Have you ever been suspended from school for fighting? Did you run away from home as a teen, or get arrested? How many of you have shoplifted and been caught? Are we on the outside merely shadows of our inner stories we don’t let out? Which among you are the conformists or non-conformists, the rebels and the victims of circumstance, or the true deviants from the rest of your peers?
In High School I once tried to knock the hat off another kid in the class for a lark and caught him in the eye. Was I truly sorry or was I trying to avoid punishment? Another time I was playing with a lighter and burned the hair of the girl in front of me in science class. I begged her not to tell, and the teacher just chalked it up to smells coming from other labs.
I used to find special places – secret places as a child. There was the back of the trees that ringed the gardens in Scotland, between the old wall and the lawns. I was perhaps 10 at the time and I noticed others had been there: Crumpled beer cans and the smell of urine, I didn’t know about sex then. I could hide and watch passers by oblivious to my presence.
It would serve me well later in life in my early 20’s in High Park, Toronto. Secret paths allowed me to move from one end to the other. From the lake where I would take day old bread that the bakery used to leave for the seniors home to feed the ducks, across to the wealthy neighbourhoods where I would bin dive for anything I could find useful to cart back to the warehouse where I lived, or worse, take a carton of milk from a corner store’s delivery. The hours before dusk were my time. Time to visit the zoo from behind the paddocks, the bison snorting warm air into the night seemingly unmoved by my presence. As soon as the joggers began their early cadence I would retreat with whatever I had gained in the darkness, or step out from behind the bushes to walk the paved paths home.
What secrets do you hold that you can’t share? I once stayed in a Buffalo motel with a girl and a guy from my last high school in Toronto – after skipping the bus ride home. We were mature students and it was an alternative school where accountability was lax admittedly. I remember the neon motel sign outside the window and the metal desk with the wood-grained decal. I remember the taste of cheep brandy and Marlboro’s. Three distinctly different rebels – different backgrounds, one a rich kid, the other from a Catholic school, and me from the suburban working class Mississauga. Brought together because we didn’t fit in, from a school for people that didn’t fit in.
What’s in your recent past you have to live with, alone? What stories do you tell to make it go away? What makes a person good or bad? Is it possible to see the interplay between right and wrong; more right than wrong, or shades of grey? Do we cheat on our taxes, do we short change the parking meter if at all possible? Do we bend the truth ever so slightly in our favour? We alone absolve ourselves of guilt and shame, strive to do better, do good and err on the side of righteousness – but not too much. That would leave us open to the same deceit we are trying to overcome from within – a constant struggle.