Halifax was a strange time in my life.
I never got to know the city the way I wanted to. I was always busy, struggling to find incentives to stay busy and to avoid meeting people that forced me to get outside my comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of fascinating, interesting folks and made life-long friendships with folks from King’s (and even my adopted place on Inglis Street). But I’ll freely admit that, by April 2005, I was completely done with the place. Halifax is a great city, but I don’t think I’d ever want to live there for an extended period of time. My Upper Canadian blood just didn’t jive with it at times.
I also came across as pompous and arrogant to some. I know that now. Like I did at Queen’s, I made some enemies at King’s while not even realizing it. My personality tends to breed extremes in people at times; you either really like me or you really don’t. I’m not even entirely sure why this is the case, but by the end, I felt as if that while I had found personal redemption of sorts by being a far more effective leader, student and wannabe journalist at King’s, I had still to figure out a lot more about people. People were still (and are, even at the end of this decade) a mystery to me. I knew nothing about the importance of empathy, or the ability to forge relationships beyond your perception of them. Kindness alone doesn’t matter in a friendship. You can do everything and anything for people and it doesn’t change how they perceive you.
It was the middle of the decade. It had been a wild decade so far. How little did I know. It was going to get more so, even flow.
The flight was on WestJet, deadly early. It was dark and cold out and I wasn’t sleeping at all. Gorman had helped me ship things to Toronto — easily one of the best people I’ve ever met — and I was on a one-way ticket home. I was exhausted. The world was different again.
The solitary trip up to my family condo in Collingwood — which, sadly, would be sold away by the end of 2008 — was a quiet one. I sat on the deck that night, nursing a glass of red wine and having a smoke. The blues music, always my dad’s source of personal inspiration and affection, was playing in the background. It wasn’t cold, but it was a blue mood. I felt spent and strangely out of sorts. The girlfriend back home couldn’t understand why I was off on my own. I as still hurting at her for what I thought was putting herself ahead of a golden opportunity for adventure in Halifax. I never did forgive her for it. Well, maybe that’s not true. I did forgive her. But I never forgot it. It would one day be one of several factors why we would end.
October 2005. I had been hired on as an online journalist for AOL Canada. As Christina Hendricks’ character on Mad Men says, “you never do forget your first.” Don’t get me wrong, I had had numerous jobs before AOL. Yet this was different, for it was finally feeling as if I was in my true element. The people were good, if stridently different from what I had experienced before. New friends made, new connections forged. But I was still hiding myself away from things. I was keeping secrets from everyone and everything. My life was a compartmentalized machine of compacted bullshit, pieces of a life that were assembled quickly and taken apart without regard for the consequences. Doing things that you’d be surprised about, even today. I can’t even write about some of them on here. I don’t trust the Internet entirely, or many people for that matter, to reserve judgment on me.
The Turin Olympics came and went in February 2006. Three straight weeks of work, no break. I was under a lot of physical and emotional strain. But Chloe and Genevieve — two fabulous journalists and great people — kept me company on those surreal, 12-hour days of gold medals and national anthems.
Then the hammer dropped.
I was called into the board room in May 2006. The company was changing direction and it wasn’t my fault. I was to get great references, a lot of severance and no guilt. But it all felt too short. It was a great company, though. I miss the group we had, the people that made it amazing.
I suddenly felt motivated to keep working on things. Thus began one a karmic experience in journalism for me that I don’t know I’d repeat again.
The story doesn’t need to be repeated in its entirety. But I lost a friend over it. I mixed business with a friendship, and that was a huge mistake. You know that line about not shitting where you eat? It’s more true the older you get. It’s one of the contradictions of life that you should avoid compartmentalizing things, but sometimes you have no choice but to do so. I didn’t listen to myself. I lost her as a friend, and some would say he died a second time because of the story. At least, in her mind. I wish I could say how sorry I am.
October 2006. I was hired on at an organization I can’t name here. I made friends again, but I felt at odds with so much of the place. It was as if you knew how poor a fit it was, but you can’t bring yourself to say anything because you need a job. It wasn’t what I had signed up for journalism-wise.
I wish I could tell you more. I can’t. Things went off the rails again in May 2007. I was gone again.
And thus began two of the wildest, strangest, most insane years of my life.
Imagine waking up one day, a few weeks after you were let go from a job that had effectively ruined your self-esteem again. The world of confidence and Queen’s felt light-years away in the rear view mirror of life. I wasn’t getting out of bed. I wasn’t eating. My mood had shifted into staring at metaphorical Black Dogs and listening to ambient music all day. I started smoking more than ever before, doing things I’d never contemplated in my more mainstream, acceptable days. My head and heart were aching in ways that were too much to bear. I was contemplating things, questioning everything. Nothing seemed firm anymore.
Not to sound like this is all a downer, I must say. There were happy moments along the way. But here’s the rub: I have depression. That awful, dreading feeling that nothing will ever get better, that life is just going to get worse instead of better. I tuned out of the world during this time. I didn’t want to see anyone and just drank, smoke and lived off severance and government benefits. For the first time ever, the consequence of that thought back when I was 19 — that wonderful, horrible time when everything is new and brilliant — was coming false. Life doesn’t give a shit about predetermined faith or the universe unfolding the way it should. The hardest part is… you’re in charge.
The true end for my girlfriend and I came in August of that year. We left a movie and slowly escalated into a fight in the car. I had known for a few weeks that I couldn’t handle it anymore, or that I wasn’t the same man I was in 2002. Maybe it was my fault it didn’t work out, or perhaps that some things aren’t meant to be. I don’t know. We sat in the car. I took her home. I ended it. I said I would call her in a month. It turned into seven weeks.
Seven weeks. It was like a part of you had been there, then it was gone. Revealed truths, as it were, are always in the aftermath of an action. Never in the moment.
The final moment came in her childhood park in midtown Toronto. She asked questions. I tried to answer. She hugged me tightly as I walked away. The maple leafs were dying and brushing away, the rain gently coming down. It was almost literary, and it was all true.
The ending begins in the autumn.
I was out every night, doing things with people and saying things I had promised I’d never do again. An angry, haze-fueled, hardened and cynical shell had emerged. I didn’t care anymore. By the middle of 2008, my body was raw and my heart felt like it had been cornered into an ally. I wasn’t the same man I was in 2006, even. The world was starting to reflect itself back at me, and vice-versa.
Then he died.
My grandfather — a man I had known and respected back when I was a kid, but learned to resent and struggled to appreciate by the end, unfortunately — died in August 2008. I sat outside the funeral home, unemployed and feeling like a self-centred asshole. While my grandfather laid in the funeral home, his 90 years of life finally coming to an end six years after his beloved wife passed on, I was sitting with my uncle. We talked about the loss of expectations in life, the belief that things happen to people for a reason. Perhaps they do. Again, that bloody contradiction of life: we don’t ever expect, as adults, for things to happen just because they *should* happen. The universe is not a nice place. It is vicious, random and cruel at times. But yet we still, amazingly, believe that things unfold for a reason.
Two months later, by the end of 2008, I was employed again. I had taken control of things and felt as if the harshness of the past two years had finally made things clear.
Like so much of the world this past decade, coming to terms with the truth being revealed so much more easily and promimently is a hard thing to do for anyone. The world became much more connected and visceral between 2000 to 2009; this has allowed people to see things and understand things they may not have been able to see before. But it’s a painful exercise at times. You don’t know what you’re going to see, or if you’re emotionally ready for it. But you have no choice. You either see it, or you stunt and die. Change or die. Grow or die. And growth — like the pain when your bones are growing as a teenager — is sometimes painful.
Earlier in 2009, I decided that I needed to take a final step to moving forward on things. The truth became illuminated in a new, relieved kind of way. I can’t talk about it here, because it is a condition I have had since I was born that has only become revealed this year. But it has clarified who I am and why things have been the way they are. It was a relief. The biggest act of personal revelation for my life. Ever. Maybe one day, I’ll explain to everyone. But certain people already know. You know who you are. I love you. And even if you don’t know yet, maybe one day you will.
It’s January 2nd, 2010. The past decade is over. The most intense, exciting and difficult decade for the world, families, people and me.
How am I different? Who am I now?
If I had to say goodbye to 2009, I’d say it quietly. I’d say goodbye to this past decade knowing that it was an act of so much personal growth and change that the Greg Hughes of January 1st, 2000 is a shadow, a historical relic that is gone forever. My mind’s eye only remembers. Memory is so fluid and unreal that no one but you, yourself, can remember all the travails and circumstances of a moment accurately. You will never remember it entirely or truthfully.
I say goodbye to this time with a mix of hope, serenity and turning the page. I have risen above tragedies, challenges and pain to know that I am stronger than I ever thought possible. Now, as I begin my thirties in full force, I know now this: the line that “the more I know, the less I understand” becomes more real as you get older.
I know the world is not predetermined. I know the future isn’t set down. But if you can be strong enough to rise beyond the ebb and flow of life, maybe we all can, as a species, do the same. We’re stronger than we thought. And learning to live with the contradiction that is life is the greatest challenge of all.
Turn the page.