A short story by Mina Wong
My name is Gabriel Henry. I was born in Thunder Bay and lived there until the end of Grade eleven.
My parents were teenagers who split up and left town when I was four months old. In the absence of immediate family, my mother’s fourth cousin, Mary Henry raised me on her fixed pension. Mary did her best with me but being elderly, she could only do so much. Then she died of old age when I was eighteen. Poor and on my own, I left for Toronto in search of big-city opportunities.
A shiny beginning…
Toronto was fun for several years. I didn’t mind a waiter’s crazy shifts; I even bunked in dark, musty rooms. But without a proper education, I didn’t know how to get ahead. At a downtown diner, I met Todd who said I was gorgeous “like a movie star”. After tipping me generously, he invited me to dinner at the CN Tower with a big surprise: “Come and live with me.”
Soon, I moved into a bright and airy penthouse where my life was turning around with Todd in charge. “You belong here with me. Just let me worry about everything.”
At thirty-four, Todd was twelve years my senior. A successful stockbroker, he was bold and dapper, although sometimes nit-picking and a bit quick to criticize. He liked fresh-laundered clothes and a squeaky-clean apartment. He appreciated fine foods and artsy decor. He wanted to take care of me, and he made most decisions about our life together.
Todd was protective of me. He didn’t want me to work. He also asked many questions about my acquaintances whom he hadn’t met. Slowly, I decided it was simpler if I just associated with his friends without making a fuss. Some three years later, I was restless about going back to school and working again. I suggested that I could try a part-time job first.
Todd was amused. “But where would you do that?”
When I mentioned a neighborhood agency where my skills could be assessed, and where counselors could help me find work, he turned puzzled. “Oh, you want minimum wage? It’s a jungle out there. Do you really want all the stress?”
In tears, I begged Todd to understand that I wanted an education and a career. I also said I was interested in drama, and a downtown college had just the program for me. Sobbing, I asked how he could be so mean: “You’ve just reduced my dreams to low wages, brawl, trouble …”
Todd seemed to regret his hasty criticism, and seeing my distress, he softened a bit. “Okay, if you’re serious about this stuff, we’ll talk about it later.” But every time I mentioned college courses, Todd would say something like, “You know, we can spend that money all on you at the Stratford Festival.” In the end, I never set foot in any school. I also realized if I wanted an education, I’d need to pay for it.
Fifteen years later…
After fifteen years with Todd, I’m middle-aged, married, and living in a beautiful Art Deco penthouse. We enjoy well-invested assets, excellent fitness facilities, and exotic holidays. But I have neither a career nor concrete plans to go back to school. I have also molded my whole world around a single identity: Todd McIver’s spouse.
A fitness magazine shows me how people self-direct to achieve goals based on how well they can meet their needs. These needs start from basic ones such as food, water, and shelter, to higher ones such as identity and sense of belonging, to even higher ones such as self-esteem and significant relationships, to ultimately their highest desires and success – as lower needs are met.
I haven’t looked at my needs very much outside of marriage. My life revolved around it, and we’ve vowed to take care of each other for life – even if things are not exactly suited to me. Todd’s happiness and our marital stability have always come first. At this juncture, how should I tell Todd about my needs and goals? How can I help him see that I’ve matured since I was a twenty-two-year-old waiter? Furthermore, can Todd understand that having my own success may make me a more interesting partner to him?
My dilemma needs guidance from people who can help me. I remember how my teachers always supported Aunt Mary and me back in Thunder Bay. I wish a teacher or counselor could give me some advice now.
But I’ll try talking with Todd first. We have a lot to sort out as mature adults, such as learning about needs and how to meet them – for ourselves and each other. I’m hoping Todd and I can work things out and still take care of each other like we’ve solemnly promised. I’ll try discussing these matters calmly and respectfully as evidence of my maturity. These would be the first steps in self-direction and maybe the kind of success I want.
Gabriel Henry’s story was told to Mina Wong