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Telegrams from Home: Community Dispatches

By West End Phoenix • May 16, 2020The Bookish Life

Welcome to Telegrams from Home, a new collaboration between The West End Phoenix and Kobo Originals. Every week, to help you #StayHomeAndRead, we’ll bring you new works from authors and artists on what it’s like to live through this period of quiet survival.

On May 29 we’ll release Telegrams from Home: Vol. 1, an eBook containing these pieces and many more, with proceeds going to Community Food Centres Canada

Neighbours across the country offer an intimate window into the ways life in lockdown has changed them.

“For the first time in my career as a family doctor, I had to tell a patient she has cancer by phone. I couldn’t watch her reaction, offer reassurance, hold her hand or give her a hug. What I do feels very small compared to my colleagues who are holding down the fort in ERs and ICUs and COVID assessment centres across the world. But that moment with my patient, who I have known for 20 years, was incredibly difficult and poignant for me. It’s now become the norm to deal with almost everyone by phone, and, strangely, it’s both less personal and more personal. It’s a bit like going to confession – some people feel free to talk without being seen.” — Dr. Susan Brunt, Toronto

“I hadn’t seen my daughter, Leah, in over a month. Her partner drove her down to Victoria from the rural community of Metchosin in his big, rickety pickup truck. When she arrived, I stood on my second-floor balcony and she threw freshly foraged fiddleheads up to me. I asked myself if this was the last time I would ever see her. I memorized what she was wearing, her face, her hair, her voice, just in case it was.” — Renee Layberry, Victoria


“It was one of those little time-stop moments. A woman who was picking up books brought in some cookies and this beautiful watercolour book cover she had made. It said, ‘How to Absolutely Serve Your Community During a Pandemic by Type Books’ with a personal note on the back. Everything here has been so frantic. I was in the middle of four different tasks and the phone was ringing, but it made me freeze for a second. I fully cried. That caring gesture and moment of appreciation just floored me.” — Rebecca A., manager at Junction Type Books, Toronto


“I take my dog, Murray, out every morning at 4:30 or so and look skyward. I take a few deep breaths and gird myself for the day of uncertainty, bad news, physical distance. It is a very, very peaceful moment. And the view marks the passage of time: I have looked up at the northern lights, a starlit night sky, and just today a hint of light cast from over the horizon. It’s warming up and the midnight sun is on its way.” — Loren McGinnis, Yellowknife

“In February, my elderly mother called me saying she didn’t want to go to her community centre anymore until the virus had passed. That was when the situation became real for me. As someone in the healthcare community, I feel like I have an advantage in having better knowledge of what’s going on. Still, I’m surprised by all the non-scientific opinions, or folks who just choose to not take guidelines seriously. It’s not about lack of knowledge – it’s about selfishness. I’m touched when parents bring their children to my office and they wear a mask, because what they’re saying is they care about my safety as well as theirs.” — Dr. Rahul Saxena, Toronto


“The other day, I went to take my dogs for a walk and as I journeyed out of town I came across what appeared to be a 200-metre strip of perfectly Zambonied ice on a meandering river. I had been passing the same spot for days and the river had been covered in snow and ski tracks, so I was more than a little surprised to see it this way. The weather had been warm enough to melt the snow on the thick layer of river ice, but had the nights been cold enough to freeze it hard enough to bring back Canada? I tested it. Yes! I raced home, grabbed my skates, gloves, stick and a puck, made a quick post babbling ecstatically about it on Facebook, and hurried back. Have you ever heard the sound skates make on river ice in the middle of nowhere with no one but you to translate what they’re saying? It got even better when my best friend’s son, who saw my post, showed up wearing a vintage Canucks sweater and a greasy Auston Matthews moustache. We skated for what seemed like hours, passing the puck between us, and filling the space in between passes with lipjacking, just being kids again. And for a few short moments, everything was right with the world.”— Joe Urie, Jasper, Alta.

“I was helping a gentleman who was upset I wasn’t accepting cash at my register. While he was moving his things to a different line, one of my co-workers tried to help him by moving his cart. He pointed at her and yelled, ‘Get your hands off my cart!’ Everyone stopped to see what was going on. He got very upset and complained to one of our managers. All he cared about was what we were touching. He didn’t care about the risks of paying in cash or how he was treating us. It makes me feel like my co-workers and I are disposable.” — Charlotte Januska, Toronto

“I didn’t think I could survive anything that triggered my abandonment panic. I was so needy that I used to drive people away – a self-fulfilling prophecy and vicious cycle. Now, I’m a person who enjoys her own company and does lots of things on her own. I can survive physical distancing and isolation. I can sit still and wait this thing out.” — Estela Adriana Alarcón, Winnipeg

“My eight-year-old daughter, Edie, was riding her bike, going in a circuit that included a hill in the park, getting more confident and faster in her descents. My pre-pandemic dad self was proud as I watched her speed down the hill. Then, on one trip down, she got into a wobble that she couldn’t recover from. I watched the whole thing go down in slow motion. Her feet came off the pedals, she went over the bars and landed face-first on the pavement. When I reached her, she was all screams and bloody mouth and scraped skin. She didn’t have broken bones, broken teeth or concussion symptoms, so when she told me she was scared she wouldn’t be okay, I said, ‘You’ll be fine. Let’s go home and we’ll get you sorted.’ But I was worried. I felt totally alone with her. The emergency ward was the last place I wanted to take her. She used to get upset about the slightest scratch. This was a real injury with some real peril, and she came out of it with a sense of humour and a new level of badassery. We were lucky. She became bigger in my eyes. But I have become more careful.” — Justin Stephenson, Toronto

“I live with depression and anxiety. One of my symptoms, at least for the last year or two, has been social anxiety. Leaving my home is challenging. I make excuses for missed events and feel embarrassed, ashamed and guilty. I’m filled with panic when the telephone rings.

But now, avoiding going outside is a badge of honour. It’s proof of our love for our families, our friends, the elderly and the weak. Proof of empathy and compliance. Proof that the safety of others is more important than our own personal need to socialize.

I feel relieved. No one is dropping by unexpectedly. No one is asking me to socialize. And I am suddenly answering my phone and talking with family and friends. I’m encouraging and comforting them. Suddenly I have a purpose. I am free to bond with others in a different way.

By this new standard, I am one of the admired. The reality, though, is that it has taken a global pandemic to provide me with a connection to mankind. Things that ‘normal’ people take for granted are again part of my life. I feel pathetic, but I also feel relieved. Mental illness was not reason enough for me to feel allowed to physically distance myself. A global pandemic was.” — Marilyn Strong, Foxtrap, Nfld.

Telegrams from Home: Vol. 1 by Claudia Dey, Margaret Atwood, Michael Winter, and others

Proceeds from this collection will go towards supporting Community Food Centres of Canada, a national organization building health, belonging and social justice in low-income communities, and their Good Food Access Fund, an emergency relief fund providing take-away meals, produce boxes, grocery gift cards, and other emergency support for Canadians facing economic uncertainty.

Pre-order the eBook for instant delivery to your Kobo eReader or app on May 29.

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