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An Excerpt from "Don't Drive Too Fast, Don't Stay Too Late, and Be Good"




The pants had Wayne Gretzky's signature embroidered across the back pocket. I felt powerful, like the Great One's signature stitched across my ass was surely a precursor to all of my dreams eventually coming true. Grandma Klassen used to have us over every Sunday afternoon and, as was her practice, she had bags of used clothing waiting for each of us. I still wonder how on God's green earth she got her hands on that many used clothes; there were six of us.

Henry started digging through his bag without much enthusiasm. He never liked to seem excited, like it was a sin or something. He pulled out the pants and held them in the air. I spotted the unmistakable penmanship of Wayne Gretzky #99. My heart plummeted, they weren't in my bag. I had a Northern Reflections powdered purple sweater with a Christmas scene on the front. There was, of course, a long ankle-length denim skirt, used pantyhose, a black blouse, and a set of ankle-length nightgowns.

The Wayne Gretzky pants were definitely not meant for me.

"Hold them up to your waist," my Grandma said, enthusiastically to my brother. They were six inches too short.

Grandma was many things. An enthusiastic knitter, a diligent gardener, and a card shark, but she didn't have an eye for size or fashion preferences.

My brother dropped them to the floor and retreated to the couch where his book had been abandoned for the weekly ritual. I sat staring at the pants. I wanted those fucking Wayne Gretzky pants.

As a child, I had strong feelings about Wayne Gretzky. At night when I had trouble falling asleep, which was more often than not, I had two competing, and equally comforting thoughts. The first was that I played alongside #99 on the same line. I could feel the skates strapped to my feet, the knowledge that my big brother Paul Coffey was holding down the blue line behind me, and the pure thrill of knowing that Wayne was right beside me. No matter where I was on the ice, Wayne would find me, unselfishly pass me the puck, and then jump into my outstretched arms as soon as I scored. We sat together on the bench, and on the team bus, and were definitely stall mates in the dressing room.

The second of the competing, and equally comforting thoughts, was that we were madly in love and ready to get married like Canadian hockey royalty. The space and time of our age difference was immaterial. I wore a wedding ring and it was Wayne Gretzky who put it on my finger. We sat together at supper time talking hockey, and it was my feedback about his play that night, above all others, he cherished.

"You know I've always thought of Guattari as the Wayne Gretzky of philosophy."

She's raising an eyebrow, takes a sip of her gin and tonic and says, "Huh?"

"You don't know who Wayne Gretzky is? Only the greatest person to ever lace up a pair of skates. He redefined what it means to play hockey. He is hockey. But the greatest thing about the Great One is that he got so good at scoring goals from a young age that his teammates started resenting him, so one day, Walter, his dad, takes him aside and says, 'Wayne, you have to start passing the puck, otherwise the kids on your team are going to start hating you.' Wayne turned into an assist machine, and that's just like Guattari, stepping aside to let Deleuze score the goals."

She's looking at me as though I've just landed a space ship on top of her. "Are you fucking kidding me right now?"

"I take it you don't like hockey."

She's been silent for a moment and I realize that I might have started this first date off in a way that will ensure that there will not be a second.

"Guattari is the Marty McSorley to Gretzky of philosophy. He's the brute force who gets traded to the L.A. Kings because they come as a package deal."

"If you're trying to seduce me right now, it is working."

"I take it you have strong feelings about the Great One."

"As a child I had strong very feelings for Wayne. Unfortunately, Janet ruined everything."

"Okay, too far, way too far." She's wagging her finger in front of my face. "No, no, no."

"Are you objecting to the sportsing talk?"

"I'm objecting to J.J. falling for Mr. False Teeth."

"Are you insulting the Great One's grill?"

"I had strong sexual feelings for Janet."

"You're shitting me right now."

"Wayne never deserved her."

"She should have waited for you?"

"She should have considered it."

I've probably fallen in love a minimum of a thousand times in my life. I'm 31 years old and I have been falling in love continuously this whole time, but then one day I think that I just stopped. I don't know when, really. I'd like to feel that again right about now.

"What I don't understand is why you needed to choose between those two competing, comforting thoughts. Why not have both?" She laughs. It's an easy laugh and it sounds like strawberry rhubarb pie tastes. "Hey," she says, "Where did you go?"

"Is my face saying something?"

"Yes." She reaches across the table and takes my hand. "What's going on?"

"Nothing, sorry. I just thought about something I forgot to do and there's probably a hundred emails about it already."

She's not buying it for a second, or maybe she is, I can't even tell anymore.

The veil is dropping down over me. I feel like a cone has been lowered from a space-ship and I'm fighting so hard not to get sucked up into that space-ship and fly away because I'm sitting with a beautiful person who seems into me and is currently sharing about her once strong feelings she had for Janet Jones. I'm fighting it hard, but I can feel the "filler" smile come across my face. Wish that I could pin-point when that started showing up.

It stands in my place. It keeps me upright, visible, and hidden at the same time. It's like the calm voice you put on when you accidently answer the phone drunk and realize it's your mom. It hasn't been working very well lately, and I can feel myself slowly slipping into the alien space-ship tube.

I'm blinking, trying to come back.

Yawn. I always feel exhausted when this happens. I want to find some place to lay down.

"Hey," she says, touching my hand again, or maybe she's been touching it this whole time.

"Can you talk about it? Do you need to get out of here?"

"Talk about Wayne?"

"I know what it feels like to be triggered, to disassociate. We don't have to talk about it, but I want you to know that I see you."

"I'm just smiling."

"Yup, I know that smiling, I know that look."

There's a thousand things I could say right now. I can't even select a word to start a sentence with.

I can feel tears already half way down my cheeks, or maybe there's nothing there at all.

"I literally have no idea what to say right now." I squeeze her hand. It feels real. "Your hand feels real. Sometimes something just comes over me out of nowhere."

She takes my other hand. "I don't know what you're going through right now, but you can talk to me, if you ever want to."

I'm shaking my head, "I don't know either. That seems to be the problem."

"Your body knows." She laughs, "I know that sounds like hippy-dippy trite shit, but it's true. I know because I've lived it."

"Have you ever lived through a worse first date?"

She smiles at me, and then starts chuckling. "You do have a way with women."

We both laugh.

"Nothing really bad has ever happened to me, I don't know what the fuck my problem is."

"What defines 'bad'?"

"It's just . . . I've got everything, right?"

"So, having things means that nothing bad can ever happen to you?"

Suddenly, I hate this. I hate this so much, and I want to pull some seriously dramatic table-flipping shit.

I'm staring at her, don't want to say anything. Something's going to come out that will wreck it all, when all I really want to do is have sex with her.

Why aren't we having sex right now?

Did I say that out loud?

"Look, I know what you're saying, and you have a point. I see your point and I appreciate what you're saying; I know the standard anti-oppression matrix you're employing, but it doesn't really apply here."

"Why, because you think that you're so fucking special?"

"No, exactly because I'm not fucking special."

"People with trauma aren't special, there's entirely nothing special about it because shitty things happen to people all the time. Every day, everywhere, all over the fucking globe. There's not some kind of exemption given to white, homosexual, Ph.D. students from Saskatchewan."

When I'm writing, especially for school, I have time. I can get up from my desk, pace around the room, find a quote from someone smarter than me to insert instead of my own words, make a cup of coffee, and edit. I can edit a sentence a hundred times, if I want to.

When you talk to people, you can't really edit. I wish that I was currently editing a carefully crafted text to her instead of speaking to her in person.

"It's not like I've been a witness to genocide."

"So, basically--and, let me know if I'm picking up what you're putting down--is that, unless the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person, it doesn't qualify as trauma? So, when I was raped by my housemate's boyfriend in the middle of the night while I was sleeping soundly in my bed, I would need to have witnessed the murder of my housemate in order for it to qualify as a traumatic experience," she says without a hint of anger in her voice.

I feel so immediately ashamed.

I can feel myself on the verge of tears, but I can't let them come. They're selfish, and I know it. What feels more maddening is that I know that I'm supposed to know how to respond to this, but I don't have a goddamn clue what to say now.

I'm shaking my head. "Of course not. I'm so sorry that happened to you. Good God, what a fucked-up thing to have survived."

A few large tears are making their way down her cheek, but she's also smiling around her eyes.

A server comes by and says, "Oh, sorry. I'll come back."

"No, wait, we need a couple of bourbons, neat, please."

She nods at me, doesn't ask what kind, just goes on her mission.

About the Author

Jan Guenther Braun

Jan Guenther Braun is the author of the novel Somewhere Else (Arbeiter Ring Publishing), and has also published essays in the Journal of Mennonite Studies and Rhubarb. She holds degrees in Theology (Canadian Mennonite Bible College) and English Literature (University of Waterloo). Braun currently lives in Toronto, where she roots for the Blue Jays and works at the University of Toronto. Her novel in progress feels "like a story calling to me to come follow it."