The dark night
It is nighttime. Not sure how late. Feels like three in the morning, but it could be 10 p.m., because I’m only seven years old. My big sister is next to me in our family car and we’re separated by our pillows, teddies, maybe a bag or a box or two. She’s asleep. Mom is in front of me in the passenger’s seat. She nodded off about an hour ago. Dad is driving. Silent. I’m not sure what’s on the radio. The radio is always on in our house; CBC, then later CJRT as well. News, Oscar Peterson and Mozart. We’re on a long, straight prairie road between Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is summer. The smell of dewy sweetgrass and wild roadside sage is wafting in through Dad’s cracked-open window.
Only hours before, in Edmonton, we had packed the last of our house on 85th Street into our little brown Mazda, and descended the wobbly cement steps out front for the last time. My sister and parents had wept unabashedly as we waved goodbye to our neighbours and close friends of almost nine years. I had never really seen my parents cry. It was unsettling. Why were they so upset? I was intrigued by the depth of their sadness. Why wasn’t I that upset too? I squeezed my eyes shut to see if I could feel that same loss. I suppose at seven, I was still filled with a naïve sort of giddiness at the prospect of an adventure. I had friends in Edmonton, but being attached to them hadn’t really occurred to me. Not in the way it had seemingly unhinged my family.
My mom, my sister and I had spent that last summer out west, awaiting the return of my dad from Ontario, where he had gone ahead to start work in our new home province. Jobs in broadcasting were numerous out east and, as a freelance writer and broadcaster, my pop couldn’t turn down the prospects on offer. We finished our school year and while we waited for Dad to come back and get us, my mom, my sister and I weathered a spontaneous neighbourhood crime spree as well as our city’s brush with an F4 tornado one black Friday.
And so, all that behind us, quietly awake in the back of our car, I watch the moonlit-blue telephone poles and wires, swooping and hitching, swooping and hitching, swooping and hitching out my window. The sky is a dark navy, faintly brighter on the horizon, during this brief summer night. I sigh and slump sideways, watch the highway through the front windshield. The asphalt road ahead stretches only as far as our headlights and beyond it is blackness. Out of the abyss, the painted white lines on the road appear like Space Invaders laser beams then disappear under the car. Shhhoooom, shhhooom, shhhooom. It feels as if we’re about to drive over a cliff.
It occurs to me – at seven – that this is the uncertainty of life ahead. Driving with confidence into the darkness, knowing there is a new home and adventure on the other side and being powerless to this highway and its pull with its spontaneous white dashes. I am excited. I am ashamed at how hopeful I am, in this solemn silence of farewells and doubt. I am, however, not afraid.
Years later – it’ll be 30 years, this summer – I awake from a vivid dream: I’m driving. It’s nighttime. It’s the same dark highway from 30 years ago, but I’m not seven, I’m me now: 37-years old, brassy, anxious, frustrated. In my red-framed glasses there is a determined flashing glare invading from the sides, like someone is trying to distract and throw me off on purpose. I use my hands to try to block it, because it’s blinding and I’m losing sight of the road. Someone is with me, in the passenger’s seat. Not sure who, but this calm but dependent person is giving me the confidence to keep going. Where? Who knows? I know it’s dark ahead, the way isn’t clear, but dammit, I will drive on and we will get there. I wake with a predominant feeling of determination and fearlessness.
This dream came very soon after the swearing-in of he-who-shall-not-be-named and the ensuing unleashed international violence and hatred. This dream revealed itself on the heels of my participation in the International Women’s March on Washington, in Toronto. It was a day I won’t soon forget. It was moving, solemn, peaceful, frenetic, angry, full of love, male and female, separate and together, colourful and sexy and strong and tender and tall and small and round and gaunt, it was blindingly beautiful and dishearteningly sad. It spoke of a dire need for understanding and empathy and compassion. Predominantly, it was determined and it was fearless.
On the dark horizon of this beautiful-horrible world is a great challenge. We’re driving into an unknown, being reeled, oblivious, into an exciting and yes, terrifying change in our universe. This change may ask us to put others first, to help bring the vulnerable into the light, to read and to write, to think and ask difficult questions. Will you turn your back? Are you ready to fight the distractions, to open your brave heart and drive into the abyss?