I might call them the lost years but as I hadn’t found myself yet that’s probably not a good fit. My mother became a widow when I was ten years old. Although she’d only been married for 6 months the wound was deep and it never really healed. It derailed her and she lost herself. There was a long time when she wandered in the dark trying to find her way and we wandered with her as best we could. As she began to get herself in order we were, at times, left even more to our own devices. As children are wont to do we found ways to occupy our time.
My mother had met a man. He was an educated professional man of some small substance. He had a country property several hours away and as their relationship grew my mother began to spend alternate weekends at his picturesque yet distant home. My sister, as the youngest, was required to attend these visits. My brother and I, being in our mid teens, were thought old enough and responsible enough to stay at home alone. Of course we shouldn’t have been trusted with the housecat never mind our own conduct and safety. We did manage to get ourselves into a "tangle or two". Some (like the motorcycle accident I was in) my mother couldn’t help but find out about but there are others that I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know about to this day.
My girlfriend told her mother she was sleeping over at my house. I didn’t have to tell my mother a thing for reasons already stated. My bedroom was a whirlwind as various outfits were chosen, combined, rejected and traded. Nine o’clock, ten o’clock and then finally eleven o’clock, time to head off downtown to catch the last bus. "The last bus where?" you might ask. Well the last bus to the Big Smoke would be the answer. For the uninitiated, the Big Smoke is the nickname for Toronto. So named for the grey and smoggy skies that shroud its cosmopolitan heights. To this day I’m still dumbfounded that the teller would sell tickets to two 15-year-old girls (wearing too much make-up) for a 2-hour bus trip at 12 am with no adult supervision in sight.
The midnight express run to Toronto was filled with tired people just trying to get to their destination. The driver dimmed the lights before we even reached the city limits. There were two hours to fill and the back of the bus became gradually choked with huge aerosol clouds of French Parisienne hairspray as we teased and ratted each other’s hair into giant beehives. If the fumes had been any denser we could have asphyxiated the last 5 or 6 rows of passengers. The bus pulled into the depot a little after 1 am and we headed out into the streets of Toronto. We were literally babes in the woods surrounded by wolves but we were shielded in bulletproof youth.
Our destination was close to the bus station, just a short intoxicating walk through streets crowded with late night revelers leaving the bars in droves. We joined those crowds as they changed venues from the licensed establishments to the after-hours dance clubs. The after-hours clubs were unlicensed and not too particular about whom they let in. The music was great and you could dance the whole night away. Our club of choice had three floors of pulsating lights, floor length mirrors and pounding rhythm so loud your ears would be wringing for hours afterwards. The bathrooms were co-ed and painted bright red. The graffiti covered stalls were door less and black clad youths and mohawk girls sat on the counters smoking cigarettes and flicking their ashes into the sinks. The press of bodies ebbed and flowed with the music and time ceased to exist lost in beat, motion and sweat. The lights of the bathroom were harsh after the dance floor; raccoon eyes stared back from white faces and then out to the dance floor again.
Too soon night yawned and bowed its head in submission to the dawn. The doors closed behind us as we stepped into the street. The venders were out and we grabbed a bite to eat as we headed back to the bus station. Sitting in the depot, surrounded by the homeless and fellow travelers, we were so full of the night that there was room for little else. The drab green walls seemed so ordinary as we waited under the large clock for the first bus of the morning. It was a two-hour wait and then two more hours home but we didn’t mind. We could sleep the rest of the day away anyway.
The sun was high in the sky as the bus pulled into our home station. As we slowly walked the rest of the way home, midnight blooms now pale and wilting under the clear sky, I felt satiated and complete. I was tired but it was a good tired. I had been changed in some way but I couldn’t really say how yet. How could I? I had just begun my journey. I didn’t know that I was finding myself; I didn’t even know that I needed to be found.