A particularly insightful article by a blogger here got me to thinking quite a lot lately. More importantly it got me to writing and the subsequent post has ended up serving as my introduction in returning to blogging with my partner here.
I’ve had the good fortune of being a cis gendered male born into a wealthy western country. Even though I began life in one of the poorest corners of that nation, I count myself fortunate in many ways.
A large chunk of my life has been spent living as working-poor or underclass. I grew up in a small fishing town and when I was still quite young, the fishery died and overnight half the population of my entire–and already poor–island was out of work. In the years that followed fully a fifth of the population migrated out, moving to new provinces, new countries.
Those that stayed behind tried to go on. There was anger, resentment. The fishery that sustained them and their family for generations was destroyed by foreign trawlers that raked the ocean floor clean of life, destroying breeding habitats in the process. Those vessels were allowed to do it by a federal government that traded off the right to do so for better deals in foreign markets on the cars manufactured in the richest part of the country.
Despondent fishermen took to the streets, even stormed the House of Representatives. Worry was palpable, and though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the federal government was terrified that independence would be a word to follow on lips soon after. And since our island and the lands we owned in the north were rich with resources that fueled the wealth of central Canada, that couldn’t happen.
The unemployed were given meager payouts to quell their outrage, and it worked. They would lead pitiful lives, turning to alcohol and drugs to fill their time as the memory of a hard working, proud people grew further and further dim in time.
I grew up in an era of eroding social fabric. Where men and women once worked together in the fishery, they instead now wallowed in poverty unhappily.
My mother went to night school and worked during the day while raising my sister and I, and supporting a drunken, drugged up abusive husband, all so she could eventually scrabble over and eventually win a coveted position as a school secretary.
Her first marriage fell apart after the fishery collapsed. Her second marriage regrettably lasted much longer. Neither of them was my biological father (whom I’ve never met), and both were sick, twisted, mockeries of manhood.
I watched powerlessly as a boy as my mother was abused, emotionally and physically. I suffered it myself, but always pushed it away to the back of my mind, forbidding it purchase in my thoughts because I had to care for my mother and sister, help them through. If I thought for one moment on the visits, the torture I suffered, I’d break down and die.
I came to hate all the things I saw around me. The drugs, the alcohol, the abuse of those weaker than you. But through it all the one thing I could not help but inherit was violence. Angry violence.
I loved my mother and sister deeply and without reservation. For the love of them–my family–I’d have given anything. But I knew no other way to show it but self-sacrifice and violence.
Being an intelligent kid, I tried to pave the way for a brighter future despite being denied the ability to skip ahead some grades because of the ‘social cost’ of separating me from my friends. I dreamed of doing so well in school that someday I would rise above the dregs of my home and provide a better life for my mother, my sister and myself.
Though such dreams always ran through my mind, it wasn’t enough to quell the violent fantasies. The desire to work out, get stronger, grow up faster so that I could savagely end the source of our more immediate suffering was far greater.
As my teenage years saw me surpass six feet in height and my obsession with trying to grow stronger took over, things eventually came to a head. He was still stronger, bigger, but I was full of righteous fury and hatred. Hatred that was consuming me, and I felt it would destroy me if I didn’t destroy him first.
There was no one final confrontation, but that night in the kitchen when a large knife nearly brought it all to an end was a high point, or should I say low point.
Contrary to popular nonsense espoused by many an unhelpful authority figure, standing up to bullies does not work. It didn’t work on the one at school, it only provoked him to fight me harder. And it didn’t work on the disgusting failure of a man who made me call him ‘dad’ at home either.
The broken dishes, furniture and bruises piled up until eventually my mother saw the eventuality of it: he and I would destroy each other somehow. So despite his threats of burning down the house with us in it if she tried to leave, we orchestrated an escape and made off to start a new life.
It would be nice if I could say that things were all better then. They weren’t. I still had half a year of high school to go before I could graduate and go, and the shadows of unresolved hatred and anger wouldn’t leave.
We had gotten away, but the crazed lunatic that threatened to burn us all to death rather than let us escape wouldn’t give up so easily, would he? More than that I began to resent my mother for the first time in my life. Why hadn’t we left sooner than if this is all it took? And though I never laid a hand upon someone I loved, the broken furniture and dishes didn’t stop. Though now it was all me, raging against shadows.
I had been an insomniac for all my teenage years, but it hit its worse in this period. I went days at a time without shutting my eyes. And though I managed to graduate top of my class, it was by miracle and understanding. I had missed so much time at school that regardless of grades I should have been denied graduation.
I went onto university with scholarships and what should have been a bright future. But I was a wreck. I still could not sleep, I was hallucinating during the day of being attacked by the men who’d ruined my life, and the ulcer I’d had since I was twelve had grown and been added to with other problems. I was losing so much blood through crippling intestinal pains that I was faint and light headed. I often passed out onto the floor.
Somehow I had managed to get through high school but like that I hadn’t a hope with university. My grades dropped, I never showed up for some exams because I couldn’t get myself off the floor for days at a time due to the pain. I should’ve left university and got my life together somehow, but all about I was urged: stick with it, you don’t want to be some drop out without a university degree, do you? Working some fastfood job like a loser? Get student loans! Everyone in your financial position gets them, so why not?
It was at this time that the woman I’d come to rely on so much came into my life.
We were a terrible pair on the surface. Me, plagued with so much anger and unresolved problems, her clinically depressed and needy. But in some ways I think that’s part of what I liked about her at first.
My mother and sister no longer needed me. I was no longer there for them to vent their problems to, I was too hateful for that anyhow. And they didn’t need a rage-filled young man in their lives, that was just more problems for them. There was nothing I had anymore to offer them as support.
But I still needed someone to look out for. To give me purpose.
I helped her through her depression, I did my best to convince her of the strong, smart woman I thought she was. Encouraged her to seek professional help, gave her all the support and meager financial help I could offer, and she ran with it and became such an immensely wonderful woman that I am endlessly proud to call my partner. She’s turned out to be better at life than I ever was or am.
In return she did for me things no other ever did. She supported me more than I could have imagined, and gave me an opening like I’d never had before. I told her things I’d never confessed to anyone. I opened myself up to her, cried in her arms and let myself be weak and pathetic in the privacy of our dark room.
She got me through the bleak periods of seeking help for myself. Of facing the frustrating impotence of being a poor, unemployed young man with a large student debt. Talked me through the shame of facing creditors who insulted my manhood openly.
I don’t claim to be completely fine now, but it has been a long time since I’ve put my fist through any walls or gone into a rage. I feel I’ve conquered my anger, though I still struggle to take on the demons of my past. I’ve confronted with her things I’d never admitted, not even to myself, and I suspect that won’t end entirely anytime soon. On top of that, my health is still precarious, but I persevere and do my best to lead a healthy life.
I’ve known a lot of strong women in my life, and I owe them immeasurably. I’ve never felt shame or embarrassment in saying I’m a feminist or an ally. Sexism cuts both ways, not that I seek to take anything away from the greater overall suffering of women in that dichotomy. The sting of masculinity, of upholding it, of trying to live like what I believed a man should be caused me immeasurable harm over the years.
The blog post that inspired me to write this made me think because throughout my life and my struggle to come to terms with the haunting issues of my past, I’ve made great strides to improve myself and my condition. I’ve rejected violence, come to know myself a little better and resolve some underlying issues that still keep me from leading a fully happy, healthy life.
Through that, and the little glimpse of my life I’ve given here, however, the choices that were pushed upon me by authority figures through my academic and financial life manage to haunt me still.
I am not one for regrets, and perhaps that is why I’ve denied myself such reflection in the past. But to think on how my life might have gone differently had I been able to skip ahead grades as my performance warranted and I wanted. I could have left high school a year or more earlier at least, sparing myself and my loved ones my final, ignominious moments.
Had I not caved to the pressure to go to university and then take out loans to buoy me from guidance counselors, teachers and parents, I would not have spent the next decade of my life struggling with the repercussions of that. Of being unable to make loan payments, of facing harassment from creditors. Of being terrified to take a chance to make my life better because those damn loan payments hung over my head making any choice I might make a terrifying ordeal.
This is not about regret, and I am happy with who I am now and my life with my partner. Like the original blog post, it’s just my way of reflecting on the impacts of so many decisions made for us when young by people who assert they know better than us.
There is a whole generation of young people out there in the midst of a global economic depression struggling with staggering debt. They are indentured to the banks, some for the rest of their lives. They will make poor life choices. Neglect to seek out better opportunities because they’re terrified of passing up their mediocre jobs on the chance that they won’t make their loan payments (assuming of course they are fortunate enough to get one of those pitiful jobs).
Many of the same authority figures who egg them on will be the first to decry them as lazy. Put them down and insist they take responsibility for “their own choices”.
We all live with life altering choices hoisted upon us by society, by our parents, by authority. To pretend that sex is the only meaningful one–the only one worthy of recognition–is absurd.
I don’t speak about this in the abstract hypothetical. I’ve experienced grim, life crushing defeats of all sorts, and though I won’t try to rank them in importance–as that seems silly to me–I still, among my plethora of issues, struggle with those academic and financial issues upon which I was pressured or forced by well-meaning authority figures.
The shadows of violence in my past haunt me still, but the day to day burden of a monumental debt linger in a more material manner and shall continue to decades after the debt is no more. Violence, emotion, class, finances, sex and sexism, they’re all intertwined and inseparable.