BY DON HERALD
Copyright is held by the author.
I COULD never understand her poetry, so I stopped reading it.
If truth be told, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. This is probably the more accurate depiction: I could never understand her, so I stopped trying.
Back in the heady days of first love, I was attracted to her ‘alternative’ vibe. Stella-Rose was fifteen when we met. She was already hanging out in the booze cans of Yorkville, reading her stifling poetry at open mikes, chain-smoking French Gauloises and falling for a Montreal poet named Leonard Cohen, whom she loved but had never met.
Stella-Rose’s parents always thought their precious daughter — odd though her clothing and hobbies were — was staying over at Mercedes’ house. In their innocence, they never thought it unusual that every Friday and Saturday night during the summer of ‘62, Mercedes held a “sleepover.”
Mercedes’ parents never thought to check with Stella-Rose’s parents if their daughter was staying there for the weekend. Both young women played their parents’ innocence beautifully.
September to June, they’d change into their Yorkville costumes in the locker room at school on Friday afternoon, hop the 4:15 Go train to Union Station, then walk or bus the fifteen blocks north to Yorkville. The summer of ‘62, they’d change in the restroom at Union, stow their suburban girl gear in a locker, then head uptown. They had the entire process dialed in. It never failed them until it did.
In the summer of ‘62, Stella-Rose babysat for the McIntyre’s — our next-door neighbours from Monday to Thursday. Both parents worked, so Stella-Rose had the run of their place provided she kept a serious eye on the two younger McIntyres — Sofia, age six and Henri, age four. She did an excellent job of it, I must say. She’d give them crafts to do out by the pool while she sat under a large yellow umbrella, writing her terrible poetry and strumming tunelessly on an old beat-up Martin she’d found at the United Church rummage sale back in March.
That summer, I was home recovering from mono, so I’d slip over to the McIntyre’s pool and listen to Stella-Rose’s angst-filled prose that she read aloud to ‘better catch the rhythms and passion of my words.’
I could never figure out what the hell she was trying to say in her lines. But it didn’t matter because Stella-Rose loved her words and thoughts more than enough for both of us.
I want to tell you that Stella-Rose and I were going steady back then. I loved her as only a fifteen-year-old, hormonally super-charged boy could. But for Stella-Rose, I was only an asexual audience of one for her poetry, music, and shared fantasies of a sexually steamy life with Cohen or sometimes Dylan.
Of course, her black, two-piece bathing suit that left just enough for my youthful imagination to feed on – well, let’s say that it wasn’t her stupid poetry that made me love her; it was my out-of-control fantasies of that black bathing suit that drew me to her. Like a summer moth to a bright, hot flame.
One Saturday evening, it all ended.
Unknown to Stella-Rose and Mercedes, Stella-Rose’s parents were attending a client dinner party at the Intercontinental on the evening of September 15th. While waiting in the hotel lobby for Mr. Roxton’s clients to arrive, Mrs. Roxton happened to see her daughter stroll by on the arm of a bearded, beaded and bombed-out-of-his-mind beatnik kid of indeterminate age.
‘Oh, my God, that’s our Stella-Rose out there,’ shouted Mrs. Roxton.
‘What in hell is she wearing? Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t that Mercedes with her? Shit, Roger, this can’t be happening to us.’
But it was.
The client’s party was missed. A lucrative business opportunity lost.
For the girls, their Yorkville gig was up.
Of course, there was a scene when a frantic Mr. and Mrs. Roxton rushed out onto the sidewalk in front of the Intercontinental and snatched their daughter from the arms of that dissolute man-child.
I’m told it was epic as such ‘rescue’ scenes go.
Someone called the police. There was a lot of shouting, swearing and impossible threats. Stella-Rose apparently kicked one of the officers trying to restrain her. The girls ended up in back of a cruiser on their way to a meeting with a grumpy Sergeant at 53 Division. A totally pissed beat cop angrily ordered her parents to ‘find your damn car. Get your asses over to the 53. It’s on Eglinton, just west of Yonge. Obviously, we’ve all got some serious sorting out to do.’
Stella-Rose never returned to our school. Her father accepted a transfer to the Winnipeg office, so the family left our neighbourhood within a couple of weeks.
Of course, many stories were flying around school for weeks about what happened that night in Yorkville. Mercedes knew, but she wasn’t talking. Her silence just added to the delicious mystery of it all. And that’s just how she wanted it.
Many years later, I sometimes wonder what happened to Winnipeg’s Stella-Rose.
Is she still writing poetry?
Poetry I could never understand back in the 60s. Probably not even now.
Perhaps it’s his lengthy career in social work and organizational consulting, but Don delights in taking note of common life events that twist unexpectedly or the intriguing personalities he sometimes encounters in his daily activities. These observations provide the inspiration for many of the situations and characters that eventually appear in his stories. Don’s short fiction, flash and poetry are being published online in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. He is a co-founder and active Writers’ Group of Peterborough (Ontario) member.