It was my second date with Momma Tee this summer while she was visiting her hometown of Montréal from Vancouver. We’d agreed that I’d pick her up late that afternoon from where she was staying in the West Island, take her to my place, walk down the street to dine at a nearby South Indian restaurant, and come back to my place to share a bottle of red. Our first date was some 10 days earlier in the Village, and that had been the first time we’d seen each other since 1988 — yes, 28 years before.
She wasn’t Momma Tee back then, at least not yet. We’d met at university in Halifax the previous fall when we found ourselves in the same American Literature class that was taught by The Grand Poobah of Culinary Delights, whom I didn’t call by that monicker at the time and who was still years away from becoming the life partner of my BFF, The Queen of Sheba, whom I hadn’t met yet.
In many ways, Momma Tee and I were the two most unlikely individuals to become friends, yet friends we did become. She returned to Montréal at the end of the Winter 1988 session, thinking initially that she would be coming back in the fall and be admitted to the PR program, but her plans changed that summer and she didn’t come back. But we kept in touch for many years afterwards, mostly by mail, for those were still the days when people wrote letters and avoided long-distance calls because they were prohibitively expensive. In that summer of ’88, her letters were filled with deliciously salicious details of her life back in Montreal, while mine waxed poetic as I was assuredly and absolutely falling in love with Hiker, whom I didn’t come to call by that monicker until many years later.
So back to that second date some 28 years later, I gave her the obligatory tour of my apartment. In the room I call my office, she noticed a picture of my mom on the bookshelf and, knowing that I had fairly recently lost her, she advanced to comtemplate it. (She’s particularly sensitive to grieving and loss, she herself having to grieve for that most unspeakable kind of loss: that of her 7-year-old son to cancer.) Then she looked at the other pictures on the shelves when suddenly the quasi-solemnity of the moment got broken when she practically sucked all the air out of the room, pointed at a photo of a guy in his graduation robe and asked, “Who the HELL is that?!” So I told her: that’s the infamous but much younger Hiker, to which she kept saying over and over, “Oh. My. God.” Once she recovered, she said something to the effect that she remembered thinking when reading my letters so many years ago that he must have been quite something to have me in such a state, but she had never imagined that he was so handsome.
Interestingly, that same picture had triggered a similarly strong but negative reaction eight years earlier. It’s funny in a way because I hardly notice the picture anymore. It’s just part of my stuff. But mere minutes after NowEx first set foot in my Halifax apartment after that horrible, horrible plane ride that night from Montreal, he noticed the picture and demanded — he never asked — “Who the FUCK is that?!” Unaccustomed to such blatant displays of jealousy, I had to pause for a few seconds to understand what was happening and recall what I may have said about Who-The-Fuck-Is-That until I simply told him that it was Hiker, about whom I had already spoken along with his nearly 20-year partner Bello.
* * * * * * *
I had a truly wonderful vacation trip this past summer. First I spent two days in the Québec City area. Then I drove through the Charlevoix region to cross the Saint Lawrence by ferry to Rivière-du-Loup to visit relatives. The next day I drove to Fredericton and stayed a few nights at Hiker and Bello’s before spending several more days in Halifax and then slowly driving back to Montréal. I think what made the trip so wonderful is that although I was only gone for 10 or 11 days, it felt, even during the trip itself, as if I’d been gone much longer. I avoided freeways as much as possible and my attitude in general was, “I’ll get there when I get there.”
One evening after dinner, sitting at the Queen and the Poobah’s table in Halifax, I reflected on how and perhaps why this trip was so enjoyable. About my Fredericton segment, I told them about how I didn’t get to see The Quad because he, too, was on vacation and out of town, but instead I did get to have lunch with one of my former PR students. Of course, the Queen then asked after Hiker and Bello, and I quite enthusiastically shared their big news: in the spring, after 25 years together, they finally decided to get married. Theirs was a super low-key affair with only a few friends on their back deck — no fancy suits or anything.
— So how do you feel about that?” the Queen asked me.
Her question puzzled me, for sometimes the Queen knows me better than I know myself. I stammered something or another, even joking that it was perhaps time after 26 years together, but I think I was stammering because the question — “How do you feel about that?” — simply didn’t compute in my head. She kept looking at me as I was answering, and once I’d finished she continued looking at me and finally dropped what felt like a non sequitur:
— He was the love of your life.” To which I said, after a sigh:
— That was so, so long ago. Like a lifetime ago.”
We were so desperately young back then. I was 22 going on 23; he had just turned 21. I had been his first.
Although I still can’t wrap my mind around it, I’m 51 now. But that comment by the Queen catapulted me into memories of the summer of ’88 in that 13th-floor apartment on Gerrish Street in Halifax. And worse, it reminded me of a train ride from Moncton to Halifax the following late-October or early-November that seemed to last forever and through which I had to fight back my tears, for just a few hours earlier, Hiker had asked that we “just be friends.”
I entered a fog that lasted 18 months through which I somehow managed to finish my degree. When I came out the other side, I had been changed. In each significant relationship I had in the following decade, the shadows of my memories of Hiker hovered over those relationships… until they didn’t anymore. They didn’t anymore not only because I stopped believing in what we euphemistically call “relationships” but also because I couldn’t find or understand the point of them for me, a fact I painfully demonstrated with my quicky marriage and divorce with NowEx.
* * * * * * *
I first met Hiker in the spring of 1987 and the first thing I saw on him was his crotch, but that was an accident.
I was sitting in a conference room at the library at the Université de Moncton, where I was mounting for printing the latest issue of the newsletter for the association of Gays and Lesbians of Moncton, when my friend !!!!! — there’s definitely an inside joke in that nickname — called my name as she entered the room and noticed me. She walked behind my chair to go sit in front of me and I turned my head to the right as she and — it turns out — Hiker were walking behind and around me. So my head just happened to BE at his crotch level, which is why I maintain to this day that it was an accident.
Trust me: when I saw the tall, slim, dark-haired mustachioed guy sitting next to her, I first had to quickly find the most gracious way of picking up my jaw from the floor and then I had to figure out how not to sit and stare at him in awe. Then !!!!!, bad girl that she was and had long known by that time that I’m gay and active in the community at the time, kept insisting on asking me what I was doing since I’d quit the U de M several months before. Now remember: this was in 1987, and back then it wasn’t easy to just casually say as you could now — at least I couldn’t! — that you’re putting the final touches on the local fag rag!
Time passed. I don’t know if we’re talking days, weeks, or months, but “some” time passed. I had gone out with The Quad and we ended up sitting at a park bench on Main Street in Moncton when suddenly !!!!! and Hiker came walking down the sidewalk. We chatted for a bit before they went on their way — to or from a movie, I don’t recall — and then I just gasped to The Quad something to the effect that I’d gladly give my right nut to be with Hiker but that he’s probably not gay, to which The Quad said, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” But rather than comfort me, that comment made me despair: a snowball in hell would have a better chance than I would with him.
Then several months passed and, truth be told, I didn’t think much if ever about the gorgeous francophile anglophone demigod although it had been clarified with absolute certainty that he’d preferred to kiss boys although he hadn’t yet. I had already had my figurative good cry over him and moved on. By this time, both The Quad and I lived in Halifax and were enrolled in the PR program at MSVU, and Hiker was supposed to come visit The Quad on the May long weekend. Except that a few days before that visit, The Quad fell ill and ended up in hospital.
That’s when I concocted the ballsiest plan in my entire life — so ballsy that it was unprecedented and never surpassed since. Feigning disinterest and pure altruism, I managed to get Hiker’s phone number in Fredericton and called him to invite him to stay at my place so that he wouldn’t have to cancel his trip to Halifax and could get to visit The Quad in hospital. He was a bit hesitant at first but finally accepted my invitation after I assured him that it was no trouble at all. I’m pretty certain that at that precise moment, Jesus either wept or shat the bed.
* * * * * * *
I know no one in the peanut gallery will believe me, but I was a perfect gentleman that whole weekend and I do have a witness: Hiker himself. Although we didn’t end up visiting The Quad in hospital that much, we spent the weekend drinking lots of coffee, exploring the city, eating at home and then staying up late, talking the night away while listening to music. On more than one occasion I wanted to take him in my arms and seduce him to my bed, but I didn’t because I knew he’d never been with a guy and, even though I could tell that we were getting on like a house on fire, I still wasn’t convinced he’d want to make that leap with me. So every night I’d make my bed on the sofa and send him to my room, by himself. It took every ounce of my strength not to enter my room that one morning I go up before he did and saw him sprawled on my bed sleeping and wearing only bikini briefs. In fact, the sight of him there seemed so surreal.
In 1988, few had ever heard of e-mail, let alone used it. He had a summer job in Fredericton and I studied full-time through the summer sessions. So began our exchange of long letters as neither of us could afford long-distance calls, as well as the inevitable staple of relationships in the ’80s: The Mixed Tapes. I introduced him to Michael Franks and Jane Olivor; he introduced me to Helen Merrill. I challenged him to figure out which Michael Franks song reminded me of him and, to this day, I get carried into thoughts of Hiker and the summer of ’88 each time I hear “Tell Me All About It.” Yet, at the same time, I find myself blushing: We were SO damn young!
I still have all the letters he sent me, along with all the cards and letters anyone ever sent me when people still did that. I may re-read them every 10 years or so. The last time was about a year after I moved to my new apartment, but whenever I do, I always keep his for last, as if they were some kind of dessert. In them, we weren’t professing our neverending love; we were just continuing the conversation, talking about the most mundane things, although I suspect we would have just as assiduously read the phone book if we’d thought the other guy had written it.
The intensity of the whole thing was such that he inevitably came back to Halifax a few weeks after his first visit, for the Canada Day long weekend. By then it was clear where all of this was heading, but I still harboured this fear that if I moved too fast, I would, as RuPaul would say, fuck it up. So the night he arrived we stayed up impossibly late — dawn was starting to break — as if we — but especially I — were afraid to broach the topic of sleeping arrangements.
Finally at one point he got up to go to the bathroom and I took that as my cue to start making my bed on the sofa. But when he came back out and saw me getting some bedding out of the linen closet, he asked me what I was doing.
— I’m making my bed. It’s late…” I stammered.
That’s when he came behind me, took me in his arms, and with his bristly cheek against my bearded cheek he softly said as only a francophile anglophone would: “Je te l’interdis…” (“I forbid you.”) That was the Torch Song Trilogy moment of my life, except that for my unspoken, “What am I going to do …with my beer,” substitute “beer” with “bed linen.”
And so we went to my room, but you know what? We undressed, got into bed in each other’s arms, and simply fell asleep. And while this song hadn’t been written yet, it’s of that precise moment I think whenever I hear it.
* * * * * * *
I have to tell you something: It feels weird for me to be writing about this. Specifically, why am I writing about this? Moreover, why now?
Hiker met Bello two years, give or take a few days, after he had asked that we “just be friends.” He had finished his university studies and landed a job which he still holds to this day. Between me and Bello, he had a fling with a guy studying in Halifax whom some of us very affectionately nicknamed the Cyprius Fruit, and this brief pairing turned out to be the electroshock treatment I needed to get out of my aforementioned fog and accept that my proverbial ship called Hiker had sailed. Being still in my mid-20s at the time, I assumed that more and better was yet to come.
But then I changed. By the early ’90s, I began to question if I even believed in “relationships” or what having a relationship really meant. I began to notice how most of my friends were forever seeking this elusive thing, going from one to the next and the one after that, completely unable to picture themselves alone or single, while I rather enjoyed extended periods of time on my own. At some point between the age of 25 and 30, I began to make a distinction between sex and lovemaking and wondered if I might be polyamorous. (I think I am but never got to test it out.)
Then I look at the life I’ve had after Hiker until now. My professional life influenced my so-called love life a lot, not only because I had at least a decade of financial precariousness but also because of the intensity with which I work — or used to work up until a few years ago. I found myself not falling in love so much as falling into relationships. This is an awful, terrible thing to say, but I think I’ve had a few particularly intense infactuations that I mistook at the time as falling in love. But setting aside that thing with NowEx, which was so entirely different from everything else that it’s like comparing a galaxy to a planet, I always seemed to reach a point where I needed more time to myself to do nothing but be by myself.
If I were to be totally honest with myself, however, I would have to admit that Hiker loomed over all those others who weren’t Hiker. To this day, that man is capable of saying things that make my heart melt all over again. I remember a comment he once made to me about Bello that some people might have viewed as criticism but was in fact so disarmingly sweet and loving. Meanwhile, I once had a colleague at work who couldn’t be any more different than Hiker except for one thing: they have a very similar laugh, and whenever I’d hear him laugh, I inferred that he had as kind a soul as Hiker.
So that’s where it all stops making sense to me. While it’s clear that Hiker is prime long-term relationship material — I mean, 26 years and counting! — was I ever? I can’t convince myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would not have come to the same questioning about myself by my late 20s, and I don’t think that would have flown over very well with Hiker even though he, himself, is also a fiercely solitary type. Then again, monogamy aside, it’s not like he and Bello are anywhere near being joined at the hip: they maintain very separate interests and even vacation separately at times because of those different interests. Meanwhile, as much as it’s true that my professional choices had an influence on my love life post Hiker, wouldn’t my choices have been different had there not been a post-Hiker?
These questions can’t ever be answered. At 51 I might have a house and have travelled as much as Hiker and Bello have, but do I yearn for that now at 51? Honestly? No, I can’t say that I do. Do I wish I could fall in love like I did nearly 29 years ago? Yes …and no. I mean, yes, of course, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world! But the older I get, the more time and space I need for myself and I can see my capacity to share my intimacy and privacy dwindling after each passing year.
Then that brings me full circle, doesn’t it? It sounds like I want my cake and eat it, too. Or as we say in French, le beurre et l’argent du beurre (the butter and the butter money).
Maybe that’s what it is! They say that to write a good story, there has to be conflict. Perhaps I feel compelled to write this because there’s a conflict. On the one hand, I think I’m finally reaching that point where I’m ready to have a significant man in my life, but on the other hand, I’m not ready for compromise. And by that I don’t just mean compromise on the time and space I need for myself, but also merely “settling” for a kind, handsome, intelligent, independent guy who just doesn’t quite light my fire.
That might be the conflict, but I’m not sure it’s making for a good story.
It took one of my Facebook friends to introduce me, albeit indirectly, to a term I surprisingly never encountered before even though it’s been around for a long while, according to the Urban Dictionary website: Gold-Star Gay or Gold-Star Lesbian.
In case you’re in the dark as much as I was, it means a gay guy or a lesbian who has never slept with someone of the opposite sex. There’s some debate about how and why this term should be retired, but I don’t really care about that even if maybe I should. The point that captured my imagination was affixing a term to my own status, for yes, I am most definitely a Gold Star Gay.
It doesn’t happen as much these days, but I remember being asked many times when I was younger if I’d ever “been with” a woman. And when I would be asked that back in the ’80s and ’90s by a straight person, it was often followed with a “How do you know for sure?” after I’d replied that I hadn’t. So, while I was unknowingly identifying as a Gold Star Gay, I had no clever comeback for them other than to ask them the same question in return.
According to user jw4444 on YouTube, the guy in the picture at the top of this post is “Alan Wells (hand drums) [who] returned to his hometown Halifax [after the musical group Syrinx broke up around 1972] but died in 2010.
The fact is that I can think way back into my childhood and recall how I was always attracted to guys. I didn’t really understand it; how could a 6- or 7-year-old “get it”? I think in my young kid’s head, that attraction translated into a kind of aspiration of what I hoped to become as a grown up.
* * * * * * *
When I was about 6 or 7 — that would be around 1972 — there was a show on Radio-Canada called Vers l’An 2000, which would roughly translate to “Circa 2000.” I only recently found out that its (original) English equivalent was aired on the then-new CTV network under the less aptly named Here Come the Seventies. The show was meant to look into what the near future would look like, although the year 2000 for a 7-year-old in 1972 didn’t seem that near at all, not to mention a little bit scary.
A few times in the last few years I tried to find the show’s musical theme, but searches on “Vers l’An 2000” were always in vain. I remember being able to hear the tone of that theme (although not the exact melody). Moreover, I think what subconsciously motivated my search was this vague memory of how it oddly excited me as a kid. I also remember the kid in me being utterly confused by this show, for how could they be filming something that hadn’t happened yet?
Then, when someone on the “Montreal Then and Now” Facebook group posted the following clip, I felt my stomach drop a little at the last sequence of images. The image at the top of this post is a screen capture of that sequence, and that’s the image that shocked me. (By the way, I translated the cheesy voiceover below for those of you who don’t understand French.)
On the road toward tomorrow :
First, the shock of the future;
Then, where are we going?
When will we arrive?
Two-kilometre-high cities programmed for Man…
Travelling in vacuum tunnels or floating vehicles…
Laboratories in space…
And finally, jet-pack belts :
It’s already tomorrow.
I had forgotten that closing sequence. But when I saw it again some 45 years later, the now-adult me recalled my attraction — that kind of tickling in the stomach — to whom I’ve just learned is a Haligonian named Alan Wells who passed away six years ago.
My rediscovery of this theme came just as I learned the term “Gold Star Gay.” And, odd as it is, this rediscovery now serves as an answer to the question, “Have you always known that you’re gay?” I just hope that Alan, may he rest in peace, wouldn’t be offended.
It’s hard to believe that we’re coming to the end of yet another year. Didn’t this one just get started? Moreover, has it really been that long since the 1990s ended? Yet as I say that, when I go back into my memory vault, I realize just how so much has changed within my relatively short lifetime. I’m sure if the me from 30 years ago had been carried into today, I would be shocked.
Think about it. On the day I was born, homosexual acts were a criminal offense in my country. They stopped being so four years later upon the adoption of the 1969 omnibus bill in defense of which then Justice Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau famously declared, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” And it was only four years later that the American Psychiatric Association stopped viewing homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Society as a whole, however, didn’t immediately follow in those significant steps forward. In fact, by the time I came out in 1982 at barely 17, it was still a massive deal to do so. Massive! There was a real and warranted fear back then that coming out as gay could have a negative impact on all other aspects of one’s life, from housing to employment, because being gay could be used against someone for blackmail and discrimination. What’s more, gays and lesbians were never portrayed in a positive manner in the media, and the fact a new deadly disease primarily associated (at the time) with gay men surfaced a year or so before didn’t help any.
I remember the ’80s as a decade when “being out” was certainly very relative notion compared to today, not to mention requiring a lot of guts. I remember being extremely cautious in choosing with whom I would associate. To my shame — but remembering how it was back then! — I recall crossing the street if I saw a flamboyant effeminate man** whom I knew walking toward me. I remember how much I agonized each and every time I gave some thought to coming out to a new friend. And I still remember how nervous I would be about being seen going into Halifax’s only (unsigned) gay club. So, if you had taken the me of 1982 into 2012, don’t you think I would be shocked to learn that same-sex couples have had the legal right for seven years to get married, let alone that *I* would have married …and divorced?
** Someone like Jimmy Somerville sparked so many conflicting feelings in me in the ’80s. I totally got “Smalltown Boy,” but his openness made me uneasy. Nearly 30 years later, I feel extreme gratitude toward him if not an outright crush on what he has become today…
Perhaps you’re wondering where this sudden walk down Memory Lane is coming from? Well …I’m glad you asked.
I began my coming out in 1982 with people like BeeGoddessC. In the course of our conversations, she suggested, given that she’s 15 years my senior and a lesbian, that I might benefit from talking with a guy closer to my age. She suggested Danny, who had recently moved to Halifax and whom I had met the year before while participating in a community event called the Moncton Subway Paint-In. (In fact, the theme of the paint-in that year was the “International Year of the Disabled,” and his design won.) I had not yet been to Halifax and I wasn’t aware that it was a few years ahead of Moncton as far as “gay stuff” was concerned, although that might have been relative to Moncton being more backward at the time.
Anyway, without getting into all the details, I did find my way to Halifax a few weeks after BeeGoddessC’s suggestion and spent a few days at Danny’s. I will admit, though, to my shame, that the naïve barely 17-year-old that I was didn’t know what to expect. Because gays were often portrayed as hypersexual freaks, I even wondered if that would be the moment I would, shall we say, “lose my virginity.” I know it was silly to have thought that, thus why I’m a bit ashamed to have wondered about that. But, of course, nothing of the sort happened; he merely did what BeeGoddessC figured he’d do: listen and advise.
It was such a memorable trip that, for many years afterwards, I could describe it in exquisite chronological detail, including the name of his (female!) roommate, where we went out to eat, and our midnight trip to Peggy’s Cove. Being the vulnerable teenager that I was, I developed a massive crush on him as a result of his kindness. In fact, I idolized him, albeit so very privately. The mere mention of his name would send my heart racing. Although he’s only four years my senior, he became in my heart and my mind’s eye the epitome of grace, kindness and sophistication.
But then one evening at BeeGoddessC’s, she casually dropped that apparently Danny had moved to Montréal. I remembered how shattered I felt learning this news. For a year or two I had quietly held a torch for him, but to him, I realized, I was just a younger hometown boy whom he’d hosted and comforted. We weren’t exactly close friends, so there was no reason for him to tell me that he’d moved. What’s more, there was no way he ever could have known how I felt about him, and the paradox is that my attraction to him wasn’t really sexual. It was, as I said, that of a vulnerable guy coming of age.
Obviously the torch I held went out. I went from thinking about him every day, to occasionally, to never. However, if someone in the following years and decades mentioned his name, I’m sure I could never suppress a little smile. And occasionally, as we moved out of the ’80s into the ’90s and HIV/AIDS caused such ravage among gay men in North America, I would think to myself, “Is he okay? Is he still alive?” Granted, I had that thought for many with whom I’d lost touch over the years, but the thought that HE might not be okay or alive would make me sadder than most.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I mentioned at the top how different everything was as far as being gay in the early part of my life. However, had the 17-year-old me been catapulted 30 years ahead, would I not have been just as surprised to see what other stuff changed as well as what didn’t really change that much? I mean, in 2012 we’re not driving flying cars like the Jetsons, and frankly the clothes we wore in the ’80s looked more like something out of Star Trek than what we wear now!
But in 1982, I certainly never thought vinyl records would be relics like 78s were back then, or that our world would become so incredibly small and virtual, thanks to computers and the Internet, that I would be working from home …for a bank, no less! Remember that, in 1982, the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall not only still existed but also didn’t show real signs that they would crumble just seven years later. Pierre Trudeau was still Canada’s prime minister, just as he had been for almost my entire life at that point. If someone made $50K per year, s/he was likely holding a very high position (a federal Member of Parliament in 1981 made about $47K). Cable TV, if one had it, perhaps gave a dozen channels. If someone had a second household TV, it was likely a portable black-and-white, while the main colour TV was a piece of furniture almost as big as a baby elephant. AM radio was for pop and Top 40 music and FM radio for higher audio quality and targeted music. Cash registers in stores were still essentially huge mechanical devices; 1- and 2-dollar bills still existed and losing a 20-dollar felt like a huge loss. (Heck! I still remember the 10-dollar bill I lost one night at the Cosmo around that time, when the hourly minimum wage was about $3.80!) Most phones had a rotary dialer; only a few had numbered buttons. Cell phones didn’t exist, let alone portable phones that doubled as hand-held computers and cameras.
And you certainly didn’t see two guys walking down the street hand-in-hand, even in a major city, unless they were cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
As for actual “cruising,” I never developed a knack for it. But would I have foreseen in 1982 that this artform would essentially have disappeared 30 years later, or at least primarily moved into a virtual realm?
And would I have known that it would be through that virtual realm and this thing called “social networking,” which would have drawn a blank stare from me back then, that I would make contact again with Danny?
Indeed, like a lot of us these days, I’ve found long-lost acquaintances and friends through the infamous Facebook. I found Danny back in June 2009, but you’ll recall that’s around the time NowEx was coming to Montréal for supposedly six months which instead turned into that well-documented two-month finale. Because of that spectacular relationship collapse and my subsequent tailspin, I never replied to Danny even though he did confirm back that, yes, he’s indeed THAT Danny, that he’s still living in Montréal, and that he had “so many nice memories of me.” (Awwww… Maybe I hadn’t been as insignificant to him as I had thought, even though I was just a mixed-up kid at the time…)
He came back to my mind a few weeks ago and I sheepishly sent him another note through Facebook. Since he doesn’t sign onto it very often he took several days to respond, but when he did it was again in a manner just as lovely and gracious, referring this time to how it seems like we met in a completely different lifetime. And he was very keen on the idea of trying to touch base with BeeGoddessC, as he’s heading to Moncton for the holidays and seems to be planning to split his time between the Montréal area and Moncton in the coming years in order to be closer to aging relatives.
This time I only took a day instead of three-and-a-half years to respond to him so that I could give him BeeGoddessC’s coordinates well before he was to head out to Moncton. Moreover, in addition to giving him a very condensed version of what I’ve been up to for the last three decades, I reminded him of my memorable visit with him in Halifax 30 years ago, adding that if I had never told him just how significant that trip had been to me and properly thanked him for it, I was finally doing so now, 30 years later.
The world really has become small, but as well, I’ve come to the realization that life can be like a weird winding path along which we travel sometimes carefully and other times carelessly. When careless, we might take some people for granted until it’s too late, like I fear I did with Raymond. But sometimes, when we’re careful, we can go back along that winding path and, with luck, have the opportunity to thank someone who has made a huge difference on our journey to now.
I’ve been going along feeling quite fine overall for a long while until I stumbled upon this old chestnut about two weeks ago, whereupon I suddenly felt the floodgates of mixed emotions opening up.
Something in Jimmy Somerville’s voice never fails to touch me. He got me back in ’84 with his opening wail in “Smalltown Boy,” which still sends shivers down my spine. And there’s the fact he’s been such an unapologetic gay boy even when it wasn’t a “so what” like it is today.
Anyway, first I need to give you a bit of context, not to say give you a full confession.
I need to start off by stating, unequivocally, that I’m okay. I’m not unhappy. In fact, I’m content. Those little “things” that have occurred in recent months have not driven me into a funk — the kind of funk I’ve known whereby one wishes to be able to crawl out of one’s skin to escape from everything, including one’s self. No, I think I’m just taking stock at this point.
I’m still satisfied with living in Montréal and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I still think I have a very decent job despite recent events that have made me look at it more than ever as “just a job.” I still have no post-divorce regrets. In fact, on that last point, I still don’t feel any sadness through wishing it had worked out, especially knowing as I do now that it never could have worked out.
But on the other hand there are five fingers.
Lately I’ve been thinking that I spend way too much time on my own — as in 99 percent of my time. I think that it has taken me a while to notice it for a few reasons: first, I have never minded — in fact, always enjoyed — my own company; second, because I spend so much time talking to people on the phone at work, I am not as disconnected as I would be if I were a mere office clerk working from home; and third, I do run errands and stuff like everybody else, meaning I do see people other than on a screen.
However, when weekends come along, I notice that I have no great desire to go out socializing (especially since summer temps have become but a memory) or doing anything much outside my routine. For instance, one of my rituals is that I always have brunch on Sunday at Restaurant Lafayette directly across from Métro Papineau. Going to that noisy Village diner where all the staff knows me by now has become my one and only “big outing” of the week.
But then, whenever I think about doing something else, like maybe a short weekend trip to Ottawa, I just don’t feel like it. In fact, I know my sister expects me to go for a few days at Christmas, and already there’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to go. But then there’s another part that says, “Well …what else are you going to do? Just stay home …again?!”
Except for tomorrow when I will be connecting to work because of an impossible Friday deadline, I spend most of my evenings and weekends doing mindless or not-so-mindless stuff at the computer. For instance, in the last weeks, I’ve spent way more time than I probably should have tweaking my budget. But it totally gets me off to see how successful my first year of returning to budgeting was, and since budgeting is all about looking ahead, I find it to be a fundamentally optimistic activity because, in the time when I had stopped doing it, I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to think of myself in a few years.
WARNING: I’m getting to the part that might be “TMI”… On most weekend late evenings, however, instead of going for a drink at the bar, I sip on some red wine at home and go to some x-rated sites. One in particular could, if I wanted to, lead to some cheap (as in “easy”) hookups. In fact, back in Halifax, I did indulge in that manner from that site. It is what it is. Then another site is merely to watch “dirty” videos. There again, it is what it is.
At the first and very superficial level, those sites have tuned me in to an obvious fact: I’m not getting any younger. Whenever I come across guys for whom I could easily be their father, I lose interest. In fact, no matter how attractive they are, they give me the creeps because it just feels wrong to me to look at them in that way. Although NowEx was considerably younger than me, I could not have been his father; I couldn’t then, and I can’t now, cross that line even if it’s not in the physical world.
That being said, even if I have no intention of seeking hookups these days, I can’t tell you how pissed off / annoyed / insulted I get whenever guys of any age go overboard in posing judgement while stating their preferences in mates. Due to my own stance about age difference, I can’t be hypocritical; however, I don’t think gratuitous putdowns based on age are necessary. Also, because I’ve always been very average physically — neither an Adonis nor an ogre — it bugs me that someone would exclude me on those grounds. Granted, that does tell me that I wouldn’t want anything to do with “that someone,” but it bugs me more because I know my other attributes far outweigh the physical aspects.
I know perfectly well that such sites — even more respectable ones — are not the place to “go lookin’.” But that’s just it: didn’t I just catch myself “lookin'”? Morever, while listening to that old Jimmy Somerville song I dredged up, didn’t I just catch myself “wantin'”?
Even before the NowEx/divorce fiasco, I never could have been accused of being a sentimental sap. I gave up idealizing “relationships” at about age 25. At that point, having a relationship became a “would be nice to have” rather than a “must have.” Part of the mental equation that ran through my mind at that time was the realization of how I crave perhaps more than most being alone. I can’t stand the thought of having someone clinging onto me at every available moment. Maybe that’s a selfish trait, but if it is, then be it. I know deep down that I have far more non-selfish traits than selfish ones.
But while that may be true, am I not also coming to a point of my life when I’m wanting a bit less solitude? Moreover, am I not coming to a point when I’m wanting a so-called “significant other”? My gut reaction to that old Jimmy Somerville song suggests that I am.
I remember at the height of my Depression Lite phase wanting others to take care of me because I didn’t have the strength to figure anything out, and thankfully others did step forward and helped me. Indeed, I remember hearing myself say to myself at the time, “Please take care of me.” Today, the context is completely different and entirely better. I don’t need someone to take care of me like I did back then. But I certainly wouldn’t mind not being completely on my own, occasional helping hand from friends and family notwithstanding.
An honest assessment of most of my past relationships and certainly those of the past decade or so is that they weren’t partnerships between equals, so I guess I’m feeling at a deficit at this point of my life. But whenever I start thinking about how I might want something other than being alone, I worry that my past might be a huge strike against me in the eyes of someone else. I worry that the deficit I just mentioned might be so plain to see for others that it might make a potental suitor run fast the other way. I even worry that the deficit might (have) turn(ed) me into precisely the kind of guy I wouldn’t want for myself.
But you know what? The more I think about this, the more I think I still view a relationship for myself as a “would be nice to have” rather than a “must have.” Maybe it’s just that it would be nicer than I’ve been feeling previously……
I simply haven’t been able to get Raymond out of my mind since Tuesday.
So many layers of disconnected thoughts and images keep flashing before my mind’s eye as I continue to live my day-to-day life, as one does. I have probably read every news story, comment, editorial or whatnot I could find online since last Tuesday’s horrific news. However, the extent to which I am grieving Raymond surprises me.
I do — or should I say did — count Raymond among my friends, but I would be greatly overstating things if I claimed that he was one of my best friends. I would also be lying if I said that he was on my “must call” list for my next trip to Halifax this coming August. At best, I may have had this vague notion in my mind that I might bump into him while there, for he was such an ubiquitous figure about town and, as the outpouring of tributes attests, everyone’s friend.
It’s also too easy, given the circumstances of Raymond’s death, to elevate him to a status of quasi-sainthood. Now don’t get me wrong: of all the people I’ve known, Raymond stands out as one of the most sincere, genuine, honest, dedicated, fun, selfless, and loving person I have ever had the chance to meet. In fact, I don’t think I ever met someone so devoid of malice, and even if he found himself on the receiving end of malice, he was likely to step back from it calmly and simply broker a truce, even if that truce was to agree to disagree. But it’s because of all his laudable qualities — and his playful naughtiness I myself witnessed — that he would have been the last one to aspire to the status of sainthood.
Some of the gruesome details of his fatal beating have been downplayed or redacted from the first accounts that hit the news, but they have been haunting me every night as I’ve gone to bed since Tuesday. Having lived in Halifax 22 years, I know the exact location of the crime scene very well. And the initial footage on TV showed that it was a foggy night — pea-soup foggy as I remember so well nights can be in that town he adopted and quite literally embraced. As I try to fall asleep, I keep seeing the assailant bashing Raymond’s head into the sidewalk; it’s a series of images in which I can see Raymond’s face so clearly and that keeps playing in an infinite loop until I literally shake my head to try to focus on other thoughts. I then say to myself — as if some comfort can be found in thinking this — that it probably all happened so fast that he didn’t have time to realize what was happening before the trauma caused his body to shut down. And, in that brief instant, Ray’s ray of life simply slipped away.
Thankfully, when I finally start thinking of “Ray of Life,” I see his tall, lean figure on the dance floor, dressed very much like in the photo above, and his playfully mischievous grin. “Goofy” is an attribute that is anything but pejorative when applied to Raymond.
My biggest struggle — and perhaps that of many others — is not to feel anger — some rational, most not. Why the heck were you out again so late on a Monday night, Raymond? Why didn’t your primal instinct not kick in to assess that you, all of 150 pounds when wet, couldn’t possibly overtake a 260-pound man? Why, in that moment, did you have to be so you? Who in their right mind — pardon the pun — would consider it safe to let the man who turned out to be your undoing out on an unsupervised leave from that mental health facility?
As cliché as it is, though, the reason why I — we — must not be angry is because you wouldn’t have wanted us to be angry. Ironically, Raymond, you would have been the first one to argue in favour of rehabilitation of mental health patients. You were profoundly human/humane that way. You wouldn’t have seen this matter in monochromatic black and white.
In fact, when I think about those who are calling for your murder to be considered a hate crime because your assailant supposedly called you “faggot,” I suspect you would reflect long and hard before getting on that bandwagon, if at all. It pains me to think that “faggot” may have been the last word you heard when you slipped away from this world, especially you who have fought so hard against homophobia. But while I still can’t bring myself to forgive your assailant — not to mention those who let him out — I have a feeling in my gut that the storm in his head brought him to hate anything and everything, indiscriminately. By that definition, your death was unequivocally a crime, but one for which many forces converged. Therefore, it’s a tremendously complex crime that mixes homophobia, race, and caring for the mentally ill into a ridiculously tangled web.
Maybe, just maybe, the way your life ended so brutally will add to the rich legacy you left in life. Destiny can be funny that way. This is very difficult and perhaps politically incorrect to write, but had a lesser known and loved person died last Tuesday, would the outcry be so loud for having allowed a clearly dangerous person a one-hour leave from that hospital? And if, as I fear, your assailant is found not criminally responsible of second-degree murder, could this not mark the beginning of public demands for an overhaul of our judiscial and mental-health systems?
I need to believe that something good, something greater, will come out of your death, Raymond, not just perfunctory “justice.” You were such an agent of change in life that we owe it to ourselves to be agents of change in honour of your life.