How do you say goodbye?
Sometimes it's the simple things that make it hard. I am leaving the island and going North, to a better job and to a better chance at a better future. It's all better but none of it feels like a beginning. It feels like wound left to fester. So many things left undone. So many people left behind. So many stories that I never authored endings for, despite what I want to think are my best efforts. As a preface to your latest drinking soundtrack and as my way of trying to reconcile what I am doing for myself - and this is for myself - I ask that you grant me a few minutes to work all this out.
There is if you drive south-west of a town called Placentia, nothing.
The nothing is called Cuslett, a town of fewer than one hundred people - twelve by my last count - that sits neatly atop a cliff face. You can stand on that cliff face and see the remnants of a wharf my father built when he should have been in the ninth grade. You can see waves coming up to lick the coastline. You can see the entire scope of the inlet, some terrible scar on the land. The Cape Shore is, well perhaps renowned is too much, but certainly known for its horrifying beauty. All rocky coastline and cutting winds and the constant threat of drowning. That the area is entirely untouched by humans save for some smallish houses and a road that has not been paved in twenty years accounts for the beauty.
I never go back there. Last time I was there was for my grandfather's funeral. I never really knew him. When my great grandmother died - something about rural Newfoundland inspires longevity, she was nearly 100 when she passed - I saw him in the church and said hello. The priest, is a Czech guy that speaks almost no English and lives in the attic of the Catholic church. He does his sermons in mostly Latin. Anyway, when I saw my grandfather he did not know me. Five or so years later he was in a nursing home after he forgot to take his medication for about the same amount of time.
The priest lives in the attic and he hates children. He hates frivolity. I am assigning these qualities to him because my father made a joke in front of him and he frowned as though he meant to insinuate a great power. My father laughed. I laughed. We all laughed and this priest was powerless to do anything about it. My father is the funniest person I have ever met and the priest was just a priest. You cannot buy clout in rural Newfoundland.
My uncle or cousin or great uncle has a dog. Had a dog. I forget the dog's name but she was a border collie and she would lose her goddamn mind if you shouted cats! at her. There was something unhinged in that dog. Something not quite entirely right. There were no other dogs and no children. Twelve people. Most of them old. Most of them unfamiliar with the world outside the inlet. There's a bird sanctuary nearby.
The tourism guide for Cuslett just lists distances to other towns.
I am leaving the island soon. I have a feeling I will never see the Cape Shore again.
I keep having this dream, and this is why I am writing about Cuslett. A town settled in the 1800s and abandoned in the 1960s. I have this dream where I am on the beach.
I am on the beach and if I look to the cliff face and the sun is rising. I look to the ocean beyond the inlet, past that wharf, and the sun is setting. I know that the sun is setting for good and I am the only person who can see this and I can do nothing but watch. I know that I and the wharf will be plunged into darkness if I stay but I am terrified to go back up the rocks to a false sun. I think I know what the dream is about.
I know or I think I know or I am hoping that if I can just ride out the setting of the sun and keep watch over the wharf that I will feel the true rays on my neck come morning and things will be alright. My father is in Thompson building a dam and he built a dam in Labrador and I am going to Labrador and he built a wharf in Cuslett. He raised a family with my mother. Now I am leaving the island and very obviously breaking her heart and very quietly breaking his.
I wonder when I wake up if I walked to the edge of the wharf would I be able to walk straight into the sun. But I always wake up before I can make a choice. I know that my father is on the other side of the sunrise. That he is somewhere he is supposed to be and I am going to find him again.
I am negotiating the terms of a lease for a house, which is something I have never done in my life. Well, until now I suppose. The house is in Labrador which is hours and hours away from the ocean. Few rivers though. Maybe I'll take to fishing. They say it is cold but not the wet and sloppy cold of Newfoundland, where there seems to be salt water on the wind at all times. It is dry and bad on the bones but apparently comfortable. The salted wind cuts through you. Wear whatever you want. As my Zimbabwean friend discovered, no snowsuit will fully filter the cold.
I sometimes think the cold is unique to Newfoundland. We have high rates of depression and alcoholism which some have suggested can be tied back to the lack of vitamin D. The winters here are often sunless, with grey skies pervading the otherwise and also dreadful winter and many doctors suggest taking supplements. Labrador, I'm told, sees a lot of snow but is otherwise staggering in its beauty. Always sunny. Always bright. Almost never rains. Such is life in the tundra.
But there is no salt water near my house and I imagine I will not find myself in dreamland, standing near a wharf with no time to decide if I should walk out onto it. Maybe I will dream of the snow and its many destructive applications. They say I will buy a snowmobile. I will not be doing that. My back hurts just thinking about it. My father would know what to do but he is in Manitoba and Thompson is so, so cold. No wharf there either. I do not think he would even remember telling me about the wharf. I was probably eight years old. I never forgot. The sun is setting earlier and earlier this time of year, trying to swallow up the day. It is 2:41 PM as I write this and the sun is already racing to descend beyond the horizon. Here is now and there is nothing else for me to know.
This essay originally appeared here.