Picking up where we left off from Barrieland: The Complete Story, Part 1.
Disclaimer: This is Part 2 in a Series. Please read the Full Disclosure Disclaimer on Part 1 before proceeding.
And then, if you haven’t read them yet, please read the previous posts before continuing to gain full context:
Christmas 2020 was a tough one for me.
I was still dealing with the difficult personalities that are my family as a whole and stressing out about how I was going to be able to move out and move on.
For some reason, during these months, and in fact throughout all of 2020, even my own sister was low-key throwing digs at me in a way I’m not sure she understands, because I just can’t fathom doing the same thing to my own sister.
She’d regularly send me photos reliving the moments from my wedding and the events leading up to my wedding.
Like from our engagement party, my bridal shower, my bachelorette, and so on.
I just truly can’t fathom why anyone in the right mind would do this to someone, let alone their own sister, knowing full well they’re in the process of getting divorced from them and in fact have already separated.
Very strange, but I took it in stride.
And I had a feeling my family was going to get some interesting news this particular Christmas. It was just a feeling, but I was right about it.
Sometime late December another strange conversation happened. Strange to me, anyway.
One day out of the blue, my mother asked me if I was suicidal.
This wasn’t the first time and I thought I had been pretty clear previously on my position on both suicide and how I felt about the way she approached the subject.
Me, suicidal? No.
Her: Are you sure? You took a course on suicide.
This is true. Last year I got an e-mail from York University offering a certificate course for free on this offered by Living Works.
Me, flabbergasted: Yes, it’s for suicide prevention. Like how to tell the warning signs if other people are suicidal.
Her, continuing, in her own way trying to “help” I imagine: Do you need to speak to someone? I’m worried about you.
Me, stunned: This was a free course I was able to take via York University. I took it because I’ve lost a friend to suicide and wanted to be more aware of what to look for and how to handle tough conversations with my friends. I’m not suicidal.
She pressed on, and I got tired of the conversation that seemed to run in circles.
For the record, I have never in any way tried to or wanted to harm myself. Ever. I used to say, and sometimes still say, that there was a period of my life where I was undoubtedly “borderline” suicidal. The reason I say that is again, not to imply that I’ve ever had “real” suicidal thoughts, but in that the way I was behaving for years, recklessly over-drinking and at some points drinking too much before driving, I have to imagine that I cared so little about myself, or had such low self esteem that I stopped caring about if I died – not on purpose, but just based on the positions I was putting myself in in those moments.
Depressed, yes, sure as fuck depressed, but suicidal in a real conscious way? Never. I’ll never have the guts to go through with that kind of thing, especially after what happened to Robert.
In fact, aside from Robert’s suicide, the two biggest reasons I chose to take the course, was that I was worried about a couple people in my life and I didn’t know how to address them about it: My ex Matt whom I had just separated from, my friend Daniel who has had a tough upbringing (not that I think he’s suicidal, but I know he can get depressed just like me and doesn’t necessarily know how to cope with it), and my “friend” Mark.
In fact on that Canada Day I told you guys about, Mark mentioned something to me again that sticks with me to this day.
Mark: Do you ever have those weird thoughts, like not that you’re suicidal but they kind of take a negative turn…
He trailed off, but I knew what he meant, and I tried to laugh it off with him.
Me: You mean like, driving your car down a road and suddenly thinking like, what if I went into that guard rail, those kind of thoughts? Yeah man, don’t worry about it, they’re completely normal and everyone has them. As long as you’re not thinking about it in a serious way, don’t sweat it.
This is true, most people have these thoughts. My therapist and I would talk about these things in a more round-about way. She’d say to me, “whenever the narrative in your head starts to take over, just take a step back and breath and work through the feelings.”
I’m not a therapist but just to try and clarify what this means, I’ll try to give an example.
Sometimes when everything gets really overwhelming it can result in my starting to get really choked up and start to cry about it all, and sometimes not even know exactly what triggered the tears and all the while you start thinking things to yourself like, “This sucks. I suck. Everything sucks. Everyone hates me. This is pointless”.
So in these types of moments, what my therapist taught me was to start with taking that step back.
1. First, focus on calming down, breathing, bringing yourself out of that “hyperventilating” type feeling you might get if you’re really upset about something.
And sometimes this means just letting it all out, letting yourself cry your heart out for a few minutes if you need to before continuing onto the next step; As Dane Cook says, sometimes you just need a good cry.
2. And then once you’ve done that, bring your attention to your body to see where this feeling is getting “stuck”.
For me, this happens a lot in my throat and my gut (like you know how you sometimes get butterflies before a job interview or the first day at a new school? That’s an example of it getting stuck in your gut).
So she’d say something like, “okay, so where do you feel it?” and I’d often say, “My throat”.
So then you’d bring further attention to your body, literally placing your hand(s) on your throat in a soothing way, to comfort yourself, kind of like getting a hug from someone except it’s actually just yourself.
And then she’d help me work through it further, “Okay, and how does it feel in your throat?” and I might say something like, “like there’s something stuck. Like I have to speak but I’m not able to”.
3. And then 3; Okay, so why do you think it presents this way? Why do you think your body is telling you this?
And I might reflect on something for a minute and then say, “Well, because this is hard to talk about, so my body is physically making it hard for me to speak about it because I’m scared right now to say something.”
4. And they might say something like, “and why do you have fear about speaking?”
And I might reflect on that for a few minutes and say something like, “Well, in the past, whenever I try to talk about this subject, people get mad at me and yell at me, so now I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t want to get yelled at”.
And in having these conversations (which, when I’m not with my therapist happen just with myself), I start to calm down, “normalize” and the choking up feeling starts to go away as I work through the “trigger”.
5. And then 5, after I’ve worked through my own internal feelings, my therapist might remind me that sometimes, other people project their own fears and feelings onto you, so while you’re not wrong to think “everything sucks” it’s important to remember that you’re taking a lot of responsibility for someone else’s actions and thoughts, which they may or may not even have about you.
Like getting those butterflies before school because you’re worried about the new kids not liking you, and then you get to school and you make so many friends right away, and you realize you had nothing to worry about at all, you were just getting “caught in the narrative in your head”.
Hopefully that helps explain a bit.
It’s not a bad thing to have these thoughts here and there, in fact it shows you’re self-aware enough to understand there are consequences to your actions and that we, as humans, do eventually cease to exist in a physical form.
Again, I’m not a professional so don’t take my words here as some sort of medical advice; if you’re having negative thoughts or suicidal thoughts please head over to my Resources page and contact a professional, even on a small scale if you’re not sure, it’s better to talk it out with someone who knows what they’re doing.
So I knew people in my family were having strange conversations about me behind my back, but I continued on doing what I was doing; completing my work as assigned by Osgoode Professional Development and working on music when I otherwise had free time. And I was seeing my therapist for a little while here too, working through some of the not-so-fond memories that were resurfacing in my childhood home.
In December I started getting particularly annoyed with my families attitude about a number of things.
My eldest brother was going on vacation and it became known that when he returned from his flight just before Christmas, he’d be spending the week with us.
I didn’t like this, given my prior Covid-19 scare, I didn’t want to catch it again. And I thought it was selfish of him to come stay with us when he has his own place. And I thought it was selfish of my mother to allow it, making me even more uncomfortable, and exposing my already vulnerable father to the risk of it who had also already had a scare (he later also caught COVID-19 and recovered from it by quarantining in the basement).
I expressed this to her, saying if my brother was over for Christmas, then I’d spend Christmas alone. And I expressed it to my brother before he booked his trip, asking him to reconsider the timing of his trip.
He went anyway, and of course he stayed the week with us.
Normally for Christmas Eve my family goes to my Aunt’s house for a big Polish meal, but due to COVID that was cancelled. A big bummer because I don’t get to see any of my extended family very much, even the ones that live closer. My family tried to do a Polish meal but it just wasn’t the same. Some things can’t be replicated.
When I woke up Christmas Eve morning I knew there was going to be… something. I didn’t know what, but something was up.
My sister woke up oddly early, sometime around 9AM (she normally sleeps late because she’s more of a night owl). She dropped the news on me.
Sis: Matt & Lira got engaged last night.
Me, half expecting this for years at this point: Oh, cool.
I was happy for him, but only as happy as someone in my position can be in that moment, on the worst Christmas Eve we’ve ever had. And they’d literally been together for like 8 years at this point, so it wasn’t exactly big or shocking news, as far as I was concerned, Lira was already part of the family.
She explained that she saw it on Lira’s instagram story and told me a bit about it.
Sad, I thought. It really boggles me how so many people live their life through social media.
Comparatively, when I got engaged, Matt and I both made sure not to speak a word of it publicly until we told both our families – in person.
I didn’t watch the stories; I’d wait til they arrived for dinner and hear it from them myself.
My mother obviously had heard the news, too, I even overheard her speaking to Lira on the phone about it, but she didn’t say anything about it to my sister or I.
This is normal in my family, these type of weird secrets that shouldn’t be secrets.
So I spent all day in a weird semi-anxious state, knowing this would now for sure be the talk of the evening, and into Christmas, too.
There’s something to be said about not breaking news like this on holidays, or like, on other peoples birthdays or at other peoples’ special occasions, but anyways.
My brother and his fiance arrived the latest out of everyone that night.
She showed off the ring to my mother before she even stepped over the dog-gate in the kitchen.
Everyone was impressed.
My eldest brother kept commenting about the ring, asking about the cut, the size, the cost.
Mentioning the Instagram story. Asking questions about the proposal.
My mother did the same.
Even dad joined in.
My sister was the quietest about it but tried to be polite; she’s had her issues with both of them separate of this entirely. I could feel her eyes every time she looked over at me and kept silently wishing she’d stop doing that.
I was polite. Congratulated them both and gave my big brother a hug.
But otherwise I just watched and listened.
Listened to all the commentary. The excited tones.
Started to think back to when I broke the news to my parents about Matt and I, and the insufferable silence we received in response instead.
Nobody asked me about the cut of the ring. Nobody asked me about how he asked. Nobody asked us anything.
Instead they said, “you’re not going to get married quickly right? You’re going to wait a while?”
Mom had plans to renovate the house. What an inconvenience our engagement clearly was on these plans.
I told her we were planning to wait at least 2 years, and she seemed relieved.
I could only stomach the conversation around my brother and his fiance’s engagement for about an hour before I started to break down.
I left the room.
I went to the upstairs bathroom and cried.
I pulled myself together as quickly as I could; it would be dinner time soon.
I went back down and ate in silence.
I left before I broke down again.
I went to bed by 8:30PM.
On Christmas Day, as usual I woke up the earliest.
I tried to make the most of my morning in the way that I always like to on Christmas.
I poured a coffee, made a little latte actually, put some Christmas cookies on a plate (something I don’t normally do, but hell, this holiday officially sucked), and put on one of my favourite Christmas movies; Elf.
I watched at least 2 movies before anyone else started to stir. My other favourite Christmas movie is “Miracle on 34th Street”, the modern version.
Took Dakota out, and otherwise knew I had to wait for my family’s odd Christmas morning tradition.
Wait for everyone to wake up (usually quite late), have breakfast “together”, and then open presents.
I stopped caring about this day years ago, often finding myself just disappointed or underwhelmed by the general attitude of it all. This year was no different, except it was somehow worse.
I couldn’t avoid my eldest brother despite how much I wanted to, I sucked it up and participated not wanting to start a scene about it all.
We had breakfast, and then made our way downstairs to my little tree for presents.
As we got older my family started doing a Kris Kringle as far as gifts for “us kids” go, because it’s just way too expensive to be buying a gift for everyone, especially because the stipulation at our house has always been to spend at least $100-$150 per gift.
This has been true since I was a teen. And then I wonder why I’m still poor…
Gifts are handed out usually one-by-one or close to, so that people can watch, but in recent years my brother Matt usually just sort of hands everyone one, and we all just open them by ourselves.
Out of the corner of my eye I’d watch my parents open their gifts; Christmas is really more about them at this point, as far as the frequency of gifts is concerned.
Matt and Lira got everyone gifts this year despite the Kris Kringle clause. They were obviously excited to share their good fortune so I’ll let it slide.
I thought their gifts were pretty thoughtful; they gave me a new Roots Canada zip-up hoodie which is generally a good call with me, with a toque that was the style of toque I actually like (with the lil’ puff ball; a grey one, not the blue one pictured at the top of this post).
Then I opened a gift from my mom; a sweater that was, like, okay, but not really my style in any way.
And then I watched as my sister was handed a box that looked exactly like the box I had just opened.
I let the surprise slip before she finished opening it: I bet I know what you got.
She got the same sweater, in a slightly different colour combination.
We laughed it off as best we could but we were both mildly stunned; my sister and I could not possibly have more different personalities, and way way different clothing styles.
Thanks mom. Just smile it off, sis. Just smile it off.
I was handed a final box, a little worried about what it might be.
I had just watched my sister open a box that looked just like mine.
She got a steamer. Hand-held.
For her, totally practical, logical, a great gift.
A steamer. Hand-held.
Totally not practical. Totally not logical. Sorry, I can’t smile this one off.
Me: I won’t use this. You can have it (to my mom).
My mom: I’ve always wanted one! (She bought it).
Great. So it’s settled then.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Later my mom would say to my sister and I, the only ones with odd-gift choices: You’re just so hard to shop for.
For the record, my sister could not be more “basic” – clothes from her stores would’ve been fine, or like, jewlery or perfume, girly stuff.
And me? I’d been eyeing a couple things that aren’t too expensive but I can’t justify the cost of yet, like a new harmonica, or harmonica holder. If only they could’ve like, asked us or something.
My mom seemed to think about this throughout the day and later said since she would keep the steamer, she’d buy me something else of similar value using her credit card.
After the ordeal I went through with her and my wedding and having just had paid her off in full, I wasn’t about to ask her for to use her credit card or for any money for that matter.
I ended up splurging on a new Shure SM58 for my live cover song videos. $120CAD or so. I never brought it up again, and neither did she.
Christmas redeemed, I thought, as I worried about my credit card bills.
I took myself for a walk shortly after this, because that’s how I destress now without the use of drugs or alcohol. I left Dakota at home so that I could make it a brisk one and I went to Boyd Conservation Park to look at the pretty snowfall.
When I got back a couple hours later, my mom said to me, something to the effect of: you’ve been quiet so, I’m sure the walk did you some good.
This is the kind of comment that brings someone like me down right quick. There’s something about the tone in her voice when she says it, full of pity, false concern and completely lacking in sympathy.
You have no idea how much of this you yourself cause, do you, mom?
I went upstairs and thought about a story post I had caught earlier in the morning; Jim Adkins posting a “Dumpster Fire” ornament on his Christmas tree, or whatever tree he was in front of at the time.
Earlier in the season I had come across a “Dumpster Fire” candle that was shaped like a literal dumpster; I wanted to buy it, but couldn’t justify the $20 cost.
This was the kind of thing that helped me perk up a bit, because it makes me feel like I have something in common with someone (something I just don’t see with my entire friend group at this point). But at the same time, made me wonder what kind of shitty Christmas he might be having too.
When you feel like you have no friends and questionable family support, if you’re anything like me you tend to gravitate towards musicians/music, or movies and books. It fills the void for a minute, makes you think maybe there’s someone else out there that understands how you’re feeling, even if you don’t actually know them.
I went to bed early again.
Maybe next year will be better.
Narrator: Isn’t this supposed to be about moving to Barrie?
Welcome To Hawthorne. Population: Unknown.
Mark came to pick me up one day and we drove over to McDonalds where he ordered our coffee’s from the McDonalds app as he drove through the Drive-Thru line. Not to be a do-gooder, but if you’re someone reading this who does this, stop doing it, just pull over before getting in the line and order that way.
Then he drove us over to Emily Carr S.S to sit in the parking lot, and as we sat there I wondered why people did this, sit in the parking lot of their high school.
Another mutual friend of ours would do this constantly, and I never understood it because I just didn’t feel that same sort of attachment to this school, or any school.
We sat at the back which was also weird, the other parking lot is a bit of a nicer scene, but it was fine.
He told me about the apartment he had; a basement suite in a house in a good area of Barrie. He showed me the plans for the renovation on his phone, a basic floor plan that he explained as best he could. He was excited about the renovation because he was able to participate in the design decisions, choosing light fixtures and other things like that.
The only things that really mattered to me about this place was that
A) it has half decent square footage
B) it had a backyard for Dakota, and bonus part;
C) It backed onto a big forest
Very cool, Dakota and I would love that, I thought.
But it wasn’t ready yet, and he wasn’t wholly sure when it would be. Covid-19 meant that construction had to stop periodically, but he still anticipated it being finished by mid January.
I said cool, I wasn’t in a total immediate rush because I still wasn’t sure it was a great idea for me given my financial situation.
But tensions were rising in my house, so I kept it front of mind.
In January or February, Mark came back to town for another visit, and he had time to show me the place in person.
Great, I was hoping to.
He reiterated to me several times before we went and as we drove up to Barrie that it was in a safe neighbourhood, and that he still knew some Barrie cops who lived right up the street. Something that was supposed to be comforting but the more he said it, the more it wasn’t.
He took me on a mini-Barrie tour on the main roads that surrounded where it was; I’d been to Barrie before, of course, and even with him before, but it was a nice gesture. Landlord Mark seemed to care about his potential new tenant. He pointed out the nearby grocery stores which helped me verify they were within walking distance.
He initially said he’d be able to offer me the place for $1100, all utilities included.
A steal, but still a little pricey for me when I compared it to my luxury bedroom suit in my childhood home for $400/month.
Plus then I’d be buying all my own food again, a pro and a con given my now terrible diet again from Chef Sam.
When we pulled up to the place, I didn’t think much of the neighbourhood. Row-style attached homes.
Mark told me since he was offering me this place for such a great price, he didn’t want me to change my address.
Under the table rent; I get it. It made me uncomfortable, because this is literally illegal, but I also wasn’t sure I’d be staying long at this stage if I took it at all.
I asked him about the upstairs tenant, worried that they’d have a problem with me playing my music; Arguably my biggest concern. I had been working on music a little bit at my parents house but my mom has always hated my playing and my singing, she says, sounds like someone is dying.
Sometimes that’s the intention, mom, thank you for your support.
I felt like I’d get more work done out of the house, but only if the neighbours weren’t the type to call the cops on you for noise.
Mark told me it was just a single mom and her two young kids; they were in a bit of a rough situation and sometimes he gave them cuts on rent. Another one of those odd statements Mark would make that I wasn’t sure if it was to boast about his do-goodness or to make me feel more comfortable, a la “they’re poor, like you!”
I mentioned the music a few times, and he said he reached out to ask her about it, and she said it would be no problem because her and her kids loved music; Besides, she said, she knew the kids were loud sometimes and it was sort of a quid-pro-quo moment; “I won’t complain if you don’t.”
No problem, I get how kids can be.
He showed me the apartment pretty quickly, but thoroughly enough in that I didn’t feel we were pressed for time like Mark usually was.
Seemed a good size for Dakota and I and the forest looked rad. I didn’t really care about the interior, just that it had enough space for my desk for my music, and a small desk for my work-computer. Kitchen was a good size, plenty big enough to cook and prepare food comfortably. All the appliances brand new, which was cool.
This would be the first “new” place I would be moving into, and that in itself was very cool. No deep clean required!
By ways of explaining what I half expected, when Matt & I moved into our King City home 3 days after our legally contraced move-in date of May 1st, the house was an absolute disaster. I mentioned the former tenant lit a fire in the upstairs, so it needed significant repair. When we arrived with our truck in tow to move our stuff in, there were construction materials absolutely everywhere; the front door has glass blown out of it and scattered all over the front porch and garden, there were nails and screws everywhere, very unsafe for humans and dogs alike. I really should have taken some pictures, but we were trying to move in, so we quickly tried to clean up the incredible mess left by Brian Walker’s construction team and just put our belongings wherever we could find space, thinking we’d just handle this on other days since we had a limited time to get the truck back before incurring further charges.
Back in Barrieland, Mark explained that there was still some work to be done, things like:
- They’re going to put glass in to close in the shower.
- They’re going to add shelves to the linen/pantry closet.
- Plumbing still needs to be hooked up for the dishwasher.
- The fridge was coming soon, and Taylor would help handle a lot of this stuff. Taylor being Mark’s ex-boyfriend that he still shared his Ontario rented home with.
And so on. Generally speaking, small stuff, especially compared to the 13120 Keele Street disaster previously.
And he explained that some things had changed from the initial plans, like, the washer and dryer were supposed to be enclosed with a sliding door, but they couldn’t make that work and have it meet Ontario code because of the small hallway.
For those of you that don’t know, buildings have standards they need to meet to allow for the safe passage of human beings and are supposed to also meet accessibility standards, like for people with wheelchairs, for example.
No problem, we can live with that.
Mark: And the door to the bathroom scrapes the drawer unit, so you have to close the door all the way to use the drawers.
Okay, no problem…
And then he showed me the under the stairs storage cubby which has a sliding door and said the oddest thing to me.
Mark: Dakota can stay in here.
Uh, no, he won’t, but this is a good storage area for extra junk.
Dakota is not spoiled but he is certainly well taken care of by me, he’s my best buddy, his bed stays in my bedroom, for example, and yes, sometimes I let him up for a cuddle.
And as we stood in the hallway Mark reiterated again for what felt like the 7th time: I know cops in the area, it’s safe here. The upstairs people are nice, just a mom and her two kids.
And then he said to me: I know you’re having trouble at home, so I can offer you this place for $1000. No pressure, you don’t have to decide now.
And then he drove me over to Canadian Tire and he came back out with a key, with the Toronto Maple Leafs logo engraved on it. Before handing it off, “you still like the Toronto Maple Leafs, right?”
Me, hesitantly: Yeah, sure.
They’re my “home” team but I wouldn’t say I follow them closely anymore, I actually generally prefer to watch the St. Louis Blues.
He handed me the key: Surprise! No pressure though, you don’t have to decide now.
I felt pressure.
Him: Take the key anyway and then decide.
He drove me home, reiterating along the way: It’s a good area.
Yeah, it seems alright Mark, thanks, I’ll think about it.
I didn’t know much else about Barrie other than they have had an incredible drug problem for years; opioid use has been on the rise in many Canadian cities for some time, especially the smaller ones.
A couple weeks later after talking it out with my therapist, I made the decision.
I was going to need to learn how to survive on my own, meaning without anyone to lean on at all, and this seemed a good way to do that.
The other thing Mark had told me repeatedly is: You can leave anytime; No contract, and we’ll do this on a month to month basis.
When you’re poor like me, there really isn’t any better offers than this one.
And my “friend” would be my landlord, even though he’d be in British Columbia. He seemed particularly interested in getting me to move into this place for that same reason, a “friend” could keep an eye on his property.
Me: Okay Mark, I’ll take it. $1000 a month?
Mark: $1000. Oh, and you can move in early, without paying the extra couple weeks rent.
I moved in mid-March; the renovations weren’t complete yet. And I was about to run into some problems.