Monday, February 16, 2009

True Grit on the Lime Green Hills

Lime coloured velet reminds me of road trips with my dad. It's the colour of the spring hills around Merritt when the summer scorned grass is reborn under the winter snow. It's a strange green. Not rich and full, like the peel of a lime, more like a watered down version of colour inside. From the road it looks like a soft fuzz covering the face of the smooth sandy hills. A five o'clock shadow that hides the violence of spring. For me it's a sad color. The grass is rooted in the same place, waiting for the cycle to end. A lot like my dad.

To the casual observer, our trips from Richmond to Merritt were simple father daughters adventures away from home. We'd drive through the Fraser Canyon, listening to the same four eight-tracks while counting the number of tunnels cut through the mountain walls. I'd always be thrilled when we went through the two tunnels built in 1964 tunnels - my tunnels. We'd stopped at the King Charles hotel in Boston Bar for a little snack. Then around Lytton, I'd begin to get sick. I knew the road through Spences Bridge was coming up. It was windy and wicked. I'd look for the green in the hills, while the car wretched around the sharp angled corners. I'd fix my eyes on the lone pine tree on the top of the mountain horizon. The road's trechery, lay, not only the curves, but in the memories it envoked for my dad.

Now my Dad wasn't really much of a talker. Occassionally, he'd break the silence of our trip with a botany lesson, "Those trees are called Pondersora pines." My six-year old mind would drift and dream about a life as a cowgirl. We'd live on a ranch down by the Nicola river. Our ranch would be just like the Pondersora on the tv show Bonanza. We'd ride horses, round up cattle and have bonfires at night. Dad would russel me up a husband - my own Little Joe. We'd get hitched right there. Dad, Little Joe and I would live happily ever after.

"You know Kelly, when I was young, I wanted nothing more than to just drive off the edge of these roads. I was always so depressed. It would be so easy to kill myself that way. No one would suspect it was suicide," he spoke the words so wistfully, as if it was a cherised dream that had been lost to him a long time ago.

I had no idea what to say so I stayed silent. Stunned from my ponderosa daydreams, somewhere in a small part of me I knew this was important. It was important because the conversation would be repeated over the next several years, in fact, several times per year of the course of my father's life. Years later, a series of therapists would tell me it was emotional abuse, a purposeful crossing of parental boundaries to control and manipulate me, but my young spirit sensed he just needed someone to talk to. Not that it didn't fuck me up though.

"Of course, I wouldn't do it today. I have too many responsibilities."

That was it. His woeful remarks hung around in my head. I turned the air conditioning vents towards my face to distract me. I looked for the spring green and fixed my eyes on the high mountain horizons. Somewhere between the gusts from the vents and the slow moving edge of the mountains, I understood that this was our secret. Something I wasn't supposed to mention to mom or anyone else for that matter. He never told me to kept quiet but I knew I was to carry this alone.

"You know, some of these trees are over 100 years old," he continued.

"One hundred years old huh?" I absently replied. I wondered if the pines would remembered me. Afterall, if they had been standing in one place for so long, they must have seen me at one time. A little face staring out the window trying hard to understand what was going on. Did they witness what just happened? Did they hear what he just said? Did they know dad back then? When he was so sad? Would they have stopped him if he did try? Will they stop him if it tries it now?

On those trips, I learned how to cry without anyone knowing. My left eye could leak tears that he couldn't see from the driver's side. I'd sit with the air conditioner blowing at my face until my cheeks became ice cold. It was almost as if I was trying to freeze the tears on my face as a way to freeze the feelings inside. Overwhelmed by such a dramatic turn in conversation I tried to still my fears all the while trying to find the words of adult compassion from my child mind.

These days when we drive through the arid, lime green hills, I think back on my dad. Actually, he's two people to me now, my dad and my father. My dad remains in my heart, as all little girls do, a perfect icon of love but my father is the man who struggled and lost his will to keep living. On the trip through Merritt on my way to his funeral, I remember the little cowgirl dreams. My tears fell, down one check, hidden from the view of others while mourned in thier own way.

At his funeral I realized I wanted my dad to be John Wayne. The guy in True Grit who threw a sick and hurting Kim Black across the back of her small black pony and galloped her to safety. Reins in teeth, firing pistols at all the bad guys and hurtling forward in an effort to save my life. Instead, he was just a man, who didn't really want to live his life. He met his obligations, loved his family the best he could, but remained wounded and hurting in his own inner world.

If the roles could have been reversed, I would have glady slung him across the back of my pony and rode him to safety. However, I never did get a pony for Christmas, my dad never was John Wayne but I still have the lime green hills of Merritt to remind me of the spirit of life, the energy of rebirth and hopes of little cowgirl.