Chapter One— It's a Small, Small World
It’s basically impossible to find the right time to tell your father you’re fleeing the country, and believe me I’ve tried. My pop has been so preoccupied lately that I kept putting it off, but this morning after an epic toaster strudel debacle—goddamn toaster has always been out to get me—I finally crack and tell him we Need To Have A Talk.
My dad blinks and adjusts his tie, a menswear atrocity I perpetrated on him when I was a pre-teen in my very first sewing class: white stars on an inky background, a design choice I made because it’s patterned after the Milky Way. Well. That’s what the salesperson told me when I bought the fabric. My pop was more than happy to give me a two-hour multimedia presentation about the correct formation of the galaxy after unwrapping it one Christmas morning. He used to hope I’d follow in his nerdy footsteps, but to be fair he does support most of my creative efforts; he wears that tie even though it looks like it was sewn together by a half-blind toddler on uppers.
“What?” he repeats, his brown eyes a little wild behind his Coke-bottle lenses. My pop is a double-doctorate-holding, sweater-vest-wearing Stanford researcher who specializes in the hydrology of glacierized systems, in Greenland specifically. It sounds complicated, but basically it just means he likes ice. A lot. And even though he doesn’t teach, he’s somehow perfected the art of looking like an absent-minded professor. It’s particularly acute this morning, his balding pate shiny in California’s aggressive sun, thin wisps of gray-brown hair slightly on end, his narrow mouth puckered. I sometimes wonder where I really came from; both my parents were tall, lean, dark-haired, brown-eyed geniuses. How I ended up a five-foot-two strawberry blonde ungenius is a scientific mystery for the ages.
I sip some Red Bull and try to clear out the haze of my let’s have just one more Screaming Viking hangover from last night. When I’ve summoned enough energy to be enthusiastic, I repeat, “Toronto!” while trying to infuse my voice with a convincing, and slightly manipulative, undertone. I’ve been working on hypnotizing my pop for a while now. I know this sounds bad, but in a family like mine, conducting experiments on loved ones—especially without them figuring out you’re doing it—is as normal as apple pie. As long as you present the results with the appropriate documentation. And pie.
“But why would you go all the way up there? I’m sorry, I’m having a bit of a hard time here, Lou,” he says, using my middle name, something he’s done ever since I was born. Really, what was the point in giving me a perfectly good name—Camilla, after his mother—he never uses? “I don’t like the thought of this,” he adds, as sunlight hits his wearable-tech Smartwatch at exactly the right angle, his whole world trapped in its 2x2 screen. Notifications for e-mail, instant messages, and today’s weather report for Nuuk, Greenland glide over its face. It’s powered by converting his body heat and the occasional sweat droplet—not that my dad could find the campus gym by leveraging both GPS and RFID technology—into energy.
“I don’t really care for the thought of you being harvested by your wristwatch, either, Pop,” I say with a grin. “But I believe in letting you have the freedom to live your life the way you want. Isn’t that what family’s all about?” I resist the urge to bat my lashes. No point in laying it on too thick.
He wipes his glasses off on his sweater-vest before doing that mumbling thing where he runs through his thoughts to find the tail end of the idea he’s trying to express. If you’re mindful of the fact he’s considered one of the most prominent researchers in his field—like, in the world—you’ll understand this is no mean task. “You have a job here,” he says.
“Actually, here, I have an unpaid internship.” I swing my bare feet over the edge of his desk. His eyes settle on them like they’re the key to a potential scientific breakthrough. “This is how my life goes these days, Pop: After interning all day, I go to my second job in a teeny-tiny office with no air conditioning, where I input data so the company I work for can sell stuff no one needs. Then, on the weekends, I volunteer at the California Water Project. I’m saving the planet!”
“And the planet and I thank you, honey.” He draws his eyes away from my feet and beams; mentioning my volunteer work always helps soften him up.
“I need a change, Pop,” I say. “I want to see what life is like in a big city. I want to go to school. I want to travel. I want an adventure.”
“Berkeley and Stanford are only an hour away. San Francisco is just over there.” He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and gestures vaguely at there. “We could go on a trip together after this research cycle is over. Get all this out of your system.”
“Pop,” I say, as gently as I can. “Your research cycle is never going to be over. And I am never ever going to get into Stanford. Here’s the thing. I wasn’t ready to do an undergrad degree after I finished high school, but now I am. I really really am.” I give him my best how right you were look. I follow this—if I’m honest about it—with a bit of lash-batting.
He taps some tobacco into his pipe and lights it before sucking on it like it’s a giant— but deadly—pacifier, a reminder that intellectual brilliance does not make one perfect. “It’s August. How are you going to get into school for the 2017 academic year?”
This is the part that’s a little hard to explain: the shiny new passport in my bedside table, my student visa carefully attached. I like thinking about the passport, a book that hasn’t been written in yet. “I got the acceptance a while back.” May fifteenth, to be honest. The Red Bull jitters around my stomach while I try to collect my thoughts. I don’t actually want to leave my father; I wish I could be the kind of daughter who always puts her parents first, but the idea of getting out of this teeny-tiny town has been growing inside me ever since we got here. It’s so loud now I can’t hear anything else.
“You won’t even be here in a few years, Pop. You’ll be in Toronto, working on your melt-pattern project. This way, I can scope out the city, you know, find places we can go for brunch together. You love brunch!”
“Lou…” His eyes rest on the prodigious library lining the walls of his study. “Your job could become full time at any moment. You could—”
“They’re not going to bring me on full time. Like, in a million, trillion years. They told me.”
A month ago.
“Please don’t exaggerate, honey, especially numerically. It’s so—”
“Kind of missing the point, Pop.” I try to ignore the hangover headache encroaching on my right eyeball. “They’re happy to keep me on as an intern, though, so I can work sixteen-hour days and go nowhere with my life. That’s not what you want for me, is it? I’m twenty-two. Where am I going to be five years from now?”
And then his shoulders slowly roll forward and come to rest in a slump. He looks defeated, and for the first time, old. I mean, he was old already, but now he looks really old.
Maybe one more year. Maybe I can hang on just a little longer. I don’t actually know what my dad will do without me; I mean, this is a man who spends Friday nights blaring the vocal stylings of Greenland’s Rasmus Lyberth, drinking twelve-year-old scotch, and muttering about ice cores. But we’re not living here; we’re hiding in this tiny, quiet town. And I want to make some noise.
“You’d need a lot of sweaters, Lou.”
A smile takes hold of my mouth. “Actually, Pop, the average summer temperature in Toronto is 80. Which is 27 Celsius.”
He laughs; this is the same thing he and my mom told me the spring I was thirteen and they were prepping for a summer of research at U of T. I didn’t want to go, and threw a tantrum he still mentions at Thanksgiving—specifically how he’s thankful the tantrum of 2004 has not yet repeated itself.
I tap a few keys on his ever-present iBook, and a multimedia presentation springs to life on the one wall of the den he keeps blank for precisely this reason. A perky multicultural montage of Torontonians slides by: couples on patios, a zoo penguin tripping one of his cohorts—the little scamp—the city skyline at night, happy people eating poutine, a gravy-and-cheese-laden, french-fried work of art. I’ve scrubbed any images of blender drinks, nightlife, hot guys, or nude beaches.
“It would be an adventure,” I say. “A quest, like Lord of the Rings. Hey, it’s playing at the rerun theater. Do you want to go see it together this weekend?”
“I’d love to,” he says, smiling. There’s a beat. He looks out the window, his head tilted to the side, his eyes resting on the eastern fox squirrel romping in the tree outside. When he turns back around and spots me, he flinches. “Oh, hi, honey. What were we talking about…yes…Stanford is the best,” he says. “And I’ll help you. I—”
“I want to do it on my own. And you’ve helped me enough already.” Too much, maybe.
I try that hypnotizing thing again. “U of T is where stem cells were discovered. And insulin. People love that insulin stuff! And it’s our home too, Pop. You still have the house there, you still—”
I stop talking when he sighs. My family used to be a traveling nerd circus; my mom was a geophysicist, and one university or another always wanted to squeeze one of my parents’ brains. They dragged me from colleges to universities and once, notably, a monastery where they made spectacular beer. I’m not from anywhere, really. When we moved to Toronto that summer, my parents thought they might make it their permanent home. There was funding for their research, there was a small brown house, there were all kinds of things waiting for us. But six months later she was dead, and then he and I bounced around from one scholastic institution to another until we ended up here a few years ago: in a tiny town you’ve never heard of, an hour’s drive from Stanford, a seven-minute walk to the nearest neighbor, and a galaxy away from anything exciting.
“You can’t go back to that summer, Lou,” he says. “Mommy’s gone.”
And then my breath catches in my throat. It’s hard for me to put into words why I want to flee the country to figure myself out, but I know I can’t stay here. If I don’t leave now, I’ll die in a town with no art, no theatre, and four bars—one where you can drink for free if you show the bouncer your tattoos. Whatever I’m looking for out of life, whoever I’m going to be, I can’t find it here.
My multimedia presentation is still looping in the background, and I hit a button which launches a musical interlude. It’s a Small World After All, my pop mouths at me, beaming. He sure does love that song. After a moment, he exhales a lungful of smoke. “I’m worried about you partying too much. You’d have to promise to settle down a little. Grow some roots.”
“Of course,” I say smoothly, making sure my eyes don’t wander to the left, the creative, lying part of the brain. “And anyway, it’s really all the same biosphere, Pop. The same ecosystem. So it’s not so different after all.”
Now my lashes are batting like they’re on steroids, and my dad is laughing that way he does, leaned forward, smiling crazy big, eyes shut. And then he shrugs, his hands outstretched in an I give up gesture.
So that’s how I outmaneuvered a man armed with two PhDs and a sweater-vest and ended up in Canada. How being there made me a criminal is a whole other story.Pick up a copy of Wake today!