Jennifer was a firecracker, and Paul was a steely, wiry box of matches. They drove from show to show, screeching hell’s fury, flanking rockets at each other as they did it. It was a war zone of hate and intimacy; but that’s how they lived their lives. Never resting for the pleasures of a warm marriage. Everything they did was hot and fast. There was no time for love, and no room for it in their beaten hearts.
Paul was a latchkey kid who watched his father beat his mother every night before bed. Jenny was a tied up bag of broken bones and bruised memories. Her parents were cold shadows in her thoughts, distant, blurred out figures in the shape of adult humans who carried no traits of parenthood. She came and went as she pleased, and they never questioned where she went. They hardly noticed her when she was around, anyway. Their teenage lives were violent retching, grabbing, snatching, riptides that pulled them under to the floor and pulled them around until they gasped for air. Until they met each other.
They met after she dropped out of high school and he left his broken home to collapse in on itself with no possessions but a few hundred dollars swiped from his drunken fathers’ wallet and an old guitar. She was working at a liquor store, and he was her best customer. He had nowhere to go and she had nothing to lose, so she snuck him into her parents’ attic to spend the night sharing a bottle of Alberta Premium, and that’s where it began. They talked all night about their hopes and fears, and he played Hallelujah in a mournful key, when she sang along in near whispers. Their flashlight lit faces swung back and forth in the shadowy attic, and in a moment of connection- the first of its kind for either of them- their eyes floated through the bruised and battered facades of their tough hides, and swept them together as they made love; or, at least, a brutal manifestation of all their lives toils and torments built up into what they imagined making love – truly making love rather than simply fucking- was meant to look like.
They left the next morning, hitchhiked to some small towns, played their music for dimes and quarters. They made barely enough to eat, but they were their best impression of happy. They made some friends along the way. And by that I mean Jen made some friends while her husband was too drunk to function. As a result of her natural talent and ability to influence, those friends joined them. They became a band. Something like a family – a foreign concept to both of them. a gruff, burly motorcycle gang looking family. But the old men looked out for the young couple like fathers or uncles, and they were happy. The band was a cast of road dogs, loners, losers. The people that life forgot. They performed and traveled together in an old beat up van that the bassist stole from his ex-girlfriend. Soon, the bassist gifted the van to young couple and took up their own vehicles to travel more comfortably. For the first time in their lives, Jennifer and Paul had a home.
Neither had ever felt the warmth of a loving heart in their lives. but they’d seen love on TV. So they produced the best version of that that they could. It was a rough and sharp-edged excuse for affection, the rage they had built up in their youths often frothed forth in explosions of volcanic ash; but the heat tempered the riptide, and they loved the contempt their bouts stirred up. They loved their reckless intimate circle-jerk of pseudo-affection that they shared with one another. They loved that they could each direct their anger with laser-precision and neither harm nor damage the integrity of their marriage. Most of all, they loved how much they hated their love.
But before that day I found her waiting on the shoulder of the highway, he had never abandoned her. He had never left her to fend for herself in the rock-hard, cold, uncaring world. As much as they threw up torrents of abuse at one another, they saw themselves as the same team. One would never leave the other behind. Her heart had never broken before; it was a calloused, grey withered thing. When he shoved her out of the passenger seat of the van, and tossed her bags out the window onto the brown grass, her heart broke. For the first time in her life, she felt true pain. She wouldn’t tell me what they fought over, but she was sure we would meet up with him in Pincher Creek.
We pulled into Pincher Creek, an old beat up agriculture town. There are only three bars – as we were told by a middle-aged man upon asking him for directions – Excuses, Leo’s, and if you’re looking for something fancy, Boston Pizza. So the venue wasn’t hard to find. By the time we got there, the show would be an hour away from starting. We walked through the door to rows of cheap looking tables and a checkerboard dance floor. There was no band. Jen walked ruggedly to the bartender as I stood by the entrance noticing the unusual arrangement of a dartboard hanging on the wall directly beside the dance floor. She came back, eyes shining with tears held back against them, trying to keep her face in its natural shape as not to let this stranger she barely knew see her cry.
“He’s not here,” She said. “The whole band isn’t here. They never showed. Called the bar and said they weren’t coming.”
She marched through me and beyond the door, sat herself on the hood of my car, and stared off into nothing. I can say with confidence that this was the second time she had ever felt her heart break.
After several minutes of silence, I finally spoke up. “What now?”
She looked up into the cloudy evening sky, “Where were you headed anyway?”
The old man in the motel found his way into my mind. Have you ever been to the Yukon? was all I could think of. Somewhere he had always wanted to go, but a place that faded away into his dreams. I doubted if he ever would
I sat down on the pavement beside the car.
“Everything looks better in the light of day,” I said softly.
“What?” she turned slightly in my direction.
“Just something my dad used to tell me,” as I drifted into a distant memory, “But I haven’t seen or heard from him in years.”
“My parents stopped being a part of my life as soon as I was old enough to move out,” I said.
She pounced up off the vehicle, “Do you want to see him?”
The lonely hills become buried in the size of the mountains as you go further and yet further west. The road to Vancouver is long, and it doesn’t sing like the hills of Alberta 2; but it carries with it a sense of hope as the sun sets, turning the mountains into an unnatural shade of some unknown colour while the sky darken its hue of blue until it washes out into grey. But we drove that direction anyway.