05. Seeking Solace
Tommy’s favourite place had always been the roof.
When his family had moved downtown when he was six, the room he had been given had a skylight. It had fascinated him, and he had spent many long hours pondering how to get up to it. It had taken a clever combination of the bed, a stolen step-stool, and a few large encyclopedias, but he had finally managed it, and had wriggled his way out onto the roof to spend an entranced afternoon staring out over the city before his mother had found him and pulled him back inside in terror.
But he had gotten out again, of course. And after that, the roof had been where he had gone whenever he wanted to get away. When he got into a fight with his best friend at school and suddenly found himself lacking in playmates, the roof was where he went to forget about it. When his parents started fighting and he couldn’t bear to listen to them shouting for another minute, the skylight could close and block out the sound. When he developed a crush on a boy in his biology class in tenth grade, he laid back on the dark slate tiles to think it over, and when that same boy later broke his heart and left him, the roof was the only place he could go to cry.
It was no surprise that even years later, long after he had moved out of his mother’s house and travelled halfway around the world, his first instinct when he was upset was to seek out the nearest rooftop.
And the rooftops in Spain were far more fascinating than the ones in his hometown in southern Ontario. It was no surprise to him either that every now and then, late at night when he felt the wind and the clouds calling to him more strongly than any other time, he would walk the rooftops of Barcelona, slipping from shadow to shadow like a ghost above the empty streets. He had never intended to do it—it had just happened one night, just like leaving home and going travelling and hitchhiking across the Pyrenees and settling down in a country where he didn’t speak the language had just happened. And for whatever reason, he had decided not to stop.
He had always been drawn to rooftops, even when he was a child. In more recent years, he had got the sense that he was searching for something, maybe just the comfort of high places, or the thrill of doing something dangerous, or the adventure of walking an unwalked path—or maybe something more, something profound, something he had travelled half the world in pursuit of and had never been able to find.
Whatever it was, the closest he had ever got to capturing it—or recapturing it—was the combination of wind and moon and clouds and Barcelona rooftops under endlessly questing feet.
Some nights, it nearly made his blood sing.
When he was young
of the creaking sounds
of his own imagination
He’s not sure when he stopped being scared.
Was it the campfires or the stargazing
Was it the power outages spent playing cards
Was it the day that he noticed
Was it the desperate call
or maybe it was
and that if you’re strong enough
Or was it as simple as the early morning train
and they watched the sunrise together
She steps off the train into a blinding sun
like shards of mental glass
something glittering and beautiful
even when it’s intangible
especially when it’s only make-believe.
She picks at the light like the scab it is
watches it speed off into the west
run, my dear train
and, when the silver reflection is lost to the shadows
“You don’t always have to be the strong one, you know.”
I took a deep drag on my cigarette, holding the smoke in my mouth for a long moment before I slowly let it out. “I’m not trying to be strong.”
She cleared her throat; she always did that when she was feeling skeptical. I didn’t look at her. I tapped the ash off the end of my cigarette and waited.
“Well… it’s just… you keep trying to act like you don’t care.”
I almost laughed. “Katie, I don’t care.”
I still wasn’t looking at her, but I could practically feel her eyebrows raise. “Your mom kicked you out and you don’t care?”
My boot knocked into a pebble, and I sent it skittering across the parking lot. “She hasn’t kicked me out yet.”
“Okay, but you know she’s going to!” Katie said. Then she sighed, losing her steam. “I’m worried about you, Jack. You’re like my sister, and… well, where are you going to go?”
I shrugged. “Europe.”
“Europe?!” she almost shrieked.
I shrugged again, blowing out another mouthful of smoke. “Yeah. I’ve got money for a plane. Might as well get out of here before she makes me get out.”
“Don’t be stupid, Jaclyn—buying a plane ticket would leave you with nothing. You can’t afford to take a trip like that.”
“I figured I’d just take my college fund.”
That left her speechless for a moment, and I took another musing drag on my cigarette. “I mean, it’s not like I ever really wanted to go to college, anyway,” I said. “It was just something she wanted me to do. But if she’s decided she doesn’t want me anymore, then I sure as hell don’t give a fuck about her.”
Katie just stared at me, her hands empty and despairing at her sides. “But that’s… you’re…”
I dropped my cigarette, crushing it decisively under my heel. “Hey. You only get one chance to live.”
She stared for another moment, then pulled me into a hug. Her hair smelled like honey and flowers, like always. The scent of my best friend had always been able to calm me.
She sighed. “What am I going to do without you, Jack?”
“You’ll get by,” I said, half a smile in my voice. “You’ve got big plans, remember? Medical degrees don’t earn themselves.”
“I’ll miss you.”
I slipped my hand into hers and we started down the sidewalk. Nothing more needed to be said; it had all been decided already.
“What are you going to do?” she said suddenly. “In Europe, I mean?”
“I’m going to look for myself. I know I’m out there somewhere. I just need to find me.”
She gave me a look I was very familiar with—one that said she’d long ago given up on trying to get me to talk sense. “Okay, I guess. So what are you going to do when you find you?”
I smiled. “I’m gonna walk right up and introduce myself.”