I only met her once. She was the close friend of a close friend. While I don't remember much about what we did together that evening over a decade ago, I remember the feeling she left; the sweet scent of a floral perfume that lingers behind the wearer. She was the kind of girl Cindy Lauper sang about in her 1983 hit song. She was the kind of girl, I remember, who could get away with wearing a shirt that was just that little bit too short. In my signature black turtleneck, I envied her that freedom. She had a variety of laughs, in the way that a chef has a variety of spices. A hearty laugh, a sly laugh, a conspiratorial laugh.
A few Mondays ago, however, while I was doing Monday-evening type things -- likely getting caught up on previously recorded episodes of a favourite television series -- she was spending the last night of her enchanted life in an Edmonton hospital bed. The next day, on an otherwise not-particularly-special Tuesday, this girl who for so many years just wanted to have fun -- who was once captured by an iPhone as she stood triumphantly in the mist of Mount Robson, arms spread victoriously toward the sun -- closed her eyes. The gentle wave of her white flag came three years after a cancer diagnosis she had once identified as "a divine tap on the shoulder." In that silent moment of surrender, the lifelong ache of two children who will yearn for their mom from within the jagged crevices of their broken hearts began.
When things like this happen, when a young mom dies, those who process the tragedy typically think of the big things. The milestones. Oh, she will miss the weddings, the graduations, the birth of her babies' babies, most people observe. But not me.
No, I think of 6 p.m.
In my home, every evening at 6 p.m., the whole thing unravels. And by "thing" I mean the rhythm of the day; the cadence to which we march the minutia of our lives. My husband and I refer to 6 p.m. as the official launch of the Witching Hour. They say you can set your watch by the reliability of the train schedule in Europe. I say you can set your watch by the reliability of the Witching Hour. (I also say: who even wears a watch anymore?! Professional athletes who sign three-year contracts ripe with zeros and commas and rappers aside, of course.)
Simply put, at 6 p.m. in my home, everything goes to pot.
Despite the fact that we have jazz playing in the background (calming!), candles burning in the fireplace (zen!), and we're seated around the dining table in an electronics-free environment (civilized!), it's as if someone conducting our family life's orchestra has shown up high on cocaine. Everything becomes frenetic. Nonsensical. Mishmashed. On cue, IKEA cups topple. Matching pink cutlery pieces drop into the cat's water bowl in virtual unison. A toddler transforms what was once recognizable as pasta into a spa-like facemask. Noses start to run a stream of never-ending liquid honey. The dog grabs a veggie burger patty off a highchair tray. A four-year-old declares: "I have to poop NOW, mommy!" And my husband and I give each other that: "Are we starring in a movie about a couple who had children in their 40s and now find themselves reminiscing about what dinners used to be like?!" look.
(Jazz, candles, calming, zen, civilized!)
Yes, when I think of the girl who just wanted to have fun -- the one who danced in my townhome's living room and ran giddily up the stairs for a reason that now escapes me -- dead at the age of not-even-40, I think of 6 p.m.
The Witching Hour is about as relaxing as a root canal. It's about as relaxing as being stuck in rush hour traffic with a full bladder. It's about as relaxing as waking up with a summertime hangover in a sweaty tent. But for as much as my dinner hours are a hot mess, they're my hot mess. They're the accidental selfie that needs no filter. They're the nostalgic soundtrack my husband and I will pine for when small kids who go to pre-school become grown kids who go to college. They will wave from car windows as they pull away and, in their literal and figurative rear view mirrors, they will watch us become smaller as the world becomes bigger. In the emptiness of this future home -- toys long packed away or passed along -- we will agree that 6 p.m. is far too quiet now.
In years to come, when jazz and candles successfully serve to create their intended tranquil backdrop, my husband and I will no doubt miss the comforting chaos of the Witching Hour. The girl who just wanted to have fun, however, will miss out on hers altogether. And the difference -- the chasm between simply "missing" something that has run its course and "missing out" on something you've been robbed of altogether at cancerous gunpoint -- is so wide it twists my heart. That unshakable knowing and the recognition of the impermanence of it all is nothing if not my very own divine tap on the shoulder.
Thank you, Drea