Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Old Men and the Sea

"I’d rather be the ship that sails
And rides the billows wild and free;
Than to be the ship that always fails
To leave its port and go to sea"

            In all my 11 years, I had not seen anything as thrilling as the Atlantic Ocean. The journey from Toronto to New Brunswick while on vacation had revealed many things, but nothing compared to Kouchibouguac National Park, and what seemed like endless beach and ocean. You could almost see forever out beyond the waves. My family, huddled in our red Volkswagen van, followed the St. Lawrence Seaway from Kingston  into the vastness of central Quebec, then down to the hills outside Rexton, north of Moncton. We had witnessed whales swimming toward the ocean, saw mountains grand and we even managed to avoid the chaos of the 1976 Olympic Games held at that time in Montreal. Every road was an adventure. Every sight something to remember. For me, nothing built more anticipation than the idea of swimming out to sea.
            My parents had remained behind while our host's wife, Carol, took us kids up to the seashore. The mountainous range above Rexton was riddled with dirt roads and dense forest, prime real estate for bootleggers and the like. My folks’ friends, the Gaynors, had led us here, as we travelled together from Ontario. We were surprised to learn that we would be staying with people who made a living on the running of booze. As a pre-teen, I am not sure if I even knew what that meant at the time, but it mattered little to me. I was here for the ocean, not for beer or fresh-made moonshine. In the end, none of that meant anything. We had a wonderful vacation and made friends that remain in the back of my mind, even after almost 40 years. I learnt quickly that people are not defined by their method of income or the location where they live.
            I remember feeling breathless as my siblings, a few children from up in the hills and myself were all taken to the shore. Kouchibouguac Park was dark and seemed impenetrable from the vantage point of our transportation. When the trees finally faded and the road ended, the Atlantic Ocean faintly whispered to me, calling me on into the surf. From one side to the other, the beach line seemed to go on forever and a day, unimpeded by anything but blue. We all settled in for a few hours of sun and swimming. It felt like we were shipwrecked, with no other people as far as the eye could see. The mid-morning breeze brought the smell of seaweed and salt and the sunshine reflected off what seemed to be large translucent bubbles scattered up and down the coastline. I had never seen a jellyfish before, not in person at any rate. 
            The waves crashed around me and the sun sat out over the sea. The sand shimmered mere feet away and I stood up to my knees in the deep. The water was rather cold, even for a hot August morning, and I found myself intimidated by not only the darkness out before me but the temperature beneath me. Eventually, I got used to the water. The day went by but seemed unending, like it usually does for a child in the waves. In the distance, you could see large freighters heading across the horizon, their destination unknown to a stranger visiting this foreign land. Seagulls danced around the picnic that lay spread out on the area near the truck that we came in, while fellow swimmers and sun worshippers started to mingle about with the coming hour. After lunch, I begged to walk along the shoreline, down to the point that led out to eternity. Granted my fondest wish of the moment, and instructed to stay on this side of the sight line, I put on my shirt and walked along the Atlantic. Halfway down, I grabbed a long piece of driftwood and started poking the jellyfish which had washed up on the shore. Even though I had never been here before, slowly I began to feel like I was at home.
            As I approached the bend in the beach, an old man walked from the wooded area and down towards the water. In his hands, he carried an oversized silver jar. I wondered if the ships out in the distance had been calling him or if he intended to free a fish from its previous incarceration. I wasn't sure what to think, but instantly the elderly fellow grabbed my attention. He wore sandals, and long shorts and a hooded jacket which seemed beaded by colour. His grey hair matched his beard. I stopped myself from advancing, with a combination of fear and respect for his privacy. I wondered why he was alone and what he brought with him down to the sea. I sat in the sand, stroking my stick along the glassy soil, scribbling my name then trying to spy without being seen. The man walked across the beachfront and down into the water, never stopping until his shirt touched the foam. In one motion, he undid the lid, tossed it back to the sand, and began to pour out what appeared to be dirt. Some of it flew away with the wind that came off the water. The rest looked as if it just floated away. For a moment, he whispered something to himself while turning back towards the beach. He picked up the lid, wiped off the sand before he reattached it to the jar, and slowly walked up towards the woods. For a second, it looked like he was crying.

"I’d rather feel the sting of strife,
Where gales are born and tempests roar;
Than to settle down to useless life
And rot in dry dock on the shore."

             My friend James was right. Big Sur was absolutely breathtaking. From the giant trees, the cliffscapes, right down to the pristine beach I was directed to, I had never seen anything like the place. While exploring it, I often felt as if I was the very first person to come across this grand area of nature. I had been sitting on the beach for over an hour and the only signs of life were a few gulls and the ants playing with my empty Coca-Cola bottle.  Having arranged to meet here later in the afternoon, I came early looking for time to myself. I always had an appreciation of the California lifestyle and Big Sur held great appeal because of its splendour and laidback reputation. The Pacific Ocean stretched out before me, shimmering in the not too hot glare of the sun. I had been warned at the entrance not to swim out very far because of the riptide and currents, but I did regardless of the consequence. My body heaved for air against the warm summer and I fell into the earth to dry. The fare at the gate to the park was worth every penny.
            The southern end of Big Sur is approximately 394 km (245 miles) northwest of Los Angeles. The northern end is about 190 km (120 miles) south of San Francisco. Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the Central Coast, along California State Route 1 between San Simeon and Carmel.  Nestled where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise from the Pacific Ocean, Cone Peak is the highest coastal mountain in the continental United States, looming nearly a mile above sea level and only three miles from the ocean. The mountain acts like a computer background, always somewhere in one's sight. Great bluffs follow along the coast, majestic and humbling in their magnitude. Part of the beach area looked like that scene at the end of the original Planet of the Apes, with sand leading to jagged cliffs, hanging from the edge of the earth itself. Dense forest covers most of the area, and the famous California Redwoods tower over the almost endless jungle. During this visit in 1992, the population was around 750. Little has changed for this natural retreat, as approximately 1,000 people now reside there year-round.
            James and his then-partner decided to take Doug into town to discover the hobby store which sold rare baseball cards and paraphernalia. I chose to be dropped off at the main gate to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and walk down to Pfeiffer Beach for some time alone in heaven. The two mile walk took forever, not because it was far but because every turn was awe inspiring, every vision stopped me dead in my tracks. I had to remind myself that I had enough time to explore, but I had to hit the beach well before my entourage would come to find me, as we had arranged.  Slowly but surely, the waves started to cry out in the distance. The closer I got, the more raging the sound. As a boy, when I was in New Brunswick, the waves, they called to me; here, they roared out for me, daring me to join in their fury. The water was as blue as any blue could be. It literally took my breath away. In Southern California, the ocean is brown and well used, but here the water was pristine. It almost looked like it had never been touched, reflecting into the sky in all its glory. Someone once said to me, "The ocean blue is the colour of God's eyes." This day, as I slipped into the azure tide, I started to believe it.
            I stood in the Pacific, listening to the breakers crash against the rocks and shore behind me. With not a soul in sight, I dove into the oncoming waves, reaching deeper into the plunge I had committed to. I scoured the bottom, looking for something to cherish which would remind me of these moments once I got home. I lingered in the flow of it, dancing like a sea lion trying to catch his dinner. Beneath the waves was a complete surprise for me. Having been trained to swim in the murky stew of the Great Lakes, the clear water made me think I was on another planet, unspoiled by the ways of the human race. Rising to the surface, the hard cold waves pushed against me, driving me back towards the beach and that sand. No one had mentioned the sand to me. At first it seemed a mix of tan and brown, but it freckled down the way until it turned violet. I couldn't believe my eyes, these lavender ripples, as if stolen from a rainbow, seemed endless once you looked north towards the bluffs. I could not believe I was witness to such unique beauty. I have never forgotten the moment that I discovered this color of purple.
            The sunlight had almost dried me off and the ants found their way deep into my soda pop. I just lay there, basking in the warmth of a California day. Suddenly, I could hear chatter coming from the hillside leading to the parking lot behind me. I heard voices and laughing, people were coming, so I sat straight up and put on my shirt. I checked my watch for the time, but I had plenty of time before I would have to greet my friends. The three old men looked jolly enough, each one with his surfboard under an arm and a gym bag in the other. They were elderly for sure; grey hair and wrinkles gave them all away. One was tall and dignified in his manner. I guessed he was around 75 years old. The other man was shorter, with a balding head and a bit of a beer gut under his shirt. He was no more than 65 years old. The third seemed quieter, as he walked softly just a few feet behind his friends. I would hazard to guess he was 70ish. You could tell from their determination, outfits, and accessories that each one meant to tame the surf and the sea. They stopped on the beach about fifty feet from me, one nodded in my direction, recognizing that someone else was on the sand. Suddenly, they began to strip. They didn't just ditch their shirts and hats, they took everything off for an audience of only me to see. I had completely forgotten that on Pfeiffer Beach clothing was optional.
            Things dangled where there had not been dangling before. I thought to myself that this was how the California Raisins got started. The chubby one seemed to almost dance with the same anticipation that had possessed me earlier in the day when I approached the beach. They picked up their surfboards and proceeded to stroll directly into the ocean. I was not convinced there was room for anything else to shrivel up, but I am sure something reacted to that cold water. For a moment, I considered leaving, unfamiliar with the etiquette of public nudity. As all three men paddled out into the surf, I decided to watch and experience the lifestyle of old men going naked in the sea. When my friends called to me from the pathway, I rushed to tell them of my candid experience. Doug laughed and mocked me, but the view from my little sanctuary in the sand found him bedazzled and ill at ease. James brought the cooler, his partner Paul brought the hibachi and we settled in, waiting for the sunset, not anticipating the occasional moon. Before the horizon devoured the sun and the red and orange flickers of twilight began to streak across the sky, each old guy left the water, grabbed his stuff and headed to their jeep.     
            The dramatic coastline, the crashing waves and the mountains off in the distance had befriended me all afternoon but words cannot express the beauty that came with the setting sun. In all my years, nothing else in nature has touched me so spiritually, as the shimmers off the ocean blended with the deep purple shades of the sand. I've never seen anything like it since then. I have always wanted to return to that spot, perhaps when I have aged into a golden boy I will make the effort. If those old guys could return to the ocean, then surely I stand the chance. I will, however, keep my shorts on. 

"I’d rather fight some mighty wave
With honour in supreme command;
And fill at last a well-earned grave,
Than die in ease upon the sand."

             In my mind's eye, I am one with age and the water. I can smell the breeze as it carries away these tales of old men and the sea. My body is worn by time, and travel, and by the course sailed during my days out on the ocean. I am sitting on the sand on an unnamed beach, waiting for the tide to come and carry me away. I picture the moment that we anticipate all our lives, my imagined grey turning to dust, then blending with all the other dust sent out on the waves. I take to the ride, unimpeded by any sense that my condition might limit the speed to my destination. I am dignified in it. I am thrilled to go that way. It is a quiet journey, but I meet the wet regardless of any lingering voices calling to me from where I have been. It is only make believe, a dream within this dream, but for the tiniest moment I understand.
            Although it may not seem like it from shore, there are countless ships passing in the distance. You may not be able to see them, and you certainly cannot hear their funnel stacks, but they are there nonetheless. Mere glimpses of them appear now and then, some clearer than others against the horizon you see. Some ships head into harbour, broken from the journeys they have made, never again to leave port. Some ships sail the ocean blue, never allowing time or age to deter them. They carry on travelling, giving it all until they can give no more. In the end, even ashes surf the waves.
            We know that we will face rough waters, but we take to them, unencumbered by the humanity that we have always known. It is not only the ships that pass which leave foam on the ocean. Dust in the wind will melt like wishes, tossed into the rough, tumbling, mixing with salt and sand, finding us part of some purple that cannot go unnoticed. We are drawn to the sea. More often than not, we sail it. Occasionally, someone goes for a swim.  

"I’d rather drive where sea storms blow,
And be the ship that always failed
To make the ports where it would go,
Than be the ship that never sailed."




The Ship that Sails, Author Unknown





Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ship in a Bottle


"The eagle wants a canyon
And a place where he can rest his
Wings a while
The drifter wants a freight train
That will carry him another hundred miles
The lion's only looking for something he can
Sink his teeth into
I want you …
Oh every time that I'm around you
I'm on fire when we touch
When I hold you boy you know
I just can't get close enough
Yes I want you."
(I Want You, Faith Hill 2005)

            Having been a featured cast member of the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes during my third year of high school acted as a catalyst, pushing me the following year to audition for a lead role in the play Teahouse of the August Moon, based on the 1951 novel written by Vern Sneider. Colonel Wainwright Purdy III suited me to a tee. Playing the gruff and somewhat miserable character was pure typecasting. The production was a great success and closing night found the entire ensemble gathered together at the home of John McDonald, who played Mr. Omura. I did not know John personally, and gave him little thought throughout the production. He was not the most popular member of the cast, but a party was a party.
            More than a few drinks, and some inappropriate joking around, found the two of us dancing in his parents’ living room, flirting with what might well have been a disaster. Lucky for us, almost everyone had either left at this point or they were swimming in their own crapulence. Apparently, no one noticed a thing. With an invitation to remain once the crowd has dispersed, I stopped drinking and started to pay attention to my fellow thespian. A year older than me, John like was much like any other average high school student. Although I had never really noticed him before, suddenly a world of possibility appeared before me. His parents were not home to deter us, and the night found the morning and the morning brought the dawn.
            For three months, we were inseparable. What began as lust-filled exploration quickly turned into something more. Driven by sex and denial, we became close friends and constant companions. Throughout the week, I would sneak him into my basement bedroom or hitchhike to his place and spend the night behind locked doors. I had crushes throughout my high school years, but nothing had ever developed into a physical relationship. Although sex was the primary glue that held us together, I fell and fell hard for him. I started to dream about moving in together, sharing our lives together and building a future without want for the elusive thing called love. I just assumed he felt the same way, but I never bothered to ask him straight out.
            When I told him that I was in love with him, he freaked out. The ensuing fight turned nasty and his parents called us out of his room, sitting us both at their kitchen table. I felt like a criminal being grilled in an interrogation room. John and I just lingered there, looking at the floor and praying nothing too revealing had been over heard during our battle. When his father asked if we were "a couple of fags," the die was cast. For the first time since his party, the affair stopped. This was not my choice. A few days later and I discovered him making out with his new "girlfriend" in the smoking area at the high school. School soon turned to summer and John stopped taking my phone calls. He stopped coming over and eventually he told me to just leave him alone. He never really explained to me why, but any reason for what he did mattered little to me.  
"How can you just walk on by
Without one tear in your eye
Don't you have the slightest feelings left for me?
Maybe that's just your way
Of dealing with the pain
Forgetting everything between our rise and fall
Like we never loved at all
Did you forget the magic?
Did you forget the passion?
Did you ever miss me?
Ever long to kiss me?"
(Like We Never Loved At All, Faith Hill 2005)
            It is no great secret that my high school years were complicated by the initial development of Bipolar Affective Disorder. At the time, no one had ventured to diagnose me, let alone assist me with the rollercoaster ride that was my emotional state. When John said goodbye, and finalized it with his actions, I sank into a great depression. I thought my world was over and I didn't want to face tomorrow without him. It was impossible for me to look outside myself and understand why John had done what he did. I had never known such emotional pain. I had never imagined having to let go. I had never felt so alone. Locked in the privacy of my room, dancing with the memories we had made in it, I reached for the Gillette razor I stole from my Dad's bathroom kit. The first cut is supposed to be the deepest, but with no experience I had to try again. When the blood seemed to coagulate, I became frustrated and reached into the wound with the sharpened metal and cut down into it. I ended up out cold at the bottom of the basement stairs with a vein hanging out of my arm.

"First love with all its storm
Raging like fire within
Tossing your heart to chance
You swear the dance will never end
But then it does and someone says goodbye
And after all those empty nights you cried
The morning that you wake up good as new
That's the kind of day I wish for you."
(Wish for You, Faith Hill 2005)

            I saw John on two other occasions. One incident found him watching, egging on his method of revenge. The other was in downtown London, walking past each other on  Wolfe Street in the middle of the night. He managed to ignore me, both times. It's been thirty years and I still get weak in the knees at the thought of him, regardless of this life without him. They say you never really ever get over your first love. There must be a residue that lingers. Granted, not every person who loses at love for the very first time, chops themselves up in a moment of depressive rage. For me, it is a difficult thing to not associate the two. From the very moment of defeat, life changed. Sure, you can still smell the roses, you can even love in greater regard, but joy itself can be a reminder of the ache, the hurt and the hopelessness. Scars do not always make you stronger.
            One of the simplest ways to be happy is to let go of those things that make you sad. While it is impossible to exorcise every sea monster from your past, you can always get in your boat and sail away to better waters. You go on, you love again, and then you go right on loving some more. What was once a mighty craft on the water becomes nothing but another ship that passed you by. You take it and you bottle it up, never wanting to forget how it made the ocean so rough.        





Tuesday, March 12, 2013

See Monsters

            Mid-winter 1957 brought heavy precipitation to the Wingham area. Extending north, well past the tree line and down into Southern Ontario, the cold of this Canadian reality covered the fields and roads with proverbial blankets of snow. At 18 years of age, Ivan found himself defying the season and heading out into the storm. He had prepared the day ahead for his journey, filling the gas tank and checking the engine in order to avoid any complications along the way. His black Volkswagen Beetle had made the trip to Toronto several times before. He left his parents’ farm, believing the white curtain of  falling snow had dissipated, at least long enough to make a good start.
            His sister Joyce lived in the metropolitan Toronto area with her new family. Although the travelling might not have been as favourable as he would have liked it to be, he knew the way and that would have to do. He left Wingham behind him and travelled south on Country Road 86, cutting east on County Road 178 towards Newmarket, Markham and eventually the big city. Just west of Orangeville, it began to snow again. With country music on the radio and condensation forming on the rounds of the windows, he drove on. It was a heavy storm and he was glad that he did not have to be walking in it, facing the roar. 
            It wasn't bravery, or even stupidity, that made him stop for two hitchhikers. With frozen thumbs begging for comfort, they lingered on the side of the road.  He knew what it was like to be abandoned to this kind of nature, standing while praying that a ride might come along. His compassion had him pull over and welcome them into reprieve. They looked like regular joes, and seemed friendly as they thawed in the heat of a German-built sanctuary. Ivan thought to himself how odd it was for a pair of men to be out in this weather. From the looks of them, they were ill prepared for a blizzard. 
            North Bay is a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn't want to be kidnapped and forcibly taken there, no matter the season. If the car had not run out of gas, there is no telling what might have happened. The distance north, and banishment to the back seat, made for uneasy travelling. Little was said as they took control and forced him down into the rear of the vehicle. The black vessel became a prison, and a trip to Toronto turned into a journey into fear. In North Bay, just before the attendant pumped gas into the car, Ivan managed to escape and find a telephone at the adjacent garage. Before the days of 9-1-1,  explaining what had happened seemed almost as long as the ordeal. Eventually, the police arrived and held both culprits to determine what had occurred.  
            A modern tale might find both men imprisoned for their actions, but in the 1950s, the cops let them both go without so much as a ticket. If the police had their way, they would have charged Ivan with picking up hitchhikers. The end of the misadventure found him stranded in a strange city, with an empty tank of gas and freedom, sweet freedom. Any money he had brought with him was in the hands of his attackers, with no one to help him get it back. A call home and a $15.00 transfer managed to fill that tank of gas and returned him to Wingham. Despite the inaction of the police officers, the Wingham Advanced Times reported "local man kidnapped."

My Dad has never picked up a hitchhiker since.

            Monique was cute at first, and her long black hair and French appearance only added to the illusion. We became fast friends and decided to find a place where we could live together. Even though we had only met, we took rooms in the same house, along with 3 other students. Radio Broadcasting seems to attract the strangest and most unique of personalities into the fold. As a first year student of the art, I too was burdened with distinctive qualities, but I tried desperately to hide them. Five roommates got along well enough and familiarity eventually led to party mania. I was always good at throwing a wild shindig. Food fights, Win Lose or Draw on the walls, and blind hedonism always made for the most thrilling of events. The next day, it was hard enough to remember the night before without having to attend a class on Radio Programming.
            In trying to appease the second year students, and kiss some major ass, Monique and I decided to have a gathering for all the Radio scholars. The evening would have been well worth a ticket to see. From turning my cat Opus into an alcoholic, a visit by the police and a 13 foot Opus the penguin, from Bloom County, drawn to perfection across my bedroom wall, it was historic in its debauchery. Come Monday morning, it was not a challenge to find someone still recovering from Saturday night. By the lunch hour, it was clear our plan had worked. It's interesting how puke and unlimited weed can bring a people together. The new bond was very visible and it seemed that everything was right with the world.  Just when you start to tell yourself that, something always comes along to prove you wrong. Often, it proves you a fool.
            I had no idea that Monique had a crush on me. I hardly noticed her, the consequence of a homosexual heart. If I had known her motive, I may have seen things a little clearer. I might well have questioned her claims before acting on her word.  Apparently, sometime after the police left, on Saturday night, Monique and Tim, a second year student, wandered downstairs for a little hankypanky. The next time I saw her that Monday, she took me aside and accused Tim of sexual assault; "He raped me," was her greatest condemnation. With no reason to doubt her, I approached the head first year instructor, Ray Wilmot, and shared Monique's confession. Of course, procedure would need to be followed. He would have to talk to Monique, determine the severity of the event, and contact the police if so warranted. I was content that I had done my duty as both a friend and citizen. No means no, pal!!
            Come Tuesday morning, the whole world had changed overnight. When the police were to be called, she changed her story completely, defending the same man she had accused only a day earlier. She claimed that I had read into the entire situation and went forward without her permission. The police would not need to be called because no rape had occurred. Although I later spoke to Tim and apologized, no other mention of the occurrence was heard over the entire time I attended Fanshawe College. He understood that I had been misled. I just wish I had recognized it while it happened.

I have made it my mission in life to never be fooled like that again.

            I'm not a huge fan of the bar scene. I'm not entirely sure, but I think that may have something to do with my sexual orientation. I spent so much of my youth jumping from one saloon to another that I burnt out years ago. I spent much of my academic life, after high school, sitting in a bar with a few buddies or crashing at friend's place after a night of dancing with tequila. In my day, Joe Kool's was the place to be on a Thursday night. Located at the corner of Richmond St. and Central Avenue in London Ontario, for over 25 years it has held its place in the heart of Richmond Row. The Row consists of bars, high end clothing stores and restaurants, all up and down Richmond St. Students with Daddy's gold card keep this area alive. Across from Joe's place is Victoria Park, and just beyond the park on Wellington Road lies City Hall and Centennial Hall. Victoria Park is, for the most part, square. It might even be more rectangular if I really stop to think about it. Every Christmas season, hundreds of motorists clamour in a pseudo-circle to catch a glimpse of the season set to lights. The park becomes a winter wonderland. In the summer, the park used to house male prostitutes prowling all the cars as they drove around and around and around. A constant call of the wild. Late into the night, gay men cruised this area looking for casual sex. Occasionally, you would hear that someone ventured into the park by night and got bashed.
            I never thought it was a good idea to have a gay cruising park mere feet from the most testosterone-driven hangouts in the city. The university football team, known as the Western Mustangs, frequented the area and especially Joe Kool's. I never understood placing one's own safety after getting laid. I even believed that if you got caught doing your thing by some drunken hoodlums, then you deserved everything you got. Gay people are just like straight people that way. Some can be so stupid. I've had my share of casual encounters, but never once spread-eagle on a park bench. I certainly would never consider a place so conspicuous and close to an obvious threat to my safety. When my first partner worked next door to Joe Kool's, at the variety store, we would sit in the front window and count how often a car would circle the park. Almost every night you could spot someone trying their best to release their beast. As a closeted gay man, at the time, it made no sense to deny yourself to everyone then strut about a public park looking for someone to have sex with you. It was kinda gross, if the truth be told.   
            We had finished up our night on the town and the four of us spilled out of Kool's and onto the pavement. You could hear the screaming right away. High pitched roars rang across the street, from the monument located in the middle of the park. Being drunk only helped to convince us that a woman was in trouble. We scurried against the traffic light, and like super-hero wannabes, ran straight into a scene I have never been able to put out of my mind. The kid was so skinny and frail, and there was no question of the damage being done to him. He just laid there bleeding, his pants ripped, torn down to his ankles and his underwear barely holding by a thread. Three young men, not yet in their 20s, stood hammering their victim with physical and verbal assaults. The boy just kept screaming for someone to help him. When my friends realized that a faggot, rather than a woman, was in peril, they turned around and walked away.
            Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. I said that to myself when I laid out the leader with a kick to the balls. His friends disappeared faster than my foot. When he hit the ground, I hit him. I kept bashing his face like he had been doing to this child. Over and over I kept asking him how he liked it.  I couldn't stop myself, some rage within me proceeded to kick the shit out of him. Eventually he withered back into the hole he crawled out of. When the police got there, then the ambulance, no mention of my actions was made by either myself or the almost-man. I suppose it was a thank you for doing what I had to do. On paper, I had simply scared them all away, but you could see in his eyes that he knew I had saved him.  

It often takes a fiend to defeat a fiend.
            Out on the ocean we call life, we see monsters. They come in all shapes and sizes and they often look just like anyone else would. It's hard to tell a monster until they reveal their fangs. They jump onboard, with and without our permission, as our ship passes by. Quite often, by then it is too late to save ourselves. Should we escape, we never sail that way again. We may always remain wary and never trust. We may set out to never make the same mistake again. We may even turn into the very monster we are trying to destroy. It's enough to move past such encounters without facing your own inner beast. It is all we can do but to learn to live with it. We try to put the fear out of our minds, but you never forget when you have a run-in with the devil.

            As a spiritually conscious individual, I live by certain tenets of my faith. Above everything else, I must love God. Then I must love others, as I wish to be loved by them. The rest is all commentary. It's a challenge to love your enemy when they are holding you captive or punching you in the face. Exactly how does one turn the other cheek with a gun to your temple? We have a responsibility to treat the people who come into our lives with civility and respect, not to use them without any consideration whatsoever. Just because someone is a stranger, or oblivious to your ways, does not automatically make it okay for you to devour them. It makes me wonder if you can ever really trust anyone. The water is full of demons and they will come for you.

When we look, we see monsters.






Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cast Away

"Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks” (Warren Buffett, American Billionaire) 

            People treat each other badly. We don't even have to think about it, it seems natural for us to disregard the feelings of our fellow man. I suppose some unconscious form of narcissism is to blame, making it almost entirely possible that a human being will not be able to see outside their own little world.  It doesn't matter the relationship with the victim of your ambivalence. They may be a complete stranger, a friend, a family member or even some acquaintance from your past. If the conditions are right, they become disposable. The ocean is full of debris, tossed over the side as we sail on towards egoland. There are so many people we choose to leave behind us. Our ship's wake is riddled with corpses that never carried much meaning. On this sea of life, we cast away.
            We all do it. We disrespect consequence and brush aside those we feel do not measure up to our own greatness. We don't even need to desensitize ourselves to this process; we already could care less. It almost seems like instinct for a human being to turn into a  prick when they believe something threatens their reality or someone might get service first while waiting in line at McDonald's. Other people tend to become merely  things when we do not recognize their right to be human. We turn them off, I would argue. Any empathy we may have held towards mankind, gets layered under the coping skills we use to survive our daily grind. If someone doesn't fit into the safety of the world we have created for ourselves, then they matter little, if at all. We cross so many ships in the harbour, but we don't even notice them, let alone care if they pass us by.
            Not everyone we meet fits into this scenario. For some of us, our lives bring quality people. We want to keep them because of what they offer us. Then there are those people you would not wish upon your worst enemy. We shun, then run from this type of relationship, recognizing early on we don’t want to keep them because of what they too offer us. You cannot blame anyone who chooses safety and security over pleasantries in a back alley. It's a two-sided coin, people you want to keep around you and people you want to run away from screaming. It seems everyone else lies in between these dual faces. When we allow others to become expendable, regardless of the cost, we forget that how we treat them is a strong indicator of how we feel towards ourselves. Deflection, projection and rejection all cast the same reflection off the water.
            We find it easier to abandon ship than to repair the boat we travel by. Instead of really looking at the situation, and ourselves, we give in to our selfishness and jump off to swim away. We would rather take the chance of drowning than spend another minute investing in something we think is pointless. We just assume a better craft will come along. While our lives are riddled with chance meetings, we have a choice when it comes to how we treat the people who enter our lives. If every imperfection is a reason to give up, eventually you will end up alone. People are not perfect. No matter how you demand it, they can never be. It is these imperfections, it appears, we have so much trouble dealing with. We cast away people as if they were stones.
            Modern relationships have become like these modern times. We do not have to deal with things or people we find invasive or cannot tolerate. We jump ship so quickly, well knowing there is likely another boat waiting on the horizon. People have literally become replaceable, victims of our disposable society. This is not to say that there aren't people who merit this downsizing. This simplifying leads to a clean slate with which we can more easily work. It can seem optimal to just rid ourselves of the problem altogether; we give up the ship, not aware that there is a good chance we might not make it to shore. Quite often, we are left little choice. When someone stops complimenting your life, and they start complicating your life, it’s time to jump overboard and find a new ride.  It takes less energy to move on than it would to stay and fix it.

"There is a law of neutralization of forces, which hinders bodies from sinking beyond a certain depth in the sea; but in the ocean of baseness, the deeper we get, the easier the sinking." (James Russell Lowell, American Poet)

            Unworthiness is not determined just by lack of virtue, but also by a lack of empathy. The person, of course, who deems those values lesser is usually the one condemning another to that position. We have a funny little way of being a hypocrite, without even knowing it. We condemn others with one hand and do the very same things with the other. Usually the behaviour we detest in the object of our rejection, simply reflects our own flaws. In a sense, we see in another what we hate in ourselves. Perhaps we aren’t trying to purge our life of someone because we would be better off without them in it, rather we are merely trying to purge our own guilt for being exactly the same way. The loveliest person in public may be the most hideous monster in the shadows of their own home. We really don’t know other people, not really.  Every rose has its thorns and every boat has its barnacles.
            I've been cast off and I have cast others away; both the receiver and the giver  when it comes to abandoning ship. When my first partner died, I made the mistake of coming out after the funeral. Had I known just how many of my so-called friends would mutiny, kicking me off my own ship, I would have told them well before. I could have saved a lot of money on the luncheon served at the memorial. It hurts to find yourself as a  castaway. It's one thing to be expelled by one person, but have an entire group walk away because I dared not reveal my sexuality to them, on their time schedule, sucked. No one even bothered to say goodbye to me. One by one, over a month’s period of time, they all just disappeared into the sunset. I got left floating in a lifeboat with no fresh water.
            One might argue that if the same thing had happened today, rather than in 1995, my world would have been a different place. I would contend that while things are very different today than 20 years ago, I have yet to hear from a single one of those people. I've never forgotten that feeling of abandonment. When I needed them the most, they disposed of me, as if I never was at all. You would think I would remember that feeling when I do the very same thing to someone else. It's strange how easily I can turn myself off and not consider the source of my ambivalence. Any empathy I carried with me is simply tossed over the rails without a  floatation device. It's a hard world, and there is little room left in it for compassion.
            A few years I ago, I abruptly ended a close friendship with a woman in her 60s, whom I had met due to circumstance. We spent almost 3 years weaving a close friendship. When I found myself unable to trust her any longer, I did what any modern man would do and I just walked away. Although I did explain my reasons for abandoning that ship, I gave her no option to respond. She was put on a plank and tossed to the sharks. Instead of dealing with the situation, which had been building for years, I merely decided it was over. I cut off our friendship without even consulting her. Although I must admit I wouldn't change the result of my decision, I do wish I had thought a little more about her feelings and a little less about my own pride. It's hard to overcome that part of you that just wishes the crap would stop. It's prompt, and safe, to just turn yourself off. Even when you are aware of your own limitations, it can be a challenge to stay when you don't want to. In order to not have to deal with her hurt, I used mine as her diving platform. It was so much easier to just get rid of her than to have to take the time and energy to resolve the situation as adults. My bad.
            One day you have enough. You get tired of it and wish it would just go away. The only thing it seems to bring into your life is chaos and no one wants any more of that. You close off your feelings, you turn away and you make the decision to cast it all away. You refuse to invest any more because you have nothing more to invest. I often wonder what life would be like had my friends and I thought about each other's feelings instead of just disappearing  I know what that pain feels like, but I also understand the need to escape. We take the easy way out.

"All the love in the world won't save a sinking ship.
You have to either bail or jump overboard.”
(Sarah Dessen, American Writer)

            The smallest leak can sink the greatest ship. You can ignore it all you want, but eventually the hole will spread. Pretending there is not a problem will eventually see you swimming, lost at sea. I understand why human beings isolate themselves from others. The world is full of unpredictable people. It is all one can do to keep safe without having to consider the feelings of the person who brought so much angst into your life. It is a difficult thing to measure the line between compassion and courtesy, and letting someone walk all over you. No one ever said that life is about easy choices.
            Sometimes, if you sit on the shoreline, you can watch the ships go by from a distance. There are no ripples or crashing waves, nothing but sunny sky, and a gentle lagoon. The greatest concern is how the palm trees sway. White beaches and tropical breezes bring great relief from a life out on the ocean. A deserted island is its own reward. It can be easier to stay afloat when you are standing on the sand. People come and go from our lives, constantly adding and subtracting from the rhythm of the sea. It would be so much easier if we could determine, before we get involved, who will make us sink or who will help us swim. The only real way to avoid such social interactions is to find that island, burn your boat for firewood, and live as a castaway.

"Often undecided whether to desert a sinking ship for one that might not float,
he would make up his mind to sit on the wharf for a day."
(Lord Beaverbrook, Canadian Politician/Writer)