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Authors: Douglas Coupland

Girlfriend in a coma

BOOK: Girlfriend in a coma
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Girlfriend in a Coma

Douglas Coupland

I'm Jared, a ghost.
On Friday, October 14, 1978, I was playing football with my high school team, the Sentinel Spartans. It was an away-game at another school, Handsworth, in North Vancouver. Early on in the game I was thrown a pass and as I turned to catch it I couldn't help noticing how clean and blue the sky was, like a freshly squeegeed window. At that point I blacked out. I apparently fumbled the pass and I have no memory of what happened afterward, but I did learn that the coaches canceled the game, which was dumb because we were cleaning up and for all anybody knew, it was probably just a severe relapse of mono from two years earlier.
But between that fumbled pass and a few hours later when I woke up in Lions Gate Hospital, I was diagnosed with leukaemia - cancer of 3the bone marrow and hence the blood. Just three months later I died, on January 14, 1979. It was a lightningspeed progression for this particular disease. Before I died I lost all my hair and my skin turned the color of an unwashed white car. If I could do it all over again, I'd have hidden the mirrors from about Week Six onward.
My life was happy and full and short; Earth was kind to me and my bout with cancer was my Great Experience. Unless, of course, we include my sex binge with Cheryl Anderson the week her parents were renovating and the whole family moved into The Maples motel for five days. That aside, I believe that unless a person passes through some Great Experience, that person's life will have been for naught. Such an experience doesn't have to be explosive or murderous or include Cheryl Anderson; often a quiet life of loneliness can be its own Great Experience. And I will also say this: hospitals are girl magnets. My room there quickly became a veritable parade float of flowers, cookies, knit goods, and girls who had quite obviously (and fetchingly) spent hours grooming. Such is the demented nature of the universe that I was too weak to properly respond to my being hit on by carloads of Betties and Veronicas - all except for the cheeky Cheryl Anderson who gave me 'manual release' the day I lost my eyebrows, followed by a flood of tears and the snapping of Polaroids in which I wear a knit toque. Gush gush.
But back to right now - here, where I am, here at world's end.
Yes, the world is over. It's still
but it's . . .
I'm at the end of the world. Dust in the wind. The end of the world as we know it. Just another brick in the wall. It sounds glamorous but it's not. It's dreary and quiet and the air always smells like there's a tire fire half a mile upwind.

Let me describe the real estate that remains one year after the world ended: It is above all a silent place with no engines or voices or music. Theater screens fray and unravel like overworn shirts. Endless cars and trucks and minivans sit on road shoulders harboring cargoes of rotted skeletons. Homes across the world collapse and fall inward on themselves; pianos, couches, and microwaves tumble through floors, exposing money and love notes hidden within the floorboards.Most foods and medicines have time-expired. The outer world is eroded by rain, and confused by lightning. Fires still burn, of course, and the weather now tends to extremes. Suburban streets such as those where I grew up are dissolving inside rangy and shaggy overgrown plants; vines unfurl across roads now undriven by Camaros. Tennis rackets silently unstring inside dark dry closets. Ten million pictures fall from ten million walls; road signs blister and rust. Hungry dogs roam in packs. To visit Earth now you would see thousands of years of grandeur and machinery all falling asleep. Cathedrals fall as readily as banks; car assembly lines as readily as supermarkets. Lightless sunken submarines lumber to the ocean's bottom to spend the next billion years collecting silt. In cities the snow sits unplowed; jukeboxes sit silent; chalkboards stand forever unerased. Computer databases lie untapped while power cables float from aluminum towers like long thin hairs.
But how did I end up here? And how long am I to stay here? To learn this, we need to learn about my friends. They were here, too - at the end of the world. This is the place my old friends came to inhabit as well - my friends who grew old while I got to remain forever young.
Question: would I do it the same way all over again? Absolutely - because I learned something along the way. Most people don't learn things along the way. Or if they do, they conveniently forget those things when it suits their need. Most people, given a second chance, fuck it up completely. It's one of those laws of the universe that you can't shake. People, I have noticed, only seem to learn once they get their third chance - after losing and wasting vast sums of time, money, youth, and energy you name it. But still they learn, which is the better thing in the end.

So here follows the story of friends of mine who finally learned their lesson: Karen, Richard, Pam, Hamilton, Wendy, and Linus. Richard's the best talker of the group so in the beginning the story is mostly his. Karen would have been better but then Karen wasn't around Earth much in the beginning.
C'est la vie.
But then Richard's story only takes us so far. The story gets bigger than him. It includes them all. And in the end it becomes
story. But we'll get to that.
Destiny is what we work toward. The future doesn't exist yet. Fate is for losers. 18-25-32 . .


Karen and I deflowered each other atop Grouse Mountain, among the cedars beside a ski slope, atop crystal snow shards beneath pen-light stars. It was a December night so cold and clear that the air felt like the air of the Moon - lung-burning; mentholated and pure; a hint of ozone, zinc, ski wax, and Karen's strawberry shampoo.

Here is where I go back to the first small crack in the shell of time, to when I was happiest. Myself and the others, empty pagan teenagers lusting atop a black mountain overlooking a shimmering city below, a city so new that it dreamed only of what the embryo knows, a shimmering light of civil peace and hope for the future. And there I am now, up on that mountain:
Whatdidyousee,Karen?Whyweren'twe allowedtoknow?Whyyou- whyus?

That night - December 15, 1979 - Karen had been so ravenous, demanding that we connect full-tilt. She said to me, "So, Richard, are we ever gonna do it or what?" She unzipped her bib overalls on a steep, breast-shaped mogul, then hauled me into the woods, where she yanked me down into the scraping snow, a snow too icy for snow angels. I felt so young, and she looked so mature. She pulled me with unfamiliar urgency, as though an invasion were about to occur that would send us off to war. And so there we lay, pumping like lions, the insides of our heads like hot slot machines clanging out silver dollars, rubies, and sugar candies. As if time was soon to end, what little time remained must be squandered quickly, savoring the delicate, fluttering pulses of cool, dry cherry blossoms passing back and forth between our bodies. Afterward, cold snow trickled into our pants, then into our orifices, chilling and congealing those parts so recently warm while we zipped up and schussed down the ski runs to the chairlifts. "Hey, Richard, you pussy - it's a rat race!"
Karen and I were flushed, slightly embarrassed, processing all these new bodily sensations while feeling transformed - and then we rose up again, up the mountain on a bobbing chairlift that stalled halfway up the slope. And it was there that the arc lights also blinked, then skittered, then blackened. In the dark, Karen and I sat bouncing, stuck, suspended above raw nature, our faces blue jeans-blue from the Moon. Karen lit a Number 7 cigarette, her bony cheeks inflamed with blood, burning pink in the Bic lighter's heat, like a doll inside a burning doll house. My arm draped her shoulder; we both felt safe, as if we were a complete solar system unto ourselves, dangling in the sky, warm heated planets inside a universe of stars.

I asked Karen, who was also trying to gauge the impact of what we'd just done together in the woods, if she was happy. This is never, as I have since learned, a good question to ask of anyone. But Karen smiled, giggled, and blew silky smoke into the deep blue darkness. I thought of jewels being tossed off an ocean liner over the Marianas Trench, gone forever. Then she turned her head away from me and looked into the forest that lay to the right, trees visible to us both as only a darker shade of black. I could tell something was now wrong with her, as though she were a book I was reading with pages tanta-lizingly removed. Her small teeth bit her lower lip and her eyebrows lowered.
She jittered with a delicate jolt, as if she'd tried to start her Honda Civic with her house key.
The realization dribbled into my own head: Karen had been off kilter all afternoon and into the evening, fixating over dumb things like the olive-colored dial telephone in my parents' kitchen or a bouquet of crummy gladiolas on the kitchen table, saying, "Oh, isn't that just the most beautiful ..." then trailing off. She had also been looking at the sky and the clouds all day, not just glancing, but stopping and standing and staring, as if they were on a movie screen.
Karen's back arched just faintly, and her face stiffened just so. I said, "What's up, Pumpkin - regrets? You know how I feel about you."
And she said "Duh, Richard. I love you, too . , . goonhead. Nothing's wrong, really, Beb. I'm just cold. And I want the lights to come back on. Soon." She called me "Beb," a snotty contraction of "Babe."
The absence of light frightened her. She pulled up my wool ski cap and kissed my waxy, cold ear. So I held her tighter and once more asked her what was the matter, because she still wasn't okay.
She said, "I've been having the weirdest dreams lately, Richard. So
... I guess it sounds kind of loserish, me saying that, doesn't it? Best forgotten." Karen shook her head and blew out a puff of tobacco smoke that spider-webbed against the dark night. She stared at the chairlift's stalag towers, unable to light the slopes with man-made sun. She changed the subject: "Did you see Donna Kilbruck's pants tonight? God - so tight - she had walrus-crotch. The horror. It, too, best forgotten."

"Hey, Beb, don't change the subject. Tell me," I said, with anunexpected curtness. I was mad at myself; I was growing up and was at the stage where smartass one-liners were no longer in and of themselves adequately meaningful to sustain a conversation. Karen and I rarely had conversations of true depth. The closest we ever got to hearing each other's deeper thoughts was during stoned group philosophizing sessions - which is to say not much at all. But then we were young and glibness was our armor. We yearned for better thoughts. I vowed to try to bring myself closer to her. "C'mon. Please - tell me."
Karen said, "Nope. Sorry Beb. It's too complicated to explain." Again I felt excluded. Minutes before I had been so totally one with her. A wind scraped by, our bodies shivered, and then she said, "Well maybe it wasn't a
You promise not to laugh?"
"Huh? Yes. Of course I promise."
"Well, I was asleep when it happened - but it was more realistic than any dream. Maybe a kind of vision."
"Go on."
"It wasn't like a dream at all, more like movie clips - like a TV ad for a movie, but with still photos, too, but just barely developed, like a blur that becomes a face when I develop them in the photo lab at school. I think it was supposed to be the future."
I could kick myself now for having said what I said, an ill-timed stab at being funny: "So how was the future? Vietnam conquers Earth? Aliens for dinner? Pods for everybody? Maybe that explains your being a space cadet all day." I thought I was being witty here - a real center box on
Hollywood Squares.
But Karen's falling face showed that I'd grossly misjudged. She looked spooked and let down.
"Okay, Richard. I see. I
I shouldn't have trusted you with that. That's one mistake I won't be making again." She looked away. Chills.
I felt like a farmer watching his field flattened by hail. "No.
Karen. Please. I'm a shit. Big-mouth strikes again. I didn't mean that. You know I didn't. I was being a jerk. I don't like it when I'm like that. Shit. I was only trying to be funny. Please tell me. C'mon. I want
to hear about your vision.
"Your groveling has been noted, Richard." She flicked away hercigarette; her tone indicated probation. She was silent awhile. We were beyond chilly, quite cold now. Our eyes adjusted to the dark. She continued: "It had texture. For example, I could feel plants and clothes and things when I touched them. Especially last night. It was set in our house on Rabbit Lane, but everything had gone to seed. The trees and grass . . . and the people, too. You, Pam . . . really dirty and grungy."
Suddenly, she had clarity. "These things
all in the future." She sniffed back a moist bead of goo dripping from her nose. "The air seemed smoky. There weren't any flying cars or outer-space clothing. But cars
different, all smooth and round. I drove in one. It had a new brand name . . Airbag? Yes
It was on the dashboard." "You didn't happen to pick up a
Wall Street Journal
and notice any big market trends in the future - or any stock prices - or anything like that, did you?
She nogged herself on her forehead. "I get shown the future and all I paid attention to is cars, haircuts, and ..." She rolled her eyes. "I'm blanking, Richard, I can't help you there. Stop being crass. Wait – yes - yes: Russia isn't an enemy anymore. And sex is fatal.
The ski-lift chair jiggled - engines up the hill were sending rumbles. Karen continued trancing: "Earlier this week, I saw the future and there were these machines that had something to do with money - people seemed to be more . . .
People still did things the regular way, too, like they had to pump gas and . . . and . . . oh,
I can't believe this, I see the future and it sounds just like
I can't even remember how it was different. People looked better. Thinner? Better clothes? Like joggers?" "And . . . ?"
"Okay, you're right. Details are kinda patchy - but there's bad news, too. It's a good news/bad news thing." She paused and said, "There's a ... darkness to the future." She paused and bit her lip. "That's what's scaring me now."
"What kind of darkness?" That night, I had worn only jeans, no long Johns. I shivered.

BOOK: Girlfriend in a coma
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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