CHAPTER ONE
from THE SECRET TO HARMONY

“Are we going to die?” Wisp asks from the depths of his blankets in the back seat. I see Mom’s knuckles whiten on the wheel, and her mouth go taut.
DuChard Unspoken Family Rule #1: Though Wisp is preoccupied with death these days, you are never, ever to say the word “death” or “die” when Wisp is within earshot.

But because Wisp is posing the question himself, Mom has no recourse but to pretend she hasn’t heard him.
“Of course we’re not,” I tell Wisp, when Mom says nothing, “It’s just snow.”

Even as I say this, I know I am lying. We have been driving for over two hours in what the weathermen are calling “the storm of the century.” I am as unsure as Wisp whether or not we’re going to be killed in some sliding, spinning, ice-infused accident.

It is four days after Christmas, and this is the first snow of the year. Usually, a December snowfall in the Northeast tumbles in like a light blanket, one you pull up just as the temperature begins to dip, fluffy but not too heavy, not like the down comforter you’ll need in the depths of winter.

But this snow is monstrous - a great roaring beast irritated by the release of aerosols in Russia, the exhaust of cars in China, the heat of nuclear reactors in the US and other global warming agents. Hurricanes, fires, tsunamis – they have all been increasing in number and intensity. Why should snow sit on the sidelines?
“Are we going to be swallowed up by the storm and suffocate in this car?” Wisp’s weary voice floats up to us. “Are they going to find us months later, when everything melts, all petrified and blackened from lack of food and water?”

‘Don’t be silly, Wisp,” Mom finally snaps.

She gives me a look that could curl steel. Because, of course, I am to blame for us being on this road at this hour, just below the Canadian border in the hinterlands of Vermont, where neither human nor neon can penetrate the wall of white in front of us.
“Dad can drive in anything,” Wisp states.

DuChard Unspoken Family Rule #2: Never mention my father in front of my mom, especially when she is already under so much stress that the lines on her face look like the dried cracks of an old man’s foot.

“Do you see your father here?” Mom asks.
Wisp goes suddenly silent, probably realizing his mistake in spite of his fatigue.
He leaves me, the older and unsick sister, to answer.

Coward.

“I said do you see your father here?” Mom repeats, her voice rising along with the wind that howls outside our car.
I shake my head and say nothing. It’s safer that way.

“It was your father’s smart idea that we drive to Montreal for Willow’s hockey tournament in the first place,” Mom continues in the tone I have come to know as worse than the taste of sour milk. “He could have given us the money to fly, but no. He was a little short this month. And now, as usual, he’s nowhere to be found, leaving me on my own with a sick child and driving in a horrific storm while he’s holed up somewhere, all warm and toasty, drinking a scotch he could afford. And it was his idea that Willow play hockey in the first place, so I really don’t understand why it’s me doing the hauling around.”

DuChard Unspoken Family Rule #3: When Mom starts going on about Dad, it’s best to act like a seal faced with a shark– clam up and swim away like crazy.
So I let my thoughts fly about until I find a safe place -- and I think about the game. The game we won. The save I made.

I can still remember the puck hitting hard against my glove as it sailed just inches above my shoulder, and I still know the complete and utter amazement when I realized it was there -- safe, stopped, just as the buzzer sounded, ending the game and giving us the win by one single, solitary goal. I can hear the crowd screaming my name, feel my best friend, Elise, piling on top of me before the rest of the team joined in, and smell the sweat from our collective hard won battle. It had been sweet - a sweet win, a sweet save.

And I wish my dad had been there. Because, unlike Mom, he would have known that feeling, understood that victory, cheered me on as a winner. He played hockey in college. He knew.

But he could not find a sub to coach his high school basketball team this weekend. So instead, it was my mom waiting for me at the end of the game, tapping her foot during the winning team pictures, shooing me off the ice, urging me to change quickly, barely able to wait half an hour before she packed us up and started driving us home, worrying and whining about the storm. So the joy of that unexpected miracle win in my otherwise miracle-less life had deflated quickly, like gum that has gone flat and tasteless.

“Are we going to be lost forever?” Wisp asks.

He must feel that even though the storm still rages outside our car, the “Mom storm” has passed, and he can venture out into speculation land again. Foolish Wisp.
“Maybe we’ll be like Rip Van Winkle and get lost in these hills and sleep for centuries,” he says.

“Rip Van Winkle ran out on his wife and went off bowling with a bunch of fairies,” Mom informs him. “And his poor wife was left alone to handle everything herself while he was out having a good time and a long nap.”

I knew it. Wisp was wrong.

Neither storm is backing off.

“I would like to nap like that,” Wisp whispers.

That shuts Mom up, for she knows the truth of this. I glance back at my brother, his little body curled tight on the seat, and he gives me a weak smile. The dark circles under his eyes are a mirror image of his constant and bitter battle with the grim reaper.

But it is Mom who should look like Wisp, for it is she who has been the gladiator in his fight, arming herself with every piece of information on leukemia she can find, persuading great warrior doctors to take Wisp on, slashing and stabbing at bad news, refusing to wave the white flag.
If the God of snow bothered to show himself now in the midst of this storm and challenged my mom in hand-to-hand combat, and she approached it as she has Wisp’s illness, she would tie his clouds up into tiny knots, blow his wind back where it came from, gather his snowflakes together and wring them dry until they were nothing but a bucket of harmless water drops.

After all this time and all this fighting, I find myself sometimes wishing she would just surrender gracefully and let herself be lifted off with Wisp in her arms to a place where they could both just sleep, wrapped tightly next to each other, warm and safe. The battle has cost us all so much. And even as I think it, I feel my constant companion these days - guilt. It sticks in my throat like half-chewed meat. I shake my head and will these terrible thoughts to fly off into the storm.

And just as I am feeling whole and okay again, I find that we are suddenly spinning, and I am screaming. And Wisp is slammed into the side of the door, because, of course, he didn’t fasten his seatbelt as he had promised he would. And Mom is fighting the car and the road with all her strength, the gladiator again.

And when the thud comes that finally stops us, I can see we’ve hit something grey and solid and I can feel the car tilting, as if we’re sitting on the apex of a see-saw that a giant has just abandoned. We are at crosses with the road, our front end low, our back end high. The car groans and slides slightly forward. I look down, and through a sudden break in the mist and the snow, I see water below us, swirling and rushing and splashing up toward our car as if to haul us all down to watery deaths.
But I say nothing. For in our family, you never, ever say the word death when Wisp is around.

 

 

About Me

My favorite hobbies:
Traveling, writing, spending time with my girls, my sister and my friends

My favorite saying:
We make a living by what we get – but we make a life by what we give!

One strange fact about me: I had braces at age 33

My Books

My advice on writing: don't ever give up if this is what you want more than anything else in the world! If you are truly a writer, you will be unable not to write.

 

 

 

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