Au­thor Clau­dia Dey looks back on the long and wind­ing road to sum­mer.

The road to Tum­bler Ridge.

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Clau­dia Dey

Buf­falo check jacket, tight jeans, Player’s Ex­tra Light, hair down and snap­ping in the wind. I was 24 years old and driv­ing a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Early sum­mer 1997. Lady Di would be killed in a crash in two months. I would stay up that night in a road­side mo­tel, sit­ting cross-legged be­fore the flick­er­ing light of the tele­vi­sion, star­ing into her face, my eyes glass­ing over, shocked by the black depths of sad­ness I felt about the end of her life.

The size of the rental truck went straight to my head. When I picked it up at the Ed­mon­ton air­port, I had to vault my body up and into the driver’s seat. I had never felt so in­vin­ci­ble. Duf­fle bag in the back, a list of hand­writ­ten di­rec­tions on the pas­sen­ger seat. I was to drive to a small town called Tum­bler Ridge, B.C., about 120 kilo­me­tres south of the Alaska High­way. From there, I would head to a nearby bush camp where I would cook for a crew of 60 tree planters. It looked to be a nine-hour drive. I would do it in one shot. I had a sin­gle cas­sette tape. Beastie Boys. Li­censed to Ill. No sleep till B.C.

I had kissed a boy in Mon­treal the night be­fore. I thought of him now. He had a dark tangle of hair and eyes the colour of stormwa­ter. We were both stu­dents at the Na­tional The­atre School of Canada. Lean­ing against a fence that bor­dered a con­struc­tion site as cratered as the moon, a block from Leonard Co­hen’s apart­ment, I imag­ined Leonard walk­ing by, star­tling the pi­geons into flight and writ­ing a love song about us. Even­tu­ally, the sky paled. “I have to go,” I ex­plained in bro­ken French. “A plane. Work. North. All sum­mer.”

Eight hours into my drive, when I was to make my fi­nal turn onto a moun­tain road, twi­light crept in and I was sud­denly tired. Dead tired. When had I last slept? There was a diner at the mouth of the exit. A wait­ress with a thin gold chain as­sured me I wasn’t far from my des­ti­na­tion. “Twenty min­utes, tops,” she said. I turned onto the steep and wind­ing road. Im­me­di­ately, my eyes be­gan to play tricks. Ghosts of cari­bou and black bears crossed my high beams. I pressed my body to the steer­ing wheel and slowed to a crawl.

The last car I had driven was an ex-boyfriend’s con­demned Chevette. He loaned it to me so I could visit my grand­mother in the hos­pi­tal of a Mon­treal sub­urb. I had to leave the Chevette run­ning in the park­ing lot while I sat with my grand­mother and stroked her hands. She lis­tened to clas­si­cal mu­sic on a yel­low Sony Sports Walk­man. I loved my grand­mother with such force it felt like a phys­i­cal in­jury. I ne­go­ti­ated with the an­gels. “Please,” I begged too many times to count.

The moun­tain road was so nar­row I couldn’t pull over. Griz­zly bears roamed the steep ditches. Truckers, drifters, mur­der. I would rather crash. Crash­ing would be in­stant. Easy. A re­lief. Two hours had passed. The wait­ress was wrong. How much far­ther? I pic­tured my grand­mother. Her sil­ver hair, her ready laugh, the car­tons of cig­a­rettes in her trunk, never with­out her lip­stick, her face aimed at the sun. Just when I was ready to give up and steer into obliv­ion, I rounded a cor­ner and nearly col­lided with a small clus­ter of trucks. Head­lights as white as ha­los. I pulled up along­side and told them my trou­ble. “Fol­low us,” they said.

A month into my con­tract, I got a beautiful let­ter from the French ac­tor. It had a draw­ing of two sea crea­tures. They were en­twined. For rea­sons I still can­not ex­plain to myself, I never wrote him back. I never saw him again.

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