On New Year’s Eve, 2009, we packed a U-Haul with all our worldly possessions. When I say ‘we’, I mean Kara and her friend, Sandy. I was more fruitfully occupied, buying a firkin of homemade grappa from a friendly restaurateur, under the counter, then a bad but large pizza from the nearest dive on St. Clair Avenue. With 5% vision in one eye, you have to know your routes well and put up with the consequent dearth of choices. I believe a friend of mine came over at some point, and we drank grappa while watching the girls work on the loading. We did share the pizza with them, however. It was a long night, although there appeared to be a brief interlude with champagne to welcome in the year of 2010 (at my age these dates make me feel I’m living in the Roman era rather than the future I had expected from them).
At the crack of dawn, we left Toronto, with Kara driving a huge truck that I was not at all convinced she would be able to drive. But I had my gallon of grappa on hand, so anxiety soon became low on my chart of worries. Now, if you think Montreal is a long five-hour drive from Metro, try it in a big overladen truck. It was night by the time we arrived at the chaos of ongoing construction projects the city likes to imagine as a highway system, and through which Kara had to find her way to a certain ‘Laurentian AutoRoute’—not that any signpost bothered to identify any such road. By now I had drunk myself sober, and was no longer sure whether I had a hangover or simply poisoning from over-proof bathtub grappa, or possibly both. So I drank some more, which seemed to solve whatever problem there may have been.
The AutoRoute Des Laurentides, once we’d divined its existence, proved to be the only decent stretch of highway I’d ever seen in Quebec. Although we had stopped once along the unrelievably dismal 401 East to eat some of the shit that seems to be the only permissible food for long-distance drivers, we were both now very hungry, and we also still had a long way to go. The thing about this highway to the Laurentians, as we soon discovered, is that there is literally nothing on it, nowhere to stop, not even a gas station. It was very dark, too, and snowing. By the time we reached St. Agathe it was late, much later than we’d agreed to meet the owner of the house we were renting, in order to collect the keys. Yet I was under the impression we’d now be there at any minute. No. Val-des-Lacs, our destination, is not as near to St. Agathe as I had somehow thought it to be. It is also not easy to find once you have turned off the final strip of highway, especially during what had become a blizzard. The road is nothing but hairpin bends, some of them indicated, others not. It took us half an hour to reach the metropolis of Val-des-Lacs (one church, one store), yet still we were not at the house. This was when things got complicated and our directions proved useless. What ought to have been ten minutes took half an hour, with the snow falling in a torrent of fat feathers, and a total lack of signposts. Eventually finding the right Chemin, we experienced much trouble with the street numbers. Some were invisible, others did not exist. Finally locating the number preceding our own one, we found that there was no other house for about a mile. But this next house did indeed prove to be ours. Kara turned the truck onto a steep driveway, and as we sped up it the rear wheels suddenly slithered off into some kind of ditch. At least we had arrived, though; and the owner, who lived nearby, did not seem to mind that we were three hours late. She even dragged out her aged father, who brought his tractor to drag us from the ditch, and not without some difficulty. When they spoke together (their English to us was excellent) the language sounded to me like Croatian, Moldavian, or some such East European tongue. It takes quite a while to realize that the rural Quebecois actually speak French – but more of this later.
We loved our new home, although we still had to return to Toronto and pick up our car, besides another truck-load of stuff, which a dear friend, Jamie, was kind enough to drive this time, since Kara had a carload of cats to ferry up herself. Within a week, however, we were finally at home up in the mountains for good.
But was I happy? Nope. And I was drinking at least a bottle of rum every day. Every alcoholic has his or her reasons for resorting to the hooch, and none of them are valid. Not really. But mine were as follows:
My ex-wife died in the middle of divorce proceedings, which are generally a waste of time, since the Law states that all assets must be divided equally – end of story. She did not want to do this, alas, forcing me to spend $70,000 on a lawyer. Her untimely death, one would have thought, ought to have terminated this futile squabble. But oh no. Her brother, named as executor of her will, decided to keep it going. Now, this brother, a real mama’s boy if ever there was one (and we know mama’s feelings about me), has done some fairly unforgivable things, yet none was worse than actually hiring a bouncer to prevent me from attending his sister’s memorial service, held in what was still technically my own house. Fortunately, my daughter begged me not to come, so I complied. Had I not, however, and found myself manhandled by some 300 pound thug, I could have simply called the police and said that a stranger had threatened me with violence for trying to enter my own house. Respect for the dead and my daughter’s wishes prevented an ugly scene. Yet the brother – possibly disappointed by missing the opportunity to humiliate me – chose to ask friends of mine to leave the gathering instead, embarrassing them horribly in front of many people they knew well, yet also revealing himself as the ignorant asshole he is. For these friends were not just mine, they were also his sister’s friends, and their son was one of my daughter’s particular friends. They had grown up together. All of us had spent the Millennial New Year’s Eve together. We had vacationed together on numerous occasions for twenty years. And this pompous imbecile asks them to leave! Me I can understand, although I still think it shameless and ill-cultured to prevent anyone, even an ex-husband, from mourning the loss of his children’s mother. This was and is the unforgivable deed. Prolonging the fight over money was merely irksome, unnecessary, and typical of his spectacularly greedy nature. Thus I drank to fend off the anxiety of waiting for the legal solution, since I needed the money that was rightfully mine in order to buy the house we were then renting.
Mediation was eventually decided on, a process for which we had to return to Toronto. A horrible business it is, too. The brother was there, a Scrooge-like spider hunched over the boardroom table, and even having the temerity to say, “Hi, Paul”. I wanted to kick his balding head, but wisely just ignored him. He had even dragged my kids to this ordeal, for no apparent reason beyond malicious coercion. Both parties are asked to sign an agreement that whatever decision is finally reached by the mediation will be binding, a document that, of course, had to be read to me, my hand guided to the signing line. Then the parties retire to separate little rooms, and the Mediator shuttles back and forth with the offers on hand. I looked to my lawyer for advice on what was fair. My daughter was even sent in once to badger me, an act I consider heinous, and presumably the brother’s brainless scheme. At the end of what seemed to be an interminable day, we arrived at what I was advised to consider a just settlement. Whether it was wise to grant my son $200,000 I doubted as a sound idea – a doubt verified now by the fact that he blew the lot on drugs and whores within months of release from jail. My daughter obtained the same, spending it wisely, however – although I was perfectly prepared to finance her education etc. I was, nonetheless, quite content with my share, leaving that sterile legal hellhole joyously, for it was finally over, and I would never have to deal with that greasy toad of a brother again. I also could not wait to get out of Toronto, a place now only of heartache and bad memories.
This was in February. I waited for my check to arrive patiently enough, but since we had already concluded an offer on the house my patience could not afford to be unlimited. I began to phone the lawyer daily, asking if the money had arrived. And the longer I waited the more I drank. It was only in April, I think, that I learned the brother had all the money, and it was he who had to issue my check. Knowing his astounding greed and pettiness, I imagined he would hang on to that cash and gather its interest for as long as possible, if not forever. He is one of those people who loves having money but hates spending it, which is really all you can do with it. He will spend it on property, since that is an investment; yet spending it on such frivolities as a restaurant meal is anathema. It would make him ill (like all assholes, his bowels are a major problem, especially under stress). I was quite surprised to learn that the pinched nose, admirably suiting his pinched nature, was actually a nose-job; and that his mother and sister had their noses done by the same plastic surgeon, possibly in a three-for-two deal. Early photos do indeed reveal quite a beak, but each to his own. My concern was that he still had my own. It took legal threats finally to squeeze that check out of him, which was couriered up me in May, nearly four months late, but just in time to buy our lovely little house. I pictured the agony on his face at having to write so large a check to me, of all people. His bowels must have been churning like the fabled ocean of milk, his hair falling out in hanks, the sweat on his brow like tears of Niobe. But I think that is enough of him forever, no? I suspect I’ve made my feelings about the so-called man clear.
Now we settled into our new house and new life happily ever after. Didn’t we? Well, not quite. First I had to deal with what had clearly become a drinking problem – whereas before it had seemed more like a drinking solution. I had no reason to guzzle anymore, and imagined I could now just stop. I was, I began to notice on country walks, in diabolically bad shape, and the drinking was not so easy to stop. Then the demons emerged, as if annoyed by the fact that my life was no longer so sufficiently plagued. But this will have to wait until the next bloggishness.
I remain, always sincerely,
Paul William Roberts.