With the incessant pounding of my own heartbeat in my ears, I am beyond frustrated with my inability to sleep. I draw my head out from under the pillow and I could swear the September sun is mocking me as I squint in the direction of the clock. The burning sensation in my eyes has me guessing them to be roughly the same colour as the crimson leaves pressing against the motel window. One particularly blinding ray settles itself on the residue of Merlot in the bottom of the water tumbler beside the clock, like a spotlight reminder of so many bad decisions made the night before. My stomach heaves a little at the sight of it. The clock reads 2 pm.
I need water.
It takes some effort to convince myself fully that getting vertical long enough to hydrate is a better idea than shoving my head back under the pillow and reattempting sleep. For a few moments, a solid war of internal wills is waged, but ultimately thirst wins.
As I stand up I survey the interior of our shitty Petawawa drive-up motel room. We’ve been here for a week. As far as motels go, it’s not the worst of them. It’s clean and comfortable enough and there is a pool—I always make sure there is a pool—but it ain’t the Waldorf Astoria, my friends.
My boyfriend of three years—Tom—is a steamfitter on the Trans Canada Pipeline and we’ve been living in and out of these small-town Ontario motels for the past year while he’s been on the job. I had an apartment of my own, but when the company I worked for had to fire me for dropping out of rehab, on Tom’s recommendation, I could no longer afford the rent so let it go, and I’ve been living on the road with Tom ever since, dependent upon him for my existence. Tom earns $5000 per week, half of which goes to his ex-wife for support payments and most of the rest of which goes down our throats and up our noses.
The stench of cigarettes creeps into my nostrils from every corner. Multiple ashtrays on various surfaces around the room are filled to overflowing. The scenic motel picture lies on the floor, it’s glass smudged with sticky white powder residue and littered with rolled-up twenty-dollar bills. Four wine bottles and a case of Heineken sit empty next to the television set. My stomach heaves again with the realization that all four of those bottles of wine were consumed by me—I only weigh 120 pounds.
On the way to the sink, I trip over the dress I’d flung onto the floor at seven that morning and kick it under the desk. I turn on the tap and stare at nothing, waiting for the water to cool.
As I reach for the cup and hold it under the faucet, I catch her eye there in the streaky mirror under one waning fluorescent bulb, this girl.. staring back at me, familiar but not. Her eyes are sunken. Her skin has a greyish death-like pallor, made worse by the garish light. Her blond hair hangs limp against her forehead. Her hands shake. Her lip quivers and I feel my own do the same and my gaze sharpens and a mental connection is made. I stare harder now at this face, this crumpled face, a ghostly mask of my own, and I think how pathetic it looks, how pathetic she looks, how pathetic.. I look. Suddenly I can’t bear to look and I step back in horror. My foot comes down hard on the wine glass left carelessly on the bathroom floor and splinters it, one shard piercing my flesh.
I grab a towel and hop to the bed to extract the piece of glass and as I watch the blood seep into the pure gleaming white of the bleached motel hand towel, I am struck with an electrifying shock of clarity.
I have to go.
If I don’t leave, I’m going to die here.
It comes as a rush and for a moment I’m dizzy with the truth of it.
But, in the next moment, I shift from pathetic to purposeful. In that split second, I make up my mind with a conviction that has eluded me for years.
I clean and bandage my foot. I toss pizza boxes and empty bottles into the trash can. I flush the cigarette butts and wipe the tables and rehang the scenic motel picture. I make the bed and pack my bags. I shower and dress and put on fresh makeup to add some colour back to my face and I sit and wait the final hour for Tom to return from work.
When he walks in he smiles at the cleanliness of the room, as if I’ve done it for him.
His smile falls as I say the words, “It’s over. Take me home.”
Rewrite: June 27, 2017
Written: October 1998