The View From the Window

Lucy was a quiet outcast frequently distracted by thoughts of her failing family and directionless life. Her friends were an odd assortment of exchange students, band-geeks and misunderstood rebels who smoked obscure brands of native cigarettes like they were sacred. She wasn’t sure exactly where she fit in, both with her friends at school and with her family at home. She was as uncomfortable in her own skin as one could get, and spent most of her time walking around looking down at the ground, or sitting in her bedroom staring out the window.

Her senior year of high school was her most traumatic ever.  Her parents separated, her brother announced that he was Gay and began a full time drugging career, and she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. Her awkward and unsure demeanor always scared people off and made them uncomfortable around her. It was like they sensed her discomfort and personal trauma. Nobody knew how to communicate with her without feeling burdened by the conversation. Lucy often sat alone on the windowsill of her bedroom window wondering what to do next. She didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life and felt she had little control over the things that happened to her in her life. She just knew that she didn’t want to end up like her mom Mary or depressed and drunk like her father Clyde

Lucy had never really felt much of a connection with her mom; who was one of those women who had kids and made a family life out of necessity, not because it was something she really wanted. Mary was a real estate agent and worked hard day and night closing deals to acquire more shit, more wealth, better cars, and more stature while her husband Clyde sat in front of the television with a bottle of Canadian Club staring at his dusty guitar dreaming of what might have been. Mary pretty much ignored Clyde for the most part and really only spoke to him if she needed something from him. It was largely felt that he was a mistake in her life, and often the kids were made to feel like that as well.

Clyde, as depressed as he was, was at least real. And he had a good (albeit dysfunctional) connection with Lucy. Sure he got drunk and slurred his words sometimes, or cried about his wife Mary, but they talked about lyrics and life and analyzed people around them. Clyde was a machinist and always felt resented by his wife Mary. He tried and tried to make her happy and eventually just gave up. He was always made to feel like he was some sort of low-class loser that she just “got stuck with”. Lucy’s older brother Aaron was the spawn of this mismatched love made in a watering hole. Mary wouldn’t talk to him anymore since he announced to the family at dinner that he was gay.  And Clyde, well he just kept trying to figure out how to talk to his son man-to-man about a topic he knew nothing about. So Aaron was pretty much ignored by everyone except Lucy.

Aaron had felt resented since the day he was born. He didn’t feel like the joyous addition to a family that most first-born children are, he was likened more to a dirty little secret. He knew that if it weren’t for that drunken night when his parents conceived him in what was supposed to be a one night stand, they likely wouldn’t be together. His first 5 years of life were spent being shuffled around at various daycare centres while Clyde busted his ass on the nightshift, sleeping during the day and Mary disappeared selling homes, closing deals, and working out incessantly at the gym forgetting about her motherhood duties and lower middle-class reality.

And then came Lucy… Surprise! Another drunken resentful night of sex combined with Mary’s steadfast resistance to the birth control pill. At least after Aaron they made an attempt to be together by getting married. Lucy wouldn’t remember, but apparently after she was born Mary disappeared for 3 months to “figure her life out” while Clyde took a leave of absence at work to carry the weight of single parenthood, the loss of a wife, and worry of finances on his unprepared shoulders.

Mary came back, after two affairs, several hotel rooms, and tanking sales figures at work. She realized that in some miserable way, her real life was what propelled her to sell and be the relentless bitch of a real estate agent she was. She ended up tripling her sales figures that year and went on to become one of the top selling agents in the region. No one was really sure why.

Lucy was fifteen the first time her mother said “I love you”. It was forced, unnatural and totally awkward. Lucy was escorted home by a police officer after her seventeen-year-old boyfriend crashed the car they were driving home from a keg party. Her boyfriend died. Lucy miraculously got nothing more than whiplash and the pain of a dead boyfriend.

Clyde held her hand supportively as she explained the story to her concerned parents. Mary just glared at her in amazement, wondering how she managed to escape unscathed.

Tears streaming down her face she cried “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know he was drunk. I swear”

“We’re just glad you’re okay” sighed Mary “And also… I, I love you Lucy. I want you to know that. I always have.”

It was no surprise that a year later her mom was finished. Finished with the family, finished with Clyde and finished pretending to be the warmhearted family woman that only her family knew she wasn’t. Mary went full boar with her selfish material-driven life and shallow career. Aaron moved out with some new friends and Lucy stayed in the empty shell of a family home with her dad.

When Mary and Aaron left, the house seemed different; calmer, quieter, a little bit more depressing, but also a little nicer. Clyde frequently sat in the quiet of the dimly lit living room pouring himself glass after glass of Canadian Club while his daughter sat concerned and reflective looking out of the window in her bedroom. They ate dinner together in the evenings and sometimes watched Jeopardy together.

Late one evening Lucy wandered into the living room to talk to her dad who was sitting in his chair quietly, staring out into the backyard. He didn’t hear Lucy wander in.

“Oh hi Luce” he said in a defeated voice

“Dad… We are gonna be okay”

“I know we are,” he said

“It’s just us now.  She never wanted to be here anyway. And Aaron is still here, he just doesn’t live here.”

He looked down into his empty glass and then stared up at his beautifully insightful daughter. He wanted to say something, anything, but couldn’t find the words. A tear fell from his eyes as Lucy sat on the arm of his wingback chair and hugged him tightly holding his head close to hers, while the warm glow of the television reflected on their faces.

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Chapter Two

It was starting to get dark as we all huddled around my neighbour Jim’s coffee table surrounded by candles talking about the unbelievable events of the day. There were seven of us; two couples, a teenager, Mary and myself.  Jim had ventured out two hours earlier to try to get some gas and was telling us about his experience on the road.

“None of the traffic lights are working for miles” he said

“Strangely nobody is out on the street either. There were barely any cars around. I stopped at five gas stations and couldn’t get fucking gas from any one of em’. I guess because they are all electronically controlled or something. Only two of the gas stations had employees. The other ones were just ghost towns. People must be really freaked out.”

We all stared at Jim in disbelief. It was hard to imagine not being able to get gas. Things like electronically controlled pumps aren’t things we imagined failing a few days earlier. Like everything, we just took it for granted and didn’t think about what “could” happen.

It is one thing having your Internet go down or even losing power for a few hours, it is another to lose all communications and power at the same time. You feel a sense of hopelessness… lost. You truly don’t appreciate how dependent we are on technology until you spend a day without it. No television to check the weather or news; no radio in the car to keep us informed; no phone (mobile or landline) to call friends and family, and no Internet to turn to. The entire day had been one sobering display of reality, quickly reminding us just how vulnerable we really are. We’ve just been very lucky up until now.

Jim and Susan (the woman that had been on the street with Mary and I earlier) had a lovely little bungalow. The house had a traditional fireplace. There weren’t many of those in this area anymore; most had been replaced with fancy wall mounts or gas fireplaces. Theirs was the real deal. Jim came in from the garage holding an armful of wood.
“Here let’s start a fire. That’ll help keep us warm. You guys are all welcome to stay here with Susan and I for the night if you’d like. It’s cold out there. At least you’ll have heat. We can cook on the fire too. We have some old camping cookware we used to bring to the trailer with us, we can boil the kettle for tea and make some steaks.”

“Thanks Jim” I said “You really seem prepared for this kind of thing. I am like a fish out of water. I don’t know what to do with myself without my iPhone.”

Jim and Susan’s teenager (Sarah) looked over at me and smiled nervously “me too” she said.

I thought about how strange it must be for her. She was 18 years younger than me and I was a tech nerd. She didn’t know life without WiFi or texting! At least I was a Gen Xer and remembered what life was like BG (before Google). She was born with the internet. She didn’t know life without mobile or internet.

No wonder she was so quiet.

I felt strangely comforted with these 6 relatively unknown people who lived on my street. I felt connected to them through this experience and knew that we would continue to support each other and be friends even after the lights came on.

The other couple in our group (Kristin and Mark) decided to go home and sleep for the night. “Hopefully we’ll wake up to the power being back on” joked Mark “because this sucks balls.” We all laughed and wished them a good night as they headed back to their house.

Mary and I sat on the couch sipping wine while Susan ran around putting stuff in coolers and Jim brought wood in from the garage. Sarah sat beside a candle quietly reading a book. She was in complete emotional turmoil. I could tell by looking at her that she was freaking out inside but just trying to play it cool. None of us really talked about the “what if” factor. We pretty much went on the assumption that the lights would come back on, our internet would be restored, and our phones would work again. Not having those things didn’t seem plausible.

Mary was getting a little hammered by about midnight, she began telling me about how her marriage ended.

“Oh he was a real jerk” she giggled “He was unemployed for five years while I struggled working two jobs. Just used to sit around watching TV all day collecting disability and getting drunk. I was miserable and trying to pay the bills by myself because his money just went on booze. I am so thankful that I got out of that relationship when I did. He died last year of a heart attack. Only 52 years old.”

“Wow, I am so sorry to hear that Mary. You are an incredibly strong woman. How have you managed all these years on your own?”

She smiled and got teary “My son” she said “He is an absolute godsend. His name is Jared. He is in Africa working to introduce education to a small village that was hit hard by AIDS. He helped to build a school, shape the curriculum and works to encourage parents to allow their kids to attend school.”

“Wow. He sounds like an amazing guy.”

“He really is. He is so inspiring. He keeps me going. The reason why I got so upset earlier is that I was expecting an email from him this evening. He goes into one of the larger cities once per week to email me from an internet café. Today was the day.”

We both sat there in silence listening to the crackle of the fire sipping our wine, while Sarah was curled up in a chair across the room occasionally raising her gaze from the book she was reading.

Jim excitedly came running into the living room with a  giant box “I found it” he shouted “I found it”.

“Found what?” asked Susan

“My old telescope” he said. “It’s been years since I used this thing. I thought we could check out the sky tonight and see what’s going on up there.”

Jim set the telescope in the front living room window. There were no street lamps on, no lights from surrounding houses, or other sources of light pollution; just the glow of the moon and the stars, which we could actually see. The pink and purple sky that we had seen earlier was now replaced with a dark night sky, which on any other day would be quite beautiful. But now, it just seemed sort of scary and primal. There was just something about it that didn’t seem quite right.

We all gathered around the giant telescope sitting on the floor around it on couch cushions holding our wine. Jim ‘s telescope was on a mount facing upwards. He opened one of the windows so that we could view the sky without the glass.

Jim went silent for a few moments until he said “Wow… This is… I mean. Wow.”

“What are you seeing?” asked Mary

“I don’t even know how to explain it” he said “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Here come and take a look.”

Mary went and looked through the scope and also fell silent as she moved it around observing the same incredible sky that had rendered Jim so speechless. She backed away slowly from the telescope with her fingers resting on her mouth. “Here Jane. You go look. It’s… Beautiful, but unbelievable.”

I set my wine down and peered through the telescope observing the night sky like I had never seen it before. There were huge streaks of colour, now Green and blue. They cascaded through the sky, just barely visible to the naked eye if you were looking for it but obvious and bold with the telescope. The colours moved and changed and occasionally a streak of Purple or Red would be seen. It was like the Auroura Borealis on steroids.

I had witnessed the Auroura Borealis once in my life when I was a kid. I remember I had been suffering from the stomach flu, which, for a ten year old, was the worst thing ever. My brother excitedly grabbed my arm and ran out the back door with me. There was a hill at the back of the house. We ran all the way to the top. I had no idea why we were running or what we would see, but we ran to the top of the hill and collapsed. We looked up and saw the most beautiful lights in the sky. We sat there in silence for a half hour just looking at the sky.

I backed away from the telescope and sighed thinking about my family, wishing I could just talk to one of them on the phone to see how they were handling this whole thing. I missed them terribly.

first chapter of my new (untitled) book

Photo courtesy of CleanTechnologies.ca

It was a Friday morning. I was hung-over and still in bed. I looked over at my alarm clock, which was flickering from, bright to dim. It said 11:01AM. My room seemed eerie and quiet. I sat on the edge of my bed staring at my flickering clock. I hit it a few times with my hand and then unplugged it. I thought perhaps it might be a fire hazard.  My iPhone beeped telling me I had a text message. I ignored it and sauntered into the kitchen to make myself a much-needed cup of tea.  When I opened the fridge door it hit me like a ton of bricks; the calendar on the fridge. Today was Friday December 21st 2012”.  Suddenly I felt a knot form in my stomach. Today was supposed to be “the day”, the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar. I looked up at the clock on the wall, which now said 11:09. I looked in the mirror and whispered, “calm down, it’s all hype. It’ll be fine. It’s just a day.”

A few months ago I had talked to some friends about this and we had all agreed to get together and be together during this time “just in case”. It was half joking, half serious. But here I was alone, completely oblivious to the days date. I started singing the Star Spangled Banner for some reason. I think it made me feel better. The kettle whistled and I heard the second hand on the clock move into position, which seemed louder and more pronounced than ever. I turned around slowly to see the time: 11:11AM.

And it was at that moment that my lights went out.

“Oh shit” I shouted.

My cat came into the kitchen and stared at me in a way that I have never quite seen him look before. He began yowling ferociously at me, staring at me in desperation – expecting something from me. I poured some food into his dish and gave him some water. He didn’t go near it and continued on yowling at me. “Oh gawd I wish I understood kitty language” I thought to myself. I picked him up and cuddled him into my chest as he continued on. I also noticed the birds outside. They were chirping fiercely and loudly and seemed to all be gathered in the tree in my front yard. I opened the front door and looked up at the trees. There were mobs of birds in every tree as far as the eye could see. I have never heard so many birds chirping at one time. I looked up at the sky and noticed it was a beautiful magenta colour with flecks of pink and the clouds were moving at an astonishing pace. Perhaps this was what the birds were chirping about and my cat was yowling about. It did seem strange.  I went back inside to make my tea, unsure of how to process these occurrences, but not wanting to let my imagination run wild with apocalyptic wonder.

My cat was sitting rigidly on the windowsill staring up at the sky intently. He was agitated and on alert. His tail was all fat and spikey, like the way it looks when he is threatened by another animal. I stood and stared at him for a minute wondering what must have been going through his mind. This was all a little too close for coincidence. Conspiracy theories and mean tricks starting running through my mind as possible “triggers” for the power outage… But that didn’t explain the sky or the birds.

I looked at the clock again to do a time check. It was now 11:35AM. So the big 11:11 time had come and gone, and I was still standing here in my kitchen alive looking at my cat. But on the other hand, the lights did go out at 11:11. I played tug of war with my mind going back and forth between coincidence and reality.  I decided that the best thing for me to do was sit down and enjoy a cup of tea and just be in the moment with my tea before resorting to complete and utter panic mode. As a writer, my mind tends to wander into the depths of extremity at times and this was one time when I desperately wanted to avoid that type of thinking.

When I finished my tea I reached for my phone. I was surprised that no one had called to tell me about their power going out, which made me wonder. Maybe it was just my power. Maybe everyone else was fine and the outage was restricted to my block. I pulled my phone out of my purse and hopped to my feet to look out the window one more time. The birds were still congregating in all of the treetops and the sky still looked purple and pink. I noticed that I had no bars on my iPhone, which was weird because I always had stellar reception in my neighbourhood. In fact, people always commented on it. My stomach twisted and turned and I suddenly felt that there might be something bigger at work here.

I am not sure why the iPhone was the trigger for this and not the power outage, the birds, or the pink sky. I guess I was trying to keep my thoughts from destroying me. I got a bit panicky and ran to the back room to get the house phone (which I never used).

The line was dead.

No dial tone.

A couple of tears escaped from my eyes as I worried about getting in touch with my family. I opened my MacBook to check my internet connection knowing that there wouldn’t be one. But I still had to be sure. It was at this moment that I felt the magnitude of whatever this “thing” was hit me like a wrecking ball to the chest. In my 34 years on this planet I have never known a time without a working phone line and in my later years – a working internet connection. I was a GenXer – a wired entrepreneur who thrived on Facebook, Twitter, texting and WiFi. Sure I remember what it was like before these things existed, but I got used to them, and I liked them. This outage was huge, whatever it was. It brought back memories of the big Black Out of 2003; the second largest electrical blackout in history. But this one was different… The sky looked weird and the animals knew something that the humans didn’t.

Accepting that this was way bigger than I had initially thought, I decided to grab my keys and go for a walk in my neighbourhood. Some of my neighbours were outside on the sidewalk talking. I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were as scared as I was. I walked over and introduced myself:

“Hi, I’m Jane. I live at #117.”

“Hi Jane” said one woman as she hugged me and sobbed into my shoulder “I’m Mary.”

“This is pretty strange huh? What do you make of all this?”

The other woman (who’s name I didn’t know) jumped in and said “I think it’s some sort of solar storm. I think it will pass. We knew something was going to happen, and here it is. We have to be careful not to panic.”

Mary glared at the woman through soggy eyes and said “My son is in Africa and I have no way to get a hold of him.”

We all stood there in silence for a moment as some strange noises came from the sky above. It kind of sounded like what you hear when you lasso a rubber skipping rope around in the air quickly.