My arrival at Stop Log could have been pulled straight from a Monty Python skit,
‘Big dumb moose stands in lily pads. Man paddles canoe loaded with all his worldly possessions to isolated cabin in the Great White North. Moose will charge if threatened. Moose sizes up man; chews lily pads instead. No threat. Man a shadow of his former self.’ Moose are smart that way.
Guys, it’s been more than twenty-four hours since I left while you slept. I’m completely off the grid, no e-mail, texting, tweets, nothing. No contact. No choice. I’m sorry.
Everything was just as we’d left it.
But, lifeless without you.
I brought all my old friends with me, and for the first time in many years, feel no guilt about unpacking them. They didn’t leave me; I left them. My mute companions, they ask nothing of me but to open them and be swept away by their contents. I also brought all of those bottles from the basement. You know the ones. Medicinal purposes only, my little chickadees. They’re here to help Papa chase away some demons.
Now sit down. Bottle of Johnnie. Say something worthwhile.
I tried. I really tried to make it work. What happened was NOT your fault. NEVER think it. Your mom and I grew apart, stopped talking, just argued.
Boys, we had a strong bond. I was a good father, but a real man has to work. Provide for his kids. I failed you.
Failed you miserably. They’d all be better off without me.
Need to lose myself. Stop thinking. Stop being. Drink.
… but NEVER you guys.
The world and I hit a bad patch, again. This is the worst by far. Year and a half since I last had a job.
Constant insecurity. Rejected for yet another job. No heat. Screening calls. Wolves at the door. Unrelenting anxiety. Never-ending pressure. Never thought it would be like this – for so long. So many dreams – all gone. Can’t even afford to buy my precious kids a birthday present.
It breaks my heart that I haven’t been able to buy you anything for such a long time. Nothing. Google the Great Depression for context. Be good to your mother.
She deserves to be happy.
Guys, I found a letter about the demons I need to exorcise, between pages 346 and 347 of an old friend.
Good evening, Johnnie.
It might help things make sense, but when you’re older.
“Cher M. Lafleur,
I know men don’t usually write about such things, but I felt compelled to tell you that I read with great regret and disbelief, and great admiration, of how you protected your son last year. You risked your iconic status for the sake of your son. It was hard to fathom then.
Let me tell you sir, when I was a teen, you were my childhood idol. I wanted to be you. Now, I wish I was your son. I would fit right in. I love French culture and consider myself more European than North American even though I grew up in Southwestern Ontario. It was alright. In the 1960s and ‘70s, we could pick up AM signals from Toronto, Cleveland, Tigers games and wicked new Motown sounds out of Detroit. The music and baseball was awesome. Not so the hockey. You see, sir, I was a Habs fan in the wilderness. That meant subduing passion, quietly celebrating otherness, and being force-fed endless Saturday nights of spirit-numbing Leaf games. My frustration grew knowing that every night, just down the 401, you and the Flying Frenchmen were whipping the Forum faithful into a frenzy.
I loved hockey sir, but it no longer tastes the same. Whenever the networks run those ‘memorable hockey story’ contests, there is only one that ever comes to mind. It would be my last fling with the naive hero worship of “The Hockey Sweater” before greed bid that au revoir. It is not your fault sir, but the mention of your name still stings me deeply.
I’m 15 and going on a bus trip to Toronto to that most delicious of contests, Leafs vs. Habs! This would wash away all those missed gems at The Forum. It was just one game in the middle of a dreary winter, but to me, it was my first chance to see you flying down the wing, hair flowing like a Gallic God, maybe scoring the winning goal on the latest padded plug-horse in the Leaf net.
With two minutes left in the second, you scored to break the tie. I really wish you hadn’t. If you hadn’t, I might have seen it coming.
In those days, intermission was where the action was in Maple Leaf Gardens. That, and Church Street. Thousands would bolt under the stands at the buzzer to smoke and drink. Some, like Dad, spent the entire game down there, doing the ‘good-time-Charlie’ thing, with cronies and ‘clients‘.
Just before second intermission, he suddenly appeared, threw a Bacchanalian feast at my lap – three huge bags of popcorn, two large Coke, and an Oh Henry bar – and said,
“I’ll be right back.”
He gave a wink and a nod to two guys from our bus, and was gone. They seemed confused by this. I wish the reek of smoke and booze had snapped me out of my idiotic naiveté. I’m so embarrassed that I didn’t see it coming. So blind, so stupid, I just sat there like a stooge, savouring those unearthly delights, and soaking in the sights and sounds of the enemy camp.
The Queen’s portrait and Export ‘A’ ads. Is that the Queen in the ad?
Was it true you used to smoke a pack before a game? What brand? Gauloises?
I would smoke Gauloises while watching French movies. I’d drink red wine, and the occasional Pastis or Pernod, while writing naked at the kitchen table, just like in “Betty Blue”, “37.2° le matin”. Let me tell you sir, unlike Quebecois and European films, we weren’t allowed to see sex and booze on the screen here in the ‘70s. I hated being manipulated. I was different, enlightened. So, I haunted repertory cinemas instead of protesting in the streets. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, but I did want to prove them wrong by quietly increasing ticket sales of European films. Sir, it took a long time for the echoes of,
“Kids are meant to be seen and not heard.”
… to get out of my head.
I recently read that French children are raised differently, treated like adults, making them less anxious, more mature. Is this true? Pardon me for prying, but I’d bet you son is your real son, because, as my Dad used to say,
“Blood is thicker than water.”
You should be glad of it. You see sir, I was adopted. I don’t know if you’ve ever known one. We’re hard to spot, but you’ll see us on the periphery, never showing off our abilities, or knowledge, never expressing our opinions. We’re the great listeners surrounded by those who feed off an audience. Pardon the melodrama, sir, but we live in the shadows with our real family, a ghost kingdom of lost souls, unwanted, unwelcome, at odds with God and his offspring, and with social norms and mores, hollow shells walking around with normal facades, but churning inside with self-loathing.
I was born in the B&W era when teenaged pregnancies were hidden, not broadcast, when attitudes hadn’t shifted since the time of the Orphan Trains and Oliver Twist. I think we should do something about this explosion of ‘loving’ couples trying to complete their families through adoption. Having played the puppet, I know many will fail. You see, we don’t belong; we don’t have real pasts, or form real bonds. We have identity issues. I’ve even read we think about suicide a lot. Our intense fear of rejection compels us to reject friendships and relationships before they reject us. We don’t trust. We don’t attach. We are actors, liars and thieves. And please don’t get me started on international adoptions. It’s tough enough to force an adoptee,
“Ungrateful little bastard.”
… to act the part when they come from a similar culture, let alone from some other place, like Romania, Russia or China. Mark my words, recent stories of ‘loving’ families jettisoning the ungrateful little urchins when they just won’t attach, will become more common.
I timed that popcorn perfectly, finishing the last tasty kernel just as you stepped back on the ice. I looked around to see if Dad would come up for the third period.
The action on the ice was fast and furious.
They scored a quick one. Sacré bleu! Tie game!
Why do those guys keep looking at me?
Back on the ice, Steve, Jacques and you were buzzing their net like angry wasps. Sorry, I can’t give you any more details, I’d lost focus.
One was looking at me; the other scanning the stands.
Were they planning on kidnapping me?
Why? My family had no money since ‘his’ business went bust and things changed.
Had he paid them to kill me?
“Ungrateful little bastard.”
Mom slept on the couch every night, Dad drank. They didn’t talk. She cried. She smoked. Smoked so much her face turned grey. I know sir, I’d watched a lot of horror films while on my own for hours at a time. I’d watched people turn into zombies.
Was this how it happened in real life?
Ten minutes left.
Are they gay? Nah, it’s the mid-70s.
I’m sure you remember, there was no overtime in those days, no shootout – a tie was a tie. But against the Leafs, in what would turn out to be my last chance to see you live, a tie was a loss.
Please, win! You have to win. It might make things okay at home. Make Mom stop crying. Make the tension go away. I won’t have to hide under my covers when his voice hit that dreaded level.
Let me tell you sir, a win would have been nice, but I had other means of escape at the time – comedy films, horror films, daydreaming, men’s magazines. Please don’t think any less of me for that last one. It was either that or let real emotions, real feelings and real relationships in. Those were not welcome then, I was building the walls around me.
I’ll be impenetrable!
And I became impenetrable.
Please don’t think of me as some ungrateful urchin. I am truly indebted to ‘him’. I found out who I really was at the bottom of a 26’r of CC. That’s all it took to learn about my realpast. To cut through reams of official non-identifying government documents – all us little bastards deserved to know about ourselves.
I found out I was different.
“You aren’t mine.”
“You were adopted.”
For years, I was angry.
It was only later that I realized there were millions of us. Disconnected. Searching. Angry. But what did I know, I was only 10, so I just cowered under my sheets, kept under the radar, and played in the nearby woods all day – pretending and daydreaming. Daydreaming of my real past – the colourful one.
I’m descended from the Black Donnellys! I’m a Donnelly! I’m Irish! Cool! I’m interesting.
You scored. Thank you. 4-3. I think I heard the final buzzer. You guys must have won.
The crowds filed out as if at a funeral.
Of course sir, the booze got him. Cops told his family he’d been there a few days – found him alone in a pool of blood. We didn’t exist after my Mom risked everything and got us the hell out of there. We rode in the car behind his family.
Hated him for dying.
But not that night.
They approached as the crowd thinned,
‘Come with us.’
Do I run? Do I yell? Where is he? Oh God. Are they going to kill me? In the street? On the bus?
No choice. Trust them?
Those guys,we walked through the lobby along a roped off section. You may remember Sir, you also walked through the lobby to the team bus.
I really must be a … “Disappointment.”
There you were! You were right next to me! You were on other side of that rope!
My God, it’s him! It’s Guy! Get an autograph!
Is that ‘dad‘?
No! Keep looking.
A moment later you’re on the team bus. Gone.
Where is he?
Do I leave? Do I get on that bus?
Forget it, you’re alone. Abandoned. Again.
I will not cry! Do NOT cry! DON’T YOU DARE CRY!
Those guys, they took care of me, watched over me, and made sure I got home. Maybe they were French. Maybe they were adopted and taking care of one of their own. So, I learned to trust only strangers. The strangers of travel and city living. Anonymous. Detached. Perfect.
I still don’t understand why I can’t put it behind me though, with millions of kids abandoned, alone, suffering. My cross to bear.
He showed up the next day. I heard the word, ‘hookers‘. I never heard them speak to each other again. Mom slept on the couch every night, he kept drinking and drinking and drinking, right until the end.
Now, Sir, so do I.
I hope you’ve never hit rock bottom. I’m there now. I’m sliding into the same abyss I saw as a kid. I need to stop this self-destructive cycle. I won’t last much longer. Funny, seems the sins of the father can flow through both blood and water.
I think I became ‘stuck’ that night at Maple Leaf Gardens, retreated into myself that night – confused, disappointed, feeling worthless. These are some of the voices that form shadows around the people I interact with, the voices that impede my every step, the ones that convinced me not to have children — couldn’t do it, wouldn’t be any good at it.
Thank God I was so very wrong. I know now why you risked everything to protect your child. I have two boys, Sir. I turned out even a bastard can become a good father, maybe even a better one. They are why I must fight, forget the past, chase away the demons inside, so they’ll be proud to call me Dad.
Merci M. Lafleur.”
My heart feels like it’s being crushed,
Another Johnnie gone,
Don’t look for me.
“I’m a Donnelly! Now, I must fight like one,
Save my kids,
Be like Guy.”
Boys, life’s tough. It’s unfair. It‘s also a privilege, full of amazing possibilities. You’re the best kids in the world, but you must fight like a Donnelly. Things will get better. I promise.