I am driving across the Mission bridge in Calgary in my little red Mazda 323 with the sunroof open and a fresh diet Coke in the console, heading toward my house on Elbow Drive which I share with a revolving roster of colourful roommates (woah, that’s a mouthful of alliteration). I am 25 and I have been out of law school for nearly a year and it’s recession and I can’t say that life is good, but it has these clean lovely moments and this is one of them, where the sun is pouring through the roof and the spring air is hanging in my hair and the window is open – when I see IT. I am the only car on the bridge. I think it is a leaf, skidding, a fall leaf that has been churned up from beneath a skiff of spring snow, dried in the warmth of new light and I follow its trajectory, whisked along by the breeze, and I am glancing up when it registers that this motion is NOT actually a whisking but a teeny tiny run, by a teeny tiny pair of legs, attached to a teeny tiny duckling. At this time in my life I am certain that I will never have children because the world is too scary and I feel kinda damaged myself and I think there won’t be a way to mother without passing on the damage, BUT the unborn mother in me, the one who needs just one person to see her strength and beauty so she can give herself permission to exist, slams the car into park, throws open the door and leaps into the street, grabbing without pause the empty laundry basket that has lived for a solid month in the back seat. Her mind is fast firing, because she has watched some kind of nature story where animal mothers eat their young if they smell human scent on them, yet cars are advancing and there will be ZERO opportunity for this itty bitty critter to fend off zombie duck Mommy if she doesn’t get off the fucking road, and so she – my inner mother, grabs the tea towel from the basket – why is there a tea towel you ask? Well because some divinity must have known that today innocence was under siege by thousands of pounds of advancing rubber and steel and only one woman, with no cape and no bullet deflecting wrist bands, was expected to SAVE, the DAY. So, she (me, I) grab the tea towel and oh sooooo gingerly scoop up teeny tiny duckling and place her (I want her to be a girl but who can say) in the vast sky blue of the basket, and drive, all TEN blocks, a good ten kilometers per hour slower than the playground zone speed on Elbow Drive until I reach home. Now people, I have to go inside to make a call to the animal rescue foundation organization thingy, because we do not have cell phones back in the DARK AGES, of 1994. And the animal rescue org thingy (AROT), tells me that I will have to foster the duckling for the night, because they are not open until the next day. It is a holiday Monday. Victoria Day, if I have it right. They tell me, the professionals, to put the ducky in a cat cage if I can find one, on a towel to make it soft, and to ALSO place a towel over the cat cage to create a dark environment, which, according to them – and they are kind and well intentioned and all of that- will protect the ducky from FEAR. Then they want me to basically just leave her there.
Okay. Well damn it all to hell if I don’t want to do right by this ducky. I get the towel. I get the cage. I set up the cage. I place the ducky with all the ever loving care, into the little cage. I cover it. I put her in a safe space inside the washroom, and then WARN everyone not to go near her. I have ONE JOB, and it is to get her to the Open for Biz hours of AROT. I close the bathroom door.
I don’t like it.
I do not like it, one teeny tiny, itty bitty duckling bit.
I want to scoop her up. I want to hold her in my lap on something fluffy. I want to sleep, sitting up, standing vigil over her heart-squeezing delicate innocence hand crafted by the evil genius of cuteness himself.
But they said.
They told me.
They had degrees.
I don’t want to fuck it up.
It is a long night. A long, long night.
A long, long heroic night.
And then it is morning and still bleary-eyed and without bearings I see my sister’s face. She sits down in front of me and her voice is strangled. Telling me that she, my itty bitty duckling, did not make it. Seems that she had tried to get out, and broken her neck. It is flopped over.
And something comes unglued in me. Unglued.
This image of her suffering and alone and afraid takes siege in my brain. Afraid to death.
It goes on for hours.
I can not stop.
My sister is assembling an army in her heart, that can somehow stand guard around mine, and keep the unmitigated suffering at bay. She wants to scoop me into a basket and whisk me away to somewhere safer. Somewhere where bleeding hearts aren’t in danger of bleeding to death.
I apologize for the saccharine. To the eye rolling bullying world that gags on my sentiment.
She buries my little bird. In the back yard. With tenderness and ceremony.
I wake up. The next morning. Someone is angrily washing the dishes. Someone is smoking pot and playing guitar. Someone is dancing. I have not perished from my grief. But it has clawed open my chest. The sunlight through the sliding glass windows alarms me with its irreverence.
I am made of lead and translucence.
And half way through the swampy, sodden, salt soaked day, I finally look. I look into the cage inside of me, where innocence has flailed in despair and broken.
I look at the mother who has risen up and then smashed through a plate of glass.
I am the duck. End of poem.
I am the duck. I could not save myself.
I look around me at my house of “misfits”. I have a terminally ill boyfriend who has suffered horrific abuse as a child, an 18 year old addict who found her mother dead at 13, a dear friend who had been abused and whose mother had attempted to kill her as a child, a young woman with an eating disorder whose abuse has caused her brain damage and violent tendencies…
And I have been wrapping them up, taking care of them, holding them close, tending to their wounds.
While mine gape.
I have been looking for the tragic heroes and heroines.
Because my suffering, is not enough.
It is not ten on the Richter scale.
It is not newsworthy.
It is not causing a buzz in the local talk show circuit.
It never is. Even when it is.
Someone else always has it worse.
You ungrateful fool.
You fool to feel.
I have been trying to get to her. My teeny tiny, itty bitty dying little girl duck. My glamourous damsel on the train tracks.
My tragic heroine.
But the problem is, that suffering lies. It calls you a fool for your pain.
It wants a red carpet, or five star movie. And then that won’t be enough. It won’t be enough because you are ashamed. As I was ashamed. I wanted to save the truly worthy. The truly tragic.
But I needed to save myself.
I needed to say, Hey, little girl. I’ve got you. I’m so sorry that it happened. It was not okay. But it is okay that you hurt. I’ve got you.
And so I finally did.
I did, one teeny tiny, itty bitty, duckling footstep at a time.
I put her in my skirts, and held her close. I let her feel warmth and love. I never left her in the dark, alone, again.
And when I was rescued – when the itty bitty duckling soul flew up…
Well, so were you, my friend. So were you.
Blessings to you,
— Love, Erin.