Unleashed

A couple weeks ago, plans with my sister changed due to weather and we decided on a rain check. Looking at the overcast sky and the drizzle sprinkling the back deck, I was about to settle for a day indoors when I realized, it was perfectly still. No wind rustled the leaves of the trees. The air was thick and humid, the smell of the rain soaking into the earth, ripe. Feeling the discontemtment with the possibility of an indoor day, I gave into my urge to be outside and on the water. After all, I was on day two and a half of the eighty two hours I had to myself and I wanted to use this time to unleash myself from my usual routine. There was to be no cooking or cleaning up during this time and knowing that this unusually hot weather (no matter how strange) in Canada should not be taken for granted, I didn’t want to spend all my time at home. The confirmation that I had to get out and do something came from my reflection in the mirror while brushing my teeth. I was checking out the mop of curls atop my head (no hair appointments during covid), and looking at the transformation my hair has been undergoing. In my case, dark strands are turning red and over time, red to yellow before settling into a permanent state of white. Unlike my face, my hair isn’t deceiving when it comes to my age and nothing says get out and utilize your time like graying hair. I got in line with a parade of SUV’s at Starbucks and treated myself to a fancy coffee; went back home, changed and threw my paddle board gear and my stuff (wallet, phone, water bottle, comb, towel and a cotton slip-on dress) in the car and headed for the beach. Listening to lyrics being belted out by Amy Lee and other thought inspiring music streaming via Bluetooth, I was really inside my head, watching the road, of course, but thoughts a million miles away. When I have downtime from work and my family I spend a lot of time thinking deeply about my life, the world and my place in it. Like everything else over the years, in moments like these I recognize how much the deep thinking has changed. I remember times of solitude whether I was driving or just sitting on the deck, my thoughts would would classify more as worry or concern …concern over my autistic child’s future, concern for my other child, my husband, my parents, my marriage, my ever changing ways of making a living…it was all based on concern and problem solving. Now, at 54, I’m in the roller coaster carriage going up the last couple not-so-steep inclines of the ride of life and my deep thoughts bring a smile to my face and peace to my soul. This is the we’ve-made-it-through-the-toughest-times incline and it is the one where we get to experience and truly appreciate the things that make us feel love, happiness and gratitude and although everything that goes up must come down and I know there will be loss and sadness to bear, the ride will plateau and eventually come to an end. If it ends with me feeling the way I feel now, then I would have succeeded in truly living.

As I drove through the county’s winding road to my destination, I appreciated the gift this region was to me and my family. I have never warmed to the town we settled in after having lived in some of Canada’s most fabulous cities. I have never understood or accepted the cliquish and rather frivolous nature of the people who were born and bred here but I’ve learned to live my life in this small place while keeping the small minded at arm’s length. The county is home to some of the best vineyards in the country and best stretches of beach front, cosy coves, inlets of Lake Ontario. Being from the Caribbean, the Provincial Parks in my area draw me to their shallow clear waters and white sands. It feeds my passion to play in the water and hear the shushing of waves as I’d done in mychildhood, albeit without that briny taste of the ocean so dear to me. This piece of perfect real estate is one of the reasons I am able to continue living here. 

In spite of the grey skies and spotty showers, the colours of the vegetation along the way were vibrant and lush and I could see that there was no turbulance on the water in spite of the rain. The water was flat and almost motionless like a sheet of glass and the beaches were not crowded but they weren’t deserted either. It seemed, like me, people were intent on having their day at the beach in spite of the weather. Some people took shelter from the rain grilling their food under pop up tents or canopies while others were enjoying being in the warm water, being baptised by the rain.

I inflated my board and paddled out into serenity, my oar slicing through the water, the sound of tiny ripples overiding the ambiance of music, people chatting and kids playing. It didn’t matter that the drizzle had turned into a shower. It was peaceful and where I needed to be. Not having much experience as a paddle boarder, the initial tense legs and overly engaged core were now relaxed and I was looking ahead at the scenery and not at the water. I thought about the last seventeen months of this global pandemic and what it had done to the world. I thought of all the suffering and death it caused and while I recognize and acknowledge our privilege and good luck, I thought of what it did to my sons. I thought of how their goals screeched to a halt, shattering everything they were planning to do post high school. My sons are on the brink of independent adulthood and 2020 was supposed to be the year that bore the fruits of their labour. But, instead, like everyone,they had to wait and wait and wait some more. They had to find ways to stay motivated and positive and the toll it took on both their mental well-being was overwhelming, especially for my autistic son. And then came change. Some much needed relief in the form of vaccines. Now fully vaccinated, we can do a bit more. We can gather with a select few and we can be outdoors and we can get a taste of the daily life we took for greanted. Two strokes to the left, two to the right I’d covered a decent distance from my spot on the beach. “We did it,” I thought and a smile came to my face. We made it through the toughest sixteen months of our lifetime; especially my sons, especially Adam. We followed the protocol, we kept our distance from everyone outside our family and we found a way to make the lockdowns worthwhile. Those were the good days. I taught the boys how to cook, their father showed them their way around power tools and home renos, they studied, they trained and we all stayed healthy. And then there were the difficult days, especially for Adam. After all those the days when his inability to communicate what was bothering him resulted in destruction and pain, just like the rest of us, he made it through. One stroke on the right, one on the left, I kept paddling and I felt my shoulders drop and the tightness disappear and in that instant I realized that we’re all okay and everything with everyone I love was as it should be.

The pandemic is not over and it will be a while before we have a handle on Covid 19. There is a lot going on in the world along with Covid 19 and it’s repercussions. The climate has changed and the west of our country is burning, while tornados touch down in South West Ontario and Northern Ontario is on fire too. Greece is burning. Germany is flooding. California is burning again and it is easy to think that our planet is just going to turn to ash one day, but in that moment, as I paddled, I was able to unleash it all and let it go. And I felt it leave me too. You see, I might not be able to change the world, but I can do my part; I can do my best to not add to the problems that plague our world. There is still a lot of good and a lot of beauty to behold and therefore, there is hope in spite of all our problems. 

One stroke to the right, one to the left, over and over and over until I felt like I was floating on a cloud rather than on water. I thought of the love of my life and our love that has deepened over the years and how much more I love him each and every day in ways I never knew existed. Paddle left. Paddle right. Love, like life,has evolved. Love is easy, always available and is uncomplicated at my age. Marriage, like me on my board, floats, bobbing over ripples easily. Marriage, is friendship, comfort and well…its home, welcoming me with open arms everytime and it’s where I want to be. Children are grown and starting their adult lives and we are starting a new chapter together that still includes and cares about our boys, but is mainly focused on us and the time we will spend together until one of us leaves this life.

Like a loud noise, or a flash of lightening, a jet ski’s motor and heavy wake disrupted my peaceful thoughts. My board bobbed and wobbled on the waves and I lost my balance and plunged into the water as did two screaming little girls from a paddle board about 80 metres away. Beginners all, the sudden waves made it difficult to pull ourselves back onto our boards. The more I tried, the more my legs bobbed and kicked the more tangled my leash became in the tall weeds. A strong swimmer, even with a life jacket, I grew tired. I stopped. I took a breath. What was the plan? Looking into the water, I could barely see my foot. Reaching down I tried to remove the velcro ankle cuff. What a bitch that was! Who knew weeds were that thick and strong? Third time was the charm. With my foot free, I tried to mount the board again, but when I pushed my weight onto it, the tail of the board would sink because the leash tethered it so strongly onto the weeds. I was tired. I was done with this shit. I reached up and unhooked the leash from the board and glided towards the shore. I glanced over at the kids whose father had come into the water to detangle their leash from the weeds and bring them to shore. They left their leash behind too but they were safe. I hoisted myself onto the board and lay face up. A big breath released the tiredness and frustration of dealing with the weeds. I was unleashed. I was free. So, I lost a thirty dollar leash. Whatever. It was holding me back. Binding me to disgusting, prickly, slimy, octopus- arm-like weeds. Weighing me down. I remember my cousin Nicole would say, “just free it, Danie. Free it” and I did and everything was so much better. 

Unravelled

Crocheting. After 21 years, it is back in my life, every stitch unhooking my mind from things that weigh me down in a day. Hook in right hand, yarn in left I am on automatic, chain linking, waffle stitching, blanket stitching and cross stitching, every fragment of my life back together in the hopes of making something great…something comfortable that makes others smile. Hoping to make something of a story with this life of ours that will result in something beautiful.

Photo: Daniella Barsotti

I have so many things I want to make with this yarn and hook of mine. Things that I hope will bring joy to someone else. I hope these ideas blossom into cherished items that people could look upon from time to time and remember I made it for them out of love and the best of intentions. And while creating to give is the goal, selfishly I yearn for that rhythmic, peaceful mindlessness that accompanies this craft that my younger self snickered at as being very “Carmencita and Mrs Ramirez”, aka an old lady thing. Hmm…from time to time I think youth is really wasted on the young and while I would give anything for the eyesight of my teens and twenties, I doubt that I would have had the patience for crocheting as a young person. While it is easy to learn, there is so much that can go wrong, oftentimes only revealing itself the further you get into the project. When I was young if I invested a great deal of time in something, I would only be satisfied with a positive result. Wasting time was not an option for my younger self and I would have quit rather than restart a project. For me it would have been perfection or bust. When I started crocheting at 32, I was filled with joy because I was pregnant with all the time in the world to crochet for my baby. I was happy to take all the steps necessary and I was open to making mistakes and learning from them because I wanted to make something special for my child. I made blankets, a scarf for my husband and even a little jacket and hat for my baby to wear as a matching set. Love and hope fuelled me from one project to the next and it was blissful. I put down the yarn and hook the summer after my 35th birthday. Life happened and I needed both hands and a focused mind and then the second sweet baby came, and I only happened upon my crochet tools when I was searching for something or cleaning something, always vowing to get back to it. And now I am back, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

To me crocheting is the one craft that gives you infinite chances to redeem yourself. Since my epiphany to make a hockey-watching blanket for two, I have made so many mistakes. The first mistake was at 6 feet by 2feet in when I realized I could not talk myself into thinking that I could straighten my twisting blanket. The stitches were too tight and so, after 3 weeks of work, I pulled the working yarn and unravelled it to the very first chain stitch and started again with a plan – make 12 to 14 large squares, each a little different in pattern from the next and join them together to form one big blanket for two. I am re-learning how to do this craft and I am prepared to unravel and re-do and re-work a piece because I know I have undertaken a big project that I want to see through and while this blanket for two is going to be perfectly imperfect that’s okay because it will keep my husband and me warm as we sit together watching the sport we love. It will connect us and make us happy and it will have a purpose in our lives. It just has to be good enough for us to become part of our story.

Crocheting is a timely metaphor for what is happening in my older son’s life during this pandemic. Adam is my big 6ft 2-inch blanket for two. He is a cumbersome project that would cause even the most skilled crochetier to flounder and quit. He is a beloved project that is never-ending with facets of his personality and behavior that is greater than me and everyone involved with him. He takes time, patience, hopefulness, tolerance and acceptance that can only be fuelled by deep and endless love. He requires perseverance, energy, strength, resilience and did I mention time…lots and lots of time along with an abundance of creativity and an ability to have short- and long-term foresight. If I let him, my son Adam can be a life-long project and I find myself wondering if that is best for either of us and if tying off the yarn and ending the project no matter what it looks like is what I need to do.

But I can’t give up. It’s Adam. He has always been my big, complex project. With all the success and all the mistakes I’ve made raising him and all the tears of sadness and joy I have shed over him, I am far too invested now to walk away from him, as this thing that is inside him scorches us with its fiery breath. Helping him battle this demon means advocating for him behind the scenes, I am still, on the daily, intertwined in his intricate life; still designing a platform from which he can successfully launch …. again.  I’ve stitched his world together before and it has unravelled before, but not like this. As my son reacts to the isolating restrictions of a poorly handled pandemic, his mind sinks deeper into what I see as a sort of unique madness. Nothing in his world makes sense to him, yet he can remember all the steps required to physically navigate our topsy turvy world – this world in which I promised to meet him halfway if he would just trust me, take my hand and allow himself to be a part of what it had to offer. The world has unravelled, and he is barely hanging on to its frayed ends. Confused and desperate to control the things that are happening in his life, he stitches his day together with pain, sadness, and anger. But medication, like yarn is forgiving. I am forgiving. I understand his mental illness more than ever. Autism, the most miniscule of Adam’s issues at the moment, is a neurological condition with attached comorbidities like depression, anxiety, OCD, ODD and or personality or mood disorders and distinguishing among them all to try and treat them is like trying to diffuse a bomb with a blindfold on.

 Nothing that has happened, nothing that he has done is Adam’s fault. Not his father’s, not his brother’s and though as the vessel that carried him and nurtured him, I want to blame myself, it is not my fault either. And so, I roll the unravelled tentacles of yarn back into a ball and I twist its frayed ends between damp fingertips so that it can be functional again – so that it can be manoeuvred through the fingers of my left hand and be known as work again, and hooked and linked whole by my right. This blanket for two meant for his father and me is symbolic of my unravelled son and his frayed nerves. Like the blanket, putting him back together will take time. Some days there will be great progress and there will be days where chunks will be unravelled and I will have to step away, re-group and start linking them together again, perhaps with a less fancy stitch. I have learned that the most basic of stitches are the strongest especially when you are working on a big project and once it starts coming together you see that often; they are the most beautiful. Simplicity equals purity and there is nothing more beautiful than the purest version of anything. I have crocheted eight 20 by 20 inch perfectly imperfect squares of red and white, each slightly different from the next. I have eight more to go and it could take me days, weeks or maybe even months, but I know by the end of the year, as much as I will unravel and re-work this big blanket for two, I will be able to count on the integrity of the yarn the way I count on Adam’s integrity and he counts on ours, and that of his support team. And once every fibre is stitched into place and my project becomes the blanket I envision; I will wrap it around his father and me the way we wrap our love around our son.

It will take a long time for my son to crochet his life together –much longer than it took to unravel and longer than it did the last time he came apart. But we have crocheted before and we have more experience this time and we know to expect the unexpected. We have learned that every project is different and not every stitch is the right one and that the most intricate ones take the most time and patience. There are days when I work on this blanket, I go for the most complicated stitch because I know if I am in the right mindset …if I work slowly and carefully, I can create not just a beautiful square but one with a pattern so unique, that it will be outstanding … that square will be the one that ties all the perfectly imperfect ones together. And so, I retire to my comfortable spot with my yarn and hook, so close and yet so far from my son. I designed the plan; I picked the players, and he is in the best possible hands. Over time, the effects of the pandemic will wane, and the world will be able to offer my son what it once did – his life as he knew and loved it along with all his expectations of entering adulthood. Holes will be filled and patched, walls will be rebuilt, and the sun will rise and cast aside dark clouds. He will find the balance between moving towards independence and the kind of relationship he wants with us. Twenty-one is as good a time as any to rebuild one’s life and I will simultaneously stitch this blanket together while I wait and watch in hope. My son wants and needs the space and time to find peace and wade his way through this swampy depression that is trying to drown him. I cannot be with my son physically, but I am with him in spirit and I hug him with my heart and because he dwells in my mind, I feel like I am there with him for every leap and stumble along the path to healing. I’m here…we are all here. We are his family and as long as there is breath in our bodies, we aren’t going anywhere.  And so, I sit and I crochet, stitch by stitch, every fibre… waiting, hoping and loving until he feels whole and ready to be held by us again.

Photo: Daniella Barsotti