What follows is a 'Hallowe'en' story. It's not a 'Happy Hallowe'en' story. I'm saying this just as a warning, I've been told, on occasion, that I can be a, the word was, 'buzz kill' when I feel compelled to tell one kind of story when people want and expect another. So, enter warned.
Joe and I don't celebrate Hallowe'en.
We get into the spirit only as it relates to the kids and to getting candy for others. But for us, Hallowe'en has been tainted. It's a day where we remember the depth of hate that people hold for people, the depth of fear we felt and the realization that when people have permission to hurt and abuse, they will.
It was our first Hallowe'en here in Toronto. At both my work and and Joe's people talked about the annual 'parade' at the Saint Charles Tavern on Yonge Street. They spoke with excitement about it and how they were all going. The Saint Charles was a gay bar right down at the end of our street. It wasn't our local, we preferred going to Buddies or to the Parkside, but we had gone there with friends often in the past.
We decided to go and see this parade that people had spoken about. Shortly after dark we headed out, it was only a block and a half from our place so we were able to hear the crowd upon leaving the apartment building. There would be the occasional roar from the crowd, not a cheer, a roar. It sounded malevolent.
And it was.
We got there to see that the crowd was across the street from the Tavern. The 'parade' was when the occasional gay person, often those wearing drag, walked down the street towards the bar. As soon as they appeared the crowed roared hate. Vile words spilled out. Hateful sentiment scrubbed the air of the freshness of fall. Worse. Much worse. They crowd was well armed. Mostly with eggs, tomatoes and rotten apples but occasionally with sticks and stones. On sight of someone headed to the bar there would be a cascade of projectiles in the air, when one struck, the crowd would jump up and down and cheer. The police would applaud a good hit. Yes, the police were there, but they weren't there to protect those going to the bar, they didn't see them as worthy of protection. You will notice in the article that a man, standing up to the crowd is said to be taunting them!
At one point I got lost in the crowd. I didn't know where my friends were. I was alone, surrounded by hateful people with weapons in their hands. Every time I heard a cheer I knew someone had been struck, someone had been hurt. Every time I looked at someone I feared that they would see my difference in the fear in my eyes. I just had to get home.
I got home.
I was alone.
Joe wasn't there.
I was terrified that he'd been caught. Beaten. Killed. I had no doubt that the crowd, if it could, would have become murderous.
It has taken years for me to think of that night, to move from the hate of the crowd to the bravery of those who walked down the west side of the street, while hate poured from the east, while rocks and stones, and rotten fruit and veg flew through the air at them. The sheer, amazing, wonderful bravery of those who would not let the street be taken from them, who would not let hate alter their path, who dug deep enough past fear to find defiance and who walked as if the crowd applauded them.
But Hallowe'en changed for me that night.
I think trauma does that.
It leaves scars.
I'll tell you this, no mask has ever been made that is as scary as the human face full of hatred.