Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stained Glass Excerpt - Suspended Animation

From the journal of Kyle Welland, protagonist in my novel in progress, Stained Glass...
(Kyle Welland)
Andrew isn’t the least bit interested in what I’m doing. I thought he might perk up a bit, beings as the research is about his own family, but he remains as sullen and dull as most male teenagers. Sometimes I want to grab him by the collar, shake him, and yell “Wake up!” at the slouching brute we’ve created. But it wouldn’t do any good. He’d stare me down with that who-gives-a-shit look of his – a look harder than bricks. As far as he’s concerned his mother simply wants him out of her sight, and his father has been designated keeper – the guy who drags him away from his friends, such as they are.
St. John the Divine in Yale BC
We stopped at Hope for breakfast. There’s a place we go to whenever we’re heading inland called The Home Restaurant. They serve big plates of classic North American cuisine. For breakfast: bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast, all washed down with endless cups of coffee. It’s always crowded there, the drone of anonymous conversations punctuated by the clatter and clash of the kitchen and the bustle of waitresses whisking by with armloads full of heaped plates. Andrew and I had run out of words. So we sat on either side of the table stewing in our own silence while life went on around us.
I honestly don’t know how we got to this place. Sure, I haven’t been a role-model dad. But I haven’t been a complete bastard either. Doreen and I have taken care of the basic stuff. He’s never lacked for shelter; food; support in school; encouragement in sports, music, anything he wanted. But something’s been missing and he blames the two of us for it. I’m not even sure he could identify where the black hole in our relationship is, or what kind of gravity is sucking the love out of our lives. It’s real though. Andrew’s resentment is real.

When did it start? I can’t pinpoint an age. I remember once taking him to a hockey tournament in Portland, Oregon. He would have been ten or eleven. I loved watching him play. Not because I thought he was NHL material or anything like that, but just to see him out there racing after the puck, carving turns, having fun – at least that’s what I thought. At one of the games he played so well his coach decided to name him player of the game. This happened in the dressing room, so I didn’t know about it and Andrew never said a word. I only learned he’d been chosen when one of the other parents remarked on what a great game he’d had and how he’d been given the medal. When I congratulated him he got mad. He said he didn’t deserve it, that the medal was fake and that he’d thrown it away!
Alexandra suspension bridge
Spuzzum, BC

Christ! I should have seen then and there something was wrong, shouldn’t I? Maybe if we’d taken him to a shrink right away, before his armour hardened, we might have been able to work things out. Would a normal parent have done that? Would it have done any good? Doreen and I talked about it. “It’s low self-esteem,” she said. “If you don’t honour yourself, you can’t abide others honouring you. It clashes with your view of who you are. So you either get mad or make a joke out of it.” In the end we thought we were over-analyzing the situation. We’d keep an eye on it, try to get him to feel a bit more confident, up the encouragement dial a notch or two. The piece we hadn’t put together was: if you don’t honour yourself, you can’t honour anything else in the world. Everything becomes meaningless and stupid. Especially your doting parents.
There I go, placing the blame on Andrew, as if there’s a text book up on some psychologist’s shelf that will let me off the hook. Hey, Dad, don’t feel so crappy. Don’t beat yourself up. Your son’s condition has a clinical name. He was born that way.
No matter how hard I try to avoid it, I can’t stop blaming myself. If only I’d seen the neutrons of depression collecting in his soul, I could have zapped them with a heavy dose of parental love. Now it’s too late. His dark persona has a gravitational field that crushes any attempt at consolation or love. His nihilistic moods are a vortex, a funnel in the space-time continuum that devours any sentiment and transforms it into anger. It’s bigger than me now, and I have to admit it. Doreen, of course, says I pander to his moodiness and that if I’d only stand up to him he’d soon change. Sometimes she’s so fucking naive I have to despair.
After breakfast we stopped at Yale. Christopher Dryden would have landed there to begin the final leg of his Barkerville journey, four months after setting out from Portsmouth. He must of wondered where in God’s name he’d landed. Yale is one of those places that served an immediate purpose, then got left behind – an enclave where people still live but no-one really knows why. In the 1870s it would have been alive with travelers and teamsters heading up the Cariboo Trail to Barkerville and points between. I imagine CD stepping off the paddle-wheeler onto the beach, looking up at the Barnard’s Express Line depot. He must have taken a stroll up to St. John the Divine Anglican Church. “In its pews have knelt trappers, miners, native Indians, railway men and every kind of pioneer,” says a historical photo proudly displayed in a little kiosk set up near the church.
Andrew grunted when I read it out loud. I took it as a sign of grudging interest. “Imagine!” I said, “You’ve come twelve-thousand miles, and you land right here, where you’re going to catch a stage coach and rattle-bang along for another four-hundred miles, what would you be thinking!”
“Can we get going. I gotta take a shit.”
A little farther down the road, just past Spuzzum, we hiked down to the old Alexandra suspension bridge, an abandoned section of the Cariboo Trail. Christopher Dryden’s memory-ghost hovered round me. Was he still excited with his gold rush mission? Did he have any inkling what to expect, now that the last vestiges of civilization were petering out? How could he not have doubts, looking into the vast wilderness that rolled by as he listened to the rough conversations of his companions?
I had to admit to a sense of admiration for this strange man. Bizarre as his notions about God and the universe seemed to me, I couldn’t deny feelings of human – dare I say British – pride in his determination to press on. Bishop Hills must have told him during his stopover in Victoria about what had happened to his predecessor Reverend James Reynard, who exhausted himself emotionally, physically and financially getting St. Saviour’s built, then left Barkerville shortly afterward for Nanaimo, where he died a few years later. CD must have known the character of the place – it’s rambunctious, greedy, licentious nature. He had to have known that ultimately he would fail by any measurable standard. But onward he went, armed with his King James Bible, his Book of Common Prayer, and a spiritual lineage that harkened all the way back to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who got burned at the stake for his Anglican convictions.
“How long we going to hang around here?” Andrew wanted to know.
His plaintive, teenage voice jolted me. We were standing on the metal grid that forms the deck of the Alexandra suspension bridge, the Fraser river surging almost violently through its rocky channel below our feet. For a split second I wished I could introduce him to the memory-ghost of Christopher Dryden. Not introduce him face to face, but have him immersed in the cloud of CD’s memory. I thought maybe, just maybe, that would have been the antidote he needed for his nihilistic infatuation.
Then the ghost of my great-great grandfather flew off, as if he had suddenly become aware of the of the winter light and needed to cluster round the warmth of that aloof sun.

1 comment:

  1. Very intriguing....I would like to know a bit more of that ghost...the writing seems a bit formal to come from a journal and I had a small concern about the grammar in this sentence: "He *must of *wondered where in God’s name he’d landed. Yale is one of those places that served an immediate purpose, then got left behind – an enclave where people still live but no-one really knows why."


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