I remember the police cruiser rolling around the corner onto 6th Avenue, it’s lights turned off, as my father was pushed to the ground by one of my older brothers. Mom told us he was never coming back.
From the moment I met my partner nearly 6 years ago I told him I wanted to visit the neighbourhood he grew up in, his backyard, in Taipei. That honour took place nearly a month ago. Taipei has such an amazing rhythm, very similar to the man I love.
Just this past weekend, in Calgary, it was my turn to share my backyard experiences. The rhythm was palpably different.
The Dolan’s grew up, more like survived, in what Calgary labels as old ‘wartime’ houses. Many of these houses still stand in the older neighbourhoods of the city. Typically, they are two-bedroom houses that I am sure don’t even qualify as bungalows. Mom and Dad had one bedroom, three sets of bunk beds resided in the second bedroom and a single bed was laid out in what we called the back shed. Nine kids lived in this place.
As my partner framed a photo of me with the house number 2421 in the background, the memory of yet another violent ordeal flooded my mind. I even remembered that the Officer my father shouted to about the restraining order my Mom placed on him, had been dispatched to our house for a previous domestic violence disturbance. I remember feeling such shame.
My partner teased me that I had plunged the memories of 15 years of living, in that house, into a 30 minute neighbourhood visit. It was all I could do to stand on the street.
What I marvel at today and most humbly assert, is that from those meager beginnings often filled with uncertainly, fear, dysfunction and a myriad of other childhood traumas is, I am ok.
As I drove by my elementary school playground, as part of the tour, I remembered walking with my grade 5 teacher during recess. He shared with me, “I’m not sure the world will ever be ready for who you really are Tommy, but it’s only important that you are.” Little did I know, at the time, that a gay man was talking to a gay boy.
The trip to Calgary and my willingness to share where it was that I came from, neatly strung together with some entertaining stories, had me acknowledge how willing I had been to turn tragedy into triumph. Add to that the blessings of having been connected to some wonderful people who cared deeply for me.
I left Calgary feeling very afraid and unsafe as an out gay man in the early 1990’s. I giggle today when I read the unique selling/marketing proposition of Calgary as being, “The Heart of the New West.”
Somewhere along my path in life I read or listened to someone who said, “We are who we surround ourselves with.” With 41 years passing since leaving the neighbourhood I toured my partner through, I realized the blessings I’ve breathed into because of who has surrounded me.
Today, the house that inspired so much of my formative life, 2421 – 6th Avenue NW, is now a day care. Clearly, I am ready for who I am today.