Friday, November 9, 2018

The Tale of a Lost Soul

by Jean Roberta

For centuries, the public at large has loved stories about corrupt or “fallen” souls who have seen the light and done a U-turn back to decency or conformity or religious faith. The anti-prostitution lobbyists of today have more-or-less replaced the Christian evangelists of yesteryear in showing off their pets, formerly “fallen” women who are now respectably married and presumably happy.

Sometimes the story of the U-turn is framed as a journey from the chaos of mental illness to the sunshine of clear thinking.

This is how my life seems to look to the conservatives in my family, and everyone who thinks like them:

I was lucky to be raised by two good parents, including a stay-at-home mom who devoted herself to her family. (Actually, she earned a Master’s degree in English before she was married, and was bitter about the circumstances that prevented her from having a teaching career.)

In my teens, I became damaged goods when I discovered sex with boys. But luckily, I found a nice boyfriend in my last year of high school. He even proposed to me, but then I messed things up. (He was a fledgling writer like me, and he dumped me after I won an award in a national student writing contest. He said I was on an “ego trip.”)

My loving parents sent me to a good university in eastern Canada where something went wrong. I lost my way and tried to commit suicide. I was probably on drugs, which were too easily available to young people at that time. (I was not on drugs. I was raped.)

My parents did their best to help me by sending me to various psychiatrists. (It was a nightmare. They were all conventional, white Canadian men with medical degrees who didn’t believe what I told them.) I didn’t appreciate it, and moved out of the family home as soon as I reached legal adulthood at 21. I found my own apartment, probably so that I could freely indulge in sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. (I was a part-time university student. I couldn’t afford much, and didn’t indulge in intoxicating substances.)

My father took a sabbatical in England for fourteen months in 1973-74. The whole family came along, including me. This was my chance to get closer to my family and possibly find a nice guy to take care of me. (I wanted to get away from the guys I met when I lived alone. Two of them were married, but didn’t tell me this until after they had spent the night with me. I felt like a sitting duck in hunting season.)

Unfortunately, I met a refugee from the Nigerian Civil War, and we moved in together. Later, I sponsored him to come join me in Canada. The marriage was a huge mistake because these mixed relationships never work. (He drank constantly, was hysterically jealous, and sarcastically blamed my parents for not providing him with a job, a house, a car, or financial support.)

I compounded the mistake by having a baby. (My husband started proposing that we “start a family” as soon as we were married. I hoped it would help, and I thought he would soon graduate from university and become more employable, which turned out to be a fantasy. He probably thought my parents would have to support us if he got me pregnant.)

I left my husband when my baby was only a few months old. I was mentally unstable. (He had threatened to take the baby out of the country to get her away from me, even though he loudly suspected that he wasn’t her real father. He refused to participate in a paternity test.)

For a few years, my daughter and I lived with my poor parents, who had to take care of us because I was completely incapable of functioning as an adult. (They offered me a chance to further my education, and I accepted.)

I suddenly moved out of my parents’ house and into a squalid apartment building. (It was a co-op for low-income single parents. My father had openly told me that he had told a colleague of his at the university that I had “mental problems.” I had just been accepted into the Master’s program in English. I realized that I had to get out.)

I fell off the deep end by moving in with a lesbian, then I moved out after we had some sick argument based on our perverse lifestyle. I moved back into the single-parent co-op, and fell into the sex trade. (My first woman lover stole the contents of my bank account. The government typing jobs I had relied on all through university had largely dried up due to the replacement of electric typewriters with computers. I couldn’t get any child support from my ex-husband. I was determined not to move back in with my parents, or find another “nice guy” like the previous men in my life.)

My poor parents were worried about me, but I was impervious to reason. (I found ways to survive on my own.)

I met a divorced Chilean woman with two sons. She had come to Canada as a political refugee in the 1970s. If this hot-tamale Latin American character had really been my friend, she would have helped me find a new husband, and she would have reunited with hers, the Chilean father of her children who had come to Canada with her. Instead, she cynically seduced me. (I was the instigator. She was a virgin with women.) Drugs or alcohol were probably involved. (No drugs. A few drinks.)

At least the new woman helped me escape from prostitution. (One of my previous johns was stalking me. Mirtha, my new girlfriend, had joined a civilian advisory committee that worked with the police, despite her justified distrust of them. Luckily, a new anti-stalking law had just been passed. Mirtha introduced me to an officer who gave my stalker a warning.)

We moved in together, which turned out to be a mistake. I could never really explain what went wrong. (Another lesbian couple invited us to rent the house they owned in the neighbourhood called “Dyke Heights,” saying we could somehow take over their mortgage without having to qualify for it with the bank. This was not true. The “rent” they charged us included their mortgage and repayment of a loan, and it was higher than we could easily afford. After eighteen months, the owners demanded that we buy the house or move out. We moved out, and they were furious. Luckily, houses for rent were not hard to find in the early 1990s, and we moved three blocks away.)

My poor pre-teen daughter was devastated to be in the midst of all this. (She wanted the biggest bedroom in the house, and we didn’t let her have it. She didn’t see why she should do chores, like Mirtha’s two sons. We adults realized that we couldn’t raise our children under different rules without creating resentment.)

My parents consoled my daughter as well as they could. (They assured her that her mother was mentally ill and didn’t know what she was doing. My two younger sisters confirmed that diagnosis.)

At the very end of the 1990s, we were somehow able to buy a house in “Dyke Heights.” (The university gave me a permanent teaching job. My income alone qualified for a mortgage.)

My parents never lost hope that I would someday come to my senses and remarry. (I did! Same-sex marriage became legal throughout Canada in 2005. I didn’t trust the institution of marriage, so I rebuffed Mirtha’s hints for years. My parents passed away in 2009, which removed one barrier while making my sisters' hostility to me more obvious. I could see that a legal partnership would be in my interests. I finally agreed to take the plunge, and married Mirtha during Halloween weekend in 2010.)

At least I left the sex trade, and found a respectable job. I never found a man, so I’m probably very lonely, and my job is probably hanging by a thread due to my addictions, complexes, neuroses, or whatever the experts call them. (I’ve taught at the university for thirty years, not counting my time as a grad-student Teaching Assistant. Forcing employees out at age 65 was found to be in violation of the Human Rights Code, so I would be hard to expel before I’m ready to leave. Also, I’m not alone. I have a spouse, three cats, and two dogs.)

It all goes to show that once a girl discovers sex, it’s all downhill from there. (True enough, if “downhill” means a slide into a green valley of love and financial security.)

Does this soap opera have an uplifting ending, or is it a five-act tragedy? You be the judge.


  1. Great post, Jean! I'm so happy your life really did take a U-turn, from insecurity and hostility to love and success.

    Of course, your family probably really believed the narrative they thrust upon you. Putting the two stories side by side, the contrast is compelling. This might be an interesting technique for a fictional tale.

  2. Your family's absurd assumptions seem always to have taken a U-turn away from your reality, with more bends than an industrial-sized paper clip. I'm glad you eventually escaped from that maze, but it has to still affect you.

  3. Thank you for commenting, Lisabet and Sacchi. You two can always be counted on to say something supportive. I love the metaphor of the industrial-sized paper clip. Yes, all this drama still affects me, but I use the technique that Mirtha uses to cope with her own PTSD (she was held in prison and tortured in Chile). I remind myself that I'm here, not somewhere in the past, that I'm alive, breathing, and better off than many.


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