Heartache and Other Natural Shocks

Copyright © 2015 by Glenda Leznoff

Published in Canada and the United States of America by Tundra Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014951823

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher—or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Leznoff, Glenda Barbara, 1956-, author
Heartache and other natural shocks / written by Glenda Leznoff.

ISBN 978-1-77049-836-5 (bound).—ISBN 978-1-77049-837-2 (epub)

I. Title.

PS8573.E995H42 2015       jC813’.54     C2014-905503-X

Edited by Sue Tate
Designed by Five Seventeen.



For my parents, Ruth and Arthur Leznoff


“Subterranean Homesick Blues”

I’m halfway between Montreal and Toronto in one of those awful gas/food stations off the 401. If purgatory were a real place, it would look like this: lots of people, lots of plastic, bad food and toilet lineups. Right now, I’m sitting in an orange plastic chair, attached to a brown plastic table, bolted to the floor—so no one will steal it? Who designs these places? Ugly Inc.?

Bobby is picking at his french fries, Mom is sipping coffee and I’m pretending to read so I won’t have to talk to them, but I can feel Mom’s blue hawk eyes zooming in on me. She says, “Julia, you should eat something.”

Is she kidding? I’m so nervous I could throw up. Besides, if eating would make her happy, I’d go on a hunger strike.

If I went on a hunger strike, would she let me go home? What would happen if, instead of going to the bathroom, I snuck out the exit, ran across the highway and stuck out my thumb? Would anyone pick up a desperate-looking teenager? Anyone other than a pervert, I mean. And where would I go if I had the guts to make a run for it?

I think about my escape options:

1. I could fly to Paris, get a job waitressing in the Latin Quarter and become an artist. But unlike Vincent van Gogh, who sold only one painting in his entire life and died penniless, I’d get discovered and become rich and famous, at which point I may or may
forgive my parents for ruining my life.

2. I could take a vow of silence and join a Benedictine monastery. Except I don’t believe in God, and they probably don’t accept fifteen-year-old Jewish girls. Scratch that.

3. I could go to Tibet and visit those temples with the bronze bells and golden Buddhas. I’d spin prayer wheels—the ones that look like Purim gregors—and my prayers would be carried off into the wind. Or maybe I’d spend weeks making an intricate mandala from brightly colored grains of sand, and in the end, I’d sweep it all away into a pile of thin gray dust, a symbol of the impermanence of life.

Because everything
impermanent. I know that now. I didn’t know it a year ago. A year ago, I was just a normal teenager living in a three-bedroom, semidetached house in the Town of Mount Royal, thinking my life was a straight road. I walked to T.M.R. High every day with my best friend, Mollie
Fineberg, and twice a week I took jazz dancing classes with Eva von Gencsy from Les Ballets Jazz at the Saidye Bronfman Centre. I was happy and I didn’t even know it. And why didn’t I know it? Because I didn’t understand that things change. Someone should warn you about that when you’re growing up. Someone should inform you that living in a nice house, in a beautiful city like Montreal, doesn’t mean that your life is going to be that way forever.

Bobby shoves his french fries in my face. They’re drenched in ketchup. He says, “Jules, you can have one if you want.” He squints at me. He has big brown eyes and thick lashes, just like Dad. Why do boys always get the great lashes? He’s being unusually considerate for a nine-year-old brat, but I shake my head. My stomach is bubbling like a witch’s cauldron.

Mom drains her coffee, and we head back to the station wagon. In three hours we’ll be in a rented house in Willowdale, Toronto. I’ve never been to Toronto. If I had to make a list of all the places I’d like to visit in my lifetime, Toronto wouldn’t even be on it. I try to imagine what my life will be like there, but I can’t. All I can think about is everything I’ve left behind.

Last night I slept at Mollie’s, and we stayed up till four in the morning talking and listening to music. All the songs seemed to be about us: “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Fire and Rain,” “Bridge over Troubled Water.” Every time a song started up, we’d look at each other and burst into tears. Our eyes got so red and puffy, we had to put slices of cucumber
on them, like they tell you to do in
’s beauty tips. The cucumber was cold and a bit sticky. We lay on our backs on Mollie’s bed and listened to Simon & Garfunkel’s
album all the way to the end, where it’s just Paul Simon’s lone guitar and their two beautiful voices singing about “a time of innocence, a time of confidences.”

When the song finished, neither of us spoke. I listened to the scratchy sound of the needle skimming across the record and the steady ticking of the grandfather clock at the end of the hall. I thought about all the nights I’ve slept at Mollie’s and how I’ve always loved the sound of that clock, but now it was just counting down the seconds till I had to leave town, like some evil death-clock in a Dalí painting or a Bergman film.

We crawled under the covers, and I whispered, “Mollie, I can’t do this.”

She said, “Jules, it will be really hard at the beginning, but then you’ll get used to it. People get used to anything. And after a while, new things will happen. Good things.”

I wanted to ask her
What good things could possibly happen to me in a strange high school, in a new city where I knew no one?
But I couldn’t speak because it felt like there was a dry stone stuck at the bottom of my throat, and it’s still there.

In the car, my mother listens to the
news: more about Nixon, the bombings in Cambodia, the floods in Bangladesh. Disaster everywhere. I tune out. I lean my head against the window and stare at the farms and fields, with their brittle
stacks of hay and their endless rows of corn. Who lives here? I wonder. Who lives in these sad, crooked farmhouses in the middle of nowhere, with views of the highway and of cars speeding past carrying strangers to the big city, far, far away?

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