The Taxi Driver
Two night’s ago I bought the book, “Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin. I read it about fifteen years ago, when I was in my mid to late twenties. I loved it so much, but I’m not sure why. I remember the book was beautiful and sad, but more beautiful. I had just come out (as gay) during that time and this book was recommended by a good friend of mine from high school named Eric. He was, and still is, one of my closest friends. He lives in Japan now, but why I think I still feel very close to him is because the friendship happened during a time when life felt so breakable (…uncertainty about the future… I want to be an artist!... hormones surging... sex rising... sexuality revealing... money lacking... dark skin realizing... direction changing). Eric was one of the first people who I came out to because I trusted him. I guess he recommended this book to me because he felt that it could help me see that being gay was not so bad after all, and that hearing someone else’s story, even if it was from a fictional character, would make me feel less strange and less alone.
But this post isn’t about Eric, or James Baldwin, or “Giovanni’s Room.”
I’ve been rifling through my thoughts for a story I wanted to share; one that would be an earnest reflection of either my past year, or to mark the beginning of a new one. Not only is it a new year, but it’ll soon be my birthday too. Around this time is when I become most nostalgic, most introverted, and most hopeful. I’m the type of person who spends more time than he should in the past, and an equal amount of time dreaming about the future, but this allows me the gift of time traveling in my thoughts to help inform the decisions I make in the present. I’m not someone who forgets quickly, nor am I someone who forgives easily (one of my flaws). But my being able to remember, and to hold onto the feelings that have aided in this remembrance have allowed me to sink profoundly deeper into my experiences, both positive and negative. And so, instead of listing some resolutions that I probably will never keep, I’ll instead share a story from my past, which talks about change and transformation in a roundabout way.
Ernst Hemingway wrote in “A Moveable Feast” about the importance of writing honestly… about writing “the one true sentence you know.” I’m not sure if I have a one true sentence. But I’ll try…
I’ve heard many times from various sources, that people don’t always remember the things you’ve said to them rather they remember how you made them feel.
A taxi driver gave me some sage advice years ago, of which now I’ve forgotten, but I remember how his words made me feel. I remember my surroundings, and that it was dark and quiet outside. I remember sitting in the backseat of the cab like a child listening to his father, uncle or grandparent tell a story about a life lesson he learned from a mistake he had made, or maybe it was a life lesson that was taught to him because of a risk that he took. Again, I can’t remember, but I do know that I felt safe, and at that point I felt change was coming.
The taxi driver drove me from Oshawa to my parent’s home in Scarborough. It was about an hour’s drive between the two cities. How I ended up there was that I met a person over the phone earlier that day and we decided to meet in a hotel he was staying in Oshawa. He was passing through because of work, and although he wasn’t even close to where I lived I decided to go anyway. This was before the ubiquity of the internet and the man4man’s and the gay.com’s, it was before the Tindr’s and the Grindr’s; speaking over the phone was the way that I connected with strangers and how I went on dates with other men. Although there were many ways of meeting men, having a conversation with an anonymous person – leaving voicemails, listening to messages, and scrolling through a list of spoken descriptions of them gave me a rise inside. I would imagine what these men looked like, and then decide from their voices and physical descriptions if I wanted to meet them, and vice versa. The telephone was the compass to help me move through this new gay life of mine. As a mid-twenty-something year old I’d felt in many ways that I was just starting to live my life, which can be both exciting and awkward because I was already an adult and had graduated from art college (even though I was living with my parents). However, being trapped in the hetero closet for so long didn’t only cut me off from being able to authentically connect with my environment and those around me, but it also made me feel cut off from parts of myself – those parts that I was shamed into believing were abnormal, and that I shouldn’t explore. So, in many ways, I went a bit crazy, and tried to feel life in every part of my body… in my viscera, in my cells, and so, exploring my sexuality with this level of expansiveness, and risk, made me feel whole.
He picked me up from a coffee shop. I don’t remember his name, the guy who I met in Oshawa, but I remember how I felt when I was there. I wasn’t afraid. I felt nervous. I was curious. I felt excited. I wanted to leave. I felt shy. I decided to stay. I felt uncomfortable. I decided to stay. I felt exposed. I decided to stay. I felt embarrassed.
I decided to stay.
We both sat on the couch at first, watching television - there was a music awards show playing. We spoke for quite a while - small talk mostly. Talking first. Watching television. Talking more. Watching television. Talking, and then touching. I stayed with him in the hotel for what was probably a few short hours.
He dropped me off at the bus station near midnight and we waved goodbye, knowing that we would probably never see each other again. Unfortunately after he drove away I realized that the terminal was closed and I was left standing outside with no way of getting home. Living in Toronto, I was used to taxis, buses, subways that ran all night long. But here, in what seemed like was of a more rural part of Oshawa, the streets were very still. Fortunately, it was a mild summer evening, and having no other options I decided to walk along what looked like a main street, directionless. In the distance I saw a bus stop and even further, was a bus approaching. I ran towards it grateful for my ride home, but when I reached the bus stop, the bus drove past me. At that moment, two individuals walked by and I asked them if they knew anything about the (bus) schedule.
“I don’t know,” one of them said.
I think I responded by asking them if there was a main part of town I could walk towards where there might be a hotel (I had a debit card). They pointed towards a light coloured building and so I thanked them and began walking towards it. I don’t remember what I was thinking, or even feeling. Maybe I was in a light survival mode, where I was paying attention to only the most important clues or information that would help me get to where I needed to be. In the distance was the faint glow of headlights approaching. As the car came closer, I saw it was a taxi. I waved it down. The taxi stopped and the driver rolled down his window. I asked him if he could take me back to Toronto for fifty dollars (which was all the money that I had on me – this was before taxis accepted debit cards). I think the taxi driver could hear desperation in my voice.
I got in.
As we drove away, the taxi driver asked me what I was doing in Oshawa. I can’t remember what I said, but I know I lied to him, or maybe I withheld some truths, but it’s all semantics anyway, both lying and not revealing information in its entirety. I don’t think he believed my story. But he didn’t further question me either. I didn’t speak much, but the taxi driver did, again, like a sage, like a father, like an older brother, or an uncle.
I looked out of the window, but I don’t remember anything except that it was dark and quiet outside. I don’t remember his words, but I remember his voice. I remember feeling safe. I remember feeling grateful. I remember feeling older. I remember feeling worn. I remember feeling awake. I remember feeling changed.