Among Sheep

Johnny Libenzon
25 min readJan 28, 2023
What is the value of being authentic if you have nothing of value to contribute? [Art by Sergei Demidov]

I’m not going to tell you a story. Stories are for people, and you’re just something I dreamed up, long ago, back when I was still afraid of sleep. Something I hugged close to the chest to keep the night terrors away.

Don’t really think there’s anyone I can tell other than you. Who would believe me if I did, anyway? Shit, I don’t believe it myself, and it’s only been a week since I saw them in the first place. But my therapist says I’m supposed to find an outlet to make sure things don’t get bottled up inside, so here we are.

Guess you won’t talk back, considering you’re a teddy bear and all. Teddy bears are good listeners though. The big ears probably help, guess that’s why we named you Kokkili (uh, ‘Elephant.’)

Oh good, looks like I’m back to humor. Better than the hyperventilation and copious melatonin of last night. Maybe tomorrow I’ll bring Aunt Margaret’s woodcutter’s ax and chop some branches down to tire myself out. Apparently associating violence with a release of grief and fear is bad for you though? Like going toe-to-toe with a punching bag and pretending you’re a young Mike Tyson is the same as pretending you’re beating the crap out of a living, breathing person. I don’t know if I believe that sort of thing, but I’m not gonna pretend to know much about human psychology and trauma.

Am I traumatized? No. No, I don’t think so. To think that way would discredit those that have actually gone through some crazy shit. Or… I don’t know. God, I don’t know. I think I’m losing my mind. Maybe I should just get on with this before I lose the thread.

So starting again: This is not a story. This really did happen. To me. Crazy as it is just remembering it.

Alright, so, quick summary for you again in case you forgot: Dad is… was Korean, my mom of a similar heritage, different region, and then there was me trying to keep my shit together in the middle. Older brother went into tech, graduated summa cum laude, made in half a decade more money than he knew what to do considering the man probably bought one shirt a season, and is probably gonna go run off and found yet another successful startup (okay but what does ‘hyperautomation’ really mean? Automation on crack?) while I’m here with my bachelor’s in journalism and zero desire to do anything other than freelancing and taking care of Mimi.

Mimi is the cat. You remember the last time the two of you met, don’t you? Took me like three hours to sew you up afterwards.

Anyway — Aunt Margaret. I mentioned her because that’s where we are, over at her cottage just south of where I first saw the… them.

Okay, this isn’t going well. I’ll start at the beginning.

Margaret and her sister — my mom — moved here with just the clothes on their backs. It was the late 80’s, and I suppose most teenagers in Korea at the time probably still saw North America as this massive land of opportunity, filled with milk and honey and places to plant new roots and grow in. The way they tell it, survival wasn’t so much the goal as prosperity; they had big dreams, both of them, at the start. Mom apparently wanted to become an actress, while my aunt wanted to be a world-renowned architect. My dad was different.

When I was young, I wanted to be a poet. Instead I became a… Well, going through college for something doesn’t necessarily lock you in to anything. Sure I might’ve majored in Journalism with a minor in East-Asian History, but that doesn’t mean much when you don’t put it into practice.

First thing I did after graduating was try to get a job as an editor. Which didn’t work out, naturally. Things change, people tell you to be realistic when you have no internships or major credits to your name, and eventually you start to believe them. Your family tries to be supportive, of course, but that only goes so far and eventually the ‘patience’ they’ve been praising you for instead turns into ‘complacency.’ Then you finally do get that internship, and you’re proud of how far you’ve come. And it’s hard, sure, but you’re learning a lot, building those connections, learning the ropes.

Then your dad dies. And the world gets a little colder.

I dropped out of the internship practically the next day, and with only a few months to go. They understood why, of course, but I couldn’t help but feel some judgment from the senior editors. The ones lifting a brow and probably imagining that, in my position, I should have pushed past it and shown my resilience if I was really serious about reaching the big leagues. Anyway, fuck them.

It’s been a year since he passed away. In that time, I haven’t really written anything of note.

You know, times like these, I can’t help but be grateful for my mother. She was… strong. Stronger than I ever gave her credit for, anyway, holding the family together while grieving behind closed doors. And my brother, too. I think some part of his tech-craze came from his eagerness to drown himself in money and the sounds of the digital industry. And yet, though I thought he was too far gone to care, he was there when we needed him.

And I was strong too. In the past, I’d say things like ‘oh, I hope I did right by them…’ but I know I did. They’ve expressed it enough, my mom and brother, my aunts and uncles and cousins and all, that I don’t need to second-guess myself. I kept the fire burning long enough to take us out of that darkness.

Probably why I didn’t realize just how far I myself was slipping until mom dragged it out of me, and sent me here: Aunt Margaret’s old cottage. Used to be owned by some hunter years ago, but I guess Margaret figured she could fix it up and use it as a home-away-from-home, and even still visits with her own family about once a year for a few weeks (“Come with us Anna, all that city air is making your lungs dirty!”) It’s in a pretty sparsely populated part of northern Quebec, where I’m sure the locals don’t know much English and I’m not confident my middle-school French will be enough to understand anything they’re saying. Good thing I haven’t seen many people around, as well as frantically pointing your finger at Google Maps being a universal constant.

Anyway, it seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t currently working, and some time alone to clean out the cottage and make it my writing nook for a few weeks would be nice. They helped me bring up all the supplies I’d need to last, and the wifi, while spotty, was good enough for what research I’d hopefully be doing.

When I had arrived at the cottage, I had marveled at the changing colors of the red-brown leaves on the way and loved the exposed brick walls and sweeping views of the forest from the windows, but the interior was in a sorry state. There’d been some hasty attempt at cleanup at the end of the summer, but coming back only a few months later to find cups in the sink, dust having made a nest in all the furniture and stains of every color and texture was not a vote of confidence in favor of Margaret’s four children. I had my work cut out for me.

It took many hours, but the time flows quickly when you’ve got a mask on, hair in a ponytail, broom in hand, and a clear objective. In time, dust gave way to spotless surfaces. The air got easier to breathe, and the mask came off (which I’m sure my pores will be thankful for.) I could see the floorboards again. I placed my only sentimental belongings I’d brought with me for the next few weeks — a small, raggedy teddy bear I’m sure you’re well-acquainted with — on the sofa. Then memories came back, unbidden and unresolved threads pulling at me, and I pushed it all away. Instead, I decided to focus on topics for my writing. It was why I was here, after all, instead of taking some caretaker role that my mom had found for me through some connections of hers; because I insisted that this was my calling.

The good news was that I had sifted through dozens of potential topics to pick one that spoke to me: A piece on the story of the women in my life, and the struggle to assimilate in Canada following a brutal immigration process. My mother and Margaret had both clawed their way through a society that constantly moved at breakneck pace to get to where they are now, yet they’d never accomplished what they’d originally hoped to achieve when they reached these shores. Their stories needed to be told. It was a compelling, sensitive topic that I could handle with care, especially in these times, and something I thought I could relate to on a deeply personal level.

The bad news was that though my brain was telling my fingers to hit the keyboard, the words I was writing rarely formed sentences worth reading.

I sat in the living room for what felt like an eternity, the glass table reflecting a muddled idea of my own appearance back to me: hair in a bun to hide its present state, dark-rimmed reading glasses, bags under the eyes. I remember staring down at the mess I had sprawled out so far. It was rambling, incoherent. It wasn’t worth anything to anyone. I hated those words. I hated writing. I hated myself —

My stomach growled. A welcome distraction. I remember thinking hey, I should get a cheeseburger or go out for some hotpot! Oh, right, I willingly put myself in the middle of Bum Fuck Nowhere, Quebec! Amazing decision-making, Anna!

But then I remembered that mom had packed a cookbook, which was currently masquerading as a rough journal filled with traditional Korean recipes. Well, trying to wake up whatever dormant part of my culture still swims around inside might be a good way to get in touch with the ‘inner me.’ I figured I already had whatever ingredients were necessary for at least some or most of the recipes in the book, and it’s not like I had to start writing today. Getting into the groove of things was equally important. So I stood up, and began to decide on dinner instead.

The fall had gotten a stranglehold on this part of the state and hadn’t let it go even as the snow came in, leaving not a single green leaf in sight. The colors, the reds mixing with the orange, reminded me of a stew that my grandmother often made — the way my halmoni made it was better than what I’d usually get at restaurants over here, but isn’t that always how it is? Of course, she made many different soups, so there was no way to know if this particular item was the right one. But I knew it was pork-based, as so many others were, but it’s possible my grandmother used beef as I remember her having an aversion to pork. Ah, and I shouldn’t go for a recipe with onions, either. My poor sensitive eyes.

See that? Useless mental gymnastics, going on about this soup or that. A hallmark for me when I’m suppressing something. Just pick a recipe already, dumbass.

No, no, unkind words to one’s self are unbecoming… never call yourself something rude, even in jest, lest it add salt to unresolved wounds in your subconscious…

Ha. Old readings die hard. Taking that ‘Art of Self-Compassion’ seminar in college was worth something after all.

It was strange, seeing so many recipes written by hand. I’d gotten accustomed to buying neatly printed books with pictures and ordered guidance inside of them. Instead, the only tips to be found in this book were the hasty markings likely scribbled in by my grandmother mid-cooking whenever she’d gotten excited over a new way to make the dish even more delicious. Of course, that meant every page involved deciphering the actual recipe among the wreckage. This took me the better part of an hour, during which I transcribed what I understood to be the ‘core’ of the steps in the process and put them to a notepad. Well, time to get to work.

I’ll spare you the details of what my hands were doing. I just know that while I was busy preparing the ingredients, my mind was concentrated on what the dish represented.

“Budae Jjigae, or ‘Army Stew’ as it’s more commonly known in the West, was at first considered a food of desperation, but later seen as a show of resourcefulness following a time of great strife,” I recited to myself, remembering my own learnings. The end of the Korean War meant the loss of structure and access to the things people once considered plentiful, and starvation could only be avoided by filling a metal bowl with whatever one could acquire from the markets near U.S Army bases. Luncheon meat, spam, becomes a delicacy when filled in with the spices, soy sauce, rice wine and other sources of flavor. Its warmth fills the belly, and its story completes the soul.

The food of desperation — the food of the immigrant, some might say. Yet it is a testament to the fortitude of my grandparents’ and great-grandparent’s generations that they could rub two nickels together and make a quarter. That even then they knew, despite the economic heartache of a country in flux, they were more than the sum of their parts. I’ve often wondered if talking like this is something best left for the historians and the people building documentaries. My family did not like to discuss it, that was for sure, and it almost seems like the types of people that actually enjoy the idea of reading about the so-called ‘immigrant experience’ are either those that have little to no basis of comparison or the children of immigrants trying to connect with parents reticent about the details of their upbringing.

As I cooked, I remember hearing noises outside. Coyotes, perhaps? Funny, thinking back on it, that I didn’t automatically assume there was something inherently wrong with the sound of canine howls filling the cold air. My mind was on other things — the stew, the history, the memories associated with the food I ate. Wandering away from such a clear objective was no good, and there were stories I needed to tell myself before I told them to the world.

But what are stories? My initial foray into journalism was guided by a love for the telling of personal tales, of love and loss and sacrifice in the face of overwhelming desperation. Breaking news was one thing, but to tell the real-life, modern romance of a boy from the slums that loved a girl living in a penthouse, that modern Shakespearean tragedy, brought more pleasure and felt far more real.

Would anyone care for my words, in this age of popcorn entertainment and sensationalism?

I went out in the early hours of the morning. To walk my overindulgence in the stew off, naturally, and get a good vantage point to watch the sun come up.

It’s funny; I remember feeling the chill of early winter in spite of my peacoat, I remember that in that peacoat were my usual pocket knife (to cut off flowers I might have liked to bring back) and advil for my cramps, I remember the leaves and thin patches of ice cracking under my feet, I remember smelling pine… but most of all, I remember thinking about authenticity.

There’s no shortage of things to write about when you’re lost. In fact, one might think it would be the opposite, that feeling aimless means you can’t quite figure out what to focus on, but in fact aimlessness lends itself to creative liberty.

You see, there’s simply too much I could be doing, and no clear idea of what the ‘best’ option would be. I tell myself that I should start something, anything, and then the rest of the words will flow, but this is easier said than done.

I think I’d like to cry, but it’s cold. My tears might freeze on my cheeks, and then I’d need to wipe them but I’d still feel the chill on my skin… no, I think I’ll hold off for now. Maybe after a Heineken.

Howling again. I remember hearing it, closer and louder, but paid it no heed. It wasn’t dark enough for coyotes to come out and play anymore. And it didn’t matter, even if they did. I simply did not care. The red light of the sun, which provided little warmth now, soothed me.

Anyway: Authenticity, right? The problem with that sort of thing is that no one is truly authentic — or at least, not in the way they think. That which people usually conflate with authenticity is really ‘immediate honesty,’ which is to say, when someone says what they think they believe in the moment. But most people are not honest with themselves.

There’s a kind of fear that comes with examining your own beliefs critically. For example, in that moment on my walk, I imagined that if a coyote attacked me, I’d fend it off by screaming my head off and kicking it in the maw if it tried to bite me. In reality, I probably would have froze, and it would have chosen to spare me out of pity more than anything.

But that’s besides the point, so let’s just get to the big question and the source of all this introspection. Sorry for stringing you along, but I figured it would make more sense if you walked in my footsteps. Here we go…

What is the value of being authentic if you have nothing of value to contribute?

I think that really is my core fear, and perhaps in some ways the fear of everyone who writes not to tell their own stories but instead to explore the journeys of others. The idea behind my contribution should be simple, after all; that I am helping give those whose songs have been left unsung for years or decades some faint limelight. I should see that as my purpose — giving a voice to the voiceless.

But am I creating anything new? Am I building something only I can build? Is anyone? Part of me wonders if I should listen to my parents, take the caretaker job after all. I’m not trained as a nurse, so the pay wouldn’t be anything to fawn over, but it would be a purpose.

I’m not sure if this makes sense, but part of me feels as though there is some universal experience between immigrants and creatives. A cosmic fear of inability to break new ground. Where my parents had dreams of entering a society filled with builders and bankers and becoming someone of notice there, I have dreams of entering a field filled with visionaries and world-renowned personalities and somehow contributing something new to it all. For every Margaret Cho or Daniel Dae Kim in the crowd, there’s a thousand John Smiths and Jane Does all fading to gray. It’s harder to quantify ‘positive’ change in that world, where everything seems blurry. Taking care of some old people and having them thank you to your face is like staring through glass in comparison.

And we had different struggles. I know they had it harder than I did, I’m not trying to make it seem like trying to break into the industry is somehow comparable to leaving your home in the hopes of making it big elsewhere. I’m really not.

But I want to. And I fear how people will look at me for comparing the two, knowing one is seen as far more emotionally and physically taxing over the other. Yet this is how I truly feel. Authenticity, authenticity…

Another howl. This time, however, it seemed more emotive and desperate. A cry of pain.

I remember running. Something about hearing animals in pain always got to me. We had a cat once, a Russian Blue. Once, when I was ten, my brother stepped on her paw and she yowled out in pain. I held her in my lap for hours, cooing to her as if she could understand me.

The source of this howl was coming from a meadow in the distance. I knew where I was going, out past the broken chain link fence that once held grazing cows.

No coyote, but it was a canine creature of sorts. It had disproportionately lanky limbs, a longer torso, a protruding snout, and its wail of despair seemed altogether more human. It thrashed around on the ground, kicking clumps of snow around to reveal the straw-like dead grass underneath. Its foot — paw — had been impaled on a rusty spike hiding under the snow, likely left out by the hunter that had once owned the cottage. Nearby, in a snowbank, something pink and oddly shaped was protruding. The creature was yelling, no, screaming, in pain.

I’ll admit, I was paralyzed when I first saw it. I watched it thrash around for several good moments, during which anyone else that happened to walk by would’ve probably thought I was torturing the creature, but eventually I did act. I moved towards the place where its palm had been impaled by the half-hidden iron spike on the ground, falling to my knees in the snow, and reached out.

Pain. It growled, as if only just noticing me, and whipped my hand away with the other paw with nearly enough force to knock the glove off.

Snowfall. I remember it going everywhere as I flung myself back to avoid a potential followup, sending crystals of snow flying into the air before they all fell gently back to the earth. I remember breathing like I’d just run a marathon. At this distance, the werewolf was less imposing than I first imagined it being, smaller than myself at the very least, and it was inhaling and exhaling at an even more rapid rate than I was.

Hyperventilating. It was terrified — of myself or the trap, likely both, but in that moment primarily me. Tears dribbled from its wide eyelids, and it brought its jaws together and growled at me from in between locked teeth. I thought this would make me sad. Instead, I just remember my fleeting memories of my father… and rage.

“Shut the fuck up!”

It winced at the sound of my anger. The cries it had been making subsided, replaced with a dull whimper.

I moved slowly towards it. All around us, the leafless trees all seemed to blur together, resembling a wooden cage.

The trap was set deep in the beast’s paw, but at least it was not attempting to claw my face this time. I lifted the spike alongside its paw, disabling the locking mechanism underneath that took snapping both release levers off at the same time. It made sense, in a way, as the animal could not accidentally take it off with its other paw. It would need two functioning limbs to do it.

I don’t have the strongest of hands, but I struggled hard against the metal stubbornly refusing to release its prey. The wolf writhed in pain, I did my best to soothe it far more gently than before, though the gory mess of the situation caused my words to titter with a frantic energy. I would pull one way, and the spike would decide to move against me, causing my own demeanor to shift noticeably and all the while attempting to keep things stable for the sake of the crying wolf.

It took several minutes before I was able to fully dislodge the spike without tearing more of the werewolf’s flesh, sending it flying off into the snowbank. Red blood spilled from the resulting wound, so I tore some fabric from my shirt with the pocket knife I’d kept in my coat to make a bandage. I had just finished tightening it over the wound, feeling the furred body of the creature breathing low under my freezing fingers, when the first fit of laughter hit me.

The snow had begun to fall again, crystallizing delicately on the trees above.

A chill was coming in from the north.

A werewolf had been saved from a harrowingly slow death by a girl that happened to be taking a walk.

The girl was Korean-Canadian, and slowly rediscovering what those words meant when put together.

Her hands had been warm when making soup, and now her right hand was cold.

Her right hand was cold because her glove was laying several feet away in the snow.

It had been knocked off by the werewolf.

The werewolf had done so because it was in pain.

It was in pain because of the metal that had impaled its paw.

The metal was gone because the girl had removed it.

She had removed it because she didn’t want someone else to die.

The werewolf did not die, so she laughed.

She was laughing to avoid sobbing.

Anna was… I was centering myself.

You know, they don’t really put that part in most of the movies — when the protagonists find out supernatural shit is real after all and have to deal with it, there’s either delight or terror. It’s rare that you see the other thing that comes creeping into your mind: Doubt. Doubt in spades, doubt in all the little places. Something this fundamental to your understanding of reality has turned out to be false, so who knows what else might not be true either? It doesn’t just twist your worldview in on itself, but it shatters your own confidence in being able to tell what is real from what is not.

Yet the world gets bigger, too. The scope of what you thought you knew becomes grander. So you can’t help but laugh. And you can’t help but cry.

It was staring at me, the wolf-thing. Its breathing has calmed to a point where I could clearly make out the gusts of cold breath passing through its jaws. Its fear had gone away, replaced instead with what seemed to be cautious curiosity as it crouched there, using its uninjured hand to nurse the bloodied one. I did not know what to say for a long time, even after I’d finished wiping my tears. Until I said,

“I’m sorry for yelling at you,”

And I could tell it forgave me because it gave a very human response: A shrug.

Then it looked up, and I felt fear again when I realized why the back of my neck was feeling warmer than before.

The werewolf behind me was far larger and more imposing than the one I had saved. Its fur was a coarse black, eyes gleaming red. It radiated heat from its massive bulk, and just from my position sitting in front of it, I imagined it’d rival a grizzly in size and sheer potential for violence. It bared its teeth at me, curling its lips back to expose long, jagged fangs coated in dark saliva. But despite its menacing form, I didn’t feel any violent intention in its body.

Spacibo,” the larger werewolf spat, its voice rumbling out in a foreign tongue. “Thank you for having saved my daughter. I am in your debt.”

It takes a moment for me to track the accent as something vaguely Eastern European, as difficult as it might be to discern through the growly way it speaks.

“You’re welcome,” I remember saying in a small voice. Fuck, I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my life. “In return, you can… um… not eat me?”

The werewolf made an odd sound between a bark and a howl. Laughter, probably.

“Ha, ha… yes, I think I can manage that much at least. Dasha, show me what happened,” it said, turning its canine head to address the smaller werewolf.

The werewolf that I’d saved showed her bandaged arm to the larger creature, at which the larger wolf made a sort of gentle tisking sound. I wondered, at that moment, whether it was the mother or the father, as there was little evidence of gender in the massive furred body breathing slowly before me. I suppose it didn’t really matter.

“Ah, farmer’s trap? Bivait, shto dyelat. It will heal with time, but for now I carry you.”

The smaller wolf raised her head.

Prasti, mama.

The larger werewolf made that bark-howl again.

“There is nothing to be forgiving. The world can be cruel, yes, but good festers just as well — no, better! Even better! — than evil.”

Dasha, the one I had patched up earlier, raised herself up from the snow. She shook it out of her fur, sending some particles my way and coating one half of my face. I did not move, in spite of the biting cold on my cheek, for fear of startling either of the beasts.

I watched Dasha stumble off towards the snowback and retrieve that oddity I saw before. In its jaws, the object — which resembled a sack — hung limp, bubblegum pink and covered in little polka dots. It was a backpack. Looked like something you’d find lining the back-to-school aisle of a Walmart.

When Dasha returned, I found it in me again to move my limbs. I remember slowly raising myself to my feet, though they shook with what I could only assume to be frostbite, and propping myself up against a nearby tree. I think I even scraped my elbow through the arm of my coat. Dasha’s mother, meanwhile, allowed her daughter to climb up onto her back.

“Her papa is nearby. We will be going now,” the larger wolf said. It took me a moment to realize I was the one she was addressing. “Thank you for your help. You have a dobraya dusha, as we say.”

“Same to you.” I don’t think my voice had ever been smaller, but at least I’d settled somewhat since the original shock. “And good luck getting there, wherever you’re headed.”

“Oh, West, probably. More opportunities they say. Immigration is a difficult business, but we will do the work. And besides, my happiness is second in life.” The mother wolf somehow shrugged, though I can’t remember how it looked. I found it funny how similar her mannerisms were to my own family. Talking incessantly at the proverbial doorway even after we’d essentially said our goodbyes. “As the saying goes, ‘we only’… ah, I see your face. Another child of immigrants, yes?”

“Yes.” The degree says summa cum laude, don’t fail me now. “Immigrants who spoke the same way you do. They put their hopes on themselves, and when that failed, it fell to my brother and I.”

“I understand your fears, but I do not need Dasha to build Rome for me. I need no Romulus’ or Remus’ in my life. She can build Rome for herself, whether we are in it or not.”

“And what if she doesn’t know if she wants to build Rome? What if she doesn’t know what she wants?”

“Oh, milaya dyevushka, people always know what they want. Most are simply too afraid to chase after it. Yes, they make up reasons for why they cannot commit themselves to run after the rabbit of their dreams, but they always know.”

“And was this your dream?” Keeping myself steady was a lost cause at that point. “Running through the snow? Avoiding iron traps all day long, searching for some mythical paradise in the West?”

“Of course not,” the wolfmother said, “But that does not mean I regret chasing it all the same.”

I wanted to say so much more. Some part of me wanted to rally all my bottled-up angst and ask her if Dasha ever wanted to go to a country where she had to assimilate into foreign culture in order to survive, while another part wanted to beg this creature for the privilege of granting me a journalistic breakthrough like no other. The timing of someone like this happening to me and my own internal struggle seemed too convenient, too perfect to let pass me by. I wanted her to stay and talk.

No words left my mouth. Instead I watched them leave. Stood motionless as the mother thanked me again and passed me by, the smell of hickory and wet fur faint in the breeze. Dasha looked at me from her mother’s back and knelt her head down slightly, which I took as a stilted bow of appreciation. Only when they’d disappeared into the woods, the trees and snow banks swallowing up their presence like a gaping winter maw, did I turn back on the path towards the cottage.

Somewhere along the way, I remember looking back to a hill in the distance and seeing them again. The figures up among the more sparsely populated trees were small, but I recognized them, though this time there were three. The newcomer was a hulking beast, similar in form to his wife but larger, like a well-fed grizzly. On its black-furred body there sat multiple bags and boxes, making the werewolf appear more beast of burden than ferocious predator. I saw the wolffather extend his head out towards his wife, who nuzzled it gently from below. I thought I saw Dasha do the same, but it was hard to tell from that distance.

They disappeared over the horizon. I went back inside the cottage.

I don’t see the point in going into detail about what happened as soon as I got home, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise based on the fact that I’m talking to a teddy bear right now: I went a little nuts. Threw some stuff around, screamed into a pillow, hyperventilated a bit, puked twice (once before tea, again after tea), took a cold shower. Now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure what order all of that happened, but I’d like to think the shower came last.

You know, telling it back to myself, I don’t know why so much of it shocked me. Besides the fact that I saw a real-life, actual werewolf, the rest was somber at best and strangely uplifting at most. I mean, I basically just met a supernatural monster and it told me to follow my dreams. Kinda inspiring if you ask me.

I think there’s more pain — or even envy, wrath, other sins — than I’d let on. I don’t know how much of my upbringing affected me and how much of it I am to blame for, but at the end of the day it’s all me and how I perceive the world. The truth is, I don’t think the reason I’m so shaken by all this is because I saw something human eyes were potentially never meant to see. Instead, I wonder if I was ashamed of myself, and the thoughts going through my head that led to that conversation with the wolfmother.

Maybe I just wished I’d been given the same clemency by my parents that Dasha will have.

That’s not a satisfying answer, I know, but I think everything stems from that. The if onlys of life all congregating together to build an asylum in my mind that prevents me from chasing something real. Part of me wonders how many of my fears stem from that fear that Dasha will never have, of not being able to fail and grow with dignity. I wonder if she will run towards bigger dreams, knowing her mother and father will be there no matter what. I wonder if I am projecting my own problems on a family I’d only just met in passing.

I’m not sure I know where to really go from here, but I think… I think I’ll ask my mom about the caretaker role again. Not now, of course, I still have writing to do. But perhaps it might enable me with that sense of purpose I need, and give me stories to tell. Give a voice to the voiceless, feel like I’m actually doing something I can clearly see the result of along the way.

I know what you’re thinking, and no, this isn’t a compromise. It’s a decision spurned by a new worldview and different understanding of who I think I’m meant to be. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing, if that’s what you’re worried about. I honestly doubt I could if I tried.

Thanks for being there, Kokkili. The big fluffy ears really do help, but you have big, soft eyes too. It feels like you’re listening with your heart.

I think I’ll stay at the cottage another week. Get all my thoughts out onto digital paper, let them burn through the metaphorical forest of my mind. And once that’s done, I’ll go, and I’ll start some courses on how to care for those that need help caring for themselves. Funny, guess that applies to all of us really.

Well that’s enough of that. You’re not going anywhere, but for the first time in a long time… I think I’m actually in a good mood.

I’ll stay true to myself, Kokkili. I promise. I’ll stay authentic in the face of it all. Not totally sure of what I want in the long-term and my place in this industry, this world, but that’s okay. I have time, and I have support, and I’ll find my own voice along the way. I’ll build my own little Rome for myself, like she said, and I think that’s all I really need anyway.

So, time to get writing.



Johnny Libenzon

Toronto-based aspiring author writing a mix of sci-fi and 'rural fantasy' short stories