The morning started off like so many before it; with me panting and panicking, desperately hoping to find my next breath. A nightmare. A twisted contort of the mind. The ebonized sky of night, peering in through the window was the first thing to welcome me back from the horrid landscape of memory and trepidity. It also informed me of just how early it was. The sun wasn’t even considering its ascension yet, but I was fully awake and now, horribly restless. Eric, my friend, slept soundly in the other bed of the hotel room. I hadn’t woken him, which was my only solace in those first burdensome moments of wakefulness.
Nightmares are nothing new for me. Nightmares in a hotel though… well, that’s a whole other basket of fright. Not having familiarity with my surroundings makes re-acclimation to the world of the present and the living a lot more arduous a task. I bring a few things with me wherever I go, especially if it is away from my home for the night. I have a bag of things that I pack and keep close. At home, it’s called a nightmare basket. It’s a collection of tactile trinkets and scented sniffers designed to pull me from the clutches of PTSD brain. There’s even a stuffed teddy in there. His name is, well… Ted. From the movie of the same name. He is a one to one replica, and that’s why I got him—a foul mouthed teddy bear from Boston, what’s not to like?! Plus, when I leave hotel rooms in the morning, I gain a sadistic amount of satisfaction in knowing that the cleaning staff will enter a room, knowing two fully grown men stay there, and observe a teddy bear neatly presented on an unkempt bed! Oh, the thoughts they must have…
The reason we were in a hotel, was because both Eric and I had travelled from Toronto, to Salmon Arm B.C.—my hometown. I had a scheduled book signing for a little later that morning. Eric and I had arrived late the night before and I think we both felt the weighted heft of travel fatigue. Both he and I fell asleep rather early, contextually speaking. But while Eric remained asleep, I now sat awake in the unfamiliar of a hotel room that rests quaintly in the backdrop of a place I once called, home.
It had been a long time since I had set foot on the hilly landscape of this place. Many years had passed and many things with it—including my mum—she’s no longer around. But this is the last place where I knew her to be alive, so it still feels like home. No matter how far I’ve travelled.
Even before my book had come out, I knew that I wanted to come back here and have a book signing. My publisher ensured me that she would make it happen—and she did. November the 9th, 2019, at 09:00am local time, I was due to take a seat at the signing table of our town’s famed bookstore, and sign copies of my memoir. I even had a story written about me in the local paper. I believe this is as close to celebrity as I will ever come, and I cannot think of a better place to feel special within.
I sat on the edge of the bed, elbows digging into my thighs, lamenting introspectively at myself for being unable to rest or sleep like a “normal” person. My reticent castigations must have been deafening, because Eric woke shortly thereafter. I informed him that I had had a nightmare and that going back to sleep was an impossibility for me. To which Eric said, “Well… if you’re up, I’m up!” His delivery was sincere and empathic. We decided on respective showers followed by a vagabondage to procure breakfast. I told him that I had the perfect place to sit and eat once we had acquired some food. He seemed interested and began his morning routine.
The wharf. That’s where I was going to take him to have our breakfast. As a kid, I spent hours at this wooden sprawl of a place. Sitting in ruminative contemplation, mulling over things such as: girls, school, bullies, and… girls… It’s the hallmark of my little town. The wharf is a long reaching wooden structure. Its planks arc deep into the lakebed and provide a masterful view of the town’s surroundings. Gigantic, forested mountains seemingly rise from the depths of the water and crawl high into the sky. Every time I look at it, I feel as though I am part of a painting. Intricate works of an ethereal creator’s brush. It was and remains the perfect place to engender some peace. Something I needed a lot of as a kid, and something I continue to crave now as an adult.
By the time we had gotten our sausage and eggers, the sun had awoken. But it was concealed by a thick, perambulant blanket of varying shades of grey. The clouds hung low in the sky and it became impossible to ascertain where the morning mist and clouds began. They bled into one another seamlessly. Hauntingly. Beautifully.
It was chilly out, but not too cold. So, I was still able to sit and enjoy this place while nibbling on my breakfast. Although I was hungry, consumption was difficult. I was nervous. I wanted the signing to go well. But, as I am sure is the case with any and all whom have ever had the fortune of signing their own works, you worry that no one will show up! How embarrassing that would be.
I knew a few friends of mine were coming. That part was fine. A girl named; Shannon had said she would be there. We went to high-school together, and although we were more acquaintances in the hallways, we developed a friendship that first summer after grad. We each went our separate ways, but we stayed in contact via the sinew of social media.
After breakfast, Eric drove us to the mall where the bookstore was located. I say the mall without any other descriptors, because in truth, the town really only has one mall… Piccadilly. That’s its moniker. It’s characterized by an overlooking clock tower that remains dwarfed by the craggy landscape in the distance. But it is a symbol nonetheless.
I went inside and made introductions with the store owner. He had set up a table with my books neatly arranged, along with copies of the paper and my story within it. It was carefully set up. Seeing the effort put forth actually made me a little emotional on the inside. Such care and effort for me? Unheard of!
I sat down and my fears of a quiet or absentee signing soon fell away—people began coming in waves! I signed copy after copy after copy…
It was during a lull that I first saw her… not Shannon… someone else. Someone with Shannon. I peered up from the table and tried to poke a gaze through some wandering bodies traipsing the mall. Shannon and her mystery guest were meandering through some second-hand books on display out front of the store. When there was a break in wanderers, Shannon waved at me and smiled. I smiled back and leapt from my chair. I made my way over and we met with a hug. It was nice. A connection to my past and a seemingly simpler time. She was always kind to me.
When the hug ended, we exchanged brief cordialities and then I looked toward the mystery woman who had been standing to my left. She was beautiful. The kind of effortlessly perfect that pries lips apart. My mouth fell into the shape of an “O”.
“Hi… I’m Matthew…” I said, trying to portray confidence and assuredness of self. Her lips wiggled into a smile as she responded…
“Yeah, you guys went to high-school together! That’s Sheena!” Shannon said playfully. Not wanting to come across as rude, I played it off as though I now remembered who she was.
“Oh, right! Yes… hi! How are you?” My elevated tone inquired. Sheena is polite and genuine, so even if she knew that I was full of shit, she played along.
“I’m great, thanks. How are you? How is the signing going?” Her voice soothed me like music. I knew I was in trouble from the moment I saw her. Her eyes, a swirling sea of blue and grey. I was lost in them. Her lips glistened like kissable candy. There was a warmth about her, too. Something about the way she stood and moved. It’s like… standing beside poetry. An unblemished sonnet.
“Yeah, the signing… it’s, um… it’s great going.” Great going?? Idiot!
We walked back over to the table and they each procured some books and requested my unpolished signature.
“Hey, we are going to Tim’s, for coffee… when you’re done, you should come and join us!” Shannon said cheerfully.
“Yeah! That sounds great, actually!!” I replied… trying to look at Shannon… My eyes had magnets for someone else…
The signing would end in success. I sold out of copies to brand. I was congratulated by the store owner. My reward, a tap on the back and the promise that we would do this again. Before leaving, I stepped back a ways so as to get the entirety of the store in my gape. I stood there for a moment, revelling in the experience that I just had. I thought of my mum… how she should have been here. And I guess, in a way, she was. There are stories of her printed on the pages of my book. Fighting off a slight tug of sadness, I smiled and packed up the rest of my things.
Eric and I went to meet the ladies for coffee. I walked in through the glass doors, feeling the welcoming warmth of inside and scanned the interior. Once again, off to my left, there she was. My beautiful, unremembered classmate. But now, for certain, never to be forgotten again.
We walked over after acquiring our respective tea and coffee and sat with them at the table. As if to be a gift from the universe, I was able to come across as charming and funny. I know this, because Sheena’s seductively angelic chortles informed me of such. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Every gesticulation she made was another note played in the symphony of my infatuation. When I look back at it now, I think I was falling for her right there on the spot.
As coffee was drawing to a close, the ladies made mention that they must go. I wanted so badly to ask Sheena to stay. To come for dinner with us later in the evening… but I didn’t. I assumed that she had to get back to her husband… a woman like that must surely be taken, I introspectively deflated. The ladies left. Smiles were exchanged and I watched glumly as the taillights drifted further down the road.
A few days later, I found myself back in Toronto. I was sitting on my couch, sipping a tea. My phone dinged noisily. It was a message from a certain classmate back home—Sheena. I began to read as she went on to explain that she had read my book in a day! She remarked pleasantly about it. She even thanked me for writing it. Said that she was unaware of all the pain that hid behind my smile. We never stopped talking after that message.
Turns out, Sheena was not married. Not anymore. Life had taken her to some painful places, too. Over the next several months we conversed, visited and confabulated some more. Sheena has since become one of the most important people in my life. I find myself thinking of her as I drift off to sleep, and she is the first thing to greet my thoughts come morning.
When I first wrote the book, it was steeped in memories of home. The good and the bad. It never donned on me, until recently, that the writing of this book ultimately brought me home… one page at a time.
This October I will be leaving Toronto. I am going home. Home to stay. I am going to land at the airport, and there… off to my left, there will be an unforgettable woman waiting for me. A woman named, Sheena. My beautiful classmate in the school of life. I can’t wait to see what is written on the pages of our story… it’s only just begun. And it started with… “Hi… I’m Matthew…” And although I cannot speak for what will happen in the middle, I am confident that it will end with something like… “Hi… I’m… yours!”