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A Tim Hortons Love Story

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All great and precious things are lonely.”

John Steinbeck

………………………….

Was it a faint hint of a tear I saw at the corner of her eye as I sat down with my coffee?

She was perched upright with her back snugged close to the large plate-glass window so that she was able to view the entire area of the store including the main entry door at the far side.

It’s not every day that I encounter a fractal of emotion when I order a “double-double” at my Summerland Tim Hortons’ coffee shop.

tim-hortons-extra-large

This is me being discreet when I snoop on others at Tim Hortons …

But of course now I’m intrigued, just like I was a number of months back when I sat next to a murderer at the Penticton Tim Hortons.

Tims has become the quintessential microcosm of Canadian existence, probably like Dunkin Donuts if you’re American, or Gloria Jean’s if you happen to live Down Under.

I curiously examined the inches-away-from-elderly lady (we’ll call her Linda) with dyed light-coloured hair; the network of heat-wave like wrinkles around her eyes and forehead told a truer story of her age. Scuffing her tan-toned shoes nervously over the tile floor, her eyes furtively scanned back and forth.

What was making this woman feel so distracted and out-of-sorts?

As many of us often do when we’re seated in a restaurant, I pried into my neighbour’s life and tried to piece together a sense of a story.

Here was an older woman sitting by herself but obviously expecting someone or something to happen. Nervous anticipation was written all over her face and body language. She turned and wiggled the narrow gold band on her finger uneasily.

It didn’t seem likely that she awaited a friend she met daily or weekly.

She was too old to be waiting on a business meeting or a job interview.

Perhaps a visit from a son or a grandchild had her feeling a bit edgy – had there been some family tension lately? Possibly she wanted to discuss how she would be dividing her estate when the end of her days arrived.

Or maybe … she was a widow awaiting the arrival of a man who had expressed an interest in her companionship. But there was that tear in her eye that left me wondering.

I sipped the steaming coffee, enjoying its smooth creaminess and feeling a bit guilty about having stirred in two Splenda sweeteners instead of the one I had promised to restrict myself to – too bad they were finished with the Roll-Up-The-Rim contest, not that I ever won anything anyways.

Then it occurred to me that there could be a person or two in my midst that was spying in on me at my table and wondering what my story held.

The watcher being watched.

I looked around at the other tables and their occupants suspiciously. Spooky.

But I snapped to present reality when I detected the woman’s eyebrows raise and her eyes lock onto a similarly elderly woman slowly passing through the door at the front.

I could feel it –  this was it.

The story would unfold now.

Book unfolds

This new woman (let’s call her Rose), similar height, similar age but with short cropped salt and pepper hair peered anxiously around until she spotted her acquaintance and, smiling tightly, hustled over to the table.

There was a girl-like shyness about Linda as she rose stiffly and was engulfed in the arms of her friend.

Then, the tension melted away and they sank comfortably into each other’s arms, like long lost lovers reunited … and … I began to realize that this WAS the story.

Let me tell you the rest – at least as I imagined it.

two women hugging

Decades earlier, the two had been nurse co-workers in Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

Working as part of a team, they were set in tense situations frequently while patient after patient entered their lair. It was hard – exhausting, physically and emotionally – work.

Their camaraderie and closeness grew over the months and years. Then one night, after a particularly tense crisis event, their friendship spilled over into a romantic interlude – the surface tension burst and developed into a relationship that continued on for months.

A covert operation.

It was a forbidden love in a society that told them what they were doing was so wrong, and yet they couldn’t step back. Their passion and affection wouldn’t be denied, just guiltily hidden from an unaccepting and hostile world.

But the step back did finally occur when Linda’s father suspected what he didn’t really want to know.

His solution to this “problem” was to forcibly introduce suitable young men into this daughter’s life. And … buckling into the pressure of her family, Linda eventually succumbed and agreed to marry the least disagreeable of the suitors.

Linda brokenheartedly and reluctantly cut her tie with Rose, married the young man and moved away to the small idyllic town of Summerland in the interior of the province.

The next 40 years were spent raising a young family, nursing at the local hospital, and living the quiet, desperate existence of a life of lies to herself.

Meanwhile, Rose passed her years in muffled isolation, immersing herself in her nursing life and occasionally allowing herself the stinging pleasure of remembering her one passionate connection. A mixture of melancholy and happy reminiscence encircled her days.

Rose retired and spent her hours gardening, reading and volunteer in a local nursing home when, one day, a letter arrived.

She could almost hear her heart beating as she opened it and read the bittersweet words from the pen of a decades-long-gone-lover.

It told her the story of a woman recently widowed who had found Rose’s address in the pages of the retired nurses’ website. It told her of a life spent with a husband and children –  days of school meetings and routines, and days filled with happiness and sadness.

And then, at its end, it asked if an opportunity to meet once again was possible. A gathering of old “friends”.

………………………

And so this is where you and I came in.

I gulped back the last drops of lukewarm coffee, rubbed my moist eyes and smiled as I watched them speak in soft tones and with long, lingering looks.

The last thing I saw as I pushed the door open to depart and return to my own life, was the two, their hands extended across the table, firmly holding on to each other as if they would never let go … again …

A great and precious love had been pried apart by an unaccepting world that had finally turned into a place of welcome.

I could feel the cavernous sense of lonely dissolving like sugar in aromatic coffee, leaving only the delicate sweetness swirling in its wake.

Holding hands

 

 

The First Time Ever I Called You Queer …

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In the Elementary School System there are two separate,

Yet equally important groups.

The little boys who pull pony tails and trip girls in the playground at recess

And the little girls who giggle and skip rope.

THESE ARE THEIR STORIES

law-and-order-logo

Almost like the kids’ game RED ROVER, there were inviolable, uncrossable lines at Glen Echo School in Hamilton where I spent my formative Kindergarten to Grade 5 school years.

Truly, SCHOOL laws and BOY laws existed that were unwritten but well heeded until about Grade 6.

These KGB-like regulations secretly stated that boys and girls would never display any obvious signs of admiration, crushes, or lust upon their opposite numbers. Come to think of it, this may have been my earliest encounter with political correctness. Talk about blurred lines.

I was teased – and I teased others –  if I was seen to be currying favour – you know, pulling a pony tail or chasing a girl in the playground, the glaringly obvious signs of pre-pubertal true love.

Boy pulls girl's hair

It just goes to show that we conform to rules, written and unwritten, at an early age. It was clear to us boys that – at least publically – we hated girls because they were YUCKY. ‘Nuff said!

The sadly remarkable yet funny thing is, I knew inside myself that I was attracted to these little cuties in pleated skirts and white knee socks. I just wasn’t sure why.

There were no swelling or developed breasts that shifted my gaze from eye level. There were no curvaceous hips that wiggled seductively as they shuffled in little girl packs ahead of me down the linoleum hallway that, because some Grade 3 kid just puked up a hot dog from last night’s supper, smelled of pungent Dustbane.

It was and is a mystery.

I didn’t really understand these feelings I felt inside.

I just knew that it gave me a warm, pleasant feeling, and had a really strange, stiffening effect on that wee little dangly thing below the belt that I peed from. What was with that?

Louise C. was my first official public crush in Grade 6 – I dished out an extra 10 cents to hold her hand and take her to the Glen Brae Middle School sock hop – but as far back as Grade 1, I was covertly madly and deeply in love with Dale C.

She was that deadly combination of both pretty AND smart. I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she’d come in from recess –  a little whisper of apple flesh clinging delicately to the corner of her lip – and tug her white tights up higher around her waist. I was hypnotized by her strange girly magic.

In Grade 2, she must have gotten pregnant (I always suspected Billy or Jerome of schoolyard lust) or something because her family moved away and I never saw her again. Took me 4 years and a crush on Miss Taylor, my Grade 5 teacher to get over her.

Larry Grade 1 Glen Echo 2

My first crush Dale C is in this picture, but I’ll leave it to you to guess who she is by the “S” we’re holding together…

Things probably haven’t changed a lot on the infatuation front for today’s youngsters, but now I’m casting my sight in a slightly different direction.

Now that I’m an adult (sort of), and the world’s scope of understanding has expanded for me, I find myself wondering.

I was (am) a sexually-straight little guy. We all assumed in my childhood years – again, at least publically – that everyone around us was straight.

My question: When do little gay boy kids start crushing on other little boys, and lesbian girl kids on other little girls? 

The early unwritten rules I’ve just described about not expressing desire or lust must have killed the gay kids.

Why?

Well, for me, Grade 6 came along and suddenly the dam walls that prevented public lust came tumbling down. The classrooms and schoolyards were filled with little conclaves of tender couplings and busy matchmakers.

Billy and Sarah, Blake and Miranda, Frank and Cathy, Nicole and Keith.

Some of the romances lasted for minutes, others hours, the occasional one might stick for a week or two, just like today in Hollywood.

The prison doors were flung open wide, and public yearning was instantly de rigeur. Suddenly, I could drool all over Cathy and Adele and Carol. No questions. No ridicule.

But the dam – the prison walls – never collapsed for the gay kids. I assume there had to be a fair number of homosexual youngsters given what I see in today’s world. But in the real world playground there were no couples walking hand-in-hand like:

John and George, Britney and Madonna, Elton and David, Ellen and Portia.

ellen_portia

If anything, the walls of the dam grew stronger and more forceful for these kids. The level of ridicule and derision for queer youth became more heightened as the volume of sexual hormones rose.

By the time I passed through the front door of Glendale High School, the feelings of anger and mockery for homosexuality were at absurdly elevated levels. I can only imagine the frustration and self-hatred experienced by my LGBT classmates.

I’m living today with questions, and no small amount of guilt, for the way I must have treated my schoolmates who were attracted to their same-gender friends.

For the reality is, there were three, not two equally important groups in the system who had their stories, but we weren’t ready to listen.

Yet.

Are We Now?

 

GAY as a 2012 HOUSEWIFE

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Psychotherapist Ernest van den Haag : “I am reminded of a colleague who reiterated “all my homosexual patients are quite sick” – to which I finally replied “so are all my heterosexual patients.” 

Say it loud, I'm straight and I'm proud

My motto in the ’70’s

Years and years ago in the mid-70’s, I was a college student and was also working part time at a well-known burger joint that employed a rhyming-named clown pitching the deliciously greasy product!

I was ambling through the local mall one day when I bumped into Brian, one of my burger-making co-workers. I really enjoyed working with Brian, he was a good guy with strong manly looks, and a great – somewhat Monty Python’ish-style – sense of humour.

I saw that he had a logo design on his T-shirt that I didn’t recognize, and so I asked him what it was about. He didn’t hesitate a second—

-Oh, THIS? This is the symbol for the Gay Association of Hamilton.

-REALLY???

Anderson Cooper Gay?  In the 70’s I would have been surprised — NOT now!

I swallowed just a wee bit of vomit in my mouth as I took in what he just told me! I’m sure my face turned a dozen shades of red as I tried in a panic-filled moment to try to respond. Until this moment in my life, homosexuals were something that I considered a weird, fringe element that was occupied by a teensy  tiny portion of the population. The few homosexuals that I figured existed were easily recognizable by their flamboyant and ultra-feminized behaviour. LESBIANISM?…well, it just didn’t exist at all in those days!!

At high school, my male friends and I made a 4-year career of ridiculing the GAY-faggoty ones who may or may not have been truly gay. I don’t think any of us really contemplated what damage we might be doing to a fragile person dealing with what had to be an extremely difficult and traumatic time of life. For us real boys it was just good fun and a diversion from our monumental lack of success with real girls!

Brian changed my view of gay-ness forever that day when he told me about his role as President of the local chapter. Brian was a funny, masculine, smart, with-it guy… AND he was gay!  He was even the DJ at the dances put on by the group. After I got over the shock I felt when Brian “came out” to me, I never looked at or thought of homosexuals as separate – better or worse– than heterosexuals again.

But that’s just background to what I really want to discuss here.

Previously “straight” men and women are coming out to the closet in startling- to me–  numbers. The whole arena gets muddled by those who consider themselves as bi-sexual and those who come out as truly homosexual. In Canada, studies indicate that less than 5% of the population identify themselves as either homosexual or bi-sexual. Only 1 in 20?? I gotta tell you here…I’m a bi-skeptic!!

In my small sphere of contact, I’m encountering a substantial number of women, who, after marrying/partnering and having children with a male lover, decide to leave the heterosexual relationship to join in a sapphic (ie. female-female) partnering later in life. NHL hockey teams are not the only ones making big trades in the off-season…women are exercising their options and switching teams in large numbers.

Three times married actress Meredith Birney with her later-in-life partner Nancy Locke

I get the idea that homosexuality isn’t a choice…I buy into this concept. But a new reality of those who jump later in life is different, isn’t it? Is sexuality a fluid or fixed thing?

This confuses the hell out of me as I try to understand just what’s going on:

  •  Is this a person who has hidden the truth from their partner and family over years and possibly decades before making the fateful leap?
  • Is it a recent discovery and acceptance by the affected individual of their true orientation?
  •  Is it a rejection of what heterosexual relationships are about, and a statement of the profound disappointment of men as partners?

My spidey-sense tells me that there’s probably a germ of truth in each of the scenarios I’ve described above. Like so many areas of study, the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know and understand. I suspect our knowledge and ideas about sexual orientation are still in their infancy .

Do YOU get it? I think I’m going to track down my old friend Brian and have him explain all of this to me!

Can somebody help me understand this?