The Walking Cure

Posted March 17, 2009, by Hilary

There are lights. The house is yellow and orange and dirty-white, vast, spider-ceilinged, and freezing in the winter. There are six of us living here. There are always dirty dishes and cold, chunky dishwater in the sink, and one morning, a pair of cigarette butts floating in the toilet bowl. At night my roommates crash through the front door and wrestle drunkenly in the kitchen, their noise came down through the floorboards like dropping blocks of metal. In the morning there are three more stolen newspaper boxes in the living room. Haha. My first night at the MacDonald House I lay awake in the tiny bedroom with its fine carpet of dead spiders, dust and old hairs, while the ceiling shuddered, wondering if I should go upstairs and meet my new roommates.

In January I stop sleeping. Sleep stops suddenly, like a light bulb burning out. Whoops. I stand at the door flicking the light switch up and down. Nothing. At night I listen to the footsteps in the ceiling, pots banging on the stove, voices coming down through the heat vent. These roommates are so alive. They drink all night, and laugh and talk and talk. Their energy moves through the house in neon zaps. I love them. We’re having a party for my twentieth birthday and, working the afternoon shift at Bernoulli’s Bagels, I lean against the counter and pray to have gotten some sleep by then, just a few hours to quiet the strange chimes and voices that have started to sound in my head all times of day and night.

My twentieth birthday. I spend the entire day alarmed. Will anyone come to the party, or will it be a disaster? The night before, I had thin layers of dreams about the party, over and over, waking up a dozen times. Alarmed. But then my roommates help rearrange the furniture, and people start to come. Suddenly there are sixty people there, my friends, and I am brilliant and smiling. A friend takes charge of music and the smaller living room is so full of people dancing that some of us dance on the couch, laughing at its weird, uneven give beneath our bare feet. In the morning empty beer cans form a dew on the front porch. I write e-mails to my friends in other provinces, “It was really, really good, we had an entire room for dancing.” I sleep two or three hours a night.

One night my friend Jacqueline introduces me to her volcano. It’s a vaporizer that fills up a plastic bag with marijuana smoke. You take a hit from a plastic nozzle and lose your mind. The couch seems to rush backwards like a spaceship; the light bulb on the ceiling sends down dazzling rays of warmth. She mentions it should make me sleep. I say I’d better go home and try. Walking along Clark Drive to the bus stop, there are furtive black people following me saying stand-up comedy routines. In bed in Kitsilano, the weed doesn’t make me sleep. The high presses itself against my mind, another strata of consciousness over the steadily thickening rock layer, unrelieved by dreams. My roommate Malcolm, a cook, leaves raw chicken wings on the kitchen counter as a gift to the house. Jovana, principle house note-leaver, responds with capital letters written on the back of someone’s bank statement, “DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO GET FUCKING SALMONELLA?” His response is blood-stained and undecipherable.

My room was the smallest in the house and not technically on the lease. I later had a boyfriend who helped me paint it blue. We ran out of paint and biked to the hardware store for more, and rode back through the back alleys and stopped to pick blackberries. He would leave one of his t-shirts folded on my shelf sometimes, clean and sweet-smelling. It was the only neat point in the room.

In February I go to a house party where people snort cocaine in the bathroom and unfamiliar boys come out of corners, asking to be friends. I agree to write my phone number on someone’s arm. When he rolls up his sleeve I can hardly hold the pen steady: his arm is covered in maggots. Upstairs in the kitchen my friends are drinking vodka and ginger ale with some mohawks in leather jackets. I grip Erica’s arm and whisper, “We need to get out of here.” On the way home we stop at a twenty-four hour coffee shop for brownies. Erica’s brownie has a walnut face. She holds it up and makes it talk to me. “Hallo Hilary! Will you be my friend?” Alone in my room later I squat on the bed like a tense, trapped animal, a knife in my hand for self-defense. I can’t turn off the lights all night.

It’s early spring. The pear tree in the back yard starts dropping fruit, and skunks and mammoth raccoons lumber over the long, wet grass like little bears. We haven’t taken out the garbage or recycle in a month. Old newspapers slide off the overflowing bin and onto the kitchen floor and get covered in footprints. Some nights Malcolm calls the Hells Angels to deliver a two-four of beer, then him and Ronan stay up until six drinking on the porch. The air smells sweet and moist.

It’s 4 AM when my roommates start watching Family Guy upstairs. The noise pipes down into my room and I thrash out of the covers and wrap myself in the blue housecoat my grandmother gave me for my birthday.

I still can’t sleep. The MacDonald house is only three blocks from a walk-in clinic. I drag myself in one morning after breaking down crying in front of my roommates when they started watching . She gives me a prescription for Trazodone to help me sleep. That night I sleep eight hours for the first time in months.

I’m taking a lit class about Chaucer. It’s apparently an interesting class, because people show up, ask questions and take notes, but I’m not so sure. People move their lips like fish and voices dart around the classroom in a confusing jumble. There doesn’t seem to be any meaning to their words. It’s unclear whether the professor is even speaking English. In the bathroom mirror, my reflection climbs up my long hair as if I were Rapunzel.

I go back to the doctor and cry a bunch. She gives me a questionnaire to fill out, then a prescription for antidepressants. As I walk into the pharmacy, a homeless man asks me to buy him a strawberry milk.

In the morning the ceiling glows with sunlight. The alarm clock is singing. I get out of bed exhilarated and dance around to the Dazed and Confused soundtrack for half an hour, then get dressed. Orange skirt, purple knee socks, plaid shirt. The same red leather shoes I’ve worn every day for a year. In the afternoon I don’t take the bus to the doctor’s office in Kerrisdale. Instead I skip all sixty-four blocks. Huge white flowers are blooming on the trees and from the top of the hill, you can turn around and see the ocean.


I’m sitting at a table in one of the basement levels of the library trying to write a history essay, but my mind is locked in an evil black box. The world is a dull spread of objects in stale yellow light, stupid and crude. My senses, blunted, strain to detect a pleasant note or turn of phrase, but they’re tired, tired, tired. Love, brilliant bird, languishes at the bottom of a deep pool, chained to a terrible weight. I do not know what fur traders thought or what missionaries wrote. Only that there is an end to the world.

A boy named Nate takes me on a date. We go hiking in the Cypress mountain, walk walk walk. Nate’s OK, not great. Afterwards he pays for lunch at a little cafe in Deep Cove. I have soup, he has something with eggs in it. We go on a second date a while later and I find out Nate’s a terrible kisser, lying on top of me like a bag of flour on the rickety bed, slathering my lips with his. This discovery is alarming. Yet I agree to see him again, and that night I make out with him again out of perverse curiosity: can someone really be that bad a kisser? Apparently, yes. I gently push him off of me and break up with him right then and there, in bed. I never see Nate again.

The Kerrisdale doctor arranges for me to see a psychiatrist at the university. Her name is Dr. Scarfe. She’s slim, blonde and young, and has a way of frowning sympathetically I start to practice in the mirror when I’m brushing my teeth. She gives me a note to let me drop out of history class, and a prescription for lots of Seroquel and lamotrigine. It’s full-blown springtime, cherry-blossom pink and powder blue like new babies. Jovana hangs an Ottawa Senators flag in front of our house on a broomstick. On 4:20 we buy a couple joints from the guys in the crack house next door and smoke up in the small living room, all six of us sitting on couches around the beat-up wooden coffee table.

I finish exams and have a couple weeks of free time before I leave for my summer job in Jasper, Alberta. In the afternoons or evenings I leave the house and go for long walks to Spanish Banks and back, or even all the way to Point Grey. As I walk, the story-maker in my mind rummages around, holding up new and old pieces to the light, asserting and then denying the facts of what has and hasn’t happened over the past few months, digging, prying, taking me apart-then putting me back together again. Blossoms litter the sidewalks. It’s really a really beautiful day.

1 Comment

  1. way to find some joy! LA

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