She Already Knows

eagle bigThe eagle arrived shortly after Mum died, perching in the uppermost branches of the Ponderosa pine across the street and soaring past the kitchen window once or twice per day.

She’s not here all the time, but most weeks she visits at least once or twice. Then, when we go to stay at the cabin on the coast the eagle will be there, too, her soulful call echoing around the bay. Once, when one of Mum’s closest friends agreed to hike with me up to Whyte Lake on Vancouver’s North Shore, which had been their regular jaunt together, the eagle was there again, gliding silently above the cedars as if to say: It’s okay. I’m here.

Then there’s the dog—her dog, who became our dog, and has been ours now for four years—he goes berserk when he hears the eagle. He barks and growls and hops up or down from wherever he’s been sleeping, turning himself in circles, furious, as if something has shuffled the natural order of things. No other birdcall does this to him, so it makes you wonder. And of course there was our old dog who we lost the year after Mum and how hard that was, to feel a new void inside the larger, deeper hollow that was nowhere close to being healed. Imagine our shock, just days after we’d said that second hard goodbye, to look up at the Ponderosa tree outside and see not one eagle but two. As we watched—I’m not making this up—the larger eagle lifted a wing and seemed to wrap it around the shoulders of the smaller bird and they sat nestled together like that at the top of the tree, while we wept.

We can’t know if the eagle is my mother, that my sassy, singsong, clown-about Mum died and became this most stern and dour of birds. But it is true that I’m often thinking of her when I hear the eagle’s cry or that she opts to wheel past when I’m standing at the sink and thinking: there is nothing I wouldn’t give to be able to pick up the phone and hear her voice.

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I have been trying to write this blog post for weeks. Today the heat of a July afternoon is leaching the blue from the sky and the last of the long-weekend boats are growling shoreward, leaving birdsong in their wake. Our own house guests have packed up and left, leaving us grateful for old friends and also grateful for washing machines and dishwashers. Grateful. At breakfast, before they left, the eagle soared past and my old friend pointed it out to his young daughter. Look! The eagle.

I’ve been parceling out my own wondrous news to old friends like these for weeks: telling just one, then another. It is as if trumpeting my good fortune to too many people at once will jinx it or dilute it—dissolve it altogether. Instead, for almost a month, I’ve permitted myself a modest but steady stream of gratifying gasps and hugs and clinking of glasses; phone calls at odd times of day; elated texts and e-mails; exclamation marks on WhatsAp. On at least two continents, friends have misted up for me and said: Your Mum would be so proud.

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Maybe it’s more true to say that I’ve been trying to write this blog post for months. That I’ve felt the nag of a blank and wordless screen on a website read by fewer people than I’ll have as house guests this summer. The fact is, if one has decided to comfortably call herself a writer but is not writing, not even something pithy and disposable like a blog post, one feels the sticky fingers of failure plucking at one’s sleeve.

I’ve already confessed that my novel got sent out to publishers back in March, and all the words I might have used to express how thrilled, how naked, how utterly terrified I felt went clattering down the road after those hopes, waving their arms and wailing. I had nothing worth saying, or no good way of setting it down. And oh, oh, how I wanted to call my Mum.

If I’ve learned anything these last four years it’s that times of difficulty, uncertainty, or sadness are not when I miss her most. I learned how to survive those when I learned to survive her leaving. What’s harder still is knowing she was robbed of the chance to burst with pride, inventing excuses for dropping my news casually in conversation with friends and strangers.

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The real truth now: I’ve been trying to write this blog post my whole life, long before the internet, long before blogs were ever invented as a place for people to prattle on about their dull striving. I’ve been turning these words around in my brain from the moment I decided words were something I cared about too much, sheepishly testing one phrase then another. I’ve dreamed about what I might say if.

When my agent emailed me with the news that we had an offer on my book, my eyes gobbled down the words then burst into tears. Tears of joy, I’m sure, because I’ve longed for this more than I care to admit, such an unseemly want. But tears of anger too. Because how preposterous, how ludicrously unfair, that I don’t get to share my good news with my Mum. Instead, I just waited for it to seem official enough to share on Facebook.

But she flew by the window again that weekend while our house was full of summer visitors. When my old friend pointed out the eagle to his daughter, I told him: That’s my Mum. And he, who having lost his own mother and father knows a thing or two about absences and how we scrabble to fill them, took this in stride with a quiet nod.

She’s been around even more than usual, I might have told him, soaring low and calling into the wind. I like to think she’s trilling my news to anyone who will listen. She’s there this very minute, I expect, swaying on the highest branches, bursting with pride.