Focused on You - Chapter One
I wonder if this was the right thing to do. It felt like the right thing when I made the decision; but now that I’m in it, standing here surrounded by my choices, it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel as fulfilling as I thought it would. Not as satisfying. Not liberating.
Although she hasn’t been a part of this for a long time, I still feel her presence. I sense her hovering and watching, commenting on my choices with a look and a sigh.
Will I ever feel comfortable with the thought that this is my place and not ours?
I run my fingers through my hair then through my beard. I need a haircut. A beard trim. The reflection in the window to my gallery stares back at me. Grooming isn’t all I need. There are bags under my eyes, evidence of the quantity and quality of sleep I’ve experienced in the last several weeks. I press my index fingers to the puffy, purplish sacks of loose skin as if that will somehow get them to firm up and return to a normal shape and colour.
My pupils dilate and I look through my reflection to the scene outside. It’s dark, the street is quiet. Tourists have all bunked down for the night in the hotels up and down Banff Ave. It’s a Wednesday in a tourist town’s shoulder season, it should be quiet.
My heart stutters on the renewed thought that this was a bad idea. I’m starting a business at the slowest time of year. I’ve done my research. I know half of new businesses fail within the first six months of opening their doors. I don’t want to become a statistic. More importantly, I need this to be a success.
Facing financial hardship is nothing new. I’m a photographer for fuck’s sake. The cliché of starving artist isn’t a cliché. I’ve gotten down to my last package of instant ramen noodles more than once. Living lean isn’t what worries me; it’s the possibility of failure that keeps me up at night. Time and again, it’s been pointed out that my life has been one long string of failures. I don’t know that I can weather another one.
I shut off the last light in the building before locking up for the night. Tomorrow is my first official day on the job, I should get some rest. Wouldn't that be nice?
“Wish me luck,” I say to no one because there’s no one to say it to. I’m alone in my gallery and I walk by myself up the back stairs to my empty flat one floor above where I crack a beer and congratulate myself on taking this step. It is, after all, my dream come true.
As I’m dropping into the worn couch that came with the apartment, the screen on my phone lights up and plays Land Down Under by Men at Work.
“Am I on time for the pity party, mate?”
“I’m not pitiful.” There’s an unwritten rule that I have to argue with Dale. Even if he’s right.
“Says you,” he laughs in his easy way.
Nothing upsets this guy. He believes that growing up in the isolated Australian Outback will make you see the world in one of two ways: As an amazing place where people are given everything they need to survive the harshest situations, or as a shit place where we’re all meant to suffer. He chooses the former and spends his days spreading that philosophy. I used to believe that. We built our friendship on that. This year has seen me touting the views from the other camp more days than not, but Dale won’t let me out of our decade-long friendship.
“I bet you just cracked a beer and pathetically said cheers to yourself.” I don’t answer him. After all the backcountry photography trips we’ve taken together, many of which included sharing a tent for weeks on end, I can’t hide it from him. Dale knows me too well.
“Well, mate, I’m sitting down with a pint now, too, so you’re not alone. Cheers to you.” I hear him swallow followed by an exaggerated lip smack. “Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“I think so,” I question more than state. I lean back on the couch, resting my head over the back to stare at the ceiling. I spent the day organising the Wild Side Art Gallery the way I want it, changing out the large prints hanging on the walls to showcase my own work and arranging the stacks by photographer rather than the size of print like the old owner had it.
“You should be more fired up than that, Badger,” he chides, reminding me that I used to be as enthusiastic about life as he was. And definitely more excited at the prospect of owning a gallery.
“What happens if—”
“Don’t.” He stops me in my tracks with his forceful bark. I almost feel the air whoosh towards my face with the stern finger he points my way. “The gallery will be beauty and you’re in the perfect locale to do the kind of photography you love.”
He’s good at playing my inner voice even if the accent’s off.
“You’re right.” I made the choice to be out here for a reason, even if the execution didn’t go as planned.
“I know,” he boasts then continues to beat a dead horse. “This is your time. Her time has passed.”
That may be so, but saying it is much easier than cutting the memories out of my life.
“Have you met anyone yet?” He’s said all he needs to say on the topic of success. With business out of the way, he veers the conversation towards the personal.
Although I’ve been in and out of town a lot over the past several weeks, I only officially moved here a few days ago. By noon on day one, he would’ve made plans for the rest of the week and expects the same from me. They aren’t unfounded expectations. The old me would have done exactly that. The old me who trusted his own judgement and took people at face value would have unlocked the front door and let the curious townsfolk come in to see who the new guy is before I officially opened for business.
The new me is more cautious.
I’m not up for a lecture on integrity so I evade the direct question.
“I introduced myself to the people working in the stores nearby and told them to stop by and check the gallery out.”
“Time to get your life back on track.”
Getting back on track is exactly what I’m doing. Business first, social life later. Like he reminded me, I have a purpose. Dale clears his throat like he can read my thoughts. He’s not concerned about how I spend my time between the hours of nine and five.
“How would you know about staying on track? Your path forks every day.” I try to insert some humour into the conversation and take the heat off myself. He doesn’t bite.
“Dead set. But at least I’m moving forward.”
“One thing at a time. Let’s make sure I don’t end up homeless then I’ll consider finding a buddy.” He’s referring to more than a buddy, but he lets it slide.
“Get yourself sorted by December and I’ll come visit after my trip in the area.”
Dale hires himself out on private heli-skiing trips to record the breathtaking experiences uber-wealthy families have in the most remote areas of the Columbia and Rocky Mountains. Then he sells his videos and images for a small fortune so he can take his own trips.
December. A quarter of a year from now. I'm working on one week at a time. Planning that far out seems more wishful than practical. A lot can happen in that time. I could be halfway to failure.
Then again, I could be setting new records.
Maybe that’s what I need. Something to look forward to. A tangible goal.
“Deal,” I reply, hedging my optimism and keeping the underlying worry to myself.
“That’s the spirit! Tomorrow will be bloody brilliant, mate! Hooroo!” He doesn’t wait for me to say goodbye in return before ending the call.
He’s right. The pity party has lasted long enough. It’s time to focus on my future.