In this week’s edition of Feature Friday, we are thrilled to bring you an excerpt from Chelene Knight’s Dear Current Occupant, a creative nonfiction memoir about home and belonging set in the 80s and 90s of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Using a variety of forms including letters, essays and poems, Knight reflects on her childhood through a series of letters addressed to all of the current occupants now living in the twenty different houses she moved in and out of with her mother and brother.
In a review for the Toronto Star, Tara Henley writes, “the beauty of this book is that we also get to celebrate with its adult author. Admire her talent and tenacity. Her ability to take all this raw material and transform it into something exquisite.” Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Best Place on Earth, says that Dear Current Occupant “triumphantly melds together prose, poetry, letters and imagery, to illuminate the pain of un-belonging, the search for a home, and the power of words to heal and transform us.”
We hope you enjoy the following excerpts from Dear Current Occupant. Happy reading!
From Dear Current Occupant:
Dear Current Occupant—Letter to Santa
Don’t ever leave your favourite book unattended. Imagine someone else turning its pages, creasing its spine, running their fingers up and down the words you’ve already memorized. There’s something you need to know about winter.
You’ll spend your first ten years wishing for snow. You’ll peer out from frosted windows waiting for the sky to offer cold flakes. Your eyes will remain frozen in a way no one can explain. You’ll sit alone in your room writing letters about what you didn’t want. But—what is it you need? Make a list of the thing you don’t want. Clear the space. Make room.
Leave them your rings, your bike, your hair clips, your headbands, your books, your first bra, your handwritten notes, your favourite shirt, your old teddy bear, your fear, your sadness, your last-calls, your please-helps, your no-one-will-love-yous, your you-don’t-fit-heres, your no-not-yous, your not-really-what-we-wanteds. Just go ahead and leave them the rings, the coins in between the couch cushions, the one morning cartoon, the last slice of bread, the mismatched socks, the missing spoons, the expired milk,
just make sure you leave them my goddamn rings.
I didn’t have a father. The one time I went to his house, I knew I didn’t fit there. The carpet hugged the space between my toes. So many stairs. Down, up, down again. Never-ending stairs. His son and daughter had their own rooms. His wife had short hair. The kitchen table held large dishes of corn, potatoes, tandoori-style chicken. I was drawn to serving spoons, their largeness, what they could hold—what they could dump out. One spoon had a plastic black handle. The other, metal. I wanted those spoons.
I sat across from my father. My half-brother to my left, my half-sister to my right. I was in the middle even though I was on the outside, and older. They were more interested in each other than in me. Bobbed and weaved around me while they laughed and whispered in each other’s ears. They knew he didn’t want me there. I watched my father eat. I was young. His mouth and nose matched mine. He held his fork with a firm grip. His knuckles white. We reached for the pepper at the same time. I looked down at my plate until he was done. Pepper was my favourite. His too. Both our plates covered in black specks.
No one asked me about school, or friends, or writing, or home. No one asked me about home. I didn’t know how I got there, to this house built not for me. I wanted to take the bus, sit at the back, open the window, and let the wind bury my face in my hands, never go back there.
Instead, I slept in the basement on an L-shaped couch. Surrounded by boxes, old exercise equipment, and items to be discarded labelled “Barely yard sale worthy.” My eyes held the ceiling up all night.
“One day I will teach you to drive,” he said.
Two and a half decades pass.
I never got my licence but I have two large serving spoons in my kitchen drawer.
Order your copy of Dear Current Occupant here.
Chelene Knight was born in Vancouver, and is currently the Managing Editor of Room Magazine. A graduate of The Writers’ Studio at SFU, Chelene has been published in various Canadian and American literary magazines. Her debut book, Braided Skin, was published in 2015. Dear Current Occupant is her second book. Chelene is also working on a historical novel set in the 1930s and 40s in Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley.