by Kamalla Rose Kaur
A close friend of mine died of cancer recently, after such a long, long struggle, and my husband and I had a silly fight one morning soon after that. It was raining, stormy, gray and dark that day, and when I sought out my friend, Willow, for comfort and counseling, I found that she had agreed to take a mutual woman friend of ours over the border to visit her aging Canadian mother.
“Come on,” Willow said to me, “Come along.”
“I don’t want to face the border guards.” I blubbered and sobbed. “I can’t pass as a human much less as a happy USA citizen today. I don’t cry pretty. They’ll suspect the worse and act authoritarian or suspicious, and I’ll end up in a Homeland Security sort of prison – and then I’ll ruin your whole day.”
Willow understood and agreed with me, but she didn’t want to leave me, given the way I was, and I didn’t want be left. So it was decided that I could come along and Willow would drop me in Sumas, a small town right on the border, for a spell, while she ferried our friend over the Canadian border.
That is how I came to be in downtown Sumas recently, on terribly dark, cold, wet and windy day; standing on a corner, waiting for the light, wearing clogs of all silly shoes, with no rain gear, my hair instantly hanging heavy and dripping icy rivers.
And if that weren’t dismal enough, “What happened to Sumas?” I wondered.
I was crossing at a large intersection and there was a vacant gas station on every corner! They were out of business. Then I walked the downtown sidewalk – chilled, depressed, grieving – peering into the windows of one failed business after another. Even the taverns had closed.
Only Bob’s Burger and Brew was open, and a mini-market and, further on, I passed a very interesting vitamin shop that apparently also served espressos. It seemed warm and inviting, but I walked on by.
I had decided that I was headed for the grocery store. I could see the neon sign down the block, beyond some more empty storefronts. The sign’s colors were running prettily but I didn’t enjoy the effect. I was simply miserable.
Once inside the store I felt safer, and soon a bit warmer. It was a simple and old-fashioned country grocery store, compared to Bellingham’s super duper (damn, I forgot my roller skates!) markets. I liked it immediately. I felt comfortable there remembering how grocery stores were in Bellingham when I was a child. They were smaller for one thing, with narrow aisles, and stuffed with products and the clerks talked to you…
“You sure got wet!” a friendly woman tending the cash register yelled in my direction.
“I sure did, and now I am feeling sorry for myself.” I admitted as I walked on squishy clogs over to speak with her. I felt a bit spooked actually, because she reminded me somehow of an older version of the dead friend I was grieving, “I am waiting for friends to come back over the border and take me back home to Bellingham.”
I swear I didn’t ask her, “What happened to Sumas?”
She must have been psychic. More likely my shell-shocked surprise at suddenly finding myself in a dreary black and white movie about the Depression, or worse yet, WW2, must have been written all over me.
Anyway, she stated the obvious, “The Canadians are gone now.”
Suddenly I got all choked up again. I discovered, all at once, how much I miss the flurry of invading Canadians every weekend. Towns in Whatcom County are border towns and throughout my life I have experienced the free-flow of people and commerce over the Canadian border, taking it completely for granted. Just like there are Canadian Cascades and USA Cascades, there are Canadian Pacific Northwesterners and USA Pacific Northwesterners. I realized, in a swoosh, a painful epiphany, standing wet and chilled and bedraggled in what remains of Sumas, how proud I have always been of the Peace Arch; the symbol of our free and open border. Closed now. Closed now.
Now it feels like we are fighting with Canada; they won’t trade with us anymore, and who cares? We don’t want those socialists invading us anyway. They drive funny and they talk slightly different and they have cutesy money. Eh?
I actually managed to express my sorrow about Sumas to the clerk without disgracing myself too much and we chatted some. I bought a used Regency Romance novel for 2 USA dollars, deciding that by then I really needed an easy, blissfully unrealistic, fantasy escape from post-Sumas reality. Thus armed, I reentered the storm and sniffled my way back through the cold biting rain, and entered the strange, warm and cozy, vitamin/coffee shop.
Life didn’t seem as bad after that. Things started improving immediately, for me personally. The owner of the shop helped. The warmth and coziness and aliveness and uniqueness of the shop helped. The creamy hot latte helped a lot. The memory of my dead friend helped me, because she didn’t lose her hope and her sense of humor on dark days. And the stupid book helped me too.
Soon Willow returned and took me home and I immediately made up with my husband, and sat him down and told him all about what has happened to Sumas. And the rest of Whatcom County, and beyond.