Jun 7, 2024

The Return to Hornby

my home on Hornby 

In moments, I’d be under the shroud of the forest. I veered left at the fork in the road, marked by the century-old dilapidated house. The three-storey-high slash pile at the base of the hill slapped me awake; I knew that once I reached the top, the familiar daylight would turn dark. I hadn’t planned on ever going back. Yet there I was, driving across Denman to catch the Hornby ferry. 

It was late May, a month since my dad died and a season since I left that rock. My friend Lynn had asked for my help. Her husband was ill - too weak to walk, and it was time for them to leave their island home. One of the many things I learned during my time on Hornby, was that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. 

I remembered the first time I drove up that hill past the three-storey-high slash pile and into the dense forest. It was February 2017, and it was snowing. I’d rented a cabin on an acre on the waterfront for a few weeks - Jane’s house. I don’t know why I ended up on Hornby. I don’t think I’d even heard of it until a few weeks prior, and I definitely didn’t think I’d ever live there full-time. 
The memory of heartbreak, grief and my five-year facade of happiness and contentment weighed on me. My breath turned to whimpers I didn’t want to hear, and I shoved each one down and traded them for hiccups, gasps, and choking breaths. I didn’t blink; I let my eyes swell with unspilled tears that blurred the road ahead. My memory dragged me forward, fast and tight, around the same winding curves, the same gravel road, and the same anticipation of hitting a deer and dying. The road ahead narrowed, the unspilled tears burned, and the forest grew darker. 

On the ferry to Hornby, as I had multiple times before, I meditated on the depths of grey in the low-hanging clouds and the break of the iridescent crest on only the blackest of waves. Twice a month, I’d take that six-hour trip and never for pleasure - laundry, groceries, vet, and the occasional personal moment of anguish when I’d end up in the Comox Hospital Emergency department. Sometimes, out of sheer mental exhaustion, I couldn’t do it. I’d let my laundry pile up for months, buy my food at the gas station, and hoped Flo and I would pull ourselves out of whatever angst had befallen us. 

En route, the memories of the BC Ferries crew surfaced. The ones who yelled at me, time and time again, to put on a mask - a piece of paper over my face, while I sat alone in my car on the outdoor deck of a barge-like ferry. And the cunty bitch who, at the height of the second heat dome of 2021, belittled me while Flo lay on my lap, taking her life’s last breaths. She approached my car, looked at my lap, smirked and shrugged, ‘That’s not my problem. Turn off your car!’ I ignored her as I reawakened the wrath I’d quieted within me for many months. Two hours later, I returned. Flo had died, and my soul was sliced deep. We looked into each other’s eyes, both hungry for confrontation - and it was then that I drove my stare beyond what she mortally knew. 

Angry memories still simmered inside me when the ferry bounced repeatedly against the Hornby dock. The usual line of vehicles was waiting to leave; beat-up pickups with barefoot drivers taking goats and hay to God only knows where, rusted-out Volvo wagons, BMW SUVs, and Finn the plumber’s orange work van. The line of cars that once meant nothing now resembled a funeral parade. 

Rubber to metal, to wood, to asphalt, I rounded the shaded curve at the telephone pole; the same signs reminded me not to burn down the island, conserve water and that Scott and Bailey’s wedding was that way somewhere. I drove up past the abandoned housing development and the old thatch-roofed pub. The pub my parents and I went to the first time they visited me on the island. My dad was genuinely happy, which was rare, yet I was detached, exhausted, and numb with grief. I was self-absorbed, stuck in the past and ignoring that present moment. The thought of my selfishness on what would be one of my dad’s last days on earth made me nauseous. 

At the line of mailboxes at the crest of the first hill, I pulled over and dry-heaved. Drenched in sweat, I wiped the back of my trembling hand across my burning eyes, still full of unspilled tears. I pushed my pupils to release the pressure and clear my vision. Quivering, I gripped my steering wheel and took a left at Carmichael, landmarked by the grand ornamental cherry tree now in full bloom, a moment of beauty gone in the blink of an eye. This was the road to my house. 

I’m flooded with memories. Memories of my daily walks: I’d wander through the pathless forest amongst the cedars and firs for hours. I’d walk around The Loop, getting hammered by the wind, the deep calls of a thousand ravens and my circle of confused thoughts - the what ifs, what now, and whys. The angry ‘Fuck you, Todd,’ the ‘I hate the government,’ the ‘Fuck BCIT,’ the frustrated ‘What the actual fuck’ and the desperate ‘Please, someone, help me.’ 

My heart bottomed out when I remembered the daily feelings of unending loneliness, the pleading for it all to end and the absolute stillness of death. But there was also resilience and a shimmer of faith that things would eventually be ok.  

I turned right on Canon. I loved riding my bike on that worn-out, pothole-infested road. In the evening, I’d bomb round and round the rural island roads past the farms and tourist cabins hidden deep in the trees. From sunset into the depth of night, I’d meditatively ride to the sound of gravel popping beneath my tires. I loved to ride in the pitch-black night. My parents sent me lights, but I never opened the package. Often, I’d end my rides at Galleon beach, sit alone in the dark and tempt my fear. I held a strange sense of solace when I sat alone those evenings. I was alone yet comforted by some knowing that my person, whomever that was, also sat alone in the dark, looking at the same sky, thinking the same thoughts. The sadness and hurt that once accompanied me on my rides eventually lifted. I chose to open my heart to the experience of myself instead of languishing in thoughts of being unable to share the experience with someone else.  

Lynn’s place was a couple of turns and massive potholes away. I remembered wearing my cloak of inferiority when Sam asked me if I knew how to change a tire while pointing to a flat on my car. On the way to the Cove, I’d launched into one of the open pits hidden by shadows. I didn’t know how to change a flat. Derek, who was hanging out at Fish & Chips with Sam, changed it for me. While he worked, we talked about Fubar, how much Tron funking blows and his time working in the patch. Derek was found dead later that summer. 

The boring seven-foot-tall red metal dog sculpture let me know Lynn’s place was on my right. “Fuck I hate red,” I let Flo and Tilley know when we pulled up to Lynn’s for the first time. It was 2019, and the three of us gals had just arrived from Vancouver, and I was a new landowner. Tilley needed daily IV drips for her stage four kidney disease, and I was too nervous to do it. I’d been connected with Lynn, a cat lover and retired nurse, via social media. I brought my cats to meet her right away, and a few hours later, she started Tilley’s drip. November that same year, the three of us gals made the seven-hour journey back to Vancouver so I could put Tilley down. I went to Vancouver to have her euthanized because my ex-husband promised he’d be there with me. He wasn’t. 

I pulled into Lynn’s gravel driveway as she and a friend I’d met a few times before were loading up the back of her truck. I relaxed and felt happy to see her. 
I was greeted with, ‘What are you doing here? We’re super busy.’ 
What the fuck? I pushed the final remnants of any sunshine out of my ass, smiled and said, ‘Hello, friend! I’m here to help you.’ 
‘Where are you going to stay?’ 
'I’m staying at the lodge.’ 
‘Ok, have a great time.’ 
Confused, ‘Can I leave the boxes you asked for?’ 
‘I don’t have room. And we’ve got enough people helping now. You’ll only get in the way.’ 

As I had so many times before, I told myself to keep it together when I didn’t know if I would puke, cry or lose my absolute shit. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get off the island. The proverbial drawbridge was up. The last ferry for the day was done. I smiled, waved, and accidentally reversed too fast out of her driveway, spinning up gravel and mud. Frustrated and pissed with myself for trying to be nice, I drove to the lodge, where I’d booked a cabin for three nights. I checked in and made my way through the path of ever-present Hornby mud to the one-room cabin. The door was open; it smelled of rotten eggs, sulphur water and mildew. 

Two familiar black cats I’d met years before lay on the bed and welcomed me to join them. They listened while I explained that I wanted someone to hold my trembling hand, look in my eyes, and tell me it would be alright, someone to wrap their warm arms around me and stop my shivering, someone to assure me that I’d make it through like every other time because I’d always made it through, always. 

I couldn’t control what was happening in the world around me or how people carried themselves through life, but I could control how or if I reacted. The following day, I left the island. I released my heartache and allowed myself to sob. I let the tears run down my face and drip off my chin. I gagged on my breath and screamed the grief out. My Ego died on that island. 

I boarded the Hornby ferry for the last time and left the comfort of grief behind.

The Satanic Majesty's Request