In which I bury the lead so far, it’s like I hope you’ll miss it.
A few years ago my son Colin gave me a framed picture with two pine trees. It was a color picture appearing as in black and white, taken from our dining room window in Middleville. Heavy water-logged snowflakes had left wet marks on the window, diffusing light and making the skies look decorated.
When the twins were born in 2011, we lived in Navan, a rural community of estate lots and small farms in the east end of Ottawa. The CN rail line ran about 7km south of our house. On most days, we could hear the whistle blow as the Via passenger trains ran alongside Russell road and crossed Sabourin at the bottom of Milton. The whistle blow was too dim to hear as my household geared up to its usual chaos. But in the silence of the early morning, I could hear the faint sound of the trains passing by.
The twins’ birth marked a year of upheaval in our family. Nothing reveals fault lines like an earthquake. Having two newborns in an already large family shook us to the core. They slept and woke up like normal babies. Caught colds and fevers. Ate when they were hungry. Cried when they were needy. They were by all estimation normal babies but they were two. At the same time. My toddler didn’t sleep through the night and could not be left unsupervised, my children went to school, sports, and music lessons. My teenagers had part time jobs to be driven to. The twins claimed my nights and my other children claimed my days and there was not a single minute available for me to sleep or even rest. For the first year of the twins’ life, I did not sleep more than 45 consecutive minutes. For 11 months, I saw every single hour on my alarm clock, every single night, until I ditched the clock.
On most nights, the twins would take turns needing to be fed, burped, and rocked. After spending the entire night up with one baby then the other, they would finally settle at the same time around 5:45am and sleep for 2 or 3 hours. I still had to get up by 6:15am to get the other children ready for school. The only 2 or 3 hours I could have slept were spent making lunches and helping children get dressed and ready for school. My days never started and never ended.
In the early morning, when the twins were asleep and the house was still quiet, I would hear the train whistle in the distance. It became an anchor in my never-ending days: the train meant that the sun had set in the evening, risen in the morning, that my world may have been turned upside down but that outside, life was still unfolding, oblivious to my turmoil. It gave me comfort to know that the world kept turning, that the trains kept running, that people went to bed, got up and went to work in the morning. It gave me hope that a normal life was right there waiting for me.
When we moved to Middleville — a small rural community in the middle of the Lanark Highlands where we built a house in 2014-2015 — I lost the train whistle. I noticed it right away in the morning silence. In the middle of nowhere, I had no anchor, no mooring to pull me back to shore. My husband had moved us there for the exact reason I would lose myself: the world around us could burn down and we would not even notice.
I once read that tall and unusual trees act as visual beacons for migratory birds as they navigate the skies in search of food and home. Every morning when I got up in silence, I would glance out my bedroom window and see two pine trees, tall, healthy evergreens towering over an overgrown plantation of the same. I always thought of these two trees as wayfinding for birds. They became my new anchor as I once again sunk into despair and loneliness following a complicated miscarriage in 2016. When I woke up in the morning, I would glance at the trees and their presence would reassure me: the sun had set, the sun had risen again, the earth was still turning, the world wasn’t burning, and happiness was still possible even if currently unavailable.
A year ago, as the pandemic covered every home with its thick blanket of fear and anxiety, when we still believed that it would be over in a month, my marriage of 24 years ended. Paul and I separated and started the painful process of entangling our respective lives. For 10 months, I was too focused on my children to acknowledge the magnitude of the earthquake that had just taken place. In the fog of lockdowns, school closures, separation agreements, and the absurd process of setting boundaries around a person I couldn’t imagine living without a few months before, I missed seeing the sheer destruction around me. Without anchors I missed the sun not setting and rising again, the world burning outside my door. The trains not running, people not working, life not unfolding, ready to welcome me back. The walls had collapsed and I sat in the rubble until the rubble felt like home. Two months ago, when Paul started a new relationship, the floor suddenly caved in and I fell down the deepest well of grief I didn’t know existed. Every time I think the bottom might be near and I might be able to push myself back to the surface, I fall even deeper. When I look around me, there are no tall trees showing me the way home, no train whistle waiting for me. Nothing looks like family, nothing looks like home.
I don’t know where home is anymore.