What is the thing you are most afraid of? I am betting whatever you say will be wrong. You will see by the time you are finished reading.
I am going to tell you a real life scary story about choices, the kind where you are in a spot and you have to figure out whether to man up or not. Do or die.
I was a student at art college. I was living in a huge boarding house called “Saint Raphael’s Lodge”. It had originally been a chaperoned home for Catholic girls, with a curfew, back in the day. Concerned fathers would leave their daughters in the city getting some kind of secondary education, with the assurance the Matron would keep them in tow. No unplanned pregnancies especially.
This huge boarding house had four floors and about one hundred and fifty people from all walks of life, those who were between something and needed cheap rent. Not the kind of people most want to live alongside of, the flotsam and jetsam of Toronto’s downtown. The home was presided over by a diminutive landlady named Rosemary. She was about eighty years old, all of about five feet tall, and likely a hundred pounds soaking wet, but she was also not your typical sweet little old lady. You found that out to your own detriment that hers was the walk softy and carry a big stick policy.
She also liked to talk. When you handed over your rent cheque in the office, you would be treated to an hour of Rosemary, and she was a full dose. She told me, that when she originally had the home, it was all girls and they were all miserable, eating each other alive. The next year she alternated, one floor of boys, one floor of girls, and suddenly everything was quiet. “It’s because those little bitches were all getting busy”, Rosemary winked. Let’s just say she was a woman of the world.
Beverley Lodge, (the name we usually called it by) also had a lot of strange people. You just had to be able to make rent, and rent was cheap so you can do the math on the calibre of people it attracted. There were some notables, the witch on the second floor who had spirit sessions echoing out of her room. Trish the Dish, the one who said she was a secretary but turned out to be a stripper. There was the psycho guy we called G I Joe who came back from the army with PTSD long before we knew what that was. He used to go out in the parks at night hoping someone would try to jump him so he could beat them up. The moment I knew I was in a strange land came in the dining room on my first night. There was a big fridge and you made your own stuff, on the honour system. One guy was sitting eating beside me, and someone came up, friendly like, and wanted to taste what he had on his plate. They made the mistake of touching his food and ended up with a fork through the hand. Really.
I had a room next to a guy who was drug dealer, whose girlfriend was a hooker. I tended to stay clear of them apart from hi and bye in passing. They fought a lot. One day I went to class, and they were in his room arguing. When I went past the door, a sharp metal object passed through the door. Axe? Machete? Let’s just say I hurried on by not really wanting to know what it was. When I came back from class, the door was knocked off its hinges. No explanation. Next day, business as usual like nothing had happened.
Then one night, people came to collect on his drug debts. I was in my room, at the end of a cul du sac, where I would have to pass by a cluster of rooms to get into the main hallway. The problem was the walls were paper thin and you could hear every word spoken. The two goons who came were putting the screws to this guy and things started to get ugly fast. There was some loud thumping as they bodily threw him up against the walls. There was a lot of cursing and pleading. They wanted their money. I was sure I was going to be privy to a homicide, but was ambivalent whether or not to intervene. If I confronted the situation, I would get killed for the sake of a drug dealer. So I was torn. Not chicken exactly, but torn.
As things progressed, he managed to calm the two goons down by pulling out some weed, and they all got high. Then his girlfriend the hooker started to ply her trade in a manner that would leave everybody in a better mood. Yes, I know, this is all the kind of stuff you really don’t want to hear. Me neither. I was trapped.
In the middle of my moral dilemma, something happened. Five-foot-tall, eighty-year-old Rosemary showed up, like a dandelion fluff of white hair perched on two short stick legs. She was not messing around. You knew she arrived because she was not creeping up on the situation. She was pounding on the door like there was no tomorrow. “OPEN THE DOOR. OPEN IT NOW! I’M CALLING THE POLICE”
I heard a window break, and I saw a bag of drugs get tossed out onto the landing below. Meanwhile in the room, Rosemary had the door open and she was dressing down the thugs, like two naughty school boys. They were standing, mouths open, not knowing what to do, just stepping and fetching and looking around for help. I opened my door and peered through the crack because I had to see it for myself. The two guys who would have killed me in short order, were reduced to abject quivering wimps in face of Rosemary’s wrath. I don’t even think it occurred to her that she was entering the mouth of the lion. She was just fierce and totally unafraid.
I have thought long and hard about that incident. It made me question my own moral courage or lack thereof. It also made me wonder about the strange sight - a tiny old woman staring down two dangerous thugs. She had somehow reversed the dynamic and reduced them to powerless children.
And this is the point of my story. What are you most afraid of? It’s the same thing EVERYONE is afraid of in the end, from goon to choirboy. We are all afraid of our own mothers. Don’t ask me why, it is part of the strange workings of God. Yes, we are afraid of our mothers. They are the only absolute for people who fear nothing else, not even God. And Rosemary was the very spectre of your mom, come back to haunt. You remember that avenging Archangel, the first person who ever laid a whupping on your ass.
It’s the same at my house. The kids, they aren’t afraid of me at all, but my wife... now that’s another story. Mothers… If you say you weren’t afraid or yours, you are lying.
Beverley Lodge today, now known as Deep Quong Manor (Ontario Public Housing).