Book Two: I

Summer of Rebirth

Can you believe I’ve held down a job at the local gas station for a total of two months now? Yes. Oh, yes. Although I have to grit my teeth every hour I spend there, I am gainfully employed and counting. I also babysit two kids on Karma Street periodically. Mostly I work Saturdays or Sundays at GasCan and usually an after-school shift too. I’m too young to open and close, thank God. All I do is serve customers, clean floors, and stock shelves. 

The whole place smells like — you guessed it — gas. I’m supposed to up-sell chocolate bars, lottery tickets, air fresheners and especially car washes to every gas customer, and my boss is always around smiling his fat, round Italian smile, saying cheerily, “I didn’t hear you offer anything to that guest, Ellen,” every time I forget to up-sell. I have to wear a black, green and yellow GasCan shirt with a matching black visor that is actually pretty cool, I wear it upside down to parties sometimes with a pair of ripped jean shorts and a plaid halter top. 

I’m making dreadlocks in my hair right now, so I keep it up on top of my head with the visor. My boss doesn’t like the dreadlocks and tries to casually mention them and my nose ring (I got that on my seventeenth birthday last winter), but I ignore him because I know I have rights. I think my appearance is pretty clean and friendly, and I have a great smile and eyes. 

This is what I’m told, anyway. That guitar player Randall was sweet on me for awhile after I broke up with Patrick, and he kept telling me how pretty I am. But I just couldn’t get it up for him. He is an amazing player and he’s got nice long hair and a great laugh. But with some guys, there is just the friend-feeling and you could never go another way with them. 

For a while, we were spending a bunch of time together, going for walks and scoring some weed at the donut shop, then he’d play Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd songs while we hung out on the bridge. Then I noticed that when I’d suggest Persephone and Chloe and the others come along, he’d say, “Nah, let’s just go the two of us,” and after that I started making sure we had Scott and Donald and the girls every time. Randall got the message and stayed friendly at least. No harm done. With some guys, they freak out and get all sensitive when you don’t take a liking to them. 

The one that I have my eye on is Scott, actually. I wish Persephone liked Donald; she doesn’t, she’s still moping about Anthony a bit. We’ve tripped out with Scott and Donald plenty of times, and it never occurred to me before because I was with Patrick, but Scott is hot. He was shining his big brown eyes in my direction last weekend at a party, and he gave me a free hit. He’s a dealer, same as Donald, mostly in acid, ecstasy, mushrooms. They don’t sell pot because it smells too much and is harder to hide. I like Scott’s big raver pants, curly dark hair and doe-eyed look. Usually he’s a little on the reserved side, as a person, so when he’s friendly to you it’s because he really likes you. And that thought makes me warm.

I started talking casually to Charlie after several weeks of ignoring me. I think he took the lesson. He seemed so grateful when I finally said something to him that wasn’t forced. I think I asked him if he wanted to come out for a smoke with me. Now, if we’re chatting and the territory gets anywhere near me and Patrick and our break-up (Charlie’s eyes lit up when he heard about it, I saw), or my crush on Scott . . . I just turned my cold shoulder and squint the corner of my eye, and he doesn’t dare make any comment. I won’t go there, and I’m prepared to stake out my boundary — something I’ve never learned how to do before now.

Because it’s summer and my parents are involved with Amway, they go to conventions almost every weekend and that leaves me free to party, work, play, work and party. I feel as free as a bird, in fact, flying into an unknown future. 

It’s true — I did a Ouija board session at the end of the school year, and it told me that my future is a complete blank. Maybe I’ll die an unnatural death, I thought to myself. I was playing the game with an older girl I met at school who calls herself Mrs J, I think because her real name is Jessie. No one calls her that, only Mrs J. She looks slightly like my sister, but is so many million times cooler. She really does her own thing, hence the Ouija ritual (which everyone else thinks is scary, or stupid), and she’s going to art college after summer. 

Anyway, Mrs J was dreadlocking her hair and suggested that I do it along with her, so that’s why I haven’t washed my hair in awhile. She has thicker, longer hair than mine, so it chunks up nicely. When we’re hanging out together, I like the way she takes a lock of my hair and starts deliberately twisting and teasing it until it makes a rope, and I do the same to hers. We don’t hang out all that much, though, because Mrs J prizes her alone time. I met her through Scott at a party and when I tried to tell her about my crush on him, she waved her hand and said, “Enough with the drama. Enough with the boys.” 

“But he’s so -”

“Stop,” said Mrs J. “I’ve heard it all before.” 

So I stopped. And we just hung out, drinking beer and not talking about anything dramatic or troublesome, which I found ultimately as relaxing as it was unfamiliar.

She invited me over to her place the next day, while her parents were at work. I sat there on her bed, making sure not to mention Scott, or how he and I had made out for an hour the previous night. I watched as Mrs J rubbed her lower lip with an ice cube before stabbing it with a sewing needle sterilized by a cigarette lighter.

“Fuck, ow,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Want one?”

“GasCan won’t let me keep my job if I have a lip piercing.”

“Fuck GasCan.”

“GasCan paid for this joint right here.”

“Oh. I see your point,” she said. 

“I have to wash my hair for my sister’s wedding, too, next month.”

“Fuck your sister’s wedding.”

So that’s how my adventure with dreadlocks ends up, in a chignon at my sister’s perfect white wedding back in our hometown of Howey Bay. They make me wear ugly white flats because I’m so much taller than one of her short bridesmaids. In other words, I look like a doofus. 

The moment I get to Mom’s, I start knocking things over and tripping on my feet. She’s scolding and lecturing me, in between getting flowers and food ready for the wedding. I’m supposed to be the maid-of-honour, but I’m seventeen and have no idea what are the duties of a maid-of-honour and no one told me, so I just sit there in the hullabaloo, like an iceberg of awkward inaction. I feel completely out of place, now homesick in a new, doubled-up way — homesick for the old sense of my life in this town, and homesick for my fun urban identity and my place there. 

“You’re just as much of a spazz as always, Mawmouth,” says Bonnie, coming into the kitchen and tasting the icing that Mom is making. She looks into my eyes pointedly. It’s the first time I’ve heard that word in a full year.

I’m cleaning up the bag of sugar I’d knocked onto the floor with my elbow.

“You’re telling me,” Mom agrees. “You haven’t learned much from living in Toronto, have you?”

Suddenly I have a vision of respectful quiet Iris, around whom I’ve never had a physical issue for the whole past year. Not so much as a cup of spilled milk. And my Dad, who though he ignores me almost completely, only ever says nice things to me when we do talk. “You can do anything you want to,” he always says. “You’re a great person, Ellen.”

“I never feel like this at Dad’s place,” I say, and storm out leaving them to mirror each other’s self-righteous shadows of negativity.

However, once the horrid wedding is done, I am content to be back in Howey Bay. At least for a while. And secretly I’m thankful my hair is washed and long and shiny, and I can have all the boys I want here — and they all want me — because I’m single. 

A “free agent,” as Mrs J calls herself. Yes, it’s nice to be a free agent. 

I see Myname and everything is exactly like it was before, all sunny beach legs and delicious little snuggles and her button brown eyes smiling at me. She’s just not good on the phone, she says. 

“I missed you so much,” she says, and I can tell it’s true. Together we attend as many parties as possible; now that we’re older, we can cruise the scene more easily. Myname has a boyfriend named Mitch with a car, who drives us around hitting houses. Pammy and Cammy and Jennifer are at all these parties with their boyfriends, everyone is making out in messy laps and getting it on in bedrooms. The nights are crisp and magnificently studded with stars; I had missed that. 

I’m a hot ticket item because I’m from the big smoke now. Everyone wants to see what I’m like, and what I’m like is a sexy freedom-lovin’ city girl who wears amazing dresses and smokes pot. They’re all whispering behind my back about how I went down to the metropolis and came back without my conscience, my Christianity or my virginity. They think I’m better this way, and they’re right. 

Pammy and I get screamingly drunk together one night and reminisce about our childhoods for five hours straight. The next night, I go out on a hot date with Harper, my sister’s friend that I’ve had a crush on since grade school. We French kiss for hours in his little Pontiac firefly, parked on the side of a logging road,  and I consider having sex with him but think it might be too weird if my sister found out. 

Instead, two days later, I curl around Myname in her bed and she rolls over and looks at me and kisses me. 

“For real, this time,” she says, and kisses me more, for real this time. With tongue. 

Oh my God. I’ve never tasted anything as delicious as a pretty girl’s mouth. We make out for awhile with our hands running all over each other’s bodies. Feeling her flesh makes me buzz all over, like those times when Miranda would run her fingernails down the skin of my back and write invisible letters to me. Making out with Myname gives me the same feeling, and I realize I have always been waiting for just this. But we are too shy to touch each other anywhere intimate.

Because I’m older and from away now, I no longer feel so much like my mother’s daughter. She brings me to Harold and Sharla’s for a barbecue, where he takes me aside and looks into my eyes, asking pertinent questions about my boyfriend, my school grades, my urban style, my life. And I do attend the Mennonite church a couple times, if only to see Miranda and her family and to keep up appearances. It’s always a comfort to sing the hymns, but I’m thankful there are no altar calls. I squeak out of lunch invitations for after church; I don’t want to be subject to in-depth conversation, although I know Mom wants to say yes. I’m more comfortable spending my time at Myname’s and with friends, instead of always staying at Mom’s house. She knows it can’t be stopped, I’m basically an adult and I’m going back to Dad’s in a week anyway. Now that Bonnie’s off and married, Mom’s alone again and feeling it, and I don’t want to bear the brunt of her self-pity. 

She forces me to help her sort through childhood keepsakes with her. 

“I can’t take care of all these things,” she says, “Take a box with you to your father’s. I’m going to be moving to a smaller place with all you kids gone.”

Your father. Your mother. I have a sudden weird flashback of how it was when our family was together, and they were just Mom and Dad. I pile together all these papers from elementary school, pictures I’ve drawn, stories I’ve written, stuffed animals, sports medals, academic certificates. Now I’m going to take everything I am back down to southern Ontario with me. 

It’s not difficult to say goodbye to Mom and Bonnie, with their matching fat pouts and identically furrowed, disapproving brows. And it’s okay to part from Harold and Sharla, Miranda and all the other Mennonite princesses. I feel tired of my past. Being around them this few weeks made me feel slightly guilty, bored and nostalgic, and none too eager to return to Howey Bay. At Bonnie’s wedding, I kept thinking about their virgin vaginas, the things they’d never felt or seen that I had. (It’s no wonder girls walk differently after they’ve had sex.)

“Maybe you’ll come back for Grade 12,” they said hopefully, like I was the most exciting thing ever, which maybe I actually was — maybe I am the best thing Howey Bay has ever seen! (I think I actually might be.) 

Anyway, they might as well have been suggesting that I move to Mars. I already feel light and relieved, already less clumsy moving out of the atmosphere of my family and church friends. But it’s not as easy to say goodbye to Myname, who cries and says, “Take me with you.” I wish she could come with me, and I’d show her around the city and hold her in my arms, in my bed at night. It’s not like my Dad would notice or anything.

I’m so relieved and glad to get back home — yes, southern Ontario is now my home — that I host a party at our place, the moment Dad and Iris leave for their next Amway convention. Charlie is down with it; he’s not bothering me anymore. Just trying desperately to keep up with me. He invites a few of his friends over, but they’re all computer nerds so mostly they just enjoy watching the action of me and my friends. Mrs J comes, and Scott and Donald, who are supplying everyone with the right substances, and Randall with his guitar, and his buddy Mac with the maniacal grin, and Persephone and Chloe, who are in the midst of having a fight.

“But if you fight at the party, I’ll throw you both out,” I warn them. So they treat each other like jealous sister wives, eyeing each other coolly with folded arms, then glancing around the room to see who else they can talk to.

Somehow, this summer, I’ve shed the final remnants of my small Northern mining town self, by leaving Howey Bay once and for all. Isn’t it good to be drinking beer and smoking outside on a sweltering night while Nirvana screams from the stereo? Isn’t it good to have the Big Smoke only twenty minutes away, instead of twenty-four hours? 

Everyone invites too many of their best friends and it gets out of hand; the neighbours call the cops and Charlie, who isn’t too drunk, wades through the crowd yelling at all the strangers to get out. Now some people are smoking inside and crushing their butts into the carpet, and there’s a couple fucking in my parents’ bed, bubble gum falling out of their mouths into the twisted sheets, and two of Charlie’s nerd friends enthralling one of my goth chick friends with secret magic math formulae that prove the cosmic nature of the universe, and there is a lot of liquor and beer sloshing all over the kitchen and dining room, where people mill around grabbing slices of pizza from the oven as it comes out loaded with magic mushrooms. 

Charlie doesn’t eat the pizza, but I do, and so do Mrs J and Chloe, among others. Charlie settles down the party and allows the important people stay. Scott has been ignoring me all night because he and Donald got a mixing board and are trying to DJ. They’re standing there staring at the board with headphones on, bobbing to the music, which is mostly Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and The Breeders. 

Scott thinks he’s so cool. He barely looks at me. He’s made out with me a few times, and he asked once if he could fuck me. It was at his place after school, in his dark basement bedroom.

“Why?” I asked. Suddenly it mattered to me.

“Because I think you’re beautiful.”

It wasn’t good enough. He didn’t even make a move to go down on me or give me an orgasm. So that was that.

But now, Mrs J and me are drawing pictures in her sketchbook on my bed, she draws a vagina with a baby’s face peeking out of it and it makes me laugh. I draw a rainbow swirl because that’s where my mind is, at the moment. I hope she likes it. Sitting next to each other with our shoulders touching, I smell her sweaty body, her pungent dreadlocks, her marijuana breath. I like the sound of her voice in my ear, talking about her pet iguana’s feeding habits. I turn my face to her and notice there is a bit of hair at the corners of her mouth. She kisses me, long and sucking and gentle. I like it, but am shy. I pull away, and she says, “Is that okay?” I nod, and we kiss again. 

Persephone barges in and looks at us, wide-eyed. She looks at me, pointedly, as if I’m cheating on her. I smile like the trippy drunken sex pervert that I am. She closes the door too hard. I catch a glimpse of Chloe just behind her, eyes dilated and peering in, wanting to know. They’ll have something in common to converse about now, and their fight will find its end because I’m lying in bed with Mrs J, making out.

I can hear party beginning to wind down now, as Persephone patches it up with Chloe. They’ll fall asleep in a drunken stupor. Charlie and his friends are snuggled next to goth girl, all fully-clothed. 

Mrs J and I are all over each other’s bodies in my bed. She takes off her clothing and then mine very deliberately, and presses her body up against mine. She has fuller breasts than me, with darker, hairier nipples. She moans again and again, and feels me all over with her hands, slowly. I copy what she does, feeling her soft warm skin and curvy body writhing against me, her hot wicked feminine animal scent, her sweet girl tasting mouth. I can’t believe it’s happening, she doesn’t seem shy at all and it feels so delicious the way she fingers me. Her fingers are nothing like a boy’s fingers. Slender, smooth, gentle, tickling, stroking, and meanwhile her flesh under my hands damp with sweat. 

I’m ready to try anything. This natural feeling cannot be wrong.

The great thing is, Mrs J doesn’t get all dramatic over our little sexual adventure. The following week, she meets me in the food court of a mall, “I know, it’s a terrible place, but I have a bus to catch,” she apologizes. Then across from me says earnestly, “That was all green lights, back there, right?”

“Back there?” As in, a few nights ago? I laugh awkwardly. “Yeah!”

Mrs J flicks her eyes in this casual way. “It’s not like we’re in love or anything, it’s just fun to play. I’m not a lesbian, are you?”

“No,” I mumble. I haven’t thought about it. I really enjoyed that lovemaking session with her, and I’ve enjoyed that feeling with Myname, of course. But I don’t want to be with girls. I think lesbians only want to be with other girls, and I can’t imagine that. 

“No,” I say more definitely.

Mrs J laughs and looks at me sweetly. “You were so sexy, it was goo-o-o-o-d,” she purrs, and leans forward and gives me a nice kiss on the mouth. For some reason, being affectionate with her makes me tingle all over, partly due to its daringness, and then also due to its difference. It just feels so different, but so natural, with a girl.

Later that week, she and I have a threesome with one of her lovers, a guy named Aidan, and I am introduced to a world of pleasures previously unknown to me. I am splayed open between these two dreadlocked hippie artists and they are pleasuring me, and I will not say no. Afterwards, they cuddle me and kiss me while fucking each other till they both come. 

It’s the best thing ever, so a few nights later Mrs J and I have a threesome with Chloe when Persephone is out on a date with her new boyfriend, Damian (she thinks he’s THE ONE, as usual). We’re supposed to be watching the movie Thelma & Louise, but since Mrs J and I are on a roll, we are holding hands and stroking each other’s legs under the blankets until Chloe notices. Instead of acting embarrassed and stopping us, as her sister would, she blinks at us slow and coy from under her long straight bangs, and sits up and kisses Mrs J. 

Oh God. I like watching them together.

Well, you’re here, you know how it goes. Apparently you like to watch too (wink wink).

Anyway, if a girl could get pregnant from having sex with other girls, we’d be having triplets. The only problem is when Persephone gets home from her date and finds us all scrambling to put on our clothes in the TV room of her basement. She’s like, our mom.

“You fucking dickheads,” she cries, raging around and cleaning up the cushions that have been strewn everywhere. Her black eyes are blazing and her cheeks are little blooming roses. “Sluts. Whores.”

“You’re just jealous ‘cuz you didn’t get any tonight,” I snap defiantly. Mrs J and Chloe howl with laughter, standing up, all dressed now, and all of us looking guiltily at each other thinking of our recent tangle of fingers and warm sticky holes and everything.

“You’re right, I am jealous!” Persephone spits, wringing her hands. “I always thought I would be the first girl you fucked, but no it’s her —” a resentful hand wave at the elegant Mrs J —  “and now, my own sister. My sixteen-year-old sister.”

As if I’m a child rapist. 

Chloe stands over there blinking at me, pouting, wishing her sister would leave, wanting more. She pants and breathes a lot when you put your fingers inside her, and in between her legs she’s velvety soft to touch.

“And Damian went home early from our date because he has to work in the morning, he probably just isn’t all that into me,” Persephone continues in a moan, so now we know it’s okay, she just needs to rant and feel better. We set up the movie and popcorn again, all four of us can all watch it together. We rub her arms and legs and play with her hair, snuggle against her on the couch. 

She’s the last person I’d want to fuck, honestly. I have never considered it. Total platonic vibe, for me. She smells like roasted peanuts to me, you know what I mean? Comforting and wholesome, maybe good with celery, but not sexy. I feel sad for her; I know what it’s like to want someone who doesn’t want you back. 

I know this is where Persephone and I will start to grow apart. Because I will not give her what she wants, and when you don’t give someone what they want, they always leave you alone.

I’m having the summer of a lifetime and have slept with two more boys, neither of whom is boyfriend or husband material or even sex-buddy material. Guys are gross. 

Unfortunately I’ve begun getting that feeling again, the sick creepy sensation in my skin and bones, the irritation in my blood toward the male. You remember, it used to happen after a few weeks of going out with a boy in Howey Bay, maybe we’d have a few kisses or make out a bit and then I’d feel nothing but repulsion toward him later on. With Jimmy, the physical stuff was pretty sexy but also pretty innocent, and our doomed love affair didn’t go on long enough for me to know whether or not I would’ve gotten the bad feeling eventually. I didn’t with Patrick, for many months, physically anyway. He did repulse me emotionally, in the end.

Now he’s been fucking Chloe, which pisses me off. 

That girl is such a slut. I found out from Patrick himself, who called me up to tell me out of concern that I’d hear rumours. How considerate of him. When I confronted Chloe, she looked at me all soft-eyed and purred, “I just love how emotional he is when he fucks,” and I just about gagged because even though I’m done with him, I don’t exactly want to hear the details about them doing the exact same kind of lovemaking as me and him. Is nothing ever special? This is why the Christians say you should wait till you’re married. Because once you’ve had sex with more than one person, it’s totally meaningless. It’s just an animalistic act. 

And Patrick is such a complete hypocrite, crying out of his eyes at me one week and then fucking my best friend a week later. I guess I was really hard to get over. I mean, what is love? He kept going on about how much he loved me. Anyway, she can have him. They can have each other with their soft doe-eyed lovemaking. They’re both gross, anyway, and I am onto bigger and better.

Well, sort of. I did end up sleeping with Scott, which was a total bust. We did it only once, a week after that party where Mrs J and I fooled around together. That episode made Scott jealous; he got severely drunk and camped out right at the threshold of my bedroom door. After I fucked Mrs J and fell asleep all wound up around her body, I got up to go pee during the night and he made a grab for my ankle, mumbling something like, “You whore, I actually thought I was falling for you.” 

I guess I took that as some kind of backhanded compliment, since I went over to his house the following Wednesday afternoon when his parents were working. I laid down on his bed in that dark basement and heard him say, “because you’re beautiful,” one more time, him looking at me from under the lashes of those unreadable dark eyes. 

Maybe I was bored, or maybe I am a whore, but it was enough that time. He did not even lick me or try to make me come, just got on top and fucked me with his eyes closed, moaning softly, until he came with a mild shudder and a mew. I felt like a blow-up doll, but was not angry. I didn’t care; once you’ve lost your virginity you are worthless anyway. I went away empty and bored, and didn’t return his calls again. He wasn’t that persistent, though, and gave up without asking me why I was avoiding him. I figure if I see him around, I’ll just do that urban thing where we knew each other once, maybe, from somewhere, and so what, bye-bye. Nevermind that your dick has been inside my body.

As if I had to convince myself that I was truly a slut, the next boy I slept with was Randall’s grinning friend Mac, which I can’t even remember because I was so drunk. I woke up next to him after another crazy party at our place, and realized I was naked and sticky between the legs. It was muggy and hot, I felt very unhealthy and sickened by what I concluded I had done. Good thing I was not at the fertile point in my cycle, I might’ve gotten pregnant. Mac woke up, brushed his long curly hair aside, and grinned at me. “Morning, sunshine,” he said. 

“Did we fuck?” I croaked.

His smile faltered. “You don’t remember?”

“Not much, to be honest.” A bunch of grunting and groping. The smell of his body. Him kissing my neck, wetly. Ew. Oh God. The memories came back and I willed them away again into the alcohol-soaked abyss.

“You said you’d be my girlfriend.”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t do that, Mac.”

“Well, we had a good time, anyway.” He pouted a little. Then frowned.

I was thinking, Maybe you had a good time. “Thanks for the memories,” I said, “but this thing’s not going any further. Ever. At all.”

Mac frowned some more. He seemed insulted that I wasn’t going to offer a better commitment.

He’s been ignoring me from then on, as if I’m some kind of two-faced slut. And, by his friend Randall’s pointed silence and lack of presence at our usual hangouts, I gather they’re both mad at me for being a two-faced slut. Well, I’m not the only one getting it on at random. Why is it always the female who gets the flack for doing sexual things? If we don’t save up our virginity for that one man who gets to own our vagina by means of marriage, then we’re still supposed to be chaste enough to offer our undying love after a drunk fuck at a party. In fact, it’s expected that guys will go have drunk fucks at parties. It’s normal. But if a girl offers her body that way, and not her heart, she is seen as cold and dirty.

I’ve been so embarrassed by both my failures since Patrick that I’ve vowed not to do it with any more guys this summer. See, now I finally get it that Girl #2 has always been around — she was just in hiding. She was hiding inside me. For all I know, maybe she’s you. She’s the holy fucking spirit, is what she is. Girl #1 after certain conquesty moments feels as proud and confident as a stalking sex cat, but then days later a horrible grey feeling of despair washes over me as I realize the thinness of that pride, of each fuck, of it all. The pride becomes shame. Shame that I’ve betrayed my future husband by giving my body away in this cheap manner. Girl #2 thinks better of herself and hates to be soiled this way. She has purity, and love, and grace.

So I’m being good now, just working at GasCan and stealing the odd lottery ticket, painting Persephone and Chloe’s toenails while they lie on the patio in my backyard, drinking slushies spiked with vodka, and smoking oodles of cigarettes with Mrs J while she packs for college. (The government just lowered the cigarette tax so that people will stop smuggling them through Quebec; this makes smoking cheaper and easier for us teenagers.) 

One weekend, when P and C are away at their cottage in Haliburton, and Randall and Mac are still not talking to me, and Patrick and Anthony are on some camping trip (and anyway, I wouldn’t be hanging out with them), I am in the house by myself. Even Charlie is out nerding with his buddies. I’m listening to music, finally cleaning out my room. I’ve had a couple smokes, but otherwise I’m pretty sober. 

Once I’ve dug through my closet, I locate a few boxes from Howey Bay. A shoebox full of keepsakes — not ready to look at that, yet. Some pictures of Harold and Sharla with Mom at Christmas. An old photo of Miranda’s family in coordinated outfits with matching braids and barrettes. I find basket full of art supplies, then begin painting my door and windowsill with repeated swirls and circles in every colour imaginable. Halfway through this project, I pause to reflect on my work so far.

Then it happens. I have the you feeling.

It is mid-July, sweltering hot, and sweat is pouring down my torso under my breasts but I haven’t even noticed. I have wet half-moons on my shirt. My bedroom window is facing west, toward that tiny little river where I used to go sit in the shady culvert when I first moved here. But I don’t need to go to the culvert; you are here. I am breathing you in, the soft almost-dusk muggy heat enveloping me like a wool blanket, my paintbrush dipping and swirling, dipping and swirling, and finally I don’t need anything at all. No boys, no girls, no brother, no family at all, no drugs, no television, no distractions, no nothing.

Just me and you. 

Just Thou and I. 

A great sigh comes up in my belly and I breathe it out with a slow shudder; it turns into a sob, all of a sudden. I miss my mother, and my old life. But I don’t miss them in the way that I want to return. I just miss something of what is old and predictable in me: the people who surrounded me with their knowable personalities, the faces in my school that were so familiar they felt like extended family throughout my childhood; the stretches of wilderness where I roamed on nervous legs. 

I don’t want them back, I’ll never get any of it back because I don’t want it. But I have tears streaming down my cheeks because it is all over now. I look out over endless suburban houses, as many matching houses here as there were trees in the boreal forests of Howey Bay. You are here, breathing, sweating, steaming, pulsing in the pink and orange-grey urban sunset — you must know that urban sunsets are the prettiest on smoggy days like today. 

When I was a child, I’d never heard of smog. I know you are here, but you’re harder to find. Or, maybe I am just growing old enough that I’m turning blind?

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