by John Tavares
At first the attraction was strictly physical. Ana had a fit, curvy body and an appealing face, but Lea grew to love her mind and personality. This was the young woman Lea wanted to join on a journey to college. They spent time together outdoors, hunting, fishing, and discussing their plans to leave their bleak northwestern Ontario hometown. Lea firmly believed Ana saved her life—at least once.
They went on their day trip, their hike and ice fishing expedition as planned; having never been ice fishing before, Lea adamantly insisted on the adventure. The temperature was minus thirty degrees Celsius, excluding the wind chill. When Ana saw how Lea dressed, she thought they should cancel the trip. Ana believed Lea, wearing thin stylish sheepskin boots, black leggings, a light coat, gloves instead of mitts, and her thin knit hat, as opposed to a thick toque, was unprepared for the severe cold and wind chill. Like a realistic woman with adult responsibilities, like a mother, Ana worried about frostbite, exposure, and worse.
Still, Lea, never having gone ice fishing before, insisted they take a chance. So, Ana offered her a pair of her brother’s boots, a few sizes too large, but they fit better when she insisted Lea wear a few extra pairs of thick woolen socks. Lea couldn’t believe how, like a worried Portuguese mama, with a babushka, Ana insisted she wear extra pairs of socks. Ana offered her brother’s heavy warmer, parka, but Lea didn’t like the frumpy look, the stains from oil, charcoal, burnt wood, and sawdust, so she insisted on wearing her own light jacket. They hiked up the back alley, snowshoed along the trail, past the airport runway, and trampled across the frozen lake to the ice huts. After disappearing down a trail to her brother’s stash in the bush, and mysteriously producing an augur, Ana drilled two holes in the lake ice. After they sat beside the holes, jigging the fishing lines through the ice, Lea felt so cold she feared she would suffer exposure and frostbite or even freeze to death. Ignoring the northern pike tugging on the line by the lure, dangling through the hole in the thick ice, Ana devoted the time she wanted to spend fishing starting a campfire, gathering sticks, breaking branches, chopping wood with a hatchet she also retrieved from her brother’s stash alongside a trail into the bush on the shoreline.
When Ana thought she was sufficiently warm from the fire, she said they should hike as fast as possible home to keep their heart rate and body temperature up. Cold and drained from the hurried hike home, the pair slipped undetected past Ana’s mother, who would have been upset by how cold and frozen Lea looked, and who appeared, through an opening in the door, weary and exhausted herself, with scraggly hair. Ana beckoned her to sit on a stool beside the woodstove in the basement, warming her cold, aching feet and hands, which turned from blue to red, and which caused her agonizing and unbearable pain as her fingers and toes thawed. She bit the side of her hand, as she moaned in pain, thawing her hands and fingers as well as her feet and toes, warming herself by the heat radiating from the cast iron of the woodstove, which Ana fed with split pieces of jack pine and birch. Ana didn’t dare send Lea home before the girl rested and recovered from exposure to the winter elements.
Lea hugged her. “Ana, you saved my life. I could have lost my fingers or toes or even my feet to frostbite. I could have froze to death.”
“I think you’ve already lost your head. I didn’t save your life, but, yeah, I guess I could’ve killed you—accidentally. I should have called the trip off when I saw the frigid temperatures.”
“No, you saved me,” Lea insisted.
Ana took a beer for Lea from her father’s root cellar, where the bottle chilled in the cool air of the basement darkness. Aside from the odd time, when she was stressed and went on a binge, which left her either comatose or belligerent and hostile, Ana abstained from drinking alcoholic beverages like a good Catholic virgin.
“Stop being so dramatic, you’re sense of drama and hysteria is what’ll kill you yet.”
“You saved me from the cold.”
“Lea, you’re French Canadian, descended from the coureur des bois and voyagers, but you dressed like you’re heading to a bar downtown on Front Street.” Ana insisted she didn’t save Lea from the cold or anyone but herself. Lea should have known how to dress properly for the fierce northern winters; she came from French Canadian stock, adapted to the northern winters.
“We won’t need to dress so warm when we leave for university,” Lea said.
Ana would become the first member of her family, Portuguese on her mother’s side, indigenous on the side of her father, an Ojibway from Lac Seul, to attend college. Meanwhile, Ana’s parents, school teachers, one a French teacher at the high school, one a French teacher at the elementary school, warned Lea about the dangers of exploitation and violence in Toronto and worried aloud about culture shock. Lea never expected such stress to accompany a move from a small town in a remote northwestern Ontario to the place Ana liked to described as a cosmopolitan metropolis. Then again, she wasn’t moving permanently, but merely embarking on a journey, for her first two semesters of university, before she returned for the summer. She never expected she’d suffer from homesickness.
With her sense of adventure, Lea wanted to explore the city immediately. She had two suitcases on the carousel in the train station. The service agent said the baggage department closed in the early evening, so, eager to explore the city, she decided to return in the morning for the other luggage. Taking a single suitcase, she hiked underground through cavernous passageways, hallways, tunnels, passageways, and turnstiles, up and down stairs, until she landed on the subway station platform and boarded a northbound train to travel a short distance to Dundas station, from whence she walked to her building and apartment on the twenty-fourth floor. She couldn’t believe her good fortune in finding this room in the student housing co-op, a high-rise apartment building over twenty stories high, near the campus of Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, where she decided to study social work.
She arrived in the second week in August: the heat was stifling, and the humidity was sweltering, but she loved the merciless sun and the heat of the city indoors and outdoors. Still, even she had her limits, as the heat grew intense, stifling, and the humidity became unbearable.
Now she needed to try to sleep. When she heard voices whispering and beckoning her outside the window on the twenty-fourth floor, she became alarmed and agitated. Lea couldn’t sleep and paced the confines of her room before she retreated to the kitchen she shared with roommates. She looked at the billboard where other residents had inscribed their names and initials. She carved her initials “L.T.” and the year “1983” with a geometry compass from a pencil case on the bench.
The window was left open to a screen exactly like the window in the back door at her house in Sioux Lookout, where Ana confronted Lea on the night, intended to be celebratory, before she left Toronto.
Lea’s mind mentally re-enacted the scene while she breathed heavily and tried to sleep. Reeking of strong liquor, rum, wet from the downpour of rain, wearing a t-shirt over her bikini, and sandals—her revealing outfit struck Lea as unusual since she usually dressed modestly, despite the fact she had the most attractive body of any young woman she knew. Like an apparition, Ana appeared on the patio outside the screen door of the house.
“You piece of shit,” she shouted through the screen door, “We were supposed to go together.”
“We’re in different colleges, we’re in different programs,” she said, defensively, backing away from the door. “My parents think you’re not even going to college. They say your application got rejected by University of Toronto.”
“How would they know?”
“My parents are both teachers.”
“All seeing, all knowing, you bitch. It’s none of their business. We were supposed to find a place to live together in the Big Smoke, so we could both attend college together.”
“We’re in different programs, going to different schools.”
“We were supposed to find a place together, to live as roommates, so we could both go to college, help each other, and support one another, when things get rough, like true friends.”
“We’re going to different colleges—”
“They’re only a few miles apart.”
Lea protested, feebly, “But—”
“But you fucked it up for me.”
Standing on the patio, in front of the porch door, which she kept locked, she glared at Lea intensely. Worried about how Ana would react, afraid she would beat the shit out of her, Lea gazed in apprehension through the screen. She could not admit what Ana said was true; they did indeed plan to move to Toronto together as first-year college students. They had been making plans together, during their last year of high school, during which, she thought, they acted more like guys, making excursions outdoors, hunting ruffed grouse and snowshoe hare and even squirrel. Ana introduced Lea to her own rough and tumble world, of a brother who wrestled and bullied her, who acted aggressively towards her, beat her up, hit her like she was a punching bag and may have even forced her to have sex with her, for all she knew. She brought Lea to the pinball and video arcade and pool hall on Front Street, where she taught her how to play on the pool tables, showed her the rules of billiard games, and shot her first games of snooker. She gave her the cassette tapes and record albums from the music collection she shared with her brother, rock, pop, and some dance music. She traded her Rolling Stones and David Bowie cassette tapes and Playboy magazines from her brother for Psychology Today back issues, which she took from her parents. She loved to read these magazines, even while they angled, while they sat on the shoreline with fishing rods, propped up by stacked rocks.
Exploring the bushes around town with Ana, she surprised herself with how carefree and careless she behaved. When she recklessly shot the .410 shotgun, which belonged to Ana’s brother, she blasted down a live power line, along a logging road popular with small game hunters, which cut electricity to some rural residents.
“So what?” Lea demanded. “I’m a badass.”
They discussed their arrangements and plans for college during hunting and fishing trips. They both tried to best and outdo each other in foolishness and rebellious behaviour, before Ana’s anger and even rage erupted. When they went fishing and were alone, Lea took off her t-shirt or her swimsuit top and tanned her breasts. After she’d been drinking, Lea caught a northern pike and the toothy, aggressive, combative fish swallowed her lure, a red daredevil spoon. Acting out, she seized the struggling pike, and squeezed the long angular mottle body, until its air bladder burst. Then she tossed the lifeless fish, which some residents regarded as rough fish, no better than garden fertilizer, back into the rapids and laughed. Ana dropped her rod on the rocks and climbed over the boulders to the shoreline and punched Lea in the face. Shocked and hurt, she started to sob and cry.
Ana wrapped her arms around Lea, trying to console and reassure her. Her reaction to Lea’s cruelty towards the fish was her passionate and fiery nature, the Portuguese part of her, she claimed. Afterwards, Lea worried about moving to Toronto to attend college with her. She started to believe Ana would be a drag on her and her future. She worried Ana might distract her from any prospective career she might find in Toronto. She didn’t tell Ana about the affordable rooms in the student housing co-op. She no longer thought their relationship would work, if they lived together in the city, even though the rooms were separate and single. Maybe she wanted to best her best friend—she didn’t know.
The heat that fateful night in her room in the apartment was stifling, suffocating. She again thought of Ana on the other side of the screen beckoning her. Why didn’t she allow Ana inside the house, instead of making her wait outside in the rain? She stood outside the house, at the back door, on the deck, her, her face bearing a distressed expression, while she unloaded, castigating Lea.
“You spoiled everything for me. You yapped and squealed to the guidance counsellor about us.”
“About our relationship. The guidance counsellor told the principal. The principal told my father, while he was cleaning the offices at night, sweeping and mopping the floor, emptying the garbage.” Her voice rose to a frightening crescendo, as she shouted, “Because that his job—that’s what he does—clean the mess and shit snotty students and teachers leave behind. My father threw a tantrum. He won’t let me go to school with you. Because you couldn’t keep your big mouth shut, he won’t let me go to school, at all; he’s afraid you’ll corrupt my morals. Now I have to attend church with Mom every Sunday again. Do you know how its feels to go to church with a Mom who kneels in a pew, fingering a rosary, whispering prayers in Portuguese? The worst part is I’m forced to stay in Sioux again, for at least another year, if my parents ever let me leave.”
The rain continued its downpour. Lea should have invited her inside the house, but she didn’t. She didn’t realize Ana’s parents were upset with her, but she should have expected as much; maybe she even subconsciously anticipated the fracas. Ana lashed out at Lea. Her clenched fist flashed through the night, breaking the glass on the door, bursting through the screen, cutting her balled hand, spilling and splattering blood on the broken window, screen, door, and steps.
In the room in the student co-op, at the end of August, the heat in the room was stifling. Ana beckoned to Lea from the other side of the window and the screen. She encouraged Lea to join her on the other side of the window, twenty-four stories above the busy city street. Everything would be all right. They would find a kind of bliss, a loneliness together. Fearful, she slid shut the glass pane and locked the window latch, but she was distracted and the stifling heat in the bare and barren room grew more oppressive and unbearable. From the other side of the window, through the nighttime city traffic noises downtown, Lea could hear the apparition of Ana beckoning her, urging Lea to join her in surreal dreamy reunion. The images kept replaying in her mind: Ana through the screen door, the night before she boarded the transcontinental train in the early morning from the station downtown. Ana lashed out, sobbing, accusing Lea of revealing the intimate nature of their relationship to the principal and guidance counsellor. That was the reason, she cried, her old-fashioned parents wouldn’t allow her to attend college in Toronto. Then her fists crashed through door, smashing the window, bursting the fine mesh screen.
“You betrayed me, you abandoned me.” Ana’s fist crashed through the screen and smashed the glass pane.
Later in the week, the night was once again hot, stifling, oppressive. She decided to leave her room and walked to her favorite restaurant, a huge spacious big city fast food outlet, with plenty of room and personal space to weep and sob, for ice cream.
On Yonge Street, she found herself following someone who resembled Ana, someone who looked and sounded like her from behind. She followed her down the dark grimy concrete stairs, which stank of urine, into the subway station at College Street, across from the College Park. When she reached out and touched her from behind, calling out her name, the young woman turned around and glared, recoiling, hissing, and snarling, saying she was a journalism student at Ryerson. She took Lea’s picture with a Pentax camera she carried at her side. As the camera flash blinded her eyes, she threatened to call the police. She demanded to know how dare Ana touch her. Ana apologized, telling her she mistook her for someone she knew, a friend. Walking home along Carlton Street, past Maple Leaf Gardens, Lea felt as if she had never been treated so badly by a stranger in her life. When she, miserable, returned to her room, she was like a zombie, or a person hypnotized, lost in a somnambulistic stance. She climbed onto the ledge before the open window and stood contemplating the view of the city from the jittery heights of the high-rise building. Then she gazed down at Gerard Street far below, which caused her waves of tingling and fright that made her giddy and dizzy. She saw Ana again for the last time, as she stood in the rain outside the back door, lashing out at her for abandoning her. She was reminded she promised to take Ana to the Pride parade, in the summer, which launched a few blocks from her room in the student housing co-op. She also promised her they would visit Toronto’s islands and Hanlan’s Point Beach, a gay mecca. She unhinged the screen, kicking it open with her foot.
Surrounded by the stifling humidity of the suffocating summer night, she saw the vision of Ana beckoning her. She floated twenty-four stories over Gerard Street before she fell. She landed on the hood of a taxi cab stopped for coffee and meat patties at a Jamaican convenience store, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A bald man, shrunken, aged, wearing worn, grimy shorts and a stained, torn tank top, collecting empty beer cans and bottles from wastebaskets along the street, which he tossed into a wire basket strapped to his bicycle, walked to a pay telephone, and dialled 911. When the emergency operator asked him name, address, date of birth and the reason he called, he remembered his past experiences with the police, including a broken jaw and teeth, a ruptured spleen, and the electrical shock from a Taser, and hung up the telephone.
When Ana heard the shocking and appalling news in Sioux Lookout, she believed she needed to rise to the occasion and show strength, courage, solidarity, and friendship. Ana decided to meet her grieving parents at the train station after they returned home on the transcontinental with her body in a luxurious casket with a mattress. Ana walked to the train station from her home, to wait for the transcontinental train, long delayed following a two-day voyage across the Canadian Shield and Southern Ontario from Toronto.
Lea’s sister Alice zoomed past her in her Ford Escort. One hot afternoon, Alice gave Ana and Lea a ride from the grocery store, where they both worked at summer jobs as clerks and cashiers. In a hurry, Ana slammed the rear door, shattering the window into a thousand broken pieces and shards. Alice threw a temper tantrum, alarming Ana, who never saw her brainy older sister, with a master’s degree, so angry, red, and sweaty in the face. Alice, working on her doctorate in educational psychology, should have known better. Alice looked as if she would burst a blood vessel in her brain, as she grimaced and flailed her arms, berating Ana for shattering the summer noon sun heated window on the front passenger door. Ana realized she reached the culmination of her friend’s older sister’s nurtured grievances. Somehow Ana wronged the young psychologist, who specialized in learning disorders and disabilities, although slamming the passenger door, on her Ford Escort, breaking the hot gleaming glass, was an accident. Ana skipped lunch, walked to the bank downtown, and cashed her paycheck. She walked to the high school, where her father, a caretaker, waxed and stripped floors, and Alice, a summer school teacher, graded papers in the staffroom. Ana gave her all the cash, and Alice accepted the money like it was a long overdue debt. She sent the younger girl away from her office with an impatient wave. Later, Alice said the broken window was covered by the Escort’s warranty and automobile insurance. Alice received Ana’s cash, an insurance check, and the garage and service station provided free window replacement and installation and car detailing. Alice earned a profit from the broken window.
Then, she dated the mechanic—she likes the blue collar-type guys, Lea said, because she feels so superior to them—and she pleasured him. “So, she even got a free blow job out of the deal.”
“How did she get a free blow job out of the deal when she gave it to him?”
“Wouldn’t you just like to bust a nut once in a while?”
“Don’t disgust me.”
“You wouldn’t want to have oral sex with a guy?’
“You don’t know what you’re missing.”
“What does the girl get out of a blow job?”
“Maybe in your world. I don’t even want to have this conversation.”
“She got fucked, too, and a free set of winter tires for the car Daddy bought her, so, like always, Alice came out ahead of everyone.”
At the train station, Ana encountered Alice restlessly waiting for her parents inside the waiting room of the train station and on the rail platform. Usually unhappy to see Ana in the best of times, Alice nonetheless mentioned she was on hiatus, a sabbatical from her PhD, studying educational psychology, researching learning disabilities, while she worked as a school teacher. Alice complained the train was delayed for several hours by a freight train derailment. Then a freight train ahead of the passenger train collided with a pickup truck at a rail crossing, resulting in further delays. When the passenger train finally arrived, the casket, unloaded by the engineers and conductors, was beautiful, rugged, durable, with mahogany and copper, reinforced with a thick gauge steel gauge. Lea’s parents, both teachers, rational, even scientific people, albeit French Canadian and practicing Catholics, seemed to refuse to accept she was returning to the earth from whence she came.
Lea’s parents and her sole sister, in any event, usually didn’t chat or talk, but instead engaged in long intellectual discussions. It was no different for their arrival at the train station to pick up the casket carrying Lea’s corpse. When Ana tried to greet them, they ignored her, like she didn’t exist. Instead of leaving, which would have been the wise and prudent action, instead of realizing she was out of her element, Ana listened to her parents tell their surviving daughter they were relieved the train was so late. The slow train was comfortable, and because of the prolonged delay they received free meals in the dining cars. The extra time in the sleeper compartments, berths, and the dome cars on the slow journey across the Canadian Shield provided them the time and privacy they needed to contemplate her death and grieve her sudden loss.
Although her parents shunned Ana at the train station, she decided she would still try to visit them at their home on the lakeshore. They greeted her at the front door, where Ana anxiously shifted on their huge deck, which had bicycles, golf clubs, barbecues, swings, picnic tables, a stationary bicycle, a rowing machine, and even a kayak and canoe.
“Lea had so much promise, and I loved her,” Ana said.
Lea’s mother blanched, and elegantly holding a wine glass, Alice placed herself before her parents, as if Ana, expressing heartfelt words of condolence, intended a violent assault. “She was a bright young woman, and I know she hadn’t yet started her first day of college, but she was so full of promise.”
Alice ushered Ana away from the door to the driveway. Ana suddenly remembered she punched the door window the night before she left for Toronto, breaking the glass and ripping the screen. She realized she may have, in her social awkwardness, or assertiveness, stepped over some line, tripped over a boundary, once again. Meanwhile, Alice couldn’t tolerate observing her parents reverting into a distraught state. Alice offered her parents all kinds of wild explanations and rationalizations for her death. Alice told her parents about the conspiracy theory she proffered the police: Lea’s food, which she stored in a refrigerator and kitchen she shared with other students in the suite, was spiked with psychedelics, LSD-25 or Psilocybin Mushrooms, which she inadvertently consumed shortly before her death.
Unintentionally, Ana realized, she was only making the grief and trauma worse. To her parents, not only was Ana an Ojibway, which was difficult for them to understand and accept, particularly of any friend or lover of their daughter, but she was also Portuguese, which they also had difficulty accepting, since she was too dark in thought and appearance for them. They couldn’t tolerate the fact the closest person in their daughter’s life was not a young man, an aspiring lawyer, doctor, or accountant, but an Anishinaabe, whose father was from Lac Seul, a caretaker at the high school, and whose mother was a Portuguese immigrant from the Azores and a cook at the Indian Affairs hospital. Ana supposed her parents’ attitude made it easier for her to accept her death.
The following summer, she thought she finally survived the good-byes, the hugs and kisses from her proud parents, particularly her embarrassed father, who accompanied her to the train station.
Ana started school at George Brown College. Since she didn’t know what careers or work the future held for her, she took courses in the arts and sciences program. Unbeknownst to her, she stayed in the same apartment complex and suite of rooms as Lea.
The heat of the night in her first week was oppressive, but she shut the windows, bought a fan, and a clock radio, which she tuned into talk and news radio to keep her company when she awoke from her sleep. She never opened the window or the damaged screen again.
In the kitchen of the suite, she noticed a cork billboard, into which was etched the names, nicknames, and initials of past student residents, including the loopy initials L.T., which, she speculated on a whim, was Lea Tremblay, since the handwriting matched her neat roundish script.
One night as Ana walked home on Yonge Street, just north of College Street, from a Second Cup café, where she liked to study, she found herself walking towards two young women, who looked like punk rockers and wore tight t-shirts, with Sex Pistols and The Clash. She thought the girl with spiked hair dyed black, who wore nose rings, a black denim mini skirt, with torn mesh stockings, and polished high heel combat boots, and a tight pink The Sex Pistols t-shirt, bore an uncanny resemblance to Lea. Ana believed she just crossed paths with Lea at the intersection of Yonge and College Street. She turned around and followed the girl who caught her eye.
“Lea, I’m sorry,” Ana said. She gripped her shoulder from behind. Then she stood in front of the punk rocker chick and started to reach out to give her a hug.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Take your hands off me. I’m not Lea.”
“The chick’s crazy,” said her friend, who wore a cropped black The Clash t-shirt, which revealed her pierced navel, “let’s hoof it. We’re both on probation. We can’t afford a confrontation.”
“I’m sorry. I thought you were a friend.”
Ana started walking backwards, towards her building, back into the intersection, distracted by the conviction she interacted with Lea, alive and well, walking along Yonge Street in Toronto, checking out the nighttime scene, following her groove, with a new friend, one who didn’t abandon her or reproach her. She heard the young women muttering, as they looked back at her, alarmed. They suddenly shouted, “Watch out! Head’s up!”—as she walked backwards across the intersection on a red light, before the front end of the speeding Ford Escort slammed into her. The compact car hurtled her into the path of a red Toronto Transit Commission streetcar, which snared her clothes beneath its metal undercarriage and plowed her further down the street.
Dressed in a black suit and polished black shoes, the driver of the compact car stopped his car in the middle of the intersection, stepped out, clasped his head, as if it was about to explode, observed her body, and assumed she was unconscious or more likely dead. A financial analyst at a stock brokerage firm, having returned from a gentlemen’s club on Bloor Street West, he entered his car and drove away before he and his career ended up caught up in an entangled web of a chaotic traffic investigation. He sped off further south down Yonge Street, past the large head shops, the record stores, Sam the Record Man flagship store, and its huge neon sign of the records spinning, strip clubs with exotic dancers, porn shops with Triple XXX sales sign, fast food restaurants, convenience stores, dollar stores, and then past Eatons Centre shopping mall and high-rise office buildings, heading towards the waterfront and the lakeshore drive that fed into the Don Valley parkway and the anonymity of the freeway and expressway traffic.
John Tavares’ previous publications include short fiction published in various alternative magazines, literary journals, quarterlies, and anthologies, online & in print: Blood & Aphorisms, Plowman Press, Green’s Magazine, Filling Station, Whetstone, Broken Pencil, Tessera, Windsor Review, Paperplates, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Maple Tree Literary Supplement, The Writing Disorder, Gertrude, Turk’s Head Review, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, Bareback Magazine, Rampike, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Round Up Writer’s Zine, The Acentos Review, Gravel, Brasilia Review, Sediments Literary Arts-Journals, The Gambler, Red Cedar Review, Writing Raw, Treehouse Arts, The Remembered Arts Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Ginosko Literary Journal, Mgversion2>Datura, Riverhawk, Quail Bell, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Grey Border’s Magazine, Free Lit Magazine, Montreal Writes, Yarnswoggle, Queen’s Mob Tea House, Westview, New Reader Magazine, Event Horizon, IO literary Journal, Fishbowl Press, Otherwise Engaged Journal. Also, over a dozen of his short stories & some creative nonfiction was published in The Siren, then Centennial College’s student newspaper. Following journalism studies, his articles & features were published in various local news outlets in Toronto, including community & trade newspapers such as the East York Times, the Beaches Town Crier & Hospital News, where he interned as an editorial assistant.
Born & raised in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, John is the son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. His education includes graduation from 2-year GAS at Humber College in Etobicoke with concentration in psychology (1993), 3-year journalism at Centennial College in East York (1996) & the Specialized Honors BA in English from York University in North York (2012). He worked as a research assistant for the Sioux Lookout Public Library & as a research assistant in waste management for the SLKT public works department & regional recycle association. He also worked with the disabled for the Sioux Lookout Association for Community Living.