The first time my mother got sick, I was twenty five. I had just moved to Montreal and from what I recall it was the beginning of spring. A friend offered me a ride to Toronto, dropping me off in Kensington Market, a backpack slung over my shoulder. My mother had been assigned a room at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, where daily she would be guided face down by gloved hands into the talons of a radiotherapy machine. The sickness chose to manifest behind her left eye, and the talons I refer to were metallic protrusions that clung to her temples in order to keep her perfectly still throughout. I wasn't permitted to witness the treatments, but I imagine a doctor wielding a clipboard, entering numeric sequences into a computer, subsequently waiting for the room to fill with blasts of white light reminiscent of sheet lightning.
In lieu of observing these treatments, I spent my afternoons in Allan Gardens, wandering aimlessly amongst the various foliage, taking breaks to smoke outside in the rain. Every time I so blatantly expose my body to poison, while its potential threats lie closer than ever, I think of these lines from a poem by David Berman:
I reached under the bed for my menthols
and she asked if I ever thought of cancer.
Yes, I said, but always as a tree way up ahead
in the distance where it doesn't matter
And I suppose a dead soul must look back at that tree,
so far behind his wagon where it also doesn't matter.
except as a memory of rest or water.
The treatments were a success. The blasts of sheet lightning eradicated the root of her sickness, and she was discharged from Princess Margaret. She got to go home. I decided to spend this afternoon back at Allan Gardens for the first time since those initial operations, to revisit that place of respite I was so appreciative of over eight years ago.
Considering the previous circumstances, I decided it best to forego the cigarette, in favour of recording this remembrance of her trials and eventual recovery, magnified and illuminated by wandering through these humid botanical gardens once again.