Day 250 - Sean (3rd person I approached)
September 07, 2014 - Sean was sitting on a bench at one of my favourite places to people watch, on the seawall. He had a book, his phone, and a bag containing the remnants of some take-out food on the bench next to him. It was the perfect Sunday afternoon picnic-on-a-bench setting. When I told him what I was doing, he immediately agreed to chat. Picture taking, the lot!
Sean was born in Sudbury, Ontario.
“I don’t often admit where I’m from. Not that there is anything wrong with Sudbury, it’s a great place. I’ve just always wished I was from the west coast. It’s my kind of place,” he said, laughing.
“My family moved here when I was about a year old, so all my childhood memories are from BC (British Columbia) anyway,” he said. Sean’s father had relatives in BC, and his mother is the oldest of eleven children.
“I think it was my Dad that wanted to move out west, and I’m sure my mother was just happy to get away. She referred to it later as ‘a blessing.’ No one from her family had ever moved away from Ontario,” Sean said.
“I have two half sisters. One is eight years older than I am. My mother had her before meeting my father and he adopted her when they married. Then later, my parents divorced and my father remarried and had another daughter.”
Art was Sean’s favourite subject in school.
“I was always drawing. I used mixed media in my work. I was a bit of a loner in school and I didn’t have a lot of friends. We moved around quite a bit, so that made it tough to establish roots and friendships as well. I often spent time on my own,” he said.
In his early teens, Sean got himself into a bit of trouble and was given one choice.
“My parents were separating and my mother was going back to Ontario. I had to move there with her. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I resented everyone. It was a tough transition. I went from a small school here in BC of about three hundred kids, to a school in Ontario of fifteen hundred. For the first three months of school in Ontario, I skipped every class. I stayed there for a year before coming back to BC to live with my father,” he said.
“I went back to school here, and had an art teacher by the name of Miss King. She was encouraging and had asked me to draw three pieces for her. She never said what they were for. I took probably about three months to complete these drawings. Some time later, she told me that she had submitted my drawings to a competition and that I had won a bursary for a small private art school. I was amazed. I think that if she had told me what the drawings were for, I wouldn’t have done them. It was a great feeling, that's for sure,” he said. Sean only took one lesson at that school.
“I went as far as Grade eight, and that’s it. I was done with school,” he said. Sean had started drinking and experimenting with drugs as a young teenager.
“You know, I don’t think I was alone in trying things. I’m sure a large percentage of kids try things. Especially on the weekends, drinking beer and smoking pot. The difference was come Monday morning for most kids, it’s back to school and put the partying on hold until the next weekend. I was still going. I remember clearly the first time I ever tried drugs. I was alone and it was a week night. I did acid (LSD),” said Sean. He gave Ontario another try, but within a year was back in BC.
“From about the age of sixteen to say nineteen, I worked in construction. I did what I could, various things, but all in construction. Then when I was nineteen I went back to school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I tried a bunch of different things. At that time, you didn’t have to have a high-school diploma to go to college. I went to Kwantlen College and took art. I tried criminology. I think in the four years I was going to college, I might have completed one course. Maybe two. I’d try something and then drop the class, and then sign up for something else. I didn’t get much work done, but I sure had a good time,” he said.
While in school, Sean met
“My future ex-wife. My life was starting to become messed up due to my addiction. She was very straight, intelligent and kind, and is a wonderful woman. The fact that she stuck with me is amazing. Really, it should have ended after our first date,” he said, smiling.
“We have a daughter. She is the single most important person in my life. She is without a doubt the pride of my life and the thing, well, she's not a thing, but I am most proud of her. And I thank her mother for that as well. They are two incredible people,” said Sean. After twelve years of marriage, they divorced.
“My daughter and her mother live in (the interior of BC). My ex-wife and I don’t speak regularly, but we do get along still. We both have our daughter’s best interests at heart, and I’d say we all have a good relationship,” he said.
Over the years, Sean had been working in the hospitality industry.
“I worked in hotels and other areas of hospitality,” he said.
“I was working with this guy and we became pretty good friends. We ended up sharing an apartment together. He was gay and I felt comfortable talking with him. I could ask and tell him anything. It was through him that I found inspiration to be honest about myself. I came out as a gay man,” Sean said.
“At first I only told a few friends. I needed time to adjust and figure out for myself what it all meant.
“My addiction was fully ramped up and in time, the chaos took over everything.” Sean lost his job and then lost his home.
“I had nothing left. I was living in a shelter, on welfare and things were not good.” Sean had tried a number of times to get the addiction under control, but hadn’t been successful.
“In another attempt to get sober, I was at an AA meeting and someone offered to help me, to be my sponsor. I had five or six days sober at that time. He suggested that as I had tried several times to get clean and sober that maybe I could consider going into a recovery house. I didn’t feel like I needed to do that. Not me. The next time I went to a meeting, I saw someone that I had known from high-school. This person had bullied me. I felt he had been one of the architects of the mess my life had become. After the meeting, I told my sponsor about this guy. He suggested that the next time I saw him, I might go and say hello. Long story short, when I went to say hello, it turned out that he had a different recollection of how things went at school. I think that the truth was somewhere in between his view and mine. We went for breakfast and he too suggested I might consider a recovery house. At this point, I was staying in a run-down, insect infested place. What did I have to lose? We called my sponsor and, that afternoon, they drove me to ‘The Last Door’ recovery house. I stayed there for the next fourteen months." (*Fact Check - see link below.)
"I’ve been clean and sober for over four years now. I feel good. I still have a long way to go. Addiction is addiction, it doesn't matter. I’ve gained one hundred and seventy pounds since getting sober. That will be the next thing I tackle. But I feel good and I’m no longer living in chaos. I’m working again, and I’m clean and sober. I’ve got my daughter, who is sixteen now. She says she’d like to move down to Vancouver when she’s done university. I look forward to that, and to spending more time with her. I’ve got some good friends too.”
“I did tell my ex-wife and my daughter that I am gay. They have both been incredibly supportive. I sometimes wish I was able to live the way some of today’s youth do. It seems easier to not feel a need to define and categorize everything and everyone. My daughter didn’t have anything negative to say about it at all. When she was a little girl, anything I did made her laugh and smile. Then comes that dreaded time when as a parent you become an embarrassment to your child. Since telling my daughter that I’m gay, it’s kind of like I’m cool again,” he said. We had a good laugh about that!
“My daughter even brought a friend down to Vancouver with her this summer and the three of us went to the Pride Parade. We had such an amazing time together.” Sean had the loveliest full-faced smile while sharing this with me. It was wonderful to bear witness to.
While we sat and chatted, there was a group of people about ten feet away from us with video cameras. They were attracting an ever-shifting group of people that would stop, listen, applaud and then move on. I asked Sean if he knew what was going on.
“Yeah, they’re doing a pop-up poetry reading. It’s funny, I’ve created a canon of books for myself; a list that I want to read, and I’m making way through that list. But even as an avid reader, I’m very cynical about poetry,” said Sean, sounding like he almost didn’t believe it himself.
“As I was making my way along the seawall here, the woman who is doing the poetry asked me for a word. You give her a word and she writes a poem including that word right then and there. I had been thinking about something completely unrelated. The first word that came to mind was ‘ridiculous.’ As soon as I said it, I apologized and said I’d give another word. But she started writing and I was really impressed with the poem she wrote.” The poet was writing her poems on note paper and giving them to people she had written them for. Sean reached over and picked up the book he had been reading, Homer’s ‘The Odyssey.’ and pulled out a piece of note paper. Another first in this project, as I sat listening, Sean recited the poem to me. It was impressive and touching. All I could think of was the irony of Sean saying he felt cynical about poetry, yet he was reading ‘The Odyssey’ which is an ancient greek poem!
The conversation had flowed and we chatted for a solid ninety minutes, if not longer. I thanked Sean for his honesty and willingness to share his story. Wishing him well , I made sure that he would know where to go to read his contribution to The Stranger Project. We shook hands and hugged.
“Thank you for asking me chat,” he said.
”It’s funny because even though I’ve been through so much and lived with the chaos of addiction for twenty plus years, I think of myself as just an ordinary guy. My daughter is always telling me I have the greatest stories. But really, I think of myself as just an ordinary, every day guy.” #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://www.lastdoor.org