I ended up in Toronto because of James. After breaking it off with Marcus and Erik with two months left to go before my student visa expired, I doubled down on two options I had come up with to continue staying outside of Singapore albeit temporarily until I could find a longer term solution.
One was to attend a university in Prague (where classes were free in Czech) and support myself teaching English, the other was attending Tanglewood summer music academy in Massachusetts which would have allowed my 6-month Canadian visitor visa (obtainable at the expiration of my student visa) to reset and I would be able to return for another 6 months. Now that my thesis defense was over, I devoted all my time desperately studying Czech, working on TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification, and rehearsing my audition pieces for Tanglewood. In the midst of this, I found out the Czech government had recently clamped down on visas, so in order to work or study there one now had to apply in person at their consulate in Montreal, jump through hoops of paperwork, and surrender your passport for 4 months while they processed your request. It was no longer a viable option; I would be unable to obtain a Canadian visitor visa, and there is a risk of my passport expiring during the processing period. My only hope left was Tanglewood.
The Canadian auditions for Tanglewood were held in Toronto at the Royal Conservatory of Music towards the end of October. I scraped together money for a flight and a cheap hotel and went for it. When I started voice lessons, I chose to develop my male mezzo register because it was distinctive to me; it did not sound like the early music countertenor sound that was prevalent at that time. I also did not particularly care for the standard repertoire the conventional male voice type sang. I knew it was a risky choice for Tanglewood but I would at least stand out from the competition who had the opportunity to train longer than I had,
I did my audition. The panel murmured between themselves. I left the room and panicked when I realized my bag containing my passport and wallet was missing. I asked the attendant who was ushering the next candidate and she suspected the guy auditioning before me took it when he left. Racing outside, I frantically searched for him and ran up and down the busy sidewalk repeatedly until I finally spotted him with my bag (I had a red umbrella tucked in the side pocket) across the street. I dashed across traffic shouting “Excuse me. Excuse me. Stop. You have my bag!”
When he finally stopped and I caught up to him, he apologized; he usually carried a bag with him but he did not bring it to the audition and must have picked up my bag from habit. We briefly enquired about each other’s auditions. “I heard you sing as I was leaving,” he said “I really liked it. You have a unique voice.” If I deserved a happy ending, this would have been the rom-com meet-cute where we fall in love, and have a life together filled with laughter and music; with an attractive man who loved my voice (that others found disturbing).
I returned to my hotel and prepared my luggage for the flight back to Vancouver the next day. I wandered around downtown Toronto and was unimpressed. Bored and lonely, I returned to the hotel after dinner and logged into the local chatroom. Most of the conversations petered out, but James and I hit it off and we chatted online for about an hour until he invited me over for drinks at his apartment so we could talk in person.
James’ build and demeanor reminded me of Robert. Over glasses of wine we grew to know each other intimately. We shared the same political beliefs and had similar perspectives on society. I opened up about my struggles and he was sympathetic (instead of dismissive). James used to teach English to foreign students at a language school but had been unemployed since he was diagnosed with AIDS a few years ago. He shared how traumatic his AIDS diagnosis was for him. He lost his confidence and lost his job and his friends as a result. He was shunned by the men he met or chatted with when they found out his diagnosis. I understood his loneliness and embraced it and embraced him. “I am nothing” he said. “I am nothing too” I replied. He returned my embrace and we kissed from the living room to the bedroom.
It was a beautiful meeting of two bruised souls that panged both of us afterwards at my impending departure. James pleaded “Please stay with me” as he laid his head upon my chest “Please move to Toronto? I want to be together”. I promised I would try. We stayed together in our naked embrace as long as we could, unwilling to relinquish our conversation and intimacy. I left in the early morning to pick up my luggage at the hotel enroute to the airport.
Ostinato of railroad rumble
in solitary candlelight
their glasses embrace
celebrating fate –
for chance meeting yesterday.
Broke, one had to go away
to find work; broke,
the other could not follow –
they toast their lips to sorrow.
Shuttered light of louvresSteal (Dying Prayers)
illuminates sad contentment of two lovers
for his uncertain return
and departure tomorrow
(and cats needing attention).
No parting parties of bars and boys
but to stay and hold, to look, to feel
in their little room, where world is holding still …
After I returned to Vancouver, James and I kept in touch daily. When will you be here? He would ask. When are you moving to Toronto? I switched my job search to Toronto-based companies and eventually landed a position. When it became official after the work permit was issued, James was ecstatic. He sent me an email afterwards that he was he inspired by my efforts, in turn he was going to get re-certified and look for a new teaching job so we could build a new life together. I had a few weeks to pack and arrange for the cross-country move to meet the job start date. As I updated James daily on the progress, we would chat about our future. Jeff kindly helped me pallet and ship my belongings cross country.
My flight landed in Toronto during a blizzard with snow drifts 6 feet high on the side of the road. I could not wait to see James again. The taxi dropped me off and I made my way down the snow covered driveway and knocked on his door. “Welcome to Toronto,” James smiled as he opened the door “I am sorry but I fell in love with someone else 3 days ago” as the blizzard swirled around me.
Once again I found myself trapped with no where to go. I start my new job in 2 days and I had used up my savings to move. “Can I stay here for the time being?” I asked “The moving truck is due to arrive in a few hours”. My mind raced to formulate a Plan B and Plan C. “Of course” he said. He must have felt guilty as he offered me his room and moved to the smaller windowless room.
I did not feel anger towards James or the situation, I think I was dead inside. About a week later, he returned with a black eye and his face bruised. I asked James about it as I took his coat. He had visited his elder brother and told him what happened and how he fell in love with his 18 year old student before I arrived. Apparently his brother exclaimed “What about Stephen? How can you do this to Stephen?” and beat him up.
On that first night in Toronto, I sat on the mattress on the floor surrounded by half assembled shelves and half unpacked boxes. James was in the living room watching TV, chatting with his boy toy. I watched the snow pile higher against the window. I am 30 years old. I never planned nor expected to live this long. What is next?
Upon their bodies I inkSacrificial Trees (Sacrificial Trees)
portentous tattoos –
of my despair
On their flesh I preserve
effects and possessions –
boxes set adrift
seeking far flung land
Will I even get there?
Where is my place?
A life born fragile,
It is not my choice
again torn asunder.
Till time when I
too am embraced
and one in dirt
Where am I going?