What’s the Music All About?
Uncle Ian sat so still listening to records, reading, drinking water. When nine-year-old Michael Stone was with Ian, he had enough space to think about the world in new ways.
I was nine years old and it was after school—a snowy Tuesday in January 1983. The sidewalk was covered in salt and ice, and the three women at the corner were wearing sandals, hospital-issue green pants, and only one had a coat—maroon, stained, and far too small. She recognized me and ushered me over the slippery streetcar tracks and into what was the main foyer of Canada’s largest mental health institution, 999 Queen street west in downtown Toronto. I thought I heard he’s waiting for you but the woman was also mumbling something else to the streetcar driver, her pointed cigarette holding up the traffic for me.
I made my way through the main hallway where the nurses buzzed me in and I took the stairs to the second foyer in the northwest ward, the only ward with hall- ways that were clean. The green paint was peeling from the walls by the washroom and the metal corners of the drywall were cracked. I found my uncle waiting on a blue chair, smoking under an oversized clock. I wondered if he’d been waiting in that spot all day. His thin right leg was crossed over his left and then wrapped all the way around his ankle, as if his legs were made of string. He got up quickly and walked me to another smoking lounge, this one with a stereo and meditation supplies. The windows were filthy.
Published in Shambhala Sun May 2012