N 1.7a from Jim Magnuson
My mother never went to college or university and so she thinks it’s a delight that my sister and I have done. She moved from a small town in central Ontario, maybe even northern Ontario, depending on where you draw the line, to Toronto, the biggest city in the province and the country, then and now. She worked at Coca Cola, a bottling plant, her job a shipper receiver for the warehouse, moving and coordinating pallets of sugar water for grocery stores, pharmacies. She met my father there. He still works for the company, though they’ve since relocated from Toronto to a town an hour outside. Their kids grew up there, in that smaller town, though one moved to the Big Smoke twenty years later, the city the site of his parents’ unlikely romance. After Coca Cola she moved into accounting, working at various insurance firms, small businesses where she had an important role in making sure people were paid in full and on time. There is importance to this kind of work, a critical element of any operation, keeping employees happy so they can take care of their families, do whatever it is they do in their off hours. She never went to university, college, or had any particular training in accounting but she’s obviously skilled at it, has been doing it for decades now. She easily made friends, colleagues who would come visit her at home, invite her out to their own homes for dinners, parties, weekend barbecues.
Now she is on disability, with a debilitating nerve disorder than renders her unable to perform many work-a-day tasks. She can’t type reliably, anymore, and the pain gets so great when she’s in the office that her doctors have agreed that she shouldn’t be there anymore. Her boss and best friend at work, at the insurance company she worked at for over a decade, was recently found to have been embezzling funds, hundreds of thousands for gambling purposes. Her husband never knew, claims not to have known, and she’s looking at jail time if charges are pressed. My mother never knew about any of this, was shocked to discover it at the close of last year; the friend had been found mid-suicide attempt, nearly asphyxiated in the family vehicle out behind a Wal-Mart one night. The owner of the insurance firm can decide, now, whether he wants to press charges – has to do so, in fact, if he wants his own insurance to pay up. So my mother is understandably distraught about the duplicity and private tragedies ongoing in this close friend’s life, a friend who mentored her over the course of years at the firm. The friend’s husband is now nearly down-and-out, as the expression goes, with his wife’s income suddenly absent. She’d been taking opiates, Oxycontins and the like, in addition to the gambling, and the pills weren’t so effective as once they’d been, so of course more need to be taken. The thrill is chased, whether spinning the roulette wheel or tumbling a few chalky pills from a translucent orange cylinder. She must have been an expert with child-proof locks.
My mother hasn’t seen her friend in a while, now. Ostensibly, the friend is worried that any association might be seen as implicating my mother in the scheme, given that the two of them constituted the entirely of the finance department at this little firm, but privately I suspect there is an element of shame involved. The friend is being weaned off the drugs while she’s in custody in a local hospital, no longer at liberty. Her addictions are being treated, with care and precision, I’m sure, but they are deep and leave heavy grooves. Her spending time in prison is a very real possibility. Will my mother go visit her, I wonder? I don’t know that she’s ever been to a prison, though I suspect maybe she has. There is much I don’t know about her, that I have failed to inquire about. This lack of association stems from the same factor of guilt that I secretly ascribe to the friend, whom I haven’t seen in a year and maybe never will again. Is my mother feeling guilty about sharing some more sordid elements of her past? Darker moments she’d rather not come to light? I haven’t asked, not directly. Inferences are made from fragments of evidence. I ought to delve in before it’s too late.