During the brief time I lived in Japan, I became intimately familiar with karaoke. Outside of Tokyo, English songs were scarce, and dated, but since I was often the only gaijin at any gathering it was my official duty to sing all of them. Elvis, Sinatra and Beatles songs were usually on the menu, though I did perform one interesting, audience-participation version of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and there was an embarrassing flute incident during my rendition of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” that we shall not discuss.
One song, however, was so old and obscure that I had not heard it before. No problem, all anyone cared about was that a blonde woman was on stage singing. I could have sung the Alphabet Song or Mary Had a Little Lamb and I would have received thunderous applause.
Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world,
‘Cause you don’t love me any more?
A stupid little ditty, ridden with teen angst and drama. Blech.
Seven years later, driving home from Vancouver, still numb from my mother’s death, that song would come back to haunt me.
I wake up in the morning and I wonder,
why everything’s the same as it was.
I can’t understand, no, I can’t understand,
how life goes on the way it does.
Almost eighteen years later, it haunts me still. This is life’s greatest irony…it goes on. No matter what tragedy may befall us, the dishes must be washed, the bills must be paid, the grass needs cutting and there’s no getting around that aching tooth that needs a filling. We can stop and linger in the land of mourning or pity for awhile, but all around us the river of life flows on.
Last weekend I drove down to Vancouver to attend the Creative Ink Festival. I’d been looking forward to this event for a while, in part because I was going to be doing a workshop on indie publishing, in part because this was my friend Sandra’s event and she’s fun incarnate, and in part because, hey, writing, writers, science fiction and fantasy nerds, yay!
The original plan was to brave a 12+ hour Greyhound bus ride, since Prez and I are a one-vehicle family and he had to use the truck for work. But then the trip turned into something more.
My sister had been re-admitted to the leukemia ward at VGH. Not only had the second round of chemo not done the job, now she also had a lung infection that had to be cleared before the third round of chemo could start. The good news in all this was that I would be close by and free all day after the festival to visit her.
Thanks to our friend Pete, I now had wheels. Seven hours of solo driving is no picnic but with beautiful scenery and a good audiobook they passed quickly enough. Soon I was welcomed back to Casa Roney and fed, ginned, catted, and tucked into bed before heading off to the festival.
And how was the Creative Ink Festival? In short, it was everything I’d hoped for. I laughed lots, I met new people from my tribe, I re-connected with “old” friends from my tribe, I bought books, I had audiences to play with, I learned lots, I inspired and was myself inspired, I volunteered for something about which I am passionate, I ate junk food and drank too much gin, I showed off my new cat t-shirt, I met Sandra’s new baby Ben (oh, and her husband), for the first time. As Ricardo Montalban would say, “Smiles, everyone! Smiles!”
The next day, back to the leukemia ward I went.
I was prepared for the worst, and I was determined to hang onto that smile—no doubt my sister needed it more than me. I want to keep some things private but I will say that, no matter how much you prepare yourself, seeing someone you love so physically changed and weakened in just a matter of weeks will knock the wind out of you every time.
I was glad to be with my sister again. I wasn’t glad that she was still in that place. Hour by hour, little pieces of my heart broke and mended, broke and mended. Silently, I tried to think of ways I could stay, how I might shrug off commitments back at home and just BE there for her. Every day.
But the car I’d driven here was on loan and had to go back to its owner. I had work waiting. Bills need to be paid, dishes need to be washed, and so on and so on. The river of life flows on. This is how it works. This is how it has always worked and how it always will work.
By the time my visit was at an end, Kelly looked a little better and I was happy to have been a small help with that. We hugged and kissed and exchanged “I love you’s”. I turned to leave the room.
“I miss you already,” she said.
“Me too,” I said.
Back on the road, Monday morning, I was exhausted. I planned my rest stops and listened to my audio book, and tried to enjoy the scenery. My brain spun from all the emotions of the past forty-eight hours and I felt the weight of leaving my sister like a stone in my heart. Somewhere before Rock Creek my phone rang. Unknown Number. I’d been getting a lot of spam calls lately so I answered with a very curt, “Hello”.
“Hi Kristene, this is Joni from Writers of the Future. I’m just calling to let you know your story is a finalist for the first quarter of the competition,” a friendly voice said.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked.
Laughter. “I’m not kidding.”
And there it was. The competition I never thought I stood a chance in and here I was a finalist. Unbelievable. Incomprehensible.
Joni filled me in on the details as I pulled over. When she was done and I’d hung up, I just sat in that car on the side of the lonely highway with a stupid grin on my face.
Then I shouted a war cry. Then I cried. Then I fell apart on the side of the road. Why now? Why now? I’m supposed to be sad, I can’t be happy now. Doesn’t the world know I’m hurting for my sister?
Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world.
It ended when you said goodbye.
I wiped my eyes, drove to the gas station in Rock Creek, pulled over and called Prez with the news. Then I called Kelly and told her the news. She sounded happy for me.
Life waits for no one. Sometimes you get joy and sometimes you get sorrow, and sometimes you get them both all tangled up together. Sometimes you get all the emotions at once and it feels like you’ll drown. This is the burden and the reward of being human.
I stood in the Petro Canada parking lot thinking about this. It is enough, I decided, that I have people to celebrate with and people who miss me when I’m gone. I’ll figure out the rest as I go.
Then I bought an ice cream cone, got back in the car, and let the river carry me home.