Because of his ‘50s rock-star haircut, I like to think of him as Fonzie. He is tall, slightly stooped, head inclined to the pavement as if searching for nickels and dimes. I see him shuffling St. Paul Street, perhaps on his way to a hit of comfort, or a bottle of something. He seems thinner today, more soiled – like a discarded cigarette.
His passage triggers my memory: I am visiting my parents, and my father returns home saddened by his attempt to collect rent from tenants who have not paid for two months. Weeks later he tells me that on his last visit he discovers that they have fled. There is a large hole in the ceiling, mold has colonized the walls, and water pipes are broken. The police have explained that the residents have been using the house as a grow-op.
I intersect Fonzie’s path, and cannot see the heels of his shoes. They are covered by cuffs, dirty and frayed with the search for oblivion. At home I open the Capital News and read headlines about busted drug factories, and about the weapons, the money and the insouciant gang members who will avoid prison. In time, the news reports the death of a teenager, stabbed in the neck by another – drunk at a party on the West Side (I remind myself that alcohol too is a drug.).
Days after I last see Fonzie, I hear from one of the members of my strata that the house across from mine has been seized by the bank. It is an upper-scale residence whose occupants in the last year have been a young couple whom I welcomed to the community. It seems they have been nurturing marijuana crops in the basement, and have quietly absconded with the profits. I remember our warm introductions on the strata roadway: a fresh twosome, neatly dressed and coiffed, charming and friendly: wolverines among the deer.
On a return from shopping I enter my strata and see a van parked in front of the abandoned house. A cleaner has come to service what I imagine is destruction of the kind in my father’s rental. But when I ask, the workman says that they have caught the damage just in time. I am surprised by the way cleaning a grow-up triggers him to share the misfortune of his son: addicted to cocaine and now in fragile recovery.
Kelowna is awash in a sea of substances which laps at the door of every household. And when I consider that abusing a drug is our way of dealing with pain of some kind, I wonder where all the sorrow is coming from. I have not seen Fonzie for a long time. Perhaps he works the public garbage cans for cast-offs. Perhaps he has found a place in line at the Gospel Mission. Or perhaps the ship he has used to sail his private sea of grief has sunk.