In 2009, when the twins were five months old, J. was offered a job at the Site (large scale heritage site in remote location). As we were living in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, we readily accepted. We have a long history with the Site, and with the little town nearby that is also a heritage location in its own right, and would be our new home base. We were thrilled and relieved. We wanted to live somewhere more affordable, and we wanted to check out of life in a city, at least for a while.
The unfortunate part about this job offer was, J. needed to start almost immediately. Yikes! We had infant twins and now we had to pack up and move quickly. And, as we know the Town well, we were absolutely aware that there would be nowhere for us to live. The Town has been in the midst of a housing crisis for some time. J. and I called a friend, A., who lives in the Town and was about to move from a one bedroom apartment to a two bedroom apartment (note: there is only one apartment complex in the Town, so there is never any need to call the complex anything other than the Apartments.) A. is a very close friend, and agreed to put J. up for as long as it took for him to find a place for us to live. J. and I decided that I would stay behind in the city with the twins for a month to get packed up and to give him time to settle into his new job and look for housing.
So now J. had to face the first separation from his new little family and I had to face my first stint of single parenthood. We knew it was only for a month, but still, the pain of parting under the circumstances was almost unbearable. We have been actors and writers for most of our adult lives, blissfully ignorant of many real grown-up concerns. We were only just finding out what parents have known for centuries: when it comes to your kids, sometimes you do what you have to do, no matter how much it feels like a cold knife is slicing your soul to pieces. And I understand fully that, no matter how hard it was for us to say goodbye to Daddy for a month, it was nothing compared to what J. felt as he left the babies for the first time since they entered our lives and made every second of our existence full of more love and meaning then we even knew was possible.
The month happened. I had lots of help from my parents and my sister. And I had many opportunities to figure out how to twin parent on my own (for example, I worked out that one twin in a jolly jumper in the bathroom door and the other in a bouncy chair next to the tub meant I could take a bath!) After many long distance calls and much instant messaging we were happily through it and on the eve of J.'s return to move our stuff into storage and take us all "home."
J. took an overnight bus, so he would be arriving back in the city fairy early in the morning. I got the babes and myself off to sleep (this was still in the hard stretch of waking up every couple of hours to feed them, so sleep was a precious commodity for all of us). But, in the small hours of the night I woke with a start. I assumed a twin was stirring for a feed, but when I checked they were both sleeping soundly. For some reason I was wide awake, so I got up and went to the computer to check Facebook.
As I perused the updates on my news feed I started to notice a pattern of cryptic messages from the theatre community. The page was peppered with references to "sad news" and "a tragedy." I clicked on chat and saw that a theatre friend was online.
Me: Hey, wtf is going on? What is everyone talking about?
Him: K. and Jo.'s daughter died in a cabin fire at S. Lake last night.
Me: Jesus, no.
K. and Jo. are very prominent members of the theatre community in BC, and also in Canada. J. and I worked with them on a project a few years ago, but we also, oddly, had childhood contact with both. K. is from my home town and I knew her through sports, and Jo. and J. are from the same home town and knew each other a bit through high school drama. K. and Jo. had one child. A fourteen year old daughter. When we worked with K. and Jo. their daughter was around a lot, she was about 8 years old then, and was romping about the sets, on the sidelines at rehearsals, a real theatre kid.
Over the next few days the details of the tragedy were gradually reported. The family had been vacationing at their inherited holiday property. K. and Jo.'s daughter and her two cousins were sleeping in a cabin near the main house when a freak flash fire consumed the smaller building. The fire was far too intense for anyone to rescue the children, and was even too intense to be fought. Instead it was allowed to burn out. K. and Jo. had to bear the unbearable, the unthinkable, the downright unspeakable. They had to watch helplessly as the cabin, with their daughter and niece and nephew inside, burned to nothing.
I didn't know all the details that night on the eve of J.'s return. Didn't need to. What I knew was that a loving family had just been ripped to pieces. I suppressed the urge to vomit, turned off the computer, walked into the bedroom, sat on the edge of the bed and watched the babies sleep. I did not go back to sleep myself that night. I didn't want to. I only wanted to watch the babies and wait for J.
When the morning came I looked out the window and waited for sight of J. When he came into view I watched as he walked up the front path after an overnight bus trip and a ferry ride and then another bus. I could see that he was exhausted but relieved that the journey was done and he was about to make our family whole again. When he came through the door I was in the living room and the babies were on a blanket on the floor. J. and I rushed to each other. We embraced and gazed at the babies, now six months old, as they slowly, gorgeously recognized that their Daddy was home. After a few minutes I told J. about what had happened to K. and Jo. We sat quietly and watched the girls play as the full extent of the news filled us up. We were so happy to be back together, but our happiness was tinged by the awful knowledge that not too far away people we knew were living a completely different day, a completely different world.
I think about K. and Jo. all the time. They come to mind in those moments when I feel overwhelmed by parenthood. I think about them in those moments when I am watching the girls play and feel overcome by their wonder and beauty. K. and Jo. are in the news a lot, because of their successful careers, and I hear about them through friends. So I know that they have somehow turned their grief into beautiful art. They have continued to make theatre that astounds and moves its audience. They have taken the greatest fear of every parent and transformed it into their life's work. Their baby lives in the beauty they create.
So, as J. and I packed up our apartment and moved it into storage and faced our new life, it was in that place of intense gratitude and our minds wide open to the knowledge that life can change in an instant, and that no matter what all this change and upheaval might bring, we will always, like K. and Jo. find a way to turn it into something beautiful.