I’ve always had a hard time fitting in, especially as a child. As an adult, I have learned that I don’t need to fit in. Self-acceptance has been one of the most difficult facets of my journey.
As a child though, it was much worse. My shyness held me back. I couldn’t open up to people, and it only got worse around the people that I actually liked. As a result, I had very few friends. The other kids didn’t know what to make of me. I was wierd. Different. I was picked on and at times, bullied. But mostly, I was left alone.
One year, grade 5 if I can recall correctly ( and I so rarely do about my childhood, repression as a defence mechanism was I tool I used regularly, it seems ), I made a friend. A classmate was randomly assigned to me for a class project. We connected as we worked together. We did what the youths of my era did, we played outside, we talked, we laughed. To my eternal regret, I can no longer remember his name.
One day, the teacher stepped out of the classroom for a washroom break. I seized the opprtunity and turned around to ask my friend a question. Then, it happened.
The entire class turned on us and began to shout:
It became a chant, everyone in time yelling it again and again. I was a child, I had no idea what it meant. I only ever heard it used as a derogative. As a bad word.
My friend began to cry, then fled the room.
I sat there and endured. The life I had led had conditioned me to sit and take the abuse. I remember my hands balling into white knuckled fists on the desk.
My teacher finally returned and quieted the class. Then, he found my friend and brought him back to class. Everything returned to normal.
At the end of the day, my friend quickly packed his bag and left the school. He didn’t say a word to me. The next morning, before class began, I found him. I wanted to make sure he was ok. He was my friend.
He turned to me and said, “I’m sorry Ellis, I can’t be your friend anymore. I don’t want to be called that name ever again.” He then walked into class and never spoke to me again. He was my friend.
I spent the rest of that year, and the year after, alone and friendless.
It was in the final year of elementary school, grade 7, that I was tasked to guide the new kid around school. He was Irish, and very brash. And loud. He loved to laugh and joke.
We became friends. He helped me to discover that I had a sense of humour, that I loved making people laugh. We spent the rest of the year as friends, then my family moved away and I never saw him again.
His name, I remember.
*A Start was a story of mine originally written as a post on Facebook. I’ve transcribed it here, with minor alterations and improvements.
I am clever. I am caring. I am compassionate. I am silly. I am irreverant. I am also sad a lot.
I was born in Calgary in 1974, in the old General Hospital in Bridgeland, which was demolished some time ago. I always suspected that I broke the mold when I was born there. I also suspect that I am mistaken about that.
I am an indigenous first nations person, from the Carry the Kettle first nations reserve, in Saskatchewan. I have never lived on my reserve, however. I know that it would have changed a great number of things about myself and I often wonder about that.
Both of my parents are Residential School survivors. Their experiences changed them fundamentally. Intergenerational Trauma tends to pass from one generation to the next, as the name describes. As such, I am also a survivor of that trauma.
As a child, experiencing those inherited traumas, I did not understand them. I just assumed that it was a part of life. People can survive in nearly any environment, it is a strength of our species.
I grew up under these stressors, not even aware of them, yet affected by them nonetheless. I grew up without Hope. I saw it in others as they planned for the future, but never saw it in myself. I could barely conceive of what layed beyond tomorrow, much less plan for it.
I was reckless, heedless even. I had pain that I needed to bury. Alcohol became my friend. All too soon, all I did was work and drink.
I was lonely as well. I was painfully shy, afraid to reach out to someone, equally afraid of what might happen if my affections were returned. I was determined to be unloved.
But I was also clever. I always wanted to understand things, even if I never turned that towards myself. I indirectly learned about myself through several college courses studying native history, which would come in handy later.
My self-loathing was on the rise. I was running towards a dark end, and I knew it. I had no hope. But change happened.
I discovered role-playing games.
Tabletop rpgs. Sitting at a table with a group of friends, working together, solving problems and having fun. All without drinking. I suddenly found a group of people to socialize with without alcohol. I am now a gamer, loud and proud.
More importanly, I discovered Hope. I discovered that I could effect change in my life with nothing more than will and determination. It was lifechanging.
I wanted to learn more about myself and my people. I knew so little about them. I was culturally disconnected. It is an unusual concept. How does one not know where one is from? How many people can say that they know nothing about their people or where they are from?
This is what the residential schools intended. To create an entire group of people with no idea where they are from, where they belong. To my shame, I am a success story.
I try now to learn. I have spoken to elders. I try to connect. I am from two worlds, and to this day, feel that I belong to neither. I have tried to heal, to move past my trauma, and be a better person. I struggle daily against my depression, using medication and psychological training to help me.
I write to express myself and document my journey. I am happier now then I have been in my entire life. I have love, and am now loved in turn.
It always rained in Seattle whenever Elara got a step closer to finding the people who kidnapped her sister. Perhaps the rain was an indication of how unpleasant things were becoming. She drew her revolver as she crouched behind a dumpster.
Her informant sweared up and down that this site, an abandoned house turned drug den, was were the local missing people went. It had taken a bit of work to make him talk, but the rope burns will fade and with a bit of physio, his fingers will heal.
The gun was old, but servicable. The best she could afford with limited funds. As her search for her sister began in earnest, she ran into increasingly unpleasant people. She bought it off a hooded man in an alley, and tried not to think about what it was previously used for.
The police were useless. They had dozens of missings person reports to deal with already. They made a cursory evaluation and suggested that it was drug related. Elara didn’t believe that, wouldn’t believe that. She began her own search.
The house was dilapitated, the windows boarded up. It stank of human waste. Addicts were strewn on the main floor and upper storey. The misery here was the hardest to bear, but she steeled herself and checked every body here. No sign of her sister, thankfully.
The basement door was made of steel, the frame reinforced as well. The password her informant gave her worked, and she was in. She discreetly pressed a button on her phone, sending a message and entered.
A drug lab, with a half-dozen armed guards, and a rough hewn tunnel leading away into darkness. She prayed that she would soon see her sister as she lashed out and crushed the windpipe of the nearest guard with her revolver. Then she began to work.
Minutes later, she pulled herself up in agony. Beaten, shot, and stabbed. She alone was left standing.
Several of the non-combatants had fled through the basement door, but a few had left through the tunnel. She quickly pulled out a syringe and injected herself with something to block out the pain. Company would be coming soon.
Elara pulled herself through the tunnel, more dead than alive. No thoughts left other then finding her sister. She had to save her.
A basement filled with empty cages. Stairs leading up. Terrified voices echoing. She dragged herself up.
A warehouse. Delivery trucks loading human occupants, all gagged and bound. Guards. Lots of guards. Elara drew a deep breath, and moved in.
The Exemplar made short work of them all. He had intercepted the text about human trafficking and investigated. He arrived to witness a lone woman attempting to rescue them, against impossible odds.
He healed her as she collapsed in front of one of the trucks. A muffled scream as a similar looking occupant edged towards the front. A sister?
When Elara woke, The Exemplar asked her with a smile, “Would you like a job?”
Been thinking a lot about my mother lately. Of course, that brings to mind my father as well. They were always together, through good times and bad.
She had patience that bordered on the inhuman. She lived a life of near constant disappointment. She survived her residential school ordeal. Her children made questionable choices. Her husband was at times a violent alcoholic. But she endured.
She smiled. She laughed. She could joke. She made the best bannock. She could walk for kilometers.
These were all traits that I absorbed from her. Except the walking part. And the bannock making ability.
Every year, I would help her set up the X-mas tree. We always used the same ornaments, year after year, only buying new ones when an older one broke. Every year, I would untangle the long string of tree lights and I would wonder how it get to badly wound up. I would silently curse whoever just stuffed the whole string in the box all willy nilly.
As a child, I would eagerly await the day when I could open my gift that I found underneath the tree. When I got older, I would in turn buy gifts for my mom and the various members of my family who happened to be in town during the season. I always struggled to buy her an excellent gift. I always have, when it comes to people I care about. Gifts for people I wasn’t overly concerned about were far more easily obtainable. I would merely walk down a gift isle and grab a selection, even if they were more expensive then a thoughtful gift.
Every year, I would silently pray that the season would pass uneventfully. More times then I care to admit, my prayers were unheard. My most vivid memory of the holidays was when my father drunkenly threw out the entire tree, gifts and all, outside and onto the front lawn.
My mom patiently waited until he passed out, then sent us children out into the cold to recover what gifts we could and to see if we could salvage the tree. Money was tight then, so we had to have a high barrier for what was an unacceptable amount of tree damage. One side was completely flat, so we simply turned it so that side faced the wall. My mom was a master of making do with what we had. She made it work. We were happy.
She deserved so much more than the life she was given. But she, as only she could, made the best of her situation. She had strength without limit, endurance without end. She built her family and held it together. Without her, I would not be here.
She gave me the strength to endure my own trauma, and the wisdom to seek help when I needed it. She was never cruel, nor cowardly. She taught me to see the beauty in the moment, even when it is as ugly as it can get. Lessons that saved my life.
When dementia took her, it took all of her. She was a fragment, a shadow, or a whisper of herself. And yet, she could still be found, smiling and laughing. A lifetime of bad memories, seemingly gone.
As the holiday season rolls upon us once again, I find myself thinking of her. The old X-mas tree, now long discarded. The ornaments and tinsle and lights, all gone. Her lessons remain though.
I am here, now, because of her.
My eyes are open because of her.
My heart, though wounded by her absence, remains free because of her.
Skillfully, or clumsily, as you will, cut out the frame of a man. Now, pull him free from the canvas.This man now exists in the world, much like you or anyone else really. He has plans and goals, hopes and dreams, triumphs and failures. He has to provide for himself and for those he loves.
This blank canvas man has no history. No backstory. No origin. He has had no previous consideration for those aspects of life. They have never been important.
As he travels through his life, he encounters people who have history. These people have tales they can recount of their ancestors, of their family exploits, where they came from and notable family members.
The blank canvas man begins to ponder where he comes from.He looks at himself. He notices that he is native. An aboriginal. An Indian. He is proud of this.
He wonders, where is he from? He talks to some who might know. They tell him of the place he was born, the house he lived in, the school he was educated in. He goes to those places, to try and remember.The hospital he was born in is gone. The house he was raised in is gone. The school he was educated is gone. Everything gone. Did the blank canvas man spring into this world fully grown? He cannot answer that, but it seems unlikely. Where was his past?
He goes to places of higher learning. He leans academically that once, a long time ago, strangers came to the land of his ancestors and took that land, by force.Divine Right, the strangers called it. He also learned, to his horror, that the strangers overpowered his ancestors, and forced them to leave their land. They were then forced to live on different land, with different rules.They were no longer allowed to practice their traditions. They were no longer allowed to leave the land they were given. They were no longer allowed to speak their own language. Then, the strangers came for the children. So many children were taken. Not nearly as many returned. The parents wept. The man’s heart broke from the sorrow.
The children who returned were changed. Different. Broken. They could no longer speak the language of their parents. They no longer knew the ways of their ancestors. They only knew the ways of the strangers, and then, only by rote.He learns that the broken children grew up to be broken adults. Some were able to recover, and heal. Others were not. The man learns that this is where he comes from. He learns that his parents were taken from their family and subjected to all manner of “education”. When they returned, they simply had nothing in them to teach. He was essentially starting off anew.
The blank canvas man learns all of this and more. He learns that, despite the tragedy, or perhaps because of it, his people, all of the people involved really, have struggled to recover the identity stolen from them. Some have been very successful. He finds this inspiring. The blank canvas man determines to learn, and cover his own canvas with the knowledge he has discovered. Each fact splashes across his canvas, giving him color. Giving him life. The no longer blank canvas man discovers his greatest joy: that the colors on his canvas can be read by those around him. The readings give thought and happiness to others. He has, through his struggles, and the struggles of others like him, found a way in the world.
There is so much about the world that I don’t understand.
People, for instance.
I am estranged from my family. Estranged is putting it mildly. I am the Black Sheep.
I performed the actions that led to the estrangement out of Love. Out of responsibility. Out of compassion. Were I in the same position, I would make them again, without question.
Family is a difficult concept to explain, or understand. Each family sees itself differently. There are whole sciences devoted to the study of family.
Pre-estrangement, I was the dutiful son. I did what was asked, regardless of my feelings on the matter. I never knew that I had a choice. That came later.
As a reward for my duty, I was made the executor of my father’s will when he passes. I was also made the trustee and guardian of his estate should he lose his capacity to make his own decisions.
Now, post-estrangement, I find that I’ve been removed as the executor and guardian. My father had a medical emergency recently. I was not informed until after. This was when I learned that I no longer his legal representative.
I learned that, in the middle of his medical emergency, my father hurriedly contacted his lawyer to remove me from his paperwork.
Was he afraid that I would somehow take advantage of his weakened state to strike back at him for years of troubled parenting? For years of neglect & abuse? Does he fear this because, if the situation were reversed, he would do the same? This is all supposition; I may never know his reasons.
I am not him.
I would not do that.
If it were required, I would stand for him, and ensure his well being and that his needs were met.
I have learned from him. I have learned that I want to be a different man from him. I am trying to heal from my experiences and to grow from them.
Part of my healing includes letting go of hatred. And fear.
I try to understand that he needs to heal as well.
I stood outside the door, full of uncertainty and dread.
My heart caught for a long moment as I raised my hand and gently knocked.
What would be on the other side? My mind conjured images of Demons and Terror. Of images long forgotten. A slavering, ravenous beast stood behind the door, and waited for me to enter.
An aura of fear radiated from the door. Or perhaps just from me. I hoped that no one had heard my knocking.
A questioning grunt echoed from the other side of the door. A shambling lurch could be heard, increasing in volume. With a sickening noise, the lock clicked and the doorknob rattled. A garbled voice rumbled threateningly, “Come in.”
I looked back and forth down the empty hallway of this old, dilapitated apartment complex. The dim hallway light showed that no one was around to witness my entrance. No one would notice if I ever left.
I swallowed a rising lump in my throat and placed a hand on the doorknob. Fear pressed against me. A physical thing, fear can be sometimes. I wanted to run, to leave this place, and never return.
Instead, I opened the door and stepped inside.
The apartment was small and full of dark omens. The air was thick and stuffy. The temperature was stiflingly hot. A pressure wave hit me as soon as I closed the door. I wondered who could live in a place such as this?
The question was rhetorical. I knew exactly who lived here. The god-damned Devil.
The devil was my father.
He had just shuffled his way back to his chair, uncaring if I actually entered or not. His clothes were tattered and threadbare. He walked with a bit of a limp, which he corrected with a cane. Daring to raise my eyes toward him, I can almost see something about him, something I haven’t seen before. With a long groan, he sits back down on his chair, in front of the television set that always seems to be on.
Endless commercials drone on from the screen. Every time I come over. Always commercials.
I take off my shoes and leave them by the door. Then I move over and stand beside him, careful not to get in his line of sight. I do this every time I see him here.
I clear my throat in an attempt to force the words out. I have to speak to him and yet, I dread nothing more than his gaze upon my face. My words are mumbled, stammering.
“Uh, I was at the hospital today…uh…”
“WHAT?” His voice, sharp, cuts me to the core. I have his attention now.
Those terrible eyes focus on me.
“I, uh…”, I manage.
“I saw mom today.”
“OH.” His attention shifts back to the screen. The drone of the television set filling in the empty spaces of our conversation.
“Uh, yes. She was doing good. Yes, good.” I have a hard time stringing sentences together when I’m near him. His presence overwhelms me.
“So, yeah, she said something funny. It really cracked up my girlfriend.” I’m trying to connect, but I don’t know how, or if I’m doing it right.
“YOUR GIRLFRIEND WAS THERE?” He leans back in his chair. I go on full alert. Why would he ask that?
“I DON’T WANT HER TO SEE YOUR MOTHER ANYMORE.” He nods to himself. He leans forward again, the matter already forgotten.
I reel in stunned confusion. Was that a command? A demand? An order?
“Yes. Of course,” I weakly submit.
I’m disgusted with myself.
“I’VE TALKED WITH THE DOCTOR”, he continues. “MOM WILL BE HOME BY THE END OF THE WEEK.” Something resembling a smile crosses his face.
What? No! She can’t!
She will die here!
She almost died here! I had to call for paramedics to take her away to the hospital because you couldn’t take care of her and you absolutely would not allow anyone else to take care of her either!
These were the things I wanted to say. But instead, I said nothing.
With a lurch, he stands up and slowly makes his way into the kitchen. He pulls open a cupboard and retrieves a glass. Then he opens the refrigerator and pours himself a glass of juice.
I meekly follow.
The implications of his words hammer into me like a series of blows. If my mother returns here, she will die soon after. My heart starts to pound, my hands begin to shake. Panic takes hold.
My head drops in defeat. The finality of his command still echoes in my mind. I am prepared to accept it, as I have so many others.
But I can’t.
I ball my fists, clenching them so tightly that they go numb. I’m shaking. I want to run so badly. I keep looking at the door, hoping for someone to enter and save me. All I can feel is His prescence, this titan who stands before me and in whose prescence I can do nothing. The Fear has me.
But this is about my Mother.
“she’s…She’s not coming back here,” I say quietly. The purpose of my visit, the topic I’ve been trying to avoid bringing up, finally surfaces. He looks at me in suprise.
I release the breath that I was unaware that I was holding in.
“Today, I filled out the paperwork for Guardianship and Trusteeship of mom.”
The look of suprise switches to anger. He calmly puts his glass down on the counter and adjusts his grip on his cane. His eyes never leave me.
“I talked to her doctor,” I continue, “and the hospital staff. They all agree that she shouldn’t return home. That she should stay at the hospital and move to a long term care facility.”
“SHE BELONGS WITH ME!!!” The force of his words pushes me back. Tears start forming on the corners of my eyes.
“You can’t take care of her anymore,” I reply. It’s taking all of my willpower not to turn and run. “You tried, remember? With the daily visits from the nurses and the food delivery people. You somehow drove them all away. They won’t even come back now.”
He rages against me. It is absolutely terrifying. The very walls seem to shake. When he raises his cane and pulls back, as if to swing, I retreat into my memories.
My tattered, ragged memories.
Every memory of abuse, physical and mental. The futile attempts at hiding from his rage. The endless fear. The memories of his abuses against my mother and siblings. But something else strikes through.
Memories of his drunken ramblings about his childhood. His stories about the abuses he endured as a child. The Residential schools and their lasting effects. His experiences in the army. The friends he lost overseas. The times he wept from the sadness he held inside. His suffering.
I realize in that moment, that he was as lost as me.
The veil drops from my eyes. I can see him now as he really his. Not as a tyrant. Not as a monster that has tormented me for my entire life.
But as a man. A broken, battered man. A man that should have received help for his numerous traumas, but never had. He was likely unaware that help was even available.
He was old. Hollow. Barely standing. Holding himself up through stubborn willpower alone.
I felt sorry for him.
A lot of my fear left then. But not all. I will always carry some with me.
“Mom can live,” I say now with more confidence. “She can live for many more years, and be happy during those. But not here. Not with you.”
My father lowers his arm. The cane slides back to the ground. Perhaps he recognizes the change in me.
“Trained professionals will be around her at all times. She will be cared for. She will be safe.”
“I can’t…I can’t carry this anymore.” I look at him. “The experiences I’ve had with you. The constant fear I live in. I can barely interact with men, especially ones who remind me of you. I have to let it go. I have to heal.”
“I forgive you.”
I head for the door and put my shoes on. There is no other noise in the apartment except for the reassuring stream of television commercials. I put my hand on the door to leave, but something stops me.
“I’m getting help to deal with my trauma.” I turn to him. “It would help you to do the same.”
I don’t know why I said that. Perhaps one final appeal to his sanity. Perhaps a lonely child’s attempt to connect with his father.
The groan of a chair from the living room as he eases himself down. Relative silence for a moment. I already know what he’s going to say.
“NEVER COME BACK HERE.”
It still hurt.
I leave, and pass through the door. I turn and look at the door as it closes. It is no longer imposing.
It is old, and sad. Like so many other things around here. I walk away.