Communicator, cooker, drinker, poet. Grew up in a mining town, wore a hard hat.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Road West

My parents drove a Honda Civic station wagon. Silver, rusted, standard recited the plate numbers to drunk-smelling motel clerks 9-0-9 J-K-J they whispered in the vast spaces between Sudbury and Thunder Bay when we didn’t make it in one day, as planned. When the distance spread out before us like life or high school, like Stephen Hawking’s version of things: big, empty, full of rocks and creatures we didn’t understand or care to know. Manitoba always made more sense: stopovers, sugar bribes, better beds, cable television and a swimming pool once when I was nine. The legislature and the wooden cut outs of funny or fat people the flowers the gardens the sun the promise of democracy and the road West. Saskatchewan was puberty: the middle space between departure and destination, flat but nearly foot hilled, up-close uneven and full of growth. We were restless in Saskatchewan. Anxious for beaches, secrets, soft rocks and pocket money. Anxious for sex in the later years. But before we could begin to fantasize about the naked white bodies of summer boys, there were the Prairies. Those fields, golden bales and barbed wired fences made my mother insane. She’d begin to mumble about noise, how she couldn’t stand it and couldn’t someone turn off the goddamn radio. She howled and barked and by the end of it all we were sullen and sweaty nearly ready to jump out of the moving car, the air conditioning having betrayed us before we even managed to make Lloydminster. The heat, my mother never knew was a blessing. My sister and I collapsed in the back seat, in a trench of suitcases like corpses couldn’t bear to move a muscle couldn’t bear to shriek, couldn’t bear to tell her she was a miserable bitch. Weren’t we all that summer. But not my father, of course. My father had principles and a Pentax. Had us standing tall at Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo Jump sun drawing tears from our eyes smiling hysterically waiting for the click. The click that would end it all and send us back to our sauna Civic, our books, our half-melted chocolate bars, our temporary tattoos and our bunk-bed fantasies. When it was his turn to drive, he would listen to jazz and mourn the state of the country. Especially at twilight: the weather, the workers, Ralph Klein’s wife smoking outside a church at Batoche, the workers again. Golf. He is a Communist. Once, when a swarm of softball players took over Regina we drove all night in darkness. My mother slept and my sister watched for deer and dead gofers. It wasn’t her turn: it was mine. My father filled his hand with secret seeds of revolution fed them to me slowly, with the other hand on the wheel. His voice pained by Oxford and the good days cried out against injustice and those lies, those heartless bastards. His words stuck to the pit of my stomach like the gum I wasn’t supposed to swallow and did, more than once. And always before we were properly prepared came Alberta. Alberta meant dry, over-salted roasts, tiny shriveled green peas in water, arthritic grandparents and whispered fights. Fights about meat, oil, money. Hushing noises at the dinner table. Grace with tablecloths and matching napkins. Guilt. Traffic. Leaving Edmonton was confessing that we couldn’t travel forever. That we couldn’t live forever. That we would grow old and tired and poor. That the alternator would give out. Every year, lost in the loneliness of the flatter parts we began to resign ourselves to August and the end of all things. And every year, without fail, we were rescued. Saved from a few more hours. Mountains rose to the occasion. Trees stood tall with encouragement (solidarity my father must’ve thought) and the roads, having tired somewhere after Canmore abandoned convention and began to wind. We were worried that we would never arrive, but inevitably we did. Tripped and scraped our knees running to the lake, gasped and bled with ecstasy, cried out, let go and drowned in the perfection of it all. Loved each other, forgot time and pain and Ontario, walked barefoot in the wind and felt as though it had all been worth it. Felt as though there had always been a destination: paradise at the end of the road West.