Coping With Illness

By Sabrina Willis

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Three years ago, when I was 18, my parents started going to Ottawa from our home in Gananoque without telling me why. They would start out before I woke up and not leave a note. At first I brushed it off as nothing, but the more they disappeared on these mysterious trips, the more I wanted to know what they were doing. I didn’t like being left in the dark, but I’m not good at confrontation.

My mother eventually told me that they were going to see a doctor for my dad. 

I had won two tickets to see a preview screening of The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Since we had recently moved from Alberta to Gananoque, I didn’t really know anyone, so I chose to see the film with my mom. At first, I thought it would be a fun drive to Ottawa. However, there had been some new developments in our home. My father had been acting odd. As we got closer to Ottawa, I finally asked my mom what was going on. 

“I noticed that you have been driving more than dad lately, is something wrong?” 

“Ummm… your father has dementia, which means that he is no longer fit to drive.” 

I looked at her in shock. What does that mean? I thought. I would have asked her right then, but looking at her expression, I knew she wasn’t ready for that in-depth talk. Instead, I tried to keep things light. I steered the conversation back to the movie. As we got onto Highway 417, I focused on giving my mother directions to the theatre. As the evening went on, neither of us brought up the subject of my father. We had fun watching the film, as if the earlier conversation never happened.

It was not until I had been out of high school for a year that my mother gained the courage to explain things to me in more detail. It must have been difficult for her to find the right words, and the right time to break the news. My father, at age 48, had Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia (FTD), which causes memory loss and changes in personality. 

I was 19, and I had to start looking for a job, or go on to post-secondary education.  So while I listened to what my mother had to say, I wasn’t really hearing it. I continued going about my life thinking my dad was becoming crazy, and hating him for it. I wanted my parents to help me figure out what to do with my life. Instead, I got a father who was disappearing and a mother who needed to focus on helping him, and herself, deal with the change. 

My selfish thoughts continued as my father got discharged from the military due to his illness. He needed to get many papers signed, which took many trips to the base in Kingston. Since he was no longer able to drive, it was up to my mother and me to take him there. At first my mother did it, but once she found a job, the task was left up to me. Begrudgingly, I said okay and drove my dad to the base on the days he asked. 

Driving a parent with dementia is not easy. Some days he would try to get into the driver’s seat and then remember that he didn’t have the keys and would walk over to the passenger seat. It was sad to see my dad like this. I could tell his mind was still there, but his thinking and behavior were becoming increasingly unpredictable, so we had to take precautions. Though it was difficult, I had some nice chats with him during the drives. Sometimes, I even wondered if they had gotten the diagnosis wrong. 

As time went on, my dad got progressively worse, and I was no longer able to keep denying that changes were happening. The first thing my father did was wander. He would go outside and pick the weeds from our backyard and then take them to the swamp area by our house to get rid of them. He liked to be outside and tried to keep himself busy, since he couldn’t work anymore. It was fine at first, but as things progressed, we had to pay more attention to him. 

One time, when my mother and I weren’t paying attention, my father wandered away. We had gotten used to him walking down the street to the forested swamp area, to get rid of the weeds. However, that day he didn’t come back. My mother and I started to worry. Our street goes onto Highway 2, and all we could think about was that the worst could have happened. My mother got into the car and told me to stay at home, in case he came back on his own. We live a few minutes outside of Gananoque, and my mother chose to head in that direction first. I stayed at home, pacing around the main floor, waiting for them to come home. Every so often, I would look out the front window in hopes of seeing them. After a while, I got so worried that I hugged my dog for comfort, asking him where my dad could have gone. 

The phone rang and I jumped. It was my mom. She was calling from the car at a neighbour’s store. They hadn’t seen my dad go by. This meant that he wasn’t heading into town. As she spoke, I could hear the tremble in her voice, and could tell that she had been crying. I talked to her for a bit, hoping to comfort her so that she could drive and find my dad. She picked him up on his way to Kingston; he told my mom that he had a nice chat with a friendly man. After that incident, many recommended that my mother get a wandering bracelet for my dad. It’s a medical alert that helps those in need get a safe return home. 

With a new understanding of what was going on, I tried to help my mom any way I could. She asked me to go to a support group with her. I agreed: we went the first Friday of every month. The support group was nice, even though we were the youngest ones there. It was good to see that others had similar problems, even if their significant others had Alzheimer’s instead of FTD. It was a safe place for everyone to talk about what was going on, and to get advice from the others. Being able to talk to someone helps relieve some of the pressure, if only for a few hours. 

Even though I accepted what was going on, I chose not to do any research about the illness. My mother would tell me some of the stories that she had read, which was good enough for me. She would tell me how people with FTD tended to be more on the violent side.  We are lucky my father still has his calm temperament instead of the more aggressive one. Since he is a fairly big man (6 feet tall) he could do some damage if he wanted to.

We also learned that Alzheimer’s patients can take medication that may help slow memory loss. My mom decided that she would at least ask the neurologist about it and see what his thoughts were. He explained that because Alzheimer’s and FTD are different, the effects of the pill would be different for my dad; if he did take it, he could end up with drastic personality changes, and that wouldn’t be helpful. 

Watching the changes in my dad was odd. Before everything happened, he was outgoing and very friendly. He taught me to play sports, and if I had any questions about school-work, he would try to help. But once he got dementia, he started to withdraw. He wouldn’t talk much and seemed almost embarrassed.  When people would talk to my mom about my dad in front of him, I noticed that he looked sadder, as if he understood what was being said. Now, depending on if he knows you or not, he will tell you himself that he has FTD.

There are moments when I wish that my father was the way he used to be, but I know that won’t happen. Many people tell you that when someone has an illness such as this, you just have to take it one day at a time and keep things lighthearted. 

Some days it is easier to laugh than others. 

 

 

Humans: An Alien Angle

By Justin Campbell

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The Humans, written by Matt Haig, takes a look at our species, customs and culture from the point of view of an alien, and ends with the alien’s appreciation, understanding, and adaptation into human life. I found it in Chapters, and as soon as I read the summary on the book jacket, I was intrigued. My money was spent, and the book was now mine to explore. I was pleased with this science-fiction novel. I have rarely read something with such profound insight on our species and how we work.

The story focuses on Professor Andrew Martin. He’s been “taken” –  disposed of and duplicated by a Vonnadorian alien. This unnamed alien comes from a utopian planet of violet landscapes. The immortal individuals have no family or obvious connections, and there is no violence, pain, or disorder. Everything is calm, logical,  and mathematically correct. There is no art or religion: Numbers are their passion.

 This alien is sent to Earth to remove all evidence of a solution for the Riemann Hypothesis, a mathematical equation that analyzes the distribution of prime numbers. If solved, the humans’ subsequent technological advancement could match that of the Vonnadorians.

Andrew Martin’s success leads to him being taken because the aliens believe humans do not handle progress well; therefore, they could pose a threat to the universe. The alien transforms into Martin to fulfill this goal for the greater good. However, in the process he gets thrown into Martin’s personal affairs, experiences, and obligations, which eventually lead him into forgoing his original beliefs. He slowly begins to understand and accept the imperfections of human beings – the concepts of art, music, family, and love.

I recommend this book because it questions a simplistic view of reality. At first Martin doesn’t understand the concept of clothing, of shielding our bodies from one another, and then making judgments based on that. But he comes to see that while we are a strange species, there’s some beauty in that strangeness.

“If you came to Earth looking for logical sense you were missing the point.  You were missing lots of things. (…) On other, more enlightened planets, there was peace and calm and logic that so often came with advanced intelligence. I wanted none of it, I realized.” - The Humans, Matt Haig.

Texas Chainsaw Filmmaker

By Sarah Durocher

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[Scene: Early October, morning, fog lingers above the ground on Cuckoo’s Nest Road. The cold, dewy world is quiet except for a few birds chirping in the forest, unaware of the screams about to come.]

ENTER Jason, Tara, Kelsie, Jonathon, Vincent, Brady and camera man Cameron Parks.

The crew stands in a circle before their shoot, Jonathon Thompson doing a quick run-down of the scene and going through the actors’ lines. Their breath comes out in wisps, Tara Paterson is moving around to stay warm in her costume of shorts and a t-shirt. They are filming a fan remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: a project put together by amateur directors Jonathon and Vincent Scattolon to show their passion for classic horror movies. 

The actors all cram into the back seat of a Toyota Rav 4. Jon has to tell them where to sit, so he can place props and the camera strategically, so they are not in the shot with the actors. They drive off into the fog to start filming a driving scene; the taillights slowly disappear. For a few of the actors, this isn’t entirely new. Kelsie Bennett and Tara Paterson are part of the same acting agency as Vince which is how he found them for the movie. Andrew Iddon, the actor who plays the gas station attendant in the remake, met with Vince on a movie set in Ottawa.  But for the others, this is a whole new experience.

Director Jon with actors (from left to right) Kelsie, Tara, Jason, and Brady.

Director Jon with actors (from left to right) Kelsie, Tara, Jason, and Brady.

“It’s something to do when you’re bored,” Stirling Parks, behind-the-scenes crewmember, explains. 

The project has a 12-member crew, and with a budget of only $1,000, no one expects to get paid. 

“I’m paying it forward,” Andrew says, “I’m helpin’ [Vince,] he’ll help me one day.”

It’s not uncommon for actors to work for free; it builds experience, and in the cut-throat film industry, a little experience doesn’t hurt. When it comes to fan films, most of the money is out-of-pocket, which not only means the crew isn’t being paid, but it can also hinder the creative process. Christopher Moshier, founder of fanfilmfollies.com, sees as many fan films as he can lay his hands on, and not all of them are great. But fan films aren’t about the budget or making money; they’re about the art and “expression of self,” Chris explains.

“In most cases, fan filmmakers are [like] you and I. [They] don’t necessarily have ambitions to make a career in film. Or, [they] may already be in the industry, but want to do something for fun. They just want to play in the sand box of the properties they’ve grown up with,” says Chris. 

In Jon and Vince’s case, they wanted to make a true horror experience like all the old classics they watched growing up. 

[Scene:  Outside of a small Tim Hortons, the air is frigid; sun shines persistently through the clouds in an attempt to warm the concrete parking lot. The restaurant is full of murmurs from friends and family, crowded together at small metal tables.]

ENTER Sarah Durocher.

It is the first time I have heard the words “we’re making a movie,” uttered so seriously. Since this is a bunch of students with no money, I had imagined a couple of kids running around with a camcorder, flailing a fake plastic chainsaw at each other and then calling it a day. These fans are a bit more dedicated. 

It had taken a few months to get everything they needed for the movie. All their spare time was dedicated to mapping out scenes, writing scripts, and searching for an ever growing collection of props. Doing a remake meant everything had to fit perfectly to the original scene, which caused more stress on the first-time directors. 

“We did a remake because we wanted to test the waters,” Vince explains. “If it goes well, we might consider writing our own horror movie one day.”

Vince and Jon aren’t the first fans to consider remaking, or even writing, their own fan-made film. Chris Moshier has a fan-written Indiana Jones movie, The Legend of Bimini, in the works, and his website contains hundreds of fan films from Batman to Star Trek

A great push in fan films emerged when the demand for film adaptations clogged theatres with films such as Harry Potter, Star Trek, and many comic-book superheroes, which didn’t live up to fan expectations. In 2011 alone, the top 10 films in the US were all adaptations or sequels; Hollywood isn’t producing as many original works as it used to. Cue the fans. 

The fruits of fan labour have been around for centuries, dating back to The Testament of Cresseid by Robert Henryson. The 15th century poem does what most modern fan fiction does today; it creates an explanation for a gap in the original (or canon) version, which in Henryson’s case was the death of Cressida, as not told by Geoffrey Chaucer in his tale Troilus and Criseyde. In our time, fan fiction is thriving as a way for fans to explore the worlds and characters that their favourite authors haven’t explored. It was only a matter of time before the genre advanced to the screen. 

Graeme Balfour as Leatherface

Graeme Balfour as Leatherface

[Scene: A basement at night after a long day of shooting, a giant black armchair and cheetah print cushion offer warmth and comfort, a skeleton with a Leather Face mask keeps watch over various-sized chainsaws that sit in the corner of the room.]

ENTER entire crew.

Everyone gathers around a tiny laptop to watch the day’s footage and comment on how well it went. The stresses of work or school left everyone’s mind as they did something they loved: recreating a movie that they hoped would scare a future audience. Though the budget is low, they are confident that they will recreate a piece of art decent enough for any movie screen. Unfortunately, due to copyright laws, the only people seeing their humble remake will be close friends and family. But for now, that’s good enough for these die-hard horror fans. 

Living More with Less

By Amanda Kavanagh

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“And now for the good stuff. Kombucha!” Ron pops open a swing-top glass bottle of the homebrewed drink, made through a fermentation process involving symbiotic bacteria and yeast. 

We drink the tea and talk around the kitchen table after our tour of the Little Cabin - their cottage and land in Ladysmith, Quebec. Like most things in Corrie Rabbe’s and Ron St. Louis’ life, kombucha serves multiple purposes. It’s thought to have health benefits, and it has a tingly, delicious taste.

The previous week, I’d made plans to visit their property. The purpose was to get a taste of what it’s like to live an “alternative” lifestyle, if only for a few hours. It was a crisp fall day when my husband and I made our way north. The sun shone for a while and then hid behind darker clouds, intermittently releasing rain and snow.  An hour and a half drive from Ottawa took us through the back roads of Quebec to our destination, a wooded four-acre lot bought in 2009. 

Their business is called the Radical Homestead, inspired by Shannon Hayes’ book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. The book explores the need for more of us to become producers instead of just consumers, to learn skills and to rely less on corporations and money for comfort and satisfaction in life—for our own sakes, and that of the planet.

I would like to be more self-reliant, and I wanted to see for myself just how much a person would have to change to live the “homesteader” lifestyle. The desire to “get back to the land” is not new. Many young people, back in the 60’s and 70’s, were also disillusioned by a world poisoned with chemicals and obsessed with consuming. But, the “hippie” lifestyle was all but forgotten by the 1980’s—until recently. These days, it’s not about going back to the land; it’s about re-skilling and consuming less, no matter where a person may live. 

“It’s about being useful,” Ron told me at our initial meeting, his short black hair tousled from his bike helmet. He had just come from work at Transport Canada.  Corrie had her blond hair tied back. She is suffering from allergies and had just come from her job at the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Ron is 35 and Corrie is 34. They both bike to work when the weather permits, other times they bus. She added that becoming more self-reliant means that they save money in order to work less, which leads to less consuming; leaving a lighter footprint, in other words. 

Ron and Corrie explain that they lost faith in housing markets, banks, and the just-in-time delivery, which only provides products for the now, not the long term. Their way of living has evolved over their 13-year relationship and was propelled into serious action after the 2008 economic downturn when Corrie lost her job. Now, they are completely debt free. 

Unlike the hippies of earlier generations, they embrace technology and the benefits it provides them. They maintain a website, an educational blog, and Facebook pages.  They are active in their local communities. Ron and Corrie are members of Transition Ottawa. Corrie is active with the Overbrook Community Association and built a community garden.  They give workshops on aspects of permaculture design: an approach to agriculture that seeks balance and mutual benefits among all forms of life in the ecosystem. When they aren’t working, volunteering, or teaching a workshop, they are at the cottage. 

The first thing I do after the drive to the homestead is visit the outhouse. It’s a typical port-a-potty that has a bucket under the seat and sawdust to help with the composting process. Everything has a purpose, including human waste (full disclosure—there was no smell, and I'm told at worst it smells like musty sawdust.) 

We walk to the south side of the cottage to see permaculture in action. Ron, with the help of friends, has made ridges along the contour lines of the slope, and buried wood under the soil to hold water and sink nutrients. It is drought resistant and regenerative. Edible and medicinal plants are everywhere: rhubarb, anise, hyssop, hops, mallow, and comfrey to name a few. 

“It kind of messes up our sledding,” Corrie remarks with a laugh as we walk among the ridges. “We’re going to rebuild the house later on. We have plans to rebuild the cottage itself; we want to build a semi-earth shelter or passive solar at least.” We turn to look at the cottage with its cord wood wall and blue-painted addition. Its foundation is built from tire rims. “It’s going to be a long project. First, we want to work on the land.” 

Growing one’s own food is becoming more important to many, at a time when the world’s food supply is becoming increasingly less secure, and we have less knowledge of what GMOs and pesticides are in our foods. According to Food Banks Canada, 833,098 people used food banks last March. That’s a 23 percent increase from 2008. 

Sharon Astyk’s book was an inspiration for Corrie. It asks: If you couldn’t access a bank or a grocery store, how long would you stay comfortable? Astyk suggests that people plan ahead and have at least a three-month supply of food. Not just dry or canned goods either, but fresh food made to last, through the use of canning, lacto-fermentation, dehydration and cold storage. This is what Ron and Corrie have steadily worked towards, and achieved. They have a pantry full of their own dried, canned and fermented food, such as jams and preserves, sauerkraut, relishes, vinegars, beans and fruit.  

“We’re building the capacity to grow more food here all the time.” Ron adds, as he points to a tall pole sticking up in the middle of the slope. It has twine running from the top back down to the ground, and vines seem to be twisting along their lengths. “You know what hops are for?”

“Well, beer!” I jump at the chance to show off some knowledge. Ron informs me that it also has calming properties. 

“It’s good for acid reflux, too,” adds Corrie. Good to know.  

We walk down a wide path towards the back of their property. Along the way, we stop to look at felled trees that seem to be everywhere. This doesn’t bother Ron.  “They’re going to build the soil, at the same time all these fallen trees are giving a lot more shelter for animals.”

Corrie pulls some lichen off a tree. Its proper name is Usnea barbata, but it’s commonly known as Old Man’s Beard. She holds it to her chin for emphasis. “It’s used traditionally for coughs and colds. But for really bad coughs and colds, this isn’t the first plant I would go to.” 

“So why not go straight to the good stuff?” I have a feeling Ron already knows the answer, and he’s asking for my benefit.

“Because you always want to start with the gentlest plants and hit the hard stuff later,” says Corrie as she carefully tucks the lichen into the pocket of her coat. “This is great. I have a tincture of this on the go at home. I’m going to add this.”

The previous owner of the property raised wild boar, so now we’re heading down to the old boar pen which Ron and Corrie have converted into their main garden. 

As we arrive at the fenced-in boar pen/garden, we are introduced to the bees. 

“Sometimes they die in the hive and the worker bees will carry the dead ones out. They keep the hive very clean,” Corrie explains, as we watch three bees carry one out through a tiny opening at the bottom of the frame. The soft, constant hum of bees can be heard even through the winterized hives. Corrie explains that bees cluster up for warmth, like penguins in the Antarctic, with the queen always in the middle. 

They haven’t experienced colony collapse either, unlike an alarming number of beekeepers throughout North America and Europe, who blame the use of pesticides on nearby crops. Corrie and Ron hypothesize that their bees are doing just fine, living in a wooded area with lots of wildflowers, far away from commercial agriculture and pesticides.

“We’ve only had a bear attack, a tornado and an earthquake.” Corrie says with a laugh, but she then turns serious, “the bear attack was the worst.” They are proud of their bees and have become emotionally attached to them which made the discovery that a bear had destroyed one of the four hives this past summer all the more difficult. Even with the loss of a hive, they got about 120 pounds of honey and sold it all within two days. They split the hives this year which results in less honey for the first year.

Once in the boar pen, we tour the vegetable garden: planted in hugel kultur beds—raised beds built over wood that’s buried underground and built up through repeated layers of compost, wood, bio-char, and soil. Bio-char is a special project of Ron’s.  It consists of charred wood that he makes himself in a rocket-stove: an oven that concentrates heat in one direction. Bio-char is also carbon negative and acts as a carbon sink. Ron tells me that’s the whole point of permaculture. “It’s beyond sustainable. I want something better. I want regenerative. I want to take a piece of land that has poor soils and make it better.”

Corrie hands me a leaf of sorrel to eat—it tastes sour; sort of like a Sour Kid without the sugar. I try spinach while she pulls up some of the remaining harvest. The biggest surprise comes when we walk by some wintergreen growing along the forest floor—it’s better than a mint. 

After finishing up in the garden, we make our way back up to the cottage for lunch.

“We were both advocates at first and going to protests,” Corrie tells me while we drink our Kombucha and eat our homemade vegan pizza. “But at some point you get tired of doing that. All you can really do is be part of the solution. We just do stuff. We’re like, ‘well that’s how it is, and we’re just going to do what we do, and if it doesn’t catch on, it doesn’t really matter because it makes us feel better.’”

Ron and Corrie have made a commitment to consume less, to produce more and to enjoy life as much as possible. Their lifestyle isn’t all or nothing—they realize that they will still have to own a car, buy certain products, and contribute to pollution. But they are doing what works for them, and they are succeeding. 

It’s hard work setting up a homestead, preparing and putting food by and learning how to incorporate it into daily meals. Their homestead is a learning experience in northern permaculture; it’s full of trial and error, like learning how to groundhog-proof a garden (after a ground hog broke in and ate the vegetables), dealing with sensitive plants and unexpected changes in weather. But, it is work they feel good doing and teaching to others. They have plans to move out to the homestead permanently, but have no time constraints. 

After spending time with them, I don’t feel it’s a stretch to live with less stuff, eat differently, and be sustainable. I know it would take getting used to with things that I’m not willing to do at first (like composting my own waste). But I know I could garden more, waste less, and shop less frequently.

“We used to be houses of production and now we are more like houses of consumption,” Corrie explains. We finish our meal and are slowly getting ready to leave. “Our house is producing stuff and hopefully enough to sustain us and then the broader community as well.” 

Before we leave, we help out, adding a layer to the new hugel kultur pile near the cottage which is the site of their new garden. I shovel soil into a wheel barrow as the others gather branches and leaves. We discuss the day and their plans for the garden while we work. It feels good to contribute to their work. I mention this to Ron and Corrie, after which Ron tells me with a knowing smile, I already have - the empty bucket that used to hold the urine has been added to the pile. At the Little Cabin, everything really does serve multiple purposes.

 

Success on His Own Terms

By Bryan Dowkes

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Mike Nemesvary soared through the air. 

At 24, he was—literally—a young man on top of the world:  a world-class freestyle skier with Olympic aspirations, winner of three World Cups and Canadian Trampoline Champion. It was the spring of 1985 and he had just shot the opening to James Bond: A View to A Kill, performing stunts with the same trampoline on which he was now gaining air. The day was gorgeous, low 20s and sunny. Mike’s BMW 323i was parked out front, and his friends and teammates had gathered to watch him fly. The air was his element. His mother always joked that he had been a breach birth and was trying to get back to that position. 

Mike started gaining height: 16 feet, then 18. He could feel the coil of the trampoline in his legs as he touched down and then soared higher. This for him was just a bit of fun, blowing off steam on a Saturday afternoon. With each bounce, Mike gained more air—19 feet, 20. He threw into a big full-full: a double-twisting, double-back somersault (not a huge jump for someone of Mike’s calibre). But, on this occasion, he got hung up. It’s the term used in the sport that means either you black out temporarily, or you don’t put enough momentum into the maneuver, and you can’t complete the flip. Mike blacked out.

When he regained consciousness, he knew he had come short. He also knew something had gone horribly wrong. Mike could hear his friends yelling in the background as if from inside a cave. “Mike?!” “Are you okay?” “Mike!” “What’s wrong?” 

He was lying flat and vibrations were going through his body from the mat, but his feet felt like they were pointing up at a 45º angle, the angle they had been at when he hit the trampoline. In his mind they were still in that position. He heard someone call an ambulance and tried desperately to get his body to obey his commands. His friends were afraid to move him in case they caused more damage. As he lay on his back, watching the sun fade from the sky, he kept thinking, “Dear God, let this not be true. Dear god.

* * *

When you meet Mike for the first time, it is an unfortunate consequence of human nature that you see the chair first. Now in his 50s, he is no longer the athlete he once was. His legs and ankles are thin, almost childlike, and he often hunches forward in his chair when he talks. He has no feeling below his biceps and is unable to grasp objects or make a fist with his right hand. His left hand barely moves at all. He is always accompanied by his service dog, Jigger. But, if you sit down and talk with Mike, you are met by a powerful intelligence and a fierce independence. As Mike is fond of pointing out, “I am paralyzed from the neck down, not the neck up.” 

* * *

I first met Mike in the winter of 2012, more than 20 years after his accident, when I was working as a tutor at Algonquin College in Ottawa. Once I got to know him, I was moved by his remarkable drive and passion for life. Mike had enrolled at Algonquin as a mature student in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) program, and was working on a business plan as part of his final project. I was helping him develop that plan. But, as always with Mike, the project was only a small part of a larger goal. His dreams were much, much bigger. 

Mike’s vision is to develop a fully accessible adventure travel resort for people with disabilities. It will include modified ATVs, excursions, scuba diving, maybe even surfing. The experience will cover everything in terms of safety, equipment and accessibility standards. Clients may get into adventure travel; they may pick a sport: fishing, surfing, scuba diving, trail riding - it could be a hundred different things. Nothing like it exists today, but the time seems right, and Mike’s passion for the idea is contagious.

* * *

Mike and Jigger at graduation

Mike and Jigger at graduation

After he graduated, I met Mike again to talk about his progress with the business, in the Algonquin Student Commons. It’s a big modern building with floor-to-ceiling windows and open-concept, collaborative workspaces; young students carrying smart phones are everywhere, and you can feel the frantic pace as students rush to meet deadlines. Mike sat in a corner near the Starbucks. Jigger noticed me first, his tail already wagging as I sat down. 

Mike reflected on his college experience. “Going back to school had always been part of a long-term plan. And, I knew it was going to be hard. I have a lot of experience in business, but we are in a different world right now. I think it’s important to understand social media and how that translates into the business model,” Mike told me, thinking back to his time at the college. “You know what the hardest part was? The way some students wouldn’t even look at me. I was just the old quad in the back of the room.” 

Mike faced challenges outside the classroom as well. “Disability awareness has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years, and Algonquin has a Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD). So I thought, great, there is going to be all kinds of support. But, they had very little support for someone with my level of disability when I came here. Simple things like taking off my jacket, eating lunch or organizing my books. There was no one there for that, so my partner, Mary Anne, had to come in every day to help me through the day, and that was difficult.” 

Mike told me there were times when he thought about giving up. “But, I’m not a quitter. I had a goal in mind and I knew it could be accomplished. I have always been details-oriented and that helped too. In skiing, it’s a game of inches and seconds, so you learn to pay attention to the details. And being a quad, the biggest difference in my life, to someone who is able-bodied, is that I live by schedules. I have to; everything is planned out, and that allows me to keep focused. Mary Anne was my greatest support though. She kept telling me I could do it. She wouldn’t let me quit.”

* * *

After the accident, Mike’s world changed completely. He became what he calls a born-again quadriplegic. “It’s like starting a brand new life from that moment onwards.” Mike had to come to terms with his new life. “I viewed it in a very opinionated way. Either you’re going to live or you’re not. If you aren’t, then find a way to end it. But, if you are going to live, then live. Do life.  And what was the choice? I had a good life; I had all of these gifts. I had a lot to offer. I made that conscious choice to go on with life.”

* * *

Mike lives with Mary Anne and their dogs, Jigger and Sassy, in Manotick, Ontario. When I visited, he showed me his office; it’s like a living vision board that supports his drive forward and reminds him of where he has been. A cabinet in the corner displays trophies and medals from his skiing days, but it takes up a surprisingly small part of the room given that it contains three World Cups. The walls are hung with pictures and posters from various documentaries Mike has been involved in; the Key to the City of Ottawa, which Mike received for his work in disability awareness; and of course, his diploma from Algonquin College. His work area is full of binders and books and a large map of Central America that keeps him focused on his current goal.

“Here, let me show you,” Mike says, wheeling over to a poster depicting him on the top of a mountain in a sit-skiing sled that he helped design. He waves at it proudly. “I was still undergoing rehab when I started to ski again as part of a documentary for Channel 4 in Britain, called Same Game – Different Rules. I went sit-skiing with a sled that I could operate with a hand control. That was the real wake-up call to say that I could get on with life,to go down the hill on a small little bunny run. I felt if I could do that I could do anything.” Mike is not a man whom the word “disabled” even begins to define. He finished rehab, got a modified Audi Quattro and learned to drive again. After that, he got into more sports: swimming, sled racing, scuba diving, even para-ponting (similar to hang gliding). 

* * *

Mike was lucky in a sense: He had a huge group of supporters and a lot of notoriety because of his skiing success. Two of his friends, Jess Stock, head of Europa Sport, and Barbara Broccoli, a film producer, and daughter of the legendary James Bond creator, Albert Broccoli, started a trust to help him rebuild. The goal was to raise £500,000, but after he had £100,000, Mike decided that was more than enough, and he wanted to give back to others. He put together a board of trustees and started The Back Up Trust, a UK charity. Every year, Back Up raises over one million pounds, and since its inception has raised over 20 million, helping tens of thousands of people with spinal cord injuries. 

Back Up works a bit like the Children’s Wish Foundation, giving individuals the support to take on a big challenge they couldn’t do on their own, and helping to unlock their view of the future. In 2003, Back Up helped a client named Andy, who is a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic, go sit skiing in Åre, Sweden. Andy has since written letters to Mike, thanking him for changing his view of what it is possible to accomplish with a disability.

* * *

We move to another part of the room where the wall is dominated by a large map of the world, with little coloured pins forming a line from one side to the other. They are joined by a string, marking the route Mike drove when he circumnavigated the globe. “I get tired of being known as the ex-anything. It’s all in the past. I wanted to do something bold and that was the Round the World Challenge,” Mike says. His eyes light up, and he becomes animated as he discusses the journey.

“I had a Chevrolet Blazer designed to be driven with hand controls and a lift. I was thinking what would be the ultimate trip? I started thinking; what about around the world? It took three and a half years of research. We had fundraising committees set up in all of the big cities in Canada. What really helped was forming a partnership with Christopher Reeve, which gave us the profile to bring big national and international companies on board.”

Mike spent seven months on the road, navigating 20 countries, four continents and two hemispheres, culminating in the fall of 2001, when Mike became the first quadriplegic to circumnavigate the globe. Round the World Challenge raised 1.5 million for spinal cord research. During the trip, Mike gave more than 50 public speaking engagements and visited 40 medical institutions. Mike’s trip was an inspiration for thousands of people living with and without a disability, but he also took inspiration himself. When he returned, he continued working on Mike Nemesvary & Associates (MNA), his public speaking and consultancy firm, through which he has given hundreds of inspirational presentations about his life and experiences.

* * *

After graduating from Algonquin College in the spring of 2013, Mike poured himself into developing Radical Resorts International (RRI).  It’s a suitably big vision for someone with Mike’s character and was the reason he went back to school in the first place. Mike plans to turn RRI into a major player on the global travel stage. He views it as his legacy, his greatest achievement yet. The first resort is planned for Central America, but after that, with the connections Mike has made from his travels and work, who knows? Europe? Australia? India? Anything is possible.

* * *

Mike and Alex Riverboat Jungle Cruise, Costa Rica

Mike and Alex Riverboat Jungle Cruise, Costa Rica

Mike and I are on our way to a meeting to drum up interest in the new company. I have been working with him over the past year to get RRI off the ground. It’s an exciting time, meeting with potential investors, developing a board of directors and making partnerships with stakeholders. Mike is driving. I watch, mesmerized as always by the adaptability of the human spirit reflected in such a simple action, one which so many of us take for granted. He operates his truck with a special three-pronged joystick. Everything—brakes, acceleration, and steering—is controlled spatially by the way he moves his hand. With no feeling below the shoulders, Mike has to do it all in his head, compensating through years of practice and a heightened sense of spatial awareness. Mike is amped up and gets talking about the real motivation behind Radical Resorts International. 

“With RRI, I want to give people an outlet to explore life on their terms. The real take away, the real value will be when they get home, and they know they have done something they never believed possible, something everyone told them they couldn’t do. That would be the greatest thing: to ignite a fire; to unlock their view of the future; give them that one opportunity to realize that it’s not beyond their ability. Everything I have done in my life, I don’t really think much about that. I have to always be looking towards the future, and what I want to leave when I am gone is something bigger than me, something that will go on making a difference.”

As I watch Mike navigate through traffic, it is hard to picture the skier he once was. He is tied to the earth by the heavy power chair in which he now lives. Paradoxically, the world seems even more open to him than it once was. Even the air is no longer the limit.

Can You Spare a Dime?

By Val Cimesa

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For the purpose of this story, many of the names have been omitted or changed for the safety of the individuals, or at their request.

"Listen here." He stepped forward, aggressively pointing the knife at my chest. "I don't know what you're playing at, but I don't need any bullshit from you." He spat on the ground, brown-yellow teeth bared. 

"I'm not lying to you. Seriously, what the hell would my motive be? I'm a student. I'm writing an article on homeless people. I'm trying to do a profile, if I can."

"Fuckin' sicko. You're trying to turn us in to the cops."

"No, I'm not. I don't care what drugs you do, if you've been arrested, or any of that shit. I just want a real story."

He stepped back, and flipped the blade into the handle. "Don't come back here." He gave me one last look, and then pulled his hood up.

This wasn't what I wanted. I started out interviewing the homeless and documenting their difficulties, and what resources are available. No one seemed willing to comply.

And then the real story came through.

* * *

Downtown Ottawa is always an interesting scene. The overarching glass buildings cast shadows on the homeless, hiding them from sight. Sometimes you can hear the jingle of change in a Tim Hortons cup. Occasionally, unexpected rants break through the city smog. Many people have become accustomed to ignoring them: they no longer look, or see a human being there. Abandoned, the homeless blend into the scenery.

People seem to know what goes on around here. Often, the people you see begging for change don't need money. At least, not in Ottawa. Many facilities serve three meals daily to the homeless and at-risk, and shelters are available for those who need a place to spend the night. The resources are there: the Ottawa Inner City Health Inc. is comprised of 21 corporations that serve the homeless. The Ottawa Mission offers addiction services, food, clothing, shelter, and health care. Shepherds of Good Hope, Catholic Immigration Services, Carlington Community and Health Services, and the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre all offer services and meals to those in need. Many of them are funded by the City of Ottawa to better the community, to help homeless people succeed. Those who beg for change are only a small subsection of the homeless in this city, but citizens have come to their own conclusions, often thinking that any change they give will go towards alcohol or drugs. 

They wouldn't be wrong in thinking that.

* * *

A man with a long, scraggly black beard stood in front of the Hartman's on Bank and Somerset, conversing with passersby. He had a small pile of food accumulating behind him: a pizza box, bananas, apples, bread, a half-eaten sandwich and a Subway beverage. A dog was sniffing around, and the owner jerked it back, scolding it for attempting to eat the food.

"I was raised a farm boy, ya'know. So, I know how to use one of these."

He rummaged around in the oversized jacket, and pulled out an embellished hunting knife. He swung it around a few times to prove his point, and then quickly looked around before replacing it.

"Well, I guess self-defence is... important."

"Yeah..." He nodded, and pulled a pipe from his pocket. It was wooden, hand-carved with precision: a thing of beauty.

He lit it, inhaled, and heavily exhaled. "You've gotta be careful when you have weed. I mean, I have all the food I need" -- he gestured to the pile -- "and the res' is for pot."

"Would you say that it's a coping mechanism?"

"Naw... I see nutin' wrong with pot. It helps me get through the day. Was an alcoholic, n' it was bad. This is better."

His name is Chris, and he is a recovering alcoholic. I still see him there sometimes. He always carries his pipe, and I always carry my notebook. We nod to one another, and carry on. 

* * *

According to the Panel Study on Persons Who Are Homeless in Ottawa, the average beggar is uneducated, lacking the skills and resources to acquire and sustain a job. Some suffer from mental illness. Some just don't want to work. Some fell from grace. And some lost the title of "middle class".

Allan Redwick graduated from the Business Administration program at Algonquin College more than a decade ago, hoping that it would bring him a respectable career. 

"So what happened?"

"I lost. Big."

"What do you mean?"

"Things fell apart. No jobs. I mean, it's the same story everywhere. You start out great, then you get screwed in your job, alcohol, drugs. You lose everything so fast. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with my wife. It was Hawaiian-themed: she loved Hawaii. Now I live under the bridge on Queen [Elizabeth], right on the canal."

"So, what can I do to provide those resources, the help that you need?"

"Nothin'."

"Why?"

"'Cause no one cares. They like their drugs, their booze. Why change a good thing?"

* * *

The transition from autumn to winter cannot be ignored in Ottawa: the cruel winds will only continue to harass us as we go about our days, and the street population will continue to increase. Commercialized Yule represents gifts and hope, to mask the inevitable debt that will follow. Some will end up homeless for the holidays.

The stories are similar. People think that everyone needs to hear their "important" story, and that the injustice they experienced is essential to substantial social change. Often these are stories of petty theft, criminal acts, and substance abuse. 

Some plead for a vague form of change. 

Society's standards of living will always fluctuate, as will the job market. People will lose jobs, gain them, fall between the cracks, and resurface. No individual hinders the success of the homeless. Eventually, society has to rid itself of blame. There are always resources available to those that need support services, and people must take the initiative to seek help if they need it. 

I asked many people on the street what they needed to succeed, or to be happy. Many answered, "alcohol" or "drugs". Some stated they wanted housing and food, perhaps the comfort of a family. I suggested places, and listed what they offered. They passed it off. Perhaps they didn't want the humiliation of relying on a shelter to survive. Maybe there is a basic primal need to sustain oneself without outside help: we are a prideful species. 

I wanted to blame our system, create a bit of counterculture stir. I wanted to believe that people couldn't possibly allow themselves to fall so far, to commit violent acts or resort to substance abuse as a form of escapism. But I see Allan and Chris -- both chronically homeless individuals that I met on my journey. Allan still carries a mickey. Chris is always smoking marijuana. They all have their tools, be it an empty coffee cup or a hat, and the art of conversation. They all have their reasons for living on the street. And ultimately, we must accept one basic fact about people: you can't force change upon anyone. 

Star Struck Siblings

By Alexa Batitis

"Can all of those dressed as Castiel go to the back of the line, please?"

Along the east wall of the convention hall stood a lineup of people dressed in suits with trench coats; some had feathered wings attached to their backs and some had blood splatters all over their clothes. It would have looked funny to an outsider; however, I stared, drinking in the details of each costume.

Three rows of people filed onto the stage: 30 bodies or so. The host lifted the microphone to his mouth and announced that the Castiel costume contest would be judged by none other than the incredible Misha Collins, who plays the awkward angel on the TV show Supernatural. That was when Misha popped out from behind the stage curtains, and the crowd erupted with screams and cheers. 

My sister clutched my hand in a death-grip; Misha Collins has been her favourite actor since he first appeared on Supernatural. The show, now in its ninth season, was hosting its third annual convention, TorCon 2013, at the Westin Harbour Hotel in downtown Toronto. 

Supernatural was created by Eric Kripke and first broadcast in 2005. It stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who hunt ghosts and demons as part of the "family business." The show has garnered a cult following with an active and dedicated fan base that exists mostly online. 

The first Supernatural convention took place in Nashville, Tennessee in October 2006, and the next one followed in London, England in May 2007. Since then, the conventions have expanded throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Europe. The stars of the show, as well as many members of the guest cast, are usually in attendance. The conventions give fans the opportunity to ask for insights on the show and its characters as well as photo ops and autographs. 

My sister first introduced me to the show less than a year ago. After months of nonstop bugging from her end, I agreed to watch the DVDs with her. It didn't take long to get hooked. We raced through eight seasons over six months, starting in February, so that we would have time to catch up for the season nine premiere in October. 

What began as a twice-a-week tradition turned into all-day marathons. Our conversations consisted of: "Do you want to watch another one?"

"Yes."

As we continued to watch the show together, I re-evaluated my role as an older sibling. I identified with the emotions that Dean, the older brother, experienced in his quest to protect his younger brother. I admired the way he carried that responsibility with fierceness and determination. It was jarring to see a character filled with the same purpose I felt I had throughout my life--though I admired Dean to the point of jealousy. In recent attempts to find myself, I had inadvertently pushed my sister away. Although the show was bringing us together, I felt that the rift I had caused in our relationship still existed. So, when she showed me Creation Entertainment's website and begged me to go to the convention with her, I found myself unable to say no.

We arrived in Toronto on Saturday afternoon. After checking into the hotel, we eagerly went to our room to put our bags away and get to the convention hall as quickly as we could. 

We didn't have costumes, so we couldn't enter the costume contest, although we did make an effort to look like Sam and Dean, clad in jean jackets and clunky boots. Most of the convention-goers had the same idea. People who weren't costumed were dressed in plaid, army green, and occasionally (as one of the biggest fandom inside jokes) in antlers--a tribute to Sam Winchester's nickname, Moose. 

We scrambled to find two chairs close to the stage. After the costume contest, we saved seats for a panel with Misha Collins and Mark Pellegrino, who plays Lucifer. 

I couldn't believe that I was in the same room with them until I heard their voices booming through the loudspeaker. The convention host, Richard Speight Jr., bounced around the stage and teased Misha and Mark before they answered fan questions. 

The panel lasted an hour, and then they started calling ticket numbers for photo ops and autographs. I bought an autograph for a classmate, whose favourite character was played by Mark Pellegrino and waited in the theatre to be called. As the numbers climbed into the 200s, I told my sister to go up to the room and get ready for bed as she was complaining of fatigue. After a two-and-a-half-hour wait and a three-second meeting with Mark, I raced upstairs to tell my sister how it had felt being so close to someone who had previously only graced my television screen. We became giddy; on Sunday, we had photo ops with the stars of the show, and we began imagining what meeting them would be like. 

Of course, it was hard to fall asleep that night.

Alexa_Feature_jensen.jpg

My sister and I woke up the next morning to register for 9 AM. More people were in attendance that day. We found seats in the very back row of the room. We weren't bothered though, because this meant we could stand on our seats and have a better view of the stage. 

Our ticket numbers were called, and we raced downstairs to wait for our photo ops with Jensen Ackles. The photographs were being taken in a separate room while we all lined up in the hallway. As we approached the small room, we could hear rock 'n' roll music and the blowing of a wind machine. By the time my sister and I reached the door, which was blocked by the actor's bodyguard, Clif, we were puddles of excitement.

As soon as we stepped into the room, we could see Jensen taking pictures with other fans. I was star-struck. Our turn quickly approached. We squeaked, "Hi!" and he greeted us with a polite "hello." My sister and I attached ourselves to his sides, and the photographer snapped a shot of our silly smiles. 

We were dizzy. I documented the aftermath in a shaky video that was almost unusable as evidence. Then it was time for our photo op with Jared Padalecki. Jared, the taller one, stood at the back of the room, posing with fans and making them appear miniscule. I was excited to stand next to him and see our height difference (I'm 5'1'' to his 6'3''). My sister and I had practised our smiles, but that was in vain. We thanked Jared as we were leaving, and he replied, "Oh, of course. Thank you!"

Then came the panel with Jensen and Jared, the main show for the day in the packed room. After some banter between the two men, who not only play brothers on the show, but act like it in real life, they started taking questions. In between questions, they shared anecdotes about other actors, and their families--Jensen had recently become a father. Jared had time to take a video and post it on Twitter (later, I tried to find myself in the crowd).

My sister and I were looking forward to our photo op with Misha Collins, which we purchased last minute as a result of his convention schedule being lengthened. While we waited, I braved the rain to go get us lunch from a hot-dog vendor. When we came back into the hotel lobby, we passed Jim Beaver, who plays Bobby Singer, the Winchesters' mentor. We eagerly chatted about his character's return, watching others around us become equally giddy about Jim's presence. 

"Con virgins," a pair of anonymous interviewees labeled my sister and me when we met. Upon discovering it was our first time attending a convention, and that I would be documenting the experience for a school-related feature article, the two older fans happily agreed to let me ask them a few questions. 

The first woman, who I nicknamed "Dot," was dressed in a blazer patterned with peacock feathers. She took a picture of my sister and me with the Supernatural logo projected onto the wall. The second fan, who I nicknamed "Sue," had graying hair and was dressed in a pink coat. She chastised her friend for not being able to use an iPhone camera (unfortunately, I was too shy to ask if they were sisters as well). 

Dot explained her favourite part of TorCon: "Here, everyone is like family. If you go to a convention like, say, FanExpo, you might not be in the same fandom as the person sitting next to you. 

"But we all speak the same language here."

Sue added, "Going to conventions is addicting. Once you start going, you'll always want to go to the next one. It's an experience you can't get anywhere else."

The pair shared stories from Friday night's VIP karaoke party with various members of the Supernatural cast. They burst into teen-like giggles. "Ask Ty Olsson where his phone is," said Sue, speaking of the actor who played a vampire on the show. "It's at the bottom of Lake Ontario."

By the end of the day, fans were trickling out of the convention hall, photographs and autographs in hand, to make their way home. My sister and I had one more night at the hotel. We waited in the lobby to see if any more cast members would appear; only Richard, the convention host, hurried by. We headed back upstairs to our room. 

I let my sister fall asleep first (she complains that I snore), so I did some last-minute packing up, taking time to reflect on our weekend voyage. Watching her sleep in the hotel bed echoed scenes from Supernatural where Sam and Dean are packing up at the end of a hunt. I felt a deep sense of pride swelling in me; I was able to keep her safe on our first trip without our parents. I'd never felt closer to Dean Winchester. 

My sister is thinking of moving to Toronto next year to continue her nursing studies. I won't be there to protect her. But I know, in her future, she will save lives. It is a lesson Dean has yet to learn: Sometimes you have to let the people you love go. 

Unspoken

By Myles MacIntyre

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“Why didn’t you care?”

“I did. I just had no other choice.”

“Sure you did. You had a lot chances to do the right thing, to set him straight. But, you never did. Instead, you watched him destroy me. Why?”

She blew her nose into her used Kleenex and looked at me. She was cornered, with nothing left but a soggy hanky clutched in her anemic hands. 

“It wasn’t easy...”

“Don’t start this shit. This isn’t about you. We’re talking about me, here.”

She bit her lip and sighed. “Your father was a monster. I don’t need to remind you of thathe always was a bastard. But, I did the best I could, and I know my best wasn’t good enough.”

“You’re damn right about that. Because of your actions, I missed out on actually knowing you. We could’ve had a real relationship, but instead you focused on what I did wrong. You wanted me to fail. Let’s face it, you didn’t a give shit.”

She sighed heavily. I felt my rage subside into shame.

We hadn’t spoken since she got the results of the biopsy, six months ago.

I shook my head. “Fuck it. It doesn’t matter now, anyway… so, how have you been?” Her bloodshot eyes were burnt out from the argument—I’m not known to let things go. “I’m fine, you?”

“That’s bullshit and we both know it. How have the treatments been going?”

She looked down “I stopped going.”

I clenched my fists. “Why would you stop?”

“Because, I’ve had enough.”

“Had enough of what, exactly?”

“I’ve had enough of life. What am I hanging on for?”

She nervously fumbled with her tissue.

“Weren’t you the one always going on about how you wanted to see the world after you retired?”

“That was back when I had strength and ambition. I’ve just had enough. I don’t expect you to understand.”

“You’re right. I don’t understand. I fought for months when I had cancer and still managed to graduate. Do you think I’d be standing here if I just gave up?”

Her eyes shifted away from mine.

“Shut up! My mind is made up. I’ve finished my will, and I haven’t been to the hospital since. ”

“How could you not think to consult me on this?”

She held out her palm, her fingers extended like knives. She began numbering off her reasons. “Because it’s my life. My decision. My death. My momentI’m not asking you to like it, but at least deal with the fact that it is my breast, and my body.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My mother had always been a stubborn, bullish woman. But I never thought anything, even cancer, could extinguish her spark.

Her entire form had gone under such a drastic change since I last saw her. Her cheeks were hollow and her eyes, listless. Her skin matched the blank walls of her bedroom. The crimson bed sheets didn’t really help either.  Her soul looked desperate to escape from the crumbling urn of her body.

As I stood in silence, before the ghostly woman who gave birth to me, I could hear the ticking of the old grandfather clock outside her bedroom door. Tick, tock, tick, tock.  I was aghast that such a strong woman was reduced to being so brittle.   

I grew up in a house where I was her servant. I tried running away many times, only to return a few days later. I wasn’t able to make it on my own.

Holidays were spent slaving over a hot stove before being evicted to the cold since I wasn’t considered “family” by my father. I’d walk the lonely streets, catching glimpses of warmth and love beyond the barrier of neighborhood windows.

“Fine… I don’t approve, but whatever. I know better than to think you’ll ever change your mind.”

She lifted her alabaster arm and lightly gripped my hand in hers.

“Did I ever tell you about my valedictorian speech?”

“Huh?”

“Just answer the question.”

“No. I don’t think you did.”

“Well I was the only woman in the course. It was the 1980’s, so a woman training to be a mechanic was practically unheard of. The men constantly told me that I’d never make it past my first exam, much less the whole program. But you know how much of a defiant bitch I am…”

I smirked and nodded my head.

“Well every time they told me I’d fail, I’d try a bit harder. While I was getting A’s, most of them were being forced to drop out. So, when I finally graduated, I was told that I’d be the valedictorian. I got up to the podium and looked out to see my father, proud faced, and my mother, making a mess out of her make-up. I had no speech planned. But I ended up talking for at least twenty minutes about how being told that I couldn’t do something made me want to do it even more.”

“That’s quite the story. I bet my grandparents were proud of you.”

“They were. But I think you missed the point. You asked me earlier why I didn’t care. I did. I still do because you’re my son. Granted, I never raised you with ‘I love yous’ or held you close when you needed a shoulder to cry on. I did the only thing I could do.  When you told me you wanted to be a journalist, I told you you’d fail. Yet, last year you graduated with honours and said ‘guess you were wrong.’ You defied everything I said to you, and you refused to give up. ”

“That’s because I damn well knew better.”

“Exactly. I’m not saying it was right, but I taught you to be strong, just like I was. It may not have been fair–all the shit you had to live through with your father and I, but I hope someday you’ll be able to understand and forgive me.”

But I couldn’t forgive her.

My eyes flitted to the ticking clock, and I knew dad would be home soon. I was in no mood for a reunion. I said my goodbyes and quietly leftno longer angry, but drained. She had left me as hollow as she looked. She finally gave me the gift I longed for—to start anew.

***

As autumn fell to winter, the burning leaves were reluctant to fall, instead mourning the loss of my mother’s natural beauty.

The morning light danced across the serene scene of frosty diamonds, glittering quietly. I could only whisper gratitude, as it brought ending to her frail existence. But, I still needed to speak, only no words came. She was buried with cruelty, scorn, and disrespect.

Only too late did I realize that she was the woman who meant the most to me. The time to resolve petty tensions, thoughtless arguments, and biased anger had passed. Unable to capture the moments lost, she was forgotten to time, and repressed within my memories, haunting me with the conversations we should have had.

 

Zonkey

By Kora Burnham

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My mother used to read me The Ugly Duckling before bed. I think she was trying to instill some self-confidence in me—some assurance that I wasn't a freak—that someone, somewhere, would love me and accept me for who I am. She told me that, one day, I would grow into a beautiful swan.

I knew she was wrong, but it was nice to dream.

***

Vitiligo is a condition where the cells that make up the skin pigment die. The skin loses its colour, like it's been bleached out by a washing machine. It usually starts in the hands.

It started when I was eight. The tips of my fingers started going lighter, and lighter, and lighter. In small patches, in splotches, in spots. Eventually, my fingers lost all their colour and became white. It was a shocking,  contrast against the rest of my skin. I was dark everywhere else.

I would refuse to remove my mittens. When I did, I hid my hands under the table. I never raised my hand in class, never got participation marks.

“You're a smart boy,” my mother told me. “Speak up!”

But I didn't. I didn't want anyone to see my hands. I kept them in the pockets of my sweater, cramped and overheated.

***

The nickname came when I was ten.

We went on a field trip to the zoo. One of the zebras had been bred with a donkey and had just given birth to a foal. The baby was dark brown everywhere except for his legs. They were black-and-white striped, all the way up to his stomach. He clung to his mother's side, shy, as people pointed cameras at him.

The tour guide told us they called him a zonkey. His name was Mikal.

One of the other kids laughed and looked me and said, “Hey, he's black and white, just like you!”

***

People avoided me on the streets. They crossed the road so they didn't have to share the sidewalk with me.

I learned not to care. I learned to not want anything to do with them.

I took up smoking at seventeen. When people got too close to me, I blew smoke in their face, grinned at their annoyed expressions. I blew kisses when they flipped me off. They called me “weirdo” and “crazy.” My arms were now patchy white, all the way up to my shoulders, the spots creeping up to my neck.

One evening in the supermarket, I overheard a girl asking her mother what was wrong with me.

“Don't stare,” the mother hissed.

The little girl stared.

I grinned at her and she hid her face in her mother's arms.

***

Mikal grew like a weed.

I visited him whenever I could. By the time he was two, he was the size of his mother.

By the time he was four, he had bulked out and was larger than her. The zookeepers moved him to his own paddock, and there I watched him for hours as he swished away flies and chewed grass, his coat shining in the sun.

I felt a connection with him, something I never felt with anyone else but this weird freak of nature, with his too-thin striped legs and his dark brown fur. People came by his paddock to gawk at him, to take pictures. They would walk past me and notice me sitting on the bench. They would gawk at me. I'm sure if I had let them, they would have taken pictures. Maybe I could have painted a sign, set a price, and made some money out of it.

The zookeepers paid no attention to me.

I would sit on the bench until the zoo closed.

***

I grew up and moved out of my mother's house. I still visited every couple of weeks, bringing presents for my little sister. She was loud and annoying and hard to get along with. My mother was tired and snapped when we argued.

I worked in a photo lab, editing photos, because it was quiet and the boss left me alone. I didn't have to deal with people; everyone was better off that way. I liked it enough to not dread going in every morning.

I visited the zoo on my days off. The zookeepers had warmed up to me slightly. None of them really talked to me, but they didn't shoo me away when I brought mints for Mikal. He ate them out of my palm, his mouth scratched with its stubble-like fur, his teeth crunching loudly.

He lived in his paddock alone. He was aggressive, the zookeepers said. They had tried to introduce him to the other zebras, but they wanted nothing to do with him. So Mikal lived in solitude, eating crab apples off the ground in the autumn and huddling against the wooden wall of his shelter in the winter. I felt like I understood him and like he understood me.

The pigment in my neck had all but disappeared and was working its way over my face. When I looked in the mirror, I thought I saw a ghost looking back. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

Sometimes, the teenagers that came to watch the animals would walk past and say, “Freak.”

I never knew if they were talking to me, or to Mikal.

***

One evening, I got off work early and made my way to the zoo. It was dark and quiet. There were only a few families still wandering the grounds. The zookeepers were feeding the animals, tidying up as the sun went down, picking up trash, sweeping the pens.

I stopped in front of Mikal's paddock, digging into my pocket to find a mint. It had been a few weeks since I had last seen him. He was getting old and slow. His joints popped when he walked. The fur around his muzzle had gone grey. His muscles were atrophying, causing the bones in his back to stand out.

I waited by the fence. Mikal didn't come.

“Hey,” I heard his caretaker stop behind me, bucket in hand. She had red hair tied in a messy bun. It was coming loose around her shoulders. She set the bucket down at her feet when I turned around.

“Is he inside?” I asked.

“Oh, uh. I guess Steven never got a hold of you?” she asked. She wiped her hands on her jeans and cleared her throat. “He, uh...he got his leg caught. Tore it up pretty bad and broke it in a few places. Normally we'd try to mend it, you know? But he was old and... well.”

I felt something tighten in my stomach and tucked my chin further into my coat.

“I'm sorry,” she said, her voice low. “He was my favourite, too.”

“Right,” I said. “Well, you know. These things happen.”

“Yeah,” she said with a nod. “Hey, listen. I'm off in ten minutes. If you wait around, I'll buy you a coffee?”

I looked up at her again. She smiled softly. I couldn't tell if she was being serious or not. People didn't want to spend time with me; that was why I worked in a back room at a photo lab, and why I spent my days off sitting on a bench at the zoo. Maybe she felt sorry for me.

“There's a cafe two streets over,” she continued. “My sister works there. They make great cappuccinos. I kind of—well… I haven't really talked to anyone, you know... About him.”

She liked Mikal, despite the fact he was aggressive, or the fact he looked wrong, different. Maybe she would like me. It was hard to imagine—most days, I didn't even like me.

“Okay,” I said finally. “I'll just wait here, then?”

She nodded and grinned. “Give me ten minutes.”

I sat on the bench outside Mikal's paddock. I tucked my hands into my pockets and rolled a mint around between my fingers. The sun began to set behind the buildings. I thought about my mother reading to me as a child, about the ugly duckling who grew into a beautiful swan.

I was never going to grow into a swan. I had long-since come to terms with that. But maybe there was someone out there who wouldn't mind being seen with an ugly duckling, being friends with one. I didn't want to get my hopes up.

Ten minutes later, she came back, pulling a sweater over her shoulders.

She smiled at me again. “Ready?”

I felt something close to hope grow in my stomach.

“Ready,” I said.

 

Rainworld

By Jacob Rennick

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The constant drumming on the roof was enough to drive a man insane. Allan Croft sat on the porch of his father’s house, looking out over the waste and smoking his fifth cigarette. A half-empty bottle of whisky rested, forlorn, on the table next to him. It had been full, an hour previous, when he had walked into his brother’s room and discovered what Christopher had done.

The rain swelled and ebbed. It never stopped. Allan’s old neighbourhood, once so familiar, had been transformed. Everything was blanketed in sheens of rain and fog, the moisture seeping into everything, breeding rot and fungus and despair.  From his vantage point on the porch, Allan could see maybe 50 yards before his vision was swallowed up by the wet and the dark. Nothing else moved or breathed in the rain-soaked night, giving the landscape an alien feel. Allan felt like a stranded astronaut on a strange new world.

Everything had changed the night the comet had appeared in the sky. Funny that it had only been a year. It felt like an endless gulf of time separated that former, happier Allan from the one who now sat in silence, brooding over a dying cigarette and the endless rain.

He had been young then. They all had been; him, his father, his brother Chris and his wife, Molly. They had stared up at the night sky like everyone else on Earth, dazzled by the sight. The astronomers had been raving about it for weeks. The comet seemed like it had come speeding towards Earth from behind Jupiter. It was one of the largest comets on record, measuring many kilometres in length and width. As it passed close to the sun it began to bear a bright tail of phosphorescence, the brightest and longest in recorded history. On the night of its arrival, Allan and his family had gathered in their backyard for the event, as had millions of other people around the globe.

The comet had come into view at around three am, Eastern Standard Time. Allan had been standing by his father, a stout and healthy man of sixty who in six months would die ranting and raving at the sky. The comet had soared slowly and eerily across the moon, trailing a wraith-like cloud of greenish light. It was unnaturally bright, transforming the night to a monstrous form of day. Everything took on an eerie green hue, what Allan would later think of as corpse-light.

Upon seeing the comet, Allan had felt a deep uneasiness in the core of his being –something he had never felt before. He had felt small and vulnerable under the ghostly light of that cosmic traveler, like he had been served up on a petri dish and was now being analyzed by a great unknowable presence. Christopher had hugged his wife with sudden force. It was then that they had felt the first drops of rain.

The rain had begun in the early hours of that cursed night and had never stopped. All around the world, the rain fell in droves. From the streets of America to the jungles of the Amazon, from the cold hills of Russia, to the blazing heat of the Sahara, torrents of rain spilled from the heavens. 

Nobody could understand it. Humanity’s most brilliant scientists worked night and day trying to figure it out, but all research was fruitless. The laws of science and physics, as mankind understood them, no longer applied. Rain fell in a never-ending tide all across the planet, and in the coming weeks and months it became clear that it was never going to stop.

Allan flinched suddenly. He had dozed off, lulled by the pounding rain, and let his cigarette burn down to its filter. He flicked the butt away and dug another one out of the pack. It was far too late to worry about his health, he mused with a chuckle. He had nothing left to lose. 

Everything had fallen apart so fast. The seas rose and swallowed the coasts. Flooding was rampant. Crops were beaten down and drowned. Animals everywhere died in massive numbers. The sun lay choked and hidden behind a veil of vapour and cloud; without sunlight, plants soon began to wither and wilt.

And what’s more, humanity lost hope. The endless rain had drowned something essential in the human spirit; some inner fire had been dampened. Billions of people proclaimed it God’s wrath and called it just. Countries disintegrated in religious furor. There was mass hysteria; wide swathes of sacrifices made in vain, millions of people laid upon altars and offered up to the vengeful God. Humanity did everything it could to end the rain and bring back the sun. But their pleas went unheard. Their only answer was endless rain. 

Allan rose from his chair with a groan and tottered drunkenly for a moment. A bright flash of lightning arced across the sky, blinding him momentarily and leaving blurry spots under his eyelids. Allan stumbled back and bumped against the table, almost overturning the whiskey bottle. He grabbed the porch rail and steadied himself, cursing his weakness. Enough wasting time. He turned back to the house, but not before pouring himself one last drink and gulping it down. He had a feeling he would need it.

He wove his way through the house towards his brother’s room. It was utterly dark save for brief flashes of lightning which illuminated the walls with violent force before fading again. Thunder crashed ear-splittingly overhead. Allan reached the bedroom and paused in the doorway. Christopher lay under the sheet just as Allan had left him, after cutting him down. In the end, he had gone like Molly had. Shunning the gun or the razor, like so many others before him. He hadn’t left a note. Allan understood. These were the end times. There was nothing left to say.

He crossed the room unsteadily and slid his hands under his brother’s stiffening body, lifting him in his arms like a cord of firewood. Allan almost buckled under the weight, but held firm. He carried Christopher out the backdoor into the yard, the sheet trailing like a ghostly shroud.

Their father’s backyard was a sea of mud. The house had been built on a high plateau which had saved them from the worst of the flooding, but it wouldn’t last.  Almost all the plants had been drowned in the deluge. Allan’s shins disappeared into the mire, but he sloshed his way through the muck stubbornly. His teeth gritted with effort.

Finally, he reached the pond. Their father had had it installed for his goldfish and frogs, and surrounded it by marble patio stones. The stones had sunken deep into the mud, but they were still solid, and the pond had kept its shape. It was a deep dark eye in the mire, its waters murky and unfathomable. Allan knew it wasn’t the best resting place, but it was better than to be laid in the mud.

He fell to his knees and let Christopher slide into the pond. The sheet billowed around him. For a moment, Allan could make out his brother’s face under the sheet, white and featureless with a grim line of a mouth. Then his brother slowly sank beneath the surface and disappeared.

Allan sat there in the rain for a long time, feeling the water sink deep into his bones. His hands lay white and glistening in his lap like strange fish. Somewhere out in the distance a dog howled, seeking an answering cry and receiving none. Allan didn’t move. He felt only a deep and profound emptiness.

The rain would fall and the waters would rise, until everything that mankind had built would sink beneath uncaring waves, and the world could begin again. Maybe someday in eons hence the waters would recede and reveal a land swept clean, bearing no mark of the people who had once fought and philosophised upon it, and it would be home to a new race. A better race, perhaps.

What use was there in fighting? Allan thought dully. He had struggled to survive when no one else would, kept himself and his brother safe through tests and trials, only to end up here: In this drowned and dying world that no longer belonged to the likes of man. He felt tired and longed for oblivion.

He felt willing to sit there forever and let the rain and the mud swallow him up. He bowed his head slowly and closed his eyes.

Hatch

By Amanda Kavanagh

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She sat on the floor, looking up at the hatch and couldn’t remember the last time she had seen the sky. She knew she would have to open it, there was no choice, but she couldn’t do it yet. It had been too long since she had been in a space without walls, a ceiling, concrete. They were supposed to have a year at least, before systems started failing, before they needed to replenish their supplies, but time moved differently underground. Her only option was to trust that the clocks and the electronics hadn’t added a few seconds or taken some away. 

“And now look at us.” 

She leaned over his body and brushed his hair back from his forehead, needing to feel something familiar. Sitting on the floor beside his laid out form, she leaned back against the wall and breathed deeply, making a mental list of what she would have to do. 

“It’s sort of ridiculous isn’t it? Ending up like this.” 
She realized she was speaking aloud, and the sound of her voice gave her comfort, making her feel less alone. She walked to a closet and grabbed a white sheet. It was one of only two sets, both were wearing thin. 

“Lasts longer than a year, they said. Well it sure did. Water, air, hygiene, power, we had everything we needed.” Her voice trailed off as she unfolded the sheet and shook it in the air, spreading it out and letting it float down to the floor. “The instruction seminars never covered how to do this. I’m not prepared, but now it seems obvious that this could have happened.” She bent down onto her knees and started to undo his shirt buttons, noticing the shadows of bruises that had formed on his chest when she had given him CPR. She lowered her face and rested it on his chest. 

“We’ve been down here for months, we might have been able to leave in a few weeks, and you choke on your breakfast.” Saying it to herself made it real. 

She knew she was alone with a corpse. She had to take him outside—bury his body in the earth.
Before, it had seemed like other people, their coworkers and even some friends, didn’t take their bunker seriously. When stories of whole honey bee populations dying became more frequent, and when the amphibian populations had stopped reproducing, she and her husband understood that their time above land was limited. They made their final preparations, and waited for the end. 

She had always thought the end would come from a nuclear explosion, or more likely several nuclear explosions, and he told her it would be a disease that wiped out humanity. They were both wrong. What really happened was a slow and persistent dying.
After she had removed his clothes, she folded them and placed them in his dresser. She stopped to notice his smell.  She rolled him onto the sheet and started to clean him. His hair was longer than it had ever been when they were above ground. Its colour had turned a dark brown without the sun. With one hand caressing his hair, she used the other to pass a sponge gently over his forehead and cheeks, tracing his jaw line and moving down to his neck.  

“Remember how, when we first came down here, we would listen for sounds from above? I always thought that someone would come banging on the hatch—that we would get out of here together.”

At times, she would get so worked up from trying to imagine what was going on, that he would have to give her a sedative just so she could sleep. The first few months were the hardest, the hope that she clung to made their fate harder to grasp. They couldn’t hear anything apart from their own noises and the sounds of the shelter; there was nothing organic around them. They lived in a synthetic world.

“I would listen to those recordings all the time when we first came down. But then I just stopped. I guess once I came to terms with the fact that we weren’t leaving, I just wanted to forget.” 

She began to clip his nails. She thought of the sounds from their backyard that they recorded before coming down. She had memorized them—the distinct call of the cardinal that visited every afternoon and the haunting songs of the mourning doves that would gather in pairs to sift through the grass. They thought of things like that at the beginning, trying to preserve as much of the natural world as they could. She clasped his hands to her face before laying them gently by his sides. 

“What will it look like outside? Will I be able to breathe the air? I wonder if my feet will remember how it feels to walk on the ground,” she said while moving to his feet to trim his toenails. “Or even, and I know you would say I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but maybe there will be grass.” 

The sensation of walking on a surface that wasn’t dense, solid, and unforgiving was something that she hadn’t considered in a long while. But now that her ascent was imminent, her mind searched for memories of walking in the backyard; grass poking up between her toes, tickling and scratching at the same time; soil giving gently with her weight; the cool sensation of her feet sinking and the dirt rising around her heels. But,  there was no way of knowing what it would be like up above, the earth could have frozen over, it could be scorched, it could be irradiated and poisoned. Or, it could be healing.  

Now that he was washed and groomed, she gathered up the second of their white sheets and spread it out beside him. She kneeled down and shifted him onto his side, moving his shoulders and hips first, followed by his legs. Rolling him onto the sheet, she was able to get it underneath him and wrap it around his body. She used the clothesline that hung across the utility room ceiling to secure the sheet in place, shrouding him in white. The enormity of her loss weighed down on her. 

“I’m alone.”

Her grief pinned her in place. She felt like, if she just concentrated enough, she could cease to exist. The room was too big for the first time since they entered it. It felt hard and sterile—it was cold to her now. His absence was like a vice gripping and squeezing her heart, but she couldn’t stay in the bunker either. It would be torture having to live there by herself, with his presence in every corner, every inch. 

“I have to go.”

An image kept coming to her mind of two police officers hoisting a deer into a wheelbarrow by the legs, its head hanging limp. There was a tow-truck with a car loaded on the flatbed, lights from the police cruisers and the truck were flashing, allowing those driving past enough light to make out the scene. She cried that night, thinking about the injustice done to the deer, thinking how much like a parasite the human race had become. Now it was time to cry over her husband. Just like the deer, she thought of how pointless it was, how unfair their future had turned out. 

“What was that?” she said. “Who’s there? I can hear you knocking. I can hear it.”

She pushed away the image of the deer, its dark dead eyes looking into hers. The world was dead. It had to be. Otherwise, why had they spent months down here, maybe even years? Why had he choked?

“No, the world is empty.” She said this louder, her voice hollow in the empty room. “And if people were alive, why didn’t they come sooner?” 

Sitting him up, “We have to go.” 

Walking backward, she dragged him along with her towards the stairs that led to the hatch. It was difficult to pull his body up each step. She had to stop to catch her breath a few times, either from exertion or despair. The weight of her decision made her feet feel encased in lead. Every step was agony, a million years, an end to their lives together. At the top, she sat on the landing with her back to the hatch. She wiped her sweaty palms on her legs and cleared her eyes of the wetness that kept gathering and blurring her vision, then she grabbed the spindle wheel and turned it. The hydraulics made a popping sound, and the hatch released, swinging slowly outward. As she stepped out into the bright light, a breeze swept a loose strand of hair across her face. 

Flying Blind

by Andrew Oliveira

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December 29th, 2011. A Cessna 172 took off from the Brampton Flying Club. It pointed its nose south west to begin a roundabout route into downtown Toronto for a CN Tower tour, a route specifically designed to avoid the insanity of Pearson’s airspace. The little Cessna was the last plane to take off that day as a front of winter fog and haze was encroaching from the north.

Phillip, my teenaged brother, sat in the pilot seat with my girlfriend, Barbara, next to him. When I was younger, I had spent a whole summer flying in order to get my pilot's license, so I volunteered to take the back seat. I had felt superior to my brother up to that day: six years older and more experienced in life. Yet, on that day that I did something I had never done before: I trusted my brother with my life.

The small engine let out a constant loud thrum, but headsets made conversation possible—it also felt very cool speaking into a mouthpiece. We were excited because the flight was a Christmas gift and an experience Barbara had never had before. One that I wanted to share with her, almost like giving her a look at my past. The sky was cloudy, yet visibility was good at 16 kilometers. Phillip knew that we didn't have a lot of time because a bank of bad weather was coming. He was confident that he would get Barbara and me back safely. I was just eager to be up in the air, and to give Barbara a taste of flying in a small plane.

Peering down below, I saw buildings as minute blocks of grey and brown as the plane flew over the conglomerate of cities towards the lakeshore. Phillip got clearance for the CN Tower tour and banked the small four-seater east, following the shore of Lake Ontario. We passed by the building Barbara’s parent’s lived in and sent them a text from the air, hoping that they would peer outside their window and spot the little plane passing by.  We flew above downtown and peered out at the CN tower, a slim spike standing above the metal and concrete. After the full tour of downtown, we started to retrace our flight path back to the Brampton flying club. That’s when trouble hit.

After following the lakeshore west, Phillip steered the plane back towards land. Already wisps of mist and clouds were obscuring the horizon, but Phillip didn’t say a word. I knew the situation was turning foul, but we had two lifelines: the plane`s radio and basic GPS system with a tiny screen—essentially a smart compass. As the propeller pulled forward, the visibility went from poor to worse.

Strangely, I gave Phillip my complete trust. I had once thought myself a pilot, flying my little two-seater out of London, Ontario. But, that summer was far behind me. Unlike me, Phillip fell in love with flying. To me it was a hobby because I couldn’t envision my life carrying passengers or cargo from one place to the next. Phillip was seduced by the sky. Playing flight simulators, he would chart realistic 7-hour flights from Canada to Lisbon, and just let the computer run, making adjustments as he went. I used to tease him that what he was doing wasn’t really flying. He would shake his head and argue with me. Yet, when Phillip started to follow my footsteps by getting his pilot’s license, he agreed with me. Flying was something that couldn't be simulated. Then my little brother started to surpass me in every way. He kept his hours up by taking cadets, friends, and relatives up for flights. He would take charts and splash them over a table to study every landmark. When he studied flying, he absorbed it, placing first in test after test. So, I sat back and didn’t say a word as we flew into the mist.

Fog and haze dropped the visibility to a few kilometers. A pilot flying by sight without the instruments that keep larger planes safe, like Phillip was, relies on good, long range visibility to fly. Phillip had just over three kilometers. That cut in visibility is the same as trying to drive on the highway while only being able to see three meters ahead of the car, and no one is slowing down.

Phillip lowered his altitude so he could still see the major roadways beneath him and he had the GPS pointing straight to the flying club. Tense minutes ticked by as I kept my ear strained on the radio for call signs. I tried not to imagine midair collisions. The iced-over air strip appeared just as we were flying right over it. Phillip entered the circuit over the airfield and turned in for a landing. He over-steered the turn. With a quick adjustment we were back on track, flaps down, wheels touched asphalt, and we were safe and sound on the ground. Silence.

Phillip finished his checks, and we walked back to the club. I finally admitted how scary that flight had been. Barbara was shocked; the silence in the cockpit had insulated her from the reality of the situation. I heckled Phillip, exaggerated his errors, but I was proud. Phillip made mistakes. He could have gotten radio assistance to navigate home, or he could have been more cautious about the weather. Nevertheless, my little brother, the rascal, was a skilled and trained pilot at seventeen, and from that point on, he was no longer the little kid that I had teased and protected from bullies. He was a young man, one that I could trust with the life of the people dearest to me. As we were signing back into the club, I smiled. It felt good to have a friend like Phillip.

 

Lost Friends

by Kristopher Bras

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The loss of Daniel Alfredsson during the summer wasn’t really on my mind during the first game of the 2013/14 NHL season. A new hero stepped up for the Senators that night: Craig Anderson. He began his year in style with a shutout versus the Buffalo Sabres. Alfie’s absence stung more the following evening, when Ottawa met Toronto, a feud which 12 years ago would have filled my living room with loud, drunken young men. The rivalry isn’t quite the same these days. Most of the key players that made the Battle of Ontario tick are long gone. Alfie’s departure was the end of an era in Ontario hockey, and he will be missed like an old friend.

Many Ottawa faithful are still angry about Daniel’s departure from the Senators. They feel like he left our team on bad terms. With opinions and harsh words flying around the Internet like breakfast orders at a Gabriel’s Pizza on Saturday morning, I’ve been wondering what my old friend Chad Kehoe thinks of the free agent signing that stole Daniel away from Ottawa. Chad was one of my only staunch allies back when the Battle of Ontario was still relevant. Unfortunately, we had a falling out in 2003, so when he moved to Vancouver later that year, I never got the chance to say goodbye.

Chad and I were Senators fans in a stubborn Canadian small town: few deep-seated, familial hockey allegiances found there had been influenced by the hockey team’s regular season success. When the Leafs and the Senators met in the first round of the 2000 NHL Playoffs, the entire town divided. By divided, I mean the whole town was cheering for the Leafs while Chad and I stood behind our Senators, (yes, I’m exaggerating a bit).

The Leafs took the first game. The next night, we were hanging out on my front porch with the rest of our pals when we got the bright idea to drive to Toronto and show our hockey pride. We had little money and no tickets. What we did have was Chad’s beat up Mustang and a vague notion that we would have little trouble sneaking into an NHL playoff game on Saturday night.

My mother snorted at the idea, but nevertheless volunteered sixty dollars to our cause during a time when keeping the lights and heat turned on was a battle we often lost, and cheap Giant Tiger hotdogs were called “groceries.” She always had an instinctual understanding that young men need to exorcise such boyish stupidity from their system in order to have any hope of ever growing up. With her approval, we left Arnprior at around one in the morning.

The Ottawa Sun used to publish “Go Sens Go” signs to include in playoff game-day newspapers, and we stole as many as we could from sleepy convenience store clerks before we left town. We also photocopied a hundred of them or so. We covered the Mustang with Sens flags and signs, dubbed it the Sensmobile, (such wit!) and started zig-zagging through back-roads and small highways on our way to Toronto. We avoided the 401 to escape detection from police, since I was drinking beer in the passenger side. As our Ottawa Sun newspaper zone turned into Toronto Sun territory, we began stopping at truck stops to pull all of the “Go Leafs Go” cards from their newspapers and replace them with the Senators versions. We were the most dedicated hockey fans on the planet.

Toronto was a blast. We paced and heckled downtown Toronto all day, angry red dots in a deep blue sea of Leaf jerseys. As we jeered the multitude of Leaf fans, one of them stopped to tell us how brave we were. We laughed. “No, seriously,” she said. “You’re really, really brave.” Chad and I were unfazed. We moved on to take pictures of each other spitting on the Toronto Maple Leaf sidewalk tiles in front of the Air Canada Centre. At one point, we wandered into the Toronto Police station to mess with the “pigs,” only to find out that they were actually terrific sports. We got pictures of them arresting us for wearing Sens jerseys within the Toronto city limits. They even let us get away with a few donut jokes, (how absolutely maverick of us) and gave us each a donut to prove that they did, indeed, keep them on hand.

Not long after we left the station, hockey players appeared in front of us, on the other side of the street. Daniel Alfredsson and good old Patrick Traverse, whom Chad and I had already met, were walking quickly down the sidewalk near the ACC. We immediately chanted “Go Sens Go” in unison at the top of our lungs. Alfie and Patty turned, smiling. Traverse gave us an emphatic fist pump. We didn’t chase them down or anything; they walked with the purpose of men who had somewhere to be, or in this case, a war to win.

Later that night, we listened to our heroes lose handily by a 5-1 score on Chad’s car radio. It was the first of four playoff series between the two teams, of which Ottawa would lose all four. It was a bitter, hateful, fuck you rivalry. And I miss the hell out of it. At the time of my writing this, it’s been 12 games since Alfredsson’s last in a Senators uniform. It’s also been 12 years since Chad left for Vancouver. And 12 years from now, nobody will complain about the circumstances under which Alfie left Ottawa. But, damn, will we miss him. Just as I can’t remember why Kehoe and I weren’t on speaking terms when he left Arnprior. I just miss my friend. 

Like Father

by Wren Guilmain

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Early in my diagnosis, I pushed myself way too hard. I tried to cure my bipolar disorder by sheer force of will. It didn’t work. I was sent home from my volunteer job at one of Ottawa’s many summer festivals.

Yep, so unhealthy was I that people were refusing my free help.

I thought normal people can work 10 days of 12 hour shifts, because all the friends I had made from volunteering did. I understand now that that workload is not normal, but at the time, I made it to about the sixth night before my supervisor told me to go home.

I didn’t.

I went to my dad’s.

My father and I had a pretty bad history. He was a recovering alcoholic. I was a resentful 19-year-old. It was a bad mix. Before that, he had been an alcoholic with little or no mention of recovery, and I had been younger, and under the impression that every problem I ever had could be traced back to him. Things changed when he completed rehab. I agreed to go out to let him buy me lunch on Father’s Day. It would seem backwards if it wasn’t a huge concession on my part just to see him at all. Our reconciliation wasn’t a smooth process. Four days after Father’s Day, I went to his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and was so overwhelmed I disappeared for two weeks.

It was still pretty uncomfortable to go see my father, but I looked at it in terms of relative discomfort—going to his basement apartment in Vanier would not be as uncomfortable as going back to my mother’s and having her poke at me about why I had stopped volunteering. I wasn’t ready to admit I had failed at “not being bipolar.” And nothing could ever be as uncomfortable as that first AA meeting.

My dad had never been there for me as a child. In fact, when we weren’t ignoring each other we were doing our best to hurt each other. I don’t think either of us understood why until I showed up on his doorstep with an overnight bag and a tube of cookie dough, looking for a place to crash rather than have to face my mother’s perkiness and pointed questions.

He didn’t even question it. He might have been afraid to, so fragile was our newfound relationship, but I think he just understood that I needed to wallow. He gave me a small glass bottle of Coca-Cola and asked me if I needed anything. Not what happened or what I was doing there.

“If you can make me not bipolar, that would be good,” I said between sips of Coke that, in hindsight, probably weren’t what someone who had just taken a sharp drop out of hypomania needed.

“Sorry, Boo Boo, can’t do that any more than I can make me not an alcoholic.”

My dad, who had been a mortgage broker during my childhood, worked the nightshift at a dépanneur—a convenience store—since he finished rehab. It was two doors down from his apartment. He told me, when he left me dazed on the pullout couch, that if I still couldn’t fall asleep, if the racing thoughts just wouldn’t stop, I was welcome to visit him at the store.

I didn’t.

I fell asleep watching Benny and Joon. It was the most sleep I had gotten in over a week. When I saw my dad again, he was coming back to the apartment with cinnamon brioche from the boulangerie, and the sun was up.

My mother and I now debate  whether or not my dad knew he had cancer, then. I didn’t know it at the time, and I don’t think he did either, but Dad would die of organ failure that October. They found the cancer on a Wednesday, all over his abdominal cavity; he was dead on Friday morning. It has been eight years, and I’m as at peace with the loss as I ever expect to be.

That is to say, I’ll never be completely at peace with it; I’m my father’s daughter, and it only took me 19 years and a really bad hypomanic episode to figure it out. I will never relate to my mother’s determined cheerfulness like I related to my father’s melancholic humour. Our relationship was so strained because I learned my stubbornness and sarcasm and even my avoidance from him. To him, I was life’s little comeuppance for all his character flaws. To me, he was a hypocrite. Everything about ourselves that we disliked, we loathed in each other. It might have gone on like this for the rest of his life, if his recovery and my diagnosis hadn’t forced us to come to terms with ourselves.

One Puff Goes a Long Way

By: Alexa Batitis  

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So, Justin Trudeau admitted that he had a “puff” from a joint about three years ago.

I bet he didn’t even inhale.

Does it matter what Mr. Trudeau did three years ago at a party in his backyard? He paints a good scene: kids gone, friends over, slight peer pressure as someone passes him the joint. He’s not even doing anything unlawful – Canadian law only deems possession of cannabis illegal; nowhere does it say anything about smoking.

It’s something easy for the media to fuss about, sure, but his admission to smoking pot has led to the acknowledgment from other political figures, including Ontario’s premier, Nova Scotia’s premier, and Toronto’s mayor. It has clearly shaken the political world.

But what exactly is Justin Trudeau trying to achieve by saying he’s smoked pot? It sounds like he’s trying to admit that he speeds on the highway, or downloads music from the Internet.

Canada is moving on: Health Canada recently announced the launch of a new medical marijuana market, where distributing cannabis will be regulated by the RCMP and health inspectors. The new regime will come into effect in March 2014, and Health Canada will stop producing medical marijuana in April of 2014.

If you have a medical marijuana license, you can still grow it in your own home, until the new system is fully established. Bottom line: Canadians are smoking pot.

So, let’s talk about why Mr. Trudeau stole the spotlight with his admission.

After we overlook his flawed chain of actions – in 2009, he voted in favour of the Harper government’s marijuana laws, but in 2011 he changed his mind and voted against – we can easily see his admission as an obvious appeal to the everyday person. “Look at me. I do what you do, too! After I was elected MP!” It’s easy to see right through his actions, especially after news sources reported, days later, that Mr. Trudeau doesn’t touch caffeine. Doesn’t even have a morning cup of joe.

He is kidding himself if he is trying to connect with the everyday person. The son of a former prime minister born into a family of wealth and privilege – tell me that he knows what it’s like to be an average person.

Ask a group of young stoners if they care about Justin Trudeau’s pot smoking confession. They probably don’t. Because they are going to smoke pot anyway, whether it’s legal or not; whether the Liberal leader said he did or not. Tell a group of middle-aged voters, and they freak out because drugs are bad, end of story. No vote for the Liberals this round.

You missed it, Mr. Trudeau. You’ve overestimated the reactions and your confession looks out of place. What could have been a strategically placed declaration has only turned into an excuse for the media to roll their eyes at you.

Next time, if you really want to cause a fuss, take a leaf out of Rob Ford’s book and pick up a crack pipe.

Women Have All Kinds of Body Types

By: Janet Goertzen

 

 “Lose some weight, fatty.”

“Eat a sandwich, skeleton.”

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Which of those two statements is more likely to be scorned by our society, and which one is more likely to be accepted? Both contain a derogatory term, and both suggest a judgement based on size and appearance. But in our society, the first statement is far more likely to be rejected, while the second is likely to be met with agreement and laughter. Fat shaming, it seems, is now taboo. So why is skinny shaming fair game?

Skinny shaming isn’t just about insults; it can also come in the form of a backhanded compliment, a false show of concern. “You’re nothing but skin and bones,” they say. “You should really eat something.” All this does is draw unwanted attention to an innocent person’s body, and yet bystanders probably take no issue with it. Think of it the other way around: if someone were to say to an overweight person, “You should really stop eating so much,” they would get nothing but flak.

People who are overweight have many reasons for their size, including genetics and various health issues. Thin people have similar reasons for their sizes. Most thin people were born that way, or have medical conditions that prevent them from gaining weight. For many of them, gaining weight is just as difficult as it is for an overweight person to lose weight. Yes, there are certainly people who became thin by way of eating disorders, by all accounts an unhealthy way to live. But, disordered eating is not just characteristic of thin people; overeating is a disorder, too. Furthermore, “skinny people” eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are psychological conditions.

Women’s advertising doesn’t help, either. “Real women have curves” is a mantra that is supposed to empower women, but at the same time, it demeans women who do not have curves. Does this mean that thin women, those who do not possess the stereotypical woman’s hourglass shape, are “fake” women? Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign seems like a step in the right direction but is fundamentally flawed. The campaign’s message is ostensibly “you’re beautiful, no matter your size,” but what does Dove sell, again? Beauty products. So maybe “you’re beautiful, but you could be more beautiful if you bought our anti-cellulite cream” is more apt. The Real Beauty campaign actually reinforces the message it is supposed to be breaking down: appearance is everything. And even so, Dove claims to showcase “real women” with “real curves” in their ads – again, suggesting that women who don’t have curves are not real women.

We need to stop shaming each other based on our appearances. All women are real woman, regardless of size – and, for that matter, regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation. Sure, real women have curves. Real women also don’t have curves. Whether a woman is a size two or 22, she’s a real woman.

No Fracking Way

By: Madison Joe

When I woke up, I did my typical routine: shower, brush my teeth and all that stuff you do in the morning. I sat down at my computer, which eventually led to me opening Facebook. I fully expected the typical: Good morning Facebook peeps, a baby picture and maybe even news of a newly engaged couple. I wasn’t fully prepared for what Facebook had in store for me today—pride.  

The protesting in Elsipogtog First Nation has hit the tipping point. I’ve been fully aware of the protesting going on there and had a friend tell me that eventually this would happen, that the Mi’kmaq of Elsipogtog would reach this point. Peaceful protests have been ongoing for months and now they are getting public attention, but the way the Mi’kmaq are being portrayed does not paint a true picture. One day the protest gets out of hand, and many people label the Mi’kmaq as “typical Indians.”  What does that even mean? Am I a typical Indian? I believe in the rights that were given to our people, and I believe in clean water for the public. I guess this means I’m a typical Indian, who knew?

Police cruisers have been set ablaze, and many people were shot with rubber bullets. The people who set the cruisers on fire are just a few of the thousands protesting. Why should all the Mi’kmaq protesters be described as “unruly Indians?”  It has gotten to a point where I don’t read comments; all they do is highlight that some people shouldn’t be allowed on a computer. The comments had never gotten to me before, just uneducated people, I always thought, until today.

Today, I read a comment that made me sick. “Seems as though the aboriginals are really living up to their nickname…#wagonburners #askedforit.”

What exactly have Aboriginals asked for? Clean water?  A stop to fracking (the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth)? This type of labeling is sickening, and it is not right. Keep in mind that team names are being changed because “Red Skins” and “Indians” are offensive and insensitive towards Aboriginals, but people think it’s still okay to use terms such as wagon burner and squaw to describe Aboriginal people. Up until today, I thought I had a thick skin, but eventually something will pierce it.

Today is a day that I am filled with pride for those who stand in solidarity, those who refuse to be idle. Along with pride, I am also filled with shame for those uneducated people who think that it’s okay to use derogatory terms.

Artwork: Fanny Aishaa Portrait of Amanda Polshies Original Photography credit: Ossie Michelin

Artwork: Fanny Aishaa

Portrait of Amanda Polshies

Original Photography credit: Ossie Michelin

The protests have been, for the most part, peaceful. Protesters have been respectful and only wanting to keep the land unharmed, because long after this company is gone, it is the people living in the area that will have to live from that land. It is hard to believe that adults have to be reminded to be respectful towards one another like daycare children, so please be respectful.  

Toddlers and Throw-Downs

By Jamie Sturgeon

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Police are calling the brawl that erupted yesterday in Hickorytown, Texas between pageant moms Regina Lang and Yoko Brown, “Coliseum worthy.” The two women that started this epic war are the parents of two of the Miss Toddler U.S.A pageant contestants.

Reportedly, the winner of the pageant was accused of using make-up, something the pageant has always banned during competition. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the winner had in-fact used make-up. The mother of the cheating baby, Regina Lang, was forced to give up her award to the runner-up, Yoko Brown and her baby.

A conference was called so that the winning mother-daughter team could receive their reward in proper fashion. However, when the two met on stage, Regina began using the trophy as a weapon, clubbing the unsuspecting Yoko multiple times. Regina then placed the trophy in her child’s stroller and commanded her to “make a run for it!” The poor child, unable to fulfill her mother’s wishes, burst into tears.

The two women, seemingly without regard for the safety of their children, rolled around on the stage trading blows. Their babies, not far behind them used the tremors caused from the fight to gain momentum and rammed their strollers together. The rest of the pageant moms were too afraid to break up the fight. They were worried they might get hurt themselves.

“No way I was going in there; I just had my hair dyed last Tuesday,” one witness explained.

The brawl came to an end three hours after it started when police and S.W.A.T units arrived on scene.

“You can never be too careful with these kinds of things,” A brave police officer said after making the heroic arrest and saving the bruised toddlers. Maybe bringing in 45 armed men and using the Taser guns multiple times was a little unnecessary, but — hey — at least none of us got hurt.”  

The two women were sent to the nearest hospital to recover from their wounds, both remain in critical condition. The two babies were also taken into custody and charged with aggravated assault. After serving their sentence in a juvenile detention center, they will be relocated to their closest family member. Both Regina and Yoko have been deemed unfit to be parents by the state of Texas.

 

 

Taking Notes from Miley

By Dillon Meilleur

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Celebrities, performers, and even the President are taking notes from Miley Cyrus. Recently, Miley Cyrus has changed her Disney image to a more grown-up persona. This has launched her to the top of the charts. As a society, we like to reward worthy celebrities like Miley Cyrus with fame, love, and number ones. Miley has worked hard building her image into what it is today: an independent, conservative woman with extremely strong morals. We can’t get enough of her signature move; known as “The Tongue,” it has captured our hearts and licked them. We had a chance to catch up with Robin Thicke and ask him about the MVA performance. He responded, “Yes, I am God’s gift to women.”

A number of celebrities are following in Miley’s conservative footsteps. Former American Idol winner Ruben Studdard recently performed at a charity event.  The revealing outfit Studdard wore was described as extremely disturbing. Throughout the performance Studdard was reportedly making inappropriate hip thrusts. The concert broke out in a riot when Studdard took out a large foam finger. What he planned to do with the finger, we’ll never know.

A similar incident occurred at an Adele concert. It started off as a typical show, as any Adele concert would, but it took a turn for the worse towards the end. Singer/“God’s gift to women,” Robin Thicke, made a surprise appearance. Thicke and Adele proceeded to dance and rub on each other in an offensive way. The rest of the performance was riddled with obscene tongue gestures and inappropriate facial expressions. 

Obama is no longer the beloved president he once was. Since he was elected to office his image has taken some serious blows. He went from being the cool new guy to the class clown. The recent government shut down has forced President Obama to re-evaluate his career and personal life. He was recently spotted smoking cigarettes from the oval office window. During an interview Obama was quoted saying, “I will be reinventing myself, not in a David Bowie type of way, but more of a Carrot Top type of way.” President Obama asked Miley if she could help him change his image and get the public back on his side. He believes Miley is the only one that understands him. She changed her image from old and boring to new, exciting, and in your face. This is what Obama hopes to become. The president also expressed to Miley that he would like to learn how to twerk.  

The public was shocked when they found out that Obama and Miley were BFF. Miley has encouraged the president to be more colourful, in your face, and sometimes just obscene. This is Miley’s patented recipe for success. Read about it in her new book, How to Get Them to Look. The president was recently spotted sporting a pair of leather shorts with the words “Head of State” printed on the back. We look forward to the new Obama almost as much as the next Miley Cyrus song.

   

Orange is the New Water

By Allyson Knappers

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Ottawa, ON – Following several complaints by Canadian citizens claiming current water is too “boring” and “mainstream,” the Harper government has decided to spice things up by releasing new orange flavoured fluoride into the water supplies in most Canadian cities. Harper government officials have said they are pledging tasty water for all. The first batch of orange fluoride is set to be released into the City of Ottawa’s water supply around November of 2013.

When asked about the safety risks associated with releasing fluoride into Canadian water supplies, officials have responded: “the government stands by its decision to fluoridate water, that is here to stay and we just want to make Canadians happy. Orange is a popular flavour amongst Canadians, and we knew there were demands for more flavourful water. Also fluoride helps fight tooth decay and so we’re really just concerned with the safety of Canadians. Also oranges are just a great source of vitamins, and overall we just want to ensure that Canadians receive all necessary tools to improve their overall health and safety.” When asked why the government did not consider maple syrup, which has become almost a national symbol, for the flavour, officials responded, “Maple syrup flavoured water? That’s disgusting!”

The announcement of the impending release is getting mixed reviews in the Ottawa community. Some residents are very pro-orange, while others are unhappy about the Canadian Government’s decision. A recent poll asked participants what they thought of the orange movement and the results were as follows: 35% of Canadians said they are unhappy about it, 33% of Canadians said they are pro-orange and 32% of Canadians said they just don’t care.

Oscar Bridges, an Ottawa resident has said he is very unhappy with the government’s orange fluoride release. When questioned about this, Bridges stated that he is not afraid of the safety risks associated with the fluoride but rather that he has a strong aversion to orange flavouring in general. He’s quoted saying, “I don’t care about fluoridation and the science and all that junk. I just hate orange, always have and always will. Now, if it were grape flavouring that we were talking about I think the citizens of Ottawa would be a lot better off.”

Bridges is now starting a campaign entitled, “Go Grape.” In starting the new movement, he is hopeful that other Canadian citizens will join him in the fight for the freedom to choose what flavor of fluoride is put in Canadian water supplies. He’s hoping to attract a large enough following for government officials to reconsider their decision.

The announcement of the impending fluoride release has prompted a new saying amongst Canadians: “Orange is the new water.”