he left me in november when the smoke was rising from the forests and fields, when the smell of burning branches filled the air and your lungs were always a little heavy…..such cold air as we trudged through snow fallen woods and walked the streams already frozen over, little tracks of animals going off in every direction.
i remember my dog then, young, bounding off in search of killing and running back to sprint alongside us for awhile before disappearing over a drift again, we would walk side by side, sometimes holding hands but mostly not, remarking on this or that feature of the near landscape, he pointing out a beaver lodge, me rejoicing over birdsong…..but he left me in november.
we had spent all spring, summer, and some of that fall in each other’s worlds, but we would not finish that autumn as lovers. winter would find me lonely.
he came from a small, weird family and lived in a trailer twenty feet from his parents’ house, within earshot of their continued battle in the place they’d been since marriage.
he worked with his father, a bad alcoholic. his job was keeping the business afloat while his father gambled and drank away the money they had made during the oil boom in the eighties and nineties.
he lived and worked there within striking distance of his crazy parents on one side, drinking, yelling, and on the other, his old grandma who called him a loser and his brother, who sponged off his grandma but was married, a morbidly obese man of fifty who spent his days watching the television and eating fast takeaway food.
the craziness of his upbringing expanded from there, to the bipolar aunt, her scared husband and mentally handicapped son who lived in a trailer nearby that was literally rotting into the ground; he told me of a hole in the bathroom floor that you could look through to the stinking ground underneath; the smell, the mould and the worsening tilt of the entire thing; the family trying to get her to leave, going as far as buying her another trailer, but she refusing to leave, dragging her family into the ground with her.
then the uncle who lived in town, the tiny town in northern alberta, he also an alcoholic, who lived in an apartment with all the windows covered over with tinfoil that he never took down. he was elderly, alone, most famous for eating some sort of stinking, gelling-over stew that he kept on his stove for god knows how long and would just keep heating up, over and over, turning the burner on when he got hungry and horrifying whatever visitor had decided to kill boredom for an hour by calling on the crazy old uncle in his cave, bringing him a six pack of beer or a bottle of rye.
but he somehow stayed alive, this repugnant mix of fermenting food and cheap alcohol somehow keeping the old man halfway-upright for half of his remaining days on this earth as he shambled between two or three places and drank his time away in a terrible apartment block on a blank back street of a nowhere town.
then there was his mother’s sister, who died when she fell drunk into a snowbank while having a smoke outside a grande prairie bar in the middle of winter.
but my favourite story that C told me about his family was the one about his uncles, the “bush uncles” as he called them: two old swedes who had wound up in the back woods of northern alberta in the fifties, living together in a shack made of salvaged boards, through which C’s father said you could see the bright shining northern stars at night.
they kept wasps, true story, there was a wasp’s nest in the ceiling of their little shack, that they said they kept to keep other insects away.
when a stranger arrived at the shack the wasps would swarm around them, sniffing, sensing like a million little dogs, sensing danger or not then they would swarm back into their nest.
the uncles never got stung. they were famous once, were on the news once when an edmonton reporter got wind that there were two old men living in a cave together. turns out one of them had developed cancer, had a tumour growing on his head. they had somehow found a cave in the wilds near their cabin that had a clay inside that they believed would cure the brother of his tumour; they were living there, squatting next to a river in a cold, damp cave, two elderly men dressed in decades-old clothing, slathering one of their heads with clay; the reporter went out and interviewed them, and C has the tape somewhere, of this footage that made the evening news, two crazy old men in the woods that were somehow left to their own devices though he can’t remember the end of the story, he believes that the brother just died. i don’t know what happened to them.
i had never met any of these people because he would never let me near them. i knew and so did he that my fascination with this clan of losers, eccentrics and fuckups would turn to horror then revulsion if i ever witnessed the actual tragic sadness that was his family close up.