Chapter 1 - Up To That Point
I looked down to the auditorium floor between my feet. I could see the silhouette of my upper body and head but not a clear reflection. The floor was shiny but scuffed by the plastic chairs used for many occasions and the sporting events held here. I continued to stare for a while. The speaker/teacher was reading out last names beginning with K and granting them diplomas; I was an N, so I would be called soon. I was lost in my thoughts as I looked down at my shadow on the floor.
I do not know if it was the roast beef dinner prepared by the culinary students, the humidity of the gymnasium, or my nerves. It was probably all of the above with an asterisk beside nerves for emphasis. I began to think, or perhaps the better way to say it would be to say that I began to question what I was to do once this ceremony was over. Is this what I really wanted? I failed my first year of university and thought that I’d better try college and get my marketing diploma. What other choice did I have? Upgrade my high school? Maybe business was not for me, I thought, and I had overlooked the subtle hint of that truth that failure at university should have been for me. I blamed that failure on independence, on being nineteen and away from home for the first time, with no father dictating what I should do and how to do it. I preferred beer and pizza to books and tests.
I was starting to get scared about going out into the working world without the protection of school. I complained about this place while I went, but now it seemed like I wished I could be back in my first year. I had to accept the fact that I could not turn back time and that I was getting older. The expectations I held for myself had to be fulfilled with the passing of time, but before too much time had passed. By twenty-five, I hoped to have a wife, to be thinking aboutstarting a family, and have a home — the “picket fence” thing.
I quietly belched into my fist and quickly lifted up my head. I had brought up some of my dinner and hoped that it was first year students who prepared this decadent meal and not graduates, because they still seemed to have much to learn. I took a drink while waiting to start my walk up to accept the pieces of paper that gave purpose to my life for the past three years, four if you counted the fun at university.
“Along with his Business Administration Marketing Diploma and Human Resources Certificate, Greg Noack is also the recipient of the Student Leadership Award.”
“Hmmm,” I muttered to myself as I stood up and made my way through the maze of people sitting at their tables. I was surprised by the award, and proud of myself, I think. I climbed the four stairs to the stage and shook the speaker’s hand.
“Congratulations, Greg, and good luck.”
I turned away and began my walk back to my seat with a smattering of applause echoing in the large auditorium, mostly Mom and the people at my table. While walking I was perplexed by two things, the good luck comment by the speaker and the unexpected leadership award. What had I led myself into?
I graduated from college in 1995 at the age of twenty-three and set out to find a job in Windsor, Ontario. Unlike the majority of my classmates, I decided not to go on to university and get my bachelor’s degree for business in the fall. I took my chances in the competitive job market with a diploma but no degree, a chance that did not pay off. This was yet another key decision I made in my life that backfired.
When the leaves on the trees started to change colour, I was still without work. I was becoming frustrated but continued to beat the pavement for work. My persistence finally paid off, however, and after a series of interviews, I became the manager in training for a discount department store. But my satisfaction would quickly turn to anger, stress, and frustration.
The three months of training to become a manager were like boot camp. Hour-long commutes to different stores and unloading freight made me question the title of manager. I did become a manager eventually, but it was short-lived because three months was all I could take. My salary was 28,500 Canadian dollars per year. When I signed my contract, it seemed like a large amount for the forty-five to fifty hours a week I expected, but it was not enough for the seventy to eighty hours I actually worked.
After quitting, I doubted my quick departure as I was back in the job market with my working ability in question. Explaining why I had left this job after six months was a hindrance and even seemed to ruin my chances of getting other work as future employers made sure to question that fact and to point out that I was only a manager for three months.
“So Greg, why did you leave?” a prospective employer would ask.
“Because they worked my butt off and treated me like crap” is how I wanted to answer, but instead I would reply, “Lack of upper management support.”
The interviewer then would wince and show me the door, which was something I would grow accustomed to over the next three months. In my four years of post secondary schooling, I was never taught how to respond to such a question. The college, I assume, did not want to give the impression that you could fail when you graduate.
Job opportunities were not the only things I was having difficulty finding. My girl hunting, in chauvinistic terms, was at a low point. It had been three years since my last serious relationship. Though this was on my mind, employment was still my major concern. Not having a paycheck did not allow for too many dinners, movies, and gifts. So a good job was something I thought was essential to finding a partner in life.
In spite of this lack of success, however, my life after graduation was starting to pick up speed somewhat like an avalanche. Time was moving very fast and I was swept up in it. Minutes were like seconds, hours like minutes, weeks like days, and months like weeks. The end of June rolled around, and still I had no direction in my life. My mother, on the other hand, did. She had re-established a connection with her high school sweetheart and got married in May. I guess the third time was a charm as Brian was my mother’s third husband.
Brian is a wonderful, caring man whom my mother certainly deserved. The only drawback was that he lived in British Columbia. My mother had planned to move out West at the end of October, and through her plans, I derived one as well. Since I was having no luck with the job market and relationship department, why not go out West myself?
Brian has two sons and two daughters close to my age. I had met his one daughter, Tonja, three previous times. She was nice, and through discussions with her, offered to give me a place to live until I got settled. With the money I stashed away from managing, I purchased a mountain bike and a plane ticket to Vancouver. I also had enough funds to live for a few months. My plan was set and my plane left on June 28, five days before my twenty-fourth birthday.
I left quickly and without much fanfare. I said goodbye to my family and really had no close friends to bid farewell. I liked leaving without notice because I did not care for the people, particularly my so-called friends, who were in my life. I was a loner, and consequently getting a country’s distance between myself, and the life I was living, was another benefit to the decision to move out West. I thought that when I made it big all those so-called friends would be even more impressed that I had the courage to jump on a plane and start anew, making it on my own, without them.
I got off the plane with my belongings in tow. I would send for my bike later. I was quite scared and nervous being in a place that was large and new to me. Bus rides and a ferry (boat) finally brought me to my destination: Victoria, British Columbia.
The beauty of Vancouver Island amazed me. The snow-covered mountains, the large trees, and the ocean views were all breathtaking. I was excited about my new surroundings and wanted to settle in this beautiful place. I had heard of BC’s beauty, and the rumour spreading in Ontario was that it was more employee-friendly with respect to finding work. I rolled up my sleeves and started to pound the pavement. I wanted to find work quickly because I did not want to impose on my stepsister for too long. Making her seven-year old son sleep on the couch and residing in his room made me feel like a first-class heel.
I had hoped that coming out here might have slowed me down, or more specifically, slowed the passing of time. The twenty-five year age limit was coming up quickly, leaving me just a year to fulfill the aspirations I had tied to that point in my life. Everything would slow down once I got work, or so I hoped.
My other stepsister, Sharlene, who worked at the University of Victoria, got me a few shifts of envelope stuffing for conventions held at the University. In the two months I was in Victoria that was all I could get in the way of employment. The rumour that spread back East was definitely false, as the job prospects were slim at best.
Victoria is a government town without “Big Industry” to compare to the Big Three automakers found in southern Ontario. Tourism is the reason that such industry has not been invited here, to keep the beauty of the countryside intact. But the beauty of it all was wearing thin. If one more employer asked me why I left managing so quickly I was going to staple their tie or blouse to their desk and say, “Because of my warm, sparkling personality, that’s why they friggin’ canned me.”
I was at the point of removing my managerial experience from my résumé but decided not to. If I had a year of nothingness on my résumé, I was sure that fact would be questioned just as much and would leave the impression I was one picky employee. I did receive good news regarding finding a place to live however. I did not want to wear out my welcome with Tonja and found out that one of my college friends back in Windsor, Allison, wanted to give BC a try too. Because the rent was so high, we decided to live together. It also meant I would have to take a less-than-great job in another field, the service industry.
As of September 1, I was living in a two-bedroom, oneand- half bathroom rented condo with a fireplace, indoor pool, tennis court and view of the water, the Gorge inlet. I also landed a job as a night cleaner for a cleaning company who contracted out work to five-star restaurants and hotels. The job paid for my rent and living expenses but nothing more. To say I was happy with how things were going would be a large overstatement.
I awoke from my three-hour sleep and looked up at the dark ceiling in my bedroom. I slept on a futon mattress placed on the floor. I used a milk crate turned on its side as my nightstand. I could not afford furnishings on what I made, and I used what little money I had stashed away from managing to eat. You can’t eat furniture.
I looked at my alarm clock that read ten o’clock; I had to be at the five-star restaurant and hotel by eleven. My shifts were Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from eleven at night to six in the morning. Being a newcomer, I received the shifts that no one else wanted. It made for an entertaining weekend.
Before I arose from my mattress, I looked around my bare room. The floor was covered with crumpled old newspapers that I had scoured for jobs. I looked like one of the street people lying on the sidewalk downtown. The sad thing was that I felt that way. I stared up at the dark ceiling once again and said, “Give me a sign damn it! Is this it? Is this what my life is going to be?”
I was talking at, and making demands of, God — not praying to Him. I had some nerve to talk that way to Him considering I did nothing for my relationship with Him. A Lutheran Church confirmed me in my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario when I was thirteen years old. I guess I thought confirmed meant I did not have to go to church, because the only time since my confirmation that I went to church was for a wedding or funeral.
I actually expected to see something in the darkness of my room, but of course I did not.
“Just as I thought,” I said, opening the door to my room and entering the bathroom to shower. Like everything else, my relationship with God was a matter of blame and frustration, as both my employment situation and relationship status were going nowhere.
I quickly showered as I had to be on the ten forty bus. I usually rode my bike, but the past week I had to resort to the transit system and the “shoe lace express.” I had broken my back brakes in a fit of anger as I tried to repair them a couple of weeks earlier and could not afford to pay for the damage I created. Allison offered her bike but made sure to comment about the batteries running low in her light, so I thought, why bother.
I did not mind the long walk home after work anyway and started to get used to it. I had to because the buses did not run until seven in the morning. My co-workers would tell me I walked and lived in a rough area, but I did not hesitate to walk home because it was so beautiful. Compared to the places back East where I lived, this was paradise.
I threw on my green work jeans, blue work shirt, green fleece pullover, maroon denim jacket and grabbed my toque and gloves. It was early November and getting cold at four in the morning. I grabbed a five-dollar bill and left my wallet in the bathroom. I never carried it just in case I did run into trouble. I really did not have to worry anyway because I was broke.
“Greg, why don’t you take my bike?” Allison asked.
She did not mention the light for a change.
“Na, screw it. I don’t mind the walk. It lets me think.” Which was something that I did too much.
My roommate and I were on better terms. We had gotten into a big argument two weeks earlier but were getting closer and at least tolerable to one another. Living together had put a strain on our friendship.
“Okay, see ya tomorrow morning. Be careful.”
“Yeah, see ya.” As I turned and walked out the door, I mumbled, “I think I am going to jump off that bridge on my way home tonight.” I was referring to a bridge on our street above a bicycle trail and creek.
As I locked the door I heard Allison ask, “What did you say?” I did not respond as I went down the elevator.
I waited for the bus and contemplated my life to that moment. What was I doing and how the heck was I going to ever make it given what I was doing. The bus doors opened and I dropped my coins in for the fare. The bus jerked forward as it started again. I looked out the window into the darkness as I sat, seeing only my reflection in the glass.
“Loser.” I said to myself.
After a twenty-minute walk, I opened the door to the lavish hotel I worked at. What people paid for the night is what I made in two shifts of cleaning up after them. My job consisted of cleaning four bathrooms, the kitchen, and the restaurant located in this five-star hotel, as well as the hotel’s lobby. I wanted to work faster that night because my beloved Forty-Niners were on at ten in the morning and I did not want to sleep through the game, damn Western three-hour time change.
I am a huge fan of American football. The Canadian Football League with its huge footballs, three downs, and gigantic end zones annoyed me. Didn’t they understand that having small end zones made it harder to score and added to the excitement of the game? The championship game always produced an excellent game however.
My angry mood was not subsiding but starting to erupt as my shift went on. Cleaning toilet bowls and tampon dispensers was not why I went to school for three years. It was approaching three-thirty and I wanted to start my trek home by four-thirty. I would then be home by six, sleep for four hours, and get up to watch the game.
“This sucks. Why am I doing this?” I said to Colin, my coworker.
We were having a soda at the bar in the restaurant that overlooked the beautiful inner harbour of Victoria. He did not have an answer and shrugged his shoulders. I envied Colin. He too was from back East. He was four years younger than me and enjoyed getting by on what he made cleaning. He did not get stressed about things like I did.
“Well Greg, maybe things will improve with that new job that you are starting on Tuesday.”
I was recently hired by a respected department store in the menswear department. It was temporary part-time work for the Holiday season. I would only receive up to eighteen hours a week, so I would have to keep a couple shifts of cleaning.
“Yeah, I am looking forward to measuring men’s inseams and telling people, “No, we don’t have anymore extra boxes!”
We chuckled, finished our sodas, got up, and went ourseparate ways.
“See ya tomorrow,” I said as I put on my gloves and hat.
“Ya, you too,” Colin responded.
We both turned and went in opposite directions. It was an extremely foggy night, and when I turned to look back for Colin, he was already out of sight.
My walk consisted of about forty-five minutes through downtown and then another forty-five on the main street I lived on. I did not mind it because the city was so surreal, and this night it was especially surreal as the fog rolled in over the harbour and into the downtown corridors. I stopped at my usual café where I would buy a coffee and stay drinking it as the night turned to day. I glanced at the clock and it read four twenty.
“I’ll have a large double, double and a raisin bagel — to go,” I said to the coffee server.
The server had just wiped the chalkboard calendar above the cash register clean and wrote a ten beneath November. Another day in my life wiped away, I thought to myself, as I decided not to stay because I wanted to be home in time to sleep and get up and watch the football game. I gave him the five and got six cents in change. It was not exactly cheap, but after a hard shift of cleaning other people’s filth, I deserved it.
I came to the street that I lived on. I was halfway home. I walked for ten minutes and came to another coffee shop. I took off my glove and checked my pocket. I only had six cents, which I should have remembered, but I was getting tired. I continued to walk and came to the bridge on my street. The idea of jumping was in my thoughts, but this time they were muted, as I felt extremely weak. I would never jump anyway because of the pain it would cause my family, especially my mother.
I took my hand out of my pocket. It seemed like I had my hand in there for some time. God I was tired. I do not know what came over me, but I was so exhausted that, after I took my hand out of my pocket, I decided to lay down right on the sidewalk. As I lowered my head to the pebbly cement and slowly turned over onto my back, I noticed that I was not on the same side of the street I was on when I first checked my pocket for money for a coffee.
Chapter 2 - The Sign
“Is Greg in?” My sister Kim was calling from Windsor to say hi. Kim is the kind of person who worries, who loves and cares for her family dearly, to the point that, when I lived in Windsor and jogged to her house and then back, I would have to call her when I got home.
“No he isn’t. He isn’t back from work yet, which is strange. Have you heard from him?” Allison mistook Kim for my stepsister, Tonja, which made Kim panic.
“This is his sister Kim, from Windsor. Why would I have heard from him?”
“Oh, Kim. I thought you were Tonja.”
“Where is Greg? Is everything all right?”
Allison explained to Kim how I planned to walk home from work last night and was home usually at around six or seven. Kim started to panic and told Allison to call her when I got in. Kim started to voice her concerns to my brother, my other sister, and father, all of who lived in Ontario. She also talked to my mother, who already knew something was up from talking to Allison and was on her way to Victoria from the mainland.
“Victoria Police Department.”
“Hello, my name is Allison, and I am concerned about my roommate.”
“Has he been missing for more than twenty-four hours?”
“No, he has not. But he is usually home from his job by six or seven in the morning, and it is ten o’clock.”
“Maybe he is at a friend’s.” The dispatcher had taken hundreds of these calls before, but this conversation with Allison seemed to have her attention, in spite of her stock answers.
“He is fairly new to Victoria and does not have any real close friends out here. Plus, he would call me and let me know.”
“What about family?”
“He has step-family, but I have already contacted them.” With all the questions the dispatcher was asking, Allison started to realize that something was up. The police did not usually show concern until a day passed.
“Can you give a description of your roommate and tell me where he worked.”
“He is about five eight, slim but built, and weighs about one hundred and seventy pounds. He was wearing green jeans, a burgundy denim jacket over a green fleece pullover, and his blue work shirt. He was also wearing gloves and a hat.”
“Where does he work?”
“He works as a janitor at one of the fancy hotels downtown.”
“Okay. We will get back to you if something comes up, and if twenty-four hours goes by without hearing from him, we will file a missing person’s report.”
After giving the dispatcher our phone number, Allison waited. The reason they took Allison’s concerns seriously was that they had discovered a body on the Gorge Bridge earlier that morning that fitted my description. Allison’s exact description was important because that body was I and my means of identification, which was in my wallet, was on the toilet tank in my bathroom.
I was taken to the Jubilee General Hospital with severe head injuries and a small laceration over my left eye. I was unconscious and once examined by the doctors at that hospital, I was transferred to Victoria General Hospital’s neurological ward. I had fallen into a coma.
“Hello Allison, this is the Victoria Police. Does your roommate have any photo identification?”
“As a matter of fact, his wallet, which contains his driver’s license, is here.”
“Okay, we will send over some officers.”
Within minutes, Allison gave my ID to the police, and they identified me as the victim of an assault that could ultimately be a homicide. They returned with my identification and broke the news to Allison. As the officer handed my wallet to Allison, he said, “Allison, did Greg know anyone near the Gorge Road Bridge?”
Allison knew that bridge because it was located just down our street, and the last thing she heard from me was that I was going to jump from it. She began to weep uncontrollably, thinking I had taken my own life.
“No, no he is okay. He was beaten up pretty badly and was found on that bridge,” the officer said.
Allison was able to compose herself and was relieved that I was alive and did not take my own life. She then took down what hospital I was at and contacted my family and friends. She was quite calm for the situation she was in. Because I had said those stupid things the previous night, and without knowing how severely beaten I was, she found the mere fact that I was alive a calming influence.
She waited for my mother, who was on her way from the mainland as soon as Allison stated that I was not home that morning. When she arrived, she and Allison and my stepfather, Brian, went to the hospital, not knowing what to expect. The only thing they knew was that I was alive. My family back East were also worried by what could have happened to their brother and son.
I had made things difficult for everyone, even the police, as I had left my wallet at home. I had left it there for this very reason, so that I could not be robbed, but then I never thought this would happen. Even if I did have my wallet on me, all I had in it was a driver’s license. I had no credit cards. If only I had seen this coming. All I ever wanted was a girlfriend and a good job. That is why I came out West. Maybe that was asking for too much, and maybe I had not realized what I already had and now could lose.