I suggested doing a 7-day or a monthly challenge in a recent blog post as something to do for personal growth or, frankly, just for fun to get through these often hard weeks. Last month I challenged myself to study Spanish every day. That wasn’t a tough one, so I’m upping my game this month. By the way, if you know more than one language, here’s a super useful tip I discovered while using the Duolingo app: you can make the base language something other than English. For example, I made French my base language to practice my written French while I learned Spanish. Okay, back to this month. My challenges are going to be a bit more, well, challenging. I’m going to step out of my comfort zone. In fact, just saying that is scary as hell! Each week, I’ll do something difficult (at least, for me) and I’ll share it here.
My challenge this week: Share my creative writing . I write all the time, and I have numerous unfinished compositions, essays, even a couple of half completed book manuscripts. With a few exceptions, I’ve just never felt comfortable putting my writing out there, especially in the last few years. But, risk is growth, so today I start. I’m not sure what my next challenge will be but stay tuned if you’re interested. Meanwhile, for your consideration, below is a piece of creative non-fiction. And if you find the content I produce here interesting, useful, or even mildly entertaining, please consider hitting the “follow” button. I’d appreciate it.
I hope you have a great weekend. Christine
The car holds all that a seventeen year old needs to leave home. We stand beneath the cerulean sky of that October afternoon and I cling to her like a life preserver as we turn to the camera. Her oldest brother snaps a photo. “Don’t forget to get your cell topped up,” I remind her. “And call me.” She almost smiles. “Sure Mom.” There are embraces all around now for her brother, sister-in-law, little niece and nephews. Her last hug is for me and it fills me like a final breath. She slips from my arms and, with her father at the wheel, she is gone. It’s late afternoon before the others leave and I climb the stairs to her bedroom. Stepping inside I notice two of her unfinished paintings in the far corner, weak promises of a return. A ribbon of hazy light cuts through the blinds and drains into the eggplant coloured walls. I lean against one. That’s when the heaviness pulls me unexpectedly to the floor and I sob. The first week she is gone I keep a near frenetic pace to resist what I recognize is irrational worry. She has moved in with her older brother and his friends who are, after all, fairly responsible. Nonetheless, I send her too many texts. “Are you having trouble setting up the new phone?” I ask. When I don’t get a quick response, I push advice her way. “Please ask your brother for help if you’re having trouble.”
I begin to dream a few days later of my own leaving from my childhood home. The first time, I am only fifteen. The circumstances of our flights from the nests are different, yet parallels weave themselves uneasily around my heart. In one dream, I am riding the bus to my last day of grade nine before summer vacation. Oddly, my mother and my father are on the bus, too. “You should become a pharmacist,” my Dad keeps repeating as he and my mother sit with a thick stack of my school work on a seat between them in the disjointed, absurdity of the dream. My lips form words to say I want to write, but no sound is made. My father answers, nonetheless, shaking his head. “Well, you can’t make a living at that.” The bus driver nods knowingly.
Awake, in the days that follow, I find myself prowling through my past as if stoking the embers of memory will somehow ease the aching emptiness I feel. I’m reminiscing again. Lockers bang shut and students flow from the halls into a thick afternoon heat on my last day of high school. When people ask about my plans for the summer, I say I’m going to be a mother’s helper at a cottage in the Muskokas. Instead, I take the bus to downtown Toronto to escape the interminable banality of an impending Don Mills summer. Suburban days stretch out dull as sidewalks but I can look forward to city life.
My boyfriend and I move into a rented room on the top floor of a once fine Queen Anne style brick home in the Annex. The bathroom and kitchen are shared with a chatty middle-aged woman and a reclusive student who, when I do see him, always emerges wearing the same faded blue University of Toronto t-shirt. While my boyfriend is working in the underbelly of the Toronto Stamp Company on Church Street, I spend afternoons in the nearby public library. Sometimes I venture to the monolith on College near Spadina where, though no one speaks to me, their watchful eyes brand me a possible book thief. In the evenings, our friends drop by our place or we visit their damp basement apartments or cozy flats in houses much like ours where we gather on worn couches or sit on the floor on equally worn, nubby pillows. We are a tight group of mates who come and go between our respective places, dropping by without calls or invitations. We feel welcomed and understood. We listen to music and discuss the merits of bands. There’s tea, and usually beer shared. There’s always weed, at least when someone can afford it. Money is as scarce as our understanding of why the world works as it does. Everyone seems to be waiting for a cheque in the mail. When a few dollars do appear, we occasionally treat each other to late night fries with gravy, and toasted honey buns at People’s, the neighbourhood 24 hour diner. My parents soon realize my mother’s helper story is a ruse and track me down. The news comes from Gary, who delivers it reluctantly, like a paperboy collecting dues. He is our friend who has a phone. This and his job at an upscale restaurant contribute significantly to our social circle. After midnight, he often drops by with delicious leftovers from work. These we devour in our communal kitchen into the wee hours, pretending we are “the rich”. Our makeshift table lacks the linen and candlelight, and a bare bulb lights the dull yellow walls, but we are full and happy. “Your parents are on the way to pick you up,” he tells me now. “Sorry.” He mounts his 10 speed and pedalling away slowly, he waves. Not risking trouble for my friends, I stuff jeans, patchouli scented t-shirts and a halter top into my canvas bag and wait on the front steps of the rooming house for my parents. Everything is awkward. They want me to eat. I’ve lost weight. My father takes us to a Holiday Inn dining room. He orders a steak. I force down a few fries. In the bathroom, I throw up and contemplate sneaking out the window. “It’s nerves,” my mother says. We move to another city where my parents hope I can start fresh with new friends. Instead, I break their hearts. My want for independence has thickened so that no amount of love for them, or from them, can penetrate it. At 16, I leave home for good with the help of my downtown Toronto friends. It is not a clandestine departure this time but my mother and father are devastated. In my youthful ignorance, I am oblivious. I slip from my mother’s embrace and drive away.
A messenger notification on my phone pulls me to the present. “Are you guys worried or something because dad sent me a message asking if I was okay and I’ve only been gone, like, a week.” “Yes, a bit,” I respond, trying not to sound overly concerned. “What are you up to?” Words pop up on my screen. “Not much. We were making a bunch of stew and stuff. Dad said you say you might come to visit soon?” “Yeah, if that’s okay. On Friday. I’ll be at your place around 3 or 4. We could go see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the AGO on Saturday.” She types, “Sure, sounds good.” “Maybe we’ll have lunch at the vegan place we like in the Annex? I suggest. “I used to live in that neighbourhood, you know.”