By Corey Reed
I found comfort in the wintertime during my thirty-minute walk through the snow and overflowing streams to the school bus stop every morning. Something about that muted, muffled atmosphere comforted me. The trees didn’t quake. The birds didn’t chirp. Thick snowflakes softly fell around me, adding to the pillow-like, un-ploughed path under my feet. All was still and suspended. “Do What You Have To Do” by Sarah McLachlan played on the iPod I bought with my first ever paycheque, and I smiled warmly. It was the most peace and solace I had ever found in my life so far – even with wolves stalking me through the trees.
One day, one tiptoed onto the road in front of me, growling mildly. I knew that fear inspired their hunger much as writing inspired my escapism, so I continued walking forward to what I was certain was death. At that time, I welcomed it, for lately the abuse and pain was at the boiling point for me. The wolf snarled, rearing up onto its hind legs. Suddenly, there was a look in its eyes of fear and hesitation – a look I had often. As I continued walking towards it, back straight and refusing to break my stare, it plopped a few steps forward in the snow. In the muted cold, the snarling subsided. Before I knew it, the wolf was a nose-length away from my chest.
“Just do it. Save me.” I pleaded anxiously.
It licked my hand.
I hesitated for a moment. Do I dare pet it? I must be out of my mind, I thought. But sure enough, I pressed my lightly gloved hand onto its head, stroking it softly. The wolf closed its eyes, grunting through its nose in appreciation and nuzzling into my coat, nearly knocking me off my feet. Here was a creature misunderstood by so many, having an “I know, hang in there” moment with another misunderstood creature.
I have never looked back since. Don’t believe me? Doesn’t matter. I know it happened. I’m alive because of it.
Today, I’m so glad to be in debt and stuck in a dead-end job. No, seriously–and I have a good reason for it: I survived the journey and did it all myself. I’m not one of those people who wishes to be dependent or “cling” to their parents. I flourish in the distance.
Never were my childhood aspirations cut down. My mother supported me, doing her best to guide me onto the right path despite her addiction and mental-health issues that were never properly diagnosed. My father is, well, another story. I find great comfort in hammering away at these keys about his “influence” – it’s almost therapeutic.
Dad left mom in 2000, leaving me under the impression that it was due to her battle with the almighty bottle. While I knew this was one issue, I wasn’t stupid. I knew there was more to it, and found out when I was forcibly removed from mom’s custody and forced to live with dad – and his newly wed husband.
To all potential parents out there – never force your child along with you on your own “redemption” journey as your captive yes-man.
I didn’t think of becoming a writer until my late teens – when I had a lot to write about, and plenty of “inspiration.” Beforehand, I wanted to be a naval architect, but then it shifted to being a video game concept artist. As my taste in careers changed with me, the insults, put-downs and negativity began. Dad’s words bore into my head like a riveter’s hammer.
You’ll never make any goddamn money off of that.
Use your head.
Don’t be stupid for once.
Do it on the side as a hobby.
I vehemently detest that word. It is an insult and disgrace. If I pursue something as a career, then it is due to my utter passion and admiration for it. I don’t wish to maintain it as a mere plaything–something to return to in my downtime and fuck around with. This is how I feel about my writing, which received much the same reaction as my passion for concept artistry did–well, at first, anyway. Once dear old dad took the time to peruse my early work, he began to notice that his son possessed more than the ability to fragment families and be a selfish, egotistical pot-smoking prick – unlike himself.
You make sure I get a dedication in your first book.
Are you going to write a gay love story in honour of (insert current squeeze’s name) and me? As a thank you for everything we’ve done?
I want the first copy.
Just write something.
My hatred and hostility towards my father have fuelled my creative writing in a monolithically powerful manner. Think about it - to hide your sexual identity for over 35 years, “fall in love” with the girl next door to please everyone but yourself, live a double life, fuck around on her the whole time, have a child (as a result of a broken condom, as I was told by him), use her addiction as an excuse or “way out” of your false life while punishing and devastating her on the way out the door with half of her stuff, then to marry your current sweetheart from the bathroom stall of a local Swiss Chalet–but not before tearing your child from their mother who had been working sixty-five hours a week in the fast-food industry while battling alcoholism to make ends meet? It boils my blood. However, my blood fills my pen, so to speak. In a way, his disregard for everyone but himself has helped me–in some twisted non-parentally correct manner, albeit.
I remember working simply for the sake of working. I longed to be out of the house, out of that hole of deceit and snobbery. I missed playing Grand Theft Auto with my mother, going to the movies and enjoying each day fully. She would become sloshed, but I knew it was a disease that she had to fight. I never resented her for it. If anything, her mental state irritated me more–it was like living with an eleven-year-old from the sixties who understood nothing about the modern day. But I still loved and respected her, even with her annoyingness. How could I not–look what she had tried to provide?
I was never allowed to return to that atmosphere again once I started living with dad–and dad number two. If I didn’t remember to walk the dog that they picked out, named and brought home without involving me in the process, I’d receive a fist across the face. Didn’t want to join them in watching their daily four hours of soap operas on the only television in the house? Then it was off to my room–after being told I was spoiled and selfish, of course.
I’m worried about him. Is he doing drugs?
I bet he’s just masturbating and playing fucking Nintendo.
He needs to learn to get a fucking life and grow up.
He has no friends. Who’d want him? Not like he does anything.
In my teens, struggling with acne like so many, I was shoved against the wall while he would “force” my skin to submit to his malevolent intentions. I still remember the bruises from that fucking towel rack knifing into my back. Bastard.
You weren’t helping.
You look like one big ball of pus.
Learn to take care of yourself.
Stop crying and grow up.
You’re so lazy, and it shows. Just look at you. Skinny, pimply and anti-social.
I remember, you sick psychotic fuck.
You’d like to forget and put yourself on a pedestal, but I will always remember for both of us. This was in my teens, and by then I had decided that enough was enough – I would pursue a life as a full-time novelist and escape. Something was so comforting about creating stories and novellas that made use of the anger, hatred and bigotry that filled my life as a sort of “fuel for the fire,” so to speak. To concentrate pain into beauty resonated heavily with me, and always will. This was what got me into writing and further inspired my push to pursue a diploma in Professional Writing later on. Use what you’ve got, I’d think. Well, I’ve got heartbreak and despondency. Let’s use that.
It’s worked pretty well so far.
Eventually, dad number one was laid off and had to relocate us to where dad number two’s family lived – a hovel of a town called Hawkesbury, which borders Ontario and Quebec. Still under eighteen, I had little choice but to comply–mom was out of rehab for the fourth and final time and battling her own demons. We moved to dad number two’s great-great-grandmother’s old house in the Laurentians. A seemingly endless forest, a 40-minute drive from civilization, surrounded us. Wolves walked past my window at night in the winter. A carpet of ladybugs infested the house in the humid summer.
It was at this time when I had my encounter with nature in its most raw, pure and incorruptible form. That moment with the misunderstood wolf in the muted winter of 2009 resonated with me like nothing else. That creature was afraid of me–as much as I was of it. But I met it with respect and confidence, much in the way that I learned from that experience to meet my aspirations and wrench them into reality–even if it meant I had to do things myself. I woke up.
So I moved out as soon as I hit eighteen. I packed my paltry belongings and relocated to Ottawa. I regret nothing except not doing it sooner. Since moving away, my past has continued to haunt me–albeit in a manner that helps more than hinders. I still fuel my work with my pain and trauma, because–as I’ve noted earlier–it heals me to transmute my torture into innocent beauty within the confines of the printed word. I tend to tell dark, despondent stories–it’ll always be that way, and it doesn’t bother me–but I am proud of them, and can see the quality present on the pages.
That’s what I’m trying to get across–you need to be the author of your pain and experiences. Cry, bleed, sweat, ejaculate, and piss on every page. Use yourself–especially if you feel that next to nobody has any use of you. Use your inner outcast in your work, and exorcise your feelings of exclusion in the real world. This is the true art of writing; make it as damn personal and authentic as possible–even if it is horrific and shocking–and don’t worry what others think. Ever.
I took the time to reflect on my past because we can’t have a present without recognizing how our histories have helped us grow. Sure, to some I’m likely fifteen years more mature than I ought to be, and am not the most social person around (I’m not crazy, I just revel in independence), but I know that I have what it takes to get through life.
There’s so much more that I wanted to include in this piece–but I didn’t want it to be a “pity party” essay. It is meant to be a lesson in self-confidence. As I’ve grown, so has my writing. All of my early work has been burned and eradicated. It is garbage. My best work is from the past five years–what I’ve written since moving out on my own, falling in love (something I never thought I would feel), moving in with my boyfriend and his roommate (an ex-philosophy professor, at that) and forging a path of my own. This is because I can fully appreciate my past. I’m actually thankful for what happened, because I’d never be anywhere near as unashamedly decent of a writer as I am now. I’d still worry what people think. Now, I believe in my ability. I will become a full-time novelist. I will. Ironic, isn’t it? When we learn to turn our pain and horrors of the past into a tool to build our future, anything is possible.
Therefore, I feel that this isn’t a story about my life.
This is just me.
Me, unashamedly showing all creatively inclined, misunderstood people out there that it does get better. You just need to put yourself first. The only voice that should echo in your head and make decisions for you is your own.
Let me conclude with a moment that I’m glad to have experienced–one that I’d have missed if I didn’t learn to believe in myself, forge my own way and use the past to my advantage. Meeting Margaret Atwood at the 2015 Ottawa International Writer’s Festival, I had a brilliant moment that solidified my confidence that I’m on the right path. After waiting for 40 minutes to have my books signed, all I could muster (in my anxious mentality at the time) to say was how nice it was to have a writer like her to look up to.
“You know what is even better, though,” she said quietly, smirking her famous smirk and giving me a twinkly, transfixed stare, “is when you have someone to look down to.”
That’s pure Atwood, right there. Never have truer words been spoken to me. Immediately, I thought of dear old dad.
I get to look down at him now.
If I didn’t want to pursue my passions and forge a path towards making a living out of it, then I would have been dead years ago. You can survive your struggles, also, dear reader. There is always a way out – and the obvious one is giving in to the torture of others. Don’t limit your years and let them win. Don’t whine and wander about looking for a pity party, either. Do it yourself. It really is true that if you want something badly enough, you’ll damn well get it.
Like my encounter with the wolf, you may experience a “wake up” moment or epiphany to help you realize what you need to do for you. In the end, it isn’t how you get to where you want to be in life that matters. What matters is that you get there. You are the key to your own future–don’t be suffocated by the rest of the world. Keep breathing and claw through the pain towards a better life. If you have to cut ties or break into uncharted territory, then so be it. Eventually you will get there–if you are determined enough to do so. That is the true art of finding solace.
So go for it.
Photo Credit: Corey Reed
An Ottawa-based writer, born in Cobourg, Ontario. A shortlisted winner of the 2014 National Capital Writing Contest, Reed is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College to further hone his skills. His passions include ocean liner history, Art Deco design, fiction writing and everything to do with Stevie Nicks.