Friday, 31 October 2014

A Past Memory

I might be Nova Scotian by birth, but in my heart I’m a Prince Edward Islander.
I spent all of my childhood summers on the beach on the island. I lived on the sand and in the water. I never wanted to leave.

I met Nate when I was 4 or 5.

I was digging on a sand bar and saw an old lady standing in between the bars. She was staring at her feet. Being the curious kid that I was (and still am), I went over to see what she was looking at. There was a giant periwinkle. This thing was the size of a softball. Usually they are the size of marbles. She showed me the animal and was telling me stories about them. A boy of 8 or so came up to her. She was his grandmother. He wanted to go home and eat.

She introduced him as Nathaniel Alexandre. An Acadian. They lived about a mile away; too far for a little girl like me to go visit alone.

I didn't see him again for a few years. I was 9 and on my way to get lobster with my great-aunt. We were headed to the Acadian lobster plant. It was a Sunday. We had already gone to church, but mass was just getting out. Traffic was crazy! That’s when I saw him again. My great-aunt knew his grandmother. We stopped to say hello, and the women chatted for awhile. Nate and I spoke very little. I didn't know French at the time, and he was not happy about speaking English.

The conversation went like this:

“Hi.” I said.
“Hey,” said 12 year old Nate.
“How are you?”
“Never mind.”

He walked off. I was a tad pissed at him for being “stupid” and I went back to by aunt. We went for our lobster and went home to cook it all. I never forget that conversation. It made me want to learn French so badly.

Another few years went by. I was 12 this time and I could explore the beaches alone. I decided that I was going to walk down the beach and see if I could find him and show him that I had learned some French in school. It wasn't long until I found him.

He was sitting on a surfboard that was beached.
I went up to him and said: “Hey.”
“Allo.” The French again.
“Oh you're going to be like that now.” I had attitude.
“What do you mean?”
“All French and whatever.”
He laughed. I loved his laugh.
“Well I’m Acadian. What did you expect?”
“Do you remember me?”
“Of course I remember you. You’re Charlie’s granddaughter. The crazy red-headed one.”
Great, I thought. I'm the crazy red-head.
“Sure am. How do you know my grandpa?”
“Hard not too. Your family’s been here as long as mine.”
I sat beside him. “I suppose. Why are you sitting on the beach on the board?”
“Tide’s out.”
I nodded. We sat there for a few minutes, until his mother called him for lunch.
“Where are you staying?” He said.
“Okay. Maybe I'll come down that way later.”
“Okay.” I walked back down the beach, beaming. I was a 12 year old in love with a French guy.

My mother knew where I had went. Nate’s beach was on the shore where my land is today. It wasn't mine while he was alive.

He didn't come down that day or the next. He came the day we were leaving. I was sitting on a bench looking at the water, waiting to get in the car to go home. He said that he was sorry for not coming sooner. I gave him the cold shoulder. He wanted my address. He would write. I gave him my address.

He wrote every week. Little things about school, church, the weather. Normal stuff for us to write about. I found out that he was 15 that summer. He was 3 years older than me.

The next summer was busy for me and I only got to go to PEI for 2 weeks instead of 6. I was 13, finally a teenager. I was boy crazy and missed seeing him. That was the year that we got our own cottage on our own land. That meant I was going to be neighbours with him.

We saw each other practically every day. I would go to the beach and sit and wait for him to be done at the farm and we would sit and talk all day and most of the night.

One night, I fell asleep on the beach. We had been roasting marshmallows and I was so full of them and the fresh sea air that I laid down for a moment and was out. I’m not sure how long I was out, but he woke me up.

“Time to go home Princess.”
“Huh? What time is it?”
“10:30 or so.”
“Shit!” I jumped up and gathered my things.
“Wait. Sit for a minute. I want to ask you something.” I sat. “Would it be okay if I kissed you?”
“What?” Remember, I was 13.
“Can I kiss you?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Because I’m suppose to.”
“Um. Okay. I guess.”

First kiss for both of us. First love for both of us. We wrote just about everyday until October. In my grandpa’s church, there’s a big turkey dinner fundraiser on the weekend of my birthday. Of course we always attend and help out.

October is too cold to be hanging around the beach. We stayed in land with my grandpa. I wasn't expecting to see Nate that weekend.

We went down to a cousin’s to visit. They live on the shore. They also happen to live down the road from the cemetery where my grandma (and now my grandpa) is buried.

I was sitting there, on the grass in front of the grave, telling her all about Nate. Creepy, yes I know. She was 5 when I died, give me a break. So I’m talking away when I hear a car pull in the church yard.

I jumped up and ran to him and gave him a huge hug.
“What are you doing sitting on the ground in a graveyard?”
“Talking to Grandma.”
“O..kay.” Typical boy response.
“What are you doing here?”
“Drove by, saw you there. Happy birthday. I didn’t get you anything because I was going to mail it to you on Monday.”
“Oh, thanks.”
He walked me back down the road and kissed me goodbye.

The package came Thursday. It was a ring. My hands are tiny, but they were even smaller then. It doesn't even fit on my little finger now. I do still have it.

We lost our virginities the following summer.

Nate turned 18 that year as well. Graduated from high school. This is when the story gets sad.

He had enlisted in the Canadian Army as an infantry soldier. Front line kind of deal. I didn't hear from him while he was doing basic training. I didn't hear from him during his courses. I didn't know what to think.

Birthday 15 came around. My secret Army boyfriend hadn't written me in almost 6 months.  We had an Indian summer that year. It was really warm on my birthday and I decided to go for a walk on the beach. I took my shoes off and went searching for Sea Glass.
“Allo.” It was Nate’s cousin, Drew.
“Bonne Fete.” (Happy Birthday)
“Merci.” (Thanks)
“Nate’s home.”
“Oh is he now.” I was pissed at him. First fight I guess.
“Yeah, he’s at Ana’s.” Ana is another cousin.
I said nothing.
“He wants to see you, but can't get away. Everyone is fussing over him”
I followed Drew to the house. I was wearing the ring. Hadn't taken it off since the day I got it.

I saw him and started crying. He hugged me and apologized over and over.
“I’m being deployed.” He started crying.

I stood in shock. I didn't say anything. His grandmother came over and dragged him away. I left. Drew drove me back to my aunt’s house. That was the last time I saw Nate for 3 years.

On May 7th, 1998, Nate turned 19. He was allowed a call home. They were in the middle of nowhere, so calls home were rare. He called me. We were allowed to talk for 15 minutes. We didn't say much more than “I love you” and “I miss you” over and over. There was lots of silence, just us listening to the other breathe and cry into the phone.

In August, he was M.I.A. A bombing. Everyone was accounted for, except for him. His mother called me to tell me. That’s when my depression started.

Little did I know, he wasn't dead. He wasn’t in Bosnia. He was in Calgary. He had deserted. He was hiding out with his sister. No one, including his mother, knew.

He was in a car accident while he was there. In a coma for almost a year. I was 17 when he called me.

I picked up the phone after school one day. I was the only one home, so I picked up the strange number.

“Princess.” A sigh of relief.
“Is this a joke?” I was yelling.
“Max, listen. I’m alive, barely, but I’m alive. In a hospital in Calgary. I can’t talk long, but I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first?”
“Bad, I guess.”
“I’m blind.”
“Shush!” (Catholics…)
“What’s the good news?”
“I’m coming home.”

The summer of 1999, Drew taught me to drive. Nate couldn’t, obviously. He took his blindness very badly; was very depressed. He would sit on the beach with me and tell me about overseas, ask me about the water. We would just sit and talk.

Later in the summer, we were all out sailing. Nate fell and hit his head. He was fine.

“Princess?” I was bending over him to make sure he was ok.
“I forgot how blue your eyes were.”
We all freaked out. The hit on the head gave Nate his sight back.

He was rushed to the hospital. It turned out that he had a tumor sitting on his optic nerve; it had been temporarily making him blind. He went into surgery asap to have it removed. He was going to be fine.

I was graduating from high school the next year. I was 18, Nate was 21. He was supposed to take me to prom. I was so excited for all of my friend’s to finally meet him.

A few weeks before prom, Nate was complaining of headaches and loss of vision. His mother was concerned and took him to the doctor. The tumor had returned and was growing too quickly. It had to be removed.

I went to prom dateless. Nate was still in the hospital. The day after I graduated, was the day my life ended. Nate was dying. The tumor had grown fast because it was cancerous. He had weeks, maybe months to live.

They brought him to the mainland for treatment. I lived at the hospital. I still can’t go into that wing today and it’s been 13 years.

On August 15th, 2001, his church’s priest came to visit. Nate took one look at me and said:
“Remember that ring?”
“Of course.” I had grown out of it but I wore it on a chain around my neck.
“I wanted to marry you when you graduated from University you know.”
I was in shock yet again. He had a way of doing that to me.
“Will you marry me now instead?”
I nodded because I couldn't speak.
The priest married us right there, in the hospital room. It was never legal by the government, but it was by the church and that’s all that mattered to Nate.

On August 19th, I woke up in his arms. He didn’t.