My homeopath is a real doctor, but he’s not like my previous doctors who threw entire pharmacies at me as soon as they heard “difficulty sleeping” during a five-minute consultation.
Dr. Preis suspects I have ADHD, but I’m skeptical. My brain may be flooded constantly with random information, but I concentrate for hours when I’m writing. This seems to bolster his assessment. He neither suggests testing nor mentions Ritalin, but he might recommend some homeopathic sugar globules after reconsidering the symptoms.
I’ve tried relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi. It’s not difficult to clear my mind and create an empty space, but impossible to stop new thoughts from rushing in.
In Tai Chi, everyone knows I have a dachshund, but no one knows that my mother is dead.
Artur, my dachshund mongrel is dead. He used to rotate his front paws outward, as if posing in second position. “The perfect dog for a ballet dancer!” my friends said.
Kashka, my mother’s Chihuahua, was all bulgy eyes, huge ears, tiny trembling body, a rebel like I wanted to be, refusing the leash, peeing in our shoes when we slept at night, biting my father in the nose a nose that always came too near poking into my space my teenage-girly-room pushing open a door that had no lock.
It is a five-minute walk to the Gayatri Centre, through Cureglia, a town in southern Switzerland. Our dachshund Tootsie stops to sniff, and my husband Daniele grabs a poopy bag from a dispenser. The piazza has a bronze statue of a peasant with his shirt off. A bronze rope holds up his pants.
Daniele coaches me: "Io sono Renée. Sono qui per QiGong. Can you find your way back to the car?"
"Ce la faccio da sola!"
By simply living in Switzerland, I’ve absorbed a rudimentary understanding of Italian, one of its four official languages. My Italian skills exceed that of my French, which most Swiss speak quite well, and which I failed to master during six years of compulsory instruction in bilingual Canada. I’m not even going to try Romansh—it’s on the verge of extinction while, surprisingly, the jarring, guttural dialect of the Swiss German cantons is not. Fluent in German, I learned it in the land of Goethe and, to the locals, sound more like Faust than Heidi.
What persists from my unsuccessful language studies in Canada, is the ability to spell every French word correctly, a skill of limited use when trying to communicate with a Parisian waiter flummoxed by a grossly mispronounced order. But in an Italian ristorante?
“Ce la faccio da sola!”
After class, perhaps because I fell asleep during the final meditation—chronic pain in my right arm is unbearably exhausting—I cannot find the car. I'm at the Cureglia cemetery. The urns have creepy porcelain pictures of the dead, illuminated by tiny electric lights, years of life reduced to one image. I make a note to rotate the photograph of my mom on my bureau. In it, she's holding her unusable right arm. We called her right hand a "chicken claw." The radiation that saved her life damaged the nerves to her arm, burning them dead.
My mother suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. I flew in from Switzerland and she was taken off life support. Next morning, she was gone.
When I picture her grave, it is deepest winter. There is no sound, no motion, only wind shifting snow dunes over tombstones and crypts, covering the rock-hard ground of the cemetery, the unending, frozen prairie.
But it was summer when my mother passed away, and the funeral took place in the middle of a hot spell, under a burning sun, not at all how the Swiss picture Canada.
My father’s funeral was held twenty-one years later, and I didn’t attend. Instead, my husband and I lit candles with our two children, meandering from church to church in a short pilgrimage around Lucerne. I’m not religious and neither was my father, but he painted icons as a hobby, depicting saints, angels, Mary, and Jesus.
A cemetery is a good place to end up lost, because we all die, someday. I start down a trail next to the cemetery wall, walking into the darkness that dwells within. The trail veers into the woods, so I turn back. On the church steps I find two young women sitting with a bottle of vodka between them.
The son of one of my Canadian cousins founded a company that purveys vodka in a bottle shaped like a hockey stick. That’s pretty cool. I’ve never met the offspring of my three male cousins who grew up with me in Winnipeg. Decades and an ocean separate us.
My cousins were present at my father’s memorial service.
The women eye me, suspiciously, as if I'm going to reprimand them. The lamp on the bell tower creates a spotlight.
"Ho sbagliato," I say. I have made a mistake. "Chi sono?” Who am I?
Because the parking lot is next to the soccer field but I cannot remember the words, I make a kicking motion with my foot. "Juventus," I say. "La mia macchina!" My car!
"Dov'e il parcheggio?" one asks. Her black eye liner is thick and streaks out to her temples in cat-like strokes.
"Sì, sì. Grazie."
"Vai laggiù. Fino in fondo." She points, making a stabbing motion.
I set off across the church steps to a path on the other side of the cemetery, still skirting my final destination. Behind a hedge, I see the soccer field and the parking lot. Hedges are ubiquitous in southern Switzerland, separating churches from soccer fields, private homes from trails, vodka drinkers from the lost.
“Don’t come to my funeral,” my father once told me, hoping, perhaps, that I would.
“If you drink, don’t drive,” he cautioned, not heeding his own advice. But I would never learn to drive, despite the free lessons offered in high school—all you had to do was sign up. I wasn’t interested in anything practical, only ballet and art, and the books I hauled home every week from the public library, six at a time, to read all night beneath the comforter, under the yellow radiance of a cheap flashlight.
The inside car light illuminates Daniele. Tootsie must be in his lap. After I explain that I got lost and that we're all on a pilgrimage to death, my husband is reluctant to let me drive to class alone.
Although I have a frozen right shoulder and a list of problems that make it impossible to shift into second gear or pull on the emergency brake, I argue that my mother would insist it's time for me to go to class alone. A Renée Independence Project: RIP.
I do it. Faithfully, not like my current Italian language class where I drive there on time, pay for parking, but sit inside the car and eat Pringles.
My father’s ashes were placed in an urn that sits on the coffin that protects my mother’s bones.
After my mother died, we didn't have a memorial service, but I had a lot of dental work. Five root canals, four times on the same tooth. My pulled teeth were holes to be filled with something new.
I want to tell my mum I have horse and cow bone as part of two dental implants. I want to hear her say "neigh" and "moo."
A few years after my mother died, a Swiss dentist replaced the amalgam my father had used to fix cavities in my teeth with new, mercury-free fillings. My father was not happy to hear that. When I was little, he'd studied dentistry in Munich, which is where I acquired my excellent German.
My teacher Lorenzo humors me when I make up keywords in English for key movements in Tai Chi: "The John Travolta," disco flair; "The Chicken," the right arm is bent next to the body, elbow down, wrist up, fingers flopped over like a chopped off chicken claw. Il Pollo is easy because I can only raise my arm half way to the sky. Lorenzo doesn't even know that I have a frozen right shoulder until he touches me and I squeak. "Ho la spalla congelata."
Some memories stay congealed forever, frozen solid like the shoulder of venison in our old freezer, a deer killed by a family friend, the look of horror on my mother’s face when my father brought it home, the dismembered, sinewy limb, its glistening surface, the bits of hair. The gamey smell when it thawed.
The mountains in Ticino are lush with vegetation. My Artur was buried in a shady chestnut tree forest, il bosco di castagni.
Our black-and-tan dachshund Tootsie was five when we adopted her. Her breath smelled like a buffet of rotten meat, she needed three teeth pulled and surgery to remove bladder stones, and she was diagnosed morbidly obese. When Tootsie tried to jump up, she tipped over.
When I was sad or agitated, my mother always embraced me, soothed me, stroked my hair: forehead to nape, forehead to nape.
My mother never liked dachshunds, but she would have loved Tootsie. Mom would have picked her up with her left arm, cuddled her, and said, "Good dog. What a good dog."
A good cuddle is all I need.
“Found Again” by Renée E. D’Aoust was published online in Issue #103 (June 2019) of The Rupture. It is used with the permission of the author and the journal’s editor, Gabriel Blackwell.
Renée E. D’Aoust’s book Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press) was a ForeWord Reviews “Book of the Year” finalist. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, and her writing has been published widely in journals and anthologies. D'Aoust teaches online at Casper College and North Idaho College, and she lives in Switzerland. Please visit www.reneedaoust.com and follow @idahobuzzy on Twitter.
Genia Blum is a Swiss Ukrainian Canadian writer, translator, and dancer. Her work has appeared widely in literary journals, and she has received several Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. “Slaves of Dance,” based on excerpts from her memoir in progress, Escape Artists, was named a “Notable” in The Best American Essays 2019. Find @geniablum on Twitter and Instagram, or visit her website www.geniablum.com.