Posted by Mishi Methven on Dec 10, 2011
A few days ago I was tidying the house, trying to get a handle on the clutter and mess that constantly creeps into every surface. There is a complex cobweb that lives in the lower corner of one of our front leaded glass windows; it's almost a piece of art. In our attempt to clear out a corner of the living room to make room for a small Christmas Tree, I decided to put a few things in the shed out in our backyard.
As I walked across the grass, my boots crunching down on the thin layer of frost on the grass, I was suddenly struck at what a ghost town the backyard looked like. Stella's slide set sits under the tree where we moved it in the hot days of summer so it would be shaded and not get too hot for her to slide down. I remember so vividly how proud she was of herself in early spring when she was able to climb up the ladder and whoosh down the slide by herself. "WHEEE!" she always exclaimed joyfully as she flew off the end. I remember when Arin and Flora both came over one evening and the three kids were falling over one another trying to get up and down the slide, giggling and chasing each other around the green grass.
EARLY MAY, 2011
Stella can't sit up unassisted anymore.
In the corner of the backyard sits Stella's playhouse, built for her by Poppa Noel in May of this year. It's an awesome playhouse with a cute little door and a stained glass window. Inside is a toddler sized wicker couch and a cradle with a pillow and tiny mattress. I peeked through the window and saw Stella's stuffed giraffe lying forgotten in the cradle, it's eyes glazed and foggy. When my dad first finished the playhouse Stella was so excited she refused to come inside with me after daycare when I needed to go to the bathroom. I remember I left her in the playhouse and when I came back outside a few minutes later, as I rounded the corner I could hear her loudly singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to herself. I opened the door and said "What are you doing!?" loudly and she dissolved into giggles, running forward and pushing the door shut with both her chubby toddler hands. She loved being in that house so much she sometimes made me bring the potty outside so she could pee in the playhouse.
Stella wears diapers now and is so weak she needs me to manually help her with bowel movements.
Her raised sandbox is pushed against the brick wall that is the outside wall of Sam's bedroom. It is plastic and was once brightly coloured, but is now faded from being outside for two summers and a winter. Stella and Arin used to get into sand fights all the time there. Arin liked to pour the sand on his head, which when your hair has oil in it, makes seem as though it's glued in. One time I turned my back for just one minute and when I turned back they were freely dumping buckets of sand on one another's heads and crunching contentedly the dirt sticking to their lips. Ugh. No matter how many times we would say, "sand stays IN the sandbox…" there was always piles of it down Stella's shirt and in her little socks. Aimee loves to BBQ and so we would have lots of family dinners outside. Stella loved hamburgers the best, smothered in ketchup that dripped down her chin. I have about eighteen t-shirts with ketchup stains down the front.
SANDBOX WITH FLORA, MAY 2011
Stella can only eat soft foods now. Applesauce, mashed potatoes, mushed avocado.
When I opened the door to the shed, Stella's bike was the first thing I saw. She got the bike as a gift for her first birthday from Grand Pa John and Nanny Sandy. When she got the bike, her legs were way too short to hit the pedals, but she liked to sit on it and we would push her. She actually loved to put on her helmet and go around and around the block by our house. This spring, her legs could hit the pedals and we would often take the bike to the park near our house. Stella would sometimes refuse to get off her bike because she loved it so much, and instead of playing at the park would just pedal round and round in circles through the dry wading pool.
STELLA AND GRACIE, JULY 2011
Stella's legs don't move anymore. They are stiff and weak.
Her wagon sits underneath the bike, bright red and full of memories where we went to our friends house, to the park, to the zoo, to cottages. She loved sitting in the wagon and inviting as many people as possible to join her. We could fit up to three kids in it! She liked us to go fast and would laugh out loud when we said, "faster!" and ran up the dirt roads by the cottage to get to the ice cream stores. She always looked like royalty peeing over the sides and observing everything. "Look Mama, birds!" she would call out, pointing. Then we would sing her favourite song, "You Could Have Been a Rutabega," and wave our hands back and forth saying a loud, "HELLO!!!" to every animal we met along the way.
Stella doesn't sing anymore. She can barely make any noises at all.
The basement playroom is the same as the backyard---like a snapshot of a time long gone. It's as though someone has it set up and it's just ready and waiting for a kid to come play in it. Her craft table sits with two chairs at the ready, markers and crayons lay at the foot of one chair where they fell months ago. She was so good at writing. As soon as she could hold a pen, she held it properly---with her thumb and forefinger, and did page upon page of neat little lines. She loved painting…although her foray into art often led to a tantrum that culminated in her throwing a paintbrush dripping with paint against the wall. Stella's beloved toy kitchen, a Christmas gift from Tutu Marilyn last year, is still littered with plastic food and a toy teapot the red paint still shiny and new. Two months ago I made Auntie Andge take all the "mobility" toys and shove them in a dark corner of the attic so I didn't have to look at them anymore. They are out of sight, but I can still see their shadows in the playroom, marking the days when excitement bounced off the walls and filled the air with laughter.
Stella can't hold a pen anymore. Or a paintbrush or spoon.
Her bedroom looks more like a storage room than the little girl's bedroom it once was. The bed is removed, most of the toys that littered the room and the books from the bookshelf are now stored away in nondescript garbage bags in the attic marked simply, "Stella's Room 2011". Now, instead of lego, the middle of the floor features a cardboard box filled with syringes, cotton balls, medications and a sharps container.
Stella doesn't come here anymore.
The term "Ghost Town" always made me kind of sad. It was hard to believe that entire communities could just disappear and leave behind only useless objects to tell the stories of the vibrant men and women that once walked there. I remember reading in a book once that a Ghost Town is a community that has faded greatly from its peak and is now just a shadow of its former self. Seeing all of Stella's things sitting her unused, their stories silenced by the cancer that is taking Stella away from us, makes me wonder if Stella is just a shadow of her former self. She has lost almost everything.
But no. It's not really her. It's us. WE have lost almost everything about the daughter we once had. She has not lost herself. She has held onto her spirit, her smile, her stubbornness, her ability to make others laugh. She has not abandoned her ability to love us unconditionally, hug us, challenge us and confuse the Hell out of us.
She is not a shadow of her former self, I am.
Parts of our house may be turning into a physical Ghost Town, but the will to live life fully, to love one another wholeheartedly and to smile even when you want to cry means that there is still a vibrant community living here.
Not a Ghost Town exactly, just a town who has reinvented itself to focus on love, beauty and life instead of things. But it still hurts to see all those objects forced into stillness by a horrible disease.