The Craft and Art of Non-Fiction, Quebec Writers’ Federation, 2007
“It’s complicated,” he begins, trying to answer my question. It usually is with Peter. His answers are never simple and there’s usually a back story which is sort of like a long magic carpet ride that branches and branches and branches in seemingly endless connections of people and places. It’s sort of a swirling collage of everything and everyone all at the same time and Peter is trying to filter, pick and choose what needs to be said, what needs to be conveyed for me to understand. Here A doesn’t lead to B; A leads to B, C, D and E which then have their own back stories which need to be explained. B goes to L, M and N. And I follow trying to carry all the pieces and pick up more as we skit from point to point on the erratic map. And just when I think I’m completely lost and the story is never going to get to the point and actually answer my question, he curves, gracefully and purposefully, as if that was the intention all along, and the story folds back on itself.
“And that’s why Johnny was mad a Frank. Not because of what Frank did per se but because of what Johnny did at Rachel’s house when Frank was out of town and didn’t want Frank to know about. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, it does,” I say. “More coffee?”
I go to the kitchen with our two empty mugs. The cold fall air is coming through the slightly open darkened kitchen window. Across the alley I can see my neighbour watching TV. It’s late but gossiping the hours away on this Tuesday night in my downtown apartment is just about all I feel like doing.
As I return to the living room with fresh cups of steaming coffee, milk and two sugars for both of us, Peter tosses his cellphone back on the coffee table.
“Anything interesting?” I ask.
“Text from Butterfly. She wants to have a meeting about Mouth.”
“Oh, that’s right. Next Sunday. So what’s the problem?”
And as I sit on my sofa to drink my coffee and listen to this handsome, strong-jawed, bright-eyed man with gentle confident motion taking his mug and settling back, I begin to understand. Although he’s talking about problems with spoken word performers, troubles with venues for his monthly night, its perceived importance to Montreal’s black community, his responsibility to that community, and all the complicated details, he’s not really talking about them. And when he was talking about Johnny and Frank deep in the heart of club land, he wasn’t really talking about them either. The real story is his own: his own secret identity.
I’ve known Peter for nearly ten years. We met like most people in club land and the one truth I have discovered is that secretly he wants to be a superhero. Not for the flying or the gadgets or the super strength, but for the secret identity. His secret wish is to have a singular person that is untouched by the world around him and its demands on him. To be a member of the Black community, an openly gay man, an ER coordinator, a writer, a TV host, scenester, man about town, movie producer, and for there to be a different Peter, a different super-suite, for each of those groups of people. When he takes me on those carpet rides and tells me all about how B connects to M, he’s trying to understand how people might understand him. Is it inappropriate for an ER coordinator to party as much as he does? Is it unacceptable for a Black Community leader to be gay? And is it equally a contradiction for a scenester to read comic books and want to be Wonder Woman? If he could have a super power I bet it would be for the ability to guarantee that no one from one group would know people from the others. If he could achieve that, his life would be a lot simpler.
And sometimes he pulls it off. He plays the mirror, projecting back at you the super-you, the you you’d be if only you had a little more courage, the you who makes great paintings, the you who becomes a DJ, the you who takes dance classes, performs your poetry, launches your first CD, writes your first book. His desire to help you is very sincere but at the same time it is a mask, the lycra suite and cape that fools everyone into understanding him only in so much as they need to, leaving the rest of himself safe.
“But so you see. I can’t move Mouth to Luba because Jonathan and Sabyl are mad at me.” The explanation as to why Butterfly, Mouth’s stage manager, wants to have a meeting has just curved back to its beginning.
“So, can’t you just stay where you are for this month and plan to move for next?”
“That’s what Butterfly wants to have the meeting about.”
Of all things I know he does, for me he is writer. He tells stories of buddies and friends set against a backdrop of mothers and fathers, expectations, fears, goals hopes and dreams. He works on twisting what is to ask why not? Why can’t there be gay roommates who really are just roommates? Why can’t there be strong proud women who don’t get abused and taken advantage of? Why can’t there be a greater sense of justice? And why can’t there be a gay black super hero?