5 September 2016

The Move

1987 Rob was a better dresser than 2016 Rob.
 Few events stand as life changing to me as much as our 1985 move from the gritty East End Hamilton neighbourhood to a relatively suburban Stoney Creek mountain one.  Growing up in the shadow of the steel plants shaped much of my character with its blue collar values, front porch sitting neighbours and the feeling that the whole community was looking out for you. The Move came at a time when our family was settling into its happiest time, yet it shook my life to the core.
As with any 12 year old, news that we were leaving all my friends and familiar landmarks behind was not greeted with enthusiasm. Who wants to leave their life and start over? Especially when you are like me and crave the simplicity and normalcy of routine. My best friend, Kevin, lived 4 houses away and we spent our free time on our bikes exploring the streets of the surrounding area. Adventure awaited every day and we felt safe no matter where we went. All that changed with a single move that led to some of my biggest triumphs and loves of my life, as well as some of my worst decisions.

We arrived in that semi detached house on Fuller Court soon after school finished and began to settle into our new lives. I had discovered a passion for hockey the previous few years and it was here that it blew up into a full blown obsession. The history, stories and numbers of the NHL gave me a foundation for stability and I grew attached to everything about the sport. I would spend hours in my room researching statistics and memorizing the players. With only 21 NHL teams, it was a simpler time and I immersed myself in everything hockey. Strapping on skates for the first time and taking to the net still remains a vivid memory and while my brief 5 year foray into actually playing hockey was filled with more defeat than victory, it stays with me as one of my happiest times. My talent never matched my heart but I soon found that those who cannot execute as a player drift towards coaching and that is where I found my calling, for a brief time at least. Our family became a Hockey one and we had a blast being part of that community for many years. This was my safe place, my refuge and these memories will always be close to my heart.
Old School Goalie!
My parents tried to ease the transition from our old neighbourhood, often bringing Kevin to stay overnight. But as any kid will tell you, when you are removed from the daily routine of hanging out, there comes a distance that cannot be filled. Not being part of the pulse of the old neighbourhood means you lose touch with the shared experiences. Drifting, I began to cut myself off from the world and live more inside my own head. I had a fantastic ability to create vivid imaginary worlds and inhibit them. With my love of books, I was never at a loss for material. The school year loomed and while I was in love with learning, the thought of being the new kid terrified me. This was a long time before any sort of anti bullying campaign and I knew what happened to the new kids. The larger problem occurred when it came to the actual school work. Several false starts and miscommunications about what I was actually supposed to be accelerated in led to a wasted few months and despite my best efforts, I started to struggle and that was new to me. I had been part of an advanced curriculum at my old school and remained so at my new one, but something had shifted in the transition. My grades remained high and my expectations hadn't changed, but the thrill of getting an A+ started to fade a bit.
I found out years later that my parents had discussed letting me return to the old neighbourhood to live with my grandparents because my depression was so deep. My struggles felt so huge and I was unsure what to do. I still get that feeling of sadness in my chest when I think of how lonely I was. But, as with most things when you're young, life changed. I met a kid from the next court over and slowly made friends at school. It was in trying to fit in that I first used humour, especially the self deprecating kind, to make myself part of the majority and it was then that I began a sideways drift towards what would be a lifelong battle with my self image. But in the meantime, I was finally happy. Our family was becoming part of the new community, especially at the arena, and life was once again appearing normal.
That time we met Gordie Howe!
The last two years of grade school present no real stand out memories. I functioned well as part of the leadership group in class and I remember mostly joyful experiences. We played road hockey, explored the ever expanding growth in our area and enjoyed many happy family times. But part of me never felt wholly present living there and despite everyone's best efforts, I yearned for a past that didn't exist anymore. Graduating from Grade 8, I tried and won a scholarship to a prestigious private high school in Hamilton and rather than continue with the friends I had made in the last two years, I decided to once again be the new kid. Looking back, I have no doubt that I was engaging in what has become a real theme of my life, Starting over. The feeling that if I just change everything about my circumstances, my life would be better. I lasted a year in that school before transferring to the local public high school because I couldn't fit in with the wealthy crowd that ran Hillfield. It was becoming obvious that I had no idea what I was doing and my grades began to drop. I started seeing school as an interference in my life rather than a help and even starting skipping class. My social network started anew, but with less than the best kind of results. No one knew what to do and while many tried to help, I was no longer listening. A theme that will present itself again in my life, many times, with the same results.
It's been almost 30 years since these events and most of reminiscing is of the happy kind, but that notion of changing everything and fresh starts remains. The next part of my life shaped the direction I would take for close to a quarter century. One decision took me off the path that most people, including me, thought I was on. One choice and I descended into over two decades of self medication and poor choices. It was a future wholly of my own volition and it started with The Party...but that tale is for another time.  

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