Three years ago I walked into the Midnight Sun Hotel in Dawson City and met a cute brunette bartender named Darby Jack.
A porcelain-white, freckled brunette with “It could be worse…” tattooed on one forearm and the ohm symbol on the other, she brought me the breakfast menu but I was only looking for a drink. I told her I liked her Transformers T-shirt.
It was Sunday morning, or maybe early afternoon, and I’d been meandering through the unpaved streets of that Yukon town with my friends after a boozy noontime breakfast. Three of us worked for the Whitehorse Star, and had driven up for the weekend to show my friend Spencer a good time. He’d never been to the Klondike before, so we introduced him to the oldest casino in Canada (Diamond Tooth Gertie’s), hobby-drinking out of wine bladders by the Yukon River, and the poetry of Robert Service. I’m pretty sure karaoke was involved somehow, and I lost a couple hundred bucks at poker.
That night I spent 3 a.m. onwards awkwardly face-planted in a hotel bathtub drooling on myself after a miscalculation on my part about appropriate alcohol-intake. (I have a vague memory of a bouncer telling me “Hey man, you can’t sleep in the road.”) I could feel a vengeful hangover hobbling after me as we headed to my friend Gemma’s car to prepare for our five-hour road trip home to Whitehorse, so my ingenious plan was to down two or three more beers before the trip so I could pass out and dodge the oncoming nausea.
It often occurs to me that if I hadn’t decided I needed a drink in that moment, if I hadn’t decided to walk through the old-timey swinging doors of that bar, then maybe I never would’ve ended up nervously flirting with the woman destined to become A) my life partner B) the love of my life and C) my favourite human being of all time. A lot of life’s outcomes seem to hinge on these seemingly purposeless, filler moments and the decisions we make during them.
I would tell you to watch out for them, but the whole point is you can’t see them coming.
Anyways, three weeks post-grad with a history degree from Trent University, Darby had road-tripped north with some itinerant Ontario hipsters after they promised her a cabin to live in. When they flaked out on her, she simply walked into town and asked for a job at the first place she saw. They gave her a position and accommodations on the spot. Her only instructions were to show up the next day and “wear something pretty.”
Apparently it worked.
I keep fixating on our first conversation, years later. I wonder if I really understood what was happening to me. I’d fallen into a custom-designed trap. Though I’d been a boastful, promiscuous lout through my university years and was headed for graduate school a confirmed bachelor, any spectator could’ve guessed that I was punch-drunk enamoured with Darby within moments of hearing her chirpy little voice and checking out her giant, blinking doe-like eyes.
By the time she started offering me free shots of 151 and acting like the attraction was semi-mutual, I was irretrievable.
From that moment onwards, my devotion to Darby (also known as my duckling) has been sometimes embarrassing, always hyperbolic and often very public. Put simply: I’m obsessed.
In the past three years since we’ve become a team, Darby and I have lived in a tiny Maritime cottage, road-tripped across the continent, scootered the Gulf Islands and taken more pictures than anyone could possibly need. We worked at a campground (I was the security guard, she was a cook), got tattoos in Victoria, battled slumlords side-by-side in Halifax and slow-danced on a Tofino beach. At least once a day I look at her and wonder if she’s some sort of illusion, maybe an elaborate long-term dream prank by some Matrix-style villain waiting to wake me up. But the way Darby loves me is feral, generous and comfortable all at once. It kills me.
Anyways, I wanted a chance to introduce Darby to the Nelson community after I neglected to mention her in my introductory piece last month. Of course I’m biased, but I’m going to offer some of my quick observations about her with my remaining word count. Basically she’s an animal-loving pixie and former triathlete with vegan aspirations and the most feelings of any human I’ve ever met. She aspires to one day live in a tiny home, loves hobbits and can produce a life-altering meal in less than four minutes. Her favourite movie is Babe.
Earlier this year Darby was accepted to one of the most prestigious culinary schools in the country, the Culinary Institute of Canada. Not surprising, because Darby is easily the most talented and creative chefs I’ve ever met. Though it was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream (one I’m still determined she’ll see through) we decided that Nelson was our best move if we wanted to focus on getting financially solvent. And, nice as Charlottetown is, Nelson has had a Shangri-La-style allure for Darby since she was a diaper-clad Calgary toddler. When she heard I got the job here, she cried and ran laps around our living room, pumping her fists in the air.
The word I keep hearing about Nelson, over and over, is “refuge.” Already I can feel the healing powers of Elephant Mountain (I picture it as a slumbering, benevolent Ganesh) and there’s something about being surrounded by babies (seriously, so many babies) that’s bound to make you feel youthful and optimistic. Our dog Muppet’s been getting used to trotting around our neighbourhood, we’ve been spending time at Red Sands Beach and canoeing on Kootenay Lake, and I gotta say: this is a pretty nice place you guys all live in.
I think we’ll stick around.