It came to me in the way that the thousands upon thousands of words of a great story can – gradually in the
beginning, and, suddenly when you turn the last page. It came to me in a procession of chapters that at times
were clear, pivotal moments, at times subtle in transition. It came to me as suddenly as life’s greatest joys
and held to me as life’s sorrows sometimes tend to do.
I was six years old when Carmen killed herself at the age of twenty-six. She left behind three sons and a
daughter, Wanda, she was forced to institutionalize four years prior to her death. From what I have been able
to piece together, Wanda suffered from Phenylketonuria (PKU) and unfortunately was born a couple of years too
early for what is now one of a very few treatable genetic disorders. Wanda is two years older than I am, she
has the mental capacity of a two year old. I last read that she is doing fine, loves to be sung to, and, her
favourite toy is a spoon. Carmen did not want to give up Wanda, but my father, along with the ‘experts’ were
insistent that she was a detriment to the normal development of her three brothers – apparently I started
behaving like her. I don’t remember Wanda but I am sure I was around for Carmen’s depression after she left.
Carmen was a poet, a genius and she was trapped. She was illiterate when she met my father, was forced to
have children that she did not want and ‘forced around’ by a husband she did not love. When I was born, the
nurse asked Carmen for my name. Mad at my father for missing my birth she said, “Clifford Gerry”. Clifford
was a fairly unattractive neighbour that courted Carmen while my father did too -- my father hated him.
Unable to alter a legal document, my birth certificate, it would be a fire in a church in Montreal some thirty
years later that would bring about my current legal name.
Pregnant with her fifth child, Carmen attempted to have a “Church sanctioned abortion”. That’s right, in the
late sixties Montreal hospitals were not allowed to perform abortions without the Catholic Church’s approval.
When she discovered that ‘sanctioned’ meant self-declaration of heresy, she told them to go to hell.
Then Carmen did something.
I was four years old and my brothers, Vince and Bruce, were three -- twins. Carmen placed us on the living
room floor, put several Tonka trucks within our reach and shoo-ed the dog to the balcony. The balcony was
actually the rooftop of a Chinese restaurant over which we lived; she worked there some nights as a hostess
until she got ‘involved’ with the owner. The door buzzer sounded and Carmen let the media in.
The interview began with the reporter sitting across from Carmen, on the only dusty couch, in our very flat,
dark two-bedroom apartment. The reporter held a microphone the size of Carmen’s head inches away from her
mouth. The questions were formed as the outlandishness of the interview unfolded, while the cameraman
infrequently panned over for the ‘odd’ shot of Carmen’s three boys at play.
Then Carmen said something.
Abortion. Carmen told Montreal that she was going to have an abortion. Carmen told everyone eating their
dinners, watching the six o’clock news, that the politicians should do something about the plight of a woman
in her condition and that she was going to have an abortion. Carmen told the Catholic Church that she was a
desperate, trapped mother of four who had had enough and she was going to have an abortion, if she had to do
Over the next several weeks camera lights filled our living room, the only invited light, as the curtains
were always kept drawn tight. It was during this period that Carmen finished absorbing several medical
texts. She had taught herself to read those nights my father was away and we were sleeping. She had taught
herself to write and kept journals of those thoughts she held; those thoughts at times were influenced by the
abundance of prescription pills about the house. She was a poet, a genius and she was trapped. . . with a
wire and a vacuum. . . Carmen did something.
After her stay in hospital for serious blood loss, Carmen came back to our very flat, dark two-bedroom
apartment. . . empty of child. Her mother came to stay with us, bringing a bastioned, bitterness for my
father that would go beyond her grave to his. I remember the fights. I remember my Italian father chasing
his naked, French wife around our kitchen table, with a milk bottle in his raised hand; my French grandmother
in caboose behind. I remember Carmen screaming her hatred of him. I remember I started hating him right at
that moment. I remember the first time I ‘hated’.
I remember, too, Carmen calling me into the living room to watch the first landing of men on the moon. She
turned the volume of the TV down and placed a 45-rpm record on the turntable. We celebrated dancing to the
Fifth Dimension’s, ‘Aquarius’. It was that day that I became a member of Carmen’s club. I was allowed to see
her happy. I was privileged to witness her grace tap her beauty to side. Carmen did not walk into a room,
doors and walls formed after she was gone.
She shone most when she did mother-like things. Days were spent sewing our first Halloween costumes. . .
her first too I’m pretty sure. I was a bat. She was a cat. We trick-or-treated our way through the Chinese
restaurant downstairs; coming away with a haul of money, mints, matches and fortune cookies. The money I’m
sure was for the eye appealing cat suit Carmen filled. Carmen never flirted according to my aunt Dee, from
what I can remember she didn’t have to, there was something naturally flirtatious about her.
Carmen had her moods. How do I describe what drove her to squat in plain view, and, pee in a cup and pour it
over my brothers’ heads? They peed on me in the tub, we were just boys and she felt there was a lesson
there. Other lessons included how to find your own way home from school: This meant Carmen left me (hiding
from my view) on one of my first few days walking back from Kindergarten, crying the whole way until I got to
our block where she pretended to be waiting for me. There was also my favourite: I didn’t know what
‘stealing’ was, but I knew the toy cars on the shelf at the store weren’t just for the taking. When Carmen
asked me where I got the now dirty, new toy I shrugged and told her I found it. She brought me down there to
the store where we met the manager in front of the rack of toy cars that I had hours before cleverly left it
short one. I don’t remember what she was saying to the manager, but he seemed more interested in Carmen.
There were beatings too, I only recall several, one in particular where my brothers and I each had a turn at
being held upside down off the couch, by an ankle and spanked.
According to my aunt Dee, Carmen was not a great house keeper. I do remember the cracks in the drapes. . .
how the sun trapped dust in its dance. I remember the darkness of the apartment and how there were melted
candles everywhere. I remember those 60’s ornaments. . . lots of little brass pots, candle & incense holders
and the odd Buddha here and there.
I remember when my aunt Dee came to visit. Wow! Auntie Dee was amazing. . . aunt Dee still is. Back
then, Auntie always brought gifts and a really sad look in her eyes, no matter how hard she tried to hide it.
Although her visits weren’t often, as she was married to a very wealthy man and traveled extensively at the
time, they were a blessing. Aunt Dee has shared with me how close Carmen and her were, but if I were to have
never seen my auntie again after that childhood. . . I most certainly would have remembered how her and Carmen
were together. Being the oldest boy in the house meant having a greater interest in what the adults were
doing. I stayed awake as late as I could to hear Carmen’s conversations with my Auntie Dee. I do not
remember those conversations today, but I remember some laughing, some anger, and Carmen’s tears.
How it was that my father was not there too often was mostly because he became a truck driver. My father
isn’t without an interesting life story: Having grown up in a boys’ home and barely seeing his two siblings,
Dee & Andre. Seems he and his sister Dee had been separated for so long that Dee had forgotten she had
brothers (She grew up in a place run by nuns). Before becoming a truck driver, my father had a promising
career as a quarterback for the Montreal Allouettes. Unfortunately he broke his leg in two places during
spring training. There’s actually a picture of my father and Carmen there with his leg propped up, crutches
to the side of the lazyboy, Tonia just beside. . . Carmen looked happy.
I am not certain when the curtains were opened in that flat, two-bedroom apartment, but I am absolutely
accurate when I knew Carmen was gone. Gerry Sr. was a blur there at that time. Grandma Legault, “Nanny”,
cried a lot. My brothers and I were all of a sudden in front of a casket. . . Carmen’s. I remember touching
her face. I remember thinking that she wasn’t there. I remember looking at my father there in that funeral
home and he was crying. . . that was the only time I ever saw Gerry Sr. cry. We were graveside next, and a
very gracious lady asked me to grab some dirt and throw it on that box that Carmen was in. My brothers were
made to do the same. Why I was able to see my brothers do that I do not know. We were boys there backing
away from a casket we tossed dirt on. . . there was no headstone. I know that I went looking for Carmen on my
bike days after that.
Gerry Sr. was not all himself in the days and weeks that followed. . . Auntie Dee intervened. I was
dragged behind in the airport in Toronto. Gerry Sr. was a man who was going with a purpose of necessary
distraction. My father and I spent the necessary time getting passports and blood work together to go to
Auntie Dee. I can’t begin to tell you what it was like to be in the back of a taxi, late at night, watching
palm trees pass by the back window in Barbados. I just remember such a very long row of them. . . and I
remember looking at my father watching those palms go by too.
Sent by Gerry April 12, 2009 - A small portion of what is to come!