I'd been sitting on a plane at JFK airport for about 45 minutes when the pilot came on and said, "Sorry folks, but we seem to be having some technical difficulties and it's going to be another 30 minutes."
Anyone who flies frequently knows that what he or she is really saying is: "We have no idea what is wrong with the computers and it's more than likely that you won't be home before dawn."
There had already been a two-hour delay getting us on the plane which was scheduled for a 10:50PM departure so I, along with my fellow travelers were past the point of frustration and well on our way to one of the lowest circles of hell described in Dante's Inferno. The magazine in the seat pocket under my tray table boasted about all the exciting things to do in New York, and a few in Buffalo, but forgot to mention no man’s land in-between.
When I was little, my Mother would always say, "Patience is a virtue." to quell jittery legs on long trips, or whining during long waits in grocery stores or at appointments. I was not good at sitting still. A quality that has stayed with me, I'm afraid.
"Did he say another 30 minutes?" the woman across the aisle from me asked unbelievably and I nodded. I missed my opportunity for commiserating conversation which certainly would have helped pass some time, but I was too exhausted to talk.
As I sat there I was reminded of a radio play my father shared with me when I was kid in which a family recounts the boring events of a Sunday afternoon by discussing the wallpaper and continually asking the time. I used to think it was hilarious. Who’s laughing now? I asked myself. It wasn’t so much the boredom that was getting to me, but the waste of time. “Patience is a virtue.” My mother would say, then she died at 44.
My cell phone rang. “Hi Honey,” It was Kevin. “I heard you were delayed again. Don’t worry. I’ll be at the airport waiting for you to get in.”
I have spent a good portion of my life waiting for things to happen, through no fault of my own. I am not one of those people who procrastinates, or can’t decide. Instead, I attack everything I do with verve and tenacity. You know those terriers you see, jaws clamped around a ball as their owners pick them up off the ground? That’s me. One of the places this was most evident was George Brown theatre school, where the motto may just as well have been, "Te futueo et caballum tuum" which roughly translated from the Latin means: screw you and the horse you rode in on. One often got the impression as a student that you were barely tolerated and could only prove your worth through pain and suffering. Nothing motivates me more than when people have low expectations of me. I was half-way through my second year when I was cast as Estragon in an upcoming production of Waiting for Godot. I noticed several of my class-mates snicker. I’d recently played Cinderella in a Christmas production and the prevailing opinion at the time had been surprise. “Estragon,” I heard a particularly untalented colleague whisper to her friend, “That’s more like it.”
“I’ll show ‘em,” I muttered under my breath as I read my script over breakfast the next day.
“What?” my husband at the time mumbled.
“It’s period study,” I said. “No big deal except all of my third-year casting hinges on how well I do.”
“Can you believe the Leafs lost again?” he replied, staring into the paper and reading sports scores as if they were stock exchange numbers.
“Are you even listening to me?” I asked.
“Period Study,” I said. “Next semester is Period Study!!!!!!!”
“It’s just a play,” he pointed out, “Whatever happens, there will be others.”
“Were you that cavalier about passing an exam at McGill?” I yelled, slamming the bedroom door behind me as I threw myself onto the futon in utter despair. I was on the verge of an existential crisis while preparing to work on the mother of all existential plays.
“Listen,” Andy said tentatively making his way to the bed the way a munitions expert handles an unexploded bomb. “You know that you are not defined by acting, right?”
Well-meaning as he was, this was like telling a chicken that it’s not defined by his feathers.
“If I’m not an actor,” I wailed, “What am I?”
The next day Andy came home and announced that he was taking me away on a holiday vacation.
“Where are we going?” I asked, envisioning a beach somewhere, or at least a pool.
“Pack your bags,” he announced, “I’ve reserved a cabin for four nights in – wait for it - Snow Road, Ontario.”
I’d never heard of Snow Road and I’m guessing that most of you haven’t either. A quick google search will take you to a sight that includes five photos hanging in the Snow Road Community Centre. Three of them are of Snow Road Elementary School and a more miserable group of children were never seen, except, perhaps in a horror movie. There they are, every one of them undernourished and scowling into the camera.
“You know,” I started to say, “Maybe I’d be happier learning lines curled up on the sofa.”
“Come on,” Andy argued, “Look at you. You’re wound up tighter than a fishing reel. You need this.”
What he really meant was going to Snow Road sounded like fun to him and what was a marriage if not an opportunity to make memories that last?
You know how, in relationships, you can have a fight where even if you win, you lose? That’s where this was headed, so we loaded up the car and left Toronto for the three and half hour drive north east.
It was -20 when we left. Our car, a beaten-up Toyota, didn’t have any heat. This was just the sort of adventure Andy loved. He was the kind of guy who thrived on pushing the limits of his endurance. Staying in a hotel was looked upon with distain, as though to say only weak bourgeoise people succumbed to that kind of luxury. In fact, in the 7 years of our marriage, I can only recall one night in a hotel. Otherwise we slept in cars or tents or under the stars. As I write this, I’m reminded of one particularly hot night we pulled an old station wagon into a camp somewhere in Massachusetts, that was surely the meeting place for satanic worshipers. Heads swivelled as we drove past, revealing slack jawed white men and women drooling into their stews. We slowly departed, coasting the car out of there in such a way as to say, “Nothing to see here.”
“I’m cold,” I said to Andy.
“There’s an extra blanket in the back.”
“I’m thirsty,” I complained
“There’s a thermos of coffee on the floor.”
“I have to pee.”
“I’ll pull over.”
I had to give it to him. Andy was prepared for everything. He’d spent time living with Bedouins on an agricultural study in an oasis in the Farafra desert. On Sundays the community would gather in a building and watch an elder drag a television set onto a stage, plug it in and watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island. Everything about his life was romantic bordering on survivalist. I always felt woefully inferior, like I needed to atone for having hot running water in the two-bedroom apartment I lived in with my brother and my father. And it was this line of thinking that made me constantly agree to put myself in situations that were uncomfortable and, sometimes, even life threatening.
It was dusk as we rolled into Snow Road. These many years later, I still see everything in hues of blue. You know it. The colour of very early winter mornings when you have to wake up to do something dreadful like drive people to airports or have boils lanced at the hospital. Nothing good happens in this colour.
“Nearly there,” he said to me as the temperature dipped to below -20 and the car, as though in utter disgust made a retching sound and then conked out.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Hmmm,” was all Andy said.
I think it’s important to mention that this was just before the era of cell phones. A broken-down car meant one thing, and one thing only…walking somewhere for help. I don’t exactly remember the specifics of this part of the story. I’ve managed to redact it from memory. I just know that I was miserable, the car ended up in a garage and someone drove us to the cabin rental.
The owner of the cabin resembled those people whose pictures pop up in news features about so and so wanted in connection with something nefarious. Dead eyes, humourless, with a proclivity towards subterfuge.
“There’s a well out back for water, but you’ll want to boil it before drinking it,” he said, “And the outhouse is down the path towards the woods. You should have enough firewood for now. Sorry about the dust. Didn’t get around to sweeping. Enjoy.” And he was gone.
To this day, I think of this cabin whenever I’m in the mood to write mystery, mayhem or murder. A ramshackle room, it wasn’t just untidy, it was filthy. Everything (blankets included) was covered with at least an inch of dust. There were barely any utensils to cook with, and the pots and pans were not only worn but still carried remnants of breakfasts and dinners long gone. One lightbulb hung above the sink in the kitchen area, otherwise there was no electricity at all; the result being that as nightfall came, the already gloomy cabin took on a post-apocalyptic aura. There was an odour too. The place smelled like neglect and despair.
“Is this what you were expecting?” I asked Andy imagining that not even full throttle fumigation would improve this hell hole.
“Not exactly,” he said, “but it will do.”
These are the kinds of comments people make when they plan on killing you and leaving the body somewhere you’ll never be found.
“I want to go home,” I said.
“We haven’t even been here a night,” he pointed out, “And besides, until the car is repaired, we aren’t going anywhere.”
I was angry. The kind born from frustration when your present circumstances somehow feels symbolic on a much grander scale. Like the cabin, the car, and the setting were all a reflection of this relationship. Something that sounded good at the time but…
“Look,” Andy said, “You’ve got lines to memorize, right? What better place than here?”
He had a point. There was nothing to do but wait until the car was fixed and there was nothing to distract me, so I opened my script.
Estragon: “Let’s go.”
Vladimir: “We can’t.”
Estragon: “Why not?”
Vladimir: “We’re waiting for Godot.”
I put the script on my lap and glanced around.
“What’s wrong, now?” Andy asked.
“Nothing,” I said staring at the metal frame of an old Christmas tree shoved into a corner of the room.
“Was that here when we arrived?”
“I think so.”
“You think so.”
By the end of our “vacation” we’d spent $600 on car repairs, eaten several noodle-tuna combinations, slept maybe six hours total and played copious games of chess. What I hadn’t done was learn my lines. Godot just wasn’t coming.
On the fifth day, the snow stopped, the sun came out, and my angst disappeared.
“See,” Andy said, “You worry for nothing.” Then, half way to Toronto – the car broke down again followed a year and a half later by the marriage.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the pilot was back on the radio, “It looks like we can’t fix this plane. We’ll have to ask you to depart so we can find you another one.”
My cell phone rang. It was Kevin. “I just heard. You okay?”
“Don’t worry. I’m at the airport.” And just like that you realize that some people don’t mind waiting, no matter what.