She lays restlessly looking up at an unfamiliar ceiling, the water stains create inkblot images which she can’t quite decipher. She’s uncomfortable, scared (although she won’t admit it) and far away from home. There’s a light blinking outside window creating an outline of the Douglas fur tree, silhouette on the wall. She thinks back to the poltergeist film she once saw. There’s a distant hum which grows louder until the vibrations can be felt. Motorbikes. She bolts upright, but freezes in fear. The man asleep next to her, not a stranger, but not a long term lover either, rolls over. They’ve been together for a couple of months, but she is unsure of how he will react if she wakes him. She whispers gently, “Jeff, Jeff, motorbikes, they sound like Harley’s.” Jeff opens his eyes, shoves her away from his face, and runs to the window. The sounds disappears gently into the wind. “What the fuck Jem, you scared the shit out of me,” he says, and he gets back into bed, pulling most the covers and he rolls away from her. She lays cold and ashamed of being scared.
How did she get here? A psychologist would probably say it all started with her father. Her mom was force, or some would call it, raped, soon after her older brother’s first birthday, that is how she was conceived. Her mom was only 18, and had tried to leave the relationship for more than 2 years, almost as soon as it started. Jem’s dad was a ‘mullet haired roid monkey’ with brothers and sisters strewn across america, for his dad was an unfaithful trucker. Somehow, he ended up in a suburb in the unfashionable end of Vancouver. She final left him when Jem was 1, and, because of the violent acts which followed, he was forced to flee to LA, instead of being put in prison.
People who think Vancouver is safe, drug, gun and gang-free, have never lived there. It’s actually terrifying how normal acts of violence, shootings, child abuse, and murders are. Behind a veil of giant pine trees, lie organised, money and pride filled hate groups; biker gangs, drug gangs, ethnic gangs, who all think, they’re fucking straight out of Compton. Young lives become sucked in to this tornado self-rightiousness.
Jem’s mom came from a solid, supporting family, so why did she choose such a man? But then again, Jem’s mom raised her the same way, perhaps more as a friend, but still, with a lot of love. She even has a tattoo on her arm, numbers- her mom’s birthday. Jem had left her ex-boyfriend in hopes this guy would be different, but couldn’t she see, they were all like her dad. No wonder everything felt so unfair?
She checks Instagram, and feels better, twenty new likes, that picture in the blue dress which shows off her back tattoo. Slowly, she falls back to sleep, bathing in the superficial love which is social media.
When she wakes, Jeff is not there. Embarrassed, she puts on her UGGS and his sweater, and goes looking for him. He could have woken her up. She finds him in the kitchen, the stale smell of beer bottles laden with cigarette butts everywhere, makes her miss the smell of coffee in her mom’s home. She feels so out of place, what is she even doing here? He doesn’t even look up, instead he’s joking around with the guys, still up from the night before, about how Jem thought the Hell’s Angel’s had found them last night. They all look up at her and laugh. She goes back upstairs, and picks up her phone, but who can she call? Instead she checks instagram again.
She travelled 2000 miles to escape with Jeff, who had stolen drugs off the bikers, and now had a price on his head. It used to be fun, being in this movie, she thought, but reality was beginning to hit. It’s not fair, she thought over again. She begins to think about everyone she could blame. Her mom. Her mom, yes, she totally over reacted, but then, started to tell everyone, like she didn’t know how serious this was. And, she didn’t even offer to give her any money, that shows how much she cares. She wondered if her grandma had known, a women who lent her money to buy her first car, and was always there to talk to, about everything. A little pang of guilt struck, shit I still owe her money, she thought. She stuffed that feeling away, to focus on the fact that she was the victim here, it wasn’t her fault the police had taken away her licence, it was the fucked up system, that was the problem. Anyway, she would have paid her back , if it wasn’t for loosing her job at the car dealership. They wouldn’t give her the 3 weeks off like she wanted, she had to quit.
After justifying all of her past decisions, she put on her makeup, knowing if would make Jeff look at her admiringly. Phone in hand gave her comfort, and a strength over took her to go straight into the kitchen and act like nothing happened. As soon as she made it to the landing, she heard a bang on the door, and the sound of the back door window being smashed. She stood still for a moment, and made a quick decision. Upstair, window, tree,.. run!
When she got to the room, she was so thankful her backpack was full, just one thing to grab, her makeup case. Thankfully she found her mittens on the top, they’d help protect her nails, and keep her hands warm of course. Very ungracefully she scuttled down the tree, keeping an eye on the front door. Thankfully there was a hedge a few feet from the bottom, she could run into, and out of the other side, she hoped. She made it the other side and tidied up her hair and then checked the coast was clear. She never really ran before, she never really had to, her body was perfect. Change of plan she thought, she’d hide from hedge to hedge, until she found a bus stop.
All of a sudden, on the other side of the road, a big yellow bus went past. She trots after it but can’t keep up. She notes where it stops, and is relieved, until she realises she has no money on her. As she approaches the bus stop, she notices another girl, about her same age walking towards her. She was wearing biker boots with lacy socks, cut off tights under jean shorts. On top, she wore layers of knit wear and an army jacket. Her hair was a shade of pink, but so light, not to be offensive. Although she wore no makeup, she was still pretty.
They waited quietly next to each other for the bus, until the girl next to her said, “I’m sorry to ask, but are you alright?” Totally taken aback, Jem answered defensively, ‘Yah?” with a duh-like expression. The girl stood a little bit closer, and said “ what bus you waiting for?’ Because it was such a normal question, and Jem’s life these last few days were so confusing, she couldn’t answer, but instead started hyperventilating. Instinctively, the girl Kate, took Jem in her arms. She helped her regain her breath by saying words like “breath in through your nose, and let your stomach expand, think only about you breath, filling up your lungs, and let everything out, with a long exhale.” A weird calmness came over Jem, and although it felt like some hippy shit, she was comforted and thankful.
The bus went by and they stood there together. Jem was confused as to why she didn’t get on the bus. Why did she care about her, she didn’t even know her. Jem stood up, straight, and although thankful, she felt weirded out about receiving help from a stranger. She said thank you, and started to walk off. Kate started after her, and Jem just turned around and said “I haven’t even got money for the bus anyways,” feeling sorry for herself again. Another one bus was behind it.
Kate chuckles kindly, and yells after her, “Oi, idiot, i’ll give you a dollar, you can pay be back latter.” The word ‘idiot’ wasn’t said in a hurtful way, as she was used to, but in jest, like they were already friends. Jem smiled to herself and turned around and got on. The bus was going into the city. Jem had never spent much time in cities, she was more comfortable in malls, where she knew where to go. “Where are you going?” she says to Kate. “To work, well it’s kind of work, me and a couple of friends opened a cafe, you wanna come?” Jem was hesitant again, thinking of excuses, when Kate pipes up “c’mon, you’ll love it, I make the best flat white.” Jem had no idea what a flat white was, but decided it was a warm place to hide out.
As soon as she walked in, Kate had stopped to introduce her to all her friends, who’s faces were either in a Mac, or were sitting around the fire reading books. She had a quick desire to take out her phone, but then, didn’t. Everyone who she had met stopped what they were doing a looked straight into her eyes, and smiled. Jem had never experienced anyone taking the time to meet her. Kate went around the bar, and Jem thoughts it best to find a single stool. The coffee smelt great, and there was a buzz of conversation all around her, she couldn’t help but listen in. People were engaging in a way she had never seen, or rather, never noticed.
Kate made her a flat white, which had such a beautiful pattern on the top, she almost didn’t want to ruin it, by drinking . All through out the day, people approached her with kind questions, about how did she like the music, had she been there before, and if she wanted to try some cake that was just made. Slowly, Jem’s apprehension of the people, who all looked so different and unique, slowly dissipated, although, she couldn’t believe that people could be this genuine.
Afternoon turned to evening, and someone handed her a beer. It tasted so good. She looked up, and couldn’t figure out who had been so kind. Next to the fire, a girl with dark hair and red plastic earrings, was wearing an old fashioned dress that made her think about Paris, although she knew nothing about the place, picked up her guitar and started to sing. She explained that they were old Irish folk songs. Her voice rang like an angle’s charm, high but clear, she listened to every word. She started a new song, a bit like the last, but the lyrics were different, more modern. It started the same way folks songs start “there once was a girl…..” but this time is was a story about pride. The girl had be given everything, but vanity and ignorance prevented her from seeing, the importance of life’s gifts, to give and to love.” Life is not about taking, it’s about what you can give.
Could she have been this girl? Was she in fact the one who’d been given the gifts and swindled them away, because they were never good enough for her?” She looked around herself, and noticed how much everyone had given to her, not only Kate, but everyone there who welcomed her, instead of talking about her behind her back.
She checked her phone, and saw 15 missed calls from Jeff. This scared her more than the events of the morning. What will happen when he finds out where I’ve gone, and the people who I’m with? He’d make fun of me for hanging out with these hippies. Her second thought, was, at least he’s not dead. It surprised her that, that was the first time she had thought about him all day. Maybe she didn’t love him as much as she thought. She didn’t want to leave the cafe, she wanted to stay and hear more music. She decided it was best to let him know she was safe, so she texted him to say she was ok.
Kate had finished her shift and pulled up a seat next to her. Jem couldn’t help herself, she had to tell Kate the whole story. Kate listened to every word Jem said, without interruption, except for the occasional, shit-fuck-and no way! When she was done, Kate didn’t hesitate, but instead took her to the quiet garden in the back, where she took Gem’s phone and told her to phone her mom. She held Jem’s hand and listened to a stream of apologies that made her want to hit her and hug her all at the same time.
Jem was back to Vancouver the next day, tail between her knees, but keen to get out of the suburbs and into the city, where she may find a cafe like the one in Toronto. There are good people out there, ones who are not concerned with looks, other than looking like themselves. It shifted the way she felt about herself, a value which she had never considered until now. There was more to her, more than working in a nail bar, more than instagram, more than any guy had made here feel.
Years later, in her loft apartment, she looks out her window and see a girl walk back and forth, not sure what direction to walk. She puts on her UGGS and walks out the door and asks the girl if she’s OK?