The Night I Drunk Drove Myself To Canada

modeling photo from 1987 in Chicago

One night in 1987, while in my apartment alone in Chicago, I remember staring at myself in the mirror while I was wearing a yellow swimsuit. I was fixated on the lack of empty space that existed between my thighs when standing with my feet together. The empty space had gone away and my inner thighs touched each other. In my mind, this was bad. This meant I wasn’t skinny enough any more.

The day before, I had someone buy me a bottle of Vodka and I started to drink it that night. As I stared at myself in the mirror, getting drunker by the second, I began to cry. I continued to stand in front of the mirror, staring at my miserable self. I was “fat”. I knew I would never be able to be as skinny as the anorexic models. I couldn’t starve myself very well. And bulimia wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I continued to stare at myself in that mirror for another fifteen minutes.

As the liquor coursed through my body, I started to feel a little better. I began to feel more like myself again. I felt a bit of happiness, real happiness. In a flashing moment, I felt the tremendous urge to leave Chicago, to leave the hideous world of modeling forever. I wanted to tell everyone who had damaged me to “fuck off.” I thought it would be great just to get lost somewhere without any plan, without anyone knowing where I’d gone. The alcohol made me think this was possible.

It’s very difficult to instantly get out of a career, especially when everyone else you know is in it. You get emotionally bonded to the people you work with and more importantly, you get addicted to the money it gives you. The longer you do it, the more dependent you become. You start defining your identity in its narrow terms. In no time at all, you become a slave to it. You start to obey the rules, even if they are fucked up rules, because you don’t know what to do with yourself outside of this narrow focus. After years and years of this kind of work, you become a stranger to yourself. You surround yourself with people who are just as fucked up as you are and then you begin to think that this life is normal. It is not.

I scanned my apartment. All I had were two suitcases, a 35mm camera and some clothes. It would be easy just to drive away, but where would I go? What about my career? What about all the years I’d already sunk into getting this far at Elite? What about the money? What will I tell my agent and my modeling friends?

I had just read On The Road by Jack Kerouac, and it seemed easy enough for him.

I know! I’ll go to Montreal, Canada! I’ll get free in Canada. A new country! A place where no one owns me. I have no idea why I chose Canada. It was just the first place that entered my mind.

Without thinking any more, I packed one suitcase and my camera and walked out of my lonely, sad Chicago apartment. I left the other suitcase and my fancy modeling dresses in the closet of that apartment. I left the liquor bottle as well. I was fairly tipsy, but not totally drunk when I walked out of my apartment. It was 9:54 pm.

I drove to a gas station to get some maps (this was before the internet). I drove all through the night until I reached the Canadian border. When I crossed into Canada, in the early morning hours, I exclaimed, “I’m free!” I immediately began scouring the local papers to find a youth hostel to stay in. I found a YMCA-style hostel and checked myself in.

The following days and weeks were filled with exploration and discovery. I had my 35mm camera with me and began taking tons of photographs. One photo I took was quite interesting. I’d been wandering around on top of a building and down below, sitting in a snake-like pattern of cement benches, I found a solitary fat man with headphones on, feeding pigeons. Beside him was a big thick milkshake. The guy was so round, he resembled a circle with two sticks jutting out at his sides. He looked lonely, sitting there with his milkshake and headphones. I could feel his pain. I was alone with my food, too. I was either denying myself food, or throwing it up…..I was alone with it.

I met fun Europeans at the youth hostels who treated me like a human being, not a piece of property. The Europeans quickly informed me that I was the only American they’d ever met in the youth hostels. Apparently, Americans rarely go to Canada for vacation. The Europeans I met were hilarious and wonderful. It was nice to be a human again. After a few days I figured I should tell my parents where I was. I called and told them I had quit Elite Chicago and was now in Canada. My mom was obviously disturbed. I didn’t care. I was happy to be free.

I bought a card to send to my Elite agent back in Chicago. At this point, I hadn’t told her I was no longer in Chicago.

from PetGuide:

The card I picked out had an ugly, wrinkly Sharp-pei dog featured on the front. Inside it said, “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” which defines as “Physical beauty is superficial and is not as important as a person’s intellectual, emotional, and spiritual qualities.”

I mailed it off and never said a word to her regarding my departure. No phone call, just the card. I wonder what she thought when she received it? This is something I continue to do in my life: mail things to people who have both harmed and loved me.

Me as the Patron Saint of Postcards in San Diego 2008

If you liked this story, you might also like The Modeling Industry Destroyed My Soul and Self-Esteem.

Leah Stephens writes under the pseudonym, Stellabelle. She just published her first book, Un-Crap Your Life.

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