Friday, 13 January 2012

Home, Sweet and Sour

There is never any pleasure in the realigning.

Whenever I go to Anissa, the chiropractor of every bone in my family's collective body, I fear the alignment. The whole process begins with a problem - an unsettled joint, a strained muscle, an ache, a pain, a problem. After greeting the receptionist you sit down in the chair with the funny back rest and realize just how terrible your posture has been as of late; sadly, you realize that your back pain is at least partially your own fault. Keep those shoulders back, and you might be in this office less.

The next part is wonderful: Anissa (or Meegan, sometimes) ushers you into the first room and ask how things have been going in life. While you give updates on siblings and school or work (or neither), she lays you down and puts weighted heating pads all down your spine and tells you to relax and have a little nap. Then she leaves, to align another client or get a glass of water. I never actually know what happens at this point, as I tend to actually fall asleep.

Inevitably your ten minutes of warm and peace conclude with a buzzing, bleeping timer and your chiropractor returns. She removes your heat, makes you stand, waits patiently as you steady yourself and escorts you to the next room. In contrast, this room is always colder (or feels it, as you've just been in the dozy, dopey sleep-heat a moment before), and the light is more diffused. During my last visit, Anissa spent a fair amount of time letting me cry and explain why I was feeling so heartbroken and miserable... a double fix. The psychologist bit doesn't last forever though, and eventually I find myself face down again (this time on chilled leather/vinyl) with Anissa's hands preparing to crack my back. "Deep breath, and, out..." she says.

It is incredibly difficult to relax your muscles at this point. Anyone who has gone through this before knows exactly what it takes to realign: your breath is pressed right out of you, a sharp pain jolts through your body, and you can hear it. The problem, what was out of tune and out of place, is set to rights again, movement restored, things are as they should be once more... but the alignment itself is an unpleasant process.

I feel like I'm waiting for God to crack my back.

When I moved to Hamilton this fall, it was an act of hopeful necessity. I had a problem; spiritual heartache and the burden of a perennial depression several years old (which I will argue is just as or more debilitating than back pain). I felt the need to move somewhere that I saw God healing/working/acting in obvious ways - I wanted to get into His "office," and the MoveIn program, and this city, seemed like a good waiting room. The first few months here were spent primarily in observation - looking on in envy laced with hope at the people around me who seemed to have such straight backs and pain-free promenades. I sat in the proverbial funny chair and realized more acutely that I wasn't okay - and that I was, in deed, part of the problem. I needed to change something.

Then I went home for Christmas and out West for the last two weeks. It was definitely my heating-pad experience, preparing my heart for the real work to be done. I truly rested while I was out there... but the point of the heat isn't to rock you to sleep - it is to prepare your body for the adjustment. Yesterday was the walking to the second room, and tonight I am fighting the impulse to flee.

When the buzzer goes, I often joke with Anissa that, should she want to leave me be for another ten, twenty, thirty minutes I'd be more than happy to stay put. She laughs good-naturedly but moves me right along all the same. The reality is, of course, the heat soothes but does not solve. Only the adjustment can put right what has gone wrong.

So tonight, alone in this place and feeling rather uncomfortable, I am trying to remind myself that the best way to brace for an adjustment is to relax... I have done my part in coming, and now I must wait for the touch of the Master's healing hands. He's the only one who knows what's out of whack, and He's the one who will have to set it right again. I can't do it on my own - that's why I came in the first place.

Adjust me, O God. Then let's work on my posture together.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Abbey ~ Between the Stops

They must have been close to the water, because that's where the trains are. Even over the whirr of traffic on the road and the twittering conversations around him he could hear the long, low whistle of the train. It was a language of one tone and one message, slow and spread thick like the finger-painting of a sleepy child. It called out with a counter-cultural patience; beckoned to the artistic spirit with billowing smoke and bellowing sound. He lifted his heavy eyelids and looked out the window. He couldn't see the long line of cars all held together with iron and prayer, but he heard its lifted voice again and smiled. It sounded like home.

In the city, life was stacked on life in tall buildings - people packed so close to each other and yet physically paper-thin walls are functionally miles thick. The opposite was true in the plains: acres and acres dropped between neighbours was barely enough barrier to be noticed.

The bus pulled over and a young girl in a patterned hoodie stepped aboard. She moved down the aisle as lightly as a ghost, making no sound and attracting no eye except his. He looked at her but she faced forward firmly. Either she couldn't see him, or she was choosing not to. Everyone rushing, rushing - far too busy or important for archaic notions of community and relationship. Discouraged, he returned his gaze to the world beyond the window.

The horizon here was still so unfamiliar to him, even eight months after his move. So little land made up the landscape outside; skyscrapers raced upwards to block out the heavens, a rough wrought iron fence against the natural realm. At dusk, tiny lights illuminated the darkness - but they weren't free to flicker and move the way that fireflies could, back home. Lightening bugs, like street lamps, shone bravely into the swallowing black - but they were a very different sort of beautiful than the orange-yellow haze found here.

The bus forked right and scuttled away from the waterfront and the trains and all reminders of any old-fashioned ways. He closed his eyes again and fought against the homesickness climbing from his heart to his throat. Fatigue mixed in with nostalgia and old grief was a powerful depressant, and with work to do in the here and now he couldn't allow himself to drift into melancholy. He cleared his throat and shook apart the knot of emotion lodged so close to the surface. He picked up his thoughts like a wayward child and redirected them to think about Abbey, instead.

Abbey was the reason he had moved east in the first place. She was his anchor in this city, to which all of his heartstrings were tied. She was a beautiful, entrancing creature and at almost nine years old she was the cleverest Scrabble player he had ever taken on. And she was his sister, for whom he would have moved to the moon if asked.

Abbey moved in with Liam and Sarah four months after the accident. The will had disclosed an agreement between his mother and Sarah that, should the worst, they would welcome the other's family with open arms and warm hearts, unless the children were old enough to care for themselves. He was seventeen and already off at school; she was almost nine and needed a home that he couldn't provide. Sarah was an aunt by all but blood and she moved West for the whole term, away from her own family and home and life, so that Abbey could finish the year with some kind of familiarity and order. He had moved home too, and the three of them grieved through the shock together. When summer came and everything that could be sorted out had been, Sarah and Abbey flew back to home and new-home. He followed a few weeks later, found an apartment near by and started the process of transferring his degree to the local university.

"You could try out a dorm," Liam had suggested over dinner one night, "since you didn't really have one out west. A bigger school will make it a bit harder to start up a social base, if you live alone."
He shook his head. He didn't want Abbey even visiting one of those dorms; she was still far too pure.
"You could live with us," Liam continued. "We just don't love the idea of you being so alone."
"I am alone," he said.
"You're not alone," he said.

So they found a middle ground and Liam moved in with a house full of young guys from his program. He'd answered a flyer, how cliché. Wanted: young, quiet, studious guy. Not too good looking, we don't want competition. Funny is allowed, though. Call Brian, Chris, Steve, Tyler, Alex, Adam or Kent. No, we're not dwarves. Only one grump. It was working well, so far.

With school through the week and a couple of shifts at Subway in the evenings, Abbey-Day was on Saturday. Liam and Sarah took her (along with four kids of their own) to church on Sunday mornings, so he would often pick her up on those afternoons as well. A day and a half, just the two of them. Sometimes they would go for walks around the city and try out different bakeries. He took her to the zoo once just to say that he had, and every other week or so when it was his turn to cook at the house, he'd bring her home and all of his housemates (without an upcoming exam) would teach her how to play cards. The whole house had kind of adopted her, and she was developing quite the little poker face.

Today, though, was a tough one. It had been a full year, and he had been thinking for a long time about how to handle their visit. Sarah had hinted that maybe they should just stay in for a change, but tradition held and she would be waiting for him, just three stops away. They would walk, he'd decided. They would walk all the way back to the train yard and let each other cry about home. Then he'd take her for Moose Tracks ice cream, like Dad used to whenever they had tripped out to Ontario for a visit. And then... and then they would come back to Liam and Sarah's and he'd pull out the books filled to bursting with their parents' photographed memories. They would cry, but they would cry together and fight the bitterness away with story. It was what he thought she needed. At least, he needed it.

The bus slowed down and he gathered up the bags that he had settled beside him. They were heavier than all of his textbooks combined, and far more valuable no matter what his bookstore receipts had to say. A beautiful little face greeted him as the doors spread open, and she reached out to take one of the bags. "Are you ready to go?" she asked. He passed down his backpack and balanced the rest before hopping off. The evening air felt fresh and he felt his spirits lift as he met her eye. "I am," he said. "Let's go."