Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I went to Ben's parent's house today, to see Ben and Ajax, to see how they're doing. It's been about a month since Ben got out of the hospital. Ajax is doing pretty good, all things considered. I'm sad to report that he's a little afraid of his dad, who is still prone to outbursts aimed at people who are no longer with us. But he's getting along great with Ben's parents, and even with me, which is refreshing.

About Ben... he's got good days and bad days, but unfortunately, on the good days, he's usually got to go to the hospital for something, whether it's car crash or cancer related. He decided to go for chemo treatment as soon as he is fit enough. I didn't think he would. I thought he would spiral into depression with all that happened. Especially with how he behaved at Izzy's funeral. But I can't really bring myself to talk about that yet. Maybe later on.

I remember why I started this record, because of how in love Ben and Agnes were, but I came across a note Ben had written, I think it was in the box of stuff from the crash that his dad handed him shortly after he got out of the hospital. I felt bad for reading his private stuff, but he didn't protest. He wasn't really present yet.

It read:

"I was looking into the toilet today, it seems that's the window into my soul. My kids... I'm a crappy father, but I love them. My parenthood is a mixture of desperately trying not to be a terrible father, peppered with occasional moments where I get it right, but those moments seem to make it all worthwhile. I'm racked with guilt with how I treat the kids, how they love their mom way more than me. There are times when I want to shudder, roll my eyes back and pull out my hair and keep pulling it out and pulling it out... My thoughts get pretty dark at night, but I try to keep to myself. I... can't let her into this. Agnes wouldn't understand. She's perfect, she can't understand how twisted and broken I am, how my heart and soul are just a melted blob of cold, dirty lead inside me. It's that need I have, to be loved by the kids I love so much, to try to please the wife I treasure, it's because of them that I simultaneously want to end my life, and want to keep trying to live it. I try to fill the ache with stuff I buy, things I watch, alcohol, but it just turns into a landfill, and brings me further and further and further... down. It's out of my hands now. Now I mostly hide, cowardly. Craig wants to write about how in love we are, how perfect we have it, but he has no idea or insight. That's who I was, but I'm dying inside now. Where did I go wrong?"

It was dated shortly before I started interviewing them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Ben's mom Marie called me pretty late. I've only ever spoken to her twice, once at their wedding and right now.

CS: Hello

MR: Yes hello. Is this Craig?

CS: Yes it is.

MR: Would you be able to come to the hospital? There's been an accident.

CS: Is everything ok? Is someone hurt?

This woman, basically speaking with a stranger, seemed so reserved prior to this moment. She must have been dealt more than she could bear. Her voice was saturated with it. Every syllable dripped with sadness. She simply said,

MR: Please, I think you should just come.

CS: I'll be right there.

I hung up the phone. Something washed over me. I saw Izzy and Ajax, and felt a sacrificial love for them that I can't explain. Their lot in life has been so difficult lately.

When I located the wing of the hospital Ben was on, I came across his parents. His mom was holding a very tired Ajax. He must have been exhausted. Poor guy looked all cried out.

Ben's dad Steven put his hand on my shoulder.
SR: Craig, there's been an accident. Ben was driving drunk we think, and ran into someone. He's had a brain injury. He just fell asleep, he's been in and out since we got here.

CS: Oh no.

SR: That's not all Craig.

He sighed, looking down.

CS: Is the other driver ok?

SR: Yes, she managed to be unhurt, thank goodness.

Ben must have woke up again. He was shouting. It caught me way off guard.

BR: Izzy! Izzy!

I heard a commotion. What was he doing? I had to check. To make sure he wasn't hurting himself or scaring Izzy.

BR: Izzy, get down from there right now!

What on earth?

I looked in his room. He was lying down and was surrounded by machines and wires and tubes. Some serious nurses were beside him. His head was bandaged and he had not been cleaned since the crash, as he still had some blood on his face and arms.

I felt like taking charge and spoke to his father.
CS: We should get Izzy out of there. This is too much for her.

SR: Craig... She's not in there...

Something inside me became ajar. Something was not right about this. I felt anxious and a little nauseous. They weren't talking. What were they waiting for?

SR: She.. was in the back ... seat. She's...

My heart sank and my stomach felt like I was falling.

CS: Is she in this hospital or the childrens?

I looked at Ben's parents. They were both looking at me, the sadness in their eyes... I hardly knew them, but I've never seen anyone look so beaten up inside. I had too look away, because their eyes were giving away something they didn't want to say. Not out loud.

CS: I don't want to know.

They didn't have to tell me. I figured it out. But there was some doubt lingering, like maybe, just maybe I was wrong. Please let me be wrong. My head was feeling cloudy.

SR: She's gone.

The last bit of hope fell away when I heard those words. Tiny white dots appeared in my vision. I could see Ben's dad's face, then increasingly more dots.

Ben started assertively speaking.
BR: Agnes, could you come in here for a minute?

White and black dots, tiny patterns. Taking over my vision. Beautiful chaos. An electric smell. My face was numb. I was thinking about my numb face when I fainted and hit the floor. I don't know why I remember that.
I awake in the chair. My head stings and throbs. I feel pressure in my heart but I don't want to cry. I feel like there's something to do, that I can't let go yet. I hold it in.

I walk over to Ben's room, giving an assuring nod to Ben's parents on the way. The nurses are leaving the room as I enter. He's looking to his left, out the window. It's night, and you can see some of the skyline. As I get a closer, I can see that his eyes are welling up with tears, and he blinks them away. I think he sees my reflection in the dark window and turns to look at me. He looks worse emotionally than physically.

I speak softly.
CS: Hey.

He hesitates to speak. I suppose he's thinking. I wish he hesitated longer. He speaks quite slowly and quietly.
BR: Do you remember when I said I wish I believed in heaven so I could join Agnes?

CS: Yeah.

BR: Well now I wish there was a hell so I could pay for what I did to my little girl.

I can't talk.

BR: You know... your first child... there's something so special about your first. We had a bond. It was unlike anything I've ever known. It felt spiritual or something. I cared about her so much... When I woke up in the car... she was on her knees in front of the seat beside me. I thought it was weird that she was in the front seat. She's never in the front seat. I was dazed, and I couldn't figure out how she got there. I didn't really know we crashed even. What a weird way to sleep, I thought. I should wake her up and put her in the back seat, so she's not sore when she wakes up. I called her name real quiet. Izzy... Izzy...

What he said next frightened me a bit. He looked back to the window and said quite demandingly,

BR: Izzy! Izzy! Get down from there right now!

He paused. He started speaking as he was before, but I was having trouble paying attention because that episode caught me off guard. He just continued where he left off.

BR: ...and she didn't wake up. So I brushed her cheek, and right away I got worried. I went to turn her face towards me and...

I did not want to imagine what she looked like lifeless.
CS: Please... stop.

BR: oh...

He waited before speaking again.

BR: I saw Agnes. It was her there, looking back at me. But she wasn't dead. She was... crying. I stared at her face. Her face was saying 'how could you?' I just felt it, you know? I could see in her eyes that 'we', what made us one when she was alive, was broken. I broke it. And Agnes was gone, and I stared at the back of my little girl until help came. I saw what was most precious to me, taken away. I remembered her face, every freckle, her fine hair, and her tiny ears and cute nose. Her eyebrows, her chin, her mouth. I remembered her exactly as she was. I watched as they took her out of the car and... saw what I did to her...

CS: Really, please don't.

He cried these words
BR: I hurt her so bad, Craig. I'm so sorry...

Monday, May 17, 2010


Ben phoned me up today. It was nice to hear from him.

BR: Hey, how're ya doin'?

CS: How you been?

BR: Ehh. Y'know. Hey, can you come over and give me a hand today? I've got the kids, because my parents couldn't watch them. Plus I think they're trying to ween me back into fatherhood again.

CS: Sure, when?

BR: Umm, now?

CS: I'll be right over.

It was raining on the way over. I got to his house and knocked. Ben answered with their (I guess his) youngest, Ajax, now two,  in his arms. Ben didn't look great, but he looked better than the last time I saw him.

BR: C'mon in. Thanks for coming.

CS: No problem. Anytime.

BR: Izzy! Craig is here!

Most kids don't really care much for me, but for some reason, even though I don't see them much, Ben's kids seem to like me a lot. I don't know what it is.

CS: Hey Ajax how are you?

Ajax didn't respond, and seemed a bit shy.

BR: He's tired. I'll put him down, if you wanna go find Izzy. I think she's in the basement.

CS: Sure thing.

As I headed through the house, which was much cleaner, I might add, I heard Ben getting some milk for Ajax's nap. I went to the basement, following the sound of some kids show, that sounded Slavik, probably one Agnes' mom brought from the Czech Republic. I was pretty happy to hear it, because they always have cool cartoons in that country.

CS: Hello? Izzy?

Nothing. My kids get hypnotized by the TV too. She wasn't in the TV room, so I looked around a little bit. She was in the other room with the plastic kid's kitchen set.

CS: Hi Izzy. How are you?

IR: Hi Craig.

She smiled. What a sweetheart.

CS: Well you're sure happy. What are you doing that's so nice, huh?

IR: Mama's teaching me to cook 'knedliky'.

CS: Uh...

It took me a second to process that.

CS: That is nice. Can I try one?

IR: Oh no. They're much too hot.

CS: When will they be ready?

IR: I don't know. Ask mama.

I didn't really want to ask this.

CS: Where's mama?

Ben came up behind me.

BR: Why did you ask her that?

Izzy didn't answer, and kept pretending to make the food, handing things to what I assume was her imaginary mother. Ben didn't see it, since I was in the doorway.

I heard Ajax screaming upstairs. Ben went to check on him.

CS: Need a hand Ben?

BR: No, I'll be right back.

Izzy brought me over some make-believe food.

IR: Here you go. Be sure to blow on it.

CS: Ok.

I did, and pretended to eat it and enjoyed it in an over the top way. She laughed.

IR: Craig. Is my daddy going to die?

What do I do? My immediate thought is to say no, just to ease her mind, but maybe she's too smart for that. If she asked me the same question about her mother a year ago, I'd have said no then too, and I'd have been wrong. But I can't exactly say yes either.

CS: Not for a long time, sweetie.

IR: Okay.

And she went back to pretending to work. I decided to leave her to it, and went upstairs to find Ben.

He was coming down from the second floor as I entered the living room.

BR: Ok, so what were you asking her down there?

CS: Well, I think she's got an imaginary friend. And I think it's Agnes. I asked her what she was doing and she said her mama was teaching her to cook something. So I asked her where mama is, but she didn't answer.

He looked at the floor and sat down on the couch.

BR: This isn't fair.

CS: What do you mean?

BR: Well, maybe you should sit down too.

CS: Uh, okay...

I sat in the chair beside the couch. The furnace kicked in during the silent moment before he spoke again.

BR: I have some bad news.

He was choking on the words. His face was grimaced and he was grinding his teeth a little bit. He breathed in and spit out the words in a remarkably normal way, considering what they were.

BR: I have stomach cancer... Really bad.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I called up Ben. There was a little forced small talk, then things got deeper.

BR: Where do you go after you die? Is it like the blackness you get when you get hit in the head too hard and everything shuts off? Do you get some sort of tunnel vision where you're drawn towards a light?

CS: I don't know. I wonder that myself.

BR: Is there really a heaven?

CS: Maybe.

I wasn't sure what to say. It's hard to be sure footed in your beliefs when you're faced with something serious. I haven't studied enough of that stuff to have a concrete answer. I don't know if we're supposed to have a concrete answer.

CS: Do you think there is? Did Agnes?

BR: She did, yeah.

He said it emphasizing on the word 'she' that made it sound like he didn't believe it.

CS: Do you think she believed she was going there, after...?

BR: Right. Yeah. I think so.

I don't know why I asked the next question.

CS: Do you?

It just hung there. For too long. I knew the answer before he said it.

BR: No.

There was a silence.

BR: Before the funeral, when she was... in her casket? I... held her hand. I touched her face... I looked at her for a long time, you know? The muscles in her face... she looked different. Her hand wasn't just cold. It was like it had fallen asleep. I just sat there and held her hand for a long time. I don't know. Her hands were always so pretty. I wanted so badly for it to change from what it was back to her warm, soft touch. Whatever it was that made her Agnes - her self, I dunno, her...I didn't know how alive she was until she wasn't anymore. Her... body... laying there wasn't an empty shell. It was never enough to hold her in the first place. The whole house wasn't enough to hold her. It still smells like her. That's all that lingers now. Pretty soon that house is going to be as lifeless as she was that day. Cold. Asleep.

I could hear him quietly crying agonizing tears through the phone.

BR: You know, I wish I believed in heaven. Because then I could join her.

He hung up. I knew I needed to call him back soon.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Ben called me tonight.

CS: Hello?

BR: Hi please don't hang up I'm calling to apologize.

CS: Sure man. It's no problem.

BR: I'm not trying to make excuses or anything. I'm not... dealing with this well. I don't want to come out on the other side of this as an alcoholic. I can't let go, you know?

There was a pause.

Sometimes I hear her voice. Not like she's talking to me. I'm not saying that. But sometimes I hear, like something she said before, or something. Except it's so clear, like she's in the room. Like a really delayed echo.

CS: She's irreplaceable. I get that.

BR: You know when someone takes your picture with a flash, and you have a spot right in the center of your vision for a few minutes?

CS: Oh yeah.

BR: Well she's that spot in my eyes, right in the way of everything. I can't even have a thought without her in it.

CS: I never thought about it that way. Hey, for what it's worth, I'm sorry too. I don't really know what to say most of the time. Whatever you need through this, just let me know, ok?

BR: Yeah sure. Hey I'll call you back.

CS: Ok, man. See ya.

BR: Bye.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Someone told me once, that the original humans were created by God. These first people made such a fundamentally wrong choice that it eventually killed them. On and on, people make the same choice and die. But God didn't design in the ability do deal with death, because he didn't design them to die in the first place. But we adapt. Some of us better than others.

I'm going to visit Ben today. I feel pretty good about it, because he's known for his ability to bounce back from difficult situations. I would understand if he has a terrible time coping though, especially after what happened at the hospital. He hasn't picked up the phone the few times I've called, but I feel the need to check up on him anyway.
I knock on his door, expecting to hear his kids shouting, or running around inside, but I hear nothing. The lights are off. I guess they're not home, but I ring the doorbell this time. Nothing. I head back to my car, and I am nearly at the end of the sidewalk when I hear the padlock opening. I turn around and walk back to the unopened door and go inside.
It's dim and unkempt. There is an unusual amount of empty, and nearly empty, 2-litre coke bottles around, on the kitchen counter, on the floor near the garbage, and on the kitchen table. There are fewer, but still a large amount of empty bottles of Canadian Club whiskey, gathered on the floor in the corner of the kitchen. He must be in the living room already. I walk down the hallway to the TV-lit living room, but he's not there either. He must be sleeping on the couch lately. There's a blanket on the couch, and the back pillows are on the floor. There's a half-full bottle of coke, and a bottle of whiskey on the coffee table, but no glass where the circular wet ring indicates it should be. The living room is messy, but not the usual mess that having children brings. There is a vacant corner next to the closed curtains where the toys used to sit. Instead, the floor holds 7-11 bacon cheeseburger wrappers, empty cans of Alphagetti and used kleenex. The commercials on the TV come to an end, and Rachel Ray comes back on.

I head upstairs. I round the 180 degree turn mid stairway and see through the open door that the light is on in their bedroom. I approach the doorway and see him in there, sitting on a kitchen chair, facing the left side of the bed.

"Hey man."

No answer. Just a slight lift of the shoulder. His full glass is sitting on a narrow table in the hallway outside the room.

This room is different. It's bright and clean. There's the odd toy here and there, including Ajax's favourite train. It's strange seeing him without it, it's somewhat of a security blanket for him. The bed is made, and clearly hasn't been slept in. It smells quite nice in here, a contrast from the dank of the lower floor. It dons on me that it smells like Agnes. I tear up a little. He gets up and turns to me.

"It's too bad that human cloning thing never worked out." He snickers slightly through his nose as he says it.

He shows me a few strands of hair he must have gathered from her pillow. He puts them in a porcelain dish on the mirrored dresser with what seems like a few others.

"Let's go downstairs."

Next to the dish on the dresser is a piece of looseleaf paper with a poem written on it. I look and read it.

After the Hydrogen Bomb destroys the cities
And the plagues and famines kill a fourth of the world
And after the stars fall out of the sky
Turning the moon and the seas into blood
I'm gonna hold you so close to me
My dazzling pretty girl
Cuz nothing and nobody matters as much to me
Inside or out of this world.

We'll watch as the meteors boil the oceans
And volcanoes explode in the sky
As hundred pound hailstones fall all around us
With a sulfur inferno beside
I'm gonna squeeze your hand so tight
My glittering sugar girl
Cuz nothing and nobody matters as much to me
Inside or out of this world.

When the seven bowls of wrath pour on the earth
And the people are covered in sores
When fire and blood rain down from above
And jet-black plasters the world
I'm gonna kiss your gentle cheek
My starry tender girl
Cuz nothing and nobody matters as much to me
Inside or out of this world.

And when the lightning sparks in the dark
With the violent shudders of earth
Leaving the world in broken remains
So it seems like the face of the moon
I'm gonna float with you up to heaven
My pure and faithful girl
Cuz nothing and nobody matters as much to me
Inside or out of this world.

I place the page back on the dresser and go downstairs to join him, blinking tears out of my eyes the whole way. His glass is gone and I can smell him as I descend down the stairs.

I pick up one of the cushions and place it back on the couch and sit down. After a little while I start to feel like I should say something, but nothing comes. The harder I think, the more urgent it feels, but nothing comes. Thankfully, he finally speaks.

"I've been writing. Here."

He hands me a coil notebook from an Architecture firm he did help desk temp work for when he was in school.

Too many knives to count
in my dried out heart
I should make an effort
so few do.

My soul is like a dusty cloth
whipping in the wind
Maybe I could just lie to myself
but it wouldn't numb

My leprous heart heaves within me
As the film on my soul remains undisturbed.
No one must touch nor see me.
To do so would be
facing. beside.

My life is a blinking cursor.
Waiting for me to make it something.
Nosebleeds all over the desk.
My organs like filthy water balloons.

I turn the page.

The Wasteland

The old civic center
with its marble walls.
They're here, they found me
tonight, tonight.

Darkness bleeds through
a child's play world.
Wheels keep turning.
Sounds strange, doesn't it?

The end of all you've done.
Your art was a nightmare.
Now we can sleep in peace.
Never more happy endings.

What do I say?

"Wow. These are neat" What a dumb thing to have said. He seems unphased though.

"Thanks. Kinda dark, I know. I've been pretty down lately, of course."

"I bet." I bet?

The next thing he says makes me realize he's drunk, and I look to see that his glass sits empty on the coffee table.

"My parents have the kids. They came over a few days ago and got a bunch of stuff and took them. They seemed kind of mad or something. Whatever."

I didn't want to know why, but I already knew.

"I think I scared them." He slurred that last word.

"My mom said "They're sad too. They miss their mom just as much, if not m-more than you. You have to deal with this. For them" Easy for you to say. The love of your life didn't just die. So they're with my parents now. I was just way too depressed to get off the couch. I think I kind of scared myself a bit too."

He looked over at a little orange bottle of prescription pills. They had Agnes' name on them. I hadn't noticed those before.

"You're gonna get through this. It has to get easier. You have to do stuff. Eventually you have to get on with life."

He shouted. Loud. It startled me and I almost peed a little.

"NO! You don't get it. My life is over. She's gone forever. GET OUT!" His teeth were pushed together so hard. I've never seen him so angry.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. But I'm taking these."

I got up, quickly walked around the coffee table, grabbed the pills and narrowly missed the fist that he swung at me as I did so. I headed for the door and shouted at him from down the hall as I left.

"This isn't over."

I drove away and at the first red light, I started to calm down. My hands were shaking. Even as I write this I'm almost brought right back to that living room. I guess he needs more time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Thanks to everyone who came to the funeral. I'm sure Ben and Agnes' parents were touched. I'm posting Agnes' obituary for all to read.

Reynolds, Agnes.

Agnes Reynolds, of Calgary, Alberta, and Prague, Czech Republic, passed away, October 16, 2009, at Peter Lougheed Hospital, in Calgary. She was born, March 30, 1980, in Prague, Czech Republic, the daughter of Miklos and Eliska Biskup. Agnes graduated from Zatlanka School in Prague, and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. She worked for Siemens Canada for 2 years, and was an Electronics Technologist. Agnes married Ben Reynolds in Calgary, on June 12, 2003.

Besides her husband Ben, she is survived by a daughter, Israel (3), a son, Ajax (19 months), a brother, Milos Biskup, Santa Monica, CA, and a sister, Ivana Jelinek, Prague, Czech Republic. She was predeceased by her sister, Marjeta Biskup in 1984. Funeral services will be Saturday, October 24, 2009, at 4:00p.m. at Foster's Garden Chapel Funeral Home, 3220 4 St NW, Calgary, with Rev. Mark Alexander officiating. Interment will be in Queen's Park Cemetery, following the ceremony. Calling hours are Saturday, from 2:00 p.m., until the time of the funeral. In lieu of flowers, please consider the North Calgary Community Church, c/o Clay Stanwick, 5720 Silver Ridge Drive, Calgary, Alberta.