Hello! I was digging around my mac today and found the beginnings of a novel about twenty-something roommates set in Winnipeg. This is from around 2007. I was a twenty-something and you can tell. I think my favourite part is when I say “ Like most women in their twenties who think that some men aren’t like other men, Helen had thought Thomas wasn’t like other men.” Happy reading, or, happy chuckling anyway. xo
When four young single people decide to live under one roof, for whatever reason, be it financial, social or safety, the result can be either very rewarding or cataclysmic, but often both at the same time. An entire era of memories can come from this time when our accountability is suspended, when we are unattached and free. But if we are unwilling to let the era be what it was, it has this funny way of entrapping us in a cyclical rut of nostalgia, until we find ourselves dancing at a club where the theme is the ’90′s and everyone is somehow dressed like you, only you’re not in costume.
Nick, Eli, Robyn and Helen lived as roommates during such an era. They co-existed in a capsule that gave birth to many life-markers that influenced the rest of their lives.
The era of the Western single in their twenties is a phenomenon that still lives on, well after Douglas Coupland first started writing about the bomb. And it continues to, well after these four characters made their way to another phase of their stories.
Robyn Fellows an art major, owned an old two story home she had purchased in the Wolesley Area of Winnipeg – a Northern city above the American border in a country called Canada.
Winnipeg is extremely defined by it’s seasons. A Winnipeg summer is hot and humid and filled with so many festivals that they overlap each other. The residents of Winnipeg’s summertime express themselves with such celebration and stimulation because it is reeling from the length of it’s winter. It simply has to express joy through entertainment and fill the streets with people to prove to each other that they have bodies underneath all the parkas and scarves.
Spring is dirty. Melting snow mixed with sand. That infernal sand. Aliens tapping into our satellite system could look at a street in Winnipeg in the early springtime and think that winter was brown. Not white. And certainly not green. They might wonder why the inhabitants are wearing clothes that might be more fit for a hot summer day, in say March, just because the temperature has risen above the freezing level. They might marvel at the one sprig of greenery in one of the miserable, wet snowy parks downtown and think that there was little hope for these life forms who have a startling vitamin D deficiency.
To survive six months of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as the winter blahs, many Winnipeggers listen to music, play music, or drink. Or all of the above. Art and alcohol are the main ingredients to surviving a Winnipeg winter. It starts early too.
With September being a New Year, to many students, parents of school age children and the observers of Rosh Hashanah, there is the sense of a fresh start in the air. And if you’re single in Winnipeg, and you have a fresh start at anything, you call your friends and walk to meet them at the local drinking establishment.
Reunions are an essential way to pass the time in this northern city. So and so has come into town and they are staying at so and so’s house and they are having a potluck to commemorate old times. Potlucks are where people meet to reminisce the battle of the bands competition of 2002, or to remember when Gordo and Sarah were going to be the lovers that lasted (until Sarah slept with Gordo’s best friend). This is where they remember that hot July when everyone climbed the old Royal Bank building and slept under the stars, drugged by a Tequila that had somehow miraculously made it’s way in some semi truck from Mexico to this unknown dot on the map.
In international terms, the only thing that makes Winnipeg remotely exist on a map, aside the fact that it is where Neil Young attended high school, is the nuclear power plant just south of the border. Outside of Winnipeg itself, that is the one thing that Winnipeggers hate about Winnipeg. That damned nuclear power plant.
It certainly isn’t Berlin, London or Sydney, but Winnipeg is boastful about the fact that it isn’t. True Winnipegers love their city’s obscurity and ironically, want to proclaim it to the world.
Manitoba is a province that can claim a similar epithet of obscurity. It’s obituary would read “Manitoba: the province everyone passed through to get somewhere else.”
When rural Manitoban children reach the age of eighteen, they typically either move into Winnipeg to study or they move into Winnipeg to get a job and figure out what they’re going to do with their lives. Regardless of why they move into Winnipeg, their main reason for moving is to “get out” of the town they are from. They think that the place they come from is inferior or can’t offer them what they are looking for out of life. And, depending on how one looks at it, they are partially right. The one thing they are ignorant of is that the same thing can happen after a few years of living in Winnipeg. The same thing can happen after a few years of living anywhere.
Helen Foster pulled her dark hair away from her neck and haphazardly tied it into a ponytail on the top of her head. She and Nick were sipping beer on the roof of 344 Home St, a two story house painted a god-awful orange and brown. Someone had had their way with it in the mid-seventies and Robyn, the current owner, being a poor, oppressed art student barely made the down payment for this monstrosity, let alone had extra cash to paint the exterior.
Nick pulled out a joint and lit up. Helen refused his offer.
“You know Helen, if you don’t watch out, you could become responsible and I won’t know how to be around you anymore.” Nick’s eyes glazed over and looked out at the sea of trees that stretched toward the parliament building downtown.
“You know Nick, you ought to try asking yourself if you had any dreams at one point in your life.” Helen also looked at the the view.
“Oh, reform me, please,” Nick picked at a loose shingle.
“When will the others be home?”
“When they get here.”
Helen remained silent, climbed down the lattice work and went inside to unpack. She told herself she had no time for the old, thin pretentious games of slothful philosophers. It was no longer attractive to her. Over consumption of a thing can be a stomach turner in the end. Some people get sick on spiced Rum and never want to drink it again whereas Helen had had her fill of needy, apathetic jerks who were paralyzed by their own high/low opinion of themselves. Still, it was a shame about Nick. He was obviously being lazy. Before she had left for the summer, he had been in a different space. One morning in April he had been lured to church by a one night stand who had woken up intent on nurturing repentance in him. Apparently he had found some sort of old tinge of guilt he had forgotten about and it had really motivated him to be a relatively considerate person for a few months.
Nick Peters had grown up a pastor’s son in Steinbach, Manitoba. Well on his way to thirty, Nick worked construction in the summer and served cute Julia Butterfly look-al-likes, fair trade soy lattes the rest of the year. He was known to show up at home around 11-am after a party the night before, smelling of woody sandalwood, burnt sage and indifference. He was a hit with the hippie girls. Especially the recovering Mennonite ones. He was perfect. He was a project. A man in need of freeing. Or reforming. Two concepts that can look rather similar when you attempt to enforce them.
Helen pulled her sandy clothes out of her suitcase while looking in the mirror. Her freckles always showed up after a few days in the sun. Mexico had been especially sunny. Now, with September half way gone, she could sense the fatalism about to set in. Her freckles would hide away within the next few weeks and winter would envelope the city like a cold, dark, blanket.
”Nick!” she called, grabbing her frisbee.
Ultimate Frisbee in Vimmy Ridge Park was a wonderful way to let off the tension, until it was too dark to see.
That night after Robyn and Eli got home, they made what Eli called “dinner fit for a sinner”, an arugula salad with homemade raspberry vinaigrette, barbecued chicken kabobs, roasted potatoes rubbed in rosemary and a black forest cake. They had never eaten like this as under-grads, but somehow the age of 25 has a way of inspiring culinary motivation.
After a few bottles of wine that Eli had especially bought for Helen’s return, they decided to walk to Uncle’s – the local drinking spot. The whole place brimmed with folks who knew Helen would be showing up. Drinks flowed and Plato was put to shame as philosophies were developed and promptly forgotten under the midnight stars of the patio.
“You met someone in New Mexico didn’t you?” Robyn asked the obvious, the next morning as everyone gathered in the kitchen. Helen was hugging her knees and breathing in the aroma of good coffee.
“Not only did I meet someone in New Mexico, but I knew he was coming. It was Thomas. The guy I met in Colorado. But I don’t know what will come of it.”
Robyn and Eli let out whoops… yelling what friends yell when their loved ones have just returned from a secret love affair. What? Why didn’t you tell us?
Nick snorted. He was wearing only his boxer briefs and glancing at his abs in the window.
Eli pressed for details. How steamy did it get. Was he a good guy. Did they drink wine on the desert plain.
Helen held her hands up and admitted to all of the above.
”I’ll bet you didn’t have sex though. Christians are the best dry-humpers in the world.” Nick left and went into the dining room to roll a joint.
Helen, Robyn and Eli laughed hard. But deep down, Helen was feeling Nick’s cruelty. She hadn’t slept with Thomas.
But she wasn’t sure about him after all.
Like most women in their twenties who think that some men aren’t like other men, Helen had thought Thomas wasn’t like other men. But she realized that he was the same calculated, fearful guy she had tried to date a million times before. He claimed to be adventurous … and to a certain degree, he was, but not to Helen’s degree. And it wouldn’t have mattered so much if they could have talked about it, but Helen seized up every time any burst of true communication came to her. She hated being expected to be the typical girl in the relationship. It didn’t fit her personality. She had a hard time remembering all the do’s and don’ts that girls are supposed to remember when luring in a man. She didn’t realize that Thomas was intimidated that she was the one who had the energy and imagination to play football or climb to high places, or take a stick to a snake that had slithered onto the picnic she had made for them. Turns out it was too much for him. Confidence without the chase is no match for dependence with the chase.
She had painted a big target on her heart for Thomas and he had not pierced it, precisely because she had. How confusing.
”I don’t even want him now.” Helen was actually being truthful and her roommates could tell.
”Well, he sounds primitive Helen, but you like that type. So, unfortunately, you need to fight fire with fire. You need to play the delicate game of letting him be the man.” Eli rubbed her back.
”Argh. I just can’t help it if I have passions. Its not like I’m trying to be obstinate for the sake of it. I like to run. I like to jump. I like to play. I like to punch. I am intelligent. I am brave. I am a MONSTER.” Helen started crying. It was so freaking frustrating to find a balance between her femininity and her boisterous, wondering nature.
Robyn was no help. Her answer was to try women on for size and Helen simply knew that was not her forte.
”They might be more accepting of your independence.” Robyn countered.
”Yeah, Robyn, one problem… they’re girls. I find King Kong more sexually attractive than Sofia Loren in her younger days. Its all so ridiculous. Besides, none of your girlfriends have exactly won the prize for being understanding. “
”Sofia Loren is no slouch now,” Eli observed. He and Robyn sighed with a far off look in their eyes.
Helen made more coffee. It was going to be a long winter.