A Narrative Essay by Joel Verrier
I walked home that day. I felt happy in Victoria, and grade nine was a write-off. I was in no rush to go anywhere.
The spring season set in, but the chilling breeze that forces its way under my clothes and pricks the skin had yet to make its exit.
I pass by a parking lot situated at the top of a hill that descends down to a terrace. The terrace holds mine and a few other houses. Beyond that, another steep decline leads to a long beachside road.
My feet ache in protest as I plant them flat and stop at the lookout. Just to spite the cold, I take my hands out of my coat pockets. My dry, cracked skin catches on the soft, yet rough microfibre lining. Grasping the frigid chain barrier, I gaze upon the horizon, eyes squinted to keep the moisture in.
Beyond the massive cargo ships that slowly creep across the vast expanse of dark blue ocean water, the towns sit, hardly visible. They peek just barely out from under the horizon, like a child hiding behind its protective father’s leg. The Olympic mountains stand tall, guardians of the towns below.
As much as I liked to maintain that this move to Toronto was entirely out of nowhere, the writing was on the wall. My increasingly orthodox, widowed mother slowly isolated herself from all who weren’t of the same school of thought. Victoria, beautiful and relaxed as it was, could no longer satiate her.
The thing about change is that, unless it’s some extreme scenario, we adapt. No matter how much we kick, shove and spit, that change becomes our new reality one way or another.
I knew this going into the move. I was fifteen, not stupid. Regardless, in spite of my endless experience in this area, I thought this time would be different.
My hat and jacket come off before I’m past the doorway. I stomp my feet on the entrance mat out of habit, not necessity. Dana, my older sister, pokes her head out from above the railing at the top of the stairs. She tells me something about how much of an asshole her boyfriend is. I absently stare into the glassy abyss of the mirror in front of the doorway as I listen.
In the mirror, I can see a blue and white magazine resting precariously on the church pew that had become our entrance bench decades ago.
In big, bold letters, “CHATTER” appears at the top of the page, positioned above a Kippah-clad teenager, smiling and staring into my soul. A bottomless pit opened in my stomach, as if I’d just been told my left leg had to be amputated.
I drop my coat and hat where I stand. As I pick up the magazine, a brochure slides out and flutters to the ground.
I squint to see its contents. The word “enrollment”, squints back at me.
My eyes glaze over as my mind races through all of the possible implications.
“Joey?” Dana says, trying to reel me back into the conversation, “Any advice for me?”
I could feel the proverbial last page in that chapter of my life slice the air as it closed, cutting deep into my soul.
The thing about being me, living in my skin living the way I live, is that I am all I know. As people, we get comfortable in our reality. Even if our present state of being is far and away from ideal, there’s always something about the unknown that petrifies the soul. Most of us lack the mental wherewithal to see past the initial leap of faith into the unknown.
Standing at the precipice of a stone cliff, my body and eyes are enveloped in the greyness of ocean fog. I try to turn around and save myself, but my legs turn to clay as the fog penetrates my being. Perhaps I’m in purgatory, where my senses leave me and I will be saved by no one. My erratic breathing eats away at the otherwise silent world. A familiar voice calls to me from somewhere on the other side, as if there is now a crevasse between two sections of the same piece of land instead of the cliff into the abyss that I’d imagined. It is clear to me now that if I don’t jump, this state of limbo will hold onto me forever. I take a few steps back, but this time my legs obey. With a running start, I leap across.
For some seconds after I land, I feel as though I’ve just jumped onto a different side of the same coin. Tears stream down my face as the fog wraps me in its cold, unfeeling embrace. The familiar voice was just a figment of my imagination.
Without a sign or warning, the fog clears.
I’m in a new place, but somehow it feels like home.