Christy Ann Conlin reflects on how her Nova Scotian family can grieve together while being physically apart
Crosstrees is a personal essay by Christy Ann Conlin, part of CBC Books' Transmission series
It's the day after the shootings.
This is our weekly delivery of groceries and laundry but it's different this time. A tense drive through the Acadian forest of inland Nova Scotia, over the mussel shell blue asphalt, the road leading us to Chester Basin on the South Shore of Nova Scotia.
Two of our three boys have been living for six weeks with Granny at Crosstrees, the family cottage, since the COVID-19 lockdown began. They came for March break and stayed on to help her. Granny is 87. The cottage was built by the now deceased Grampy who was from a sailing family. It is named after the pieces of timber that spread the upper shrouds of a ship, a crosstree, to support the main mast.
Never have the children seemed more absent and yet more present.
My husband's first wife died of breast cancer when their kids were tiny. Wynken is my son from a previous relationship. We are now a big sprawling extended family. We spoke on a landline last night, to see what they needed. Blynken, 11, was unusually subdued. He wanted Make Magazine and sour cream and onion chips. He passed the phone to Wynken, 13. Wynken had been listening to the news on the radio all day:
The police were chasing a man dressed up as a Mountie who was shooting people in their homes, shooting them walking on the side of the road, setting houses on fire.
Andy and I drive in silence, the van loaded with supplies. It's been almost an hour, passing the beauty of faded wooden homes and Christmas tree farms, and as we come over a small hill, we see the blue of the Atlantic. Normally, at this point in the drive, the children would burst into an old mariner's song but today it's Andy and I who sing:
I see the sea and the sea sees me. God bless the sea and god bless me.
Our voices are flat and whispery… and adult. Never have the children seemed more absent and yet more present.
We arrive at Crosstrees with the sparkling view of Mahone Bay. As we park, Wynken and Blynken run toward us, then stop abruptly, at a safe distance. My heart breaks and heals a thousand times and I'm not even out of the van yet. We walk with the boys along the shore. They are on one side of the road and we are on the other, the distance between us excruciating.
Back at the cottage, Wynken cries on the dock, the dappled light falling through the enormous pines at the water's edge, the water a rippling blue gold.
Why is the world so horrible? Why is all of this happening? When will it end?
My darling child, all we can say is that we must hold on to love, to family, friends and community. We must tell each other stories. Sing songs. We must visit our memories. We are together, always, even when we are apart. The wind and wave song carry us through the confines of isolation, and unite us in the realm of the heart.
We must hold on to love, to family, friends and community. We must tell each other stories. Sing songs. We must visit our memories.
I think about how we connect now, through old fashioned land lines, through email, through FaceTime and texts, photos, song and rhymes, rituals we perform together, whether we are physically present or not. I think of my predecessor, gone but still present, her spirit gently woven into the fabric of the late afternoon at the cottage. How we are all together right now, in the time of COVID-19, in a space that is at once real, and yet a liminal space between two times, what was and what is, and of course, what will be.
The boys are sombre as we leave. Wynken still cries. The sun dazzles on the water and they are beautiful small shadows at the edge of the ocean.
That night Wynken texts photos of the most glorious sunset over the sea.
Look at these. It's so peaceful. Goodnight. Thanks for always being there for me.
We are apart physically, from our most vulnerable, but we are still connected. Right now we are all pieces of this crosstree, supporting the mast of our family, small ships sailing separately, but converging in this sea of love.
Christy Ann Conlin is a writer who lives in Nova Scotia. Her first novel, Heave, was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First novel Award. Her short story collection, Watermark, is nominated for the 2020 Forest of Reading Evergreen Award, presented by the Ontario Library Association. Her short fiction has been long listed for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and the American Short Fiction prize.
Christy Ann Conlin's new novel, The Speed of Mercy, will be published in 2021.
Transmission is a new series of original creative works, commissioned by CBC Books, that reflects on time, place, identity, community and purpose in an era of COVID-19.