Memoir: when I moved away from my overprotective parents at age 17, I was primed for trouble
I grew up in sleepy, suburban Calgary. My parents are conservative, first-generation immigrants from India—hovering, hyper-vigilant, you-can’t-go-to-the-mall-without-me parents. I spent my teen years obeying the rules; recklessness was something I always admired in my classmates but never dared myself. I didn’t have a sip of alcohol until my last semester of high school, and my parents never even bothered to give me a curfew. I was always home.
At 17, I was accepted into the journalism program at Ryerson University, a school with enough legitimacy that my parents were okay with letting me move to a faraway city unsupervised. For me, it meant an opportunity to finally rebel. And yet, when I arrived at Ryerson, I mostly kept to myself. I got into a relationship with the first boy who looked at me twice and rarely left his side. I called my parents once, sometimes twice a day.
When my boyfriend dumped me at the beginning of second year, I was devastated. For the first time in my life, I was truly alone—living and working alone, making decisions alone. I started visiting bars by myself, chatting with strangers to pass the time. More and more, I shirked people my age in order to drink with older acquaintances I thought were my friends.
One night, while out at a nondescript bar on Yonge Street, I had a drink with a close-talking French-Canadian man who looked to be in his late 30s. I excused myself to go to the washroom, and then downed my drink when I came back. Almost immediately, I felt fuzzy and uneasy. I looked at him and his face started to swim in front of me. I excused myself again, this time taking all my things. I planned to splash some water on my face and walk home.
Looking in the bathroom mirror, my last thought was lucid: “I can’t stand.” And I couldn’t. My knees locked, and my next thought was how cool the floor tiles felt on my face. Moments later, a woman peeled me off the ground. She dragged me outside, saying, “You’re okay, you’re okay,” and tried to find out where I lived. The French-Canadian man followed, telling her I was with him. “Okay,” the woman said, “so what’s her name?” I don’t remember giving her my address, but I do recall her telling the cab driver to call her once I got home.
The next thing I remember is waking up at 8 a.m. in pyjama bottoms and a sequined vest from the night before, face down on my kitchen floor, lipstick on my eyelid. I still had my phone, ID, money. The woman had paid for my cab home. Instead of feeling afraid, I felt invincible.
I went out again the following week, visiting some acquaintances in Cabbagetown. While walking home around 1 in the morning, I was grabbed by a stranger on the sidewalk. He pinned me down on the pavement, his forearm on my trachea. This, I thought, is how I’m going to die. I’m going to die in a Corona promo T-shirt on a Wednesday morning two weeks after my 20th birthday. But I got lucky again—a man walking by scared him off and escorted me home. I called my parents, only to lie when they asked how I was doing.
They watched as the balance in my chequing account ebbed away, perplexed by how I could spend $130 in one night on what I swore were dinners out and expensive coffees. “I’m just really into cappuccinos right now,” I’d tell them. Their trust was absolute. They sent more money; I set it on fire. They sent more money; I set it on fire.
By the summer before my third year, I was broke and unemployed, and my parents were calling me home. I felt that I had more to burn in the city, and more to see.
By then I was spending a lot of time with Mike, a friend of one of my professors. One night he invited me to a bar. When I arrived, he was on the patio with five 30-something men, all chain-smoking and griping about their ex-wives. Instinctively, I knew the night would be a mess, but I wanted to be brave, so I stayed. They carted me off to another bar, then to someone’s friend’s house, and finally, at 4 a.m., to an after-hours club in the basement of a Chinatown fruit market.
I hit my head on the low ceiling on the way in. We passed a few girls sitting on a pool table covered in stains, and a couple slumped motionless against the wall. “If you hear gunshots, just get down on the ground,” Mike told me, yelling over the blaring music and rowdy crowd. I could barely see his face through the smoke. I turned away for a second, surveying the dancers, and when I turned back he was gone. A drunk girl in a short lace dress rushed up to me with a big hug. I asked her if she needed any help. She twisted my nipple and stumbled away. A man offered me a hit of powder off the tip of his key. Soon Mike was back and in a jacked-up state.
Seeing him so wired made me feel nervous and out of place, the way I felt when I first started going out. Now, I was tired. I was tired of being grabbed and lured by people who couldn’t remember my name. I was tired of being the younger curiosity, the hanger-on. It all stopped being fun, my invincibility was fading, and I wanted my old life back.
Around 5:30 a.m., Mike told me he had to work in two hours, so he offered me a ride home. On the way, he stopped at a Tim Hortons to grab a coffee and we sat in the parking lot, watching the sun come up. I saw his creased face in the light for the first time, ravaged by drugs and booze and regret. He told me about the last girl who broke his heart, and about his dogs like they were the only things that mattered to him. It started to rain, and my phone lit up with the third email from my mom that night, asking if I was okay. Mike turned to me and smiled. “So. Ready to go home?”
Scaachi Koul is a writer and editor living in Toronto.
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