The Vancouver Forty Plus Blogger Meet Up was an amazing, wonderful and worthwhile event, and so much thanks is due to Melanie, Suzanne and Sue for putting it together. I was exhausted, happy, un-stylish and over-fed. I cannot even begin to describe it and do it justice though I hope to eventually try. I met so many wonderful women, some I was already acquainted with through blogs and others I was not but have come away in love with them all. I want to toss around words like, kind, fun, interesting, delightful, sisterhood, charming, and I know this experience will stay with me forever. Ally wrote on her blog that she is overwhelmed by the acceptance she experienced and hadn't really expected, or had feared she would not find. In a less significant way, I think, I had a similar experience. While I present as a woman, and I am a woman, I spent a weekend with some gorgeous, stylish, beautiful women and I was not feeling gorgeous or stylish myself. I did not have the energy to wash and style my hair during the course of the weekend. I had not been able to figure out what clothes to pack for the weather, for comfort (which is always really important to me) and for minimalism which was required for my float plane flight.
Priorities were like this:
1. Use all my energy to be with the women for social events that involved sitting.
2. Be warm and comfortable.
3. Take my laptop and camera and a book because I will need to entertain myself while alone in the hotel room most of the day.
100. Look my best.
But, despite looking my best being quite far down on my list, I felt dowdy, unwashed and unstylish when I was with this group. I must make it clear that they did not make me feel this way. It is entirely my own fault, my own hang-up. Everyone was lovely and what I look like doesn't really matter though I have not quite gotten my emotional responses in sync with what I know intellectually. It's a journey. I'm still on it.
What would I want the people I met to get from meeting me? I would want them to like who I am, not what I look like and who I am is someone who quite often does not look her best. If everyone else is okay with that, I need to be as well. I also need to learn to pack more successfully, but I don't leave home very often so I have limited experience with that.
I have very few photos from the weekend. I am not someone who takes pictures of people, apparently. I have photos from my flight and photos from my hotel window. The evidence that I socialised will have to come from the other bloggers, the enthusiastic photo-takers for whom I am so grateful.
The weather improved a little on Saturday and was perhaps nicest on Sunday, as is often the way with vacations.
I am also linking up my latest story to Natalia's Write and Link.
Things That Happened to Henry
The day before the fire was one of those long, hot summer days where you feel relief when the sun sets and want to stay up all night enjoying the cool darkness. Later Henry believed it was this variation in the well-structured hours she usually kept that made her slower than usual and caused her mind to go blank with panic and her body to not do what she expected and needed it to do.
Henry was used to arguing with people. Sometimes it was about whether or not Henry was a proper name for a female, though that was generally the old people. Often it was politics or ethics or feminist issues. Henry argued just about everything with everyone whom she could draw into an argument. If she was with someone who shared similar views, Henry liked to play Devil’s Advocate. The internet was a good outlet for this but lately Henry was feeling that she was growing old and so was arguing. In her younger years she had believed she could actually convince someone, change minds. Then as she grew cynical she just wanted to score points, to be right and prove it. Now she was finding that while this could happen it was rare and it just wasn’t worth all the effort anymore. Her social media was filled with her own personal rants and links to other people’s rants and attempts to start discussions on a variety of topics but nobody was taking the bait. They only wanted to post photos of their pets and what they cooked for dinner, their childrens’ swimming lessons or some cartoon that was doing the internet rounds that week.
This time the argument Henry fell into was with the waiter at Chez Moi, a hipsterish eatery with delicious food but a bit of an artsy pretension. She wanted two appetisers as her meal, the garlic chicken dumplings with chutney and the spring peas and smoked salmon nori rolls, which was not a problem at all according to the waiter, but putting them on the same plate was a problem. “The chef is not going to do that.” The waiter said, looking a little anxious. What would the flavours do to each other when mingled? Henry must understand that the presentation of each dish was also important. “I don’t care what the food looks like, I just want to eat it. I know it will be delicious and it’s all going to the same place anyhow so I don’t see the problem with the mingling. I want to eat it, not look at it; it’s not a work of art.” She knew she shouldn’t have said that. To them it was a work of art. Now she had insulted them and would be even less likely to get her way.
“I will see what the chef says,” the waiter replied.
Several minutes later two square platters large enough to be serving trays, each bearing a small dab of food, were placed on the table, taking up so much space the waiter had to remove the candle and bud vase. Just as the plates arrived, Henry’s phone notified her there was a message and she checked it, as today was one of those days messages should not be ignored. As she’d suspected, it was a summons to the hospital where her mother was awake and asking for her. Waving the cell phone around as evidence, she explained to the waiter that there was now an emergency situation she had to dash off to and could she please get her food to go.
The waiter gave a pained smile, said, ‘of course’ and carried the platters away again. When he returned, it was with the dumplings, the chutney, the nori rolls and the garlicky sauce all comingling in one polystyrene container, encircled with a red elastic band. Henry handed him a twenty, a ten and a five, thanked him for his patience, and said she must dash off.
Dashing was not actually something Henry could do, but she was not prepared to give up the word. In the car, she ate with her fingers, licking the sticky sauce as it dribbled down her hands and driving with only her left hand on the steering wheel. When she had finished eating, and while idling at a stop light, she retrieved some wet wipes out of the glove compartment and cleaned up her hands, closed up the take out container and sighed. Thankfully there would be coffee at the hospital.
Less appealingly, there would also be Bob at the hospital, her mother’s boyfriend, or lover, or partner. Henry was never sure what to call him. Debra, Henry’s younger sister, was much more tolerant of him but that’s because she was engaged andin love and seeing the world through rose tinted lenses.
After taking quite some time to find a parking space and then even more time getting a ticket, Henry manoevered herself and her steel crutches towards the little trailer with the wooden sign that said, Java Gypsy. The trailer was done up to look like a gypsy caravan and it was a fixed copy of one that could be seen downtown, parking in different locations each week. Carrying a cup of hot coffee while one’s arms are engaged with crutches, makes progress even slower than usual. Henry was in a hurry to get to her mother’s room, to see that she was doing okay, to do her duty, and then get away, but hurrying was not something she had much ability to do. Some people thought she would give up driving after the accident, but she hadn’t done that. Henry did not like to meet other people’s expectations, which had probably contributed to her failed marriage. At least that is what her mother told her.
Surprisingly, Bob wasn’t there after all, though he was the one who had sent the text message. Her mother was propped upright and fussing with a small handheld mirror when Henry entered the room. “My hair is a fright.” She said by way of greeting her daughter.
“Yes, it is, but you’re alive so that’s something,” Henry replied.
“I was just checking on that in the mirror. It seems that I am.” Her mother put the mirror down on the rolling table beside her bed.
Henry sat down on the plastic chair near the bed and relieved herself of the crutches and the paper cup of coffee, placing the cup on the radiator just behind her chair. There was an unfinished cup of clear tea on the table beside her mother.
“Where’s Bob?” Henry hated making small talk but that is what one had to do when visiting a hospitalised person. If Bob had been there before her, he had probably used up all the conversation about the weather. It was quite unremarkable weather anyhow, cloudy skies mixed with sun, mild temperatures, as the forecasters had predicted for the whole week.
“He was here earlier, but had to pop home to walk the dog. He’ll be back later.”
“Is Debra coming?” People always seemed to ask Henry this question and it did not surprise her. Debra was the cheery one. Henry didn’t hold it against Debra at all for being so likable. In fact she was rather glad that Debra took that on and left her free to do other things. For as long as they could both remember, Debra had always told Henry her secrets and Henry had always kept them.
“Debra’s at a fitting for her dress today,” Henry explained, “but I did send her a message and Bob probably did too. She’s a bit behind schedule today, I think. We were supposed to meet for lunch and at the last minute she couldn’t make it.”
Her mother yawned and blinked.
“I’m still really quite tired,” she said. “You don’t need to stay.”
“You need to get lots of rest before the wedding. I’ve picked up your dress from the tailor’s. It’s in my car now and I’ve made an appointment for you at the hair salon, so don’t worry about your hair right now.”
“I won’t have any to worry about after the chemo.”
“Yeah, I know. But the chemo is after the wedding. We’ll deal with one thing at a time.”
“Bob said he would polish my shoes.”
“Oh, that’s nice of him.”
“I wish Debra had asked you to be a bridesmaid. It only seems right.”
“Mum, she knows that wouldn’t work out. It would take me ages to get down the aisle and it would throw off the whole rhythm. Besides, I am quite happy not to be on display like that.”
“Don’t you think you could practice and maybe get a little faster?”
“I’ve been practicing for months now. She lowered the upright bed and helped her mother settle down to a position more comfortable for sleeping. As she made her way down the hallway to the elevator, she remembered that her unconsumed and by now cold cup of coffee was still sitting on the radiator.
At the wedding, Debra looked radiant, just as brides are always described and their mother, on Bob’s arm, looked tired. Debra danced with her new husband. They smiled and gazed into each other’s eyes and showed off the moves they had spent several dance lessons learning for just this moment. Their mother and Bob joined in, and a small girl, Henry wasn’t sure who she was, danced with her father, her feet placed right on top of his. Not long ago Henry might have danced too, though she would have favoured the fast songs. Speed was her need, and her method of getting through life, like those toddlers who when first learning to walk run instead in a precarious and unstable looking forward tilt as though they had no intention of ever stopping. Henry had always operated on the principle that it was best to keep running, but now she had no speed. Now she was forced to move through the world slowly.
She sat and watched people, which was not something she had really done much of before. It wasn’t comfortable to be still, to be slow, to be on the edge looking on, but there she was. The little girl, who was maybe three, concentrated intently on where her father’s feet moved her. Bob held up the woman he loved and moved them together as one around the dance floor. As the music changed tempo other people made their way to the dance area, not all romantic couples, just people having fun. People moving in ways she no longer could. Out there on that dance floor was a woman with cancer, who did not know if she was going to survive it or not but still she danced. Self-pity and guilt compounded now, and Henry felt the need to hobble outside to the patio for fresh air. There were obstacles everywhere, dancers, tables, chairs rearranged to accomodate conversation groups. There had been a rain shower early in the evening and the lawns were wet. It was best to stay on the concrete patio area, but now that she was outside among clusters of smokers what was she to do? She stared at the flowerbeds in the distance, making sure she avoided eye contact. Wedding ettiquette as she understood it required her to stay until her sister and brother-in-law left. Leaving early would look bad and worry her mother. She was both tired and restless and she wasn’t sure of the time but the sky was only just getting dark which suggested it was around ten o’clock. Bob and her mother left early and Henry envied them.
It wasn’t while snowboarding or skiing that Henry was injured. It wasn’t while riding her mountain bike over difficult trails where every rock and tree root was a potential danger. It was coming down the mountain in her car. The accident was not her fault technically, which was of some comfort, though secretly Henry blamed herself, believed she should have been able to avoid it. She hadn’t discussed this with anyone except the counsellor she had briefly seen. Counsellors were just someone else to argue with and she didn’t like paying to argue so she stopped her sessions. She had already been through the surgery and the hardest part of physiotherapy by then. She needed a break from therapies and people wanting to help her or fix her or improve her all of which just made her feel worse about her situation. She was broken but she didn’t like other people pointing that out. She did physiotherapy now once a week, and followed her exercise routines as prescribed. She still moved awkwardly, still felt pain and stiffness. She was afraid of falling or tripping. It seemed that she had been twenty seven before the accident and was fifty seven immediately after it. Debra kept bringing up post injury depression but Henry brushed it aside. Weaker people might be afflicted with that, but not someone like Henry.
People said Henry should have been a lawyer because she liked to argue. People said Henry was so strong and independent. Henry didn’t need anybody so it was no wonder she wasn’t interested in any long term relationship. This is what other people said. Henry didn’t say this but she really worked at living up to it. Now she was failing. Failing because everything was harder now that she had an injury to recover from. Failing because she didn’t want to go back to the extreme sports she had pursued passionately before. Debra’s fiance, Steve had said she would change her mind. He said this when she had just had her surgery. He said she would be just like she was before and back at it all again in no time. Then he said that the worst case scenario was that if she were permanently disabled she would just have to use adaptive equipment. That’s what he said, just have to. The way you say, well it has started to rain so I will just have to put my boots on.
Henry tried to like Steve but liking him required adaptive equipment and she didn’t have any. Debra told Henry about Steve after meeting him through a dating website. She told Henry, over lunch at Chez Moi, when she and Steve first had sex, which was after the third date because Debra had read in a magazine that was the best strategy if you wanted to catch they guy. Hold out for the third date because it is holding out just enough but not too long. After she had been on several dates with Steve and they believed they were serious about each other Debra told Henry she knew they were going to get married. It was just so obvious. Steve was probably a good guy, Henry supposed. Weren’t most guys good guys, really, if you sorted through all the character traits that may or may not personally appeal to you, and got down to the basics?
Henry had married a good guy once. Briefly. It had lasted a year and then they both realised their mistake. He was a good person. Henry was a good person too. They were just not each other’s good people. Debra thought Henry should look at online dating too and although Debra was one of the few people Henry didn’t usually argue with there was no way she was going to look online for a husband. She found the idea repulsive. Henry kept all of Debra’s secrets and didn’t bat an eye when Debra sat right next to her and told their mother she and Steve had met through mutual friends, or when Debra told her friends that she and Steve had met through friends of their parents. They were a couple for a year and then got engaged. It took another year to plan the wedding.
Most weddings come with a required roster of toasts and speeches and this one did too. People clinked forks on glasses to make the bride and groom kiss. Henry’s own wedding had not been a formal event like this. She didn’t like toasts and speeches or sitting at a head table being looked at. She had gotten married in a civil ceremony at the town hall, in a small ordinary room done up hastily with a metal garden arch and some crepe paper flowers. Her mother had been disappointed by it and Henry felt sure she believed this had contributed to the failure of the marriage, this lack of a proper beginning. At Debra’s ceremony everything was beginning properly. After the usual toasts, giggling a little, Debra and Steve told the crowd they had a confession to make. Something that nobody knew, they said. They had kept it a secret from everyone, they said. Henry sat very still and listened as they told how they had actually met through an online dating site and wasn’t this funny but look how well it had all worked out. Online dating sites weren’t just for the old and desperate. They were for the young and hopeful too. They were for people like Debra and Steve.
Henry had cleaning help, from a student needing a summer job, just for awhile while moving, bending, lifting, was all still a bit of a challenge and she needed to dedicate herself to her therapy exercises and leave the vacuuming and dusting to someone else. Once a week, for half an hour, Alexa came to clean the small one bedroom apartment, to dust her belongings and vacuum her bits of shed skin out of the carpet. Henry found this embarrasing. She could have arranged it for one of her days at the office and then she wouldn’t have had to see or speak to the Alexa, but that felt too pretentious. The alternative was the awkwardness of having someone clean around her while she was home. After she had been coming for a couple of months, Alexa casually mentioned to Henry that she had another client who would be just perfect for Henry. They would be such a cute couple, Alexa was sure. She wanted to fix them up. She wanted to play matchmaker, she said with a giggle. And Henry was horrified.
But Henry went on the blind date. His name was also Steve which seemed like it would be a bad omen if Henry were superstitious. Steve opened doors and pulled out chairs and Henry was peeved because she thought it was pity. But she and Steve talked, and talked, and went out again another night and talked more. He was going to take her sailing on the third date. She was nervous about it because she didn’t know how to sail. She would have to rely on Steve to do the work although probably she could help. She told him she could not move quickly. Steve thought she meant in a relationship, though Henry didn’t know that. He looked puzzled but didn’t say anything.
The fire happened a few days after the second date with Steve. Lynnette dropped by for coffee and some company as she sometimes did on a Sunday morning. She was lonely since her husband died last year and her daughter lived half way across the country. Henry was trying to convince her to join the seniors’ centre. She worried about being Lynette’s only social outlet. They sat in the living room drinking coffee. Muffin, Henry’s very fat ginger cat, was happily settled on Lynette’s lap and receiving half the attention she believed was due to her. The fire alarm began to clang with an eardrum shattering racket and Henry felt herself locked into position in her armchair as surely as a seat belt had materialised around her. Muffin leapt off Lynette’s lap and crawled under the sofa. Those are the details Henry can remember. She knows that other things happened because Lynette has told her many times since then but she doesn’t have a true memory of her own. The apartment was on the ground floor and had a sliding glass door that lead from the living room to an outside patio and beyond that, on the other side of a fence, was the parking lot. Exiting was easy but Henry wasn’t moving. Lynette pulled her to her feet, coaxing her, encouraging her to move but Henry said, “Muffin”. Lynette dropped to her knees and looked under the sofa where she had last seen the cat disappear. Two shining eyes, huge and round looked back at her. Reaching under, she grabbed the cat by her front legs and pulled. Holding a struggling feline in one arm she hooked her other arm through Henry’s and said, “let’s go.” She marched Henry outside, without her crutches, to the company of the other evacuees gathering in the parking lot.
The smoke was visible. The fire trucks came. Muffin, who struggled and scratched, frightened by the situation, was impossible for Lynette to hold onto and and was quickly released only for Henry to see her make a dash back inside. As it turned out, the fire was contained within one apartment on the ground floor but smoke had quickly poured into the hall because the resident of that apartment had opened her door. The alarms had been triggered but there was no damage beyond a melted plastic bowl now stuck to the surface of the woman’s stove. There was a terrible smell in the hall but Henry did not have to use the hall. All she wanted to do now was sleep. What would she have done if Lynette had not been there? What if it had been a big fire? Lynette helped her back inside when they were given the all clear. Henry admitted that she just wanted to sleep and Lynette agreed that she did too. It’s the shock, she said. Henry suggested that after a nap she would like to take Lynette out for some dinner later. They both deserved it she said, trying to downplay the thank you a little bit, not make too much of a big deal about it. Lynette would understand. She would see it for what it was.
While she napped Henry dreamed. She dreamed of being out on the water, sailing with Steve. Her crutches floated on the water beside the boat and she looked at them as though they were pieces of driftwood. Then that is exactly what they became and Henry, on the boat, sailed on past them.