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For the last few weeks, I have been writing about ‘now’ – my experiences in this day and age – but sometimes it makes perfect sense to reflect on some of the things that has happened in the past, only hoping that they never have to repeat themselves. It is really beneficial as a way for me to map out how far I have come and how further I may have to go.
Reminders. Life lessons. Growth strategies.
It just make sense because, from my perspective, life inside the universe is just a classroom. Thoughts. Experiences. Problems. Solutions. Lessons.
So going back about four years ago, I remember traveling to work… picked up the daily newspaper and I remember the shocking image on the front page. I remember the ‘bold letters’. I quickly skipped to another page. My heart was throbbing.
It was an unbelievable story that my former manager had been killed.
I wasn’t sure exactly why, but the way in which he died was horrific. My co-workers had read the story. They showed no sympathy. One of my co-workers said, “I heard he was a ‘battyman’.”(Jamaican equivalent for ‘faggot’). I could feel the tears coming but I was too numb to cry.
That morning was as bleak as the signs of morning showers: dark clouds rushing across the sky and the absence of sunlight. I stood in the car park, smelling the air of sea salt and listening to the rushing waves crashing against the rocks along the seashore. I was distant from everything else that was happening around me.
I knew I had to leave the country.
I knew I was too close to him. I had hoped the story hadn’t reached my neighborhood. I hoped my father hadn’t heard about it. I had hoped it would remain a secret, at least until I had left the country.
He was my very first manager. He was only 38 years old. A very strong, powerful man; full of life, hardly complained about anything. But he had his own weakness. This is not something you are allowed to talk about. Everyone seemed to have known – I was still guessing. In a sense, it wasn’t my business, but in a typical communal, homophobic society, everyone was very concerned about what deviance he embraced. They were concerned about his lifestyle.
A ‘lifestyle’ – that’s what it was called.
But his take on life seemed more established than anyone else’s. Regardless as to whether or not he was gay, many people respected his guts.
I did too. And for a different reason, I thought I was learning.
The first lesson he taught me, was that regardless of what society tries to make you believe, you do not need to be with a woman to be a man. He was a man on his own terms.
But when he died, it took me several months to put sense to his unexpected absence from life.
Throughout the time that I got know him, I could sense that he was depressed, frustrated, sad and secluded and that made him bitter. He was miserable. But instead of whimpering to the rhythm of pain, he lived lavishly – he spent, drinked, partied, laughed – and quite frankly, pretended not to care too much about what people thought of him.
No one knew who he was. He was extremely private.
Everyone saw his strength. But as I got to know him more, I could sense his pain. A witty, smart and aggressive man but his soul was frail.
I always wondered why he never left the country. But he got so used to being depressed, oppressed, so distanced that it all became commonplace. He learnt how to fight. And so he lived and died fighting.
Still, he achieved a lot. A home in a great neighborhood. A great car. A great job. But I couldn’t tell if he was ever proud of what he had.
Initially, I thought he knew the way out of depression. But there was a bigger chance that all he ever did was what he could to defeat the fear or likelihood of receding into depression.
Around the time that he died, I wrote the poem below… at a time when poetry was my only relief from the tension that was building inside. To me, this poem was very personal but I have gotten to the point in life where I no longer believe that I should be ashamed of my past or fearful for my future:
It’s titled: “He Taught Me How To Live.”
It feels like a new chapter had begun
My life had frankly started but may have also ended
Yes! I was suicidal
…Had thoughts tearing me apart everyday
…Lost and confused
But now and then that chapter repeats itself
But very few people, if any, ever saw my tears
While there were many faces
As many as I could remember,
None shared my pain
I was shrouded in gloom
Like society, religion and my family
Had devoured a big chunk of my heart
And still, I was the same face in the mirror
The same shame
The same embarrassment
The same lie
The same captive
But somehow I met a few people
Who gave me the same reasons for wanting to live
…That I shouldn’t give up
…That I should just give it a try
Somewhere deep within I had found that very thing that gave me life…
…The unquenchable thirst to succeed
Someone had walked into my life
Had taught me how to be a man
How to live simply because it is life,
But he never had to tell me
More importantly, he showed me
But everyday has its own end
Everyone has his own end
And so did he… a great teacher, but he had his own
…Not what I had expected
Maybe not so soon
But he wasn’t perfect
As none of us are.
He had things to learn
Because life never stops teaching.
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