Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jack

It disturbs me on a level that I can't remember the first time I met my father-in-law.

First meetings with inlaws are usually unforgettable experiences so I'm not sure why it's different with Jack. The process of elimination tells me it must have been in London; when we lived in a small row house in Islington where the streets smelled of diesel and the we woke to the sound of brakes from the tube trains on the Picaddily line and the gentle rustle of the sycamores.

My mind is usually like a tube map. I remember the station where I got on and the one where I departed. But Jack is out there wandering through my consciousness, through the tiny park choked with grafitti and the distant threat of violence, through the swanky lanes of Soho and the stores where shirts were folded to look like works of modern art.

And there was the Andy Warhol exhibition at the Tate that we breezed through and the squares that we walked through on sunny days, the numerous Japanese restaurants and the hurried departures because Jack always left it late to catch his plane back to Canada.

Jack always had an interesting tale to tell and was good to wind the night away with. It was effortless to hang out with him, notwithstanding his habit of lingering too long in shops.

While other relatives thrived on emotion and chaos, you could rely on Jack to resort to logic. You could rely on him not to be judgmental, to be in control of a situation and to be successful in everything he did in the business world. His charm and genuine warmth was guaranteed to translate into sales and a rapid rise up the corporate ladder.

He was less successful as a family guy, having been through a couple of marriages before dedicating himself to bachelorhood. Jack was the sort of guy who would come home with a big smile and an even bigger red setter in his arms, giving little thought about who would walk it. Or he'd show up in a new soft top sports car, with little thought of where the kids would sit.

I never saw his hedonistic streak and his determination to live life to the full as a weakness. I think I saw elements of myself in him.

The last time I saw him we drove eight hours from South Carolina to Virginia. Jack stayed in the house for a few days. I'd catch up with him watching basketball at night after the late shift but I was tired and our conversations were cursory.

We saw him off at the airport but his independent streak kicked in and he urged us to leave so as he could browse the shops before his departure. My last glimpse was of him disappearing up an escalator, his jacket over his shoulder, very much the self contained corporate sales maestro.

And now I wonder if that will prove to be my last glimpse of him.

I'm not good with the word cancer because cancer happens to other people who I'm not related to. Cancer happens to the people I write about in stories and the pale kids who front fundraising commerials.

When I think of Jack coughing on every second word in an apartment a friend has let him stay in rent free in Vancouver I can only wonder if he looks out of the window and sees the majesty of the distant mountains and suddenly realizes they are out of reach.

I remember the hint of warmth that lay in the Vancouver spring the only time I visited more than a decade ago, the gentle whistle of the wind across the beaches that ring Stanley Park and the cherry blossoms, Housman's loveliest of trees hung with bloom along the bough.

And the anticipation as the coach lurched its way up to Whistler and the way the distant mountain peaks glistened with the ice of a million chandeliers as I pointed my skies down the slope to hurtle faster and faster down the slope, seeking the thrill and the danger at every twist and turn.

I'm not sure if Jack will see the cherry blossoms appear on the bough again or the snow glisten on the mountains. But as long as there is beauty left in the world I'll hope against hope.

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