Old memories are surfacing, I’m not sure just why. Maybe it has something to do with turning 54 yesterday. That sounds so bloody old to me. Next year I’ll be able to order off the senior menu, oh goody.
When I was sixteen my mother decided to move, and she took my little sister and me from Portland Oregon all the way up to Northern British Columbia, because she was tired of being a lonely divorcee. Since she was Canadian, all her family members were up there. My dad and big brother lived down in Southern California, and I didn’t want to move so far away from them. As it was I didn’t see my daddy enough to suit me. I had just finished my sophomore year of high school, and the idea of leaving all my friends behind felt like the end of the world. The end of the world as I knew it anyway.
Going from a city to a one-horse-town was culture shock enough. But add to that the difference in cultures and you’re talking a huge change. I felt as if I were on Mars. Sure they spoke English, sort of, but add their habit of rapid delivery and all those “ayes”, it just wasn’t that easy to understand what people were saying at times. On the first day of school a guy walked up to me and said, “You’re trying to get into my locker.” It seemed the lady that had handed me my locker number and combination had forgotten to let me in on the fact that there was a boy’s bank of lockers off one hallway, and a girl’s bank of lockers off another, and they were numbered the same. I was at number nine, in the bank of boy’s lockers. I just stood there, staring at the guy like some mute idiot. “Are you one of the French exchange students?” He asked. “Are you from Quebec?”
“No,” I said, “I’m from Oregon.”
“Oregon?” He considered me as if I’d just claimed to be from the moon.
“You know, south of here, in The States?”
His name was Will and he asked me if I wanted to go to his house after school. I accepted the offer, I really wanted to fit in and he was the only person at that rinky dink school that had even spoken to me. (I know, looking back from the perspective of being a mother, I'm mad at my teenage self for going off with a boy I didn't know.) He drove a busted up Volkswagen bug and made his way up into the hills. His mother was making something called perogies, and he was all excited for me to try them. They were Ukrainian, and perogies were Ukrainian dumplings, he explained. In the cozy kitchen he wolfed down at least a half a dozen of the hot, mashed potato and cheese filled concoctions, that his mother served on a platter. Toppings included fried greasy onions, sour cream, and applesauce. I wasn’t all that thrilled but I had been trained to be polite and eat what was on my plate and to compliment the cook. One was enough for me. I’m afraid I wasn’t a very adventurous eater back then.
His mother just kept working over the stove, and surprisingly didn’t blink an eye when he invited me down to the basement to see his room. My mother would pitch a fit if she knew I was about to descend those steps; that I was about to go in a boy’s bedroom. I did my best to put Mom out of my mind.
At the bottom of the stairs was a rec area, complete with a rather primitive bar, a game table, and a dartboard on the wall. Will’s room was located on the other side—a typical teenager’s room, with a single bed, a small desk, a record player balanced on some cinder blocks. He was proud of his Grand Funk Railroad album, which he played full blast. We sat around for a while and then I told him that I’d better go. I had to meet my sister at the local hangout, (I can’t remember what the name of the joint is anymore), so he drove me over there and dropped me off.
The second week of school Will suggested that we skip a day. He wanted to show me something. I was beginning to find out that most kids were leery of me, especially the girls; they called me “Yank”. So I was desperate for company, although Will wasn’t exactly my type, and I wasn’t anxious to get myself in trouble, against my better judgment I agreed to go with him.
He took the main highway and drove way outside of town. We rode a ferry across the mighty Skeena River, to a small outpost on the other side, called Usk. There was an old abandoned schoolhouse. Will told me that he went there quite often, to think. He said he wanted to write songs. I told him that I was a writer. I told him that I’d been chosen for a special class of artists, that my teacher read a poem of mine, and had given me a test. After I passed he offered me a slot in the nationally run program. I would sometimes miss boring classes, which I hated, like science and math. Will seemed impressed.
Then we rode the ferry back across the river. After an inedible lunch at a greasy spoon full of truckers he took me to an old abandoned cabin and we shared an apple that he picked from a tree. “The last person that lived here was an American draft dodger named Larry Lee Larkin,” he told me. “He used to party out here. This is his table, not much of his stuff is still here.”
“Did you know this hippie?” I asked. I’d made assumptions; there was a tie-dye curtain in the kitchen, after all.
“Larry wasn’t a hippie,” he snapped. “He was a Southern Baptist. He didn’t believe in the war. He had a still in the woods out there. He sold moonshine. He could sing and play the harmonica real good.”
“Where is he now,” I asked.
“Back in The States, in Leavenworth.”
“Oh no, that’s awful.”
“He turned himself in. Said he missed Oscar Meyer wieners.”
The hot dogs in Canada were funky tasting and different, that was for sure.
The next time I went somewhere with Will, he brought me back to his house. Nobody was home. We went down in the basement and he put the Grand Funk Railroad album on again, and then kissed me for the first time. I wasn’t warm for his form. He just didn’t do it for me. I think I must have relayed my inner feelings with my lackluster demeanor. Luckily, his mother came home, called out his name from the top of the stairs, and we went to see what she wanted. We were standing in the rec area and she told Will that she needed him to carry the groceries inside. “I’ll be right back,” he called. I saw six darts sitting on the bar and decided to amuse myself. I’d grown up playing darts. Isn’t it always the way it goes? I threw two bulls eyes and with nobody there to witness the fact! Just as I’d finished, Will came running down the stairs. I was just getting ready to pull the darts out when he looked at the board. “You cheater,” he said, “you pushed those into the bulls eye. No way you made those shots.”
I had a big brother, I came from a competitive family, I was stinking good at throwing darts. “I did so,” I said, my feelings hurt.
“You did, huh? Well then, let’s play.” He took on an aggressive stance, practically growling through the entire game.
I beat him. He didn’t like losing to a puny girl, not one little bit. He drove me home and didn’t say a word the entire trip. Sore loser.
The next day Will took me aside and told me he was seeing one of the French exchange students. He said he had only spoken with me to begin with because he’d thought I was one of them and he’d always wanted to be with a French girl. I was so mad. I didn’t want to be his girlfriend, but holy crap, what a jerk. I knew he was mad because I’d kicked his ass at darts. I had lent him my Paul McCartney cassette tape, I told him I wanted it back, but he never returned it.
He ran around telling everybody in school that I was frigid and didn’t know how to kiss. The following year he impregnated one of my sister’s friends. What a schmuck!
All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.