Took a drive to the beach at summer’s end
Had to get out, get some air, had to swim
Took my time with the drive
So many places I hadn’t been
Found a cabin steps from the shore
Watched the tide roll out
Never made it in
Booked a week though I wanted more
Left 3 days after I stepped through the door
Couldn’t take the September cold
Bitter at the wood-soaked pit
My wet jeans and shoes resting on clothespins
Brought my pens, books, and guitar
Left them idle, never plucked a string
Couldn’t take the silence
Forgot how to sing
So sick of the same movies on every TV
Tried to find some comfort in your voice instead
Started seeing you in everything
Wanted to call out but a vision so serene
Had to have been but only a dream
Stayed up all night watching you dance across the ceiling
Behind the Lyrics
This set of lyrics is a bit of a continuation of a previous story I was telling you about when I got into the weird series of events that happened in the summer of 2020 when I was still living in King City and only just starting the divorce process with my ex.
Now that all that’s been settled (hello Tinder, Hinge, or whatever else people are using these days!), I can wrap up a couple of my thoughts on the whole ordeal.
I grapple a lot with sharing some of these stories because on the one hand they are deeply personal and include real people who have been in and out of my life, some for years, but on the other hand they help me work towards finding some semblance of peace and contentment that I’m still looking for, plus, they directly serve the music I present to you because these experiences are exactly what I write about.
For full context you’ll probably want to jump back to the post titled A Real Champagne Birthday where I talk about the weird health issues I was experiencing through much of 2020, all of which could very well have been COVID but I’ve never gotten any sort of real explanation to what I was experiencing and so, in my mind the official diagnosis is still up in the air. That said, all of those symptoms eventually dissipated and my health is now in pretty good shape, if you don’t include my winter-hibernation-snack attacks.
I’m picking up today from just after my 30th birthday.
After having the dreaded, “we should really get divorced” chat(s) with my ex, the next looming problem was when to official separate.
For those that don’t know, in order to get divorced legally, you need to first be separated for a full year and you need to swear this to the courts. And since I knew there was no chance of reconciling this relationship (we’d struggled for years on a number of issues and it was beyond clear we’d never see eye to eye on some things I deemed critical), I didn’t exactly want to waste time on this one.
At the time time we were enjoying an usually nice summer. For the first time since I was a kid I was able to actually enjoy the sunshine, since I was still working remotely from home I could get out onto the back deck for much of the day and I LOVED this. There’s something to be said about living in good weather and the positive impact it can have on your overall health and happiness and I’d always known I was someone that would do better in this type of climate, so out of selfishness and also because I didn’t want to look like I was quite literally running from the hills from my ex (because we otherwise ‘got along’), we ultimately decided to wait to officially separate.
Despite the fact that we got along, largely for the fact that my ex was out of the house for almost the entire day and we’d more or less stopped doing dinners together and I’d head up to bed not long after he got home to avoid any unnecessary awkwardness or arguments, I’d had this feeling in the pit of my stomach for some time that I really needed to get away and get some space.
A regular occurrence back then that I didn’t start giving more thought to until more recently was that my ex’s best friend would stop by unexpectedly often, and these days when he did this, he’d been acting odder than usual.
On a couple of occasions I’d catch him from the window and I’d watch for a while as he did strange things like circle our garage, go in and out, wander around the yard.
I’d pop outside eventually, “Hey man, what’s up?”
He’d normally say he was just in the neighbourhood, on his way back from his family’s cottage or on the way up to it and just thought he’d see who’s around.
You might be thinking, “Wouldn’t he just call or text your ex then, since he’s his friend?”
And yea, I’d asked that a few times, too, over the years.
But his phone seemed to break constantly and so, he almost never did, and somewhere along the way we had just made it known that it was fine for him to stop in without warning.
Of course it never really occurred to me that he might be doing this while neither of us were home, and our King City house was so old and in ruins that you could almost never lock the door… even just tapping on it lightly would usually do the trick in getting it open.
I mention this because there’d previously been some instances where I’d wondered if someone had been entering the house, like how a few times Dakota had found his way into our basement despite there being a gate. He’s a smart boy, but not so smart about gates.
And my ex’s friend knew him well enough to know he was harmless and easily coaxed with treats.
I’m not saying that’s what happened but it really is the only logical explanation to those circumstances in particular – I wasn’t home for those of course, since I previously commuted to Toronto for work.
And being home all of 2020 I’d noticed a lot of other strange things, like cars that’d pull up with some regularity that looked similar to the people that lived there before us.
I’m not sure if I explained what happened to the house to put it on the rental market for us yet, but if not, the short version is that the previous tenant had a bit of a psychotic break and lit the upstairs on fire. They moved out quickly (it was just her and her son, we were told), and left a lot of their belongings in the house and garage back then (including their ID’s and school records that indicated they’d still be in the area). So that wasn’t out of the realm of possibility either.
Anyway, as I said, normally peaking outside to see someone wandering around might freak someone like me out, but this was my ex’s best friend and I was used to him being around. Even back when we lived in an apartment building in Davisville sometimes I’d come home to find him in the hallway, charging his phone on the outlet next to our door; this had literally been going on for years. In retrospect, definitely a little weird, but he always struck me as someone that just had difficulty being by himself, always looking for company, and since he drank a lot I always made sure he knew he could always chill out at our place if he needed to sober up before driving off to wherever he was driving to. He was one of those guys that it’s sometimes hard to tell how much they’ve had since he keeps himself pretty well composed so it was better to ere on the side of caution.
But as I mentioned he’d been acting even weirder than the things I’m describing to you now, for example he’d started regularly bringing up topics of conversation that he seemed to know would irritate me and push me to engage on them even when I made it clear I wasn’t interested (whereas he was otherwise one of the few friends of my ex I got along with well and enjoyed talking to), and he’d started regularly referencing things like how he thought COVID would make everyone forget everything one day, and he backed this up with strange, obvious lies that seemed like he was testing my own memory.
Here’s an example:
One day, while home with just Dakota, around early-evening I happened to be doing some laundry (bedding) and otherwise just enjoying some music while I did chores around the house before my ex was due to get home.
My old place had a lot of windows so it was easy to spot him pop over and do his usual round-about the garage. I debated briefly if I should even go out that day to tell him I was home and ask the usual, “whatchya doin’ today?” questions. See, my ex was the only one with a car so he’d otherwise have no way of knowing when/if I was home through all of 2020, and I don’t think he was always considering that possibility.
I wasn’t in the mood for chatting and sort of just wanted him to go, but he was taking his sweet time so eventually I went out.
He seemed a little surprised to see me on my back deck when he came out of the garage again.
It was the usual reason, “just stopping in, seeing if you guys are here,” and I explained I was busy doing laundry hoping this would tip him off that today wasn’t a great day for his company but he wasn’t quite getting it or he was pretending he wasn’t, one of the two. I repeated it a few times, and he had a drink in his hand, so eventually I told him he could hang about out back if he needed, but that I was busy, and I went back inside.
He just about followed me in, needing to use the bathroom, and had some other drinks he’d left in our fridge, too.
I was a little irritated but told myself it was fine, I’d just continue about what I was doing and ignore him as best I could – my ex should be home soon, anyways, and he could take over.
Unfortunately he was remarkably chatty on this day and he seemed to follow me around the entire house while I folded laundry, moved baskets around, keeping my own responses as short as possible, and he still wasn’t getting it.
As we circled the kitchen table for the 4th time, that’s when he got into the memory thing at length. It was such a bizarre conversation that I’m certain I’ll never forget it. And honestly to you readers, it might be a bit too difficult to explain all the intricacies of it but only because they relate so personally to me, but I think it’ll get the gist across.
He’d started asking questions like, “Have you ever had memory problems?” and I’d say, “No, not really?” Remember, I’m 30 here, and sober as I’ve ever been.
“Everyone has memory problems eventually,” he’d remark.
“I really don’t think that’s true,” I’d reply. “Maybe when you’re much, much older, sure?”
I had no idea where this was coming from.
“Have you ever been skydiving?” (Yes, it was that abrupt of a conversation change).
“I haven’t. I wouldn’t be into that type of thing.” (I’m afraid of falling from heights as it leads to, like, death, in most circumstances and I’m just not that kind of adrenaline junkie).
“I don’t think I have” he’d reply.
What do you mean you don’t think you’ve been skydiving? Surely you’d remem….
This was weird.
He carried on with questions like this for a while.
“Ever been axe throwing?”
I haven’t. Always thought it’d be fun, though. I’d tried to convince my ex many times over the years to try stuff like that with me, but he was never interested.
Here’s the thing about my ex’s friend that seems important to note here. Prior to this conversations and similar ones we began having in 2020, he actually always had a pretty great memory, save for the usual slips anyone would make after smoking too much weed, or in his case, sometimes shrooms. And since he’d known me for years, a lot of these things we’d talked about before, like this one:
“Ever been to Canada’s Wonderland?”
“Of course I have,” I responded, now sure he was messing with me. I grew up in Vaughan a mere 15 minute drive from the park. For many of us, it was a common hangout in the summers. I’d also worked there for 2 years.
“Where even is that?” he asked.
Where’s Canada’s Wonderland? Are you joking me?
Anyone who lives anywhere near the GTA knows exactly where Canada’s Wonderland is, especially those of us that frequent Highway 400 North, the one he took almost weekly to get to his family’s cottage.
“You know where it is,” I replied, now annoyed and suspicious.
“Like I know where it is but not fully. Is it… Jane?… What’s that street that? Is that… Major Mac?” he fumbled his way through his response, naming streets that were in the area of it. He was acting purposefully aloof.
“Haven’t you been there?” I asked. Almost everyone in the GTA has. It’s really our only amusement park.
“I think I have”
Again, sort of hard to forget if you’ve been to this place.
“Have you been there?” he asked me again.
“Of course I have. I worked there”. He knew this.
“Yeah. You’ve never been there?”
“Maybe when I was a kid, probably, but I don’t like remember, you know?”
I really didn’t get what he was up to and I was beginning to think about ways I could ask him politely to get lost.
“Don’t you get like that sometimes? Like you maybe have been somewhere but you don’t know for sure?” he continued on with his barrage of questions.
“Not really,” I said.
“I think eventually we’ll all just forget everything that happened this year.”
This went on for a while longer with more strange questions (“You ever been on a hot air balloon?”) and I never fully understood why he was asking them, or continually claiming that we’d all just forget things one day – he seemed like he really wanted me to agree with him on this but I just didn’t get it.
At some point I got annoyed enough to tell him as plainly as I could, “I’m really busy dude, probably best for you to get going” and he did.
After my ex got home, I asked him, as I often did if I felt weird about the way his friend was acting after he was over, if he’d heard from him that day. He said he didn’t. “No text or call or anything?”. Nope. “He stopped by for a bit.” He did? “Yeah, thought he’d told you he was coming by.” Nope, no message.
At this point I was beyond uneasy with him stopping by the way he was, and I’d often before told my ex this, especially when I’d caught him snooping around, asking him to make sure he lets him know ahead of time.
Or even me, since he had a habit of messaging me on Facebook without telling my ex about that, too. But he was really inconsistent.
There were other strange time’s he’d drop by and engage with me in a way that seemed off or out of character, like the time he was over drinking with my ex outside but would regularly come inside the house to sit with me for a few minutes while I tried to enjoy the mindless dribble that is 90-Day Fiance. To the point where I’d say to him, “Where’s Matt? Still outside?” as in, and why aren’t you? He ignored the question and went on instead about metal in the moon and the electric currents of it or something, putting a bracelet on me at one point that was supposed to attract it or make you feel the pull of the gravity – some sciency-sounding nonsense that was neither welcomed nor encouraged as Sumit and Jenny struggled for the 18th time about telling his parents that they wanted to get married.
He was seriously weirding me out, and this is largely why I’d usually just head upstairs out of the way when my ex got home – less so to avoid him, more to avoid his now very strange friend.
All this is to say I was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable in my own home and summer was coming to a swift end and I wanted to get away by myself for a short time to help clear my own head about it all before the separation was due to happen – we still hadn’t decided what the best date was, but our old house ran on oil heat that was stupidly expensive, so in my mind it made sense to leave before winter really hit.
So I decided a short weekend getaway was in order. My parents were worried about me and kept suggesting I go stay with them a couple days and I finally decided to give in.
I went on a Friday, and by Friday night regretted that decision.
I’d been having some bizarre thoughts before I headed over to their place. In the days leading up to it, I was increasingly worried about my ex.
I don’t know if it was just because we hadn’t been speaking much so I didn’t really know what was all going on in his life or in his own mind about it all, or if it was all the bizarre comments people would make to me when I tried to open up about the divorce, (questions like, “Do you think he’d try to hurt you?” when never in all the years I’d known him did I think he’d ever try, nor had he ever raised so much as a hand), but something felt really off.
Occasionally I’d catch him in brief moments of vulnerability, shedding a tear or having difficulty looking at me because he was rightfully upset that our marriage had come to an end so soon. I was sad about it too, but as I explained to him one day, I’d spent years showing that same vulnerability, not knowing what else to do, and really felt like I’d exhausted all our options by then. I’d come to peace with the decision before I told him I wanted out for good, so I wasn’t spending these days crying, I was in “pack up and move on” mode.
And because I was so worried about him instead of me I found myself pushing aside my own feelings about our entire relationship in an effort to comfort him.
On one occasion I went out to see him in the garage, which is where he’d normally sit and sneak beers at this stage after he got home from work instead of talk to me, and we ended up having the most bizarre conversation, where he expressed that he was going to be all alone, and I was going to move on, somehow have some success with music (a weird thing he kept mentioning over the months leading up to our divorce even though he didn’t really listen to or support what I was doing then), lead some great big life without him and he’d have nothing.
I wasn’t in unfamiliar territory here and I bring it up not to shame him or I but because this is just a thing addicts commonly do. I knew in these moments now when he was trying to manipulate me, make me feel sorry for him, make him feel better about all his wrongs, and divert any attention away from anything good I was doing or anything “right” I did. On the worst days, I’d just ignore it and move away from him, not willing to indulge him – on the best of days, I’d fall into my own bad habits and give in to exactly what he wanted to hear. “Tell me I’m good”.
“You’re going to be just fine,” I told him. “You have a good job, you’re making great strides, they want to promote you – that’s great isn’t it?”
He’d mumble some reply.
“You’ll find yourself a great girl, too. One that’ll be a better fit for you. Hell, she’ll probably like football a lot more than me and you can actually enjoy the games with her, too!”
It feels just as stupid typing it now as it did saying it out loud to.
After all, this guy made me feel like absolute shit for years, took advantage of me, my money, my kindness. Why the fuck did I feel like I owed him this?
This is the part about being in a mentally abusive relationship that doesn’t get enough attention, if you ask me.
But I was in a well enough mood to play along, whether it was for his own satisfaction or mine at this point.
We carried on like this for a while before I couldn’t take it anymore and headed inside, leaving him to think about it, cheer himself up however he needed to.
Of course I never told anybody about this conversation. How weak and stupid would that make me look?
Sometimes when I’d step in the garage to check in on him, something I’d do with increased regularity leading up the my little weekend getaway, I’d catch myself taking stock of everything in my eyes sight.
The most troubling, for whatever reason, the chainsaw that sat in the middle of the floor.
I was having the most bizarre thoughts that one day I’d come out to the garage to find he’d do something to hurt himself.
Because that’s what I was most concerned about then. Not if he’d hurt me, I felt he’d done all the damage he could on me by then, but that’d he do something stupid to himself.
I told him this one day as we sat inside half-mindedly watching the Jays game, after reiterating again that yeah we were definitely getting divorced and this wasn’t really up for debate anymore.
“I don’t understand where this is coming from. I thought you said I was doing better,” he said to me. He, too, seemed to have many memory problems now.
“I was trying to be positive, but it’s pretty clear things aren’t getting better, isn’t it? Hell, I thought you were suicidal, spending all that time by yourself.”
The thought seemed to shock him and it took some time for him to compose himself, and then the same for me.
“Seriously, I thought I was gonna come out there one day and you’d have done something, even if it was accidental.”
And that’s what I was thinking about the entire time I was at my parents house that one weekend. I took the dog with me, told him I needed some space and that I’d be back Sunday night, or worse case, Monday morning before I start work.
I remember walking into the kitchen at some point that Friday night, looking to my mom who was watching TV in the family room and she noticed I had a look on my face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You look worried.”
“I don’t know.”
I had incredible anxiety in that moment. My heart rate felt like it was rising though I know it wasn’t (hey Fitbit what up – they’re not the most accurate but they’re pretty good at noticing any big changes).
My mom seemed to read my mind then. “Are you worried about him?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
I was worried that now, with Dakota and I out of the house for a couple days, he’d really fall off the rails.
There was a certain comfort in knowing that I could go out and check on him when we were both at the house, and I wasn’t that far away then but it felt like I couldn’t be any further.
“You can’t be worried about him. Sit down and relax.” Easy for you to say.
I knew why she was saying it but I didn’t think she could possibly understand how it felt to be on this side of things.
She’d previously told me I cared too much about people, worried myself when I shouldn’t, but I’ve never really known any other way to be, and I didn’t necessarily agree.
I worried about people when they gave me reason to worry, not for the sake of it, and I’ve known enough people who, for lack of a better way of phrasing, took a lot of big risks, to have a better sense of when there was real cause to worry.
By the end of Friday night I couldn’t wait to get home again. Being away wasn’t helping at all, at least not being around the people I was now. I felt better when I’d been spending the days alone, free to think for myself and go about the day as I pleased, eat what I wanted, when I wanted, without questions, comments or those looks.
When I got home after the weekend feeling even less energized than before I’d left, I knew that I’d made a bit of a mistake.
My ex was totally, fine, by the way, but it was this week that we’d have the conversation about how worried I was for him and he’d assure me that he’d never do anything to harm himself like that, and of course not me, either.
To appease my family once again, I went back over to their place the following weekend for an afternoon.
And I spent that afternoon looking for a cabin.
I really, really needed to get away and recharge myself. Everyone and everything was driving me absolutely crazy now, and although I was holding it together fine, I felt like I’d earned a trip.
I’d never gone anywhere by myself, not including my family’s cottage the odd time, and I wanted to experience that fully and see some places I’d never seen before.
Since we were in the height of the pandemic, I knew it made sense to stay in Ontario and try to keep it as outdoors as possible. Which was great for me anyway – there are tons of trails and parks in Ontario I’ve never seen in person and at the rate I was going I never would.
I searched for something like 3 hours. I was looking for something sort of specific and on a budget. I’d need to rent a car for myself as well, and since so many people were also using the pandemic to do some camping and hiking, a lot of places had been booked for months and the ones left had kicked up all their prices.
I’d always wanted to go to Tobermory and see the shipwrecks, but that was way too expensive.
I ended up finding a place that suited my needs in Sauble Beach just about an hour south of there – which was actually about 3 hours north of where I lived.
My needs were pretty simple, really. I wanted to be as close to the beach as I could be, and otherwise I just needed a place with a roof, a bed, a fridge and bathroom.
I lucked out huge when I found this sweet cabin called Cedar Cove because it had all that, steps from the beach, included Netflix, and it even had a pretty private backyard with a fire pit.
Here’s what it looked like:
I was pretty stoked when I booked it. It looked like exactly the kind of space I needed to get away. The second bedroom isn’t pictured above (I can’t find the pic I took), but it was beside that other room and had a double bed with two night stands and book shelf instead – that’s where I slept.
Once it was booked – 5 days, 4 nights starting on the holiday Monday of the Labour Day long weekend, I got myself a car (cheapest economy vehicle for one, please!) and then I booked a couple other things. I had never been up to this part of Ontario before and I made the decision that if I was going to do something for myself I was really going to take advantage of it. My ex hated doing excursions when we travelled, but I’m a big fan of them, so I booked myself a parking permit to check out the Bruce Peninsula National Park and take a day walking the trails, and I booked myself a tour over to Flower Pot Island in Tobermory, which meant I’d be able to walk around the island after taking a boat which – bonus, would let you see those cool shipwrecks I’d heard all about!
I had to leave Dakota at home of course to be able to take advantage of those things, but I knew Dakota would be coming home with me after the separation and I wanted to give my ex some more time with him, too.
I thought I planned these out well, making sure to book them on Tuesday and Thursday respectively, since they were each an hour from my cabin in Sauble and I wanted to make sure I was well rested for all of it.
Leading up to my trip I was getting that sinking feeling again in the pit of my stomach that I had gotten the week before my weekend getaway to my parents. Something felt off, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
At this point in 2020, a lot of my friendships felt non-existent, and I was feeling like my family weren’t in any way hearing me when I spoke to them, so the less time I spent with them the better.
I’d made a lot of attempts to hang out with friends where possible during the pandemic, making sure they knew they were welcome to hang out in the backyard for a BBQ or whatever, but everyone was doing their own thing and it’d been months since I’d seen anybody outside of my ex and his friend, so I was sort of used to it by then.
Every time I hung out with family, they’d be acting just as weird if not weirder than my ex’s friend, and they weren’t in any way helping me feel better about my upcoming trip.
“What kind of car did you get for the rental? Is it going to get smashed up if you get hit?”
Gee, thanks, hopefully not.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
For a week by myself? Uh, yeah, pretty sure.
“Why don’t you bring Dakota?”
Because then I can’t do those excursions?
“Do you have to do them?”
I want to do them.
“You should bring a friend with you”
I largely am doing this because I don’t want to be around anybody I know.
“Why not bring (x friend)?”
Because they’re hugely into certain recreational activities I’m trying very hard to avoid right now.
“It’ll be more fun with them!”
I’ll be high with them.
They’re the type of questions that seem innocent enough without the overlaying backstory of the whole trying-to-be-sober thing-and-you-want-me-to-hang-out-with-people-who-are-in-far-worse-shape-than-I-in-that-department. It looks like kindness but it is in no way helpful.
Plus, I wanted to get some writing done and was hoping to get some new songs under my belt, and there’s just no way I’d be able to do that with anyone else around, either. Not with my other plans to bare in mind, too.
Nonetheless, the day came, I packed up the car with a bunch of my things and planned for the weather I anticipated and what I’d be doing as best as I could, stopping on the way for ample groceries to keep myself well fed and hydrated.
I’d never driven the type of car I was given before but it was fine. I wasn’t in any sort of rush since I’d left plenty early and knew I’d have tons of time to unwind when I got to the cabin.
Back when I first started driving, I was constantly in a rush trying to get from point A to point B and it’s insanely stressful and takes a toll over the years. Now, if I’m late for something, I’m late and I don’t care, but I usually leave early enough that I’m ahead of schedule anyways.
Found the place easily enough (thanks GPS) and parked on the right side parking spot, without really thinking that there would be any sort of assigned parking here.
You could hear the waves from the street I parked on. It really was right behind the beach and I was pretty excited just for that.
When I got inside and looked around, I was really happy with my decision. Place looked as expected and I knew it’d work well for me. It was full of quirky Canadian things, paintings of Newfoundland on the wall (the other destination I had in mind before settling on Sauble), and felt really cozy, like a small cottage.
And, bonus, there was nobody at the cabin next door!
Until I got the last of my bags in, anyway.
As soon as these people arrived, a newfound anxiety hit me.
I don’t know what it was about their arrival but I was immediately… nervous? Suddenly my little cabin didn’t feel so quaint and cozy. It felt small with no exit strategy aside from the front door.
I started taking stock of certain things.
That fire alarm looked old, it was yellow. I wonder how old it is and if it works?
These appliances are old as hell, too. Hope they work.
I should probably look for the fire extinguisher… oh what’s that over there… There was a welcome booklet that says to leave everything exactly the way you found it when you leave.
Everything exactly the way I found it… like how literal is that? Clearly they just mean to tidy up.
You can see where my head was going.
As I went out to grab one last thing from my car, the guy next door took a second to introduce himself (Scott), his wife (?), and their dog (Penny).
Scott was a big dude. Pretty tall, maybe 6’2 or so, and with a big build, really broad shoulders. His wife was a big woman, too, more heavyset and at least 5’8 or so. Even poor Penny, some sort of big beagle breed, was remarkably overweight. When Scott introduced his wife she barely looked over at us (just for a quick glance) while taking Penny for a little walk around the yard, and that made me uncomfortable, too.
When I told Scott my name, I immediately felt like I shouldn’t have for some reason.
I was feeling that way a lot at that time, like I barely wanted anyone to know who I was; I would’ve rather lied about it entirely.
And I suddenly felt like their cabin was way too close to mine. And these people way bigger than me.
I tried to shrug it off and decided to do what I knew I really wanted most in that moment, so I locked up my cabin and took a walk down the little path that went from my backyard to the beach.
And there it was.
I walked under some loose caution tape to get from the road to the beach where a man and woman were taking in the view, too. Almost as soon as I stepped onto the beach, before I even had time to think to remove my shoes, a big wave came rushing in.
I’d only packed one pair of jeans, of course, anticipating warmer weather and – not this wave that hit so hard the water smacked up against my face.
The couple got soaked, too and we all laughed it off as we retreated back. I definitely wasn’t going to let a little water get me down – and I’d JUST gotten there!
The sun was out and it was otherwise decently warm, and I noticed a bunch of people over on the main part of the beach (this part was actually supposed to be closed off fully, as it turned out after I found a sign explaining you should only be there if you belonged to particular Indigenous tribe that I can’t recall now) so I rolled up my jeans, took off my socks and shoes and wandered over there to enjoy the rest of the sun before it disappeared for the night.
It was one of the first moments I really stopped just to take in where I was and was grateful to be somewhere other than my own backyard, but the feeling didn’t last very long. Taking a look around me I knew immediately what set me apart from everyone else I was seeing – I was the only one alone, and I felt it.
At this point in the summer, I’d been thinking already a lot about my friend Dominik who I told you about in the Barrieland series and being at the beach wasn’t helping that any. I told myself then that when I got home, one thing I absolutely needed to do was go find his grave and pay him a visit, I owed him that much at least. It had weighed on me since he passed and enough was enough.
As I stood there two bees came flying up to my face and I couldn’t believe that at the time, when do you ever get bees doing that, on this type of day, with this much wind, and they were seemingly the only two bees on this entire beach. And they wouldn’t leave me alone! I moved away and they followed me, irritating me every step of the way before eventually flying off to pester someone else, I imagine, although no one seemed bothered.
And then I got that feeling I was being watched.
I turned and looked up and sure enough, I was. Some woman dressed all in black wearing a straw-looking hat and sunglasses had her eyes glued to me. At first I thought I must’ve been imagining it, but even after turning away and looking back later, she was still looking at me. And it had to have been me, I’d picked such a wide open part of the beach for myself to stand.
So between her and the bees and the looming guilt from the ghost of Dominik, I packed it in early. Plus, the wind was picking up, it now felt insanely cold out, and I wanted to get back to my cabin, make some food and relax. I was more tired than I anticipated being after drive to Sauble so I knew I’d be calling it an early night.
Plus, I had to be up at 6AM to drive to Tobermory for my trip to Flower Pot Island.
Night 1 At The Cabin
When I got back to the cabin I got changed and put my jeans, shoes and socks on the clothelines out back (no dryer) and told myself I could try to have a fire later.
I pulled out my books and guitar but I immediately knew that wasn’t going to be happening; I had next to no focus now.
I hadn’t really eaten all day since I hadn’t bothered to stop on the way up other than for gas but my appetite was off, too. I had tried snacking a bit on some things I’d brought but that wasn’t really sitting.
I flicked on the TV to see if the Netflix worked (it did, nice) and put on The Big Short. A couple flies had found their way inside and settled right on the middle of the TV (another minor annoyance).
I flicked through some of the books before realizing I really needed to eat something and turned on the oven to make a frozen pizza I’d brought.
Sat down to unenthusiastically watch a little of The Big Short while I waited for it (I’d seen it before, but knew my lack of focus meant anything brand new was pretty much out of the question).
As I sat there, I heard a pop and a crackle.
Check the oven. It was bright orange.
A small flame was present at the bottom of the oven rack.
What the fuck.
I knew it was old and this immediately freaked me the hell out. I shut off the oven, considered the pizza cooked enough, and set the pan on the tray before doing the next most important thing – where was that fire extinguisher, just in case.
Night 1 was not off to a great start.
The pizza sort of sucked and I didn’t finish it. I shut off the movie. I sat quietly looking around my little cabin for a while unsure of where to put my attention. I checked on my clothes – still drenched, and decided that night wasn’t the best night for a fire after the oven fiasco. I could hear my neighbours next door drinking, preparing dinner, and talking loudly.
Because of COVID you had to bring all your own sheets to sleep on, so I made my way into my bedroom to put mine together, already feeling a little defeated. On the left nightstand I put one of my two-flashlights I brought in case of power outage – on the right night stand there was a single dime left from the previous guests.
Strange since the place was otherwise pretty spotless and well kept when I arrived. I left the dime on the nightstand untouched, for “good luck” or something, is what I told myself then.
And I put my sheet on the bed to find it was the wrong size and couldn’t cover the whole mattress.
Great. I put my towel down to make up for some of the lost space.
And I was suddenly very happy that I had brought a big blanket because it was officially freezing and this bed’s comforter wasn’t going to do the trick at all.
I put my ear buds in, found a playlist to listen to and occupy my mind while I tried to relax and trying not to think about how even on vacation I was putting myself to bed before 8PM.
But I couldn’t sleep. Something felt very off and I couldn’t pin it. I started thinking about what other types of people might’ve stayed there, and what my neighbours were up to. I took a look at the window behind me, checking to see how easy it might be to get in from outside and I wondered if the Americans who owned the property had installed little camera’s to keep an eye on the place. And I kept looking at the front door. I’d locked it, but what would I reasonably be able to do if someone were to barge in? Someone big like Scott? There weren’t a lot of options, the front door was directly in line with the bedroom door, I couldn’t help but think about it.
I ended up putting a small bag beside the bed next to my flashlight with my running shoes on top.
Weird, I know, but I was feeling that sketched out as night fell. I closed my door, leaving it open just slightly, enough to still be able to see that door if I wanted to.
Outside, someone had set off some fireworks that I couldn’t see from my window. That had been happening a lot in King City, too, random spurts of fireworks at odd hours, which at first I found comforting, but now it just made me again realize that I was spending yet another holiday by myself.
I spent the next few hours cold, listening to music, telling myself I really needed to get some sleep before that drive in the morning, and wondering about that potential break-in.
Around 11 at night I was filled with immeasurable sadness. This wasn’t turning out at all the way I wanted, and I don’t know if it was what I was listening to or just being in that cabin by myself, but I was feeling the most lost and alone I’d felt in a while, save for one night back in King City where the same feeling had presented itself amidst the whole, “should I or shouldn’t I get divorced” part of the year. I let myself cry it out, telling myself this is obviously just what my body and mind needed in that moment and that I’d feel better and be able to sleep if I just caved in to it. It went on for longer than I’d like to admit.
Around 1AM I recall hearing a strange noise from the room next door to me, the one with the bunk beds. Enough that I sat still listening for it again for a while. By 1:30AM I told myself I was just being paranoid and trying to distract myself with DuoLingo, practicing my Polish quietly in the dark, when another feeling of terrible dread came over me, so much so that I pulled my head phones out and stopped the playlist I was running at the same time.
A weird thought struck me given the late hour and my tiredness, and I imagined then if someone, like the neighbours, were to try and break in for some reason knowing I was there alone, around 2 or 3AM probably made for the best opportunity for it.
The witching hour.
I sat up in bed, still, my headphones flashing blue indicating they were still on, but mute.
I turned off Duo, not wanting any noise to come from my room, even if it was an accidental Polish sentence.
And then I heard a scraping noise, like something out of a horror movie that put me right on edge.
I waited, and it sounded again.
The best way I can describe the sound initially was like some big branches were scrapping across the cabin in the wind, and I told myself exactly that – the wind must have picked up even though I couldn’t hear it and there were a lot of trees surrounding the property, so it made well enough sense.
But then it got louder and it wasn’t local to one spot.
And then I heard what sounded like the window in the next room opening, and something, multiple something’s, jumping around on the beds.
I was stiff as a board. Maybe someone, some kids or something, broke in not thinking that anyone was at the cabin on this day.
I swore I even heard laughter.
Was it from the next room or just outside the cabin, though? It was hard to tell but it really sounded right next door.
Nobody even came to my door as I anticipated, and eventually those sounds stopped.
But then came the scraping again.
I really would have chalked this up to tree branches if it weren’t for the way they moved then. I listened intently as the sound made its way from behind my head, up the walls of the ceiling, and across the roof of the cabin.
It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to being in a Stephen King movie and I hope it never happens again.
I imagined the branches as being giant skeletal-like limbs, searching for a body to take hold. That’s how abrasive they scrapped, that’s how long and clear it was that it was behind and above me.
It moved slowly, down the adjacent wall and around 2:30AM … it just stopped.
I sat still for at least another 20 minutes afterwards, breathing as quietly as I could until I was reasonably sure it had really left.
I was too afraid to check the room next door which had also fallen silent.
I put my music back on – just one ear bud now, and stayed up for much of the rest of the night thinking about it, replaying it, making sure I heard what I heard, wondering if I should write it down (I didn’t then, my books were in the next room).
Around 5AM I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off, and it was time to get ready to drive to Tobermory.
Day 2 At The Cabin
It was dewy that morning, the windshield of my rental car was all fogged up and I struggled in the morning to find how to fix that, propping open the car manual for a while, annoyed with myself for not having done that sooner, because now in my sleep-state I was feeling very pressed for time.
I wasn’t, of course, since I always give myself that extra time, but I always feel that way, especially when I’m heading somewhere I’ve never been before.
After packing up all my things that I needed, frustrated that my jeans from the day before still hadn’t dried and the days’ weather definitely called for them instead of the shorts I’d been wearing, I plugged the address into the GPS which said it would take just about an hours time and I hoped to God there was some sort of coffee shop along the way (there wasn’t).
The roads on the way to Tobermory from Sauble Beach are decently windy and hilly, so the windshield kept fogging up making it that much more frustrating to drive. And about half way there, with no coffee shop in sight yet, I realized how exhausted I was. I felt like I hadn’t slept at all and I felt like I shouldn’t even be driving.
But it was only another half hour away and I could take my time since the ferry didn’t leave until about 9AM, and it was only now about 6:45.
Being this on time for things is a blessing and curse.
I got to the ferry-pick-up place with ample time to spare. I plugged coffee shop into the GPS and it yielded no results. Surely there must be SOMEWHERE in Tobermory to get a coffee, I told myself.
The ticket place wasn’t even open yet, so I took a short drive down a couple streets on my search.
It was pretty dead. Nothing looked open.
The only other people I saw was a small group standing near the water for some other type of boat tour.
And again I realized, I’d be the loser attending this island alone.
You might’ve guessed by now but this is not a position I’m terribly familiar with being in.
I drove the car back to where I’d had to grab my ticket and waited. It was freezing out and I was absolutely miserable now.
I started to tell myself again I should just go home. If I was this cold and tired now, a full day out on the island wasn’t going to help any.
I went back and fourth about this, waiting to see if more people would show up, but they didn’t. My eyes kept trying to close on me, and eventually, I caved. Put the car back in drive and made the hour trip back to Sauble Beach, cutting my loss on the boat tour and Flower Pot Island trip (lost about $50), and told myself I’d come back some other time, earlier in the season when it was warmer.
It stayed pretty miserable most of the day and I was so far beyond hungry that the idea of food made me feel ill. I checked my jeans on the clothesline – still soaked … more soaked? It had rained overnight.
Once again completely unable to focus on just about anything other than putting some music on, I crawled back into bed and stayed there most of the morning and into the afternoon, catching up on my missed sleep.
Through the day I struggled with my decision not to take that tour, because I absolutely couldn’t shake the now definitive-funk I was in and I knew that even if I’d been freezing on the water, at least I wouldn’t be wasting my time away in bed.
In the afternoon I eventually got the energy to go wander around town and it was…. completely dead. A total ghost town.
Sauble Beach is the closest thing I’ve ever been in that looked like a true “beach” town like I’d seen only in movies otherwise. Full of quirky attractions by the water like mini-putt and a small zip-line, there was even a place for clog dancing for some reason, and other wise it had shops selling your typical “surfer-wear”.
But it was dull, grey, windy, cold and damp, and since it was the day after Labour Day, there was virtually no one else around.
And I still couldn’t find a coffee shop. There were only a few places that sold food, and most of those were dark and dead, too.
And I realized quickly there wasn’t very far I could walk around here, so it wasn’t long before I made my way back to my cabin.
There was actually a Tassimo machine in the cabin, but the owners had requested anything that get used be replaced; The pods I brought didn’t fit the machine and although they had some in the cabin, I wasn’t at all sure where I’d be able to find replacement pods in this town – the convenience store didn’t even have dish soap! There were out of all sorts of basic items due to supply shortages, I was told when I walked in one day.
Needless to say, Tuesday was uneventful and I spent the day in a sleepy haze, mostly in bed trying to fall back asleep because I couldn’t shake the sounds I’d heard the night before and felt like I’d be up again tonight.
Night 2 At The Cabin
And I was.
I hadn’t run into the neighbours all day but could hear them going about their business next door. There was quite a few feet between us but since these were such old cabins you could hear just about everything if you stood near a window or just outside the door.
Feeling pretty beat down by the whole experience so far, I had another emotional start to the night. I don’t want anyone to think I was flat out bawling but I couldn’t stop my thoughts long enough to stop the slowest and saddest of tears from falling down my face, to the point where I was getting frustrated by the whole ordeal. “Quit crying you big baby, you’re supposed to be on vacation.”
And then another strange thing started to happen and I’ll never forget it.
As I mentioned earlier, my JBL bluetooth headphones I was wearing (which have since recently kicked the bucket), flash a blue light to indicate that they’re on, and in the dark bedroom they’d light up the side of my face just so.
But those little blue lights, which by all account should have stayed to my immediate left where the power button rests on the cable, started to move around.
That sounds nuts, doesn’t it? I thought so too.
At first I thought it was just my eyes playing tricks on me, catching them out of corners and making them appear to be somewhere else in the room (which had no mirrors, by the way), but every once in a while they’d land somewhere unmistakable. On top of the sheets where my knees rested, over on the left wall, back again beside my face.
And I was laying perfectly still.
At one point I pulled them off entirely, moving them in front of my face as if to verify they were even flashing at all, and moving them under the covers to see how the light changed depending on where they were.
It would come and go. And then I’d catch static through the ear buds, forcing me to turn them off an on again – and it’d happen again even then.
And so I’d close my eyes instead, not wanting to get worked up over something so silly, and drift into whatever song was playing at the time, which would subsequently make me start to tear up again, but I’d tell myself to just “let it happen.”
I couldn’t fall asleep again because now it was nearing 11PM and I felt like I should stay up until at least 3AM in case that weird noise happened again, and then that’s when I saw the strangest thing I’d ever seen in my life.
Now picture this and just indulge me for a second here:
You’re laying on the right side of a double bed in a cabin, two night stands on either side of you which meet the wall. Ahead of you, the door left open slightly (again to be able to see the front door), and a book shelf, meaning not much room for maneuvering otherwise. There are lamps on the night stands but they’re off.
On the bookshelf, a single fan, and the clothes you’d pulled out and placed in cubbies from your suitcase.
There’s a picture on the left wall of a beach – not Sauble beach necessarily, but a beach that mimics it. There’s otherwise nothing in the room.
It must have been just after 11PM when I saw it.
I’d say it was a shadow on the wall but there was no light in the room, and this shadow was white.
This shadow was light.
It was small at first but it grew quickly, from a small circle into the silhouette of a man. I say man because of the posture, appearance of short hair, and somewhat baggy looking clothes. It resembled an image I’d seen before but only slightly – the best way to describe it is it was simply a person standing and this was their shadow from the sun… only it was on my wall and nearing midnight.
And it got big. I don’t know what the ceiling height was of this room but this silhouette took up most of the wall by the time it stopped “growing.”
At least 5 feet, I’d say, since it didn’t meet the floor or ceiling.
And it just stood there.
And I sat there staring at it.
I turned away and then back again to be sure my eyes again weren’t just playing some strange trick, but no, there it was still. Right there. On my wall. To my left. Looking down at me.
It was seriously huge.
My music kept playing softly with just one ear bud in and I watched this… thing… and it watched me for some time. A few songs played through before it started to move.
And not like, walking, but more like it began to drift.
And then I caught another light on the wall just behind me beside the headboard, it was a very small circle and a short trail of light came out from it, like you’d notice in an open doorway.
I looked back at the thing which had my full attention now.
Considered for a moment getting out of bed just to touch it, to see if it disappeared, to see if I could discern where the light was coming from, but I didn’t – based on what I knew what was in the room there was absolutely no logical explanation for it.
I stayed still. I watched.
It drifted remarkably slowly, keeping its whole shape in tact, but over the course of several minutes (and I’m talking like at least 10-15 here), it was undoubtedly moving towards that little circle.
And that little circle over time changed into a little keyhole.
And that little keyhole grew a little larger, its trail of light approaching the thing before me.
And the big scary light of a man slowly got smaller.
And it continued to drift, and the little blue lights kept dancing around the room. At one point finding themselves right beside that key hole, way further away from my face than they should’ve been.
The smaller it got, I started to get nervous.
Part of me didn’t want it to leave – I didn’t have enough time to figure out what I was seeing.
I was, of course, 100% awake at the time, otherwise this is the most lucid of lucid dreams I’d ever imagined.
Eventually the man’s silhouette became so small it…. fit right into that keyhole.
The keyhole stayed a moment, and then it closed.
And then – nothing.
The room was dark again.
My earbud lights blinked beside my face.
The music was still playing.
And I don’t know what I should’ve done then but I did absolutely nothing other than sit and look at the walls, the room, wondering where it came from.
I felt like I did what I should have… made sure it made it “home,” wherever home is for such a thing.
And I did stayed still looking about the room until about 2:30AM when I began to get that sinking feeling again that something terrible would happen, but the sounds of those branches from the night before never came.
And I stayed up until it started to get light outside again, and only then could I fall back asleep.
Day 3 At The Cabin
Suffice to say by the time I awoke a couple hours later it took me a second to get out of bed again.
I was exhausted still, but fortunately didn’t have any plans for this day. I told myself I’d take it easy, get back over to the beach for a bit to relax, and just rest up for my next long drive Thursday morning to Bruce Peninsula National Park.
I went over everything I needed to have with me, prematurely packing for the day and then stepped outside to see what the weather was today.
This had to have been the coldest week of the year so far, I really could not have picked a worse time to come. The previous week, by comparison, had been beautiful and sunny.
And my jeans were still soaked, which meant I was largely wearing the same clothes for the last couple days, and I was feeling miserable.
I kicked myself for not bringing more clothes in case this was what I was dealing with as I brought my jeans and shoes inside to try and dry them indoors, instead.
I tried to eat some food but everything I’d brought, aside from my little chocolate protein shakes, wasn’t sitting well.
I mulled it over for a while… should I stay or should I just go?
I’m generally the type of person who can make the best of almost any situation, but at this time I was also trying to pay special attention to the way I was really feeling in the moment and give my body and mind what it seemed to be craving, and right now it was screaming at me for a few things: get warm clothes, get a proper nights sleep, go home early and see your dog.
I went for a walk into town to find some food that was a bit easier to stomach and landed on an egg-salad sandwich from the convenience store. I know a lot of people might not be so keen to go for that one in that type of place but in my experience it’s the safest. They have to make the eggs the morning of and it’s pretty hard to screw up the recipe for your run-of-the-mill egg sammy. The bread could’ve been a little nicer but, it was a proper meal in my stomach and I felt a lot better after having it.
There were a couple more people milling about town on this day but not many – I finally saw where everyone went to grab coffee, a small restaurant just on the other side of the main street.
And then I went back to walk the beach for a few minutes, but it was way colder over there and all I had was shorts.
I spoke briefly to an indigenous man on the way back to my cabin, he had a dog he called Odie which I thought was funny because it’d been a very long time since I’d heard anyone say that out loud. It’s also what I used to call my sister, Jodie, when I was younger.
Yeah, after the dog from Garfield.
But I’d otherwise not had any conversations with the few people I came across and I was feeling bored and lonely.
When one of my friends reached out, asking where I’d gone off to again, I knew in that moment specifically it was high-time for new friends.
We’d talked about it in the weeks leading up to it, but so many of my friends seemed to be having… memory problems.
And I get tired of re-explaining the same thing over and over to people.
So I lied, instead, to see if they’d recall. As I stood on Sauble Beach and sent them a picture of it I told them, “oh, I’m in Tobermory.”
And they said, “Oh ya! It’s awesome there!”
I don’t know what time it was exactly that I decided I’d had enough of trying to make the most of this, clearly, terrible and weird week, but after spending much of the day mulling over the weird branch noises and the silhouette on my wall, I decided I’d had enough.
I went back to the cabin and went to sleep.
On Thursday morning, I woke up when I was supposed to be getting ready for my day out at the park.
The weather sucked again, and I hadn’t showered.
I felt disgusting now.
So I cut my losses on my parking permit for the park and started to pack my things.
Spent the morning cleaning up the cabin which took next to no time since I’d left just about everything exactly where it was when I arrived – even the pillows on the bed I matched to a picture I took upon arrival.
And the drive home sucked. Windy, rainy, big rigs driving way too fast, my little car (a Note, it was called) moving with every gust of wind down the roads.
Stopped at a gas station which, thank God, also had a Tim Hortons to grab a coffee. The happiest I’d ever been to see a Tims.
Sometime early that afternoon after I’d gotten home, I got a text message from the people that own the cabin.
Something to the effect of, “Hey, really sorry but they dropped off a huge pile of dirt and put it in your parking spot.”
It was a weird message to get if for no other reason then there was ample lawn space to drop a delivery like this on the property, it made virtually no sense for someone to put this in a very clearly marked parking space.
Of course, the owners of the property couldn’t have known that I actually had been using the other cabin’s parking spot, and they also didn’t know at this time I’d left, so I told them so.
They were surprised.
“Oh, you left early?”
“Yeah I had to get back for some work.”
And this was mostly true. I had a certain moment of clarity that morning when making my decision to leave and it was a simple one: I had taken this time off of work (my day-job) to actually get some more writing and songs done – I was on a bit of a mission now and I had a ways to go before I’d be prepared to showcase any new stuff to the people I intended to hear it (these became the Tape Deck demo recordings). That was the push I needed to leave – my priority, even after making that long drive up to finally walk those trails for the first time in my life, was not to spend time by myself necessarily but to be able to give myself the time and attention I needed and craved to keep working on getting my music in order, to pitch it, so that I could one day, ideally, actually leave my job and do that full-time in some capacity. And at this point of the week I hadn’t done any of that.
“Oh, so, you’re gone now?” the message came back. Odd, I thought I was pretty clear.
“Yep, I’ve left. You can rent it out early if you want to the next people. Thanks very much, it was a great stay.”
Something about the messages was weird to me and when they replied back again I ignored it, cutting my losses now not only on the boat tour, but the parking permit, the 2 days at the cabin, and the unnecessary additional days of the car rental.
What a waste of money.
But, after putting all my things away from the car (mostly left-over, uneaten frozen foods that needed an oven to cook), I showered, changed, took a nap, and made my new game plan.
My ex was surprised of course to see that I was home early – about as surprised as I was when he too, was home early that day.
But things went about as usual from then with us only crossing paths for short spurts between him coming home and me finishing dinner.
I re-entered my home-studio and I ultimately put out all of Tape Deck over the course of the next few weeks as singles on my Bandcamp, mostly before moving back home mid-October.
In retrospect, they were fairly rushed recordings, but they were always intended just to showcase the idea and different genres I could dabble in; At the time I was incredibly weary about fully-formulating the ideas because I wanted to leave space for an alternate set of ears to contribute to them, unsure if they’d all be Crooked Forest releases or if I’d be able to figure out how to sell the rights to them to other artists.
And I felt like I needed to have them all out, or at bare minimum all recorded, before I moved home, since I’d never been comfortable singing or playing in the house I grew up in. There was a lot of urgency in my mind then.
Trying to find that comfort is what led to the Roots home recordings, but that’s a story for some other time.
So that’s the story of Cedar Cove Cabin, one I still am not wholly sure what to think of it all myself, and one that I’m still a little mad at myself for not taking advantage of being up there, not going on that boat tour, and not going to Bruce Peninsula.
Hopefully I get up there again someday, but I think next time I’ll try to bring a friend and leave the guitar at home entirely.