Books

Leaving home

An excerpt from Emily Wierenga’s new book Atlas Girl

Mum had said to sit close to the bus driver, so I sat as far away as possible.

And now an Ojibway man in a red bandana and stubble cheek was snoring on my shoulder.

He smelled like communion wine, the kind my father served in plastic cups which we slid empty into the pew’s tiny cup holders.

He smelled like beer, like the late August summers when I was entering puberty, cleaning up the Corn Fest fairgrounds in my Sunday dress with my family. The beer cans all clanging like empty songs against each other in their black garbage bags, and it was what good Christians did. Cleaned up after sinners’ parties and marched in pro-life rallies and it was always us, versus them. And all I ever wanted was to be them.

But always, we were taught to be kind to them, and so I let this man sleep on my shoulder in the Greyhound bus headed west while I tucked up my legs and tried to shrink inside my 18-year-old frame.

Tried to close my eyes against the cold of the window but it had been two days since I’d hugged my younger brother, Keith, and my sisters, Allison and Meredith; since Mum — whose name is Yvonne, which means beautiful girl — had held me to her soft clean cotton shirt and her arms had said all of the words she’d never been able to voice.

The Reverend Ernest Dow, or Dad, had loaded my cardboard boxes full of Value Village clothes onto the bus and kissed me on the cheek and smiled in a way that apologized. I was the eldest, and I was the first to leave. But then again, I’d left long before getting on that bus.

I’d slid my guitar, then, beside the cardboard boxes, its black case covered in hippie flower stickers and the address for the Greyhound depot in Edmonton, 40 hours away.

And we still weren’t there yet, and I hoped there would be mountains.

I should know, I thought. I should know whether or not there will be mountains.

My parents had raised us to believe in God, to believe in music, and to believe in travel.

We’d visited Edmonton as children, piled into our blue Plymouth Voyager and we’d driven from Ontario to California, no air conditioning, living off crusty bun sandwiches and tenting every night.

And there was Disneyland and the ocean and me nearly drowning because I was all rib. My body too tired to care. And we’d travelled home through Canada, through Edmonton, but all I remembered was the mall. West Edmonton Mall and how it had hurt me to walk its miles, thin as I was.

I was hospitalized soon after that trip. The submarine sandwiches hadn’t been enough to fill the cracks. But oh, how my parents taught us to love the open road. We caught the bug young, and here I was, and I couldn’t remember where the Rockies began and ended.

I scratched at the night as though it were frost on my window, but all I could see were the bright yellow lines on the highway, like dashes in a sentence, like long pauses that never ended.

Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, released July 1 through Baker Books. Enter below for a chance to win a copy!

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Photo (Flickr CC) by Mislav Marohnić.


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