WANTING TO BE WHO WE'RE NOT
 

Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk
Now available from Harrington Park Press

 
 
 

NANNA'S ROOM (excerpt)

by Robert Labelle

     I grew up on a train. Not only that, the wrong train. I always thought I should be en route to some proper boys school where Apple Charlotte and crème anglaise are served with tea daily at four. Instead, the lower third of the typical, east-end Montreal triplex I was forced to call home, with its long, narrow hallway and succession of cramped, compartment-like rooms, was a train with no destination. The effect was enhanced on the hour when the real train passed on tracks only a stone's throw away—a standard unit of measurement in our neighborhood with its broken panes and maimed stray cats. The rumblings were especially effective at night, sending tremors through our metal beds and providing the perfect backdrop to wonderings about how I got where I was and where my real parents were. I pictured tall, well-dressed figures standing beside me in a crowded station, their frosty hair matching silver fox wraps. They had perplexed looks on their faces, their aristocratic bearing making them ill-suited for interpreting destinations and schedules, for sending their child off on the right track.
     Needless to say, I was not a happy passenger. But don't get me wrong, I did not despise the family I found myself with: my parents, my brothers and sisters, my adopted Québecois heritage. It's just that the wished for dollop of crème anglaise flowed a little too thickly in my veins for me to ever fully adapt to life in working class French Montreal.


     To them I think I was seen as a kind of exotic, slightly dangerous pet, like an ostrich or spider monkey, kept on more out of curiosity than emotional attachment. But even they began after a time, to recognize my true cultural heritage. "Il a l'oreille," my mother would say, looking at my report card with its uncannily high scores in études d'anglaises. Her remark 'he has a good ear,' wasn't meant to be complimentary. It was said with a note of suspicion, tied to that vast world of otherness (English Canada) known as les autres. My father called me "un vrai businessman" because, at the time, English was the language of the bosses. With his perennial greasy work jeans, his disheveled head of thick brown hair, he seemed more the child than I, as if I'd given up my youth to become dour and administrative. It also absolved him of doling out parental love, which in our family circle was rationed like the warm, sugary squares of pudding de chomeur—always devoured faster than they could be replenished.