to have had children and that—however much pain my marriage breakup
had been, I should be happy that it brought me my children. I agreed. I
love my children—always have, always will. I even admitted to Deacon
that there were wonderful things about my marriage to Greg—I empha-
sized the past tense, though…it was definitely good for me this confess-
ing—this acceptance that Greg and I did have our good years. We did
have good years didn’t we, Bart?”
“Indeed, I couldn’t have said it better myself. The two of you did
have good years, and they were good for both and each of you. And, Pat,
they were, most definitely good for Jane and I to share some of those
times with you.” I responded immediately, without forethought, hardly
noticing that Susan was beginning to look a little bewildered at this two

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way conversation. They were good times the hiking, the camping, the
dinners, the intense discussion—even the over-energized debates; God,
it was good—better than it will ever be again, I suspect, though it didn’t
seem appropriate to share that thought with Pat—in front of Susan and
all; and if we got started down that path, we’d never have gotten back to
Deacon and those intense last days which he shared with Pat and
Susan.
“In the end, it was a pleasant trip despite the wet snow and the
chip in the windshield which I got from a rock tossed up by a passing
truck.” With an inclusive nod toward Susan, Pat picked up the thread of
her trip to Castlegar with Deacon.
“Deacon responded to Lillian like a close friend of many years.
They disappeared into her consulting room. I sipped the tea Lillian had
put out for me in her living room and began the book I had brought
along; a highly recommended novel about the life of Joey Smallwood: A
Colony of Unrequited Dreams.
“After about an hour, Deacon and Lillian came out looking devas-
tated. I was shocked. They looked so together and up-beat when they
had gone into the room. Deacon looked unhappy. Unhappiness was
written all over his face and was clearly expressed in his posture. Lillian
looked worried. Lillian caught my eye then turned to Deacon to ask if it
was still alright for her to speak to me about something that had come
up in their session together. Deacon nodded in agreement, though he
seemed utterly distant. Lillian motioned me into her consulting room,
and I followed trepidatiously. Lillian’s voice trembled as she informed me
that Deacon had recalled some difficult material that she hoped he
could come to share with me or, at least Susan. She told me she didn’t
have permission to share the actual content of this difficult material,
but—grasping my arm for emphasis—she implored me to understand that
Deacon would very likely need or appreciate even more assistance from
Susan and me. Beginning with an intense ‘This is really important’ she
told me that Deacon would need help in dealing with what had come
up—professional help, she emphasized. She seemed distraught that she
had failed to convince him that he should seek professional help in
Grand Forks. I asked if she couldn’t offer some of that help, but she was
adamant that whatever had come up required immediate and continu-
ous assistance. She felt strongly that this ‘material’ that had come up so
unexpectedly would preclude the kind of comfort and safety necessary
for therapeutic hypnosis. I promised to be as active a listener as I possi-
bly could, and I promised to do all I could to get Deacon to talk to a
councilor in Grand Forks.
“On the trip back over the Blueberry Paulson summit, Deacon
asked what Lillian had told me, to which I answered fully and honestly.

230
He did want to discuss his recent hypnotheraphy session. Well he did
want to share some of what he had just been through, though it seemed
more like he just couldn’t keep it in, than he actually wanted to get it out.
But he swore me to secrecy. I was not to even tell Susan, which I did
secretly because his reaction scared the heck out of me. He didn’t want
to see a councilor in Grand Forks, and he didn’t want anyone—especially
Susan—pressuring him to do so. Can you understand the bind I was in?”
Pat asked, almost rhetorically, but visually checking to make sure Susan
and I did, in fact, understand.
“In this session with Lillian, he had begun with memories from
his childhood in Kelowna, and then, suddenly, this image jumped into his
mind of when he was ten years old, and he had been over to the house
of a friend of the family, a business associate of his father’s. The man
had offered him some wine because ‘you are all grown up now,’ and he
had several glasses and felt very relaxed and warm. The man had be-
come very friendly touching him and caressing him, then he became
aggressive, forcing him into oral intercourse.
I was shocked at how forthright Deacon seemed in relating so
much detail about his horrific revelation. At this point Deacon slouched
in the seat. He looked even more devastated or perhaps it is more accu-
rate to say—withdrawn than he had been at Lillian’s office. I didn’t know
what to say, but I felt that the conversation had to go on; Deacon had
already said that he just couldn’t keep it inside, so I asked how he felt
about this just ‘popping’ out of his memory like that. He seemed to perk
up in explaining how his experience with Lillian had been like a dream—a
nightmare. I remember, so clearly, him saying that this wasn’t just a
‘memory’; “I didn’t just remember this horrible event in my life—I lived it,
like it was happening all over again. And it just keeps going round in my
head—over and over and every time it goes round, it just gets clearer and
worse.’ I looked over at Deacon. Though his voice trembled and sank to
almost inaudible, I could see no tears in his eyes. He looked frightened—
frozen, like a terror-stricken passenger in a derailing train. ‘Oh, God,’ he
blurted, ‘I wish this weren’t so…I wish…’ but he didn’t finish the sen-
tence.
“As we drove Deacon recalled even more detail than he had in
Lillian’s office. Deacon recalled how, it had always been a mystery how
he had suddenly gone from being a happy, out-going, healthy boy to
inexplicable chronic illness. He had been to doctors and councilors, yet
no cause, nor cure was ever found for this sudden downturn in his well-
being. Then he recalled that this abuse had happened several times
before he became so sick he started staying home, wouldn’t go out,
refused to go to school, and started wetting the bed. He, apparently, took
to hiding when anyone came to the house. His parents were concerned,

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but the school counselors thought it was ‘just a phase.’ They were much
less aware in those days.” Pat’s head drooped over her shoulders; she
glanced over at Susan as though she had lost the thread of what to say;
her face seemed flush and her eyes red; she became too upset to go on
with the story.
“Wow. I know from my previous conversations with Pat that both
of you feel that it was the abuse, and not the loss of the job, that led to
his decision to end his life, but are you sure that the memory of the
abuse didn’t just trigger a decision that was already there and would
have been acted on eventually—anyway?” I asked, filling in conversa-
tional space, giving Pat time to compose herself, but asking what I felt
was a good and fair question—given what I now knew of Deacon’s sense
of loss and behaviour after losing the job at the school. Pat didn’t re-
spond. I was trying to be sensitive, but if any one is reading this journal
knowing the end that I come to, you must realize that I’m not particularly
good at this sensitivity stuff.
“Well,” began Susan, “yes, that is a good question,” she agreed,
bridging the growing distance between Pat and I; accepting my at-
tempted sensitivity as genuine. “The abuse, or the memory of it—perhaps
there is a difference—was the most direct cause of his decision, but I
think it was even more than the school experience and the abuse. Really
it was his whole life as he, now, came to see it. He just decided that life
wasn’t fair and hated him personally for some reason. To him, it seemed
there was no indignity that it wouldn’t inflict on his life. One of few—
somewhat decipherable pages of his last, charred, journal seems to be
talking about Job sarcastically—perhaps he found some personal rele-
vance in the advice of Job’s wife.
“Shortly after he got back from the trip to Castlegar with Pat, he
started talking about ‘the end’ again and losing interest in everything. He
talked about not eating in the third person. He speculated on how
painless that would be, asking, incredulously, why ‘people’ would choose
painful or difficult deaths. Then he would laugh and say he was just
wondering, but he wasn’t. He still got up for breakfast with us—
reluctantly. He took a few bites of this or that, but he wasn’t eating
enough to sustain himself. We tried to get him to see some one else. We
brought beer with dinner, thinking he would associate beer and food—
and thus eat. Again we were only partially successful. We even called his
doctor, but his doctor couldn’t do anything unless he was so bad off that
we wanted him to call the police and have Deacon committed to an
institution for his own protection.
“We didn’t know what to do. Pat met with him privately, as regu-
larly as I did. She tried to get him to pick up the conversation they had in
the car back from Castlegar, and he wouldn’t respond. She asked if he

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wanted to see Lillian again. He said yes, but in the summer. We started
reading about suicide prevention and started bargaining with him, mak-
ing him promise to be there when we came in the morning for breakfast.
He would agree to be there, but he didn’t eat much. Sometimes we could
get him to have several cups of coffee before we offered breakfast so he
wouldn’t be so adamant about not eating. Sometimes I would see him at
the pub in the evening. If I caught him early enough he might have some
of the pub food, provided I ordered and shared in it.
“He began to look pale, very pale, like the blood wasn’t circulat-
ing in his body, and he didn’t have to drink much to start stumbling. With
his clumsiness from the brain injury, he didn’t have to drink much before
he would fall down and hurt himself. I’d have to get friends to help get
him up and take him home. My brother, who has his own problems,
didn’t like it, but he helped anyway. Sam was a gem; I had always
thought of him as a good and gentle person, but he responded with a
depth of feeling that surprised me. Deacon’s struggles with life seemed
to draw out the best in this red-necked logger.
“Deacon started talking about when he wouldn’t be there and
scared us some more. We talked to Dr. Palmer who told us that it
sounded like we should think of having him committed, but that would
have been such a betrayal, so we hesitated—too long.
One morning I showed up, and he was talking about how life
thought it had a helpless victim, but he wasn’t going to be a helpless
victim and that things would get better for him soon. The thing that
frightened me was that, while the words were the words of desperation,
the voice—Deacon’s voice—was calm; he seemed at peace in a way he
hadn’t been for a long time. I’d been reading the suicide literature; I just
knew this sudden peace was not good. I was so scared that I called Pat
at school right there. I asked her to come over, and she understood how
frightened I was. I was so focused on what I had to do that I forgot to
make him promise that he would be there when I got back, like the
books suggest. I knew Pat would be there in less than fifteen minutes, so
I called the doctors’ clinic and made an emergency appointment which I
left for immediately. I asked for and got an order to have him taken into
protective custody. I took it to the RCMP and they agreed to send two
Mounties out immediately.
“When Pat got there he was gone. By the time I came back with
the Mounties and the warrant to protect him from himself he was no
where to be found. We called to him, and searched the place, and found
the note under his pillow that parodied Christ’s statement on the cross,
‘I’ll wait for you in paradise. I’ll be whole in body and mind, but I’ll never
be able to love you more than I do now. Good by my love.’ I had to sit

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down. I knew then I’d never see him again. I couldn’t move; I just sat
there—for a time, too stunned to even cry.
“As you know the Mounties organized a search crew and found
him hanging from a beam in the barn down by the river. They came back
to say they had found “someone” dead in the barn. They reported that
he was cold, and there had been no hope of reviving him. Pat went to
identify him—I couldn’t move or think. One of the Mounties, a young
woman, stayed behind in the cabin with me.” Susan’s voice was break-
ing and tears streamed from her eyes.
“When I got to the barn,” began Pat soberly, “the Mounties had
him lying gracefully on some straw. He was wearing his ski jacket, and
his gabardine pants, and dress shoes. He looked so strangely dignified;
so clean, and shaved, and combed, and dressed up. He really was a very
handsome man.” Pat wiped her eyes and looked across at Susan and
me.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. It has been many years since
my eyes have run, and my nose has run, and I’ve felt so deeply moved.
“Would you like to go over to the house and see the barn?” Pat
asked—clearly at a loss for any more appropriate words.
“Yes, I think that would bring a sense of completeness to all this
‘investigation’,” I said, appreciating how deeply into the personal lives of
these two women that I had been permitted to come.
“Yes, could we do that soon?”
“I can arrange that for tomorrow, if you like,” injected Susan, wip-
ing her eyes again.
“You can come by my place any time and read what little there is
of Deacon’s last Journal.”
There was little else to be said. And it certainly wasn’t possible to
pick up another conversation from there. Pat rose from her chair offering
a hug to which I readily responded. Susan got up and joined us—the
three of us embracing together like old friends together again.

Oct. 17, 2005

Chan, this was a most outstanding day. Have you ever noticed
that things which are the same change from day to day depending on
how you look at them? Today was one of those days, when everything
ordinary seemed so utterly extra ordinary—just because I was looking at
it differently. I guess you would say that I changed, not it.
I really don’t know why I agreed to this trip out to see the barn
where Deacon hung himself. What did I have to learn from just seeing an
old wooden barn, never painted, not used for anything more than some

234
afterthought storage of tools and a few odd things that could easily have
found another resting place or been disposed of in a garage sale long
ago? It never occurred to me that I would learn anything from this rather
morbid outing, but Susan had arranged to meet me there, like perhaps it
meant something to her—well perhaps down deep I felt I might learn a
little more of how Susan felt and what she went through—sort of on the
spot.
Susan called to say that it would be best to meet around 9:00
am as the owner wanted to show the house to a potential tenant later in
the day.
Susan was already there when I arrived parting the heavy fall,
river-generated fog with my headlights. She had the front door to the
small cabin open. A large old black lab greeted me enthusiastically.
Susan came to the door, “He’s friendly; He misses Deacon who doted on
him. They used to play like two kids.”
Inside, I was fascinated by the old stove with the glass door
where you could have seen the journal as it smoldered slowly on the
dying embers of Deacon’s last fire. I could imagine the pages as they
curled and smoked and nearly caught flame but couldn’t draw enough
air for a flame—so the last few pages scorched, but remained somewhat
legible. I wonder what Deacon would think of that?
The heater was clean and cold like the rest of the house. Susan
and Pat had gathered a few friends and cleaned the ramshackle place
as though it were a palace in the making. I wandered around trying to
picture Deacon and the life that he lived there and trying to understand
why he would leave this, hurt himself. There are bad people in the world
who do terrible things, but there are good things, and good people, and
life is full of hope—it seemed that way to me this morning, anyway.
“Well, are you ready to wander down to the barn?” Susan asked
slipping her arm through mine. It didn’t feel romantic. It felt warm, and
friendly, and good.
The barn was a distance off down a two-track, tractor-worn path
along the shrubby side of the farm. You could see the old barn in the
distance nestled among the cottonwoods and birches along the bank
above the river.
Perhaps the fields had been planted with a fall cover crop to be
plowed under for green manure in the spring, but—anyway—the damp
grass seemed to hold the fog low over the field while the trampled road-
way had begun to clear. There was no need to call the dog—he ran ahead
friskily, happy for any chance to entertain the people and chase after the
pheasants. By the time we started down the path the grass was begin-
ning to glisten as it caught the first vaporous rays of a waxing morning
sun. The uncut grasses on the lower edge of the field hung down soggy

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and limp as though exhausted by the efforts of standing on frozen guard
during the night. In the upper part of the field, and in the shadows, the
blades of grass still stood erect and gave gentle hissing sounds as we
brushed against them.
Grouse teased the dog by flying nosily in front of his nose. Leaves
were beginning to fall quietly down from the already half-barren popular
that formed a kind of wind break. Along with the leaves a gentle mist was
also falling from the thawing branches. Perhaps it was the frost which
held both the dew and the leaves. In any case the old barn would not
long remain hidden in the woods.
The three of us continued on, in no hurry to rush the morning or
cut short the adventures of Alfie, the lab. Just as we approached the end
of the fields and the beginning of the Cottonwood/wild rose/snow berry
thickets along the river the two more traveled ruts turned toward the
barn, but two faint, parallel ruts barely visible in the sand and grass went
on straight ahead toward the river. There sitting quietly in the shadows
was an old (1965) Ford almost hidden by the under growth. It looked to
me like one of those old people you see standing just back from the
curtains, anonymous, wondering who it is that passes by their place so
unexpectedly. Susan caught my eve and explained that Deacon had
parked it there sometime earlier, after a classified ad failed to turn up
any interested customers. Apparently he was not the only one who could
no longer afford to run a cheap car that guzzled lots of expensive gas.
The tires had already leaked enough air that they appeared to be
sinking into the sand. However, it wasn't the car, nor the tires, nor the
sand which caught my eye this frosty morning. Rather it was nature
which had been so industriously at work that held my attention so strik-
ingly. Obviously nature didn't want a shiny, cold, lifeless car parked out
on the edge of a living green meadow and had set about to change
things.
Already the car was completely camouflaged in leaves. Bright yel-
low leaves of birch covered the hood and trunk. Drifts of tamarack nee-
dles rolled over the wiper blades. Cottonwood down had been blown into
windrows like an encompassing Christmas wreath. In a special effect
some leaves froze to the sides of the car. As the ground was warming
around the car, a mist began to shimmer up from the earth, and I could
easily imagine the intentions nature held for Deacon’s abandoned vehi-
cle.
Susan had gone on ahead, calling to the dog who was barking
frantically at something down toward the barn. But I was still fascinated
by the composting of this relic from the once fertile age of oil. I shook
myself a bit to try to dispel the trance I seemed to have fallen under. I

236
extended my arm and brushed a few half-frozen leaves off the fender
leaving only the cold ice-print of a leaf.
I could see that Susan was already standing by the barn waiting
for me to catch up, but I wasn’t finished with the old Ford. Somehow it
spoke to me of Deacon in a way that the house hadn’t—not that it was
dead, or abandoned, or out of date and forgotten. Rather there was
something so organic about this gas guzzling environmental disaster
composting among the trees like zucchini in mid-summer when it just
won’t stop growing and ends up on the compost heap making soil for the
gardens of another year. It just seemed so peaceful; the old Ford cov-
ered in the fall leaves, dissolving slowly back into the earth.
Nostalgically, I turned my back on the Ford and hurried to catch
up to Susan who was waiting by the door to the barn. “I didn’t want to go
in without you. I thought it would be easier than this. Perhaps there is
something to the idea that some part of us lingers by the spot where we
exit from this life,” she said, searching my eyes for reassurance. I smiled
back consolingly.
Writing this now, much later in the evening, I must say I am
happy with myself that I could return the assurance which she sought. I
find life, and people, and—especially—society difficult, but I’m not hard-
hearted. I’ve never sat down to think this over about myself, but, no, I
can say with confidence, and contentedly, that I am not hard-hearted. It’s
a small thing, but I’m delighted that Susan took the smile as unfeigned
solace.
The old sagging door resisted my tugging on the latch handle, but
it gave way with a reluctant jerk. It really wasn’t a barn. It was more like
an over-sized, unfinished storage shed, but the air smelled familiar—like
an old barn. I guess it was down by the river because it was a good place
to have concrete foundations that might anchor the soil when the floods
came in the spring. Left alone there might be less acreage to plant each
year as the river went about its ancient job of meandering about the
valley.
“You were impressed with the old Ford?” she asked, perhaps still
hesitant to go in. I tried to explain, but it didn’t make sense in the telling.
She smiled knowingly; sometimes I think she actually finds something
entertaining about the idiot in me. I looked inside; the door faced east;
light, made visceral by the dusty air, streamed through the door lighting
the interior of the barn/shed like stage lighting after the play is over and
the audience has gone out. There was no chair that Deacon might have
stood on while slipping the noose about his neck. There was no rope with
which to construct a noose. There was no evidence that the police had
been there with yellow tape and cameras and notebooks. It was very

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quiet, almost too quiet, like an old abandoned barn forgotten for another
year as winter approaches and all the year’s work is done.
Susan stepped inside. I followed. She pointed out the beam over
which the rope had been hung. There was no mess. Hangings aren’t
messy like slashed wrists or a gunshot to the head.
I walked around inspecting the cobwebs, and the dust, and the
harrow, and rake, and plow, and a couple of Swedish hoes, and some
irrigation pipe. I expected it to be eerie; it was just empty. None of the
randomly stowed equipment gave any sense of occupation to the place.
What a lonely place to come for your last act, I thought. Where would I
go? I don’t know, I suppose it is kind of a private thing; but not like sitting
on the can with the door closed because you’re afraid of being found
out. Maybe Deacon just wanted to make sure that no one interfered; he
didn’t want to get half way there; not like the time in the Kelowna pub
when only part of him came back.
I looked at Susan and she looked back questioningly: “Well?”
She asked the unfinished question, but I didn’t feel done with the place,
yet. I remembered the well attended crosses along the road sides where
flowers are kept fresh for years marking the transition place of a loved
one. Is there nothing here to mark the passing of this precious, injured
soul?
“Does it embarrass you thinking about Deacon’s choice?” I
asked Susan.
“Maybe it did,” She began hesitantly, “Maybe it did, until your
formal apology dinner, and sharing his story with you, and collaborating
with Pat. After that, it felt so complete—so much like a play on which the
curtains have come down; and now there is only the experience of it, the
going home and absorbing it—the trying to expand your own life as a
result of the experience you have just been through.
“Bart,” she said softly, catching my eye; I felt she was calling me
to notice that she had something important to say—that she wanted me
to notice this intention to share in her inner thoughts. “You may think
this callous of me, but it occurs to me that no matter what we think,
we’re all still going to die. We can fill our lives up with all kinds of things
and accomplishments, but we’re still going to die. Some of us won’t even
know what hit us—just poonk and out goes the light, no time for reflec-
tion, no good byes, no parting note, no acceptance, no choice, no last
minute thought that—even if it comes to the noose that we ourselves tied
and placed about our neck—it was good; perhaps inexplicably good; but
it was good; good to have been alive and known something of what this
creative water planet can come to.” Susan glanced around the barn
whimsically and brought her gaze to rest on the beam that held the
hanging rope, then began again in an even softer—more reflective—voice.

238
“Deacon, was a gentle soul, an injured, sometimes tortured soul,
but he was full of love, love for others, and in the end, I think it was love
for himself. This whole dignity thing meant so much to him, he just burnt
the last chapter and put on the clothes that he was told were needed to
be professional, and pleasing, and accepted, and dignified. I prefer to
think that as he kicked the chair out from under him, he was making a
calm, clear decision to just start over with a new hand. ‘I’ll be waiting for
you in paradise,’ he said. Some say he was panicked by what he had
learned about his past, and frightened, and alone—desperately alone; no
one ever had, or ever could have, or, now, ever would share in the night-
mare which he had kept hidden even from himself for so long. And then
he just decided to bury it for good and start over with a new deck.” A tear
ran unhindered down Susan’s cheek. I brushed the back of my hand
across my eyes, and it came back damp. I felt the emotion aching in my
body, and I struggled to think of something to say. Nothing I could think
of make any sense, though some profound thought seemed to be racing
around inside my head—I just couldn’t seize it and shape it into words.

The silence of the old barn filled up the space between us. Per-
haps she wanted me to say something. More words spun around inside
my thoughts, and none of them congealed into anything like a sentence.
Chan, I have feelings, God, I had feelings today—they just don’t come out
when I want them to.
“I wish he were here,” Susan began slowly, reflectively. “I wish I
could change things, make them better, and heal them. Sometimes I
wish he could have had his revenge or forgiveness, but in the end he
choose to go back into the forgetting and remember only the times that
did not bring so much indignity,” she concluded her thoughts, turning
from the beam to look me in the eye with an expression of finality.
Susan slid her arm around my waist, and I held her warmly about
the shoulder. It wasn’t romance, but we walked back to the cabin holding
to each other like family; closer than family. I felt…yes, Chan, even with-
out the words; I felt.

Oct. 18, 2005

Today was one of those anomalies; a sunny warm lazy day in Oc-
tober. It’s called Indian Summer, the name derives from—I once read—
the fact it comes after a killing frost and was associated with prime hunt-
ing time for the aboriginal people. Indian Summer is like an atmospheric
mood that infects plant and animal and—I think—even the city with its
stillness. This last gasp of gentle weather before the onslaught of winter

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snows has always called to me. Today as I was contemplating going back
to work in another week I felt an overpowering urge to drive up the North
Fork to where the abandoned, nearly impassible logging road turns off to
Zenia Lake. It calls to me with memories of the often solitary hikes along
the warm open hillsides, and the quiet, and the peace that I encountered
while living up the North Fork—so long ago. Jennifer used to come along,
skipping on the even sections of the road and running ahead across the
meadows until her friends in town became more important than “getting
lost with Dad.” We were only lost once, but she still remembers, at least
last time we spoke she recalled it vividly. Jane and I came here, or part
way up, once.
On the farm, an Indian Summer came after the crops were in,
and the pipes drained, and the implements stored. It was the one time
when I could actually leave the assignments and chores behind and take
off for a day into the hills behind the house and enjoy a walk alone along
the hillsides. For me these hazy, still, warm days of October are some of
the most precious days of the year. Over the course of a year days,
weeks, even months would go by when what really mattered—or perhaps
just who I was—seemed lost beneath layers of care and preparation—
preparation for winter, preparation for planting in the spring, labouring
over the harvest all summer, and the frantic efforts to cover the sports,
politics and scandal of my newspaper assignments. Then there are those
few golden days in late fall when the cares and preparations lost their
urgency behind the warm, yet distant rays of the fading sun.
Chan, you may say I have no heart, but I think that sometimes, in
the late Fall, you might just have heard it beating. Of all the seasons,
Fall, for me, stands head and shoulders above the rest as the season of
the heart. Who can not be moved by the significance written so indelibly
in the fading colours of the falling leaves? At any other time of the year
we can so easily be tricked into believing that our business aspirations,
our careers, our meetings are so terribly important; that our pompous
philosophies and mighty technologies have set us apart and separated
our lives from all other life, but the falling leaf tells another tale.
The grey hair which I deny today may be a full blown tint when
the green leaf buds from the tree in the spring.
Perhaps it is the absolute stillness of this Indian Summer that
draws my attention to the—almost frozen in time—slow motion of the
leaves that in the slightest breeze, break from the cotton wood trees
along Morel Creek. I cannot help thinking that for the entire time the leaf
spends in the tree it is concerned with growth, with the greater good of
the whole. It drinks in the sun and draws up water and mineral from the
root. Its life is in service to the greater entity of the tree. Striking the

240
ground, it immediately yields itself to the decay that will nourish the
needs of another season.
But, in this brief season of reflection, I—for a time—recognize that
nature is, also, uncommonly generous to the leaf. Between the branch
and the ground there is a season to be just a leaf, to drift on the wind, to
be detached from obligations; to just be. I remember coming here when
my life was so busy and full of cares I felt more like a spinning top than a
human being and still the quiescence of this place spoke to me asking
why I would choose to spend my life building bridges without ever cross-
ing over to consider the why or wonder of my own or any other creation.
Today, on returning from my solitary hike, a neighbour asked in
the most incredulous shock why I would spend the whole day alone
hiking along a abandoned logging road that leads to a lake that contains
no fish worth catching. I didn’t even try to tell her that I have never felt so
alone as standing in a crowded arena. For this one short day, I chose to
merely be at home with myself.
She would have had me dragged away if I had told her that for
one day I wasn’t intrigued to know which way interest rates are moving,
whether the Israelis have begun a final solution to their Palestinian prob-
lem, or what insignificant cabinet minister has finally attained fame in
some scandalous escapade. In the trembling leaf breaking from the
bough is the news I have been anxious to hear: to the length of my years
is subtracted yet another golden summer. I am most intrigued by the
unwritten headline: “Indian Summer arrives: A vast silence engulfs both
woodland and meadow, mountain and valley.”
At one point I stopped to savor the cold, clear bite of a cascading,
mountain stream on my lips, then climbed up the open slope to a point
overlooking the distant valley. Lying back on the dry autumn grasses I
felt for a moment absorbed by the vast encompassing enormity of a
universe that has never made the nightly news. For one smiling moment
I had the feeling of floating gently down between the day of my birth and
the day I shall be only the faint remembrance of these few passing
words. I had a feeling that I cannot put into words because it is the kind
of contradiction that words and the underlying logical structure of our
language, don’t like. I felt at once both very, very small like a drop of
water in the ocean or a speck of dust in a desert windstorm and—at the
same time—I felt as large as the universe when it reaches its ultimate
expansion and begins the long journey home to a point source of energy
beyond the possibility of understanding. I felt, at last, genuinely con-
nected to, or embedded in, this moment of being.
I do have feelings, Chan. I have no difficulty talking about my
feelings for this beautiful Earth. I hope you noted carefully the feelings
that I spoke about when Susan and I went out to the barn where Deacon

241
Healing
hung himself. I loved Jane. I know that you have recognized that. It’s just
so hard to talk about it. It feels so much like the dam with no outlet that
Deacon dreamed of—if it starts to go; it could all just let go at once; and
then where would I be? Running like some mad fool from a wall of feel-
ing that leaves nothing standing in its wake? I am thinking of calling Pat.
I owe her that; I guess I owe her and me and Jane that.

242
Appendix I
A Telephone call in November 2005:

Hello, Pat?
It’s me, Bart.
Oh, yes, I’m glad the dinner went so well.
No, I’m glad you thought it was funny; my acting so stupid.
Well, no I’m not calling about Deacon. You know I went out to his
old house and the barn where he died. I feel satisfied with my inquiry
about that. I’ve been in to see Earl, and I’m scheduled to start work
again beginning in the New Year.
How are your kids?
And Greg?
Actually I do have a favour to ask. Could we get together for an-
other talk?
Yes, I do feel finished with that and no, I haven’t thought much
about doing anything with it though—interestingly—Susan is quite excited
about working with me to publish something about Deacon’s life. Maybe
we could talk about that sometime.
But, actually…

…Actually Pat, I’ve been thinking about Jane. Do you think we
could talk one of these days?
Yes, soon would be good.



Yes, Pat, I’m still here. And yes, I’m alright—mostly.


Pat, would you call Jennifer?
Oh, I’m glad to hear that. I love her also. But what could be such
a big secret that she can’t talk to me—her Dad—for all these years?
Yes, I realize that she as her own life and her own difficulties to
go through, but I still don’t see what that has to do with not talking to her
Dad.
Yes, Oh, Pat I can’t tell you how much that would mean to me.
Saturday? Yes, Saturday. Excellent.

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Norm Reynolds
1292A Martin Place
Courtenay, British Columbia CDN
V9N 9A2
250-338-0155

http://lifeitself-norm.blogspot.com

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