Sunday, March 13, 2011

Part 48: The First Cut is the Deepest

"I used to be a King and everything around me
turned to gold.
I thought I had everything and now I'm left without a hand to hold.
But it's all right, I'm O.K. How are you?
For what it's worth, I must say I loved you.
And in my bed late at night, I miss you.
Someone is going to take my heart
But no one is going to break my heart again"

- from "I Used To Be A King" by Graham Nash

Funny how life goes on around you; the sun rose every day, people laughed and sang. So I adjusted to the single life. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, made new friends, hung out with a different crowd.

As so often happened at Brent, some kids didn't return after the holidays, leaving us to wonder what happened to them. Mike Kendrick never came back to Brent after the Christmas break, I got a letter from him a few weeks later telling me that they had moved back to Australia. He told me to write him, but he didn't provide a return address.

One of my new friends was Jack McMullen, I liked his sense of humor and admired his toughness. He was strong as an ox and his temper made it best to be on his good side. One day I saw him pick up a picnic table and hold it above his head with one hand and then throw it across Neutral. But mostly he was a good natured, jolly fellow and fun to be around.

I was still avoiding the ex, so Jack, Jaime and I spent a lot of our weekends off campus, hanging out with some of
our day student friends from Camp John Hay, Dayne Florence, Vic Horne and Keith McCullough.

Jack displayed his non politically correct sense of humor one day by making a wooden cross, then cutting up his sheets to make two hooded shrouds. Then soaking the cross with lighter fluid, he set it ablaze and we stood covered by our sheets waiting for the Base "Blue Bus" to arrive from John Hay. It then occurred to me that maybe this was not such a good thing to be doing. Keith alighted from the bus stopped and then fell down laughing when he saw us at the top of Neutral. He got up and ran up the hill toward us and tackled Jack and they wrestled for awhile. Keith spent the rest of the school day wearing Jack's sheet. He was a big guy, thank goodness he had a good sense of humor.

We were working daily on Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance", they were trying to whip us into shape. Mrs Villaba rehearsed us individually and in groups on the songs and Mrs Viduya worked with us on our lines. It was tough for me, not only was I not much of a singer, but my ex and her new beau were in the play as part of my pirate band. Most scenes where I was on stage they were on it too. I pretended to be over it but it was killing me. Fortunately most of my singing was relegated to a few lines here and there and for the rest I was backed up by a chorus of "pirates".

Finally, it was time for our performance. We were as good as we would ever get. I remembered all my lines and my voice only cracked once or twice. All in all we did moderately well, we had good material to work with, the audience laughed at our lines and songs and we didn't embarrass ourselves too badly. I got something out of it anyway, I kept my pirate costume and wore it at Brent's Halloween Carnival later that month.

I decided not to go home for Christmas that year. I put off getting my tickets until the last minute. Then when I was sure there were no available seats till well after the holiday season, I telegraphed home my apologies and watched my friends pack and leave one by one. None of them invited me home, but that was my fault, I didn't tell any of them I was staying. Misery loves company and I was it.

It wasn't too bad at first, although the silence in the dorm was deafening. I cleaned my room daily and listened to AFRTS. I joined the Christmas shoppers and browsed the markets. I ate most of my meals at the school. Mr Keddie and Mr Spitzer were there along with a few other of the boarding faculty so the dining room would be operating for the duration of the holidays. I was sitting in the lounge after lunch one afternoon, reading by the fire, when I was surprised to see an old familiar face from my first year at Brent.
I recognized her right away, she vaguely remembered me, but we slowly reacquainted ourselves. Homesick for her family, friends and the country of her childhood, she hadn't been back for four years. Now she was home from college and had stopped by to see her old school. I supposed her classmates had all moved away and I was the only one she sort of knew. She wanted to know what I was doing there on the empty campus and I told her I was staying in the dorm for the holidays. I saw her almost daily after that, sometimes we would drive around so she could see the landmarks of the city where she grew up.

A few times I went over to her folks house for a meal, sometimes just to hang out and watch them bake cookies and build a gingerbread house. It was nice to have someone to talk to and I felt safe with this college girl. She invited me to spend Christmas day with her family and at first I said "no, I don't want to intrude", but later when her mother asked me again, I agreed. It had been kind of lonely at night and I had been dreading Christmas. I really liked her family, I liked their warmth and laughter, the love they showed for each other. They probably didn't approve of my hair, but they never said a word about it and made me welcome. Christmas morning came and I was surprised and touched when there were gifts for me; later we sat down for the best Christmas meal I could ever remember.

She had been looking through her sister's Ganza yearbooks, she had read some of the things I had written. She asked me about them, commenting about a line here or there, asking for the back story behind a poem or two. She wanted to know if I was still writing and asked to see what I was working on. I had given up writing by then, I had written everything I could till I was all dried up. But she persisted, so reluctantly I showed her my notebook and after reading through it she asked me about it. Slowly but surely she coaxed out the story of my misery, things that I thought I had buried away for ever. I don't remember how long I talked, or the words she said to me afterwards. I do remember the hurt and pain at having to relive it.

One day while touring around the city in her parents car we stopped to admire the scenic view. There by the side of the road she put her arms around me, then kissed me. The passengers of a Jeepney driving by whooped and hollered but she wouldn't let go. A wave of emotion rolled over me: confusion and fear. My heart screamed out it's rage and pain, then another wave flowed through my hardened heart: a whisper of hope.

She was gentle and patient; by the time she left and school began I was ready to try again.

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