After Jacob Broady is arrested and charged with domestic assault, assault causing bodily harm and rape, his world is irrevocably changed. Three days later, his mother is hospitalized after fracturing her ankle. Forced to move in with her eldest son, both Jacob and his brother Bobby become full-time caregivers over the time it takes for their 70-year-old mother to walk again. Throughout this all, Jacob must begin preparing his legal defence even as he struggles to come to grips with how a love so potent could devolve into sheer chaos and destruction.
A passionate tale of suffering and deception, The Healing Room is an unflinching look at the challenges we face when learning to stand again and the courage required to forgive in the wake of devastation. For Jacob and his family, their journey together is ultimately about the cycle of physical and spiritual restoration, and regaining that part of ourselves we lose while in the midst of overwhelming adversity.
The Healing Room
I was drinking a glass of water at the breakfast bar in the kitchen when the knock came. Ashley was sitting in the living room, listening to a City and Colour song, a glass of wine in hand. I’d called the police twenty minutes earlier and asked them to escort Ashley out of my place; she’d refused to leave for two straight days and return home to her husband.
The cops asked if they could come inside. I said that was fine. There was one male officer and one female officer. The woman immediately walked towards Ashley.
“Where did you get those bruises?” the female cop asked Ashley. “Were you assaulted?”
“Who, me?” Ashley replied, seemingly confused. “No.”
“You’ve got defensive wounds.”
The officers talked quietly for a few seconds, as if exchanging secrets. Then the male cop turned to me and said, “Sir, can I ask you to step out of the apartment?”
I did as I was told. While we waited in the hallway, me not sure exactly what was going on, neither one of us said a thing. What seemed a fairly straightforward request was quickly turning into something that left an uneasy current charging through my veins.
When we returned inside, the two officers conferred once more. The male officer then asked me to step outside again, but this time he wasn’t quite as polite.
“You had something you needed to prove in there?” he said in the hallway, catching me off guard.
He was a few inches taller than me and many pounds heavier. He was also about ten years younger and in excellent shape.
Two dark pools of virulence narrowed.
“That’s a nasty cut she has on her head.”
That’s when it dawned on me: the night before; Ashley’s seizure; the cut at the back of her head; the blood I’d had to clean up. Surely this would all be cleared up when Ashley explained that she’d had a seizure, though. Except as an epileptic, by definition, she had no memory of her seizure and was probably—now that I thought about it—too high to remember me telling her what happened before we went to bed.
We reentered my apartment unit a moment later and the police officers looked at each other. Ashley was nowhere to be seen. Presumably she was in the bedroom.
“Sir, would you turn around and place your hands behind your back,” the guy said.
I looked at him for a second, unblinking and disbelieving, before he repeated what he just said, this time with less formality and more irritancy.
“Sir. Turn around. Hands behind your back.”
The handcuffs uncomfortably tight around my wrists, the last thing I recall hearing while being led out of my place were the dying lyrics to the song still playing on my docking station in the living room:
And I will blame myself
And I will blame myself
For holding on to what I hoped
Would keep you by my side
I will blame myself.
Whatever Ashley told the police got me arrested and led out of my apartment building in handcuffs, humiliated as I passed building residents, head bowed in shame, my life now on the precipice of a necropolis-like cliff, an impending storm beating a warpath from a not-so-distant horizon.
There are certain moments emblazoned in your memory that never leave you. They became entwined into the very fabric of your soul, your heart, your being. You obsess about them when they first happen, but even when the initial euphoria or shock dissipates, they’re stitched into your DNA, so much so that when someone asks about the event years later, you don’t blink when you say, On such-and-such a day, my world changed. You don’t need to think about the question. The day and month and year come to you at the speed of light.
For me, I have two dates that will never leave the forefront of my mind. One is March 15. The other is March 18, the day my seventy-year-old mother shattered her ankle. I was at work when she phoned. It was late in the afternoon and I was looking forward to going for a jog when I got home.
“Sweet lamb, I don’t mean to be a pest, but your mother’s made a boo-boo.” My mother had a naturally high voice, but the pitch to her “boo-boo” was high even by her standards and an immediate red flag.
“What happened?” I asked, closing the case file I’d been working on and furrowing my brow.
“I went over on my foot.” There was a short pause. “And I can’t move.”
Alarmed, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
“What do you mean you can’t move? Are you at home?”
“Well, sort of. I was walking down the stairs, you know, out of my unit, and went right over on my foot near the bottom. It’s a mess, Jacob.”
“Where exactly are you phoning me from?” My mother didn’t own a cell phone, a computer, a TV, a microwave, a DVD player or a computer. The only objects she possessed that had been invented in the last century were a radio, a fridge and an electric stove; Explorer was someone who went in search of far-off lands; Safari was something you did in Africa; Firefox was an animal that had flames licking at its fur.
“I’m out in the hallway, sitting on the floor and using Martha’s doohickey.”
“Her cell phone?”
“That’s the one. Bless her heart because nobody else here has stopped to help. Everyone’s been rubbernecking as they pass me. They’re all a bunch of doubting Thomasinas if you ask me, like I’m sitting here on the floor for my own good.”
“How bad are we talking?” I ran a hand through my hair and knew my workday was over.
“I think I need to go to the hospital.”
“Don’t move, Mum. I’ll be right there.”
I flew out the door of the insurance building, hailed a cab and was down at my mother’s place in less than fifteen minutes. While punching in her buzzer code, I realized she’d have no way to let me in, so waited until someone walked out and then went straight to the fifth floor, where my mother was sitting on the floor, talking to another woman around her age.
“I’m sorry for dragging you down here, honey.”
“Mum,” I said, greeting the other woman with a nod before turning back to my mother and adding, “who else were you going to call?” My father had died thirteen years ago, my brother lived in Seoul and my sister lived in Ottawa. Her only sibling, an estranged brother whom she hadn’t talked to in eons, was in Rougement, Quebec. “What exactly happened?” I asked.
“By the way, Martha, this is my son Jacob, the apple of his mother’s eye. Jacob, this is my very kind and gracious neighbor, Martha Raymond,” Mum said in her best Abigail Van Buren voice. Even now, marooned on the floor and in obvious pain, she put aside her own medical issue to make the proper introductions.
“Thanks for letting my mother use your phone,” I said to Martha.
I pulled out my own “doohickey” and called 911 for an ambulance, the second time in four days I’d called that damn number. When the two female paramedics arrived, one tended to Mum’s foot while the other stood beside me.
“It’s all right,” my mother said in obvious discomfort as the paramedics tried to get her onto the collapsible gurney.
“Do you need any help?” I asked. Although no one said it out loud, the truth was that my mother wasn’t quite the same lithe nightingale she once was. Ever since my father’s death, she’d developed a particular adoration for chocolate and sweets.
The EMS technicians waved me off.
“Do you mind if we go to St. Mike’s?” my mother asked the paramedics as they wheeled her towards the elevator. Mum had two great fears in life, hospitals and technology, and St. Michael’s was the one hospital she felt relatively at ease with, as it was where she had most of her medical tests done over the years. Taking her somewhere else ran the risk of removing Mum from her comfort zone and unleashing great fear.
“We can certainly check if they can take us,” one of them replied.
This is not happening, I thought. St. Mike’s was where Bruis, the same guy Ashley had cheated on me and her husband with, worked as a surgeon. I silently prayed they’d be too busy tonight and we’d be diverted to another hospital.
When we were all inside the ambulance, the driver confirmed we could go to St. Mike’s. I closed my eyes and sighed. Upon arriving at the hospital, the paramedics were angels to my mother, ministering to her every need as they transported her from the ambulance gurney to a hospital one. I went to reception with her health card to sign her in. By the time I returned to her side, she was already crying. Ever since her dream of running a flower shop literally went up in flames she’d become an emotional wreck and would weep at the drop of a hat. Before that awful day eight years ago—even at my father’s funeral five years prior—she’d been a fortress of strength, and to the best of my knowledge had never shed a tear in public. As I was quickly learning since my arrest, when your world is turned upside down and you lose the object of your love, it’s like a splitting of the soul, the other half gone forever.
“It’s okay,” I whispered. Doctors, nurses and patients constantly zipped by us in the hallway. “They said someone will be with you right away.”
Truthfully, I didn’t know if that would be the case, as the receptionist had merely told me someone would be with us “soon.”
“I really made a boo-boo of my ankle, didn’t I?” my mother said through a stream of tears. “I feel so, so, so…ferhoodled.”
I grinned. “Hey, now. It’s going to be fine. I’m sure you just sprained it or something.” She looked up at me, her pale blue eyes replete with fright. “I mean it. It’s probably nothing. Here,” I continued, reaching for her purse. “Do you have any Kleenex in here?”
She searched through it with shaky hands and removed a small pack of No Name tissues. I removed one and dabbed at her eyes.
“Hi,” a young guy in scrubs said as he approached us. “I’m Dr. Vance. Are you Abigail Broady?”
“Yes, but everyone calls me Gail.”
“Okay, Gail. We’re going to wheel you in around back and have someone take a look at you.”
“Thank you,” I said, looking down at my mother to see if she was still crying. The tears, at least for now, had stopped.
In the back, there were six patients, five of whom were on gurneys and in separate “berths,” each of which was separated by a sheet. One of the patients was seated at the nurses’ station and talking to himself.
While we waited for a doctor, I started jonesing for a dube. I usually didn’t smoke during the day, but the stress of this situation was killing me. I had one in my jacket, but when my mother reached for my hand and asked if I wouldn’t mind holding it, I knew there was no chance I could sneak outside for a quick puff.
Just then, the guy directly beside us started flying off the rails. From the sound of his voice, he was old, and all he kept saying was, “I’m going to die! I’m going to die!” He wouldn’t shut up. Occasionally, a nurse would step in to see him and laugh, telling him that he wasn’t going to die. To me he was an annoyance; to my mother he was another source of fear. She squeezed my hand each time he said he was going to die and looked at me, as if wondering Is he really going to die?
At one point, the autistic guy started getting weird and flipping out a little. He’d reach for the phone or a pen or a piece of paper and hold it in the air, like each one was a trophy. As the nurses scrambled to deal with him, two cops entered the area with a guy in handcuffs and a bloody head.
“I’m going to die! I’m going to die!” rang out beside us. The place was turning into a zoo and reminded me of the night I’d spent in a holding cell just a few days ago.
My mother squeezed my hand for the umpteenth time, tears on the verge of falling down her cheeks. I stood up, brushed some white hair off to the side carefully and kissed her on the forehead.
“You’re going to be fine, Mum. I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
Forty-five minutes later a doctor traipsed in and asked my mother how this had happened. Had she blacked out or experienced any pain in the head? My mother replied in the negative to both questions. Then he removed the dressing over the ankle and examined her foot. That’s when I noticed how immaculate her toenails were; she must have had a pedicure recently, I thought. She might not have had a lot of disposable income, but she was adamant about her monthly mani/pedi sessions. Ever since Bobby had moved to Korea, she’d tracked down a nail salon in Koreatown and would regale them with stories of Bobby and his fluency in the language once a month. I’d picked her up a few times from the place and, without fail, would walk into the room and hear our mother saying the same thing: “No! You should hear him! He’s a native!”
“Can you feel this?” the doctor said, placing a hand on the bottom of her foot.
“How about this?” he went on, moving his hand slightly.
“And how about—”
“Owww!” My mother started tearing up again.
“It’s okay,” I said calmly, squeezing her hand.
“Okey-dokey,” the doctor concluded. He stood up and told us he wanted to take some x-rays of my mother’s ankle. A technician came over a little bit later and wheeled her into the x-ray room, telling me I couldn’t stay in the room with her.
“How long is this going to take?” I asked.
“About ten or fifteen minutes.”
I said a silent thank you because this would give me a chance to pop out for a quick smoke and make a phone call.
“You’ll be waiting for me when I get out?” my mother asked as the man prepped her for the x-rays.
“With bells on.”
Outside, the street was empty except for one guy sitting with his back up against the hospital wall. He looked pretty out of it, so I pulled out a joint from my coat pocket and lit up. I took a couple of solid hauls and then called Bobby. I looked at my watch and calculated the time difference quickly; it’d be 8:30 a.m. in Seoul right now.
My brother and I had only talked a couple of times since his marriage half a year ago. The marriage I missed. The absence Bobby would never forgive me for. The event I didn’t go to because of Ashley. I’d phoned him as high as a kite after he returned from his honeymoon and he reciprocated the call a couple of months ago when he was so bombed I doubt he remembered talking to me. That was the extent of our communication over the last six months, which was shocking when you consider we’d been best friends up until the wedding.
Bobby didn’t answer on the first try. Not a big surprise considering he worked as a freelance translator and never liked waking up early in the first place. I phoned a second time. Then a third. On the fourth try, he picked up, a groggy voice greeting me with a Yeobosaeyo?
“Bobby, it’s me.”
“Your brother, ass.” I heard the ruffling of bed sheets. “I’m at the hospital with Mum.”
“She wasted her ankle a couple of hours ago. We’re here at St. Mike’s waiting on x-rays.”
“Hold on. Hold on. Give me a second.” I heard the sound of footsteps and then a bottle being popped. “All right. What exactly happened?”
I explained what I knew up to that point.
“How bad does it look?” he asked.
“Her ankle’s a mess. It’s black and blue and swollen and her leg’s all puffy. Listen,” I continued, stubbing the joint out against the wall of the hospital, “I have to run back inside, but I’ll call you as soon as we know more, okay? You going to be home all morning?”
“Good. How’s Eun-hee by the way?”
“She’s fine.” There was an iciness to his answer I hadn’t expected, whether because he still resented me or because of something else was anybody’s guess.
“Okay. I’ll phone you again shortly.”
While we waited for the doctor to return with the x-rays, my mother looked at me the entire time, kind of like a lioness that fears it’s about to be euthanized. I tried to keep the conversation light, asking her what she wanted to eat when we got out tonight, though I had no idea how long we’d be here. I asked what kind of flowers she had around her apartment these days, as she worshipped them in a way that made my love of Mary Jane look like a part-time hobby instead of the addiction I knew it had become.
“Well,” she said, lighting up, “I have the most beautiful orchids in my bedroom. They’re purple and in the most beautiful vase you’ve ever seen. In my kitchen I have a collection of irises, tiger lilies and ranunculus. My place smells like the Hanging Gardens of, ah, you know…”
My mother offered up a heartbreaking smile. “You’ve always been so smart, Jacob. Brightest light on the darkest night.”
I rolled my eyes.
We had two more visits from the same doctor who’d examined my mother’s foot earlier. He explained that she’d shattered her ankle in three places and would require surgery, which would likely be scheduled within the next week, depending on the podiatrist’s schedule.
“We’ll put a cast on it tonight,” the doctor informed us, adding that I couldn’t stay here while they put it on.
“Jacob can’t stay with me?” my mother said in a hollow voice.
“I’m afraid not.”
“Will I be given anything for the pain while you put the cast on?”
“We’ll take good care of you, Mrs. Broady. Don’t you worry.” Dr. Vance flashed Mum the signature “doctor reassurance” smile.
A woman with an Irish accent walked in and started preparing the IV she was going to put in my mother’s arm.
“I’m going to die! I’m going to die!” the old dude beside us said in a scratchy voice.
“Get these fucking handcuffs off me!” the guy who’d been arrested blared from the far corner.
“I need help. I need help. I need help,” the autistic guy kept repeating from the nurses’ station as he rocked back and forth in an attempt to reach for anything on the desk.
When the doctor told me they were about to start putting the cast on, saying my mother would be immobile for at least eight weeks, perhaps longer, I went outside and finished my joint. Then I phoned Bobby.
“What up, guy?” he said, picking up on the second ring.
“Bro, we’ve got a situation.”
The doctor said Mum would either have to be in a wheelchair for a while or, if she could manage it, on crutches. She wouldn’t be able to apply any pressure on her ankle for at least four weeks. He assured me a physiotherapist would come down and work with my mother and take it from there. Apparently they were going to have to implant plates in her ankle, but it could take anywhere from a couple of months to a year before she’d be able to walk properly again. Depending on how well she healed, or if she had osteoporosis, she might not be able to get around normally again in the future.
Alarm bells started going off in my head as I came to the sobering realization that she would to have to move in with me, at least temporarily. Not only would she be immobile and unable to take care of herself, but the lead-up to her apartment had twenty stairs that zigzagged up from the entrance, which is exactly where she’d fractured her ankle. There was simply no chance she’d be able to get into her own place now.
“We need to come up with a plan,” I told Bobby, stubbing out the joint underneath my boot.
“What do you mean?”
“I have to go to work. How the hell am I going to take care of Mum from my office?”
“Take a sick day.”
“We’re not talking a day here, Bobby. We’re talking, like, days or weeks. I don’t know,” I panicked, scratching a head buzzing in THC as I considered a worst-case scenario. “Maybe months?”
“It’s that bad?”
“Bobby, she can’t move. She might be in a bloody wheelchair for all I know.” I stopped, collected myself and then continued. “She can’t do much of anything, really. At least for a while. She’s going to be stuck in one spot all day.”
A pause on his end of the line, the sound of liquid coming out of a bottle as clear as a bell.
“Do we need to hire one of those professional caregivers?” he asked.
It was embarrassing to admit, but at thirty-nine years old I barely had enough money to make ends meet. For her part, our mother lost Dad’s inheritance when a fire broke out at her flower store and her insurance company—my bloody insurance company—wouldn’t pay out because human error was discovered to be the result; Mum’s love of burning incense and candles all the time had come back to haunt her, it would seem.
“We can’t afford that, bro.”
I rubbed the back of my neck and glared down the desolate street. From Bobby’s end of the phone you could hear the sound of more liquid chugging its way out of a bottle.
“Well, I suppose if I used some of my AirMiles points I could help out.”
“You know, fly back for a while, until the fire’s put out, so to speak. Sometimes you’ve got to make the effort when someone in the family needs you.”
That stung, but I was in no position to say anything. Mum needed someone to take care of her, and Bobby was not only the best person to do this, but the only one I could think of right now who could do it for free.
“Work’s slow these days anyway,” he went on.
“And Eun-hee would be okay with that?”
“Yeah,” he said with reluctance. “Anyway, I’ll call you from the airport when I’ve got my ticket.”
“All right I’ll—”
“Bobby?” I paused for a moment and relished the THC running through my system. Dope always made me more sentimental than usual.
“What, guy? Get on with it. I’ve got a plane to catch.”
Warm, fabric softener-scented air flowed down onto me from the hospital’s laundry ducts above and sent tingles up my spine.
Shortly before midnight, Mum and I arrived at my apartment, an older building in the middle of the city with a well-manicured lawn and flowers in a rainbow of colours that were only now starting to come to life again after a harsh winter. I was still high, but more exhausted than anything else. On top of my new reality—a middle-aged man who was about to become a part-time caregiver and have his first roommate since university—I was stressed out about my impending court case; not for one moment since my arrest had it left the forefront of my mind, adding a layer of anxiety I was unaccustomed to, a dread of the unknown akin to a mental noose.
On the ride to my place, my mother looked considerably more relaxed since the cascade of waterworks at the hospital. She stared out the window of the taxi most of the time and would only interminably ask me a question about the city as it whizzed by her. Now that she lived down by the waterfront, she rarely came up as far “north” as midtown.
When we arrived, it wasn’t as difficult to get my mom from the taxi to the elevator of my building as I’d feared. As she gingerly put each crutch forward with self-assured resoluteness, I was reminded of her quiet strength and sense of determination in the face of hardship. After her flower shop burned to the ground, Bobby, Andie and I all thought Mum would return to the near-catatonic state she fell into when our father passed, but my mother surprised us. It was her life’s dream to run her own flower shop, so to see that dream go up in smoke was devastating for her. I think we three kids actually mourned its loss more than our mother did. In a time of great sorrow, she somehow found the courage to be at peace even though a weaker person would be suffocated by guilt at how their mistake had cost them their dream.
As we neared the front door, I placed a hand on the small of her back to reassure her I was still here. She brushed it away softly and in an unflinching voice said, “I can do this, Jacob.” Upstairs, I chastised myself for not cleaning up earlier that morning. It may not have been the kind of bombshell Bobby’s place would look like, but it wasn’t up to my usual standard of cleanliness.
“I’m home!” my mother exclaimed once we were inside and she collapsed on the sofa.
“No, Mum,” I said, carefully moving the crutches from beside her so they wouldn’t be in the way. Then I shuffled around the other side of the couch and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “We’re home.”
She put the palm of a hand on each of my cheeks and welled up, a sad frown adorning her beautiful face. What some women would have done to look so youthful at 70, I thought. Mum had definitely been lucky when it came to the gene lottery.
“What did I ever do to deserve such a perfect boy?”
“Come on. I’ve still got things to do. There’ve been enough tears today.”
She lowered her hands and turned her attention to the coffee table.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” she said in a casual way while reaching for the pack of cigarettes and examining them like moon rock. I’d rolled a doobie that same morning before work and there were flakes of marijuana scattered on the table, along with a pack of rolling papers.
“They’re not mine,” I replied at once, trying to think of some way to deflect this conversation. “They’re Ashley’s.”
“Oh,” she replied, moving a hand down to feel her cast. Ever since the doctors had applied it an hour earlier, she’d been fascinated by it, examining the mold like someone might do while gazing at a rare butterfly. Then, looking at the cigarettes on the table again, she said, “Do you mind if I have one?” Her hands were folded neatly in her lap now and she had a look of innocence to her that reminded me of a child asking a parent for a sweet.
“Just one little ciggie?”
“But you don’t smoke, Mum.”
“I’ll have you know,” she fired back, “I smoked when I first met your father.”
“Yeah, but that was, like, fifty years ago.”
“Well,” she said, looking off to the side. “If that’s how you feel, Jacob.”
The doctor and I had talked privately before we left. I wanted to know the real deal about her condition and not some amped-up version to make the patient feel better. He said my mother was going to need to stay off her feet until the surgery, which had been scheduled five days later, and that she needed lots of rest and lots of support; how she felt emotionally would have a big impact on her recovery.
“Go ahead,” I said, resigned to keeping her happy.
“And do you have a little feu?”
I lit the cigarette, even though I had a no-smoking policy inside the apartment.
“How is Ashley by the way?” she asked through a cloud of smoke, smiling pleasantly as she raised her body up again and looked at me. I was standing at the breakfast bar, drinking a glass of water, my throat dry as all hell, and pretty much the exact place I’d been when the cops came to arrest me. Mum knew I’d been seeing a girl named Ashley Murphy for the last two years. What she didn’t know is that it had been an affair. “She’s well. I talked to her earlier outside the hospital,” I lied, “and she sends her best. Hopes you have a speedy recovery.”
“Oh, isn’t she sweet.”
I turned away. Mum didn’t know we were through, nor did she know about the criminal charges I was up against.
“Right. So,” I went on, “are you hungry? Thirsty? Can I get you anything?” I asked from the kitchen, which was connected to the living room and a just few feet away. I was desperate to get outside on the patio and smoke another joint, my nerves rattled.
“Some peanut butter on toast would be nice.”
“I don’t have any peanut butter.”
“Okay. How about cheese and crackers?”
“That I can do for you.”
As I put together a plate of brie and assorted crackers, my mother leaned back on the couch, “snug as a bug in a rug” as she would say. She held the thing like she was Audrey Hepburn and this was the most natural thing in the world for her. To the best of my knowledge, she hadn’t smoked in forty years, so the whole thing felt surreal.
“This is divine!” Mum said as she puffed away and studied my bookshelves. There was one on each side of the TV stand, which stood directly in front of her. One was lined with fiction, the other non-fiction.
I brought the cheese plate over, placed it on the table and then poured her a glass of white wine. Doctors always tell you never to mix alcohol with medication, but I never really bought into that. I mean, really, could one glass of wine hurt?
She stubbed out her cigarette in a makeshift ashtray, a bowl half-filled with water, and thanked me. “You’re so thoughtful,” she added.
“Not so much.”
“That’s why Ashley must love you so much.”
Reflexively, I held my breath and turned away. Mum reached over with not some difficulty and picked up a cracker, spreading a healthy amount of the brie on it. “Mmm! This cheese is delectable,” she proclaimed. “Would you like some as well?”
“No. I’m good, thanks.”
“You don’t like cheese and crackers?”
“I love cheese and crackers. I’m just, you know, trying to slim down. The upcoming swimsuit competition and all.”
“What? But you’re perfect!”
“Right. Sometimes my advanced humour is too much for people.”
“Or gets lost in translation!” Oh, man, did she ever laugh at that one, which brought a smile to my haggard face. “Bobby always tells me that when he makes a joke and it cracks me up.”
“Yes, going from English to English is sometimes a challenge for me.”
I hadn’t been able to eat properly for three days. I’d been arrested on the 15th, spent the day in court on the 16th, spent the afternoon in a lawyer’s office on the 17th, and now, on the 18th, I’d spent the night in a hospital. I walked over to the kitchen and forced myself to eat a banana, my first nourishment in thirty-six hours.
Mum and I talked while she was eating, me still antsy to get outside and inhale a lungful of grass. As my mother waxed poetic about the state of healthcare in our country after her first hospital visit in years, I stripped the bed and put fresh sheets on. It was only while doing this that I realized I’d be sleeping on the sofa in the one-bedroom apartment for as long as she was here, so I pulled out an extra blanket for myself.
“Do you want to get washed up now?” I asked when the plate was empty.
My mother looked up at me from the sofa like I’d said the silliest thing.
“But I don’t have any of my toilettes here.”
“Right. Sorry. I’ll swing by your place tomorrow after work and pick them up for you. Come to think of it, I’ll have to grab some clothes for you, too. Maybe you can make a list of all the things you need and call me at work with it.”
“How am I going to phone you?”
I ran a hand through my hair. All those savings over the years from not having a landline now seemed irrelevant because it dawned on me that my mother would have no access to the outside world when I wasn’t around.
“I’ll figure something out.”
“Have you talked to Andie yet by the way?”
“No, I’ll email her when you go to bed. I’m going to take off from work after lunch, grab your things, and then hang out with you.” I hadn’t consciously thought of it, but I was glad I’d said “hang out” and not “take care of”; my mother loved her independence and if she had to think of herself as a dependent in any way, shape or form it would be a blow to her dignity. How I’d slip out of the office early for a second day in a row was a problem to be solved in the morning.
“Would you mind if we gave her a quick call? I don’t want her to worry. You know we talk every night and she’ll be wondering why I haven’t phoned yet.”
“Of course not,” I said. “Have you used an iPhone before?” Before she could answer my bonehead question, I rolled on. Pulling out the shiny piece of technology, I explained, “All you need to do is press the bottom button, run your finger across the SLIDE TO UNLOCK part here, enter a code—and mine is 0619—then go to the green phone function on the bottom, go to the KEYPAD function, enter the number, and then hit CALL. When you’re done, you hit END or just tap this button here on the on the upper right-hand corner.”
“You know, your phone is cracked on the bottom,” she remarked.
Ashley…the night it all started unraveling.
“I dropped it.”
“Why in heaven’s name do they make these things more complicated the better technology becomes? When I was growing up, you picked up a phone and dialed a number. What’s the stupid ‘i’ in iPhone for anyway? Can’t they just call it an ApplePhone?” she asked as I handed her the device, which she examined as if a rare piece of art.
“It’s for ‘incredible’.”
“Really?” She looked the object over and studied it from different angles.
“Actually, it stands for ‘infuriating’.”
“Ha! Good one.”
“Thank you. Anyway, do you want me to do it for you? Call Andie, I mean.”
“I’ll have you know I’m very competent when it comes to learning new things, Jacob. You don’t have to patronize your mother.”
“Mum, I wasn’t trying to patronize you. I’m just trying to help.”
“Very well. You can help by getting me a glass of water.”
“Okay. Tell me when you’re done with Andie and I’ll come back and grab my ApplePhone, okay?”
I got my mother her glass of water and then returned to the kitchen. The remnants from my final meal with Ashley still lay dirty in the sink, including an empty wine bottle on the counter. True, the last couple of days had been a whirlwind, but it was more of a psychological hindrance keeping me from dealing with the dishes. It felt as if cleaning all this stuff was erasing her last presence in my life, and something about that felt wrong. Not wrong, maybe, but a pain I wasn’t ready to face yet.
On the afternoon I returned home from my bail hearing, technically a “free man” released on my own recognizance under the condition that I not contact Ashley, her friends or her family, nor keep a weapon, the shock of it all—being arrested and spending an agonizing night in a holding cell, having my life turned upside down with those fatal words You have the right to remain silent, and knowing Ashley was gone forever—only hit me when I stepped into the apartment and saw the risotto still sitting on the stove, cold as death. What I realized while smoking a joint on my patio was that it wasn’t strength which prevented shock as much as it was experience. And since this was my first run-in with the law on such a spectacular scale, I had nothing to draw upon from my past to assuage the mental bombshell I was attempting to process.
I didn’t realize it the day bail was granted or even the following week. It would, in fact, take months to grasp that there’s no Richter scale for shock and grief. You can’t say that one tragedy is worse than another; you can only measure it against the thickness of the armour you have to protect yourself. Of course this same shock can make us blind to what else is going on around us. I wouldn’t really understand that until long after my mother shattered her ankle. Like a thick, opaque fog rolling in from the sea, I wasn’t able to grasp that we’re all going through crap which, to each of us as individuals, may seem insurmountable in the moment.
“Jacob?” my mother called out to me.
Rattled out of my thoughts, I strode towards the bedroom feeling queasy.
“I’m all done,” she said.
“Excellent. How’s Andie?”
“Oh, you know, comme ci comme ça,” she replied somewhat cryptically. Unlike her three children, my mother had a very limited knowledge of the French language but still loved throwing words and phrases around from la belle province, especially after talking to my sister. It was actually ironic and comical because Mum was born and raised in Montreal, but it was her kids, all of whom had grown up in Toronto, who were now fluent in French.
“Well, on that note,” I said, “sweet dreams, Mum. Just holler if you need anything tonight. I’ll be sleeping right outside on the couch, okay?”
“Jacob, love,” Mom said with apprehension as I stood at the foot of the room. In a small voice she added, “Do you think there’s any way I could have a little bed pan?”
“Of course,” I said, furious at myself for not having thought of this before. How the hell else was she going to use the bathroom in the middle of the night? Dumb, dumb, dumb I said to myself while searching around the kitchen cabinets, where I eventually found a casserole dish that would suffice. It was an awkward moment when I handed it over, as much for her, I’m sure, as for me.
“I just don’t think I’ll be able to make it to—”
“No, of course.”
“I’m sorry to be such a burden.”
“You’re not a burden.”
“You don’t deserve this.”
“Mum, you don’t deserve what you’re going through. It’s life. Shit happens.” I didn’t mean to sound so blunt, but it was the truth. You live your life on cruise control a lot of the time, a little blithe, and then all of a sudden life whacks you over the head with a two-by-four and you’re rendered nearly unconscious. “Listen,” I continued, “you had a bit of bad luck this afternoon, but this is going to be fine. You’re going to heal faster than you think and everything will be dandelions and sunflowers before you know it. Besides, Bobby will be back tomorrow, hopefully, and he’ll be able to take care of you while I’m at work.”
With glistening eyes, my mother looked at me and silently mouthed the words Thank you. As I closed the door to the bedroom, she called out to me in a tender voice.
“Yeah?” I said, turning around in the darkness.
“Would you mind terribly picking up something special for me tomorrow when you visit my apartment?”
“Of course, Mum. I already told you I’d—”
“I mean Kit, too?”
Inwardly I groaned; Mum knew I was allergic to cat hair.
“Yes. Now close your eyes and get some rest.”
In the living room, I sat down on the couch and rolled a plump-but-not-too-fat joint, which I proceeded to smoke on the patio, the black of night calming, a few stars out above me, the lights in the grassy courtyard out below providing a modicum of peace. When I was sufficiently high, I returned to the living room. The cannabis was doing a superb job of lowering my anxiety as I turned on the TV at a low volume. I flipped through the channels before arriving at a movie I’d seen a few years ago, an adaptation of an old Graham Greene novel called The End of the Affair. I think I actually gasped out loud as tears formed in my eyes.