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Ghosts

So much of the time, when I paint, I paint goodbyes. All of my paintings, no matter how joyful, contain the seed of longing for a thing that can no longer be. Since I was a little child, I have seen the world through a kind of lens of farewell, a hologram of loss that lies over the living world, and while it feels tragic to write it, it has never felt tragic to me. It has merely felt true. I look at the land where I live and I remember the place I grew up. I look at my growing children and remember my sister and me as children, I look in the mirror and see my mother. This happens to all of us, sooner or later. It's living in time, it's the rattling of the stones in the current of the river of life.

In ten days it will be Christmas. My forty seventh Christmas, my first as the mother of three teenagers and one nearly teen. Our tree is up and decorated, the ornaments from my own childhood harvested from their various mouldering boxes, envelopes with my mother's careful cursive carefully laid aside. I remember her writing cheques at the grocery store, her fountain pen with the blue ink, the economical T for Thorburn, the surprising circle over the i in Robi. I learned to forge that signature pretty well by the time I was in junior high, and in the middle of that betrayal was a kind of tenderness, a kind of knowing and loving of the delicate parts of herself she put down without knowing. My mum always got up early, before any of us. She made toast and tea for the dog and toast and coffee for herself. On the weekends she did the New York Times cryptic crossword. At Christmas, she would turn the lights on and sit alone and stare at them, and that is how we would find her when we rolled out of bed: coffee in hand, crossword fastened to a clipboard on her velour bathrobed lap, staring at the Christmas tree in the winter morning dark. For several years we hated one another, but when I think of her now I can conjure nothing but love, nothing but a wish to tell her that I understand how she loved us, loved her life, loved the Christmas tree.

My parents died so long ago that I am able now to stand in the current of remembering without being swept away, while all around me my friends are just entering the season of loss. The mothers my friends are losing have been in their lives much longer than mine was in mine. Their children are losing grandmothers they've grown up knowing. My kids never met my father, and my eldest two were babies when my mom died. My family is cobbled together out of newness; my children have been raised in a city with no ancestors, no history, no particular love. I quite honestly hate this town, though I have come to love many people here. I live here because my ex husband lives here and because home is all the way across the country so who really cares where I live as long as I am raising my family. I have never had and will never have the kind of adult love many of my friends share with their parents. No sleepovers, no babysitting, no Christmas boxes. But I do get up early in the mornings and turn the lights on. I do sit down alone each day for a little while before anyone else gets up and look at the tree with my dog. Every year I make my Gran's shortbread and I remember where I came from.




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