A note from Camilla before you start reading:
I was kidnapped when I was 8 years old. I was sitting in the Oldsmobile, the one we called Carla Number 3, with the broken passenger side door that was held together with bailer twine and bungee cords. You had to get into the car from the driver’s side, and the backseat was always full of phonebooks and old computer parts. So even if I had wanted to jump out, I couldn’t. This was back when you could leave kids in cars. In the parking lot of the A&P I likely wasn’t the only kid in a hand-me-down mittens waiting on an adult who was shooting the shit with Marlene, the only weekday cashier. My Dad smoked a cigarette and leaned against the ice machine, the looped arm of a yellow grocery bag tucked around the elbow of his silver ski jacket. Everyone walking in and out of the store looked like they were smoking because it was so cold. He’d left the keys in the car so the heat could run. A guy just got in and drove me away. He said his name was Benjamin. I don’t think he wanted a kid, I think he wanted a car. Maybe. I don’t remember all that much after he told me his name. I don’t remember how I got home. But I do know I lived with my Nana for a whole summer after that. She had a little red bungalow halfway between our church and the Chicken Yum Diner. Every night she’d say, come on, let’s go brush our jimmies. She’d tuck me into her waterbed with the coral satin sheets and then go sleep on the couch. Nana said my Dad was special and the world was never fair to him. In the fall we had to go to court, my sister and I, and say where we wanted to live. My mother let my Dad have weekends. Which to him meant once a month.
My childhood was unremarkable, except for the kidnapping. I stayed out of trouble unless you messed with my sister. I graduated with a respectable B average from my tiny high school on the shores of the greatest of great lakes, and I went to college in the city for an English degree. I didn’t expect to get knocked up at 18, but I guess it’s in my genes. I named her Buffy like the slayer, and sent her off to live with a nice middle-aged couple in Barrie. That’s why I never go to Barrie. I think if I saw her, I would know. But sometimes I get drunk and get on a bus there. I’m sober enough by the time I arrive that I just turn around and come back.
When I was 25, I became best friends with Morgan, the head bartender at an Irish pub on College street where I was a server. Morgan and me were so tight we spent Christmases together. Nana loved Morgan. We went to Mexico when we conned two rich guys into taking us to an all-inclusive. She was loyal. The strongest woman I ever met. On the night of a city-wide blackout, I walked into the storage room and found her dead. They say when you hang yourself you really fucking mean it. She left me a note that just said, thanks for being solid. That’s why I’ve got this tattoo right here.
My boyfriend at the time thought I was in love with Morgan, but that’s just because he didn’t have any imagination. He was a very literal person. But maybe he realized I didn’t really care about him, and he saw I could care for someone by how I treated Morgan.
A year later, I found out I had a rare form of cancer. I kept trying to finish school and go to work though. I’d just gone back to college at night to become an accountant. I was turning my life around and then the test results laughed in my face. I wanted life to be as normal as possible, despite the treatments. I told my family I was going to handle it on my own. After Morgan died, my sister died. I started going to this grief support group. I didn’t know what else to do. Now it’s my home base.
Every Tuesday, we had a fortune teller come into the bar. Gabriella the Wonder. I would never let her predict anything about me, but the night after my diagnosis I sat down and asked her point blank am I cursed?
She put her hands around my face. She smelled like the Tuesday night jalapeno poppers special and our lowest shelf scotch. She said, Oh little one, you did something so bad in a past life, you might want to hurry up and get this one over with.
I laughed it off, but it came back to me on my thirtieth birthday as I loaded my Dad’s old 22 rifle and put it behind the driver’s seat of the pick-up and drove into the city to confront the ones who thought they could take everything away from me.
Who are you gonna believe? Someone like me, who has survived so much, and has nothing to lose? Or a pathetic man who could barely tie his shoes after his wife left him? Or a woman who always thinks she has a brain tumor and has panic attacks in the grocery store? You’re going to believe them because they have perfect teeth and never had to do anything they didn’t want to do in life. I am tough because I have had to be.
You’re a smart person, obviously. You read books. I’m just trying to give you the basics right now. I have the right to defend myself. Doesn’t everyone, even these days?