a story of belonging

If we’re going to get to know each other from across the table, someone should start the conversation!
alison kent HOME KITCHEN myself in the kitchen finding story of belonging

Cooking involves some formulas – recipes – and some gut, intuition, know-how. Having taken years of classes, spent many long hours in the Kitchen, and tasted my share of delicious dishes, I feel like I’m just touching the surface of what’s culinarily possible. In the Chapters below, you’ll find some … Recipes. Well, mostly you’ll find recipe-free Recipes. I like to call it ‘Cooking with the Senses’ – often informed by what’s on hand, flavors I love, basic pairings learned over time. Check out my post here:

And with that in pocket, onto a story…

I’m sure if you looked at me – often fairly plainly dressed, never wearing quite enough makeup to break up my large, oval face, rapidly gaining years noted as accumulating lines under these tired green eyes – eyes always, however, at the ready to brighten with laughter no matter how dire the day – reading glasses recently stapled to my head or tucked into my bra, basic and unattractive to some while oddly intriguing to others, short in stature but largely unafraid of life – you might wonder how I could possibly have much of a story to tell. How could I be THAT interesting? Maybe I’m not. But maybe our stories, too often left our whole lives untold, are what makes us interesting?

Growing up moving around every 1-2 years, constantly the ‘new kid’, I was never able to create or claim any sense of belonging – to places or to persons. But I think I always knew I at least belonged to myself. I knew that when all else – when everyone else – failed, I still had some version of me. Too many times it was all I had. And when I failed my vastly imperfect self today, I would give myself a clean slate and the hope of bettering myself tomorrow.

It’s been 30 years since settling into my ‘last town’ here in Vancouver. Somehow, by the grace of God, between then and now I’ve come along this journey of finding a place of belonging in a home and in a family and in a work rhythm of my own. The Kitchen especially has become a center from which I’ve learned – am still learning – how to connect with family and friends and even with strangers-made-friends across the bigger world wide webs.

Nearing 50, I find myself for the most part standing solid (although who’s legs don’t shake now and again?). Fulling embracing my past for everything it has been, and fully excited to breathe in the next 50 days or 50 years – whatever awaits. New evolutions of my life as I know it and the subsequent pages of new adventures to be had will still come. But for now, for better or worse, this is the story I’ve lived, the story that has brought me to this place and time . I sincerely hope it encourages YOU to find your place of belonging, of solid rock on which to stand, and to possibly use it to connect yourself to those around you needing the same.

Chapter ONE | Four Garlic Frog Legs

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.
Maya Angelou

alison kent HOME KITCHEN charcoal painted thyme leaves

Growing up wasn’t an easy task for me. I‘m quite fortunate to have had any years at all past my teens, actually. Someone was clearly sending UP good words on my behalf! To this day, while I’m not sure how it was possible to have survived this long, I’m definitely now grateful to have done so. 

It’s hard to put a life of almost 50 years now onto paper, when that life itself never felt like much more than meandering miles of disjointed moments in time, so many particular details long forgotten, or misplaced. Perhaps purposely. How does one write any sort of personal story when all they carry are disconnected bits and pieces that never seem to make any sense, or don’t appear to link together in any meaningful way? But even in that, the remaining precious and painful moments have mercifully woven themselves into some sort of wild, winding thread that’s carried me to here, to now. 

Somehow the wiry broken strands were carried forward by a Spirit of stronger, more capable, more colorful ones. Dare I see touches of gold appearing here and there in my personal tapestry? Or have I intentionally woven them in, re-imagining my own past, in order to create eventual beauty out of the pasts confusion? Whatever it is, it all belongs to me now. I’ve come to own it all – even the pains, the embarrassments, the mistakes – at this point in my life, and there is a power to that. And a resulting freedom to finally share it, from a place of love for where it’s all brought me.

When all the Mental Health days come around and all the people who have and who never have lived within them is chiming in, I never really know what to say. I’m not sure how to contribute. I mostly stay silent because if my life never really made sense to me, how could any thoughts I feebly try to string together add any value to the conversations? And if I can’t add value, I would rather just listen. But in working recently with a amazing Branding professional who liked to get down and deep and dirty, and in subsequently writing – and rewriting – and rewriting – this book, enough scraps have been patched together all gold-glued Kintsugi-style, that sometimes it almost seems to make some sort of sense in retrospect, and gives me the beginnings of a voice. 

I was born quite by accident in September of 1971 to teenage parents, parents who hadn’t themselves grown up yet, and who would too soon need to constantly move their young family to keep work as a non university-educated (at the time) aspiring professional and (within 5 short years) a 23-year old mother of three and homemaker, both of whom were most likely just focused on sheer survival. I know I would have been. I understood it so much more in my own fears by 16 of potentially becoming an accidental parent, having tried to make sense of my world in all the wrong places. In trying to find that place of belonging for myself, only to move yet again and start all over.

As a result of Dad, young and new to the corporate world, needing job security, us kids were forced to uproot from homes, friends and schools to a new town every 18-24 months – small places that don’t even merit the word “city” as they definitely hadn’t earned it. Great experiences for learning to be adaptable, bad experiences for learning to make connections to any one place or person. Bad for learning anything positive about carrying on personal, human relationships. Good, by the way, for learning to catch snakes by the tail or collect tadpoles in buckets from blackberry lined backyard creeks, watching them grow into frogs and disappear. Who knew that one day I’d pay good money to eat beautifully sautéed frog legs or snails in juicy garlic butters while sitting in cafes in Paris over a glass (ahem, bottle…) of deep, velvety red wine… On that note, be right back… 

I never desired a “big life” of any kind – I couldn’t have imagined one if I’d even tried to, and it certainly wasn’t a common topic of conversation. But I’m thankful in hindsight I didn’t end up in a small town forever, surrounded by doors that are rarely pried open to new things, and staring out windows whose views never seem to change. I doubt that I would ever have explored, ventured out of my comfort zones, or become the person I have, surrounded by so much love and diversity, with incredible memories of physical and personal journeys taken. Lord only knows that my path at any given moment could have been drastically different by any series of altered steps.

Moving around a lot is disorienting, to say the least. My brain eventually became a sea of swimming faces and names and towns that float around my head when I think back, and it’s so hard to make any proper, normal sense of it. Other than one single girlfriend that I keep in touch with from high school (although she was a few years older than me and we never actually went to school together at the same time), I’ve very rarely come into contact with anyone I might have known. When it has happened that someone recognizes me (because apparently I’ve barely changed since grade school, at least not in height), I have fractions of seconds to try to place the face with a city, school, then name. If I can’t quite connect it, I’m not even apologetic. Really, it would be a lot to ask of anyone who had moved that much, and at least now I can just blame it on old age. 

New kids who don’t have people skills are prime targets for bullies of all shapes and sizes. It’s funny to look back on where the bullies ended up in life, compared to where I find myself now. I wouldn’t trade my world for theirs any day of the week, that’s for damned sure. There are, as I would repeatedly learn throughout my life, people who simply see reflections of their own insecurities when they look at you and they can’t figure out how to cope with what they see. I was by no means beautiful or confident, but neither was I afraid. And, let’s face it, most of us spend too many of our years living out of our fears. Despite all the many bullies’ efforts to make me feel as low as they perhaps felt about themselves, I eventually turned out pretty good if I do say so myself. Grounded. Happy. And still unafraid – or unafraid of sometimes being afraid. But I do remember those angry faces, names, places. Every single one. I wonder if they still live in their personal fears…

The luckiest of the bullied kids with no friends have at the very least a place that feels safe – a home – to come to, with a Mom that tends to their emotional boo-boo’s and tells them everything will be ok. A solid support system. I never connected to anything called “home”. Home was a new place all the time, never a familiar beacon of comfort, and it was hard to feel anything but displaced, confused and sad. Not to say care and love wasn’t offered, I simply don’t recall it amongst the busyness of younger siblings, finding new schools/churches/friends, reconnecting all the broken strands for all of us – the heaviness of not belonging, even within my own home, was a far more powerful feeling than anything positive that likely also existed. I was that kid that was never ‘the same as everyone else’, never understood, never normal. Too strong-willed, too hurt, too wild with ideas and dreams while too shy sometimes to chase them. I would sit under chairs and just cry in hopeless bewilderment at my confusing little world. If there was to be any sense of connection or belonging in my life, I would eventually have to find it – or create it – for myself.

Chapter TWO | Lucious Liver Pates

“My definition of man is a cooking animal. The beasts have memory, judgement, and the faculties and passions of our minds in a certain degree; but no beast is a cook.”
James Boswell, The Journals, 1762-95

alison kent HOME KITCHEN charcoal painted thyme leaves

They say the heart of the home is the Kitchen, but OHMY that was not really our thing growing up! That place of ultimate connection to one another at the start and/or end of each day, to our bodies, to our senses is mostly for me a memory void. I recall packed lunch sandwiches I could barely swallow down while sometimes hiding in various school bathroom stalls to eat what I could with the dreadful apprehension of both facing people, and of having no one to face if I were to wander hallways freely. I recall being made to sit and eat boiled peas and carrots and drink milk at dinner until it was completely gone, all of which I hated then and still ‘strongly dislike’ now. That stomach-fortitude for mind-over-matter had yet to be built, and I would have to forcefully gag down every bite before being released from the table, sometimes to throw up. No wonder I was so slim – between thrown out lunches and dinners spewn into the toilet, my picky little body barely ate. Little did I realize my consistently slim frame was more from a gift of good metabolism which I would one day, sadly, outgrow. If I was fussy about food, I was even fussier when it came to the dishes. I HATED touching the dirty dishes for all the goop and grossness mixed in with peoples disgusting fork saliva, and eventually would just pay my younger sister and brother to do them for me when my turn for the chore came up. There were some benefits to being the eldest sibling!

Instead of touching dishes in the Kitchen, I would secretly hoard weird items from it’s cupboards such as (clean and PRE-used) sheets of tin foil, or paper muffin cups. Anything I found interesting or artful, I would skim some ‘off the top’ and hide in a box in my room under my bed just so I could have them and look at them, with their beautiful wavy edges or shiny crinkling surfaces comforting me. I think I eventually confessed and returned it all, but a lifelong propensity to collect pretty things had begun. My heart knew how to see beauty in everyday things.

Throughout our childhood Mom had learned at least 5 different dinners to make for our family in weekly rotation over the years that I can vividly recall, including Cabbage Rolls and Liver’n’Onions – both of which, fussy eater that I was, I actually enjoyed. I still crave Liver when my body is feeling especially low in iron. Lasagne was the big treat meal, it’s layers of softened noodle, creamy cottage cheese, spinach and fatty ground beef/sausage saved for when she wanted to impress on the rare occasion of company (since we almost never knew any other families to have over).  Dad loved his ice cream, and at least that was always aplenty – by the actual gallon bucket-loads, taking up an entire half of the massive deep freeze we hauled from house to house. I must have had a sweeter tooth then than now, as I also remember some crazy 80’s salad that included whipped cream, coconut, jello and canned mandarin oranges that I couldn’t eat enough of then, but would have to choke down now. I’ve hardly craved desserts since those days – that salad alone probably cured me of sugar cravings for life.

In one town quite North, from about K-Gr 2, I have at best just a few memories, but one of them ended up traumatizing me and the other set a certain tone, both for the rest of my life. Grade 2 was my first boyfriend, Steve, who would proudly walk with me around the school using one of his hands to hold mine, and the other to beat up any kid that teased us. I remember I took him to our house one day to introduce him to my Dad, who, for whatever reason, I see in my mind as gardening at that moment. I’ve never seen him near a garden in any other place or time in life, so obviously many of my memories have evolved into their own selves over time. But I can see back now that while trying to wade through new town after new town of established, cliquey girl-groups that had no space for me, I would quickly come to form a dependence on the simple-minded acceptance of boys. 

Winters would bring massive snowfalls, piling white fluff all the way up to our roof eaves that would last for months. An older neighbour boy would help us make ice tunnels we could run through just for fun. I vividly remember him playfully dumping me in a sleeping bag one day and holding it upside down, tightly closed, while I struggled inside, screaming in panic, convinced I was about to suffocate and not – yet, anyhow – wanting to die. I’m horribly claustrophobic to this day, with a desperate fear of drowning and suffocating, either from this incident or directly exasperated by it. I had taken swimming lessons back then, but my oversized backside would overpower my tiny frame and constantly pull me downward into the watery abyss. Drowning frightened me – I must have had a close call or two? Who knows what originally triggers these emotional traumas. Happily there are also memories of learning to ride friends’ horses, and leaving for home afterwards with a car-full of hunted deer meat for our giant deep freeze, helping to feed our growing family. Someone asked me recently what my earliest food memory is, and how old I was. While I don’t remember the eating of deer, I knew somehow that it was special and that we were lucky to have it. I was probably about 6 or 7 by then.

Dad had become a small commercial loan officer for a large bank shortly after I was born. Whenever they had an opening in some far off town, I guess he got the job as I’m sure no one else wanted it, and off we’d go. Many of his customers in those small towns were farmers, and he would take me on his site visits to massive chicken or cow (dairy, beef) farms. If there’s a farming-land gene in one of my hands and a carnivorous gene in the other, I come by them both pretty honestly from those father-daughter field trips. Although, much to his dismay, I definitely didn’t catch the banking gene by any hand at all. 

I was often sent off with my Dad back in those days while, I presume, Mom tended to the younger siblings, and have dozens of memories of driving not just to farms but also to original Mustang car shows and early Commodore or Atari computer fairs. We would zoom off in the family Pinto, our own ‘65 Mustang or later, on special occasions, in Nana’s sleek black Corvette. He loved driving cool and fast for long miles since his old yellow Datsun days – it’s no wonder I eventually loved to nomadically wander as well. Later, once I got my drivers license it was Dad that taught me on the highways with one hand holding an ice cream. We would take two separate cars so we could drag race each other to church on Sunday mornings. Speeding tickets must have been cheap back in the day, as I definitely racked up quite a few by my early 20’s.

In the meantime before my license, without always a proper bus system on our outback roads, I rode a bike to get around. At least, for a few years. I left on my bike one day and found, at the top of our hill running down towards the main road, it had no brakes. Without time to react, I rode across the main road and into a ditch on the other side, thankful in hindsight to have lived to tell the tale, as at any other moment a car most certainly could have been coming. It wouldn’t be the last time I would be moving with lost brakes. Within a short time frame of that, my Mom and Dad were out one evening riding their bikes but never returned home. Instead, I received a call from the Hospital that Mom had been hit on her bike by a car and would be staying a few days. I don’t think any of us touched a bicycle again for at least a decade.

My birthday is at the end of Summer, usually on or near Labour Day weekend, meaning that if we’d recently moved again (every other year), I had rarely made any friends yet. Possibly to make up for it, Mom would go all out on decorating my cakes. Dad’s fascination with these new ‘computers’ and Atari games were playing some influence on me – one year was a cake made into a PacMan screen, a game I had become pretty Pro at as a result of having nothing but free time alone in my room.

It’s weird to have so few memories over the first few decades of my life, and for so many of those precious few to actually include food. I never gave food or cooking or kitchens or any of that a second thought back then or for many years afterwards. It wasn’t really a part of any popular broader culture that we would have known about, and it definitely wasn’t part of our family life. To see food be so instrumental in my sense of belonging back into my ‘old’ family and even into my new one with my own children all these years later is, to me, a bit of a fascination.

Chapter THREE | Decadent Lamb Lasagna

I say that half your life is spent trying to get out of a small town,
and the other half trying to get back to one.
Kelly Cutrone

alison kent HOME KITCHEN charcoal painted thyme leaves

Small towns all look the same after a while, and most fortunately – in hindsight only – not being rich enough to stay “in town” meant we tended to me more of the Country Folk variety of said small towns. I’m sure I didn’t mind – I mean, I didn’t know anything else, and still didn’t know enough to dream of anywhere else. Half acre backyards filled with creeks and frogs, massive farms to wander through, and nearby beaches with wild blackberries to pick and clams to dig were fantastic places for young, imaginative kids. ‘Back in the day’ you could wander around the neighbourhoods, such as they were, until dark or until someone’s Mom yelled out the back door for dinner or bedtime, as long as you were all getting along and no one was gravely injured.

Big yellow school buses took me down the road to the next new school building that I was destined to semi-reside in for one whole year before moving to a new middle school for about one more. I can’t remember if I often sat alone in the bus, probably because by then I was quite used to spending my time alone. Grade 6 was the first time I can recall trying to consciously ‘fit in’ and make friends – girl ones this time –  in some way. While one named Amanda would befriend me that year, I know I more desperately wanted the rainbow ¾ sleeve top that a cool girl had so that I could be part of “the group”, or maybe it was just so I could have something pretty to feel good in. But it wouldn’t have mattered. The cool girls overnights pajama parties, or staying up and doing anything past 7:30pm really, was all forbidden for me. There was no space for me to fit or belong other than with Amanda, who seemed to also have no one else. I was thankful for her, for someone, for just one girl to accept me. She was tall and quite overweight and while I didn’t understand her weight or the other girls reactions to it all, I did understand on another level that we needed each other.

I was becoming increasingly aware of my own size, or lack thereof, now that the other kids were growing up and out, and I most definitely wasn’t. I had always been the shortest, thinnest, tiniest but the margins between kids were less obvious in our younger days. Eventually I learned to feel too small, too unathletic, too quiet, too invisible in my skin. I would hide in the bathroom during gym classes – I couldn’t do the physical things other kids could do, like climb ropes to the ceiling or run fast sprints or hit flying balls with any sort of accuracy. I hadn’t really ever played sports, quitting basic figure skating because it was too cold in the north to play iced sports or being too uncoordinated to keep up with swimming lessons. I was left with no experience in being active and was too intimidated when the other kids could do all the things. Most of us carry strange relationships with our bodies, our health, our food, our weight throughout our lives – I would, from that point on, be no different.

We took a class trip halfway through the year to bike around some nearby even-smaller Island, likely before my previously mentioned race against brakes and cars. Being as athletically challenged as I was, of course I was at the back of the group and soon enough found myself alone and – I was sure – completely lost. Probably forever and ever, as kids minds tend to go. ‘Country Roads’ (funny enough recorded in my own birth year 1971) a classic from my Dad’s red and faux-wood panelled Pinto 8-track player came to mind and I started singing for them to take me home as I pedaled and cried, sure I was stranded for the rest of time on this fucking little Island. Even Amanda was nowhere to be seen. Was she way ahead? Far behind? Eventually I turned a corner and miraculously saw my group all waiting at the Ferry. Maybe cycling wasn’t going to be my thing either.

Art and walking seemed safe. While many things were forbidden for me like school dances or going to movies, working certainly wasn’t. I would sell Regal catalogue goods, walking alone up and down the long, mostly-empty streets in our sprawled out little micro-neighbourhoods surrounded by farmland, knocking on the doors of strangers. How on earth was shy little me ever THAT unafraid?! I took local community center calligraphy and art classes, and would practice for hours on end, writing, sketching and drawing alone in my room, soon making my own cards to sell. Eventually I added actual employment to this early bout of entrepreneurship to work at the little local farm at the end of our rural road with my younger sister. We would plant potatoes into the hard dirt, collect warm eggs out from under chickens, harvest the grown potatoes, feed the chickens… I can still picture it all. We also got to feed and care for the other animals, including a lamb we named Muffy, or something similarly cute and adorable. When Muffy later came of age and went to the butcher, we got to take home half for our deep freezer in exchange for having taken good care of her. Having grown up near small farms, it felt quite normal to eat something we had lovingly raised for that purpose. 

I’m pretty sure I’ve worked pretty steadily since, from at least 11 or 12 years old, teetering between employing myself and being employed by others for the two decades to follow until I settled solidly into the full time battle of Entrepreneurship. Oddly – and to my Banker Father’s great dismay – I’ve never had a penny to my name either way, and have no idea what I did with any of the small bits of money I did have. At 13 I did spend a few dollars on my first cassette album – Michael Jackson’s Thriller – to play in my bright yellow Walkman. It – and all other popular music – was also forbidden, so I had to hide it at my older neighbouring girlfriend’s house and could only listen to it when I hung out with her. Somehow by middle school catching snakes and tadpoles or picking berries was becoming less appealing than Michael Jackson, jelly bracelets, stirrup pants or, soon enough, more boys. Many more boys.

AH, boys… What had started in Gr 2 with Steve – understanding a males capacity to take care of me when I often felt so exposed and unprotected in seas of ‘mean girls’ – never left. While I wasn’t allowed to spend as much time with the school kids, I was allowed to spend all kinds of unsupervised time with the church kids. In most smaller towns the latter was a far worse influence alternative by far. By Grade 8 the majority of the church kids were quite heavily into all the sex, drugs + rock’n’roll scenes – far more so than any of the people I knew of at school. The school girls mostly just sat around listening to Madonna – whom I’d never heard of before then – crimping their hair and wearing bright neon oversize tops over fitted leggings. At a time when I soon also had to start wearing braces and ALL the embarrassing headgear that went along with it (and Dad – who had to pay for it all – would drop me off at school to make sure I was wearing it ALL DAY), and couldn’t obviously have many friends at school, I was willing to take any sense of want and inclusion I could get with the church kids, at any price. Even if not knowing how to – or that I even should – protect myself would one day put me in the Hospital.

Thankfully I wasn’t left with too many permanent kinds of consequence before, yet again, we left for a new town, a new school, new people, and a new home. And for new troubles all of their own.

Chapter FOUR | Prawns Four Ways

What will be the death of me are bouillabaisses, food spiced with pimiento, shellfish,
and a load of exquisite rubbish which I eat in disproportionate quantities.
Emile Zola, French writer (1840-1902)

alison kent HOME KITCHEN charcoal painted thyme leaves

New places can be better or worse or they can be nothing at all, blurring every experience back into all the previous ones. Some of the places I’ve lived are so mushed together that as I’ve (rarely) revisited them over the years since, nothing connects me to them any longer as I can’t pinpoint any particular memory concretely. I quite recently drove around the last town I lived in on the Island before moving out on my own, and I couldn’t make any sense of it. I knew I had been to a house on that street, but I couldn’t remember why or with whom. Then I would question whether I had the right town, or the right street. Or I would think I had a memory of a person or place, only to realize it was definitely a different person from an entirely different place. Or, then again, was it? It’s as though half the connectors in my brain are snapped and just flailing about wildly, not sure where they’re supposed to be attached at the other end. Where’s the dammed color coding?! Maybe everyone’s memory works that way over time, with age, but it feels heightened with such a nomadic upbringing.

Family occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas were especially and horribly uncomfortable. I’d never learned to talk to people in general, let alone my own family. I never could think of anything to say and small talk quickly become the bane of my existence. Yes, school is fine. No, I don’t play any sports. I would often leave and just walk for hours, even in the middle of the night from my downstairs window. I still hate small talk – we can all see the weather, so what about it? I longed to talk deeply into everything I felt about life, but was never around any one person long enough to develop that sort of relationship until much later.

That last place I lived before Vancouver was luxuriously and painfully the longest to that point. I was there for exactly an entire four WHOLE years, which was an absolute record, finally graduating High School with a tally of 8 homes and 8 schools, that I can recall, in the span of 18 long, painful years.  I landed there in time for Grade 10, the last year of a local Middle School, followed by two years of the nearby High School where too many friendships had been established too long ago. I never knew where I belonged – I was good at Math and Art, hated English (reading!) and managed Science, but no one direction or passion or group of kids stood out. The few girlfriends I did make were cruel behind my back, but they were all I had. I mostly sat alone, hoping no one would really notice me, and desperately hoping someone – other than more boys – would at the same time. I felt like I was strangely living some kind of bizarre existence of a dozen unrelated dimensions.

I had never been a part of sports teams where relationships with other humans might have at least had a launching point from town to town of ‘Oh, you play soccer? So do I – join our team!’. I bravely – and perhaps naively – joined a field hockey team in Middle School, but having never played before was mostly a bench warmer who spent so little time on the field that when I was called on, I was disoriented to the game and wouldn’t know what to do. Instead, I clung to my art classes and semi-private lessons as my constant throughout my childhood, which were unfortunately also quite solitary. Labouring over detailed drawings would give me a sense of purpose and accomplishment, though, and I suppose I thought one day I would pursue art in some way. I spent hours in my basement bedroom drawing and sewing my own clothes, eventually taking Fashion Design in High School and wore my own creations as part of the runway show. I even designed and – with Nana, Mom and Aunty’s help – made both my Gr 10 and Gr 12 VERY COMPLICATED graduation dresses I had modified out of some idea or magazine or such. They were nothing like what any other girl was wearing, but I guess I no longer minded standing apart. It was clear I didn’t fit in anywhere in particular, and, so what. Besides, so little in the stores everyone else was shopping at would fit my tiny 90+lb frame on my heaviest days.

As my world had gradually become lonelier and lonelier, being so much harder to find friends and fit in as the years passed and the kids were older and were clear about not needing new people, I relied heavier on myself and lived largely within my own mind and space. I would drive for hours on end, singing for the Country Roads to take me … where? Where could I go? I hated feeling lost to any place, or with any person. I didn’t want to be anywhere after awhile. I just didn’t want to exist anymore. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to die, I simply didn’t want to live – or to ever have lived.

In carrying so many broken pieces that I couldn’t emotionally put together, I found myself increasingly not being able to connect with anything at all, and wanting to simply disconnect entirely from life itself. Not so much a sadness as a deep yearning to magically disappear from a world that perhaps was not actually meant for me to live in. While often envisioning myself careening fast cars off sharp cliffs into peaceful non-existence during the many hours I would spend alone driving along the coastline, I further detached myself from the world, from my own emotions, from situations I couldn’t understand or control. While I would sit for hours yearning for and imagining my death, I somehow knew deep down that I would never have the muster to actually follow through. Although years full of reckless behaviour would probably prove at least some small efforts to the contrary.

By 15 I started working at the McDonald’s down the street as a distraction, which one cannot necessarily say is “the exciting beginnings of a career in food”, but it turned out to be a great way to avoid the emptiness of free blocks and lunches at school. I would head down, skipping class as I liked, to work busy school-week daytime shifts. If Mom happened to stop by, I would claim I had a ‘spare’ from classes. One girl I knew from Church worked there, too, and had often been severely bullied by some of the same oddly unbecoming girls that had been bullying me. Eventually she tried to commit suicide, to all of our shock. Although I’d often thought about it, I hadn’t really considered it a serious option until then – I’m sure it was the first real contact any of us had had with suicide at that point. I remember the intense feelings of jealousy that she was brave enough to at least try to end her misery, whereas I would merely plod on while continuing to dream of trying to end mine. Especially pronounced after repeated assaults by the male co-workers and managers at my few jobs, again falling prey to the simple acceptance of boys in the midst of so few befriending girls.

The gangly Church bullies turned their focus on me after that, no longer having to split their time and efforts, mercilessly cruel. Between them, the catty school girls and too many terrible boys, it was relentless. I soon abandoned most of the kids my age to start hanging out with some a few years older than I was. If one came to the door, my younger sister would yell there was someone there for Dad, not imagining it was for me (or, more likely, to tease me). These older kids did much cooler things anyhow, like go-karting, beach fire pits, hiking and shrimping on the weekends, versus sitting around gossiping, hanging out at malls and painting each other’s nails. A few miles down the Coast, shrimps could be brought up at dark by the full basket-load to be steamed right there on the cliffs above. How did people just know how to do these things? Who imagined you could go to a single spot with simple gear and get BUCKETS of fresh prawns for the cost of a few hours with friendly faces? Could I find this place again if I tried? It’s by MILES my favorite memory of this town.

Later on I would skip my own Graduation events to go and hang out with these older friends, having finished High School themselves 2-3 years ahead of me. One of them happened to be the kind older brother of the worst tall, buck-toothed bully, but him and I were just friends. She probably feared otherwise, and would become even more vicious to me over time, if that were possible. I bumped into her a number of years later after I moved to the City, and greeted her with a genuine smile and a hug, having since found a great life on my own and knowing she had no hold on me any longer, but she hadn’t changed. I doubt she’s ever addressed the poisons in her own soul. In my mind, that was the day I won whatever imaginary battle we had been fighting. I’d largely forgotten that town, like all the others, prior to writing – I still just wish I could remember where that amazing shrimping spot had been…

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