Tuesday, 17 January 2012

About Me, Part 17: Do It With Ease

I threw myself into school in the 1988-89 school year. Two new things that year: I filed my first income tax return and I voted for the first time. I continued to write on my own outside of school also.

Also, as my relations with my folks calmed down, my "rebellion" went in a more political direction. I went to my first demonstrations that year: an Amnesty International human rights march through the east end along rue Sherbrooke in September, a peace march through downtown in October and an anti-apartheid demonstration in front of the Shell Oil headquarters across the street from McGill University's downtown campus in January 1989; the last one nearly turning into a confrontation with a line of police. One of the many books that I read outside of my curriculum around that time was Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon was a psychiatrist from Martinique who wrote about the anti-colonial struggles of Algeria and other African nations. What interested me was his connection between the personal need to become an individual and the need of a people to break free from colonial control. I not only understood my own life another way, but could now begin to tie it into the lives of others in the world: I developed sympathy for oppressed peoples. I continued to read in many areas over the next few years: feminism and women's studies, black and Third World studies, and (pop) cultural studies.

What's more, Dawson College amalgamated most of its campuses that fall into one building, a former nunnery now named the Atwater campus (it was on the corner of Atwater street and Sherbrooke) which we nicknamed the Mother House. Art students, engineering students, student clubs, the cafe, the progressive New School department, all in the same building. Old high school acquaintances rubbed shoulders with new friends in each of these areas. I joined the newly-minted environmental student club called GAIA (Global Awareness In Action). Socially, this was one of the most colourful and vibrant periods of my life.

I felt I had long outgrown living at home as a "teenager"; I wanted to move out and discover life like my friends were doing. But finding work was difficult, moving out seemed impossible. I wouldn't move out for another five years. Looking back, I think I paid a heavy price by staying at home. If I was underdeveloped earlier in life, then by the time I was in CEGEP, the gap in self-awareness, relationship savvy and general streets smarts between myself and my peers was embarrassing. Something had come loose in me, causing me to be unsure who I was, who I liked, why I still felt so different. I lacked the language to articulate how I felt.

I dated a woman for about a week around Christmas that year. She was very creative, eccentric and much more assertive than I was. It was fun while it lasted, but I learned that I wasn't the only one who was hurting inside. When we split up, I blamed myself. For the next nine years, despite being interested in many women, and more than a few men, I dated no one.

During the spring of 1989, while a few friends and myself worked on a satirical student election campaign (most of our slate, save myself, actually won!), a couple of shockwaves moved through one side of my family. My mother had been engaged to a man since the previous fall. Suddenly, one day in midwinter, he left. He had been seeing someone else. He offered no real explanation, but simply moved his things out of their Mississauga townhouse. I was truly heartbroken to hear this and wanted to somehow help, but was not sure what I could do. Then, after finishing my semester that May, my mother called me with some very upsetting news. She had breast cancer. She was going into Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto for breast removal surgery at the end of the month. My whole family had known for a while and had kept it from me while I finished my classes. I suppressed my resentment of that, but could not suppress my shock. Grief came later. For now, life stopped.

To be continued ...

No comments:

Post a Comment