My pen bit into the imperfections of the sand washed paper. And just like that, it was over. The last copy had been signed and handed away. A kind figure smiled and thanked me before moving to the cashier.
For a split second, everything around me slowed down. It was as if a piece of time had been carved out just for me. Allowing me the opportunity to savor it. My eyes began to ingest everything. The browns, greens and pastels of my surroundings. As well as the superfluous details of passersby. Everything.
I hadn’t been to this place in thirteen years. That’s a lifetime ago for a wounded mind. Now, there I stood; a select attraction in a small-town mall.
I won’t lie and tell you that I felt special. I didn’t. What I did feel (other than grateful), was forlorn. I had seen many faces come and go throughout the day. But the one face I had searched for the hardest was the one most absent. A face I had seen in this mall so many times in the past. Out of everyone that walked by and continued to traipse in front of my gaze, not a single resemblance was seen or felt. And that’s because she was not there…
I suppose one could argue that she was, in a way. That she had been seated next to me this whole time. But that assertion would merely be that of symbolism. And as beautifully poetic as that can be, it’s not what I want. I’ll willfully wear the label of ‘selfish’ for this one. The missing woman is my mother. Mum. And the papers of which I was signing belonged to me. Well, kind of. What is written on them belongs to me… my story. On Saturday, November 9th of 2019, I returned home to sign copies of my book: A Medic’s Mind. But home was different now… it had not been mine in over a decade. Yet I was welcomed back as though I had never left.
Where is home? Well, the old saying says that it’s where the heart is… and my heart is in Salmon Arm B.C. A piece of it, anyways. My heart broke a long time ago, it’s tough to say where it all lies. But this mountainous landscape, rife with coniferous pines has managed to hold and care for a small piece of it. An idyllic sliver from a once hopeful boy.
Back then, it was lost on me; that these panoramic hills that stretch on for miles once acted as sentries, shielding me from the perfidious realities of an outside world. Looking at them now, through my well-traveled eyes, their majesty is indescribable. Especially when looked at from the aging planks of our town’s fabled wharf. A place I spent many-an-hour as a boy.
When my mum was sick and in hospital, I would stand at the end of the pier and pray to a God of which I did not believe in to heal her and let her come home. As I grew older, my problems became more specific to age related perplexities; I would ponder how to ask out the pretty girl in school, knowing I had the bland, generic looks of an old catcher’s mitt. My mother once said to me, when I asked her about my looks… “You’re not winning any awards, but you could pass in a crowd…” yikes!
On the morning before the book signing, I stood on the damp wood of this far-reaching structure and once again tossed some thoughts into the lakebed below. I pondered what it would be like to have my mum witness me signing copies of a piece of literature that I wrote. She would likely think of me as a celebrity, praise me… then ask for some money. You can’t tell, but I wrote that last statement with a slight smile. That’s just who my mum was.
I never quite got over the feeling of being back there in that old town of mine. It was like walking in echoes of the past. Some great moments… some harrowing ones, too. My buddy, Eric who had come with me was driving us around while I foisted stories of misspent youth upon him. I showed him where I had gotten into my first fight. I toured him around my old neighbourhood, and even showed him where one of the school kids had pulled down his pants and let go of a big, creamy shit in the middle of the street as a form of protest towards some schoolyard bullies. Needless to say, he was not bullied after that. There are certain charms that belong only to small towns… I’m not sure a kid shitting in protest is one of them, but nonetheless, it makes me laugh, even to this day.
I got to see some of my old buddies. Even my best friend in the world, Drew. It was a humbling experience to have been able to sign a book and give it over to his outstretched hands. His parents even came. In those moments, I felt like a teenager again. Drew’s parents standing by he and I; I think maybe that’s why I half-heartedly expected to see my mum there. I always wanted to impress her as a kid. No matter what I did, I always tried my hardest to be good at it. Maybe not school, but… I was a little distracted. Living in a single parent home where cancer and suicide were words of the day had that effect, I guess.
Never in a million years would I have entertained the idea that I would one day publish a book. And not in a million more would I have thought to be back in my hometown signing copies of it. But the reality is I did and I was. And the only parts of my mum that were with me, were in the form of stories etched to the fibers of that book. My mother is immortalized in story, yet painfully absent in the world. A sorry juxtaposition to live with. But I do.
Salmon Arm… a place I will always call home. A place where I last knew my mother to be alive. A place that gave birth to hopeful ideals of one day saving the world. To me, that quaint little town is everything that I needed to willfully offer my life in defense of my country. Why? Because I grew up in chaos and instability. My father beat me, scarred me and left me. My mother was ravaged by disease and crippled by depression. Yet this town, this place, the sprawling hardwoods and maples, lakes and beaches never failed to offer glimpses of hope and peace. You can walk outside and smell clean air. Your eyes can be treated to lakes imitating sheets of glass. You can smile at your neighbour and they’ll smile back. But mostly, it’s a place where lost souls like me can return and find warmth, peace and respite for the wickedness of places beyond the pines.
The book I signed is merely a portion of my story. A fraction. I have many more to tell… and I guess that means I’ll one day find my way back home. To a place where an idyllic boy welcomes a healing man. Coming together as one.
Salmon Arm… to quote a good friend of mine: I’ll be back!
And mum… I love you. Rest easy.