It was a cold, winter evening and my girlfriend and I stood in the side yard which had alternately served as a small football field, street hockey rink, and impromptu boxing ring for me, my brothers and friends. There were trees and bush on one end, which stopped at a small cliff overlooking the road. At the other end was a medium-sized shed, which I often lied on to stare up at the stars or just escape the madness within my home.
Large chunks of the house were gone but the shell was intact enough to keep it up. Most of the walls remained but some had holes in them, particularly where there were windows. It didn’t look like it was about to fall but it looked like it wanted to, the way you are when you’re exhausted and taking a break during a hike: you want to lie down but you know you may not want to continue if you do.
We walked over to the back of the house. My girlfriend wasn’t thrilled about this idea but went along anyway. Wooden stairs made their way up the side, with landings at the second floor and third floor back entrances. There were parts of it that were not completely covered in ice and that allowed us to make our way up them. Each step was carefully considered. I could see just well enough to avoid the rises of ice patches over the flatness of each step.
A handrailing also helped us stay on our feet. During my grad bender a few years before, I tore the whole railing off by attempting to ride the clothesline that ran from the top landing to the shed on the other side of the yard, forgetting that, the last time I did it, I was 10 years younger and 100 or so lbs. lighter.
The screen door at the top of the stairs was slightly ajar and it squeaked as I pulled it open. I stepped in and it was mostly dark but there were patches of light seeping from the rooms. We crept up the inside stairs and, when we got to the top, stared down the hallway at my room.
My door was open and it was, surprisingly, fairly lit. As I walked past the other two rooms, the one to my left immediately struck me, stopping me in my tracks. The floor was mostly gone. It had collapsed and looked like a giant had put his foot through it. It was the next oldest brother’s room, the party room. My oldest brother had the room first and he set a very high bar for rowdy drinking, drugging and debauchery, that my other brother was not able to match – although he tried. Goddamnit, we tried.
I stared at the main living room below on the second floor and felt sad, knowing we would never be there again, having dinner, watching tv, or enjoying those sweet hours on Christmas eve before the alcohol really kicked in, and the spell was broken and violence ushered in Christmas Day. Staring through that gaping hole was like looking at a life no longer, and I half expected it to magically close, like a film in reverse. I looked back at my girlfriend and gestured to move on.
Approaching my room, I immediately saw where the light was coming from. I knew it had been too much to be just the windows. The fire had blasted a huge hole through that wall and part of the roof facing the street, creating a view of the stars. It was beautiful. I wish I could have taken a picture.
There were two items that I wanted to find: my Houston Astros jersey and my box of poems. Incredibly, the Astros uniform was still intact, although reeking of smoke. I wasn’t even an Astros fan. I just liked the uniform, the bright colors and stripes, and was moved by the story of pitcher J.R. Richard, whose number 50 it bore and whose career ended when he had a stroke while warming up for a game.
My box of poems had not been as lucky as the Astros uniform. They had been burned, along with most of what remained of my closet. Some other writing was salvageable and I shoved those papers in my pockets. But the loss of the poems hit me hard. It was a medium that I would not indulge seriously in again.
We poked about through the rest of the wreckage, seeing if there was anything else that might be worth grabbing but what wasn’t burned was ruined by the smoke. I looked at my clothes, my little stereo, the table I had sat at many times and drank and rolled joints. It was weird to be in a scene of such destruction yet still want to lay down on the floor and sleep there, one last time. Then, with a deep sigh, I turned to my girlfriend and nodded: let’s go.
We made our way out of the house without incident, me carrying a few pieces of paper and the jersey. I briefly entertained looking in the basement floor, where all ten of us had lived before my dad purchased the house. That was where I hosted most of my teenage parties. Oh, the stories …
We left the yard and went to the apartment of a friend’s, who had taken us in after the fire. The rest of the family had scattered, with some, including my parents, staying at a relative’s home.
After we got to my friend’s place and had laid down on the floor to sleep, I rolled over, to face away from my girlfriend, because I knew I was going to cry. I tried to mute myself as best I could, so as not to disturb my friend and his wife. I didn’t do a good job. The tears streamed down my face and onto the floor, like pieces of my life leaving me, falling away, going into a pool of my past.
The future, meanwhile, was over 1,100 kilometres away, where the only familiar faces were my sister and her family. I was going to a city much different than Prince Rupert, one in which I would stick out because of how I looked and what I was.
All I could think was, what the fuck am I doing??
NEXT: Saddle up. We’re going to Cow town!