My writing is a passion to me. Itís my heart and soul and something Iím not eager to share, simply because it does mean so much to me. This is something that I would like to share, and it is written not for you, but to you. You are the Ďyouí in the following pages. Je tíaime, Mittens.
The Last of the Island SummersWe come from different worlds, you and I. I come from the North, a land of quiet reverence and desolation, where the wind whistles through the barren branches in the winter and is a beleaguering force, and in the summer billows the sails of the boats on the Channel and brings a cool, sweet relief from the droning sun.
This is all so surreal. I can watch the snow fly outside in the circles of light that fall from the streetlamps, yet it doesn't quite register that this is the here, the now, the why. All I can think about is sepia memories of childhood, of snowstorms on Manitoulin and wolves and Wahnipate and the sound of pines creaking and the way the light falls so differently from streetlights than it does from the stars. The places that I'm bred from, the place that I am now. The concrete banked Speed River is frozen over, and she smells like rot and sickly sweet mud. I know the Bay will be frozen over in stalled, icy waves, onyx water and opal ice, the child of the North Channel and the North Wind.
Easter. The first weekend she spent with him, the beginning of the demise. He is an amazing man, but I will never forgive myself for giving her his number. Never. I will always wonder where we would be now, had I not.
My motherís greatest judgement call. My cousinís step-father, a man broken and beaten by life. A love lost, when his wife leaves him after her daughter reveals that sheís been cheating on him for eight years. She leaves Paige with him, takes her other daughter, and moves in with the newest conquest. Mumís known him since grade nine; Iíve known him all my life. Now he speaks to nobody, leaves the house never, but for work, cooks nothing but sausages and rice. He canít rid the house of his wifeís belongings though itís been eight months. My cousin is over it more than he is, though it was her own mother than abandoned her and took her other daughter, leaving her behind.
Mum and I drove around from Guelph, the Chi-Cheemaun not operating this time of year, an eight hour drive through land ranging from the smog polluted, pristine lawns of Southern Ontario to the craters and cliffs of the Canadian Shield, the marshes of the La Cloche mountains, the winding and frightful Espanola hills. Despite the demise weíve already begun experiencing, this drive is soothing in its normalcy for us. We sing too loudly to the Beatles, stop in our same stops for food. Familiarity equates to comfort.
The North calls to me, and an irrepresible excitement rises in me as we near Sudbury. The Canadian Shield, the high cliffs, the wild wind and the cold are so dear to me. The half of me that sleeps when we are elsewhere is waking, and I don't have to look out the window to know that we are nearing the swing bridge in Little Current.
The reserves, Sucker Creek, MíChigeeng, Sheguindah, are too familiar to be depressing. Signs for Ďbags of smokesí, ($15 for 200), and BINGO are everywhere. The natives trying to redeem their image change the names. Sucker Creek is now Aundeck Omni Kaning, West Bay now MíChigeeng. Tourist traps with native names. Land was stolen, a culture was lost, injustice, but so long ago. People remember romantic Indians, in feathered head dresses and beaded moccasins, but that has never been the truth. A lie created to appease the public, to sate the romantic hunger for something different that we all feel.
Now all weíre doing is screwing them over with weekly cheques and ****ty reserve housing, violence in a contained area and a tradition of violence and alcoholism. Trapped on the reserve by the condition that status cards are only applicable if you live on the reserve. Nobody takes advantage of the potential of the money. Itís like being native is an automatic trap.
There's enough food at Nanaís house (as per usual) to feed the starving children of Africa and the Middle East. Not to mention multitudes of baking, all of last night's leftovers from the huge Easter dinner.
At the age of eight, I bought a calf from my step-grandfather, Mike. He and my Nana operate a small scale beef farm, and when I was little, there were ten staple heifers. Selene, my calf, is the daughter of one of the original ten. My Selene isn't here. This saddens me. I enjoy tromping around the barnyard in knee high rubber boots.
I can't remember much from the weekend spent here, other than the feeling of being home, finally. Fights for the shower ensue, Lindsay and I eat an entire cake shaped like a Bunny (for Easter) and Tyler and I resume our scrapping like it hasn't been eight years since we lived together on this very farm. We are rowdy at the dinner table, we laugh hysterically, we curse, we tell stories over one another, and we throw food. This is my family, and I love them.
"Hey, Becca!" Tyler calls to me. I turn to look at him. He constantly mocks my vegetarianism, and is doing nothing different now, as he wolves down bacon while oinking.
This year we had a slightly different kind of Easter egg hunt. Nana hid eggs all around the house, but each color denoted an amount of money. For example, a pink egg might be a quarter. There should not be blood during Easter egg hunts, and my 21 year old Auntie shouldn't be more violent about finding the eggs than I am.
My mother is not present most of the weekend, as she spends it with Jeff. The only thing I heard him say the entire weekend was "This is the worst Easter ever..."
To which my mother responded in her typical fashion "Yeah. Except for the one when Jesus died."
Despite my best efforts, this place of fields and cattle and droning summer days is still my home. This is the first year I haven't wanted summer to come, for summer means a change in the way things are. Summer means decisions and long distances over which romance has a hard time travelling. Summer means leaving for me, back to a place you, my love, have probably never been, back to home and away from this city that hides behind the pretence of the word. What's going to happen for us, whoever we are? Will this be enough, or are you the one who's leaving? What do we have, another month, when we're just getting to scratch the surface, establish bonds and become familiar with quirks, oddities.
Summer also means getting to be myself for a few brief weeks, the influence and inhabitancy of peers lost to the countryside and Island. Riding bareback on Misty, fingers wrapped in mane, this is who I am, a free, happy and confident person. What would I give at this exact moment to have a moment, bareback and I. Three hour long walks down Dairy Road will be made better by being on horseback; time to wander on a white mare through streams and ditches and fields filled with wild flowers stealing through hay. Paths through the woods where sunlight falls on the pricked ears of Misty, and knowing that nobody is looking for us, I have nothing to do, nowhere to be; we stand, we breathe breathe.
Walking down Dairy Road is time to simply exist. Nothing to do, nowhere to be, everything to look at and touch. Why don't I take the extra moment (or hour?) just to lie in the field of dandelions where no one's feet have touched? I do. Look at the world through a forest of stems and see mostly blue sky like some giant blue bowl set over the world. And when I feel to alone or ready to move on to the next small wonders, I'll lead my mare to a split rail fence and climb on in gaiety, giving her her head and feeling her body move with mine. Maybe we'll canter past the abandoned house, an easy surge of muscle and mane, then walk home, where we'll swim in the cow pond and live out the days in haylofts and novels.
Another too short weekend of days that drone and him, are too long and too short at the same time. Paige and I set the alarm for 7:30, not bemoaning the earliness as we wander down the trail to the lake. This is country, with fields framed by forest on our sides, little farmhouses dwarfed by sad barns that sag and droop, greying wood. We clambered up the wire post fences that sag to the ground, their barbed wire rusted and gnarled, to wander at our discretion through waist deep grass soaked in dew. Blaze the dog follows. The light plays off of everything at just the right angle, setting Indian paintbrushes on fire and Dames Rockets aglow with vibrant purple light. This fresh birth so shortly after winter. Last we walked here crocuses were just peeking through a late April snowfall.
We turn right at Blaine Nelder's, stopping to call to horses that appear like apparitions from the mist. Continue, passing the Government Docks and our conversation lulls with our memories. It feels like summer. We pass the cottages whose inhabitants I despise, despite the fact that I no longer live here and am considered a tourist myself, and vaguely envy them as I eye up their vehicles, loaded with the implements of summer. Remembering being children and the excitement that accompanied a trip to the lake, though we lived only a few short minutes away. These feelings are vaguely resurrected as we relearn how to just take each moment for what it is.
A moment, frozen in time- standing on the causeway, watching early morning light play off of lily pads and the Mindemoya river moves sluggishly out of the swale and into the lake. Remember feeling its bottom in Providence Bay years ago when summer was taken for granted and eternal. Calls of grandparents and sun drenched beach, boardwalks and slivers and melting ice cream from a store that no longer exists there, riddled with memory.
When we swim, finally, it takes long moments for our feet to become reacquainted with the sensations of thick sand and seaweed and the mussels they encounter. Till the water deepens and we submerge, gliding above the sand until we break the surface, seal like. Floating on our backs in the mist until high noon sun finally breaks and now we're drowning in blue skies and jet trails.
My mother forces me to spend the summer on Manitoulin, which I did not want to do for the first time this year. This is my first clue that something is awry.
Most of Wednesday I spent panicking, as I remember rather vividly, about whether or not you'd be able to come. Itís the first week of summer, and you are scheduled to come to Manitoulin with me for an entire week. At this point, Iím not yet used to your odd schedules, odd hours. Called you early, and yes, indeed, you were. I know we've got a lot to talk about, and just making it to the Island while being in the same car with you is almost impossible because I'm exploding with speech and the need to share and be held and know that you're here.
Hours in a car, watching power lines stagger by endlessly. As we approach Tobemory, I know these are the waters of Georgian Bay, the same waters as the Huron, the same waters as home. The air itself is different, electric, and heavy with nostalgia. Even the Chi-Cheemaun is like home, familiar faces working, a place I know from younger years.
Shortly before sunset, when the sun is no longer in the sky but the light lingers long and hazy, we drive through South Bay Mouth, comforting, cozy and home. Tehkummah, next, these unpronounceable sounds of Ojibway language and home. The old blue house, where Paige and I would watch Milo and Otis for endless hours, the swale and the woods we knew (know) so well. A home from other years, a home in memory only. Others live there now. Each and every twist in the road is familiar, has a memory. The peculiar bumping of the road, though outside is now black, tells me we drive across the bridge spanning the Blue Jay River. Michaelís Bay Road on our right, the bay lying several miles to the West, hidden in the woods.
We get to Mindemoya and walk, reverentially, underneath a full moon that illuminates the fields and the roads and the woods like some overly picturesque film, until we reach a hay field with bales scattered over it, where we sit between two bales and share our stories.
My horror at your story is evident, and since then my eyes have been more open to the terror in the world. She was raped. To the point where she had trouble walking. Beaten. Her father is dead. Her step father raped her, as well. Her mother abandoned her. She's now a heroin addict in downtown Toronto, living at a youth shelter. This is the first time I see you cry.
She was your soul mate. Is your soul mate? Blood bound. And I understand that you still love her, I understand the confusion, and I only love you more for caring so much about her and needing to be there for her. It shows me what an amazing person you are, and the depth of emotion and caring that you feel. I love you with all the fervour that the moon fills me with. I just don't want to lose you. I don't want to feel second, and though I know that's not your aim and I'm just being selfish, I do. And I hate her for it. She sounds like so much fun, so gorgeous, your person. Why are you with me, after all of this?
I want you to love me most. I can't share. I can't handle this.
I feel the need to be spontaneous. I don't know who I am anymore. So ungrounded. Neither do you, but we can revel in this. You, at least, can take charge of your life and direct it, you can be outgoing and have fun and not worry about repercussions. You're able to let go and take each moment for what it is, to take life day by day instead of attempting to preserve it, and by the time you realize that preservation is a pathetic excuse for living, your life has passed you by. Why does it matter how long you live if you make nothing of it? So I strip off my clothes and run naked through a hayfield, yipping and laughing and rolling in flowers. You join, too, and we lose our socks and shoes in a maze of hay bales in the dark.
We walk to the lake the next morning, wading into the shallows of Lake Mindemoya slowly, as you yelp about the coldness of the water. For once, I am not the cold one. I point out places I know and people I know, secure in a place where I'm always myself, whoever that is, and we swim for hours. It's still so surreal having you here... My home. Me. Scared to reveal this to you, lest you not appreciate and revere it as much as I do. But you do, through your allergies telling me how beautiful it is while wheezing.
Gore Bay. What do we do, the first night? I know we lay outside underneath the stars and make love while watching a night sky scattered through with a million ice white diamonds and a benevolent moon. Sleep in the same bed without worries of my mother, these simple pleasures all we care for. You are mine, for now, and I need not worry about you leaving for home by ten. All night, I hold you in my arms, feel you arms around me.
Walk down Dairy Road, take you to the haunted house, and for a meander through the Hundred Acre Woods, to see my ponies. Normally this is a solitary walk, filled with my own thoughts, the sounds of crows and cicadas, fingering the treacherous barbed wire and the sad coat of a doe who jumped too low. I wonder if the significance and beauty of this is simply in my mind, or if you see it too.
Tobacco Lake, trespassing on the beach. The tourists who own cottages donít deserve my respect; you canít own this Island, you canít own these waters. This is my native soil, and I will walk where I want. I sit on your shoulders as though you're a dolphin, wrapping my legs around your torso. The bottom is muddy and sucks at the soles of your feet. You bob under the water, submerging me, and we walk home after picnicking and catching dozens of miniscule toads. It's a lovely walk, cutting through fields of wildflowers through which butterflies flee away from us like a scene from a Disney film.
I cry. You hold me in your arms and rock me back and forth, singing and patting my back until I run out, then kiss my eyelids. I love you so, so much boy. And I can't stand the thought of losing you, who has never treated me with anything but respect and love. Thor's Hammer, which you haven't taken off in three years, even to shower, hangs around my neck, reassuring me.
It comes out that it hurts my self esteem that this is an open relationship. It's because you're so amazing that I can't ask you to stop. You're so upset that you've hurt me, and my desire to use my hurt as ammunition fades as quickly as it flared and now I just wish I hadn't said anything. This jealousy is my issue to deal with inside my head. You've even said there's no love in sleeping with other people, it's just an action. And I know that, but there's such a large part of me that's hurt by it anyway, that just makes me think it's because I'm not good enough. I wish, again, that I hadn't said anything.
In Tehkummah, we sit amidst century old trees by the old sugar shack, where my Great Grandpa used to make maple sugar. The breeze through the trees carries the memory of the steaming breath of horses in the winter, the smoke from the fire heating the sap. We divulge everything we feel in our souls at that very moment; it is the most honest we have ever been.
Small bits of life cling to my hand and I transfer them to flit upon your legs; little orange butterflies who drink from the abundant clover that carpets the clearing.
Today, after catching frogs in the pond with me, you left. Thor's Hammer hangs around your neck once again, and all that remains of you is a tonne of Kleenex on my headboard. I miss you, so much. I love you more than you can know. And I know you love me too. I'm so scared of losing that. We say we'll work around it for the summer, but I've the paranoid worry that this will weaken and break.
It's been so nice, just to spend the week with you, without having to worry about you having to leave. Nice to listen to you breathe at night and have your arm draped around me, to sleep beside you in nothing but underwear and hold you, to have you to hold me and reassure me when I cry. Nice to have you meet my family, who are such a large part of who I am, and see this place that has moulded me as a person permanently.
Just a week and a half later, you are back, due only to my horrible lies, and for that, I will never forgive myself, though you have. Rape. Being jumped. Numerous fictional characters, sexy transvestites, punk rockers, meth heads and all the kind of people that I find interesting, charismatic and so much more fun than myself. Itís like a twisted re-run of Rock Horror Picture Show, these lies I weave.
The entire weekend I am consumed by guilt. You are so gentle and sweet. This love is so fragile and based off of my lies. I could kill myself, for creating this, for being my own downfall. You bring presents, DVDís, books of your recommendation due to my complaints of being stuck in Hicksville, lacking literature and music. I could puke.
Sunday, I am reluctant to leave, though Mike and I have decreed this Horse Buying Day. My mind is on you the entire day. You could be gone by the time I get home, but you arenít. I have brought with me a six year old grey gelding, my Ozzy. I hop on and speed off, Ďbroken ribsí and all. I donít seem like such a hotshot, with my mind on other things.
This time with you, though as brief as it has been, has been so special to me. And the only solace I take within myself shall I go, is that I know you will think of me wherever I may be, and that you in turn know I will always do the same. Because for as long as you want me, I am yours.
And the ways in which I love you, how I scream, yell, shout and rip them into the very air. No matter how I express that, all stand as cheap echoes of my true conviction and feeling for you. Because no matter how many times and ways I say it-
I love you.
Not just because you are brilliant, or strong, or stunning, or so unique to me, but because of all these things combined, because of every last bit of you, and everything you are to me. I love you.
Yours, as always,
This has come about through my lies.
It is a week before my birthday when my mother picks me up from work at the courthouse. She has come up to Manitoulin for two weeks of vacation, in my mind, an oddly long time. We do not drive toward the farm, which unnerves me. I can tell the instant I get in the car that something is wrong; she avoids eye contact, her responses are short and clipped, the radio is off and her sunglasses are down, not letting me see her eyes. I try to compensate the way I always do; overly cheerful responses, talking about my day, asking her about hers.
Inside, I feel sick. When she is angry with me, we will drive, for in the car I have no escape, no defences. We drive all the way up East Bluff to the Harold Noble Memorial Park. Itís a small place, a single bench in a clearing in the trees, and a platform that allows you a stunning view over the edge of the cliff to see the town across the bay. There are people there, so we continue onward toward the old schoolhouse in an eerie muted state. My sense of unease has grown much stronger; why is it necessary to find somewhere private? We reach the schoolhouse, and she stops the car. And she begins to talk in her quiet way that lets me know all of the rage she is barely holding in.
First, she lets me know she has been reading my e-mails all summer, and lets me know what a useless, lying piece of trash I am. The Lies I have told people are completely horrible, inappropriate things to say (which I fully agree with). I sit there and shake, just listening.
Then she lets me know that she does not think living in Guelph is in my benefits, and that she has, in reality, taken a job on Manitoulin that she started during this week of Ďvacationí. I will not be returning home to Guelph. She coldly berates me about my lies to people through e-mails, the characters I have created and the tales I have spun. I believe every word of what she says. I believe I am a bad person. I believe I can not redeem myself. And I cry out to her for help. The last time I ever said the words ďMummy, help me. Please.Ē
I am enraged she has been going through my e-mails. I am enraged that she has invaded my privacy. I feel ill with guilt over my lies to others. I feel ill with the cruel words she has slung at me. We have never fought before. We have been the inseparable team, the mother-daughter duo envied by all of her friends and mine. I can only stare across the bay at the tiny houses and the town that I have known all of my life.
We canít be moving back here. I was ripped away from here once already, to live in the city I hated for so many years. My mother has spent the last eight years professing her profound hatred for this Island. We would not even come here for Christmas. We did not come for my Great Grandmotherís funeral. I have built my life in Guelph, and reaffirmed my identity to fit the city. I will not lose a home again. The problem with moving a lot is not that you have no roots, it is that you leave roots everywhere you have been.
The entire way home is silent, and we resume feigned normalcy at the farm. I call Cameron crying, and we begin to arrange for me to leave this Island in secret. His voice is soothing, and I can believe him when he tells me that I am not a bad person, despite the fact that he does not know the lies I have told him. I treasure the sound of his voice on the phone, though I will have to pay for the long distance calls and take the wrath of my Nana and Mike, who can not stand Cameron. I have not been allowed to receive phone calls from him all summer. They do not like the way he dresses, they do not like his history. They never even gave him a chance.
My sixteenth birthday comes and passes with little event to mark it, other than three family members over for a dinner and no cake. Iím too old for a cake, my mother tells me. Iím disappointed and feeling selfish. Paigeís fifteenth birthday three weeks earlier was a huge event; all of her friends, family, a huge dinner, a cake brought in from Espanola, and a day spent shopping in Sudbury.
The small battles waged between me and my family grow ever larger. Mum returns home to Guelph to pack. I retreat within myself and float along for the next few weeks only sustaining myself with the knowledge that I am leaving.
I ride Ozzy every day, counting down how many more rides we have, mentally. I wonder if this is real, as clouds of monarchs flee away from his pounding hooves. I wonder if the light playing off of the river that we ride along is real. I wonder if my memories of this place will be real, or will they be exaggerated by the pain of the loss.
I have always nearly worshipped my Nana, the maternal figure in flowered aprons who baked and was more understanding than even my mother. The one who understood and encouraged my love of all animals, big and small, who taught me the bulk of my animal knowledge. This is the summer that it all crumbles, when her bi-polar disorder takes charge of all of our lives, when I begin to distrust people's appearances due to personal experience.
Sitting at the dinner table. Mike, a hardly present figure in my life, is out farming well past dusk. I can not remember how the argument started, perhaps out of self preservation, but she is yelling at me. "Freak, idiot, loser." I can not listen to this. The phone rings, and seeing your caller ID and blessing your timing, I answer it, screaming a four letter profanity. You are frightened and soothing, and I run out of the house with the portable phone, hiding behind the water tank.
Nana picks up the phone in the kitchen, screaming at me in my full name to get back in the kitchen, screaming at you get the f*** off of the phone. You politely denies her this, asking her if you can just stay on the phone as I seem a little upset. She continues to yell for a few more moments and finally gives up, unable to find me.
I whimper on the phone. I want to go home. Now. I can not be here anymore. I have never suffered this kind of abuse. I have never been called these kinds of names, never intentionally done anybody any injustice. My guilt from lies makes me want to believe ever word she has said to me. My guilt wants me to believe I am a terrible person.
We have plans made for my departure now, a solid date.
I only have to make it three more days.
I spend most of these days on horseback, taking refuge in the familiarity of the Hundred Acre Woods, taking refuge in exploring the Dairy and the 3000 acres there like I have always wanted to. I am withered inside from the knowledge that in the palm of my hand is beauty, is everything I have longed for; a horse to explore this Island with, namely. And I am going to abandon it. I voraciously explore the area around Gore Bay, knowing that it will be a long time before I have the chance again.
Things spiral downward at a frightening rate for those few days, and my child worship of much of my family vanishes as I see their bad sides. I see the hatred that many of them have, I see the bigotry that some suffer from; I see the blindness, the vanity, the manipulative, dark and vengeful sides. I wonder if others can see these sides to me.
Meldrum Bay is a strange and desolate place, the westernmost tip of Manitoulin Island, a craggy highland that overlooks the Mississagi Strait. It is a world alien, but strangely familiar at the same time. A marina, a store, an inn, Bill who lives below the hill and Bill who lives below the hill. A predictable, straightforward place, socially, one wild and unpredictable in nature. Mum, Paige and I have a day planned in Meldrum. We are going to go to the lighthouse, eat a packed lunch perched far above the water on the Cliffside, swim and take photos. Weíre allowed to be tourist-y, we appreciate the beauty and the marvels that nature has to offer us, silently.
We venture to the lighthouse, and climb, awed, up steep, wooden flights of stairs. I will dream later of the lighthouse keeper and his family who lived here, of a pinpoint of light that was dimmed by the stars above the Mississagi Strait. I will dream of the Griffin, and LaSalle, muted by decades, battling these waters that we observe. I will dream of candlelit nights inside the lighthouse, warm and dark, out of the torrential rains. My sense of romanticism wants LaSalleís skull to still be the doorstop of the pantry entrance.
Spruce and cedars grow out of the rock where there is no soil, reaching out from the cliffs over the water, twisted and gnarled by winds and snows of a hundred years. The beach is not sand, but huge, honeycombed rocks, that coat the bottom of the water the entire way across. The shore is layered and tumbled with the same rocks, as if an earthquake heaved them all in jumbled layers over one another. Paige and I donít take the time to find the path down to this strange place; we clamber precariously down the cliff, using small ledges as footholds, grasping the branches of trees. Island children.
We sit on one of the lower rocks, legs in the water, anticipating the waves and squealing as the frigid water reaches our torsos and then recedes. This water is cold and deep, a surly navy blue that lightens to a bright, Caribbean turquoise as it becomes shallower. There is something ancient about these waters, and something surreal about the tiny tankers that bob in the distance like bathtub toys. Paige and I swim, the fathoms of water below us dropping away as we gaze at the sky. Where is the line where the sky becomes water? They have become one here in Meldrum, as day deepens into evening.
The color of the waters reminds me of you, my love. An enigma, beautiful and coloured by history. Fathoms deep and unlikely, a strange and lovely surprise. Tenacity. Ageless and wise.
It is late in the evening when we reluctantly pack up our picnic and trudge toward the car. We have regained ourselves this year, by being here on Manitoulin. We have regained our sense of awe and wonder and hope, our appreciation of beauty and the haven offered by silence. Meldrum has been the epitome of this epiphany in our lives, and we do not want to leave this world. Meldrum falls away under the wheels of the Ford, and we do not look back.
The Way From Which We Came
I remember what is only fifteen summers, and the sixteenth in progress, that seem more like a thousand, as we drive down the rutted lane to Carter Bay. I remember not so long ago when there was no lane, only a path through the trees hacked by a machete. The publicity of the beach bothers me now. It used to be a private and magical place, but is now riddled with tourists and slim women in bikinis. Little remains of what once was here.
Everything seems wrong. I am here with Mum, Jeff, Paige and Jeffís little daughter Hailee. I have never driven this road with them before. Grandma Esther, Daddy, Cheryl and my brother and sister were always the ones I came here with, or friends with sleeping bags, sleeping in the dunes. I am overwhelmed by sadness when my present company do not know the places I speak of so fondly here; Red Fox Run, the stream that trickles through the dunes to join Buck River, the second stream, the ponds and the dead pools of still standing water where tadpoles accumulate in mass numbers.
The signs now driven deep in the sand are depressing. ďDo Not Walk on Dunes.Ē I do not want to destroy a fragile ecosystem held together by the roots of sand grasses, yet my stubbornness and the feeling that I, more than any other, have a right to traverse these dunes prevails. I hate the tourists more now than I used to, for their insensitivity to this beautiful place, for the empty Pepsi cans I find in the stream.
Surely this is the land of the Gods, for I remember dancing here with Artemis and Pan. The beach is the shape of a crescent moon, with miles of woods at her back. She turns to dunes at the left, and to boulder filled shallows at the right. Around one corner are her sister bays, Michael and Providence, and the waters of all three are cold, unforgiving, and the bluest water I have ever seen.
My girlfriend and I used to sit deep in the dunes, her violin a queer, melancholy sound in the pitch of the night. It was an unspoken rule that we did not speak of the nightís magic the next day. The high notes called out to the moon goddess, Artemis, and we tried to awaken her, when we still believed in magic. We would put Ella Fitzgerald into the portable CD player and we would dance in the shallows of the Red Fox Run, kicking up a fine spray of warm water.
The notes now fall upon the dead ears of a moon who no longer harbours any real magic, and we will never again play violin on the river shore. She shines silver light that guilds the waves that roll steadily into shore. I wonder if my memories are tainted by nostalgia, but my favourite memory will forever be her, perched on a flat rock in 40 yards into the bay, playing the violin to the moon.
I will never again wake up soaked in dew from sleeping under the open sky, to a doe and her fawn drinking from the stream.
I remember endless summer days spent playing card games, without enough sunscreen, on the flat tabletop rock just outside the camper. Badminton nets of ours and an entire beach to ourselves. I remember elaborate sandcastles and the haze that rises off of the sand at mid day.
I remember believing in magic.
Back in the present, Paige and I wander the entire beach, kindred spirits in our search for small wonders. Teeny purple flowers made up of heart shaped petals are subject to our photography. Hidden corners of the dunes, where they reach up high and sheer and are rimmed by spruce trees and there runs a waterfall. The point, a strip of rock 20 yards into the water, ideal for sitting on and becoming lost in the sky.
Eventually, we head home, and I am the only one left with the realization that nothing will ever be the same.
A week ago, I filled my canvas bag with likely items of escape: a knife, a flashlight, canned foods and fruits. It is midnight and I am more restless than I have ever been. Something must be done, and it must be done now. Trying to silently exit the house, my plans are foiled my Zoe the dog. She barks and follows me outside. As we stalk silently through the cornfield, I check back to see if the house has lit up, windows like vacant eyes who see me in the field.
Every step through the hay stubble resounds loudly in my ears. I think my family can hear my heart beating back in the house. Zoe follows along beside my, my faithful companion. Everytime I see headlights coming along the road, I automatically assume it is my family due to paranoia, and hide quickly in the ditch, lying belly down in trash and long grass and peering through the stalks of the grass that hides me, to see if it is them.
Zoe is attacked by two German shepherds, and it will take me days to walk to South Bay Mouth. I turn home, knowing that tonight is not the night. Things have not yet gotten bad enough for me to have the nerve.
August 9th 2007
My heart is in my throat. My plans have been made. Foiled by my failed midnight hitch hiking attempt, I am trying again. This morning, I sort my belongings into necessities and luxuries, the first time I have ever done so. Materialism will no longer be acceptable for me. Into my olive rucksack go the necessities, and I dress strategically. I must go to work without arousing suspicion, yet my clothing and footwear must be appropriate for long periods of walking.
My battered old Doc Marten boots are my faithful hiking, riding, running, hitch hiking and every day footwear companions. We have walked many miles together, through snow, rain and horse manure.
Looking at my bag in the car, early morning on the way to my respectable job given to me by a generous Uncle at the Courthouse:
ďWhat are you, leaving or something?Ē (Nana)
ďNo, just some banana bread and Tupperware containers to give back to Donna and Cynda.Ē (Me. More lies. Though at this point, theyíve added up to so much weight on my chest that one more is hardly significant. I wonder now, what was the straw that broke the camelís back?)
The entire morning at work, I photocopy.
And know that these are the last three hours until noon that I will do so. The only taxi service on this God forsaken Island will be picking me up at noon at the Red Roof pavilion, and will cost me a precious $150. I leave five minutes early (11:55 am) to get there on time. And wait. And wait. And wait. He never shows. Panicking, I start to walk downtown, feigning innocence. I narrowly avoid Nanaís car. And now, heart in my throat and blind with determination, I go back to the Courthouse to weave yet another lie.
A friend, injured, Iíve just found out. I need to get to South Bay Mouth as soon as possible. Iím bawling, and this is real, itís my panic. Poor, kind Cynda believes. Yet I cannot leave right now (Cynda). Does my grandmother know?
She is little to no help, but I was desperate. Not as desperate as I become. Down the steps of the Courthouse, heart working overtime, I start downtown, past the health food store, past Malcolm on break, smoking.
ďDo you walk everywhere? I always see you walking.Ē (Malcolm. Whom Iíve lied about. Poor, sweet boy who I hardly even know, with a bad reputation with my friends at home.)
ďPretty much. Any ideas on how I can get to South Bay?Ē (Me. Panicking. Tear streaked face, Iím sure he notices.)
ďThe only way I can think of is thumbing it.Ē (Malcolm, rather kindly and sympathetically. Believe I am badass, despite my tear streaked face. Believe it, damn you.)
Iíve been afraid it would come to this.
With a nervous glance over my shoulder and a tentative thumb, I start walking out of town. I make it almost to Walkerís Corner before getting picked up. A man in a truck. I hardly remember the first one to pick me up. This is so out of character for me, the introvert, the logical one. I climb in tentatively, still glancing over my shoulder for family, making up the lie that will save me if Iím caught.
And then I realize that Becca baby, this is real. This is life. This is the decision you can not go back on, this is the decision that will make it or break it. This is the epiphany, the climax, the culmination of years, of all of the pain in the last few months. This is real.
I get almost to Kagawong with this ride, and then with more confidence, begin walking. Still cautious and paranoid of seeing Nanaís car, and weighing my time. I should be in South Bay by one. Itís creeping up on twelve thirty, and even when driving with a sure ride, itís an hourís drive from Gore Bay. Cameron will wait for me. My love will wait for me. I donít get picked up until Iím almost through Kagawong, by a kind young man with a smile, whose empathy for me weighs over his common sense.
He hitch hiked as a teenager.
Apparently (lies), I am a third year University student at the U of G, chemistry major, visiting family in Gore Bay. But alas, a dilemma arose, and I am headed home to find an apartment before school starts. I get through to the other side of Kagawong, and he wishes he could take me further.
Just outside of West Bay, I am picked up by Cassie and Ryan, who I am supposed to work with later that night at Gordonís Lodge. They donít question it, simply laugh at my teenaged audacity and daring, and take me through to the Lakeview side of West Bay.
After a moment, and my doggedly determined stride across the reserve, a Native woman from Spring Bay pities me. She chain smokes and fingers the cross hanging from her rear-view mirror. She takes me through to Mindemoya, drops me off at the corner by Benís corner store and Jakeís Grocery, where I run into Paige, hug her, and tell her what is happening.
And weigh my options, yet again. I am definitely not getting to South Bay Mouth at the time I told Cameron. And now, there are two ways to get there: the main highway, likely busier and more chance of me getting a ride, and the back roads, where my Dadís side of the family live, who may take pity on me and give me a ride. The way I know, no chance of getting lost, and in my mind, shorter.
I choose the main road, and still, I walk almost two miles outside of Mindemoya before a man picks me up. He owns a resort outside of Sandfield; he loves the Lord and moved here years ago from Ohio. I go along with this. You have to play up to the beliefs of the people who are giving you a ride. Nonetheless, the knife Cameron gave me after the supposed Ďassaultí is cool against my thigh, tucked under my waist band. I profess my love for Jesus and belief in prayer. Sorry for using this kind man, but glad for the ride, I am dropped of just short of my goal of South Bay Mouth in Sandfield. He wants to make sure I am in a town before he lets me go; things can happen to little girls who hitch hike.
I walk. And walk. And walk. It feels like hours pass, I am so familiar with the pounding of my feet against gravel and the dust that pours from underneath my Doc Martens. I am sensitively attuned to the sound of any approaching traffic behind me. I stick out my cramped thumb every time I hear wheels on the gravel, waiting for the approaching car to stop. Every time one passes me by, though the traffic is rare, the ratio of cars not stopping is high; I murmur gentle curses and insults.
Finally, what feels like an eternity later and when I have come to terms with the fact I will have to walk to South Bay Mouth, a van stops. A young woman with two children, headed to the play ground at South Bay. She takes me right there, dropping me off by the terminal. From afar, I see the glorious sight of my love sitting on the picnic table there. Itís been three weeks.
From afar, you see me.
I am two hours late.
Like a commercial or a late night movie, we run into each others arms. I have never held so tight, nor been held so tight. Frantic kisses, the intimate gestures we havenít known for so long, stroke your face; look into those crystal blue eyes. You have been puking in the bushes out of nerves for the past few hours, and I can not blame you. The lies I have woven about assault arenít exactly reassuring when your girlfriend is late to meet you while running away from her family. Walking back roads, still nervous of family, we go to the trading post. Drinks.
Cream Soda for you, this is the first time I learn of your favourite drink, and I will not forget. Ginger ale, itís cold and soothing, and a bottle of water for me. I am too indecisive, too flighty for a favourite drink, though formerly I would have said root beer. Since Mum and I started driving so much, root beer has become an absolute turn off. It smells like old socks after an hour in the car, lukewarm and flat.
We cannot stop talking, we cannot stop holding each other, the energy between us is electric. I vow to myself to let the lies die out, to try not to further them or mention them again, to not start any new legacies of lies. Never did I vow to myself to tell you about the lies. I love you too much to hurt you like that. I love you too much to lose you.
Still trying to avoid traffic and family, we walk the back roads toward the boat terminal, intending to buy our tickets. Too late, I see Evil Grandma perched on the same picnic table you were earlier, feigning care over her anger. Surrounded by a swarm of police officers.
ďJust turn, go, go, go, keep walking, turn aroundÖĒ (Me. I urge you to turn, to walk away, to just let us vanish into the woods. Vague hopes of escape flitter away like butterflies into the sun asÖ)
ďBeccaÖĒ (Gently from Evil Grandma.)
ďPleaseÖ justÖ stop, talk to me.Ē (Coaxing from E.G)
This is before I have learned to ignore pleading, in my better interests. With reluctance, knowing that this is going to be bad, I turn back toward her on my heel, gearing up the nerve to deal with her.
Pleading. Donít go. Do you know how much youíre hurting everyone? Live with me. Live with your dad. Donít do this, Becca. Just donít. We love you. Can you at least call everyone?
Her anger is the veiled kind where she wants you to know that sheís angry. She wants you to know sheís only pretending that she isnít. She wants her anger clear, transparent and to manipulate you into going home, with mind games and control and power. I tune her out, to do the hardest thing of my life. Call my Mum and my Dad, and let them know where I am, and that Iím okay.
This is the first time in my life that I wish they werenít divorced.
Making two phone calls is so much more trying than one.
Grandma calls Daddy while shooting me her Iím-Not-Hurt-But-Your-Father-Is-So-Do-The-Right-Thing-Or-Else look. I talk to Daddy. I am not staying on Manitoulin. I am not living with Grandma. And I am not moving in with Daddy.
You know I wanted to do the same thing at 16, right? Iím not mad. Iím not. Iím just worried.
This is honest.
I love you.
This is honest.
I hang up, after reassurances that yes, I have a ride waiting on the other side, a safe way home, a place to stay. Now, the hardest thing. Calling Mommy.
This is so much harder.
The hurt is transparent in her voice. The pleas are the same. My rejection of the pleas also the same. My dull, monochromatic voice, the same. My resistance, my determination, my broken-ness, the same. I hang up again, and hold on to you, my love, my reassurance. Right now you are all I have, by my own doing. I am letting go of my family. And I must continue lying to you in order to keep you. My chest constricts.
There has been a police search on for me since Cynda called my Grandmother to make sure she knew what was happening with my injured friend (lie). Now that theyíve found me, all but one OPP officer leave. He asks to speak to me.
I cut him off as we sit down in the squad car. I know the law. At 16, I may legally live on my own. I parrot this at him, as I parrot the same things I told my mother: I am going to a safe place, a stable environment, I do not believe that my current environment is healthy and/or stable, my parents now know where I am going. He sighs and isnít happy about it, and even the ****ing police officer attempts to guilt trip me: ďI wouldnít be happy about this if my 16 year old tried it, but thereís nothing I can do in your case. Just go home and stop hurting people.Ē
Exhausted and out of words, I simply shake my head and get out of the car. He follows slowly, and asks to speak to you.
The same questions, the same answers from a coherent, articulate and intelligent young man.
The boat can not come fast enough.
Nana is here now, my world is tilting and spinning and I am slowly dying, trapped by my own guilt and fear. I feel broken, yet elated and spinning. I am defying everything. She cries and hits at me, and sobs and lets me know what a horrible person I am, and I cry because I know she is right. Kayla and Kyle are there, and she tells me I am ruining their young lives and their world. How important is an older cousin, do you think? I think they were as upset as they were on August the 9th, 2007, because she, their rock, their caretaker and their constant was cracking apart into fragments.
I know where I get the lying from when she tells me I have killed Mike. Heís had a heart attack and is being rushed to hospital. At the time, I believe it. Iíll believe anything about what a horrendous person I am at this point, I will let her yell at me about the lying and let her sob at me about the wrong I am doing everyone. I will take it all in stride, and get on that boat and go the **** home.
Nana turns coldly and irrationally to you to let you know what a **** you are, and to call you Jeff OíNeill, the name of a friend of ours at home that you used as an alias when calling me during my two hours as a missing person.
At this point, nothing is registering anymore, other than the fact that I am actually doing this.
The boat is here, and Cameron and I board. My escape.
Evil Grandma follows, getting on to the boat for free by pleading her case. Even in this time, sheís frugal and a shrewd negotiator.
A social whore as always, the friend you made the first time you ever took this boat brings us free fries as we sit on the life boat containers on the deck, well away from my Grandma in the cafeteria.