Chapter 03: The B-Words (Bullies, Bitches, Bodybuilding, and Bereavement)

School was just as bad. Joseph and Nadine decided to send Ryan and Charlotte to Catholic schools, and I ended up in the public school system. From kindergarten onwards, it was a nightmare. I held up my end of the bargain for the most part and got pretty good grades, but that was not enough to compensate for the abuse and harassment that I suffered at the hands of the other classmates… and a few of the teachers. They called me every name in the book and tortured me every which way: being shoved into lockers, beat-downs in the hallways, wedgies in the washroom, and chases before and after school. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay had nothing on Regal Road Public School, and there was nothing regal about it.

I got suspended twice at Regal Road, and both times it was for trumped-up charges. In Grade 2, this jerk named Hershel Bender called me a “fag” on the playground and shoved me against a wall, and I shoved him back. No one was hurt, but that bitch got away with it. They sent me home and Nadine and Joseph gave me hell for it, and it would have been worse had Nonna Maria Grazia not intervened. That was the only time EVER that my parents failed to beat me up after I did something allegedly wrong. Nowadays, Hershel is a wannabe rapper hawking his CD’s outside of Eaton Centre.

The second time involved this giant cunt named Sissy Vandenbroucke, who will you learn more about later in this story. In Grade 3, she was a menace to me, but it got worse when she claimed that I had thrown a rock at her. I denied it. I merely kicked a stone, and the playground was littered with them. Sissy, her powers of manipulation on par with Charlotte’s, got me suspended yet again, and I ended up beaten at home. It was small consolation to learn that a security camera exposed the truth, clear as day. Besides, if anyone deserved to be stoned, it was Sissy. She grew up to become the head preacher at a mega-church in Oakville, where she allegedly was screwing people all over the place but whose job was secure. Why does that not surprise me?

Secondary school wasn’t any better. Once again, Ryan and Charlotte went to a Catholic school (Bishop Allen Academy this time), and I remained in the public school system. Joseph and Nadine enrolled me at Earl Haig Secondary School, in what was then North York. For anyone outside of Canada reading this, before the great merger of 1998, North York was a separate city from Toronto, along with Scarborough, York, Etobicoke, and East York. I lived in Toronto proper, and I would have to take an hour-long commute by bus and subway to Earl Haig.

Earl Haig was a disaster. The largest student body in the GTA, and I got lost in the shuffle. The bullies had become bigger in number and in ferocity, and the indifference from the teachers and administration was just as big. I did not make any friends, except for Mykhaylo Karbanenko, an immigrant kid from Ukraine (who also plays a significant role in my story). We only spoke to each other on the long ride to and from Earl Haig, and we never shared a class or had lunch together. But he was my lone ally, and I needed that, because the teachers were basically of this mindset: “Just do your schoolwork and don’t bother us.”

I was not a bad student at all, and I even made the honour roll a few times, but I did not operate at my full potential. For four years, I ditched school at least once a week. When I did skip school, I didn’t hang out at the nearest corner and smoke and drink and commit wanton criminal acts. I hid in the library. I stayed in the park. I even took the bus and went all the way to Barrie, and I didn’t even know why I had chosen to go to Barrie. Mercifully, Joseph and Nadine never caught on to what I had been doing. In fact, they never showed up to school events or parent-teacher conferences, though they were very involved with Bishop Allen activities.

I had known for many years that I was gay. I never questioned it, and never had any negative thoughts about it. Throughout the years, I had crushes on a lot of guys, and the sad thing is that many of them tormented me at school. It wasn’t until I hit Grade 9 that I began to explore the gay community. I went to gay youth groups and tried to mesh with the other kids, but I never went anywhere with them. I was barely tolerated. A lot of the kids were homeless or in between homes and many led rough lives. I could say that I had it lucky, having a place to go home to, whereas they didn’t. But I was the family punching bag, and that cancelled out having a place to go home to. Frankly, I would have been better off living on the streets and whoring myself out for a hot meal and $20. It wasn’t until I turned 18 that I became friends with other gay people.

Things were going so bad at school and home, I began attempting suicide. At least once a month, I tried to end it all. I’d throw myself down a flight of stairs, I’d throw myself in front of a bus, and I’d buy over-the-counter drugs and overdose on them… I did everything except cut myself. I hate seeing blood. I spent many days in the hospital, and I wanted to stay longer so I wouldn’t have to go home to Joseph and Nadine and the house of horrors. Alas. Not even the threat of me dying could sway them. Often, I’d come home from the hospital and the first thing that would happen was Nadine or Joseph or Charlotte beating me up. And many times, Charlotte would get her boyfriend of the moment to beat me up, in a horrid way of proving his love for her, never mind that she went through men like the newspaper. She never called me by my name; she called me “Assiano” or “Grabassiano” or even “Fucking Faggot-Ass Bitch”. She didn’t even know that six of the letters in her name spelled out “harlot”.

In Grade 11, I decided not to take their shit any longer. I became more assertive. I would fight back at school when I felt wronged. In French class one time, I gave an oral presentation and this snotty bitch named Mandy Manriquez called me a faggot midway through it. I kept going, but she kept forcing the issue, until I just lost my cool and got into a screaming match with her. This escalated into a physical altercation that made the Bad Girls Club look like a royal wedding. Mandy was a giant slut, one of the most notorious in Earl Haig history. Luckily, I did not get suspended, and even though I sustained a few injuries, I held my own.

One day, when I was in the hospital, a nurse dropped by with some magazines to read. One of them was the latest issue of Muscular Development, the bodybuilding magazine. Being gay, I found the material to be titillating, even though some of the guys looked absolutely cartoon-like. But the advice on building muscle was just as stimulating. From then on, I was hooked. I wasn’t as athletic as others were, but I was not a couch potato either. Just after I turned 18, I won a gift certificate for a free gym membership. This was my ticket out. I worked out at least two hours a day after school, often combining my workout with my studying. It was therapeutic and helpful. As my body changed, some of the guys at the gym began hitting on me. I didn’t go to the gym to cruise, but I did like the attention.

Joseph and Nadine hated gay people, and they never approved of bodybuilding as a serious thing to do. I never officially came out to them. I never even had a serious discussion with them that didn’t result in physical or emotional violence. My grandparents were devout Catholics, but were very progressive and supportive of LGBT rights. As for bodybuilding, they were at least happy to see me build some sort of armour.

I graduated from Earl Haig in 2000, and once again, it was just me and my grandparents celebrating. That night, we had dinner at Jack Astor’s, and it was such a wonderful time. I had no idea that five days later, Nonno Pietro and Nonna Annunziata would be dead. They went to Vaughan to visit friends. Their car exploded, killing them AND three others. I was shattered big time, and it took all my strength not to cause a scene at the viewing or the funeral. The investigation into their deaths ended up in an accidental death ruling. I did not buy that for a second.

Nonno Raimondo and Nonna Maria Grazia helped me get through that tragedy, but a few weeks later, they too were gone for good. A fire broke through their bookstore, and they died of smoke inhalation. When I heard about what had happened, I lost it. The four most important people in my life were gone within a matter of weeks, and I just could not take it anymore. For no reason, I got into my car and drove all the way to Ottawa, crying all the time. When I came back, I was banned from the funeral. The investigation resulted in another accidental death ruling, but I felt that something was up. My grandparents had died in similar circumstances, and their deaths were ruled accidental. That I could not stomach.

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