Watching Midnight Mass on Netflix and considering the many different metaphors served by the vampire myth; the church as psychic vampire, hubris as a vampire, the greed for youth and vitality as the Achilles heel that opens the door to allow the vampire in, and all of the disaster that follows. I recognize it all and it has been employed a hundred times. But what I recognize most is the feeling of living in a small, determinedly white community surrounded by the pacific ocean; the feeling that there’s nothing exactly wrong, but at the same time, every day, dull as it is, carries a kind of slow poison into your bloodstream and the certain knowledge that there will come a day, and it might be tomorrow, when you wake up and realize you will be there forever.
I remember singing in the chamber choir at a local church, an excellent choir, good enough to be the training ground for more than a few opera stars, a choir good enough to make recordings that strangers purchased, not as an obligation but for the pleasure of hearing us. I remember how quietly and slavishly faithful the members of the choir were to English traditions up to and including the tradition of the lascivious choirmaster who preyed, vampire-like on his choristers.
He was not the first and doubtless not the last. He was part of a tradition, the tradition was to apologize to the victims, move the choirmaster and then hire someone “new” from within the same tradition. The church has gotten better at hiding them, so there are no more arrests, but I’m sure it hasn’t stopped. It never stops.
I remember doing all I could to be quiet and polite and to socialize in appropriate ways with my boyfriend’s social circle. They were from old money. I was from no money. Their contempt for me was palpable. But my boyfriend assured me it was shallow, it would pass, and it did not extend to him. We attended the traditional parties and weddings and charity galas. I bought the clothes and had my hair done and wore the make-up and tried to be quiet, or at least to be quieter than I would normally be. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was just trying to accept the idea that I had attained a place on the social ladder of island life that was higher than my background would have led me to expect.
For a few years, I managed to accept and endure “the good life” on the island. I had the right boyfriend, we lived in the right house, in a good neighborhood, we went to the right events, I gave the right parties, went to the right restaurants. Eventually, although it took some time, I agreed to stop teaching preschool and working in child care and get my license as a real estate agent. It was a more suitable profession and less likely to draw my attention to issues of social injustice, less likely to stir any feelings of purpose. It was a perfect life on the island. By island standards, I was lucky. And yet, I woke up every day, terrified that it might be the day the door closed, the day I would no longer be free to leave.
One day, I realized the door was really there, and it was really possible that it would close. So I started plotting my escape.
I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I didn’t tell anyone that my feelings of alienation and confusion that arose from arriving on the island from a very diverse neighborhood in Montreal never completely went away. I never shared with the friends and the social acquaintances the fact that while they assumed I was learning to assimilate, I was actually observing them lead lives that seemed meaningless to me and I was actually scared to death of most of them, and when I wasn’t scared, I was bored, or annoyed. It all seemed pointless. But worse than pointless, it was perfect. The island was beautiful, civilized, populated by beautiful people, nice people, well meaning people who felt they had a purpose and a lot to contribute to the world but to me, it was a lovely, green cage padded by thick clouds, surrounded by the calm, cold ocean. I had no role there except to be gracious and pretty. I had no purpose except to enjoy my life. If there is a hell for me, that is it.
My plan was this: apply to Universities as far away as possible, until I found one that would take me, and somehow, by any means necessary, get there.
Pretty simple, isn’t it? Simple to say, not so simple to do.
My boyfriend and I had lived together long enough to be considered married by the common law of British Columbia. But I wanted a clean break. Looking back, I probably should have sued for support but I settled for a little help $500 a month for the first year I was at school. I didn’t know how I’d pay for school or support myself but I knew that door was closing and I had to get off that island before it did.
My mother laughed at me when I told her I’d been accepted to Carleton. I don’t know why but somehow, over the years, my family had decided I was undisciplined, frivolous, shallow. I guess I did a better job of fitting myself into my role than I thought. Anyway, she laughed and rolled her eyes as she sat in the passenger seat of my car. I pulled into the parking spot in front of the boutique where we had planned to look for some accessories to go with a dress I was having made for an evening at the opera. I didn’t pursue the conversation.
Six months later, I got on a plane and left. I cried all the way to Ottawa. It’s not true to say I never looked back, of course I did. I even made a few attempts to return but mercifully, they never stuck.
So when I watch this show and I see all the perils and drama, the vampires and the attachments these people on this small island have to each other, what I feel most palpably is how much of a trap an island can be. What I feel most acutely is gratitude for the opportunity to live in a world of roads that go on forever, imperfect landscapes, and infinite possibility.