Scars from the Gridiron

By Justin Chartier


Sitting at my desk, I feel a pinch in my back. My neck is stiff too, but better than most days. My wrist hurts at times, and right now it's flaring up. If I were to stand, my knee would straighten with a creaking ache and the pinch would unfold to a nagging throb. I think of these as normal, something we all go through as our bodies progress towards adulthood. At the ripe age of 23, I at least have an idea what's causing the pain. I'm a retired football player, and I have the battered body to show for it. The mornings when I wake up with headaches that stem from a fractured vertebrate and countless hits to the head, I wonder if playing for all those years was worth it. 

I was almost 10 years old, and in my mind, I was practically an adult. My friends were martial artists, hockey players, and soccer players, and I remember the conversation I had with my parents when I announced to my father, who sat quietly at the dinner table with a cup of tea, that I would be joining a hockey team. I explained that it was an important step toward an NHL career. My mother called out from the kitchen as she prepared dinner, “I don't think so.” 

My father considered my outlandish request, and countered with a proposition: Play a year of football first, to toughen up, and next year he would put me in hockey. I accepted the terms. My heart was set on hockey, and at the time, football was only a means to an end. I would later learn that hockey was just a much more expensive sport to play. 

I joined the Bel-Air Copeland Lions within a couple of weeks and was easily one of the smallest players on the team. If my dad's plan was to toughen me up, it worked. I was bounced around like a speed bag for much of the season. 

For the first year we didn't have practice jerseys, so my dad gave me one of his biggest football shirts  – a Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt that was likely attained from a case of beer. The night before our first game, they handed out the game jerseys – thick yellow cotton with two heavy black stripes on the sleeves and big block numbers centred on the chest. Number 14 was mine for almost five minutes, but as I was about to throw it onto my shoulder pads, my coach approached me, holding another jersey. “Sorry,” he said, “but that jersey is Wassim's. You'll have to wear this one, 42.” It would take me a few years, but I eventually realized this wouldn't change a thing. My first all-star coach put it best. “It's just a number. You can complain when your jersey is worth selling at Sport Chek.” 

We finished the season in November, and by the time September came back around, I had completely forgotten about hockey. I couldn't wait to get back on the gridiron. My second year was twice as fun, and I was twice as good. I received my first Most Valuable Player award. By year three, I was overage, meaning I would have to move up a level and play with 11, 12, and underweight 13 year olds. I did have the option of losing weight to stay at the younger level. It was called playing overage-underweight. I weighed a staggering 94 pounds and needed to get under 90. At 11 years old, I had just begun a growth spurt, so losing that five pounds would prove impossible. At the final weigh-in I stood nearly naked on a large metallic scale at 91 pounds. 

I survived for the next two seasons as I grew to a respectable size. In my fifth season I played overage-underweight, resulting in a second MVP award. Football was officially my new love, and I began dreaming of playing pro. I would soon learn, however, that such a love and dream would have consequences. 

At 14 years old, I played my first year of Peewee. I was thrown into a complicated defensive scheme, and did my best to contribute despite being, again, undersized. We were two games into the season (0-2) and after one week of particularly rough practice, I began to have shooting pains in my back. 

I felt helpless, trying everything from heating pads to painkillers, even Pepto Bismol, to ease such an unusually sharp squeezing pain in my lower back. I allowed my teammates and father to convince me it was a muscle pull. I wouldn't practise, and I began to miss games. Some days it felt better, and other days I felt like was going to collapse at any moment. After missing two weeks and heading into the third, I told my father I still wasn't well. He was frustrated, and I know he and my coach thought I was exaggerating. He asked me if I was afraid to play with the older kids and I was infuriated that he would consider that a possibility. I suited up both nights for practice, and sobbed myself to sleep from the pain. I played the next game, and played well. 

My brother and I were still in our football pants when we arrived at the campground near Carleton Place that we visited during the summer. The sun had just tucked behind the Mississippi River, and we knew all the kids would be starting their nightly game of manhunt. The pain came back with a vengeance just as I slipped into my go-to hiding spot. I ignored it at first, but it wouldn't let up. A trick I found to help the pain was to empty my bladder. So I snuck off. 

I looked down at the steady stream of urine as it poured into the porcelain bowl. The collecting puddle was a deep orange. I nervously walked back to my campsite, and hopped into the camper. My dad sat at the table quietly with a cup of tea, my mother working on a crossword across from him. “Dad,” I said, “I need to tell you something.” 

I drank three cups of water before the urge to pee hit me again. My father said he believed me, but that he needed to see it before we made the long drive to the hospital. When I slipped out of the bathroom, I could see in his face that he was just as scared as I was. “It's worse this time.” 

The Perth Hospital didn't know what to do with me. They were sure it was either a kidney or bladder problem, but by then I was releasing crimson red urine. It was the doctor's call, and he blatantly admitted that they weren't equipped to deal with the situation. They sent me to Ottawa's Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), but not before giving me a parting gift of Vicodin for my ambulance ride. 

I was kept at the hospital for three days and two nights as the bruising on my kidney subsided. The food was great, and I was given my own television set. In the early evening, I was rolled over to the playroom. My wheelchair was locked into place directly in front of the PlayStation 2. My family came to visit, and I vividly remember how my aunt's eyes watered as she asked how I felt. “Fine,” I would answer, but I remained out of commission for nearly six weeks after being sent home, and I couldn't do as much as walk up stairs. 

The doctors called it a one-in-a-million shot, which coincidently are the same odds of making it as a pro football player. I took it in stride, but it was the beginning of the end. I broke off a piece of my left kneecap the next season, though I'd only find out the following year. Not long after, I broke my left wrist. The play was relatively innocent – I was knocked over and instinctively went to brace the fall with my left hand. I fell awkwardly and felt the crack and pop. I shamelessly wept, not from the pain, but when my father commented, rather lightly, “well, I guess that's it for this season.”
I played anyway, cast and all.

I had a lot to prove the following year, and I decided that I was going to play both city and high school football to compensate. The result of that was a collision involving two helmets and my right hand. After spending almost two weeks in a cast, I regrettably cut off the fibre-glass casing on a bus, and headed to a much anticipated playoff game. We lost, and lost big. My hand was re-broken just a few minutes into the game. 

The love was still strong, but I realized it wouldn't numb the pain forever. I sustained a semi-serious neck injury playing junior ball. This injury was the most innocent and devastating of all. It happened in a friendly collision during practice, and I hung up the pads soon after. Some called it quitting, others believed I just didn't have it in me, but a few knew the extensiveness of my injuries. 

Now I have six MVP trophies in a box somewhere in my house, along with one other: The John Smith Award, given to me before graduating from the 4th level of Bel-Air football.  The description of the award goes something like this: 

“Former player and coach Tim Armstrong donated this award to be presented to a graduating player who's contributed greatly to the Bel-Air club throughout their career.”

There is an old saying among the toughest players in pads: Pain is temporary.

Every day we learn more about our bodies and how they function, but more importantly, how they recover. My pain is not temporary; it will be with me for the rest of my life. Like most kids who play a sport they love, I never went pro. But I did give the game all I had.

I could relive my glory days, hang my jerseys on the wall and throw those trophies on a shelf, but I don't need to. When it comes to the 13 seasons of football I sacrificed body and soul for, I have all the reminders I need when I wake up every morning. And when it comes time to put my child into a contact sport, I will take a long hard look in the mirror. By then, I hope to know if it was worth it.

The More Things Change

By Kelly Houlahan


The sound of excited talking and scraping stools filled my ears as I entered the coffee shop in downtown Ottawa. It had been decorated red and gold for the season; it was the first day of Starbucks’ annual launch of holiday drinks. Taking my place in line, I scanned the room for her, but she wasn’t there yet.

This was good; I wasn’t ready. The line moved quickly, although it was almost at the door. It was strange that I was feeling so anxious. My feet shifted forward as the line inched closer to the baristas and my mind began to wander.

I have known Hélène Campbell for six years. We met through our part-time job at Dairy Queen, and she was accepted into the employee family almost immediately. She skipped right through the hazing of the trainees; cleaning the garbage cans, making Blizzard after Blizzard, and being largely ignored by the senior staff, and was inducted into the inner circle. I remember staying out late, drinking Tim Hortons coffee in the parking lot outside work and finding random selfies from her on my phone, the most memorable one being from Halloween when she dressed up as a Rastafarian.

Shifts with her were the best, because you never really knew what to expect. Everyone adored her; she was fun, sassy and sometimes a little crazy. She eventually left after almost three years, for a full-time position at the Riverside Hospital, but everyone at work still talks about how much they miss her and how awesome she was to work with. 

Then the bad news came. Hélène was sick. Very sick. Looking back, I think we were all in denial about how grave the situation was. Since she’d left DQ, we’d all started seeing her less. I think we all had difficulty imagining someone who was so full of life, so sick.  How could something so bad happen to someone so good? She, with the help of friends, had created a video that put a lot of things into perspective for the rest of us.  She needed a double lung transplant, and a significant amount of money to be able to get it, since she had to move to Toronto while she was on the waiting list. The news of a surprise fundraiser for Hélène crept through the grapevine, so everyone at work began to brainstorm; there was no way we were going to stand idly by. We turned our tip jar into a donation jar. Our tips tripled on the first day as people heard about what we were doing.  We approached the owners of the store, and they agreed to match what the store raised for her on the Saturday before the fundraiser. The number of people who came in that Saturday, just to donate, was amazing. It seemed like the whole community came out to support her. When we handed Hélène a cheque for $7110, everyone cried.

The community had raised enough money for Hélène. She moved to Toronto so that she could be ready at any given moment for the transplant. Her health was deteriorating quickly though. I remember thinking that her end could come at any moment.  But it didn’t.  I was getting ready to go to work on Good Friday (April 6th) of 2012. I checked my Facebook wall and her blog before I left (I usually did this for any updates) and got one of the best surprises of my life: it had finally happened—Hélène was on her way to surgery.  I cried for almost an hour. By the time I finally got to work I figured I was all cried out. But I joined my red-eyed co-workers in more tears.

Such is the magic of Hélène. To know her is to love her. I’ll admit I haven’t seen Hélène since the months following her surgery. I’ve seen her on television (her famous dance with Ellen DeGeneres, and many other appearances), read articles covering her progress and have been stalking her blog. I know she’s busy, she’s back working at the hospital, working for the Give2Live campaign, starting up her own business and writing a book. I can’t imagine how she juggles all of her responsibilities.

I ordered my drink and walked to the only empty seat in the house; an uncomfortable looking barstool and tiny table. I took my seat and pulled out a pen and a piece of paper. I kept thinking how strange it was that I found myself nervous for this interview.  There was no way that fame had changed the Hélène I knew. My mind wandered again, dreading how awkward the next hour would be. Ten minutes later she pulled up in her car and got out. She was taller than I remember.

As soon as she walked over to the table, I knew that I had been nervous for no reason. She definitely stood taller than she had before the surgery but she still had the same wide smile as she walked in, the same excitement in her eyes, the same joy that always seemed to be present in her demeanour.

After she asked me how I was doing, what I’d been up to and if there was anything new and exciting in my life, I was finally able to turn things into something about her.

“You’re totally taller, by the way.”

“I am taller!” she said with excitement, “It’s actually a significant difference [from before], and you know why? I have the right size lungs now.”

She went on to explain that because her lungs had hardened, it forced her to slouch so that she could take full breaths. Now that her lungs are the right size, she is able to stand straight. “I don’t know how we missed this,” she said.

I went into this interview with Hélène thinking that I’d be asking her what’s new and exciting in her life, but I quickly realized that was not the way to go with this. So many stories have been written about her, it seemed silly to do another covering the things people already know about. Those stories don’t really reflect Hélène as a person, only her public persona. 

Hélène is the most compassionate person I know. She puts others before herself and in conversation, she always turns it around so that it can be about you. She is genuinely interested in everything that you say. It took all of two minutes to figure out that she really hasn’t changed.

“I have seen life, and I thought the transplant would change my entire character, but it doesn’t change who you are,” she says. “People say to me, ‘You’ve changed, Hélène’. And I ask them, ‘Have I really?’” Laughs. “Cause deep down inside I’m still that cray-cray girl who will dance, make up songs and be inappropriate sometimes. Except now I have less of a filter sometimes.  I’m still me."

This pulls me up short. She is still her. I have thought about her as a public figure since her transplant, not as the girl I know. How tiring this all must be for her.

“You know, everyone’s been doing stories about me, but I just want you to ask me what my favourite colour is,” she says. “It’s green, by the way.”

I put aside my interview questions, and we began to just talk. This is the way Hélène is. You can never capture her character by asking a set list of questions. You need to sit down with her and reminisce. She fills every conversation with anecdotes and jokes.  It’s why she’s such a wonderful speaker.

We talked work, love, passions (both new and old) and stories from our pasts. She has been with her boyfriend for over a year and is crazy about him. She is overwhelmingly busy, but she is learning to cope with it. It struck me how often she brought the subject back to her family. There was a family-based anecdote for almost every topic we explored. To her, family really is everything.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been. The fame would make me feel awful sometimes… Because I have other siblings, I have other family members that have went through what I went through. When you’re watching someone go through something, it’s completely different than going through it yourself. I know my siblings, they are just helpers. We’d show up to events and people would approach me and focus all their attention on me and my story.”

When Hélène went down to meet Ellen DeGeneres, she wanted to honour her family more than anything, but there wasn’t enough time allotted for her to do so. In her words, “I wanted the world the world to know how much my family means to me, but the world doesn’t want to know. Justin Beiber did a great job, but it’s my family that are my heroes.”

This is the Hélène I know: The young woman who sends goofy selfies and is completely selfless, no matter how many times she says otherwise.

I know it may be a while before I see Hélène again. I know how busy her life is, but I consider Hélène to be a life-long friend. Even if years may go by without us seeing each other, we’ll be able to pick things up exactly where we left them

The Grain

By Alexander Newman


My father and I walk into the dimly lit furnace room adjacent to my grandfather’s workshop, and pull the cherry wood boards down from the shelves beside the oil tank. After thirty-five years spent quietly observing a family, the roughly planed boards make no secret of their age. Each of them has small sections that have succumbed to rot, but, for the most part, their damage is limited to stains left by years of exposure to mice and the things that mice do. But it’s nothing that a thorough sanding won’t fix. The boards, some nearly 10 feet in length, will provide more than enough salvageable wood to get the job done.


A few months after Megan and I had bought our first home, furnishing it remained a work in progress. Our budget (or lack thereof) had left us reliant on buying used furniture. We were successful in this endeavour, and some might say brave, tempting fate by acquiring a pair of matching white couches. But, in spite of our efforts, the spaces between and beside them remained empty. Ottawa’s used furniture community seemed unanimously opposed to the sale of any pair of matching side tables. While the hardwood floor served well enough as a temporary resting place for our coffee mugs in the morning and our wine glasses in the evening, it wouldn’t suffice in the long term. With no solution in sight, I began mulling over the idea of building the tables myself.

My grandfather was an accomplished woodworker before old age, and the immobility that came with it, denied him access to the workshop that he so loved. As a kid, I would spend countless hours down in his shop, watching and learning. He was endlessly patient with my inquisitive little mind and never turned me away, regardless of how much work needed to be done. He would show me his different tools and demonstrate their uses as he skillfully crafted simple cedar boards into children’s toys or Muskoka chairs, which he would sell at the Huntsville Farmers’ Market.

A retired teacher, principal and  school board superintendent, my grandfather had kept his mind sharp over the years, and retained an uncanny ability for recollection. Intertwined with his instructions and explanations were stories, which he would almost always find a way to fit in. In doing so, he fostered in me a love of storytelling and an awareness of our family history that seems rare in modern families.


One by one, my father and I carry the cherry wood boards into the bright main room of the shop. I run my finger along the dusty surface of one of the boards, inspecting its grain and condition, admiring the slight red hue that reveals itself along the path where my finger had cleared the soot. I think about growth rings, each representing a year of a tree’s life. I wonder to what extent they are influenced by external forces and what events from each year are retained in the wood’s grain.

We measure and cut each board to the necessary lengths. When we’ve finished, my father goes back upstairs to watch the hockey game with my grandfather. I stay down in the shop and start on the tedious task of sanding each board.


Megan and I loaded up the car and left Ottawa for Lake of Bays, where the cherry wood boards waited patiently to be rediscovered. Autumn seemed to have come early, and to our disappointment, the trees lining Highway 60 as it winds through Algonquin Park had already shed their leaves, depriving us of the breathtaking views we were accustomed to in fall.

It had been a hard year. My grandmother had passed away the previous winter. After a long battle with dementia which was as hard on my grandfather as it had been on her, my grandmother’s death left my family with an unsettling sense of relief; significant, but in no way equal to our sense of loss. The decline in her health started in subtle ways: forgetting people’s names and needing to be reminded of memories that had begun to slip away, but ended with her in a nearly catatonic state.

Not long before she died, I went with my father to visit her in hospital. I held her hand and listened to her struggle to keep her throat clear, coughing and making sounds similar to someone choking on a hastily ingested sip of water. She was unable to speak and so was I.

Although my grandfather and I would have long conversations over the phone, they didn’t happen often enough, and visits were even less frequent. I found myself driving with a heavy foot, excited to get up to the lake.

When we arrived, my family was already there. We poured a drink and sat down on the couch across from my grandfather’s Lazy Boy chair. He asked us about the house and I told him about my lofty aspirations to build side tables for the living room. His face lit up. 

“You know something, Alec. I think I’ve got some old cherry stashed somewhere in the basement.” He said this while looking up towards the ceiling trying to remember if he had held on to the boards. “Yeah, I think they’re in the furnace room. You should go have a look.”

My father and I went downstairs, through the shop and into the furnace room to investigate. Sure enough, sitting on the shelves, mixed in with old cedar 2x4s, were the cherry boards covered in a mix of dust and mouse droppings, but still in good condition.

While I was downstairs searching for the boards, my grandfather had been retrieving memories. When I got back upstairs, he began to tell me the story of how they ended up in his furnace room.

I think it must have been thirty-five years ago now. I got a call from Al Monroe. He had a couple of dead trees on his property, one oak and one cherry. He had a preference for working with maple, so he didn’t mind giving ‘em up.

Anyway, I attached the car-trailer to the snowmobile and made my way over to his place, down on South Portage Road. The snow wasn’t too deep, so it wasn’t bad trekking through the bush to find the trees. He had a big property you know, something around 17 acres. Once we found ‘em I cut ‘em down, loaded ‘em on to the trailer and made my way over to Don’s … hmm I can’t remember his last name, but your uncle might know. Anyway, Don had a little saw mill over on Britannia Road in those days, about 15 miles from Al’s place. The machinery was a little shaky, but I figured I could always sand out the imperfections later. Once they’d been cut and planed, I brought the boards back home. Not too sure what I used the oak for, but the cherry has been sitting down in the furnace room ever since. Thirty-five years.  


The loud buzzing of the power sander drowns out the noise from the hockey game and my family’s chit chat upstairs. I focus on my simple task, stopping periodically to blow the excess sawdust from the tops of the boards. My hand begins to feel numb from the vibration. The smell reminds me of my childhood. I think of my grandmother and her scent. Since her death, I’ve kept a box of her old sweaters and t-shirts in my closet. The thought of her smell fading from those clothes makes me feel anxious. I don’t want to forget.  Sawdust is my grandfather’s scent. I’m glad I still have him. 

The wood begins to feel smooth and soft to the touch, as if years had been filed off of its aged exterior, exposing a youth held just beneath its surface. Noticing the power sander’s silence, my father makes his way back down to the shop. The table tops are ready to be assembled. We clamp the boards and bind them together with driven metal and good intentions. Before long they are finished, and I’m pleased to see that they’ve retained some of their more rugged characteristics. They are imperfect but beautiful. They look honest.

I bring the tables upstairs and present them to my grandfather. It had been years since he had felt the satisfaction of crafting something with his hands. He smiles and showers me with praise for a job well done. In his expression, I see a clear understanding between us. To him, as they do to me, these simple planks bound together are a symbol of our connection.

Megan and I say our goodbyes and load the tables into the car. When we arrive home, I place them in the living room; old boards given new life. 

A Voice Unheard

By Hoda Egeh


“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Sami, happy birthday to you!” The year was 1997, and it was a particularly festive day. Colourful streamers and balloons adorned every inch of our house, which was teeming with guests. I remember feeling envious of my two-year-old brother—even though I was three years older than him and far more capable. Despite my feelings, I made sure that he had an enjoyable day. If that meant purposely losing during musical chairs and giving him most of my piñata candy, I was more than willing to do so.

Only half a year later, our relationship would change drastically. I wouldn’t even be able to make him laugh or smile anymore, let alone get him to look in my direction.

At first, we thought that he might’ve lost his hearing, but a trip to the family doctor would prove us wrong. My brother went from being emotionally, physically, and verbally responsive to the complete opposite. He lost his ability to speak, along with his limited social capabilities. He rarely made eye contact when we called his name. Most of his actions became repetitive and obsessive, like lining up his toy cars and eating the same lunch day after day. He was violent and emotionally unstable, and that trait stuck with him as he grew.

Over the years, as I began to grasp the complexities of regressive autism (the deterioration/regression of language and social skills in young children, typically ages one and two), I saw his outbursts as his way of communication. He couldn’t explain when he was hungry, tired, or sick, so he would try to get our attention the only way he could. My family and I often complained about how difficult it was raising Sami, but we rarely thought about how misunderstood, vulnerable, and helpless he must have felt, and how different his view of the world must have been.

This was a whole new territory for my parents. My sisters and I were unruly and rambunctious, but we didn’t have special needs, or require constant supervision. With Sami, every day was a mixture of trial and error trying to find ways to communicate with him. We had to learn the many differences within the autism spectrum disorder and how disadvantaged Sami was compared to other children with autism. They could speak and demonstrate adequate social skills, which meant that they could attend regular schools. Their future didn’t look as bleak as Sami’s because he couldn’t do any of those things. We had so many questions, but the one question that echoed in our house—and still does—was: How? How did Sami completely lose his speaking and social capabilities? What caused this drastic change? Everyone had their own theories, as did we, but the answer remains a mystery.

One Sunday afternoon, when I was seven years old, I asked, “Mama, why is he doing that?” My brother was twisting a piece of string around his chubby index finger. He had been doing this for hours.

“I don’t know, honey. Maybe it makes him happy?” Occasionally, he would grunt or make a sound of irritation if he lost his grip. My mom and I watched, transfixed, as he wound and unwound the string. If my mom didn’t grab his hand and lead him to the kitchen for dinner, he would have continued all day. Still a child myself, I didn’t understand the depth of my brother’s disorder. All I knew was that he wasn’t “normal.” Whenever my friends came over to play, they would stare at him and his bizarre actions. They would look in disbelief as he banged his head on the table and bit his hand forcefully. I hated my brother during those moments. Why did he have to embarrass me in front of my friends? Why couldn’t he be normal?

There are good days when Sami is somewhat responsive and attentive. On these days, he laughs at the silly faces that I make to entertain him, he doesn’t pull away when I lean in for a hug, and he even tries to say a few words. He repeats words sometimes—short words like “mama” and “ball”—with encouragement. “Is that a good sign?” my mom had asked his doctor during a monthly check-up many years ago. His doctor, a pediatrician with a specialty in autism, said it was common for those with regressive autism to imitate words and phrases. I remember glancing over at my brother then, feeling hopeful for his future. I leaned over and said “high-five,” wiggling my fingers as I waited for his hand to touch mine. Smiling to himself, he pressed his palm up against mine and held it there, staring directly into my eyes. I liked to pretend that he could read minds; that was the secret superpower that he was gifted with when autism took away his communicative abilities. I’d have conversations with him, talking about things like school, books, and television shows. He would always mention Spongebob Squarepants, going on and on about how amazing it would be to live in Bikini Bottom. I knew that it wasn’t real, but I didn’t mind. I just wanted to feel close to my brother, and for things to be the way they were before.

My mom would always say, “It could be worse.” She saw the challenges of life as tests from God, challenges that she believed could be overcome with determination, patience, and faith. I tried, but failed to see my brother’s disorder as a positive thing. Since we'd found out about Sami’s autism when he was quite young, we were led to believe that early intervention was the best time for recovery, and that he still had a chance at reversing the effects regressive autism had on his mind. We tried everything: physical and speech therapy, dietary alterations, and even holistic methods.

The many doctors we associated with all had one thing in common: they weren’t entirely sure how to deal with a child who had an autism spectrum disorder. Treating autism seemed more like an experiment to them, an unsatisfactory method that left our family, and many others, in the lurch. There’s a finality to regressive autism; hope for a “cure” isn’t realistic. Though our family exhausted every medical option and spent thousands of dollars trying to help him, in the back of our minds, we knew that our attempts were futile. We left the truth unspoken.

My mom put on a strong face, but Sami’s autism hit her the hardest. He was her baby, and she wanted to shower him with love, but it seemed as though he wanted nothing to do with her. He cringed when she tried to hug him, and fussed whenever she attempted to bathe him or comb his hair. Caring for him became a full-time job. While dad became the sole breadwinner of our household, she quit her secretarial position and spent 18 years raising Sami to the best of her abilities. Her optimism wavered over the years, and I hated seeing her so dejected, but I didn’t know how to lift her spirits. I would tell her to “have faith,” but I didn’t even believe my own words. It’s hard to have faith when your prayers aren’t answered, and you spend a lifetime wondering why life is so cruel.

Today is Sami’s 18th birthday. My mom baked him a Spongebob Squarepants cake topped with pineapple-shaped candles; she bakes him the same cake every year. He’s happy, giggling to himself. He picks the candles off, licking the icing expertly. I’m constantly thinking about Sami and how bleak his future looks, but on his birthday, I think happy thoughts. Like how Sami guides my hand to the cake knife to cut a portion of his cake while licking his lips, how he hums along when I sing the Spongebob Squarepants theme song. As he looks up at me smiling, I remember something I read: “Autism is like walking around with your nails cut too short and your shoes on the wrong feet. Every single day.”

In our neighbourhood, Sami is known for his disability. He is sometimes referred to as “the kid with autism.” But he’s much more than that. He’s passionate and warm. What he can’t express in words, he makes up for in mannerisms. His condition has made us stronger as a family and better as people. I, for one, aim to be more empathetic, understanding, and kind to everyone—regardless of disability. I’ll never understand what my brother experiences every day, but the least I can do is try to make the world a happier place for him: a place where I can be his voice and he can feel secure, loved, and understood.


By Allison Godin

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The waiting room was painfully quiet, and almost empty. A small table displaying various pamphlets sat in the middle of the room, allowing ample space for a walker or a wheelchair to move around it. My mom sat next to me and distracted herself by looking around, commenting on the artwork and whispering questions she planned to ask the doctor. My dad had strategically chosen the chair next to a corner table stacked with magazines. He picked through the pile, hoping to find something that might have an article about golf. Eventually a nurse came out from behind the reception desk to call a name. "Allison?" She addressed the question to my mom. Clearly, she hadn't expected the patient to be a teenager; most visitors to the Thrombosis Assessment and Treatment Unit at the Ottawa Hospital are not 18. "You're Allison?" She looked confused. "Yup," I responded.

Just days before my high school graduation I was diagnosed with blood clots. This was what brought us to this quiet corner of the hospital on a beautiful, sunny afternoon in June. Recently, when I told a friend about this experience she was quick to comment: "What are you, 90?" If that were the case, my presence at Thrombosis Unit probably wouldn't have been so surprising. Once everyone got settled in the exam room, the nurse asked me a series of questions.

“Do you do a lot of physical activity?”

"I used to play soccer, now I only really do yoga."

“Have you had any other medical issues in the past?”

"Nope, no issues."

“Do you have a family history of blood clots?”

"Umm...I think my great aunt is on blood thinners for blood clots." I looked to my mom for confirmation.

“When did the swelling in your leg start?”

"Friday night. I noticed it when I got home from work."

“Are you currently taking any medications?”

“Yes. I’m taking an oral contraceptive. Yasmin, for my acne.”

She stopped writing, and looked up quickly. "They prescribed birth control for acne?"

In the days following, I learned a lot about blood clots, and the dangers of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), including the risk of death. And while thrombosis is much more prevalent in adults, particularly in the geriatric population, it can occur in children and adolescents. When this happens, it is usually as a result of another medical condition, or it's genetic. The latter proved to be the case for me. Testing showed that I had a genetic alteration called Factor V (five) Leiden, which means that I am predisposed to blood clots.

Before I learned all of these facts that would inform medical decisions for the rest of my life, I had no idea that I should never have taken Yasmin. Besides the obvious use for this medication, some family doctors and dermatologists also prescribe it, and at one time it was actively marketed as acne treatment for females over the age of 14. I was prescribed Yasmin for this purpose and became one of an increasing number who have experienced potentially life-threatening side effects.

According to a 2013 article on, "at least 23 Canadian women who were taking two of the most commonly prescribed birth control pills in the world have died [...].” Health Canada reports that Yaz and Yasmin are suspected in the deaths of the women, who mostly died suddenly from blood clots, the story stated. These brands are both considered low-dose contraceptives. They are widely prescribed and many of the women and girls taking them assume that the risk for potential side effects is low as well. However, the article also states that "in 2011, Health Canada issued a warning about Yaz and Yasmin, saying the risk of blood clots, which is rare overall, is 1.5 to 3 times higher with the drospirenone-containing pills than with some other birth control pills.” While those who have not experienced these negative effects greatly outnumber those who have, the loss of these women has not been forgotten.

When diagnosed, I stopped taking Yasmin immediately, and was prescribed blood thinners. For six months, I took my medication faithfully and went for blood work regularly. I would stand in the line outside the office, waiting for the clinic to open. When others would hand the receptionist their forms, she had a rehearsed response, "Thank you. Please take a seat and wait for your name to be called. Hopefully it won't take too long." When I stepped up to the counter, all I had to say was "hi, my last name is Godin, G-O-D-I-N. I have a standing order," and I would be led back to the available station. I knew most of the nurses by name, but usually ended up with the same two. They knew that one arm was easier to draw blood from than the other, and I learned to drink large amounts of water to help the process along. In January of 2008, my doctor determined that my body had responded to the treatment. My blood clots were gone, and thankfully, I haven't had to go for blood work since.

A few years later, I was sitting at home watching television. The show I was watching went to commercial, so I got up to bring some dishes into the kitchen. I stopped at the door when I heard the lawyer in the commercial talking about a lawsuit being filed (at that time, in the United States only). They were looking for people who had taken oral contraceptives in the last few years; women who had experienced any of the negative conditions associated with them. I listened to the list of side effects, mentally acknowledging those that I had experienced. This was the first time that I really considered how many others were in this same situation. Earlier this year, a class action lawsuit against Bayer, the maker of both Yaz and Yasmin, was certified in Ontario. This lawsuit involves several hundred women who have used these products, and it's only one such class action that have been filed across Canada.

When the doctor told me I had blood clots, I was scared. I was young and didn't know what, or if, treatment was available. Thankfully, since the clots were close to my knee, there was less chance of the clot travelling to my lungs. Despite the side effects I developed, I've never really considered joining any of these lawsuits. My parents and I tend to look at the positive aspects of this unusual experience. Many people live their lives without knowing they have Factor V. Since it is genetic, we now know that at least one of my parents, and possibly my sister, is also affected. This information will allow my family to make informed medical decisions and take necessary precautions if any of us face serious illness or injury in the future.

I know that some day I will likely develop another clot, and this experience will be repeated. In the meantime, I will do what I can to minimize my risk. Besides the obvious, not taking medications that list blood clots as a possible side effect, staying active and not smoking are things that I can control. Avoiding situations, like car rides and airplane trips, where I have to sit in one place for too long is also recommend, but frustrating. Instead, I make sure to move around and stretch my legs frequently.

If, in the future, I develop another clot, I will once again find myself sitting in that same small, quiet waiting room, anticipating the nurse calling my name. Hopefully, when she does, I will feel more prepared for the situations ahead of me. And, if it happens, it would be great if I were closer to 90 years old.  

The Progress of Family

By Stuart Harris


The man I only know as Zach is waiting just outside the front porch when I approach his semi-detached house. He wears the outfit of someone involved in athletic training: a grey hoodie and matching sweatpants, a half-zipped blue windbreaker, and a pair of sneakers.

“You came on time.” He smiles as we greet each other with a handshake. I am invited through his front door. He tells me not to worry about taking my shoes off as we make our way past his kitchen and dining room table to the living room. I find my place on the edge of the sofa closest to the curtained window, a Bible emblazoned with gold Amharic text lying next to me on the armrest. He grabs a chair and sits on the other side of the coffee table that separates us. Behind him is a contemporary flat-screen TV with a detached antenna, and a PS3 console that likely belongs to his son Ammanuel, who is off at elementary school. As we settle in, his wife, Meseret, descends from the second story to greet us before disappearing into the kitchen.

I thank Zach in advance for his time, and for the care he has provided for my grandfather, Tony. His work means a great deal for our family.

A simple “you’re welcome,” and then he begins.

Zeleke Guduru was 50 years old when he, his wife, and his son arrived in Canada in 2007. His English was not in the greatest of shape. The language was a teaching staple in his home country of Ethiopia, but in this new land it only served as a barrier to continuing in his profession of accounting. If his family were to settle down in Ottawa, he would have to find a means of support. On recommendations from friends, he set his sights on a career as a personal support worker. After seven months of training at Algonquin College, he found a new means to help others and himself. This was all he wanted.

He became a regular staff member at Robertson House, a nursing institution on Richmond Road serving the Bells Corners area. It is the final living quarters for many, a six-floor house where the walls are painted a light tan and the plumbing protrudes from them, the floors are carpeted, and the air is a pungent mix of sanitizer, perfume, and urine. The second floor, the wing for residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia, requires a code for access. He routinely helps these residents, showers them, dresses them, toilets them, shaves them, clips their nails, usually without thanks, sometimes with the bitterness an ailing senior cannot control. With enough repetition, however, some do recognize his work.

Zeleke has a full-time position on the third floor of Robertson House as well. Tony Antonello, my grandfather, is a resident who has always stood out in his eyes. A 92-year-old WWII veteran, he is surprisingly cogniscent, even though he suffers a mild dementia. He is rarely seen without a smile on his face, or his trademark RCAF jacket and baseball cap.

Zeleke loves Tony. Whenever he offers him assistance, Tony is more than willing to cooperate. The two share a similar big heart, and are quick to help each other as well as others who need it. Zeleke enjoys every moment he can spend with Tony, taking him for a walk or reading to him.

On one of his visits, Tony asks, “How did you get here, Zach?”

Soon, Zeleke and Tony are deep in conversation about pre-WWII Italian forces and the Horn of Africa.

In the late 1800s, the Italian invasion of Eritrea, a country bordering the north side of Ethiopia, marked a new age of war and civil unrest for both African countries. Prior to WWII, starting in 1935, Italian forces made their push into Ethiopian territory. The Ethiopian military fought back and took up arms with them in the Eritrean stronghold, now a province of Italian East Africa. After the Italians were finally expelled by Commonwealth armed forces in 1941, the fate of Eritrea was left in the balance. The British administered the territory until 1951, and one year later it was annexed by Ethiopia under the forceful rule of Haile Selassie I. Ethiopia’s disregard for the Eritrean population led to the formation of an Eritrean independence movement, which sparked a 30-year-long conflict with a succession of Ethiopian governments.

When Zeleke was still a student, living with his family in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, the monarchy of Emperor Haile Selassie I was uprooted by a military junta known as the Derg in 1974. This marked the beginning of an Ethiopian civil war, and the largest centre of the resistance was the province of Eritrea.

It was a period of utter turmoil for Ethiopia. From 1977 to 1978, the Derg’s Red Terror purged an estimated 30,000 to 500,000 people, many suspected as enemies of the new rule. Brutal resettlement of the Ethiopian people began in the 1980s. Shortly after, a hard period of drought and famine affected roughly eight million civilians, killing one million and forcing many more to relocate to surrounding Somalia or Sudan. The clash of Eritrean forces for independence continued against the junta.

In 1981, Zeleke was 25 years old, working as a junior accountant on UN government state farmland. He decided to quit Ethiopia for the sake of his own survival. It was disheartening for him to leave his parents and seven siblings behind, a family that he would have to pay travel money to see again today, setting out into an uncertain future, alone. In the unity of other strangers, deportees, and emigrants, he travelled by bus beyond the border of neighbouring Somalia.

He was greeted with another turbulent power struggle. Numerous tribes, many with physical arms and each with their own ideas of how to rule Somalia, fought tirelessly in a futile battle for supremacy.

Zeleke only stayed in Somalia for seven months. The refugee camp that the UN tried to maintain was disorganized and broken in the conflict that took place. When he had nowhere else to go for shelter, he stayed at a corner teashop he frequented some nights, a small establishment constructed from chip wood and a simple tarp for a roof. He would lay down a bed of cartons to sleep on. He did not know the owner well, but he was allowed to stay at the shop so long as he cleaned up after himself, which he always made sure to do.

Life could not continue like this, and Zeleke had one other option. He had heard stories of emigrants who had made their way to Yemen via the Gulf of Aden. It would be a risky proposition, but he had saved enough money to pay the illegal ferry to get him there.

Between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean lies the wide, connecting channel of the Gulf of Aden (when Zach tells me this, it sounds like “Eden”). On the other side of the channel lies Yemen, where the southern border is on high alert, keeping their eyes open for smugglers of illegal immigrants who might boat across. A person who wanted to go unnoticed would have to make the journey across under the veil of night.

At the northern border of Somalia, Zeleke paid the ferryman 100 American dollars.

The boats they used were old and rather small, certainly not big enough to cram 200 men, women, and children bound to settle in a more peaceful land. Each and every person who could hold a bucket was given one.

The night of Zeleke’s first venture across the channel, the waters churned and rocked without remorse. Waves higher than two-story rooftops, veritable walls of water, smashed and heaved against the tiny boat where so many were bundled together, cold and seasick. Many began to vomit. Women were in tears, huddling to protect their children. The tiny vessel was perpetually on the verge of capsizing or sinking from the constant influx of water, and passengers had no time to rest in bailing out as much as they could with their buckets.

The ride only lasted an hour. The ferryman realized that it was too dangerous to continue trying to make headway, and the boat was forced to turn back to the shores of Somalia to cross on another night.

It would be another 15 days in Somalia before Zeleke would get another opportunity to cross. The second attempt was nothing like the first. The water was much more calm and welcoming, and the night was still. Within twenty-four hours, he had reached the southern shores of Yemen. From there, he would settle in Aden.

Compared to the hostilities in Ethiopia and Somalia at the time, Aden was a relatively peaceful city on the southern border of Yemen. It was an established British colony, and there was much less violence.

Zeleke was finally able to find a steady home there, sharing a small apartment space with  roommates. To keep up his rent, however, he still had to work tirelessly. He worked days and nights as a hotel receptionist, earning about 50 dollars every month. This was only just enough money to pay his rent.

When he entered Aden, he was broke. He had spent whatever money he had on the ferry. Thankfully, the UN was able to supplement his resources every month with a litre of oil and 50 kilograms of flour, but it still wasn’t very much.

Zeleke joined the Anglican Church after arriving in Aden. There, he met the woman who would be his wife, Meseret, who had flown into Yemen directly from Ethiopia. The two were married in the church, and their son, Ammanuel, was born soon after. (As he explains this to me, Meseret goes to fetch the wedding photos that preserved this point in their lives. She discovers that not the whole album survived the move into their new home, but she did salvage a small stack of the colour prints that were left. A number of them depicted the common image of the bride and groom, he in black suit and she in white wedding gown, hand in hand, smiling. They stood against a backdrop of exotic floral greens.)

Zeleke’s new family lived a total of 13 years in Yemen. Meseret’s sister, a member of their church in Canada, would sponsor them to immigrate to Canada.

The job of a personal support worker is difficult and tiring. Often there is a disconnect between the person who provides care and the resident who is being cared for, each unaware of the experiences of the other. But Zeleke respects these residents. He understands that, someday, he may find himself in their place.

Under his care, Tony is alert and aware, traits that Zeleke has always admired about the man. During their reading sessions, Tony is able to read without the aid of glasses and retain what he has picked up from the page. Whenever Zeleke asks if he is feeling tired, he typically responds “no”.  Zeleke does his best to reflect this simple statement of will, and in this way the two help each other.

On one of his visits, in 2011, Tony asks, “When was the last time you saw your mother, Zach?” And Zeleke tells him that he hasn’t seen his family since he left Ethiopia, when his pilgrimage began.

Just as Zeleke wants nothing more than to help Tony, Tony wants nothing more than to help Zach. He provides Zach with funding to travel. After our family finalizes the arrangements, Zach receives the opportunity to reunite with the family he left behind in Ethiopia, something he is forever grateful for.

It is the first time he has seen his family in 17 years. 

When Zach finishes his story, I thank him again for his time. He insists that I stay for a bite to eat. I tell him that I appreciate the gesture, but that I had already eaten before I came to visit. Still, he wishes for me to stay. He is just like Tony; if it means he can provide help or hospitality, he won’t take no for an answer.

He gestures for me to take a seat at the dining room table, and I oblige without another thought. Meseret emerges from the kitchen with our meal and joins us. She puts a small salad bowl on the table, which is then dwarfed by a spaghetti casserole with a toasted cheese layer, baked in an oven pan the size of a large drum. This is followed by a saucer of butter, and a loaf of bread so thick that it could be used as a weapon once it goes stale.

Zach and Meseret bow their heads to say grace, and I join in. The words that come out of Zach’s mouth are completely alien to me. I realize he must be speaking in Amharic, his mother tongue. When he is finished, we pick up our forks to eat, and for a short time, we are silent. I inquire about the prayer.

“I am thanking God for the food on this table,” he says to me. “And that I might have this opportunity to meet my family.”

When he says this, he is looking directly at me.  

Finding the Right Ingredients

By Mia Maloney


The new Elmdale Tavern remains nearly the same as it once was: long and narrow and lit only by a slit of windows at the front of the bar. Even the sign outside remains virtually untouched. But owners Joshua Bishop and Peter McCallum have given the tavern a new life. Tucked into the freshly varnished wood of the bar that runs the length of the room, one of the Elmdale’s chefs, Eric Bimm and I are chatting over a few craft beers and some freshly shucked oysters. While the tavern itself hasn’t been dramatically overhauled, a big change has taken place in their kitchen. It’s the reason Eric says he works for these guys — something that started years ago in smaller joints not unlike this one, but today, has grown so much, it’s been adopted by food giants like Sobeys and President’s Choice. The change is that restaurants, suppliers and grocery stores are sourcing their foods primarily from local farms and making that a transparent selling feature. Foods come not only from a close radius, but consumers can know about the farmer and what they farm.

Eric and I agree that this movement represents positive change. Getting away from the mass produced or genetically modified foods as the only choice will affect the food system at all levels. But while the local farmer might be cashing in, diners might be losing out. Despite our love of local, we like to branch out now and then as well, and we suspect other diners do too.

Both Eric and I are lifelong locavores (consumers of local food and product), a route chosen by proximity rather than by trend. For Eric, becoming a chef was a birthright. Despite his best efforts to branch off, at 16 he began his career in the dish pit of his grandmother’s patisserie, Le Faisan Gourmand, in Wakefield, Quebec. There, Eric trained beneath his mother and grandmother in the art of French cuisine, an internship any classically trained French cook would die to have. But what he gained more than inherited knowledge was a passion for locally sourced, quality foods. It’s no accident that Eric has over the years worked for a number of restaurants, including the Elmdale, that share his passion for not only locally sourced foods, but foods that adhere to rigorous ecological standards.

My introduction to local foods came a little differently. I was raised in Lanark County, Ontario where I can remember one evening our family piled into our butter-coloured Dodge Caravan and drove to a farmhouse not five minutes from my dad’s garage. We’d been invited to dinner by a friendly older couple, and along with the modest serving of mashed potatoes and meat, there was a non-stop flow of fresh, cold milk. When we left dinner, bellies full, they handed us a few litres of their farm’s milk. The milk was great, maybe even the best I’ve ever had, but what really stayed with me was that it came from a real, local farm. My dad worked in a garage fixing and selling farm equipment, so he relied on the farmer’s business for his own. It is an important cycle; without the farmer, there’s no need for a farm equipment mechanic, and with no one to repair the farm equipment, fields are left unplowed and grains are left unsold. The food we bring to the table not only feeds us, but it can feed our communities as well.   

The transparent choice sometimes goes by a few different names: locavore, local food systems, the 100-mile diet. But for world-renowned chef Jamie Oliver, “naked” best serves the movement. When I was 14, The Naked Chef appeared on our Bell Satellite guide. Both intrigued and terrified that I might wind up tuning in to see a naked man cooking bacon or a naked man cooking bacon, I tuned in anyway. As it turned out, The Naked Chef was neither naked nor cooking bacon. The “naked” referred to a cooking style that involved “stripping down” recipes sourcing fresh, seasonal and readily available ingredients. Oliver even went so far as to serve his food directly off his butcher-block table, giving his guests only a fork and a bon appetit to eat with. The show lasted only three seasons, but Jamie Oliver became a household name and his “naked” approach spoke to my already burgeoning interest in the culinary arts. I eventually found my way into culinary school, worked as a chef, started a small catering business, and a recipe blog. My love of food, cooking and the “local” mantra even propelled me into becoming a writer. But while Eric and I look into the mugs of our rapidly disappearing Carling Avenue beer, we begin discussing the other side of this trend.

Local food systems do present a positive change in the way we approach our food. They promote human rights, animal welfare, sustainability, environmental impacts, and health and food safety. Buying from a source as close as an urban garden can even influence the way global foods are transported, or the way farmers globally manage the fair-trade market. However, local foods may not always represent the highest quality, most sustainable or even the most nutritious choice: “local” does not necessarily encompass all of these things. The argument for GMOs is science and standardization, and the argument for global, is: Who are we to deprive the Ugandan farmer of his right to prosperity? Just because a menu reads like a wonderful list of happy local suppliers doesn’t mean you, the consumer, are getting the best bang for your buck. In fact, some restaurateurs have capitalized on the marketability of the term “local.” 

Eating out one night, after reading a menu that appeared to be a brag-list of suppliers: O’Brien Farms' beef, Le Coprin mushrooms, and Upper Canada Cranberries, things not only became convoluted — I’ll have the steak and mushrooms with cranberry jam — they became disappointing. As I looked down at the three meagre — but local! — ingredients on my $35 plate, I thought “this stripped-down approach has gone too far.” While I was happy to support the local farms from which my ingredients were procured, I felt ripped off by what wasn’t on my plate. The reality is that your run-of-the-mill GMO foods would have filled my belly, and at a fraction of the cost.

However, this doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t choose my dad’s garden tomatoes that pack so much punch you barely miss the bacon in his bacon-less BLTs, or that Eric wouldn’t prefer his grandmother’s perfect crumbly-crust pie, with its mounds of thinly sliced, local orchard apples, over a store-bought one any day. What it does mean is that being a knowledgeable consumer is key. “Knowing where something came from,” Eric says, “how it is grown, is nothing but beneficial for the consumer.” 

There can be a comfortable medium between local and global; it’s just a matter of finding the right ingredients. It’s where places like the Elmdale Tavern arrive at happy terms. While Eric says they source all they can from local suppliers, their primarily seafood menu must come from a little farther. That doesn’t mean that Eric or owners Joshua Bishop and Peter McCallum will compromise on their ethics. The ocean-wise seafood they source is only chosen because of its high standards; the same standards they demand from the local items that accompany them. You will never see them source Albacore tuna just because Albacore tuna is sustainable, nor will they only sell carp because it’s a protein available in the Rideau Canal.

I can say, finishing up the last of my beer that was brewed down the road and the oysters that have travelled from Prince Edward Island, that I'm happy places like the Elmdale give me choice. I can have local and global and feel good about both.

The Heart of Hintonburg

By Dave Didylowski


I showed up early to speak with the owner, but that’s not the point. The fact is I had a fine cheeseburger (with mandatory sautéed onions) and a cold quart of beer as I killed time in my favorite tavern. Damn, I missed this place.

Fifteen years ago, while employed at the Tunney’s Pasture complex on the edge of Ottawa’s Hintonburg-Mechanicsville area, I would go for walks through the working-class neighbourhood and down the then gritty Wellington Street West. Other days I would have lunch with my co-workers at the Carleton Tavern (the CT) on Armstrong and Parkdale. It was then that I met the Saikley brothers: Simon, Sam and Billy.

The building dates back to 1935 and was then known as the Carleton Hotel. Beginning in 1962, their father owned the restaurant next door and supplied food to the “hotel.” The family of eight worked at the restaurant and lived upstairs in a small apartment. In 1989, the owners decided to sell and the Saikley family was given the first chance to take ownership. The family asked Simon if he wanted to manage the new establishment and, although hesitant at first, he accepted. After nearly a quarter century, he is still running the place.

The tavern remains one of the few touchstones to the old neighbourhood. It’s not a restaurant or a bar, although they serve food and drink. It is a tavern, and embodies everything that term conjures up.  

The interior of the white, pre-World War II building is covered in wood panelling and decorated with swag from breweries, big-screen televisions and pictures of Carleton-sponsored sports team from years ago. There is also a pool table and a jukebox for your amusement. The beer is cold and served in quart bottles, which only adds to the tavern atmosphere.  At small wooden tables, older men discuss sports and politics as they drink. Even when I was younger, I loved places like the Carleton and would gravitate towards them.

The polite term for what the Carleton has is “personality.” Like with people, its character can be judged as good or bad, but not indifferent. The heart of the tavern’s personality lies with the brothers. Sam and Billy take care of the kitchen, while Simon handles the day-to-day business of the tavern.

The most visible and vocal of the three is Billy. He is usually running food from the kitchen and empty plates from tables. In between his duties, Billy can be found talking trash about the Montreal Canadiens and defending his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Dishing out good-natured insults with the frequency of chicken wings is his way of thanking you for your patronage and telling you that you belong at the CT. It feels good to be appreciated by the establishment you help support.

Over the past decade, the Hintonburg area has changed. Re-development throughout Ottawa has meant that working-class neighbourhoods have become increasingly upscale. Simon recalls the neighbourhood was “a blue-collar area surrounded by factories” but that is the past. The area is now known as Wellington Street West and advertised as a “Creative and Eclectic Urban Shopping District.”

The instigating factor for this change is the replacing of houses and small buildings with luxury condominiums. This is especially evident on Holland and Parkdale Avenues and Wellington Street West.  Simon agrees and believes that the area has “gone away from being blue collar.” Considering his long history with the neighbourhood, he would know as well as anyone.

The owners of these condo units are generally well-off and have a lifestyle that reflects their wealth. Businesses that suit these tastes have become commonplace. This is exemplified by a number of art galleries, fitness studios and eclectic restaurants that have popped up over the last few years. On a positive note, I see this as a reminder of the bustling hub that this area once was.

Some restaurants have at least attempted to preserve the personality of the old neighbourhood. Earlier this year, the Elmdale Tavern was purchased by the owners of the Whalesbone Oyster House on Bank Street. By keeping the interior similar to the way it was and bringing in sustainable seafood, they have tried to reach the middleground of being an “upscale tavern.” Reviews have been mostly favourable, but people expect more affordable fare in a tavern setting.

I wondered how a place like the Carleton has managed to survive during thesetrying times.

Not only has there been a change in the clientele in the area, but also increased competition in attracting those customers. Coupled with these concerns over changes in the urban landscape, people talked a few years ago about the effect of federal government job cuts on businesses near government offices. Simon sees the effects as give and take. Lunches are slower, evening crowds are larger and they are still in business.

After some pondering, and another quart, I concluded that The Carleton is what it has always been, a place for people to gather, drink, eat and have some fun. It’s nothing fancy and you might be overcome by the feeling that you are in someone’s rec room. It was retro before retro was cool. It doesn’t pretend to be something that it isn’t. It’s a dive bar and that isn’t a bad thing. Love it or leave it.

The Carleton is a fixture in this changing neighbourhood. It reminds me of the way Simon says it used to be, the neighbourhood as one big family. The Carleton’s annual Christmas dinner for the less fortunate conveys this feeling well. For the last 10 years, in conjunction with the local community association, the Carleton has provided Christmas Day meals for those who are “homeless, home alone or people who need to be with somebody on Christmas Day,” says Simon.

A sure sign of the times is the Carleton’s presence on social media.  Their Facebook page has 587 Likes and reports 2270 people having been there. They are also featured favourably on the food and drink sites Yelp and Foursquare. This is the Carleton’s way of growing with the changing times and getting their name out there. As Simon says, “advertising isn’t in a phone book or a newspaper anymore.”

In terms of the future, Simon has no plans of retiring any time soon but concedes that he isn’t the only deciding voice in the tavern. They have been approached by developers, but are too busy making a living to consider that option. “Who knows what will happen as time goes on,” says Simon wistfully. With a laugh, he concludes “it’s better not to know.”

At the end of our conversation, Simon mentioned that he had passed me on the street a few times towards the end of my stint at Statistics Canada and that I didn’t seem to be my normal self. He was so right: I was miserable at my job. We agreed that my old self was back and he was happy to see that. Much like the Carleton, I’m the same as I ever was. It’s amazing how simple words can make a person feel good—and I always feel good when I’m at the Carleton.

Way of the Moose


By Michael Myers

Hunched over an undersized desk, Lucas earns his nickname: Moose. “Give it to Moose,” his coworkers say. Massive filing jobs are regularly dumped on his desk and he completes them all without error.  When the office is bustling with loud salesmen, excited for their weekends and happy-hours, Lucas quietly works away.  His silence isn’t a dig at his colleagues’ shenanigans, he just never speaks, a side-affect of his autism.   

Lucas works at Choice Realty, a real-estate office that is close enough to home. For Lucas it doesn’t matter though. He’s always miles away as he’s entering, sorting and summarizing sales data. But for his mother Susanne, it’s important that her son always be close by. They keep a hard routine and live a streamlined life, but she often worries about her son.

His autism never stopped him from earning a two-year college diploma in Accounting. The routine and structure of Accounting was a perfect fit for Lucas: Mondays were Payroll and tuna for lunch, Fridays were “Pizza Fridays” and Accounts Receivable entries.  Lucas never took to speaking, especially at work where is mother wasn’t there to be his voice. Still, he could show you on an Excel spreadsheet just what you needed to see.

At 5 p.m. sharp everyday, Susanne picks her son up from work. Lucas then spends every night playing his favourite online war game, Counterstrike. She isn’t crazy about Lucas’ ritual, and at age 22, Susanne thinks he ought to have his own routine, whether or not he approves.  But along with Lucas’ gaming comes the loud pounding she hears coming from his room every night. One night, it gets really loud. Forced to investigate for the sake of her son, and her home, Susanne barges in mid-smash.

“Lucas, you are going to break that desk!”

Lucas swivels his chair to face his mom, and then turns back to his monitor and pushes it over with ease.

“Talk to me, Lucas!” she screams.

He holds his stare and kicks the monitor, which is now on the ground. This is when Susanne decides it’s time for a new routine.

The next day, she sets out to find something that will be better for her son. Fishing would be perfect, she thinks. It’s outdoors, it’s peaceful and best of all, it’ll keep him off of Counterstrike for a few hours.

Susanne makes her way into a sporting goods store and purchases two rods and a tackle box, and fills it with what she thinks are over-priced lures. It’s for my son, she says to herself as the clerk swipes her card.

Leaving the store, Susanne notices a blue flyer sticking out from under her windshield wiper. On it, a man in a Karate gi is smiling while throwing a straight high-kick. “Master Nick’s Impact Kyokutan Karate,” it says. Yeah, that is just what he needs: more violence. She pulls the flyer down and drops it on the passenger seat.

Susanne arrives to pick up Lucas from work at 5:04. He’s already waiting outside with a not-so subtle scowl.

“I got something for you,” she says.

He looks down and through the car’s rolled-down window, and he sees the Karate flyer and grins.

“No, not that. Look in the back seat. I got us fishing rods!” Susanne says, waiting for Lucas to return her a smile.

Instead, his grin drops.

“I just thought I would try something new, Lucas. I mean, don’t you want to do something other than play that game?”

Lucas picks up the flyer, looks it over and tunes out his mom.

“What? You want to do that? Fine. I’ll drive you there right now!” Susanne says, reversing the car in a fury.

They pull into the parking lot of what looks to be an abandoned office building. Susanne waits for Lucas to call her bluff, but it never comes. When they enter the dojo, they’re met with the smell of feet and the sound of shins colliding with pads: Bang, bang, BANG.

“Jeez kid, you’re as big as a bear,” says a voice. It’s the guy from the flyer, Nick.

“Funny you should say that,” Susanne chimes in. “I hear his coworkers have likened him to a moose.”

“Ha! Okay, Moose… Is that what I should call you?” Nick asks.

Lucas gives no reply.

Nick smiles. “Okay, Moose, we’d be happy to have you. Class starts in ten minutes.”

“Oh no! We are just here for some information. He’s not ready to try it now,” Susanne explains.

“Moose, you wanna try this out now?” Nick persists.

Lucas nods yes.

“Great! We have a loner gi you can wear for this class. Don’t worry, its clean.”

Lucas signals to his mother to wait outside.

“No, Lucas. If you really want to try this out, I’m staying right here.”

*          *          *

“Okay, guys. Let’s all give a warm welcome to Lucas, who’s starting his first class today.”

The class applauds and Lucas applauds with them nervously.

There is a wall in the dojo with a slogan adorning it that seems to catch Lucas’ eye. It reads: “If you know the way broadly, you will see it in everything.”

“That’s Miyamoto Musashi, Moose. Do you know who that is?”

Lucas shakes his head.

“He was the greatest Japanese swordsman ever. You could learn a lot from him. When you go home tonight, look him up.”

Susanne waits in the lobby.  Everywhere there are trophies, metals and pictures of Nick fighting in competitions. In one, Nick’s opponent appears to be lying on the mat unconscious. While he seems to be a nice guy, she hopes this will be their last trip to Nick’s studio. 

But, week after week, she drives him to his classes. Lucas’ laundry doubles from the sweat-soaked gis, but Susanne is hard-pressed to complain.  The pounding on the desk has stopped, and Counterstrike is replaced with Bruce Lee clips on YouTube and Musashi’s book, The Book of Five Rings.

Three months pass and Lucas is promoted to the rank of orange belt. The night of his promotion, Nick takes Lucas aside.

“Learning through repetition and hard training, Moose. That’s why I gave you your orange belt tonight…. You’re qualified to compete now,” Nick says as he tugs on his new orange belt. “You’re our only heavyweight.”

Lucas glanced at his mother, who was watching them both suspiciously.

“Moms worry, Moose,” says Nick. “That’s what they do. If I listened to my mom, I would have never found my own way.” Nick stretches out his arms to show off his trophies and his studio.

“What do you want to do, Moose?” Nick asks as he hands Lucas a flyer for a local competition.

Susanne sees the flyer and ambushes the conversation.

“This isn’t for him, Nick.”

“Is this for you, Moose?” Nick asks.

Lucas slowly nods.

“I’ve allowed Lucas to train here. That’s enough for him.”

“I’m going to go,” Lucas says suddenly. Both his mother and his teacher stand there, speechless.

While Nick has only known Lucas for a few months, he’s never heard him say a word, and for Susanne she can’t remember the last time she heard her son’s voice. Lucas learned to speak early on, but as he got older, fewer and fewer words were said until there were almost none.  Lucas was diagnosed with High-Function Autism (HFA). A nonverbal HFA is extremely rare, and this made Susanne wonder if his silence was a choice.

The weekend of the competition soon approaches. This time, Lucas’ mom doesn’t drive him, and she doesn’t wait for him in the lobby. Nick meets him out front and quotes Musashi, but Lucas is too nervous to pay any notice.

When his name is finally called, he’s wobbly. His competitor is shorter, but wider than he is, and confidently bouncing on his toes around the mat.

The match begins. Lucas absorbs the first strike; it lands hard on his rib cage. Lucas returns a series of left-right jabs as he charges forward, but he can’t tell if any have landed. Lucas suffers another kick to his already throbbing rib and the exchanges continue with Lucas getting the worst of it.  The three-minute match ends and Lucas’ hand is not raised. He loses the match, 5-1.

 “Great heart, Moose. We’ll go over it on Monday,” Nick says while he gives him a reassuring pat on the back.

When he gets outside, he finds his mom waiting for him in the parking lot. When she notices Lucas’ slumped-over posture while holding his rib cage, she rushes over. He pushes her away, letting her know that he’s OK. Instead, he hands her a flyer for another competition.

Susanne steps away from her son and asks, “Is this really what you want to do?”

Lucas smiles and nods.

“Okay, Lucas. Have it your own way.” 


By Cindy Graham


I’m sitting on the step that goes down to the porch, leaning against the door frame with my walkie-talkies in the pockets of my thick, red dress. It’s a bright winter morning, but the clothes dryer’s on and giving off its heat. The warmth, along with the rhythmic clanging of winter jackets and zippers in the dryer, has me drowsy. When my father bursts in, the sharp squeak of the near-frozen door handle jerks my head up, like a puppet come to life.

“Hullo,” he mutters, swinging the door open and stomping the snow off his boots. Our German shepherd comes trailing in after him, his fur dusted in snow.

“Hi, Dad. Heyyy, Zeus!” I tap my hands on the floor to get the dog’s attention.

The ears go up when I call him but he’s more inclined to shake off the snow. I let out a yelp as he sprays, an easy target. When he finishes he greets me properly, tongue panting and tail thumping happily against the dryer.

He lets me pat him, but his attention is on my father, who tosses his cigarettes on top of the dryer and pulls off his jacket. He walks to the closet to pull out his helmet and snowmobile suit while the dog watches him, sits properly and waits.

“Dad...” My voice is barely loud enough to get the words out. Zippers clang and Zeus pants quietly. “Can I go with you?”

My father puts on his snowsuit one leg at a time, brings up the top, arms in arm holes, and zips up. I wait for his answer.

Out of habit, I suppose, he pats himself for the cigarettes, so I reach up to the dryer and pass him his Export A’s. He takes them from my hand and sighs the way he always does when he comes in—like he wants us to know how hard it is out there in garages and under machines. I feel my face flush.

His greying hair is stuck up all over from pulling off his toque. He finds his lighter, and his voice is low and grumbly when he brings the flame to his stick.

“If you’re comin’, tell your mother,” he says. The cigarette bounces up and down as he speaks. I watch him drag and inhale before letting the smoke blow through his nostrils, then I grab a walkie-talkie, run to the back of the house and fly up the stairs, hitting the landing hard. It startles my mother, who’s vacuuming.

“Jesus, Hannah!” she yells sharply, one hand clutching her chest. “Don’t ever do that again!

“Sorry, Mom.” My face flushes again.

She goes back to her work, her long, dark ponytail moving steadily as she makes each pull and push with the carpet sweeper, and I fidget with the walkie-talkie before I dare say anything else. Through the bathroom window I can see the field covered in snow, shimmering in the late morning sun, and the river behind it covered in ice.

“Mom?” I need a second before I can continue. “Dad’s going skidooing.” And then, hesitantly, while her back is still turned to me, I say, “Can I go with him?”

It takes her a few seconds to stand the nozzle upright, shut off the machine, and turn to me. “What?” she asks, her eyebrows furrowed. I step forward to put the walkie-talkie on top of the dresser.

“I’m going with Dad,” I say, before she can think about it too much. And through the speaker static, we can hear my father getting the dog all riled up downstairs. I catch my mother rolling her eyes just before she turns her back to start vacuuming again, but since she doesn’t say anything, I assume I can go.

Downstairs, I make my way back to the porch, picking up the other walkie-talkie along the way and passing my father, who’s shaking paws with the dog in the kitchen, crying, “You coming? You coming too, you big ballafur? Hah hah hah…!”  

Normally all you hear is the fridge running and the hum of the furnace coming on steady on  Saturday mornings, so the laughter sounds weird, out of place.

The dog thumps his tail in anticipation and rises on all fours when he sees my father turn back to the porch.

“D’ja tell your mother?” he asks, when he brushes by me. I answer him, though he’s not really waiting for an answer.

While I’m finding my hat and mittens and tucking the walkie-talkie into my snowsuit pocket, he lights up another cigarette and glances at the time. There’s a clock on the wall everyone sees when they come to the house, one of those curvy pieces of wood with a picture of our very first shepherd on it. I stand and wait for a sign that we’re leaving when, without word, my father opens the door, letting the dog rush ahead. I take my cue to follow and close on my way out, and watch him toss his cigarette to the snow.

I run past them across the yard to the garage full of giant machines and the snowmobile. Gas and oil fumes permeate the air. There’s a tractor-trailer with its hood up, and I’ve already flicked on the lights and taken the skidoo key from its nail when they come in.

“Were you working on the truck this morning, Dad?” I ask, as I hand him the key.

“You could say that.” And then, under his breath I hear him say, “Christless piece of shit.”

He allowed me to go with him once before, though this is the first time we’ve gone out this winter. He sits behind me, starts it up and says, “Wanna drive?” My eyes water from the fumes,  but after he steers us out of the garage he lets me take us down the driveway to the farmer’s field behind our house, where I have sunshine, a clear path, and speed.

I push the throttle and steer us in a line across the field towards the river, where we’ll cross into the next field over. I stop and idle when we reach the bank so my father can whistle for Zeus. He’d been racing behind us, but deer and rabbit tracks have got him sniffing and distracted. My father whistles from his fingers, and it brings him immediately to us.

“Go sit on the back will ya?” says my father. I get off and take my seat behind him, put my arms around his waist and check for the dog, who follows close as we start down the bank. Once we get to the river’s edge, the sun is so bright I have to shield my eyes from the glare. Fresh snowmobile tracks are visible rising up the bank on the other side, though, so it must be all right to cross.

That’s why, when we hear the first crack, it comes as a shock. I’ve no sooner realized what the sound means than I’m in the water, plunged down with the snowmobile’s weight on top of me.  I think I hear my mother’s voice, garbled, through the static of my walkie talkie somehow, and the current has just started to take hold. I can feel the pull when my father’s arm reaches into the water and heists me up, onto the ice. Carefully, he drags me back to the bank.

“Are ya all right? Are ya okay?” His face looks wild with fear.

“I’m all right,” I would say if I could, but my teeth are chattering too hard.

He sits me on the snow bank so he can take off his snowsuit and wrap it around me, lifting and cradling me to his chest before he starts the climb up to the field. I can’t control the chatter of my teeth, and he starts to run.

In seconds I’m aware of the huff-puffing of his breath and my weight in his arms. I don’t know how far he’s come but I’m numb with cold. If I  peer back past the outside edge of his shoulder, I can see the ice floes in the river recede as my father steadily makes his distance. He’s running along the tracks we made just minutes before, and Zeus’ prints, heading in the opposite direction—for the river—merge into my line of sight now, too. They burrow deep into the snow, and I can see that as his paws emerged from each stride they scuffed the surface like some crazed pony that blazed across the field. And it dawns on me, halfway across now, our house up the hill in the distance that the dog’s nowhere around us, and hasn’t been since we left the river.




By Glen Peters


Every day at work he earns this headache, and this call makes it worse. This job. This job is the culmination of a long journey sideways. He could say, if he had to, how he got there, but he prefers not to think on it.  He returns the phone to its cradle. It feels especially warm, especially plastic, and he can’t wait to let it go. 

Anthony stands and stretches with a certain regularity. He’s thick, and athletic, and he’s punished for the confinement of office chairs. “I have to walk, Donny. Taking my lunch.” His coworker nods, a figure in a chair that casts no shadow under the halogen sky. 

Breaching into the fresh air, he feels like he’s fallen into an ocean of oxygen. Senses are startled awake, and he shivers. That office is a dentist’s chair. It’s just a block to the storefronts and, despite his discomfort, he feels lucky. The Old Quarter by the Port has work space, green space and retail all nicely at hand. For lunch hour he has time to eat, to walk, and pick her up “something special.” This weekend, it’s her birthday. 

And he wouldn’t mind a moment by the water, just a moment.

Summer sidewalks here are insistent with life. Foot traffic surges. Office anecdotes carry across the street. Flowers (they’re everywhere) throw colour and perfume over everything like they own us. Seagulls crisscross above, and descend occasionally to shout and joust for French fries. With a similar force of life, Anthony pushes for the antiques store. 

Inside, minutes — entire minutes — pass behind two ladies discussing oak armoires before he learns they’re not in line for service. Damn it. They have his package, he only needs to pick it up. At the counter, at least, the dealer has a sympathetic look… and his parcel. 

Suzanne had seen it on TV. She loves gardening. She was Queen about her horticulture, and yet, without end, she asked his advice and shared stories about this thing that was all hers. “Look at that statue, Tony! Wouldn’t that be amazing in our spot out back? I’d put it on a pedestal, I think, over the snapdragons. And the irises, yes.” The camera panned around the pale figure, the form of a goddess, long hair and childbearing features. “See something lovely,” she said. “Make it a treasure.” 

Ten months later, and he had her in his hands. Not the very same statue, but the same goddess, the same craft — an original. Over two hundred years and an ocean and the goddess was going to answer prayers, to make Suzanne understand that to him, she was lovely. His treasure. Every day, in the garden she loves, she would know it. He carefully passes her back for packaging, and offers a plastic card for exchange. 

Outside again, he’s passing a bar and grill as four half-drunk suits exit, with too much noise — heads full of business figures, sports figures, themselves. Their leader, holding court, lurches laterally from his audience and into passers-by, clumsy elbow aloft.  Anthony hears it with a supernatural clarity: the sharp report of something undone. He contemplates his empty hands. Upon the cobblestone, in the darkness of a box, rests an untold story to which everyone knows the end. It was a piece of his spirit given shape, something he could have given her in a way he can’t with words. He doesn’t know about gods, but he has now the hollow feeling of her absence. 

“Fucking imbecile!” The ruined efforts and hopes of past and present pile up in his head and add to the mass there, the compact discomfort. In an event of frustration and aggression, desire possesses him with all his heart to commit a violence. Hands raise of their own accord for a man he outweighs by fifty pounds. This, this is the sort of person upon whom we all assume the wall of the world surely must fall, but never does. 

The god of men is dead, too. Anthony doesn’t grab the lout. He doesn’t stoop for the statue’s broken bones. He turns instead, the sun in his eyes as he surges away. Everyone’s all shadow, all noise is white. He applies upon himself a force equal to the explosion inside, all rage in stasis. He’s not going to the bar, he made a promise. And he’s not going to work. He’s going to the store, and nearly trips getting there. Soon he has his new package: cigarettes he’d forsworn, because something has to give.

There’s a network of one-way lanes in the Old Quarter. Their walls are high, the streets are narrow. There’s shelter from the oppressive sun; from the scrutiny of others; from explanations. And there are archways here that bridge these paths, and can’t be found anywhere else. They have always seemed civilized to him — proof that, at some time, it was significant that you should pass from one path to another. Your life in stages. 

The distant smell of pastry mingles with the cradled burst of sulfur, and fresh tobacco. He leans for a moment against the grey, stoned wall. It’s rough and cool and feels good on his temple. 

The seagulls are muted here, and their forms relegated to dark profiles seen briefly between rooftops, against the blue band of sky. 

“This is when quitters quit,” his old man had said. “You’re gonna, I can tell. Things get tough, that’s what you do. What you always do.” 

He won’t. He pulls on his secret cigarette (is it helping? he’s not sure). Time is short now, but he wants a little while at the Port. He wants to see the water, sure that it will help. Needs to keep it together. 

He’s on his second smoke when he emerges from the labyrinth. The calm ends suddenly. All the winds hit him at once. This is the riverside, all storefronts to the left, all water to the right. Along the boardwalk are runners, and walkers, lovers for lunch and walkers of dogs. The birds fill all spaces in between. 

Anthony pushes on. How... how to say “I love you” in three short days? It’s her birthday. 

He’s almost there, at his perfect spot where he can meet himself. He’s probably late for work, but he’s not tracking time anymore. The cobblestones are memory, and life is now wooden boards underfoot. He feels the phone vibrate, barely hears the tones these jealous winds try to steal away. It’s work, and he doesn’t pick up. “Things are getting tough, eh, kid? You wait and see.”

It seems they’re everywhere, the fathers and the mothers and the children. It seems impossible there are so many smiles. He feels sick, and lights his third cigarette all the same. Those smiling children are not beaten, their dads haven’t quit…. 

This is his place, the pier at the end of the boardwalk. Anthony likes the drum of suspended wood under his heels, likes walking its length, the shore retreating behind him. He likes knowing that at its end, unable to go on, he can stop. 

Someone has left chips in a bag. The seagulls are thick and aggressive, filling his eyes and ears like large feathered flies. Discontent and greedy, they flap and yell, and he’s sure they’re a nation of wild, reincarnated office clerks. 

I hate seagulls. 

I hate my job, gawddamn seagulls. 

He charges the last remaining stretch, swings his arms and scatters the panicked birds who circle, and scold in anger. His phone again, with a different tone. 

“What!” He has it to his ear, bunched in his fist. He can’t refuse. “What!”

Suzanne is surprised, Suzanne is angry, Suzanne is concerned — is everything all right? What’s all that noise? Where is he, why isn’t he at work? 

Anthony, struggling with himself, wants to be done with the phone, which he hates; but won’t cut the call. Anthony loves Suzanne. 

“What is it, Sue? Eh? Never mind that, just tell me what you want. What!”

She was thinking about the garden. That garden. She saw something at the Garden Centre, not too gaudy, affordable, something for the space by the irises. The focal point of his failure.

“I’m late for work, Suzanne, why would you — call now — I don’t have time for this!” 

She doesn’t understand, she’s sorry, she just…. He’s yelling incoherently now, barbs of love and shame, guilt and random, hurtful remarks. Crying, finally, Suzanne disconnects. 

One of the black and white birds, in thrall to the chips at his feet, ventures too close — and is knocked from the pier by a very mobile phone. 

Anthony knows what’s happened. What he’s done. Broken something precious and unique, two goddesses in a day. Those kids don’t know: life is loud and greedy, full of monsters with hard shells. We cut where it’s soft. Heroes please the gods; normal people keep their jobs, and lose their love. But Anthony, he won’t quit. 

If Only

By Emily Towsley 


Tom looked at his chewed up, bloody fingernails. If only he could stop taking out his frustrations on his fingers. If only he could fit in, if only, if only… Tom sighed. His life was nothing but “If onlys.”

Roaming the halls at school had become just as tiresome as chewing his fingernails. He felt scrutinized, yet invisible. His disease caused people to whisper, hiding their words behind their hands as they passed him in the hall. With such a physical deformity, he felt he would never feel normal.

“Alice!” the principal hollered from down the hall, setting off a series of giggles from students watching by their lockers. Tom barely turned towards the obtrusive sound. “Aren’t you late for class, young lady?”

“Yes sir, I’m on my way now,” he replied, heading toward next period.

The bindings are too tight, Tom thought, as he ignored the kids staring at him. My hips are growing. Why does my body betray me this way? His brain swirled with impossible thoughts. All he wanted was to be the boy he felt he was meant to be. Baggy clothes could only do so much against the estrogen betraying him, flowing through his body and transforming him.

His high voice, smooth cheeks, and delicate fingers and wrists still portrayed him as biologically feminine. No amount of wrappings or body reshaping attempts could mask the womanly curves he was cursed with.

His doctor had given him options, but they were all too expensive. “Could your parents help?” he’d asked. Maybe in another life, if they weren’t conservative Christians who considered Tom’s needs to be a sin.

There were some days when he passed for normal. A casual smile from a bus driver without a questioning look, an old lady accepting his chivalry without a second glance back to double check on the freak now walking behind her. If only they knew what it was like, having to work through your own uncertainty and self‑doubt without being able to hide it from the world.   

Tom was drawn-out of his reverie by a light tap on the shoulder. Fluorescent pink fingernails passed him his pen that he’d dropped without noticing. Tom turned around to look at the girl holding his pen. Her long blonde hair and awkward smile enchanted him almost instantly. “I’m Elizabeth…” she whispered. And then, the teacher disrupted their moment.

That day after class, Elizabeth and Tom had a conversation, she gave him her phone number, and Tom and Elizabeth began seeing each other. 

Tom was Elizabeth’s first boyfriend and Elizabeth was Tom’s first girlfriend, now that he identified as a man. Their courtship dance was an awkward unfolding of a second puberty for the both of them. Elizabeth would proudly hold Tom’s hand, kiss him in public, and lean her head on his shoulder, just like any other couple on the street. They would spend long nights holding hands, switching back and forth between whispering confessions of secret dreams, and laying in silence, just enjoying each other’s company, her hair spilling over his chest, her ear on his heart. 

She could stand up for him, and yet let him stand on his own; he always knew she was there for him. This was more than he had ever dreamed of. Maybe he could be a normal man; maybe he was truly becoming Tom.

Tom didn’t know what he wanted. On one hand, he loved Elizabeth’s tinkling laugh, her love of all things green, and the fact that she loved him. On the other, he was starting to feel overwhelmed. Things were changing so fast in his life that he started to doubt the things he could believe in, like Elizabeth’s love for him.

Later in their relationship Elizabeth told Tom that that she was a lesbian and that made him really uncomfortable. How could someone who had previously declared herself as only attracted to women truly love Tom as the man that he was growing into? She would joke that he was the only kind of man she could be with, but that only made him question whether she really saw him as Tom and not Alice.

 “I date who I want because I like spending time with them,” said Elizabeth. “I love them, and I could see myself spending my life with them! Whether their name is Alice or Tom doesn’t fucking matter to me!”

“But that’s all that fucking matters to me!” yelled Tom, throwing on his jacket and storming out of the room.

Making his way down the street, kicking anything in his path, Tom began to break down. If even Elizabeth doesn’t understand where I’m coming from, he thought, wiping his tears with his jacket. What hope is there that I’ll ever find anyone who does? My outside will never match my inside. I can’t imagine a future in which I’m happy. There’s no point in this anymore. If only there was a way to make these feelings stop forever.  

Tom felt like he was floating above his body as he continued to walk down the street, around buildings, and through parks. He was on autopilot and he didn’t care where he was headed ­— until he found himself on the subway platform. Suddenly the tears were gone, and he found himself with the first sense of purpose he had felt in a long time. There would be no more questions, no more staring, no more living with a mind and body that were permanently disconnected. He would be free. The lights coming from the darkness of the tunnel looked like a pair of cat eyes in the dark. As soon as he heard the whoosh of the train coming closer, he took a deep breath and jumped. The sound of his feet hitting the tracks was the last thing he heard clearly before everything went black.

Tom swam in and out of consciousness as the subway platform became alive with panicked people. The dull roaring in his ears obscured the chatter of the onlookers and the shouts of the workers trying to get to his body out from under the train. It seemed he had been run over, but not quite as efficiently as he’d planned. He chuckled through the blood in his mouth at the sight of his fingernails. In comparison to his broken body, they looked great now. For a second, he regretted his method. If only Elizabeth could have been shielded from this. But, what mattered then was that it would soon be all over. She would also be free — free from the burden that was “Tom.” As the world began to fade, he heard someone say, “Is that man going to be alright?”

“That was all I ever wanted,” were the last words Tom ever spoke. 



Double-Edged Praise

by Hoda Egeh


It was the summer of 2012, and I was working as a part-time employee at a large retail store. My closest friends were off travelling the world, sightseeing and engaging in summer flings while I was labouring most of my days away for a little over minimum wage. “College isn’t going to pay for itself, and the last thing you’d want is to be in debt,” my mother would say to me as I grumbled about wanting to spend my summer relaxing. “You have all of your retirement to relax, and besides, you need money to travel.”

During one particularly tiring shift, a customer approached me and asked if I could help her find the jacket/blazer section. Exhausted from work and dreading the long list of chores that awaited me at home, the last thing I wanted to do was to spend a lengthy amount of time helping someone. She was the nicest customer I had all night, though, and very amiable.

Her name was Camille and she had stark white ear-length hair, skin just as pale, and weathered eyes that crinkled when she smiled. Upon noticing my Anna Karenina sticker on my name badge, we spoke about our love for Leo Tolstoy’s works while we browsed for blazers. Our search for the perfect blazer took twenty minutes, and when we found one that she liked—a red blazer with black lace-trimmed lapels, one small black button, and shoulder pads—she thanked me. She commended me on my patience and willingness to help, and said, “You’re very pretty for a black girl.”

I was too caught up in my tasks to properly address this statement, so I thanked her, directed her to the cash register, and returned to the section of clothes that I was tidying up. Very pretty…for a black girl. Very pretty for a… black girl. My mind repeated those six words over and over while I folded jeans, pausing briefly on the words “black girl” before continuing to reverberate. No matter how many times I repeated the statement, I couldn’t comprehend it. Was she saying that I was pretty because I was black? If not, and if she was simply complimenting my looks, why did the colour of my skin factor into the compliment? Was it because she thought that despite my race, I was an attractive woman?

Driven by curiosity, I made my way back to the cash register to see if Camille was still there, but she was gone. Being very analytical, I couldn’t get her comment out of my head. I kept repeating those six words fearing that I would forget them, but I knew that I couldn’t. As I picked up strewn clothes off the dusty floor and shook them before hanging them up in their respective spots, I thought back to something my ex-boyfriend said to me in the early days of our relationship: “You look like a European girl dipped in caramel and chocolate.” When I asked him to explain what he meant by this bizarre statement, he told me that I had Caucasoid features—high, pronounced cheekbones, a small nose, a pointed chin, etc. I nodded, but that hadn’t cleared things up at all.

Born and raised in Canada, I knew little about my ancestry. I found myself wondering if it were possible that East Africans were mixed with Europeans. I spent hours scouring the Internet for information on the history of the Horn of Africa, and learnt that the phenotypic features of my people dated back 5,000-10,000 years, around the time of Queen Hatshepsut’s reign in Pharaonic Egypt. Ethiopia and Somalia were among two of the oldest countries in the world.

My ancestors weren’t mixed with Europeans, contrary to popular belief. Explaining this to my ex, I told him that a more accurate statement would have been, “You look like your people,” because that was inarguably the truth. Not that it mattered. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had people ask me, “Are you black?” or, “Are you mixed?” simply because I didn’t look “black” enough to them. It was as if they saw black people as a monolithic lump, and assumed that physical features didn’t vary from country to country.

By the end of my shift, I felt an enormous sense of unease. On one hand, I liked Camille’s compliment—as I do all compliments. On the other hand, I disliked her choice of words. It seemed like she was combining race and physical attractiveness as though the two were synonymous, and placed me on a proverbial pedestal above other black women because I had “attractive” features. In a society where European standards of beauty are generally considered “the best,” where does that leave those who don’t fall directly under that category?

Personal preferences aside, something about classifying a group of women as “beautiful” and marginalizing countless others felt very wrong to me. There are many beautiful aspects in women from all ethnic backgrounds. Their features shouldn’t be placed on a hierarchical scale, but should be celebrated for their differences.

I appreciate compliments just as much as the next person, but I don’t approve of backhanded ones.


Closet Helplessness

by Max Carrington

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In the spring of 1999, my parents decided that the family home was too small for the four of us and that they wanted to expand. The addition they had in mind would convert the master bedroom into a room for my sister, the room we now shared would become my own. This was a big step for a seven-year-old. My grandmother would move into a new basement apartment and my mother and father would get a brand new master bedroom complete with an en suite and a walk-in closet.

It was a long process, but after a few months the major renovations were done and there were only finishing touches to be completed.

The house was old and my mother demanded that the new rooms match the others. My father searched for oak doors that he could paint and stain to match the others. Each of the older doors in the house had clear glass doorknobs that were connected in the middle by a bar and sat on silver backplates. My father found enough of the silver backplates for all of the new doors, but fell one short on the double-sided glass knobs. This left my parents walk-in closet with a latch but no knobs.

The spring had quickly turned to summer, and on a bright sunny day, I followed ten paces behind my sister on our way home from school, as she demanded. As we walked up the front steps, I remember noticing that both the silver sedan and blue pickup truck were in the laneway. My father was home from work early.

We entered the house and proceeded to our bedrooms to put away our school bags. I heard my father speaking—loudly—to my mother. I also heard a strange clanking noise as he spoke. I hurried to their bedroom to find my father talking to the closed closet door and turning a screwdriver in the empty hole left for the double-sided knob.

My mother had accidentally latched the door behind her. She had been trapped in there for more than half the day.

My father rose from his bent-over position and greeted my sister and me. “Welcome home guys. It seems that we have a bit of a predicament,” he said as he wiped the sweat from his brow. He quickly laid out some possible solutions to us, but rescinded them just as quickly, “we could take the door off of its hinges, but no, the hinges are on the inside. We could bust it down, but no, I really do not want to have to paint and stain another one.” He continued to fidget with the screwdriver and latch, but it didn’t seem to be very effective.

“Would you just get me out of here!” yelled mom, who was sobbing profusely, curled up in a ball in the middle of the closet floor, surrounded by clothes.

Up to this point in my life I had never witnessed either of my parents so powerless and so vulnerable. My mother, who was the most powerful women in the world, who protected me against my nightmares, who I ran to when it was me who was feeling powerless and vulnerable, was trapped in a closet, in the fetal position, completely broken.

I stayed by the closet door, consoling her, telling her about my day at school to keep her mind off of the situation while my sister and father searched for solutions. About a half an hour passed before my sister came up with the idea to take apart one of the other doorknobs in the house and use it in the latch-hole of the walk-in closet. My father grabbed his tools and quickly took the knob off the pantry door. He inserted it into the latch-hole of the closet and opened it. Behind the door was my mother, now standing, her face swollen and red from crying. She immediately wrapped her arms around my father, and my sister and I did the same.

To this day, there is no knob on that closet door and every time I see that empty latch-hole, I recall the day when my mother was trapped and helpless, and it reminds me that even the most powerful people you know are susceptible to helplessness.


When Death is Kind

by Stephanie Bellefeuille


I was twenty years old when I went to my first funeral. I was lucky that I hadn’t known anyone close who had died up to that point, so I didn’t know what to expect. Here I was, going along with my life, never having experienced something so monumental and then being whipped in the face with it: death is something that happens to everyone.

In August of 2008, my mother’s father, whom we referred to as Poppa, died. We were prepared, because at 94, he had lived a full life.

My sister, Katy, was Poppa’s favourite. He would never outright say it, but everyone knew: he taught her to make omelettes when she was young and took her on long drives before he became legally blind. As we got older, Poppa had to start walking with a cane, and it was Katy who got him his shrimp and sautéed mushrooms from the buffet.

In spite of this, we all loved him. Poppa would regale us with his pilot stories and sharing his memories of us when we were born. Of course, my grandmother, mother, and uncle were sad; this was their husband and father. It’s always sad to experience death, but they had a full life with him.

After Poppa died, I thought it would make the crack between my mother and her brother into a chasm. For most of my life, my mother and uncle didn’t get along very well. They were civil, but they drove each other crazy. They weren’t eager to spend time together, and this resulted in my family and theirs not seeing each other often. We only saw each other at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Our families grew closer together while sharing stories and remembering Poppa, and this meant that we saw them more often. I got to know my cousins better and family visits started being fun.

In February of 2009, a devastating thing happened. While vacationing in Jamaica with friends, my uncle unexpectedly died. He was waterskiing, felt pains in his chest and signalled to come ashore. One of the friends with them was a firefighter and did CPR, after he fell unconscious, for twenty minutes but couldn’t save him.

I remember when my mother got the call from my aunt. She mouthed to me, “Uncle Bobby died.” My first reaction: I laughed. I thought she was joking. When she didn’t laugh along with me, that’s when I knew it was real. My next reaction: shock. I just sat there, not knowing what to do. After she hung up the phone, she told me what happened. I couldn’t believe it.

That night, I couldn’t sleep with all the thoughts running through my mind. My cousin Leann wasn’t going to have a father to give her away at her wedding. My cousin Ryan would deal with this on his birthday, of all days. And I couldn’t fathom how my aunt was dealing with this, in Jamaica, alone. The thought of it broke my heart. Not only did her husband die in a foreign country, but she also had to deal with getting the body home. It just wasn’t fair.

My aunt had to tell her children. How do you tell someone something like this over the phone? Everything sounds so cold and distant. They weren’t able to comfort each other. It was hard for me to imagine what they were going through because, after all, I still had my dad.

When my uncle’s body finally made it back to Canada after a series of unfortunate mistakes in Jamaica, we had the wake and funeral. I learned about myself that day. I can’t handle people dealing with their grief. Of course it makes everyone uncomfortable, but I just want to run away from it. As soon as I saw my cousin Leann, I couldn’t even handle hugging her. What do you say in a situation like that? Every possible thing you could say to someone seems so insignificant. “I’m sorry” never feels like enough.

Something else that death does is it makes you feel guilty for having things that others don’t. When I think it through, I think part of the reason I couldn’t face my cousins was because I still have my dad. I don’t know why I felt guilty for having a dad. I guess it was because my cousins didn’t have one anymore and just seeing mine made them cry.

After my uncle died, I was afraid our families would become estranged. I was just getting to know my extended family better and this terrible thing happened. I realized that I didn’t know very much about my uncle, but through my aunt and cousins, I learned a lot about him.

It was a strange thing experiencing two such drastically different deaths. We had accepted what was happening with Poppa, but we had no way of preparing for my uncle’s death.

Death can do one of two things. It can either tear people apart or it can bring them together. Fortunately for my family, it brought us closer together. Whenever we see each other, the food is great, the conversation flows, and there’s a warm glow to being with family. My uncle’s devastating death brought our families together.

That’s the thing about death. We learn about ourselves in more ways than one. I need to face the heaviness of death, and take comfort in spending time with the family I have left, and know that sometimes, there’s just nothing you can say but  “I’m sorry.”


Connections Across Cultures

by Cindy Graham


Her name was Kiku—Daisy—but by the time I met her, she was in her eighties, and everyone addressed her by her family title, Obaa-chan—Grandmother, or Obaa for short.

The first time we met, I knew it would be difficult to communicate. I was a Nova Scotia girl teaching English on Japan’s southernmost main island, Okinawa, and she spoke mainly in Uchinaa-ben (Okinawan dialect). So I tried to show my utmost respect by kneeling properly in front of her, legs tucked under, hands palm-down on my thighs. I bowed low from the waist with my eyes directed to the floor, but Obaa immediately admonished me. “Enough with that foolishness,” she said. “I’m just a silly old woman.”

But I knew her history. She was anything but.

In the last year of the Second World War, when Okinawa was razed by Japanese and American forces, Obaa’s only hope for survival lay in fleeing to the island caves. For weeks, she foraged in the jungle struggling to feed herself and her three small children. Her husband and two elder brothers were already dead, having fought in Manchuria, China. Of her three children, the two eldest—both boys—would survive the siege with her. The oldest son would become my father-in-law. Her youngest, an infant daughter, would die of malnutrition.

When her oldest son had grown and married, Obaa’s new daughter-in-law had four children, whom Obaa helped raise while her son worked to provide for his family. She was a fixture in their lives. By the time I was introduced as my husband’s fiancé she didn’t walk anymore, but her face was bright and full of spirit, as was her mind.

I spent my first two years in Japan living on Okinawa. The other ten my husband and I lived in or near Tokyo. But every January we flew down to celebrate New Year’s with his family. Upon entering the genkan (entryway) of his childhood home, we looked down the hallway for her, the long, gleaming hardwood floor leading to the spot where we knew she’d be: sitting by the patio window with her legs tucked under her. Upon hearing our commotion, her head would lift up from her newspaper, her magnifying glass in hand. “A-ra!” she’d cry, sharply, when she spotted us standing there, like ghosts she hadn’t been expecting. “Kita neeee…!”(Oh! You guys have come!)

Obaa always took my hand when she spoke to me. She looked directly in my eyes, and she gave a single, emphatic nod for each point she made. She never acted as though I couldn’t understand. Sometimes, I actually did: when she spoke using Japanese words I knew, or recounted how many pieces of sweet bread and candy she’d slipped to my nieces and nephews that morning.

When we made the decision to come back to Canada years later, I left not being able to communicate with her much better than I could when we’d met eleven years earlier.

But three years in, having finally settled in to a new community and new schools, I woke up one night and immediately started ruminating. Why hadn’t we been putting aside money each month to make a trip back to Okinawa before too long? What had I been thinking?

A second thought immediately replaced it, and wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t stop wondering what the news on Obaa was. We hadn’t heard anything about her for what felt like a long time.

The thought took on greater urgency in my mind, so I woke my husband to ask if he’d spoken to his mother recently.

“I spoke to her a couple of weeks ago. Why?” He couldn’t believe I was rousing him in the middle of the night for this question and answer session.

“I’m just wondering if Obaa’s all right. We haven’t heard anything about her in a while from anyone.”

“My mother told me she’s doing great,” he insisted.

I continued to harangue him a little more. I remember telling him that I was going to ask him about her again in the morning. I felt a strong need to make sure we called his home, and soon.

The next morning, Monday, as I got the kids ready for school, I asked my husband if he remembered me waking him in the night.

“Yeah,” he said, “and I told you that I spoke to my mother a while ago and that Obaa’s doing really well. Why do you keep asking me about it?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I just feel like I need to. We haven’t heard anything about her for so long. Would you please call your mother tonight when you get home from work, and ask about her?”

I was in the entryway when my husband walked through the door that evening from work. He came in with the strangest look on his face, a mixture of bemusement and acceptance.
“Cin…” he said, with a kind of quiet incredulity.

I instantly knew what he was going to say, but I covered my mouth in shock because over the course of the day, I’d forgotten about everything. He proceeded to tell me that Obaa had died almost a week earlier.

I don’t know what it means that I woke up with her on my mind that night; I don’t know what it means that his family tried to reach us the preceding week for days by phone, and couldn’t. And I don’t know what it means that my husband didn’t check his email for a couple of days, which thereby prevented him from getting the message about Obaa’s death until that Monday afternoon.

But I do know we had a connection when she was alive. It was something that flowed between us, like ties that bind in spite of, or because of, our mutual language barriers. Many days I take comfort in knowing that somehow, her connection got through to me in the most vital of ways.


Footing The Bill: On Tackling The Offensive

Will high bill attached to the controversy over the Nepean Redskins put financial strain on players’ families?

By Alex Scantlebury


On September 19th the Nepean Redskins Football Club gave in to pressure to change their name. Ian Campeau, a local Aboriginal DJ, filed a human rights complaint against the organization stating that the name is demeaning to Aboriginal people. The Nepean football team was named the Redskins in 1981. The team originally operated under a private owner, but handed the reins over to the community in 1996. Now, 17 years later, the organization and all the families involved are suffering for the decisions of those who came before them.             

I am of Aboriginal heritage, but I think Ian Campeau is out of line with some of his statements. One of his arguments is that he doesn’t want his daughter to grow up hearing the term “redskin.” Strangely enough, Campeau’s music group, A Tribe Called Red (which could be considered offensive as well), has a song titled “Redskin Girl” and the song doesn’t have any lyrics at all, let alone lyrics to justify the title. This is a publicity stunt, and is hypocritical on an epic level.

Changing the name may be a step in the right direction in the fight to establish equality for all Canadians, but was it done for the right reasons, and was the price too high? The final number for the name change is $100,000. The families whose children play within this organization will bear the brunt of the cost for many years to come. The Nepean Redskins are an organization that relies heavily on funding to provide recreational football at an affordable cost. Now, families will have to supplement for the rental cost of field time and for their children to have access to proper equipment, not to mention the extra activities in which players, coaches and community members participate.

As a former football player, I never played outside of my high school teams in any sport; the cost of community sports was just too high for my single mother to afford. There is already enough of a challenge getting our young people, regardless of ethnicity, into organized sports, and this has just compounded the problem for one part of our city.

If you want to change the world, even in the smallest of ways, make sure you are willing to lead by example, and that you understand all of the consequences of your actions, both the good and the bad.


Safety First: A New Approach To Addictions

Proposed safe injection site has locals up in arms, but would have its merits.

By: Pierre Corbett-Roy


Residents of Ottawa’s downtown core are well aware that drug use in the area is rampant, and this has been a source of concern for many years. On September 30, 2013, a mock injection site was opened to give residents a chance to see how such a site would operate if one were ever allowed to be opened in the city.

Currently, there is only one such site in all of Canada – the Insite Facility in Vancouver – but many groups, such as the Drug Users Advocacy League (DUAL), are applying to open similar sites in the capital. The safe injection site would provide clean needles and a safe, supervised environment for those who are addicted to heroin and other hard drugs.

Many residents are up in arms over the initiative, claiming that providing a safe area for addicts to inject would only promote and potentially increase drug use in the downtown core. Some claim that opening such a site would decrease residents’ safety, and could end up costing taxpayers more money in the long run.

I do not believe that having a safe injection site would promote or increase drug use. It seems farfetched that people who normally wouldn’t inject heroin would be inclined to do so simply because they could do it in a safe environment. Addicts will continue to buy and inject their drugs whether they can do it in a safe, clean environment or not.

It is my opinion that having a designated area could actually increase safety to the downtown residents. As a resident of Lowertown, I’ve often come across addicts in my backyard seeking refuge from the crowded streets to inject. Instead of sneaking around, users could simply head to the designated area to inject. This would definitely decrease the number of loose needles found in public places.

According to many reports, Ottawa also has one of the country’s highest HIV rates, second only to Toronto. Unfortunately, a large number of those affected are addicts. Ensuring that users are using clean needles seems like a logical way to reduce the number of people affected by this disease. Also, unsupervised injection often results in overdose. Allowing users to inject in a supervised area could theoretically decrease the number of heroin overdoses. Decreased cases of both HIV and overdoses may actually save taxpayers a few dollars. A healthy society inevitably means taxpayers are paying less money towards healthcare.

The implementation of a safe injection site will continue to cause much debate among residents and non-residents of Ottawa’s downtown core, but it must be discussed nonetheless. The city has turned a blind eye to the issue and has maintained the status quo when it comes to drug use. I’ve often heard the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but in this case, I believe some fixing is in order.


Cuarón's Gravity Pulls Space Down to Earth

The cosmos has never looked so beautiful—or so menacing.


By Stuart Harris


The fortune of being grounded to the earth is something that one might take for granted until viewing a film like Gravity.

Film has long found ways to romanticize a vastness the likes of which we may never fully comprehend. However, Gravity doesn’t have to project beyond our galaxy to keep us firmly on the edge of our seats. It only goes as far as Earth’s thermosphere, where any wonderment of the nature outside our world quickly falls away to harsh reality.

The film is the latest labour of acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón, whose previous film credits include the popular screen adaptations of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men. He’s poured a head-turning one hundred million dollars into this project, and the result is a consistently thrilling space drama that relies on an extraordinary visual scope to drive its deceptively simple narrative. One is almost tempted not to call this a movie at all. It is an experience, a relentless chain of action and consequence that could only speak so well for itself in the medium of film. It’s probably the first film since James Cameron’s Avatar that must be seen in theatres or IMAX in 3D for full effect, even if it’s just for the satisfaction of saying, “Yeah, I’ve seen it. Boy, did I ever see it.”

Whereas Avatar’s visual spectacle often felt like an escape from its questionable narrative execution, Gravity represents a rare case when the cinematic action carries the story as much as the actors do. There is no antagonist other than the character given to the interstellar setting, which is done through alternating viewpoints. In some instances, the cinematography paints a hauntingly beautiful picture of space 600 kilometres above sea level. In between, we’re thrust into the helmets of the astronauts at its mercy, or the painstakingly detailed, claustrophobic interiors of orbiting spacecraft.

Immersion is completed by way of the sound design. Steven Price’s soundtrack plays a large part in creating emotional resonance during key moments. When we don the space suits, we can feel the pressure of every breath, every vibration as we’re jostled, watching in awe as a space station is ripped to pieces in silence before our eyes.

There’s never a moment where the gravity of the conflict isn’t weighing down upon our shoulders.

If all this leaves you wondering what the story concerns, don’t go getting any out-of-this-world ideas. The narrative is a simple one, and to say anything more would ruin the experience. It’s a tale of survival and resilience, of isolation in the face of the universe (think Jack London, in space). The players are few, but stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney admirably keep our attention and empathy through a minimalistic 90 minutes. Characterization might seem slight, but one thing is clear: These actors aren’t playing astronauts, they’re playing human beings facing an indomitable force, with devastating impact.

You could argue the film’s negligible scientific implausibilities, but it’d be hard to argue this isn’t a film well worth watching. It’s about as close to space as you’ll get from the comfort of a chair. It’s likely as close as you’ll ever want to get.


Woman Explodes in Local Ottawa Starbucks

Police advise Ottawa residents to switch to decaf.  

By: Cindy Olberg


OTTAWA — Ottawa police are investigating the death of Malvina Delgado Otero, age 52, after she exploded in a Starbucks restroom in the Glebe late Sunday morning. 

Police have not yet confirmed whether Otero’s death is linked to the amount of caffeine in Starbucks’ new “Platinum Blonde” roast, but they are suspicious.

“We would have done an autopsy,” said Sgt. Willie McPhail, “but the crime scene was pretty scattered. Still, we are urging the public to switch to decaf until we’ve concluded our investigation.”

Starbucks Coffee Company started marketing its new obscenely caffeinated line of coffee beans, “Platinum Blonde,” nine days ago. Since then, officials say 5, 230 Canadians have spontaneously exploded, and thousands of at-risk caffeine addicts have been admitted to local hospitals for observation.

“I still can’t believe it,” said Ruslana Siplove, the barista who poured Otero’s last coffee before she exploded. “I mean, one minute I was refilling the coffee stations, and the next, someone literally ran out of the bathroom screaming.”

According to Siplove, it’s not uncommon for patrons to leave messes in the Starbucks restrooms. But this was the first time anyone exploded during her shift at the Glebe location.

A single mother of two sets of deaf conjoined twins, as well as an avid churchgoer and regular soup-kitchen volunteer, Otero was known as a courageous force in the community, and was revered by friends and neighbours.

“I’ll always remember the time she pulled my daughter out of a well,” reflected one local man. “The irony is that it was her caffeine addiction that made her such a go-getter.”

Starbucks Coffee Company is deeply saddened about Sunday’s events, and will be offering every customer who mentions Malvina a drink of any size at regular price.