Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2014 (1986 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘DIFFERENT." Katie looks down at her hands, "That’s what I was called in school
"Oh wow," I say, "I only got this look of disgust." I scrunch up my face the way the other students used to. "She is wearing all black! Like OMG!" I drawled in my best impression of a classic high school girl.
"Nice." Says Katie, "So where did you grow up?"
I look at her. I smile slowly.
"Manitoba. Small-town Manitoba." Katie grins, taking a sip of her drink.
"A h," she says. "I understand."
I used to think of us like the circus that came to town. We were only supposed to be there for a few days but then the truck broke down and the snow came and somehow the endless black hole of rural Manitoba swallowed us up. By the time winter was over we had to regain our strength, never enough strength to migrate the hell out of there like the Canada Geese. But I like to think we tried. We dreamt. I was two when we moved out to a farmhouse a few miles north of the border. We weren’t the circus. No one watched us in awe, only distrust. The farmers smirking at our beat-up Volvo and our Toronto grunge. They were amused to watch my father in his 1970 Datsun truck.
"Cute truck," they would laugh.
Understanding how a rather hot-blooded anarchist, atheist family ended up in the scariest of all Christian towns is difficult. Impossible, rather. I don’t know how we ended up there. I don’t know who thought it was a good idea. But it did happen. Years later, as a teenager I would struggle to escape. A few more years and I will.
Sometimes I was thankful for that place. Thankful to have met the people I did. Most of them. No, not most actually. It was like a 90-10 split. Ten per cent thankful.
Grade 2 I was told by my fellow classmates that I was "going to hell." I didn’t even understand what that meant. I don’t think they did either, but they knew it was bad. They knew it was where the different people went. I was different. My mother heard the story of the incident with a tired exasperation. She had heard that story from each of my four older siblings already.
Grade 8 I had the misfortune of meeting an extremely evangelical girl who decided it was her mission to save my soul, though she would thoughtlessly squish ants with a careless: "God didn’t give them a soul." It was that obvious cruelty, perhaps, in part put me off the thought of religion wholly. I had always stood up for the ants in the playground at school.
"It’s silly that people have such an issue with other people’s expression of love." Katie walks a bit ahead of me. I watch her. I can’t help but stop to take in the picture. Her hair is glowing in the night. Its utter blondness shows up clearly, finding the light even in shadow. She turns to see why I’ve stopped. She swings her arms as she swings her body.
"Here." She opens her mitt. In her palm is a jagged little icicle. "Merry Christmas." I laugh, stretching out to take it from her. It begins to melt in my bare fingers, freezing my skin.
"Cold," I hiss. Katie smiles. She turns and runs off down the street. I look down at my feet with toes together and heels apart. I squeeze the icicle feeling the cold numbing me. Then I run after her.
She is right, people do have silly ideas about what is their business, because this — it’s got nothing to do with anyone.
I think I learned the meaning of alienation very young. Doesn’t everyone? Don’t we all grow up segregated? With so many different worlds everyone sooner or later is going to be an outsider looking in. I guess some people only feel it more because they want to be on the other side. They think they would never look back.
I didn’t want to be on a different planet. Just in a different place. One where my brand of martians existed. I was looking for my people. They weren’t here in frozen, small-world Manitoba. Some of them were. But they were looking to get out as I was.
"How are you going to get out?" Katie looks sideways at me. I look up into the snow, I stick out my tongue.
"The usual way," I say quietly. Katie shakes her head.
"I doubt it." She says.
I remember one winter day heading into Giant Tiger. There was this little old man leaving the store.
"Did you catch any snow on your tongue today?" he asked. I was surprised at first, then I laughed and nodded. That comment made my day. It really did, and I still remember him.
Out there you can walk 10 minutes and be out of town, walk straight out into the sky. At night you can see the stars. Every one of my siblings and friends who moved to the city talked about the stars when they would come back to visit. I would longboard out of town to the fields some nights and lie on my board watching the sky. Thinking: About the outside; about the stupid reasons that had ended up separating me from people. Those reasons lost me my best friend. I saw the northern lights once. Colouring the vault above in greens and pale pink. That quiet can never be replaced. When the people were sleeping and the town was silent, without judging looks or knowing glances, without worrying that I’d end up running into someone that I sort of knew when I was having a panic attack in the grocery store. That was when it was beautiful. Worth it. That was when I felt the most separated and the most like myself. I didn’t want to live as the people around me lived. I had no desire to conform to their standards. Fit in their boxes. I didn’t want to meet their expectations and there in the night I felt no pressure to.
"I want to get on the train. One day get on a train and never go back."
"Ever?" Katie looks down at her hands. I shake my head as though I can’t express it. She reaches out and takes my hand in hers. I’ll get out. I think.
"You’ll get out." She says. I nod. I look up at her. She smiles softly.
"Welcome to the outside world," she says. I grin.
"It’s only Winnipeg." I say.
"Ya, but we are all aliens here."
Demeter Vaisius is the second-place winner of the 2014 non-fiction writing contest sponsored by the Winnipeg Free Press and the Writers’ Collective of Manitoba.