Four years have come and gone. Friends have come and gone. Boys have come and gone.
Some of my closest friends (whom I consider to be a part of my family) have gone for a semester or two and have returned, or have graduated and moved on to bigger and better things. Through it all, we have maintained the emotional intimacy that has always been at the core of our friendship. Through their postcards, letters and occasional Skype dates, I have been able to watch them grow, while sometimes being a world away.
But they were not the only ones. Over my time here, I have grown. I made peace with who I am, came out and came into my own. I’ve changed degrees, I’ve changed career trajectories, I’ve changed my taste in music, I’ve changed the way I see myself. I’ve learned that change can be terrifying, but change can be necessary. I’ve discovered what it is that I want out of life, even if more than a few obstacles stand in my way of achieving it.
Of course, there have been smiles, there have been good grades, and there have been heart-to-hearts until sunrise, which I will never forget. And there have been tears (oh, there have been tears), there have been bad days, and there have been great disappointments. I can see now that all of those things- every single one- are my life. All of those seemingly-brief flashes in time- they are what have transformed me into the person I am today. They are my story.
Queen’s taught me to try harder, inspired me to revel in wonder, encouraged me to dream bolder, made my heart beat just a little faster, and opened my eyes just a little wider to the complex and delicate beauty of the world and the people around me.
Now, it is my time to say goodbye as I count down to graduation and my plans for the time beyond that continue to inch nearer and nearer every day. It’s not a true goodbye, though. I might not be on campus, but Queen’s has become such a part of me- a part of all of us- that its influence is so profound, it is now indistinguishable from my worldview. What I have realized is that its presence will always be manifest in any of the paths set out before me. I will always carry in my heart the characters that have filled and enriched my story here.
Queen’s, thank you for all that you have given this boy from a small town on the East Coast, who desperately needed a way out.
My friends, my wonderful friends, thank you for sharing your stories, your love, and this adventure with me. I would have nothing without you.
But this isn’t the end for us.
It’s just the beginning of the beginning.
1. The “You are the wound!” fight between Hannah and Marni on S1E9 of GIRLS.
“I have a lot of friends from pre-school; I’m just not speaking to them right now.”
2. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. Published in 2004, this novel completely destroys convention. Over the span of the six stories interwoven across time, space, and genre, Mitchell challenges the reader to forget logic and linearity and take a certain wonder in the irreducible, the incomprehensible. Through his protagonists he depicts a universality of themes of humanity and pushes the reader to reflect on their own lives, their conceptions of morality, their hopes for the future, and how they will use their lives to achieve something greater than themselves.
3. Thought Catalog. We have had a tumultuous relationship in the past. Usually issues of quality control, but this year TC bounced back. Sure there’s still a lot of less-than-stellar content, and I would like to see less of a drive for quantity. However, for my daily fix of twentysomething realness/therapy/news/anxiety/solidarity/reassurance, this is where I go. And you should, too.
4. The Song of Achilles, Madeleine Miller. Gay kids just don’t have stories like this to read when they’re growing up. And perhaps a retelling of The Iliad may seem an odd choice. However, following the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus from their youth through to adulthood, Miller masterfully conveys the maturity and growth of the two men as they march off to their fate in the Trojan War together. A quick-read (I read it in one sitting), the mythological backdrop makes the love affair feel like a sweeping epic, adding a certain gilt to the story. Just as everyone else has their Mr. Darcys and Elizabeth Bennets to dream about, Achilles and Patroclus earn a place in that pantheon with their long and tragic romance.
5. Hillary Clinton becomes a media darling. Finally, the world has opened its eyes to her uncanny abilities in governance and diplomacy. Here’s to hoping for 2016!
I think these two articles just about cover it all:
6. The Newsroom. Sorkin’s back! And his didactic tendencies have not waned.Each week, Will McAvoy and the outstanding supporting players bring Newsnight 2.0 to life. Yes, it’s set in the recent past, and you know the ending already, but the news story is never supposed to be what keeps you in suspense- the characters’ actions are. If you lean left of centre, then this is a refreshing take on how things should have been reported.
7. Columbine, Dave Cullen. A harrowing, painstaking recreation, minute-by-minute, of the Columbine massacre. It delves deep into psychological impact on the community of Littleton, and also the collective psyche of the nation. This book does not contain a forced narrative- the story speaks for itself. It asks the reader to think about mental illness, the media, parenting, the high school environment, and the preciousness of everyday life in an entirely new way. Sadly, with little progress having been made since the tragedy 13 years ago, the observations and conclusions presented therein remain all too relevant. It’s a lot to deal with emotionally, I had to take frequent breaks. That it is non-fiction, and spares no detail really amplifies, or perhaps, just accurately portrays the horror and sadness that swept the people for whom forgetting about Columbine just would never be an option.
8. ‘It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy’- Passion Pit. This summer I had the opportunity to see Passion Pit live at Osheaga. Singing mainly from their new album, Gossamer, they did not disappoint. This is the standout track. With a driving beat and wistful chorus, Passion Pit once again unlocks the perfect formula combining honest lyrical connection with their offbeat, but hypnotizing musicality.
9. Goodreads. This is a site/app I stumbled onto completely by accident, and I’m so grateful I did. I have certain neuroses that essentially require me to keep track of everything and keep it all organized. Especially books. Goodreads acts as an online log of what you want to read, what you have read, how you have rated it, and it gives you the option to review it. It also doubles as a community of readers, with opportunities to see other’s ratings, reviews, and discussions. Most of all, it is a wonderful incentive to read. Like facebook, Goodreads has capitalized on the positive feedback mechanism- it’s extremely satisfying to add another book to the ‘read’ shelf and watch the ‘total books read’ grow one-by-one.
10. Handwritten thank-you notes. First of all, we could all afford to be a little more mindful and thankful for what we have been given- let’s be rid of this sense of entitlement once and for all. I prefer thinking of handwritten notes as postmodern rather than old-fashioned. They force you to think, to create, and to be sincere. Something about the finality of the drying ink on a page makes them seem much more concrete than the ephemerality, impersonality and disposability of the web. The physicality of the note itself and the time you took to write it suggest a greater acknowledgement of the generosity shown.
11. “There is only love.” I read The Happiness Project a few years ago, which is where I first encountered this phrase. I started meditating daily this year. This is my mantra. To think of this simple phrase grounds me and reinforces what is important. In those four words, there is so much implied: the inherent good in humanity, the necessity of forgiveness, the universality of love. The most profound things don’t have to be complicated. Happiness really can be achieved by changing your perspective and remembering the power of love in all its forms.
12. The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe. Remember the book I’ll Love You Forever? This is it, expanded over 336 pages. Through the books selected for the two-person book club while she undergoes treatment for pancreatic cancer, the son explores the remarkable life his mother led and comes to appreciate her all the more for it. Sometimes it’s startlingly frank, but at its heart, it is an incredibly endearing account of coming to terms with the end of one’s life with dignity and personality intact, and the powerful bonds between mother and son. It’s also a tear-jerker and reveals some powerful truths:
“Our whole lives can change in an instant- so each person who keeps that from happening, no matter how small a role they play, is also responsible for all of it. Just by giving friendship and love, you keep the people around you from giving up- and each expression of friendship or love may be the one that makes all the difference.”
Honourable mentions- ‘Youth’- Daughter, Shame, Weekend, Fair Isle Sweaters, salted caramel, Imagine Dragons, Maureen Dowd, Adam Gopnik, hypemachine, twitter, Kristen Wiig’s last season on SNL, The New Normal, DETAILS’ Ben Affleck cover, Wirrow’s ‘and a new earth’, Humans of New York.
By this point, I’ve become accustomed to participating in the collective and ritualistic national commemoration that occurs each year on Remembrance Day. While it may be respectful and emotional, the passage of time is making it increasingly less personal as we begin to forget the names and faces of those who have fought and died and served our country. We replace them with abstract ideals of peace, turning away from the truths of history.
And this is a great disservice. War and, consequently, death rip apart the fabric of a nation in the most intimate way. Sacrifice is trumpeted as for the good of the country, but amidst the rhetoric the more immediate realities of the horrors of war are obscured. Fallen soldiers will never exist merely as headlines just as people can never be reduced to statistics. They are people who had families, had friends, had loves, and had loss. They were more than their military rank and their honour in death. And now they are gone and can only live on in memory and in the legacy they have left to us.
Every political decision has a very real human cost. Those who are grieving and are dedicated to preserving the memory of those who have died are the unsung heroes, for they are the only ones who can fully appreciate the true price of the freedom that we take for granted every day of our lives.
We go through life giving everyone we have ever loved a piece of our heart. It is when we find the right person that we take the final piece, which has been ravaged by time, and break it in two- giving them half. It is only at this moment of exchange that we come to realize that we have had two identical halves all of our lives. Only with this new piece we are receiving, which feels as though it were destined to fall into our lives, will our hearts be completely whole. That person now holds a part of us that we can never get back. They carry our heart in theirs. All of our fears, our love and our quirks are now shared. We are theirs and they are ours. Their pulse beats strong inside our chest; the constant rise and fall a reminder of the stability and vitality they have given to us. It’s a beautiful gift to give someone.
The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
On the first day of class this year, my professor read out an open letter he had written to us, his seminar class. He spoke of the importance of dreams, of not to allowing ourselves to become too bogged down with our current circumstance, and challenged us to go beyond what we know to be true.
He told us that we are all astronauts. We are hurtling through space on this planet with only the atmosphere to serve as our spacesuit.
It’s true. We are.
It’s an astoundingly frightening concept. By using that as his example, my professor asked us to find the wonder that is already present in our lives, but remains undiscovered. It’s about a new way of seeing. A new perspective.
It’s a powerful message that made me stop, think and look inward.
Throughout his ode to the power of dreaming, he had inspired in me a certain awe. And I am compelled to agree with him: for all of the terrible things in the world, there are still some things that seem almost divine in their existence, some instances almost too miraculous to believe, an order of things too immense to grasp.
No matter that science is helping us to understand more and more, there is still wonder in knowledge. There is wonder in discovery. There is wonder in exploration. Maybe there is something to be gained from a more spiritual outlook, if only to remember that our lives are an opportunity to explore ourselves and the world around us.
Sometimes, it just takes a deep breath, a blink of the eyes, and a leap of faith.
They have been there for years, but until last night, I hadn’t given them much thought. But there they were. As I stared into the mirror while brushing my teeth, I could see them reaching out from underneath my tank top- fiery, angry gashes that run the length of my shoulder blades and the rest that neatly outline each rib. Scars I had ignored, hidden and thought I’d dealt with.
I was wrong. I hadn’t dealt with them at all.
Looking in the mirror, the memories came flooding back.
I am coming to realize that before this most of my memories were reconstructed from what other people had told me. They were romanticized, or censored, preserving only the good moments, the good parts, the funny narcotics stories or the days I ate 4 bowls of ice cream. What these second-hand accounts neglected was the ugly, the brutal, the torment, the scars. Those days I didn’t sleep, the day my organs started shutting down, the days and days and days when I was incapable of eating.
There’s a reason there aren’t any pictures of me for three years of my life.
In a mere instant, the memories had brought me to a dark place.
I could now remember the bright lights, the way I was positioned on the operating room table, the icy cold steel against my chest.
I could remember how I went insane. It was the pain that did it. It brought out the worst in me. I absolutely couldn’t bear it contained within my body any longer. I remember screaming expletives and crying and just yelling, praying, hoping for it to all be over soon.
I remember waiting. Just waiting. Waiting.
And then the injection into the spine, and the countdown began.
And then waking up. Feeling as though I were in a dream. The narcotic haze had begun. I was literally attached to a wall by a series of tubes that were jammed into my intercostal spaces. My entire torso was invisible under heavy bandaging that extended from my waist to under my arms. There was no way this was my life.
Let me tell you something, after a surgery like that, you don’t move. For months. You lie in bed. You sit up. You vomit. You don’t really eat. You dream. You are injected with very strong painkillers every four hours timed precisely to the minute (the nurses have come to know how OCD you are about this). You wish you could escape the permanent daze, wish you could put a coherent sentence together, wish you could get all of the thoughts straight in your head.
You see and hear everything. People die in the beds beside you. Children come in to visit their father one last time. A five year-old who loves Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift goes in for his sixteenth surgery. True, you’ve had your share, but at least you’re fifteen and up until recently, life has been kind to you. Lying in that bed you learn a lot. A lot about people. A lot about death. And you begin to wish that you couldn’t see and hear everything.
And that is your life, your silent torture, for months and months and months.
Before I was discharged, I told the hospital counsellors that I was okay. I honestly thought I was. I put on a brave face and said, “It’s all a learning experience, right? I am determined to take everything that I can from this experience.” And they were impressed by this. And they left me alone. I thought that meant that I was okay. That maybe what I had said was true, and that my counsellors believing it confirmed its veracity. I thought I would be able to handle things on my own.
It wasn’t until I was discharged from the hospital and my medication ran out 4 weeks later that I knew what a struggle this was going to be. After three years of intensive treatment, my body had not forgotten the high of the drugs. These drugs were strong. They weren’t percocet, that’s for sure. My body craved them. I couldn’t sleep. I had tremors. I vomited. I took any pill I could get my hands on.
I went back to school part-time. It’s all I could handle. It took me almost five minutes to go up a flight of stairs. I still couldn’t think straight. I came back and things were different, strained. I had changed, but most people had stayed the same. When I say I wanted to go back, really I wanted to go somewhere where people understood. Which is somewhere I’ve never found.
It’s hard to find people that understand. I do know that people can understand pieces of what I’ve gone through. But who can ever understand what it was like for me to have three years of my childhood taken away? To have 50+ surgical staples in my back? To have it explained that the surgeries I was about to undergo were highly experimental and they weren’t sure what the long term effects were, and that the surgeries will require the top cardiothoraccic surgeon to fly in from Alberta? To be told all this at fifteen?
(Mind you, I do know people that have had extremely terrible and extended battles with illness. Sadly, I’ve seen too many of those battles firsthand. I am not trying to say that mine is worse, or that it deserves precedence in severity. I am just expressing through this piece my own trauma and experience and how that has influenced my life.)
I thought I’d gotten over it all, that I had moved on. But now I’m not so sure I ever will. In the back of my mind, I feel like another hospitalization is inevitable. Maybe that’s why I can never commit to anything even two days in advance without having an anxiety attack or why if I even feel the slightest pain I won’t leave my bed for an entire day. I live in terror thinking that everything will be taken away from me at any moment.
Just as my life then was catapulted into a world of uncertainty, so too, is mine now. It will be a world of uncertainty moving forward dealing directly with these scars. The repression mechanism of my brain has ceased to function. Some memories are indeed best forgotten, I assure you. But to forget is something near impossible, and so, I must learn to accept, or rather, to re-accept what happened. From here, I need to find my confidence again and take some time to figure things out. There is a lot of figuring out to do.
I have to learn to do what I initially told my counsellors, which is to use these experiences as a source of strength and not let them paralyze me.
I need to look in the mirror and see my scars and remember the battles I have won. I need to make them beautiful to myself once again. It is necessary; these battlescars will be with me for the rest of my life.
I just finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
I don’t know what to think.
I guess I’m just trying to feel.
Vitamin String Quartet- Rebellion (Lies) [Arcade Fire Tribute]
I really want this song to play as I walk across the stage at convocation.
Sometimes, you get news that opens up a world of possibilities and awakens a part of you. And this is a great thing.
There is suddenly another option on the table.
Your well thought-out plan is suddenly thrown into chaos. You’re faced with an opportunity you’re not sure you want. You’re also not sure you don’t want it either.
Choosing this could change everything; it really could put you on another life path.
Maybe it’s the one that’s been waiting for you.
Maybe it’s just fun to think about something different, fun to see yourself in a new light.
Do you stick to what you’ve dreamed or do you explore this new idea?
No matter what you decide, you’ll never be able to forget this fork in the road and the choice you made as you came to it.
Maybe you’ll never be able to thank yourself enough, but maybe you’ll never forgive yourself.
This has been an eventful week.
Time to do some soul-searching.
Robert Frost, give me some guidance.