The Prescription Form: A Bus Ticket to Monterrey


Nuevo Laredo Border, 1994

Let’s say you are cold and heartbroken.  Let’s say your ears hurt from listening for truck wheels cracking on the gravel driveway, and for the sing of your screen door being lifted back.  Do they hurt, in other words, from listening for sounds that don’t come?  Let’s say it’s the same old heartbroken story, old as time, and only yours.  Let’s say one minute you’re lying together, just your edges overlapping.  Your hair and T-shirts are damp from the river,  and in the screaming chorus of crickets and locusts your voices fade to whispers.  Then:  silence.  Absence.  A stack of letters on the windowsill; their handwriting softening you like a smile.  Let’s move winter’s icy air into the haunted room, through the holes in the screens.  Let’s acknowledge that you have given up altogether:  on eating, on caring, on being with anyone who is not someone, which would be everyone.

Here is what you do.  The first thing is, take the belongings you have—they might not be many at this point, since Who Cares—and jam them into a pack that grips your shoulders and rides down the length of your spine, like a piggy-backing toddler would.  Then pick up the phone—and maybe your hand will be so frozen you’ll have to manually fold your fingers around the receiver with your other hand—and start calling people.  Initially you should apologize for disappearing.  Refrain from mentioning  your heart, which would create a silence packed with fear and embarrassment.  Listen patiently awhile before asking:  Will you drive me to the Mexican border?  And again:  Will you drop me at the border?  You should always have a friend who says yes.  Give her your rocks-with-eyes collection and hand her chocolate digestive biscuits as she drives.  Notice as you coast forward the day will get brighter and more crowded, until it turns into an outright carnival:  the border.  When you tell your friend goodbye it might feel like acrobats are hand-springing and tightrope-walking and unicycling all around you.  Even if you’ve stopped touching people, grip her tightly and stay in the hug.  Because you can’t know when the next one will come.

It doesn’t much matter where your ticket is to, or if your tongue can do the aerobics required to pronounce it.  Choose a third class bus, if possible—a rickety one with scarred seats and windows, with seat-backs low enough to show the human shapes above them.  A bus in which the driver, despite having a colourful collage of Mary and Jesus and the Virgen de Guadalupe tacked above the dash, will drive as though he means to kill you.   That gulp you take on the flying corner, that pounding in your chest on the jolted brakes:  that means you want to live.  Behind you a chicken will peck at empty air.  A few seats ahead, a family will spread an entire three course meal across their laps.   Some of the saddest eyes you meet with yours will shift magically into laughing eyes.  Take these eyes for your teachers.  A baby will fill a diaper; A tray of cut roses will pass under your nose.  How long until the medicine kicks in, and you know with certainty that you aren’t on this bus to get anywhere?  This bus…it was the place where you were headed.  To cement this notion, a man in a pressed blue shirt wearing a guitar will board the bus and step into the aisle.  And what surprise you will feel then, what relief, for you had no idea sorrow could be sung so loudly. So proudly.  Even the people in torn shirts and broken shoes will lean over to drop coins into his can.  Go ahead; you do it too.  Mi Corazon!  The singer will belt out.  Mi Corazon!  And even though a señorita is involved, it will be clear—you will hear it right there in his voice—that what he really loves is his own heart.


Call Them Friends More Loudly



A Post-Election List (Of All I Don’t Know) For My Canadian Sons

1. I know I said in September that I was never drinking alcohol again, but I drank alcohol last night when the election results rolled in.  To be more specific, I gulped tequila in a way that made cartoon glug glug glug sounds.  I know how it might look to you—like a failure, a surrender, or a disappearance.  At the least, it looks like I carry a glass differently when it has alcohol in it.  Less like a tool, and more like a flower.

2.  I know when the electoral votes were being tallied I told you, older son, that if you were offered any future soccer scholarships to American universities you were only allowed to accept one from a blue state.  Just disregard that; I was being over-dramatic.  You can go anywhere.  I may or may not accidentally have to find out how the coach voted in 2016.

3. I know someone in your class said if Trump won he was going to bomb Canada, younger son.  That is a fib.  It was just some other parent being over-dramatic.  I know when you were in Kindergarten and had your first earthquake drill, you came home from school and asked me when you would get to have the bomb drill.  I remember this because your brother answered:  “The bomb drill is you die.”

4.  I know you guys compel me, just by being my sons, to look for bright sides—to invent them if need-be.  Thanks for this ability to fabricate shiny ties to swirl around nicely-wrapped packages of bullshit.   Shortly before the election I told you that even if Trump got elected he might not last long.  I said it would be like if ——— (boy who is always losing his temper and taking it out on others) suddenly became principal of your school.

“And how long would that last?” I asked you.

“Maybe a few days,” you—my dependably thoughtful older son—said.  “Because everyone would be really nice to him.”

“Not EVEN a flippin’ minute!” you—my dependably dramatic younger son—barked.

And I smiled, because in that moment you were both so very much yourselves.  Barring the prospect of censorship, maybe Donald Trump winning will make everyone more themselves, more loudly and proudly themselves.  I mean with their brains and mouths, instead of with abuse and automatic weapons.  This will make for more fights—evident in the media and on social platforms already—but it can also make for more discussion and more art.  More Art!  More Art because Donald!  (This is what I mean by tying fake bows on bullshit.)

5. I know you know how lucky I feel to be living in Canada because you’ve seen, the few times we’ve left the country, how I slink through the airport line holding my United States of America passport with the eagle pressed against me, so that no one will see it.  You’ve seen how I shoot mean darts with my eyes at anyone who mentions where I’m from.  This started quite by accident twenty years ago at the Bundaberg Rum Company in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia when the tour-guide asked for a show of hands to see where we were from.  And I found my hand refusing to lift when it should, creeping up instead when the guide said “And Canada?  Anyone here from Canada?”  It’s easy to be called a fibber when you want to side with the story.  It’s complicated, though: some dreams begin as lies.  Anyway, even though I talk increasingly about going to live in Darren Kelly’s bathtub in Dublin, mostly I’m just wildly happy to be here in Canada, where sense and justice prevails.  I’m so grateful at times, boys, that I feel like my body is falling to one knee—falling and falling with thanks, even as I stand shock-straight under the low, ball-slammed ceiling of your school gym singing We Stand on Guard for Thee.   

6.  I know you have to lump a whole country’s people together to bash a country.  And I figured Canadians were too smart, too fair and considerate to do that.  I would have thought smugly castigating an entire country on the night that country is being slammed in the neck by its people would be—what’s the word—Un-Canadian.  I was wrong.  I get it, though.  Every American here was saying, by way of apology, “I don’t know anyone who voted for Trump!” which rather just emphasizes that none of us even know our own country.  And maybe that’s it.  Maybe the problem is I don’t know enough American idiots to be a proper Canadian.   

7. I know no one is an idiot.  Every person is too complicated to be just that.  And I may have implied this above, but it bears a begging clarity:  please try never to lump a whole country together.  I know this advice rules out some careers you might pursue or some jokes you might tell—but they’re not usually the funny jokes, anyway.  The funniest jokes come from the opposite effort, of looking really closely at someone in a new way.  Anyway, somebody—not your mama—would say to hold off opinions on this or that country until you’ve been dropped on a road inside it with no ID, food or money.  And then you can begin to form an opinion, depending on who comes along to hurt you or help you.  As your mama I find that advice appalling.  As your mama I will say instead that to accompany any country’s statistics I would wish you some faces to picture, and some conversations to remember.

8. I know I told you this morning that I was thinking of my friends in the USA.   I meant black friends, gay friends, international friends, women friends, subversive artist friends.  Injured friends, friends struggling with mental illness.  Intelligent, eloquent, kind friends who will turn on radio after radio to another wince-worthy mean-spirited Trump speech.  There are so many people who have worked so hard—over generations in many cases—to feel of value, to feel in community.  And on the morning after the election they wake up all alone, on enemy lines.  So I should call them friends loudly, more loudly than before.  I should also literally call them, and tell them about our backyard.

9. I know, too, that if you only talk to your friends, you can believe everyone is like your friends.  You can start to feel the whole population believes like you, thinks like you, aspires to the same things as you, chooses like you.   Or, as this really cool woman named Anais Nin who Donald Trump would absolutely hate, said: “We don’t see people as they are.  We see people as we are.”  

Now is a good time to be wondering, is it possible to be both comfortable and informed?  Both secure and working for the greater good?  And how do you balance between protecting yourself (towards flourishing) within a nurturing social circle and crashing out into the skids, into the great big sea of crazy-talking strangers?   When you guys were toddlers at the park I saw how it could start, the way some parents cast a suspicious eye if I spoke to their child WHO DID NOT KNOW ME.  And some parents hovered and helped unnecessarily, fearing injury at the tiniest of slides.   To move this example aptly from monkey-bars to a Trump presidency, maybe the work we need to be doing now—In the U.S.A., in Canada, in Ireland, in wherever your fresh little finger lands on the spinning globe—maybe it can’t be done if we fear The Other and aim to avoid Big Insult or Bad Injury.  What necessary change can we work for, if that fear and avoidance is our primary focus—in living or in parenting?

10.  I know even safely here in Canada this blow—the election—may cause some grown-ups, ahem, to seem more distant or puzzled or scared or grouchy or sad or drunk or conversationally boring than usual.  They may try to preach at you in ways you don’t understand (see list, above).   Just carry on, guys.  Keep being your cool open-eyed and engaged selves.  That will help slam tall hand-wringers like me back into the moment, where all the good work is done anyway.     Also, you have my permission—rather, my encouragement—to keep on singing the Heat Miser song (global warming?  What global warming?) whenever the flaming orange hair of Donald Trump appears on the TV screen.  I promise no matter how loudly you sing it I won’t say you’re being too loud.