Own What You Own, But Not What You Don’t

It’s truly amazing the difference a year can make.

The headspace I was in a year or even two years ago is a distant memory. That’s not to say I’ve totally forgotten it, as that might imply that I haven’t learned anything from it. However, at the same time, I can recognize what I haven’t achieved without beating myself up over it.

For one thing, my attempt to quit smoking has failed …again. That bothers me, both physically and emotially, but rather than feeling bad about it, I’m more into thinking about how to give it another try. If someone were to ask me if the Stop Centre therapy is a hoax, I’m likely to say no: it might work for some, and it did work for me for a little while, although I think it’s more than a placibo than anything else. However, I don’t regret the considerable amount of cash I forked out on it. If I hadn’t tried it, I never would have known if it works or not. I think that’s just one indication of how I no longer beat myself up over failure, be it great or small.

An unfortunate effect of my attempt to quit smoking is that I gained even more weight this winter. I’m back to that familiar feeling from eight years ago when I would avoid looking at myself naked in the mirror or even as I dress or undress. However, recently as I recall how I managed to shed 30 pounds back then as I became disgusted with myself, I’ve been telling myself that I can do it again. So, finally, I got serious about it two weeks from Sunday and, in 10 days, already lost 3 pounds. That’s not enough to be visible and I still have a lot of clothes in my closet that I can’t get into, but I’m starting to feel the difference inside. By that I mean that I’m recalling what it’s like to crave carb-laden junk while in fact not being hungry. So, it’s just a bit of mind over matter as I say to myself, “But Maurice, you’re feeling full and you’re not really hungry, so don’t even think about those chips at the corner store.”

While I know there’s vanity involved, I have trouble with my body image these days, to the point that it’s one of the reasons I’ve been avoiding going out much since last fall. Cognitively I know it’s silly, but it’s very difficult to fight such emotions. So, doing something about it is empowering.

In fact, it’s just as empowering as when I remembered last October that last period in my life when I felt that the world was my oyster. Granted, that sense of confidence led me to making a big mistake, but when I thought about what inspired that confidence in the weeks or months before I started making that mistake, I remembered that it was in large part due to having gained control over my financial situation for the first time in my adult life. So, I worked long and hard on that crazy budget worksheet that allowed me, despite unexpected setbacks, to reduce my debt load by $6,500 in only six months, with a worse-case projection of being debt-free in 18 months from now. While it’s true that we learn from our mistakes, I’ve chosen to learn from my successes, which I think is a far healthier approach.

For many years I’ve been reading/lurking this blog. Its New York-based author has always been frank about how he’s been seeing a therapist for years. Recently, he fired his therapist of many years and got a new one, and even more recently he took issue with a psychotherapist named Jonathan Alpert who wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already.” For me, it wasn’t Tin Man’s disagreement that got me thinking; rather, it was my own recent (and only) experience with therapy and the fact that many of my friends as well as my supervisor at work were astonished at how little time I spent in therapy yet emerged from it a considerably changed person. I don’t think of myself as better or stronger than Tin Man or anybody else who’ve stuck to therapy far longer than I did, nor, at the same time, do I assume that my “problems” are/were lesser than theirs. I believe that, fundamentally, I’m at peace with who I am and the fact I’m not a “spectacular” and well-known individual as dear Raymond was…

I think that’s because, in much smaller circles — among my friends and at work — I feel appreciated and trusted. Just this week, for instance, I got showered with praise by some clients and co-workers whom I never met just for the way I do what I do. In a way, it’s funny for an introvert, which I essentially am, to be called “patient with people,” a “team player,” and a “good teacher.” However, without wanting to blow my own horn, those are things I’ve been told well before I started working at the bank. Again, it’s more a case of building on the positive.

There’s that, and there’s choosing not to own what doesn’t belong to me. To my chagrin, I’ve learned that I have a few co-workers whom I consider(ed) friends that I mustn’t trust. However, now that I see that the problem is theirs and they’re only trying to make their problem mine, I can take a deep breath, tell myself, “It’s just a job,” and forget about it for the most part after I sign off work. If I’m comfortable with knowing that what I do for a living won’t change the world, which I am, then I’m equally comfortable accepting that their problem is pretty damn petty and not worth losing sleep over.

In fact, since therapy, I’ve become pretty darn good at not losing sleep over what I can’t control. For instance, when I took time off work last September, I finally began divorce proceedings some two years later than I should have. After each meeting, my lawyer would give me a deadline for the next step; between such a meeting and the stated deadline, I wouldn’t even think about “what if…” (as in, “what if we encounter this or that snag he mentioned”). Even when my mom would timidly ask how things we’re going on that front, I’d simply tell her we’re not at that stage yet and the only thing that matters is what really happens next, not what could happen. Two weeks ago, my lawyer and I hit a snag stemming from bureaucratic incompetence; at first I was annoyed, but then I thought to myself, “The fact we’ve hit that snag probably means it’s on the verge of being over.”

The only thing that mildly bugs me is that NowEx probably occupies more space in my mind than I do in his. I suspect he’s moved on long ago and that any thought of me, if any at all, probably inspires only bitterness or complete lack of interest. I doubt he’s learned much of this experience, sticking to his narrow view that he’s always right and everybody’s else view is wrong or not as right as his. The reason I think that is that he has, in this situation over the last (nearly) three years, repeated the same pattern as he has done all his life, namely completely cutting himself off from whomever he has fallen out with. He’s done it with friends and even his mother at one point, so he’s being consistent — that much I’ll give him. However, for me, the situation along with a few others converged and brought me to shut down for a little while before I decided that I needed to make a long-overdue and profound change in my life. Now I own what I own, but not what I don’t.

Some of what I own isn’t pretty, but better understanding what led me to owning it turns it into a simple statement of fact. For instance, as I marched towards marrying NowEx, I dismissed some uneasiness as “nerves” on my part. Now I own that I shut my eyes to something for which I didn’t have a name at the time. Now as I look back, I don’t feel proud nor ashamed; I don’t feel wounded; I just own it — my decision to overlook that oddity I couldn’t identify, that is. But instead of beating myself up for having overlooked it, I’m choosing to trust my instinct more.

Here’s another example that led me to this conclusion: When I started my downward slide two years ago, my gut told me that something was wrong at work and it wasn’t only that my personality didn’t mesh with my then-new supervisor. A year after she was no longer my supervisor, I learned from others exactly what she thought and said about me, which solidified her standing in my eyes as a Class “A” Bitch (and Moron). I should have trusted my instinct and done something about her; instead, I doubted myself. Today I don’t own what she did to me but what she inadvertently taught me, so if there’s anything good to be said about her, it’s that she was placed in my life’s path at the precise moment I needed to learn that lesson.

So here I am now, four years into living in Montreal (which I much prefer over Halifax), starting my 7th year at my job, and a bunch of self-improvement plans completed or underway. I’m still more anti-social than I probably should, but body image issues will do that to a guy and I’m working on that one. For the next little while, I can only imagine myself as The (Literally) Gay Divorcé. I should spend less time alone, start going out more, and try harder to make a few friends in this wonderful city, but …one thing at a time.

Let’s just say I’ve been busy lately and let’s leave it at that for now.

Ray’s Ray

Reflections of RaymondI 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.

And for all those wonderful hugs.

Goodbye, Dear Sweet Raymond

Raymond Taavel

Normally, my workday doesn’t allow me to take much of a break, but today was different: a call took less time than expected, so I could have a late lunch before my next call while reading the CBC News and CBC Nova Scotia websites. The story that greeted me at the latter was this one:

Gay activist’s beating death prompts murder charge

Of course I clicked on the link and my heart stopped as I read the caption for the photo at the top of this news story: “A memorial is being set up on Gottingen Street in Halifax to honour Raymond Taavel.” I stared at the name: Raymond Taavel. My brain refused to believe it. There must have been some mistake. My eyes wanted to see that it was Raymond kneeling in that picture, but it didn’t compute: it definitely wasn’t Raymond, showing respect for a fallen comrade; it was a woman I did not know, setting up a memorial for Raymond.

Raymond is dead?

Raymond is dead.

Worse, Raymond was murdered.

Image upon image flashed before my eyes in an instant, as did thought after thought, memory after memory. One distinct memory: that of getting hugged by Raymond. Tall and very slim, Raymond somehow still managed to give bear hugs. In that instant I remembered and felt his skinniness and his warmth. And then I thought about how I would never feel that again.

I tried to remember the last time I saw him, the last time I spoke to him, the last time we e-mailed each other, the last time we commented on each other’s Facebook status.

I think the last time I saw him was in Halifax, on Grafton Street, with NowEx just a few days before we wed. It was cold outside that night so we didn’t stand there long to chat.

The last time we spoke was when he called me in Montreal so we could talk about transferring control of the Halifax Pride site to people back in Halifax.

The last time we e-mailed? That one makes me sad right now. He was on some pan-Canadian vacation tour last year and mentioned he might be in Montreal in mid-June. He asked me how I would feel about having “a blue nose couch surfer” at my place. But last year, as those who could endure reading this blog know, was not a good year for me and I didn’t have it in me to entertain. So, after delaying a few days, I wrote back to tell him that I couldn’t entertain but would love to see him when he’d be in town. I think his plans changed and he didn’t make it to Montreal after all, so that “bite to eat” never happened.

In addition to being a GLBT activist, Raymond was a political junky for as long as I can remember. I recall a conversation we had once in the late ’90s or early ’00s at the original Menz Bar — not the one in front of which he was murdered — about the NDP which had dwindled to a dozen MPs in the House of Commons. “The NDP has become irrelevant,” he declared, “it has to change.” But as many have said in various tributes over the past 24 hours, Raymond was persistent and optimistic. He stuck it out with the NDP and lived to see it form the government in Nova Scotia and the official opposition in Ottawa.

I also remember being a little pissed off at Raymond when I thought I might have a chance to get something on with a guy whom I’ll call Mr. Sailor, only to find a few days later the Raymond had snagged him first. Now, as I think back to that, I smile. I have to say, Raymond: I always thought you had good taste in men.

I look at your picture, Raymond, and I still can’t believe you’re gone. It hurts to look at your Facebook page. Yet, as I think of you right now, I have an image of you with a martini glass in your hand. I don’t know if I ever actually saw you with a martini glass in your hand, but that’s still the image that comes to my mind.