This blog is not FDA approved
He was born during the Second World War, in Montreal, in a French-speaking Catholic family. His mother gave birth to eleven children—he was the eldest, and the only boy. When he was in grade four, he was removed from school, and worked as a store clerk to provide food for the thirteen mouths to feed. He was sexually assaulted by the store owner, removed from his first job, and placed elsewhere. In 1960-something, he worked as a manager in a department store, where he met the elevator operator, his future wife. They married in a Catholic church, and like good Catholics, they conceived their first child soon after. He was born in 1971.
They had three kids: two boys and a girl. He loved his children. He had no education, but wanted to give everything to his children, everything he never had as a kid. A happy childhood, for starters. He worked as a travelling salesman, and as a janitor. For most of their lives together, the family lived on the ground floor of high-rises. His eldest son remembers eating regularly—canned food and pasta for the most part—sleeping in the same room as his siblings, having warm secondhand clothes to wear, and being loved by his father, and mother. He also remembers his father being sad and angry, often. His father would scream at his wife, each day, it seems: cleanliness is next to godliness, he would proudly say. He loved her, but the supper was not always ready at 5PM when he was hungry, or the living room was messy when he came back home after a hard day at work. It baffled him: couldn’t she take care of three kids, cook, tidy up the house, and cater to all of the family’s needs while he was making sure they had a roof over their heads, and food to eat? So he raised his voice, as he was the man of the house, often, every day, for thirty-some years, while she fought back, as she was a free-spirit, a strong woman, who loved a dark, sad and angry man.
When he was happy(-ier)(-iest), he was in his studio, bending metal, brushing strokes on a canvas, making art. His family knew he wasn’t to be disturbed when he was in his workshop, unless supper was ready, unless a tenant was asking for him, unless his kids wanted a kiss before bed. His eldest son remembers his dark, sad and angry father—the devout Catholic janitor who seldom smiled—expressing joy when he talked about Beethoven, or Marcel Duchamp, or Andy Warhol (even though he was a fag, but a great artist, but one had to be careful not to become a fag, he often told his son—as he was effeminate, and bent his hand down like fags did). He remembers his father crying with a smile when Chopin was playing, before he would fall asleep on the couch from exhaustion.
The devout Catholic artist preferred silence over interaction, seclusion over family time, and pills over alcohol and marijuana. His eldest son remembers the bathroom pharmacy: prescription bottles on most shelves, with his father’s name on them. He didn’t think much of them—his father had a bad back, severe eczema, and high blood pressure. He was also a heavy smoker. To the best of his knowledge, his father took a pill to numb his bad back and eczema. When his father lashed out at his wife, in rage, or when he had a bad day at work, or when he couldn’t sleep, or when he cried too much, his father would take a pill. His son, not a doctor but a French Literature student, concluded that anger damaged his back, which would explain the pills. But it didn’t explain why his father would often talk to a priest when he was sad, and why his wife would implore that he consults a therapist or a psychologist instead. But what does a priest or a psychologist know about high blood pressure anyway?, thought his son…
The three kids left home, and started their own lives. When the youngest one moved out, their mother separated from their father. She had enough, and had fulfilled her responsibilities as a parent. She wanted to live, happily—deservingly so—she was still young. Her soon-to-be ex-husband cried more than usual. He was institutionalized as he threatened to take his own life. The psychiatrists and psychologists and therapists and general doctors met with the devout Catholic’s children: do you think he would actually commit suicide?, they asked. Absolutely not, said the eldest son, he is an artist, a drama queen—he’s just seeking attention. Don’t let him fool you. The powers that be released the man. There was no one waiting for him, no place to call home, nowhere to go: during his short stay at the hospital, the family man had lost his job, his wife, his belongings, the life he knew.
He rented a small furnished apartment. On April 9, 1996—17 years ago today—my father, the dark and sad artist, once a family man, emptied the closet, and hung himself with his belt. He had taped some plastic sheets around his waist so that no one would have to clean his mess. He was a proud man, my father. Cleanliness is next to godliness, he used to say.