Help Wanted

Years ago, when we lived in Belleville, I used to take the kids to a drop-in centre in the basement of a United Church. Before that, when we lived in Toronto, I used to take the kid, because I only had the one until the end of our stay in that fair city, to a drop-in centre at Shaw Street Public School. It was supervised by a woman named Marta, who was just an excellent person and I hope she’s alive and well and still running the drop-in.

But in Belleville, the church had women who actually took your kids away to a playroom to watch over them while moms hung out for the morning in another area. You weren’t supposed to leave the premises, really, but sometimes the odd mom did because she had a medical appointment or something and they’d make an exception.

Tuesday was the drop-in morning and we didn’t miss a single one. The Toronto drop-in was Monday to Thursday, so better in a way, but our kids were with us, too, so not better in another way.

I can’t remember the why of it, but around that time we got money back from the government, lots of people did. Bob Rae was premier then, and we got a $300 cheque. Or maybe it came from the federal government. Whatever, I decided to give it away. I was in an expansive mood, for some reason I can no longer recall, plus it seemed like good karma to pass it on.

(I’m not confusing this with the time Mike Harris cut us all a cheque to piss off striking teachers. I wrote an op/ed piece for the Ottawa Citizen for that giveaway. The editor loved it because he was right of center and I was rebutting Judy Rebick’s suggestion that we donate our windfall to the Ontario Poverty Coalition led by John Clarke, who irritated me for some reason I also cannot recall.)

(Oh wait, I do recall – he was irritating.)

The thing was, at the time I was going to the drop-in, I had become a regular at a different United Church, a better one, with a minister who was the real deal, a New Democrat, parent of adopted kids with various challenges.

And, of course, I had a crush on him. Don’t tell my ex, but I always had a crush on someone. All-consuming all I could think about crushes. Deeply madly truly in love crushes. Crushes that dominated my every waking moment. Crushes that kept me alive and in hope.

As my mother-in-law said, “Sooey, you just don’t know how to be married”.

She had no idea about the crushes, either, although she did take to dropping in on me unannounced for a while. It was awkward because the furnace man had taken to dropping in on me unannounced, too. He was in a rut, he really just wanted to play hockey but couldn’t on account of a back injury that he took a lot of medication for, and of course, his wife “didn’t understand him”. She also wanted kids and he didn’t. Or he did and she didn’t. I can’t remember.

Whatever, we were a couple of lonely marrieds, I guess, marking time until something  happened to shake things up.

Nothing did and eventually we moved to Ottawa. (Heh – my ex and I, ya floozies.)

The other minister wasn’t NDP, kind of bitchy, and often showed up at the drop-in wearing tight jeans, cowboy boots, and a purple shirt (that was of the exact same design I saw the Lemon-Aid guy wearing the other day on CBC) with a black leather vest.

He looked like Cowboy Liberace. Or Stephen Harper at the Calgary Stampede.

Okay. That was unfair. Anyone at the Calgary Stampede. Except Justin Trudeau, who looks totally Brokeback Mountain at the Calgary Stampede.

I wish I knew how to quit you, Justin Trudeau, but if yer gonna insist on bein’ a galldang’d Liberal I’ma gonna hafta.

But the purple jesus church had the drop-in. It also had a group of well-to-do matrons my age who were fun to hang out with. They belonged to a church group that organized fundraisers and the like that they were always trying to get me to join. I went to a couple of meetings, but I felt guilty because they were often mocking the other church, which was way more christian.

(One of them was a nurse famous for not killing those babies, but that’s a story for my book.)

And, of course, it had the better minister, on whom my crush had become life-sustaining.

I remember one meeting they were discussing possibilities for a fundraiser and to every suggestion one of them would say, “The Whiteheads won’t like it.” And everyone would nod and they’d gone on to thinking about another possibility. Finally I said, “The Whiteheads are the worst naysayers. Why are you letting one couple negate every idea for a fundraiser? Who is this church for, anyway?”

And they all laughed at my naivete because The Whiteheads, of course, weren’t a couple, they were the bulk of the congregation – old people – people with white hair – hence, The Whiteheads.

The Whiteheads did not like change.

Anyway, I was under a lot of pressure to join this church but I didn’t like it. I didn’t belong there. It was an old money church, oozing history, in downtown Belleville. I belonged at the new church in the east end that was a utilitarian building with all sorts of activity going on, a lot of it run by another friend.

Now, this friend was the real deal in terms of good old christian ministering. We often got together at my place so our kids could play. She had two, a boy and a girl, and was married to her former professor at some sort of dairy university in the states, an old man from Australia. Her daughter had a liver transplant, too, and her son had something up, but I can’t remember now what it was.

Asthma? Whatever it was there was no fooling with it, though. Both her kids were life-threatened 24/7.

Linda was one of those people who thought abortion was wrong, but she didn’t think it was right to tell other women what to do. She used to argue with her brother, who thought abortion was right if that’s what a woman wanted, though, and then relay these arguments to me. As soon as I knew about abortion I was against anyone, especially a boy or a man, having a say in it unless their say is that it’s “lady business”, so I took her brother’s side each time and she’d always say, “I know, I know, but try explaining abortion to a kid. You’ll feel differently then, I bet.”

Sure, try explaining anything to a kid. When I took our ancient cat, Trixie, in to be euthanized because she was peeing blood and yowling, my son was still at home (they cancelled junior kindergarten that year because government is run by assholes) so I had to take him with me.

“Why? Why do I have to come?”

“Because you’re four and I can’t leave you home alone or I’ll go to jail.”

“Why are we bringing Trixie?”

“Because we need to take her to the vet. She’s in pain and the vet will help her die peacefully.”

“So… you’re going to help her… by killing her?!”

And to my everlasting regret and sorrow I was too cheap to pay the extra fee required to be with her when they administered the needle. My only solace is that they did it so quickly that when I went out to the car, then back in to protest the mercenary practice, the receptionist said the deed had been done already. But I have harbored a bitterness against vets ever since.

Anyway, to get around the dilemma of crushing on one minister but availing myself of the church of the other, I decided to split the money. But I also decided to have my kids baptized (for my mother, who must have been going through a religious phase) and I chose the east end church. My reason, of course, was that you had to take a brief course, I guess it involved joining the church as well, and it meant I could legitimately spend time with my absolute one true love and object of my heart’s every desire.

Uh, and my ex. He could spend time with my one true love, too.

Well, oh boy, did I not anticipate the hurt feelings joining one church while using another can cause. Holy Rummoli. Play group became known to me and Linda as “Awkward Tuesdays”, on account of the frigid stare that would greet my arrival before Himself would repair to his sanctuary.

Eventually, I ended up having to choose sides altogether and picked up another friend from the east end church and eventually we were three and that was enough. We had play dates instead of the drop-in.

(I have a great story about the third friend, Kim, but that’s for my book and hopefully not a lawsuit if she ever reads it.)

Anyway, the point of this entry revolves around a conversation I had at one of our “bible-speak” sessions. (I read a couple of articles this morning, one by Elizabeth Wurtzel, another about depression drugs, that inspired it.)

What it was all about for this minister, what it’s all about for any good minister, is that the bible is a matter for interpretation, Jesus speaks in parables, we decide what words mean, and we do that in how we live and by what we do, not what we say. At the time, I needed help, but I didn’t know how to get it. But I was talking to him on the phone, it started about Rae Days, and then I said something about how I needed help and he said a modern version of “give and ye shall receive”. And I was kind of irked because I was reminded that my crush was hopeless (and kind of annoying) and also because my whole conversation had been about getting help, as if other people – hopefully him and not one of his church minions – would just pop by and fix my life for me.

I felt like a greedy guts moron, in other words, which is the opposite of god boy bait, although maybe not Cowboy Liberace.

The more I read about people trying to get help via medical professionals who dispense drugs for anxiety and depression without necessarily having any idea of cause and effect, the more I’m reminded of how it really is, that you have to give to get. And yet, it’s the last thing you feel like doing, isn’t it, when you’re down. You want magic. You don’t want to have to go out and do good for others. You want others to come in and do good for you. Or drugs.

So many people, so much help wanted.

We may be over-thinking this thing.

1 Comment

  1. I think you’re on to something there.