Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Best Thing I've Ever Done

On the radio and in real life, parents are frequently telling me that, without a doubt, having children is “the best thing they have ever done.” Absolutely, I believe them. Though my conviction that I do not want children is nearly pathological, I do feel some remorse at the knowledge that my eternal tits will never expand and acquire the mind-blowing capacity to squirt the gift of life across the kitchen. People tell me there is time to change my mind. While we’re waiting, if anyone is wondering about the best things I’ve ever done, this is what I’ve come up with so far.

 

One

 
“Yours til the merry goes round.”
 
1992 to approximately 1994
Grade Three and Grade Four
I am seven to nine years old.
 
Every morning, I religiously wake up as soon as the hands of my Mickey Mouse watch reach 6:30. I walk my beloved husky dog Emma, and upon returning, immediately cover a few spoonfuls of oatmeal with a two-inch layer of yogurt and brown sugar. While I was walking the dog, I mailed a letter, and now it is time to write another one. The letter is for my grandparents, Olga and Julius Schmidt. They live in a manor in Dominion City, Manitoba. Each letter begins with “Dear Grandma and Grandpa, How are you? I am fine.” Generously I fill them in on all the fascinating details of my seven to nine-year old existence. Swim meets, Christmas pageants, violin lessons, chapter books, and excellent jokes.
 
For example, “What goes, ‘ha, ha, ha, PLOP!? Answer: Somebody laughing their head off.”
 
Ha. I sign off each letter with, “Yours ‘til plus something charming and delightful, such as, “Yours til the jelly rolls, Yours til the banana splits, or Yours til the merry goes round.” I meticulously decorate each envelope with Mr. Sketch Smelly markers. My grandfather, nearly ninety used to call me his “personal correspondent.” Both of my grandparents cherished these letters. On my end, these epistolary efforts were totally spontaneous, wholehearted and sincere.
 
It’s always nice to remember
Back when you used to be a darling.


 
Two
 
“It’s a hard time for you.”
Montessori School Bathroom,
May 2014, 28 years old.
 
In Nova Scotia, my Ontario-bred French is considered to be exceptional enough to teach three to six year olds how to sing some cheerful, catchy songs about robots and  how to push in their chairs, wash their hands and have a snack in French. As the French assistant, I was only allowed to speak English in the bathrooms. The theory was that it was already frustrating and traumatizing enough to wet or poop your pants at school. Some strange lady yattering away at you in a foreign language as you try to navigate through three-year-old fecal chaos would contribute to unnecessary overwhelm. So in the bathroom, I spoke English.
 
One little boy who often found himself navigating fecal chaos also struggled quite a bit with transitions. If the Tidy Up Bell rang and he was in the middle of something and not ready for it, impressively distraught meltdowns would ensue. Could I ever relate to this. For the one year and ten months that I worked at the Montessori School, the seven minutes leading up to when I had to head out the door were among my most hideous. Me and the Boatman, my boyfriend at the time, had actually devised a bribing system that would reward me with imaginary stickers every time I did not unravel entirely. Eventually I could convert a certain number of imaginary stickers into new pens. Not every morning brought me any closer to earning new pens.
 
So I completely understood where my bathroom friend was coming from. (And he happened to be one of my favourites.)
 
One morning, yet again, his sphincter timing was off, and there we were, in the bathroom as the tidy up rang.
 
“Oh no,” sobbed my little friend. “Tidy up!” His face was so sad.
 
I looked at him straight in his teary eyes and said, “This is a hard time for you, isn’t it?” The psychologists, they call this “mirroring.”
 
“Is a ard time for me,” he repeated, weeping, but nodding.
 
During my year or so at the Montessori School, I’m afraid I was sometimes grumpier than I needed to be. I was so grateful for the kids like this one who showed me I was not actually dead inside and that in fact, my heart could melt. And that moment in the bathroom, I totally nailed it.
 
Three
 
“Do you want some lemonade?”
Rue Waverly, Mile End
Summer of 2016, 30 years old.
 
On my side of Waverly, there’s a little old lady named Lena who brings out her chair and sits on her front stoop from the moment the sun comes out every morning. Sitting on the porch and watching people go by, this is what they call, “The Mile End Dream.” But I often wondered if maybe Lena was lonely.
 
“Do you want some lemonade?” I asked her one afternoon. I was procrastinating some project by buying Perrier. (Highly badass.)
 
“Oh okay,” said Lena. “The same as you.”
I came back with some lemon flavoured San Palegrino. As we consumed our carbonated beverages, Lena told me about her life in a combination of French and English and Italian.
 
“57 years married Good man. Since eleven years gone.” This was Lena’s husband. They had two children, “one boy, one girl.”
“No boyfriend, you. You live alone? Costs too much.” I told her I lived with two roommates.
“That’s good. Otherwise, costs too much.” But she still seemed insistent that I look for one good man, one boyfriend.
I tried to keep visiting Lena over the winter. Despite being a terrible cook, one time I even brought her some soup.
“Eighty-seven years me. Eighty-eight. 1926 Day of Saint Antonio.” Saint Antonio stands on a table in her dining room, surrounded by vases of dying and artificial flowers and some framed photos of her grandchildren.
“It’s a lot for you to clean this all by yourself,” I once asked her.
“Oh, not too bad,” said Lena. “I do just a little bit every day.”
Yes, quite a little bit. The last time I went inside Lena’s house, there were fruit flies flying through the hall and into the front living room. The air did not smell magnificent. Lena was in the kitchen eating some sort of ravioli pasta that maybe her son had brought her. The fruit flies, it seemed were coming from a slice of rotting honey dew melon. Lena didn’t want to throw the whole thing out, so I helped her cut off the offending layer and watched her eat the rest. This was back in December.
All through January, February and March, I just could not manage to knock on the door. I did not feel like facing Saint Antonio, or the fruit flies. Every time I passed Lena’s house, I would feel kind of guilty, and hope that she was okay. Then the sun came back out and there was Lena back on her porch. She was wearing the same outfit she wore all last summer and into December, with some extra wool socks, and a sweater.
“Hi Lena,” I said.
“Oh, it’s you. Since a long time you not come. Where you live now?”
“Oh same place.” I pointed a few houses down.
“You live alone?”
I told her about my roommates, to which she approved. “Otherwise, cost too much.”
As I said goodbye and walked through her gate, she called out, “One good man you find. Good man. Boyfriend.”
Probably I could have done a little better with Lena. But there’s still time. If you want to visit Lena, hit me up and I’ll give you her address. Or you can just look out for her a little old lady living the Mile End Dream on Waverly. Bring her cookies, bring her bagels, bring her coffee, bring her soup. Or apples. Or just ask her how she’s doing and let her tell you about her husband, and how the rent and the chauffage cost too much.
 
Four
 
Where is Emma Fillipoff
Asking People About Their Lives
September 2015
I am 29 years old.
 
2015 was a pretty prolific year here at the Ecstatic Adventures of the Exuberant Bodhisattva. In an effort to be less self-absorbed, and because I love talking to people, I started this series called, Asking People About Their Lives. The format was unstructured conversations with people I found interesting and then I would transcribe the interview and convert it into a relatively coherent and readable article.
 
For my third interview subject, I met with my beloved grade-six French teacher Shelley Fillipoff. In November of 2012, Shelley’s daughter Emma went missing in Victoria, BC. Emma’s story is frightening, perplexing and haunting. We still have no idea where she is, or what happened.
Shelley was amazingly generous and candid in her account of Emma’s life and the months leading up to her disappearance. We sat on her couch for over three hours. So many moments, I felt so stunned.
 
I turned the interview into a nine-part blog series called, “Where is Emma Fillipoff.” In addition to Shelley’s account, I tried to include all the facts and perspectives I could find. Although some of the titles evoke Reader’s Digest, and of course things can always be improved, I am really proud of how focussed and dedicated I was to this project. I even persevered and triumphed through finicky formatting which I always used to outsource to my ex-boyfriend.  On a sadder note, we are close to where we started on the search for Emma Fillipoff. I never knew Emma all that well, and yet I often dream of her. When I wake up, I always wish I had more answers.



Where is Emma Fillipoff (One)


Five
 

L’Arche Montreal

2005-2007

I am 19 to 21 years old.
 

When I was nineteen years old, I was desperately seeking God slash Jesus and also inner peace. I knew about the transformative healing there was in taking care of people with intellectual disabilities, and so I quit McGill and moved to L’Arche. There I lived and shared my life with five people with intellectual disabilities, and two or three other assistants. One of my favourite parts was helping Isabelle with her morning routine. Isabelle has cerebral palsy and does not move all that much. If we wanted to make it in time for her 7:15 school bus, I had to fill her feeding bag with Peptamen by 6:05. As I rolled Isabelle down the wooden ramp to meet her busdriver Cynthia, I remember feeling like every person and every crevice of life was so important. And it all felt so connected.
 

After two years, I left L’Arche to finish university. This decision came with quite a bit of conflictand guilt. As though I was so essential, and I was leaving my people behind.

 

And yet the truth is, there was no need to feel selfish.
Someone will always show up to be with Isabelle.
But the possibility that I could show up for myself with the same grace and wholeness as Isabelle did,
This seemed more precarious and unlikely.   
 
Six
 
Valentine’s Day 2017
I am 31 years old
 
I mailed a French novel from the Dollar Store to my mother. The novel was called, “Ma Mercedes contre un tracteur, Tome 2.” I made a card and wished my mother a Joyeuse Saint-Valentin in French. She was thrilled.

Me and my own copy of the dollar store novel, which was so riveting I would never ever re-gift it.

The End.

Yours Forever,
Erica J. Schmidt


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Where is Emma Fillipoff (One)
What People Really Need
Yours Til Ekam Inhales


What I Think About When I Think About Brand Name Q-Tips


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