©1997 by Bill Appledorf
The last person seemed to have deplaned. There was no Luella. I thought maybe she had decided against coming to Montreal and peered into the blackness of the glass and aluminum gate to make out whether any more passengers were still walking in from the night. Snowflakes swirled in the dark dry cold. The open door of the plane yawned warmly onto the freezing gangway. A figure hurried down the steps. Luella struggled in from the tarmac. She wore a kamikaze hat, a long wool overcoat, gray knit gloves, and rubber boots. She smiled. She was shorter than I remembered and darker. Her face looked squashed and wide in that hat. I wanted more of a babe. I stared. Luella walked up to me and put her arms around me. I hugged her back.
"Have you been here long?" she asked.
"I don't know," I said. "An hour maybe."
The roads in the Eastern Townships were covered with hard-packed snow. Most of the way into Dorval Airport the snow banks were 20 feet high, and it was cold. I'd left myself plenty of time to make the drive in from Waterloo. If anything happened, I didn't want to miss Luella's plane.
"How was your flight?"
"It was horrible," she said without laughing. "The last hour or so was really rough. I thought I was going to vomit."
"We have to ride for about an hour to get to Waterloo. Are you going to be OK?"
"Yeah," Luella said sounding angry.
We walked to the baggage claim and picked up her suitcase. It was an old yellow tweed thing with a couple of brown stripes she'd picked up at the Salvation Army in L.A. She couldn't get it to close when she had packed and had tied it closed with narrow rope. I carried it to the car for her. She sank into the passenger seat of my VW bug. I put her suitcase in the backseat carefully and got behind the wheel. The air inside the car was frigid. You could see your breath freeze in little crystals on the windshield. I squeezed her hand and smiled.
"Welcome to Montreal," I said.
Luella leaned back into her seat and turned her head to face me looking weary.
"It's a lot colder here than in California," I proffered.
"I don't care," she answered flatly.
We drove through the Quebec countryside, in and out of small French towns. The moon shone bright in the clear cold dark-blue night. Stark bare trees cast short shadows on the snow. A too-big Catholic church, immediately next to the roadway, dominated every town. The road was narrow. It was late. As we drove, Luella told me the events that had led her to leave California and come to be with me. She had rolled and totaled her VW window van on the freeway. Her insurance didn't cover it because it was her fault. She couldn't afford to buy another car. She wasn't hurt in the accident, but she was shaken up. In Santa Barbara she had been going to school, a junior college. She had a few more years to go. Recently she had broken up with the guy she had been seeing there. Her reputation had suffered as a result, she said. She didn't feel she had any friends she could count on in Santa Barbara. It was a cliquey place. The VA had been giving her money to go to school because her father was a veteran of the Korean War. He had died when she was young. Committed suicide when she was 12. The grant was good until she was 21. She was going to turn in April. The previous summer, her boyfriend, a guy in his mid-thirties she'd been living with off and on since she was 17, had thrown her out of his house in Sierra Madre Canyon because he had fallen for a dancer by the name of Marla who was closer to his age. Luella sounded hurt and angry and seemed primarily concerned with how she was going to survive. She had $250 on her American. I had $300 Canadian.
La Rue de la Montagne, outside of Waterloo, winds for several miles around the foot of a 2,000 foot hill, a mountain by Quebec standards. Family farms dot the mountain. The peak is wooded heavily with birch and maple trees. At the furthest extent of the road, on the north side of the mountain, lay the farm at which my artist friends from Montreal had invited Luella and me to stay. The entire 20 acres, which was buried under at least 6 feet of snow when we arrived, gently sloped away to the north and east from a two-story clapboard farmhouse, the only house on the property, situated just below the forest on the hillside. The blue-white moon shone in the blue-dark sky. The sparkling snow was awash in soft blue moonlight.
Luella and I were the only people on the farm. The rest of the group planned to move out from the city in the coming months. For a little while at least she and I would have the farmhouse to ourselves. It was to the caretakers' advantage to have us in there, because we would run water through the pipes, keep the heater on, and generally be there to deal with any problems that might arise. For us it was ideal. No one even mentioned rent. Our closest neighbor was a mile down the road. We had a phone and could drive to Waterloo in half an hour. No one for miles around spoke English. We were suspended in time, a million miles away from everything we'd left. We arrived from the airport about 1 o'clock in the morning and went upstairs to bed.
The moon glowed through the curtains of our bedroom window. I stripped and hurried under the covers. Luella disrobed facing me before the window turning slightly to her left. I reached for the silhouette of her lithesome naked body in the moonlight, and she came to me.
The sun shone brilliantly in the morning. Blindingly white snow buried everything. We filled the tub and got in together. I noticed some sort of discoloration on Luella's left side below her ribs.
"What's this?" I asked, reaching out to touch her.
"It's a scar," Luella said. "See?" and turned to her right, lifting her left arm up so I could see it more clearly. A huge ragged gash two inches tall cut her left side from her abdomen to the middle of her back. I touched it gently with my fingertips. It was hard and rough.
I asked her how she'd gotten it. She told me she'd been born with four kidneys, two of which had to be removed when she was 5. She had several other scars, two on her heels from kicking her feet on her bed while she was in the hospital as a kid, and one on the back of her hand from a burn she'd gotten from an IV needle. Luella's strategy of talking about her disfigurement matter-of-factly worked. I figured if it wasn't a big deal to her, it wasn't a big deal to me, which she undoubtedly hoped; however, I'm sure she wasn't crazy about having scars. We talked about her operations a few times - she had to be operated on twice to get both kidneys. She told me how much she hated being in bed in the hospital when she was a little girl, but she never admitted to any particular feelings about being scarred. I certainly didn't push it, and in a remarkably short time I forgot about them, too.
We didn't have much to do on that farm besides have sex and talk to one another. No one else was around. Only thing is Luella and I liked talking about different things, so while the sex was enormously enjoyable for both of us, our conversations left a lot to be desired. She was practical. I wasn't practical at all. Not having had any experience living outside of the university, I was much more intellectual. I liked abstractions, introspecting, using words to tie up concepts in neat little verbal bundles. She didn't like that game. Introspection, in fact, was her weakest suit, and our conversations tended to end before they got going, much of the time in disagreement. When I asked her how she felt about something, she'd give a final, non-negotiable answer. If I asked her to explain what she meant, she'd get defensive, lose her patience, and tell me I was driving her crazy. I liked Luella, though. She was sexy, cute and feisty; and I felt responsible for her emotionally, because I'd asked her to come from California. She found me awfully naïve and inept at important things like fixing plumbing and maintaining the car, but she thought I was funny and laughed at all sorts of things I said. I loved the way she laughed, hard, with wide open eyes and a devilish smile, but our senses of humor differed, too. I liked to laugh at surprising twists and outrageous details. She liked to tease and insult you playfully. I've never been able to get used to that. Some component of an insult, the jostling to be top dog, always feels to me like it's meant. Even now I can feel the hurt in my brother's unrelenting insults when I was kid. Luella came into my life before I knew how to be financially responsible - for myself or anyone else - and financial security is what she wanted most from me. In our years together she taught me how to work and save, but even then I tried to give her what was most important to me and what I wished to receive from her: concern for her feelings and interest in what she thought.
After we were together a couple of weeks on the farm and the feeling outside of bed just wasn't there, I thought if I asked her to marry me, she would realize how serious I was about wanting to be close to her emotionally. I thought she'd know how much I cared about her and that she'd open up and trust me with her feelings more. I didn't realize that nothing I could do would change the way she felt about herself. Luella wasn't holding back from me personally as I thought she was. She presented a tough, independent front to the world because she thought she had to, and she was terrified to look inside because of the fear and weakness she felt in there. That was the problem in my relationship with her. The more I pushed her to open up, the more she shut me out. The more she shut me out, the more my insecurities came into play, my needy jealousy and fear of being rejected. I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.
Luella realized she was pregnant. We had halfheartedly been using the "rhythm method", a fancy way of putting that we ignored the possibility of her getting pregnant, as we paid no attention whatsoever to where we were in her cycle. I wondered whether she was already pregnant when she arrived - not that knowing it was ours would have made any difference. I wondered whether she was telling me the truth. In 1970, in Quebec, abortion was a clandestine, criminal act, and you needed connections to find a doctor who was willing to do one. Fortunately a gynecologist in Montreal had set up a clinic in which he was doing abortions openly, challenging the law. I had a medical insurance card from Nova Scotia, so we could pay. Luella had to go in for counseling a couple of times before they'd perform the abortion. It was a depressing process and put her in a rotten mood. When she finally did undergo the procedure, it was not a piece of cake. A woman's body is tuned to gestate offspring. Ripping a fetus out of her uterus disrupts her body chemistry dramatically. Luella felt like crap.
A 19-year-old kid in an army jacket showed up at the farm with his dog Outlaw. Michel, the captain of the artists' group in Montreal, drove him out one Saturday, had a visit and a look around, and left him there with us. The kid was a deserter from Iowa who needed a place to stay. He'd been drafted and gone into basic training because it was his patriotic duty to do so, but when he got there, he didn't like having to salute and say "Yes Sir, No Sir," to people he didn't like, so he left. His dog was a scrappy puppy, a German shepherd mix, at just the age where it chewed on everything. It was cute but a pain in the ass. Shoes especially would disappear if Outlaw got into our room, which was impossible to prevent because the kid took a liking to jumping out of our second story bedroom window into the snow all day. Luella and I would be getting it on in bed, and this kid would come crashing through our room, throw open the window, and dive out into the snow. Luella convinced me to be nice to the kid and his dog.
My friends in Halifax, the ones who taught me how to make potato casserole, had given me a Stella guitar before I left town. The action was an inch and a half off the fret board, and half the tuning machines wouldn't turn, but I was able to get it pretty much in tune. When they gave it to me, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. With that kid on the farm, my natural inclination was to behave in a passive-aggressive manner, fuming inside and expecting him to be able to tell from my totally uptight vibe that I didn't like him barging in on us and wanted him to stop. I thought he knew better, which of course is absurd, because if he did know better, he wouldn't intrude on us in the first place. Every sentence out of his mouth began with, "Me an' Outlaw." Me an' Outlaw this. Me an' Outlaw that. It drove me nuts, but to make the kid feel accepted - I really wished he'd disappear - I made up a song about his dog: "So have another smoke and listen to the guitar / Me and Outlaw know you're gonna get far, etc." It was really dumb. Oh, but did he love that song. He would beg me to sing it for him. Then he'd tell his stupid dog, "This song's about you, Outlaw! He's singing about you, Outlaw!" Outlaw, Outlaw, Outlaw. I don't know how many times a day that kid said "Outlaw", but making up that song worked, because once I had it, I could have asked him to drown himself in the well and he would have done it to hear the song, so getting him to stay out of our room was simple.
Our money started getting low. Getting a job in the first place was a daunting task. Getting a job in Quebec, where people speak French, looked impossible. I suggested to Luella that we drive to Halifax and try to find work there. I actually believed the guy who rented me the cabin I had stayed in in Bald Rock would let us stay there for free until we could pay him rent. I guess if I knew how crazy that idea was, I never could have asked him with a straight face, but when we got there, we did manage to pull it off.
The car had been acting strangely for a while. The starter would turn on unexpectedly for a second, and sometimes the starter wouldn't work when I wanted it to. In Edmundston, New Brunswick, on our way to Halifax, the starter turned itself on on the highway and burned itself out, killing the car. We were dead in the water with a couple of hundred bucks between us. The world was buried in snow, and it was cold. Luella freaked. This was the first time I'd seen her cry. It scared me not to be able to get her to stop, and I felt guilty that she was suffering so because of me. It was, after all, having cast her fate in with mine that had put her in this position. She got in bed in the motel and cried inconsolably, big tears rolling down her cheeks and dropping on the bed. I gave her tissue. I held her. I consoled her. Nothing helped. I felt torn up inside.
The car was ready at the end of the following day. New fields for the starter cost more money than we had. The motel bill about doubled that, but I had a gasoline credit card that was still good from when I'd been going to UCLA only four months previously. (It seemed like another world.) I paid the bill with the credit card. We left Edmundston the following morning and arrived in Halifax after dark. The snow was melting in Nova Scotia. Patches of bare ground were visible all around. It was nowhere near as cold as it had been in Quebec.
We drove to my former landlord's house and knocked on his door. He and his wife were in there roaring drunk on bourbon. They asked us in. I introduced Luella, told them we were going to get married. They became extravagantly sentimental, tearily encouraging us and pledging to help us in any way they could. His wife bawled to us about how lucky we were to be starting out fresh and how much she wished she could go back and start anew.
"All I've got to show for my whole life," she sniffled, waving her hand across the room, "is this furniture. Nothing else. "
Her husband hung his head dejectedly, ashamed for her to have told us that he failed her so. "But we've got a color TV," he said.
It didn't do any good. "Be sure to save your money, Dearie," she said to Luella, "so you don't wind up like us."
We asked if we could use their bathtub. I guess they thought we were planning on bathing separately. When they saw us preparing to go into the bathroom together, they started making grand pronouncements to us about how modern they were in their views and how they didn't disapprove. We were like their own kids, they said. All they wanted was to help us. While we were in there splashing around, their son came by. He was in his early 30's and was flabbergasted when he saw us come out of the bathroom together with wet hair and a pile of dirty clothes. We hadn't had sex in there. We'd taken a bath, but he certainly had never been in his parents' bathtub with a girl, and he probably never would. He leered at Luella, I guess imagining what her naked body was like. He looked pretty hungry, too. We had already worked out the arrangement to occupy their cabin, rent to be paid at some unspecified time in the future. Fortunately their son hadn't shown up during that negotiation. Luella had basically let them talk themselves into putting us up out there. He might have brought them to their senses. We packed up our things, thanked them, and got the hell out of their house. Driving out to Bald Rock we had about the best laugh we had ever had together. Those people were nuts. We figured on getting one good night's sleep at least and wound up staying there until June.
When I had dropped out of Dalhousie in December and left Halifax, I sent my mother a postcard that said, "Thank you for bringing me into this world. Maybe I will see you in the next." She told me years later that when she received it, she was afraid I was going to commit suicide. That postcard, inarticulate and tactless as it was, expressed my intention no longer to feel intimidated by her opinion about everything I do. The few months I was out of touch with my mother must have been hard for her, but Luella put an end to that when we arrived in Bald Rock essentially broke. We needed money, and the only place she could think of we could get some was my parents. Boy, was that a mortifying experience. Not that my parents lorded it over me. Far from it. But having to call them up and ask felt terrible. Here I'd said good-bye, I'm going to take care of myself, and the next thing you know I'm having to beg them for a handout.
Luella, meanwhile, wrote a letter to her mother telling her mother in no uncertain terms that she hated her and would never again have anything to do with her. I was 25 years old. Luella was not quite 21. I thought I had the perfectly correct attitude worked out with which to communicate with other people. Total laissez faire. If Luella wanted to burn her bridges with her mother, I believed that was her business. If I read her letter and didn't quite get what the issue was between them, I figured it was their dispute; that wasn't any of my business either. I was too arrogant, too naïve, and too scared of starting an argument to suggest that maybe writing her mother off wasn't the most appropriate course of action. Besides, I had written my own mother off, even if I did ask her for money as soon as Luella and I were broke.
We got stabilized in that cabin, and I started looking seriously for work. Luella couldn't look because she didn't have Landed Immigrant status, which I had acquired before transferring to Dalhousie when I dodged the draft. Once she and I were married, a few weeks later, she automatically became Landed, too. Our neighbor Pat Parnell was a foreman at CP Transport. I started begging him for a job. I did not by any stretch of the imagination want a job, but for me to work was the only way Luella and I were going to get any money, and I didn't seem to have a choice. At first Pat told me he'd have to ask at work if they could use someone. Days went by. He told me they didn't need anyone right now, but maybe in a few weeks. More time went by. I kept bugging him about it. He got me in there for an interview. Apparently I did OK. He told me to keep asking him, maybe something would come up. I asked and asked, waited and waited. He said they like it when you keep asking. It makes them feel like you really want the job. I kept asking. He finally got me on. I took the job for granted and didn't appreciate what Pat Parnell had done for me at all, but the fact is that work was extremely hard to find in that part of Canada in 1971, especially for someone like me who didn't know how to do anything besides go to school. Pat Parnell extended himself for me because he liked Luella and me and because he was a good man. Without his help, we would have sunk into dire, dire straits.
While I was trying to get that job, Luella and I got married. We bought matching blue tee-shirts to get married in and took wedding pictures in them in a 25-cent booth at Woolworth's. We bought a pair of cheap brass rings and applied for a marriage license. The rules made us wait a few days and see a doctor, then we went to the courthouse and got married by a judge. We grabbed two strangers off the street to be our witnesses. One was an older gentleman in a tattered suit. The other was an overly plump middle aged woman with garishly dyed orange hair. I didn't catch their names. The judge had never married a couple as exuberantly extroverted as Luella and me. He told us that he hoped we would be as happy together years from then as we seemed to be that day. That we might not was inconceivable to us. The other people getting married were pretty somber. I guess that's the way they did it in Nova Scotia.
I introduced Luella to the few guys I knew in Halifax. She started hanging out with them while I was working, and I didn't like that at all. I was touchy about being used; I was not used to working for a living, and I didn't like it; and I didn't want Luella thinking she could just live off me and have a good old time while I was out there slaving on a job I didn't even want. The tension was thick between us for a couple of days while I tried the passive-aggressive approach. I figured if I bad vibed her hard enough, she'd know I wanted her to stay home and suffer like I was while I was working, and that she'd quit hanging out and having fun while I was at work so I didn't have to be jealous and wonder what she was doing behind my back. Then I blew up. The argument escalated almost immediately, because it had been raging in my head for days. She hardly knew what hit her.
"What were you and them doing today?" I asked her angrily.
"Nothing!" she said in a tone that means, "It's none of your business!"
I pushed her down on the bed and straddled her and shouted into her face, "I'm not slaving at this job so you can go out and hang around with other guys! If you do that anymore, I'm going to send you back to California!"
She started crying and yelling at me that I only had to work for a little while until we had some money, sobbing that she couldn't get a job because she didn't have her papers yet. I asked her how she felt about those guys, and she told me I was stupid if I thought she'd ever do anything with them. I didn't like being called stupid, and I didn't trust her completely by a long shot. Nothing she or anyone else could say was going to make my jealously magically disappear. That was inside of me. But we did resolve the issue. She said she'd hang out in the cabin while I was working, and she did from then on, but the damage to our relationship was done. I had gotten jealous and shouted in her face. How could she ever like me after that?
The job was loading and unloading trailer trucks at a loading dock. When I first started working, I told Pat Parnell I wanted to drive a 3-ton truck around town. One evening he tossed me the keys to a truck and said, "See that truck out there? Back it into that spot over there." That was my big chance, because if I successfully backed the truck into the spot, they probably would ask me if I wanted to drive a route. Only thing is, I had never driven a vehicle using mirrors before and had no idea what I was doing. I missed the spot by a mile. Backed into the grill of one of the trucks I was supposed to park between. No one cared particularly. It wasn't like people reminded me about it every second. No mention was ever made of it again, but I felt like a loser and a dope.
The guys I worked with looked like grown men, but they acted like little boys, particularly with respect to sex. I had trained myself in L.A. to take what people say at face value. When I was younger I believed people said the opposite of what they meant, which is how my mother operated, but I did manage to figure out that people as a rule tell you what they want to say. At CP Transport guys started teasing me about Pat Parnell having sex with Luella while I was at work. I couldn't think of a reason for them to torment me with that unless they believed it was true. That this was humor was beyond my comprehension. I took them seriously, explained that our relationship was solid and we loved each other. I could have argued with them until the end of time and never gotten through because they didn't believe it themselves. For some reason they wanted to fuck with me. I still don't know what that reason might have been. It could have been for anything.
Once again Luella suffered for my ignorance, but to her credit she was able to make me understand that these guys were teasing me. For the duration of our relationship there was always an element of doubt in my mind about whether she was completely faithful to me. That doubt was a manifestation of my own feelings of inadequacy, my own feelings of being undeserving of being loved. Usually I had it under control. Sometimes it would erupt, like with those guys teasing me in Halifax, and she would bring me to my senses. But after we'd been together for about a year, if Luella got insulting or dismissed my views contemptuously, I would feel afraid she didn't love me anymore and explode in a jealous rage on my own. That was the worst, and in time it escalated to my beating her. Luella knew how to provoke it, too, by taunting me with ambiguous sexual messages about other men. Sometimes she deliberately set me off. I think she did it to torture me. I also think she liked how desperately I begged her not to leave me and how passionately I professed my love to her after losing my composure and punching her around. She could make me crawl like a worm and wrench my heart with jagged insults until she finally let me lick and fuck her like a wild animal after I beat her up. It never went that far in Halifax, although that first time I shouted in her face undoubtedly poisoned our relationship forever.
I worked at CP Transport for about 3 months, just long enough to be eligible for a year of Unemployment. Luella got her working papers just before I quit. We decided to drive to the West Coast. We were California people and hoped that the climate in Vancouver would be closer to what we liked. At least we hoped it would be milder than in the East, and there was certainly nothing holding us in Halifax. Our landlord had come over the day after the drunken night he agreed to let us stay in his cabin and asked us for the rent. Luella held him off and bought us a enough time for my parents' money to arrive. She was good at stuff like that, getting us places to live, keeping creditors at bay. The cabin had an outhouse. She set aside a jar we pissed in to keep from having to go outside. We emptied that jar into a pail under the kitchen sink, and whenever one of us had to use the outhouse, we would empty it. When we left that cabin for good, I wanted to empty the pail, but Luella insisted that we leave it in the middle of the kitchen floor to let the landlord know what we thought of him. I didn't think he was that bad of a guy myself, but we left it there.
We turned my VW bug into a camper. It had removable seats in the front, and the back seat folded down. I built a platform out of plywood over the folded down back seat and a pair of slats with hinged legs we could slide inside and line up with the back platform when the front seats were removed. That let us turn the whole inside of the car into one big platform. We carried a piece of 3"-thick foam rubber rolled up in the back part of the car and rolled it down over our platform to make a bed. Luella slept on the side with the steering wheel because she was shorter. We fit perfectly. We installed hooks around all the windows, she sewed eyelets into little curtains she cut out, and we had complete privacy in our bug. I built a plywood box and attached it to the top of the car with suction cups and ropes to carry all our stuff. We spent three months on the road in our car like that, hitting as many National Parks as we could drive to, checking out the sights in Canada.
The first leg of our trip was around the Gaspe Peninsula to the Saint Lawrence River and back to the farm in Waterloo for a visit. We set up camp on infrequently used private roads off the main drag, behind a big bush whenever possible, cooked on a Coleman stove, ate great, made a lot of love, had a terrific time. Luella went nuts over the names of the French towns. One night we camped beside a lush meadow outside of a place called Sainte Therese-de-Gaspe. "Sainte Therese-de-Gaspe. Sainte Therese-de-Gaspe," she said over and over for the next two days. Every time she said it, her eyes sparkled and she laughed with a big wide grin. When we got to Riviere-du-Loup, she started saying Riviere-du-Loup, and when we got Chicoutimi, she started saying Chicoutimi. I loved the way she laughed. She really knew how to have a good time. Her favorite French expression of all, after we got to Vancouver and she discovered it on a can of baby powder, was "poudre de bebe." She loved saying that as much as I loved saying, "L'ascenseur va lentement," something a stranger in an elevator told me in Montreal when I asked him to teach me how to say something in French. In Riviere-du-Loup we took a ferry across the Saint Lawrence River, sunning ourselves way up on top of the wheelhouse where passengers weren't allowed. I was afraid of getting caught and didn't want to go up there, but Luella got me to climb up quick when no one was looking, and we lay down so no one could see us. She bared her breasts, which she loved to do whenever she sunned herself. What a view! The river was full of big boats going every which way. We watched them steering around each other while we baked under the sun.
When we got to La Rue de la Montagne, we helped our friends weed a giant garden they had planted in the spring. The kid and the dog were gone. West, I think. It was a happy reunion. We hung around there for a week or so. Then we made the long trip through Ontario around the top of Lakes Michigan and Superior. We saw moose on the road and drunks in Thunder Bay, lots of trees and the Capital of Canada in Ottawa. When we got to Manitoba, I thought we could drive to the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories if we drove north out of Winnipeg. We camped on a 5,000 foot glacial moraine in the middle of the prairie called Riding Mountain and drove as far north as the road would take us, into a mining town called Flin Flon, Manitoba. Up in that neck of the woods, in a place called The Pas (sounds like "The Paw"), we met a guy who took us for a ride in his swamp buggy and gave us a taste of moose meat. It reminded me of sawdust. There was nowhere to go from Flin Flon except down into Saskatchewan via a 300-mile gravel road to Prince Albert National Park. We saw Grey Owl's cabin and watched a bunch of bears rummage around in a garbage dump. That gravel road we drove in on was named after a guy, Smith or Williams, something like that. We met that guy in Prince Albert National Park, the guy who blazed that trail. He stood looking out over the lake with a cigarette dangling from his lower lip. Didn't move for a long time. A real slow country kind of guy.
We were pulled over by a rookie RCMP Mountie in Saskatchewan one day. Someone had escaped from prison near a town we happened to be driving through. The Mountie wanted to know if the guy was in the box on top of our car. "Nope. I don't think so," I said. "OK," he said and let us go.
We spent some time in the Canadian Rockies. The biggest thing that happened there was one day in the parking lot of the Columbia Ice Fields I saw a car that made me mad. A long, wide, yellow 4-door Pontiac Bonneville with Montana plates, sagging on bad springs with a heavy load in the trunk, had a bumper sticker on it: "America Love It or Leave It". I felt really mad about that, so mad I remember it now, 26 years later. I "left it" because I "loved it". I refused to condone the degradation of American ideals like honesty and respect into the cynical manipulation of innocent people's lives. And this guy comes to Canada - someone else's country - spewing his dumb propaganda. What an arrogant son-of-a-bitch.
Luella and I hung out in the Rockies for a week or so, found some out-of-the-way places to camp and hike, got a lot of sun. Then we drove out past Mount Robson into Kamloops, where we found out we could make some money picking fruit south of there in the Okanagan Valley. We drove down to a town called Kelowna and went to work picking cherries for a family by the name of Pooley. We got the job through Manpower, which had a seasonal office out there to service the migrant farm workers working their way up from Mexico and the local farmers who have to get their fruit in off their trees in the space of a couple of weeks. Luella and I had no idea what we were doing, but we had a lot of fun and ate a ton of cherries. You're supposed to pick with two hands into two buckets strapped to a harness on you. A good crew of two or three people who know where to position their ladders can clean a cherry tree in half an hour. Farmers paid 50 cents a bucket. You could make $40 in a 10-hour day working hard. I don't think Luella and I made $40 in the whole week we were on the Pooley's property. But Luella got to know Mrs. Pooley, who recommended that we drive down to Naramata on the east shore of the lake when we were through and go to work for a guy by the name of Hugh Dendy. Dendy's father had recently bought him an apricot orchard that needed a lot of work. Mrs. Pooley was sure he could use Luella as a cook and would teach me what I needed to know to be his hand. It sounded like a great idea, leaving aside of course that I had no ambition whatsoever to make it in life as someone's hand.
The best part of being on the Pooley's was getting naked at the end of every dirty, sweaty day and running the hose over ourselves. It was hot up there, close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and dry. That first instant when the cold water hits you is a shock, but after that it feels great. The physical labor felt good, too. That worked feeling in every muscle in your body from standing on a ladder all day reaching, pulling, lifting. There's no way we could ever have survived on that kind of work, but it was fun to try it. Some of the local people who had good jobs and decent incomes came out to pick fruit during the season, too. It was a tradition with them, a social event of economic importance to the farmers in that it helped them get their fruit in quickly. People who had helped out as high school kids for pocket money would come back year after year as adults to help out, too.
Someone or something walked off with a couple of pork chops we had in our cooler. It was a disappointment when we went to cook them at the end of the day and they weren't there, but it was more something to laugh about than the end of the world. Luella spotted a little Mexican kid near our car the next day and started calling him pork chop. He had no idea what she was talking about, because he only spoke Spanish, and he ran away. Whenever we saw him after that, we'd call him pork chop between ourselves and laugh and laugh about it. He stayed with his parents in a cabin on the property that was set aside for big-time pickers who knew all the ropes and did about as well as you could picking cherries. Our car was parked under a tree in a part of the orchard that had already been picked clean. It was more convenient for us to leave our cooler out all day than to lock it in the car because it was so hot, but what are you going to do? We couldn't afford to keep the neighborhood in pork chops, so we started locking the cooler in the car. Once the Pooley's orchard was picked bare, we drove to Naramata.
Dendy's orchard was hilly and a lot harder to work on than the Pooley's, which was just about completely flat. Dendy had a considerable number of apricot trees that were badly in need of pruning. He also had some golden delicious apples, pears, and peaches that seemed to be doing fine. Luella and I helped him prune some apricot trees, then she started working in the house. I continued to work out in the orchard with the two other hands he had staying on his property. They were from New Zealand, which was a common scenario in those days. British Commonwealth citizens could travel and work in one another's countries without a visa, so lots of Australians and New Zealanders in particular, whose home economies were predominantly agricultural, worked in the Okanagan Valley in the summer bringing in skills in high demand in the region. In Penticton, a large town at the south end of Lake Okanagan, you would encounter lots of farm hands from Commonwealth countries in the bars getting pissed out of their minds after a hard day's work out in the orchards.
I did easy things like pruning trees and moving irrigation pipes around, while the real hands worked the tractor, mowed, sprayed, and generally did stuff that required knowledge and experience. Luella cooked. She was an amazingly good cook, too. She could make tortillas from scratch, all kinds of bean concoctions that tasted great, things that required time and steps, not just tossing something on the stove and heating it up or boiling something and serving it out of the pot.
Dendy liked drinking Tanqueray gin, a very expensive brand. A couple of times a week he would drive the whole crew - Luella, me, and the other two hands - into Penticton in his 1.5 ton gray pickup truck. We sat on a seven foot overstuffed couch in the bed of his truck smoking dope and joking around on our way to town. Dendy would pick up supplies here and there. We'd get started drinking beer. Then he'd hit the liquor store last thing on his way out of town. The crew would be sitting in the back on that couch screaming and laughing fucked up out of our minds surrounded by big bags of fertilizer or whatever he'd driven in to get, and he'd be sitting up front with a couple of bottles of Tanqueray and a half a dozen liters of Schweppes tonic. When we got back to the orchard, Dendy would invite us all to have a drink with him. Then he'd get fucked up, too. After a drink or two, he'd close his eyes. Lilting his head rapturously, thumbs and forefingers pinched together before his shoulders, he would conduct the performers on his opera records. We'd all party until it got dark and it was time to go to bed.
Luella and I tore our bed out of the VW and set it up on Dendy's front lawn. Sleeping out there in the cool night air looking up at the Milky Way was heaven. Sometimes we'd lie on our backs and look up into the sky and talk about how beautiful it was and how everyone in the city was missing out on this. It was nice. But everything wasn't perfect by any means. I had trouble understanding my relationship with Luella in the context of all those other men, and I was prone to bother her with jealousy. I was her husband, but what did that mean? The other guys didn't have women. Certainly any one of them would have jumped at the opportunity to hook up with Luella. She was cute as a button and fun as hell. What kept her attached to me? She worried about money. It wasn't like we were on vacation. This was it. We had nowhere to go back to. We were just barely keeping our heads above water. I had no idea what I was doing. She was following her instincts to survive.
One night we all got drunk out of our minds on Tanqueray and drove down to the Lake. Luella and I stayed on the shore and wound up fucking on the grass. Everyone else went swimming and came out of the water while we were doing it. No one seemed to care too much when they stumbled onto us. Sex was a big deal to me, though, and Luella was embarrassed to have been seen like that, but none of the other guys ever mentioned it. Maybe they were playing it cool. I don't know.
Dendy's father came out to check on the farm one afternoon. He met me dragging irrigation pipes around in one of the orchards. When I was out there alone, I was always looking over my shoulder for the Sasquatch, which someone told me came around sometimes. I didn't believe in the Sasquatch, but when I was out there in the orchards all by myself, it didn't matter what I believed. I mean there's always a chance there is one, right? Broken branches and flattened grass would freak me out. Omigod, the Sasquatch! It was a relief to be out there with some company when his father turned up that day. He started asking me about my name.
"Appledorf. That means Apple Village in German," he said.
"Yes, that's correct," I answered.
"Apple Village." He pondered that for a second or two. "Apple Village. Apple Town. Yes. Apple Town. Appleton. That's it! Appleton! Yes. Appleton." The Dendy's were 100% pure English, which was clearly Mr. Dendy's bottom-line frame of reference.
The crew got drunk with Dendy at least a couple of times a week. Once we drove into Penticton and got roaring drunk on beer at one of the bars. Luella wasn't too bad, so she drove the truck back to Naramata. I was in the cab with her, drunk out of my mind, asking her how she felt sexually about the other guys on the crew. She got more and more frustrated the less I understood that she had no sexual feelings at all for any of them. She stopped the truck next to a mailbox on a post and backed up a few feet. Then she gunned it and mowed that mailbox down, right under the center of the truck. I was shocked, hanging out the window looking back to see if anyone had seen us do it. She had her head tipped back and her mouth wide open laughing at the top of her lungs, swerving down the road as fast as she could drive.
Luella had a sister by the name of Connie who lived in Oroville, California with her husband Jeff. While Luella and I were staying at Dendy's farm, they came up for a visit. The sisters were reasonably close, and it was an opportunity for all of us to check each other out. Connie and Jeff came in a truck with a camper shell they parked on the property. They stayed for a few days. The last night they were there, we all got smashed on Tanqueray. We also got into Dendy's stash of homebrew which he had been aging patiently and was just about ready to be drunk. That stuff was fire water. We were smoking dope and drinking Tanqueray and drinking homebrew, and we got so out of our minds that Luella and Connie started taking off their clothes. Jeff and I joined in, and the four of us started leaping around Dendy's living room stark naked cackling and screaming at top of our lungs. We were jumping on his furniture, leaning back howling, waving our hands above our shoulders, shaking ourselves and stamping our feet.
You've got to understand that Dendy was an Englishman. Yes, he was a Canadian, but he was an Englishman below that. His whole thing was self-control and being reserved with his dry sardonic wit. There is no way that Hugh Dendy would ever be caught dead jumping around someone's house stark naked screaming like a madman, and we were doing that right in his face. He took it as an insult, and it was an insult. Luella was telling him by acting that way to lighten up, but she wasn't telling him in a friendly way. She was rubbing his nose in his house and his orchard, his expensive gin and his uptight father, his khaki shorts and his pith hat, his farm hands, his opera records. She was expressing a couple of months' bottled up contempt for the guy. I can't say I hated him. In fact, I sort of liked him, but there was no way to be friends with him, because he thought he was superior to us. I don't even think it was a conscious thing with him. He just assumed the attitude. Needless to say, Connie and Jeff and Luella and I were out of there in the morning. We followed each other to a little park between Princeton and Hope called Manning Provincial Park, where we spent a couple of days together before they headed back to the U.S. and we drove on to Vancouver. We couldn't go back to California with them because I was a draft dodger, remember?
In Manning Provincial Park there was a "blow down". That means that when they had put in the highway, they had cut down a number of big trees that were protecting a number of smaller trees from high winds. After the big trees were removed, the next time a wind strong enough to topple them came up, the smaller trees were all blown down. Where all the trees blew down is called a blow down. There was a big sign near the blow down explaining what it was and how it came to be. Right at the end of the explanation was a statement I felt was expressive of a particularly Canadian value. It said that while being protected fosters weakness, "Exposure builds strength." At the time I thought it was an arrogant statement, because the Canadians are always making a point of not coddling children who are too young to understand being independent, but I have grown to like those words, especially in the spiritual sense that exposure to the truth about yourself builds the strength to take ownership of your own emotions, your own reactions to the experience of being alive.
While we were in Manning Provincial Park, Jeff showed us his gun. It was some kind of a pistol. I don't know the caliber. Just seeing it made my body buzz with fear. Guns are for killing. Being around it I felt strongly that I didn't want it to kill me. I don't know how he got it across the border or why he wanted it with him. As far as I was concerned, he couldn't put it away and stop playing with it soon enough.
Luella and I arrived in Vancouver in September, 1971. We had no jobs, no home, no friends in Vancouver, not a 100 bucks in our pocket. We had that big box on top of our VW, and the front end was shot from having driven cross country with all that weight on our roof. Someone directed us to "The Trailer", which was a housing referral office the Welfare Department had set up in downtown Vancouver to direct transient people like Luella and me to a place to stay. It was called "The Trailer" because it was located in a trailer. We went there and were referred to a guy by the name of Dwight Jones who was able to accommodate a couple in his house on 8th Avenue in Kitsilano. The Welfare Department paid people like Dwight a few bucks a day for each person they provided shelter for a night and gave breakfast in the morning. Dwight was participating in that program strictly on a business basis, meaning he figured he could make a profit on the people he put up based on what it cost him to give them breakfast. He was a wonderful guy, extremely intelligent, witty, poised, personable. He rented a Victorian house with his girlfriend Boo that was charmingly livable. They knew lots of people and loved to entertain. The parties they threw were the best of anyone's I've ever known. Lots of food, dope, beer, chess, music, conversation. Super gatherings. Luella and I crashed in Dwight and Boo's basement for a few nights until we found ourselves a room to rent in a rooming house on York Avenue near Kitsilano Beach. While we stayed with Dwight and Boo, we established a friendship with them that would keep us in close contact for the entire time we lived in British Columbia. That was more than 25 years ago, and although Boo has moved on and I haven't seen her for about 10 years, Dwight and I are still in touch.
When Luella and I were travelling, except for those times at Dendy's place, we didn't drink or do drugs, primarily because we didn't have money for that kind of stuff, and also because we were not particularly motivated to seek them out because we were into sex. When substances were around, we did them without realizing how adversely they affected our communication. That doesn't mean that unless we were getting stoned the communication between us was perfect, because it was not, but the emotional environment in our relationship didn't get too out of control when we were sober. Once we got to Vancouver and started drinking and doing drugs, our underlying emotional problems got out of hand within about 6 months.
It was established fairly early in our relationship that certain topics were not allowed to be brought up in conversation, because if they were, we would just argue about them and not reach a mutual understanding. Luella dismissed impatiently and refused to discuss the subjects she didn't want to talk about. In Halifax, for example, I asked her, "What do you want to do with your life?" and she had snapped at me, "That's a stupid question." She had no patience for analyzing herself or getting me to understand why she felt the way she did in any particular situation. I had no interest whatsoever in money, and I hated being told what to do. That included being asked to take out the garbage, having a parking spot pointed out to me, or any intimation that I couldn't figure out for myself what to do or how to do it. We both accused each other of being as bad as each other's mother on more than one occasion.
Once we were settled, money became an issue again for Luella, and as a consequence we began to fight. When we were travelling, it was as if we were suspended outside of the world in an imaginary place, and we had a romantic time. But we never really connected intellectually or spiritually, even on the road. Luella never sat me down and explained to me who she was and what her life was all about, because she didn't know; but when we traveled, we had a lot of laughs. She was relatively happy then, and that enabled me to feel relatively secure. If she wasn't complaining about me and was having a good time, then I imagined she was probably satisfied with me and not checking out available men to find herself a replacement for me. That's pretty much how the dynamic between us worked. The unhappier she got, the less financially secure she felt, the less accepted, the more rejected I felt; and at that time in my life when I got scared, I lashed out angrily to try to control Luella's feelings and prevent them from deteriorating more. Of course, when I did that, the situation rapidly spiraled down, because she really did lose respect for me, and then I got worse. All of this was exacerbated many fold, particularly for me, by alcohol and drugs.
Luella took a job waitressing downtown. She felt as used by me in that situation as I had felt used by her at CP Transport. I was afraid she was going to dump me because I wasn't bringing in any money, and I did dumb things like dropping around to check up on her at work. If she had been glad to see me, maybe I would have gotten the picture that she liked me. Maybe not. But the bottom line was, she didn't like me coming around. We wound up having a big fight because I didn't like her working all night at the restaurant instead of sleeping with me, and she quit. She made damned sure I knew she thought I was an "asshole" - her word - for thinking that way, but I didn't care, and I made it up to her in bed. She agreed after a while that nights with me were better than nights on the job, but we were getting broker every day. Something had to turn up quickly or we were going to lose our place.
Luella met one of the people who laid out the Georgia Straight when she was visiting Dwight and Boo one day. The Georgia Straight was the oldest surviving underground newspaper in North America, and most of the people who produced it lived in a house together a few blocks from Dwight on Fairview Slopes. That one house-full of people, it seemed, were responsible for half the artwork in Vancouver. They produced the Georgia Straight, created the advertising for rock concerts, ran the lights and sound equipment at rock concerts, put on light shows. Through that one contact Luella was able to get herself a job working the front desk at the Georgia Straight. It was a day job working around pretty cool people. She was jazzed.
A couple by the name of Lance and Yvette Eastman lived in the basement of our rooming house. Lance was a handsome, strapping guy, originally from Florida - older than us, not a draft dodger (he had been in the Marines) - who was working at that time driving a coal delivery truck in Vancouver. He carried hundred-pound bags of coal all day, and when he came home at night, he would be covered from head to toe in thick, black coal dust. The bathtub would be black when he got out of it. Yvette was a rotund woman, very intellectual (I thought she was full of crap - but I thought Dwight was full of crap in those days, too), who knew a lot about Rosicrucianism, astrology, the Tarot, and a whole list of other metaphysical practices. Luella was attracted to these people and brought them into our life. I liked them, too. Lance owned a Dobro guitar, which he played extremely well. He sang, too, in a sonorous, lusty baritone. Everyone would gather around on the living room floor at Dwight's house to listen, applauding enthusiastically, when Lance sang and played. His signature song was "Mr. Bo Jangles", but that was not the only song he knew by any means. Lance showed me blues fundamentals on the guitar, taught me a couple of songs. In 1973, Luella and I became the godparents for their son Drum when Yvette gave birth to him in Vancouver.
While we were living in that rooming house on York Avenue, Luella became friends with another tenant there, a woman by the name of Rose. Rose moved to Bowen Island, which is a few miles from Horseshoe Bay, in Howe Sound, northwest of Vancouver. Bowen Island had a markedly rural flavor in those days, even though it was only about 20 miles from the city. It was heavily forested with fir trees, sparsely populated, and provided a quiet retreat from the hectic pace of Vancouver. Once Rose was established over there, Luella and I took the ferry out to visit her fairly often. Lance and Yvette went to visit her sometimes, too, and wound up renting themselves a place in Snug Cove near the ferry terminal on Bowen Island. Luella and I would always try to hitch a ride to Snug Cove on someone's speed boat while we waited for the ferry in Horseshoe Bay, and occasionally we'd get a ride. The return trip on the ferry would be free, because you paid the round trip fare in Horseshoe Bay.
We met another couple who were living on Bowen Island through Lance and Yvette and Rose. Terry and Deirdre Quinn were the live-in caretakers for a 93-year-old man and his property, called the Collins Farm, just up the road from Snug Cove. Deirdre did all the work, which annoyed everyone who knew them, but no one was able to get Terry Quinn to lift a finger to help her. I never understood why Deirdre put up with that. She might even have explained it somewhere along the line, but it couldn't have made much sense. Terry spent all of his time smoking dope, tending his pot plants, reading, and philosophizing. He was a devoted student of Timothy Leary's books and was also taken with the writings of a guy called Aleister Crowley and another guy by the name of Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff. As I understand it, all these guys wrote treatises about metaphysics. Crowley and Leary were heavily into drugs and wrote about the ultimate nature of reality when they were stoned out of their minds. Gurdjieff was Crowley's teacher, I believe, and is presumed to have known something about "black magic", whatever that is.
Terry and Deirdre moved from Bowen Island to Quadra Island in 1972 to live on the Jones Farm, and Lance and Yvette moved into the Collins Farm to take over watching after Mr. Collins. When Collins eventually died, Lance and Yvette took a job tending the lighthouse at Quatsino Sound on Vancouver Island. That lighthouse, in a remote spot near the northwest corner of Vancouver Island, is accessible only from the sea. Lance and Yvette would be completely isolated there for weeks at a time until a supply ship came by and sent a boat ashore to refresh their stores. If the weather was too bad, the boat couldn't come ashore, and they would have to wait until the next visit to get supplies. The last time I saw them they were getting ready to sail from Victoria for Quatsino Sound on a Coast Guard ship in the Fall of 1973. Luella and I stayed with them on the Collins farm for a while when I had a couple of wisdom teeth removed in 1972. They put Luella and me up in a spare room until I recovered.
A few weeks after Luella went to work for the Georgia Straight, she came home all excited because she'd found us a basement apartment someone was moving out of on 19th and Oak that cost $60 a month. She dragged me over there right away to get it, because she'd heard it was a cozy little place that would be perfect for the two of us. When we got there, the basement was everything we hoped it would be. It was split up into a finished living room, an unfinished storage area, and a small finished bedroom. The storage area was as big as the living room and bedroom combined. There was no kitchen sink. We used the big laundry sinks in the storage area to do our dishes. A small bathroom with a built-in shower was tucked off the storage area. Some kind of a homeless guy slept in the crawl space behind our apartment, but the only time he was allowed to be in there was late at night until early in the morning. He did gardening for our landlord, Mr. Lapides.
Mr. and Mrs. Lapides were both at least 80 years old. They had immigrated from Poland before WWII. Mr. Lapides had made his money in scrap metal after the war. He had a poor man's view of money. "If you save a penny," Mr. Lapides said, "you don't save one penny. You save two pennies! The penny that you saved and the penny that you didn't spend." He owned a comfortable clapboard house in a clean, quiet neighborhood, and was financially secure in his old age. He had a young couple (us) renting his basement and a middle aged couple renting his second floor. Not bad for a guy who saved his pennies. He and his wife were cordial to their tenants but not overly chummy. They lived in their space, and their tenants lived in theirs. Luella and I got to visit them in their kitchen once or maybe twice. They never barged into our apartment uninvited, and when they did need to talk to us, Mr. Lapides always knocked on our outside door. He never came directly down from their kitchen.
Mrs. Lapides had all sorts of stuff stored in cardboard boxes in the storage area in the basement. Luella shocked me by going through Mrs. Lapides' stuff. First of all, I personally would never have thought of going through someone else's stuff, but even if I did think about it, opening their boxes up struck me as a form of stealing, trespassing on their private space. The amazing thing is that when Luella found some stuff in there she liked and asked Mrs. Lapides if she could use it, Mrs. Lapides was not in the least upset that she had gone through her boxes and was delighted to let Luella have it. The only sense I can make of that is that Luella must have told her she was straightening up the boxes and had to look inside to see which ones needed to go on top or something like that, but what she did still strikes me as pretty rude. Speaking of rude things, shortly after we left Halifax in our car, I discovered that Luella had not returned a first edition copy of The Air Conditioned Nightmare, by Henry Miller, to the Dalhousie library as I had asked but had effectively stolen it by having packed it with our things. I mailed it back to them at the first opportunity. Luella started wearing a hat she found in Mrs. Lapides' boxes, and she made a couple of long skirts out of some of Mrs. Lapides' material. She wore that hat until the end. It was a black cylindrical thing that covered her head the same way a kerchief would, down over the tops of her ears and partially covering her forehead. She looked cute as hell in it.
While Luella was working the front desk at the Georgia Straight, a guy by the name of Richard White started tormenting me with claims that he was having sex with Luella. Every time I saw him, which was frequently because I was drinking in the Anchor pub on Water Street where he drank regularly, he would tell me he was seeing her. The Georgia Straight was located kitty corner to the Anchor pub, and this guy was telling me with a straight face that he was going over there for quickies with her. I had no perspective on myself in those days and was not aware at all of my emotional problems. From where I am today I find it incredible that I believed that guy. I had no experience with this kind of thing before coming to Canada, because no one in the U.S. had ever teased me like Richard White or the crew at CP Transport in Halifax did. It must have been some peculiarly Canadian problem those guys were acting out. That I believed Luella would even look at a slob like Richard White is outrageous, but I did. I have no idea why that guy wanted to hurt Luella and me. Neither of us ever did anything to him. As I think about it, maybe Luella had to tell him to leave her alone at some point, but to my knowledge, I don't think he ever even spoke to her.
One day Richard White started in on me at the Anchor pub. I got all upset and went over to the Georgia Straight to ask Luella what the hell was going on between them. I burst through the door and exclaimed angrily, "What the hell is going on between you and Richard White?"
Luella turned away from me, turning up one side of her upper lip, and said "I'm not talking to you about your stupid fantasies."
I stormed behind the counter and grabbed her shoulder, turning her around and snarled, "I don't want you fuckin' other guys!"
"Where'd you get that?" she asked me, wrinkling her nose with a contemptuous snort.
I snapped. I punched her hard in the face maybe four or five times. I don't know what I was yelling as I did it. She screamed and wailed, sobbing and trying to ward off my blows. The whole assault lasted 10 seconds at the most. Then I realized what I'd done.
"Omigod!" I cried. I was sure she was going to leave me. "I'm sorry!" I tried to put my arms around her, and she pushed them away.
"Get away from me!" she screamed, whimpering and sobbing, tears running down her face and dropping on the floor.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I said over and over.
"Leave me alone," she cried. "Get away from me!"
Sharkie came out from the back and asked what was going on. Luella looked at him, her eyes red and swollen from crying and from being punched. "It's nothing, Sharkie," she said. A couple of people working elsewhere in the office poked their heads out into the reception area. "It's OK," she said. She looked at me with hate in her eyes. "What do you want?" she rasped, her teeth clenched hard.
"Forgive me," I begged.
"Go away," she said. "I don't want to talk to you."
"Do you want me to pick you up?"
I went home and paced around and around our basement saying out loud I was an idiot and because of me we were going to be through. Luella didn't get back until late. She had a black eye and a swollen jaw. I figured we were through.
"What's wrong with you?" she said and burst out crying.
"I'm sorry," I said earnestly and put my arms around her. She didn't push me away or lean into my arms. She wailed and sobbed, her body heaving, tears running out of her eyes. She cried for a long time. I tried not to do anything, I was so afraid of doing something wrong.
Eventually she quieted down, we got in bed, and she turned her back to me. I lay on my back with my eyes open wanting to talk to her, but I couldn't think of anything to say. Next morning she looked like she'd been beaten up pretty good. Her main concern was what other people were going to think. She didn't want to talk to me about what happened. She just basically didn't understand why I did it, and she didn't want me to do it again. She didn't want to talk about my fears or why I thought she was messing around. It just made her mad that I thought those things. She didn't want to convince me that she wasn't. She just wanted me to stop accusing her. She was mad, and she was thinking about leaving. She knew I was sorry. She had to convince herself I wasn't going to do it again.
The guy who had been driving the Georgia Straight delivery route in Kitsilano for the previous few years gave it up unexpectedly. I'm not sure whether he left town or if he got involved in another job that took up all his time. Luella was in the office when he quit, and she had Sharkie assign his route to us. Kitsilano was the most lucrative route in town, because it serviced the core neighborhood where most of the paper's readership lived. I've always enjoyed that I personally stocked the magazine racks of Kitsilano for a couple of years with marijuana growers' guides, San Francisco underground comics, drug users' magazines, and of course the Georgia Straight. There is a certain irony in that because since 1977 I have been possibly the most fanatical opponent of drugs and alcohol on the planet. What can I say? I had not yet heard of Zen at that time, and I was years away from starting to learn anything about how to live in the world.
We needed a van do to our delivery route and found a 1965 VW window van in the paper for $1,000. It looked great, and it drove around the block OK because the neighborhood we test drove it in was flat and we didn't have to climb up any hills. We traded our VW bug and a couple hundred bucks for it. Then we found out what we had. Luella cried and cried, sobbing that we were ruined, when we discovered that the floorboards were rotted through, the side panels were made of Bondo, and the engine needed to be rebuilt. The guy we bought the van from was a "car curber". That means a guy who bought cars out of the newspaper and turned them over in front of his house for a profit. Car curbing was illegal in Vancouver, because being a car curber amounted to being an unregulated used car dealer that left customers like Luella and me with no protection from being ripped off. We turned to Dwight, who in the course of having run numerous businesses in his life had done some car curbing along the way.
"That guy went too far," Dwight said. "You don't rip people off like this," and he went over there to talk to the guy. The guy, though, was thoroughly unethical, a completely different class of person from Dwight (who is a class act through and through), and about all that Dwight was able to do for us was to talk tough to the guy and insult him pretty good. We were stuck with this turkey of a van. Things were far from over for us, though. We were sufficiently established in town to buy a rebuilt engine on credit, and we were able to drive our route with the outer panels crumbling off until we had enough money to go to a welder and have the exterior restored. The steel channels that the welder attached to our van will be there in a thousand years, long after the rest of the van has rotted into the dust. Three or four months after we bought our van, we had fixed it up so nice we loved it and were the envy of the neighborhood.
Dwight and Boo had to give up their house on 8th Avenue. A developer had bought it and given notice he was going to tear it down to put up an office building. They rented a house a few blocks east of us. It was nowhere near as elegant as the Victorian they had had to leave, but it was fine. Luella and I started visiting them more often and got into playing a board game with them called Risk, the object of which is to take over the world by rolling dice. Every time Luella had to choose a direction to go in, she seemed to attack my men, and she was always bumping me out of the game. I took it personally and thought she was trying to get rid of me, and I created scene after scene over there yelling and screaming about how Luella was trying to make me look like a dope. Boo was probably the most offended by my behavior. She was a soft spoken, ethereal sort of person, very down to earth. Someone like me, angrily raising my voice, making paranoid accusations, being tactless and insulting, was about as opposite to her as anyone could be. I'm sure she couldn't understand in the least what was wrong with me. Luella would bump me out of games that subsequently lasted for hours, and after we got back to our place, we would scream at each other deep into the night.
"You're so stupid," she'd snap at me. "Why do you think I want to get you out?"
I'd tell her how she didn't love me and she wished she had a better man, and she'd say, "If that's the way you want to think, there's nothing I can do about it."
I felt frustrated in those arguments and started punching her in her body and her arms. "Hitting me makes you feel like such a big, tough man," she'd say. "You're just stupid, and you don't know what you want." Eventually she'd start to cry, sobbing and sobbing, tears running down her cheeks and dropping on the floor. "What am I going to do?" she'd wail. "Where am I going to go?"
Then I'd feel guilty about having made her cry and beg her to forgive me. It was a crazy, destructive cycle. Dwight and Boo never brought it out into the open. He'd make witty cutting remarks about my behavior sometimes to embarrass me when things were quiet, but he never sat me down and talked to me seriously to help me get a grip. To tell you the truth, if he had, I probably wouldn't have been able to admit my problems to him anyway. I was far too insecure and too heavily defended even to realize that anything was wrong with me. Boo politely ignored me when I went crazy, and she withdrew a certain amount of warmth from me in between so I knew we were not bosom buddies, but she was not able to talk to me explicitly about my problems either. I guess she figured it was up to Luella and me to work our problems out on our own. I don't know. Luella's instinct was to fight because she felt attacked, until she would finally lose her composure and break down crying miserably. Drinking and smoking dope had disrupted my thought processes so much I had no perspective on what I was thinking and believed crazy things. I'm not saying my problem was drugs. I'm saying drugs had gotten in the way of my being able to realize I had a problem. My problem, which I couldn't see, was that I felt inadequate. Everything was out of my control, and I was scared. I was way over my head in a life situation at the mercy of people I didn't know how to trust.
In the midst of one our fights, I asked Luella why she married me in the first place. "To get Landed Immigrant status so I could work in Canada," she said.
"What about the 'spiritual physical union' between a man and a woman?" I begged.
"I don't even know what that means," she said contemptuously. "Linda told me to write it in my letter, so I did."
I wanted to be loved. It was driving me crazy to feel despised.
My father got sick with cancer while Luella and I were living in the Lapides' basement. Close to the end of his life, I wrote him a letter in which I took him to task for never having stood up to my mother. She had always bossed him around and criticized him, and she had terrorized the entire household with her histrionic outbursts. I told him in my letter this was his last chance to set things straight with her.
"Why don't you punch her in the mouth and tell her to go fuck herself?" I wrote. I spoke to my father on the phone shortly after that, very near the end for him.
"Such anger," my father said. "Think about life."
The rest of my family went through the long and painful process of watching him waste away and die. I was spared that experience by dodging the draft in Canada.
Luella wanted to move to the country. We had been living in Vancouver for about 2½ years delivering papers for the Georgia Straight and for the Buy and Sell Press. Lance and Yvette were working at Quatsino Sound, Terry and Deirdre Quinn had moved to Quadra Island, Rose was in Snug Cove, Dwight and Boo lived part time on Galiano Island. We were the only ones who lived full time in the city. Luella's dream was to live in a house in a community in the country. I had no particular desire to leave town, but if that's what Luella wanted to do, it was fine with me. We fixed up the van so we could camp in it. She made curtains again. I built a bed and storage bins.
Mr. Lapides saw me sawing a piece of lumber hard and fast with a rip saw.
"You're wasting your energy working so hard," he said, and he showed me how to let the saw do the work.
"Don't press down," he said. "Let the saw do the cutting. Take your time." The wood cut a lot easier doing it the way he said.
We found a guy to take over our delivery route and gave up our apartment. We took the ferry to Nanaimo, drove to Quadra Island, found the Jones Farm, and looked up Terry and Deirdre Quinn. The cabin they were living in looked like a gingerbread house in a fairy tale. It stood in a verdant clearing in a grove of fir trees steps away from the edge of a 300 foot cliff at the south end of the island. The cabin was fabricated out of drift wood salvaged from the shore below and was built in a modified A-frame design. The sides of the "A", instead of reaching the ground, were cut off about 4 feet short and connected to vertical posts about 10 feet closer to the center of the structure than the bottoms of the "A" ordinarily would land. The cabin was shaped like an irregular pentagon standing on the flat edge of its unmatched base. Its face was sheathed in brown split logs. Its long sloping roof was covered in cedar shakes. White window boxes under 6-pane rectangular windows completed the story-book feel of the one-room structure. Terry and Deirdre lived inside with their 3 year-old-boy and baby girl. The cabin had no electricity, a common circumstance on Quadra Island. Deirdre had about a half-mile round trip walk to the well. They welcomed us graciously and introduced us to the half dozen other residents on the farm. No one objected to our spending a night or two in our van near the gravel parking area. The next day Luella found us a place to live.
The owner of the adjoining property to the west let us spend the summer rent-free in a vacant beach house on the shore at the base of the cliffs. The cabin was a two-room post and beam affair sheathed in cedar shakes that had once been painted red. The paint had faded to pink, but the building was structurally sound. It was completely empty and a bit run down. The windows, for example, were empty rectangular holes. There was an enormous supply of driftwood piled on the shore, which Luella and I used to build a bed, a table, a work bench, shelves, even frames for plastic windows we put together to stuff into the empty windows on cool nights. (We bought clear plastic sheeting in Campbell River.) A fresh water spring was within walking distance. There was no electricity. We carried our foam rubber and other supplies from the van to the cabin - about a mile - in many trips and set up housekeeping in the most beautiful spot you could imagine at the south end of Quadra Island.
We were situated at the extreme northern end of the Gulf of Georgia. Down the west side of the Gulf, in our view, ran the 5,000 foot snow-capped mountains of Vancouver Island. Down the east side, also in our view, were the 5,000 foot snow-capped Coast Range mountains of British Columbia. Vancouver Island acted like a baffle, protecting the Gulf of Georgia from the wind and weather of the North Pacific. The sky was clear light blue. The water was a darker blue, and the islands nestled under the mountains were darker still. The whole world was blue. The sun shone brilliantly. It was hot. We sunned ourselves on smooth rocks in the nude all day and enjoyed the comforts of our bed all night. We enjoyed an idyllic interlude for a little while. Then Luella started worrying about money. The issue of work arose, and she expressed dissatisfaction with me. I became fearful of losing her and started feeling jealous again. I started accusing her of being interested in other men. We started yelling and screaming at each other. I was hitting her again, she was crying bitter tears. When we made up, we'd fuck like crazy people. We were in serious emotional trouble with no outside influence to calm us down, and it kept getting worse.
Luella said she wanted a house, and the amenities she described - washer/dryer, dual showers, hot tub, dishwasher, gas range, decks - sounded to me like a city place completely out of keeping with the semi-wilderness environment we were in. This was the summer of 1973. The oil embargo had shaken the Western economy to its bones. People were fighting in long lines in their cars for gas. I thought the collapse of materialist society was imminent. All the junk that people were wasting their lives producing and consuming was about to grind to a halt. The world of money and the millions of people devoting their lives to pursuing it, I thought, were on the verge of a precipitous descent into chaos. I wanted to survive outside of society, without money, without being dependent on the things that money buys, the things the mass society creates.
"Are you only here for the VIEW?" I asked Luella disdainfully. "Is that all you care about? A pretty place to live a city life?"
"Yes!" she cried. "I want you to get a job!"
Despite my idealistic views at the start, over the course of the two years I lived on Quadra Island, I concluded that there is no escape from the mass society. We all live on the same planet. We fish in the same ocean, breath the same air, drink the same water. The global environmental effects of mass industrialized society follow you into the wilderness. You can't go to a place that is immune. Even if you could, you would need gas for your chainsaw, a blade for your Swede saw, rice grown 3,000 miles away, flour, peanut butter, cooking oil. Everyone is dependent on everyone else and on modern technology whether we want to admit it or not. We are ignorant of the ancient technologies aboriginal people used, and we can hardly reinvent them overnight. You can move to an isolated place and believe you have left society behind, but you will find you are still part of it. Luella wanted to live in a beautiful house in the country. I wanted to escape from the mass society and find an alternative way to live. Neither of us achieved our dreams. I survived the experience, after which I was able to improve my understanding of myself and modify my views. Luella used the only means she believed she had to get what she wanted out of life. She failed and didn't live to alter her approach.
Quadra Island in July is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Salmon are abundant, the weather is gorgeous, daylight lasts almost 20 hours every day. Luella and I were involved socially in those surroundings with a sophisticated group of people who understood how to enjoy life. Many of them meditated on a regular basis and as result had a high level of self-awareness. All were intelligent and educated, prospering in a spectacular environment. The attitude on the Jones Farm was for the most part decidedly upbeat. There were frequent gatherings over food and drink with much laughter and good conversation. Few things taste as good as a salmon fresh out of the ocean slow cooked over an open fire. On the surface it appeared that Luella and I were thriving on our contact with this society and this place, but when she and I went back to our own cabin, I would question her about what she meant by things she'd said to this or that man, things that meant nothing she didn't even remember saying. She would become furious that I was accusing her of the furthest thing from her mind, and we would fight deep into the night over and over again. I had such anger bottled up inside of me, I would roar violently and throw things against the wall when we fought. Luella started telling me she was afraid I was going to kill her. That would make me even madder.
"I don't want to KILL you!" I would shout at her. "I want you to LOVE me!"
"What do you think I do?" she would ask me angrily.
"I think you fool around!"
Then she'd scream, "You're so stupid! I hate you!" and sob and wail.
"I want you to LOVE me! See? And you treat me like a dope!" On and on I'd go, raging out of my mind.
At the end of the summer, we moved into a shed near the "round house" near the center of the Jones Farm. The "round house" was an unfinished, round, stone structure that was planned to be used as a common pottery studio. We were invited to stay in that shed until we found a more permanent place for the winter, and we set up our bed and Coleman stove in there. We were a little bit more visible in that shed, and I think Luella might have begun talking to some of the women about the problems we were having. No one talked to me about it. I guess my behaving violently identified me as the problem in our relationship, where in actuality Luella's and my inability to communicate was the problem. I don't know if our friends understood the emotional neediness and lack of self-esteem that underlay my jealousy or if their analysis stopped at "possessiveness" or some similar idea. Some of the men reached out to me and included me in their masculine activities like cutting firewood or clearing brush, but no one talked to me explicitly about the problems Luella and I were having. Of course, the men kept me stoned as was the social custom at that time, eliminating any possibility I might get a grip on myself and start thinking clearly.
One of the guys at the Jones Farm epitomized for me the ideal way to build your life. He had been hanging out eating LSD in San Francisco 10 years previously and had found he needed a job. EDD advertised an eligibility test they were giving for a carpentry apprenticeship program they were running. This guy, Larry, happened to see the ad, and he took the test. Naturally he passed it with almost a perfect score, because he was smart and had a college education. He worked as an apprentice, then he worked for a while as a carpenter before he and his wife left the U.S. for the simplicity and beauty of life on the Jones Farm in British Columbia. Unlike me, Larry possessed skills that were perfectly suited to do well on Quadra Island. He worked as a carpenter, saved his money, and bought a substantial piece of land in a very desirable spot on the island. Business was good, because Campbell River, the mill town a ferry ride away, was booming. There was a lot of construction there, and a number of people making money in Campbell River wanted to enjoy the rural flavor of Quadra Island at least part time, so there was a lot of construction on the island, too. Larry continued to work, continued to save, and continued to improve his skills until he had enough money to buy the necessary materials and enough knowledge to build a house on his property. To me, that was the perfect progression in a person's life. He used the same skills at work he needed to succeed in his own personal life, and work gave him the freedom to pursue his dream.
Luella found us another place to live. This time she got us into the cabin on Dave Scott's property. It was a big A-frame, maybe 20 by 40 feet, insulated R-18, with a loft. It had no electricity or running water, but it did have a 45-gallon wooden rain barrel, a wood-burning stove, and a woodshed full of fir. Dave asked me what I did for a living when we moved in.
"I went to graduate school in Physiology," I said and told him about my degrees.
"Well, looks like you're going to go back to first grade here," he said.
What are you going to do? My own wife didn't like me. Why should I expect anyone else to?
Luella took a job in Campbell River at a daycare center and started commuting with a teacher who lived in a massive home he'd built a quarter of a mile through the woods from the A-frame we were renting. She started spending a lot of time talking to that guy after work, and I think she might have started to get some insight into our problems. He might have been trying to make a move on her, but it's equally as likely he made a sincere effort to help us both. He invited us to dinner at his place, and he tried to befriend me as well as her, but I was too insecure and too defensive to feel comfortable around him. He knew lots of things I didn't know about smoking and canning fish, for example, and I didn't know anything interesting to share with him. Besides, he and Luella were the ones who had a lot in common. I was the odd man out. One night when I was alone in our cabin with Luella, I tried to belittle the guy to her. I even told her I'd feel closer to her if she and I laughed at him behind his back, and she wouldn't go for it.
Luella put up the picture of the two little kids walking hand in hand through the woods. She started saying "friend" like Boris Karloff did in "Frankenstein". She was trying to tell me she wanted to start over as friends. I couldn't hear her. I needed her to sit me down and talk straight to me about what it means to care about someone, what marriage means on an emotional level, where material issues fit in a relationship between two people, but she couldn't do those things. She wasn't an introspective person. Besides, she wanted a certain level of material comfort, and she didn't want to ask why or contemplate alternatives. In the years since then I have made some money from time to time - I made more than 100 thousand dollars one year - and I've spent a lot, but of the two reasons I insist on earning top dollar when I work, neither has anything to do with getting rich. One is to save as much as possible when I do work so I can be off for as long as possible before I have to work again. The other is I don't want some sharpie thinking he got away with taking advantage of me - and treating me like a patsy while I'm working for him. I suppose at this stage of the game if I were suddenly to become wealthy, I would enjoy it, buy a nice house maybe, but experience has taught me that the more money I make, the more money I waste, and money is the worst reason I can think of for doing anything. You trade the moments of your life for what you fill them up with. I'd rather sit on the shore and watch the waves - or better ride them - than frazzle my nerve endings chasing money. Money has got to come naturally as a consequence of the things we do to express our nature as human beings and as individual people. If I were with Luella now, I certainly wouldn't raise my voice, but that's because I've sorted through my anger and most of it is gone. I'd laugh more and try to draw her out without putting her on the defensive. The way that we were then, there is no possible way our relationship could have ended any differently, but in all the time we spent together, except for a couple of exaggerated pronouncements of need right at the start, nothing she said or did gave me the slightest clue she was going to commit suicide. Her father killed himself on her twelfth birthday. Could she have blamed herself for that? Yes, she could have. I blamed myself for Luella's suicide for more than 10 years. Maybe she was getting up her courage since she was 12 to do it, too. She wasn't a happy person. She didn't want to know the truth about herself. But suicide? I don't know why she did it. I don't know if it would have made it any easier to accept it if I did know.
After Luella left me, she went to Vancouver for a while and tried to hook up with a bachelor friend of ours by the name of Gaetan. He was a French guy who lived a low-profile life, a handsome guy. He read a lot, called it "studying". He had a cabin on Lasqueti Island, and Luella tried to suck his dick or something to get him to take her in, but he didn't go for it. Then she hooked up with a guy called Sam Marlatt.
Sam Marlatt was one of those big-faced tactless bearded guys that talk in a loud voice, very opinionated, who think in simplistic black and white terms. You can't argue with guys like that. They have a very high opinion of themselves and no humility whatsoever. You find guys like that in the country all the time. They live "far away from people" because they think they're smarter than everybody else and that they have a right to live on the planet while the pain-in-the-ass masses deserve to be swept away in a tidal wave. Not a master of brotherly love. The type of guy who owns a gun. Sam owned a sawed off .22 caliber rifle. Why sawed off? I haven't the slightest idea. The RCMP say she committed suicide. 99% of the time I believe them. Luella did get despondent. There's no doubt about that, and she wasn't a happy-go-lucky person. She was very insecure financially, and her strategy for getting financial security was to get a man to take care of her. When you use someone, they know. If they want to be used, they don't care, but if they want you to like them, they know you don't. That's what happened in her relationship with me. I wanted to connect emotionally and spiritually. That's a measure of who I am. I don't know what Sam Marlatt wanted. I don't know if he took her out back and put her out of her misery like a sick dog or if she killed herself. There's no evidence he did it. There's no reason for me to think he did. When the suspicion he did comes to mind, it is just a manifestation of my disbelief. I loved Luella, even though I loved her miserably. I had a lot of problems I didn't know I had: neediness, pent up rage, feelings of inadequacy. And I didn't know it's OK to let a destructive relationship end. I believed I had to make that marriage work by any means, and I hung on desperately, compensating for my fear of failing by trying to be in control.
From Vancouver I made arrangements with a funeral home in Nanaimo to cremate Luella's remains. They gave me the ashes in a cardboard box covered with gold foil. I took the ferry out to Lasqueti Island and walked down the road through a flock of sheep to the dusty path to Sam Marlatt's. Before I got there he had dug a hole. We'd decided to plant a tree. The hole was at the spot where Sam had found her body. She died lying on her back with one hand palm up on her forehead. I opened the box. I thought it would look more like ashes. It was mostly ground up incinerated bones, kind of gray and white and brown. Sam wanted to taste it. I thought that was kind of weird, but I held it open for him. We sprinkled the box of ashes around the bottom of the hole. I wanted to say something, but I couldn't think of what.
"Here's looking at you, Luella," I said looking into the hole.
"Yeah," Sam said, smiling at me approvingly. "Here's looking at you."
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