“I was looking at the birthday cards in the drug store and I noticed all these different cards; some for birthdays, some for graduation, get well; all kinds of events, even divorce. Anyway, I saw the ones for ‘Sympathy.’ Sorry for your loss of your husband, wife, son, even a frickin dog. I just thought, you know Yvonne, you’re never going to get one of these cards. What’s it going say, ‘sorry that your bastard husband left to get cigarettes ten years ago and never came back…Jesus.”

Yvonne pushes back her lank hair from her face. The last ten years have not been kind to her. Multiple lines are etched on her face; a permanent scowl across her tight lips; her body hunched over. Toxic energy oozes from her every pore.

Yvonne nods to her right, giving permission for the next person to speak.

“If I got a card from anyone, it would be something like, ‘Sorry about your wife; where’s her body?’” Dale snorted. “It was bad enough that Gail never left a note, but to just disappear like that, out of nowhere. I don’t understand why she would do that. If she was going to commit suicide, then why didn’t she leave a God damn note or some clue. I don’t know if she was depressed. It didn’t seem like it to me and our marriage was, I mean, is fine. We had fights, but just like any other couple…it’s been over a year and my in laws won’t speak to me; I’ve lost friends. I know some people think I had something to do with it, that I murdered her and disposed of the body. It makes me feel sick…and the nightmares…”

Dale put his head in his shaking hands. Yvonne reaches over and put her hand on his back, rubbing it. Dale has dark rings under his red-rimmed eyes. He is a tall and thin middle-aged man with balding hair. Dale has a nervous twitch as well. He lifts his shoulders up every so often, giving the impression that he might suddenly leap off his chair at any moment.

The facilitator clears his throat. Dale realizes he hadn’t given the go ahead for the next person to speak. “Sorry, my bad. Go ahead, Rosamie.”

“I not believe in a million years that you do anything to your wife. It is not in your face. You a good man. So sorry.” Rosamie has tears in her eyes. Dale mouths a grateful ‘thank you.’

“Yes, well, I cannot believe it will be five years since my husband and son go up to Grouse Mountain (she pronounces it mountane) to snowshoe. Their car found in car park, but no sign of them. The rescue people, so good, such good people, look for many days, weeks and find nothing. I don’t understand how nothing show up; not a back pack; coat, glove…they went prepared; this not new sport; they do for a long time. Even in summer when snow melts, they find nothing. I even go up myself in springtime to see if I can see anything but no, nothing. And now my daughter-in-law, she find new man. It makes me feel bad, disappointed. I pray every night that their body or something turn up so we can have peace..”

Rosamie starts to cry. She pulls out a hankie from her sleeve and blows her nose. Rosamie is from the Philippines. She is a tiny woman, almost childlike, but her face tells a different story; she has a sadness in her eyes and a deep line across her forehead. Her hair is jet black but very thin with missing hair in spots. Rosamie usually wears a hat for this reason. She has a large crucifix hanging from a gold necklace around her neck. Rosamie will hold onto that crucifix, nervously twisting it in her fingers. Usually after everyone has finished speaking, she will kiss and hold it to her heart. Rosamie gently touches the next person, Amanda on the shoulder.

“I have not seen my daughter in over 13 years. She will be 28 next month. I have a fantasy that Emily will suddenly walk through our front door, all grown up, bringing in a husband and kids. We will hug and kiss and all the hurt and anger will be forgotten and forgiven.” Amanda stops and takes a big breath to compose herself. “But it’s just a fantasy. I know she won’t be back, not unless I find her. I’ve searched everywhere; the downtown eastside; shelters; women’s homes; hospitals; I even went to the area where the prostitutes do their trade.” She laughs nervously. “Nothing…every day I berate myself for arguing with her that morning. I told her she couldn’t see her boyfriend anymore; he was a bad influence. Her grades were falling, she skipped school; I’m sure they were taking drugs. My ex blames me for her disappearing. He was always too soft with her, let her do anything she wanted. He can talk; he never once joined in the search for Emily. I think secretly he is glad she’s not around. He found her too much work. Why can’t I find her; why won’t she come back…” Amanda sobs loudly now, tears and snot running down her face. Rosamie offers Amanda her hankie, but Amanda doesn’t take it, instead wiping her eyes and nose on her sleeve.

Everything about Amanda is disheveled; her clothes are mismatched and too big for her; her curly brown hair frizzy, sticking out at odd places; the jacket she wears is soiled and smells like mothballs. The once attractive face is marred by sadness and guilt.

The facilitator lets Amanda cry for a bit and watches the others in their reaction to her sorrow. Yvonne scowls even harder; Dale hangs his head and Rosamie lets silent tears fall, cradling her crucifix.

Callum, softly at first, says, “Thank you,” and then louder to get everyone’s attention, “thank all of you for sharing. It’s not easy to voice our grief and other feelings, but this is a safe place to do so and so, so necessary. If we keep all these burdens inside us, they manifest into other things, like disease and mental illness.

You are all suffering with grief and trauma brought on by the disappearance and lack of closure of your loved ones. What I hope to do in these sessions is to help all of you find the necessary tools that you can use for your own self-care so that you can function in your everyday life and live the best life for yourselves.”

Disbelieving eyes looked at Callum. Yvonne even dared to roll her eyes.

Callum stood up and motioned everyone to do the same. “Please watch me and then I’d like you to do the same.” He raises his arms above his head, looking up to the ceiling. He takes an audible breath in and flops forward, screaming out “AHHH.” They all look shocked at Callum and his actions.

“This will help release some of the anger, stress, or whatever you’re dealing with. It can be done anytime during the day, especially when you feel overwhelmed or about to burst. Let’s try it.”

Everyone copies Callum, but there is not much noise when they slump forward.

“Please try not to feel embarrassed. Remember, this is a safe place and we’re all doing it. Let’s try it again.”

This time, the noise is louder. “Again,” he speaks.

Each time the exercise is done, the sounds grow louder and more animated.

Slightly out of breath and flushed, Callum asks everyone to sit down.

The faces of the group have transformed magically. Yvonne has a half-smile; Dale’s pallor has diminished somewhat; Rosamie giggles like a school girl and Amanda’s dull eyes are brighter.

“You can bottle that and give it to me please.” Yvonne laughed.

“Yes, it’s a great de-stressor. Now I would like all of you to go for a walk in nature. You may already do this, but this time, look at all the wonderful images around you; be in the present moment; if negative thoughts come in, acknowledge them, but then look again at where you are. This is called ‘mindfulness’; I know it’s not easy, but do your best. Okay, let’s do our hand squeeze. Let’s all stand up and join hands; Yvonne, you start; squeeze the hand to your right. Dale, once you feel it, squeeze Rosamie’s hand, and then Rosamie, do the same for Amanda and so on, until the squeeze gets back to Yvonne.”

Like obedient children, they do as they are told. Yvonne let her hand drop to let everyone know the squeeze reached her.

“Okay, thank you for coming; don’t forget your walk and be kind to yourselves; see you next week.”

Callum gathers his notes and water bottle. There is some chatter and “thank yous” as the group gathers their belongings and leave.

Alone in the hall, Callum stacks the chairs and puts them to one side. He then sits cross-legged on the floor, closing his eyes. Breathing in deeply and exhaling loudly, Callum imagines a shower washing over his body, finishing with a golden light going through his body from his head to his toes. It is a ritual he performs after every group he facilitates. It grounds him and disengages himself from the sorrow and other emotions the group carries with them.

Callum is an openly gay man in his thirties. Slim and tall with wavy blond hair and almost model-like features. Callum carries around his own secret, something that no close friend or relative knows about.

His father left him and his mother when he was ten. That fact is known. He adored his dad. Gavin was kind, patient, and loving. It seemed his dad loved Callum and his mother, so it was a shock when Gavin left suddenly one morning (on the pretext of going to work) and disappeared forever. Callum grew sullen and introverted. He did well in school and knew that he wanted to be a counsellor or therapist when he was in his late teens. Callum has few friends, but he has a lot of lovers. He is, in fact, quite promiscuous. He is very careful and always uses protection or makes sure his partners do. He had both hepatitis vaccines as a precaution.

Callum is into some kinky sex and is always open to anything new. This doesn’t interfere with his work and is not a well-known fact among his peers.

He is not into pornography or underaged boys and all his lovers are consensual, so there are no issues with ethics. All these facts, however, do not sit well with him. He despises his need for many men and the necessity of a variety of sexual practices. He wants a family and a monogamous relationship.

Callum also has an eating disorder; bulimia. It is not an issue when he is on his own, but after his sexual encounters, Callum will binge and gorge himself with food and then make himself sick. He will also overuse laxatives.

When Callum went to university, he started trying to find his father. He would put posts up on Facebook; travelled to different areas that he thought his father might be living; visited his relatives, but it all amounted to nothing.

The police initially looked for his dad and a missing person report was filed, but like Dale’s wife, his dad disappeared off the face of the earth.

Callum’s mom grew distant and bitter. They have a strained relationship.

Callum’s initially worked with grieving patients, but soon realized the need for this type of support when individuals; children go missing and are never found. Closure is not given and people are stuck in their lives unable to move on.

The sessions seem to be helping the group. They enjoy attending and look forward to the once-a-week freedom of expressing themselves without guilt or recriminations. The group is keen to learn and use new tools to help them, which Callum is good at doing.

About a month into their group, the dynamics change.

Callum’s stomach is gurgling with irritation after a night of binging. He also took four Senokot, which is causing havoc with his bowels. He feels he may have to excuse himself to go to the bathroom. There is a dull ache behind his eyes and his mouth is dry. He swallows several times to produce saliva. He takes several sips from his water bottle.

I have to stop this, he thinks to himself. It’s totally unprofessional.

The group gather and noisily sit down, chatting amongst themselves.

The only person missing is Rosamie.

“Anyone know why Rosamie might not be coming?” Callum asks.

Echoes of “no, not sure.”

Annabel says, “It’s not like Rosamie to miss a session.”

“Okay, let’s get started.”

Just as Callum says that, Rosamie bursts in. She is carrying an old backpack. She sits in her chair. “I’m sorry for being late. Callum, can I start today.”

“Sure.” Callum feels a sharp pain on one side of his stomach. He feels the need to release gas. “Please don’t let me fart, please don’t let me fart,” he repeats like a mantra. He holds onto his side doing deep breathing.

Rosamie has already started speaking. Callum has to concentrate to listen. The urge to fart has passed.

“…I collected the backpack yesterday. The rescue people already look inside but they put it all back except for bad food in containers. I have not open up as I want to do it with all of you with me.” Rosamie looks at all of the group members. She clutches her crucifix.

Callum suddenly realizes what’s going on.

“Rosamie. Take your time. We are all with you.”

Rosamie takes a deep breath and slowly unzips the backpack. She peers inside. Gently, she reaches in and takes out a wallet. Miraculously, the wallet is dry and looks like it came from someone’s pocket. She opens it out and gasps. Rosamie takes a card from the pouch. It looks like a driver’s license. Tears are now running freely down her face and she holds the card against her breast. She is saying something in her own language. The group is silent. After a few moments, Rosamie wipes her eyes with her hankie and holds out the driver’s license, moving it back and forth so everyone can see.

“It is my son’s, Anthonio; Tony.” She pulls out more cards; a credit card, abank card, and a Costco card. She clutches them to her like a baby. After a bit, she lets them rest on her lap and pulls out another wallet. She opens it up gingerly. This time, Rosamie throws it to the ground and howls like animal in pain. She wails in her own mother tongue; rocking back and forth.

The others now move to Rosamie, trying to comfort her in her grief. Callum picks up the discarded wallet and sees an ID of an older man: Rodrigo. His stomach makes audible sounds, but with Rosamie crying, no one hears it.

Gradually, Rosamie’s sobs subside. Callum motions for the others to sit back down.

Gently, he takes Rosamie’s hands and places the wallet inside them.

He kneels in front of her. “This was your husband’s wallet?” he asks quietly.

Rosamie nods, her tears staining her face.

“Okay. I want you to take some deep breaths. I’m going to get you some water.”

Rosamie takes big gulps of air in and Callum puts his hand on her stomach.

“Breath in your stomach. Take deep, slow breaths. Slowly…” As she controls her breathing, Callum stands up. Unfortunately, the gas he has been desperately trying to hold in lets go into a long audible fart. Everyone but Rosamie (who didn’t notice) looks shocked, but doesn’t say anything.

Callum, red-faced, hurries to the bathroom. After some time, Callum returns with a glass of water. He gives it to Rosamie who sips at it.

Callum sits back down and can’t help but smile in embarrassment. Yvonne catches that smile and starts to giggle. Like an infection, it spreads to Dale and then Amanda. Pretty soon they are all laughing openly. Instead of reprimanding the group, Rosamie too starts to laugh. Callum holds up his hands in surrender and laughs as well. The grief turns to hilarity and it is hard for anyone to stop. Eventually, Rosamie starts to cry again and everyone’s laughing subsides. Callum motions for everyone to stand up and come together in a group hug. Soon, more tears come from others. Callum finishes the session but asks Rosamie to stay for a bit.

He sits next to her on a chair and holds her hand. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Rosamie and I apologize for my behavior. I have an upset stomach, not catching, I think it was some bad food,” Callum quickly adds.

Rosamie smiles but doesn’t say anything.

“Do you have someone that you can be with for a while, so you are not alone?”

“No, it’s okay…I okay on my own. My daughter-in-law, she not care about this bag.” Rosamie pats the backpack. “My son already dead to her. I cannot give up till I know they are gone. Now I know…” Tears that never seem to end, fall silently on her lap.

Callum offers more platitudes and makes sure she is safely on her way.

When the door is closed, Callum sits down to do his cleansing, but instead bangs his hand against his head. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he says over and over again. Another gurgle in his stomach and he runs to the bathroom.

Later at home, Callum flushes all of his laxatives down the toilet. Embarrassed and disgusted with himself, Callum vows never to take laxatives again.

He does, however, take a loaf of bread from the freezer and mindlessly toasts piece after piece, spreading thick butter on each and a large spoonful of jam.

Clutching his stomach after half the loaf, Callum proceeds to the bathroom and puts his finger down his throat to throw up. Sweat pores down his face with the exertion. He sits on the tiled floor afterwards, hot tears running down his face.

He dries them with his hands and gets up. Callum pulls out his phone and texts one of his many partners.

It simply reads, “I need some sexual healing.” He sends it.


For all installments of “Unforgotten,” click here.