Heather

k-about-13.jpgKay had walked home from school, mind spinning from the taunts of the other girls. She had been eating her lunch, one slice of processed cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise sandwiched between two slices of white bread, sitting up at the high end of the school auditorium seating, minding her own business. Her friends came and sat close by in the same row and behind, leaving a spare seat or two between them. They were chatting, but not to Kay.

There was Susan with her long auburn braids and her toity English accent, who boasted that she dried her hair by sitting with her back towards the open oven door. Susan’s family and Kay’s family had become friends through the PTA. There was other Susan, with her naturally curly brown hair cropped, always beautiful and shiny, who drew so beautifully in art class – got enviable A’s in Art, always. Susan number three had the loveliest red hair and freckles. She belonged to our group but was apart from it. We whispered our amazement about her family that did not drink tea, nor coffee, nor alcohol. They were Mormon and we didn’t know what that meant, but they lived a more restricted life at home than we did, There was thin and bossy Elinor from Kay’s old district; and Alice, who lived just down a block from Kay on Twenty Sixth and sometimes walked to school with her.

Kay complained to herself, as she walked, her mind tight and miserable with the struggles going on it. What on earth had she said or done? Why had they taunted her so. “You think you are so beautiful,” one sneered. “Who do you think you are, just sitting there, saying nothing? ” another had jeered. Kay had gathered the remains of her brown bag lunch – the wax paper, the serviette, the uneaten apple, the bag itself, and stood to leave, willing back her tears, lifting her head so no one could see from their seated position how her eyes were ready to flood. She sidled past two other students and walked down the thousand and one steps to the front of the auditorium and exited left.

“Snob!” the word exploded around her like and echoed, reverberated. Snob. Snob. Snob.

“What’s wrong with saying nothing?” a sad and puzzled Kay whined to herself as she dawdled home from second Susan’s house. The more she thought about it, the more she was puzzled. What had she said? Kay knew she wasn’t beautiful. Her parents told her she didn’t stand up straight. She wore a training girdle to hold in her blubbery stomach. Maybe that was it.

When she went to gym class, when they had to take showers before going back to class, the others had seen her girdle that proved she was too fat. They had seen her body that was getting thinner, but had been pleasantly plump, still baby fat, Mother had said. They had seen her undressed – a thing that never would have happened at home. Modesty was virtue number one, never to be transgressed.

She hadn’t said anything at lunch, or at least, couldn’t remember having said anything. She searched in the tiniest corners of her brain, but nothing came to mind but the taunts that swirled and swirled in her mind, blocking any other kind of remembrance. The day was sunny and bright, but it hurt her eyes, and she silently cursed at the wind that rustled the full green leaves in the boulevard trees.

When she got home, Mother had chastised her for her sulleness. “Oh for Pete’s sake, Kay. If you can’t be happy, just go to your room.”

Dinner dishes done, Kay went to her room and did her homework, briefly bringing herself out of her self-generated mire. Heather came into her room with a silent question on her face, soft kind Heather. “Do you want to tell me about it?” she said, concern oozing from every pore of her. Lovely Heather.

It came out in a rush and with it came the tears that would not stop. “Am I so ugly?” I wailed. “What did I do? Is it my fault?’

“I feel sick about it. My head hurts. I don’t want to go back to school.”

Heather stroked Kay’s forehead, got her into bed, stayed crooning, all the while caressing the worry wrinkles from Kay’s brow. “You are beautiful,” Heather said. “You are so beautiful.”
Of course, Kay went back to school. Of course, the like occurred again and again, and always there was Heather to save her from utter thirteen year old despair.

And there was Heather, when Kay finally left husband number one, the American deserter, both times. On the second final leaving, Kay packed up the Datsun truck with her minimal belongs and fled to Heather’s place to stay, until Kay could find another place to go, another life to move into.

There was Heather, when Kay finally left husband number two, wailing, “I’ve been so stupid. How could I have been so stupid?” Kay was sobbing into Heather’s tender shoulder as Heather held her gently all round, rocking back and forth. Heather soothed “Shush, shush. You’re not stupid. You are lovely, and intelligent and kind,” in a litany of comfort.

And here was Heather, with Mother now passed on, holding me in our fifty year tradition of holding and comforting, saying “You couldn’t have done anything better. It was a difficult death, but it was beautiful in a way too, because you made it so. You looked after her so well. You can’t reproach yourself for anything.” Heather’s love was unconditional.
Where Heather had come for a week, or max , two, she stayed with me for five, after Mom died. Her quiet presence was reassuring. Her calm, her quiet, her knowing what things felt like.
After five long years of refusing Heather’s invitation to visit her in her Sechelt home because I couldn’t leave mother nor could I travel with her, I finally found some time to spend a week. Heather’s husband was in town for a specialist doctor’s appointment.

I rode back with him in his shiny new truck. We threaded our way by ferry through steeply sloped island mountains, sailing on a calm glossy sea, disembarking at Langdale, then driving up past Gibsons Landing, Roberts Creek, Wilsons Creek and past the Sechelt reserve into the town. Sunshine lit our way. The cedars were light green with late spring growth, the roadside gardens were in full bloom, azaleas and rhododendrons ablaze with their magnificent blossoms. From time to time, along the route, the open waters of Georgia Straight sparkled, reaching out to Vancouver Island with its pale blue mountains rising up to hide the horizon line.

At Heathers, I spent a quiet week. I was allowed to do very little. Her husband set out lunches and dinners with a quiet, persistent efficiency, keeping us always on time, more or less, to their established rhythm. Dishes were almost done before I got up from the table. The house was quiet and orderly- there was no housework to share. We went, one night, to a book launch and reading by an author who lived only a few doors down the block. On Sunday, we went to church. I cried silent, dry tears as the hymns were played. For all that I had groused at Mother’s constant need to remember her hymns, they touched me deeply. Perhaps too much.

In any case, there I was, willing my face to stay normal, scrunching my teeth tightly to stop the emotion from welling up and willing my natural tears to stay below the flood line. There was Heather’s arm, creeping softly around my waist in comfort, and I pushed it away. I heard her husband whisper a little loudly, “She doesn’t want you to do that” just as Heather sensed my stiffening and withdrew.

I turned away from Heather towards the stain glass window and studied a kneeling Christ, the halo of pure white light around his head, and the brilliant cobalt blue of the sky around his halo. I read the words inscribed on the glass, below, a dozen times and pondered their meaning; went back to the beautiful, wrinkly glass of cobalt blue and wondered at its beauty. I dabbed at my eyes and the flood receded from the gates. This was not the place. The tide receded and I was able to continue on, as long as I didn’t join in singing the hymns.

I explained later, at home. She knew. Understood.

Sunday was a day without work. I read the rest of my book while lying on my bed in the afternoon. In the evening, I crocheted on panels of a baby blanket that will be cream coloured and soft pink; Heather worked on the Friday New York Times crossword puzzle; her husband had his Japanese lessons at hand for occasional reference while all three, we watched Inspector Morse untangle yet another mystery murder on TV.

And on Monday, the Victoria Day holiday, I finally got to work in her lovely garden. Now that’s where I started to go in this story, but it took on a different path, as so often my writing does, and I didn’t talk to you about her garden. I’ve gone on too long today so I shall make that another story and leave you here, hoping that you have felt the blessing of another person in your life who can heal you, just by being there, by a hug or a soft touch, or a caressing word.

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One Response to “Heather”

  1. suburbanlife Says:

    Kay – this is so beautifully written and illustrates the wonderful support between siblings. Once our parents have gone on, it is our sisters and brothers who provide an categorical love and sensitivity for our progress through the rest of our lives. I sometimes grieve that I had only one child, and that he will not know of this kind of love as he gets older. Sister and brothers provide incalculably important moorings for us throughout our live.
    I am really happy to know you have such an anchoring point in Heather.

    Looking forward to how you continue from here! G

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