Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Slow Wave

I woke up with a start. My neck felt stiff. My room was freezing. The pillows, the blankets, the covers, the sheets, everything was gone. I was lying on a bare mattress on the bottom bunk of my bunk bed. I looked at my watch. It was 5:30 am. I reluctantly got out of bed to look for my bedding. I looked in my closet and underneath the bed and on the top bunk. The bedding for the top bunk was still there. I made a mental note to sleep in the top bunk if I couldn’t find the missing bedding.

Thinking that someone had played a trick on me in the night, I instinctively walked to my brother’s room. He was asleep. He didn’t wake up when I entered his room and snooped around. The bedding was nowhere to be found.

Next I went to my parents’ room. My mother woke up and asked me if I was okay when I entered the room. I told her I was fine. The bedding wasn’t there, either. I left their room.

I groggily walked down the hallway to the kitchen. On the way there, I thought I heard a voice yell out, “John!” It terrified me. I stopped walking and looked around for the source of the utterance. It had been a man’s voice, but it hadn’t come from any of the bedrooms. I started to think that I was going crazy. I looked at my watch again. It was 5:37 am.

I went to the kitchen. The blinds were open and the first light of the day was starting to come in. That’s when I heard the noise. I had no idea what it was. It was a long, protracted pshhhhhhhhhhhh sound. Almost like the sound of gas leaking. It was coming from the basement.

I walked to the edge of the basement steps. It was pitch black down there, save for a sliver of light coming from the bathroom door, which was open a crack. Oh, I thought. It’s probably just somebody showering. But everyone’s asleep. And who would shower this early on a Saturday?

I reluctantly walked down the steps to the basement.

I closed the basement door behind me, and the air pressure abruptly forced the bathroom door open a few inches. It creaked as it opened; it scared the hell out of me. Steam was coming out of the bathroom. It’s definitely someone showering, I thought.

I wrapped my hand around the door knob and pulled.

I could barely see into the bathroom. It was filled with steam. I walked into the room with my hands out in front of me. And then I saw it. My bedding was in the shower, the whole lot of it. The shower was turned on full blast. It was incredibly hot. I turned the crank to turn the shower off, until the pshhhhhhhhhhh noise disappeared altogether. I poked my finger at a wad of sheets. They were completely soaked. I wondered how long they had been in the shower. I became furious, suddenly sure that my brother had played a prank on me in the middle of the night. But the problem was that I knew I would have woken up if he had tried to take all of my bedding from me. And how had he gotten the mattress liner from underneath my body? It made no sense.

I grabbed as much of it as I could and rushed upstairs to put it in the dryer. I repeated this three more times until it was all in the dryer. After I turned on the dryer, I went down to the basement and looked for any clues that someone had put my bedding in the shower. There was nothing except for an empty bag of potato chips a few feet from the bathroom door. I threw it in the trash, certain that my mother would yell at me if she found it.

I went back up to my room. I tried to go back to sleep in the top bunk but I couldn’t. I wanted to play video games in the basement but I was too scared to go back there. I tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. I decided to wait until my family woke up.

It took forever. At around 8 am, my parents woke up. I asked my mother if she had taken my bedding downstairs during the night. She looked confused. I told her that I had found my bedding in the basement shower. She told me that in the middle of the night, I had walked into her room carrying some pillows and asked if it needed to be washed. She had been half-asleep and said, “Yes, it all needs to be washed some day.” I had also grabbed a bag of chips from her nightstand and asked her if she wanted any. She’d said no. I left with the bag of chips and the pillows.

My father told us that he had heard someone walking around the house for a long time during the night and had assumed that I had been running back and forth from my room to the bathroom to throw up.

I had no recollection of me getting up at night. I had gone to sleep at 11 pm and woken up at 5:30 am.

Later on, my brother woke up and told us that he had heard someone go down and turn on the shower – his room was directly over the downstairs bathroom – and that the footsteps had kept him up for part of the night.

We ate breakfast together. No one really spoke about what happened. My parents tried to act normal. But I always recognized when my parents were alarmed. Understandably, they didn’t want to deal with the potential for therapy, psychologists, dealing with an eating disorder, and whatever else they felt might be necessary solutions to what they perceived as a problem. They didn’t have a lot of money, and the last thing they wanted was to pay more bills. But I understood now. It was both a curse and a great relief.

I had sleep-walked.

Monday, March 29, 2010

53 Hours (Part 4)


The Alamo was okay. First we got an off-duty police officer to take a picture of me and Jen in front of it. He didn’t want to take the picture at first, but Jen told him that as a tax-payer she felt that it was her right for him to take a picture of us.

The tour itself was semi-interesting. However, I was annoyed by a Texan historian’s monologue to a group of tourists about the Mexicans’ brutality. He had compared Santa Anna to Hitler. I explained to Jen my theory that any historian who compares a historical figure to Hitler is not a real historian; at the very least, they’re a shitty one.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” I said. “First off, Santa Anna fucking won, and yeah, boo-hoo, that’s so sad that all the Texans died. But then they went and won the whole goddamned Texan Revolution. So many Mexicans died during that, and Mexico lost an enormous chunk of its territory. So what does he have to complain about? ‘Wah, wah, my grandpa died in the Alamo.’ Put a sock in it, you piece of shit.”

An old man overheard me and glared. I glared back.

He lost the staring contest.

“Yeah,” Jen said. “They deserved to die.”

We laughed.

The historian who had led the tour overheard her and looked hurt. We laughed harder.


After the Alamo, we went to the mall to see Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Every time the movie made any mention or nod at the state of Texas, someone in the cinema would invariably yell out, “Yeah! That’s here!” It was funny at first, but it quickly lost its humour as the movie progressed.

“Shut the fuck up,” Jen yelled. “Or I’ll make you.”

“Fuck you,” someone bellowed back. “I’d like to see you try you little bitch!”

Jen stood on top of her seat and looked around at the people around us. “Show yourself you motherfucker. I’ll fucking kill you.”

The cinema became silent.

“Yeah,” Jen said. “That’s what I thought.” She sat back down.

I shivered. Her anger jolted me.

No one said anything for the rest of the movie. No one even laughed.


After the movie, we walked back to the Greyhound station and into the storage facility. We asked the black guys we had met earlier for our bags and they were happy to oblige. They insisted on fist-bumping with us before we left, and wished us good luck on our travels. I asked them if they had gotten in trouble for helping us with our bag situation and they insisted that everything was alright. I thanked them again and met Jen at the payphone next to the station’s entrance.

“You know, you just seem like you’re full of white guilt when you do that.”

“Huh? When I do what?” I asked.

“When you’re asking them if they’re in trouble and shit.”

“What? I don’t follow.”

“It just seemed weird earlier, like you didn’t trust a bunch of black guys with your bag.”

“It had nothing to do with that. I wouldn’t trust any strangers with my bag, period. The last time I did it was robbed at the Albany Greyhound station, remember?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I guess.” She didn’t look convinced.

“Hey,” I said. “Remember that thing I said where you were going to try not pissing me off?”

Jen nodded.

“Now would be a good time to try to implement it. I don’t like people insinuating that I’m racist.”

“Aww, you’re not a racist,” she said. She kissed me. “You’re going out with an Asian. That proves you’re the least racist man on the planet.”

I laughed. “You certainly are a racist, though,” I said. “Your revenge against the whites is to go out with them and torture them.”

She smiled and hit me lightly in the shoulder. “I’m going to call that girl now. Sarah or what’s her name.”

“Yeah, Sarah’s her name,” I said.

Jen went to the payphone and called the Couchsurfer we were set to stay with for the night. It was a short conversation. Sarah had just gotten off of work and was on her way to pick us up at the station.

We waited a few minutes outside of the station’s entrance doors. A green Hyundai Accent rolled up to us. A girl got out of the car. She wore a black and white polka dot dress and large sunglasses. It didn’t look good on her; mixed with her pale skin, her clothes were an eye sore. She was quite fat, but exited the vehicle gracefully. She lowered her sunglasses, as if to inspect us.

“Jen and Marc?”

“Yes, that’s us,” I said.

“Hey, how’s it going?” She hugged us.

“Pretty good,” I said.

“Alright,” Jen said.

“Y’all want to go grocery shopping?” Sarah said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I haven’t eaten in a while.”

“Yeah, let’s go buy some food,” Jen agreed.


We got into the Accent and Sarah drove us to the grocery store. On the way I learned that Sarah was a Francophile. She had been to France several times, had had many French boyfriends, and preferred France over Texas. While we shopped for groceries she asked me if French was my first language and I told her that it was. I filled my basket with a loaf of bread, a bottle of peanut butter and a bottle of jelly. Jen was looking for Rice-a-roni and couldn’t find any. Frustrated, she walked away from us to ask a stock-boy where it was.

I took the opportunity to talk to Sarah in French. “Where did you learn French?” I asked her in French. She smiled awkwardly and didn’t answer. I looked in her basket. She had a baguette, a stick of butter, some meat, and a bottle of wine in there.

“Can’t you understand me?” I asked in French.

“No, I find your Quebecois accent difficult to understand,” she said in French.

“Oh,” I said. I wasn’t offended. It wasn’t the first time that had happened in my life. I switched to a France-like accent.

“How about now?” I asked.

“Yes, I can understand you fine like this.”

“Have you never been to Quebec?”

“No, I prefer France.”

“Why not? It’s so much closer, and you can speak French as much as you want there. It’s amazing.”

“Listen,” she said, switching to English. “I don’t do, Quebec. Okay?” She looked peeved.

I was shocked by her rudeness. “Okay,” I said. I don’t do fake-ass French-loving obese monsters, you stinking cunt. I’m closer to what you want to be than you’ll ever be.

Jen walked back. She had two boxes of Rice-a-roni in her arms. “I’m good to go now,” she said. “You guys ready?”

“Hell yes,” I said.

Sarah started asking Jen questions about our trip. Then she started asking about her life and her childhood and her Korean background. I was completely absent from the conversation. I didn’t mind. By the time they had finished their conversation, Sarah had parked in her apartment’s driveway. The sign next to her parking spot read, PARKING FOR FRENCH ONLY.

I laughed at how stupid it sounded.
“What’s so funny?” Jen asked.

“Nothing. Nothing’s funny,” I said, still giggling.

“Well, something is clearly funny to you,” Sarah said.

“I just thought the parking sign was pretty clever,” I lied.

“Oh, well thank you,” Sarah said. She smiled. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Thank you for having put something so clever up,” I said.


Sarah showed us her apartment. I thought it was too large for one person. All of the walls were painted yellow, which I didn’t like. She lived alone but claimed to have a boyfriend in France who visited sometimes. I put my bags down and sat on the couch. I took out a notebook and calculated how much money I owed Jen. Sarah and Jen made spaghetti in the kitchen.

Sarah popped her head into the living room.

“Want your spaghetti sauce spicy or not spicy?” she asked.

“Spicy, please. And no meat sauce. Ask Jen, she’ll make sure it’s vegan.”

“You got it.”

I flipped through my notes four, five, six times. No matter how many times I looked through them, I still owed Jen a lot of money. It was only a rough estimate, especially considering that I couldn’t yet look at my finance notes on my e-mail, but I owed her something to the tune of six hundred dollars. American dollars. I remembered how Jen had once sued her ex-boyfriend for over a thousand dollars. He had owed her a lot of money. She went on The People’s Court and won. I had seen the episode. Even though her ex-boyfriend was clearly losing the case, Judge Milian had to yell at Jen several times for not keeping quiet when it was his turn to speak. She only shut up after the judge warned her that she would be kicked out of the courtroom.

In the end though, she had won. Her ex-boyfriend – a destitute graffiti artist who could hardly make ends meet – ended up paying her the money. I didn’t empathize with him. But I didn’t want to end up on The People’s Court, either.

Jen and Sarah came into the living room with steaming hot bowls of spaghetti. Jen gave me mine.

“Thanks, babe,” I said.

“What are you doing?” she asked, sitting down next to my notebook.

“Looking at how much money I owe you. Please don’t sue me, I’ll pay for it all soon after I get home. I just need to work first.”

“Don’t worry, baby,” she said. She put her hand through my hair. “It’s okay, I know you’re good for it.”

“Aww,” Sarah cooed. “You guys are so cute.”

Jen took a bite of spaghetti. “What’s cute about it?”

“Just how you trust each other with money and all. It’s really cute. I wish I could be like that with my boyfriend,” Sarah said.

“Oh, but I know he’s going to pay me,” Jen said. “Because if he doesn’t, I’m finding him, and I’m chopping his balls off.”

We all laughed. But I was aware that Jen had only been half-kidding.

“Please,” I said. “I’d much rather be on The People’s Court instead.”

Monday, March 22, 2010

53 Hours (Part 3)

Judging by their accents and stories, the other people waiting in line with me were mostly Texans. I was confident that I was the only person going to Montreal from San Antonio. I took The Invisible Man out of my backpack and started to read it again. I found that I wasn’t able to – all I could think about was how much I hated Jen and how glad I was to be going home again. I decided to put the book away so I could focus on daydreaming about my friends, my family, and my cat Jelly.

After a few minutes I felt a soft poke on my shoulder. I looked down. It was Jen. I frowned.

“What?” I asked.

“You know,” she said, “You could come stay in San Antonio tonight with me.”

“Oh, so you change your mind now?” I asked. “Seemed like you were pretty adamant before about me getting the fuck out of your life.”

She gave me a sheepish look. “Everything outside is really scary,” she said. I smiled at that. The way she spoke was really cute. “Especially the homeless people. Can you come with me?”

“Hold on a second,” I said. “Let me think about it.”

I thought about it for a minute. She looked pitiful just standing there, waiting for me to make up my mind. In some sick, twisted way, I enjoyed it. I liked knowing she was dependent on me for something.

“Okay,” I said. “You’re not going to yell at me, then.”

She nodded.

“Ever,” I said. “If you even get a little bit mad at me, I’m going back home. Got it?”

She nodded again.

“So you’re not going to yell at me?”

“No.”

“What do you mean, no?”

“I mean, no I won’t yell at you.”

“Good.”

I picked up my duffel bag.

“Wait a second,” I said. “Are you even sorry?”

She said nothing. I already knew she wasn’t capable of apologizing but I had to try.

“Whatever,” I said. “Let me go change my ticket.”


I went to the front counter and paid fifteen dollars to postpone the next scheduled bus ride of my trip by 24 hours.

The guy behind the counter printed out a new set of tickets and stretched them out.

“Damn,” he said. “You crazy.” He showed the tickets to his colleagues. They laughed.

“I know, everybody keeps saying that,” I said, annoyed. “But I’ll bet you anything that the closer I get to there the less crazy people will think I am.”

“Good point,” said the guy behind the counter.


I walked back to Jen. We had a few hours to kill before the Couchsurfer who we were going to be staying with got off work, so we decided to find a place to store our bags.

“I don’t see any storage lockers here though,” I said.

“That’s easy,” she said. “Follow me.”

I followed her to one end of the station, to a set of swinging doors that were clearly marked with signs reading AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.

I didn’t want to go through the doors. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? Where does that go, anyway?” I asked.

“Stop being a pussy,” she said.

I figured that was a good idea, so I followed her.

On the other side of the doors was some sort of storage facility. There was luggage on hooks, on the ground, on racks. In one corner, three black guys in were rapping to each other and laughing. They were wearing uniforms – I couldn’t tell what their jobs were, though. One of them leaned on a hand truck. None of them seemed to be doing much work. We approached them.

“Hey guys,” Jen said. “Do you know a place we could store our bags for just a few hours? We can pay you.”

“Sure, honey,” one of them said. “There’s a place right in here I can hide it.” He pulled back on a tarp covering the wall and revealed a hole that could fit our luggage. “These boys won’t touch ‘em, I won’t touch ‘em. The bags are safe here, y’all.”

I didn’t want to trust a bunch of strangers with my bags, but I felt that it was too late now to stop what was happening. The man seemed to read the hesitation on my face, because he repeated himself. “The bags’ll be safe. Y’all don’t worry.”

“Huh,” I said. “Yeah.” Jen looked at me accusingly. I knew she thought my indecision had to do with the fact that they were black.

“We’ll pay you, obviously,” Jen said. She passed the man a ten dollar bill. “There’s more in it for you if our bags are nice and safe and unstolen when we get back.”

The men laughed. “Nah, y’all are alright, nobody’ll touch these bags,” the man said. “Actually, keep the money.” He handed the money back to Jen. I was relieved. I felt it was much easier to trust them if they were so keen on doing us a favour for free, even after being offered some money.

“Look at this niggah, he look like he seen a ghost,” another one of them said.

“Nah, I’m just tired man,” I said. “I just want to go take a shit on the Alamo and then pass out.”

They laughed. “I hear you man. Y’all been traveling far?” the first man asked.

“Yeah, we just came back from Central America. We spent three months there,” Jen said.

“You two at the same time? I mean, you two traveled together?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Jen said. She looked at me. “Three months with him. It was awful.” I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not.

“That’s the world’s biggest understatement,” I said.

“Yo, you got an accent, man. Where you from?”

I pretended to be indignant.

“Accent? What accent?”

“Come on man, you got some little accent there.”

“I’m from Montreal. In Canada.”

“Oh! I was banking on somewhere north but not that north.”

“Yeah, Montreal’s pretty north.”

They looked amused until a man carrying a clipboard walked past them.

“Alright, we gotta do some crew work, so y’all take care and come back later, we’ll be here till six o’clock if you need anything. Don’t worry about your bags. They’re cool, niggah, they’re cool.”

They shook hands with me and Jen. We left the storage facility.

We stopped inside the terminal. “Wanna see the Alamo?” I asked.

Jen nodded.

We walked out of the Greyhound station. It was bright and sunny out. The sun felt good on my skin. There was a small park in front of us. Jen had been right. There were plenty of homeless people outside. Most of them were lying down in grassy areas and sleeping. After having seen homeless people walk around with guns, swords and knives in Central America, though, I wasn’t threatened by men who were able to take naps in parks in broad daylight with no fear of getting stabbed in their sleep. We walked through the park towards the downtown area of San Antonio. The sun was bright and we both squinted as we walked.

“How Asian of you to accept to take the money back,” I said.

“At least I don’t have an accent,” she said.

She took my hand in hers and I squeezed it. She squeezed back.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

53 Hours (Part 2)

I was the last person in line. I hoped that I could have a seat next to Jen but I knew I wouldn’t care that much if I couldn’t sit next to her. I gave the bus driver my Greyhound ticket. He unfolded it out to its full length – it was almost four feet long. He laughed and shook his head.

“Yeah, I know,” I said. He gave me back my ticket and I got on the bus.

The bus was packed, except for three seats. One of those seats was the one next to Jen. I made my way to the back of the bus and sat next to her.

“Hey,” I said. “We made it.”

“You’re a fucking idiot,” she said. “What if I had ended up on the bus by myself?”

“Well, the important thing is that that didn’t happen,” I said. “I’m here right now and we’re together again. Let’s just enjoy the time we’ve got left, okay? San Antonio’s going to be great.”

Jen took out an anarchist zine and skimmed through it.

“You know,” she said. “Maybe you shouldn’t stop in San Antonio like you planned.”

She looked into my eyes. “Maybe you should keep going until you get to Montreal.”

It was unexpected; I didn’t know what to say at first. I kept opening my mouth but I couldn’t get words to come out. After a few attempts I was able to say something.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Don’t stop at San Antonio. Just get on the next bus and get out of here. I’m done with you.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“Fine,” I said. I took out H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man out of my backpack and opened it. “I’ll go.”

I pretended to read the book but I couldn’t. All I could think about was how ruthless and impatient Jen had just been, and how I could never be like her. I wondered how and when she had transformed into such a monster on this trip. She wasn’t the same girl I’d known 3 months earlier.

Every 20 seconds or so, I turned a page of the book so that it looked like I was reading. Jen kept reading her zine. She looked calm.

Some time went by – maybe 30 minutes or so – and I was finally able to accept that we were breaking up and I was heading home. I started looking forward to it. I still felt hurt by her words, but I felt a sense of liberation now.

I turned back to the first page of The Invisible Man and started to read.

A girl sitting behind us started to talk loudly to her friends who were sitting in the seats on the other side of the aisle from us. She had an English accent. I could tell Jen was getting annoyed by it because her face started to scrunch up and she put her zine down. She turned back several times to give the girl dirty looks, but the girl either didn’t see her or simply decided to ignore her. I could tell it drove Jen crazy.

“God,” she said. “Don’t you hate fucking British people?”

I didn’t say anything. I kept my eyes glued to my book.

A few minutes went by.

“Goddamn it, she’s so fucking annoying. I want to slap her.”

A few more minutes went by.

“Fuck! Don’t you hate fucking annoying British people? They’re the most annoying tourists ever. Why couldn’t she just like, take a plane back home or something?”

Jen looked at me. “Why aren’t you answering me? What’s wrong with you?”

I didn’t answer her.

She scowled and looked out the window. I could tell it hurt her that I was ignoring her. She wasn’t used to that. It made me sort of happy.

Eventually, the bus stopped in San Antonio. I was terrified and excited at the same time. Adrenaline rushed through me at the anticipation of leaving her and at the near-certainty of her yelling at me one last time.

I got off the bus and hurried to grab my duffel bag from the man unloading baggage. Jen waited for her luggage to be unloaded. I walked to a vending machine. It cost four US dollars for a large bottle of water. I figured that since I wasn’t going to be in America for much longer and that I needed a new bottle anyway, it was worth the expense. I put four dollar bills in and the machine gave me a bottle of water. Jen walked up to me as I untwisted the cap to drink some water.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“What’s it look like? Drinking some water.”

“But it’s four dollars. Are you crazy?”

“It’s my fucking money. I can spend it on what I want.”

“Whatever. Let’s go.”

She walked towards the exit and I walked towards the line for the Dallas-bound bus.

“Wait, stop. Where are you going?” she asked.

“Home,” I said.

“Why?”

“You told me to go home and I asked you if you meant it and you said yes. So I’m going home. I don’t want to be around you.”

“Oh,” she said. She looked surprised and hurt. “Fine. Bye.”

“Bye,” I said. “Have a nice fucking life.”

She turned around and left the Greyhound station.

I walked to the back of the line where the people were waiting for the Dallas-bound bus.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

53 Hours (Part 1)

I woke up first, at about 9:30 am. We had to be at the Greyhound station for 11 am. That was when our bus to San Antonio was set to leave. I got up and stretched my limbs out. I watched Jen sleep for a minute. She snored. It was loud. I felt a pang of anger at the recollection of all the times she had woke me up, jabbed me in the ribs, yelled at me in the night, for snoring. She was guilty of the same crime but I knew it was ludicrous to try to punish her for it. I felt that I was better than that.

I didn’t bother to wake Josh or Caitlin up at first. I had so rarely been alone in the previous 3 months that I relished whatever solitude I could get. I took a shower. After that, I ate a banana and read some magazines.

At 10 am, I decided to wake up Jen. I shook her awake and told her it was time to get up. She looked at the time and groaned. She stood up and screamed at me for not having waked her up at the same time as me.

“We’re going to be late because of you. Fucking idiot.”

I tried to defend myself but I had no real excuse. I had just wanted to be alone for a while. Josh and Caitlin woke up. Josh came into the living room.

“Don’t worry guys,” he said with a Texan twang I still wasn’t quite accustomed to. “We’ll make it to the Greyhound.”

Jen pushed past me and packed a bunch of her bags. Josh and I shared a look and chuckled. He helped me pack a few things and then went to the bathroom and took a shower.

At 10:40 am he got out of the shower and unpeeled a banana. He was still in a towel. He looked like he had all the time in the world. I envied him. Jen looked annoyed by his relaxed demeanour.

“We’ll make it,” he said through a mouthful of banana. “Don’t worry. There’s plenty of time.”

At 10:45 am, Caitlin, Jen and I got into Josh’s SUV. Josh came out about a minute later with another banana. He started the ignition and drove us to the Corpus Christi Greyhound station. It was 10:55 am when we got there.

We all got out of the SUV and I hugged Josh and Caitlin. Jen didn’t. Caitlin gave me a Corpus Christi flag. They were hard to come by, so I was touched. I put it in my luggage. I hugged them again and told them to visit soon. They went back into the SUV and drove away.

Jen and I ran into the Greyhound station. Jen didn’t need her bags checked, but I did. There were four people in line. I cut in front of them and told the man behind the counter that I wanted to check my bags in. The man was black and had a dark blue dress shirt on. He had a moustache and wore large glasses. He looked like he had never smiled in his life.

“Listen, boy,” he said. “You can’t just jump in front of line, here.”

“I know, but I-”

“But nothin’. Get your ass back in line and then I’ll talk to you.”

I wordlessly walked to the back of the line.

No one in the line smiled. For some reason I expected them to.

Jen stood outside the cordoned off area of the line and stared at me. I could see her gritting her teeth.

“We’re going to miss the bus because of you,” she said.

“Then go on without me,” I said.

She didn’t say anything. She just stood there. I wondered why she didn’t get on the bus.

“Just go up to the driver and tell him to wait a minute,” I said.

The man behind the counter heard me and hollered, “The driver will not do that under no circumstance, man.”

“Well, never mind,” I said. “Just get on without me and I’ll take the next one and meet you there.”

“God, you’re useless,” she said. I was confused. Why doesn’t she just get on the bus if she’s so pissed?

Eventually I got to the front of the line. It was 11:04 am.

“Can I help you?” asked the man behind the counter.

“Yeah, I want to check my bags in. But only if the bus hasn’t left yet.”

“There’s no way I can check that for you. If you’re lucky it’s still loadin’ right over there, but otherwise you gotta pay fifteen bucks if it ain’t there.”

“I’ll risk it. Just check my bags, please.”

I gave him my passport and Greyhound ticket. He looked at the ticket and laughed. When he smiled I could see that he was missing several teeth.

“You goin’ to Montreal? Ain’t that in Canada?”

“Yeah, last time I checked.”

“That’s damn far. You crazy. Shit. Corpus Christi to Montreal.”

“Yes, I am.”

“You’re what?”

“Crazy.”

“Why you doin’ somethin’ stupid like that anyway?”

“Cause it’s less than a hundred bucks.”

“Still, man. That’s three days on different buses.”

“Can you give me my ticket back? I’d like to get on the bus.”

He put the Greyhound ticket in my passport and gave it to me.

“Have a great ride,” he said.

I looked around. Jen was gone.

I ran to the bus depot and grabbed a bus driver smoking a cigarette.

“Quick, where’s bus number seven? The one going to San Antonio.”

He took a haul of his cigarette and pointed at the bus I needed to get on.


I ran to the other side of bus number seven and saw that there were still passengers getting on. I was relieved.

Jen was in the middle of the line. I walked past her and stood at the back of the line.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mister Nicaragua (Part 1)


“I really want to go swimming,” Jen said.

I was lying on my side on the bottom bunk of the bunk bed, watching Lethal Weapon in Spanish. I was naked. “I don’t,” I said.

“Then do you have any other ideas for what you want to do for the rest of the day?” Jen asked.

I sat up. “Where do you want to go swimming? I kind of just want to stay in and watch TV for the rest of the day. Maybe we can have a little mini-date at the diner later or something.”

“I hate that place,” she said. “Remember the shitty service from this morning?” I did. Earlier in the day, a waitress had served a group of eight American surfer guys before us, even though we’d arrived at the diner before them. Jen had exploded, yelling at the waitress and refusing the Americans’ apologies. She then yelled at them, instantly losing their sympathy; thereafter, they turned on her and teased her, which infuriated her further. I’d buried my face into one hand and stared sullenly at Jen through my splayed out fingers.

“Yeah, but that diner is the cheapest and best one around,” I said.

She ignored me and took out the Lonely Planet book. “You know, ever since you got mugged you never want to do anything but watch TV and eat.”

I looked at her. I wanted to get mad, but she was right.

“Okay,” I said. “Where the fuck is this place?”

“Here’s the beach I want to go to,” she said, pointing at the map. The island we were on, Isla Ometepe, was made up of two volcanoes joined by an isthmus. The island was shaped like an hour glass. She scratched at the north-eastern part of the isthmus. “Right there,” she said. “Playa Santa Domingo.”

“Okay,” I said. I got up and searched my bags for a pair of boxers that didn’t stink. “How much water should I bring?”

“Don’t bring too much,” Jen said. “We’re not going to stay there that long, and there’s probably shops around there anyway.”

I found my King Kong boxers and smelled them. They were starting to turn but weren’t too bad yet. I put them on. “Good point,” I said.

“Why are you putting on your boxers?” Jen asked haughtily. “We’re going swimming.”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. I took them off and put my swimming trunks on. Then I put on the money belt and put my jeans on over the trunks. The money belt stuck out a little above the jeans. I found my rattiest t-shirt – it was the white one that I had bought in a market in Esteli and that I had been wearing when I was mugged in Managua – and put it on. I packed my black hoodie, a 2 litre bottle of water and some sunblock.

I looked at Jen. She was putting on a bikini; the top was pink and the bottom was green. She looked like a watermelon. She looked hot.

“You look like a watermelon,” I said. “You’re pretty hot as a watermelon.”

She skipped towards me. “You look like a homeless guy,” she said. She kissed me.

“That’s the look I was going for,” I said.

“Get your shit ready,” she said as she put on shorts and a shirt. “We’re going.”


We walked to the main road and waited next to two other tourists, a couple. The guy was built like a truck and wore shorts and sandals. He had no shirt on. He could have killed me easily. The girl had flip-flops on and wore tight jean shorts. She had a shirt on. They were white. They kept looking at my stretched earlobes and snickering. It annoyed me.

“People who stare are fucking assholes,” said Jen, loudly enough for them to hear. They stopped laughing.

As usual, there was no set schedule for the bus. We just waited for a while until one appeared. The guy standing next to us took a step back to let us on the bus first. “Thanks a lot,” Jen said sardonically.

The bus was full of noisy and excited locals. There were two benches left on the bus. Jen and I sat on one of them and the other couple sat on the one next to ours.

“Hmm. Not awkward,” I said.

“At least you’re not sitting next to them.”

“They can hear you, you know.”

“I don’t care. I want them to know I think they’re stupid.”

“Well, they certainly know now.”

“Good. I hope they aren’t going to the same beach as us.”

The couple looked sad. They just sat there, staring at the seat in front of them. It made me laugh for some reason.

“Well,” I said. “If they were, I don’t think they will be now.”

I looked out the window. The scenery didn’t change much. A volcano on the left and another volcano on the right. Water, jagged rocks, beaches, tall grass.

“Hey,” I said. “How are we going to know when to get off?”

“There’s going to be a sign saying ‘Playa Santa Domingo.’”

“I hope we didn’t pass it yet.”

“We didn’t. We haven’t been on long enough.”

The bus stopped to let some people on. I peered out the window and saw the sign for a hostel. Someone had spray-painted, “Amusez-vous tabarnak!” onto it.

I laughed. “Hey, check it out,” I said. “Some Quebecer wrote on that sign.”

“Where’s the sign? I can’t see it,” she said.

“It’s right there. It says, ‘Have fun tabarnak!’”

“I still can’t see it. Are you sure it’s right there?”

“Jesus, you’re blind. Open your eyes, you fucking Asian!” I joked.

She mock gasped.

“You’re a typical chink,” I said. “Blind as all fuck.” She smiled and slapped me lightly on the back of the head.

“You’re a baguette carrying frog piece of shit,” Jen said.

“Stop smiling. I can’t tell if your eyes are open or not,” I said.

“You eat frogs,” she said.

“You eat dogs,” I said.

“Speak white,” she said.

“At least I am white, bitch!” I said.

A few locals turned back to look at us. Jen tried to keep a straight face but I could tell she was breaking.

“You’re my favourite gook,” I said. “A total dog eater.” I knew I was pushing it but I didn’t care.

Fortunately, neither did she. She laughed and leaned in to kiss me. I squeezed her by the sides and kissed her hard.

“Mmm,” she said. “We should fuck on the beach.” I kissed her again.

“There’s probably going to be people there,” I said, shaking my head. “But anyway, saltwater and sand aren’t good lubricants.”

She stopped and pondered for a moment. “I really need to take a shit,” she said. “Think I could go on the beach?”

“There’s still going to be people there.”

“I don’t care, I’ll still go. I’ll show everybody here what an Asian turd looks like. I’m sure they’re curious anyway.”

I noticed the couple next to us gawking again. They looked disgusted. Jen gave them a dirty look.

“Are you guys going to stare at us again?” she asked.

The guy opened his mouth and let out a barely audible, “No.”

Jen turned back to me, but I was looking out the window.

“Isn’t that the sign?” I asked. I pointed at a skinny piece of wood sticking out of the ground with “Playa Santa Domingo” scratched onto it in tiny blue lettering. It was barely legible.

“Oh. Yeah, that’s it.”

We stood up to make our way to the front. Jen looked at the couple and said, “I hope you guys have a great time here. Enjoy.”

The couple stared at the seat in front of them.

We got the bus driver to stop so we could get off. It took us a few minutes to walk back to the sign. I couldn’t see a beach anywhere, just a dirt trail leading into a rainforest. There was a large hog’s corpse rotting further down the trail. I could hear it too – the flies were loud. There were some kids playing with toy cars and pieces of garbage close by. There were no adults around.

“Think this beach is gonna be worth it?” Jen asked.

“No,” I said.

We continued into the rainforest.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Citrus xsinensis

General disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. I'm not in the habit of writing stuff like this, but I felt like it so here it is. If you can even stand the morbid implications of this story, enjoy.



It was February 24, 2010. A Wednesday. At 9:29 am, I drove my bucket loader up to the weigh station and abruptly braked. I dropped the bucket down to the ground, smashed the parking brake on with the heel of my hand and stuck my iPod back into my pocket. I turned off the ignition but didn’t bother to take the keys out. I descended the loader’s ladder and hopped off the bottom rung. It was cold and snowing heavily. I was only wearing jeans and a t-shirt, so I jogged to the weigh station and entered it through the sliding glass door. The weigh station was small; it was only meant to be an office for Will – my boss – and to serve as a lunchroom for the loader drivers.

There was already a man in there. I didn’t know him. He was wearing coveralls and was picking up the dirty rugs from the floor and replacing them with new, clean ones. He didn’t say hello and neither did I. We both avoided eye contact with each other. I got my lunch bag from the fridge and made some hot oatmeal while I waited for him to finish. At 9:32 am, he left and all of the rugs in the weigh station were new. I was alone now. I sat down at the lunch table and took an orange out of my lunch bag. I opened up a newspaper and read the statistics from the previous day’s Olympic events as I unpeeled the orange.

At 9:33 am, I ripped the orange in half with my hands. I held one half in my hand and looked at it. I popped it in my mouth and chewed once, twice. It tasted good. I swallowed. My eyes went wide and I stood up out of my chair, knocking it to the ground. The orange half was stuck in my throat.

I couldn’t breathe.

I tried to stay calm and thought about what I had learned in my first aid training. I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do exactly. I tried to give myself abdominal thrusts but I knew I wasn’t doing them correctly. I grabbed Will’s office chair and tried to fall onto it so that the top of the chair hit underneath my ribs, but the chair kept rolling away. I was getting faint. It was 9:35 am when I started passing out. I got my cell phone out and called my father, who was working in the next building. I let it ring five times and then hung up. I fell to the ground and tried to keep my eyes open. It was agonizing. I managed to call 911. I never heard it pick up. I passed out at 9:37 am and never woke up.

I died at 9:43 am. My head leaned against the sliding glass door and my eyes were halfway open.

The first person to see me was Will. He entered the weigh station for his break at 9:45 am. He asked, “Are you okay?”

I didn’t answer. He shook me by the shoulders and I still didn’t answer. The last thing I had said to him while alive was, “Do you want me to raise the black iron powder or focus on the blue clay mixtures?”

My cell phone warbled, “Oui, allo? Êtes-vous là?

Will picked it up and answered it. The 911 operator instructed him to check for my vital signs and he did so. I was obviously dead. He told them the address and where the weigh station was in relation to the other buildings. He was pretty calm considering the circumstances. He ran out of the weigh station to the building my father worked in. He left the sliding glass door open. Once inside the adjacent building, he yelled out, “André! André! Marc-André’s dead!”

My dad took off his reading glasses and put down the blueprints he was reading.

“What?”

“Marc.  He's dead.”

My father’s secretary asked, “Do you want me to call 911?”

Will said yes even though he had my cell phone in his hand and was still on the line with them.

My father bolted out of his chair and ran to the weigh station with Will. Because Will had left the door open, there was a layer of snow covering my face now. My father attempted to give me CPR. He forgot to tilt my head when he gave breaths, and he pumped too many times. His cadence was way off. He did this until the paramedics came. One of them took his place and checked my vital signs. “He’s dead,” one of them said. And I was. My father wept.

He got in the ambulance with me and hugged my legs and refused to let go until we arrived at the hospital. They rolled me into the ER and it was determined immediately that there was nothing to be done. I was dead and wasn’t coming back. My father punched a concrete pillar in the waiting room until his hand bled. He broke his middle finger.

My last words to my father had been, “You finish at five, right? See you later.”


-----------------


He called my mother and told her. She cried and was unable to speak for a minute. She asked him to come home right away. He drove over there as fast as he could. She was in the living room, sobbing. He had to pass a portrait of me on the way to the living room. He fell on the floor and cried when he saw it. I wouldn’t have wanted him to do that, but he did it. He explained what happened to my mother and after about 30 minutes, they were too tired to cry anymore. My mother told my father that he had to call my brother. She said she didn’t want to hear his reaction.

My last words to her had been, “Have a nice day! I love you very much.” She had heard one of the best ones.

My father tried to call my brother but he wouldn’t pick up; he was writing an exam. My dad left a message asking him to call him back as soon as possible and that it was an emergency. At 1:28 pm, my brother called and my father told him what happened. My brother was in his car with three of his friends. He bawled his eyes out and made them all get out at the next intersection. They yelled after him as he drove away. He drove to my parents’ home in Sainte-Victoire. It was 2:41 pm when he got there.

The last thing I had said to him was, “Okay, I'll look for it and if I find it I'll give it to you to fix.” I had been talking about my broken cell phone charger.

My brother had dealt with the brunt of the emotional blow from the news during the drive. He called my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins to let them know. Sometimes they picked up and they cried. Some of them didn’t cry. Most of the time, he had to leave a message for them to call back. That was a mistake. The phone rang off the hook for the rest of the evening and into the night. At 5:43 pm a telemarketer called trying to sell travel insurance. My mother answered it. She screamed, “My son just died! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” and then hung up the phone.

The man was probably upset and confused by that.

At 6:40 pm, Paul called. My parents hadn’t called him. He just wanted to hang out with me. He was the first friend to find out. He didn’t cry while on the phone with my parents. He calmly said, “I’ll call back tomorrow,” and sat down next to his son and sobbed.

He was pretty lucky. The last thing I had said to him was, “Talk to you Saturday. I love you man.” It was sarcastic but it was still pretty good.


-----------------


My brother eventually fell asleep, but my parents never did. My dad was too angry that it was an orange that did me in. “Une crisse d’orange de marde!” he kept saying in between bouts of blubbering. He went as far as to throw all of the oranges in the kitchen into the garbage. On February 25, 2010, at 4:13 am, my brother woke up and asked my parents if they wanted to go to my apartment. They agreed that it was better to do that and sort through my stuff than to sit around and do nothing.

They got to my apartment in Montreal at 5:32 am. They used my keys to get in. Ramón was up getting ready for work. He was surprised to see them. They told him what happened and he didn’t seem to know what to do. He was conflicted because although he was too upset to go to work, he really needed the money. My father convinced him to go to work anyway. My brother offered to drive him, and Ramón accepted. They left.

The last thing I had told Ramón before going to my hometown was, “Hasta mañana, niggah!”

My parents went to my bedroom and started to go through all of my books and school documents. They looked at every sheet of paper. When my brother came back, he helped them pack some of my stuff into boxes. They took down all of the pictures I had on my wall. They looked at each picture together. Sometimes they smiled and sometimes they cried.

A folded piece of paper fell out of one book my dad pulled out. He unfolded it. It contained all of my passwords – for my e-mail, computer, router, and so forth – in case of an emergency. ONLY USE THESE IF I’M DEAD – CONTACT FRIENDS/FAMILY, the paper said in sloppy handwriting. It was the closest thing to a will that I had ever written. My brother took my laptop and tried different passwords to open Windows until one worked. That was the only password he ever bothered to use.

It was 6:42 am. My brother logged onto his Facebook account and went onto my profile. My last status update had been, “I don’t really see the difference between Google Earth and Google Maps.” He sighed when he read it. He wrote a stock message that he then sent to everyone who had added me as a friend on Facebook. The message explained how I died and asked people to call my cell phone –my brother had it in his pocket – if they’d like to know further details on my death and if they’d like to attend the funeral. While my brother did this, my parents read through my travel journals together.

My cell phone rang continuously for the rest of the day. Sometimes there were text messages. One of them read, “Hey man, you okay?” It was from Josh. Another one read, “This is a joke, right?” Kelly wrote that one. My brother never bothered to text back. First Rob called, then Anna, then Alexandra, then Mike. At 11:43 am, Julia called and asked my brother what had happened. He had described my death several times by this point; he didn’t feel like crying when he told her the story. She asked where he was and he told her that he was at my apartment. Then she asked where I was and he said, “The morgue.” She cried silently. She told him she would be over there right away and then hung up.

My brother briefly wondered if she had meant my apartment or the morgue.

Not long thereafter, there was a buzz at the door. My mother answered it. Julia entered and hugged my parents and brother. She had never met them before. She cried and my parents cried. They shared stories about me and after a while Julia asked what they were going to do with my cat, Jelly. My parents didn’t know yet. She offered to take care of her and they accepted. My mother was relieved because she was allergic and didn’t want to deal with a cat. They talked about me for a great deal longer. Eventually, Julia put Jelly in a pet carrier and took her to her apartment. Jelly didn’t seem to mind.

The last time I had seen Julia, I had hugged her and said, “Bye. I’ll miss you.” She was the last person I had hugged before I died.


The night of February 25, 2010 wasn’t easy for my friends that had read my brother’s message. None of them slept very well.


-----------------


On February 26, 2010, I was at the funeral parlour on Logan and Parthenais in Sorel. There was another cadaver in the room with me. When he had been alive, his name had been Yannick Bouchard. He had worked for the Hell’s Angels. I wouldn’t have gotten along with him. A man who worked at the funeral parlour named Jacques had drained my blood as well as Yannick’s. He had embalmed us too. We both smelled relatively pleasant.

My funeral was set to be on Sunday at 6 pm. My father wanted it to be earlier but that was the earliest it could be arranged without it being done in a church, and he knew that I would have hated having my funeral done in a church.

On February 28, 2010, at 6 pm, my funeral started. People had come from all over to make it. Many of my friends showed up; the funeral parlour was barely big enough to fit everyone. There were more friends than family. Even a few of my ex-girlfriends showed up. I would have been impressed at the turn-out. Several people had traveled from Toronto to make it, even though they had work or school the following day. Many of my friends in Toronto felt guilty about not going. I wouldn’t have wanted them to. Many people brought alcohol. My friends wanted to talk to my brother about me but he was drunk and told people to leave him alone. It was an open-casket funeral and he was the only person who refused to look at me. I wouldn’t have been offended. The make-up that Jacques had caked on to my face looked unnatural and creepy. My lips looked redder than normal and my earlobe jewellery was gone, leaving my ears looking dry and shrivelled. I was wearing a dress shirt that was unbuttoned at the top so that people could see part of my chest tattoo. My arms were at my sides and looked artificial and stiff. My eyes were closed and I had a hint of a smile on my lips.

My paternal grandmother repeatedly walked up to the casket and made the sign of the cross. She wandered around the parlour saying, “He’s in Heaven now,” to anyone who would listen. My mother walked around the room and asked all of my friends for their e-mail addresses. “In case I want to write down your stories about Marc-Andre,” she told them. My father stood in a corner of the room with his hands in his pockets. He didn’t speak unless someone spoke to him first. All of my cousins looked at their watches and wondered how long one has to stay at a funeral in order not to be rude. My brother took the piece of paper that I had written all of my passwords on and took it out of his pocket. He looked at it for a moment and then crumpled it up and put it in the trash. He grabbed his bottle of vodka and walked to his car.

My friends formed a few circles close to my casket to talk about me. At one point, Josh said, “If he hadn’t been vegan, this wouldn’t have happened.” I wouldn’t have liked that. Mike said, “His brother’s got 75% of his same fucking DNA and he won’t even talk to us.” He took a sip of whiskey. “He’s the closest thing we’ve got to him, too. What an asshole.” My mother overheard but didn’t care. She just asked for Mike’s email and he gave it to her. Right next to my casket, Ramón told stories about all of the pranks I had played on him and on other people. Everyone listening to him thought the stories were hilarious. People were leaning on my casket as they laughed. I would have thought that that was pretty great. Jason and Dustin put their drinks on my casket at one point and my grandmother scolded them, but I wouldn’t have minded at all. At 7:35 pm, Dustin made a joke about how funny it would be if he leaned over and opened my eyes. It didn’t go over very well.

At 7:58 pm, Paul asked my father if it was okay to play a song that I had liked. My dad didn’t think it was a big deal and allowed him to. Paul put a portable stereo on the bottom half of my casket and pressed play. The song “Disciple” by Slayer came on. It was loud, loud enough to make the casket vibrate. It made everyone uncomfortable, and my grandfather angrily threw the stereo across the room. I would have laughed. He started to yell at Paul and then looked back at me and broke down crying. Paul picked up the broken pieces of the stereo and put them into his backpack. He was unfazed.

My friends started to leave. Most of them had school or work the next day. I would have appreciated them having made the effort to come. Some people loitered around in the parking lot sharing more stories for a while. By 10 pm, the only people still in the funeral parlour were my parents, my grandparents and Paul. My grandfather apologized to Paul and shook his hand. My brother was passed out in the backseat of his car. There were empty bottles scattered everywhere around the funeral parlour. It looked like the aftermath of a party.


-----------------


My mother tried to convince the government that I had wanted to donate my body to science, but the province refused to listen to her. I hadn’t applied the proper sticker to my health insurance card before I died. Additionally, I had no life insurance, so my extended family pitched in to help my parents pay for my burial. I was buried, even though my mother recalled me telling her a few weeks prior that if I were ever to die, that I would have wanted any part of my body left over from donation to be cremated and thrown into the Richelieu River. I wanted it to be as unceremonial as possible, and I had joked that I would prefer my ashes being scattered from a coffee can like in The Big Lebowski. My mother told no one about this. My parents purchased a plot in a Catholic cemetery in Sorel. There was a modest tombstone with a fleur-de-lys and a slogan underneath it. It was the only tombstone that had English written on it. It read, “To all the friends I’ve lost, we’ll meet again.” I would have wanted to believe that. My brother had found it scratched onto a piece of paper from when I had been trying to come up with lyrics for a song back when I had been in a band in high school.

A few months went by after I was buried, and except for my brother, people got on with their lives. My brother dropped out of school and focused his time on drinking. He eventually quit cold turkey and went back to school. My parents made a shrine out of my old bedroom in their house. My parents gave most of my possessions away to my friends, but kept some of them neatly stacked in a corner of the room. There was a giant portrait of me hanging on one wall. Every once in a while, my grandparents would come visit and hang around in the room for an hour or so. I would have thought that was creepy.

About a year later, my mother got an idea. She e-mailed everyone who had attended my funeral and asked for their addresses. By then, I had mostly decomposed. Most of my friends sent back their addresses. My mom had over two thousand different pictures of me. She made a point of sending two a year to each address that she received. When she couldn’t let go of certain pictures, she made copies for herself first. She kept this tradition going until she died.

Eventually, I became little more than crumbs of flesh buried deep in the soil next to a driving school and a St-Hubert restaurant. But I was still remembered, and that’s what I would have liked.