I know. This is the sort of stuff that I usually think never happens to me, or people like me. Or maybe it happened for precisely that reason; I’ve spent the last four and a half months in a fearful state with my host family. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. I’m not just quoting Star Wars because I’m a geek (ye gads, Episode I no less). It’s just true. Two nights ago I discovered an appropriate passage in Chapter Four of Jane Eyre, where Jane says goodbye to the younger of her aunt-by-marriage’s maidservants the day before she is to be shipped to residential school:
"Bessie, you must promise not to scold me any more till I go."
"Well, I will; but mind you are a very good girl, and don't be afraid of me. Don't start when I chance to speak rather sharply; it's so provoking."
"I don't think I shall ever be afraid of you again, Bessie, because I have got used to you, and I shall soon have another set of people to dread."
"If you dread them they'll dislike you."
"As you do, Bessie?"
"I don't dislike you, Miss; I believe I am fonder of you than of all the others."
So I need to start taking my social lessons from introspective creative people who have been there. I had almost this exact problem once before in my life – I won’t invite any speculation as to its timing or nature, but I was in a situation where I didn’t know which way was up and every move I made was the wrong one. I didn’t start out afraid, but by the time fear took over it was too late to make immediate restitutions. Oh, nothing breeds resentment quicker than fear, this I now know. Remember how I used to rant and rail about the people who were afraid of me in high school? Why didn’t I know this sort of thing goes both ways? I thought by being afraid of my host family (for the most part anyway, with one exception) that I’d be demonstrating my (um... preternatural?) respect, but no. No, not in the least.
What a hard won lesson.
The narrative that brings me to this point is a series of bombs. Just when I felt I was fairly sure of things, another bomb dropped. To wit:
1. We had our Canadian Night at Karo. It went fairly well and deserves a post just for it, and so you shall soon see one. It was great in its own right.
2. At 00:08, after finishing my shift at the door, I realized that I hadn’t called my host sister and asked her to leave a key out for me. I had mentioned to her the previous night that I’d miss supper and would need a key, but I also said I’d call her to confirm (because bad things happen when I don’t). So I rang my host brother’s phone, which I figured was a safe bet since he’s usually on the computer until around midnight or somewhat past anyway. No one answered. Okay.
3. So failing that, I sent simultaneous SMS messages to both host siblings: “I’m sorry, I was so busy with preparing for tonight’s event that I forgot to phone for a key. :-( I might crash at Lee’s then, come to think of it. See you!” (I gave myself the idea of going to Lee’s because I knew that they don’t respond to the texts I send even if they’re awake, and I wasn’t keen on the idea of taking the chance of walking twenty minutes in the snow just to find myself locked out.) This was at 00:13. I sent these because I wanted to communicate with them without waking anybody up, and I didn’t want them to be worried if I wasn’t there in the morning.
4. I went back inside the disco and sat down and had a chat with Lee. A few minutes passed, and my cell phone buzzed: “Do yuo know what is time now? You woke up me. Don’t disturв me, вecause you will regret.” I think it was the Cyrillic в’s that took it over the top for me. My head started spinning. Lee told me not to worry about it, but I was shocked. Between this and other things that were going on, I made a mental note to lay off the sauce. Oh man, how was I going to get through this? And did I have a key or not? Like I’m going to phone and ask now. So, I asked Lee if I could crash with him, and he gave a tentative yes – tentative for reasons you’ll see later.
5. Night continues and ends. We clean up and go to Trek, the local all-night billiards bar. Shelley and Amy and Lee and myself had a great chat. As far as the sauce goes, we were met by two acquaintances of Shelley’s and Lee’s who purchased a bottle of vodka over our protests. Fortunately, I was able to skip most of the rounds of this vile vodka (it tasted like gasoline*) by playing at the nearby American pool table. Later we got to talking about relationships and such things. Shelley and Amy left, and Lee and I left shortly thereafter.
* - Not that I would know...
6. Lee and I have a long walk in the rapidly falling snow (it’s still coming down quite heavily even as I type this at noon), and we reach his house around 07:30, in hopes of a nap before taking on the next day. We quietly walk up the steps and open the door to his host family’s apartment...
7. Before “Dobroho ranku!” could even escape my lips, I was motioned out of the flat by Lee’s host father. Lee told me to wait outside.
8. I listen to a thirty-minute argument in Ukrainian complete with shouts and violent exclamations on both sides. Unfortunately, I’m able to discern that it’s about me.
9. Lee came out halfway through to summarize. The case was this: They didn’t want me in their flat. They told Lee he could go to bed and leave me to my own devices, and there’d be no trouble. Lee (perhaps rightly, though his host parents were certainly under no obligation to do anything for me) told them he thought this was stupid, and if I couldn’t stay, he wouldn’t stay. They didn’t really like this either. They threatened to call Eduard (our Ukrainian supervisor and all-around trouble shooter), about which Lee and I both thought they might as well go right ahead, because we could just explain things to Eduard later.
10. Anyway, I’m standing out in the stairwell, shivering and shaking and I’m just about going out of my mind. “What the heck am I going to do? Move into my own apartment?!” I asked myself. I tried my best to stop pacing and shaking and thinking, but the cold and fatigue were often too much for me. I remembered Sophie’s e-mail about how amazing it is where life takes people. “What’s the worst that can happen to me? They’ll send me back to Canada?” At this I developed a hearty, cynical grin.
11. Lee makes his decision, leaves, and we both go to the academy early (they have heat, not to mention Eduard). Lee told me that the reason his host parents wouldn’t have me in the house is because Lee’s host father doesn’t like me now and doesn’t want me in his house ever again. “W-w-why?!” I stammered. Well, Lee originally wasn’t going to tell me this because it would upset me, but apparently I’d forgotten to thank his host father for the lunch he’d served me the last time I stayed. God, I was in Grande Prairie all over again. I volunteered that it was possible that I only thanked him for the individual items of food as he placed them in front of me and not for the meal as a whole – my goodness, of course I thanked him! Why wouldn’t I have thanked him? If I didn’t, it was a mistake I rarely make. Was I tired? In any case, Lee told me not to blame myself. He thought the whole thing was stupid.
12. We get into the academy and soon have a meeting with Eduard. He was surprisingly placid and patient, given the circumstances. He had indeed received a phone call; not from Lee’s family, but from mine. My host mother called him to declare that I was complaining about them all over town and that if I didn’t like her home, I should just leave. Wha-a-a-a? (Sure, I’ve mentioned my difficulties to close friends and groupmates a couple of times; wouldn’t anyone? But “all over town?!” Moreover, I never once said that I didn’t like it there.) I knew things were going downhill at home, but this came as a shock. I had no idea they thought that. Eduard said, “Well, it’s a small town, you know how rumours go in a small town.” I chanced to tell Lee that I felt that things had been going downhill since I got my beard and their subsequent disapproval. He said, “Oh, yeah, everyone in town is talking about that – they’re not talking about the ‘tall Canadian’ anymore, they’re talking about the ‘tall Canadian guy with the beard,’ and wondering why you have it.” “Anton at Karo has a beard!” I exclaimed. “Yeah, but he’s not a Canadian.” People ask me almost every day about my beard; it’s quite safe to say that it’s not nearly as big a hit as it sometimes is back home, but not to the point where I’m willing to shave it only because of the change in the polling numbers.
13. People are called, I stumble through my day, I have some chats with Eduard and my boss Olexi, and in my stupor I compose this blog entry. I have a new host family now; I’m going to move into the one Roch lived in at seven o’clock or so. In two hours I’ll have to go to my house and start packing, which I do not look forward to by any means, but it probably won’t be as bad as I fear. I mean to apologize for my mistakes and make amends as best I can. I wasn’t really a good communicator, and that’s how misunderstandings like these happen. As for others, I’ll have to work in the same building as my former host sister for the rest of the program, but this shouldn’t pose a long-term problem because people tend to forget about minor-to-medium-size unpleasant things remarkably quickly. (Be careful around the ones who don’t!) It’s ten after two and it’s still snowing. It’s good; it will cover up the dirt and bring back memories of Canada and Poland which are sorely needed at this time.
* - I was falling asleep at the moment when the theoretical part of my brain wanted to write “as best I can,” and I woke up at least twice not knowing where I was or what I was typing. This surely didn’t offer me any clues: (and Shes My Best”)an
Ugh. I'm more "tired" than "shocked," but considering I just woke myself up with a static jolt from an undertable power cord my foot contacted, I think "shocked" works for today.