Tuesday, 17 January 2012

About Me, Part 18: What I Am

My uncle and I headed down to Toronto on the 401 Highway; the whole way, our conversations alternated between light and witty, to intellectual, to argumentative. I had developed into quite an opinionated young adult.

My mother's surgery had already happened and she was recuperating at St. Margaret's. My grandmother had already gone down by train. The scene in the hospital room was very melancholy, but typically for my family, silent, stuffy in an elephant in the room sort of way. My mother stayed at the hospital for another few days, the rest of us went back to her townhouse in Erin Mills, Mississauga. Her new roommate, from Trinidad, was away for a week or so. We spent a lot of time watching television. The Tiannenmen Square demonstrations were reaching a climax. I had friends in Ottawa getting arrested protesting the ARMEX weapons trade show. They were convenient places to put my mind when I needed to forget the shock and grief for a while. She had told me that she was going to be okay, but I sensed a tension underneath that. She came back to her home at the end of the week. My uncle and grandmother drove back to Montreal; I would stay at my mother's for another week. Her birthday was on the first of June. Many of her friends, mostly old ones and a few new ones came by to visit the first couple of days. One friend was a breast cancer survivor who had a very confident and positive attitude; she seemed to pick my mother's mood up for a while. Then, suddenly, the house was empty.

She lived alone (until her roommate came back) in a townhouse unit made for at least two people. Whole rooms were unfurnished. It was sad and eerie. One afternoon, we saw a television feature on a young girl with cancer who, we later found out, eventually died. I had seen a similar feature back when I was first in Ontario as a pre-teen; that time, I cried, out of sadness and fear. This time nothing. I went to listen to the radio in the kitchen. Later my mother came in hunched over and crying, startling me. For the first time that I could remember, I held my mother the way that she had held me as a small child ... long ago. I went back to Montreal the day after her birthday.

The day after that, news of the massacre in Tiannenmen Square was front page news. Demonstrators at the AIDS conference in downtown Montreal that week wore black arm bands. It was a dark summer.

I spent most of the summer hanging out with friends and continuing with reading and writing. I attended the Head and Hands festival in the park in the city's west end, another musical, consciousness raising experience. I also was a guest on a radio program for the first time, on a local literary program on CKUT, Radio McGill. I had been trying my hand at novel writing that summer as well as some poems. I began to consider entering the Creative Writing program at Concordia University when I finished my program at Dawson College.

As the Berlin Wall came crashing down that fall, the last autumn of a decade I couldn't wait to leave behind, was a swirl of activity. I only had three courses, but I was also working. I had worked that summer as a dishwasher in a sports bar. During the fall, I worked for a short while at the campus cafe, until I was let go under questionable circumstances. I kept meeting new friends, ones that I would keep well into my university years. I also collaborated on a short-lived alternative literary supplement to the student newspaper. I was only at Dawson until December; by the time the second, and last, issue of Tree Dog came out, I had graduated. That winter would be another one of those rejuvenating ones; this time, rather than simply going inward, I would try reach out to others as well.

To be continued ...

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