Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Annie's Story

Today I'm giving the mike to Annie, a young woman I met when I was a classroom aide in a high school in Toronto. We became friends and then, over time, lost touch. Here's her story of memory and reconnection:

I often hear people dissing Facebook. “Good Lord no! I’m not on Facebook! It’s trash! I don’t want to know what you (or anyone) ate for breakfast!” (Confession: I think I’ve twice posted my breakfast menu on fb – my first morning in my new apartment, post divorce; and the decadence of having [and being treated to] a “real” chocolate ├ęclair on my birthday of 2017.) Yes, I am the sole culprit for trivializing Facebook! Shame on me!

But seriously and on a more positive note, I want to tell a truly amazing and incredible Facebook story. Actually, this story gave birth to the name of this particular blog.

Yes, I am an avid Facebook user. I admit it. I like its Messenger (chat) to easily and quickly contact friends. I feel connected when I see friends post special milestones. I like being reminded of someone’s birthday. (This single feature alone has saved my butt more than once.) To relax, I enjoy playing “Words With Friends” and I’ve actually made good friends while playing WWF, whom I now regularly chat with on Messenger.

So, here’s the awesome story that I promised you….

Back in November of 2017, (November 12 exactly) as I scrolled through the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability fb page (an organization that I’ve been involved with and am a great fan of) a poster’s name caught my attention. I consider the last name somewhat distinctive and many, many, years ago I had a good friend with the same name as this poster.

I smiled with the thought “Could it be….. No! It can’t be!….. But….. What are the odds?..... And even if it is, would he/they remember me?” Life had gone on for all of us. I had since legally changed my first name; gotten married; moved several times; lived in two additional provinces; and divorced. So what were the odds?

I reviewed his page enough to be pretty confident that it was indeed him, but would he remember me? And even if he did remember me, would he even want to hear from me, or would I be an unwelcome intrusion from a distant past?

I thought carefully, but this guy and his partner were two of my best friends when I was in my teens. I had several “firsts” with them: my first gay bar (I was under age – haha); my first time seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Harold and Maude (which is still one of my all time favourite movies. I l-o-v-e Cat Steven’s music!) and I’ve long forgotten the name of the third movie in the triple feature – something to do with an all boys school – with much nudity; my first ride on an inaccessible subway, with a broken-down escalator; and countless other ‘firsts.”

I also very much remember New Year’s Eve 1978 (going into ’79). Dave and Joe and Joan had invited me for dinner and to stay over, since I was now living in Burlington, which Dave had taken a liking to nicknaming “Spot” because of Burlington’s population when compared to

Toronto. We spent many weekends together back then and I always slept downstairs at Joan’s apartment. As Joan was also a good friend, she gladly volunteered to help me in an attendant capacity. We all did things together, shared many conversations, had fun, laughed a lot – we were tight.

After supper that New Year’s Eve, Dave asked me to come sit with him in the living room and said that he needed to talk to me; that there was something important he had to tell me. When he sat on the couch, I moved my wheelchair close to him.

I no longer remember Dave’s exact words, but the next several minutes went something like this:

“Annie….. there’s something I have to tell you.” He seemed nervous and serious.

“ok. What?” I asked.

Dave seemed to hum and aww a bit, which seemed unlike Dave.

“You know that you are one of our closest friends, right?’

“Well yehh! And so are you guys to me.”

“Well Annie….. I hope that will always be true. I hope you’ll always consider us friends.”

“what????? Why wouldn’t I??? What…..??? What’s going on? What’s wrong?”

Dave was now literally shaking and trembling.

As my mind and heart started racing, it finally dawned on me that neither Joe, nor Joan were siting with us. They were in the kitchen. I was suddenly aware of pots and dishes clanging, things occasionally being dropped, the odd “damn!” and maybe one or two “Ohh come on will ya…..!”

I became fearful….. imagining the worst. “Ohhh, my God, Dave! You’re not sick, are you?’

Dave may have smirked slightly. “No. No…. Although some would…..”

I interrupted. “Joe?..... Joe’s sick?..... Joan?..... Ohhh my God no!...... Is it Cancer?..... What kind of
Cancer?..... Is it treatable?..... No…..no….. Wait!!! Ohhh my God!!!!! You guys are moving away!!!...... You’re moving back to BC and I’ll never see you guys again!..... Is Joan going too???”

“Annie….. Annie….. Slow down! No we’re not moving. And no one has Cancer.”

“Well what?????” I asked. “What’s wrong??? What is it?????’

Dave was now shaking and trembling sooooo badly. He was sweating and barely able to get his words out.

“Annie………. Annie………. I….. I mean, we’re….. I…. We’re…… Joe and I…..”

“WHAT??? WHAT????? FOR GOD SAKE….. YOU’RE WHAT???”

“We’re….. We’re….. WE’RE GAY!!!!!..... OK!!!!! We’re gay.”

“yeh…..so?”

“Look! Maybe you hate us now! Maybe you’ll never speak to us again! Maybe…..”

I looked right at Dave’s face. “Wait, are you not still Dave?”

“yeh.”

“The guy I knew 20 minutes ago? That same Dave?”

“Yeh.”

“Are you still my friend?”

“Yeh….. Of course!.... I hope I am anyway……?”

“Well….. What’s the problem?”

Just at the second Joe came flying around the corner from the kitchen. “I can’t stand this anymore! What did she say?..... WHAT DID SHE SAY?????”

Dave looked up at Joe and simply said. “Yeh…. So? She said, Yeh…..so?”

Whenever I recall that evening, which over four decades I have many times, I always only have one dominant thought: “No one….. but NO ONE should EVER be made to feel so much fear in revealing their true selves. I mean, what the hell is wrong with our society to make ANYONE live with that kind of fear?
So on this night, 11/12/2017 10:42pm, our conversation began again. “Is this the Dave Hingsburger who worked at West Toronto Secondary High School in the mid 1970's? If so, do you remember your friend Annie ("Gerry") Hull?”

Then a second try on 11/17/2017 9:15pm, “Now I know it's you guys! Yaaay! Wow! Do you remember me? We were good friends in the mid-70's. It's sooooooooooooooo good to "see" you and Joe again. I bet he still has that awesome laugh that grows from the very pit of his stomach and just keeps growing. I still remember that infectious laugh. I am really interested in your work on abuse. I know a little about it. After 30+ years of marriage, I had to end it when my ex became highly abusive. The only way I could end the abuse was to end my marriage, so I did. Anyway, I'd love to hear from you guys if you want to message me back.”

And on 11/24/2017 7:48am, contact: “Hi Annie, of course we remember you. Of course. I'm sorry I haven't responded before, I travel a lot and lecture and I get behind on stuff. I tried hard but I couldn't get that picture to enlarge so can't really see it. I am so sorry to hear about the abuse ... you deserved better than that. I hope you are okay, inside and out, after suffering through that. I have so many other questions for you. Let's start, where are you and what are you up to??? (You were the first person to introduce me to the idea of disability pride and as a disabled person now, I thank you for that a thousandfold).”

Disability pride? What? Why on earth is Dave thanking me? For what? I don’t understand. I talked about disability pride? I mean, it’s an awesome phrase, and it does sound like something I’d come up with. I probably heard the (then) new term “gay pride” starting to be commonly used and in thinking on my own positive beliefs about my own disability and disabilities in general (which is a whole other article by itself), I simply combined the two concepts.

After chatting online with Dave, I now kinda remember my nattering about “disability pride” but clearly Dave remembers it much more than I; and I’m soooooo glad that when he needed those two simple words for strength, he remembered them and kindly thought of me. I’m also very happy that I can now return a huge thank you to Dave.

In recent weeks (and months) I’ve needed to shift my focus to self-employment. In doing so, I’ve been given the opportunity to avail of a few very good mentors and I’ve had some discussions around the concepts of “branding” and “self-branding” – i.e. creating an identifiable brand that would become associated with me.
Speaking with all humility, I do sincerely believe that one of my best gifts is writing. I love to write and I write in a few different genres. (I love to tongue in cheek say: “Writers write, right?” Hahaha!) I’ve also pretty much always (from an extremely young age) viewed my disability in the positive. I feel I was meant to be as I am, because much good can be demonstrated from me just being the me that was I created to be. I’m soooooo comfortable with my disability that I simply think of it as just one aspect of all the parts that make up who I am and I wouldn’t be “me” without it. That’s not to say I don’t have times of frustrations and challenges. I certainly do, but all in all, I would not remove it from my life.

When thinking about an identifiable brand for myself, a natural “brand” became as clear as the cleanest glass – “Disability Pride!” and if Dave had not reminded me of that term…… Now disability pride feels purposeful, full of strength, with much good to come through it.

So first, THANK YOU DAVE!!!!! Thank you for remembering two simple words from a relatively know-nothing 16 year old who most certainly then thought she knew it all.

This piece is from disabilitypride.net Annie's site.