It’s like coming to, after a long sleep. One that your eyes have been open for but you really do not recall much. I don’t recall how I got here, where I am heading or what my future goals in life were.
I don’t recall where I rented this car from, it smells musty. Of stale cigarettes, back seat sex and foreign feet. I know my bank account took a massive hit to fly back from Toronto on the day after boxing day. I know the hotels I paid for up til now drained it faster. They were all the same and my television suddenly was on more often, drowning the depression that I was fighting.
The passenger seat is covered with fast food garbage. The fabric seat is stained and I don’t recall if I caused the tarnish or from a previous car renter? I don’t feel like I care since my head hurts from the sting of alcohol, my stomach from the junk food I’ve been shoveling down my throat and my pride shattered from calling James.
Booze does bad things, including loosening your resolve.
It was my 10-year wedding anniversary yesterday.
Now wish I hadn’t but in the moment the beer cans sitting empty on my hotel room floor promised me it would be okay. It was a short phone call. Even for the first time we had spoken in how many months and it was still a roller coaster of emotion. Embarrassed for my actions, angry he never tried to find me, sad he hardly cared and devastated he hung up on me. I hardly got more than five words out of my mouth. The normal hesitation of ‘Hi honey’ responded by a long pause. I tried again with, ‘I’m okay’ before a loud exhale and I’m pretty sure he snapped a nasty profanity before he hung up.
I didn’t call back. He didn’t either. I cried for hours, walked to a local car rental place and rented a car. I had no plan, I wasn’t going to drive home. Especially not now, knowing my husband wouldn’t accept me home.
I had been staying at a hotel in Vancouver rather than taking the ferry back to the island. Matt told me I wouldn’t have Sadie back until I had a job and a house again, there was no reason for me to return to the island.
At the airport car rental lot, I sat miserably watching other couples, young, old and blissfully happy. They were nearly worse than the couples at the waterfall. I couldn’t even find the effort to start the ignition and drive away. I sat and stared out the front window for hours and from there, went straight to McDonalds.
Renting the car nearly depleted my funds. I had no credit card with me so I had to pay cash up front. Since I had no plan of where I was heading, I paid for four days ($2800) up front and the opportunity to drop it off no matter where I ended up. After my double cheeseburger meal, I began driving. I stopped for a nap somewhere after Hope just before the highway split. Neither direction had anyone waiting for me, no one anticipating my arrival.
I tore my face from the old scrap fast food garbage and back to where I was now, the T in the highway. To the left would mean a twelve hour drive to a house that is no longer my home. To the right, the Okanagan where Penticton, Kamloops, Kelowna lay.
The traffic roared past my small red Maxima. The vehicle shook from the speed of the trucks yet none of them seemed to care that I was stopped. I didn’t care either.
The clouds seemed to roll down the valley to my left, built high in the sky and black as coal. They screamed thunderstorm, or worse yet: snow. The sky remained a soft white with fluffy white wisps to my right, the trees a strong green still. As if I were to turn left and go to the icy hell of winter or right and stay in summerland. Literally.
I downed the remainder of my coffee that was hours old already and merged right into traffic. In spite of James, I had rented a standard. My initial car when we had started dating and he complained often that I drove it as a race car. I rolled my eyes at the memory of his complaint as I stamped the gas pedal and slammed the stick from second to fourth. Revving the car high enough to skip a shift altogether.
The highway climbed dangerously steep as I kept the small car pinned. The road opened in front of me, turned from single lane to double lane and as I crested the top of the hill, there seemed to be no traffic ahead of me. They were all headed toward the big city, I flew from it. Done with sitting in hotels and camping with shit supplies. To end up back in a hotel with crappy phone service. I haven’t had a home cooked meal since I left Doris’ B&B.
I shifted smoothly into fifth and kept a steady pace ahead of any of the remaining traffic. It was hardly past noon, I had woke, checked out and rented a car and made it to Hope in a few short hours. I had several more hours until I ended where I was headed.
The highway grew ahead of me and my radio cut out as service dissipated then died. I brushed the passenger seat garbage off and day dreamt that my pup sat next to me. She would turn and smile at me, I would pet her brindle boxer neck and bask in the ease my puppy brought me. In the silent ear she would offer me, for me to tell all my woes to.
It had taken quite some time for a puppy to turn from a loving family member to a chore. I think it happened around the same time I felt the littlest issue would set me off, set off my irritation and my anger. Maybe I had more to work on for myself than what I realized. As I spoke aloud to my imaginary puppy, the tires of the car seemed to glue to the highway as it turned in one sweeping motion. An anticipation of where I was headed built inside me and the image of my friend next to me faded.
The signs for Manning National Park began and excitement for a new adventure came with it. My radio kicked back in and I belted the lyrics to every song. Clicking from one station to the next, not allowing myself to grow tired of the song at hand.
Billy Talent sauntered through the speakers as I sped toward the evergreen thick park. The middle of the park noted by the large wood cabin and visitor center. I pulled off the road for a break.
The picnic tables had snow on them which made me more grateful that the roads did not. I was much higher now then I had been before, snow was a very real occurrence and could happen at any time. I tried to not let myself remember the date. February 8th. It stung to recall I was alone by my own choice. I felt that the woman that put me here, was someone else entirely. That woman that coward and cried when her husband spoke poison. Why hadn’t I stood tall and demanded that’s not how he speak to me?
I parked and pulled a jacket from the back seat. I had bought it from the gift shop at the hotel I was in at Vancouver. As I had realized I had nothing remotely close enough to travel, god forbid I be the one that ends up in the middle of nowhere in a provincial park. I’ve watched too many shows where the car dies, the gas runs out. No heat, no jacket and they freeze to death in a cave licking an icicle. I am also a writer with an over active imagination. So I paid that four hundred dollars for the ‘Proud to be Canadian’ jacket.
The air is still in the park, it’s too cold for most campers this time of year and travelers don’t stop in the middle of Manning Park. There just isn’t much to see but I know a secret. I walk into the gift shop and purchase a bag of chips. I sit at the closest picnic table and pop the chips open.
An eagle flies overhead without a sound except it’s wing span snapping. I crunch a chip a small head pokes from a hole not five feet from where I sit. I smile at the white face with black eye mask. His pink nose sniffs in my direction and I toss a chip toward him. A small squeak and the field is suddenly covered with hundreds of ferrets. Their long bodies standing tall out of their holes to look to me. I stand on top of the picnic table to avoid having my feet over run by the small rodents. As I spin in a circle, I keep my chip bag open end out and the chips spray every direction. It’s the best company anyone can have, better than an imaginary puppy in the front seat.
Fort St John would be covered in snow right now. The roads would be covered with ice, trees heavy with frost and the only animals in sight would be the moose and deer running from the hunter. Although, I do miss those hunt trips. Sitting in a grass field, snow dusted and silent. James and I would have the best type of conversations that deep in the woods. He would tell me things that seemed true to his heart, ones that surely he told no one else.
My eyes brimmed with tears so I pulled myself back to the car. Not right now. Not yet.
I missed the low thunder storms, the bright rays of sun at 4 am and the perfect snow flakes but the fights, I did not miss. The under cutting comments that would ruin my mood for the night. Was it my fault that I took it to heart? No, I don’t think so. Although, you are the only one responsible for how you feel, so did I allow myself to feel the way I did?
Ugh, I sighed out loud, walking away from the field of light-hearted creatures. Their life was easy. Among the green and amber of the protected animal park. The glacier fed rivers that cut between mountains. Clouds that sat on heavens door and I had to go back to the pavement city, beg for forgiveness to my job and find a new house.
I tried to not dwell on the count down of my days. It was a love hate relationship, me nearing the end of my year. Nearing the end of my loneliness. I turned pack toward the tall rock walls that surrounded the highway. The rise of the highway until the park beside me sat at the bottom of a dangerous cliff. The signs threatened rock slides and I kept my eyes forward, passing through the Princeton highway on the Crowsnest highway.
The smooth double lane turned back to single. An eerie feeling crawled in my chest. The traffic thickened in the opposite direction. I clicked through the radio stations that would work, trying for some type of news. Was the highway ahead closed? Was I about to lose precious hours just to be turned around?
I slowed the car down as I headed higher up the highway. I tried to read the faces of passing drivers. Questioning what was happening as their lane crawled to a near stop with the amount of vehicles. The next highway sign told me Princeton was only 5 km away. Anticipation for the unknown replaced my eerie feeling and I pinned it.
The highway dipped suddenly downward to enter the gully that Princeton was located in. The town was no more than a leg stretch of a block. One café, two gas stations and one Subway was all they boasted. I had camped here numerous times in the past with James and the kids. We used to drive into Princeton to purchase beer and camp munchies. Out of habit I pulled in to the convenience store parking lot and pulled my stiff body out of the Maxima. As beautiful and sleek it was, I felt cramped. A little claustrophobic and it didn’t help with the out flow of traffic away from where I was headed made me more panicky.
The convenience store door had a cow bell bang to announce my arrival. It broke the last of my nerves and my palms sweat just from standing at the entrance. No front seat puppy or hundreds of furry ferrets would rescue me now. I stepped forward casually but nearly toppled over the chocolate bar stand since my eyes were refusing to focus proper.
Had I driven into the twilight zone? Or maybe the sheer amount of alcohol the last few days has killed my Vitamin B levels.
“Best no more coffee for you, then hun,” the women behind the cash till clicked her tongue in amusement at me. I grabbed the closest chocolate bar and stuffed the sugar into my mouth, hoping the electric shot would rescue me.
“You near break my stand, then eat the bars without paying first?” her half amused smile faded and now she looked right irritated.
I apologized through the mouth of Snickers, “I’ve been driving too long, I think.”
“Where ya from?” her accent ought to have a straw stick out of her lips but at least her demeanor softened to me. I paid for the chocolate and purchased two large homemade treats that sat on the counter. Hoping she had made them herself and it would buy me good karma for the near disaster I caused in her store.
“The island,” I answered faster than I could think about it. I was from Fort St John, but really I had lived in the lower mainland longer than the north. But also I grew up in Alberta. I realized with sinking shoulders, I didn’t really know where I was from.
“Must be nice there, what brings you this way?”
“Just going on an adventure,” I remark as I notice she had a beer cooler next to the register. I open it and pull out two six packs and hand her the payment for those as well as a sandwich. Now I’m over doing it, I can’t afford all this. I collect my snacks the beer and turn to leave the store. I have over two months left to survive and my bank account hovers about $2000.
“Funny,” the imaginary straw chewing woman comments as she stuffs the cash into her broken cash register.
“What’s funny?” I ask as The Hills Have Eyes scenes creep into my mind.
“Everyone else, they going the opposite to you. Not sure what you looking to find in Okanagan? Everything closed up shop for winter. No crafts, no fruits, no bands or parties.” She leaned back off the counter and her full height becomes apparent, now I am panicky and intimidated by the country woman.
“I noticed that,” I recall with the original reason I had stopped. To learn if they highway was closed, or an alien invasion was in place?
“Avalanche, everyone is funneling down through Merritt. Get away from the snow. They’re going to the island and you’re heading against the grain!” She clicks and grins at her wittiness but I am just growing annoyed with her country stubbornness.
“Where’s the avalanche?” I’m not completely familiar with Highway 1 or the cross over from Merritt and her look to me makes me regret the question.
She pushed a few trinkets off the counter and revealed a map, with her long finger nail, she traced the path most drivers were taking.
“Some idiot crashed his semi truck here, a wild man is what the travelers call him. He was running circles on the highway screaming about his missing wife!”
She laughed as my chest tightened, there’s no way it could be James! Although, I had just spoken to him. Did I make him snap? Did my hiatus push him over the teetering edge that we had been sitting on for so long? I had struggled for years to keep our marriage alive, did I just burn it? Just as this woman was talking about his truck that was burning on the highway? I dreaded learning the answer.
Dread is a funny emotion, fear, anxiety and worry twist and tunnel into your mind and build dread.
Dread caused me to quicken my pace out of the store in case I learnt it could be James. I knew it couldn’t but dreaded asking and dreaded learning.
Sitting in my car I had to repeat the words over and over in my head. It took what seemed forever for my rational mind to catch up to my emotional mind. It kept saying, it’s James. It’s your fault. Your marriage is over, James hates you. But it wasn’t, it wasn’t James. He could driven many things and he is a good working man, but he has never driven a semi truck.
Especially not down from Fort St John, that is one long haul of a drive for your first semi truck drive. Also, it wasn’t my fault. It was our failing marriage that drove me over the edge of insanity. I had to get out of the house before it turned into the inevitable toxic ‘it’s the nagging wife’ comment as he looked at his phone ringing. I dreaded that. I dreaded hate taking over the sliver of love we had. I dreaded hearing him tell me he was leaving because he met someone else.
There’s that word again, dread. All the years we were together I never wanted to be the acid on his tongue when he says to his friends ‘it’s the wife’ when calling or texting, or even the reason he doesn’t do out on a Friday night. So, I strive as best I could to be easy going. Participate in activities he wanted to do, keep him happy and sane but it risked my own happiness in the meantime. It turned me into an empty shell of a person, I had truly just become ‘the wife’. Not in a bad sense, but a mediocre one.
My own identity had become layers of the things I did for my household. Layers of empty conversations when I reassured my husband that everything was fine even when I wasn’t happy about our sex life. Or I wasn’t happy that he talked so much about the new girl at work. Layers of me giving up free time to ensure the house was clean or the laundry was folded only to be hardly noticed above the television.
Dread of actually finding an animal when I hunted with James. Hiking through the woods with a gun slung over my shoulder. A gun I honestly didn’t know how to shoot well, I would never trust myself to save his life. Or mine! A crack of a close branch and my heart would be slamming against my chest louder than the animal rushing away. There was no amount of lying that could convince myself any longer. I was not me. I was the wife that he wanted.
The car put me further up the highway but my hand opened the beer without realizing it. I found myself myself sitting behind the wheel with an open beer. It’s cold and refreshing and washing away my anxiety. I don’t think about what I’m doing, no one ever does but after three beer I realize I should not be driving. I don’t recall the last hour and a half drive and find myself somewhere between here and there. The skies are black and the traffic in both directions now have subsided. No more fleeing traffic from the burning semi that my irrational brain told me was my husband.
It wasn’t. He would never care that much.
Now there is only my headlights cutting through the empty vastness of the crest of the Okanagan. I have found myself less than an hour drive to my parent’s house in Penticton. I shouldn’t drive any further and am unsure if I am even prepared to show up at my Mother’s door step drunk.
I had hardly spoken to her, I broke my immediate family in one swift motion.
I pull the car off the highway and turned the lights off. Leaving the engine running, the music blares at me once more and I cry. I cry and spill my dreads to my imaginary dog as she sat in the passenger seat once more. At least she would never turn her back to me.