Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Tide of Change

It was the best day of Ryan’s life.  Rockin’ out with the sickest group of musicians he’d ever met, he felt like he’d gone straight to heaven without the bloody, zombie-rampaging part in-between.  Finally, all the hours and days and months of practicing had paid off – big-time!  He - Ryan Francis Martin was the drummer for the “Wyld Stalyuns”   and he rocked at the only 2 things that mattered in this whole entire world, playing music and impressing Jessica Manley.  Coming off a wicked solo he smiled in the direction of the group of girls jumping in front of the school stage shouting “Ry-an, Ry-an!”   But his smile was meant for only one of them.
Then suddenly the chanting turned to “Get up, get up!” Jessica’s adoring face dissolved before him like a mirage in the desert and a hand was on his shoulder shaking him.  “Noooooo! Noooooo!  Leave me alone!” Ryan pulled the covers over his head and groaned, “I reeeeeally don’t want to get up!”
“Get up, get up!” the voice said again.  He turned over, moaning and found the wide brown eyes of his 13-year-old twin brother, Kevin, loom way to close and way too bright before his face. 
“It’s... too... early... to get up,” protested Ryan.  “What part of the word ‘summer vacation’ don’t you understand?”  He was awake now but not happy about it and not happy about being at his grandmother’s house in freaking Digby, Nova Scotia, not happy that his mother was sick, and definitely not happy that his father wasn’t with them.  Kevin was excited though.  Looking with annoyance at his brother, Ryan wondered as he often did how they could even belong to the same family let alone be twins.  They didn’t even look alike.  Kevin was bigger and solid; built like a Hummer, and he was darker with brown eyes and brown-black hair taking after their father.  Ryan was blue-eyed; pale with freckles, fair skinned and blond.   And; what really irritated Ryan – Kevin always found something to be happy about; he was the kind of guy who could break every last bone in his body yet get up the next morning and fart pure sunshine.
 “You have to get up,” Kevin said; “This place is amazing!”  Last night they’d come in late and hadn’t seen anything.  Grandma had picked them and their mom up at the train station.   They could smell the strange salty air as soon as they got off the train and they squinted through the windows of the beat-up pick-up truck looking for signs of the ocean but everything was black. “Wait ‘til you see it.  The ocean’s practically in our front yard!” Kevin continued, “Grandma’s making breakfast on a wood-burning stove and I looked across the street and saw a boat just sitting on the beach looking like nobody owns it.” 
The word, “breakfast” got Ryan’s attention.  He gave his brother a half smile and rubbed his eyes. “Hmmmm, I smell bacon,” Ryan said as the will to live crept over him.  “I need food so I’ll have enough energy to pay you back for getting me up!” and Ryan sprang to his knees, grabbed his brother by the shoulders and pinned him to the bed.  “Ok mutant; you die!”  And the two boys went through their repertoire of wrestling moves as they grappled and thrashed across the bed.  “Umph’s” and “thwhup’s” filled the air as blankets fell off the bed and pillows were beaten over heads and shoulders.
They stopped when grandma called up, “anyone interested in pancakes and bacon better make their bed, get dressed and get down here quick!”  That worked like magic; in less than 5 minutes they were both sitting at the table. 
“Now you’re going to eat a good breakfast, and I’m going to look you over in the light of day.  I’d hardly recognize the pair of you after 5 years!” said grandma.   There was something in grandma’s voice that was sad and angry at the same time.  “After breakfast you can go outside and have a look around.  You might see the McNeil kids playing around; a boy and girl about your age four doors up.” 
“Cool!” said Kevin while Ryan only thought; I hope they speak something besides fisherman-ese!
“Grandma, do you make pancakes every morning?” Ryan asked hopefully.
“I would answer that if I had to, but I don’t have to” she said sharply.  “The future’ll take care of itself and if we’re lucky it’ll give us a nice surprise and if we’re not, well then we won’t know the difference will we?”
 “I guess you’ve never heard of an Ontario surprise;” Ryan said letting a heavy scowl settle on his grandmother’s face as he continued.  “All of a sudden, outa nowhere or outa hell maybe, you hear a knock on the door and two healthy army officers who aren’t your dad are standing there telling you that your father, Captain Robert Francis Martin, was killed by friendly fire while on exercise.  How’s that for a surprise,” he demanded.  “All the way to Afghanistan to get killed by his own company!  How frikkin’ surprising is that,” he asked again looking from his grandmother’s grim face to his brother’s drooped-down head, challenging one of them to answer.  The kitchen was silent.  “Where’s mom?” he added quietly.
“She’s still in bed” Grandma said, brutally prodding the fire with her iron poker.  “She’s tired out from yesterday and I told her to sleep in this morning.” 
Ryan’s pancakes and bacon suddenly tasted like dirty sponge.  He pushed his plate away and stood up and looked accusingly at his brother, “We never should have come here!” he yelled and darted through the kitchen and up the back stairs.  He stopped at his mom’s bedroom door, and closed his eyes and took a deep breath to summon his composure. He walked in softly and found her lying propped up on some pillows like she’d been waiting for him; blond hair tousled and tired blue eyes smiling weakly. It was no stretch to guess which side of the family he came from.  She looked small and weak and so alone in that big bed in the room of dark wood and it reminded him that his dad had left them.  Everything reminded Ryan about his father: the fact that they were here, that they had to move to Nova bloody Scotia so their grandma could look after them while his mother was sick, and the fact that they were sleeping and living in the house where his father lived as a boy, but what screamed to him the most, what he wanted to run a million miles away from but couldn’t and what filled his days with exhaustion and despair, was the fact that every time he looked at the people closest to him; his mother, his brother, and now his grandmother, he didn’t feel any better; he felt a hundred times worse.  He felt pain shoot from them and explode against his own agony like artillery fire – the kind that killed his father, and he didn’t know what was more horrible – the throbbing of his own open wounds or the horror of seeing theirs.  His heart seized in an all too familiar spasm.  That’s what a memory felt like and that’s all you had left when your life was ruined.
His mother motioned for him to come closer and he sat down at the edge of the bed and kissed her on her cheek.  “How are you this morning, mom,” he asked.
“To be honest honey, I’m very tired this morning,” she said and she paused and cupped his chin in her small white hand and held his gaze with steady serious eyes - “but I’ll live,” she asserted.  “M.S. is going to side-line me every once in a while but it’s not going to put me out of the game, do you understand?”  She smiled reassurance and continued, “I feel better already knowing that we’re here in this old house that I used to know so well with grandma to look after us when we need her.  I think Daddy’s happy knowing we’re keeping each other safe,” she added hugging him to her and laying her head on his.
Ryan didn’t need to see his mother’s face to know that there were tears falling from her eyes.  Just then there was another tap on the door and grandma came in with a breakfast tray.  Ryan straightened up and looked gently at his mother for a moment then locked his heart away again and said, “I’ll come back later, mom,” then he left the room.
He walked slowly down the stairs and out the front door and into the morning sun.  He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply and slowly and he felt relief to be out of the house and away from the people he loved.   There were only about 6 homes on this small street in front of the Bay of Fundy.  It was quiet; clean and fresh.  The wind and the salt air drew him across the street.  They led him to the edge of a steep black rocky hill that went down to what was a beach of sand and seaweed and shells and driftwood at low-tide and a crashing surf of effervescence and salty spray at high tide.  It was low-tide then and he climbed down the rocks to the beach to a whole different world.  
The bank of rocks formed a strong fort that once on the beach, cut him off from everything man-made.  He felt utterly alone and completely at peace.  He took off his socks and shoes and walked across the beach pressing his toes into the cool grainy sand until he saw a stand of smooth dry rock.  He put his shoes on top of it and stretched himself out along its length with his head facing the water and resting on his folded arms and his chest laid flat against the hard sun-warmed shelf of the rock.  In that position he lay listening to the quiet lapping of the water and fell into a deep, dreamy sleep.
He was having that awesome dream again.  It continued with Jessica Manley this time.  She was shaking his arm and say, “get up, get up,” like Kevin had before.  But then she threw water at him and he couldn’t understand how he had let a perfectly good dream get out of hand like that.  And then she threw more water at him and he tasted salt and gasped and tried to open his stinging eyes.  Black dots hovered before him and his ears were ringing and his skin stung and burned.  It slowly dawned on him that he’d fallen asleep on the beach but he couldn’t figure out how Jessica Manley had materialized.   “How did you get here?” he asked sitting up and blinking his eyes in the bright afternoon sun.
“I just walked down the rocks of course” she said.  “My name is Sheila McNeil.  You must be Mrs. Martin’s grandson.  She told us you and your brother were coming to live with her.”  Then she laughed, “The tide is coming in, in case you haven’t noticed!”  “It’s time to head for higher ground unless you want to end up in New Brunswick!”
Ryan finally took in what was happening.  While he’d slept the tide had crept in and the waves had grown to lively frothing rollers that now broke just in front of his bed of rock.  He felt like such an idiot but jumped up and said, “Yeah – thanks, I think I’ve done enough beach-combing today let’s go.  What were you doing around here with the tide coming in,” he asked.
“I was writing a song” she said. 
“Cool!” he said, “I play music.  I’m a drummer.”
“Cool!” Sheila said smiling directly at him. “I love writing by the sea” she continued.  It washes away all the old garbage floating in my head and fills it up with beautiful, new pictures.”  She stopped in mid-climb and looked at him.  “Does that sound crazy to you,” she asked.
“No” Ryan said and his eyes wrinkled in wonder and he looked past Sheila to the water and he found himself smiling as they continued their climb.  Near the top of the hill they heard voices – kids and grown-ups.  Gaining the summit, Ryan, blinked his eyes in disbelief for the second time that hour.  His mother and grandmother were camped there with a picnic on the flat grass and out in the sun his mother looked stronger and earthly and alive – not like the ghost-mother he’d said good-bye to that morning.  Kevin was firing a Frisbee with a boy he guessed would be Sheila’s brother.  The world seemed to have completely changed since he’d left the house only a few hours ago.
“It’s about time you showed your sorry hide” grandma said sharply but with a wide smile.  “Hello, Sheila.”  “We decided to have a picnic in honour of this lovely day.  Come and see what we brought.   Giving Ryan a hug, she whispered, “It’s a little Nova Scotia surprise for you” and he squeezed her back tightly.
Sheila made her way eagerly to the sandwiches that were arranged on a blanket on the ground with a bowl of potato salad and a thermos of lemon aide and real plates and glasses and cutlery.  Ryan was hungry all of a sudden but ran over to his mother who waited with a smile.  “You look great mom.  You’re feeling better” he asked? 
“Oh I have to feel better” she joked.  “It would really take too much out of me to feel bad on such a lovely day!”  The smile she flashed at her son was bright, reassuring and genuine.  Ryan looked back at her and gave thanks to someone or something that he could neither name nor place for that quality of hope in her smile and he suddenly found himself breathing easier and felt the pain between them start to lift.
“Hey, we were looking for you! “ Kevin was running up to him with another boy.  “This is Cullum.   He lives 4 doors away from us and guess what?   This is so epic – he plays bass! 
“No way!”  “That’s awesome,” Ryan said holding his crunched fist up excitedly.  
Cullum squared up his knuckles and returned the salute and said, “This is so epic!  A drummer a bass and a guitar man; oh – I mean girl,” he said pointing at his sister who wrinkled her nose at him.  They all laughed.
They all laughed,” Ryan thought in amazement.  It sounded so normal yet it sounded soooo weird.  He looked around him from his wonderful, alive mother talking quietly with his grandmother – his grandmother who organized efficiently and cooked and brought calm and order to wherever she was, to his brother, Kevin, who might be stronger and too happy and fart sunshine at times but then, Ryan admitted, there’s no such thing as “too happy” in life; there’s always someone who needs help to make it to the top of a cliff before they drown, then to the new, completely unexpected friends who appeared in a sudden, good surprise and he felt good and that was epic and he wondered what tomorrow would bring...

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