“Some people are afraid of what they might find if they try to analyze themselves too much, but you have to crawl into your wounds to discover where your fears are. Once the bleeding starts, the cleansing can begin.” ~Tori Amos
Most of you know the story about my sister and how we were separated for most of our lives.
When I was four my dad kicked her out of the house. She was 14. She had jumped on my father’s back as he was hitting our mother, a common occurrence in my childhood.
My dad was a lapsed Roman Catholic and an Italian immigrant. He did not appreciate that my mother was married before him and that she had a child, my sister, with another man.
It was too much for his manhood to take and so my sister was gone. Her daily presence was too much a reminder that my mother, eight years my father’s senior, enjoyed, or had, a life before him.
You have no idea how fucked up my family was and still is. My parents have no natural maternal or paternal instincts. There was a lot of emotional neglect, as well as verbal and physical abuse.
The shame placed on a survivor of such a family is great. We don’t really have a vocabulary to talk about it, so we simply stigmatize those who are brave enough to verbalize their experiences.
I am better talking about it without any emotion now. I used to be filled with fear and anxiety when I put my thoughts down on paper for others to read. But, I needed others to read it. It is my story. Maybe it’s not ideal, but it is the truth.
After, my sister was not present in much of my life. She would come around our house from time to time but then my father would end up yelling or screaming at her and she would be forced to leave. They reconciled when my nephew was born, but even that, was short lived.
In 2019 I reconnected with her. What I knew of my sister in the decades of her absence was that she struggled with substance abuse, was homeless, lived in a women’s shelter and went from abusive relationship to abusive relationship. By the time we saw each other again on December 23, 2019 she was ‘clean.’ As a result of the heavy drug use she is in stage 3 of COPD.
With trepidation I admit, I don’t necessarily believe her. Since then I discovered that her profuse sweating is a result of a methadone addiction. Listen, there’s a lot to unpack. I try not to judge. I believe sometimes she lives in her own reality. I don’t say this to be mean. If I experienced what she had, perhaps I would create my own reality, too.
My parents’ malice has had a tremendous impact on generations. My older brother is currently incarcerated and when he’s free he is homeless. My other brother is an alcoholic and my youngest brother is intellectually ‘different.’
I’ve attempted to understand why and how I was able to come through the other side. When I was 10-years-old I remember lying in bed one night and thinking that when I became a legal adult I would get the hell out of that house. What 10-year-old thinks that way?
I was strong, and I had a willpower unlike my siblings. I wanted to succeed. But part of my success was to acknowledge what I had come from, and the impact it had on my psychology.
To get where I ended up required being hard on myself. Really tackling those demons. Realizing I was not perfect, and that I had to correct those defects. It’s work.
My siblings still hold out hope that our parents will love them, be proud of them, accept them. And I have always known that my parents are deficient. You can’t ever, ever, reason with the irrational and deluded. That too came with its own sense of loss. One, in this type of situation, has to learn to accept that what hurts them cannot be mended.
It was a tough day when I allowed myself to finally see my parents as unkind. They’re not nice people. Allow me to provide you with an example. My brother has been in and out of rehab and prison since he was a teenager. My parents have refused to acknowledge the affects of their poor parenting on their children. Like many addicts, my brother had kids, and child protective services removed those children from his care and gave my parents a choice: they could take their grandkids into their home, or forfeit them to foster care. My parents, chose the latter. And since then have never seen their grandchildren again. They are capable of absolving themselves of any responsibility.
I have written about my family many times, as a catharsis. I can’t keep all of what I know bottled up inside of me, it’s not who I am. As a result, because gossip is rampant in Canadian society, someone, maybe more than one person repeatedly reaches out to my parents to tell them about what I have written.
A normal parent would be concerned. If the claims are not true, they would reach out to their child and ask why they would say such things. They would want to open dialogue, to resolve the issue. My father’s means of dealing with this is to attempt to bully, to intimidate.
I have about a dozen voicemail recordings of my father leaving the most abhorrent messages to me, his son. His flesh and blood. A human being he brought into the world. In the recordings he can be heard screaming like a lunatic, insulting me, calling me names, engaging in verbal and psychological abuse, all while proclaiming he is not an abuser.
He’s threatened to sue me, but I’ve told him that all I have to do is make those voicemails public, and everyone will understand what kind of a person he is.
My mother, not the sharpest tool in the shed has sent the meanest, cruelest emails to me. Those too, I have. She has writen to me that she hopes I get AIDS and die. These are not nice people.
That’s what abusers try to do. They try to intimidate the abused into silence. I refuse to play that game.
I can only imagine what my sister endured. My sister, being ten years older than me, when she was free of that home, had a life that I wish I was a part of. We have had many conversations over the phone and in person about her life in Toronto back in the 1980s.
During one of the most exciting and care-free eras in history she worked at the gay bars, specifically Komrads, which was located at Yonge and Isabella streets in downtown Toronto.
I’ve asked my sister a lot about that era and she recalls that time as magical.
Komrads no longer operates, it’s Hone Fitness now, but they have a Facebook group that I asked to join and they kindly accepted my request. I’m learning a lot more about my sister and that period in Toronto.
It’s fascinating to read the posts and the comments and to see all of these 50 to 60 year olds reflecting on their youth. They share fresh faced photos of themselves and lament at those who have passed.
One such person was a tall security henchman named Tony Brown, who also performed drag. The group have many fond memories of his big heart. He died over a decade ago from complications of the AIDS virus. I can imagine what it would have been like then, to be a part of these beautiful misfits. I can see myself on the dance floor, laughing and talking nonsense and of my sister working behind the bar, with her youthful smile.
We never appreciate our happiest moments until they are long gone.
Unfortunately we are a lot more homogeneous as a city and maybe as a society now. I’m not too sure if people really put themselves out there anymore, whatever that means.
But researching the history of Komrads and reaching out to people who knew my sister as a teenager, and as a young woman in her early 20s, has helped me learn about who she was then.
Over the phone I explained to her that I wish I had been older, so that I could have shared those experiences with her. I wasn’t even a teenager.
Here I was this young kid, who didn’t even know he was gay, who others suspected of being gay, who was told not to stand this way, or speak that way, and my sister was surrounded by gays on a daily basis. It would have been intimidating, but it would have been healing, too.
But mostly I wish I had just known my sister. That I was there with her. That I was able to save her from what was ahead, the drug abuse, the homelessness, the abusive relationships.
Maybe we could have had a real friendship, one that I desparatey needed. I wanted to have a connection to family, but as is the way with countless others, I was robbed of that opportunity.
At least now, I have the stories.
Thank you for reading.