I have been holding these words for years now, and these experiences for even longer. I am searching for a home (publisher) for these words and I understand that the process is long. Today I went down to the river and laid an offering and I just FELT like I needed to release some of these words. The feeling was not a sense of being suffocated, weighed down, or being impatient but it was a feeling that said, “Helen you have always gave away what you know and what you have learned. It doesn’t make sense to hold onto something that could help others”. I suppose the river taught me that too, to let things flow from me in order to have them flow to me. So here it is, my word offering in the form of my first and second chapter.
Almost Five Years Sober, if I can do it, you can do it.
My truth is all that I have. Truth is my offering.
This is for the women who cannot remember, and for those who choose not to.
To the women who still believe that it is all their fault. To the women who have been abused and violated, and then forced to wear the heavy garment of shame afterward. To the women whose spirits are struggling to hold light. To the women who have had the gift of life taken from them. To the women whose lines between consensual and taken are blurred by societies perceptions of them. To the women who suffer silently and slip away, leaving their stories untold. To the women who feel like they deserved it, who were told that they asked for it by their manner, their speech, or their dress. To the women who have been forced to forget because of others who refuse to remember. To the women who have forgotten that they have the right to say no. To the women whose bodies hold tales no living creature should ever be told.
I give you this acknowledgment for your memories. I give you soft spoken prayers for your healing and courage for your spirits. I give this in hopes that you remember that you are worth a thousand horses.
This is my offering.
You can feel a mother’s lament in her voice. The tonal quality of her words reverberates and penetrates deep beneath the skin and hits bone, hits something deeper than bone, hitting spirit perhaps. The chest feels as if someone is pushing on it with brute force and that breath, that one breath, is a struggle to get in and get out. Remorse shapes the sounds leaving her mouth and they become a rough edged cacophony, a mixture of wailing and words that cannot be unheard. You wince. You attempt to display no signs of your internal reactions to the shame that gets caught in her throat but every hesitation in her telling of her story proves that silence can be a tangible beast as it forcibly pulls your head to a lowered position. You feel every struggled sentence as she speaks, or maybe you have to be a mother to feel it… or maybe you have to be a mother who once neglected her own to feel it.
They almost lost me that time. I almost lost myself.
I shivered as my sweat seeped through my clothing. I damned the light that intruded into the darkness of the room. The pillow case that hung in the window frame was pinned sideways and the afternoon light came in across the room slanted. Dust particles danced in the broken light. Laughter erupted from somewhere downstairs. The smell of stale cigarette smoke enveloped me. I clenched my eyes tightly, shifted, and moaned. My detoxing body had me contracting into a tight ball one minute and expanding like a starfish the next. The floor was covered in clothes, some mine, some his. The mattress was on the floor, my heaped up body on the mattress. My body pulled into itself. I wondered what it would be like to withdrawal somewhere pretty, somewhere clean. Somewhere where the outside didn’t match my insides.
I was dying a slow self-inflicted death. If I could get my hands on another bottle and a couple of lines of coke, I’d feel enough or rather not feel enough, to get out of the bed and catch a bus somewhere. I would go south to Revelstoke where an old friend lived, or to the east where I knew some people. Saskatoon. Winnipeg. Toronto. Somewhere. I spent the days before trying to locate men that had known me when I was human, when I was sober. Men who had fallen for me when I was feminine and tender hearted but watched me slip through their grasp. I thought I could compel them to take care of me by appealing to their better nature or their long standing urges to sleep with me. I would slip into arms that I always knew could never hold me at my best. At the rate I was going I knew I couldn’t possibly take care of myself. I was terrified.
I was eight hours from home in Edmonton, a city more than thirty times the population of my small hometown, Fort St. John. I could easily slip into line with the nameless, the faceless, and the voiceless. That’s what I went there for, to erase myself. To crash into the other non-existents and melt into their ever-changing formation. People disappeared every day. Women like me disappeared every day. I clutched strongly onto the belief that everyone would be better off without me. My mother, my father, my son, all of them would be better off with my absence rather than be scarred by my self-destruction. I would soon shape shift into a black hearted monster. I had seen this monster before and it looked like hidden mickeys of vodka in bookcases, perpetual bleeding noses, and bedside beers to keep the shaking hands and nightmares away.
I contracted. Expanded. Contracted. I twisted the stained sheet around my body. I became a bed bound aerial dancer performing without grace and with only my conscience for an audience. I pulled on it tight as if the tension of the sheet snaked around one leg and up around my neck could hold my body in place. It couldn’t. Contracting. Expanding. Contracting.
“Helen,” Alex said, with a soft knock on the door. “You need to eat,” he whispered, as he sat down beside me and placed a plate of chicken and berries by my head.
I only wanted a beer but I was too ashamed to ask. I didn’t think Alex would have understood. I ate a handful of berries but my throat outright denied the chicken no matter how small of a bite I took. It lodged itself in my throat and I reached for the glass of water he brought me earlier. My body trembled and when Alex noticed it, he looked away.
“You need sleep,” he said, softly.
I felt my body contract and tensed my muscles to hold myself in position.
“Hold me?” I asked.
I was scared of losing my grip on reality. Scared to be alone. Terrified of the nightmares that were sure to follow.
Alex laid down beside me and wrapped his long pale arms around me. Arms white like snow, my Asu would say, white like yuss. I vibrated and he held me tighter. His body became a straight-jacket attempting to restrain my body’s need to convulse. It felt as if my spirit was trying to break out of my skin. Maybe it was.
Minutes rolled by. An hour passed.
“Helen?” he whispered
“Mmmm,” I moaned in reply. Even full syllables and words were not without effort.
“Did you sleep at all?”
“My shirt is soaked from your sweat.”
After another hour of restraining me, and comforting me, with still no luck at sleeping he left me to fight my own battle.
Contracting. Expanding. Contracting.
Five days before I was starfishing in Alex’s bed I was sitting at home, which also happened to be my parents’ house—the house where I spent most of my teenage years. I moved back in to their home after I had gotten accepted into a National Indigenous Women’s Leadership Program. My Asu (Grandmother) had been living with me for about a year by then, so when my son and I moved to my parents, she moved in too. After Papa had passed, Asu stayed alone in her large cream coloured house on the top of the hill at the Halfway Reserve. The house had a woodstove that kept it warm in – 40 Celsius winters and Papa forever had cords of wood stacked on the side of the house and more in the shed. There were bird feeders scattered about the property because every year Asu swore she was done feeding the birds but an old whiskey jack would come along in the winter cawing and such, and Asu just couldn’t bear the thought of him going hungry. Poor magpies, poor whiskey jacks, poor birds but those chipmunks and squirrels had it rough. Asu always had a skinny log leaned up against a tree behind the house with snare wire wrapped and looped around it.
“What is all that for?” I asked her once, pointing at the brass coloured circles of wire.
“It’s to get square those darn squirrels. They’re no good, they just chew up car wires,” Asu replied scornfully as she waved her hand in dismissal of the now obvious, tiny looped snares.
Their house was one of the only homes on reserve that was fully fenced. Asu and Papa built that fence themselves over the course of a season. Papa would make them a lunch to go, a sandwich with mashed potatoes and tomatoes (a union of food I never understood) or Spam with some butter. They would load into one of the trucks Papa had revived from somebody’s backyard automobile cemetery and off they would go in search of thin trees they would later peel and stain by hand for their fence. They were tough old people.
When they knew we were coming for a visit they prepared for our arrival. When you started driving up the dirt road hill to their house you could see the trail of smoke coming rising up from where their house was and you knew you had the warmth of a home fire awaiting you. When you broke the top of the hill you would usually find Papa standing in the yard moving things around and Asu poking the fire with her long wooden pole. The fire pit was at the mouth of a long narrow shelter structure they put together from wood, sheet metal, and thick plastic. Papa would take out old car seats from busted up ancient automobiles and place them in the shelter with some old blankets to cover them. We would sit out there by the fire on our GMC seats and tell stories until all the stories were emptied on out of us and the lingering silences told us it was time to go to bed. I remember watching the fires shadows dance on my Papa’s pale face as he stared at the flames. He always looked so handsome, especially when he would emerge from the bathroom with his white hair slicked back, donning a plain white tee and black suspenders with the smell of old spice wafting off of him.
When Papa was dying of cancer and finally got placed in the hospital for good, his face held that blue colour just beneath the skin, a blue that wasn’t comparable by any means to his bright blue eyes. Those eyes held fast and bright through the entire sickness. When he couldn’t shave his own face anymore I brought a razor and some shaving cream to the hospital and wheeled him to the bathroom. I spread the shaving cream out carefully over his stubbly jawline while Papa’s eyes inspected my every move in the mirror. I grabbed the razor and heeded his warning to not use hot water on it because it would dull it “right quick boy”. I pressed the razor to the outer corner of his jaw and dragged the blade a couple of inches towards his chin. I did this a few more times, cautious and conscious of the blade. Papa watched me politely but when he realized I was not going to pick up the pace and put any pressure to get that close shave he liked he huffed, “Push harder, you’re not going to break me god damn it”.
We laughed and his blue eyes lit up. We did not acknowledge that he was already broken. I pushed harder and continued making maps across his face much alike the backroads we used to criss cross on our adventures when I was a little girl. Several of us kids would be jammed in a three seater pick up, ducking when the police were spotted, and performing bear watch when we went to the dump to rummage. Dump rummaging was one of my favourite things to do with Papa and Asu because you could find some really cool things as long as you didn’t mind the smell of rotting things mixing with the Earth.
Papa was a tough smart mouth man who doubled as Asu’s chauffeur and cook. Asu never drove a day in her life, well once, but she almost ran over my Papa and never got behind the wheel again. Not long after he passed away I drove up to my Asu’s and told her she was going to come live with me in town. A year later, when I decided to make the move to my mom’s, both Asu and I had to downsize our lives to fit into a small room. We were figuring out what items we could move into storage and what was necessary to take and my Asu sat in her room overwhelmed by the years of items accumulated. She, a devout Catholic, had various styles of crucifixes, Virgin Mary statues, and even the odd bottle of Holy Water floating about just in case someone was in need of a blessing or of a warding off of some spirits. One time my Auntie Sharon and cousin Shawn accidentally drank her holy water. Asu always has it in inconspicuous bottles, the only telling sign it was blessed water is usually small black writing somewhere on the bottle. Holy Water. They drank that bottle dry before they seen the marking, all Asu had to say was that maybe they both had to stop swearing now on account of their mouth being blessed.
One of her crucifixes was an enormous one, snagged at a flea market years before, and it took up a good space of her bare white wall. Asu didn’t bother to ever close her blinds either so Giant Jesus could be seen hanging on my Grandmothers wall from down the block.
“Helen,” she said, sounding like a small girl, looking up at her wall at the huge cross.
“Yes?” I answered.
“Can I take Jesus?”
“Asu, you can take Jesus wherever you want!” I laughed, she laughed, and Jesus probably smiled.
We packed up and moved ourselves a couple of blocks down. My son and I shared a room in my parents’ swelling brown house. His toys and my clothes were all jumbled together in the closet, spilling out onto the floor just a little on good days, a lot on most days. Asu had the room across the peeling-linoleum hallway and my parents’ room was beside us. My youngest brother, who is the same age as my son, shared my parents’ room, while my oldest brother still occupied a room downstairs. At least the house had a furnace then. My son was born mid-winter and was brought home into the swelling house a few years before. There was no furnace then. The northern winters would reach down to -40 Celsius temperatures, and the house was a bitter cold place to be. The floors would bite your feet and the rooms chilly air would nibble at your cheeks. The oven door would be flipped down and glowing like the mouth of a hungry beast. That is, until the oven’s element burned out too. Then we would boil big pots of water for the warmth of evaporation. We knew all the tricks of in-house heat production. We spent a lot of our time trapped in our small rooms with a plug-in heater going. I joke about having thick skin after being raised in the north, but it was probably the winters in that house that did it.
A year after moving back I was still there and I was fucking up six ways until Sunday and then skipped Sunday and added six more sins. I sat listlessly on the couch, my son and youngest brother, whom is the same age as my son, went for an overnight visit at my aunties. I could feel my addiction’s anxiousness creeping under my skin. It was Friday night and I had just spent the week at my job as the Aboriginal Education Coordinator at the local college. I thought about the conversations that I had with two students in particular. Both of them had recently been through a treatment centre and I made a point to ask them about their Red Road Journey and to encourage them. I would still be sick on Monday from a three day straight coke and alcohol binge and saying shit like, “Sobriety is never easy, but you know what you need to do when you need to do it” or, “Pray for the guidance you need and Creator will hear you.” It was a ridiculous and incongruent ordeal but I still believed in sobriety, even after my relapse, I just didn’t believe that it was possible for me anymore.
The weekend before I had disappeared on Friday night, like many weekends before that, and came back sometime Sunday morning without sleep and without feelings. I passed out and woke up to my mother screaming at me and hitting my body.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you know how many times your son comes into this room to check if you fucking made it home? Do you even care?!” she screamed at me.
I didn’t know how to care anymore. I cared even less since the incident. It’s all I thought about at night and I couldn’t lay in bed with those thoughts next to me.
The night before I left to Edmonton I sat on the couch and flicked through the channels, watching my mom enter and exit the living room as she gathered her things. I left it on a black and white movie and stared at the dreamy face of a young Cary Grant. I had always wished I could live back in that era but to live in that era and love it, I would have to be a middle class white woman. You couldn’t be a poor Indian and experience anything these movies depicted. I don’t know if it is the dramatic romance that I loved about black and white classic movies but I would watch sometimes them when I was drinking alone. A hopeless alcoholic addict and a hopeless romantic. Doubly fucked. At least I wasn’t drinking alone and watching horror and thriller movies. A hopeless alcoholic addict and a hopeless future cult leader and conspiracy theorist. Drink the kool-aid. It’s not poisoned just spiked with a gallon of rum and the communion is dusted with cocaine. I watched Cary Grant rattle off one of his well-articulated long script lines and I did not swoon. His words no longer meant anything to me, I had lost the capacity to feel anything.
“Come to the casino with me,” my mother said as she sprayed a citrusy smelling perfume in front of her and walked through the mist.
“No,” I shook my head.
“Why not? It’ll get you out of the house.”
“Oh Helen,” she chided me, “You can do it without drinking. It’s as simple as not having one.”
“Okay, I’ll go,” I said, as I rose off the couch with every intention of having a drink when I got there. You would think that my mother, an ex-alcoholic, would know it was never that simple.
We arrived and I spotted my friend Jennifer with her bright dyed red hair dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt, buttoned low. I hadn’t seen her since St. Patrick’s night when we got greened up and I introduced her to my drug den gang. She left before morning while I stayed perched on the couch for two more days. That was the difference between her and I, she knew when to go home. My mother drifted off into the maze of binging and blipping slot machines as I walked towards Jennifer.
“Hey girl what’s up?” I said, pulling a stool to the table she was perched at.
“Just got off work,” she said raising her glass, “waiting for my mom to come pick me up in an hour.”
“Where you working?”
“The restaurant next door, total joke if you ask me but low shirts equal more tips, didn’t do half bad today” she said with a wink and we both laughed at the truth of it.
“Game of pool then?”
“Let’s do it,” she smiled.
We walked over to the pool tables and I was already eyeballing the waitresses so they would come and take my drink order. I couldn’t walk up to the place where the drinks were sold because it jutted out in the middle of the small casino and my mother would definitely see me. My drinking would not be spoiled, I couldn’t have that nor the agony of only having one rye and coke. As the Alcoholics Anonymous saying goes, one is too many and one hundred is never enough. The pool tables were tucked away and private. I could drink there with ease.
Jennifer set up the pool palls and I pretended I was actually interested in playing pool.
Finally, the waitress walked over.
“Can I get you ladies anything to drink?”
“Rye and coke please,” I answered, “actually, you better make that a double.”
“I’ll have another vodka with cranberry juice,” Jennifer said as she cracked the cue and the balls split up across the table and two disappeared into the pockets.
“Oh snap, someone has her game face on,” I said.
“That’s right bitches, I’m going to own this table!” she laughed.
Just then “I’m Real” by Ja Rule and JLo came on the speakers and Ja Rule’s raspy voice yelled out,
What’s my muthafuckin name?
Blowin back on this Mary Jane, I’m analyzin the game
And the game done chose me
To bring pain to pussy niggaz and pussy hoes, it’s one in the same
Ever since you told me
There’s only room for two, I’ve been makin less room for you
Now only God can hold me
“Girl, you remember dancing at the Galaxy to this track?!” Jennifer squealed.
The Galaxy was a teenager’s dance club that had a short life in Prince George that we used to go to. I heard it closed down after repeated fights and bricks being thrown through the window but I did get to dance my heart out in a few times before it shut down.
“Yup, that place beat dancing at that city youth centre place with the pat downs and sock checking for drugs,” I replied, “that place was rough as fuck”.
We weren’t close friends at all but we had history. Jennifer had just moved to Fort St. John but she was the first girl I met in Prince George when I went away to live with my Auntie Ruby at age thirteen.
In Grade 9, a few weeks before I moved to Prince George, I came to consciousness in a hospital bed after blacking out. I told the police officer my name was Abigail Felix. That was my name I said. They asked me how to get a hold of my mom. I told them I didn’t know. I didn’t know why there were so many of the police officers, or why I was in a hospital gown. I didn’t know what was happening. Abigail Felix’s mom showed up. Abigail Felix was a real person, a girl I went to school with. I can still see her worried face beside my bed. Her wild unruly 4 a.m. hair with a look of confusion and then a face of relief when she realized I was not her daughter. The police took the confused mother back on the other side of the curtains.
I saw my opportunity and tried to jump out of the bed while the police were distracted with her. I was still really drunk and had to grab onto things to make it down the hall. I stumbled into the waiting area and I saw three boys sitting in some of the chairs. I walked closer and realized I recognized them.
“What are you guys doing here?” I said, completely oblivious that I stood there in a hospital gown.
“Helen,” said Jack.
Jack was a boy from school—all three of them were native boys that I knew from school. Jack looked concerned, his brow furrowed.
“I need to leave here, help me leave.” I said looking behind me. The policeman would be there soon.
“Helen,” Jack said softly, “We found you. You were out by the railroad tracks, in the ditch. We thought you were dead, Helen.”
“What? No,” my head spun harder and I grabbed onto a chair, “No, that makes no sense.”
I was in the hospital bed again and this time my mom was beside me. She was crying. I clenched my eyes shut. I didn’t want to wake up. I didn’t want to know what happened. When she stopped crying I opened my eyes.
“My girl,” my mom said, reaching for my hand and squeezing it.
“Mom, can we go? I want to get out of here, take me out of here,” I pleaded. I was scared.
“Just a second,” she said as she got up and walked out into the hallway.
I could hear muffled voices outside.
“Just make sure you contact us this afternoon, we have questions for her,” a man’s voice said.
“Yes,” replied my mother.
“I brought you clothes my girl,” she said as she pulled a bag onto the bed.
My body was sore and I moved slowly into my clothes while my mother helped dress me. I kept my eyes on the floor as we walked out. I didn’t want to see people looking at me.
“Helen, what happened last night?” my mom said once we got into the car.
“I don’t know,” I said as I stared out the window.
“You have got to remember something Helen,” my mom’s voice begged me.
“No mom,” I said, my voice cracking, “I don’t—”
“They found you lying out in that ditch. If those boys didn’t find you they said you would have died,” my mom paused and took a deep breath, “You could have died Helen. They said they think you were raped.”
I heard her voice catching, she was crying. I wanted to disappear into the car, into the cement below, slip into the earth. I wanted to stop existing, to not hear the rest of the story.
“You were naked. Naked except for a sweater that was draped over you,”
I said nothing. Tears rolled down my cheeks. “Take me home,” I whispered.
My feelings had left me, they sat outside of me like an unacknowledged apparition. I didn’t know whose life I was living, whose body I inhabited. This wasn’t my story, my life, my reality. I felt like I could float away at any moment but vague awareness kept me nailed to the ground. It’s a weird thing to disconnect from your body and your experiences, and yet be present almost as a bystander. If I tried to lean into my feelings I was scared I would fall off the emotional edge and I didn’t know what I would do to myself. I learned later in life that this is called dissociation. I sat silently in the vehicle, the silence was harder to withstand than my mom’s probing questions.
I had a hot shower when I got home, then a hot bath. I lay in the water motionless and silent. My tears rolled into the bathtub. I didn’t want to come out. I hated myself for letting this happen to me. I did this, I thought as I blinked back my tears, save the fucking tears for someone who deserves them.
I heard a soft knock at the door. I didn’t answer. Another knock.
“What?” I murmured.
“We need to go back to the hospital my girl. You need to come and get ready.”
“They need to do some tests.”
I dunked my head under water. If only I could keep my head under long enough, I wouldn’t have to come out. Another knock. I raised my head and swallowed air then rose slowly from the water. My thighs were sore, my body ached. My mom had laid out clothes for me and I dressed myself.
“What kind of tests?” I asked when we got into the vehicle again.
“Some swabs and stuff. Just to, you know, check it out, and make sure you’re okay.”
“Some swabs? Where?”
“Down there. I don’t know what else they’re going to do but the police need it. You have to do it my girl.”
I stared out the window. Tears rolled down my cheeks, my chest burned.
Stop it, I scolded myself, fuckin stop it.
They put me in a small room, there was a lady officer there and she was cold, distant, and formal. The metal table gleamed, I could hear the chattering of the doctor and the officer and my mother. The door shut.
“You need to change into the gown,” my mom said holding it out to me. Her eyes held a fragile sadness and she held the gown out weakly. She helped me undress and tied the back of the gown for me. I lay down and she put a small knit blanket on me.
“Mom,” I said, “I don’t want to do this.” This time my voice pleaded with her. “Mom, please.”
My mom lowered her head and started to cry. She grabbed my hand. “I know my girl,” she strained the words out, “But you need to, and Mommy will be right here. I’m right here.”
The cop and the doctor came in. I turned my head towards the wall. They did what they needed to do. I heard the words “rape kit” and “vaginal-wall bruising”. I flinched when they pulled pubic hairs out. I laid there silently. Tears rolling down my cheeks. I gritted my teeth, clenched my jaw, and tried to blink the tears back until they stopped.
“Did she have a shower?” the police officer asked, ignoring my presence.
“Yes,” my mom answered.
“She really shouldn’t have done that. We needed her to stay as she was. I don’t even know if we will get anything from these swabs now,” the officer reprimanded my mother, her voice distant.
“We didn’t know, and I wasn’t going to make her stay like that all day waiting for you to get this done,” my mom said sternly.
I stayed at home after that, but a few days later I wanted to go and get homework from school because I didn’t want to fall behind. My mother drove me to the brown stone junior high, pulled into the dirt parking lot, and asked if I wanted her to go in with me.
“I can do it.” I said.
I was halfway to the cafeteria when I realized that everyone knew what had happened. Small towns leave no room for secrets. People stopped beside the aging orange lockers to stare at me. Their whispers zipped through the air and broke down whatever loose barrier I had placed around me before coming in. My skin stung with shame.
A kid I had known for years came running up to me, “Helen!” he said loudly, “Is it true?” his face more amused than concerned.
“What?” I asked.
“Did you get raped?!”
I lost my breath and the world started to twirl. I pushed past him and into the cafeteria. A hush fell over the room and every eye turned in my direction. I started to hyperventilate and I wanted to disappear into the floor, disappear beneath the floor into the concrete, slip further down and into the earth. I became dizzy and made my way into the bathroom, pushing into people and pushing past them. I collapsed in a bathroom stall and began to cry.
I don’t remember how long I sat there for. I stayed in the stall until one of my friends came and found me and escorted me out. My mother was pacing outside.
We got into the vehicle and I broke down crying.
“I need to move mama,” I howled. “Take me elsewhere, I can’t live… I can’t live here.”
My body was shaking and tears and snot flowed down my face. My emotions forced themselves on me all at once and I wasn’t capable of taking the inward assault. I began hitting the dashboard and the windows as if hitting something would take me out of my body and stop whatever I was feeling. It felt like my spirit was trying to jump out of my body and I began thrashing about in the car seat, screaming. My mother’s eyes were wide with terror.
“I can’t fucking do it, I can’t…”
I crumpled into a ball on the seat and my whole body heaved. I have only cried three times like this in my life. This was one of them.
That is how I came to live in Prince George when I was a teenager. This is how I met Jennifer.
I had six drinks to Jennifer’s four drinks before my mother left the slot machine long enough to find out what I was up to. She instantly started screaming at me and calling me names in front of anyone who was within earshot which just happened to be all of the casino patrons. I shut down and numbed myself. Her words became meaningless blobs vacating her mouth. I knew I was a fuck up.
“Can’t even stay sober for your own fucking son!” she yelled.
Before the comments registered I walked away. I shifted into autopilot, got into a cab and went to a seedy stripper bar downtown. The Condill, one of Fort St. Johns buildings, was the end of the line kind of bar where you could drink by yourself and not feel out of place. LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem was playing when I walked in and the music was the only thing lending life to the overall ambiance of hopelessness. This was not a place for Party Rocking. This was a place for at the table drug deals, fist fights, and sexually hungry oil and gas workers. The floor was stained, the stools wobbled, and the men were questionable. I drank hard. My phone buzzed and I read a text message from my auntie who was watching my son.
Your son wants you to come home now. Go home.
I’m a fucking loser, I thought as I put my phone back in my jacket pocket. A fucking Grade ‘A’ loser. I accepted it as fact and set out to forget it.
Jimmy, a guy I knew from Junior High, came and sat beside me. We hadn’t seen each other in quite some time and I wasn’t surprised to have seen him there of all places.
“Want a drink?” he asked with his small squinty eyes smiling at me.
“Always fuckin’ do,” I replied.
He was there with his girlfriend, who looked like she was there with three other men across the bar. We sat and talked and he said he was sober and mentioned that if I needed a ride I should call him. He gave me his number before he chased after his girlfriend who walked outside with another man.
“Hey,” a guy approached me, “Don’t I know you?”
It always starts that way with these kinds of men in places like this. You never know the character but it’s easier for them than saying, “Hey, I’m a creep and I want to know you.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.
“Let’s just do a shot together,” I replied.
“Tequila, is there any other kind?”
He bought the shots and let a growl out after downing it, like the tequila threatened his manhood. Apparently there is nothing more redeeming of one’s masculinity then a primitive growl. My son’s face flashed in the back of my mind. I felt a twinge in my stomach.
“One more,” I said to the bartender.
“Hardcore huh?” Don’t-I-Know-You guy said smiling at me.
I shrugged my shoulders and took the shot.
I called Jimmy for a ride at closing but he didn’t answer. Don’t-I-Know-You guy hovered nearby with predatory-like skill and told me to come to his place. I wasn’t ready to go home yet, so I went home with him. When we got to his place he poured me a drink and before the drink was done we started kissing; I knew he would want to have sex and I started to panic. I had not had sex since the incident. Even when I was drunk I remembered to be worried. My phone buzzed, it was Jimmy.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at this guy’s place…” I answered.
“Give me the address,” he said, “I’m coming to get you.”
I was relieved. I didn’t want to lock lips anymore with Don’t-I-Know-You guy. I downed my drink and then stood outside in the cold waiting for Jimmy. I stared at the soft smooth cover of freshly fallen snow and the way that it caught the street light. I wanted to be swallowed by the stillness of it all. My great uncle was swallowed by it. I remember looking for him with my mom on cold winter nights like that one. We would drive up and down alleyways in our old pale blue Pontiac Bonneville car as if we were playing a perpetual game of hide and seek. When we found him down some back alley he would always sing us a song at the top of his lungs and make me laugh.
“Livin’ doll! How you doin’?!” he’d ask me in his loud thunderous voice.
“You know why I call you livin’ doll? Because when you were just a baby that’s what you look like. A livin’ doll yep. My niece, the livin’ doll,” he’d say and I would giggle some more.
Mom would dig into her purse and give him some money, then he would disappear down a quiet blackened still alleyway. I remember staring at his figure grow smaller from the back window until I couldn’t see him anymore. He used to be a guide for hunters in the mountains, a damned good one, so I’ve been told. They called him Johnny Biscuits on account of all the biscuits he would eat up in the mountains.
“Oh Johnny Biscuits is stayin’ out here for longer,” the camp cook would say, “I better whip up double the biscuits now. Boy that man can eat!”
I saw one picture of him when he was young, he was holding up the head of a big horn sheep he had shot, a smile on his beautiful brown face that boasted the sharp Bigfoot family nose. The streets and the liquor though, they swallowed him and the mountains he left unconquered inside of him whole. I wanted to disappear like that. The moment broke when Jimmy pulled up and I walked over to his beat-up brown chariot and jumped in.
“Where to?” he asked.
“Cocaine,” I said.
“Cocaine it is,” echoed Jimmy.
We drove off into the night on a mission.
A handful of dashboard lines, some cheap whiskey, and three hours later we were sitting with another high school buddy Michael in his basement suite. Michael was still wiping the sleep out of his eyes when he handed me a Budweiser. The sun was up now and I could hear the birds chirping outside one of the windows. I cringed—the sound of life continuing on made me want to smash something. Not the beer though, that would be an alcoholic sacrilege.
I drank the beer quickly and deliberately. It gave me the courage for what I knew I needed to do. I needed to leave town. I wouldn’t keep fucking up. This was my fuck up finale. I went into the fridge and grabbed myself another bottle of beer. I checked my bank account and seen I had just over one thousand dollars and then another five hundred on my credit card. I managed to keep two good jobs so far but carrying on like this, it was bound to end sometime and the time was now.
“I’m going to Edmonton,” I declared, as I popped off the top of the beer on the counter edge.
“For what?” Michael asked, his head cocked sideways.
Michael had had a crush on me since we were thirteen years old. I used to do silly things to make him blush, because half of his face would turn red while the other half would turn white. I always found it entertaining but never entertained the idea of being with him in that way.
“I need to leave town.” I said as casually as I could.
We all knew people who had to “leave town”, so not a lot of explanation was needed but I wouldn’t have given one even if they had asked.
“We could both go,” offered Jimmy.
“I have to go there in a few days to pick up some parts,” Michael said, “If you can wait, I’ll drive you.”
“Fuck that, I need to leave now.”
Michael and Jimmy started talking out details while I cut up a couple of lines of coke. I knew Michael had been trying hard to stay clean. I felt a stab of guilt as I leaned my head over the table. The guilt was gone as soon as the line was. Within a few hours we were on our way with a case of beer in the back seat and some old time rock blaring on the stereo of a beat-up car. Jimmy couldn’t drink, and not on account of him having to drive, but because he had a breathalyzer installed into his vehicle.
We drank. We sang songs and joked around, rustling up decade old stories and taking them for a spin. I reached my hand out the window and pushed the rear view mirror inwards.
“What the hell are you doing?” Jimmy asked.
“I can’t be looking back anymore,” I said.
“You’re a fucking trip, you know that?” he said laughing and shaking his head.
“Where’s your girlfriend anyways?” I asked.
“She’s getting the last of her shit out of her system you know? She’s been hooked on Oxycodone, Coke, E—you fucking name it. I finally convinced her to go to treatment.”
“Well, Jimmy,” I said waving my hand around the vehicle, “We’re kind of fucked up ourselves.”
“Yeah, well, she needs it,” he said as he took a puff of his cigarette, his face turning serious, “She’s been in the hospital twice in the past month.”
“Yeah, fuckin’ exactly.”
“I’m taking her this Friday to a detox, then haulin’ her ass to a treatment centre.”
“Guys,” Michael said from the backseat.
“You’re kinda killing my buzz back here.”
We all started laughing. I reached for the volume and turned up the boys of CCR singing about the Midnight Special shining a light on some shit or other. Michael lit a smoke. Jimmy bobbed his head. I motioned for Michael to pass me another beer.
“Don’t you have fuckin’ music that my mom didn’t party to?” I quipped.
“Shut yer’ god damn mouth. This is classic,” Jimmy said as he turned it louder.