The next 17 years

Summer camps are magical places, and got to experience summer camp as staff for a few years.  The first two years were at a christian campground, and the end of which I was highly, highly religious.  I was supposed to be off a christian university, but the place had monetary issues and had to double tuition.  It bothered me, as I had been convinced that if I could have attended there, I could’ve prayed away the gay.

I ended up at University of Waterloo.   A fresh country boy, now devoutly religious, with the social skills of a broken tape dispenser:  I couldn’t roll with the flow, I kept cutting in awkwardly, and found myself in all kinds of sticky situations.  Since I never got the chance growing up to see a lot of movies, the idea that college was full of boozing idiots was a rumored joke.

So I was a sober, awkward, religious, deeply closeted country boy.  My nightmare came true two hours after I arrived in the form of one of the beautiful people, who would be my first year roommate.  Jon was a jock, into theatre, brilliant, funny, popular, blah, blah, blah.  Saved my life the night I night I was heading back to our room to end it all, and of course he had a party happening (keeping in mind he was virtually NEVER there), which messed with my plans.

One of them as usual was mocking, when his voice cracked like thunder over top of them.  “Shut the fuck up!  I am so tired of listening to you people make fun of the guy.  You always make fun of him for sounding like my butler taking your calls:  it’s called being polite and friendly, which is amazing considering how fucking evil you people are towards him all the time.  Why don’t you take two seconds to get to know the guy?”

The third summer camp at the end of year 1 university was hell.  People were vicious, and I learned to be vicious back.  It’s also where I started smoking.  Yes, to fit in with the cool kids.

Year 2 of university also had a friend dragging me into the chaplain’s office, as she thought I was suicidal.  And the good priest spent the next three hours showing me how the “gay” passages could all be reinterpreted, and then said “go have a walk in the wilderness.  Walk away from all organized religion for awhile.  God will call you when and where you are supposed to be.”

I started my whole coming out process and will summarize it with the gay community is not  for sissies:  if you do not have a thick skin, you will meet people who have been forged by trials that most straight people will never comprehend.  That doesn’t mean they are better – too many will try to regain a sense of superiority by putting down others, and there is STILL a lot of rampant racism and a focus on the physical.

There were a lot awkward crushes and several “relationships”.  But I survived all that, I got a degree and I moved to Toronto, determine to find something better.

I survived on the good graces of first a friend, and then my brother for housing, as I ran into that brick wall of “you don’t have enough experience” for professional jobs and “you just graduated, and will be out of here as soon as you get one” joe jobs.  One job after another I slowly starting to learn things that neither school nor being isolated on the farm had ever prepared me for.

I was starting to get the hang of things.  I had a solid relationship for several years.  I found friends who genuinely liked my quirkiness.  I began to get insight that somethings have to happen to take you to the next stage, and looking back, I could see all the silver linings in the clouds in my life.  If I had a dark moment, I could tell myself that I had been through other storms, and looking back, I would see the silver lining.

And then I ran into an insane woman, who hated me as I had her old job and was doing a better job of it than she had.  Even though she was doing the same job now for the city at twice the pay and benefits:  drug outreach.

And though I could never prove it in a court of law, because the witnesses were all drug users and of “questionable character”, the crazy bitch began making promises on my behalf that she knew I could not deliver on, or tried to trump me with things she knew that I was working on. The biggest proof on this that her bosses had to call her into question on was getting a mutual client a scooter:  she got a broken one with exposed wiring, just so she could try to say she had improved the client’s life and I couldn’t.

Then I started getting threats from clients.  Then I got attacked by a client.  Then I didn’t work there anymore.

It took a year and a bit to rebuild Humpty Dumpty.  You don’t know what  a panic attack is until you’ve tried to do your grocery shopping at 3 a.m. because no one is in the store, but when you arrive at the checkout there is one person in line counting out pennies, and you break into a cold sweat and run away leaving a full cart there, because your heart is going to explode out of your chest a la Aliens.

But I rebuilt.  Got a contract job and lost in three months due to restructuring, but got rehired two days later to a different position.  And I was content.

But all of this was a dress rehearsal for what was coming next.

Interlude

Before we move on to the next 18 years, I want to tell you about Mrs. Beattie.  She was an English teacher in high school, and out of the few strange things I have taken as path markers in my life, is an essay I did for her class.  

She was normally very liberal with the use of red pens, perhaps filled with the blood of crushed students before me; however, this particular paper though now slightly yellowed is unmarked, except for the grade (A) and a single comment:  “you are too young to be this bitter.”

I stopped after the class and brought the paper to her desk.  “I have a problem with this.”

She looked at me sternly; she excelled at stern.  “I gave you an ‘A’.  The paper was well-written.”

“The comment.  You’re wrong.”

She laughed.  “Well, you are far too young to be so bitter and…”

She stopped as I looked her straight in the eyes, and let everything that lay hidden beneath the bedskirt of life look out.

In the moment of rising from her chair: she sits down heavily dropping pen and papers to her desk; one hand flying to her mouth were the laughter is gone, replaced by horror; the other hand starting to reach out towards me but stopping.

Then I blinked, put the happy face back on and take a step back.  Once more I softly said,”You’re wrong.”  And then I left.

Her quiet sob gains response by another teacher in the hall, but I still hear part of their faint conversation.  “Oh my God, Judy, that poor child!”

I remember being jealous that she could get comfort, and I just had to go home.

The first seventeen years

I could hear the pain in my father’s quiet “oh” as I truthfully explained to him that I did not have any happy memories of growing up on the farm.  I do have one or two fuzzy memories that are happy, but they all involve being away from the farm:  a sleep over at a cousin’s; going for a haircut; the one time I rode my bike to a friend’s house.

These fuzzy memories usually involve a much sharper memory:  going to my cousin’s, since my mother is in the nuthouse; being screamed at by mother for ‘saying things’ to the hairdresser…like I hoped to go to university one day, and get out of town; being forbidden from ever riding my bike further than the library in town.  Nice clear images to cherish forever.

I can tell you the mean thing that every teacher I had did ever did or said to me. Mrs. Hooftman’s split grade 2/3 class – on movie day, getting grabbed by my ear, dragged out into the hall and smacked into the wall for the first movie; getting put in the corner for the 2nd movie, and finally being allowed to take my seat for a short health film.  My crime against humanity was flicking a spitball off my desk that someone else had just fired at me, and Paula M. freaking right out.  The fact that there were already other spitballs clinging to me didn’t serve as a defense but further proof of my transgressions to a teacher who was on health leave, when she shook another child so violently, and threw in him into a desk that he ended up with a concussion.

There were even a few teachers not even my teachers who got into it – Mr. Reid the Special Ed teacher, slamming me into the wall at recess and threatening to ‘whup me’ if he ever heard me say ‘that word’ again.  Then I had to apologize to his student.  The word was ‘retard’; it wasn’t me, but Craig K. who said it; and I still didn’t know what it meant for another week.  Mr. Fisher, holding me up by the throat for not having gone to his classroom to get assigned lines after recess, for having thrown snow – not a snowball, just loose fluffy snow.  I could see other teachers watching – Mr Stewart, Mr Farnell and Miss McKinnon, but not until Mr. Cober the vice-principal came by did I get put down.  And I got double the lines.

That was a grade school.  I couldn’t wait until I got to high school.

Grade school was purgatory compared to high school.  I did make one life-long friend there, my opposite.  We decided she was the pessimistic optimist (life sucks now, ergo can only get better), whilst I was the optimistic pessimistic (you think now is better, it’s going to get worse, ergo enjoy it now).

It was then that I formulated first my dream:  move away from this horrible place, go to the city, find people like you, and live happily ever after.

 

One year left

So what if you had one year left to live, and then would ‘time out’ a la Justin Timberlake’s, “In Time”?

Would you live your life any differently than you are right now?  Would you be depressed that it was all going to be over; would you suddenly regret all the time you wasted; or would you be relieved that it would be over soon enough?  Would you even care, or simply go “meh, we go when we go”?

One year left to make your mark, make a change, and/or take a stand. Or not.

Is your paperwork in order; your dependents’ futures secured; or will they have to be taken care of in the aftermath?  Would you work harder or less…keeping in mind, you will still need a year’s worth of support at least.

What would matter?  What wouldn’t?