The mountain in the distance would take my breath away, stealing my eyes from my words and rehoming them in oblivion. A sprawling forest lay between her and I, covering her feet from God. I know that she has a name but that name I do not know. It was six o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday that I decided to run to her; it was six o’clock in the morning when I decided to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
My room was as I suspected, barely twelve by eight with a queen bed and small faux marble table, located at the foot of the bed. I had a sink, a large mirror and four hooks on the wall. What a fabulous place to lose my mind, I thought to myself. The carpet was deep and red, conjuring The Shining and sinking beneath my feet. I moved the small stool to the window, the sill that would become my desk, and this is where I met her, the Mountain Sprawling, and begun my affair.
Once I was satisfied with my first glances of the surroundings, I surveyed the hotel. It was old and done up to look as such. The ageless, severed heads of the beasts of the mountains and plains hung on the walls around me, eyes fixed into the same oblivion that surrounds the mount. The carpet is red and goldenrod, patterned and soft. Gold fixtures are everywhere. I felt as if I had wandered into the trophy room of the King of the Mountain, an unsuspecting traveller that would either end up as dinner or a trophy. Luckily enough, the feeling was wrong, and I found myself at the far end of the building in an Irish restaurant run by Filipino people, one of the many reasons I love my country. The food was good, but like everything in a National Park, expensive.
The month that has passed since my last writing has not been kind to me. I’ve taken large professional steps, but I’m stuck lacking the whole of a soul. This became clear to me as I woke on the second morning. While I was outwardly happy and pleasant; able to hold conversations with strangers and be alone with confidence, the familiar chasm opened in me. In the past, the hole was filled with sunshine, the love of fresh air and passion. There’s none of that anymore. There is a work ethic and smoke—a prize I can’t keep my eyes off, and because of that I’ve turned into a first-act Boxer; “I will work harder.”
I have learned the true value of work, and the true value of an organization sewn together with passion, no matter how small. I’ve learned the value of honouring yourself and not selling your principles for a position or a wage. While it’s important to have work like this; one of the most important things in life, I have come to find, is not working. This is why we raise our children to become self sufficient, this is why generations previous to mine have retired. But, for a myriad of reasons, the world has changed, and propaganda flows from all angles promoting the #hustle and the #sidehustle; the #grind and #gettingthatbread.
No one mentions that most of the time, it’s just Wonder Bread. It’s cheap, it’s fake. It’s chemically processed and probably hurts more in the long run than it helps. The only way to bake a nutritious loaf that will feed your body and soul, is to sow the seeds yourself. The only true way to obtain that grain is to plant it yourself and reap when you see that it’s time. If you wait for someone to tell you when to harvest, you’ll die waiting.
These thoughts and affirmations filled my head as I drove the highway through the park starting at treetops and cliffsides. The cliché of an epiphany reached in the mountains was not lost on me. The cliché of a writer on the road is what I sought to live for a few days, and though I had spectacularly failed at that; I was that writer, holed up in a hotel room with nothing but the clacking of the keys filling the air. Like most of my plans in life, the trip turned into something entirely different. I’ve started a book—not the science fiction novel I have half finished, no, that’s for another trip. This is a story that has come to me in two lightning bolts from that very same oblivion that keeps rearing its head.
Despite what I accomplished in that room, despite what I’ve built at home, there’s an emptiness behind the work. I’m looking for this missing piece of me and I don’t know what, where or who it is. I worry about being a burden on those I talk to, so I talk to you, dear reader. You are someone I don’t have to name. Someone I don’t have to face, but you’ve become my best friend and my lifeline. Even if you are no one at all, even if my words are turned into ones and zeros and remain as such, you still exist in my mind as an ethereal being.
On the second night, looking for inspiration in the neon lights against the unbridled night sky, I drove around the town. While lost in the thoughts of this emptiness, the red and blue of the RCMP seized all function. I was driving slower than I should have been, rubbernecking at the people on the streets. My car, a small car, is what one would call “well seasoned” in the scent of marijuana. Long did it serve as a temple for smoke in the last days of my marriage, and it was then serving as my small getaway outside of the hotel, including that morning. I was on my way to pull back in and smoke in the parking lot, less than two blocks away, when I got a little more excited than I should have been. I had just taken a mouthful of smoke while lighting a joint when they turned their lights on. Karma, I suppose.
I was ready to face whatever came next; I knew what I had done and I knew that they had a job to do. I passed a breathalyzer and when they commented on the marijuana smell, they asked if I could come with them. On the hood of their truck, they read to me from their field manual what the next step was to be: a field sobriety test. Upon calling the licensed officer, they invited me to sit in the back of their truck for warmth—my white privilege was in full effect. I tried chatting with them from the backseat, but it turns out plexiglass is much more soundproof than it seems, and I ended up repeating “do you get cursed out from back here a lot?” four times before giving a frustrated wave of never mind. A search of my vehicle revealed the freshly lit joint that had been flatted by my Adidas, which was enough to levy me with a suspended license and an impounded vehicle.
The field sobriety officer arrived and I passed the test; unsurprising to me, as I was sober. The suspension would be for twenty-four hours. While the two officers that pulled me over did the arms-reach search, I made small talk with the Field Sobriety Officer. She looked to be no more than three years older than me, and had a disarming face, which turned out to be my undoing. We made small talk and she asked what I was doing in town, I mentioned my book and she used that to keep me talking. But then, as usual, I talked too much. I told her the truth, that I came to town to run away the suicidal thoughts that hide under my bed at home. The RCMP doesn’t take insinuation lightly, especially not in a mountain town with beauty worth dying in.
They told me that based on what I had just told them, they were taking me to the hospital. When I heard that word, I filled with fear. I had done this at home, I’ve done this before. I began pleading with them, offering them my mother’s phone number, my doctors phone number. I was scared, more scared than I had been in a long time. I cried to three officers on the street, pleading for what I thought was my life. I spiraled harder and faster than I ever had. They impounded my vehicle, suspended my license and took me away.
I sobbed on the way to the hospital, sobbed in the ER and was shocked to find that I was alone. Apparently, Thursday night is Jasper is quiet as the dead. The doctor that they woke up to come down to the hospital was an older Englishman and sympathized with me about the police. I told him the story, as I’ve told it to you, and he lamented the system and the grey area of the rules. He asked me how much marijuana I smoked on average, and when I told him, he came to the conclusion that I was sober, but smelly. He also came to the conclusion that I was no harm to myself, and that tonight would not be the night that I’m committed.
The single thing he said that sticks with me the most though, is that we don’t take death threats nearly as seriously as threats of suicide. A man can pledge to kill another man in a bar, and nothing would happen, but if that same man threatened to kill himself, the police would intervene. He talked about the utter failure of emergency room suicide risk assessment tools and how they are wrong over ninety percent of the time. He was kind, and one of two people in the entire ordeal that I felt talked to me like a human being, not just a person in a position going down the insurance checklist.
The next morning, I spiraled further. I was overcome with a fatigue that I had not felt in a long time. I spent the day in bed and thought of all the reasons that I shouldn’t, that I couldn’t, leave a corpse in the hotel room. The morning was a war, and I fell asleep in the first battle. Eventually I got up, made my way down the hall to the shared bathroom and showered. I ate lunch in the same restaurant and went for a walk to clear my head. The fatigue set in again after a few hours and when I made my way back to the hotel, my head hit the pillow and I was gone. The morning came again, and the chasm nearly swallowed me alive.
Knowing I had to spend a lot of time walking again that day, I slept until eleven and decided that before I even had my morning coffee, I would take care of what needed to be done. I walked to Bonhomme Street and trudged up to the after-hours phone in front of the RCMP detachment. It was Saturday, and they didn’t seem to offer walk-in services for degenerates on Saturdays. I spoke to a woman half the province away to get someone to open a door three feet from me, and when I was let inside, the wait began.
At one point, the off-duty chief, a man who looked born to be a cop, told me that it seems that they had lost my license. I became angry with him, keeping in line with a promise I had to not be a pushover anymore. It wasn’t a frothing rage, but it was the flared annoyance of inconvenience. I refused to sit down and told him of the costs I’m going to incur when I’m unable to leave in the morning. Eventually I saw the field sobriety officer from the night before, and she informed me that I’ll have to go back home and get a new license. She wrote me a letter, with her phone number on it, essentially an “IOU 1 Licenze,” and told me that it would get me home. I’m then to submit my receipt for reimbursal.
Once I had my IOU in hand and thankful that I didn’t pay taxes in Jasper, I walked into the city’s industrial park, a torrid wasteland of dirt and pickup trucks. I thanked God that it wasn’t thirty degrees like it can be in the summer and continued my journey around the loop to the small trailer, barely-marked, “Jasper Towing.” It was here where I met the second person who treated me like a human.
Two men about my own age were on a small crane loading a flat deck with enormous bags of sand. I called up to them and asked if they were Jasper Towing, and the tall, skinny one jumped down to help me out. I told him I was there to pick up the white Jetta behind them and he said he already knew about me, the police had called him to ensure I’d get my vehicle back without an ID. He told me that it was going to be three-fifty for the impound, and when I produced my wallet, sans-cash, he informed me of their cash-only for impound rule. I swore, and without skipping a beat, he asked me if I needed a ride somewhere. I accepted and within ten minutes I had his money in had. Within twenty, I had the car back and I was headed back to the hotel.
The kindness in that single ride from a stranger picked up my spirits again, so upon pulling into the hotel again, I extended my stay for another night and headed out into the park. The rest of the trip is a haze of driving around and finding different secluded spots with views to write in, until I got lost and ended up in Hinton. I’m terrible with directions.
In all, my week was not a loss, and I learned more about myself than I bargained for. I came back with the plot map of a novel and an awareness of this chasm in my soul. To fill it is the next challenge, as it’s clear that no matter where I go, it will follow. That means the missing piece isn’t a where, it’s a who, or a what.