This was the best year of my life.
There were setbacks. Bad things happened. Not everything worked out in some perfect fashion. Obviously I didn’t find love. But when I think about the year as a whole I am filled with warm feelings that few other memories provide.
You know why?
Because even the worst parts of this year were cinematic.
Everything worked towards one big story. There were big endings, big beginnings, and most importantly- a sense of possibility. The future was a wide open movie screen, a new dawn filled with golden sunlight.
On Wednesday, January 19th, 2005, I changed.
Some providential flash of self-awareness struck me and I realized I was on the road to Rawk-On-ville if I continued to wear dog chains and listen exclusively to songs with drop-D tuning.
I changed my MSN and LiveJournal avatars from “Unloved” in scary white font over black background to a regular picture of myself I’d taken with my webcam. I permanently changed my display name from “Obsidian Raine” to “Dusty”.
I downloaded songs by Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, Interpol, and Kaiser Chiefs.
I stopped wearing all black clothes.
Most importantly, I started acting more humble. I got a lot more quiet instead of constantly blaring my nasal opinions across the world.
The following week I headed down to Ryerson to hand in my full application for the Radio and Television program, also meeting up with DJ who was already going to school there. We had a nice afternoon talking about music; with her already being in a relationship I felt far less pressured to try and impress her. Yes this is indeed the origin story of me being more competent and casual around girls I know I have no chance with.
School was again much less stressful; with another spare period and a very lenient Writer’s Craft teacher I basically had half days. One morning during first period our principal came into the classroom and decided to give us a motivational speech about taking chances and initiative and all that. He said his daughter introduced him to a song by Lee Ann Womack called “I Hope You Dance”, and the lyrics really touched him. He’d mention this anecdote a few times over the course of the year.
I worked a lot more often at No Frills, and slowly the amount of friends I had there surpassed the amount of friends I had at school. I was cool with nearly everyone there; the only issue I had was with the new boss. The boss who’d hired me had been a laid back, Hank Scorpio-esque leader. What that means is he was willing to overlook goofs and jokes, but it also means he was deeply involved in some kind of shady financial stuff that led to him vanishing abruptly one day. His temporary replacement was a tall, reedy stickler for the rules, and I was on his bad side from day one.
I also had a lot more time to improve my musical abilities. By this point Giant Killer Bees was on indefinite hiatus so everything I did was solo work. It was still pretty bad stuff, but inching closer to competency every day. I added keyboard to my repertoire of skills, inspired by all the new artists who were now more and more synth-based.
These slightly enhanced musical skills helped me create a rap-based presentation for Writer’s Craft where I dropped bars about participles and gerunds to the beat of 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’. I got a standing ovation for it, and my teacher was so impressed he sent me on a school-wide tour of all the English classrooms to repeat it. High water mark right here.
I was worried Valentine’s Day might make me relapse into goon-hood, but thankfully I kept myself busy with school and music and work and helping my sister with her paper route. After which I walked home and saw a couple getting frisky in the back of a car and then got dang I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and………well, I was sad, but that’s about it. No big angry venting posts about being the Lonely Warrior of Anti-Romance.
Part of what helped me keep my mind off my loneliness was my newfound financial freedom. I learned how to use a debit card and wow did the frivolous purchases take off. 90% of the CDs that I own were bought in 2005.
Along with new music, I’d found another new interest in teen soap The O.C. Which, along with exposing me to even more new music, made me more relatable to people. I could have relevant conversations with my peers and coworkers instead of talking about the superior comedy of a long-cancelled parody show on Adult Swim.
Basically, I’d evolved from Fred Durst to Seth Cohen. Baby steps.
It was a mild winter and long spring that year, helping me mellow out further. March and April were calm, and I took up rollerblading around the neighbourhood as a pastime, listening to an increasingly more fantastic soundtrack as indie rock ascended as a mainstream genre. Taking on my sister’s paper route was another relaxing pastime for me. Even work became totally chill as we got a permanent new owner in place who didn’t have a vendetta against me. I met with DJ a few more times, once being after an interview to get into the program I wanted to at Ryerson.
A month passed and things began to look a little dire as all my friends and classmates began receiving their offers of admission and I heard nothing back from Ryerson. The most fatalistic part of me started to overtake me again and I started getting small panic attacks. What would I do if I didn’t get in? I couldn’t disappoint my parents even more than I was already.
One day I headed downtown to apply to the International Academy of Design and Technology as a last resort. I wandered around the underground PATH for the very first time and considered possible futures. I walked past a Flight Centre and thought that maybe I could travel the world.
The interview and tour at IADT was fine, and everyone was friendly, but I couldn’t help feel resigned to accepting failure. I was compromising, settling for less.
Then I got home and found an admission letter to Ryerson on my desk and my heart stopped and it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
Nothing fazed me after that. Life was 100% good, and even the events that unfolded at prom make me laugh now rather than cringe.
You see, our principal got up on stage and introduced the night’s final song- “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. I took this as a sign from above, a callback to the many instances the principal had mentioned the song over the P.A. system during the school year. It was like in any solid narrative with the foreshadowing and the culmination of a running theme and all that. Basically, I did what the song lyrics told me and took a chance and asked the now-single Allaura to have the last dance with me. She politely declined and shifted away from me. I looked around at her table and asked the other girls if they wanted to dance, and they all similarly turned me down. So I walked back awkwardly to my table and stood there pretending to be nonchalant for the duration of the song.
Afterprom was not Wasaga Beach like what the cool kids do. It was a dirt pit in the forest and my friends getting wasted in the dark while one of their girlfriends and I watched from the top of the pit. I told her what had happened back at prom and she gave me a comforting “awwwwwww” and then wowee wow my very first hug from a girl ever. Silver linings all over.
Summer was easy living, just rollerblading and stocking the store shelves with ice cream. I went to see Keane at Massey Hall with my friend Finn. I bought myself a bass guitar and learned that. DJ introduced me to the world of webcomics and I started my own (an absolutely terrible prequel to the one you’ll find on this site).
My mind of course is a ridiculous thing that needs to invent things to worry about, so for about two weeks I read websites and online news articles about the spread of bird flu in Asia and the looming crisis of peak oil and began to dwell intensely on that.
In early August I had my first wild crazy out-of-control house party. Not only did I invite all my high school friends but also all my No Frills friends and DJ’s crew as it was her birthday. Somehow I managed to buy food, snacks, games, set up a gaming corner with Raj, and decorate a personalized cake for DJ all without access to a car.
The effort was worth it, and everyone was surprised that I managed to not only stage an event like this, but wrangle this many people together at once. I felt this strange sensation as I played something loosely resembling badminton in my backyard…”Am I popular?”
Meanwhile DJ was making out with a guy she’d brought in my basement, a member of a band called The Elwins. I did not find out about this until much later.
I spent the rest of August either getting to know my future classmates from Ryerson online or going on long bike rides with Raj before he moved away. It was a pleasant way to wrap up the summer, albeit a little bittersweet.
Orientation Day reaffirmed my problem with groups of friends. Because I’d talked to so many different people online in August I felt obligated to meet and talk to all of them. It was because of this that I hamstrung myself by not attached myself to one group. Throughout the day I jumped from one crew to another, not really taking the time to fit in. This would lead to me being kind of an outlier once the semester started, as living off campus didn’t let me bond with all the others.
I’d need the space, because soon after school started DJ told me that she was now seeing a new guy. Almost exactly a year after she’d rejected me the first time. I got very upset, and I went full emo.
I dyed a streak into my hair, started listening to My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco and Jack’s Mannequin and Bright Eyes, and took gloomy pictures with eyeliner on. It was pretty bad, but even at my worst I didn’t approach the horrible brat I’d been the year before. My newly developed sense of self-awareness allowed me to poke fun at myself, even if I felt like my heart had been thrown off a cliff into the dark abyss of oblivion. That self-deprecation probably saved me from being entirely ostracized by my new classmates, who I largely got along with during school hours.
I got really into my webcomic and music for the rest of the year, and I also got really into…bowling. Myself and a few of my friends from No Frills started a team in the local youth league, and I found that I had a knack for the sport.
I sulked my way through the first semester, managing to keep my mind off the rejection mostly by virtue of getting acquainted with the university life. New things to learn, new routines, new people all kept things at a brisk pace. By November my eyes moved to Raya, a friend of a friend, then Taylor, a girl at Ryerson, then Wendy, a former classmate from high school. All three turned me down, but the distractions helped me move on from DJ permanently.
Two fun events rounded out the year, the first being a My Chemical Romance concert I took my sister to for her birthday. My sister then being a freshman in high school and in need of protection from the wild mosh pits at Arrow Hall. I was an effective human shield, but I was kind of bruised up a few days later when I attended a Christmas party at a prof’s condo with some other classmates. While there I just had to show off my keyboard skills and played Coldplay’s “Fix You” on the prof’s piano, catching the ear (and eye) of Belinda.
Belinda added me on MSN the day after and started talking to me pretty frequently for the rest of December. I recommended her some other songs in the vein of “Fix You”, one of them being The Cure’s “Lovesong”. She thought it was great. And then she told me she had a boyfriend and my three week crush came crashing down. And then a month later I found out she’d made “Lovesong” her and her boyfriend’s official relationship anthem????????
This was the kind of misadventure I could laugh off with my No Frills friends; as long as I could vent and get gently roasted for my lack of luck I was OK with it. Life had proved to be a rollercoaster and I went into 2006 looking forward to the next big hill.