A continuation of chapter 13. Jakob visits Cody in the hospital.
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Cody lay in a semi-private room on the third floor, the adjoining bed empty. A white plastic feeding tube was pertruding from her nose--the attending nurse told me that Cody had been starving herself for weeks before being admitted. A fresh white bandage was wrapped around her tiny bony wrist--I reckoned she'd been cutting. She was out cold, fast asleep, her breathing shallow. Her face looked gaunt, dark shadows framing her closed eyes. I placed the flowers I bought at the hospital's gift shop on the window sill next to her bed. I noticed that the room showed no evidence of visitation: no flowers, no magazines or chocolates, no empty coffee cups. I was overwhelmed with pity. A dour looking nurse with white hair combed back in a severe bun came in to check her vitals, ignoring my presence. I sat on a wobbly wooden chair and stared at Cody, thinking how totally unfair this lousy world is.
Cody awoke a while later just as I was dozing off. At first she didn't recognize me--I figured it was all those goddamn drugs these nurses force down their helpless patients' throats. But slowly, her eyes focused. Barely able to form her words, she expressed her surprise with a faint smile, happy that had I made the effort to visit her and thanking me for the flowers. Bursting into tears, she told me how sweet and sensitive and different I was from all the other students at school and how terribly sorry she was for ending up here, but things just got too overwhelming and confusing. We talked about school and stuff and how anxious she was to get better so she could continue her "Thunder Bella" stories. She told me that now while bedridden, she would have loads of idle time to think up new plots and adventures. I told her I was excited to read more of her stories and made a promise to visit her again very soon.
I visited Cody two more times. She told me about how her nana had explained to her family history when she got older and was better able to understand. Cody said she begged her nana to reveal everything, no matter how it might potentially upset her. Her father was in the war, an infantryman in the Canadian army serving on the Italian front. He and her mother had been childhood sweethearts. Her nana had kept the letters they wrote to each other and Cody had spent hours reading their exchanges. Eventually, the letters from her father became less frequent during the final year of the war, the tone of his writing becoming ever more cold and detached. When he returned home, her nana said he seemed like an entirely different person, changing from an easy mannered boy with an engaging smile to an ill-tempered man with a big chip on his shoulder. Soon after, he went back to school to learn bookkeeping, paid for by the government's grants for returning veterans. At the time, he was living with his parents. Cody's mother wanted to get married right away but her boyfriend wanted to wait until he was able to financially support a family.
Cody's old man quit school after only a few months--rumour had it that he got into a physical spat with a teacher who failed him for skipping classes. (That sure hit close to home for me!) After leaving school, he took on a number of construction jobs which ended in short order because of absenteeism and fighting, mainly due to his increasing bouts of heavy drinking.
Eventually he went out west to look for work but returned back home after a year, staying just long enough to knock up Cody's mom, but not long enough to hang around for her birth. Instead, he split again, this time down east. Her mother heard nothing from the father of her child for three years. Then she got a letter from an old friend who had moved to New Brunswick at the end of the war. Enclosed was an article written in a newspaper in Fredricton describing a bank robber's shootout with the cops. The thief was apprehended unhurt but one of the officers he shot died shortly after. The robber's name was published: Clinton Fairborne--Cody's old man. He ended up in a Federal pen somewhere near Halifax, sentenced to the death penalty for capital murder. Two years later they hung him, according to newspaper reports, just a minute past midnight.
Nana told Cody that her mother seemed to change after her father's execution. When Cody was almost four years old she was left alone at home one evening while her mother took off. By then her mother was really heavy into the drugs, strung out on crystal meth and horse. To pay for her habit, she had started working the streets. Sometimes she even brought men home. In her hurry to make some quick bread, she had left a pan full of hot oil on the stove. Little Cody, like most curious four-year-olds, happened to reach up high to check out what goodies the pan held but caught her arm on the handle and the hot oil splashed onto the side of her face and shoulder. A neighbour heard Cody screaming and called for an ambulance. Cody said she was in the hospital for months with third degree burns. The Children's Aid Society took custody of Cody and her mother was charged with child abandonment and criminal negligence resulting in a one year jail sentence. So it ended up that Cody's nana adopted her. Cody told me that she never heard from her mom again and to this day had no clue where she was.
After a second visit I called Cody at the hospital almost every night. She was allowed a half hour window each evening for telephone calls. We talked about all kinds of things: music, books, jocks and cheerleaders, our dream jobs, family, movies, and all kinds of other stuff. It was the first time I ever felt totally comfortable talking to a girl. She talked about her childhood: how difficult it was to always be stared at because of her scars. For the longest time she felt her mom abandoned her because she was ashamed of how her daughter looked. Her nana reassured Cody that her mom was dealing with her own problems and demons, so her disappearance really had nothing to do with her daughter. Cody also shared the memories of terrible beatings when her mother's temper exploded and the trauma of being left alone at home, frightened and confused. Although she never mentioned anything bad happening with what her mother called her "customers," I wondered if there were ever any sick things that went on with those hard-up perverts who came by her house at night. I once read a newspaper report about a very young child being molested by her prostitute mother's john and how years later she became a drug addict and hooker, just like her mother. What a fucked up world!
For once I talked openly about my own past: the bullying, the beatings, and the name calling before and after school, mostly at the hands of the neighbourhood WASP boys, and the confusion of growing up in a "mixed" family with all the in-fighting. I never met my maternal grandfather or uncles just because my old man happened to be born Jewish ( although after the war he turned totallyagainst his own religion). How fucked up is that! We talked about our isolation in school and the dumb cliques and how school was just a popularity contest rigged for the "in crowd." We laughed outwardly at their endless gossiping and meanness but we both knew how deeply it all cut through us, right to the bare bone.
We exchanged the names of books that both of us must read before we got old. We loved J.D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac and the old classics from Dickens and Bronte. She encouraged me to read "The Bell Jar" by an unknown author Victoria Lucas. She promised to lend it to me because it wasn't yet published in North America, only in Britain. She found the book at a small shop downtown that specialized in imported books. I suggested she read anything by Kurt Vonnegut. Our musical tastes were so strikingly similar that it totally freaked us out! She liked the blues, especially Albert King and Muddy Waters. I favoured John Lee Hooker and Howl'n Wolf. We both liked the British bands but mostly the ones who were more gritty like The Rolling Stones and Zombies. But our absolute favourite type of music was folk rock: The Byrds, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Dylan, and the rest. I told her when she got out of the hospital we could check out some of the acts at the Riverboat coffee house in Yorkville Village.
Cody told me she wanted to enrol in the Animation program at the Ontario College of Art after she graduated--the one that was taught by Mrs. Gardener's husband. She knew her nana would never be able to finance the tuition based on her small pension but Mrs. Gardener promised she would help Cody apply for a scholarship. I told her about my hope of becoming a social worker so I could help screwed up kids like myself. As soon as I turned sixteen, I planned on finding a job and taking night classes to get my high school diploma and then applying to university. We encouraged each other to go for it all and toss our doubts and insecurities to the wind. After she graduated she would try and get a job with a local animation studio or maybe even move out to California. She thought that maybe the more laid back folks on the "left coast" would be more accepting of her looks. Eventually though, she told me that she wanted to write and illustrate children's books. She even had an idea now for a book. After she started making money she said she would check out a plastic surgeon to see about "patching up" her face. She told me she once read an article in the "Toronto Daily Star" about a surgeon who specialized in burn victims and how the work he did was mind blowing!
During my final telephone call to Cody, I told her about the meeting Uncle Mickey and me had with all the phoneys at the school board office. The whole time, the principle, guidance counsellor, and some big shot superintendent, were giving me the goddamn gears. They warned me that my chronic truancy had forced them to make a serious decision about the future of my education--as if I really gave a shit! The superintendent guy told me that because of his compassionate nature he came up with a plan that would give me another chance to redeem myself. Rather than getting my ass thrown into reform school or worse--juvenile detention--he was transferring me to Sir Ivan Collins, the high school that happened to be located in my old neighbourhood out in the east end. I was due to start classes the second week of April. So what! I should kiss the guy's fat ass for his generous offer! Spare me!
Anyway, they had a program there for "special learners" as some of the school official dickheads called it. I knew it was just wordplay for passive aggressive losers like me and students with all kinds of "issues:" borderline personality disorders, legitimate slow learners, and I hate to be cruel, but regular everyday retards. Uncle Mickey told me that a lot of psychiatrists diagnose their younger patients with "personality disorders" because they couldn't figure out what was really going on inside their heads or simply because they were too lazy to explore more deeply into the problem. What's more, he complained that psychiatry was still stuck in the dark ages and was held hostage by the big rich drug companies.
I recall vividly the last time I visited Cody on a beautiful early April day. The winter weary city seemed to have awoken from its long hibernation on that glorious Saturday. Everyone seemed to be out and about, all at the same time! There was a gigantic human traffic jam everywhere! The streets were full of kids on bikes and skateboards and older boys playing ball hockey, whacking away at their stupid yellow tennis ball. Neighbours were sitting about on front porches and standing along backyard fences, most likely talking about weather and gardening and the anticipation of opening up their dumb cottages next month.
Queen Street was alive with Saturday shoppers and happy couples walking hand-in-hand. Store owners were sweeping their entrances, squinting at the long overdue bright sunlight. It's funny, but on the edge of seasonal changes, I always notice that people have this weird thing for deciding on how to dress for the changing weather. From my seat in the packed streetcar, I noticed passersby in shorts and T-shirts, windbreakers, sweaters, light overcoats, and even hooded parkas, ear muffs, toques and gloves. Some fucked up sight!
Cody's doctor had allowed her to venture outside for a short while. Still too weak to walk on her own, the nurse got her a wheelchair from another floor. I accompanied Cody and her nurse outside to one of the weather beaten wooden picnic tables surrounded by a grove of maple and poplar trees. Although their branches were still naked, I caught a glimpse of some sporadic tiny green buds peeking out in preparation for full bloom. The nurse, a middle aged women with an easy manner, winked at me with a conspiratory smile, and then sheepishly exused herself, giving instructions that she would return in a half hour.
I handed Cody the April edition of "Mad Magazine" that I had brought from home. I figured it might cheer her up. She once told me that "Mad" was her favourite read. The cover page showed Alfred E. Neuman in a green windbreaker kneeling down on a street grate trying to fish something out of the gutter with a string and magnet. He's looking up at the reader with his trademark goofy smile. Cody reacted with a listless half-smile, her eyes dull and empty. Maybe it was all those drugs the shrinks prescribed. I thought it best not to initiate a conversation, at least for a while.
A few minutes later she spoke but with a faint slow drawl. It seemed like she needed to drum up all her energy just to talk. With a slight forced grin, she told me that she was really looking forward to returning home, but a very strange look in her eyes seemed to reveal a certain wariness. The feeding tube had been removed yesterday but she said she still had no appetite. I joked that my mother's lasagna would fatten her up real good! Her eyes flickered and she went quiet again until the nurse came to wheel her back to her room.
I decided to take a walk outside, finding myself swarmed by a lively crowd of shoppers. It seemed so strange that the short distance between the hospital's corridors and sunlit streets, offered up a whole different view of the world. It was as if I entered an entirely different dimension, leaving a drab, sanitized world inhabited by serious looking medical staff and dull bedridden fallen angels trying to keep their ever-present demons at bay, then suddenly emerging into a bright vibrant world whose dwellers were estatically enjoying the presence of a new season and all the optimistic expectations that accompanied it. It was if after driving through a long dark tunnel, I watched a bright new vision appear before my very own eyes!
I grabbed another coffee across the street, choosing a seat against the sun-draped window. I slowly sipped my drink and stared across the street, trying to make sense of that very strange look in Cody's eyes.