Chapter 09: “You realize that you’re a bully, don’t you?”

The next two weeks went by without incident. Marie-Lourdes and I didn’t see much of each other until the evenings, though. She would already be gone when I woke up, and I would spend my days job hunting and working out. I was very successful with the working out bit, but the job hunting was a bitch. Since I stopped stripping, I’ve found a succession of jobs. That’s the problem: no steady work.

The longest time that I spent at a job was ten months; I was a barback at the Petting Zoo, an almost exclusively heterosexual bar in Brampton. I worked on the weekends and some weeknights, while balancing other part-time gigs. The Petting Zoo was full of horny straight people getting drunk and doing Goddess knows what. But for a part-time barback position, it paid well, and my bosses were nice people. Unfortunately, the bar was shut down when police found some dead bodies in the basement. The owners were thrown into prison, and after some time, they turned the Petting Zoo into, ironically enough, a pet store.

Marie-Lourdes and I did most of our hanging-out on the weekends, talking and helping each other out with what we could, when we could. But even then, time was limited. She spent the bulk of her weekend time with her girlfriend, a Trinidadian tattoo artist named Gillian. Gillian was nice enough, but the punk scene that she ran in with Marie-Lourdes was not my cup of tea, not even if I was a woman and a lesbian.

I liked staying at Marie-Lourdes’ apartment. But I had no intention of staying for long. But I also had no idea of what was about to happen.

MONDAY, 26TH OCTOBER, 2009

I found myself back on the St. George campus of the University of Toronto, where I had spent the four happiest years of my life. I wasn’t planning on crashing any classes, but I was in an academic mood. And so, I spent the morning and early afternoon of that Monday, holed up in the Robarts Library, reading. When I was at university, the library was my refuge. I did not do any studying in my dorm room. The whole dorm was always too loud for my taste.

One of the best things about the Robarts Library is the cafe. You’ve got Starbucks, Pizza Pizza, Subway… I did a lot of studying while eating pizza or drinking hot chocolate. (I don’t really like coffee.) After hours of hanging out in the library, I went down to the Starbucks and ordered a hot chocolate with whipped cream.

I sat down at a small table and sipped my hot chocolate, and then a familiar figure approached me.

“Graziano?”

I recognized the voice. His voice was weathered, but sweet. Looking up, I recognized the figure: it was Brandon Gutensohn, my former English professor. He stood 6 feet tall, had a swimmer’s build, and curly brown hair. He wore thick-framed glasses, which from some angles made him look like Jeff Goldblum. Or Elton John. Or Rick Mercer. I don’t know.

“Professor–” I began.

“Please. Brandon.” He extended his hand, and I shook it. He had a soft, firm grip. “May I sit with you?”

I nodded and he sat down across from me. “I haven’t seen you in five years!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m just visiting.”

“Well, that’s nice. What have you been up to?”

I sighed. Not because I didn’t want to tell him, but because I wanted to tell him, and it was so hard to.

“Graziano, what’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure how to tell you this, but…” From there I crammed the highs and lows of the past five years into a ten-minute statement. As I spilled my guts, I could feel Brandon hang on to every word. He didn’t flinch once. He had my rapt attention.

When I finally finished, he calmly said, “I’m sorry.”

“You’re not the first one to say that,” I said. “Too bad you’re not related.”

“Your family has never apologized to you?”

I shook my head. “Not one iota. They think I should apologize to them.”

Brandon also shook his head. “Are you staying with anyone?”

“Do you remember Marie-Lourdes? She ran my dorm. I’ve been sleeping on her couch for the past two weeks.”

“Yeah, I remember her,” Brandon said.

“I haven’t decided what my next move is. Before I went to her, I spent Thanksgiving weekend in my car.”

And then Brandon said this: “Graziano, this is going to sound rather improper, but… how would you like to live with me?”

That floored me. I honestly didn’t believe that anyone would ask me if I would like to live with them. Marie-Lourdes had offered me a place to stay, as opposed to live. When I moved back in with Joseph and Nadine, they begrudgingly offered me the guest room as a place to stay. They would have preferred me to rot on the street. Now, someone whom I hadn’t seen in years, someone who I in all truth didn’t truly know, was offering me a place to live! I was so shocked that I couldn’t even drink the rest of my hot chocolate. I just froze in my seat.

Brandon tapped me on the shoulder, which snapped me back. I replied, “You want me to live with you?”

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Because you shouldn’t be couch-surfing or living in your car or a shelter. You need stability. I’ve been thinking about having a roommate for some time. It gets lonely in my neck of the woods. Besides, I think we’d get along great.”

“But… we don’t even know each other!”

“You’re wrong. We do know each other. Believe me, we have more in common than you would imagine.” Brandon put his hand on mine. “Will you at least consider it?”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

Brandon took out a card from his wallet, and handed it to me. It had his contact information in a classy, elegant, raised font. “If your situation changes, let me know and I’ll handle everything.”

“Okay.”

Brandon looked at his watch. “Oh, shit, I have a meeting in fifteen minutes. I’ll talk to you soon, Graziano.” He patted me on the shoulder and rushed out of the building. I looked at his card, and the thought of living with him was so tempting. I wanted to accept. But it’s not everyday that an offer like this comes. It was such a shock, that I didn’t know how to react.

I left the university around 3PM and walked to Eaton Centre. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; I just simply strolled around the mall. There are days when I just do that: stroll around the mall and just hope that something interesting will come up. It can be frustrating to the business owners, but it’s just as frustrating for me.

I soon found myself at the Centre Court Fountain, on the underground level, with the TTC Subway and the PATH a short walk away. I watched as kids threw coins in it, like it was the fucking Trevi Fountain in Rome. I didn’t know this at the time, but something was coming towards me like a bolt.

I heard someone scream “Look out!”, and five seconds later… I had fallen onto the floor. My head, mercifully, did not hit the fountain, otherwise I would have been dead. Speaking of my head, it was throbbing with pain. A woman in a sari helped me to my feet.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I think so,” I replied.

“That lady tried to kill you!”

“What lady?”

And at that moment, I saw HER. That was NO lady. That was Sissy Vandenbroucke, my main tormentor at Regal Road Elementary all those years ago. This was the first time in years that we saw each other. She was in a red pantsuit, wielding shopping bags. Her hair was, unfortunately, the same colour as mine: chocolate brown. She had a sinister grin on her face.

“Oh my God,” I groaned.

“How lovely to see you again,” Sissy lied through her teeth.

“WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT FOR, SISSY?!” I screamed.

“I couldn’t help it. I had to seize the opportunity,” she said, the condescension thick in her voice. Oh, how I hated her voice, as well as her look. “A little bird told me that you’re a homeless bum nowadays.”

“Would this little bird be Charlotte?” I knew that she and Charlotte had been friends since they were on the child pageant circuit together. Sissy, from what I heard, was just as consistent a competitor as Charlotte. They never competed in the same pageant, however. And Sissy was just as big a bitch on the pageant circuit as she was in school.

Sissy cackled. If I had had a bucket at that moment, I would have scooped up some water from the fountain and thrown it on that bitch. Oh, it would have been an orgasmic thrill to see Sissy Vandenbroucke, the Mega-Church Mistress of the GTA, melt like the Wicked Bitch of the West that she was. But I didn’t, and it wouldn’t have done any good to throw handfuls at her. “Oh, you guessed right, you fucking faggot,” she said.

“For your information, I’m NOT homeless,” I replied. “I’ve been staying with a friend.”

“That’s still homeless, you stupid queer.” She had a point, to a certain extent. I didn’t have a permanent home, but there is a world of difference between staying temporarily with a friend, and living day in and day out on the streets in ratty clothes.

“You realize that you’re a bully, don’t you?” I snapped.

“So?” she retorted.

“Aren’t you supposed to preach about love, respect, and brotherhood? What would your congregation think of you attacking people in the mall?”

“You’re not even a Christian, so don’t you dare talk to me about love and respect!” Sissy snapped.

I shook my head. “If being Christian means acting like a bully, then I’ll pass, thank you very much.” I walked away from the fountain and headed up the escalator, but I could hear the click of heels right behind me. As I headed for the exit, I could hear her heels clacking in time with the holier-than-thou hollering that was flying from her mouth at the same time.

“Just look at you, running away from the truth!” she screamed. “I was so right to make your life a living hell all those years ago. You’re nothing but a contemptible, morally bereft, psycho-sexual cocksucker with no respect for family and God!”

Fleeing Eaton Centre, I crossed the street onto Yonge-Dundas Square. And still, Sissy the Bully was on my heels, cursing me out in the cold, autumn air. I was crying for the first time in weeks, and my tears stung. I soon tripped and fell onto the ground. I tried to pick myself up, but Sissy had caught up with me and was kicking me with her pumps, calling me names. Fortunately, some policemen came and broke up the fight. I wanted to kill Sissy, but I couldn’t.

“I’ve got a service to get ready for!” Sissy said, and she turned away, acting as if she won. Bitch didn’t win shit.

I didn’t know what to do at that point. After the police let me off with a warning, I took the streetcar back to Marie-Lourdes’ house. I tried to put the incident with Sissy in the back of my mind, but I just couldn’t do it.

Later that night, I sat on Marie-Lourdes’ couch, still looking at Brandon’s card. I hadn’t made my decision at that point. Marie-Lourdes was at her desk, doing homework. She soon looked up from her work and said, “I’d do it if I were you.”

“Pardon?”

“I’d move in with Professor Gutensohn. I took his classes before, and frankly, you could do a lot worse.”

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “I know that ours is a temporary arrangement, but still…”

“I know that we haven’t had a lot of time together,” Marie-Lourdes continued, “but I have enjoyed you staying here. I’ve been in his neighbourhood, and as I said, you could do a lot worse. Did he say how much he’ll charge you in rent?”

“No,” I said.

“How much do you have saved up?”

“Gosh, I have no idea. Last time I checked, pretty recently, I had over $10,000–”

“Ten grand?” Marie-Lourdes’ eyes lit up.

I shot her down. “I’ve seen the housing prices on Craigslist. Ten grand doesn’t go very far. Maybe six months of rent.”

“How did you get that much money in the first place?”

“I’ve been pretty frugal with my money, even when I was in university. The problem is, I’ve never known what to do with my savings. I just never anticipated everything to go down in my life the way it has.”

Marie-Lourdes shook her head. “I’d still take up Professor Gutensohn’s offer. You could live with him rent-free if you did things for him.”

“I’m not going to sleep with him!” I scoffed.

“I never said anything about sleeping with him!” she laughed. “But people do this all the time, around the world. And if you do take him up, I won’t hold it against you.”

“I have so much to think about,” I said. Britney jumped on my lap and meowed. “What would YOU do if you were in my position, kitty?”

Britney simply meowed again. That meant she was hungry. “Come on, sweetie,” I said, carrying her into the kitchen.

I didn’t get much sleep that night. On paper, moving in with Brandon was both a good idea and a bad idea. In reality, it was more of a bad idea than a good idea. I wrestled with my decision all night long.

TUESDAY, 27TH OCTOBER, 2009

I made my decision that day. I went back to the University of Toronto and found Brandon in his office, preparing for class.

“Brandon?” I asked. “I have a question for you.”

“Yeah?” he replied.

I took a deep breath, and asked, “Can I bring my cat? It’s housebroken.”

He looked at me for a moment, smiled, and said, “Sure.”

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