The wind batters my jeep, causing me to wonder if Mother Nature has the same concerns with my direction as I do. It’s been two years since I’ve been back to Aberdeen, the small town where I grew up. Seven hours north of Calgary, Aberdeen barely registers on a map. They say you can’t go home again – and I’ve been banking on that these past two years.
The wind sends the crops on either side of me to ripple in waves, and I think of a beach, and vacation, and realize that this is neither. The last time I was in Aberdeen was for my father’s funeral. Two years ago he succumbed to a sudden and severe heart attack. A lifetime smoking Players Lights and running a business in a small town caught up with him and his nightly scotch. In hindsight it’s incredible to me that no one saw this coming, that Dad didn’t heed the warnings to stop smoking, or allow Matt to take over the business sooner. Despite my best efforts, I’m still mad at him, and that makes me feel hollow. What right do I have?
I still remember the phone call. I was in the middle of a meeting. My phone kept buzzing in my pocket, and I was teetering between frustration that whoever was calling me incessantly wasn’t getting the point, and concern something was happening at work that I needed to deal with outside this meeting. I took a moment when everyone was reviewing my proposal documents to steel a glance at my phone and saw that I had three missed messages from Matt, one from my mom, and one from my older sister Sarah. I opened my text messaging app and saw three texts from Matt:
“You need to call me right NOW.”
“Where are you?”
I felt my pulse quicken, just in time to turn around and see our receptionist, Sally, enter the room, with a serious look on her face. She came toward me, bent low, and whispered, “Anna, there’s been an emergency. I have your brother on line 3, he insists on talking to you immediately.”
The look on my face must have been of incredulity. But, with a moment of reflection, I knew it had to be serious, Matt never bothered me at work, and Sarah never called. What the hell? I slowly pushed my chair back from the table, “I apologize, there appears to be an emergency that I need to deal with. I promise to be right back.”
I catch Sally shake her head slightly, looking in the direction of Lauren, my boss.
“Take your time Anna, we will review these numbers and consider any questions,” Lauren said, bringing the attention of the room back to her.
I followed Sally out to the lobby and went to grab the phone on her desk, “You might want to take it from your office,” she said.
What does she know? I wondered, walking down the hall into my office. My office wasn’t anything huge, the last time dad visited me, he called it my janitors closet overlooking the rail yard. He wasn’t wrong. I walked around my desk, picked up the receiver and pressed the “Line 3” button. “Matty?”
“Anna, I couldn’t get a hold of you,” Matt sounded out of breath. He is a triathlete, Matt is never out of breath.
“What’s going on?”
Matt took an audible breath, “It’s dad, Anna. He died today.”
The earth actually stood still. It stood still, as the earth has never stood still. All things stopped, and the air became noxious.
Do you ever feel like moments of truth are like little slaps? Little slaps that sting enough to make you look up and pay attention. Little slaps that sting, but not so much that you can’t recover from them. They don’t leave an indelible print, sometimes a bruise, but a bruise will fade. This moment hit me so hard that all of the air was pushed out of my lungs as I sat in my chair, the wheels sliding me back toward the window with the force of my crash.
“I don’t understand, “ I managed to say.
“I know. It was a heart attack. We just had breakfast this morning…” Matt trailed off.
“Ok, ok, ok, what do we need to do? What do I need to do? I need to do stuff, what is the stuff?” I wanted to manage this like I manage a project, like I manage a marketing proposal, or one of my employees. I needed a checklist. I picked up a pen and grabbed a sheet of white paper from the tray of my printer. I held the pen over the paper, hovering, waiting for instruction – what is the first item?
“Anna, you can’t manage this. You just need to come home.”
“Matt, I’m in the middle of a meeting,” I knew how stupid it sounded, but it was already out, and I couldn’t shove the words back in my mouth, down my throat, never to resurface.
“ANNA, GET YOUR ASS HOME,” Matt shouted. My Matt never shouted, who was this intruder that called to tell me my dad was dead and was shouting and swearing at me.
“Ok.” I replied. “I’ll call you when I have figured it out. I don’t know if there are any flights that I can take, I might have to drive.”
“Ok, let me know. Anna?”
“I love you,” Matt’s words were soft, like a child, the opposite of his previous profanity.
“I love you too.” I hung up the phone. Instinctively I wiped my eyes, shouldn’t they be wet? Shouldn’t I be crying? I wasn’t, I wanted to, but I was glad that my eyes remained dry.
I walked back toward the conference room, conscious of Sally’s prying stare. Something had shifted in me, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew that things were different as I pulled open the door and walked back to my seat.
“Oh, Anna, great, we were just discussing the ROI numbers for the Braithwaite file. Can you review those for us?” Lauren asked.
I looked at the papers in front of me, took a silent, deep breath and started discussing return on investment. I performed like a star through the entire meeting and then at the end I pulled Lauren aside, “I’m going to need to take a few days off.”
She looked at me, puzzled, “What’s going on? We’re in the middle of the Braithwaite deal, I need you.”
“I know, and I appreciate this isn’t the best time, but Malcolm can cover the file for me, he’s done most of the work on it anyway, and this will be a good opportunity for him to show his value. My dad died and I need to go home for a few days,” my throat was dry and I was forcing myself to stay standing there instead of running out of the building.
The rumble of a semi-truck rolling past me brings me back to the present. I am only an hour from Aberdeen. How can a seven-hour drive go by so fast? I take a glance in the rear-view mirror at my face, my eyes have large, dark circles around them, my face paler than normal. I pull into a gas station.
The sun is hiding behind dark clouds that are threatening to erupt into thunder and lightening. The electricity in the air gives me a charge, I love a good thunder storm. Walking into the bathroom I cringe. There are three stalls, but only two with doors, and only one of those that locks. There is damp toilet paper on the floor around the toilet of the locking stall. The tile floors cracked and stained with mud.
The graffiti on the walls entertain me for a few minutes as I read:
“Shanna loves Gus”
“Winter is coming”
“Holy Water, Holy Shit”
“You’re a wizzzzzzzard”
“I don’t normally shit away from home, but when I do… I prefer the handicap stall!”
I giggle to myself, grab some paper towel from the dispenser and wipe the smudged mirror. After splashing some cold water on my face and drying it with a fresh paper towel I fish through my purse for my make-up bag. I didn’t used to be a girl who wore a lot of make-up, I was lucky enough to have clear skin. That has changed. I pull out some cream and dab it on my face. I follow that with concealer and powder to lessen the dark bags. After a few more minutes of applying various products, that four years ago I didn’t know existed, I wash my hands and head back to my car.
I’m ready to face the people of Aberdeen.