Dear Sean, Eleven Years Later

This post comes to you tonight from three places: (1) a basement in south east Vancouver on a rainy and cold night (2) a sore stomach from eating too many cheese sticks dipped in cream cheese and (3) a place of grace and gratitude.

It is not often that I write like this so I am just going to run with it and hope for the best. At the moment, according to some website I found on the internet, I am two-hundred and sixty-five thousand and nine-hundred and sixty-four hours old. Why I could not come right out and say I am thirty is simply because I am dramatic.

After a hot and messy decade, I am finally sitting at a desk and doing what I love most: writing. When my fingers are not on the keyboard these days, I am singing in a choir, practicing with a make-shift doo wop group, and serving pasta and pizza to West End locals dressed in blue jeans and a plaid shirt. After spending the first half of my twenties tipsy and torn about going back to school, and the second half hungover and managing a restaurant, I am grateful for the space I now find myself in. 

Tomorrow afternoon, I am traveling to North Burnaby to present a workshop for grade ten students on the topic of “Suicide Prevention and Response.” As a volunteer for the Crisis Centre, I have been traveling to high schools across the lower mainland presenting this topic for the better part of four years. Every time I walk into a classroom and set up the PowerPoint, I always begin with the same line, “I am sure it is not every day that a dashing redhead walks into your class and starts talking about killing yourself… Hello my name is Rugged Fox.”

I love holding a pen and carrying a drink tray, but out of everything I have done in this life, I am the most passionate about this work. The students I find myself presenting to, typically, range in age from fourteen to sixteen. This is how old I was when I wanted to end my own life. In my introduction to the students, I always speak to the fact that had I received this information when I was their age, there is a good chance I would have got myself help a lot sooner.

My story is not much different from any other teenage kid who skipped into puberty thinking it was going to be one long wet dream. Little did I know a soiled bedsheet was going to be the least of my problems. When I turned thirteen, my penchant for flare, ambivalence towards hockey, undying love for the Backstreet Boys, and keen fashion sense turned me into an easy target for pretty much everyone and anyone. In grade eight, I successfully became the only kid in history to transfer out of their homeroom half-way through the year.

After my mom began to question why I refused to get out of the car each morning, I confided to her that no matter where I sat down, I could not seem to escape the syllabic sounds of “faggot” ringing behind my ear.

The following year my parents made the executive decision to pull me out of the public school system and enrolled me at St. Jude’s: an all-boys private Catholic school. There I experienced a fortunate reprieve from the hallway torment I had grown accustomed to. My school uniform became an invisibility cloak, my superpower was blending in. However, it was not long thereafter that I discovered I would become my own worst enemy. By the time I was fifteen, I had successfully learned how to despise myself – and just like English class, I was excellent at it.

I didn’t know at the time, but for the next seven years I would treat depression as if it were “my precious.” I hid it from everyone and didn’t let another soul come near it. As to not arouse suspicion, I made a point of doing the exact opposite of what “depressed” people do, and it worked. I was bright and cheerful, an A+ student, Vice-President of my graduating class. All the meanwhile, I was up every night scrambling to piece together an image of the future that kept falling apart.

Following my first year at the University of Winnipeg, I knew I had no choice but to come out. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I knew that my life depended on the one less traveled. Three steps out of the closet door and I began an education that was not listed on any of my course syllabi. I started to learn how to love myself, one self-help book at a time. With the help of a therapist (funded by the United Way) I worked each week to dismantle the wall I had built around myself, in order to repair and reconstruct the damage that lay inside.

On July 5th, 2004, I sat down at a (now gone) coffee shop called the Fyxx on Albert Street in downtown Winnipeg and pulled out my journal. I took a sip from a gigantic mug of dark roast, checked out the super cute barista, and began to write myself the following letter.  

It is important to note that, at the time I wrote this, I did not believe one word to be true. It would take me nearly ten years before my construction was complete that I could actually believe it. Especially now that I was reading with an entirely new set of eyes.

If I had to write myself back today, it would look something like this: