In the Age of Covid-19

Covid is hard on people because it leaves you inside your head. Having lost Gemma, I find her there, again and again.

What if. What if I couldn’t stand to be lied to. What if I subconsciously knew the story she wove didn’t make sense–but, to keep the peace or something, I didn’t disturb the fabrication, just played along? This can’t be exactly true, but it’s been 6 months, and I can sort of see. I was stubborn about the lie. I thought she was being silly, sure. But I pushed to get past the lie–something’s got to give.

She said in the spring, “I’m not like them.” We were by front entrance of Glynn Manor public housing, Gemma’s place. I was dropping her off, she told me about ‘Julie’ that died in the spring, and that other girl, the one that lived in Glynn Manor, too, bird-like and too frail to last long. But we didn’t speak truth to her either. We chatted, as if starvation is normal. Gemma wanted to know, should we, would I, should we go to the funeral? I don’t know whose, must have been the bird-like woman, maybe her name was Julie.

What if. So then Gemma asked, Can I come stay? Better if she had simply said, I’m coming to stay. I was annoyed at the time, Sam had the condo on the market. If it sold and the subject-to place sold, we’d be homeless. What were we selling for anyway? Had I agreed with him to sell? No, I was dragged into it, agreed, but with a mind to maybe this will fix something. Gemma had said, “That’s weird. And I won’t be moving up there.” Sam thought it would be perfect for her. I felt cringy. Even now he says, “It wasn’t really for sale anymore. It wasn’t really on the market.” But I had said at the 3 months mark, Good let’s take it off. But, no. It’s not really on the market anymore anyway. But.

What if. I was mad at Sam (all about me). A year earlier I was working in classroom after school and Gemma came by. Where had she been, where had she just come from? I don’t think I asked, assumed it was from programs, at East Hastings clinic, I don’t think I asked, “Hi Gem! Good to see you, how are you?” Kept working, marking at the centre table. “Not good. I got discharged from inpatient …” I think she explained about the burnt pasta and panic that ensued. I expressed encouragement, “Can you get back in?” That is what she meant when she said things like, “You need to validate me! My thoughts and feelings.” I needed to say, “Gee that’s too bad. Would you like my help with anything? Want to try for some sort of plan?” But instead I asked her, told her, “… back in the program.” More of the same.

I could have got a cab, or maybe I had my car that day. “Get in the car, we’ll go to the other hospital, to emergency, get you some help.” But I didn’t. That time or another, she left the classroom in a huff–I should have gone after her–grabbed my purse and caught up in the hallway. But instead I called out to her, “What about me?” I think I was annoyed with Sam that he didn’t care about me or anyone (all about me). God. Selfish girl, no insight into Gemma’s pain. Just let her go. I don’t know whether she went home? She must have. I could have gone with her. We should have talked. Was I playing “tough love” or something? Bear the consequences of your decisions, if it’s leaving me, or panicking in the program and discharging–but you can initiate another admission? What did I¬†know about it though? What a terrible human being. Sam blames everyone else–being distant or something. But I know it was me (all about me).

I see similarities in my relationship with my mother. Today is her birthday (she would be 90 today. It’s 4/20, she didn’t like when it became marijuana day, though she loved her cigarettes. It had always been “Hitler’s birthday,” she sighed). My mother looked at me without seeing anything that needed help. We talked, but I think in the same way she was distracted. I thought of her as sort “other” as well. I’m sure I tried to ask for help, and she wasn’t there for me either. I am my mother. Only, way worse.

What if. It was really the end. Gemma had pretended to discharge F Sep 27. Greta Thurnberg was in town and the streets had been full of protesters. I was working temp and all I had to do was take a bus after work, “But she’ll be tired, and happy to be home in her own place.” I went over the next day and we went for a drive. Was Sam with me? He denies having seen her in months. I don’t think that is true. Did Gem and I go visit Maple Wood Farm petting zoo, and then I drove to the back of Lions Gate Hospital, “Look at the place that Dad painted,” Shakespeare House. She wouldn’t get out of the car. And I looked in the windows admiring Sam’s work, realizing my phone was in my purse in the back of the car, and, I looked up and down the street trying to figure out geographic names to … What? To call 911, an ambulance. But Gemma was just out of hospital, I thought, and poised to go back in, she said. She was invested in the St. Paul’s program, she said. I should have figured, “Let’s get a second opinion.” I should have driven around to emergency. I should have called an ambulance. “Gem, look at the sign, HOpe Centre,” and I wanted a picture, I really did. “Hope … Gem.” But she wouldn’t get out of the car.

The last night, the Monday before the Wednesday that she died, October 7. We went for a drive. Southlands, and I stopped the car to chat, I think at the top of the treed path that leads to the water, by the First Nations reserve land, evening. She seemed to find some humour, “Would you rather be a …” walrus or kangaroo, whatever it was. Her game from forever. No one liked it. Maybe it was a sign, from forever, when she tried to get us to play she wasn’t well. I wanted things to be better, or at least feel better, another game, an adult game, how about Truth or Dare? But I didn’t say it. It would have been perfect.

When she was supposedly in inpatient treatment I should have noticed–other admissions, as soon as she got help, her mood relaxed, she was cheerful. The whole “no visitors” thing would not wash. She loved us to come. She didn’t get more annoyed, she got happier. In July that should have occurred to me. Now this was October.

What if. I knew it was lies, and I didn’t like being lied to, and I felt she owed me some … I don’t know, respect? All about me. So I said, No, to the game. Drove towards home, her eyes weren’t seeing any of the scenery. Up Cambie, then right on 70th or so, I slowed and swerved slightly to maybe pull in, in front of some random house to … talk. But something felt urgent. Nothing was right, something was desperate–don’t stop, something needs to be done. “I thought we were going home?” Small voice. Me, covering up my desire to “do something” but I knew not what, “I just wanted to extend the drive, I wanted to have a look at this area, always something I haven’t seen …” What if I didn’t like the lie, I was annoyed and angry, semiconscious of being lied to. She couldn’t tell the truth–anorexia wouldn’t let her.

God forgive me. There is nowhere to do to get back time or take back words. Brainless is no excuse; she is the one that was undernourished. A rock and a hard place. She couldn’t tell the truth and I couldn’t stand the lie. What if I was that mean on purpose. “Where is Gemma? What have you done with her? Give her back!” But I didn’t say it. I didn’t park the car, fall down in the road, call 911, get an ambulance, minutes from help. I let a lie carry her away. She didn’t let it–she could not help it. Illness is cruel. Selfish confusion and I didn’t do, anything. To help her. Can’t you tell me? No. I can’t. Anorexia took her choice and her voice. What if I knew?

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