The One Who Said No
Yesterday morning I had to provide the first phase of training for a new client at my day job, and given the size and importance of this new account, most of the training is being done on-site at the client’s workplace rather than by phone or webcast. So, like thousands of other workers, I found myself on the métro heading downtown — orange line from Snowdon to Lionel-Groulx and green line to McGill — which is a major shift from my normal commute from my bedroom, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, and finally to my home office.
It’s toward the end of my journey along the green line that I saw her face, and as I stepped out of the métro at McGill, I’m sure I must have had a grin going ear to ear. One of my very few good memories from high school had come flooding back.
Her face was on an ad for L’École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal. It was the face of Annie, who is now an associate professor in mechanical engineering at the Poly and is doing research on topics I can bearly understand. But in 1981, she sat behind me in Chemistry 112. And I really liked her.
How much did I like her? Well, Annie is the only girl on the planet whom I ever dared ask on a date.
I still remember my Grade 5 class with Madame Marie at École Essex, specifically the shenanigans going on where the boys and the girls were starting to want to pair up as boyfriend and girlfriend. I say “shenanigans” because I recall that everything had boiled over to the point of an obsession among my peers — except with me, who “inexplicably” (ha ha!) showed no interest in finding myself a girlfriend. As everything had become such a huge distraction in class, Madame Marie put an end to it by declaring, “For heaven’s sake! You’re only in Grade 5! You have a lifetime to find yourselves a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Just take it easy here.”
I took Madame Marie’s admonition to heart and as a sign that THEY — my peers — were the crazy ones and I was the sane one for not obsessing about getting a girlfriend. I stuck to that reasoning for years and I was still holding to it by the time I reached high school. But, of course, what Madame Marie suggested back in Grade 5 wasn’t pertinent anymore by Grade 11, and I realized I had to snap out of that frame of mind.
The thing is, though, that by Grade 11, still wanting to deny to myself that I was gay, I had come to rationalize that I simply needed to find a girl who was really, really smart in order to get me interested. And, in addition to being attractive in her own right and having an easy smile and a propensity to laugh a lot, Annie fit that bill perfectly. So, one evening, out of the blue, I called her and asked her if she’d like to go on a date.
She said no. She already had a boyfriend.
As simplistic and non-sequituresque as it may seem to you, dear readers, that was it for me. Within a very short time after that call, I concluded that if Annie, the only girl in whom I had ever had the remotest interest, wasn’t interested, then I had to face the fact that what I really wanted is to date boys. However, there was one thing that would remain (although I clearly haven’t stuck to it): the object of my affection would have to be really, really smart in order to keep me interested.
It would be tempting to be flip and say that Annie’s rejection is what turned me gay. In fact, I’ve said that a few times as a joke, but of course I have never meant it. She had nothing to do with that, and I don’t believe she has ever known where my thoughts and feelings went after that fateful call. As a matter of fact, that phone call that was such a turning point for me, she probably doesn’t even remember.
And now there she is, on an ad in the métro for L’École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal — a successful teacher and scientist. I would love to say hello to her and perhaps even tell her this little story. But I think that would be way too weird, especially for her. It goes to show, though, that we all may touch other people’s lives in a pivotal way yet never ever realize having done so.