Sunday, February 4, 2024

“New Beginnings,” by Helen Arsicot

I didn’t want to go. Nor did I want to stay. Or get out of bed. Shower. Eat. I could go on, but maybe I don’t want to do that either. Let’s face it, I didn’t want to do anything at all. What’s the point, when the one who made it all worthwhile went and bloody well died on you?

Anyway, here I was at Toronto Pearson airport, boarding a flight back to re-claim the home we’d bought together, and that he’d always called our retirement plan. He’d meant that we could live off the rent money it brought in, but I’d given the tenants notice and was moving back in myself.

 I didn’t really have a plan beyond that. My mind was a bit of a fog to be honest. Widow Brain. It’s a thing – look it up. I was definitely not capable of making rational decisions, but I’d bought a one-way ticket, left our rented Toronto home and was heading back … to what? I think I was expecting to cocoon myself in the familiar, happy past. Hmm. How likely was that?

No one knew I was coming, so at arrivals I walked on by the hand-written signs, the eager faces carrying bunches of flowers and welcome home banners, the happy tears of reunited lovers, spouses, families. A father greeting his balloon-toting kids. A couple falling into each other’s arms (that one went right to my heart). Grandparents exclaiming, “My, my, haven’t you grown,” as if it was the most surprising and commendable accomplishment imaginable.

There was even a camera crew. Have you seen CBC’s “Hello Goodbye?” Well, you won’t see me on it, unless it’s a snatched glance of a defeated-looking figure, eyes to the ground, dodging deferentially around trolleys of tottering cases and the odd escaped small child.

Chatting inanely with a well-meaning taxi driver was not on my to-do list, not that I was making those at the moment. You’d think a daily habit of, what, 25 years or thereabouts, since my student days, would just be second nature, but along with any other thought of routine or normalcy, it seemed to have slipped away from me, and I didn’t even have a notebook with me to write that list and make that satisfying and confident check mark as each task was accomplished.

I headed to the train station and the continued anonymity of rail travel, first in towards London, then out again to the ’burbs. Here was that safe familiarity I was craving. I knew the sequence of stations and whereabouts to stand on the platform so that I was near the station exit gate when I got to my stop. Some things seem to be ingrained enough not to require thought.

Here was that safe, warm familiarity I needed. I caught myself feeling a stirring of, what was that? Hope? But just as soon as I recognised it, guilt and grief overpowered it and buried it back in the vault. Not today, positivity. Too soon.

It seemed ridiculous that all I had brought with me was one wheelie case and one backpack. The one from our student days, when we travelled the world with no need for anything but the clothes on our back, a Lonely Planet guide and some saved money from that evening job in the bar. Not a care in the world, and no-one to answer to.

Our parents had something to say about it. Their generation was all about securing a Job For Life, and grafting, day in, day out, till retirement, by which time they were too tired and jaded to be bothered fulfilling those dreams from their youth of travel, fun and adventure.

I remember that feeling of being summoned to sit in the kitchen, “There’s something we need to say to you.” And the lecture about settling down, not throwing away the advantages we were lucky enough to have, with our education, our prospects. Get that foot on the career ladder, work your socks off, provide for a home, a family, and continue the endless wheel of life.

We listened politely, then did our own thing anyway, confident that we could walk into a job just as well with a year of carefree travel under our belt as we could right here, right now. And we did. And look at me now. Imagine if we had put all our travel plans off until retirement. All those precious memories would be reduced to what ifs and if onlys. There’s that glimmer of a spark again. Not hope this time. Is that a smile tugging at my cheek muscles? Nope, gone.

All these thoughts vanished as I trundled my luggage to the crest of the hill, and there was that familiar sight. The red door we’d painted only months before the unexpected transfer to the Toronto office, when we thought we were building a home where we would bring up a bunch of mini-hims and mini-mes. My heart gave one big painful beat, then I could feel it being clamped, the breath left my body and I stumbled.

The next thing I knew, there was a wet nose in my face, and a dog-walking stranger was pulling a phone out of their pocket, “Don’t worry, love, I’ll call an ambulance. We’ll have you sorted in a jiffy.”

“No, I’m fine, really, just need a minute.”

They paused, crouched down to my level, where I was struggling to right myself, the backpack unbalancing me and making me more awkward even than normal. They looked me in the eye. “I’m Betty, and this is Hercules.” She took a deep breath, blew it out, and I felt my heartbeat starting to calm. “Well, I always say a nice cup of tea is the answer. Come with me, and then we’ll see what’s what.”


Helen Arsicot’s earliest memories are all based on her wide-ranging armchair adventures from discovering the land of Narnia alongside Lucy Pevensie, to meeting a unicorn with her namesake in Alan Garner’s Elidor, and fighting criminals alongside Holmes and Watson. She has since expanded her explorations, and moved to Canada from the UK in 2012, where she has embraced the outdoors whatever the weather. She has decided to take the leap from consumer to producer of stories, and hopes that you, too, will curl up with a cup of tea or equivalent, and join her for the journey.

Drawings by Amélie Arsicot. See more of her work on Instagram @art.sicot

See Brian Henry's upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.