CHAPTER 19

THAT NIGHT, I went into Jesse's room and looked all around in it. It was the first time I'd been in there since he left home the second time. I was turning my head left and right as I walked to the window, examining the things he never took with him. I took a real good look around. The room seemed so empty. All that was in it were his book shelves, his dresser drawers, his desk, his trash can and his bed.

In his bottom shelf, I saw an atlas of the United States with all the pages torn out. On his desk, I saw a burnt American flag, and clay statuettes of the fifty American states with knives welded in them. On the wall above his desk, I saw a poster of America's "Uncle Sam" with three big slashes drawn on it. Obviously, he left behind all the reminders of his anti-Americanism.

Some really terrible feelings began to bother me inside. I picked up the flag and all the statuettes, and threw them on the floor one by one, until the desk was totally bare. I tore the poster off the wall and threw it on the floor. Then, I collected all the pages from the atlas, and dumped them on the floor with the rest of the stuff. Finally, I grabbed the atlas cover from the shelf and flung it on top of the pile. I went to my mess and started jumping up and down on it like a crazy woman, screaming loud enough to be heard in New Zealand.

"You jerks!" I screamed at the offerings. "You idiots! You peabrains! You pinheads! Look at what you did to my brother! Look at what you did to my family! Look at what you did to all the other Canadians who see the Americans as human beings, rather than just plain pond scum! Look at what you did to everybody!"

I threw myself onto Jesse's bed, buried my head in the quilt and cried. I banged my head on the bedpillows, releasing all my emotions. I felt a lot of emotions that day. I felt guilt and shame because deep down, I still believed the suicide was all my fault. I felt anger and rage because of how anti-Americanism had torn my family apart. And I felt grief and sorrow because Jesse would no longer be part of the family.

"Oh, Jesse, why did you have to go and kill yourself?" I sobbed. "You were only twenty years old. All the people at the funeral today really cared about you. Did they not matter? I loved you so much. Didn't I count? You had an entire future ahead of you. Didn't you care? Oh, sure, we didn't always agree on everything, but you still didn't have to do this. Why did you, Jesse? Why did you hurt the people who loved you? Why, Jesse, why?"

When I stopped crying, I sat up on the bed and stared at the anti-American offerings. They were all still there on the floor. Disgusted, I collected them all and threw them in the trash can in a hurry.

"You all make me sick," I said to the offerings. "You've destroyed my family. You've wrecked ten years of my life. You're not going to wreck what's left of my life. And I'll be damned if you wreck the lives of all the other American supporters of this country. Since you won't go away by yourselves, I'll just get rid of you myself."

I left to get a garbage bag, then came back and dumped all the trash into it. I did a complete search around the room, surveying for any more anti-American trash. I then remembered feeling something hard when I banged my head on the pillows, like a book. I dropped the bag, went back to Jesse's bed and pulled back the quilt. I discovered a small notebook on the pillows.

I sat on the bed, picked up the notebook and opened it. I found some journal entries that Jesse wrote himself. I read them all, and couldn't believe what I discovered:

December 27, 1994 – Hollie, my big sister, once told me that we Canadians were just as bad as the Americans. I shot that down, but now I regret that. If only she could see how right she is. It's all over the news these days – in the papers, on TV, even in the magazines. In Winnipeg, a white-collar business worker stole 2,000,000 dollars of his corporation's money, and left the province with the cash. In Toronto, an unemployed single mother in her early twenties has three kids, can barely make ends meet, and is arrested for prostitution. (There were lots of other women in the same boat elsewhere.) In Vancouver, gangs of vicious drug dealers drive around the city in 50,000-dollar Cadillacs. Even I faulted by joining a gang myself.

There are also a great number of young people living in broken homes, in single-parent families, most of which are affected by fighting and dysfunction. It's mostly the mothers taking care of these kids; the fathers don't take any interest in spending time with them, or even in paying child support. Speaking of which, teen pregnancy in this country is increasing at such an alarming rate.

It isn't any better in the smaller cities and towns. School violence is increasing in these places. People are robbing banks and businesses – small and large – left and right. And somewhere in this country, another wild teenager is beating up a cop or fire fighter practically every 23 seconds. No wonder Hollie fled south in the first place. I always thought these things happened only in the United States of America, and not anywhere else, not even Canada. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Even worse, more and more Canadians are Americanising themselves. The high school graduates in this country are enrolled in American colleges and universities, just like Hollie was. Out of all the college students in the United States today, at least 70 percent of them were born and raised in Canada. More and more Canadian business workers are doing their jobs the American way. And I'm not talking petty arguments and gossip between co-workers, that's minor. By this, I'm talking about scamming people with false advertising claims, swindling people and overcharging customers, making promises about good deals to their faces and not keeping them. I mean, really ripping people off. I remember going Christmas shopping just after I was brought home, and I couldn't believe all the high prices when I was in a music store at the mall. Who the hell wants to pay eighteen dollars for a Tragically Hip album, for instance? Worse still, these same people are even moving to the States in hopes for better jobs.

Even their TV-watching habits are bad. According to some news surveys, at least 80 of Canadian viewers are watching American shows, and American stations on cable. I just saw this article on televised NFL football games in the morning paper, and wanted to die. During the 1994 regular season, the number of its Canadian viewers increased by 95 percent. This was despite the fact that millions tuned in to the Grey Cup last month.

I'm ashamed of all this! Deeply ashamed! I thought that Canada was the best place in the world to live. But it's diseased with American morals, values and attitudes. Obviously, this country has let me down. Why didn't I see any of this happening before? Oh yeah, because I spent my whole life standing up for this country, yet I never really did anything about it. I guess it isn't enough to voice one's opinions anymore, because apparently, nobody seems to be listening.

December 30, 1994 – Just when I thought things would get better, (I had my hopes up these past two days) more bad news has hit my doorstep today. To say I was mortified and angered would be an understatement. A group of local 16-year-olds who had stayed out all night at a rave in town (what the hell is a "rave," anyway?) decided to go on a late-late night crime spree. First, they busted into a car repair business and stole one of the tow trucks, an extension cord, and some metal hooks. Good thing there was that part where they broke into a convenience store, stole most of the money, then used all that equipment to rip off the ATM machine, or else the story would have been incomprehensible.

Afterwards, these kids went from house to house in the neighbourhoods, broke in and stole stuff to pawn for money, so they could go party in Vancouver or somewhere else, who knows where they planned to go? It's totally irrelevant. (Okay, so I've done my share of breaking and entering during my time in the gang, but I would've thought twice before doing something extreme, like stealing a whole money machine. My gang wasn't all that hardcore.) Thank God they were caught before they reached the Alberta provincial border. But what really bothers me is that you hear about stuff like this in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, not Calgary.

It's so shameful that the police these days have to act as parents for these kids. And I used to call my parents lazy and neglectful for not installing any Canadian pride into my sister and me. A lot of people are calling for changes in the Young Offenders Act; put my name down on that list. By the way, those hardcore kids never hit this neighbourhood on their little theft spree, thanks heavens. Mom and Dad, if your see this, you might want to buy some deadbolts for all the doors and windows.

January 1, 1995 – Happy New Year. Here's hoping that 1995 brings about a year of positive changes for Canada. Less crime and murder, less negative attitudes towards family members and friends, less Canadians going to United States permanently, or for long periods of time, like late fall and all winter. Personally I don't get why Canadians would want to spend their winters in California, or Arizona, or somewhere like that. Nothing but heat and humidity all year round – sorry, not for me. What's wrong with snow and freezing temperatures? It's called variety, and I'm glad Canada has at least that. But I'm not getting my hopes up for anything to happen.

January 2, 1995 – Good thing I decided not to get my hopes up yesterday. Apparently, a lot of Canadians have partied too hardy over the New Year's weekend, according to the papers and TV news today. Across the country, nearly a thousand vehicles were impounded, and a lot of people arrested for drunk driving. There have even been a few alcohol-related accidents. What's even more shocking is that even the designated drivers were drinking. I didn't remember seeing anything suspicious here when I went partying with my friends on New Year's Eve. I was dazed and out of it from all the drinking I did. I'm not stupid enough to get totally drunk, unlike some of these people apparently, but I was nearly there. But at least I had enough sense to designate a driver who survived the night without drinking!!

I just had to shake my head in shame and disgust. I thought Canadians had more sense than this. Mom and Dad always taught Hollie and me not to get into a car with someone who's been drinking, or drink and drive ourselves. Suddenly, I feel sicker than I would have if I had alcohol poisoning. All this stupidity is just insane.

January 4, 1995 – Looking back to my December 30th entry, I can't believe the update on those kids who robbed people here in town. The top story of the six o'clock news this evening just stated that they broke out of jail, and sped through rush hour traffic of people coming home from work. My father's bewildered look and frustrated-sounding story about, "those crazy juvenile deviants" already confirmed that something bad has happened before I even knew about it.

Getting back to the story, these kids sped through rush hour, injuring and nearly killing a lot of innocent people. (Thank God Dad escaped unscathed!) But after police caught up with them fifty miles west of town, the kids – apparently they're all armed – showed their weapons and had a dramatic shootout with them. Think the OK Corral, only in real life. I was horrified to learn that the kids killed three officers, and took off with a cop car. As I cried, I was thinking only one thing: "This isn't Canada." Canada isn't home to nightmares like this. That would be the United States.

This Americanization of our country is starting to be too much for me. When will it end? Or a better question would be: Will it ever end? Now, there's a big police manhunt for the dangerous teens, I'll bet. I hope it ends with the capture.

"Those crazy juvenile deviants." I re-read that paragraph. I remembered Dad telling me that story about some young drivers who were speeding in the city streets, and cut him off violently. But I never knew that these were the same ones who robbed houses in town days earlier. I hadn't been keeping up with the news. I was afraid to because of Jesse's moods. But why didn't anyone tell me this? I kept reading.

January 6, 1995 – Well, here's the first good news I've had to record in this journal. The kids that robbed our citizens and killed our police officers were caught in Kamloops and taken to jail. Can't wait until they get to trial. Maybe then our justice system can help turn this country's reputation around. Personally, I hope they get life imprisonment. It's the least they deserve, and I was raised to oppose the death penalty. Maybe my parents aren't that bad after all. They taught me to respect the value of human life. Unlike the Texas government, who still insists on executing prison inmates, and hotly denies ever putting an innocent person to death, which I believe they've done numerous times. (Hollie, if you ever see this, please excuse that last statement.)

But I can't party and celebrate just yet. Apparently, it seems that Canadian parents can't agree on the best way to discipline their children. Now I'm not one to get involved in issues like this, but from what I learned yesterday, that statement of parents who don't know discipline from abuse is becoming incredibly clichéd.

In Saskatoon, there's a whacked-out single father who acts as both a parent and a friend to his two teenage sons, which isn't too terribly bad, in my opinion. Yet, he is incredibly cruel to his nine-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. Yesterday, police arrested this man after a neighbour found him drowning the four-year-old in a bathtub of scalding hot water. (The poor kid died, by the way.) Before that, he clubbed his daughter with a steel baseball bat, until she suffered a concussion. His older sons were watching it all without doing anything about it, but cheering on their dad. I should mention here that the teens had beaten their siblings severely beforehand. The young ones had supposedly gone into their older brothers' room and broke some things of theirs. In the past, this father had shoved steel rods, skinny tree branches and yardsticks up the younger kids' rear ends, because they wouldn't stop bothering their big brothers. This is favouritism at its worst. Obviously, this man is too demented and unstable to be raising any kids, never mind teenage boys.

Elsewhere, in Hamilton, another lenient parent had physically attacked two mothers because she caught them slapping their wayward teenage daughters. Police had charged her with trespassing, life endangerment and neglect towards her own child (for continually refusing to spank, slap or beat him or her whenever (s)he did wrong, I guess.) But it wasn't enough for her. That evening, she went down to her kid's high school for a PTA meeting. They were talking about improving discipline measures so they could have better-behaving kids in the New Year. Some parents insisted that all kids should be whipped more often, and the more hardcore ones should be sent to jail and boot camp. But the mother in question advised that parents make time to talk to their kids, and listen to whatever's bothering them. Good idea, lady, so why did she have to deal with a load of crap-flinging from her critics most of the night? Normal parents would leave the meeting and not return when they can't take any more. This woman goes to her car for some loaded machine guns owned by her late husband, and shoots up the whole meeting. Twenty-five parents are dead, and thirty more are injured. Brilliant, another loony tunes living in Canada.

The tragedy in Saskatoon would sicken my parents, no doubt. I know they've spanked me a heck of a lot more often than they did Hollie, (spoiled little prick; angel of the family, my ass) but I bet they'd never dream of going as far as that father did. As for the case in Hamilton, if this keeps up, we'll soon be seeing a version of the American Civil War, where parents battle over child disciplining measures. Trust me, this I don't want to know about!

January 8, 1995 – I've just come home from visiting family friends, after going to church with my parents and sister. The service was okay, but it's what I saw afterwards that sickened me. Besides the crime and violence, Canada also has a problem with the rich taking advantage of the poor and under-privileged. The kids who were passing the dish around to collect money for the church were stealing from it. I told Mom about this, and she said she'd report them. But as we were driving to our friends, I saw those same kids giving the stolen money to some friends of theirs, and spending it on drugs. Mom couldn't believe it, either. Either she forgot all about calling the police, or the police are too busy or lazy to deal with young people who have stolen from God. I'm betting on the latter; I know my Mom's too smart to forget something like this.

On the way home, I saw two people in their twenties mug an old lady, some pre-teen hoodlums rob a black couple, and a group of punks tease some homeless people. Disgusting! I'm so sickened, I can't even have a bedtime snack tonight. I'm afraid I might throw it all up.

January 11, 1995 – Nothing has changed at all in these past two days, since I last wrote in this journal. Everything in this country is still just like the United States. The violence and familial dysfunction still rages on. The crime rate in this country is still increasing. The people of this country are still trading in the good enough Canadian life for that of a typical American. I wonder if those people are passing themselves off as American? If they are, I'm going to be very upset. And I'm sure that nobody has stopped watching American television, and that they don't want to stop, either.

Just yesterday, I received yet another shock while watching The Fifth Estate on CBC. A brand new commercial had informed me that Canada has just as many AIDS and HIV sufferers as the United States! If that's not the ultimate scare to many proud Canadians, I don't know what is!

When I went to sleep Sunday night, I said to myself, "Relax and sleep well, Jesse. This whole thing will disappear before you wake up tomorrow morning." But it didn't. Ten and five years ago on this day, I was so proud of this country, it hurt. Last year, I was proud of this country, too. I guess the joke's on me now, because look at it today. Canada's going to hell in a handbasket, American-wise! Just what is this world coming to?!

I have to get the hell out of here. I have to leave now. I can no longer live in this country if it's going to be plagued by American morals, values and attitudes. And I refuse to cross the border.

No wonder Jesse got so depressed and committed suicide. I wanted the Americans to make peace with the Canadians, not let their faults take over the whole country. It was all so mind-boggling to me. I must tell the truth; I'd never been so confused in my life. I closed the journal, put it back on the pillows and stared at it.

"Oh, Jesse, if only you'd talked to us about your problem," I said. "We could have been there for you. We could have helped you through it. What you did was meaningless. You understand me? That was completely, utterly and totally meaningless."

I lay on the bed and started repeating, "If only…" to myself. But I knew it was hopeless now. Jesse's death was final, and there was nothing I could say or do that would bring him back.

I went into my room to change clothes. I went to my vanity mirror to remove all my make-up. The tears I cried made my mascara run. I opened the top drawer of my night table, took a tissue from the box, and tried to wipe all the mascara off with it. It wasn't much help, so I closed the drawer, threw away the tissue, and opened the bottom drawer for some wet facial wipes. I looked in the drawer and discovered a small envelope. I took the envelope out and looked at it. It said Hollie on the front.

I opened it up and discovered a note from Jesse. I sat on my bed and read it. It said:

Dear Hollie,

By the time you get this, I will have already left this world. I have now come to realise, and accept the fact that you have a major dream in your life. I understand that you want to see Canada and the United States make peaceful amends one day. I must say, that dream is a little bit unrealistic. But, now I know that it was stupid of me to interfere with it. Please forgive me for all the hell I put this family through these past ten years.

There's a very good reason why I acted like I did all these years. We both know that the Canadians are worth something, and I wanted to make our American neighbours aware of that. Hollie, the Americans think that the rest of the world is nothing compared to them, including Canada. The Americans are wrong. You were right when you said we were just as human as them, I'll grant you that. But you were wrong when you passed off as American to prove your point. When you work to achieve your dream, you must remember that you grew up in this land called Canada. And you must be proud of that. If you are not proud of the country you grew up in, then you cannot be proud of yourself. And if you are not proud of yourself, then you're living in a deep, endless sea of misery and hopelessness, and that's no way to live.

If you fail to make your dream a reality before you die, please don't feel as if you failed. You are still a success in my eyes. Please tell Mom and Dad that I love them, and I wish you all the best in making your dream come true. And please don't feel guilty or sorrowful over my death, as this was something I had to do for myself. You must remember, dear sister, that you are not the cause for my death. I just know you weren't counting on the Canadians taking on an American lifestyle here. That is why I left. One thing I'll never understand or accept is that we are being just as American as they are. I just can't go on living in a country dirtied with all this Americana. Please excuse that final statement, Hollie.

Love always and forever,

Jesse

It was then that I realised that Jesse's suicide wasn't really my fault. I read over that whole second paragraph in the note, and realised that he was right. I did grow up in Canada, and I had to take pride in that. I shook my head, wondering what I was thinking. It was stupid of me to pretend I was American when I really wasn't. I stared at the note and whispered, "All right, Jesse. I'll show all those good Americans how Canadian I really am. I'll take pride in my dream and my country. I promise." I looked down at Jesse's signature and kissed it.

I took the note to the dining table, where Bruce and my parents were talking with some relatives. Mom and Dad read it for themselves. She asked for a tissue as she started crying..

"Oh my God!" she sobbed. "Our Jesse loved us after all. Even though he didn't understand us, he still loved us." She started to weep, and Dad, Bruce and Uncle Terry all held her.

My American identity had been lifted from my soul, and my American way of thinking vanished from my mind. Tragically, it had taken Jesse's death to make me realise that I shouldn't be taking my homeland for granted. I'd still be living in the United States with Bruce and Kelton. But from that day on, I would be saying the one truly important thing to any American that I'd first meet. I would say that I was Canadian-born and raised. And I would tell him all that I knew and loved about Canada. Should that person accept me for being the Canadian I am, I would be grateful enough to form a true friendship. But should he hate me for my upbringing, or even make fun of it, then it would show how uninterested he'd be in helping make my dream come true. I vowed that I would no longer think of myself as an American.

Jesse had died. But my dream to see Canada and the United States come together one day is still alive. And I would never let it die. I would strive to make that dream come true. One of these days, the Canadians and the Americans will realise the folly of their rivalry, and start loving each other like they should. And after Canada, I would conquer the world. For myself. For the people I loved, both Canadian and American. For the American supporters of this country and this world.

THE END

Author's Note: So, here concludes my novel, Hollie Springwood. I'm disappointed that I've never gotten a single review from readers who read this (if they were reading it) to say whether they liked it or not, what changes would be made (I'm thinking about making Jesse get a job, in the scene where Bruce and Kelton first come to live with the Springwoods and Jesse moves out.) But I'm thinking either you're not the type of reader to leave reviews (some aren't) or you're all waiting until this moment to tell me what you think. (I know some of my one-shotters got reviews, and a second review for Real Adventures in a Comic Book never appeared until the final chapter was posted.) If it's the latter, I will now wait for the reviews to come, to tell me what you thought of this story as a whole. I know this sounds desperate, but I would like some reassurance that readers have been reading this, and some feedback would be appreciated. It would be encouraging to me as a writer. Anyway, to those who have been reading, I hope you enjoyed it. This story contains one theme that I really do care about in the world - the differences between Canadians and Americans, and how they can improve relations with each other in the world. Love, davewriter.