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Kickstart my Campaign to Self-Publish The High-Flying Adventures of Captain Grief

The High-Flying Adventures of Captain Grief

by Kelly Wilk

Chapter One: You Dying was Not In the Plan

Captain Grief Takes Flight

And now is the moment you get to meet my alter ego, Captain Griefmy personal caped crusader,unapologetically making her way through the infuriating, embarrassing, impolite stages of grief, and then backtracking quickly.

Is she moody?

She sure is.

Prone to indecisiveness?

Heck, yeah.

Seems a little slower than her usual self?

You betcha.

Bit of a slob?


Likely to break into uncontrollable fits of sobbing in public?

Without a doubt.

She’s kind of a bitch too, but that’s allowed. She’s grieving after all—in a cape!

            In The High-Flying Adventures of Captain Grief,the Captain and I get up to a bunch of nonsense debating and illuminating our journey through the daily terrors and triumphs of grief, and occasionally, possibly providing helpful tips for coping. We also like making lists, such asNine ways to follow up the sentence “my spouse died” to make it less painful and socially awkward. Take care and enjoy, all with a grain of salt.

Valentine’s Day Sucks                                             

February 14/2013

So, here I am all alone waiting for my alter ego Captain Grief, my partner in crime, to show her masked face. Happy freaking Valentine’s Day! My toddler had a meltdown as I dropped him off at daycare this morning. I could barely get him out of the stroller to go inside! After that I bought red roses for my own damn self. They make me happy, especially considering I couldn’t have them around when my wife was alive, as she was allergic to them.

            They go well with the chocolate Turtles I bought in preparation, and the large brown plush bear holding a cheesy pink heart, which was for my kid, but really for me. So I am here, all ready to go, when I received an email from Captain Grief, which went something like this:

            “Hey, Kel. Sorry, man, I can’t make the launch. Did you get my card? I can’t get out of bed. My face is crusted to the pillow because of all the crying, I lost my voice from wailing, and I had a horrible dream last night about a giggling cupid poking me over and over again with an arrow, singing, “No Val-en-tine for you; no Val-en-tine for you!” Whose brilliant idea was this anyway, to start a blog paying tribute to our dead wives on national expensive candy day? Did we have to do it today? Anyway, they should be fired. Can you look into that? – CG.”

The card she sent me was pretty great. It perked me up enough to help me write my first list.

Nine things to do when you realize Valentine’s Day SUCKS (or continues to suck) because your spouse died:

  1. Go to bed. Things will be the same in the morning, but at least Valentine’s Day will be over.
  2. Make a pillow person, dress them up in your spouse’s shirt, pants, or hat, and spray liberally with their cologne, perfume, or deodorant. Then revisit first suggestion.
  3. Sit the pillow person up at the table and order in. Purge your feelings by watching romantic movies with them and crying your heart out into your box of chocolates!
  4. Purge your feelings by watching romantic movies where one of the spouses dies and then wail copiously into your popcorn.
  5. Take a shower, revoke the ban on shaving, and get out of the house. Get some of your single pals together and go dancing. If needs be, slow dance with one and cry on their shoulder; I did.
  6.  Ask your friends to write some for you. Everybody needs love, especially you, right now!
  7. Heart-shaped piñata. Baseball bat à la Jennifer Garner in Valentine’s Day.
  8. Purge your feelings by listening to songs that rip your guts out, all night, on loop. I highly recommend “All I Want is You” by U2.
  9. Eat icing out of the jar.

Patrick Swayze Needs A Talking To                     

February 21/2013

“Oh, man, you killed me last week,” said Captain Grief, still obviously riddled with post-Valentine’s sorrow, as we sat down for a chai latté.

            “I watched “Ghost.” Man, Patrick Swayze is a dink!” she said.

            “Totally,” I answered.

            By that, I mean to say, Swayze’s character, Sam, in the epic love-after-life story, “Ghost.” It is not to malign his awesome dirty-dancing self in any way! The following is a summary of our conversation . . .

            Sam jumps the express train to the afterlife and is caught in limbo. He has a mission to solve his own murder, but also ample time to watch his widow (I hate that word) grieve. His wife, Molly, played by the lovely Demi Moore, is going through his stuff and pauses over a half-eaten packet of gum, stops herself from throwing it out, and starts to cry. At this point, Sam, with sadness, but also disdain, rolls his eyes and says, “Molly, what are you doing?!”          

            When I saw this movie after my dad passed away, this exchange made me angry. And now that I am going through the same experience as my mother, I like it even less. Who knows why things are important? Who is anyone to pass judgment on my mother or me for keeping something that may otherwise be insignificant? Everything is a memory. EVERYTHING. Even if you don’t realize you made it . . . until that memory is all that is left!

            A memory of what they liked and what they did. What they touched, and the things they carried with them as they moved about the world. Molly could have been remembering a romantic garlic-laden dinner they shared, or how he never emptied his pockets before he put things in the hamper.

            The truth is, she will be finding his stuff for years, and it will lose its raw significance, but not now. Not when the reminder that you lost someone is around every corner. Not when the pay stubs, and the flyers, and the slivers of soap, and anything that was ever brought into the house by or for this person is now not going to be brought in or used by them anymore. Each object says, I am not here to use this, and I am not coming back to get it.

            After the soul-crunching celebration of watching another movie that rips your heart out after you lose a spouse, please pause to remember this amazing actor, Patrick Swayze, and his widow, Lisa Niemi. Lisa, The High-Flying Adventures of Captain Grief salutes you! Your late husband is dearly missed, and he was the most beautiful drag queen ever!

When Grief is Awkward                             

 February 28/2013

“I went to a party last night,” Captain Grief told me as we sat down to eat breakfast at McDonald’s.

            “So did I,” I sniffled. I was sniffling because I noticed the green “Buy a Shamrock Shake” button on the cashier’s vest, and remembered how they were my wife’s favourite every March. I hate firsts. I was just biting into my muffin and about to take a sip of Earl Grey tea (which translates to one chocolate muffin, one tea, one sausage breakfast sandwich, one hash brown, and one juice), and I was going to ask, “Did you have fun?” However, Captain Grief seemed a little more disheveled than normal, if that were possible. She spluttered and then she spilled her tea.

            “I took my cape to the dry cleaner’s, brushed my teeth, and even wiped my boots on the doormat before I went in. I had a drink in my hand; I was feeling good and having fun! I hadn’t been talking with this guy for five minutes before he asked me where my partner was.”

            “What did you say?” I asked, afraid.

“I told him my spouse was dead and he was a jackass; thank you very much for pouring lime juice in that gash. I threw a bowl of peanuts in his face and left the party.”

            “Wow, that’s extreme,” I cringed.

            “Well what am I supposed to say? Can that question ever have a response that won’t totally trip people up, or make them inch away, or go glassy-eyed, or suddenly need to go to the bathroom?”

            “Well, it can be awkward, but we could try to come up with a list of better things to say, so we’ll be better prepared.”

            “Fine . . . but I’m sticking near the snack foods in case they don’t work.”

            “Fair enough . . . remind me to duck.”

Nine ways to follow up the sentence “my spouse died” to make it less painful and socially awkward:

  1. Ah, my spouse died . . . but don’t worry! I have a freezer stocked with single-portion leftovers, and I carry a puppy in my purse at all times.
  2. (In response to an insensitive comment.) Ah, my spouse died . . . but don’t worry about that really insensitive thing you said; it hurt way less than actually losing my spouse. (Okay, that one may only make you feel better, but hey, sometimes that’s what it’s all about!)
  3. Ah, my spouse died . . . but I am here, and my family is here, and that mime who hugged me on the subway this morning is here. Well, I really could have done without him.
  4. Ah, my spouse died . . . but life goes on. Now I can use all her socks to make puppets for a puppet show that will make children all over the world giggle!
  5. Ah, my spouse died . . . but now I can sit on my front lawn and busk, singing “put a penny in the can for the widow, mama needs a new pair of shoes . . . or guitar lessons.”
  6. Ah, my spouse died . . . but now I can make room in the closet for a buttload of shoes.
  7. Ah, my spouse died . . . but now I can watch what I want on television (when my toddler is asleep), and eat junk (if I don’t eat it in front of my toddler), and sleep in a star formation in the middle of the bed (if my toddler doesn’t wake up and refuse to go back into his crib). Hmmm, how has my life changed?
  8. Ah, my spouse died . . . but now I can enjoy all the things in life that she was not a fan of. Like chick movies, and chick flicks, and period dramas that happen to have a lot of romance and drama, and a lot of . . . chicks.
  9. Ah, my spouse died . . . but don’t worry. I am not on the couch in food-splattered, tear-stained, seven-week-old pajamas, with take-out on speed dial, where they don’t even ask me for my name or order; they just bring the grub. No! Instead, I am up and groomed, and talking to you. Aren’t you impressed?

Retreat, Retreat!

June 22/2013

I have a lot of little places in the city where I like to write. Pubs and coffee shops, libraries, and on my phone between stops on public transit. There is something about life humming all around me while I am in my quiet bubble. I have an addiction to journals; they’re where I write my best stuff. However, sometimes I need more than just me and my words.

            I started taking courses with my writing coach, Chris Kay Fraser, shortly after I met Kara. My first class was on writing memoir, and it was extraordinary to experience such a safe, intimate space to allow very real, raw writing to surface. She quoted a writer who basically said memoir is an act of brutal honesty. And it’s true. Like all art, you have to search for the beating heart of something to find authenticity, and when it’s memoir, it tends to go straight to the beating heart of you.

            I started writing out the oral traditions of my family at our cabin on Manitoulin Island. Working with Chris, I found my voice, and as I told stories about my family, she and all the other students knew Kara as well as they knew me. I began attending her glorious writing retreats, which are always an act of soulful, replenishing, deep-cave diving for not-yet-expressed material. 

            On my first retreat after Kara died, I was all prepared to be one hot mess of a memoirist. When you go into silence and focus, you can’t avoid what is there. It just empties onto the page, filling the vacuum. I definitely made a mess, but I also wrote like a fiend, and I was surprised to find that one of the deep, unexpressed things I needed to write about was joy, and where the joy connected to Kara first began.

Journal entry during the Firefly Creative Writing retreat

Damn that was a shitty apartment. Shitty and perfect. It was yours, and I found you on www.pinksofa.com, a lesbian dating site. I messaged you because I liked your handle, “City Butch.” You were riding past the Toronto Healing Arts Centre on Bloor and Christie the day we met. My client had cancelled, so you came back to meet me for lunch, even though you had just finished a night shift at the Toronto Island Water Plant, where you worked as an operator. Clearly the Universe wanted us to meet, I thought.

            I heard the door open downstairs. It could have been someone else, but I knew it wasn’t. I was bent over, taking down the unused massage table, so the first thing you saw when you came upstairs was my butt. You’re welcome.

            You smiled your twinkly-eyed smile, and when I hugged you hello, the first thing I noticed was how incredibly warm you were. My furnace. The warmth was a gateway to my future, the temperature that I would come to expect for the rest of my life. You took me to Rocco’s Plum Tomato for lunch, and after that you had to grab a cab back to the ferry dock, to catch the boat before your next shift. You normally rode your bike everywhere, even in the slushy, wintery streets of Toronto, but you had damaged one of your tires that day and had to take it in for repairs. Clearly.

            I honestly didn’t want to end our impromptu date, and I was going downtown to meet a friend anyway, so I did not mind splitting a cab. You flagged one down and we sat in the back chatting, the endless stories already flowing between us. I casually touched your knee and imagined the fireworks exploding in your brain.

            When we got to the corner, a second passed where we smiled a mirror image of clandestine knowing, and you pulled me in for the warmest most delicious first kiss I had ever experienced. At some point, I became aware that people driving across Front Street beside us were honking and cheering for the two chicks kissing on the sidewalk in the business district.

            The kiss started to strain under our smiles as we laughed and parted. I was so in. I watched the back of you as you walked away, long beige cargo shorts, ringer t-shirt, baseball cap. I waited for a moment on impulse to see if you would turn around, and when you did, you looked at me as if not shocked at all to see me still standing there.


            I couldn’t stand it—the pull of estrogen was too potent. I spent the day with my friend in a giddy, bouncing mood, and met Kara again on the way back from her last shift to have the originally suggested date. After we hopped in another cab to her place, she gave me a tour of her basement apartment. 

            It was uncomplicated and straightforward: here is the garage, here is the room with nothing in it except a loveseat and a scratchy pullout sofa. I would become accustomed to lying on that pullout, over sheets, in various states of undress. A couch we ate dinner on, where she served me her famous mushroom gravy over roast pork, followed by chocolate strawberries dipped in melted Easter Bunnies. This is where we later created homemade Christmas ornaments using cookie cutters and clay. Her present from me was a gold and silver star with tiny snowmen on them, and two royal blue hearts with an angelic figure on each, one labelled “Kelly” and one “Kara”.

            Continuing with the tour, we saw the hall, the minuscule kitchen, and to the left, an unremarkable bathroom, that is, until I saw the beautiful claw-foot tub. It was like finding a hundred-dollar bill in the pages of a library book. I may have even rubbed my eyes to make sure it was real. And here was a person who was just as passionate as me about sitting up to the neck in vanilla-scented water. This was the person that would lovingly, playfully tow me over the surfaces of lakes for seven years all over Ontario, as I gazed into the sky. I was with Kara, and I was home.

            The dingy grey carpet under my bare feet was parting to let my roots find their way into the ground. As she stretched her arms around me, she smelled like damp earth and men’s cologne. The gender of who she was and the way she dressed was cushioned by the soft female biology underneath. Kara was the mystery of how those two things came together. She was a perfect balance of a loving and nurturing internal strength, with a strong exterior that made my desires spill all over the floor like a ball of dismantled yarn. We had only known each other one day, and we already belonged to each other. All my fears were gone.

Channeling Judith Viorst 

March 7/2013

“So, what are we doing here?” Captain Grief rolled her still-tearful eyes, as she lay draped over the counter at Chapters.

            “I just need to pay for this book and then we can go.” I showed her the copy of one of my favourite children’s books, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” by Judith Viorst. I had a lot of favourites, as my mother was a primary school teacher, but I had not added this to my children’s collection yet.

            “Does your kid really need another book?” she asked. Not having a super kid of her own she doesn’t really get parenting and the value of a picture book when you have to explain why life sucks sometimes.

            “Hey, books are comforting. Just ask the shelves in my bedroom.”

            “Whatever. I need caffeine.”

            Sitting down for a cup, the Captain picked up the book and leafed through it with an increasingly skeptical expression.

            “Gum in your hair? New running shoes, kissing on TV, railroad pajamas! Sounds like a party; what is Alexander complaining about?!” That’s when the couple next to us started staring, only infuriating her more.

            “My best day is a hundred times worse than that! Alexander wouldn’t know what hit him!” The couple discreetly asked for their check.

            “Alexander is prepubescent and hasn’t lost a spouse.”

            “That’s beside the point.”

            “Okay, what made your day so bad?” I offered, settling in for a long tale.

            “Oh, where do I begin?” she began.

Captain Grief and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

When Captain Grief woke up this morning she realized she had cried herself to sleep listening to sad songs on her iPod, again, and it was dead! She was also still wearing her cape, which was all wrinkled. While brushing her teeth, she missed the toothbrush and squeezed an aquamarine lump of toothpaste into the sink. After crying about the stupidity of life and squeezable tubes for ten minutes, she realized she didn’t have the energy clean up the toothpaste, so she spat into the sink and went downstairs to make toast. She knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

            Emotionally exhausted by the toothpaste to do she had to take public transit to work. On the way, she sat beside a woman on the subway who told her she looked like she needed a hug and tried to sell her a magazine subscription. When the Captain refused, the lady burst into tears. Captain Grief had no choice but to launch into a hysterical fit and shouted, “What! You think you can get a better sob on than me, over a freaking magazine? I’m Captain Grief! My spouse died and you are so less sad than me, you asshat.”

            Then the lady pulled the emergency stop cord and they were both catapulted to the end of the car and got into a cat fight. The lady was an ear puller. They were escorted from the station. When the Captain trudged up to the surface, cradling her beet-red ear, she realized she was twenty-two stops away from where she needed to be and she had no money for a cab,

            Now even more exhausted from melancholy, she decided to walk. She was also wondering if her eardrum had blown because she was feeling all wonky. Although, lately she had been experiencing unexplained, brief periods of nausea; motion sickness was now an Achilles heel and she carried a barf bag in her super belt. The ear puller had also damaged her lunch bag and must have punctured her applesauce. It began to run down her leg through her tights until it dribbled into her boot, so she squelched on every other step.

            “Yup, this is it,” she mumbled. “A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day in full effect. I think I might move to Switzerland where no one argues, or eats applesauce!”

            So, of course she was late, and when she arrived, sobbing and covered in applesauce, she threw a hissy fit at her boss because the soap dispensers were out of soap, and she was almost fired. Her cape got sucked into the shredder and she had to wait an hour and a half for the handyman to cut her out of it, since he assumed it was an additional call about the soap dispenser. Her computer was hacked and she received eighty-two emails about the trip for two she had won to go to Switzerland.

            She got a huge paper cut on her thumb and the office Shih Tzu, named Mr. Giggles, peed on the power bar, and sparked a fire that burned down the office. As she left the smoldering building, she said to the handyman, “I hope they don’t have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days in Switzerland ‘cause I’m booking a flight for this week while they rebuild the office.”

            On the way home, she stopped at her favourite lesbian superhero bar for a drink, and a lady in a lime green jumpsuit and hot pink balaclava offered to buy her one, even though she was still smoking from the fire, so she figured, why not? After explaining the ashes in her hair and the absurdity of her day, she took off her gloves and reached for a pretzel. Super Jumpsuit Queen noticed her wedding ring and said, “Oh, you’re married?”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” she blasted. “I can wear my ring as long as I want to! No, I’m not technically married any more, but thanks for shaking salt over that wound, you jerkwad!” At this, Super Jumpsuit Queen smiled and backed out the door without breaking eye contact, until she hit the pavement and pelted down the street. The Captain mused, “Who knew that this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day could get any worse? I think I could have approached that better. Oh well, her loss.” And she tossed back her drink.

            On her way home, she realized she hadn’t charged her iPod, so instead she thought about how shitty she felt and listened to the inner melody of her sorrow. She also forgot to stop and get tissues, and knew she would be blowing her nose on the drapes again that night.

            Maybe I’ll order a pizza, she thought. Then I’ll have a box to put on the roof of the pizza box fort in the living room. Smiling, she realized she felt the tiniest bit better, until she remembered they probably made better pizza in Switzerland.

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