Autobiography: the beginning

If I were to write this properly--the story of my life--I would go into detail. Some of that detail would be "true" in the sense that events unfolded, and in such a way, observed by more people than myself, that they can be verified. Truths such as: I was born February 12th, 1980, at around 4 in the afternoon, in a little town north of Vancouver. Eldest of 4 girls. Walked at 13 months. Read "The Lord of the Rings" at 5. Moved 8 times, at least 4 of them within the same town. Was loved (this is perhaps the most true face, the most common thread in my life. I was loved. I am loved. It repeats itself in the most unlikely of places). Grew, both in height and weight and in spirit and personality. Lived in New Hampshire, Switzerland and Germany before settling in Toronto. Read voraciously.

The details which would tell you the most about me, however, are the ones which are subjective and refutable. These are the details which mean the most to me: not what really happened, but how it happened to me. These are the details which inspire me to write my life--the memories which are slightly malleable, which stretch to accommodate experience. They are filled and refilled every second that I remain alive.

When I was 5 years old my sister Emily was born. Our house was full of people--midwife, labor coaches, friends, children. Emily's birth was a celebration of life, and at the center of this celebration, my parents. Not just my mother, but my father as well. Jennifer and I flitted in and out of the spotlight as my mother pushed, feeding her grape juice ice cubes (true). We were determined--at least I was, at two and a half, Jennifer didn't really care--not to miss the baby coming out. As a veteran older sister--a slightly less busy celebration welcomed Jennifer, with myself as the lone ice cube bearer--I got to cut the cord. I remember my father's hands on mine, gripping the scissors, Emily squirming on my mother's bare chest, already rooting for a nipple. I remember the resistance the scissors met in clamping around the living flesh of the cord, the way the blades clicked together and the pieces separated. This is a piece of my memory. It evokes an emotional response.
What I describe did not "really" happen--at least, not the way I remember it happening. Emily was born while we were in the basement playing, tired of waiting to welcome her into the world. It's possible that I saw her cord being cut, but I was not (according to my mother) the person who cut it. This memory is untrue--in the most literal sense of the word--but it is important to me for a very simple reason: it is the way I wanted things to happen. I wanted it to happen this way because it puts me at the center of one of the most loving situations a family can experience, and there is nothing in the world more important to me than my family.

This is true: that my parents loved us and that we were so secure in that love that we never questioned it--rarely even thought of it, even. It simply was, like the treeline or the sky or the way my mother sometimes spilled over with emotion in a way that reached us even in our most oblivious child-ness. You don't think of it, mostly, unless it happens or turns a funny color. Simply there.

This is also true: that I felt an enormous sense of responsibility for my entire family, but my sisters especially, from as early an age as I can remember. On of my clearest memories (true) is of playing in a patch of tall grass behind our house with Jennifer. We were roughly two and four and a half. My father arrived home from work and, as was his wont, decided to pretend that he was a bear (we lived in a rural area)--and growled from outside our make believe house. We froze, and then, as the grass started to rustle, I put my arms around my sister and placed my body between her and the most likely point of attack. My father, coming upon this scene, was filled with remorse. I was angry with him for days.

Fast forward 14 years: I am 18, Jennifer 15, Emily 13 and Jill, 8. We have been in a car accident, it is August, humid and dark, 11 pm. My mother, the driver, is hysterical, climbing the 30 foot embankment we plunged over not 60 seconds ago, hoping this highway is suddenly not as deserted as it seems. She is yelling for me to "get the girls out of the car!" I pull myself out of the passenger window (I later find it was blocked by one of the trees we hit) with my blanket in tow and unfasten Jill's seatbelt. She is shaking and complaining of thirst as I gather her up and wrap the blanket around her, help her to walk as far from the car as possible before laying her on the ground. When she goes into organ failure 2 days later I begin to worry that my actions are responsible, even then she was bleeding into her abdomen: did I do something to make it worse? When she lives, and recovers, I am sick with relief. During the six weeks that my parents are in Vancouver with her I look after my two remaining sisters with obsessive care--so much so that Jennifer and I fight ferociously. This is true: that for years after this event I am terrified of being left alone; what is also true, and more lasting, is that no member of my family leaves a room or hangs up a phone to this day without somehow saying "I love you." We have all paid a piece of our karmic debt in cash, and are aware of what we managed to escape.


Ah, Sweden!

Alright. So I've been a bit nostalgic lately and, going through my old "memory" books (what a treasure!) I found a bit of writing that I actually really enjoyed reading through again. It was probably the worst day of my life at that point (well, not really, but almost!)--here it is, in the painful glory of a trip gone wrong....

I had just crossed the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm on my way back from a wonderful trip to visit first Johanna and her family in Gothenburg/Salto and then Niclas and Karen in Helsinki for New Years and was on my way home to Stuttgart when.....

January 6th, 2003:

Marion Keyes once wrote (boy, does that sound cheesy or what?)

Everything was good or bad, fat or thin, big or small only by comparison with what surrounded it.

Keeping that in mind...the past 24 hours haven't actually been that bad!

I had just spent over 2 weeks of vacation traveling with friends

(okay, it was COLD, but so what? Some people never get to see snow)

New Years in a mansion

(thank god I picked up some "rules" in a book somewhere--you know, the ones about how to put your napkin in your lap properly, start from the outside with the utensils, sit up straight and don't drink too much--and didn't make a fool of me)

was driven to the ferry terminal yesterday afternoon after running out of money finally

(some people don't have money to run out of)

had normal cabin mates aboard the oh-so-tacky Gabriella or Mariella or what's-her-name, even if my cabin was below the water line and when we hit chunks of ice they scraped oh-so-slowly past the crown of my head, anyway, I wasn't sleeping on the floor...

(Some people probably had to swim.....)

Anyway, I spent 14 hours resting in my cabin

(probably why I didn't have a nervous breakdown today)

and when I reached Stockholm city terminal this morning had no idea how I was getting home because as I mentioned before, I had run out of money AND pay phones in Sweden only make collect calls within Sweden

(but some people can't make collect calls, they have no one to call, how sad!)

and so spent 15 Euros on phone cards, which I used almost exclusively to call Mom and Dad and harass them at 5 am because I didn't know what else to do

(poor kids without loving, understanding, with-senses-of-humor-at-five-am-even-when-grouchy-parents LOL)

...where was I?
Oh, yes, so after 15 Euros of phone cards--!mercenary rates!--and one indulgence

(the biggest cup of takeaway coffee I could get for ONLY SEK 150, or about 1.60 US/1.50 Euro--yes, the Euro is stronger than the dollar right now--with loads of cream and sugar)

and about 6 hours of waiting around the train station

(some very melancholy-looking, strange Russian man asked me very gently and politely if I would come to his hotel room with him, the dear)

Dad managed to work his magic

and I used my last SEK 75 to buy an SEK 80 ticket to Arlanda and here I am.
I had enough Euro change to buy a bag of chips and have refilled my water bottle from the bathroom sink
(bless Sweden, their water is always potable!)

and found the book I have read 3 times now--by Marion Keyes, who else?--and now I only have like 100 minutes left before my plane boards and I fly back to Stuttgart

(where it's probably raining--but I'm sure there's a drought somewhere soooooo)

and hopefully be home by midnight or so! Things could be worse.

(I am fickle, I didn't think so this morning when my doom-and-gloom male parent sighed heavily into the phone and said "I don't think I can do anything" or something equally spirit-quelling and I mentally put my face on a milk carton--not in Sweden, though, they put happy things on their milk cartons here--and attended my own funeral--purely ceremonial, of course, as my body was never found. I tried to hitchhike home and the gentle Russian got to me first.)

Speaking of Russians, there were tons in Stockholm today even though it's a holiday

(and did you know that it's impossible to buy an international train ticket in this country on a holiday? Future travelers be warned!)

and the women reminded me of Ekaterina Gordeeva with jaunty little fur hats and entire colonies of beavers or something similar as coats--and the men were nothing like Sergei Grinkov--all eyelashes and pouty mouths, sure, but short and squarely built. My other great encounter was on the ferry--did you know there are actual gypsies here? They wear floor-length show-girl-can-can dresses with ruffled collars and hoops! honest! and carry two squalling, dark-eyed babies apiece and ride the ferry endlessly back and forth between Helsinki and Stockholm to visit their "relatives" on either end--