I woke up early that Monday morning to eat breakfast before Grandpa came to pick me up for our hike. I can't remember anymore what I had for breakfast. Probably toast and cereal. I had packed my lunch the night before, as I always did when we went hiking, even though I never did so for school.
Grandpa picked me up around 8:30. I was planning on bringing my Spanish CD to practice in the car, but it was in the van and Dad had already left for work with it.
We drove in silence mostly. Grandpa put in one of the two CD's he kept in his car, songs I would never have listened to on my own, but that I had learned so well because of this drive every week. I kept dozing off because I always fall asleep in Grandpa's car.
He asked me how my grad had gone last Saturday. I told him he was lucky to have missed it for a hike. The ceremony was boring.
When we got to Banff he drove up Mount Norquay road. He told me to keep an eye out for Upper Bankhead picnic area. I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open still, but I tried.
We drove past a herd of sheep on the road.
We had gone a ways up and still there was no sign of Upper Bankhead picnic area. I asked Grandpa if this picnic area actually existed, or if it was like yellow bells. Grandpa then decided it was the wrong road and turned the car around.
He stopped by the sheep when we passed them again to take pictures. He was almost done the roll of film in his camera and he wanted to finish it. He got out of the car to get close to the sheep to take their photo. I undid my seatbelt so I could turn around and keep an eye on him. I was afraid one of the sheep would head butt him.
When he got back into the car I was relieved and sat back in my chair with a secret sigh of relief.
We drove back down to the highway and turned around so we were headed back towards home. This time we got on the right road up into the mountains and made it to Bankhead. He parked in the shade, which also happened to be in the mud. There was a cloud of mosquitoes around my head as soon as I got out of the car.
As usual before a hike he offered me a shot of Oval tine, and as usual I politely declined.
We started out the wrong way – going into the picnic area instead of onto the trail.
There is a sign at the C level cirque trailhead warning hikers that the area is an old mining area and not to enter the mineshafts as they are unstable.
"So if you see any holes, don't jump in." Grandpa warned me.
We didn't talk much as we walked. Grandpa told me once that the great thing about hiking is that you don't have to think about it. You just put your brain on automatic and walk. I liked that too. It was like taking a break for my mind when we went hiking – a day free of worry and the real world.
We climbed for a long time. "Just so you know, I've picked a hike with quite a bit of climbing." Grandpa said.
"Thanks." I answered. "I had noticed."
Eventually we came upon an old cement building. Grandpa figured it was the miners' barracks, and that the small room off the side was the kitchen. Since there was no connecting door he said, the miners probably just rolled out of bed, got their breakfast through the connecting window and went to work.
"Your sister has been here." He said. I went to see what he was talking about. Somebody had marked 'Monique' on the wall.
"So has Korea." I said, seeing the big 'KOREA' marked on the wall next to Monique.
We kept walking. Grandpa commented on the coal we were walking on. I liked the hike already; it was neat. He mentioned the town that used to be in the area, a mining town. I asked him if it was all gone now. We had passed an area on the way up to the trail – he said he thought that was the town's main street and that there were interpretive displays set up there.
"If we have time this afternoon we can go have a look on our way back down." He said.
I kind of looked forward to it.
We came to a mine shaft soon after. Grandpa warned me again not to fall in.
I said I thought the opening was a little small for that.
Grandpa said that I would make a better miner than him because he was too big to fit in most of the tunnels.
"That's good to know." I said. "In case this artist thing doesn't work out, it's good to know I have options."
"And I think it's a male dominated world." He said. "So if you're interested in activism as well as mining…"
We came across several mine shafts. Grandpa pointed out where the coal vein must have been.
We found flowers soon after. Orchids. Grandpa pointed out the fancy tongues to me.
He told me he liked to take pictures from below flowers, but that when he lay down on the trail to take the pictures he scared other people on the trail, who thought he was dead or something.
"I've often looked at orchids in the garden section," he said, "but I think they like temperatures of 26 degrees."
I said it would be hard to keep them warm enough then. He said you'd need a greenhouse and then it would probably have to be inside to boot.
"Hm." He said.
I laughed. "Are you considering it now?"
He was. He said he could probably put a little greenhouse above the stairs, where the African violets grow now, and grow orchids there. It seemed like a good place to me.
The trail leveled out for a bit once we got closer to the cirque. Grandpa said he was going to stop for a minute and that I should go ahead and he would catch up, meaning he was headed off into the bushes.
I walked a bit further ahead, but then the path forked three ways, and every way seemed pretty overgrown. Not wanting to lose Grandpa I stopped there to wait a minute and continued on once I could see him and he could see me.
That overgrown path led to a clear area where we could see the cirque and the snow covered mountain side.
"Are we going all the way up there?" I asked, looking up to where I could see another hiker just turning the corner way up ahead. Grandpa nodded and we kept walking.
We stopped for water on the hill.
"Good idea." Grandpa said. "I'm always planning to stop and drink water more often, but I always forget."
We got to the top of that hill and found three people sitting among the rocks. They were waiting for avalanches.
"We made it!" I said.
"Somewhere." said one of the men there. The other man pointed out the top, still quite a ways away.
Grandpa asked if I wanted to keep going. I said yes. He remembered going higher and being able to see Lake Minnewanka, so we kept climbing.
We passed two women eating lunch.
For a while we climbed up rocks, beside the path. We were looking for fossils in the rock, but after we had no luck Grandpa said that the rocks had probably undergone a lot of pressure, and that the fossils might have been crushed.
He asked me if I still wanted to keep going, since it was getting pretty awkward. I told him I enjoyed climbing over rocks, so we kept on.
We found the trail soon after. And then we lost it again under the snow and ended up walking through the bush for a while.
I scratched my legs on trees and branches in there. I hoped that when I went to school the next day someone would notice and ask me what happened to my legs and I could tell them all about my weekend adventure with my Grandpa, and then Grandpa would definitely be the coolest in our grandpa competition.
We kept looking over our shoulder for Lake Minnewanka.
We came to another rock pile. Grandpa said we should note the location of the trail so that we could find it again on our way back down. "Between a rock and a tree. Ok." He said, standing between a forest and a rock slide.
I said something about how much easier it would be to scramble up rocks without our backpacks.
"But we need our lunches." He said.
We stopped for lunch about two thirds of the way up, where we finally had a nice view of the lake. It was beautiful.
Grandpa thought his lunch was wet, but he said it didn't really matter because he would eat it anyway.
I gave him one of the banana rhubarb muffins I had baked the day before, my own creation. Usually we traded lunch items, like elementary students. I brought Christmas cake or muffins for him and he brought an extra babybel cheese for me. He didn't have anything for me that Monday though because he had given Stéphane the last babybel that Saturday on their hike.
At one point I looked up at him and watched him bite a tomato that spilled juice all over his chin.
The two women we had seen eating lunch earlier climbed and we admired the view all together. One of them asked if we were going up farther. We decided then that we would after lunch.
I asked Grandpa about the nutritional value of rhubarb, but he didn't know. I also asked him if he ever made rhubarb jelly. He said he remembered making rhubarb jam a few years ago, and that his mom used to make it a lot. I said I thought I remembered eating rhubarb jelly he had given us.
'"Hm. I think rhubarb jelly would be nicer than jam." He said.
One of the women had gone up to the top of the rock pile to see what was there. She came back down to tell us that it was all snow just past the rock pile.
"I guess we won't be going much further after lunch." I said.
He said we could leave our backpacks there and get them on our way back down. So after lunch he put his backpack out where it was easily visible and we climbed the rest of the way up.
The view was even better from the top. Grandpa got me to pose for a few pictures.
I got kind of distracted by a larch. It had red spiky balls on it, so I went to check it out. Grandpa told me not to go too far because he wanted to take another photo. I pointed out the red balls to Grandpa.
He told me the tree was a larch. "It's a coniferous deciduous tree." He told me. "Figure that one out."
We took a couple of self timer pictures. Grandpa had to get one of us looking out at the lake and one of us looking at the camera. For the second one we were looking away from the camera and on the first try we waited for a while but didn't hear the camera beeping so Grandpa had to set the camera up again.
Then he took a picture of me in the snow bank so we could go home and complain to everyone about the tough hiking conditions we had faced.
We headed back down the slope. "This really is a good backpack." Grandpa said about his backpack, which stood out clearly against the rocks.
I stopped to tie my shoelaces at the bottom of the rock pile and Grandpa went on ahead so that I had to catch up.
We were on the trail, but again it was covered in snow so we wandered off trail for a little while. We talked about whose feet were best in such a situation. I decided that since Grandpa's feet were at least twice the size of mine, and he didn't weigh twice as much as me to go along with it, his feet were more snowshoe-like than my own.
We had just found the trail again when Grandpa said he was going to stop for a drink of water.
I stopped to wait. I had finished my water already.
When Grandpa sat down I felt a little worried.
"I think we got going too soon after lunch." He said. I figured from this that he must have been tired. I told myself I shouldn't forget that Grandpa was not as young as he used to be.
"There wasn't really a good place to nap though." I said.
After a minute we kept walking. We got back to the first rock pile and onto the hill. Grandpa told me I should sing the highest note I could, to see if I could start an avalanche.
"That's dangerous Grandpa." I said. I didn't think I could sing very well at the time.
Soon afterwards we sat down again. I put on more sunscreen. I thought Grandpa was tired still, so I didn't want to say anything. Somehow I thought it would make him feel bad.
We got up and walked a little ways further then Grandpa stopped again. I said I was going to look at the cirque close up, so that he could just sit and rest for a while and not have to feel that I wanted to keep going right away. I wasn't in any rush.
When I got down to the cirque I looked back up and I could see Grandpa's backpack, but not him. I figured he was just over the hill, napping, so I tried napping myself, to give him time.
When I went back up to him he was sitting on the ground with his head between his knees. I asked him how he was feeling.
"Oh… not too good." He said.
It started to rain, but the sun was still shining and it was still hot.
I asked him if he wanted to find someplace to nap. I kept thinking that he needed his nap. If he didn't nap now, I thought, I would make sure he took his nap when we got back to the parking lot, before we drove home. I didn't want him to fall asleep while he was driving.
Once we got to a flat spot we stopped again. Grandpa laid out his sweater and his vest to lie on. He told me he had an upset stomach.
I was thirsty but I had no water left, so I ate my orange. I turned away from Grandpa to eat it because I didn't think he would want to see food if his stomach was upset.
He must not have managed to fall asleep because he got up just after I finished my orange and we kept walking.
We stopped again soon after. "I think I have a really upset stomach." He said. I asked him if he wanted to go back and try to nap some more. He said no, that we should keep going forward.
He asked me to carry his bag before we kept going. He only got a few steps before he had to stop again. His backpack smelled of sweat, and he had the shape of his backpack, wet with sweat, on the back of his pantsuit.
It wasn't long this time before he got up again and we kept walking. I was behind him, watching him. He kind of stumbled a few times and I was worried. I wanted him to rest.
We stopped for a second to let a German couple pass us and then we kept walking. A little while later Grandpa sat down again. I put our backpacks down and sat down next to him. He didn't say anything.
I was looking at the mountains through the trees when he fell over.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King's horses and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
We're in Grandma and Grandpa's backyard, sitting around the picnic table. Summer is in full swing; the day is hot and sunny and we're all in shorts and t-shirts, except Grandpa of course. Grandpa is wearing a short sleeved pantsuit today, without a sweater vest on top.
I'm sitting on Grandpa's knees and we are playing a game.
"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall," Grandpa sings, bouncing my up and down on his knees. He has bony knees, and it kind of hurts my tailbone, but that doesn't stop it from being fun. "Humpty Dumpty had a great fall-" At this point he spreads his knees apart so that I fall through them, laughing, but he always catches me and picks me back up to start bouncing me on his knees again. "All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again." He finishes, the game ending with the song.
We will play again though. As soon as Monique and Chantal and Nicole have all had their turn, then I will get to sit on Grandpa's knees and play again. How many times has he played this game already? How many more times will he play it again?
Grandma came out of the house first, followed by dad. I got out of the car, terrified and ready to cry. Grandma walked straight up to me and said, "How awful for you," and hugged me. She was crying.
I had felt so calm until that moment, since we drove into the city limits, but as soon as Grandma hugged me I burst into tears again.
Dad thanked Marie and Julie. I hugged them and thanked them for their help, and then they left.
We went inside.
Nicole came out of the bathroom as I came in to the house. She said, "Hi Danielle." And I replied in kind. I don't suppose either of us really knew what to do with ourselves in the situation.
Grandma said, "Oh give your sister a hug." And Nicole did.
We sat down. Everyone had tea on the coffee table so I got up to get myself a cup. I realized I hadn't eaten all day, but I didn't feel hungry at all.
Grandma and I sat together on the couch. I had my tea, which I no longer really wanted, in my hand and Grandma had her arm around me. She asked if I wanted to talk about it and I said no.
There was nothing to say really.
Dad was on the phone with Mom in Edmonton. Auntie Linda, Nicole and Stéphane were all sitting in the living room with us. I wondered if we were in shock. I didn't think I was in shock. I knew Grandpa was dead; there was a small voice in my head that had been telling me all day; "Grandpa is dead. Grandpa is dead." Over and over since the afternoon.
We waited. Eventually Dad said we should go home and sleep. Mom would be coming home in the morning. Auntie Linda would stay with Grandma for the night, for a while.
I was relieved to leave Grandma's house that night. I couldn't stop thinking about Grandpa, seeing him there, on the trail. I couldn't be around my family or myself anymore. I just wanted to sleep.
When we got home I went straight to bed, but I couldn't sleep. I heard Dad in the kitchen and went to see what he was doing. He was cooking butter chicken.
"I was in the middle of cooking when Grandma called." He told me. "I just left all this raw chicken out. If I don't cook it now I'll have to throw it out in the morning, so I might as well cook it now."
I thought, 'My dad is amazing.'
I tried to help. Mostly I just stood by the stove and watched him stir the chicken.
"I knew Grandpa longer than I knew my own dad." He said.
We ate a bit of butter chicken that night at the kitchen table. We talked quietly, about Grandpa, what we would do with the chicken and about what to do with ourselves. We wouldn't go to school or to work the next day. Dad said he'd called to excuse us from school for the rest of the week.
We packed up the butter chicken for supper the next day. I took a Gravol to help me sleep and we said goodnight and went to bed.
While I lay awake in bed I tried to imagine how it happened at home, how Stéphane would have reacted, how Nicole felt being picked up from work. How would I have felt, hearing it from Dad? Would it have been easier?
I thought, I would have slept better. When I closed my eyes I would see Grandpa's death again and I would bolt upright. "That can not have happened!" I'd say to myself. Not in real life. Not in my life.
Somehow I fell asleep.
Uncle Andy and Aunt Liz have stopped in for a visit on their way through to the West coast. We're out hiking near Bow Valley campground with them, me and Grandma and Grandpa. We've already gone on a little walk and now we are looking for the first crocuses of spring.
I find the first one, but it hasn't bloomed yet. It's just a tiny little bud in the ground, barely even above ground. They all tell me I have good eyes. I'm surprised I found it too.
We're walking across a field on our search, but before we find anymore we come to the road. There are trees and bushes on the other side, but there is also a nice hill for crocuses to grow on, so we cross to continue our search.
"Crocus hunters." Uncle Andy says, and he kind of laughs. "It sounds like the title of a book or a movie."
And I think: 'That is a good title for a book.' And I keep searching.
Grandma finds the next one, and this one has started to open. We can see the purple peeking out. It's not really very impressive, but it's beautiful all the same, and so much better for all the work we put into finding it.
We find more crocuses up the hill; a bunch that has started to bloom. We have found the first crocuses of spring.
I was allowed to sleep in the next day without disturbance. I woke up around 9 am, but I didn't want to get out of bed yet. I didn't want to go about the business of living just yet. I heard the phone ringing, but I ignored it and went back to sleep.
I got out of bed two hours later to go pee. The answering machine was beeping, so I went downstairs to check it. Dad had left a message, telling me the family was at Grandma's house and that I could call when I was awake and ready to go.
I went into the kitchen and opened the fridge and then closed it without taking anything out. I wandered around the house for a bit, feeling lost. I didn't want to call Dad. I kind of wanted to go back to sleep. What I wanted to do most of all was wail and weep and tear out my hair, but I couldn't summon up the energy required to do it, so I just stood still.
I was about to go back to bed when Dad came in the front door. I couldn't avoid going now. I couldn't pretend I was still asleep.
I went into the laundry room to find something to wear. Dad followed me, told me Grandpa had died of a cardiac arrest. I thought it was so unfair, and it didn't really make sense to me, but I said nothing as I picked out a pair of socks. He said the plan for Grandpa's body was to cremate him and spread his ashes in the mountains. I thought that sounded nice. I would like that too, someday.
He told me that there would be a viewing on Wednesday, if I wanted to go see Grandpa again. I said I would go.
I went back to my room to get dressed and then came back downstairs. Dad asked me if I had eaten breakfast and I said no, but I didn't want anything anyway, so we left.
At Grandma's house everyone was sitting in the living room. Mom was there, and hugged me when I came in. She asked me some questions about Monday that I didn't really want to answer, but I did anyway. I knew it would be unfair not to.
I remembered that my award ceremony was that night and brought it up. I wanted to go, despite circumstances, and really all I wanted was for dad to drive me there. I wanted to see my friends, not so I could tell them what happened, but so that I could pretend nothing had happened.
Instead the whole family decided to go. I wanted to tell them not to, but there was really nothing I could do so I said nothing.
We ate the butter chicken for supper.
Before the awards ceremony I said I wanted to buy some supplies from the Mona Lisa art store so Auntie Linda drove me and Nicole downtown to get it. She went to her office nearby while we went in.
I had a gift certificate from my friends and an idea. I knew what I wanted, but I still took my time looking around. I had more money on the gift certificate than I needed, so I bought markers and a sketchbook as well as the paper I needed for my new project.
Nicole and I sat on the ground outside to wait for Auntie Linda. I took out my sketchbook and markers to try them out, but for a while couldn't find inspiration. I turned to Nicole; she was staring out at the road. Her eyes were red from crying still.
I drew her in pink and red marker.
It's my first hike with Grandma and Grandpa. We're somewhere in the city still, I don't know where exactly, but it seems like a long way from home. The grass is tall, as tall as me, and yellow and dry. There's a paved path for us to walk on.
All Grandma and Grandpa's friends in the hiking group think we're so cute, my sisters and I. But they still walk too fast.
Grandma and Grandpa walk slowly with us. It's a sunny day and we have to apply sunscreen and wear hats with brims. We have matching shorts and t-shirts our parents dressed us in that morning.
We stop in a picnic area by a huge oak tree. It's at least a hundred times bigger than me.
Grandpa tells us about how old it must be – ancient. I imagine counting all the rings that would be on that tree trunk.
We have lunch at a picnic table. After lunch we have to reapply sunscreen before we keep walking.
At the end of the day I'm so tired, but we get to go back to Grandma's and Grandpa's house for macaroni and cheese so it's ok. It's good.
I felt so weird walking into the awards ceremony with my whole family. Nicole was dressed all in black – I hadn't even thought of that. I looked around for my friends, wondering if they'd guess anything was up when they saw my family. I thought they all looked so depressed and unhappy to be there – why did they even want to come?
I saw Dorian first. He was playing music for the ceremony, as well as receiving band awards.
I wondered if my smile seemed fake.
I sat down with my family and waited for my category. Five minutes into the ceremony someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see Arman.
"Hey!" I said quietly. "What up?"
There wasn't much for us to say before I turned around again. I didn't want to be rude, and most of all I didn't want everyone to look over at me.
I saw David sitting with his parents. I guessed he was getting a French award, but I didn't really know. Maybe Social.
When my name was called, it was mispronounced and rushed. The woman calling out the names for Arts was going much faster than all the other announcers did. I almost felt ripped off – I didn't even get a proper applause.
Still I smiled and took my certificate – it was in a frame I could use later for something else at least – and went to stand in line with the others, near Julia. I smiled at her and waited for the Arts to be finished.
As I stood at the front of the gymnasium, half listening to the names and the applause, half in my own world, I looked down at the certificate and wondered what they wanted me to do with it after this. I wanted to smash it, right then and there. I imagined raising my arms above my head and bringing it crashing down to the ground where it would shatter. Maybe I would get glass stuck in my foot. Maybe I would scream as I did it. I thought that would be satisfying.
But I couldn't do it. I couldn't stand the looks, and I didn't want to tell anyone that Grandpa was dead. So I laid my award carefully on the ground to make sure I wouldn't break it.
The rain and thunder crashes loudly outside the open gym door, and I wanted to go outside.
I wanted to cry.
As soon as I got my picture taken Dad came and told me everyone was outside, ready to go, so we left early.
In the hallway Auntie Linda and Mom were saying how much longer that was than they had expected. I wished they hadn't come. I just wanted to pretend it was normal, but it was hard with my family around.
It was raining outside, had been all through the ceremony. The rain poured down so heavily that Dad brought the van around for us to get in, and we still got soaked, even running that little ways.
"Good thing we got out early." Dad said. "This is going to be a mess."
There was a huge puddle at the exit to the parking lot already.
I held my award in my lap and stared at it. I wanted out. Mom asked to see it and I gladly handed it over. I didn't really want it. It wasn't the reason I had wanted to come tonight.
We drove back to Grandma's house where we sat around for a while before going home. Auntie Linda stayed with Grandma again that night. She would all week.
It rained all night.
I didn't believe in God, so I couldn't think that it was the angels crying for my Grandpa, as poetic as that image is, and as much as I like poetry, it just wouldn't be true. The rain seemed to fit though. It felt right. Grandpa loved nature so much, she must have loved him back. I thought it was a fitting way for her to express her sadness at the loss of one of her favorite people. The rain certainly matched my mood, at the loss of one of my favorite people.
Monique and Chantal and Uncle Doug came in on a plane that night, while I was asleep.
The teachers are on strike so there's no school and we're allowed to go out to William Watson Lodge on a Wednesday. Mom and Dad are staying home until the weekend though because they have things to do, so it's just us three girls and Grandpa. Nicole is too little, so she stayed behind with our parents.
There's so much snow on the ground. We just got here tonight, so we haven't been out yet really, but we'll go out tomorrow and wade through the snow and build snow forts. We have to prepare the place for Mom and Dad's arrival.
Chantal has cooked us supper. We helped her make it. Monique was chopping zucchini for her and pretended she cut her finger.
"My finger!" She yelled. Chantal nearly hit her head on a cupboard, she jumped so much.
"It's not funny Monique." She said, but everyone was laughing.
The zucchini is no good. It's made the sauce all bitter and no one wants to eat it anymore. Well, I want to eat it, but I'd rather it tasted good.
Grandpa says we'll just throw it out and make something else. We brought along ready pizza crusts, so we make a garlic and parmesan cheese and oil pizza and put it in the oven to have for supper instead. It tastes much better.
After supper we go out for a walk in the snow. Out past the cabins we get onto a ski trail, not that you can tell it's a trail. The snow comes up to my waist, so I have to go behind my bigger family members.
We find a dumpster buried in the snow. Monique and I go towards it, to climb on top, but when we get close we fall into the hole in the snow it's made and can't climb up.
On the way back we're laughing and joking. At one point Grandpa picks Monique up and says, "Monique, have you met my friend snow bank?" and pretends to throw her into a snow bank.
My toes are frozen.
When I woke up it was still raining, though not so much anymore. When I went downstairs the house was quiet. Everyone else was sleeping in for the day.
I ate breakfast and headed out to the bus stop. I had bus tickets instead of a pass for June because there weren't enough days of school to make the pass worthwhile.
Elbow was backed up much farther than I could see. It was obviously not going anywhere, but I was determined; I waited for the bus anyway.
It came and I got on and stood in the aisle because it was full. I took out my book and started to read, settling in for a long ride.
About half an hour later I looked up again and saw that we had reached the next stop. By the time the bus got anywhere it would be time for me to go home again.
I got off there and went home, lamenting the waste of a bus ticket. The house still seemed empty. I called Claire's house to let her know our usual Wednesday morning engagement would not be happening. Her mom answered.
"Good morning." She said.
"I don't think I'm going to make it this morning." I told her.
"Can't find a boat?" She asked.
"Pretty much." I answered.
"Alright, well thanks for letting us know dear." She said. "I guess we'll see you next week."
"Yeah. Bye." I hung up the phone and sat still for a minute. It seemed so strange to me, that everyone would go on with life as though nothing had happened. And of course, as far as they knew, nothing had happened. How could someone so important die without the world knowing?
Mom came upstairs and turned on the radio. "Couldn't make it to school?" She asked. I shook my head. We listened to the news.
It was the biggest storm in decades, the news was saying. Street after street was named, having flooded too much to be used. Any underpass in the city was out of the question. Bridges were unsafe and traffic all over the city had slowed to a standstill. The streets had become un-navigable and the city declared an unofficial state of emergency.
And in a way I was glad. The world knew.
It's the second day of our hike on the Inca trail. Somehow I've ended up far ahead of the rest of my group and I'm walking alone through a rainforest, on stone steps built by people hundreds of years ago. It's all so beautiful. I see flowers and green and waterfalls everywhere, and it gives me a good excuse to stop and take a break every five minutes to catch my breath. The air really is much thinner up here.
As I put my camera back away after taking a photo of a bunch of lovely purple flowers I think: "This is so great. Grandpa would love this. When I get back and see him again, I'll tell him that."
And then I remember that when I go home Grandpa won't be there. Grandpa's been dead for more than a month now. I will never see him again, never have the chance to tell him. He will never be able to walk this trail, or even see my photos.
I start to cry, and I'm glad I'm alone.
I was so excited to show him my photos.
The showing was in the afternoon. It was only drizzling when we got out of the cars and walked into the funeral home. I had always wondered what they were like; this one was not at all what I expected. It was nothing like the funeral house in Six Feet Under.
We were greeted by a woman – I presumed her to be the director of the funeral home. I had all these ideas of what a funeral home is like from watching Six Feet Under, but I didn't really know what to think once I got there.
She led us into the building. We stopped in the hallway where she told us we could go into one room where they had laid out lemonade and cookies and things, or we could go into another room where they had laid out Grandpa. She didn't say it in those words exactly of course.
Everyone went to get cookies and lemonade except for me and Dad. We went to see Grandpa.
It was… really weird. Dead bodies are such strange things. Because that's all they are; things, when they used to be living, breathing, laughing people.
Grandpa's body was laid out on a table at one end of the room; it was a very small room, so he wasn't far from the door. The bottom half of his body was covered in a white sheet. They had kept him in his pantsuit. That's what Dad whispered to me.
"He looks good." He said.
I thought, 'He looks so much better than he did on Monday.' The purple splotches on his forehead were gone, and all the phlegm around his mouth and nose was cleaned up, and his hands were folded neatly on top of the sheet. I nodded, but didn't say anything to Dad. I wasn't ready to share the horror of Monday with him.
I felt so odd, standing there watching Grandpa lying there. I felt like he must be napping. He looked just like he was napping, and Grandpa was always napping so… I had to remind myself he wouldn't wake up. He certainly looked like at any moment he would sit up and yawn. I kept expecting his eyelids to move, his fingers to twitch, but he didn't move.
I didn't cry.
We went into the other room where everyone was waiting still. It was a nice room, with lots of windows. If it had been a sunny day the room would have been filled with light, almost cheery.
Dad went to talk to Grandma, to tell her that Grandpa looked good, and I sat down on a chair against the wall. Everyone moved into the other room to see Grandpa, but I stayed sitting where I was. When I was alone I thought of grandpa, of Monday on the trail…
I had hoped that seeing Grandpa again would get rid of that image in my head, this image of Grandpa lying on the trail, gone. I was hoping that this would help me stop reliving his death. Now I had two images of a dead Grandpa in my head; that was all. It hadn't helped.
I started to cry then, but only for a short while, so that by the time the others came back I had wiped away all my tears. They were crying, most of them. Stéphane wasn't crying. He looked kind of lost, I thought, but he must have understood what had happened. I couldn't say that he just didn't understand. He understood as much as anyone could.
Grandma walked over to me and hugged me. She was crying. She then sat down across from me and hugged Chantal. I watched everyone for a while. Auntie Linda was on the couch with Aunt Liz. Uncle Andy and Uncle Doug were standing by the window.
Mom asked me if I was ok; I said yes. I don't suppose it was really true, but what else could I say. If I said 'no' then what could we do?
Chantal asked me if I wanted to go get some water with her so I got up and went to the counter with her. I poured myself a glass, but once I had it I realized I didn't want it, so I just stood there with it in hand. Chantal and Aunt Liz talked for a little while and I watched. I wasn't a talkative person at the best of times.
After that Chantal went to sit down. I stood for another minute before going to sit down myself. I still had the glass of water in my hands and realizing this, I put it down beside my chair.
Mom decided we should take a picture, with the family together as we were. She started arranging the chairs with Chantal's help. I watched them.
At some point the funeral director came in and talked with Grandma about what would happen next. I'm not sure exactly what about – death certificates and such.
"Could we do this later?" Auntie Linda asked. "I know she asked to do this now, but could you just take it away?"
Grandma and the funeral director both looked at and then carried on.
Mom asked the director to take the picture of us. We all sat down – Grandma and the grandchildren in front and everyone else behind – and had our picture taken. I sat beside Grandma and held her hand. I wasn't sure if I should smile or not, but apparently that wasn't as important as whether or not my boots should be in the picture.
I had put on my yellow rubber boots that morning to protect my stockings from the rain, and even though I had intended to change them for black shoes when we got to the funeral home, I had forgotten and I still wore the bright yellow boots with my black outfit. Mom and the director talked about what to do with the boots for a bit.
"You've got to have the boots." Grandma said. Mom told the director to take two pictures; one with the boots, the other without.
On the other side of the pass I suddenly start to freak out. Something is wrong; I just know it. I think about Chantal, how I left her behind. I remember Roberto telling us that if we need it, he has an oxygen tank.
I'm sure now that something has happened to Chantal, and I'm not there with her. What if she's dying? What will I do if something has happened to Chantal?
I sit down to wait for her, hoping, praying that she will come over the pass. I start to cry; I'm that sure something is wrong.
No one comes except for porters and my agitation grows. It's all wrong. I can't be alone Chantal, don't leave me.
I can't believe I'm actually freaking out like this. It's not really my style. 'It's because of Grandpa isn't it?' I think to myself. If I hadn't been there that Monday, would I feel differently now? Would I feel safe?
Chantal doesn't come. I wait for what feels like forever but she never shows up. I decided I have to keep moving, because this is insane anyway, and start walking again, more slowly.
I make it to camp without her catching up. There are three other people in our group there already and I sit with them and drink tea, always looking out the window, waiting to see Chantal.
Wendy comes in first, and she tells me that Chantal is walking with the three British boys. She calls them boys because she is fifty and they're not. She says Chantal is being teased for the way she talks, but that she seems to be enjoying it.
I feel stupid.
By Thursday the rain had become less of a problem and I made it to school. Not on time of course, but I made it to school.
I pretended to be normal. Everyone acted the same as they always did and I tried to do the same. It felt better than sitting around the house moping.
Of course, Grandpa was still there, in my mind, all day. I just couldn't stop thinking about it, through math and social.
I would tell Claire today. I had decided on Tuesday that I would tell her, but since I didn't see her on Wednesday, I had to do it on Thursday.
I had no idea how to go about it. "I have to tell you something." I said in the art room. We were standing near the desks, near Arman, but we moved away to talk. The Art room was nearly empty. "Grandpa died on Monday." I said.
She asked me how he died. I told he had a cardiac arrest. "That's so random." She said. She was right. It wasn't how Grandpa should have died.
I didn't tell her I was there.
She told me about her Grandpa, who was probably dying in Halifax at the time. Her mom had gone down to see him. I knew I shouldn't think it, but I kind of wished that was my situation. I wished Grandpa had died somewhere far away so I could romanticize it.
I got off the bus early to go to Grandma's house right after school. We were having dinner there again. Mostly everyone was there by the time I got there.
I had Grandpa's wallet, from Monday still, so I put it on the coffee table when I got there. No one noticed it at first, but a little while later Grandma asked where it had come from. "Did you have it?" She asked me. I nodded.
"They gave it to me." I said.
"We were looking all over for it this, and all along you had it." She said and kind of laughed.
I took some things from his wallet for myself. I don't really know why. Because I wanted to keep him close to myself I guess? I kept his glasses too, and I thought of them sitting on my desk, but I didn't tell Grandma about them.
We ate supper. Dad sat at the head of the table where Grandpa usually sat.
Later that night I was lying on the couch watching TV when Auntie Linda came and sat next to me. I didn't really acknowledge her; I just kept watching the TV. She started to talk about Grandpa, to tell me that if he could have said something in his last moments he would have told me it would be alright and not to worry. Or that even if it wasn't all right, not to worry anyway.
I didn't feel like crying.
She said she was glad Grandpa had died the way he died, though she wished it had happened some years later. She said that she hoped I wasn't too traumatized by the experience.
I couldn't agree with her and be glad that Grandpa had died the way he did, 'doing what he loved'; it was too horrible, so I didn't say anything.
By the end of April we can tell the apple trees will be full this year. They're practically white, full of blooms. Last year they hardly had a speck of white on them by this time.
Grandpa and I are standing in the kitchen. "We're out of raspberry jam." I tell him. Grandpa makes his own raspberry jam, with the raspberries that grow in his backyard. "We need more."
"I'll make you a deal." I say. "If you give me a jar of raspberry jam now, I promise we will make crabapple jelly this year and give you a jar then. Ok?"
"Sure." Grandpa says. I know that he would give me a jar of jam even if I had nothing to offer in return, but this way I'll get crabapple jelly at the end of summer too. And making deals like this is fun. It gives me something to look forward to.
We shake on it and go back into the living room to join the party.
On the bus I think of the raspberry jam. I think about how I'll never get to finish our deal now. In the fall, we probably won't even make crabapple jelly anymore.
Stephen gave me apple crisp after school on Friday. It was good, but I wondered why he gave it to me. We didn't usually get along, let alone give each other things. I wondered if Claire had told him about Grandpa. I wondered if she told everyone. I kind of hoped she would; I'd never be able to tell them all.
When I got home from school on Friday Mom had photos. Grandpa's film developed.
There were the big horn sheep, and the glacier lilies. There I was, standing at the top of the hill looking at Lake Minnewanka, standing in the snow. There were two pictures of the larch too. I hadn't even noticed him taking pictures of the tree on Monday.
And then there were the two self timer pictures. They would have been so funny, if only Monday had gone differently.
Grandpa had cut himself out of the photos.
In one photo, the dramatic one in which we were looking out across the mountains, only Grandpa's head was in the picture, and half of his hand. In the other photo where we were looking at the camera half of his body is out of the frame.
"There's probably more to the photo." Mom says. We look at the negatives, and sure enough there's more of Grandpa, though he's still not fully shown. "I'll take it in to Black's or somewhere and get them to print the picture more to the left."
The very last photos of Grandpa.
Grandpa bought me a camera for Christmas last year so here we are now, in spring, out at Nose Hill Park taking photographs of crocuses. They're such funny looking little flowers. They're all fuzzy, as if to protect themselves from the cold.
They blend in with the hill. Everything is brown and yellow, still waiting for true spring to arrive before blooming. Everything but the crocuses that is.
Grandpa comes up behind me while I'm taking a picture and watches me for a second. After a minute he says, "You know, you can pull up the grasses around the crocuses." And pulls away the yellow grass that partly obscures the flowers I'm taking pictures of. It looks much nicer.
Grandpa sets up a tripod so he can take really close-up photos of the flowers. After a while I've grown bored of taking photos of flowers and start looking around for something else to do while Grandpa takes his pictures.
I snap a photo of Grandpa, crouched among the grass peering through his camera at the crocuses. This picture is so Grandpa. It's just as Grandpa as the album of photos that Grandma has, pictures of Grandpa napping in different locations across Canada and Ireland.
I smile. The sky is so blue.
We went to see Grandma that night. Nicole wanted to get some pictures of Grandpa. The plan was to make a sort of scrapbook for Grandma, a scrapbook of Grandpa.
She went into the back for a while and came back with a couple of old albums. We sat down on the couch to look at photos.
I've always loved looking at photographs. They always made me feel happy somehow. Especially old photos, with their faded colours and funny clothing.
There weren't many pictures of Grandpa. I guessed it was because he was the one taking the pictures most of the time.
Grandma and Nicole came across a picture of Grandpa on a bike wearing a green pantsuit.
"When did Grandpa start wearing pantsuits anyway?" Nicole asked.
"I don't know." Grandma said. "Apparently a long time ago."
"Yeah, I can't even remember seeing him in pants and a shirt." Nicole said.
After supper Auntie Linda and Dad decided we should all have a sit down together and talk about Grandpa. Dad had prepared some notes before hand which he told us – all the things he loved about Grandpa.
"He never told you you couldn't do something." Dad said. "He would always encourage you. And he never got mad. I don't remember once ever seeing Grandpa raise his voice."
I wished he had given me time to write notes.
We talked about the good things about Grandpa for a while. His sense of humor, his generosity, his raspberry jam. I just sat back on the couch and listened. I'd always had a hard time jumping into conversations anyway.
He gave really good Christmas presents. He made the best faces. His pantsuits. His huge feet. How he delivered the paper to our house every day. He made the best porridge.
When I thought about it, Grandpa seemed like he had no faults. I couldn't ever remember being mad at him for anything, or annoyed with any of his little traits. And he in turn was always patient with everyone around him, and willing to help in any way.
I started to think about it and I wondered, how would we ever live without him?
If I knew I only had a week left, would I act differently?
We're hiking the whaleback trail. It's on some sort of communal property, where cattle farmers take their herds to graze and roam during the summer. We live in the land of the cowboy, that's for sure.
As usual, Grandpa and I are keeping our eyes peeled for flowers, but today he has a certain flower in mind.
"I'm looking for yellow bells." He tells me. "We saw some last week when we were out, so I'm wondering if there are any here. Keep your eyes open alright?"
"So these yellow bells," I ask, "they're like blue bells right? But yellow."
"Well, they're yellow, and they're shaped like bells…" He describes them to me. I smile. Makes sense.
I see a bunch of flowers off the path and we go to see them up closer. Yellow and orange flowers, I don't remember the names of, and forget-me-nots. I love forget-me-nots; they're such a bright blue colour. So cheery.
We take a few pictures and head back to the path. We're at the back of the hiking group by now, but that's ok because Grandpa is sticking with Kim, the slowest member of the group, and I'm sticking with him, at least for now.
When we start to climb he and Kim fall even further behind. I keep on with some of the faster members until we get to what I thought was the top, but turns out to be only one more hill before the top.
Here I stop and turn around. Grandpa and Kim are so far behind we can't see them anymore.
"I'm going back to my Grandpa." I tell the others and head back while they go on.
On my way down I start to run, just for the fun of it. Running is only fun when it's downhill. I find Grandpa and Kim a ways down the trail. Grandpa is wandering around the trail, looking for yellow bells still, and Kim is trucking on at her own pace.
"Any luck?" I ask him.
He shakes his head.
"Are you sure they actually exist?" I ask. "Are you sure you didn't just make them up?"
He scratches his chin. "I think they're real." He says. "I don't think I was hallucinating."
"If you say so." I say, and help him in his search.
Saturday was hiking day with the Social Climbers. We decided that the whole family would go. Or rather, they decided. I only went because I went every weekend, and I was trying to be normal, so it seemed like a logical thing to do in that case.
I hated seeing everyone again. I was glad to see them, and I was thankful for their consolations and conscious of their own grief, but I hated having to talk to them. I didn't know what to say. I felt so awkward. I just wished I could say nothing, so that I wouldn't have to worry about saying the wrong thing. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by doing that.
The hike was up Grass Pass, and beyond for whoever wanted to keep going. Our family ended up stopping for lunch at the top of Grass Pass and heading back down after lunch. We took pictures at lunch, though most from so far away you can't see anyone's faces anyway. I thought that was fine; you don't go hiking for the people. Or at least, that's not why I went hiking.
On the way back down Dad stayed behind with Kim. We waited in the cars for him for some time, while the other hikers who had come down with us were leaving. We planned to go out and get ice cream and coffee afterwards.
We waited for maybe half an hour and Dad still hadn't appeared, so some of the family went ahead. I stayed behind with Chantal and Uncle Doug to wait for Dad. We sat on the back of the car until it got too cold and windy and then we sat inside the car. I ate the last of the organic trail mix.
Dad got back and we drove to catch up with the others at the coffee shop. Chantal and I were talking, and we both said we wanted to hike up to the teahouse at Lake Louise. We asked if we could get a ride there on Sunday, since Chantal and Monique were going back to Ottawa on Monday, but no one else seemed enthusiastic about the idea.
In the car on the way back home we were talking about Kim and how much slower she was than the rest of the group. Dad said it was ok that he had stayed back with her because if Grandpa had been there then we would all have had to wait for him anyway, since he would have stayed with Kim in Dad's place.
I thought, 'If Grandpa had been here, then none of you would have.' But I didn't say it. It didn't seem like the right thing to say.
Lately I can't stop thinking about Grandpa. June 4th has started to haunt me again, after I hardly even thought of it all summer.
There's this voice in my head that I'd pushed out since then, but now it's come back, and it wonders, 'If Grandpa had stayed home that day, would he still be alive today?'
Everyone tells me it's not my fault, and I guess I know that. I know he had a heart attack, and there's nothing I can do about that, but still I wonder. If he had stayed home and relaxed that day, would he still have had a heart attack? Even if he did have a heart attack at home, would he have been able to survive, to get help soon enough from someone who knew what to do? What if I had known what to do? What if I could have done something? Was there anything that could have been done, anything more?
Lately I keep thinking about Grandpa and I know it was his heart that killed him, but I can't stop thinking that maybe he could still be alive today if it wasn't for me.
Sunday morning came around and I realized we would have to go to the tea house some other time. I must have slept until noon on Sunday. It was a lazy day.
The house had filled up with flowers throughout the week. Flowers for mom and dad, from their friends. I wondered, if I had told my friends, would I have flowers too? I wondered if Nicole had told her friends, if Stéphane's class knew what had happened. I wondered if it was wrong of me not to tell.
I finished typing up what happened Monday morning and printed it off for everyone else to read. I thought they would want to know what had happened, and I knew that I couldn't really talk about it, not nearly as accurately as I could write about it, so I wrote for them. I only wrote for them what happened in the morning though, before Grandpa fell. I couldn't bear to even write down what had happened in the afternoon yet, let alone tell them what had happened.
We had dinner together that night, at Grandma's house. She made a turkey dinner, like it was Thanksgiving, with mashed potatoes and yams. The only thing missing was Brussels sprouts, and Grandpa.
We were halfway through our meal when Chantal suddenly realized that Uncle Doug's fork was too big.
"I thought it was kind of big." He said. He had been eating with the turkey serving fork. It must have been awkward to fit it in his mouth.
We stayed at Grandma's house for a while after dinner, socializing before Monique and Chantal went home the next morning.
We came home late, but I didn't feel like sleeping yet, so I sat down and I started to write. I wrote about what happened Monday June 4th, in the afternoon. I had no plans to share it yet, but still I wrote, even though my eyes would tear up every paragraph or so and I'd have to stop and wipe them, and I kept getting drops on my page, no matter how careful I was, trying to keep the ink from spreading. It was so hard, but still I wrote.
I think that Grandpa died right away.
Well, I don't know really. This is the first time I've ever seen anyone die; the first time I've seen a dead body. Do dead bodies get rid of whatever air is left inside of them after death?
"Grandpa?" I ask. I put my hand on his shoulder and shake him a little. "Grandpa are you ok?"
He kind of snorts, breathes out loudly. The rattling sound he makes is terrible. There is snot and saliva on the ground under his face. Is he dead already, or is he still alive, still trying to breathe and live?
His glasses have slipped down his face so I take them off and hold onto them for him.
I stand up and look up and down the trail. There's no sign of anyone else. 'What do I do?' I wonder. I look down at Grandpa. I know I should get some help, but I don't want to leave him. I don't think he'd like to be left alone like that.
He's lying face down. He can't like that either, so I push him onto his back. There's blood on his forehead; he must have hit his head when he fell.
His eyes are half open. I've never seen Grandpa like this before, and it scares me.
I run away, down the trail, after the German couple. "Hello!" I yell, because for some reason when I try to yell 'help' the word gets stuck in my throat. It just feels wrong. "Someone! Hello!" I'm running and screaming at the same time, and I'm afraid I won't hear if someone does respond so I stop for a second to listen before I keep running again.
I hear something, but it sounds so far away. I stop. "Hello?" I call again, and hear an answer down the trail. I run further and find the German couple at last.
"There's something wrong with my Grandpa." I say. I just now burst into tears, having said what I'm afraid of.
They start to run. "Where is he?" The man asks. I tell him Grandpa's just up the trail. He runs ahead and the woman falls behind. We're running and I keep thinking, praying, 'Please, please, please.' I can't even think please what, I can't even ask for what it is I want. All I can think is 'please'.
I wish I believed in God.
We run uphill for a long time. It's a lot longer than I remember. My legs are tired and my throat is burning and I just keep thinking 'please' and try to keep up with the German man. All I really want to do is stop and throw myself on the ground and weep and throw a tantrum. I can't keep up anymore.
The German man got ahead of me, around one corner and the next. I can't see him anymore. All I can hear is my own breath and my mind, 'Please.'
I come around the corner just as the German man is dumping the contents of his Nalgene bottle on Grandpa's head. It doesn't wake him up, but it does get rid of the blood.
The woman catches up and they talk in German for a bit. He then runs down the trail. She tells me he's going to the parking lot to call for help.
I ask her if she has a cell phone. She says no.
We turn to Grandpa then. She asks me what his name is. For a second, I can't even think of it. I think, 'Grandpa' and then I say, "John."
She starts to call his name and shakes his hand. "John. John." She has a very nice voice, I think.
She turns to me and tells me I should try calling him too, so I do. "Grandpa." I call, saying it so weakly I can hardly hear myself; I know that won't do anything.
There are mosquitoes all over him. I don't know where they all came from; they just appeared when it fell it seems like. I brush them off and say, "Get off of him."
She stands back after a minute, behind me. She whispers 'Shit' to herself and I think, 'Exactly.'
She tells me she's going up the hill to find someone else. She asks me id I'll be ok alone. I don't think so, but I tell her I'll be ok anyway. She tells me to keep calling Grandpa's name and then leaves.
I crouch down beside him with my hand on his knee. "Grandpa. Grandpa." I keep calling because I was told to. He doesn't respond; somehow I know he won't. After a minute I give up and sit with my back turned to him, but I keep my hand on his knee. This feels safer still. I keep repeating his name. "Grandpa." I pull my knees up to my chin and hide my face. "You can't Grandpa. Grandpa. You can't. You can't."
I keep thinking this can't be happening; this can't be real. There's no way Grandpa can be dead. He's too healthy. It's not possible that he was alive and joking this morning and now he's dead.
I start to hyperventilate. I want to scream. I keep telling Grandpa, "You can't." But he doesn't listen.
I calm myself down when I hear the German woman coming back. She's alone. I don't look at her. I still have my hand on Grandpa's knee, so I take it off and put it around my own knees.
She sits down beside me. She says something I don't quite catch, too wrapped up in my own misery. After a minute she takes out some bug spray. "I have something for you at least." She says. "Or you'll be eaten alive." She starts putting it on for me and I feel kind of ridiculous so I hold out my hand for some and put it on myself.
When I feel my shoulder it is a mass of mosquito bite lumps.
She offers me water, but I turn it down.
It occurs to me that I just saw someone die. I just watched Grandpa die. It wasn't at all like what I had expected.
Eventually someone else comes down the trail. A man. I don't recognize his accent, but I know he's not Canadian either.
He knows CPR, so he and the German woman lay Grandpa out on the trail. I get up and try to help, but I can't do anything. There are purple splotches on Grandpa's forehead and I can hardly even look at him.
The voice inside my head now repeats, 'Grandpa is dead. Grandpa is dead.' And I can't get it to stop.
I look away when they start CPR. I don't want to see. I sit down on the trail and stare out through the trees. I'm so tired; I just want to lie down and sleep, but I don't want to alarm the others so I stay sitting where I am.
Two more couples appear. I remember seeing them up at the cirque, when Grandpa first complained about stomach pains.
One of those women offers me water. I refuse again. I look over my shoulder at Grandpa and quickly look away again. It's harder than I ever could have imagined.
I can hear them behind me, performing CPR on my dead Grandpa. "He's so congested." The American woman keeps saying. "I don't think there's any air getting into his lungs."
She asks if there's a pulse. The man holding Grandpa's wrist says yes, but only when his chest is being compressed.
I know he's dead. I want to yell at them, 'He's dead! Just leave him alone! Stop wasting your breath." But I know they're being so kind, and brave, and I don't want them to go away and leave me alone.
The German woman sits beside me and rubs my back. I hate having my back rubbed, but I don't say anything.
The man performing CPR says he has to stop. He says he'll vomit if he does it any longer. I think, 'I would have vomited long ago.'
They're running out of plastic bags. The American woman comes to her backpack beside me, looking for bags. I ask her if she needs more; I have some in my backpack.
My backpack is under Grandpa's feet. They put it under his feet when they laid him out. Grandpa always did say you should keep your feet elevated when you sleep.
The American woman asks me if there's anyone I want to call. I say I should call my Grandma so she gives me her cell phone. Once I have the cell phone in my hands I look at it for a minute before calling home. I can't handle talking to Grandma now.
No one answers the phone. I'm relieved, as little sense as that makes. I almost never want to tell anyone. If I could keep it a secret, I think, I would. I would keep this secret as long as possible.
It just doesn't seem real.
I give the American woman her phone back, telling her there's no one home.
The helicopter arrives. It can't land nearby, so it lets a man off at the cirque and we wait.
The American woman offers me her phone again. this time I work up my courage and call Grandma. She picks up.
"Hello?" She says. I start to cry again when I hear her voice.
"Grandma. It's Danielle."
"Danielle? Where are you?" She asks. It's hard to hear over the helicopter. I walk down the path away from Grandpa.
"I'm at C level cirque." I tell her.
"Are you ok?"
"I'm ok." I say. It's a lie of course, but physically I'm fine, so that is my answer. "But Grandpa's collapsed." I can't tell her he's dead, even though I know it's true.
She asks me again if I'm ok. I say yes, and I don't know what else to say. A second passes and I hear Grandma dialing numbers, so I hang up the phone and walk back to Grandpa.
The American woman puts her arm around me as I give her back the phone. She tells me I'm brave. I don't feel brave. I can't help that I'm here; if I could I don't think I would be. In this case I don't know what I could do that would make me a coward; I don't know what makes me brave either. I'm just here; I just don't have a choice.
"You'll have an amazing story to tell if your Grandpa lives through this." She says.
I almost start crying again. I know that Grandpa's not going to live through this. I think, 'And if he's dead? What story will I tell then? What will I tell everyone now?'
I sat down, and watched my knee bouncing up and down with nervous energy. I think, 'I've done it before, but I'm really not doing it on purpose now.' I push my palms against my knee to keep it from moving anymore.
The park warden arrives. He asks everyone about the situation, and tells them to keep up with the CPR. Then he comes to me. He asks me my name, and if Grandpa had any health conditions. "He had a hernia." I say, feeling stupid, but it's all I can think of. He asks me how old Grandpa is, and I don't even know. "Seventy two I think." I tell him. He gives me Grandpa's wallet and I put it in the chest pocket of my overalls.
The American woman asks me if I want to walk down the trail a ways. I say no. She says that maybe I wouldn't want to see Grandpa like that. I glance at him, and decide that I would like to go for a walk after all.
We're a little way down the trail when the park warden comes and tells us we should move because the helicopter is coming. He says they don't want us to get hit by any flying branches.
We sit back by Grandpa. Two paramedics arrive. The park warden tells them the situation. He asks my name again when he comes to the part where it's my Grandpa lying there. They ask again about Grandpa's age. I can't even remember how old I told them he was the first time they asked. I give them back his wallet.
They take out a machine that they put on Grandpa's chest, to see if they should try defibrillation. After a second it tells them not to bother.
I could have told them as much.
They start preparing to take him down the mountain. The park warden helps me get all my stuff together.
One of the paramedics takes Grandpa's camera, to take pictures of the body I think. "There's only two pictures left on the camera." I tell him, in case it matters, but I don't speak loud enough for the paramedic to hear. The park warden hears though, and tells the paramedic, when then puts it down and asks if anyone else has a camera.
I stare down at the camera. I want to take it, but I don't want to reach for it. I'm not sure if the paramedics still need it, but I don't want to leave it behind.
The warden holds Grandpa's wallet out for me. I think he must have been planning to put it in my side pocket, because when I hold open my chest pocket for him to put it in there he says, "Or if you'd prefer to have it in there, that's fine too."
I try to laugh. Maybe I do, a little. I want to tell him how much I love that chest pocket, but it seems too silly, too stupid.
He gathers up the rest of my stuff and gets us organized to go. He picks up the camera and puts it in Grandpa's backpack. I'm so relieved.
"Whenever you're ready," he says, "We'll walk down the hill."
I figure anytime is fine, so we start walking right away. We're just behind the German couple and the single man.
The warden introduces himself. His name is Art.
"Like Garfunkel." I say. I think, 'How perfect that I've finally met someone named Art.' I've been waiting to use that line for so long.
He says we can talk, or not, whatever I want. "Some people like to talk." He says. "Some people don't. Either way is fine."
I don't know what to say, so as usual I say nothing.
Somehow we get to talking anyway, thanks to him. We talk about traveling, and university though, not about Grandpa, for which I'm glad.
He tells me about his travels, in Europe and Australia, and how he ended up a park warden. We talk about living in Banff, and he tells me it's actually a bad place to try to start out, if you're trying to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Besides which, the real estate is too expensive if you're trying to save money.
I'm so glad to have him with me. I keep thinking it's nice to have something to think about other than Grandpa, but that's gets me thinking about him. I can't be thankful for the distraction without losing it.
It feels like we get to the bottom really quickly, much too quickly. Art tells me there'll be an RCMP there to talk to me, that they'll want to see Grandpa's wallet again, and ask me some more questions. I don't really want to do it.
The RCMP in the parking lot is French. I think to myself that he's good looking, and how inappropriate that thought is at the moment.
He asks to see Grandpa's wallet. I pull it out of my chest pocket and hand it to him. He asks some more questions and explains what will happen next. I nod, doing very well at keeping calm and not crying. My feet are uncomfortable in my hiking shoes, so I take them off while we talk.
He gives me back the wallet when we're done talking. Art gives me his card and tells me if I ever need anything I can call him. They tell me to turn my back as the helicopter takes off.
I ride in a police vehicle back into town. It's an SUV. I sit with my feet on the ground and my hand on the handle the whole way, staying very still. The windows are rolled down and the wind feels good on my face.
I don't cry. I've never been good at crying in front of others. Even Grandpa's death can't change that.
I've never seen the police station in Banff before, or if I have I didn't even think about it. It looks new to me.
We have to wait outside the door to be let in. The man who drove me there doesn't say anything to me. I guess he doesn't know what to say; in his situation I wouldn't know what to do.
A woman lets us in and I sit on a bench while the man explains what happened to her. I wonder what they must think of me. My feet are still bare.
The woman officer shows me into a room where I'll wait for another officer who will ask me some questions about the day. There's a desk in the room and three chairs. I sit on the chair in the corner.
I'm told I can use the phone to call home if I need to, but I don't want to get up and move across the room. There's a camera in the corner.
Soon after a man comes in and introduces himself. I forget his name almost as soon as I learn it. The female officer asks him if he wants the camera on and he says yes.
Once she closes the door he turns to me. He tells me he's just going to ask a few questions for the report, and then he asks me the questions. They're the same questions the French RCMP officer asked me earlier, but I'm to go into more detail this time, and this time I'm being recorded. Everything about today seems unreal.
When he's done asking questions he asks if there's anything else he can do for me.
"No…" I say at first, but I glance at the pads of paper on the desk. "Well actually, can I write on that paper?" I ask. I really need something to do.
He says yes and gives me his pen to use. "I'm sorry for your loss." He says before he leaves. I nod. I don't know what to say to that. Thank you? Me too? Why don't they teach us these things in school?
I start to write down some of the things that happened today because I'm afraid I'll forget. This turns out to be harder than expected, so I give up. I turn the page over and start to write about the after grad party instead.
The policewoman pokes her head in the door and asks me if I want any food or water. I shake my head. She asks me how old I am.
"Eighteen." I say.
"Nineteen?" She asks. I need to learn to speak up.
"Eighteen." I repeat.
"Oh. I'm sorry dear; it's just that you look like you could be twelve or twenty two." She tells me.
At the moment I feel like I'm ten.
I think of Claire and her mom, how they told me when we were looking through grad pictures that I look so young, like a little girl still.
The policewoman tells me they called victim support services and that they would be here soon and leaves me alone. 'I'm a victim?' I think. I hadn't thought of it like that.
I keep writing about after grad. I'm writing when the door opens and two women walk in. They introduce themselves; Marie and Julie, and sit in the other two chairs.
Marie asks me what I'm writing about, if I'm writing about what happened today.
"No actually, I'm writing about my grad." I tell her, kind of, sort of laughing.
They ask about my grad. I tell them it was two days ago.
"It's hard." Marie says. We all nod, not needed any clarification to know what she's talking about.
The policewoman comes and asks us if we want to move upstairs where there are couches. We move upstairs. We take the elevator, even though it's only one floor up, because it's confusing if you take the stairs she says.
We sit in that room for a few hours. I try to call home twice but no one picks up the phone. I say something about Mom being in Edmonton, so Marie assumes that Mom and Dad are divorced. I correct her.
She asks if Dad has a cell phone I can call. I say no. "Well isn't that wonderful?" She asks Julie, without a trace of sarcasm.
She asks me how I think Grandma should find out. Either the police in Calgary would have to go to Grandma's house and tell or I could call her and tell her.
I don't think I can tell her; I'm too afraid, so I say the police should tell her.
I ask Julie if she ever watches Battle Star Galactica, because I think she looks like Boomer. She says no, but that she wants to watch it now, to see what I mean.
We decide it would take too long if we wait for the Calgary Police to tell Grandma and then wait for someone from Calgary to come pick me up, so we drive back to the C level cirque to pick up Grandpa's car for the drive back home. They ask me if I'm ok going to the trailhead.
"I don't have any particular aversion to it." I say, so we go.
When we get there the parking lot is empty except for Grandpa's car. They ask if I'm ok driving in Grandpa's car and I say yes.
I had thought I would fall asleep.
We drive for a while before I start to cry. I'm surprised by it all of a sudden, and turn away from Julie to cry.
We're just outside of Banff when her cell phone rings. It's my Dad. He's talking in French and asks where we are.
"On vient juste de partir." I tell him. I have to repeat myself.
He tells me to go to Grandma's house instead of our house. He asks me if I'm ok. He asks to talk to Julie again.
After I say goodbye to Dad I feel very calm. I think, 'Dad's voice is nice. I never realized before that it calms me.'
We drive in silence. After a while I start to cry again. I can't help it. My stomach feels all squirmy and ticklish and the tears come out without any effort on my part.
I keep thinking, 'What will I do? What can I say?' I don't want to go to Grandma's house. I don't want to see anyone. I keep wishing that they didn't know, so that somehow I could hide this ugly truth and no one else would ever have to know.
I turn on the radio.
Nothing is real.