It’s-a-me, Millennio!

ML.NI.AL: memoirs from Jay Gerbrandt,
1ØØØ [one thousand] words at a time.

1øøø word disp atch
from jayg erbr andt

  • 1ØØ1

    Sometimes life takes your hand and mashes the reset button with it before you can react.

    When I punched my move-home-once-free card this spring, it was a last resort. I had become so sick that I was unable to live independently. A moldy apartment with a YouTube how-to-laid, crack-riddled foundation belched all kinds of spores and insects at me as I tried to convalesce.

    I would bring food into the apartment, and notice how it rapidly turned to mush. Even in the fridge. There was some unholy miasma that goopified upon contact, brushing broad with a greasy yellow. Once I ordered a pizza, and by the next day, its toppings had flattened and turned orange.

    Defeated, I remember eating a slice and grimacing at the thickquid texture. Hours later, I knew, it would be Play-Doh’ing out of me: too fast, too loose, too furious. How could I survive if everything I brought into my apartment became contaminated by the air inside it?

    My car sat mangled in the gravel parking spot out front, waiting on an adjuster. I felt weak and increasingly exhausted. Luckily, I was surrounded by books. My respite came in libraries, at the ends of winding transit journeys. Becoming reliant on a service that only ran one trip both ways per day took some adjusting.

    Something came over me while I was breathing in the lake’s autumn night air on the dock, contemplating the mist north of Old Baldy. Shawnigan. Le Focus, citing Qwustenuxun, said Showe’luqun; a hi-res PDF from the HTG via SD79, Shaanii’us or Sunanuqun or Sqw’a’thun, depending on where you looked.

    I knew it was time to learn as much as I could about Indigenous place names. Libraries became an invaluable scanner’s scavenger hunt of context, and UVic was a zippy fast lane away. My first visit, Daniel the understated maps librarian de-accessioned two items I found because they were OOAK.

    The first few weeks after the car accident were difficult. I mostly laid around, massaging my fine points to rearrange my insides. My doctor had upped my sertraline about six weeks earlier, and that kicked in around the time I pancaked the parked car off the rain-slick wind in the road. Costco had filled my freezer with its bounty.

    I experimented, with hiking, with transit. I learned that the South Cowichan Valley is a mind-blowingly difficult place to navigate if you have any mobility limitations. $50 for 10-minute cab rides, one daily bus to a 10-times-daily ferry to Victoria (via Brentwood), almost no lighting or lanes for pedestrians or cyclists. No on-demand delivery services, though the overpriced pharmacy in town would deliver free.

    Tangled in a morass of their own creation, the decrepit railways on Vancouver Island resonate with the laughter of the coal barons who laid them. Older white boomer locals seemed focused on blaming Indigenous people for the lack of train service, which, you know, tracks with the whole Nextdoor worldview.

    Surrounded by a backlog of unscanned books of Indigenous culture and history, cut off from the outside world, exhausted and mostly watching TV, I wound up ordering a Lunar-New-Year-discounted state-of-the-art Chinese tabletop archival scanner that promised a two-seconds-per-page intake pace. It arrived shortly before my fateful trip home, and I left it behind.

    When I got back from Barrie, I knew something was terribly wrong as soon as I walked in. I had just spent weeks getting the apartment arranged perfectly, and it looked great—but for the plants, which seemed to have taken a turn. Yellow and brown webbed across them. My head swum in muggy, thick air.

    I realized I had unplugged my air filter before I left, and then realized the air filter had been coated in some kind of yellowy membrane after it became apparent that plugging it in did nothing to affect the airspace. Throwing open windows and running vent fans didn’t help much. I filled trash bags with fungalized plant matter and crashed hard in the aftermath.

    In the end, I could only last about nine days in Spore Thunderdome. At one point, a colony of antarchists (I had disposed of their queen) set up shop in a windowsill, died, and crumbled into a sienna fuzz the same colour as the colony full of dead spiders by the front door.

    I also pieced together that the bald eagle family that was my closest set of neighbours made their eyrie atop a tree blackened with angry-looking mold, with a long twisting tendril pointing to the “bald” rock-pore side of Old Baldy Mountain, across the lake. It pointed the way the prevailing wind came.

    Beneath the tendril, there was a tumult of dead foliage. Orange-brown cedars, fluorescent-highlighted wintergreen. Drooping. Above it: verdant, lush, whole. Two eagles, trilling into the night with talk of fish and other raptors, raising their floppy blobs to greatness.

    My front door was right under that unholy tendril, and the ants who crawled through the uneven floors from concrete caverns I could see into with my phone light carried its spores into that apartment. From the reaction in my sinuses indoors versus out, I knew it made me sicker to be there, but I felt powerless.

    Leaving that apartment meant abandoning a pretext of independent adulthood I had been successfully deluding myself about for years. I chewed on my next steps as I took a bus journey with my new scanner to UVic. It sure did scan quickly, after all. It felt enlivening to make progress.

    On the bus back, a few books lighter, I felt the palpitations. Shaking, I readjusted the scanner’s awkward L-shape in my backpack. I tried to calm myself by walking home from a further stop; instead, I broke down, as quietly as I could.

    I removed my shoes and socks, and planted my feet in the soft soil by a park bench. I pushed my hands into the soil. I watched the spores surfacing via my digits, white, black, blue, green, brown, orange. Exhaling, I called home.