Mar 2019 05

An elderly woman wearing a hospital gown and a very stylish hat smiles at me. She glides down the hall, spinning every once in awhile, very sure on her feet. Like she is in a dance hall.

“Where’s Shirley? Have you seen Shirley?” another woman, also wearing a hospital gown, asks no one and yet everyone. Loudly.

An older man wearing his own patient smock, and a very smart fedora I might add, almost bumps into me as I try to get my bearings. I smile and say ‘Good evening’, but he glares at me like I just mounted his front porch and rang his doorbell.

Various people jostle themselves around in wheelchairs like a soccer game, with a ball undetectable to me, is going on. Nurses talk gossip openly to each other. A TV in a common lounge is showing people a new recipe on a cooking show.

Yesterday, my father was in another wing, in a room with other patients who looked like they would never leave the hospital alive. And today he was transferred to this area. The Transitional Care Unit.

There is no smell of death. No one moaning in pain. No call bells for help ringing, unanswered due to being overwhelmed. There is an energy here of the living. Like the buzzing activity of a bus station. Of people in transit, bags packed nearby within eyeshot. Everyone eager to ship out as soon as the ‘Board on Platform 7’ is displayed on the board.

This is where patients are sent when they’re on their way to another facility – like a rehab centre, which is where my dad is heading. Success stories. People who are now well and get to go back to their lives after their next stop. The lucky.

I ask the nurse’s station where to find my dad.

“Your father’s at the end of the hall. Go all the way to that window, make a left, first bed.”

Some more pirouetting on my part to get around some soon-to-be former patients with energy to burn, just roaming the halls.

And there he is. Albert, written off for dead less than two weeks ago, and now lounging in bed with his arms behind his head propping him up as he stares out the window. No oxygen. No IV tubes. Untethered. A view of the lake. Sunset casting its early rosewater glow. First time he’s seen the sky in 17 days.

And he looks … well, bored.

We talk a bit of politics, and sports. And how my day was.

He is still wondering why he is alive. What his purpose is, at 90, to go to rehab. What is the point, he still asks. Get healthy for what? His friend, Bill, at the senior’s building died a few weeks ago. What is there to go back to? It will be the same old jell-o.

The harsh truth of living in a senior’s building is new neighbours are always moving in. I remind him that we never know who could walk into his life when he returns there, after a few weeks at rehab.

The elderly, but spry looking, man in the bed next to him offers me the Toronto Sun to read, but I pass. “What are you here for, Charles?”, I ask. He introduced himself to me with a firm handshake a moment ago. He tells me he fell and damaged his knee and it’s inoperable. He’ll be limping for the rest of his life. He says my dad looks good, like he could run a marathon. He’s envious. One person’s hell is someone else’s heaven.

The point is lost on Bert. I do not come from a long line of optimists. The glass isn’t just half empty. It’s chipped, too.

His bag stays plump and packed next to his bed. Ready for tomorrow, or the next day.

We stare out the window. From here it looks like spring is also ready to turn the tide on its own battle.

Footsteps out the door.

The woman with the stylish hat, and the gruff man with the fedora are standing together at the hallway window. The man is now wearing 3 hats, stacked on top of each other.

In silence, they stare out at the still lake and the migrating cars on the Toronto Gardiner Expressway with red tail lights trailing behind.

All in transit to new, unknown destinations.

 

 

 

Feb 2019 28

I have started to convert the weather from celsius into how much money in ice melter each day will cost. #Canada 

Feb 2019 28

 

This place is like nowhere I ever go. Red vinyl booths, with dark, rich wood tops. Rows of small tables embrace a stage where a man in a crushed velvet suit gets ready to groan out some ballads of love lost. The whole place is lit only by the candles on each table, encased in smoky glass, giving a moody ethereal glow.

This is going to be a great show, and I’m here just in time.

I wander up to the bar, also red vinyl with a smooth chocolate surface, surrounded by high-backed stools. I perch myself on one and wait.

This is kind of place where someone could sit in the stool next to me and slyly palm me some microfilm. Maybe it’s blood-stained cause they have been stabbed. And then they stumble out and die in the back alley. Yes.

A bartender appears. White tuxedo. He says nothing, and hands me a drink menu.

I unfold it to reveal… Highballs. Old fashioneds. Cocktails. The kind you have long conversations with.

“Do you have any non-alcohol beer?”

The bartender looks disgusted with me.

And then I wake up.

Now I don’t even drink in my dreams. Shit. I suppose this is progress?

Fuck, I wanted that microfilm.

 

Writer’s note: this dream happened last week.

Feb 2019 21

My 90 year-old dad continues to stay one step ahead of death. In his 7th day in the hospital, still no definitive answers on what is trying to kill him other than old age. It’s possible the pneumonia has just alerted doctors to some other issue. Like taking your car in for the alternator and finding out the alternator is only fucked because of a bigger thing going on. More tests. But in the meantime, making the most of this time. Tonight’s topic – why they named me ‘Andrew’. Do you know the story of your own name? Mine is a tale of the ocean, bliss, and wanderlust.

Recently, a friend asked me if I identified with my name, ‘Andrew’.

Did I feel I am an Andrew? In a time where we can change or renounce anything we were assigned at birth – your gender, sexual identity, male pattern baldness, nose, lips, or flat buttock cheeks – did I identify with something as basic as my name?

I’d never really thought about it. I’ve always just been that. Andrew. I was never called ‘Andy’ or ‘Drew’. My sister calls me ‘Ange’, but that’s yet another short form of ‘Andrew’. And one friend has always thought I should go by something more exotic-sounding to reflect my diverse background, like ‘Andreas’.

My name was neither something that shaped me, nor misrepresented me. Rather, I’ve always thought I give meaning to my name.

My parents named me ‘Andrew’. It means ‘Strong and manly’, hilariously. For those who know me, I’m all of 5’3″ on a good day.

But there’s more. I’m Andrew Francis Bradley, to be precise. And someone in the family had this name before me. It was my great-grandfather’s full name. I was named after him.

Why? Frankly, I’ve never asked. But tonight, I did.

My dad is lying in a hospital bed for the seventh straight night. Two days ago, I didn’t think he would still be here among the living. But he is. Although there are some positive signs about his chances, now is certainly the time to talk about anything I might want to know. Besides, he has no TV in his room and there is nothing to do but talk, when he has the breath and strength, and we have finished talking about the food, weather, Trump (“that asshole”), baseball, or the Liberals SNC-Lavalin unravelling.

“Dad. Why did you name me after your Grandfather?”

“What, ‘Andrew’?”

“Yes, but you gave me his full name. His middle name, too.”

“Well, we all just loved him. All of us boys (my dad grew up with 4 brothers) did.”

I have heard a few stories about him, second-hand from cousins. Born around 1870. Lived into his mid 90s. Nicknamed ‘The Old Buck’. Widowed before my dad was born.

“So, what was he like?”

My dad closed his eyes and smiled, remembering. He looked happy. Or as happy as someone can look when they’re lit by a flourescent light at the head of their hospital bed that they’ve been in for six days.

“He was so much fun. As a boy, every night in Belize City, I knew exactly where to find him and I’d go see him. There he would be, standing at the waterfront by the Baron Bliss monument.”

For those of you who have never been to Belize City, it is a port city. My dad was born in 1928, and grew up in a house on Regent Street near the mouth of the river point of entry on the waterfront. We could get into a long history of Belize (previously British Honduras) here going back to the 1700s about mahogany wood to England, slaves, and rum. But for now, let’s keep it about the waterfront.

The Baron Bliss monument he is talking about was erected in 1885. It is still there today. It is a lighthouse on the waterfront built to honour Baron Henry Bliss, a British traveller who never actually set foot on Belize soil, but spent his last days sick, on his anchored boat just offshore, and gazing at the beauty of the mainland. He left a tidy sum of money for the citizens of Belize, in trust, which even today provides educational and health programs. March 9th, the day of his demise, is a National Holiday in Belize.

So, back to my great-grandfather and my dad as a boy. And how he would find that era’s Andrew Francis Bradley every night at the monument.

My dad paused, remembering a little more, and the sound of oxygen whispered through the tubes in his nostrils.

“He was always standing there alone, just watching the ocean and the boats. I’d walk down there to spend some time with him and talk, and then he’d walk me back home.”

My dad continued.

“Everybody loved him. And he tried everything in life. He was a Minister at one time. He was a gambler. He owned a piece of land that he farmed on. He lived in Honduras for years on all kinds of schemes and adventures and when he came back, I was a teenager. His best friend his whole life was Karl Heusner, the Doctor whom the main hospital in Belize is named after.”

“Did he sail?”

Sailing is big in my family’s history. I have let everyone down as someone who can barely swim.

“Oh gosh, yes. He had a boat called ‘The Spook’. Fast boat.”

I have never heard my father talk about his own father (this Andrew Francis Bradley’s son) with such admiration. He has never said anything bad about him either. Instead, through family stories I have pieced together from cousins, I have learned my dad’s own dad was actually maybe not such a great guy at all, but my father didn’t want to poison me with that information. It’s not his style. He likes people to form their own opinions.

I now see how it is possible that all the reverential feelings I’ve had for my own Grandfather my whole life are actually the result of the residual love my dad has felt for his own Grandfather, this Andrew Francis Bradley.

When I was a boy and he talked about how great Grandads are – he actually meant his own.

It turns out my father named me after his favourite man.

This is the story of my name.

I am Andrew Francis Bradley.

It is my name, but it comes with a responsibility. An echo.

It is my name, but also belongs to something bigger that I’m only starting to understand. A connection across generations telling me who I am, and where I came from.

Yes, maybe finally, I identify with it.

 

PICTURED: The original Andrew Francis Bradley, seated. Circa 1900, Belize City.

Feb 2019 01

 

 

Everyone

smells like

the inside of an old wool hat right now

 

 

 

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