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  • jolwajda


Now, I will start this story off, stating the fact that Stuart didn't exactly have the easiest transition into our household. You see Stuart is a little navy-blue betta fish, with an almost upside-down looking face, and gills that puff out angrily anytime you glance at him. We acquired this fish because My roommate Catalina's, close friend was moving back to Alberta and was leaving Catalina with things she could not take, and one of those things was Stuart. But on the drive over to our house, somehow the fishbowl had broken in the Rubbermaid tote it was being carried in, and so when Cat's friend showed up to our home, Stuart was swimming around in broken glass and rocks, Stuart was a trooper though and they got him safely into his backup fishbowl in no time. But Cat was also leaving town for close to a month, so I offered to take care of the little guy, I' have never owned a fish before, but I have been the owner of one stocky little bulldog for the last eleven years, so I thought to myself, ‘how hard could this be?’ I was excited to have something to take care of again, and so Stuart became part of my daily routine. Every morning I would wake up, I would go downstairs, I would fill my water bottle, I would turn on the kettle and walk to the fridge to pull out a carton of milk. Then I would notice what I had scribbled down on my roommate Mukul's F.r.i.e.n.d.s Central perk memorabilia notepad that hung on the refrigerator door. FEED THE FISH FIVE PELLETS!! EVERY MORNING!!! DON’T FORGET!!! with don't forget underlined twice, I was taking this job very seriously. So, when my eyes would scan the words I had wrote, I would stop what I was doing, turn around, walk to the fishbowl that sat on our kitchen counter by the cupboard where we keep our glassware, take his packet of food and shake out five tiny little pellets ,each the size of a grain of salt, into the palm of my hand, then I would drop the grub into his fishbowl, I would watch Stuart searching for his food, coaxing him into the direction it was floating, and I would celebrate when he found his daily bread, swallowing most of the pellets in one gulp, |I would give him praise for eating his meal. ‘Good job Stuart McLean!!’ I added on the McLean part of his name because well, Stuart McLean! a Canadian treasure, and one of my favorite story tellers, so it seemed fitting to me, for little Stuart to take on this appellation. It gave him street cred. I would compliment Stuart daily, telling him that his tail was extra shiny and blue that morning, or that beauty was subjective, but I thought he was the prettiest fish in the world. and every day when I would leave for work, I would call out to him, ‘Goodbye Stuart!! don't swim too hard!’

We seemed to have fallen into a good little rhythm, Stuart, and I. I felt that I had worked hard to gain his trust, and I had finally earned it. Until late one Thursday evening a few month’s ago. When catastrophe struck. Now let me set the scene for you, about what was going on that evening, because it was nothing particularly special, I had just gotten back from a bike ride up to Radar Hill, a look out here in Tofino with a stunning view, the ride up was pretty exhausting, me having to stop numerous times to hop off of my bicycle seat and walk a few metres up the hill with my bike by myside, before I attempted to jump back on, dreading the inevitable burn that I knew I would soon feel in my upper thighs and calve muscles. It was worth it though just for the few minutes of bombing back down the long narrow windy road in the rainforest, feeling the wind whip around my hair and feeling the heat of the setting sun on my cheeks, about halfway through though I had realized I had undone my helmet when I took a break at the top. well fuck. But alas I made it all the way to the bottom of the hill without injury or harm, even throwing my hands up in the air the last stretch of the road, like I was on a roller-coaster ride, not realizing until that moment that my brain had even held on to the muscle memory to pull off a trick like that. Tofino makes me feel like a little kid, in the best possible way. After the ride I went home to an empty condo, which is an exceedingly rare occurrence, for me. It was just coincidence that my three roommates were all out of town at the same time. But it was nice all the same, I got into comfortable clothes, and I started to cook a late dinner, standard evening, right? well let me tell you, shit was about to get wild. I cooked myself a stir-fry, I had just finished pouring my food out of the hot frying pan into a bowl, placing the pan in the sink after I was done with it. I had Netflix all ready to go. The couch was calling me, the last thing for me to do was to grab a glass out of the cupboard for a drink of water. As I opened up the cupboard door to do so though, one of the dozen’s of empty wine bottles that we have aesthetically placed on top of our cupboard just inches from the ceiling teetered and fell, now the wine bottle itself didn't smash from the four foot fall it took as it landed on the counter just inches from me, but what it did do was bounce up like a goddamn basketball blowing out the side of Stuarts home as it hit it, I watched in horror as litres of water, glass and Stuart were pushed from his once safe fishbowl spilling out on to the counter and

hitting the wall hard. ‘ I'm sorry!!!’ I yelled too loudly; In a house I was the only one in. and continued to do so as the next events in this story transpired. I scooped up Stuart in one hand squeezing him much too tightly and threw him in the first thing I could think to get my hands on, which was a vase from below the sink that I had washed clean of old flowers not long before. I chucked him into the vase, with again too much force. and started filling it with water, it took only seconds for me to realize my horrendous mistake though, the tap was on hot, I was boiling Stuart alive. ‘ I'm sorry!!! I'm sorry!! ‘ I screamed, and did the first thing that came to my mind, which was to rip the tap away from the vase to the other side of the sink and slam the nozzle to cold, doing this though meant the frying pan that I had placed there moments earlier and failed to wash sizzled and billowed up with steam from the vast temperature change with the cold liquid hitting the hot surface, Now. I am not sure why I did the next thing I did, but it was my body's reaction, I dumped the vase out in the sink narrowly missing catapulting Stuart into the scolding hot frying pan and watched him disappear underneath the cookware down the drain. ‘I'm sorry...’ I whispered, as I stood in absolute disbelief of what just happened. I stared at the sink with the frying pan in it, and no sign of Stuart. I had one job, to feed Stuart five pellets every morning. that was my one job. but somehow in a matter of mere seconds I had managed to destroy his home, Flash flood him in a stream of water out onto the counter, the force of it knocking him hard into what I would imagine a human would feel if they jumped off a high bridge into murky below, concrete. And then simultaneously almost boiled him, steamed him and flash fried him alive before he met his demise down the drain. Hol.y shitttttt. I did Stuart dirty; I was stunned. I stood for a few more seconds trying to process the tornado

that just took place around me. when suddenly I had the thought, what if he didn't go down the drain? I couldn't be positive he had yet, as the frying pan was blocking the view of the bottom of the sink, but the drain we have looks like a tire laid out flat on the ground, with five little pieces of metal about half of an inch away from each other, there was a chance that he could of washed into the sink on his side rather then head first which would mean those little metal divots could of saved his tiny fish body from being washed down the plumbing and into the abyss, it was a slim chance, but still there was a chance. I braced myself, picked up the pan, and removed it from the sink, and there, lying at the bottom was Stuarts lifeless and limp less body. my heart fell. ‘oh Stuart.’ I stood for a second, still not knowing quite what to do, before I realized I had to get Stuart out of the sink, so, gently I reached my hands down to retrieve him, scooping him up with both of my palms this time, being as careful as I possibly could this time, trying to think of my next move. Just then though- to my amazement, he flopped!!! and then he flipped! and then he flip- flopped again!! he was still alive!! I was smarter and more calculated this time around. I hovered over the vase and made sure to place him back in with care and ensured the water I filled it up with this time was a comfortable room temperature, As the water rose in the vase, I watched Stuart slowly come back to life swimming around yet again, in another temporary home. I placed the vase back on the counter unsure of what my next move would be. I took a second and glanced over at my phone that had dinged with a text message a few minutes earlier, the message that popped up on my screen was from my friend Dyson who was living next door at the time, I read his text. ‘Are you still up? car chat?’ I met Dyson when I first moved to Tofino, the lodge I work at shutdowns for two weeks every

December. While most people fly home to see family members, or go on trips other places, Dyson and I stayed, we spent a lot of time together going on hikes, surfing, going out for dinner, walking the beach late at night to sit on driftwood and listen to the waves that crash against the shore. we both lived in staff dormitory at the time, and both had our own rooms. but we never spent time together in each other's space, instead we got into the habit of texting each other ‘car chat?’. We would grab a coffee, tea, wine, or cider depending on how we felt and meet in the parking lot and sit in my parked car not driving anywhere. Just talking, we would talk for hours about our lives, what we have been through, where we see ourselves in five, ten, fifteen years. Dyson knows more about what has happened to me than most people here. he has seen me go through a few brutal PTSD episodes, and he has never judged me for it, quite the opposite, he supports me, he talks me through it, and he helps me see a unique perspective on things, it is funny the unexpecting kinships you meet along the way, I never thought I would be so close, or share so many of the same life views as someone thirteen years younger than me. I am only mentioning his age because he hates it when I do. " Stop with the fucking age thing Jo! it doesn't matter". but still, it surprises me. He calls me on my shit, and I call him on his, I feel incredibly lucky to have met him and to be able to call him my friend. He isn't in Tofino anymore, He is in Scotland, or maybe he has made it to Venice by now, Regardless,I know one day soon I will see him again, and we will pick up right where we left off, just like all the important friendships in life do. Also, car chats with the right person are like therapy, I have had both and I fully believe I have gotten more out of car chats then I have sitting in a therapy session. Now here me out, I am a HUGE advocate for therapy I think it is extremely important, but also, as most people know, extremely expensive. So, if you find yourself strapped for cash, but need some help, try a car chat, seriously, it might sound silly, but I highly recommend it. I wrote back, ' I can't do a car chat tonight, I'm so sorry, but I could definitely use your help for second, can you come over right now? the craziest thing just happened’ A few moments later he walked through the front door, I am sure I looked certifiably insane, old sweatpants on, my hair thrown up in a sideways bun, disheveled from everything that had just happened, with almost every towel and dish cloth I own thrown on the floor around me as I frantically tried to mop up my kitchen that felt like more like a swimming pool at the moment .I must have looked so panicked, because he looked at me, he laughed, and then he walked over to me, after giving me a hug, and placing his hands on my shoulders, he said to me. " Its ok, you're ok"

And so together, we managed to figure it out. We transferred Stuart to an aluminum bowl with room temperature water in it, we strained and washed the rocks in the bottom of his fishbowl to make sure there was no glass left, and we added the alkaline drops into the vase to make sure the water was safe for Stuart to be in, and then we carefully transferred him into yet another new home. I went to bed that night exhausted, and also, positive that in the morning I would wake up to one dead Stuart. ‘He is running on pure adrenaline.’ I spoke to myself when I opened my eyes the next a.m., still blurry from sleep. "It's like being in a devastating accident" my inner voice said to me, where you are in trauma shock, and your mind is telling your body to stay alive, but once your body catches up to the brain it realizes to much damage has been done. I got up from my bed and made my way downstairs, and from the bottom of the staircase looking over at the vase in the kitchen a few feet away it did look like Stuart had passed on, but as I inched closer, I realized nope, he was just very still, sleeping perhaps. (As I just wrote that last sentence, I decided to glance over at Stuart, who's new fishbowl is sitting just behind the edge of my computer, and I could not see him, I just spinned the bowl continuously round and round wondering how the fuck a fish could disappear from his home until I finally noticed him in the fake seaweed plant, I placed in there for some colour). Clearly, this lil guy has done a number on me. Now I am not unaware that most people would Chaulk up a series of events like this to bad timing, bad luck, or just bad placement of empty wine bottles. Fuck that noise though. I don't think like that anymore. You see, I have been working hard on my next blog series and have had a really hard time completing it, the subject is so heavy, the anxiety so real, the memories for me so triggering, that most times I get up from my desk after finishing writing a page or two, and I feel like I am in a fog, or that I need to go to sleep because I'm so exhausted

from it. But one of the things that a view differently after going through what I did is that I passionately believe that the universe is always nudging you in one way or another, that it is always handing you a lesson that you can learn from. for instance, my breaks on my car went the other day, a routine oil change turned into a $1200 expense at the dealership because of my rear brakes eroding, it left me completely busted, totally maxed out, - now I could be angry about this, but instead I chose to flip the narrative. ‘Thank God I went in for that oil change, what if my brakes went on me on the B.C roads, good thing I am safe.’ Or when I have a not so good shift at work which does not happen often, but on the rare occasion it does, I tell myself, ‘Thank God I live in paradise; imagine I were still in Moncton?’ I flip the narrative; it is not always easy, and I do not always succeed at it, but when you teach your mind to change a negative experience into a positive one, life in general just gets so much easier. when you are able to come to the realization that the world is not out to get you, but rather, push you in the right direction. Maybe this isn't news for any of you, maybe you mastered the art of positive thinking early on in your life. For me though, I was incredibly cynical for a substantial chunk of my youth, adolescence, and right up into my late twenties. Always wondering why my life was riddled with fucked up things happening in my formative years and beyond. And I still do not know why what has happened, happened to me. especially the last few years of it. BUT what I do know is when I think back on the trauma of everything I have endured over those twenty-four months- the court dates, the statements, the numerous trials that almost happened, the verdicts, and the outcome... when I finally allowed my brain to flip the narrative on this particular situation, I realized how much positive did in fact, come out of all of this. The way I have grown, the way I trust myself now more than ever before, and especially the way this experience has allowed me to share something that feels so natural for me. Which is to write. and to share my stories with you. I believe the next Story I must tell- the one that I have been working on. I believe it Is my most important one to date, it may help other woman. and if it helps even one other person, then it's worth all of the garbage I have to dig through to put it down on paper properly. The great Dan Mangan said these words in an Instagram post recently that really hit home for me.

" The people that achieve things, are the people who Just. Do. Not. Stop." It took reading that sentence, paired with the strength of Stuart, the little betta fish, who weighs no more than a roll of penny's- defying all odds- for the universe to remind me, once again, how important it is to flip the narrative. J.W

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