February 20, 2015 - Hugh (3rd person I approached)
I could just say I fell asleep on the couch. Which I did, but only for a little while. Long enough however, to throw me into procrastinate/no-I-can’t/not-gonna mode, and then I went to bed. So I didn’t post anything yesterday. This story originated yesterday, but is my post for today.
Hugh had no hesitation whatsoever in agreeing to chat with me. There was a real sound of pride in voice when he told me
“I was born in Halifax (Nova Scotia).” He said it with an authority that made it sound like there was no other place to be born.
“I’m the oldest. I have two sisters. I had to play the big brother role from time to time, protecting them,” he told me. When I asked what he was protecting his sisters from, he replied simply,
“Life.” There is ten years between Hugh and his youngest sister.
“We weren’t that close as kids. They were younger, and they were girls. I always wanted to have a brother. I always said to people I’d gladly trade two sisters for one brother,” he told me.
“I was really good in school. Got top marks and liked to learn. My favourite subject was girls,” he said, smiling.
“I played hockey, and I liked boxing. My father was into boxing and he was good at it too. He taught me how to box, and I got real good at it.” I asked if his father ever used boxing as a form of discipline.
“Never,” he said immediately.
“I had the fucking best childhood anyone could ever ask for. My parents were wealthy, we never wanted for anything and I knew I was loved. So much love. I got my first Shetland pony when I was five. Got my first motorbike when I was eight and got my first rifle when I was nine. There was never anything that I wanted or needed that I didn’t get. We were spoiled rotten as kids. And like I said, we were much loved,” said Hugh.
“I wanted to be an oceanographer, or so I thought. I wanted to be like Jacques Cousteau. I got into Dalhousie University." His father died when Hugh was in his late teens. “I got a call to get to the hospital, urgently. My father had a blockage in the main vein in his right thigh. I got to the hospital in time to hold his hand. He told me he loved me, then died. It was devastating, especially because he hadn’t been sick, Hugh said.
“I started at Dalhousie but after about five or six months I was tired of sitting in a classroom. A buddy of mine asked me to go to Cozumel with him, to go diving. I told my mother that I was sorry that she had paid the tuition and everything but that I was leaving. My parents had always supported me in doing what I wanted to do. They never stood in my way,” he said. Hugh has been returning to Cozumel ever since.
He started to work in construction, learning to become a finishing carpenter.
“I got damn good at it. I never had to look for work, I was always hired on a name request basis. I made good money and I liked what I did,” he said.
“I’ve never been out of work, when I wanted to work. Look around the skyline here. There’s cranes everywhere. If you’re not working in construction, it’s because you don’t want to work.”
Hugh has been in Vancouver for almost thirty years. Throughout our conversation, he referred to what some might call a ‘bad guy lifestyle’ without giving any specifics. I asked him why he chose to move to Vancouver.
“I lived on a couple of the (BC Coastal) islands for few years. I decided it was just better to stay here when they started to write a book about us,” he told me. When I asked who they were he was vague, and told me the title of the book was ‘The Road To Hell.’ His look was as ominous as the title. Asking him what the book was about, all he said was,
“What do you think it’s about, based on the title?” Hugh never indicated what his involvement was, and never suggested anything more than being a bit of a 'bad guy.' (*Fact Check - see link below.)
As happens with most of the people I chat with, the conversation changed quickly, from feeling like an interview to an open, easy conversation. When this happens, I often have to be mindful of chronological order. That’s kind of my tool for remembering the story, as I don’t take notes. A lot of my chat with Hugh was based around individual stories and recollections of his. Some more personal than others.
Six months before his father died, Hugh had gotten a woman pregnant.
“My father told me that if I was going to live like a man, I had to act like one. He insisted we get married. We didn’t love each other and I had only slept with her twice. But that’s what my father insisted we do. It didn’t last, and my father died shortly after we got married,” he said. They had a daughter.
Years later, Hugh tells me he was sitting in a little coffee shop in Vancouver.
“This pretty woman comes in and she sits next to me. We started chatting and she read me my horoscope. She nailed it. There was such a connection between us. I was heading down to Cozumel three days later. I was gone for almost four months and when I got back, we got together again,” he said.
“It was love. She is so very special, and was the great love of my life. We had so much fun together. I have a son with her.” In all, Hugh has two daughters living on the East coast, and his son.
“I’m sure there’s a few kids running around Central America, too,” he said.
“Every time I’m there I expect to see a young person that looks like me.”
Last year, Hugh had what he called a “medical situation.” He spared some details while still managing to make me wince.
“I started to feel a pain in my balls. I got really worried when they started to swell, and when they were the size of baseballs, I went to the hospital Emergency room. The Doctor who saw me didn’t seem to be too alarmed or interested in my situation. He made a mark with a pen on the inside of my right thigh, and told me to come back in twenty-four hours. I couldn’t believe it. The pain was almost unbearable,” he said. I was now sitting with my legs crossed.
“I went home and lay down. The pain got worse and so did the swelling. Four hours later, I had to go back to the hospital. I practically crawled along the hallway, on my elbows and needed help into the taxi that was waiting for me. I had two grapefruits in my pants,” he said, deadpan serious. I was rocking back and forth by now.
When he arrived at the hospital, he was seen by a different Doctor.
“He got pissed with me that I hadn’t come in sooner. When I told him what had happened, he couldn’t believe it. He told me I had an infection and a possible blockage in the veins in my right thigh. The same place where my father had the blockage that killed him. I got wheeled into surgery almost immediately, and asked if there was anyone I wanted to call,” said Hugh.
“What do you say? ‘Hi, how are you? I might die, do you want to come to the hospital?’ I didn’t call anyone. I was seriously ill. The doctors were astonished, but I made it through and got better,” he said.
“I lost one of my boys and the other is still huge, but I made it through. I’ve thought about having Homer Simpson tattooed on the one that’s left, it’s that big.” I gave a spontaneous, loud laugh when he said that. Hugh looked at me and said
“Yeah. that’s funny isn’t it?” His face was still deadpan, and I thought I had upset him. I apologized for laughing, but he was fine.
“No. It is funny, I know. At least, it's funny now.”
“I’ve done almost every single thing in my life that I’ve wanted to do. I had an incredible childhood. The fucking best ever. I’ve travelled, I liked the work I did. I've had great love in my life. I have three children. Life has been good. There’s only a few things left that I want to do," he said.
"I want to build a house in Cozumel. A place that my kids and grand kids can go to for a break. Or to stay, I don’t care. The only rule will be that it can’t be sold. It has to stay in the family. That way, I’ll never leave there. If the kids are there, it means there will always be a little piece of me running around Cozumel,” Hugh said.
The other pressing item on his bucket list is to get dentures.
“I spent thousands on getting veneers and my smile looked great. Then two guys broke into my place and tried to rob me. They had a metal bar, and I had the years of boxer training. They didn’t get anything but beat-up, and they smashed my teeth out.”
Hugh is not currently in contact with any of his family or children.
“Something happened a few years ago, and I pissed everyone off. I miss my mother, that’s for sure. I always was a bit of a mommy’s boy. She still lives in Nova Scotia,” he said, woefully.
“The thing is, the longer I wait, the harder it gets to make that call. I know I need to do it, and I will. I just don’t know what to say. But I will make that call, and soon.”
“There’s a school of life that I follow now. ‘Be as good as anybody, and worse than none’” #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1LmItIZ