Monday, 26 March 2012

About Me, Part 44: No Easy Way Down

The second Saturday of March 2005, "Miss Penny" hosted a Caribbean potluck. I was suddenly feeling like I wanted to explore my ancestral roots. I wanted my friends to sample some Barbadian food and Caribbean music. I invited some of my fellow apartment tenants, including a lesbian couple living in a basement apartment who were still shaken up following a serious accident over a month earlier. In early February, Shambhala Day (Tibetan New Year) in fact, a bakery van collided with a speeding car in front of our building and slammed into their bedroom window on the corner of the building; they were still getting over trauma. Unfortunately, they were not up to the party, but made me a gift nonetheless. I invited my coworker and her partner, a fellow retreat participant and her boyfriend, the woman I had dated just a few weeks earlier who I was now friends with, a Mastery friend who had co-directed Vital Signs years earlier, and others from the bi community.

It was a fun, but low-key party. Many of my friends were going through some trying times of their own and so were preoccupied. I changed outfits three times. I had cut my middle finger the previous night and managed cook and change with it bandaged. By party's end, I was exhausted. Over the next few days, I began to feel a flu coming on. By St. Patrick's Day, I was feeling the familiar aches and pains. That evening, I and a couple of friends went to a French conversation group at the Maison Francophonie, a few blocks from the apartment. Then, we had a bite at a nearby Japanese restaurant. That was a Thursday; by the weekend, I was bedridden. I took the first three days of the following week off sick. But, even with the shorter week, it was action packed.


Queer Dharma was dwindling. Fewer and fewer people were coming to the meetings. No speakers. We had a member of the Shambhala community give regular talks. He was straight. Then, the controversy started. A lesbian in the larger Shambhala community took exception to our only speaker and tried to shame us into to why we had him. For weeks, I received emails and phone messages from them requesting a conversation. She had never been part of our group and had no such interest. She seemed to just want to call us out on the carpet. While the coordinators and I tried to figure how to approach this, she faded away. Suddenly, almost Zen-like, the issue dissipated. 

In the meantime, we volunteered for the second time with Friends for Life, cooking for another group of two dozen or so people. The week leading up to Easter weekend, I spent my first flu-less evening on a panel on queer spirituality at the Roundhouse in Yaletown. I had hosted some meetings at a gay community organization office the previous week. There were tentative plans to have a follow-up meeting at a nearby cafe on Easter Sunday, but I would not attend after all. 

After that, Queer Dharma meetings became more sporadic with many of them being cancelled for lack of attendance. But, I had had one foot out the door for some time.


The previous fall, a young woman from Douglas College came into work looking to place an interlibrary loan. When I spoke, she asked me to speak up as she was a little hard of hearing. I apologized and spoke more clearly while looking directly at her. Her eyes were a hypnotic blue and she had a smooth radiant face with gorgeous lips. She spoke quickly, but had a very sensuous voice. When she left, the loan placed, I felt tingly and hoped that I would see her again. I would, but I would not remember her at first.

On the Saturday of Easter weekend, I was invited to a Mastery friend's birthday party. We had hung out a bit the previous summer and I knew that she was a singer, studying music at Douglas College. I had invited her to my Caribbean theme party, but she was not able to make it. Her birthday party was held at a restaurant on Commercial Drive. I had bought her gift that afternoon and headed over just in time for dinner. When I sat down, I was introduce to the other guests. The woman that I had met the previous fall was sitting almost directly opposite to me at the table. We were introduced. It still had not dawned on me yet. When the food arrived, I took a group photo at the table.

After dinner, the others decided to go to Celebrities to dance. The club was on the other side of town and a little out of my way back home. I initially decided against it, but someone else in the group convinced me to go for just a short while, so I did. After taking a few photos on the way down to the SkyTrain station, we headed downtown. A little tipsy from drinking at the restaurant, I hoped that I would make it through the evening. On the way to the club, I noticed a few things about the new woman I had met (again). She had a beautiful operatic singing voice, much like our mutual friend, but her's soared much higher. Her voice pierced my heart. 

At the club, we were all dancing. I could not take my eyes off of her. After much moving around, in and out of the smoking room and over to the bar, we continued to get acquainted. I told her that I worked as a librarian. That I also crossdressed. That I had "done drag". I wanted to get those out of the way first. While dancing, she began moving up close to me. She asked if I was gay and I explained that I was bi. "Oh, so am I," she said. Bonus! At some point, we began dancing very close, and started to make out. "So, you're okay with what I told you?" I said into her ear. She nodded, "I find it hot." Relief.

We continued to make out in a more out of the way part of the club; a club staff member told us to cool it down which we found amusing. We were getting very overheated. I did not feel comfortable getting any more intimate in a club setting. "I don't live all that far from here, just over the bridge. Let's go there," I suggested. She did not want to, and I understood, but she seemed to wanted to continue our activity at the club. I suggested that we stop. After I insisted a few times, we stopped. When the rest of the group found us, we all got ready to leave. My new girlfriend and I traded numbers before I got into a taxi to go home. I would keep her number, written on the white side of a piece of cigarette foil, in my wallet for a few years. Some of the best, and most challenging, years of my life.


We spoke on the phone the next day. She mentioned that she was hanging out with her roommate that day, but we agreed to speak again the following day, Easter Monday. We spoke again that morning; we agreed to see each other that evening, at my apartment. She came over around seven pm. Nervously, I made tea and we started to have a conversation before making out. Within minutes, we were in my bedroom, where we spent most of the evening. After sex, we talked for a while. She seemed to have a hard shell, but also seemed very vulnerable, even sad, on the inside. "Do you feel that you're misunderstood?" I asked. She paused for a moment, then nodded. We connected.

We went out for a walk so that she could have a smoke. We continued to talk. At one point, years earlier, I had wanted to be a monk; she confessed that she had wanted to be a nun. We both loved, really loved music. We could talk about the same things for hours. We went back up the apartment so that she could collect her things. I asked her what she was doing the next weekend. She hesitated. I felt that perhaps this might be just a one time affair, but then she tentatively agreed to get together. My heart fluttered.

The following few weeks, we continued to spend evenings together. As spring began, the temperature warmed up. I felt incredibly light and bubbly. The first dinner we had at her place in East Vancouver, we ended up spending the night. One summer-like, hot spring Saturday, I decided that I would make a Middle Eastern meal for us at her house. I spent that sunny day gathering the ingredients and the music and headed over. I made couscous and brought Turkish delight and figs.

Over dinner we began talking about music again. I had switched the Moroccan CDs over to some of the reggae that I was listening to at the time. My girlfriend made an observation about one of the songs that made me feel for a moment that we were on exactly on the same wavelength. We were having so much sex at that point, that I thought we should have an evening together with nothing but lightness and fun, without the sex, so that we could get to know each other better. We went out to an Italian restaurant for dinner followed by bowling. It was a wonderful evening.

Often, people who spent a night together early on do not amount to much, but there are exceptions. In those, early weeks and months, sultry and summery ahead of schedule, I truly felt that we were one of those exceptions.


One of the former directors of Vital Signs had been teaching clown and mask workshops in the West End for years, since the 1970s in fact. I had been going to them occasionally. At one of them in early 2005, I was asked by another participant to audition for a play, a work-in-progress dealing with homeless through the story of a homeless young man who is killed when the dumpster he is sleeping in for the night is picked up by a garbage truck. I eventually auditioned for a couple of roles, a low income housing resident and a police officer.

The cast and crew were assembled and we began to rehearse at the same space where the workshops happened. The production, in progress as it was, was constantly being revised, and it became stressful on all of us. But the writer, a local anti-poverty activist, was passionate about it, an we all believed in the message of the production: homeless people were human beings, with dreams, not numbers. Members of the West End community, activists and local politicians were all invited to the eventual mounting of the play at the same venue as the rehearsals.

The play ran over three days in early May. I invited my girlfriend and some of my bi and Mastery friends. They came to the first night. Afterwards, we headed over to a cafe for a bite. My friends loved my girlfriend who I had been raving about for weeks. After the last performance, I headed over to her house to spend the night. The next day was Mother's Day. After we went to play's wrap party, we came back to her house to spend dinner with her mother. I met her mother for the first time that evening. A very nice woman, also a conversationalist, and originally from Montreal. At one point, my girlfriend asked me privately, if I would like to spend a moment remembering my mother. I was floored by her sensitivity. I paused for a moment, trying to visualize my late mother, happy that I had found a soul mate.


April had been heaven in the relationship, but May, soon after the play was finished, was tense. Early on, I figured out that my girlfriend used pot. I knew so many in BC who did that I was not shocked, but I vaguely sensed that it was more of a problem. Vaguely, it had not, it seemed, made any intrusions into the relationship. One night, when I slept over at her house, we watched my Festival Express DVD of the 1970 rock concert tour in Canada. In it, there is a scene with Janis Joplin and the members of the Band and the Grateful Dead high on acid. We both found the stoned humour funny, but I had no desire to emulate what the rock stars had done. Perhaps it was not so simple for my girlfriend. Then, on some other occasion, she mentioned in passing that there had been abuse in her family, physical and emotional. "Have you spoken to anyone about this?" I asked, obviously concerned. She nodded. She had been seeing a therapist, but was no longer. It sounded as if she had dealt with it.

But, strange things began happening by the middle of the month. Her mood had darkened by the time we attended a Hawaiian themed birthday party at the Mastery community house on the second Saturday of May. She seemed despondent and was looking for an opportunity to smoke up. The following day, we went out for Thai food and she said, "Our bowling night meant a lot to me." Then, she broke down. I tried to console her, but she seemed very confused. I was left irked by the whole situation.

We had made plans to get together the following Sunday, on Victoria Day weekend. When the day arrived, I met her after she finished work, near her house. We went back to her place where she was minding her roommate's cat while her roommate was away with her fiance. After making some tea, we sat down in her living room. Then, she took my hand, and said "sweetie" without smiling ... my heart plummeted. She mentioned that she could not be in a relationship with me any longer. "Why?" I asked. She told me that she had survived years of sexual abuse in her family. I was stunned, I had not realized the depth of what she had suffered. But, we were also breaking up. I had really allowed myself to feel like I had finally found my soulmate and the though of being without her, broke me. Soon we were both crying and she asked me to leave. She called me a taxi and I left, sobbing. As the taxi sped down the street westward, I turned to get a glimpse of her house zooming away. I tried to keep it in my mind. When I got home, I felt the sinking feeling of being alone again, and having lost my happiness.

We spoke a couple of times over the next week or so, but only exchanged a few numb words over the phone.


Over the next couple of weeks, I was not myself. I cried in the staff room at work. Two of my bi friends brought me out to a movie and lunch. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was distracting enough, but I was still so shocked that I almost forgot to pay for lunch at Max's deli. I cried through lunch and went home drained. The next weekend, I and some bi friends went to a friend's graduation party at their house in Dunbar Heights; this was the same house that I had gone to that Halloween party as a martian all those years earlier and I had been there the previous Halloween as well. It was a great evening and I felt my old carefree self coming back.

I got together with other friends over the following week. I hoped at the time that I could be my former girlfriend's supportive friend. I began to read up on abuse survivors and their allies, preparing to do just that. The following weekend, early June, my former girlfriend called me and asked if I wanted to get together with her and our mutual friend for a coffee on the east side. I accepted. Lightly bearded and dressed in baggy clothing, I headed over to the cafe. We hung out and talked small talk for about an hour and then, our mutual friend left. The two us relocated to another cafe and then to the restaurant we had met at for the second time. 

We began to talk about the relationship and, eventually, decided to give it another try. Weary, but also relieved, we headed around the corner to her house where we cuddled and talked, warmly but also cautiously. She mentioned that she had remembered me at our mutual friend's birthday party, from our original meeting at the library. She remembered thinking that she would like to date a librarian. We laughed. Her wish had come true. As had mine.

To be continued ...

No comments:

Post a Comment