fear, psychosis, entrapment, fear of flying, unique lives
Baron in the Trees
I am 28 and Canada's land has trapped me for 14 years. I hitchhiked from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, only to realize the edges of my world. I planted farms, camped in ditches, and have been swallowed by the will of communes, though never belonging anywhere.
People, particularly women, are generous with rides, money, and their company. Perhaps my story inspired intrigue, pity, or desire to understand. My accent and costume have assisted my survival.
Girls say I am like Rasputan. This may be due to my long, lanky frame, disheveled shoulder-length hair, my bright blue eyes, and I've been told, my aloofness. I wear what I find or am given, but I believe people see beyond. They see straight teeth, a clear face, and hear fine speech. They suspect there is more to my story than bad luck and a crash landing on the streets.
I don't think I'm aloof. Instead, I'm fearful of the unpredictable nature of people's behavior, especially my own.
My friend has an explanation of the paralysis that prevents me from going home. Her explanation depicts me as brave and romantic. She writes:
You are like the baron in the trees from Italo Calvino's story, have you read it? There is a wealthy young baron, next in line to inherit his father's powerful title and wealth. One day, baron struggles and succeeds to reach a tree's highest branch. From this vantage, baron can see the grove's tree tops stretch uninterrupted from his family's property and across Italy. Upon seeing this wonder, he decides spontaneously to remain up in the trees. The baron develops sophisticated strategies for gathering food, water, having friendships and lovers. His family pleads with him to live on the ground and claim his power and wealth. The baron realizes he has grown afraid of life on the ground. Baron contemplates and overcomes his fear and develops a stubborn refusal to conventional life. Fear is the root of complacency, amongst other ills. Baron lives out his remaining days amongst the treetops. His tale is told throughout Italy.
I prefer my feet on the ground and sense involuntary capture rather than willful about my stay in Canada. Yet, I began to realize my life as a story. Baron in the Trees may reflect some of my truth.
Long ago, in a land far away there lived a young boy named Sterling Downs. Actually, it was 1989 in Folkestone near the white cliffs of Dover, just across the English Channel from France. Simon is a 14-year-old boy with an imagination. He enjoys paddling his feet in the sea while lounging on the edge of the pier. He fingers coins given to buy chips. Simon wonders where the coins have been, whose hands have held them, and what they have bought.
The Downs family acquired great fortune by importing spice from India four generations before Simon. He will be last in line to inherit money and property from his father. From tales he's heard, like Treasure Island, he believes his father's family were pirates, bandits of the warm Indian Sea. Slashing the throats of fellow seaman. Raping the women native to the lands the pirates traveled along on their trail towards spice.
His mother's family, two generations back, were Micmac Indians who lived on the coast of what is now Newfoundland. Micmacs fished and wove intricate baskets. There is still an aunt and uncle who live in Canada, Beth and Gerry. Simon thinks they live in Toronto. He wonders if his aunt and uncle are like the Micmac's in Newfoundland.
Sterling's mother weaves fabric and does little else. His father works for British Intelligence creating computer programs to code information. He likes them as much as any 14-year-old likes their parents.
Sterling is onboard a flight to Toronto. He plans to spend July and part of August with his aunt and uncle. As the plane's complex wires and human freight lifts from Gatwick's runway, Simon's feels his body's weight is suspended from a cliff without rope. He thinks how wonderful birds are, not to need the metal, wires, and air traffic control towers to move through the sky. Birds depend on no one other than themselves.
For a time, Sterling's thoughts shift to visualizing Canada. The rest of the flight Simon occupies himself by drinking at least eight sodas, flipping the pages of Elle magazine, and kicking the back of the chair in front. During the 11-hour journey, the Boeing 747 accesses all fuel tanks, the pilot's gauges perform their precise function, and there is no need for an emergency landing on Greenland's icy peeks.
Toronto is a glorious place yet not as rural as Sterling had imagined. The roads are wide and clean, the people have good teeth and act extra sweet. These are lazy days passed in daydreams. Simon's aunt Beth and uncle Gerry are kind enough. They fuss over him, take him to the zoo, and to the top of the tower. Sterling does not like the food though. The bottled spaghetti sauce in Canada seems so spicy to Sterling; it makes him cry for fish, pies, chips, and mash.
A week before Sterling's date of departure for England, he begins to wake while his aunt and uncle are quiet in their room. His heart beats quickly so he can feel it in his cheeks. He sucks for air. The dreams say the mercury fillings in his teeth receive radio signals from an airport's control towers. "Mayday, mayday. General the Red Baron's in the sky with us. Request to land" or "Captain, the equipment is malfunctioning. It seems we are over some strange magnetic field. Latitude is decreasing rapidly. We are falling, repeat falling."
The most positive outcome of Sterling's nightmares is spontaneously combustion or plummeting into the sub-zero waters of the Arctic Sea. In the worst scenario, he survives by gorging on the raw flesh of the businessman who sat in aisle E seat three. It's not dying that terrifies Sterling, it's surviving.
Cozy in his aunt and uncle's spacious Buick, Sterling is calm on the ride Toronto's airport. He wishes his aunts mouth, pouring words like water, could be closed like a faucet. Simon realizes the body and mind cannot be shut-off in certain cases like diarrhea, vomit, and emotions.
Uncle Gerry leans in through Simon's door and wraps his wide, hairy arms around Simon's skinny waist. Simon's grip on the car's upholstery is loosened after a struggle. His aunt and uncle chide him, "be reasonable Ster." "Honestly, I didn't know you loved staying with us that much." "Come on now, you're going to miss your plane."
In the terminal, Sterling loses himself in the labyrinth of gates on route to the toilet. Then he gets lost in the toilet. He dreams of his favourite food, his friends at school, the sea by his home. . .
"Sterling, what the hell are you doing lad? They just did last call for passengers through security." It's uncle Gerry from the other side of the stall.
"I don't want to go on the plane, I sense something bad may happen." Sterling hopes his uncle Gerry has watched those TV programs about people having premonitions about a disaster occurring and then, sure enough, it does. Family members of the deceased lament, "I shouldn't have forced him to go. He had a bad feeling. If I hadn't of told him he was silly, he would have still been here with me today." Sob.
Uncle Gerry peers over the stall, standing on the neighboring toilet. "Come on Ster., nothin's going to happen.
Sterling takes his opportunity, shoves the stall door and flees. He propels his body along the airport's hall, past kiosks, drink and magazine stands. He has misses his flight.
The ride back to aunt and uncle's is quiet but not cozy. At the house, aunt tells mom everything on the phone. "Well, I suppose we'll allow him his eccentric little behaviors. He doesn't have school for two weeks. I'll rebook his seat."
Sterling no longer enjoys lazy days at his aunt and uncle's. Instead, he snoops through their private papers for the date he is leaving, a letter of confirmation. Every night for a week in August, from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., Sterling watches a series on the Learning Channel. The series features programs like, "Can Computers Save Us from Crashes?", "America's Most Horrifying Crashes," and "Plane Crash Survival Stories."
Sterling discovers the details of his ticket scribbled on a note pad next to the phone. The night before the plane is due to fly, Sterling crawls out his bedroom window when he hears uncle Gerry begin to snore. He wanders through the suburb until he finds a tree in a nearby school park. He rests his face and body on the dewy grass.
The sun shines through the leaves and children are shouting in the playground. Sterling wakes with cold and aching bones and the imprint of dirt on his cheek yet smiling with his newfound freedom. He jumps the train downtown and feels like a reckless rebel walking streets, peering in shops, imagining he could have his choice of books, clothes, and records. Around teatime, he is hungry, so hungry his insides seem to be chewing on his guts. He's being eaten alive. He returns to his aunt and uncle's just in time for supper.
They are furious. Amidst his aunt’s tears and his uncle's roars, Sterling gets a lecture. "We were worried sick." "We called the police." "What would your parents say if we lost you?""You missed your goddamn flight again. Now you'll be late starting school." "This better not be some half-assed stunt to miss class, mister."
Sterling shrugged and apologized. "I'm terrified of flying."
Aunt Beth brought Siterling to a doctor who used words like anxiety, paranoia, and phobia. “Take these pills and flying will be o.k."
Sterling finds the doctor’s words in the dictionary.
Paranoia: A psychosis marked by delusions and irrational suspicion.
Phobia: an irrational and persistent fear or dread.
Anxiety: painful uneasiness of mind.
There is reasonable evidence that planes do not always work perfectly. There are so many factors in the success of a flight, so many people to trust that they are completing their jobs perfectly, all the time. He defines his condition as:
Fear: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by the expectation. or awareness of danger.
Aunt Beth books Sterling's ticket, again.
Sterling feels fine. The drugs work. After hauling his two suitcases onto the conveyer belt, he gives tearful good-bye hugs to his aunt and uncle. He knows they're relieved to see him off through metal detector and into the departure lounge. Once he examines the video games, Sterling slumps into an orange plastic chair that cups his body so well he could feel his eyelids like weights pulling him down.
Sterling dreams the plane has hit a rough patch of air. The passengers experience the roller coaster sensation of turbulence. Sterling lifts his lids to a man in uniform with his hands shaking Sterling's shoulders. The man lifts Simon from the chair, grips Simon's elbow and marches him to a white room.
"Why aren't you on the flight specified on the ticket you hold?"
"Why is your luggage on that flight and not you?"
"Are there any dangerous goods in you baggage?"
"Where is your family?"
Sterling imagines his father has similar experiences in the intelligence line of business. He misses his mom and dad.
After about 45 minutes, the guard decides Sterling is truly an innocent and confused young man. Sterling is guided to the ticket agent to rebook his flight for later tonight.
"The flight may be a little longer, you'll have to go into Munich, but at least we'll get you home," she says smiling.
Home. That sounded so good. Sterling dreams of his favorite food, his school friends, and the sea near his home.
Oh well. Sterling boards the bus to downtown Toronto with the money aunt and uncle had given for chips, pop, and phone calls.
This is how I became trapped in Canada. I've often lived without food or a warm place to sleep. I had a grade nine education until I was 24 when the government of Canada decided I was a resident enough to fund my education. After my first job in a bookstore I didn't rent a fancy apartment or eat rich food, I had my mercury fillings replaced. I then quit the job realizing I didn't want money or stability, I enjoyed my life on Canada's road. My mom moved to Canada after dad and her divorced 5 years ago. She's remarried to a man who works for the Canadian intelligence.
I struggled for many years to find ways to return to England without flying. There is a possibility to travel overland to Labrador and embark a ship to England or travel to northern Canada and cross the Bering Straight. These are expensive ways of returning home, at least two grand is necessary. My father has offered the price of a flight, but refuses to pay for a sea and land trip. He believes I will grow out of my childish imagination. My fear that planes crash.
I don't care for the money in my inheritance. Sometimes when I'm stuck and hungry, I kick myself for my insanity. At times I loathe my parents for sending me to Canada and not offering money. I called a year after I'd missed my flight. A year in homeless shelters, taking handouts and wasting time on the streets. I suppose I can understand my parent’s frustration.
The last time I thought of flying was in early September 2001. After 9/11, I am resigned to living in Toronto with my mom and her husband.