Photo credit: Spacing Magazine
My phone is busted. I downloaded, or I'm least sure, I downloaded Money by Cardi B, but it doesn't show up on the playlist I called Artificial Intelligensia. I like making playlists, so don't tell me to just Spotify it all. I get to be the DJ this way, tailoring my own personal atmosphere and my self-artistic expression and moving all the people I visualize. It takes talent to curate music this way, letting one song flow into another, the waves sometimes smooth, other times choppy. I have to fall into a space that's infinite and notate the algorithms that stream through my mind.
My dad says I didn't create the music, so it's not my artistic expression, I'm just a disc jockey, as he calls it. What does he know? I mean, really, what does he know? It's because of him that I go to therapy. My mom says I should do it for myself. but really, he's the reason I haul my butt on the TTC and head up to Forest Hill. Mom says I can't see a therapist in the Kingsway because that's where dad's therapist is. What is she afraid of -- that we'll be outed in the neighbourhood for being that family who goes to therapy in the building on the corner of Bloor and who gives a rat's behind? Right, as if. Nobody cares, least of all me.
Great. My Presto Card isn't working. I put money on it, but the gate declines my card. When I look at the fare collector's booth, the TTC employee, a young brown guy wearing a toque, is looking down at something, maybe the counter. I go over to the booth and speak into the speaking area and I say "My card isn't working and I just put money on it and I don't have anymore money to put on it". I see the TTC guy is looking at his phone, which is cool with me, hey I'm not a narc. He looks up at me with tired, droopy eyes, like he just got bad news that's sinking in. He acknowledges my presence, as my dad would say, and waves me through, like this is an everyday occurrence.
The tiles at Royal York remind me of the bathrooms in the two houses my parents bought in
. Whoever thought pinky-orangey tiles on the walls in
a bathroom were chic should be shot. The designer must have been taking tranqs.
She probably looked at the little pinky-orangey
pills in her sweaty palm, raised her heavy-lidded eyes to the blank wall in
front of her and thought, yeah, pinky-organey tiles for everyone. The houses
have been gutted anyway, their desperate little bathrooms demolished. Goodbye
doleful, crying tiles. Hey. Maybe that's where the term weeping tiles comes
I never have much to say to Dr. Cohen, if she is a doctor at all. I like calling her doctor, even though she wants me to call her Ruth. When she wants me to talk or express my feelings, I play her God's Plan by Drake, because he says it all. Wishin and wishin and wishin and wishin. As in, my dad is wishin I'll enrol in STEM, but he knows I'm hostile to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Hey, at least I know what that acronym means, dad, I say, that makes me smart right there. I could be good at it, but I don't want to be, because it feels like I'm lost in formulas as it stands. My mom will say 'why can't you be more like your brother Eric.' Well, because I'm not a business scumbag who'll end up like dad. She hit me once, my mom did. A little smack on my arm. I didn't speak to her for days. She kept texting me to come downstairs for dinner, trying to lure me with sushi and Uncle Testu cheesecake. She deserved a lesson. Hope that put the fear of Child Family Services in her.
Passing Ossington makes me breathe a little faster. Same tiles, different colours though. Some committee in the dark ages thought ripping off the
tube would elevate our public transit and stamp Toronto
as worthy. Who has the last laugh now? Developers like my dad. The world became
a dart board and Toronto a bullseye. Throw your money at this sleepy little
backwater folks, the people will just say thank you and sorry. I'm only 16 and
I feel 66 most days.
A woman is shuffling from passenger to passenger in the subway car, asking for a loonie, toonie, fiver. There's inflation for you. I'm only in the last half of my teenaged years and I remember when people asked for a quarter. I crank up the tunes on my phone and close my eyes. I imagine giving this woman a wad of bills. Because that's God's plan, according to Drake. I can feel her hovering over me now, I can smell sourness, wet wool and piss. Even with my earbuds in I can hear her say to me "loonie, toonie, fiver". Behind my eyelids, I picture me putting my arm around her neck and her screaming with surprise and joy. I wave a handful of hundred dollar bills over her head and then let them go, raining down on her like manna. She kisses me on the cheek again and again. I can feel the loonie, twoonie fiver lady's scarf grazing my forehead. I hold my breath and bless her from behind my eyelids as she moves on, begging her way down the subway car until she gets off at Bathurst.
I'm wishin wishin wishin my parents were fire-breathing Catholics, like my friend Anika's parents. Her parents make her go to church and care about who she hangs out with and they won't let her date, which she does anyway behind their backs. But they don't let her, is the point. My parents would typically "understand" and show their "support" if I wanted to bring home someone. I wishin wishin they worshipped something other than the Bank of Bland. I'll make them understand me someday.
For now, when I go into our tastefully recessed can-lit basement slash living space and see my dad binge-watching Netflix, headphones on, ensconced in his fat chair, hand wrapped around his drink, I won't take it personally. But OMG he binge-watches The Crown, for Drizzy's sake. One night when I went downstairs and pretended to look for a toy in our old toy box (as if that wouldn't tip him off) I glimpsed his face as the blue light from the tv flickered on him. His eyes were shining and tears were pooling in the bags under his eyes. I shot a glance at the TV. Queen Elizabeth was talking to a lady-in-waiting, as far as I could tell. I looked back at my dad. He blinked and had a sip of his drink. I pulled out some fucking old teddy bear piece of shit from the toy box and rang its neck. I know not to talk to my dad when he's like that, but I wanted to so badly. I wanted to say, dad, I know where you hide your stash and this is only a tv show and I'm sorry Aaron died of an overdose and I miss my brother as much as you miss your son, but, fuck, I'm here. Right here. Don't disintegrate on me. But instead I start listening to Drake because at least I'm in forward motion when I listen to music. I don't look back.
I'm walking straight ahead now, because I transferred at Spadina to go northbound to St. Clair West. And I'm walking down the pedestrian tunnel. I could get off at St. George to have better odds of getting a seat, but I love this tunnel. It's like the hallways at Havergal (Haver-gul), which I can't believe hasn't kicked me out yet. I go straight ahead when I walk those hallways where I pace up and down with my earbuds in, ignoring everything around me, my friends, the teachers, the other kids. It brings me comfort to look ahead and ignore my peripheral vision. Too many doors to open and voices that may scream.
There's something I hear right now though. something high and wobbly outside my phone, which keeps fucking up because the 4G keeps dropping out so I have no data to keep Drake going. The sound is coming from the middle of the tunnel, from someone sitting on a stool, I think. A person in a white coat drops something by the person on the stool. I squint to see them better because my vision is blurry. I can see my phone just fine, but distances are becoming a problem. This phone is becoming a problem. I stuff it in my coat pocket and take my earbuds out.
The air is cool, and the high wobbly sound grows and stretches. People hurry past me, their footsteps echoing. I'm getting closer to the person on the stool. It's an old man sitting and playing a musical instrument of sorts. The sound it produces is weird, like a warped violin. It makes me slow down because it sounds like a wail. The old man is Asian and he's fingering the long-necked instrument while running a bow along a couple of strings. He plays a note and it hangs over my head like one long cry. Its weirdness stops me. For like a minute I can't move. What is this thing he's playing? I'm by the instrument case he has open for donations. Suddenly the music gets very quiet and still. He leans forward and closes his eyes and lifts his head. His hand and arm is working the bow quickly, the bow hovering over the two strings creating a sublime tension. Then he swoops into the strings with the bow, making sounds that hurt my heart. The notes mourn and wobble and lift and my ears blush. In a burst with my eyes open I see a snow-covered mountaintop and an emerald lake and my brother Aaron dipping a cup into a stream and having a drink of water. The old guy keeps his eyes closed and he's smiling a bit. He's right in front of me and I'm listening. He knows I'm listening. We're both listening.
I think I'm crying. I dig the palm of my hand onto my right eye socket and it's wet. I cough on the sigh in my throat.
I'm going to be late for my therapist appointment. I clutch for my phone and pop my earbuds in. There's a few coins in his case and, feeling sorry for him, I dig in my purse, find a loonie, drop it in and continue straight ahead. My face is red hot. Why do I feel sorry for myself? I hear the northbound train below and I start rushing down the escalator with the others to catch it.
What a strange instrument. Should I tell Dr. Cohen what it did to me? Maybe I can learn it, if someone teaches me.