Oh! You Pretty Thing!

I lost one of the great loves of my life last night.

Please indulge me in my hyperbole. I didn’t know him, really. That’s how these things go. You take a mack truck to your heart and soul, and then you downplay it to everyone around you; everyone who has had real, visceral loss. This is different. This is collective bereavement, both saturated and detached. He wasn’t mine, but rather ours, and now our starman has gone. He came and met us; he blew our minds. Curtain.

hunky-dory-sessions

**

There was me, thirteen. A fleshy, awkward creature, brace-face, four-eyes, mousy and odd. It was Jasta, one of my very dearest, who introduced us, in a moment both as benign and wholly transformative as flipping on a light in a darkened room.

“Labyrinth. You’ve never seen it? It’s the best! It has David Bowie in it and he wears the tightest pants!”

We watched it on betamax at what must have been the exact nanosecond that I started puberty. Weeks later, the two of us on something like hour five of a landline call, both watching MuchMusic in our respective homes at 2 am. An 80s retrospective was running and our adolescent chatter ground to a halt as China Girl played. Oh baby, just you shut your mouth.

In keeping with the Rule of Threes, the true solidifying moment came from her nicking her dad’s Changes Bowie compilation CD on my behalf, that I might record it to cassette for my walkman. Reader, I wore that fucking tape OUT. It died. It died a warrior’s death.

If you ask anyone who knew me during that time, and indeed well into my 20s, I could almost be defined by my fandom. I lost hours to Teenage Wildlife, the be-all, end-all of fansites (I just checked, it has not been updated since 2003), I exploited every christmas, birthday, and part-time job in order to flesh out my collection of albums and memorabilia. I had Bowie shirts made up at Bang On at Metrotown. It was My Thing, and I went after it with all of the fervour that Young Me could muster. To be played at maximum volume.

I saw him live, twice, on the same tour—Reality. Coincidentally, something I am not terribly keen to face today. I’m sitting in a bathrobe, tears streaming down my face, typing out these powerless and grief-tinged words. Honestly, I’m embarrassed at my own personalization of this event. But that can’t be helped. This is so personal, this loss is so big to me, to all of us who loved that beautiful weirdo and his otherworldly music.

It’s so painful to think that he knew his own expiry date, like he could share something in common with a carton of milk. It’s so beautiful to think that he took creative control of that nasty little context, and left us with one last eerie and prescient record. That we would be celebrating its release, our memories, his birthday, all while he prepared to go. The joy before the devastation. The strings grasped in his elegant fingers, to the last.

**

Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on and be not alone

Give me your hands. ‘Cuz you’re wonderful.

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Juste Pour Rire

God bless my parents, they let me watch a lot of stuff as a child I probably wasn’t supposed to. The greatest of these was what I fondly called The Brick Wall Show. To the uninitiated, or those of you who prefer to call things by the names they are actually called, The Brick Wall Show was, in fact, An Evening at the Improv. It ran on A&E from 1982-1996, during a time now referred to as the first major comedy boom. The premise was dead simple: Comics doing 5-10 minutes of material in front of an expanse of unadorned masonry—hence “The Brick Wall Show”. And I was obsessed with it.

Laughing is pleasurable, of course. It feels great to have a hearty guffaw, and children laugh more than any other subgroup of human, according to science (probably). It makes sense I would gravitate toward it. My love of the show fit perfectly with my attempts to understand what the hell the grown-ups were laughing about at any given time (spoiler alert: a sophisticated melange of wine, work politics, and dick jokes). Those attempts were largely unsuccessful, but I knew that older people thought it was hysterical, and that was reason enough to study it more thoroughly. As a young girl with a deadly combo breaker of chubby gawkyness, I knew implicitly that “being funny” needed a permanent place in my wheelhouse.

The earliest complete memory I have of a comedy routine is a musical one. Considering that I still have to sing my ABCs to file anything correctly, perhaps that’s not shocking. Melody has a funny way of working its way into the folds of your brain for all eternity.

In the dead of night
A shimmewing wight
Gweem of a bwade
And the devil was paid
When the axe comes down
A chiwwing sound
Steel hits the head
Another wabbit’s dead
I’m a wabbit swayer
A guitar pwayer
With a nasty habbit
Kill the wabbit!
KILL THE WABBIT!!

By most accounts, Doug McCollum (the auteur behind the Elmer Fudd-aping song above) was a gimmicky act perhaps undeserving of his 1987 Star Search win. But hacky or no, I remember every. word. We had it on some staticky VHS we had taped off of TV, and I wore it out. I couldn’t get enough of it.

When Bell Canada first launched The Comedy Network in 1997, I was beside myself with joy. Pre-YouTube, the idea of having a whole entire channel devoted 24/7 to chuckle production was simply beyond my comprehension. The so-called Brick Wall show was still relatively fresh in my memory, and I was starting to actually get the majority of the jokes. Even Stephen Wright, in his deadpan absurdity, started to seem like a genius instead of someone on too high a dose of lithium. I would memorize entire routines and re-tell jokes for my… well, I didn’t exactly have friends, but while my peers were laughing at my* jokes, they weren’t laughing at me.

By the time junior high had rolled around, the popularity of the British Whose Line is it Anyway? was starting to take off in Canada, when the Comedy Network acquired the show. The improv was so good that it defied any cultural specifics in the material, and all of the dorky theatre kids (ahem) were eating it up. I lived for the days we’d play improv games in drama class, having memorized many of the structures in Whose Line, and learned what sorts of patterns and punchlines seemed to land the biggest laughs. Most importantly, I wasn’t afraid of looking like a total loser, because I was already firmly relegated to the dork tier of the social ladder.

hahah whose line and it's linework do you get it

hahah whose line and it’s lineart do you get it

Coincidentally, it was around this time that the internet started to show signs of becoming the blissful playground of semi-legal media formats it is today. I discovered a number of acts that I felt spoke directly to me (with some shame I’ll admit that one of them was, for a time, Dane Cook. I was 20, I feel like that’s an excuse), in particular, the stone-y absurdity of Mitch Hedberg. Mitch’s comedy was a unique form of social currency; his infinitely repeatable jokes serving as a way to identify common ground with other weirdos. My love of this type of comedy quickly surpassed my passion for singers and bands; good bits were like songs I could hear over and over without ever tiring of them.

And then Mitch died.

It wasn’t really shocking to the people who actually knew him (at least as I’ve heard it), or even those of us who didn’t.

mitch1

I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.

But at 20, these kinds of things are shocking. Finding out that Mitch had a serious drug problem coupled with a heart condition didn’t fit with the image I had of him. When you associate someone with such joy, it’s hard to imagine them grappling with the darkness inside of themselves. Culturally, we don’t like to make suffering visible. Comedy can do that, however, in ways that are explicit and subversive. That’s part of what draws me to it.

There is a question raised in the philosophy of comedy that unsettles me deeply: Is the desire to make people laugh the result of the comedian’s personal suffering, or is it the cause? I believe at my core that being thought-and-laugh-provoking is a worthy pursuit. But how to divorce the subjective, unpredictable reactions of the audience from one’s self-worth as a person? In pursuing the favour of others, and their approval of me as a performer, will I cease to try to do the hard and ugly work of learning to love myself, independent of that external validation?

These are real concerns. I am so prone to all of the things that shorten the lives of many comics, and I fear turning into the cliche of the sad clown.

I heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Life seems harsh, and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world. Doctor says: “Treatment is simple. The great clown – Pagliacci – is in town. Go see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. “But doctor…” he says “I am Pagliacci.” Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains. (actual wizard Alan Moore, The Watchmen)

I am terribly afraid to eat shit on stage, and stand there, red-faced, as a roomful of strangers waits for me to go away.

I’m scared, until the moment someone laughs. And it all melts away.

In June, I bucked up and finally did something I’d been meaning to do for years. I enrolled in a stand up comedy course at Instant Theatre with Adam Pateman. It was, without a doubt, the best $100 I have ever spent in my life. Every minute of every class felt charged with energy and excitement bolstered by expert support. And at our final showcase, I had the pleasure and privilege of performing in front of 50 people… at least 20 of whom were my lovely friends and family. Admittedly, I stacked the deck. But they LAUGHED. I have never felt before, the way I did coming off of that little 6” high stage. I floated for weeks afterward.

I’ve performed twice since, and I find myself struggling to increase that number, (surprise surprise) as my seasonal depression kicks back into gear and makes getting back onstage seem so very daunting. I have to remind myself.

You’re good enough.

You get better every time you do it.

No one has ever died from embarrassment, even if it felt like they would.

I need to be willing to bomb, to start over, to build and change things, because I cannot disappoint that little, awkward, bespectacled girl who first felt the thrilling flush of “they’re laughing with me, not at me”. She needs me. I need her.

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A Pirate Looks At 30

There is no script for that nebulous state of “adulthood” that creeps on slowly as one bypasses their early 20s. There’s no right way to do it. But even if there’s no cut-and-dried route to Being a Grownup, it’d be pretty foolish to assume that aspects of a prescribed structure somehow play no role, no matter how weird your hair is, or how visible your tattoos.

I’ve been checking a lot of boxes on the default script over the last few years: Got married, graduated university, got a job, bought a house… And today, I can legally and truthfully tell everyone that I am in my 30s.

For me, that conjures up a number of (white, upper middle class) images that are variously applicable (or not!) to my life: Having different kinds of wine glasses for different kinds of wine, driving a sensible silver sedan, blazers, forced laughter, dinner parties, candle holders that were actually DESIGNED to hold candles, less than 50% Ikea saturation in one’s household furniture, “taking a class”, competitive attachment parenting, kale, cleanses, increasingly less interesting gossip, the list goes on.

Truth be told, I’m actually pretty on board with some of those things already, and others will hopefully cease to seem like necessary markers of a person’s journey through this life. I’m a homebody, to my own disappointment, so I love dinner parties that end before midnight, with the dishwasher loaded and running. I can cook like a champ, and I enjoy entertaining, not least of all because I can control everything! I only have one kind of wine glass, but I only ever put one kind in it (and I assure you, it’s the wrong kind). I look so boss in a blazer.

uh oh looks like somebody escaped from BUSINESS JAIL

uh oh looks like somebody escaped from BUSINESS JAIL

I’ve been telling people that I’m 30 for about the last month, and that’s felt very solid and factual, despite it not yet being true. I could see people reacting to me differently, like “Oh, I thought you were perhaps an attention-seeking youngster, but now I can see that you’re actually an eccentric adult.” I seem to have an increased legitimacy with the people I regard as the Real Grownups. It was the same thing with getting married—realistically, it didn’t change our relationship much, but they way people treated us was quite obviously different. Being legitimate is a weird thing to want when you’re not convinced that the system that judges legitimacy is itself legit. But it makes things easier, interactions with strangers smoother, and so I suppose “legitimacy” is a sibling to “privilege”, maybe even a fraternal twin.

So here I am, 30, an adult, with the spouse-n-house combo. I have more knowledge and experience than I’ve ever had, which is kind of a double-edged sword: I’m more confident of my competence for day to day things than ever before, sure, but I’m more aware of the great unknowable and uncontrollable things of life. Somehow those loom larger every day. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, and I’m trying to learn how to simply be. I think my 20s were a time to build skills, and the rest of my life is for learning when and how to use them, refining all the while.

I want to make things, I want to support people (with appropriate training and boundaries and self-care) in a professional capacity, I want to write, I want to cook, I want to have things that are wonderful and a little bit bad for me. I want to be appreciated. I want to stop wasting my time trying to prove my worth, and just enjoy being worthy. I want to grow into a wise old community matriarch, but I’m still not sure if I want to be a mother myself (but yes, I love your babies and would like very much to hold them).

I want to stop being so forgiving of things I have yet to heal from. I want to really, truly let those things go, on my own time, and not just the anger (I can’t stay mad), but all of the attachment to my own suffering. I want to get Buddhist philosophy about it all, and ignore those calls to shenpa. 

***

I can look to younger iterations of myself and say that yeah, it gets a lot better, but the struggles remain. They evolve, they are often less central and all-encompassing, but sometimes far more so. But you will always struggle. I will always struggle. One has to learn to struggle well. 

To me at 5: You aren’t really wired for the social world you’re about to enter, but I know you already have inklings of that. You’ll love the learning, though, and there are a few fairly magical people who will make it a lot better for you. You’ll get a reputation for being imaginative and a little odd, and that will never go away. Hug your grandma.

To me at 10: I don’t have great news for you. Shit is about to go down, and continue going down for the next five years. A few deeply cruel children will find your vulnerabilities and tear them wide open, inviting the rest of the school to traipse through your heart. The other kids don’t really mean it, though—but every minute they spend focusing on you means another minute they are free from the taunts of the alpha jerks. When you see Mean Girls in another 9 or so years, you will feel so fully understood that it makes some of the worst memories fade a little. I wish I could retroactively point you toward therapy, but the school’s counsellor will do her level best and it will keep you alive until you can take the reins yourself. Take some heart, though, the two people you are closest with now will remain dear to you 20 years down the road.

To me at 15: Yeah, that guy with the ponytail likes you back. Go for it, you’re together for a long time, and at least 2/3rds of it are wonderful. You are going to love the next five years, they are as great as the previous ones were shit. I don’t even have advice for you, you will handle yourself quite well, but if I had to tell you one thing: You will cool in your affections for AFI, so maybe rethink the tattoo. Hug your other grandma.

To me at 20: long exhale You’re on a precipice looking out onto a lake of shit, and that cartoon coyote is about to push you off. I’m sorry. It’s really just 2006 and the start of 2007 that is terrible, I swear. It’s two massive and shocking losses rapid fire, and it’s going to mess with your brain chemistry. Those things that feel like strokes are actually panic attacks, and the faster you get your butt into therapy, the better. A really special guy will come into your life for a while, and even though it’s not forever, the affection and respect and friendship absolutely are. You will play at rockstardom, and it is not for you, but you will learn a lot from the experience and get an iron liver. Sorry honey, but you never practice the bass very enthusiastically, so you never really get any better at it. These are chaotic times. Another special person will come into your life, and they will stay, and figure out all the best ways to delight and annoy you.

To me at 25: Well, we’ve just about joined up again. Don’t worry about going back to school, you will absolutely crush it. But don’t get too invested in the highs from good grades—sure, the letter stays on your transcript, but the rush is ephemeral as fuck. You’ll know more and you’ll know that you know nothing. Your patience for ignorance will be rubbed away, and that’s actually not so great for you. You might consider trying to not take others’ thoughts and values so bloody personally, you little raw chicken tender, you.

To me today: Goddamnit, be nice to yourself. You are nicer to the person who shoves their armpit in your face on the train then you are to yourself on a weak day. You don’t have to beat others to the punch when it comes to taking you down. The playground bullies of the world have either matured or found themselves far away from your sphere, and they can’t hurt you anymore. Don’t compare yourself to other folks on facebook who are fit/with kids/with their own business/publishing/etc-you’re getting the highlight reel, never the b-roll where they shit themselves at hot yoga or almost slapped their toddler, or cried over a pathologically unfinished draft. They don’t look at you with disdain, nobody is doing that anymore, and if they are THAT IS THEIR DING-DANG PROBLEM. You are a special, colourful little easter egg, and you are loving and loved and weird and actually pretty great. You are thirty, and you are alive.

(p.s. YES THAT IS A JIMMY BUFFET REFERENCE IN THE TITLE, TAKE ME TO MARGARITAVILLE POST HASTE)

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On Weakness, Sickness, and Self-Care.

The move is complete; our new apartment is fantastic. The last line item on the move out checklist is already scheduled, and we should get most if not all of our damage deposit back. It was a long, long slog but we made it happen.

Unfortunately, it made me sick.

Although I don’t like to be overstressed, I do enjoy being busy. Working towards short-term, concrete goals is, to me, a satisfying endeavor. The momentum that provides tends to keep me out of existential suck pits, and I get to feel a steady sense of purpose. Doing things that anyone’s granddad would recognize as “work” keeps the fear of being useless and lazy well at bay.

I suppose there are people in the world who can work at 90% capacity indefinitely. I’m not one. It’s a big part of the reason I’ve grown so ambivalent about parenthood. I can and do take on far too much, and work far beyond the point where I need a rest. This is not meant to be a brag—it’s quite pathological. I think my dad can count on one hand the amount of sick days he took in a decade span of his career. My mom went on a multi-day skiing trip less than a month after giving birth (citation needed?) sans anesthesia. The message is pretty clear: We are what we do. What happens when what we do cannot be done?

Maybe it’s not surprising that a certain amount of fortitude and “toughness” is part of my identity. Sure, I’m a big sensitive sop, but for the most part, my motto is Getting Shit Done. Much is sacrificed in the constant pursuit of human utility, though, and not least of all one’s immune system.

So I got sick.

And like an asshole, I kept going to work. (SORRY. I’m on contract, and I don’t get paid if I don’t turn up, and moving is just SO MANY MONEYS it’s a lousy excuse I know) I figured it was just a cold, since I’d had a flu shot. But a weeklong fever and fatigue that was making me weepy suggested otherwise. I kept medicating and showing up, and it took a panel of professors telling me I basically looked like bleached shit to realize that I needed to go home to live on my couch. Two days of rest, and boom—80% better. It was pretty much regression therapy: Mugs of neon yellow Lipton Chicky Noods and all of the best Simpsons episodes 1995 had to offer.

a DISGUSTING imposter, get the hell out of here, you cylinder of garbage

Much better. Heal me with your salty yellow sheen, you nutrient-devoid slop.

I make a lot of noise with my social circle about self-care. Most of us are anxious, depressive or some unholy combination thereof, and so we all do make the effort to create a community of support. But it’s obvious to me that I’ve done a whole helluva lot of “do as I say, not as I do”. I have not taken care of my animal. If my body were a pet, the SPCA should have been called on me by now.

This is a huge goal of mine going into the new year: To value myself more, and to treat myself accordingly. Whenever I find myself about to engage in self-flagellation, I will instead speak to myself as I would to a dear friend having a difficult time. Tough love has a place, but not in someone’s moment of weakness or sickness. So if, like me, you require permission to be kinder to yourself, to do what your body and mind need, please consider this your hall pass.

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Kids these days get too much praise: Praise, validation, and encouragement

I’m fried right now, with work and with my pending move. Just knackered. But I deeply miss my writing, and in lieu of the hours needed to do it, I thought I would share this wonderful piece (which better defines what I tried to in my “Millstone of Potential” entry) on praise, self-worth, and authenticity. Bonus points for touching heavily on acaedmia!

Book of Jubilation

For part of my graduate training at therapist school, I did a counselling internship in a university student resource centre. It’s an interesting experience to fall back on, especially when people start ragging on millennials for being lazy and self-satisfied. The students that I saw were overwhelmingly workaholics who felt pressured to sacrifice everything at the altar of academic success—and they were resistant to being told that completely forgoing sleep, a social life, leisure time, and adequate nutrition actually made them less likely to succeed. I came away thinking that there is a deep sickness in the root of my generation’s soul, and this is what it looks like: To be imperfect is to be inadequate. If you are not an extraordinary success, you are an utter failure.

And overwhelmingly, the students I saw—bright, accomplished, high-achieving people—were obsessed with the thought that they were lazy, stupid, and untalented. Impostor syndrome

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Dance Like Nobody Is Watching, Run Like There’s a Malevolent Spirit Chasing You (a spooptober spectacular part 3, esq)

There was, perhaps, a full second between registering the abrupt darkness—a flush of panic in our guts and icewater in our veins—and our flight. I snatched the candle up, spilling hot wax over my fingers, and followed the others in leaping over the four foot fence that separated graveyard from schoolyard. I was no more athletic then than I am now, but fear is a powerful motivator, and I cleared the top of the chainlink with inches to spare.

The monkeybars we’d swung on as first graders looked, in the semidarkness, like gallows, bathed in an anemic orange glow. The swing set, just as sinister, as the chains creaked and lightly clanged in the slight breeze. As we blew past them, pea gravel crunching beneath our pounding feet, I felt a tiny piece of my naivete evaporate. The words in my brain pounded with my footsteps: Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. You thought you could just peel back the curtain on a lark, and it’d be just a fun party trick. You little idiot.

Ah yes, this CONSECRATED GROUND FULL OF SKELETONS is a fun place for a party game, what a great idea

Not-Regina and Marcy, those preteen gazelles, were ahead about 15 paces when they stopped abruptly. I skidded to a halt on the grassy expanse in the centre of the pick up/drop off roundabout at the entrance to the school.

“What is it?” I panted, eyes wide, frothing like a spooked racehorse.

“We forgot to put the spirit back” said Marcy. “We can’t just leave it!”

I really, really wanted to just leave it.

“You’re right! We need to form a circle”

We grasped each other’s cold-sweat-slicked hands and Marcy began to speak.

“Oh spirit, whose rest we have disturbed, please accept our apologies. We meant you no harm or annoyance, and we beseech you to return to your world!”

Thick silence was our reply, so quiet that we could hear the electric crackling of the high voltage power lines blocks away.

“Please, oh spirit, give us a sign that you hear our plea!”

**

I feel at this moment that I should say that I am ABSOLUTELY not shitting you.  No major creative liberties have been taken—This is NOT a work of fiction, and any similarity to any events or persons living or dead is entirely intentional. Names have been (barely) changed.

**

At the very instant that the word “plea” dropped from Marcy’s mouth, the front doors of the darkened, closed-for-the-weekend school swung open and slammed shut, an unbelievably loud boom ricocheting off the buildings nearby and reverberating in our very bones.

All three of us screamed and turned tail, running AS FAST AS WE FUCKING COULD away from the grounds. All my life I have joked “I don’t run… unless something is chasing me”, and good lord, did I feel like prey. At some point, I lost a flip flop and didn’t even notice until we were in the front yard of Not-Regina’s house, panting and wheezing from fear as much as from the exertion.

We all stared at each other while we tried to catch our collective breath. I was an interloper among them, and we would not be speaking of this when we were back at school on monday. I would return to my largely untouchable status, and they would continue reaping the benefits of athletics and a good relationship with puberty.

But even still, even now, it will always be an ever-thinning thread that unites us.

And who knows who, or what, might still be grasping the end of that thread?

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The Circle Cannot Be Broken (a spooktober spectacular part the deux)

I’d like, if I may, to take you on a straaaange journeyyyy. Well, I already started that in my last entry, so let’s just presume you’re along for the ride. For any reader that does not know me personally (or just hasn’t heard about my childhood), I’d like to give you a bit of information in order to provide some essential context.

Obviously, someone who is well-liked and well-adjusted throughout childhood and adolescence is A) probably not going to start a blog dedicated to self-analysis and B) as rare as a centaur-unicorn hybrid. Because I am not a centauricorn, and because I do have this blog, you can correctly infer that I was not a particularly popular child. Unpopularity, however, fails to convey the reality of my early-life situation.

Precocious kids are cute for a very short amount of time, and then they take a hard left, veering into unbearability with remarkable swiftness. It’s with this in mind that I say that I understand why I was a target of bullying. I don’t want to speak on this as a permanently-marred victim of cruelty (only kind of true), nor do I want to downplay the fact that I had a really hard time between ages ten and fourteen (extremely true). This disclaimer precludes every narrative I give on this portion of my childhood: I didn’t deserve the treatment I received from my peers, but I played the role of the oversized, awkward, weirdly aggressive whipping girl with impressive alacrity.

actually c/o Disney's Gravity Falls

File photo of the author, aged 11.

At Brooke, I had a pair of arch nemeses, though to call them that seems to assign far too much retroactive power to a couple of manipulative preteen shitweasels. Like a pubescent prom king and queen, each galvanized their particular demographic (in this case, Boys v. Girls) in impressive mini-campaigns against me. The Queen Bee, in this scenario, was very much the Regina George to my Janis Ian. So much so, that when Mean Girls was released in 2004, I watched it while anxiety sweat streamed from my scalp in recognition of that way-too-familiar toxic dynamic. While I won’t name names in this case, I will say that Disney’s Recess really had their finger on the pulse when it came to assigning a shared moniker to the snarky, popular girl-clique that terrorized all of the other playground plebs.

What gets me is that SHE EVEN LOOKS LIKE HER aaahh I’m sweating again, brb eating lunch alone in a bathroom stall

And like Regina and Janis, this girl had been my friend at one point—our backyards were almost connected and, as three year olds, we would sit together eating sand from the big piles that were helping to build out our subdivision. She had a unique ability to lull me back into the security of those sand-eating days well into puberty, often doing so to gain access to my ~well of secrets~ order to distribute said information to the rest of our elementary school.

She was a real cow.

But I kept going back for more, believing “OK, this is the time she is actually befriending me again.” It was this magical thinking, coupled with the general popularity of the occult at the time, that found me in the graveyard with Not-Regina and one of her many minions (let’s call her Marcy, for that rhymes with her name), out well past the time I was supposed to be.

The year I entered the sixth grade, there were essentially two films that mattered to the girls I knew: The Craft, and Now and Then. VHS copies of these flicks were ALWAYS checked out at Phase One video, and I can promise you that this is because they were at every sleepover ever. Girl-focused films trafficking heavily in girl-power (I should note this was the same year that the Spice Girls released “Wannabe”), and messing with magic and age-appropriate sexual themes? YES THANK YOU PLEASE. Both films lingered over occult rituals and the seductive power of contacting the departed. Now and Then in particular featured a séance in a cemetery that had some pretty freaky outcomes, in spite of the film being pretty well-grounded in physical reality.

Naturally, we had to do a séance.

Weird thing about Brooke Elementary and the North Delta Cemetery: They shared a land parcel. So there was an ever-present creepiness to the school grounds, and an ever-present temptation to engage with that creepiness. While there were strict rules about scaling the fence during school time, there was nothing—apart from a healthy amount of fear—keeping us out after hours.

Google street view of the weirdest childhood dichotomy ever.

Google street view of the weirdest childhood dichotomy ever.

So as a weird kid with a known history of occult leanings, it was natural for me to be consulted, even as a social inferior, by these girls who were looking to commune with the spirits one evening in the early summer. With some trepidation, I nicked a candle nub, a matchbook and a slick brass holder from my mother’s china cabinet. A few extra silver rings from my trip to Phoenix (muy turquoise), a pentacle necklace from the dentist’s prize drawer (I’m sure this can’t be right and yet this is how I remember it) and I was good to go. I met Marcy and Not-Regina at the foot of my street and we briefly discussed our plans: Pick a grave from a recent interment and set a circle around it, attempt to contact the spirit, put said spirit back to rest before breaking the circle.

I all but vibrated from the excitement of inclusion; perhaps it was the quaking of pure nerves. I believed, even though I didn’t believe, and a big part of me did not want to be messing around with the inexplicable. But there I was, and I was going to go through with it, because suddenly we were at the entrance to the cemetery. As we swung open the chain-link gate, it groaned like the last breath of air from spent lungs.

We’d neglected a flashlight (not witchy enough), and so we picked our spot with the aid of the buzzing sodium lamps that lit the streets beyond us. I no longer remember the name on the tombstone, but if pressed, even today, I could lead you in person back to the exact plot. I slotted the candle nub into the holder and placed it on grave, shakily handing the matchbook to Marcy so she could light it. The three of us sat around it, clasping hands.

“Oh spirit, formerly _________, hear our plea” Not-Regina began. She had asked for coaching from me, the default ghost whisperer, but was largely freestyling off of the approach from Now and Then. “We are your humble servants, wanting to aid you in any way we can in the physical realm”.

Almost imperceptibly, the wind began to pick up, lowering the temperature and rustling the leaves in the trees.

“If there is a message, or unfinished business you have with the living world…”

The flame on the candle grew brighter and taller.

“Anything at all that you might have to say to the world or your loved ones…”

From an unplaceable direction came a distant sound of bending, cracking wood. Three faces paled to paper white with a sickly yellow sodium cast, eyes wide and searching. We grasped each others hands in earnest now, freezing fingers locked as if seized by rigor mortis. The candle flame grew taller.

And taller.

And taller.

In the centre of the circle, the candle flame was now eight inches high, ten, twelve, and unwavering in spite of the licking wind around us.

Suddenly, it sputtered out.

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