A work of fiction – releasing chapter by chapter. Scroll down to find discover the most recently added chapter.
MY FATHER’S DAUGHTERS
CHAPTER 1 Grace
The Ford Taurus lumbered along the Forestry road, the last pass of the grader had created a washboard effect and my back was killing me. I had abandoned my navy heels to the passenger seat and was now driving in bare feet, my expertly manicured toes looked out of place against the pedals of the Taurus. Had I known that I was going to have to go out to the lake following the funeral, I would have rented an SUV at the tiny kiosk in the airport.
The pickings were slim at the rental car company. The young girl who greeted me at the kiosk had obviously been midway through a construction project in the moments before her shift. There was sawdust clinging to curly red hair and her worn jeans were dirty where the denim had dragged in the mud. Her friendly smile was infectious and I couldn’t help but ask her what on earth she was doing before her shift.
“Oh! We were building a dog-house and I lost track of time. If I didn’t live so close I wouldn’t have heard the plane coming in and you would have been out of luck!” she said with a wink.
I handed her my credit card and requested the silver Acura that I had spied out the sliding airport doors.
“Sorry sweetie, the Acura is reserved already, but I have a Ford Taurus that is just as nice – we had it cleaned professionally yesterday so it has that new car smell!”.
Clearly, the artificially acquired ‘new car smell’ had worked as a selling feature for previous customers. My tired brain was starving for a bath and a soft bed so I just shrugged, “Sure. The Taurus will be fine”.
Keys in one hand and my hard-sided Tumi suitcase in the other, I made my way out the airport doors into the fresh air. The pavement was uneven and I could imagine my Tumi crying real tears in distress as it was dragged to the parking lot where my grey ‘professionally cleaned’ Ford Taurus sat waiting.
Driving the short distance from the airport to the hotel, I admired the freshly swathed canola fields on either side of the highway. I could smell the harvest air and I was reminded of how magical the Peace Country could be in September. The contrast of the lapis blue sky against the sun-tanned hue of the fields could only be truly appreciated by the eye, not the camera nor the paintbrush.
“If the people at work could see me now!” I laughed. It’s true. My colleagues at my firm were city born and raised therefore had no concept of small town life. They would feel awkward and out of place and probably offend someone with a condescending comment or an errant eye roll.
“You are going to Dawsons Creek?” asked my secretary when I had requested she make my travel arrangements. Her name was Sophia – pencil thin and with a penchant for expensive shoes. This day she was wearing juniper coloured Ferragamo boots with mirror heels that retailed for $6000.00. I never asked how she could afford to feed her shoe habit but we all knew that she had a sugar daddy from one of the high rises nearby. Calgary was full of rich men who had a compulsion to spend their money on expensive things. I don’t judge – we all have our secrets and if pretending was what it took to keep Sophia and her ferocious talent as my gate-keeper on my side of the office, then pretend I shall.
“No Sophia, not Dawsons Creek like the show. Book me a flight to Dawson Creek please”. For my entire life outsiders have queried about the unusual name of my small home-town; I had to remind them that there no was Joey, Dawson or Pacey in my high-school.
A short time later she strutted into my office with my itinerary. “You fly from Calgary to Vancouver and then change aircraft and fly to Dawson Creek” Giggling, she added, “Do you know how small the plane is from Vancouver to Dawson Creek? No business class this time!”
Sophia had managed to book me a flight to Dawson Creek for Thursday, which meant I had one night to get my shit together before the funeral on Friday.
“You are a spoiled brat!” my sister had screamed at me over the telephone a mere week earlier when she had called to discuss funeral arrangements.
“I am a spoiled brat because I don’t want to stay at the house?” My decision to stay at a hotel instead of our family home had rubbed her the wrong way. The truth was, I was afraid to stay at the house. I was scared that the emotions that I had managed to contain over the past few weeks would bubble over and overpower me. I needed to keep it together and that meant staying in a hotel by myself with a fully stocked mini-bar.
The Holiday Inn Express was a new hotel so I was practically guaranteed that there were no bed bugs or lingering cigarette smell on the bedding. My heels clicked on the floor of the lobby as I neared the front desk but the noise wasn’t enough to get the attention of the clerk as her eyes were glued on her computer screen just below the counter.
“Ahem” I tried to politely get her attention.
The blonde head popped up quickly, clearly startled by the sound.
“Oh my God! Grace?”
CHAPTER 2 Krista
“Damnit!” The ice cream had fallen onto the crotch of my jeans and now was soaking into the cloth seat of the mini-van.
I managed to press the button to unroll the window and I tossed the empty cone out onto the highway, quickly followed by the chunk of melting ice cream that I managed to scoop from between my legs.
A horn blasted at me from behind and through my vantage of my rear view mirror, I could see the driver wildly gesturing and mouthing the words, “stupid bitch”.
Laughing and perhaps more than a little intimidated, I reached out the open window and gave him the middle finger before stomping on the gas to get as far away from him as I could. The V8 engine screamed with excitement and I surged ahead down the highway.
The ice cream had been purchased on a whim as I had passed the Husky station on my way out of town. “I wonder if they have Maple Walnut”, I mused, finally deciding to check it out for myself. It’s not often that I found myself alone and able to get away with stopping for ice cream. My twins would be outraged, “Momma! We not allowed to eat in the car”.
They didn’t have my favourite, but they did have a fresh tub of vanilla and sometimes you can’t argue with good ol’ fashioned, plain-Jane vanilla ice cream.
“A cup or a cone?” I could see the clerk’s forearm tense as she jabbed the metal scoop into the bucket and pulled out a massive chunk of ice cream.
“Cone please!” I responded, quickly adding, “I am driving”.
She proceeded to complete my order by ramming the large chunk onto the opening of the cone and I wanted desperately to tell her, “First you fill the bottom part of the cone and press it down. Then, once the bottom is filled, you can add the ice cream on top”. Everyone knows that the ice cream that fills the bottom part of the cone acts like a glue for the ice cream on top!
I hadn’t said a word when she passed the massive cone across the glass case to my outstretched hand and now I was paying the price.
It was typical of me. I could think of a hundred times where I wished I had the courage to speak up. The swim coach who told me to, “suck it up Krista” when I was scared of the deep end and I nearly drowned. The daycare provider who insisted that I bring the twins even though another child had chicken pox and that; “it was better for them to get it while they were really little”. Three weeks later I spent the better part of ten days with both of them in the hospital.
My inner voice was wise, but for some reason I was unable to share it when it really mattered.
I stared at the sign ahead on the right, “Tippy Lake 10 km” and was hit with a wave of realization. Slowing the mini-van, I signaled to turn off the highway.
Today is the day. Today I am going to confront my demons and if it gets me emotionally excommunicated from the family then so be it!
Flipping down the visor mirror I see myself: cropped brown hair fluffed haphazardly early that morning using dry shampoo and wide-set green eyes hidden behind cheap dollar store sunglasses.
Reciting one of my favourite movie lines, I speak to the reflection, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important”.
You is all of those Krista. Now if only I could summon the courage to remember that when the time came.
CHAPTER 3 Caroline
“Can we hurry this along please?” My patience was wearing thin and I knew that I was going to be the last one to arrive at the cabin.
“Our apologies Caroline, bear with us for just a couple of more minutes?” The Funeral Director smiled at me with that waxy, practiced smile that I had grown accustomed to seeing over the past week. Why do all Funeral Directors remind me of Lurch from the Adam’s Family?
I was weary of this place: the somber music looping on what I assumed was a Spotify playlist, the lack of colour on the concrete walls, the high-backed chairs. It was all too much and it took everything I had left in me to politely wait while Lurch printed out the funeral invoice.
As per usual, it had been left up to me to settle with the funeral home. “The glamorous life of the Executor just never ends!” Krista had reminded me of this when I had mentioned that I was going to be late to the cabin.
I had wanted to throat punch her when she said that to me, but of course I didn’t do anything of the kind. I had just smiled at my younger sister as she prepared to leave with husband and twins in tow.
Her children were monsters and had screamed throughout the service. During the power-point presentation, one of them had escaped his seat and toddled up the aisle yelling, “I haffa poop!” to anyone who would listen. Finally his father looked up from his cell phone long enough to notice and he took the twins out into the lunchroom for the remainder of the program.
“Caroline! Caroline?” Realizing that Lurch was speaking, I tried to snap out of the fog of exhaustion that had begun to consume me.
Paperwork signed, cheque written, urn in hand, I was now free to leave this ghastly place.
Using my left hip to push the heavy door, I exited the building and welcomed the warm September sunshine.
I was done.
It was over.
Time to move on with my life.
What life would it be? Where do I begin? Can I really start over at my age?
Placing the urn on the passenger seat, I carefully wrapped the seatbelt across it, securing it in place.
This day could not end any faster. My hands shook as I reached into my purse to find my cigarettes. I had promised Dad I would quit, but even he would not begrudge me a cigarette today of all days.
The wind made it difficult to light the white dart, but my habit was a powerful motivator and in moments I was enjoying the first hit of nicotine. My body relaxed and I leaned against the car and smoked – the tension of the past week seeping from every pore.
My brief repose was interrupted with the thought that I’d better get moving: Daylight was fading and the narrow road to the lake could be unforgiving when the poplar jungle woke with wandering deer and moose who tend to get confused in the glare of oncoming bright headlights.
Smashing the butt onto the ground, I gave it a final tap with my heel to ensure that I wasn’t going to drive away being responsible for a grass fire erupting in my wake.
As I fastened myself safely in the car and heard the engine roar to life, I glanced over at the urn and resisted the urge to caress the metal exterior.
“You comfortable Dad?”
It was over.
He was gone.
I was free.
CHAPTER 4 Jennifer
The deadbolt reacted reluctantly as I inserted the shiny new key. Shifting the heavy bag I was cradling over to one arm, I managed to wiggle the key slightly until it finally gave way with an audible ‘click’.
The cabin smelled musty, like a basement in an old home. After depositing the groceries on the old pine kitchen table, it took me a short time to open every window to encourage the cleansing breeze from the lake to wash the unwelcome scent from the 800 square foot structure.
The windows were sparkling clean and the porch appeared to have been recently swept clean of dead leaves and pine needles. I was thankful that I had engaged the services of a caretaker to watch over the place while I was away. Mr. Stevens from two cabins over had extended his daily walkabout over to this lot and obviously had been doing some tidying up in anticipation of my arrival. When I had initially broached the subject of needing a caretaker, the widower had told me, “Sure I will take a looksee over at your place. No problem at all! You don’t even have to pay me unless you can pay me with fresh baking”.
The ingredients in the grocery bag were purchased in anticipation of making a pumpkin pie for Mr. Stevens. I had to buy a frozen pastry shell, but the rest would be handmade, albeit from a can of pumpkin.
The autumn summer sun was bright and warm and having the oven on only added to the heat inside the cabin. “No need to babysit the pie for the next 50 minutes!” I grabbed a cold beer and my cell phone and headed out onto the front porch.
A few months ago, when Hugh and I had come out to the cabin one last time, he had explained that the cell service was spotty even on a good day and convinced me to purchase a booster. I had taken his advice and had attached one to the roof of the cabin. It had made a remarkable difference to my signal and I had shared the password with the neighbours on both sides. I had also told Mr. Stevens about the booster, but he wasn’t interested. “You kids always need to have your damn phones! Why not just enjoy your time out here?”.
Today I was thankful for my booster because it gave me an opportunity to go online and read some of the comments on Hugh’s obituary notice.
“You will be missed”
“Much love to Krista, Grace and Caroline”
“So sorry to hear of Hugh’s passing”
Using my thumb, I brushed downward on the phone screen until I could see the photo at the top of the page. Tapping lightly, Hugh’s smiling face filled the screen. His almond shaped brown eyes with a tiny upward slant at each corner – exactly like mine.
I still could not believe that he was gone. The bitterness began to swell inside – a hot sensation that radiated out to my shoulders.
Was it only two days ago that I had glanced up from my counter and looked directly into a mirror? Except this reflection was dressed in a fancy suit and high heels, glossy hair gathered into a bun at the nape of her long neck.
My Reitman’s dress slacks and bright green blouse seemed frumpy in comparison and I shifted awkwardly.
“Oh my God. Grace?”
It was out of my mouth before I could think. Typical of me, open mouth – insert foot. My friends used to say, “Jennifer! It is like you have Tourette syndrome or something. Do you ever think before you speak?”
For a moment, Grace’s immaculately groomed eyebrows reacted in surprise and then settled back in perfect position. The reaction would not have been noticed by anyone else except another family member – one who shared the same facial expressions.
“Jennifer! I didn’t know you worked here”.
Her soft voice was calm and measured and I couldn’t help but be a little envious of her composure.
“I haven’t been here long, but I really enjoy the people. You get to meet so many tourists and workers – I love chatting with everyone”. My nervous verbal diarrhea was out of control and I needed to grip the counter to steady myself. “Sorry….I am sure you probably just want to check in right?”
Retrieving her black American Express card from her very expensive looking leather handbag, Grace slid it across the granite counter top towards me. “Sophia, my Assistant, should have made a reservation for me a few days ago. It is probably under Barret, Jenkins and Pope”.
I quickly located her reservation and swiped her card for incidental charges.
“Just initial and write down the make and model of your car. You have a car right? You didn’t take a cab from the airport?”
“Yes, a grey Ford Taurus, but I don’t know the plate number. Is that necessary?”
I assured her that it was fine with just the make and model and she quickly initialed the reservation form with a large, fancy, sweeping letter G that looked like professional calligraphy. I passed her the key card in the tiny envelope and giggled nervously, “The mini-bar is full!”
Grace’s face lit up with a big smile and she let out an unexpected snort, “Thank GOD!”
The sound of her heels reverberated throughout the lobby as she made her way to the bank of elevators.
No sooner had the shiny, silver doors closed than I realized that I had been holding my breath for the past few moments. My head was swimming, my legs were like Jell-O and out of fear that I was going to pass out onto the tile floor, I poured myself into the high-back chair. Then I had wept.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Rearing up from my Adirondack chair I realized that I had dozed off and what was that smell! Was it the pie burning?
Racing into the kitchen, I grabbed the faded, worn potholders from the hook on the front of the cabinet and opened the oven door. Smoke poured out and I could see that my unfortunate pie had become cremated with the intense heat.
The irony was not lost on me. Grabbing the tin pie plate I lifted the abomination from the oven rack and tossed it onto the wooden cutting board. Near tears, I said aloud, “Shit! Now what am I going to give Mr. Stevens?”
A laugh came from behind. I turned and saw Caroline leaning against the doorjamb, “I wouldn’t worry about it. The rest of us can’t bake either”.
CHAPTER 5 SHIFT
Caroline’s blonde hair hung in a single braid that dangled over her shoulder, and her faded jeans were tucked into mid-calf leather boots. She had obviously changed enroute. “Can you take this? It is surprisingly heavy!” Caroline offered the urn to me.
Taking it from her outstretched arms I transferred the urn to the kitchen table. She was right! The urn was incredibly heavy considering Hugh had been so slight and frail near the end.
“I can’t believe you made it out here so quickly. I figured Grace and Krista would make it out here first. Didn’t you stay behind to wrap up things at the Funeral Home?” I asked.
Caroline had dropped her backpack on the couch and was searching in the fridge for a beer, her voice muffled by the barrier of the open fridge door, “Actually I saw Krista’s mini van in a lineup with about four other vehicles stopped for a rig move. I don’t know what Grace is driving, but she probably was in the line up too. I took one look, turned around and went the back way”. Caroline twisted the metal cap off of her beer and flopped down on the couch. With her hair like that and no make up, she looked about 5 years old.
“You should be happy I made it out here before they did!” she smiled at me with that lopsided smile that I had fallen in love with so many years before. “It’s not everyday that your father disappears from your life forever and your mother suddenly reappears!”
She was right on both counts. I was nervous about how this afternoon was going to play out. In the weeks before his death Hugh had requested that his ashes be spread in Tippy Lake and he insisted that I be there with the girls.
Only Caroline knew that I had moved back to town. Krista had no clue; she was so wrapped up in her life and barely had spent any time with her father after he became bed-ridden. The twins took every ounce of her energy and she had rarely spent any longer than an hour at his bedside.
Grace had been surprised when she had seen me at the hotel, no doubt too shocked to say anything of substance. I knew that it had affected her because housekeeping had made a joke that the, “mini-bar in room 314 had been emptied”.
Grace. Her name was appropriate. She was always the perfect combination of poise and grace. Her persona carried over into the courtroom where she was known for her calm when under fire. Ten months younger than Caroline, Grace had been a surprise pregnancy and from the moment she was born, she had somehow sensed that her mother was struggling. She slept through the night at four weeks of age and walked at nine months. She was reading by the time she was three and Hugh boasted that she had advanced through to graduation with the purpose of a ‘natural born leader’. It wasn’t surprising that she pursued law at the University of Calgary. Apparently, when she had been called to the Bar, the judge had spent an unheard of twenty full minutes extolling her virtues before formally recognizing that she was now a full-fledged lawyer with one of the most dynamic firms in Calgary.
Only Caroline knew that I had officially moved back at the behest of Hugh who had written me an email explaining that he was dying and that, “The girls will need you. I need you”.
Yes. He had sent me an email to tell me he was dying.
I had received the notification while sitting on a beach in Tofino. The ‘ding’ had interrupted my train of thought and the poem that I was drafting was suddenly lost somewhere in my subconscious mind.
I amused myself with the thought that, “perhaps it was a literary agent responding to my last query letter” so I quickly grabbed my old iPhone and scrolled through my messages.
The sender was email@example.com and the subject line was simply, “Hello beautiful”.
I had smiled when I saw the senders address. Most of us had abandoned our Hotmail accounts years ago and created a more professional address, but not Hugh.
“Why do I need to change it?” he would say when I had tried to convince him to create a business email address.
“Because it sounds like someone who is still in high school and not a man who owns a large construction company! We are not children anymore!”
“Jennifer, I don’t need anything fancy. My clients don’t care and I don’t care”.
He was right. His clients loved his buttoned down-home approach to business and tolerated his idiosyncrasies. For instance, Hugh insisted on spending an entire afternoon walking a proposed site before drawing up plans for the luxurious log homes for which he was known. “A log home needs to blend in to the surroundings. If that means I have to move the site by a few feet or a few yards then so be it!”
His clients rarely pushed back and were always thrilled at the outcome of the build.
His client list was the envy of many and his reputation was unchallenged.
We had married six months before high school graduation. My baby bump was in full display as I crossed the stage to retrieve my diploma. Hugh had helped me manage the stairs and then followed to receive his own. I was 16 and Hugh was 17.
Caroline was born a week later and I was in love from the moment I saw her beautiful face.
I tried my best. Caroline was extremely fussy and difficult to soothe. She was also sickly, developing pneumonia at two months of age, spending a week in the hospital intensive care unit.
It was about that time that I discovered that I was pregnant again.
The next seven and half months were a blur. I had severe morning sickness that never quite went away and was exhausted every moment of every day. I was terrified that Caroline would get sick again and there were some nights where I sat beside her crib and watched her sleep, counting every breathe.
By the time wee Grace came into the world, I was like an old sponge – I couldn’t bounce back.
During this time of our lives Hugh was working 18-hour days trying to get Cameron Log Homes on a solid footing. His father had been helping him in the beginning, but had recently cut the strings and now Hugh was handling the entire business.
We rarely argued. We rarely raised our voices. We were both too exhausted to fight about anything.
I had decided that I didn’t want any more children. I had pleaded to Hugh to get a vasectomy, but there never seemed to be a perfect time for him to go in for the procedure. “When am I supposed to get that done? I can’t be laid up for any length of time!” He was full of excuses.
The next year passed without incident and, as toddlers, the girls had become inseparable. The closeness in age created a bond not unlike the bond that twin’s experience. They had even developed their own obscure language that neither Hugh nor I could understand.
When I discovered that I was pregnant again, I cried. My family doctor had sat there on the stool beside the examination table handing me tissues as the tears had poured down my face.
“I want to have an abortion. I can’t do this again!” I pleaded to Hugh that evening as we sat in his work truck in our driveway. The old truck was dusty and dirty, but was the only place where we could find that was private, away from the chaos of our lives. The girls were sleeping inside the house and I held the baby monitor on my lap.
“It’s YOUR fault!” I had screamed at him, my face mere inches from his.
“All you had to do was get the damn vasectomy! That is ALL you had to do!” I was out of my mind with anger and fear.
I made the appointment and the following week I checked in at the hospital for my 6:00 a.m. pre-op discussion, which would then be followed by the procedure. I had lied to Hugh’s mother days before when I had asked if the girls could spend the night so that Hugh and I could go on a date. She was more than happy to have Caroline and Grace stay over and thrilled to hear that Hugh and I were finding time to spend with one another.
“The girls and I will make cookies and decorate them. It will be fun! You two go out and enjoy yourselves” Vicki had winked at me when she said this and I was engulfed with a feeling of guilt.
“Liar, Liar, pants on fire!” played in a loop in my brain.
The pre-op paperwork was lengthy. “How many pregnancies have you carried to term? When was your last period? Have you had a previous abortion?”
I signed my name to the consent form and placed the clipboard and pen on the bedside table.
I slipped off my clothing and donned the faded light blue gown provided and waited.
I turned my head to see a nurse entering the room.
“I am so sorry Mrs. Cameron. We have had an emergency come in and our gynecologist has had to cancel all of her appointments today. We can re-schedule you for tomorrow?” She was now leaning against the edge of my bed.
Tears bubbled up and I was overcome with emotion. Was it relief?
I left the hospital without rescheduling. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go back.
The next six months were the longest I had ever experienced. Summer turned to fall and then winter settled in with the harshness befitting of a Northern British Columbian winter. It was one of these nights when the temperature had plummeted to -40 that Krista made her way into the world. Six pounds, twelve ounces and a cry that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
I left three weeks later.
CHAPTER 6 GONE
I am not proud of how I left. The guilt was overwhelming, but the feeling of freedom was intoxicating and clouded my judgment like an illegal narcotic.
I had kissed Hugh goodbye as he left for work and then had fed the girls their favourite breakfast of ‘awffles’ and sausages. Krista had been up most of the night and was now settled into a long morning sleep.
Vicki had been surprised when I had called so early, but said yes when I asked if she could come over and sit with the girls while I went out to a doctor’s appointment.
“They are all yours!” I kissed Vicki on her cheek when she crossed the threshold into the kitchen. Her attention was already on Caroline and Grace as they came running into her arms.
“Okey Dokey Jennifer! See you in a little bit!” and then she laughed as Caroline pulled off her toque and ran screaming towards the living room. “Chase me gamma, chase me!”.
I turned one last time and saw my girls, both smiling and giggling as they played with Vicki. I felt nothing.
I was in Chetwynd when they called the first time. Ignoring the shrill ring of my cell phone, I continued on Hwy 97 heading southwest towards Prince George.
An hour later I passed the highway intersection at the Mackenzie junction and my phone erupted with notifications of missed calls.
I slowed and steered into a roadside pullout. I checked my messages.
“Jennifer, it’s Vicki! Where are you? Call me back please!”
“Jenn…what’s up? Mom called and said that you had asked her to stay with the girls so you could go to an appointment but you never came back! Where are you? What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“Hello Jennifer, it’s Susan from Dr. Martell’s office calling. Did you have an appointment with us this morning? Your husband called and wanted to know if we had seen you today. Is everything all right? Call me when you get this and we can schedule you to spend a few minutes with the Doctor. It’s understandable if you are feeling a bit stressed. Having three wee ones under the age of four is certainly a handful. Let’s get you in to the see the Doc”.
“Jennifer! Call me! If you don’t call me I am going to call the police. Whatever is going on, whatever it is…Jenn….we can get through it together. Please call me”.
Sobbing and blinded with tears, I began to wail. Banging my hands against the steering wheel over and over again, I screamed like an animal caught in a painful trap.
I sat at that roadside pullout for hours; chain-smoking between bouts of crying. I paced outside, the frigid air barely registering a reaction with my bare skin. I had left with little more than the clothing on my back and my purse.
The snow had now begun to fall. Large flakes settling on the car windshield until it was covered and I felt buried in a white blanket.
I had emptied of tears and the heartbreak had been replaced with resolve. I picked up my phone and made the call.
I told Hugh that I wasn’t coming home; that I needed some time away. I had no clue where I was going or how long it was going to take, but I needed him to understand that I had to leave or I would die.
Hugh was frantic with worry, “Are you going to hurt yourself?”
I reassured him that I was not going to hurt myself, that I couldn’t feel worse than I did already. Why would I kill myself if I already felt dead?
“I don’t understand you Jenn, but I love you and I want you to be happy. The girls need you….I need you. Take some time, but Jenn…..come back to us okay?”
I clicked the phone off without responding and started the car. Pulling back out onto the highway I began to accelerate towards…..freedom?
Chapter 7 DESTINATION
The first night was a blur. I drove for hours, stopping only once when exhaustion snuck up on me and played tricks with my eyesight. Fearing that I would inadvertently drive off the road and pitch over the bank into the Fraser River, I stopped at Hell’s Gate, reclined my car seat and slept for two solid hours. I fit in perfectly parked alongside a large transport truck; both of us with our vehicles idling to combat the winter chill.
I had no real plans of where I was headed. The comfort I received from simply driving away, every kilometer taking me further and further away from the life I had begun to despise, was like an elixir.
Hugh had left multiple voice mail messages.
He wanted to know if I was okay.
“Are you okay Jenn?”
“Where are you?”
“I put money in your account. I don’t want you sleeping in your car”.
My responses where short, and left during the wee hours when I knew it would go straight to voice mail.
“I am okay Hugh. I am headed to the Island”
I knew Hugh was struggling with my sudden departure. It’s not every day that your young wife leaves you with three small children and a business to run. The fact that he hadn’t had me arrested and placed in a psychiatric facility on a 72-hour hold was something that I never fully understood but was eternally grateful.
If I hadn’t celebrated my 20thbirthday last month I could probably have been reported as a teen runaway!
Years later Hugh told me that the first few weeks following my departure were terrifying and that if it weren’t for his mother helping him with the girls, he would have totally lost his mind.
“Mom moved in with us and stayed with the girls and Dad came back to help with the business. Thank God they were close by”.
Yes, thank God they were close and able to step into the shoes that I could no longer fill: Those shoes had become painfully tight and constricting and I could walk no further.
I arrived in Tofino on a rainy February afternoon. The winding road that took me to the western shore of Vancouver Island was slick and black and there were times I had to fight to keep my car on the pavement. The giant fir and cedar trees created a canopy overtop the roadway and the light barely pierced through the dense over-story.
I could smell the salty air and could imagine the ocean looming nearer on the horizon.
As the road began to level out and the tree line retreated, I caught a glistening of silver in the distance. The exhaustion and stress of the previous two days finally caught up with me; silent tears of relief slid down my cheeks and soaked the front of my shirt.
I signaled right, turning towards Tofino.
There was a method to my madness.
Hugh and I had spent the summer between grade eleven and twelve working in the small west coast village located at the tip of the peninsula. My Uncle Sam owned a fishing charter business and was more than happy to have a couple of grunts working for him that summer. We were called ‘Grunts’ because we did grunt-work: cleaning the boat, cutting up the bait, and repairing the crab traps. Hugh and I were the first ones on the boat at 5:00 a.m. and the last ones off the boat as the sun was setting. It was the best time of my life!
We rarely had a break from a charter, but when we did, we took advantage of our vacation paradise in the Clayquot Sound. Many nights were spent on Long Beach with nothing but the crackling of a fire and the sound of the waves crashing on the endless shoreline to entertain.
It was on that beach that Hugh had said, “I love you” for the first time. We had been making patterns in the soft sand with piece of driftwood and Hugh had drawn a heart with our initials HC + JD and then proceeded to express his feelings.
“I love you Jenn! You and me are the perfect pair!” he had yelled over he din of the waves. His face was tanned and ruddy from the hours on the boat and his shoulders had grown wider and more muscular over the past few weeks. He was only a teenager, but in that moment, he was a man declaring his love.
My heart skipped a beat.
“I love you too!”
We returned home at the end of August; deeply tanned with our hair bleached almost white from the sun. Our relationship reflected the intimacy that we had experienced all summer and my parents became concerned.
“Come September, you and Hugh need to focus less on each other and more on your schoolwork. It’s your graduation year!”
One rare night when Hugh was occupied elsewhere and I was at home, I overheard Mom and Dad arguing.
“Did your stupid brother supervise them at all when they were working for him? They come home looking like the kids from the Blue Lagoon and can’t keep their hands off one another!”
Mom was worried that I would end up pregnant and told me as much.
“The more time you and Hugh spend together, the higher likelihood that you two are going to do something stupid with lasting consequences”.
Her words were an omen.
My parents were killed in a car accident returning from a Halloween party. Side-swiped by a drunk driver, their car was catapulted over the highway median into oncoming traffic where it was torn apart by a semi truck traveling 120 kilometres per hour.
Hugh’s parents, Vicki and Bruce, stepped in and became my surrogate family. They guided me through all of the funeral arrangements and insisted that I move in with them until Uncle Sam could take over as my guardian and settle the estate.
A week after the accident it was Vicki who discovered my positive pregnancy test but it was Uncle Sam who insisted that Hugh and I get married and stay in Dawson Creek because, “It would be easier for everyone”.
The main street of Tofino was whisper quiet that February afternoon when I arrived. The tourists were gone, seasonal shops were shuttered for the winter and the only signs of life were the handful of locals entering a small grocery store.
I drove to the waterfront and parked in front of a squat, yellow building with the sign, “Davidson Charters” hanging slightly askew over the padlocked door.
Keys in hand, I opened the car door and made my way to the sun-bleached building.
I was home.
CHAPTER 8 – PAIN
“It’s not everyday that your father disappears from your life forever and your mother suddenly reappears!”
Caroline was smiling when she made the declaration but we both knew she was correct on all fronts.
The stomach acid that had contributed to the bitterness in my mouth now filled the back of my throat. Holding my hand tight across my lips to contain the bile, I ran into the tiny bathroom and vomited violently into the toilet.
I splashed my face with water, and looked up into the mirror where I caught my reflection.
Honey blonde hair was slicked back into a pony-tail, and my mascara-less blue eyes were rimmed with red. Tiny blotches had appeared on my cheeks and the front of my cotton t-shirt was damp. All my life people have remarked on how youthful I appeared, but in that moment I looked every bit my 46 years of age.
“Here! Take this and rinse your mouth”, Caroline handed me a glass of water, which I gratefully accepted with shaky hands.
“Honestly, we knew that this was going to be a gong show. I can’t believe that Dad insisted on this little family get together taking place right after the funeral!”
“Your father thought it would be best”.
Caroline snorted, “Yeah, like ripping off a Bandaid best!”
At that moment, a car door slammed and our eyes met in silent panic. A second door slammed and seconds later I heard a woman’s voice speaking loudly “Jesus Christ Grace! A Ford Taurus? Isn’t that a little below your pay grade?”
Another female voice responded, “THAT coming from someone driving a mini-van? You certainly have become a soccer mom! Hey! how the Hell did Caroline beat us out here?”
We could hear footsteps as they made their way over the flagstone walkway that led to the cabin door.
The door swung open, banging on the wall with the force. Grace and Krista were here.
Both women saw Caroline first and as their eyes adjusted to the fading mid-day light, they focused on me.
“What the FUCK is SHE doing here?” Grace directed her venom at Caroline and I could see her stiffen in response.
“Mom?” Krista’s quiet voice was in stark contrast to that of her sister.
“I knew it! I knew when I saw you at the hotel that you were up to something. Are you here for Dad’s money? You come back to play house again until you get tired of it and leave?”
Grace was on fire, her litigator skills out in full force. Caroline had moved closer to me, her body language both protective and empathetic.
“Mom? Is that really you?” Krista’s voice became louder and she had stepped nearer and examined my face like a mother examines the face of a newborn baby.
“Yes Krista – it’s me”
I opened my arms to embrace her and found myself falling backwards onto the floor.
Grace had interrupted the moment by grabbing my shoulders and pushing me out of the way. I had lost my footing on the rag rug and tumbled hard onto my right shoulder.
“For Christ sakes Grace! What are you trying to do….kill her?” Krista moved quickly to where I landed and assisted me into a standing position.
“This is bullshit! I don’t need this crap. I’m leaving!”
Grace headed out the opened door and unceremoniously tripped on the flagstone path, her high heels no match for the uneven ground.
She was quite a sight: her hair had escaped from the expertly wrapped bun at the nape of her neck and now flowed wildly about her shoulders. Her navy suit was dirty where it had contacted the ground, and the hemline appeared to be unraveling slightly.
“Oh my God! Grace?” All three of us ran towards her, but I got there first.
“Don’t touch me! Don’t you DARE touch me or so help me God I will scream!
CHAPTER 9 – FOOTSTEPS
My heart skipped a beat as I read the greeting. Hugh was a hopeless romantic and throughout the years had never given up the hope that we would once again become a family. He had never remarried and from what he told me, he hadn’t dated much throughout the years. I am certain that it wasn’t for lack of opportunity – Hugh was good-looking, successful, kind and big-hearted. He was also a pushover, always helping anyone who reached out for assistance regardless of the circumstances. These qualities made him easy prey and I always wondered how he had managed to stay single.
Hugh refused to divorce me and insisted on monthly phone calls to ‘chat’. These chats invariably lasted for at least an hour as he filled me in on the girls and their busy lives. In the beginning, these conversations ended the same, with both of us crying and Hugh pleading “Please come back home”.
As the years wore on, our relationship changed to one of deep friendship, each using the other as confidante and sounding board. When Hugh was approached by a construction conglomerate to sell the business for a price well above expectations, he called me for advice. When I was struggling to make the decision to purchase another charter boat, Hugh was the first person I called to brainstorm outcomes.
Emails were also exchanged regularly with pictures of the girls at important milestones: First day of school, birthday parties, prom and graduations. I had printed out each picture and they were posted in my tiny loft apartment above Davidson Charter’s, covering an entire wall. Some of the funnier pictures made their way to the boat and guests would always ask me who they were. “They are my nieces”, I would tell them, terrified of the judgment if I were to tell the truth.
No one in Tofino knew that I was married or had children. They all knew me as Sam Davidson’s niece – a former fishing grunt who had suddenly appeared after Sam’s death and was determined to take over the business.
I had assumed that Uncle Sam was a selfish prick when he had insisted that I remain in Dawson Creek after mom and dad died. I didn’t know that he had received a devastating lung cancer diagnosis and that his condition was terminal. I had been so angry with him for abandoning me and forcing me to get married. “I hate you! Dad trusted you!”
Six months later he passed away. The legal document containing the titles to the Davidson Charter business assets arrived one morning addressed to “Jenny Davidson-Cameron” and I sobbed as I read the handwritten note paper-clipped to the documents.
I hope that you will forgive me,
Love Uncle Sam
It had been a difficult transition after I arrived that February afternoon. The boat was in dry-dock for the winter and the office was in disarray. Sam had abandoned any semblance of a filing system and every available surface was covered with paper.
I lost myself in organizing the business and the hard work was cathartic. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend 10 hours a day downstairs in the office and then spend another 3 or 4 in the loft above, painting and scrubbing until it gleamed.
By the time April arrived, I was done – Davidson Charters was ready and I lost myself in my work. Daily charters kept my days filled and my new writing hobby filled my evenings.
I had surprised myself when I penned my first poem. I had no sense of structure or form, but felt compelled to write something. The Vancouver Island sunset was the perfect muse and it was as if I had opened the floodgates of my emotional being and the words had poured out into my notebook.
Be my love
Let me go
My heart a sponge
Heavy with warm tears
Since that day I had filled dozens of notebooks with poetry and stories – looking forward to the end of each charter season when I could lose myself completely in my writing.
After years of keeping the contents of the many notebooks to myself, on a whim I had submitted some of my poetry to the Malahat Review for consideration. The first piece wasn’t accepted, but with it came encouragement to resubmit. I kept on trying until they accepted not one, but two pieces simultaneously!
The acceptance emboldened me to admit that, “Hey – I AM a writer!” and I joined a local Tofino Writer’s group and had not looked back. My writing wasn’t making me millions of dollars, but that didn’t matter – I loved what I was doing.
The day that I received Hugh’s email, I was working on a submission for a local anthology titled, “Footsteps” and was struggling. The notification of the incoming email was a welcome diversion.
I need you to come home.
I am really sick. It’s bad
The girls will need you. I need you.
I cancelled my charters and drove to Dawson Creek where I met Hugh at the cabin on a crisp spring morning.
The cabin looked the same and I was flooded with the memory of the day that we had completed the roof and had celebrated by drinking warm champagne. Caroline and Grace had been in the playpen strategically placed underneath a leafy poplar tree to protect them from the hot summer sun and giggled when Hugh and I had toasted our success and proceeded to dance without music.
We had carefully chosen each log for the cabin. Hours spent peeling and scraping to unveil the beauty of the hardwood contained within. Hugh had sketched the plans on a cream-coloured napkin and had packed it around with him, referring to it regularly to ensure he was staying true to his dream.
I wondered if the framed napkin still hung on the wall where I had placed it so many years before?
We embraced and I was struck by the familiar scent of his hair, the familiar feeling of his body. He whispered, “It’s in my brain”.