Writer

Forty Years

Forty Years

When I was three years old I was living close to Granville Island. My dad had gotten me a lego train set whose tracks were too close to a radiator and had melted.

One night I woke up from a dream with a rotting angel that had my face to find a flaming man in my room, looming over my bed.

“Thirty-seven years,” he said. An eyeless pale thing reached out of the shadows and pulled the flaming man into the darkness, where both vanished.

I hid under my blankets until morning.

*

When I was eight or nine years old I dreamed I had a sister named Mindy. She’d come to me when I slept and we’d talk sometimes, walking through the neighborhood where I lived in the middle of the night. We’d just moved from one part of North York to another and I was already sneaking out of the house, but Mindy was like no one I knew in the waking world.

“Do you exist in the waking world?” I remember asking her. I was old enough to question the nature of make-believe and fantasy but still a couple years off from discovering nihilism, a couple more years off from being able to spell it properly consistently.

“Not right now,” she said. “And I question your decision on this one, bro.”

“On what?”

“Being here.”

“Where else would I be?” I asked her.

“Home,” she said, kicking a stone down the road. “But I can wait the thirty years or so.”

“Until what?”

“You’re done with this,” she sighed.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Look at your hand,” she said. I did. There were lines on them and it would be a long time before I’d know what any of them meant. It’s been long enough that I only remember the meaning of a few. She traced the broken line that moved with my thumb. “Life is a choice. So is death. Remember that.”

“I will.”

“You won’t.”

And maybe I would have forgotten, but when I woke up I wrote it all down.

*

When I was maybe ten or eleven years old, my parents owned a clothing store in downtown Toronto. I’d go down there and work some weekends because that’s what was needed. One summer, some Roma happened to be hanging out nearby. One of them, a girl about my age, was a fortune-teller.

“Could you read my fortune?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “Twenty dollars.”

I had a twenty and figured what the hell. I was a couple years away from my first nervous breakdown. I handed her the twenty and sat down in a chair opposite her. She took my hand, studied it, and frowned. She went very pale and handed back the twenty.

“Please leave,” she said.

“Um,” I said.

“Just,” she said, shaking a little. “Just go.”

I went.

She hurried off and pointed me out to a couple of the other Roma and one of them, an older woman, walked over with a brisk gait.

“Do you mind if I see your hand?” she asked.

“Is this going to cost me anything?” I asked. “I only have the twenty.”

“You should already know I will not charge you this,” she said, her eyes sad and voice soft. “I gave her my hand and studied it intently for a few minutes and my hand began to cramp.

“I’ve got twenty more minutes for lunch,” I said.

“You only have thirty more years to live,” she said. She curled my fingers into my palm and pressed my hand against my heart. “I am so sorry.”

She walked away.

The Roma were packing up by the time I got back from lunch and were gone by the time my parents were ready to go home.

*

When I was twelve or thirteen years old, I signed up for the Big Brother program at Thornhill Square. I was very close to that first nervous breakdown and pretty confident in my ability to spell nihilism, the philosophy with which I was flirting. I was a year away from being arrested for shoplifting toys at Zellers with my then best friend, an act that would destroy that friendship.

My big brother had two other kids he was looking after. We were close as brothers. He was into a lot of weird shit, my big brother, and he was very much into answering any question we gave him to the best of his ability and admitting his ignorance when he didn’t know an answer. That’s something I still wrestle with sometimes.

“Don’t believe the things I believe in because I believe in them,” he’d say. “The right path is my path, the right path is your path. Find and understand your own truth.”

One weekend he took us all out for lunch and, for shits and giggles, decided to read our hands. The other two went first and I remember squirming impatiently, waiting for my turn. When he did get to mine, he sort of gave me a sad smile.

“You’ve got a little less than thirty years, kid,” he said.

“What?”

“Yeah.” He sipped at his coke, his throat dry from the talking he’d already given the other two. “Remember, you do not have to choose death. You can do the other thing if you want.”

“What other thing?” I asked. I was twelve or thirteen and so very far out of my depth. “Life?”

“That one,” he nodded. He paused and stared at nothing, listening to something that we three were just learning to hear. “Death comes for you in the woods. Someone you know and liked once upon a time. Weeks pass before they find your body. Early autumn, I think, maybe late September? Anyway, watch your back and watch who you trust.”

“Do you think I can escape it?”

“Iataad taohif aamgae, kid.”

“What does that mean?”

“World’s oldest prophecy, for everything that it might be worth,” he grinned. I miss his smile, the warmth of it. “None may escape.”

A lot of what he said – both that day and in the days before – informed the person I would become.

My brothers and I watched as he was beaten to death later that spring. A shopping mall would be built over the place we buried him six or seven years later.

*

When I was fourteen or fifteen years old I was in the full throes of my nervous breakdown. Bad things had happened and I had no one to turn to and no one to help process those things and I said and did some terrible things. I was held accountable for all of them, which is, I think, important.

I was badly traumatized and found myself thinking about who I would have to kill and what my escape route would be when everyone tried to kill me in my local high school. I would do this automatically, in every situation. I noticed there was someone else doing the same thing, and, by chance, we ended up sitting next to one another.

“What are you in for?”

“About four years. You?”

“About the same.”

We hit it off.

We would leave school during our lunch breaks and go for walks, discussing philosophy, politics, magic, and history. He was computer savvy the way I was history savvy and both of us were into all kinds of weird shit. His family were refugees that had fled to Canada during the Cold War.

“Hey,” he said, “I’ve been looking into palm reading.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you think?” I asked.

“It’s mostly garbage,” he said. “Good for superficial information but not much more.”

How could I not give him my palm?

He stared at it for a good five minutes, took out a little book where he took notes in clearly writ Elder Futhark. At that point, both of us were fluent.

“Shit, man,” he said. “Says here you’re probably gonna die when you’re forty or so, or you live another forty years. There’s, like, a massive break, which means there’s a choice you’re gonna have to make.”

“Between what?” I asked.

“Living or dying,” he said.

My parents moved back to Vancouver four months later and I went with them. I haven’t seen that friend in almost twenty years but I still love him.

*

When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I started at a new high school halfway through the year. I was still in the middle of a nervous breakdown and fresh off a suicide attempt that no one noticed but which I thought, in my mania, that I had succeeded at. I was manic, depressed, and putting on a fantastic performance of someone who was managing their trauma, a trauma very few recognized and even fewer knew anything about.

There’s maybe two living people that know the full truth of it today. The second friend I made in Vancouver was not one of them. He would drop out of high school a couple of years after we met and, a couple of years after that, start a cult. We were close friends until then, though, and for some time after. One time when we were out in the woods he turned and said

“You know I’m going to kill you, right?”

“About twenty-five years from now, I think,” I said. It was two in the morning and we were sitting by a small brook and watching moonlight reflect off the water. It was a school night.

“I don’t know why I’m going to do it,” he said. “I can’t imagine why I would.”

“I’m sure you’ll think of a reason,” I said. I was looking forward to it. I was very tired.

Life and death are choices. He made so very many, and I think his robbed him of my murder. I haven’t seen him in at least a decade.

*

When I was sixteen or seventeen years old I read the words of a man deep in mourning given to me as a gift by a former lover, a steady light in this world and every other.

It’s not death if you refuse it, he wrote on one page, his protagonist shot by a violence encouraged by politics to demonize an entire collection of people. It’s death if you accept it.

She’d read my palm. The words she offered were an echo of a man I already mourned.

*

When I was eighteen or nineteen years old, things got bad with my friend’s cult and the nervous breakdown reached its peak. I had a terrifying moment of clarity and shortly thereafter moved as far from Vancouver as I could, preferring life on a farm in a warzone to where I was. One can only be thrown in the back cars and jump out of trunks and flee into the woods while being chased by people with swords and knives so many times before, well.

I left. That’s the important part.

There was an old English gentleman who lived alone on the farm. He was a photographer mostly and kept a Portuguese Water Dog he named Igor which, I think, says everything you need to know about him save one important thing: he was a deeply secular man who believed in palmistry.

Others went to him.

I did not.

I spent the first month on the farm living on the roof of my building and dealing with my shit, far from people that wanted to kill me in particular and surrounded by people that wanted to kill me in general. I started looking for my path to walk and figuring out what that meant, and became a broken child’s dream of what an adult could be. There would be missteps – so many missteps. There still might be.

When I was feeling grounded I went to him and he sort of seemed surprised.

“I didn’t think you went in for this sort of thing,” he said, “and then I figured you already knew what I could tell you.”

“Probably,” I admitted, “But it’s been a while.”

We went back to his home and he sat me down in a comfortable chair and had me open my palm. There was an armrest that was comfortable, and he asked if I want to read anything or watch anything while he took his notes. I said I did and then watched him take his measurements, trace my lines, jot down notes in a clipped shorthand.

It took about half-an-hour.

“I don’t think there’s much I can tell you that you don’t already know.”

“Try me.”

“Your hand says you know everything I’m going to tell you,” he said. “You’re intelligent, passionate, driven, and you have been and you have done and you have seen many things. You’re probably going to die in about twenty years.”

“Stab wounds, yes,” I said.

He nodded.

“So you do know.”

“I do.”

He offered me a drink, but I had already given up alcohol.

*

When I was twenty-two or twenty-three, I met someone who could talk to plants and they would talk back. Everyone else thought they were crazy, but I could hear the whispers even if I did not know the language. They were startled by this.

“You mean I’m not crazy?”

“No,” I said.

We loved each other as friends, as siblings. They found their strength and touched a great many lives, shaping others and helping others avoid the pain they had suffered. Once, when we were out walking, she stopped to collect a carcass for her art and I leaned against a tree, resting my palm against it. The tree whispered. My new sibling slowly turned to me.

“Let me see your palm,” they said.

“Why?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Don’t fuck with me,” they said. They were not one for bullshit.

I gave them my hand and they spit on it, rubbing their saliva into the cracks and lines.

“I don’t want you to die,” they said.

“Everyone dies,” I said. “Everything dies. Some of us just get to know when.”

“That’s terrible,” they said.

“It’s useful,” I answered. “I have life until death.”

Years later, I would use a ritual she led to finally lay my nervous breakdown to rest and become more than a broken child’s dream of an adult. They would not understand and push me away, which was part of the cycle they lived with until they didn’t.

The woods whispered in her passing, but some newer trauma kept me away until the woods were quiet again.

I miss them every day.

*

When I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old, I would meet my soul in another incarnation.

My old big brother had turned me onto the idea that mind is a crucible of souls that split apart and join one another from one incarnation to the next.

Energy changes form instead of being destroyed,” he’d say. “The illusion of time and space keep us apart, but everything is.” The idea, I came to believe, was that the different parts of the mind were what we would more accurately call souls. Upon breath, they coalesce into a single mind and solidify over the first few months of life. Upon dust, they split apart and find other souls to form a new mind with.

Various old texts back this up. My big brother thought there were eight different souls to a mind. The ancient Egyptians backed him up, as did the Sumerians. The Tree of Life was a link between the divine and material with eight steps in-between those points. Elder Futhark is broken into three sets of eight. And so on. And so forth.

This meeting struck me to my core, because it meant that time was an illusion – a question of perception instead of the moving flow I’d been led to believe. The microcosm and quantum mechanics backed me up here, which was nice.

She felt it, too. Neither of us knew what to make of it.

I wondered if the soul we shared was older in my mind or in hers.

“I don’t want you to die,” she told me. She would change her mind later, I think.

I hate you. I don’t trust you. We’re not friends.

I love you completely.

I can’t speak for her, but I still do. I don’t know how to do anything else, and we were never properly defined.

*

When I was thirty or thirty-one years old I planned to kill myself.

I’d had a fight with my dad over something stupid, lost a job I hated because I said something and was overheard after I’d been physically assaulted. I was tired. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I didn’t want anyone to mourn me or blame my parents or anyone else.

My plan was to go walking at night, stab myself in the gut and toss the knife down a storm drain, use my clothing to keep pressure on the wound and walk a block, spread my wallet and keys on the ground, then lay down and die. I’d settled on a date and was looking forward to it.

I built a home theater system for my brother, cleaned up my apartment so that maybe my youngest brother could move into my home once I was gone.

There are three conversations I’ve told people about that stopped me: one with my best friend, one with a lost cousin, and one with a therapist.

There is one conversation I’ve never told anyone about: my sister pulled me aside in a dream and said “You’ve only got ten more years. The final stretch. You can do this.”

Maybe, I thought, but I didn’t want to.

I was very much done.

Four conversations, four very different promises, and all of them kept me here.

The final stretch.

*

Companies were built. Stages were owned, won, and lost. Old lovers and new lovers. An entire wife with a promise of something better than what might have been possible alone. I stood on a beach in the middle of the night, my wife standing beside me as we laughed in the face of a hurricane.

“Forty more years,” I said. “That’s my choice.”

The ocean laughed and promised nothing.

I’m forty this year. September is about to begin.

Death comes for you in the woods. Someone you know and liked once upon a time. Weeks pass before they find your body. Early autumn, I think, maybe late September? Anyway, watch your back and watch who you trust.

*

Okay. Okay. Let us do this thing.

It’s not death if you refuse it.

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