Chapter 12: “After the morning that I had, I could go for a steak.”

SATURDAY, 31 OCTOBER, 2009

You know what’s strange? Halloween. Let’s be honest: a lot of holidays are strange, not in and of themselves, but they become strange as you get older. When you’re a kid, you don’t know much about life. You don’t know much about holidays except delicious food and fun times. While Christmas was hell for me, Halloween wasn’t. In fact, I loved it. My grandparents were a huge part of Halloween. They accompanied me and my siblings during trick-or-treating, keeping us safe and overseeing what kind of goodies we got. They helped us choose costumes, and Nonna Maria Grazia, who moonlighted as a makeup artist, gave us refinement and class, even in the most ridiculous of costumes. Joseph and Nadine didn’t give a damn about Halloween. Nadine, as usual, was drunk off her ass by dusk and Joseph was usually treating himself to women who turned tricks.

The fun stopped after I turned 18. Halloween just didn’t seem fun as an adult, even though I was barely one. I didn’t stop eating Halloween candy, but there would be no make-up and costumes and trick-or-treating for me. I remember the last costume that I had worn. It was 1998, and I had gone as Mark McGwire. This was before I took up bodybuilding and lifting weights. Regarding Mark McGwire, give me a break. The whole world was in love with Mark and Sammy Sosa, and we didn’t know what we know now.

Since then, my Halloweens largely consisted of sitting in front of the television, eating Hershey’s Miniatures and watching Linus van Pelt sit in that fucking pumpkin patch. Evan, on the other hand, loved Halloween. Growing up Mormon, and of a fundamentalist variety NOT connected to Warren Jeffs, he never could celebrate it. It wasn’t until he moved to Canada that he could celebrate freely. The whole time we were together, two Halloweens passed. Evan handed out candy to the kids, and when it was all over, we fucked the night away. Me and Evan, not the kids.

This time around, Halloween fell on a Saturday night. I had planned to curl up in front of the television and watch more of that fucking Great Pumpkin bullshit, but Brandon had other plans. One of his friends was throwing a bash at her mansion in Bridle Path. She was a professor at Ryerson University. I didn’t even know where Bridle Path was. I didn’t even know that there was a place called BRIDLE PATH. Brandon insisted that I go as his guest, even if parties weren’t my thing.

“It’ll do you some good,” he said. “Think of it as an adventure.”

I eventually gave in and, that night, we headed off. I realized what Bridle Path was all about. It’s the most exclusive neighbourhood in all of Toronto, if not the whole of Canada. The richest bitches in town have homes there. It’s tucked away in a vast swath of greenery in North York, and it has virtually no sidewalks.

In Brandon’s Ford Focus, we drove to Colleen dos Santos’ mansion. Colleen was Brandon’s friend at Ryerson, and she taught economics. I’ve never been to Ryerson. I’ve passed by that place many times, and I still don’t know shit about it. I was lucky to get into the University of Toronto. I very much doubt that I could have survived Ryerson.

We pulled into her driveway, which was longer than Brandon’s apartment. It was also packed. Apparently, Halloween was a big deal in these parts. We got inside… and it was NOT a Halloween party. At least, not the one that I thought. It was a subtle Halloween fete. Sure, there were bowls of candy around, and the rest of the party-goers were in autumn colours, but bobbing for apples was not on the menu.

Jazz, cocktails, and an elegant buffet dominated this shindig. I later found out that this was officially not a Halloween party. Not anymore, at least. Professor dos Santos, who was petite, blonde, and had a thick Portuguese accent, had been throwing parties on the last Saturday in October for the past ten years, ever since her children finally left home. Hitherto, Halloween had been one of many joyous family occasions. Now, it was a simple excuse to cope with the empty-nest syndrome. It was also an excuse for her friends throughout Toronto’s academic circles to get together.

I wasn’t much for listening to Brandon and his friends discussing the minutiae of university teaching, but I had a good time overall. I found the buffet to be spectacular, leagues better than Ashley Buonfiglio’s cotillion buffet. They even served a Portuguese sausage and bean dish known as feijoada, which differs from the more popular Brazilian version which tends to include other parts of the pig. I’ve had the Brazilian feijoada before, and between the two, I prefer the Portuguese one. As for the music, I like jazz. You look at me, and you think that I’m into hip-hop or techno. Wrong. I enjoy a variety of music, but techno hurts my ears and gives me headaches, and with some exceptions, hip-hop is overrated. I don’t go to gay clubs much anymore as a result. The minute Eminem or 50 Cent or Kanye West or Jay-Z starts playing, I am out the door. Jazz calms me down, despite the fact that I can’t tell the difference between Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

All things considered, it was the best Halloween in years.

SUNDAY, 1 NOVEMBER, 2009

The day after Halloween is not only the first day of November, but All Saints Day. The day that follows is All Souls Day. The former, we’re supposed to honour the saints, and on the latter, it’s our loved ones who get the glory. However, many people like to combine the two. As for me, well, I’m not much into venerating saints, but on the 1st of November, I always visit Prospect Cemetery. It’s near my old neighbourhood of Corso Italia. Every year, I bring four bouquets to my grandparents’ graves, each with a favourite flower of each person. Nonno Raimondo loved tulips, on account of a Dutch soldier helping him to get out of Italy after World War II. Nonna Maria Grazia always had bunches of lilies around the house, due to the fact that she had a childhood friend named Liliana. Nonno Pietro was a romantic at heart, and as such, fancied roses. Nonna Annunziata, as a child, loved to spend time with her aunt, who lived near a large field of daisies.

In the nine years since their deaths, I was the only family member to show up on All Saints Day. Even when commemorating their birthdays, I was the only one to come by. Nadine and Joseph couldn’t be bothered, and Charlotte said that cemeteries gave her the creeps.

Before I went over to the cemetery, I went across the street from Brandon’s apartment to Little Norway Park, where I had scattered Evan’s ashes. At the railing, I threw a simple bottle cap in the lake. Evan collected bottle caps right up until he died, and every year since, I would throw a cap into Lake Ontario in his memory. This was the first time that I had thrown a cap in at Little Norway Park. Previously, it was at some random location along the Harbourfront. In fact, the only things that Evan’s family let me keep were his bottle caps. They found it to be a nuisance. Ass-holes.

When I got to Prospect Cemetery, I walked the green path toward their graves. They had adjoining plots. I arrived and placed the flowers on the appropriate graves.

“Hi, everybody,” I said. “How are you guys? Well, you’ll be glad to know that I’m no longer living at home. They booted me out. But you guys know that already. I mean, you see everything from up there, don’t you? I just moved in with Brandon Gutensohn; he was my English professor. It’s been a few days, but I’m feeling a lot better.”

I knelt down. “You know, I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that you’re no longer here. Having you all here made the world safer, easier… After you died, the world simply transformed into a living hell. Evan helped me cope, but then he died, and it just got worse. And I still don’t know the whole story.”

And then, the tears began forming in my eyes. “Why did you have to die?” I began to sob. And just then, I heard this:

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?”

Shit. I recognized that booming yet shrill voice. And the smell of cheap cologne. And booze. I stood up and turned around, and my eyes met the last people on Earth that I wanted to see: the Axis of Evil, otherwise known as Joseph, Nadine, and Charlotte Buonfiglio. They were steel-faced, steel-eyed, and in what passed for their their Sunday best. Nadine had a pungent smell of booze that could wake up the dead. She had tried to refine her hair, but it was mussed. And her eyes… she could have had a spree at Loblaw’s with the bags under her eyes. Charlotte also tried to look demure, but her cleavage was omnipresent. And her makeup was thick and dramatic, like Katarina Witt on crack. Finally, Joseph looked like the fat, greasy, sleaze-bucket of yore that he was, only this time in a black suit that he seemed to barely fit in.

“I thought you were dead,” Charlotte said, not an iota of care in that statement.

“You look… decent,” Joseph begrudgingly muttered. That was the nicest thing that he had ever said to me. Whatever.

Nadine stormed up and slapped me clear across the face. “This is a family-only event!” she roared.

I didn’t fall on the ground. I stood firm, and for the first time in my life, I SLAPPED THE BITCH. This was every slap that she had given me throughout my life, given back to her tenfold. Nadine staggered back a bit, in absolute shock. “I AM FAMILY, BITCH!” I screamed. “These are MY grandparents. I have as much a right to be here as you do.”

All their eyes went from steel-eyed to homicidal at that point. Joseph yanked me by the collar, and with superhuman strength, dragged me away from my grandparents’ graves. It happened so fast, that I didn’t know what was going on. All I remember was this: within moments, I found myself at the bottom of a six-foot grave, and Joseph was trying to shovel dirt in. I wasn’t having this, however. I jumped up and got myself out of that grave before he could do such a thing.

“YOU IMBECILE!” Joseph screamed. “How dare you slap her!”

He was right. I should have slapped him as well. So, I did. This time, it was twice. I channelled my inner Cher in Moonstruck, slapping Nicolas Cage and telling him to snap out of it. He stumbled back a bit. I am normally not a violent person, but this time, I felt power. It was a release of orgasmic proportions. It felt great.

After finding his footing, he said, “You fucking queer. You think you’re so smart and witty and interesting, don’t you? Who do you think you’re messing with?! If you faced off against me in court, sonny boy, I would eat you alive! Get him, Charlotte!”

Charlotte lunged toward me like a hungry vampire. This time, I slapped her so hard that she fell into the six-foot-deep grave. Joseph and Nadine rushed to pull her out, but they too fell into the grave. I didn’t bother to help them out. I simply walked away and headed for my car. It was the first time that I had ever physically attacked anyone in my family, and it felt great.

When I approached my car, I noticed that the words “FUCKING FAGGOT” were scribbled on my front window in lipstick. I quickly got out a spray bottle and squeegee from inside and wiped it off. Inside my car, I sat at the wheel, and let out a sigh of relief. I drove out of there just in time, because in my rear view mirror, I could see the Axis of Evil walk, nay, STORM down the hill.

I arrived back at the apartment before noon. They did not know where I lived, so it wasn’t like there was a big chase through the streets of Toronto. When I got in, Brandon greeted me from the kitchenette. “How did it go?” he asked.

I walked into the kitchenette. Brandon was making a salad. I opened the fridge and took out a bottle of Diet Coke. I said, “I ran into my family for the first time in weeks.”

“And?”

I drank some of the pop. “I slapped them into pieces and left them there. And just so you know, they started it.”

“Okay,” Brandon said. “Would you like some salad?”

“After the morning that I had, I could go for a steak.” I went back into my room, Diet Coke in my hand, and flopped onto the bed, letting out a loud, but satisfied, sigh. For the first time in my life, I had stood up big time to my tormentors. The violence notwithstanding, I loved it.

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