The following Monday was a bright sunny, late summer day. I felt not a care in the world. When I came home from work that evening, my fiancee greeted me with a note from our landlord. We were being evicted.
Of the many social issues that concerned both of us, affordable housing was one of them. And like for many in a region with high rents and low vacancies, it was personal to us. Reno-viction had been happening in my old neighbourhood on the west side for some time. It was happening on the east side as well. Everyone from very low-income to students, seniors and urban professionals were scrambling for places to live and moving further and further out into the suburbs and new developments. In our case, the original landlord and his wife had sold the property to a young couple from the Interior just after I moved in. Over the summer they waffled on what to do with our suite as it was the main one in the house. Eventually they decided to renovate it and move in, having already renovated the basement suite that they were inhabiting. They could then boost the rent of the basement suite. Not even six months since I had moved in and we had suddenly joined the scramble.
We spent the last two weeks of September going to houses with secondary suites all over East Van and North Burnaby. One suite on the east side looked like it was rat infested. Another suite under renovation in Capitol Hill, Burnaby was in a very sketchy area and separate from many amenities. One not far from where we lived was new, but also dark and claustrophobic. Another was new and brightly lit, but the owners (pot smokers to my and my fiancee's chagrin) chose someone else. By the beginning of October, we still had not found anything. After seeing a suite in a house near the PNE and not getting that one either, we had to consider the possibility of moving far out of town, something neither of us wanted to do. Travel time to and from work and other things was important.
Then, my coworker who lived with her partner a few blocks away spoke to me at work. They wanted to offer us a garden level suite in their house. They invited us to go over and have a look. One evening, while I was at work, my fiancee went over to check it out. She called me to say that it was a nice, clean place that was worth considering. We both went over the following night, just after it rained. It was a nice place; it needed a little work, but that was something we could manage. It did not have the multiple repair issues that our current place had. We would get to use half of the garden in the summer. It was on one of the quiet streets that we had strolled along when my folks had flown out for our engagement. We took it. We returned a few days later to sign the rental agreement.
By then, my fiancee and I, and a few of my friends were reeling from a tragedy in our ranks.
I got home one very rainy day in October after stopping off for something at a local health food store. My fiancee met me at the door. After we kissed, she told me a friend (from the bi community) had called and wanted me to call him back; it was urgent. I nodded and continued to put my work stuff away. Our place was filled with boxes by that point. A few minutes later, my fiancee repeated her message. I picked up the portable phone receiver and dialed. When I got through, my friend relayed the terrible news; one of our friends in the community had been found dead a couple of days earlier. It was suicide.
Another friend picked me up a short time later and we drove downtown to a restaurant. A few others were waiting there. Together we spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out how to break the news to our friend's ex. We headed out to the suburbs to tell him. When we finally told him, he became very distraught. Our deceased friend was estranged from his family who were very homophobic. When we got the details on the funeral, we were told that we would not be welcome at the wake. The service, held in Surrey on the last Thursday of October, was incredibly sombre. Afterwards, myself, my fiancee and a few other friends went to a Starbucks. Our talk was sparse still the conversation of a stunned group of people. When my fiancee got home, she went to an NA meeting and I went out to by a Crosley portable turntable at London Drugs, something to comfort myself. Then, I went back home, feeling flu-ish all of a sudden and dressed for bed, wrapping myself in blankets and watching episodes of my newly acquired copy of Ken Burns' Jazz documentary on DVDs. Moved by the melancholy vintage jazz, haunted by thoughts of loss and failed love, I suddenly became concerned about my fiancee and I. I began to cry. When she did not come home until late, I panicked. When she got in, I told her that I was worried about her. Then, we had the strangest conversation. "Promise me, if we don't work out," she sobbed, "That you won't harm yourself." I promised. But, I still had no concept of us not working out.
The Saturday before we moved, we went to bed early. I was working that weekend and it was also the weekend that our clocks went back one hour. Overnight, my fiancee had one of her restless episodes, waking up and walking downstairs to sleep alone on the futon in the living room. I went downstairs, and she went upstairs. Briefly, I stepped outside the side entrance of the house and sat on the steps. Partly because of fatigue, I found myself thinking about my fiancee leaving. I spent a sleepless night on the futon. This had happened once over the summer. I was truly worried
On Halloween 2006, we moved over to our new home. It took from 8:00 am to about 9:00 pm, after the trick-or-treaters were finished. The following day before I went to work, I helped my fiance clean the walls and carpet in our old place. There were a few belongings left to move.
We spent November unpacking and arranging furniture. Now, when I came home after work, it was to our new home on a quiet street in our choice neighbourhood as tenants to friends. We could relax now.
By the last weeks of the year, it would not be an exaggeration to say that I had two loves: my fiancee and my love for soul music which had become my program. I continued to buy music for the show. I felt that I was finally developing my passion. And unlike my previous ideas (performing, etc.) I had followed through this time. I strongly believed that my fiancee needed to pursue her own creative dreams in music; her voice was a gift. At an NA talent show that fall, she sang Gershwin's "Summertime" to a thunderous round of applause. I presented her with a huge floral bouquet afterwards. Others encouraged her. Nonetheless, by the winter, she had stopped practicing at home.
I sensed her starting to become more resentful of my show around that time. A week before Christmas, a couriered package arrived at our house. I had ordered a copy of the limited edition Complete Motown Singles: 1959-61. It was a small investment, but I liked that the six-CD box set was so exhaustive in its details and complete run of chronological releases. My fiancee, once seeing the invoice, was not thrilled. I tried to explain what the music meant to me. She had not worked for some time. I was now handling most of the household expenses. Our money became tighter and she seemed unwilling to find and keep a job or pursue her interests. She continued to hang out at home, becoming very depressed in the process. She then decided that she wanted to live as a housewife while. I was unwilling to support this as I felt that she would be doing herself an injustice by not going out and pursuing her life. Soon, dinner time conversation became very one-sided: me and my goals and the radio show. Her with her NA program, but whose friendships began to disintegrate because of her mercurial nature.
On Christmas, the day James Brown died, my fiancee's mother, sister and sister's boyfriend came over to our house for dinner. It was a scrumptious meal, complete with pumpkin pie for dessert. In the early weeks of 2007, I began to cook meals and desserts prolifically. It seemed effortless. I was wanting to become the homemaker myself. Bu there was only room for one of them.
I continued to push my fiancee to keep singing. In early February, she decided to enter the Canadian Idol competition. When she did not pass the Vancouver auditions, I treated her by buying Greyhound tickets to Calgary for the auction there. The lengthy bus ride got us there by about 11:00 pm. She did not pass the Calgary auditions, but I felt that she had given herself a chance this time.
That same month, she got a job at a women's clothing store downtown. She also began taking voice lessons at UBC in preparation for auditioning for their undergraduate Music program. With her working full-time hours and taking singing lessons seriously, I felt that we were on a level playing field again. When her audition came around, I took the day off to go see her. The interviewers actually would not let guests into the auditorium, so I sat in the waiting area. I could her voice soaring, yet it was a bit shakey from nervousness. She did not pass the audition, however the music faculty sent her two letters urging her to try again next year. She would not do it. She had become discouraged. I begged her to try again, knowing how depressed she would get without her gift to focus on, but she would not hear of it. I began to dread what would become of us as I continued to have my show and my career, as stressful as it was sometimes. That spring was the first time that I got that sinking feeling about where we were headed.
In June 2007, the National Campus/Community Radio Association Conference came to UBC. The last time I had been involved in an NCRA Conference was in 1991 at McGill University; that had led me to radio in the first place. This time, as a program host and volunteer, I got more involved, convening a couple of sessions. I found out that my show had fans all over North America, thanks to the podcasts CITR had been making since the previous fall. I was honoured. A week after the conference ended, there was a volunteer appreciation barbeque at the coordinator's house, in my neighbourhood. In the middle of a lousy summer, weatherwise, it was a wonderfully hot summer evening. I realized how much I enjoyed community and giving back to it. My show, and my relationship with music in general, was no longer just about me, but about giving back to the community. As someone who was brought up to believe that either I was happy or others were, this was a revelation.
We eventually set the wedding date for July 20, 2008. So, at the first signs of spring, my fiancee began to drive around looking for spaces to hold the banquet. We decided after a long drive to Maple Ridge that was too far to go for a wedding hall.
We found a hall in Queen's Park, New Westminster complete with its own chairs, tables and a small kitchenette. Then came trying to find a caterer. My fiancee's eldest sister, with whom she had a love-hate relationship, said that she would help with finances. In the summer of 2007, we signed an agreement to rent the banquet hall. And then, we began to shop for our wedding outfits. I also bought my fiancee a new engagement ring, with a Canadian diamond, financing it with monthly installments as money was becoming tight. We then got two wedding bands.
We decided to do a regular photo session for the wedding album, but also do another set of photos with me in a large crinolined ballroom gown. I was glad that that side of me seemed welcome in this relationship. Seemed. I did not realized how fragile our relationship had become
To be continued ...