Home Is What We Feel

Updated: Jun 26, 2020


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| This is the 401st story of Our Life Logs |

I was born in 1982 in Campbellford, Ontario, home of the world’s largest two-dollar coin and roughly 8,000 small-town folks. My dad was a prison security guard—a big guy you did not want to mess with. My mom was a sweetheart and worked at a big-brand food company in Coburg on their packaging line. Even with their day jobs, my parents managed to raise me and to instill some excellent music into my repertoire.

My dad taught me all about underground rock. Call it what you will, but it was good! Raspberries, The Tubes—he made me discover so many bands. Although my real eclectic taste in music didn’t come from my dad, but from my mom. When I was very young, she would play me anything from Carly Simon to pan flutist Gheorghe Zamfir. She taught me to adore the likes of Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie. She really loved Bowie. I would play the albums she bought me over and over.

I loved my mom, but I didn’t get much time with her because she had bad lungs. She already had asthma, but her job only worsened her conditions. You know that powdery part, the bottom bit, in every cereal bag? She was breathing in that residue, day in and day out. I’m no doctor, but even I can say that it wasn’t good for her or for anyone.

By the time I was six, Mom needed a Ventolin machine that ran on special medicine. It looked like a funny gasmask to me. Two years later, the doctors told her that she needed to lug around an oxygen tank to which she flat out refused. She didn’t want to be attached to such an intense machine. Unfortunately, this was the wrong call.

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Christmas that year had been great. My dad appeared happier and Mom was sitting in her chair beaming at me as I opened my presents. She had gotten me the Pretty Woman soundtrack and a video game I’d been wanting badly. When I opened up the game, I jumped up, gave my mom a big hug, and said, “I love you!”

Not long after Christmas, I was in my grandpa’s basement playing my new video game again. I had just told mom how much I loved it, before scurrying downstairs to plant my butt in front of the TV. I popped in the soundtrack and let my favorite song play: David Bowie’s “Fame.”

Moments passed in childhood bliss as the music flooded my ears and my game booted up. Then I spotted my uncle and grandmother descending the stairs. I saw the look on their faces and knew something bad had happened. They told me it was time to say goodbye to my mom, she was dying. All while David Bowie belted melodies in the background.

I’ll never forget that day, even though I wish I could.

You don’t really understand at that age. Kids seem to be able to put things away, to revisit later as an adult. Either way, you still have to live with the consequences, even when you can’t quite put your finger on what they are. Ever since then, I gravitated towards music and away from others. It hurt less.

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Dad met another woman shortly after mom passed. She was a conservative Catholic. Dad wasn’t really anything, but he converted when he married her. That might have worked for dad, but I wasn’t magically better. Still, every Sunday I was dragged to church. I didn’t care for it. I never paid attention. I fell asleep most times. Honestly, I started wearing pajamas because I knew I would crash. I think I was trying to get my stepmom to a point that I was such a nuisance that she’d let me stay home. Whatever that was, because when I lost my mom, I felt I’d lost part of my home. Nothing could change that.

Maybe to cope, maybe because I liked being rebellious, I started drinking as young as 11. Grandpa kept a bar in the basement and liked to mix Pepsi and beer. It was gross, but my cousin Joey and I would sneak swigs of Grandpa’s Wiser’s Rye when no one was paying attention.

While drinking was a fun thrill, what really helped me get by was music. Playing music made me feel connected to my mom. In 1996, I played in the school band. Auxiliary percussion! I wanted to be a drummer, but was given chimes, cowbells, and other weird things. I eventually learned to play the trumpet, but I still remained a drummer at heart. Either way, there was always something new to learn! I became a walking musical encyclopedia. I was that guy who listened to the “weird stuff” and I wore it like a badge of honor.

My parents did not always appreciate my weirdness though. Just like they didn’t appreciate CDs with that little iconic label warning for explicit lyrics. I’ll never forget listening to Jay Z’s killer album, “Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life” in 1999. I loved every minute of that record. My dad, however, did not. I remember when I accidentally left the jewel case laying around and my dad found it.

As he yelled at me, “Phillip, what is this!?” he smashed the album with one hand.

That’s when I lost it. All the pain that I had been preserving came crashing out.

“You don’t understand me! I hate you! I don’t ever want to be like you!”

I said a lot of things I regretted and smashed some doors. Something broke between my dad and me that day and it went unaddressed for years.

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When it came time for college, I took the opportunity to leave home. Honestly, I didn’t know what home really was anymore. At school, I spent my days making friends, playing music, drinking, and smoking.

Eventually, I got my first proper job working with my cousin Stu as a quality inspector for a large automobile company and together we moved to Oshawa in 2004.  Stu was on my mom’s side of the family and we became really close over the years. It was nice having that connection even after she died.

And what was the first thing I did as a young independent adult? I got my own drum set, of course! Stu got a guitar, and together we started a band. For years I moved around like a hermit, taking my hockey gear, a handful of clothes, and (always) my drums. I took those everywhere!

We made good money with our job, which was a blessing and a curse. South Oshawa wasn’t a great place at the time and we got in with the wrong crowd. As two single guys with excess money, we blew a lot of it on drugs. I ended up doing a lot of LSD. I wasn’t really thinking; I wasn’t really present. I just wanted to pack my thoughts away into a series of colors and stimulation.

Soon I found myself caught in a vicious cycle where I was working harder, but spending the money on drugs. Then one day, I had a rude awakening after a bad trip. During it, I pondered my own mortality and, it’s fair to say, I lost my mind a little bit. Most of the memories are hazy at best, but in the morning, I woke up on someone’s lawn in my boxers. It was the defining moment when I knew something needed to change.

Later that same day, I received a call from my aunt (my father’s sister) who was living in Ottawa. She suggested I’d come and stay with her. I don’t know how she knew what I’d been going through since I still wasn’t talking to my dad, but I’ll forever be grateful that she did. Within two days, I was on her doorstep and she invited me in with a smile.

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My aunt was a loyal Baptist who got me involved in her local church. She believed it would help me. I gave it a shot. I started hanging out with the Young Adults, a cool church group who played music together. I was blown away the first time I heard them, especially by their guitarist. I’d never heard anyone play like him. I felt like I was a part of a family again.

Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived. I thought that I was close with the leader of the group. We lived together for a while, after all. T