I stood in the kitchen and looked out to where the boards of the backyard rink sat in the pale spring sun. There wasn’t a way that I could think of to tell them how the rage felt against my ribs, how it tasted at the back of my throat. I had to leave before I collapsed under the weight of it.

I took one last walk through the house, trying to memorize the degrees of light in each room and the sound my footsteps made on the floorboards, the feel of the jamb of the front door against my palms. Then I walked out to my truck and was gone by the time I started the engine.

Medicine Hat. Fort Chipewyan. Wabasca. Skookumchuck. Tagish Lake. I worked in all those places and more. The resonance of those names haunting me with memories. I followed the rumours of work that tumbled from the lips of the men I met and became migratory, a wandering nomad with my eyes on distant hills. I covered long charcoal stretches of highway, the undulating yellow line like a river bearing me somewhere beyond all recollection. Or that’s what I hoped. I would drive unthinkingly. Music was my constant companion. I loved it for its ability to fill space, to occupy the empty passenger side of the cab of the truck, and the rooms I rented in two-bit motels in the mill towns, mining towns and work camps where I landed. I learned about it with the help of books, and once I discovered Dvorak’s cello concerto, I turned to it again and again through my travels to suspend the desperation clutching at my gut. Work and music sustained me for a long time. I could vanish into them and surface at my choosing. I preferred being alone to inquisitive company. I became a carpenter, roofer, miner, lumberjack, highway paver, railroad labourer, dishwasher, hide scraper, ranch hand, tree planter, demolition worker, steel foundry yardman and dock worker. I did not offer to be a buddy to my fellow workers. I did not become chatty. I did not move beyond the safety of the wordless barrier I erected between myself and other people. The rage was still there. It sat square in my chest whenever I heard “Chief,” “Tonto,” “Geronimo,” “dumb Injun” or the hundred other labels men applied to me. But I never reacted. I wouldn’t risk the explosion I knew would follow. The feel of Jorgenson’s throat in my hands. The blackness inside me. Instead, I threw myself harder into the discipline of labour, losing myself in the grunt work I favoured.

A part of me missed the banter of the bench and the dressing room, though; the brash gutter talk and the teasing. So I began eating lunch and supper in beverage rooms and taverns where working men slung jibes back and forth, engaging in verbal arm wrestles that bristled with energy. I would sit and listen. Drink it all in and grin at the wit, the laconic retorts, the garrulous drunken voices rambling on about everything that concerned a man. I’m not sure when I began to drink myself. I only know that when I did the roaring in my belly calmed. In alcohol I found an antidote to exile. I moved out of the background to become a joker, a clown, a raconteur who spun stories about madcap travels and events. None of them had actually happened to me, but I had read enough to make these tales come to life, to be believable and engaging. Amid the slaps and pokes and guffaws that greeted them, I discovered that being someone you are not is often easier than living with the person you are. I became drunk with that. Addicted. My new escape sustained me for awhile. Whenever the stories and the invented histories started to unravel, I’d move on to a new crowd in a new tavern, a new place where the Indian in me was forgotten in the face of the ribald, hilarious fictions I spun. Finally, though, the drink had me snared. I spoke less and drank more, and I became the Indian again; drunken and drooling and reeling, a caricature everyone sought to avoid.

Now I had a different reason for needing to be away. So I drifted. When I could find work I was mostly a high-functioning drunk, keeping just enough in hand to get me through the day, and then sinking into the drink alone when the day was over. I’d pass out listening to music or with a book cradled in my lap. I’d wake up in the early hours, switch off the light, take another few swallows and fall back asleep. You can live for years like that. You experiment to find out how much you need to swallow to get you past a certain chunk of hours, how much you need to walk steadily, without your hands shaking. I was an alchemist, mixing solutions I packed in my lunch kit to assuage the strychnine feel of rot in my guts. It was a dim world. Things glimmered, never shone.