This is an excerpt from a memoir that I am writing, The Accidental Writer. It focuses on life in high school, Bloor Collegiate Institute (BCI) in Toronto. Hope to have the book available this summer.
I have some distinct high school memories. Not a lot, but some. Very few of them have anything to do with what was going on in the classroom. The classroom was boring and repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, I learned stuff in school. I’ve even retained some of that knowledge. But I don’t remember day-to-day classroom learning activities.
I do remember one day in French class in grade ten, a bunch of guys (I honestly don’t remember if I was one of them) picked up this skinny guy, a nice guy named Ron, and tossed him out the second floor window. There was a very wide ledge, so he did not fall to the ground. The guys then shut the window and pulled down all the blinds. When the teacher came in, we were all pounding on our desks to mask the sound of Ron pounding on the window. The teacher asked us what we were doing, but we continued to pound away. She shook her head like we were all crazy and then asked why it was so dark in the room. She went to the window and opened the blinds, and there was Ron standing on the ledge, pounding on the window. And that, your honour, is why to this day I speak no French.
I have a few other in-class memories like that. In other words, none of my in-class memories have to do with learning. And yet I learned, barely. But I learned enough to pass high school, barely.
As I said, most of my high school memories have to do with extracurricular activities and with drinking beer, often too much beer. And a few with getting stoned.
I played football, but not very well. As a chubby kid, I was put on the line and told to block — to defend the quarterback, who was Rob Sotnick when we were in grade thirteen. I remember ducking a lot so I wouldn’t get pounded by defensive linemen. And I remember this: in the last quarter of the last game of the grade thirteen season, we were about ten yards from the opposition goal line. Rob was a decent quarterback, but in three years of quarterbacking (he was only my quarterback in grade thirteen because he was a year older than I was so he played at an older level than I did until grade thirteen) Rob had never scored a touchdown. He had passed for many and handed off for many. But he had never scored. With emotion in his voice — look at that, I remember his voice quaking — he called for a quarterback sneak. The players in the huddle called “break” (which was what we said once the play had been called) with particular enthusiasm — even me. Damn it, I was going to block the hell out of my opposing defensive lineman and help Rob get his touchdown. The snap was on three. I jumped out prematurely on two, I was that pumped. Rob scored, but the play was called back. Offside. I remember hearing Rob say, “Who was offside.” Somebody said, “Lima.” Somebody else — the half-back Gary — said, “Kick him in the head, Sotnick!”
Shit, I failed enough for lack of trying. But even when I tried, I managed to fail.
The ball was moved back ten yards. We failed to score on the next play and had to give up the ball. See, that is the kind of fun stuff I remember from high school. That, and as I said, drinking beer and smoking pot.
Having said that, I was in the drama club in grades twelve and thirteen. I wasn’t very good but I was in two plays, I Remember Mama and another one that I don’t remember. I played the father in both plays, minor roles befitting the quality of my acting. Of the two plays I remember one line — “Trotsky!” — although I don’t remember which play it was from. In the play, I was heading to the washroom and had a book. My wife asked me what I was reading. My reply was “Trotsky!” The director had to explain to me that this was funny because I was going to the bathroom and Trotsky was a play on the word “trots”, slang for diarrhea, at least it was when the play had been written. Ha-ha. The line never got a laugh the three times, at least I think it was three times, we performed whichever play it was.
I don’t remember auditioning, rehearsals or even performances, other than one night one of the actors hit a lamp with his hand while making a gesture. The lamp broke and cut him; he had to get his hand bandaged up next time he was off stage, and the play went on.
Ah, the show must go on. As must life. As must my memoir. Well, I guess my memoir doesn’t have to go on, but I choose to continue to move my fingers over the keyboard and make squiggles known as letters show up on the screen.
I do recall other things about high school. Not a lot. But there are other memories. For instance, I had a girlfriend in grade eleven. She was in grade nine. I swear Francis picked me. I knew guys were supposed to have girlfriends, but I didn’t know what guys were supposed to do with girlfriends. I didn’t know how to date a girl or socialize with one. I had only had a couple of episodes that involved kissing up to that point, not that I remember much about kissing, other than spitting after my first French kiss, after the girl was gone. I was, how shall I put this, rather disgusted with the exchange of saliva. You’d think I’d remember the name and face of the first girl I kissed, and where we were and when I kissed her. I don’t. All I recall is spitting afterwards.
Don’t get me wrong, I fantasized about women and jerked off while doing so, but beyond my fantasies, which were total fiction, I did not know what to do with, or how to be with, a real woman. Rather than admitting to any of that, I simply broke up with Francis, a sweet, gregarious, fun person who liked to laugh and had a great sense of humour. (What the heck was she doing with sourpuss me?)
I ran into her on Facebook recently and apologized for how we broke up. She is now a mother of three, with nine grandkids. Facts that this dad of one sired by another man finds kind of overwhelming. When I apologized, she digitally shrugged her shoulders and said it was no big deal. In the overall scheme of things, I know she is right. I mean every guy I knew was dating and breaking up, other than a couple of guys. They were either not dating at all or dated one girl and married their high school sweetheart, but eventually got divorced. So I’m sure Francis and I would have broken up eventually. It’s just that I don’t like the fact that we broke up because of my ignorance over how to be in a relationship.
Part way through grade twelve I started to date Ana and she became the love of my life. We broke up in the fall of 1972, before the start of the Canada-U.S.S.R. summit series — an eight-game showdown between hockey’s two superpowers. We got back together the day the last game was played. I remember Ana and I talking somewhere while the last game was on. I was so in love with her that I skipped the last game of the series to talk things through with her and to get back together.
(For what it’s worth, Canada only won that series because of Bobby Clarke’s cowardly and sickening game six slash on Russia’s best player, Valeri Kharlamov. The slash broke Kharlamov’s ankle. It may have been the turning point for Team Canada but winning the tournament set back hockey in Canada forever. Okay, I’ll get off my hokey hockey soap box now.)
And of course, at the end of grade thirteen when I told Ana that I imagined us eventually living together as I continued to write my abysmal poetry (only I left out the word “abysmal”) and she worked at whatever she wanted to do, she broke up with me. I was heading off to wander aimlessly through university; she was off to work for an airline and to have a real life. She clearly saw the fact that there would be no long term fit with me. That and I guess she didn’t want to support a miserable poet. Now that was grounds for breaking up!
Ah, I have more high school memories, but they hardly seem worth telling. For what do they have to do with me becoming an accidental writer, an accidental dad and an accidental dog lover. Speaking of which, the dog is asking to go for his afternoon walk, so this seems like a good time to end chapter five.
Again, this is an excerpt from a memoir that I am writing, The Accidental Writer. It focuses on life in high school, at BCI. Hope to have the book available this summer. If you want to be notified when the book is available, send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Accidental Update”.