by Stacey Marcoux
I met a few of them in a West End alley. With garbage bins as my witness, I hugged Jana tight, telling her I loved her. The chilly summer evening air stood still among us, heavy with the anticipation of losing our friend. A moment of disbelief lingered while I locked sad eyes with Sarah, a superstar caregiver whose wit could make me laugh like no other, and Elliot, a transplant from England adept at tipsy debates about the state of all things. We stood in our layers of clothes as driving logistics were dryly discussed. Jana waited quietly, both defeated and strong.
A meteor shower was scheduled that night, luring us with the much-needed promise of a little stardust. The Perseids were set to entertain. However, with the city lights being an ever-present and overbearing companion to the stars, we headed to Mount Seymour, part of the great rock-faced beauties watching over us from the North Shore. All of us but Elliot hopped into Sarah’s car to begin our ascent, stopping along the way to first grab Martin, a French-Canadian masseur slash cook who sauntered slowly and spoke little, and then Vanessa, a headstrong beauty who loved animals a lot and people almost too much. Ness had just finished her first shadow shift at a new nursing gig. The patient died while the other nurse complained about his family’s choice of music. A gem, clearly. Shedding tears for both the loss of the unknown man and the impossibility of some people, our need for a celestial sprinkling grew.
Arriving at Mount Seymour felt like pulling up to the parking lot of a music festival. We had all been under the impression that the mountain would be fairly empty save for a few astronomy types and maybe some adventurous families, yet the lots were near capacity and a steady slew of people were trudging up the side of the road, periodically glancing upwards at the stars. I suddenly wished someone had been clever enough to pack a flask. We parked behind another car on the side of the street, citing the if-they-can-then-clearly-so-can-we logic that lends itself so well to convenience.
We walked alongside a random sample of Vancouverites. A car alarm sounded ceaselessly in its obnoxious and unheeded warning. “So much for getting away from it all,” Sarah quipped. Eventually rejoining Elliot and his two pals, we passed from pavement to grassy rock and began to seek out our final destination. The atmosphere reminiscent of an outdoor sleepover at summer camp, we stumbled through, trying our best not to step on our star-gazing comrades’ limbs. We placed our yoga mats and sleeping gear down and quickly formed ourselves into a cozy pile—human-Tetris, mountain style. Despite the layers beneath me, the earthly warmth of the mountain seeped through. There we lay, snugly angled. A ragtag group of friends all hailing from less-shiny places, yet who sat together beneath the sky for now.
Jana was the type of girl that looked so good in a skirt you almost wanted to hate her. But we didn’t. We loved her like she loved dance tents and sequinned sneakers. A rare Slovakian elixir of spirit and heart, Jana represented the perfect reminder of the dangers of judging a woman by her body. Powerless against almighty immigration, she had to leave the country—aka her home for the past four years—within two weeks. Despite the verdict, Jana marvelled with the rest of us as her head was snuggled into Ness’s lap and the sky ever so briefly lit up with what I pictured as shiny, perfect blue-and-white five-point stars, but in reality were ugly grey space rocks or something.
Someone brought shelled peanuts. We crunched them and gasped in unison with our fellow mountaineers; a somewhat juvenile, yet nearly automatic verbal response to each stream of light shocking the night sky. I wondered aloud what it would be like if an earthquake were to happen at that moment. You know, the big one. Would we be safer or in more peril up here? No one cared to ponder such morbidity with me. I tried unsuccessfully not to romanticize the moment. The earth ever supportive below, my friends warm at my sides, and magic streaming above. Aesthetically, emotionally, the night screamed evocative.
People have a frustrating tendency to cut out before the good stuff really happens. The epic dancing, the best drugs, the brightest meteors. Elliot’s pals had decided to descend back before the rest of us. They weren’t really part of our story anyway. Their desertion, however, added to our evening—the long-lost adolescent thrill of packing an extra, un-seatbelted passenger into the backseat of the car. With the time creeping closer to midnight, and a satisfactory meteor experience under our collective belt, we unpeeled ourselves from the mountain, found some brambly bushes to pee in, and shuffled back to the car sufficiently star-dusted.
Stuffed in the back with Jana perched cat-like on our laps, any discussion of her leaving was pointed in its absence. Our aggregate warmth lending itself to the comfortable silence, we bumbled down the dark road. Silence. In the right moment it could be holy, but it could also punch you, heavy and sharp. This particular brand of silence, though serene, seemed drenched in a wistful recognition of our own impotence. It was as if she were being torn away.
The following day, a quiet sleepiness floated about, as so often seemed to be the case late in the afternoons of the city. Lush colours rested against the concrete and glass. All was thick and silent, as though we had just remembered that this is a rainforest. We stand where giants once stood. Towering dark and damp and magnificent. I crossed the bridge framing all before me, missing Jana already but certain that her sparkle would linger and continue to catch the light.