Light pours, light falls, light spills, light leaks. I’m floating and rising to the top of something. I open my eyes and surface to meet the world around me. I see Susan’s silhouette, standing next to the bed. It is an early morning in summer and I am waking to watch Susan as she pulls the cable that raises the window blind. It looks like she is hoisting a sail.
I have always liked the wind. Growing up in a small prairie city, which was more like a large town, I had numerous opportunities to immerse myself in the wind. I could ride my bicycle from my home on the western edge to the drive-in cinema on the eastern edge in about 20 minutes had I needed to. Beyond the drive-in was a farmer’s field. It was a fifteen-minute ride to the man-made beach on the northern edge of the city. The fair grounds were a two-minute bike ride from my house. It was very easy for me to fine prairie solitude.
Without really knowing it, the wind was a constant friend. It was great when riding home with a stiff breeze at my back and a pain in the ass when riding head first into it. Springtime meant kite flying. My kites were usually of the black winged bat type, with yellow stick-on-eyes bought for about $3.99 at Zeller’s. There were usually lots of places to fly a kite. The school yard down the street from my house was huge. It had a soccer pitch and a ball diamond and then room beyond that. And only a few lilac trees around the edges. Perfect for kite flying. Of course, I usually chose to fly it in my back yard or on the street near large trees and power lines. If I was lucky the balsa wood stick acting as the spine for the kite would snap before it became entangled in a tree. Then I would spend my time looking for a suitable substitute only to get airborne and then crash into a power pole or the ground. Sometimes the string would break and the kite would enjoy a few seconds of true freedom before vanishing over roof tops. After a few hours I’d announce myself in the house with a rolled up, knotted ball of string. My mom would ask what happened to the kite.
The wind took it.
I think the wind was a mischievous player in my youth, part teacher, part companion, a bit high maintenance as a friend, sometimes wanting attention; it was quiet when I deserved it, and loud when I took it for granted.
During my first months living in Montreal I had been struggling with the writing of an older film script, one that I started while still living out west. It was a story that took place mostly on empty prairie highways, with a few characters intersecting from time to time. It was a road film and it was important to me. I would sit in a café and hammer away at the script and always I seemed to be looking for money, and ways to get back out to Saskatchewan to shoot it. What was ridiculously frustrating is that the story seemed to be slipping further away from me rather than coming closer. On most projects, the writing brings me closer to my own intentions and desires, and the story becomes clearer. This prairie road film was elusive. I distinctly recall packing up my notes and drafts (no laptop in those days for me) after a long and unsatisfying writing session from a downtown café. It was May. I had been living and studying for my master’s degree in Montreal about nine months. I walked out of that café and immediately a powerful wind swarmed around my face. It blew my hair back, I had to squint, it ruffled my papers, pulled my coat, and glued my pants to my legs. I was being scolded and in that moment I realized that my head and heart were back on the prairies but my feet were on the ground in Montreal. Where I is, is where I is. The wind was telling me to write a story that took place here. Perhaps at some point, when the money and time was available, I could return to writing the prairie film. So I wrote and directed an urban road film that takes place all within forgotten and abandoned places in Montreal. And the prairie script? Well, I still hope to make that film but for the now, the story is missing. I think the wind took it.
I’ve mentioned somewhere before that of all the many things that Susan loves in the natural world, wind is her least favourite. However, there seems to be an exception. Sailing. Susan was an accomplished sailor in her early days. Her mom proudly recalled watching Susan in a regatta (that’s sailor lingo for a race) from the shore. She saw Susan sitting in her boat, sail flapping, arms at her side, not moving, and looking out of place while the other kids were navigating the course. She felt really bad for her. Then someone told her that Susan had already won the race and the other kids were still trying to finish! Her mom went on to inform me that she was the first young woman to win a solo regatta at her sailing club on Brome Lake!
I had taken a few sailing lessons once before, near my home on the West Island, but it was a tawdry affair, where the adults in the class were more concerned with the rhum afterward. But a few years ago Susan and I went sailing. We stopped by her old sailing club in the Eastern Townships, on the same Brome Lake. We had arranged to take out a boat not being used by current students. A young instructor asked if we needed help rigging the boat. Susan smiled and shook her head. The guy was relieved I think. The Laser sailboat is generally a one-person craft but large enough for two. Susan had not sailed in over 25 years but she went about installing the mast, setting up the ropes, rigging the sail, and mounting the rudder and tiller. I essentially stayed out of the way. Within a short time the boat was ready. We zipped up our life jackets and launched the boat into knee deep water. Susan instructed me where to sit, and then with a slight push we were off. The sail rippled and flapped but once Susan was settled she let out the mainsheet and the wind filled the material and quieted the racket. The boat was being pulled out to the middle of the lake. Susan looked at me and smiled her smile. The boat cut through the water and she had one hand on the tiller and the other on the mainsheet. I am a full passenger. She scootched over a bit, finding her spot. I watched as her wet shorts wrap around her shapely thighs and her strong arms held fast the line. And just like that we were sailing! Susan grinned at the moment, and between the feeling of being pulled along and her beaming smile I had to smile too. I imagined her back in her early teenage years sailing against and beating all the boys in the regattas. I was retroactively proud of her.
Time to tack and come about, tiller, rudder, boom swings, I duck, and the sail fills again. We both move to the other side of the boat. We shimmy out and tuck our feet under the toe straps and hike our butts out over the the side. I watch Susan ride the edge of the wind, water splashing over the gunnels; we are wet but safe and sailing.
We drift into irons and switch places so I have my hands on the tiller and the mainsheet. I’m clumsy, I can’t manage the articulated arm of the tiller any more than I can I comprehend a double negative when it comes up in a conversation. Pull this way to go the other way. Huh? And the wind. I can’t find the wind. How is that possible? My oldest companion betrays me. It seems to be coming from everywhere like an echo in a canyon. Susan teaches me to move slowly, wait for the boat to respond. I let out the mainsheet, I feel the wind now. We are pulled along. I am sailing with Susan! The wind takes us.
She is a good teacher. My confidence grows and I am happy to be out on the water with her. On my very first tack I turn the wrong way and we capsize, turtling, in sailing terms. The water is not so cold. Susan laughs and laughs. I think capsizing is funny but she thinks it’s even more funny. Susan begins looking for something. The dagger board has come out. She finds it and slaps it back into place and we prepare to right ourselves. I see that my bulk and weight has a tangible benefit for this part of sailing. Ballast. We right the ship and settle back in. We sail some more. I’m a little better but we still capsize one more time. She finds it just as funny the second time even as I am a bit embarrassed. We sail for a few hours although the number of times I put us in irons I don’t think counts as sailing (‘in irons’ is sailor talk for pointing the boat directly into the wind and not moving anywhere, except maybe backwards). Thoroughly soaked, I ask Susan to take over the tiller. We sail. I love feeling the power of the wind and I love watching her so free and at ease.
I mark the moment with a cerebral snapshot as I don’t have a camera with me. I am going to learn from Susan’s sense of adventure and play and laughter. I am going to embrace her perspectives and the way she chooses to see the world. Because, as I’ve learned from her, perspectives are choices. She often reminded me that she chooses the way she wants to see the world. She can choose to be negative or positive. I always thought I was an unfortunate player in life in that regard and was envious of the people who seemed to always be grinning or happy or positive. And then I learned from Susan that she wasn’t given positive thinking rather she worked hard to catch herself in negative spaces and then change her outlook. When I look at Susan I see the result of her hard work even though she had hard times too. A single parent of two young boys without a lot of resources. I’m certain she had times of loneliness and bitterness and anger. And finding a way through all that to let her loving self emerge is truly inspiring. I still struggle with making the positive choice in my outlook. It’s hard work and sometimes like many of us, I get caught up in my own life and more hard work just seems like too much. I love how Susan chooses to see the day. And even now with her shitty diagnosis I continue to marvel at her abilities. Her outlook is familiar yet it never seems old watching her practice it. When I see how she approaches her day, her thinking, the way she embraces everything, it helps me move forward. But I admit it’s a struggle. I strive like most people to be positive but depression and anxiety sure complicates the effort.
Susan and I never went sailing again after that outing. Lots of reasons I suppose: time, desire, no wind. I live a ten-minute walk to the St. Lawrence river where two yacht clubs are within stone throwing distance. I wonder why I haven’t. I wonder if I am afraid of the time it will take me to get good at it. I wonder if I am afraid of looking silly out on the water. And why with an experienced sailor so close to me didn’t I take advantage of her knowledge?
Lately, I’ve been looking at online ads for a sailboat. I am not sure if I am looking for distractions from my own periods of depression or if I want to get back out in the water and face that devilish wind whom I once called old friend. And would getting into a boat like the one we sailed bring me closer to Susan or make me sad? I have enough sadness simmering below the surface at the moment. Perhaps I am worried that any other sailing experience will diminish that only outing with her. I guess I’ll ask the universe for a little bit of guidance on that and keep my eyes open for any clues. And I’ll choose to be positive that something will present itself to help me decide.
But I’d like to go back out on the water. I’d like to take my positive choices and be the kind of person who can, with greater ease, choose my own perspective. Maybe sailing can be my metaphor for shedding negative thinking. Sail out to the middle of the lake and drop all that nasty anxiety and negative worry overboard, or better yet, toss it into the air and
let the wind take it.