March

March Break: Author Heidi Sopinka Epitomizes the Coming-of-Age Moment

Every month has a mood, a feeling, some combination of memories, moments and nostalgia. You know it—you feel it—even if you’ve never really thought about it. To help encapsulate the moods of the months, we’re asking novelists to take on the calendar and evoke the feelings of each season through fiction, memoir or prose. Here, Heidi Sopinka, award-winning writer and author of The Dictionary of Animal Languages, recalls her run-in with a universal coming-of-age moment: March break. See how other authors have represented your favourite months here.

You lie. You cheat. You overwhelm us with your mixed emotions. Oh, March, you are a teenager throwing your energy into a truth that changes. The sun shines brighter, but the wind gusts colder—a reminder of the great disparity in life between what you want and what you get. It is also the only month we have universally agreed we need a break from.

When I was 11, my parents decided to take my younger brother and older sister on a ski trip to Quebec for March break. My other sister and I were put on a plane on the ides of March to meet my grandparents in Florida. It was a deal that excited us to no end. No parental supervision! Sun! Candy! This was Ronald Reagan-era Daytona Beach: Buicks parked on the sand, teased hair, high-cut neon bikini bottoms, baby oil and “Tainted Love” blaring from boom boxes.

My grandparents had a Cheever-like existence there—golf courses, highballs at lunch stretching into booze-soaked evenings poolside. My sister and I played gin rummy and chain-drank cold Pepsi from the bottle, pretending we were cowboys, popping the caps off the bottles using the edge of the table like my grandfather had shown us. He also led us to a reedy pond out behind their house where yellow ducklings had just hatched. We went every day and fed them our Ritz crumbs. We missed only one feeding—the day we went on a road trip and were, quite possibly, the only kids at Disney World who spent their time draining Shirley Temples at the bar.

We drove to a large American supermarket, and my grandmother bought us Baby Ruths. It was there that my sister smuggled out a copy of Flowers in the Attic. I still remember the black cover with red shutters. I knew it was not a book for kids. At home, on the pullout bed, she read it straight through the night with a flashlight, to the card-shuffling sound of palm trees blowing in the wind.

My sister, who at 13 read Dostoyevsky and Danielle Steel simultaneously, was dazed and weird the next day and eventually handed the book over after I kept bugging her. During our last few days on the beach, I read it, the dazzle of the sun in direct opposition to the book’s dark, carnal attic where Chris and Cathy were going at it despite being tortured, poisoned and…siblings.

On the trip home, I thought we were going to die. The plane encountered such violent turbulence that the teenage family friend who was travelling with us splattered her white pleated pants with bright orange barbeque sauce. When we shakily got off the plane, my parents scooped us up, smiling with their ski tans. My sister and I exchanged looks.

We’d gone to check on the ducklings before leaving for the airport, but they weren’t there. We looked everywhere in a panic. “I think they were big enough to go,” my grandfather said consolingly. We nodded, tossing cracker crumbs anyway.

It is just a filmy scrap of time, but it vibrates somewhere deep inside of you. A time when you haven’t yet found the centre of yourself. It is confusing. It is murderously hard. But who wants easier? Not March. Not even its break.