I drove the half ton back to the house today. This old Ford is a beat-up work horse of a truck that serves mainly as basic transport these days rather than something I would take on a long trip. Tonight I didn’t have far to go and it was a pleasure to amble alone down the highway late in the evening. The falling sun bled a ruby red in the sky and the lakes and rivers on my way reflected the crimson shimmering glow.
Nearing the end of a hot muggy day, I felt refreshed by the cool breeze blowing through the open truck windows. My radio pumped out the latest bouncy pop tunes and I set my arm on the window ledge to feel the power of the wind. My precious yet ragged work cap helped to put me in a familiar space while it also served to keep my long hair in place. Although this was a July day in 2010, I felt like I was back in the late 80s. Many of my teen memories surround my family, friends and the old trucks I drove along the dusty roads of Attawapiskat, careening aimlessly around my home community on hot summer nights.
On this trip back to town I thought of those hours upon hours I passed in great joy on those very rare humid and scorching summer nights up north. It almost seemed like I could somehow magically keep driving down the dark ribbon of road and I would return to my teen years under the northern lights on the banks of the Attawapiskat River. As I sped up and down the twisting and rolling landscape it felt as though I could just aim for the heavens and fly into the star-studded sky.
I recall the summer of 89, as I had just graduated from elementary school. I felt a new found freedom in so many ways. I was 13 and I was looking forward to high school in Timmins in the south with my older brothers. I was excited and scared at the same time. What was the outside world like? Would I like it? Would people like me? Was it dangerous? I looked forward to being away from home but I did not quite understand what it meant to be away from my family. This was my time between home and the rest of the world and I could feel it. It was also my time between teen and adult hood. As well it was my time in the midst of summer with spring in my wake and fall on the horizon.
Times were changing and I was taking steps to become more responsible as I was hired for my first full time job as a stock boy at my uncle’s store in the community. Work was familiar, as I had always helped out with my dad’s various businesses. This kind of work was different and I had to rise to the occasion and prove myself. I could feel my childhood slipping away as I turned down requests from my friends to head out and play.
I could sense that the world I knew would be changing drastically soon. I was no longer a carefree boy running around in search of friends to play with. But I still felt intimidated by older boys, adults and a more serious way of life. I could grasp that I somehow was in the middle of many realities. The summer leaves were waning and their olive tinge was becoming dull with age. The wild flowers had finished blooming and the tall, uncut grass had fully matured and covered the community in layers of rich green.
Life on the coast always seemed temporary to me. Elders pointed out the changes they had seen and told me stories of their youth, as if they yearned to recapture part of it. I somehow knew even at 13 years of age that it was important for me to stop and savour my youth. Although I was young I already knew how fleeting life could be as people fell out of my life when death came knocking only too often.
Those summer nights back in Attawapiskat stand out in so many ways. I drift back immediately to feel them again when I hear tunes like, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ by U2 and big hair band classics like ‘I’ll Be There For You’ by Bon Jovi and ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorns’ by Poison.
Today I am very grateful to have seen my road take me to a life of sobriety and I try not to take anything for granted. My life is full and happy and as I make my way back to Iroquois Falls watching the shadows along the road for moose, the sweet smell of a field of clover reminds me just how fortunate I am. Strangely, I still feel as though I am in the middle of so many things with much of my life. I lost members of my family and many friends on my way, I felt the sting of being an Indian in a white man’s world, the loneliness of being away from family, fell into the dark valley of addictions and crawled and struggled back up a mountain to a new way of living. I guess I am just going to keep on trucking.