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Back to Tree

I see me in grade ten. My clothes are clean but worn out from being handed down so many times. Lots of the other girls sneer at me. That used to hurt, but now I can see that they only wished they were beautiful like me. My hair is long, dark, full. My face is strong in the cheekbones and soft around the forehead and nose. I am long and willowy and what man wouldn't want to hold me and dance to the Everly Brothers singing Bye Bye Love? And Carter did hold me - Carter a grown man with a grown man's name and grown man's hands and me only sixteen. He held me like he already owned me, which truth be told, he already did.

As soon as our daddy brought him into our kitchen that day, after they'd been out on the trapline for days and days, I was his. He'd been in town for months by then, but I hadn't met him cause I was always at home other than when I was at school. I was trying to get good grades and I had to work hard, cause reading didn't come easy to me. I can see now that was cause there were no books in our house, no reading on our mama's lap. Maybe mama couldn't even read? No she could read - signs, recipes, not easily, slowly.

But she could tell stories. Story after story like she had a million spaces in her brains for stories. She could tell the exact same story the exact same way over and over. Or she could tell you twenty stories in a row - each one different.

Carter filled up the room like nobody I'd ever seen. His arms were graceful and sinewy and I had to force myself to stop staring at them as I ate. When he reached for something across the table my body tingled and my heart felt tight. He was dark brown, like my mama, not pale and untoasted like papa. He had that skin the turns a deep glowing tan in the sun. Italian is what Dad called him after he'd left. Dad joked about him being a Romeo and how he probably had a string of women across the country. I could tell it wasn't just me that thought he was beautiful, Evelyn was staring at the door he left out of with a moonie face. She seemed to be sucking in her cheeks. But I knew I was prettier than her. She had funny teeth and a ring of fat around her belly from eating so many potato chips and sweets.

Falling in love wasn't as lovely as I thought it would be. Most of the time I seemed to be pushing him off or wishing he was there to try and climb on again. And I had so much school work. It was around then that I just stopped trying to learn. I hated my teacher. She stood in front of the class and seemed mostly mad about how stupid we were, especially me. She brought her friend to class once, who read poetry out loud and told us about travelling to Europe and other countries. She said she went to Russia and that just seemed like a lie, but the kind of lie you could live for. The kind of lie that you could really wrap yourself in. There is a place called Russia, and you can travel to on an airplane and see tall spires like a fairy tale and listen to people speaking Russian like that's the only language there is. That woman, she told us she was a nurse and that's how she managed to travel around the world and she said if we worked hard we could be nurses or doctors and do the same, but when I went the next day and asked my teacher how you become a nurse. She just looked at me and said...

"Not you."

Carter didn't say "not you". He said, you, you, you over and over in his deep voice with that little hint of an Italian accent. He had soft hands and would search my face with his eyes like he was trying to understand something about me that even I didn't know. He wanted to touch all of my body, especially the parts I wasn't supposed to touch. Mama had hit my hand hard years ago when I had been rubbing between my legs and looked at me like I was disgusting and now this man was rubbing me there and staring into my eyes with a big question like I was suppose to do something. It did feel good though, I remember it felt good before mama hit me too, but it was a scary kind of good. Like he was trying to get up into something that I wouldn't have no control over once it got started. Like he was taking me over with that rubbing and that stare and I wanted to be taken over by him, but I didn't quite know how and some part of me was thinking no no no inside my head and I felt a little like I had to pee and his eyes were so intense. And anyway he stopped just when I thought maybe I would pass out.

I felt my body changing and I knew well enough from all the women around me getting pregnant and giving birth that that was probably what was happening. Mom had told me that if I get pregnant she'd kill me and I guess it was exaggeration but it still scared the bejesus out of me. Mom was strong and fat and full of rage and I could imagine her picking up a pan, a rock, whatever and flinging it at my head so hard my skull would break in two.

So I left, just left. I took some clothes and a small jar of shells from BC that my cousin gave me. I took a pot too, the little one that was perfect for making myself one can of soup. I imagined finding a place where I could open one can of soup and cook it up just for me. I took a photograph of my family too, the only one on display, us five kids all in a row. I look sad in the picture, or pissed off. I can't decide which.

I didn't tell Carter I was going. I didn't tell him I was pregnant. I guess he figured it out, but he didn't come after me. He took up with Evelyn instead and I can see somewhere far down all these branches that they got married and that he loved her and all of their six kids and that they moved away from Lac La Biche, probably trying to find somewhere that people didn't think they were dirt.

The bus to Edmonton stopped in every little town on the way and I kept thinking, maybe I should get off here, go back home. Every town seemed a little more like a pledge I was making to never go home again. Every time I stayed on that bus instead of getting off meant I was leaving for good. The bus stank. There was an old woman and I think maybe she had pissed herself because anytime the wind came from where she was sitting there was a powerful smell of sticky sweet pee. Or maybe that was her sweat. I think she was sick too, cause she seemed to be in some sort of pain and moaned when we went over big bumps. I thought about going over to her and seeing if she needed some help, maybe ask her if she wanted some water or something, but I was too wrapped up in my own self. I just couldn't bring myself to put out anything for anyone else cause inside of me there was a crying little girl who'd pissed her pants too.

Also, I felt like throwing up, which I knew from my auntie was a normal part of having a baby in your belly, but I hadn't thought it would be like this. Like I was on an angry stormy lake but my body couldn't actually throw up. Just sat there and burped and burped and little inner retches with every waft of that sweet pissy smell. That old lady was staring at me. She had some mean eyes. Maybe she was giving me the evil eye, but I felt like I was already pretty cursed so what did it matter? I stared right back at her and suddenly she started grinning at me. A big wide grin full of gaps where teeth should be. That grin was scarier than those mean eyes and I wanted to look away, look out at the evening forests flicking by, but I couldn't cause there was something about that smile that was demanding. She said something, but I couldn't hear it cause she was four seats and across the aisle away from me. She said it again and I leaned in and almost like my ears were catching it out of the air...

"Don't be a fool."

I was offended, angry. I turned away and pretended I hadn't heard and thought about how pissy old women shouldn't be allowed on buses. But I realize now that no one has ever given me better advice in all my life. I wish I would have listened to her. I wish I hadn't been a fool. But isn't that part of foolishness? You don't get to see it, you don't get to know that you're swimming around aimlessly and that other people think you're an idiot and that even you in the future will see yourself and think god what was I thinking? No you are just there trying to live and reacting to everything that's happening. I was starting out, with a small pot and jar full of shells and I thought somehow I could raise that child inside of me all alone and that I would be braver to make it through this on my own rather than asking for help. I thought the world would catch us. I thought the world was made like that. That it was full of soft places you could fall into, people who would love you. Food and water and shelter appearing out of thin air.

I was a fool.