Day 214 - Mike (1st person I approached)
August 02, 2014 - The Universe unfolds just as it means to. Whether we know it or not. Sometimes we won’t know until days, weeks or longer have gone by. Today was another warm day. I had braved the maddening crowds of downtown to get some things I needed. With arms full, I took the train home and just wanted to get into my apartment, down the bags, rip off my clothes and cool off. I had decided I’d go out later and meet today’s stranger. I got to about two blocks away from home, and I spotted Mike. My split-second internal dialogue went something like, ‘hmmm. nah, I want to go home. But if I did this now, then I could just stay home. Turn around, he might even say no.’ And so I backtracked all of twenty feet to go around the large planter that was separating Mike and I. At first he seemed apprehensive. Mike told me that he had a rather unusual past. He wanted to know if I wanted the full version, or the politely edited one. I showed him my blog and said he could tell me as much or as little as he wanted. When he saw how many people are following along, he smiled and said
“I guess I should tell you the edited version!” We agreed to chat, and if he felt he had told me something that he then decided he didn’t want me to include, he could say so. I have and will always promise to never write anything that any ‘stranger’ doesn’t want me to.
Mike was born in Calgary, Alberta.
“I was given up for adoption at birth. I guess I was in an orphanage until I was adopted at two and half years old. The family that adopted me already had two daughters. My adoptive mother found out she couldn’t have any more children, and so they adopted me. I had a normal upbringing from what I can remember. I got along with both of my sisters, at least as well as brothers and sisters get along,” he said.
“Then something sad happened. Well, not sad, but, well. My Dad, the man who adopted me died. I was seven. It’s just one of those things,” Mike said, with a shrug of his shoulders. We talked for a bit about how it can be difficult at times to just say yeah, something was sad, and the tendency to try to get past it and move on.
At the age of eleven, Mike said he started to feel different.
“My mother never told me about being adopted until I was twelve. Around the time that I started acting up. She was doing her best as a single parent with three kids. I think that she tried to bring relationships in to maybe help me. A male influence, I guess. But I started to feel like I didn’t fit in. I started drinking, and stealing and acting out. I would steal money and throw the coins at groups of kids just to see them scramble to pick up the money off the ground. I went to school, but a lot of the time I was sent home, because I had been drinking, or was drunk. I left school at the end of Grade nine. I ‘borrowed’ cars without consent. I’d fill the tank with gas and then go joyriding. I did a lot of dumb shit,” said Mike.
“I would run away, and I spent some time in runaway shelters. I think at times I was more than my mother could handle,” he said.
In an attempt to get to know more about his (adoptive) father who had died, Mike got a job in a gas plant where his father had worked.
“I wanted to be somewhere that he had been. I did that for about six months. I can feel my Dad. I know he’s around me,” he said. Mike seemed happy that I agreed his father was around, watching over him.
“This one time, when I was fifteen, a girl that was in the same runaway shelter told a group of us that she had some money. She went and bought some booze. When I asked where she had gotten the money from, she told me she had turned a trick,” he said.
“I turned my first trick when I was sixteen. I figured if that girl could do it, then I could as well. That first guy, he paid me to have sex with him. I went right out afterwards and picked up a girl with that money. That’s how it started. I got involved in male prostitution. I lived in an extremely small town, and I would go to Calgary, or to Edmonton, make some money and then go back. I started using drugs. I was never out standing on street corners selling myself. I’d go to bars and usually it would be older men who would start a conversation. One thing would lead to another, until we were discussing what I would and would not do,” said Mike.
“When I was almost twenty-one, I wanted to get my life back in order. I had heard about a good rehab place in LA (Los Angeles, USA). I went down there, and got sober, for a while,” said Mike. For the next ten years he travelled between Calgary and LA, getting sober and relapsing. Going back to prostitution and then working in the oils fields in Alberta.
“In the oil fields, you have to get along with the team your working with. If you don’t it could mean someone dies. I didn’t feel so much like an outsider there, but after living in LA , I didn't like the small town thing anymore either,” he said. Mike never had a home of his own either.
“I lived in hostels or rooming houses. Sometimes I got social housing, or would go back into a treatment centre. I lived in my car, my Honda Civic for seven months. I learned to meditate there, in my car. High on speed, nothing to do, nowhere to go. I was waiting for an intervention, but it never arrived,” said Mike, smiling.
“Living in a car, you sure know about all four seasons.”
Eight years ago, Mike was deported from the USA.
“I was with a friend from LA and we were going to drive to Calgary, then through the mountains to Vancouver, then down the Oregon coast. When we got to the border my friend only had one piece of identification. He’s American, and I‘m not. We were just going to turn around and go back to LA, but they started asking questions about my identification. Of course I couldn’t produce any American ID, so I got a five year deportation order. I guess I could go back now if I wanted but I’m okay here,” he said.
When Mike first came to Vancouver, he stayed in hostels and rooming houses. The Salvation Army found him a small apartment in the Downtown Eastside (DTES - the poorest neighbourhood in Canada).
“That was really the first time that I had ever had a place of my own. I had always been with other people, either in hostels, or when I was kid growing up, in the oil patch in Alberta. This was the first time I was on my own,” said Mike. He started to become depressed and it went deeper and deeper as time went on.
“I didn’t want to leave the apartment. I became paranoid and felt uncomfortable around others. I started taking drugs again, just to make me be able to go out. I started to purge belongings and give things away. I felt like I was setting myself up for suicide. I didn’t think I was going to commit suicide, but I couldn’t understand why I was feeling the way I was. So I checked myself into the hospital. I was there for a month,” he said.
“I’m not crazy, I know that. It was the depression, and the drugs and I was just not taking care of myself. Looking back, I think that my involvement with prostitution was in part, about loneliness. Maybe looking for that father figure, I don’t know. I had never given any of that much thought before. Now I’m taking a look at my mental health and I’m in treatment and living in a supportive health care home. I’m taking care of myself,” he said.
Reading is a pastime for Mike.
“I enjoy the work of the author Ram Dass. He’s a spiritual leader, have you heard of him?” (*Fact Check - see link below.) I tell Mike that while I’ve not read any of his work, I’ve a few friends who have read his books.
“I feel like I’m at a mid-life crisis point in my life. Women go through menopause, and men have a midlife crisis. I’m in that stage now. Examining what I’m doing and what I’ve done. Recognizing the loneliness in my life, and that there has always been a sense of loneliness. I don’t know if maybe I have ADHD or what it is. But I’m learning.” Mike has not been involved in prostitution for years now.
“I have a girlfriend. I’ve always had girlfriends. I’ve always been honest with them about who I am and what I do, or have done. I’m grateful for all the gay people that have helped me, cared for me and supported me along the way. The gay community gave me a sense of culture. To read, to explore and to be open to different experiences. I don’t know what kind of life I’d be living if it wasn’t for the gay community,” said Mike with gratitude in his voice.
Mike tells me he thinks this project is a really great idea.
“You're out talking to people and giving people a chance to talk about themselves,” he says. Then he laughs and goes on to say,
“It’s kind of funny because, it’s like one thing I learned working as a prostitute. If you listen well, and make the person you’re with feel like they’re being heard, they feel better.” We talked about how good it feels to just sit and chat. To be heard, to listen and to feel like the person you’re talking with cares about what you’re saying.
“That someone lets you know they’re interested in what you have to say. The universe has always brought the next good thing to me. Whether it be people or perhaps even getting deported was an answer. I feel good about where I’m at right now. Thank you very much for listening.” #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://www.ramdass.org