Some of my life’s most significant experiences have happened when I wasn’t expecting it and only in hindsight can I appreciate how profound these moments have come to be and this is the case with a former roommate and one my best friends, Sandra Joy. Sandra is bright, vivacious, outgoing and even back then had a level of empathy and compassion matching that of a saint. Living downstairs from us was her older brother and actor/comedian Ted, his girlfriend Michelle and their kid Oscar.
Oscar was about five or six years old and because of the house we all shared I had a lot of memorable moments while he was growing up including playing video games while Michelle made snacks, watching cartoons in our PJs and in fact, when 9/11 happened I was running late for work and coming down the stairs from our apartment and as I pass by Ted and Michelle’s door (which was almost always left open) Ted hollers out “Hey Ray, get over here you gotta see this!”. I come in and Ted is standing in front of the TV waiving the remote control at it. I hadn’t fully comprehended what I was seeing, is this for real? Is this some movie stunt that he thinks I need to see right now?! We stood there watching the replay of the plane flying in to the tower just as they go to live footage of the second plane hitting the tower. It was a strange moment that happened right out of the blue and was the moment that we understood that government is not necessary going to protect us from harm and that safety, at best, is an illusion.
The day came when Stewart and I decided to live together so I told Sandra that I would be moving out and of course the news made it all the way downstairs to Oscar who found this to be very sad. As a goodbye present, he came to the door one afternoon with a card he drew. On one side were stick figures of his family; Ted, Michelle, and himself (with a giant tear coming from his eye), their cat and on the other he drew my family; Stewart and me. While it was a sweet and very touching moment, Oscar had absolutely no reason to treat Stewart and I were any different then his family. He didn’t see us as gay or different nor did he have any hangups about the situation because he was too young plus he had been living in a household that was supportive of being gay. No supportive as in “It’s okay to be gay” but supportive in that I was openly gay and everyone just treated me as an equal, no explanations needed. No one ever sat Oscar down to explain anything, so the insight for me was that kids aren’t born homophobic, it’s something we adults teach them. Ted, Michelle and Sandra had been modelled inclusive behaviour all through Oscar’s childhood so he made no distinction between his family and mine, he was just sad because I was leaving.
When I wrote The Great Meeting Room I had purposefully wrote a story from the perspective of two boys who fall in love so that I could tell the story but not draw any attention to the fact that the characters are same sex, they just are and that’s okay by default. There have been a lot of kids that have influenced (and some adults) that have been big influences on me including; Ted, Michelle & Oscar; Danny, Frank & Madelyn; Susie, Rob, Luca, Sebastian & Sophia; Michael, James, Sam, Alex & Hannah; Sherlyn, Ed & Andrew; Sandra, Scout & Jettlin; Shannon, Iain & Molly; Doug, Michael & Malaki; Dale Curd, Judith Doyle, Glad Day Bookshop and the Friends For Life Bike Rally.