“Where are you from?” and the associated answers

We cycle through the emergency room with abscesses and bronchitis and tendonitis and regardless of whatever logging or mining town we find ourselves in, the questions are the same. Filling out the forms is hard. What is my address? Where am I from? Easy questions, standard questions, elusive to me, to the hitchhiker who sits in emerge with me, alienated by the commercials that play on the hospital’s flatscreen t.v. A few nights ago, he played accordion in the dark over some nameless north Ontario river while we loomed quiet and large as life in the darkness, clapping for the songs and the fireflies. I try a few chords that come out screechy and uncooperative from the bellows. Right now, I live in a tent in a gravel pit on Pitopiko road. Last week, the same tent, in the Big Pic forest. Next week, we’ll be driving across the country to the Okanagan, stops in Winnipeg and Banff. Do I list my mother’s address, where my things sit in suspended reality, my antiques and silk sheets and seashells? The shop in Hearst where we sleep in a job-site trailer equipped with bunk beds and cook our 5/5$ cans of beans over a tenuous propane flame and piss outside? I think some of my mail still arrives at my old apartment in the Beaches. Houses and apartments fly by in a rush as I scrabble to identify where I live. Kensington market, waking up to the sound of buskers in the street, painter room mate flying down the street on his skateboard with his dreads trailing behind him, paintings tucked under arm. An apartment by the river in Guelph, damp and mouldy. The farm, the pond out back, the light always on at the end of the driveway. Nervously, I scribble down my mom’s address, trying for the post code.

“Your phone number?”

“Um, currently without.”

My phone lies mysteriously broken on the kitchen bus, next to my bag of toiletries (can’t keep scented products in the tent due to bears!), having simply shut off one day and refusing to turn back on. As staff, we haven’t had a day off in weeks. A camp move where we cooked three meals, a half day where we still cooked breakfast and lunch, another day where I made the three and a half hour drive to and from Hearst to pick up my food order, a narrow escape from an eleven day shift- these all lie between me and my ability to even have the time to get a broken phone looked at, not to mention that there is nowhere in these tiny towns to go, no shady cell phone shop on Spadina to tinker and adjust, to buy a questionably obtained iPhone replacement.

We shower at the Hearst Husky, brush our teeth in the parking lot while we wait for our laundry to finish, threatening each other with death and maiming should anyone give away this blessed truck stop secret to the rookies. Cruising down highway 11 in my kitchen bus and having it break down on the side of the highway, putting out the reflective triangles and screaming obscenities in vain when I realize that in between nowhere and nowhere, I have no cell service, that’s home, that’s real life. Cesaro draws a swan in my latte and puts Joni on the record player and we argue if Hejira or Travelogue was a better album. Christmas at Yorkdale, I see him outside Holt Renfrew and Joni’s on the radio- just a dream, that, so distant a dream. Joni comes back while I’m on top of the kitchen bus drinking a scavved mickey of vodka. “A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway,” so apt. And we rest our heads on the strange pillows of our wanderlust when we live at the Howard Johnson, fighting over showers and sleeping nine to a room.

Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, my boss tells me, “Pour some gasoline on it!” as I try to light a boxfire in the rain. An already irresponsibly large fire becomes worse. There is a lot of conventional wisdom I’ve discarded- “Don’t do drugs, don’t get tattoos, don’t drop out of highschool,” but I can not bring myself to start a fire with gasoline.

I open the back of the bus after a bumpy ride down logging roads and the box of communal condoms and a largeish handful of loose cigarettes rain down on me. I stand dejectedly in the detritus, remembering that I forgot to take the eggs out of the fridge before embarking on this journey, and they too, will be everywhere. “Condoms are on the kitchen bus, guys, get your condoms!” I announce. Camp mom.

Home is where my loves bring me mushrooms from a burnt block where fire ripped through the two year old plant. Morels, sautéed on the propane flat top and served with white Wonder bread, toasted gold with margarine. Where my tent lies in a copse of poplar and wildflowers. The primordial cry of sandhill cranes rings out throughout the forest, echoing off the granite that has thrust its bony shoulders through the soil- the Canadian Shield. Triggered by scent memories of spicy, pungent forest floors, the sudden surprise smell of strawberries underfoot- just the leaves, at the beginning of the season, followed now in early July by the hiding and miniscule fruit, so easy to miss. Remember, four years old, the wild strawberries on the lawn, how our backyard was the fields and the woods- is it any surprise that I’m so comfortable here, without address or borders?

And next week home becomes the Okanagan for a while. And who knows where after. What to write down, when trying to get mail or a library card or see a doctor. “Bex. Orange tent in the gravel pit at kilometer four of Pitopiko Road. Next to the wild strawberries and the roses, if you hit the shitters, you’ve gone too far.”






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