Every Building on 100 West Hastings by Stan Douglas
Winner of the 2009 Downtown Eastside Writers' Jamboree Writing Contest.
Vancouver is dotted with landmarks. So many, in fact, you couldn’t avoid them if you tried. There is one particular landmark that holds power over me. I affectionately call her “the house on Mole Hill.” On first glance, you don’t know what she is. An office building, an apartment block, a school, a modern jail? Or . . . a hospital.
Tonight as I stroll down Granville, oblivious to everything around me except street signs, I glance up to check where I am. Helmcken and Granville. I slowly turn west and stare at the hill ahead of me. Although she is a few blocks away, she looks closer because of her overwhelming size. And this is a special occasion. It’s the Christmas season and the house is wearing her Christmas dress. Butterflies invade my stomach, a gulp in my throat, I walk in baby steps.
Like a magnet, she beckons me, whispering, “Come to me.” I try to compose myself, to no avail. Cars whiz by and people scurry past with no reason to stop and look.
I shuffle over to the newspaper box and lean on it for support. Excited, fearful, angry, proud and confused. I am awestruck by her beauty. After a few minutes, I can’t stand it any more. My eyes are getting misty, and I turn south and then west.
Ducking into Starbucks for shelter and a change-up, I order a coffee with a shot of honey. And then, like exotic birds swooping in on a sanctuary for nourishment, doctors and nurses come in and ask for their favourites. They come in pairs and groups, stethoscopes, clipboards, fresh out of surgery, speaking in hushed tones and tender voices. With life and death in their hands. Clutching their lattés and Frappuccinos, they exit as quickly as they swooped in.
Several minutes go by and I finish my coffee. I feel better and the summer of 1974 flashes before my eyes.
Born and raised on the east coast of Canada, I dreamed of the west coast as a promised land. My dreams came true that summer, when I was twenty years old. After a night of partying in Gastown, I would flee to English Bay Beach to recover. I drank and smoked too much for one person. I also ate a lot of rich food.
One morning on the beach I felt several sharp pains and a stream of vomit poured from my mouth. No sooner did I look around, than another jet stream of puke hit the beach. Some of it graced my pant leg. Standing up wasn’t easy, and the pains continued. I spit vomit out of my mouth and asked where the hospital was. A passerby pointed down the street. I walked, ever so slowly, along Davie Street. Hunched over. I had trouble walking. I was now in a hurry, but my legs weren’t listening to me. Without my energy, I had to hold on to various street fixtures for support. Crawling on my hands and knees was easier. Not so painful and I seemed to get farther that way. I knew I was losing altitude quickly. It was just a matter of finding the right target to crash on.
The distance from Burrard Street to the swinging doors of the ER at St. Paul’s Hospital was about seventy-five yards but it feels like ten miles when you’re crawling. A nurse ran over and asked what was wrong. I replied, “I have pains in my stomach.” Unable to determine the problem, the doctors performed an “abdominal exploratory” operation on me. It was my appendix. They took it out. After ten days of rest and Demerol, I was proclaimed fit for the world. Looking down at the railroad track of stitches on my belly, I wondered what I would tell my friends.
The corridors of the hospital are very narrow and the spaces are tight. That’s probably why it has that homey feeling. The nurses are sweet and the doctors amazing. When it was time to be released, I didn’t want to go. The staff will help you get physically better and they are also concerned about your spiritual health.
Coming from a background in construction, I have always had a love for old architecture, so I became intoxicated with the Victorian and Queen Anne homes of Mole Hill. The owners are friendly and flamboyant, and when I visit the area, I can faintly hear wind chimes, reminding me of my experience there, thirty-five years ago.
I have been back to the east coast several times since, but I couldn’t find my heart there. It was on the west coast along with my appendix!
Even to this day, my knees buckle when I walk past “the house on Mole Hill.”