I haven’t been home in a while.
It’s been a year and a half since I last landed in Halifax – which, when I think about it, is probably the longest I have ever been away from the city in my entire 34 years.
Sitting here in the desolate and utilitarian Ottawa International Airport, dining on Twizzlers and Tim Horton’s hot chocolate, I’m feeling nervous. (And twitchy from the sugar.)
I keep thinking about how my last visits, and now this one too, have been about goodbyes.
Last February, I flew home to spend two weeks with my mum helping her prepare for her third round of chemotherapy. When I hugged her on Sunday, February 25th, I did not think that it would be the last time I would hold her fully, tightly in my arms.
But I did cry the entire way home to Vancouver. I knew something was off – and I was feeling unmoored and panicked.
Three days later I received a frantic text message from my younger sister at 5:45 in the morning letting me know that our mother was unresponsive in her bed and that paramedics where on their way to the house to take her to the hospital.
A few hours later, I was on a flight back to Halifax with my sister, her wife, and their son. I sometimes try to remember pieces of that day, but everything is hazy in my desperation – how sick I was with sadness and fear. A soggy salad at a sports bar in Montreal.
Forgetting to pack socks.
Watching Battle of the Sexes on the plane because my mum had taught me about Billie Jean King as a young girl, and I believed somehow that this would bring her healing energy.
(I think this is what Joan Didion calls ‘magical thinking.’)
Instead, I just wept into a cocktail napkin and tried to stop my palsied body, shaking from worry.
She died eight days later. We said goodbye as I held her hand.
In May, I flew down for her celebration of life and to pack up her house. I was delayed leaving Vancouver, which made me miss my connection in Calgary, which then necessitated a further connection in Toronto.
I broke down to the man at the WestJet information table.
“I have to get to Halifax today,” I cried. “My mum died.”
He was visibly taken aback. “Oh dear, I am so sorry.” But he explained to me that there were no other flights, and that I would be stuck with my new route.
“She died,” I whispered. “And I’m tired.”
On the last day of the trip I told my older sister, “I am never coming back here ever again.”
We had spent the entire day packing boxes and moving furniture. I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
I felt like I had been hit by a truck.
As we drove to the Greyhound station to ship several pieces she wanted to send back to Vancouver, I told her that I hated the city.
“You don’t mean that,” she said.
“I do,” I replied.
I had already been to the station earlier in the day with two boxes of my stuff. As she sorted out her shipment, I bought a can of Coke and sat outside on a bench.
It was one of those perfect Maritime days – where the sky is too large and so blue, and the clouds are somehow both backlit and glowing. It’s a beauty that pierces. It stings, and it hurts.
And it breaks your heart in two.
Sitting there, I felt the warmth of the late spring sunshine on my bare arms and legs, and I tried in vain to catch the crumbling pieces of my heart in the palm of my hand.
And I said it again, aloud, to no one.
“I’m never coming back here again.”
A year and a half later, I’m still tired.
And yet here I am, waiting like I have countless other times, to fly back to Halifax.
To a city that I do love.
A city that is my blood.
A city that is my mum.
And maybe I’m just tired of goodbyes.
Maybe this time, I’ll be quiet.