How I Met My One and Only

How I Met My One and Only

[November 5th 2017]

Something has changed in my life. It happened about two months ago and, though it is not a monumental change, it has still had a profound effect on me. You see, two days out of the week, in order to balance my time alone in my studio, I work with actual people in the admissions and recruitment office at OCAD University. My gig at the university is perfect for me. It helps supplement my income while I work on my book and allows me the much-needed opportunity to socialize. One of the other perks of this two day gig was the fact that my husband, Stacy, also worked for the university and, because of that, I would get to see him during the day when we walked back and forth between work and home, and also when we ate lunch together. About two months ago, however, Stacy got a new job with another organization and, to my dismay, I am finding the absence of him – during those two days – completely unacceptable.

I am missing our walks to and from work. I am missing our conversations at lunch and, though we spend all of our evenings together, I can’t help but shake this feeling that something important has been taken away from us. I suppose that it is silly to mourn the loss of just a few hours, since we literally spend most of our time together. But I treasure my time with Stacy above all else and because of that even the loss of a few hours seems unfair to me.

Stacy is the love of my life. He is my soul mate, my best friend and confidant. We have been together now for 16 years. To me he is always the best looking man in any room, and – as you can tell from my introduction - if he is not in that room I find myself missing his presence. To honour my relationship to this wonderful man, I thought that it was finally time for me to share with you how we first met.

In August of 2001, I was struggling to make a career for myself as a freelance illustrator. My friend Jan Sage was then director of admissions and recruitment at OCAD and, wanting to help me supplement my income, offered me a job as a recruiter for the university. Expressing an interest in the position, but not sure that I wanted to commit to the job, Jan suggested that I attend the annual recruiters’ workshop that was being hosted that year by Queen’s University in Kingston. The workshop, Jan said, would serve to answer most of the questions I had about being a university recruiter and would provide me with all of the information I would need in order to make my decision. With an open mind, I agreed to attend the workshop.

Hitching a ride with a young woman named Julianna, who was also being courted by Jan for a recruiter position, we made our way to Kingston bright and early on a Tuesday morning. Both of us thinking the other one had been briefed about the workshop, Jan had just told us to get ourselves to Queen’s. We arrived at the Queen’s campus uninformed about where to go in order to sign in for the three-day conference. Without the benefit of cell phones, I deduced that if we were from the admissions and recruitment department from OCAD then, logically, we would sign in for the conference through the same department at Queen’s. Somehow locating the admissions and recruitment office, we walked up to the front desk to inquire about the conference. Behind the desk, to my delight, a handsome young man with the most incredible eyes greeted us. That person, of course, was Stacy.

With a kind voice and pleasant demeanor, Stacy filled us in about the conference. He enthusiastically told us about the day events and proceeded to give us directions to the residence where we would be staying. Smitten from the very beginning, I tried in vain to pay attention to Stacy’s instructions. But, in truth, my brain had its own ideas and, instead of processing what he was saying, two questions just kept repeating themselves in my head: “I wonder if he’s gay?” and “I wonder if he’s single”?

Leaving the admissions and recruitment office, Julianna and I got in the car. Assuming that I had been listening to the directions Stacy had given us to get to the residence, Victoria Hall, Julianna waited for me to tell her where to go. Still reeling from my encounter with the handsome Stacy, and ignorant as to the proper directions to the residence, I smiled and did the only thing that I could. I made them up! Luckily for me, though, the cars ahead us were also on their way to Victoria Hall and blindly telling Julianna to follow them, we ended up at the right destination.

Quickly settling in, and eager for more interactions with Stacy, I unpacked, freshened up, and made my way to the first session of the workshop. It was during that session that I discovered that recruiters from each of the 20 universities from Ontario were all at this workshop to represent their schools. Wanting to do a good job representing OCAD, but determined to stand out, I resolved to make a lasting impression. When the time came for us to introduce our school and ourselves, I told Julianna that I would be happy to act as our representative.

Standing up, I introduced myself to the room and told them a little bit about my experience at OCAD. In concluding my remarks I decided to have a little fun with the crowd. I told them that I was proud of OCAD’s new website and to encourage them to visit it I jokingly revealed to them that in order to pay my way thorough school I had done some nude modeling, and if they were interested, they could find pictures of me on our new site. Though I succeeded in eliciting much laughter within the group I, unfortunately, also succeeded in alienating myself from Julianna who, quite embarrassed by my behaviour, proceeded to not want to have anything to do with me for the rest of the workshop.

On my own but undaunted, I continued to make my presence known. After the introductory session the organizers of the workshop planned an icebreaker in which the participants had to exchange university-branded mugs, which we were all supposed to have brought from our respective schools. The idea being that you would work your way through all the participants by introducing yourself to them, all the while exchanging one mug for another, until the time allotted was over and in the end you were left with your final exchange. Wanting to participate, but because OCAD did not have branded mugs, I had to improvise. With a quick detour to the dinning hall, I nabbed a plain white mug and with a black permanent marker wrote “OCAD” on the mug. Returning to the icebreaker, I convinced the participants that OCAD’s mug was a minimalist statement. To my surprise and delight, it became the most sought-after mug in the game. By the end of the icebreaker, confident that I had made a lasting impression on the group, I decided to shift my focus and start concentrating on getting Stacy to notice me.

With as much stealth as I could muster, I maneuvered myself into his vicinity as much as humanly possible. During the information sessions, I would time my departure to coincide with his in order to give us an opportunity to talk. During breaks,I would purposely separate myself from the group in the hopes of providing him an opening to come speak with me and, with every chance that I got, I openly tried to engage with him.

To my frustration, however, all my efforts seemed to go unnoticed. Occasionally, Stacy would compliment me on my wardrobe (to this day I have a great collection of funky, vintage shirts) but these compliments were quick and brief and never resulted in the kind of interaction that I was looking for. I like to refer to them as “drive-by compliments”, because by the time I turned to respond to them, Stacy would have already moved on and begun a conversation with somebody else. Clinging to the slim hope that those brief interactions with him were a sign that he was interested in me, I continued to persevere.

On the first night of the workshop, our Queen’s hosts decided to take us all out for a night on the town. After they bussed us all to a little Kingston nightclub, I decided to make full use of the dance floor and try to impress Stacy with my signature moves. As the night progressed, my moves began to garner me some attention from my colleagues. Though I enjoyed the attention, the real reason that I had taken to the floor—to urge Stacy to come and talk to me—still eluded me.

When our hosts announced that the bus that brought us to our destination was shuttling our party back to Queen’s, I knew that since Stacy lived in Kingston he would probably not be boarding the bus. Hoping that when our colleagues had left I could have some time alone with Stacy, I decided to stay at the bar; even though I had no idea how to get back to the campus.

By last call, with some liquid courage in my veins, I finally summoned enough courage to go and talk with Stacy. To my dismay, however, after only a few minutes of talking with him, Stacy excused himself for the evening and left me alone with my drink.

Armed with a terrible sense of direction, I was left alone to try and make my way back to the residence at the university. Though I remarkably made it back to the Queen’s campus with out much trouble, I had unfortunately forgotten the name of the residence in which I was staying. Convinced that the name of the residence that housed me was “Trinity College”, I wandered around the campus for about an hour asking for directions to a residence that did not exist. In the end, finding a sign with a campus map on it, I realized my mistake and eventually found my way back to Victoria Hall. Grateful that I did not have to spend the night sleeping on a park bench, I snuggled into my dorm room bed and, just before drifting off, wondered what in the world I had to do to get Stacy to notice me.

For the next two days, I continued to try everything I could think of to steal some meaningful moments with Stacy. Though he was always pleasant to me, at times I even thought that he was giving me signals that he was interested, we never seemed to get the moment that I was looking for.

On the last night of the workshop, Queen’s hosted a reception at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, which I learned was Queen’s very own campus art gallery. With art being very much in my wheelhouse, I decided that the reception would be the perfect place to make a lasting impression on Stacy. Knowing that night would be my last chance to woo him, I pulled out the tightest shirt from my luggage that I had and I arrived fashionably late to the reception.

When I got to the gallery, I grabbed a glass of wine and began mingling with the other guests in the foyer. When it came time to view the collection, I noticed that Stacy was greeting all the guests as they entered the galleries. Realizing that I would probably not get the chance to talk with him about the artwork, because he was manning the door, I reluctantly entered the galleries. As I viewed the work, however, to my surprise Stacy sidled up beside me and asked me what I thought of the exhibition. For the first time since arriving at the workshop I got the chance to really talk with him, and I convinced myself that there was a spark there worth pursuing.

Leaving the exhibitions with Stacy by my side, some of the other guests came up to us and asked Stacy why I was permitted to enter the galleries with a glass of wine. Unbeknownst to me, making sure no wine entered the galleries was why he was greeting people at the entrance. Having been busted for giving me preferential treatment, Stacy smoothly replied. “Well, Mark is an artist and I know he wouldn’t do anything to harm the work”.

Taking his reply as a sign that he was interested in me, I happily made my way across the street to the dinning hall where we were to be fed and, later in the evening, entertained by a dance. Arriving at the hall, having alienated my colleague Julianna earlier, I found myself without a place to sit. Thankfully for me, I had made a good impression on my colleagues from the University of Ottawa who, when seeing I was alone, kindly invited me to join them at their table.

Luck must have been on my side that evening, because when I looked up from my seat, in my direct line of sight, diagonally across the hall from me sat Stacy. As the evening progressed, though I socialized with my new friends from uOttawa, I kept glancing over in Stacy’s direction. Feeling confident because of our earlier interaction at the gallery, I eventually made eye contact with Stacy from across the room and raised my wine glass in his direction. Again I felt it, a spark so intense it seemed to charge the entire room.

Now, towards the end of the dinner, to my delight, Stacy made his way over to my table. Proclaiming that my table was “the most attractive one at the event”. I blushed. Only to have Stacy - to my great confusion - proceed to ignore me and instead talk up all of the women in the vicinity. Afraid that I might have misjudged him, I began to doubt the spark that I had felt.

Thankfully, as I pondered the situation over dessert, however, our eyes met again and I decided to let things play out until I got a definitive answer.

When dinner was over, I was one of the first people to take to the dance floor. Surrounded by my new uOttawa friends, I did my very best to own the floor. At one point in the evening, I noticed that Stacy had also gotten up to dance. Surrounded by his Queen’s colleagues, he had taken a rose from the centerpiece of one of the dinner tables and was dancing with it in his hand.

Determined to send my own mixed signal, I went over to where he was dancing, grabbed the rose out of his hand, put it in my teeth and then returned to the ladies from uOttawa that I had been dancing with. Knowing that Stacy was watching me, I then passed the rose from my teeth to the teeth of one of the uOttawa ladies, initiating a game that would send that rose, from teeth to teeth, around the dance floor.

After sending the rose on its journey I quickly lost track of it. Then Micheal Jackson’s “Beat It” had come on and I clearly had to concentrate on the music and my choreography in order to get the most out of the song. Exhausted at the end of the song, however, I remember turning to leave the floor when Stacy stopped me in my tracks. With the rose in hand Stacy said, “Look what I’ve got.”

Without missing a beat, I looked him in the eyes and said, “If you want to pass that to me you have to do it properly”. Putting the rose in his teeth, Stacy passed it to me and when I went to retrieve it I lingered just long enough for him to realize that my intentions with him were different than they had been with our friends from uOttawa.

Finally getting the message, Stacy made up for lost time and asked me if I would like to go someplace else with him. With breathless anticipation, we left campus, hopped in a cab and made our way to Wally’s the only gay bar in Kingston. Seeing that it was a Thursday night, however, no one was at Wally’s, and so we made our way to two other bars until we finally decided to go to Stages. Though Stages is probably the straightest bar in Kingston, I didn’t care as long as I was getting to finally spend time with the boy I had been chasing for the past three days.

When last call came around, Stacy and I left Stages and began walking toward the University. At one point, Stacy stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and told me that I had a choice to make. I could either leave and make my way back to the university, or I could continue walking and go home with him. Being the sweet man that he is, he told me that he wasn’t ready for our night to be over and that he had no expectations other than getting to spend more time with me. Understanding that I wasn’t just some “trick” and also not wanting the night to be over, I agreed to go home with him.

When we got to his apartment, we went into his living room and I went directly to his bookcase and sat down in front of it. I have always believed you can tell a lot about a person from what is on their bookcase. Sitting on the hardwood floor, we began our talk about books. But that was just the jumping-off point. We talked about a lot of things that night and didn’t get off that floor until the morning sun started streaming though his living room windows. It was only at that moment that we stopped talking; only at that moment did we kiss.

With just a few hours before the workshop was set to begin again, Stacy asked me if I would like to try and get some sleep. He offered to share his bed with me so that we could snuggle. Wanting to be as close to him as possible, I of course accepted his invitation.

Excusing himself, he went to his bedroom and thoughtfully changed the sheets. He then asked me what I usually sleep in. When I said, “a t-shirt and underwear”, he went to his dresser, rifled through his drawers, and picked out his softest t-shirt for me to wear.

I can still remember the feeling of him holding me as we went to sleep. Even back then I think that I knew I had found the piece in my life that I had been missing –the one person who was destined to make me whole.

The next day, neither of us was in very good shape to participate in the workshop. I struggled through the morning sessions, tired and giddy, wishing all the while that I could have just stayed snuggling with him in his bed.

At the end of the morning we had to say goodbye to each other. I had to go back to Toronto and he was scheduled to go visit his family in Aylmer, Quebec. I remember being sad on the drive home with Julianna, but keeping that sadness and my three-day romance a secret. Those three days were mine and I wasn’t ready to share them with just anyone. Instead I replayed those days over in my head on the long ride back to Toronto. I must have been horrible company.

So much was uncertain back then, so much had to be figured out. All I knew was that I had found someone special and I would do everything in my power to hold on to him.

So, that is the story about how Stacy and I first met. Well, it is my version of the story anyway. I am sure Stacy has his own take on our first meeting and his point of view is probably quite different. Oh, and by the way: the name of the place where that fateful dinner and dance occurred was Ban Righ Hall. Exactly eight years later, Stacy and I held our wedding dinner and reception there.

Like I said in the beginning, I have been with Stacy for 16 years now. During that time we have had our trials and our tribulations, our ups and our downs but through it all there is nobody I would rather have by my side. He is my strength when I am weakened, my compass when I am lost or confused, and my light in the darkness. My husband is smart and funny, charming and loyal, kind and brave and the first person I want by my side when things is the world seem uncertain. His example inspires me to be a better person, his unconditional love validates my truth, his presence emboldens and strengthens me and when I lack the courage to follow my dreams I only have to look into his beautiful eyes in order to find it.

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