Going back to Prince George, and visiting the UNBC campus, evoked strong emotions for me. How could I separate the place from Daniel? How could I forget the youthful excitement we shared in coming out here in 2001? Seeing the Rockies for the first time; moving away from Toronto for the first time; flexing our newfound freedom from high school and Etobicoke; the world seemed like such a big place then with endless possibility.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed in reflecting on the two days that I spent there this week. So to keep things simple, I’ll relate the experience through a story I know Daniel would’ve been entertained by.
I drove there with Andru, the mayor, and Laura, the newspaper owner; my roommates. The 4-hour drive was spectacular, winding along the Valley floor with the Rockies on one side and the Caribou Mountains on the other. The weather alternated brilliant sunshine with sudden downpours, leaving a trail of arcing rainbows in the rear view mirror. We saw black bears and deer too. We stopped at an ancient rain forest along the way, where a newly constructed boardwalk lead through towering cedars that twisted awkwardly into the sky. I felt like I was in a cartoon where the world was enormous and I was miniature. Daniel and I saw similar trees when we went camping out on the coast near Kitimat.
We got into Prince George around 9:30pm. Andru had to go to a Regional District meeting the next day, and Laura wanted to pick up her car from the mechanic, which had been nearly totalled by a run-in with a moose two months before. Laura and I were going to crash in Andru’s hotel room, but before going to the hotel Andru wanted to stop at a bar where a friend of his—and somewhat of a musical legend in Valemount, especially with my roommates—was hosting an open mic. After a few beers we were ready to leave. But when Andru phoned the hotel to let them know we were coming, he was told his room had been sold because he didn’t confirm earlier. We had nowhere to sleep.
Andru’s friend hosting the open mic, Raghu, offered to let us crash at his place. He lived with his partner and her child. Back at Raghu’s we sat outside on his back deck and smoked a joint. The conversation was immediately easy and edgy and intellectual and funny.
“That flag over the roof there is from the Sikh Temple.”
“Is that a sickle on it?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Maybe it’s a turban, that’d be more appropriate.”
“Or a bomb. Sorry, that’s not right.”
I zoned out for a bit, and when I came back Raghu was talking about Shiva. I listened intently and then said, “I can’t even wrap my head around all of the characters in the religion that I grew up with. I can barely begin to with other religions. Say Archangel Michael. Was he good? Bad? Rebel?”
Converation turned to Greek mythology.
“Theseus was interesting. They say his story is an allegory for the birth of language.”
“But what’s a speed belt gotta do with it?”, Laura asked.
“Nothing,” we all said.
“No, but how does it compare to a speed belt?”
“It doesn’t, only in your head,” we said.
Laura wasn’t even stoned.
When I lay down on the inflatable mattress in the spare room stuffed with bookshelves and a little girl’s paraphernalia, I noted that this was certainly not a hotel bed. Andru and Raghu had spent 15 minutes pumping the mattress up with a foot pump, except they used their hands trying, in vain, to mute the squeaky, farty sounds from waking up Leah, the little girl. I slept alright, considering every time I moved a muscle I was woken up by the sound of twisting latex.
The next day Laura and I spent an hour on the campus of UNBC. Among the stories that Daniel and I used to tell when we waxed nostalgic about that time:
-we had the idea of setting up a business in our residence room offering home-cooked meals to poor, malnourished students. We did a few trial meals for some friends, but that was about it.
-we’d test each other’s tolerance for mould and filth. One time Daniel left a pot of rice on the stove in the kitchen for weeks if not months. Green and grey and turquoise fluffy mould started poking over the edge of the pot. Eventually Daniel just threw the whole pot out. I clogged the toilet one time and it stayed that way for days. Man Daniel hated me for that for a while.
-we signed up for a natural resource class that promised wilderness first aid and survival skills. The class was a bust. Our field trips were cancelled because of a cougar in the area. And our teacher was a master’s student who couldn’t get his grammar in order on the exams.
An uneasy emotional premonition. Self-chastisement for giving in to the irrational, as though I had a choice. What is a place? I’ve learned it can change by unrelated events in a time removed. Suddenly a place can don the cloak of significance never imagined and unwanted.