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I must have missed the disclaimer on the citizenship pamphlet: Becoming a Canadian may result in serious physical scarring.
There I lay on the ice of the curling rink like a crumpled snow angel, a small claret cloud of blood blooming outward from my face. It was my first, and last, attempt at the beloved Canadian winter pastime.
I stood up slowly, groggy and punch-drunk, feeling like I’d just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.
I first came to Canada more than a decade ago on a year out from my university education in England. I wanted to travel the world, forget my textbooks for a while and meet the Canadian relatives I’d recently found out I had in Victoria. I instantly fell in love with the West Coast – the mountains, the ocean, the laid-back vibe.
My cousin, James, took it upon himself to educate me about Canadian culture, from impromptu tests during Canucks hockey games (“tell me again what the icing rule is”) to instructions on the grammatical use of “eh,” my first taste of Kraft Dinner (“it’s better with added cheddar”) and my maiden pilgrimage to the incomparable beauty of Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park.
During games of street hockey, James also taught me how to skilfully lift an opponent’s jersey (“just in case you should ever get into a fight”) and instilled in me a Canadian’s appreciation and overprotective attitude toward the great outdoors.
I can now hum the theme tune to Hockey Night in Canada and snowboard without continually face-planting or shearing chunks of bark off unsuspecting trees.
It was this immersion into Canadian culture that led to me wanting to try curling. A group of work friends were practising for a Bonspiel in Victoria. I met them at the rink in the early evening, armed with a hip flask and several YouTube videos’ worth of instructions on curling techniques. I felt good, I felt ready. Or maybe that was just the Crown Royal talking.
Having watched recent coverage of the Scotties tournament, I was convinced that curling would be as much fun as cricket or baseball. I was wrong, it turned out.
I relished the combination of skill and strategy involved in the sport. I also got a childish pleasure out of yelling “Hurry, hard!” to my sweeping team. By the end of the evening, mostly due to the patient tutelage of my friend, Ryan, my curling prowess was vastly improved and I was beginning to feel fairly confident.
So perhaps my impending accident was somewhat hubristic.
Our final game was a closely fought affair and hinged on the final end of the match. I was throwing the last rock. The pressure was on.
I launched myself down the ice, letting go of the rock, giving it the gentlest of twists to ensure it would pass the obstructing rock at the other end. It was looking good. No, it was looking great.
In my excitement I stood up quickly to get a better view of the rock’s journey down the ice. Normally that would have been fine, but I had placed all my weight on the foot with the plastic slider on it.
Time shifted. I suddenly found myself face down on the ice.
“What am I doing here?” I thought calmly.
Ryan told me later that I’d literally somersaulted backwards, landing not on my hands but my chin.
“Oh man,” said Ryan. “Are you okay?”
As if stoned, I turned to him and told him I was fine.
“Umm – we should probably take you to the ER,” he said, visibly paling.
I was in shock and felt no pain. Being of the macho mould, I felt there was no need to go to the hospital. But I saw the blood, and so headed to the dimly lit bathroom to clean up what I thought was probably a small cut. I looked into the mirror, and lifted my head up.
The large gash in my chin yawned open like the mouth of a guppy. Fifteen minutes, later I was sitting with Ryan in the nearby ER.
We were seen by a young East Indian doctor who stitched up my second mouth. He finally asked the question I’d been dreading: “How’d you do this? Get into a fight or something?”
I reluctantly told him I’d been curling. The doctor paused mid-stitch. I sensed a mixture of incredulity and understanding, as a fellow immigrant, behind his bottle-thick glasses.
A couple of seconds passed before he continued his needlework.
“One word of advice, Marc,” he said. “Don’t tell the girls that.”
Thirteen years later, I am a permanent resident, busy preparing for my final citizenship exam. Unfortunately it won’t ask wannabe Canadians to pick Don Cherry out of a lineup or lament upon the dangers the Enbridge pipeline poses to the western environment. Rather, we need to know about former prime ministers, names of provinces and territories, and names and dates of important pieces of Canadian legislation.
But thanks to my cousin James, I have a deeper understanding of my adopted homeland that goes beyond mere facts and figures. It’s not any wannabe Canadian who can say they’ve bled for their country.
Marc Ellison lives in Vancouver.