My Knight In Rusty Armour
Somewhere on our darkest night there shines a candle…And so it was for me…Having so completely lost my way for what seemed like decades of groping in the dark and searching for just the smallest ray of hope my time was just about at hand. That light I had so desperately hoped and waited for in my darkest days shone my way in the form of a chance meeting that would soon change the course of my life forever.
His name was John Watt and he was no knight in shining armour but when I was first introduced to him through a mutual acquaintance his presence seemed somehow familiar and kind to me and I felt an instant connection to him. It was not so much in a physical way although it could easily have been but in a much more profound sense of the word. It was an unnerving but very strong feeling
which overwhelmed me similar to meeting a very dear old friend whom I hadn’t seen in many, many years…
Although John didn’t know who I was he showed a caring and compassion for me even though I so desperately tried to hide my inner pain. My well-rehearsed smile and carefully crafted demeanour and verbal niceties were no match to his perceptive eye and noble heart so I quickly knew I could just be myself which was such a strange comfort to me. It wasn’t long after talking openly to each other we quickly began to realize that although our stories differed in circumstance they were eerily similar in nature. The details of the personal losses and disappointments we shared had so many unexplained parallel threads. Even our past achievements and successes reflected common interests and talents. John was born a fighter having been a very premature baby he weighed barely a pound and his family and doctors feared the worst for him. Being born in a small seaside town of Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland in 1948 there was no intensive care unit for a baby that could easily fit into the palm of your hand…
His hopes for survival were minimal at best but none knew the fighting spirit within his tiny soul. Perhaps now understanding the dimensions of his journey thus far I could say quite honestly that he has been fighting ever since. John went on to explain he and his 2 brothers, Bill and Frank immigrated to Canada along with their mother Elizabeth when he was only 8 years old. Moving to The Beaches area of Toronto where their father, Jack, had already found them home months previously. John’s generosity showed at a very early age as he fondly recalls sending his Dad his meagre allowance money from Ireland until the family arrived in Canada concerned about him being all alone in such a faraway land.
The first few years were happy and his younger sister, Christine, was born there. John’s mother was a nurse and his Dad painted for the city parks department. However not all was to go peacefully for long. There was bitter fighting between his parents mostly over the finances of the family. His mother was a generous and fun loving person but his father was by nature extremely tight. Thus the arguments began to escalate in intensity and frequency over the ensuing years. Everyone in the family found their own escapes from the emotional assaults.
My Knight In Rusty Armour
John’s brothers Bill and Frank took to music and John dove head first not only into the music of the ‘60’s but sports, cars, and girls and legendary parties as well. Finally after years of angry outbursts John’s parents agreed to split with the children going with their mother. Having already played the caretaking role for his siblings growing up in such chaos, John now 13 would once again choose to side with the underdog and remain with his father. However, in reality John’s personal sacrifice was not to be reciprocated nor appreciated and would cost him dearly. Still wallowing in the bitterness and anger of the divorce, John’s father spent precious little of his time with John. Not once did his Dad watch him at a hockey or baseball practice let alone cheer him on at any competitions. Travelling alone by bus and carting all his equipment every day to practice John felt isolated and forgotten in the emotional abyss of a family split in twain.
John tried desperately to overcome his hurt and pain by his enthusiastic and fun loving personality earning himself the nickname of “Sparkles” by his friends. Yet in fact underneath this happy veneer he was burying his pain and disappointments deep within the layers that have taken decades to peel off. Coupled with all his emotional anxiety John suffered many physical injuries one of which was a serious motorcycle accident when he was 17 which left him in the hospital for 10 days. He was hit head on by a drunk driver and he went flying over the handlebars and with no mandatory helmet to protect his skull he crashed into the pavement knocking himself unconscious and cutting open his knee requiring surgery.
John had also taken up hockey as soon as he landed in Toronto from his native Ireland, determined to play as well or better than his friends who had had a head start, teaching himself the game and even how to skate. He supported his hockey tuition by taking on odd jobs, working as a skate guard, delivering fish and chips on his bicycle or shovelling snow on cold winters evenings while all his friends were snug inside. He earned his way for everything and anything he had his lion heart set on and gave 200 % effort to achieve it giving the same loyalty to his friends as well. His determination led him all the way to playing some serious college hockey and a legendary high school football game where he ran with the football into the goal post and knocked himself out cold trying to win the game for his team mates! But that was John….
However with all the competitiveness and camaraderie of the sports he loved so much John has paid a hefty price for it. The physical and neurological damage inflicted upon his brain after so many hits far too numerous to mention are now being medically recognized. However, for John the effects of serious concussions have dogged him for decades and he still deals with the realities of it on a daily basis.
To add salt to his physical wounds, the pain and emotional anxiety of the psychological turmoil he grew up in along with the personal losses and disappointments of which I will detail later in the story, blur the line of cause and effect creating a vicious cycle of physical and emotional consequences.
Despite all the cards stacked against him, John’s inherent fighting spirit kept him going winning and succeeding throughout most of his young adult life. John completed his college degree at Humber in Recreation which he financed by driving taxi at night and life guarding in the summers.
He then became the youngest recipient of the SDMRO which is the highest title in his field through his work as a Parks and Recreation Director in Eastern Ontario with a staff of 50. Successful but always restless for another challenge John’s career path took him down an interesting road marked by his creative flair and outgoing and fun personality.
From managing resort properties in Florida to the Muskoka’s in Ontario John was always coming up with an innovative way to succeed. With a yearning to branch out on his own John turned down an opportunity to teach tourism and hospitality at Centennial College. Instead he chose to spread his entrepreneurial wings opening up a classic car business in Belleville Ontario which had been a lifelong passion of his.
My Knight In Rusty Armour
Buying a beautiful old century home there with his new wife Shirley, a figure skating coach with whom he met while teaching a power skating course there John finally had found some peace and stability in his life. However charmed John’s sparkling personality and penchant for seeing the fun in the most mundane John’s lucky charms were about to run out.
Hoping to have cleared the clouds of the past, the new and darker ones took ominous form on the horizon beginning in the fall of 1978 when John’s father was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a cruel death which came so quickly there was little time to place any healing salve on the open wounds which John still needed mending from his Dad.
Less than 6 months later and still bearing the loss of his Dad and the empty place in his heart that yearned for his father’s unrequited love John would be struck by another huge emotional blow. Having just talked to his mother on the phone about buying a beautiful 1972 Buick Skylark Convertible together from her new home in Sioux Falls South Dakota that the next dreaded phone call came in late that night. The one you never want to hear…
It was an accident. A terrible head on collision on a quiet country road… The other driver had been drinking… We are sorry to say your mother didn’t survive…She was killed instantly…With a heavy heart John and his older brother Bill tearfully flew down together to bring their mother’s body home to be laid to rest near their father.
John had to physically view her car trying to fully accept the brutal truth of her death and saw with his own eyes the carnage of what was left, the blood stains on her coat now hurled to the back seat and her single small shoe still resting beside the pedal.
The loss of his parents both so suddenly and tragically in such quick succession was a very difficult time for John but once again his indomitable spirit kept him coping and striving, Once again through his sheer determination and work ethics instilled in him as a young boy John found his footings in his community, organizing hockey tournaments and special events, and in his business successes. John somehow always
managed to land on his feet after each fall.
Little did John realize but the biggest storm cloud was brewing over the next horizon…The seeds of the storm came in the form of the brutal recession In the early ‘80’s where interest rates skyrocketed into the 20 percentiles and people were walking away from mortgages, jobs were being slashed and families were being torn apart from personal and financial losses. Although John had to walk away from a substantial loss on a cottage mortgage deposit at the time nevertheless he still kept his head above water. However his older brother Bill, whom he was very close to, wasn’t fairing so well.
Bill was laid off from his corporate job. Unable to find work his marriage dissolved and in the process lost custody of his 2 girls. Spiralling into a depression Bill was placed on medication which made him worse, attempting suicide several times and eventually becoming homeless and sleeping in his car.
John tried many times to assist him, employing him at his business, giving him a place to stay, food, clothing and on more than one occasion actually physically stopping Bill from killing himself. With his own worries and concerns John’s world became entangled with Bill’s determined to save the life of his brother, driving him from one hospital to the next, looking for a doctor or a counsellor who could help him. However sadly though, on a very cold dark night in late January ironically as John was on the phone calling for help at the local hospital worried for his brother’s safety, Bill was slowly but surely hobbling with his leg cast from a previous fall, alone up the Bay of Quinte Bridge. Arriving at the top of the span Bill leaned over the rail and jumped…
My Knight In Rusty Armour
In the darkness of a pitch black January night John desperately drove his car up and down looking for Bill who was nowhere in sight. Calling for help he and a Belleville police officer stopped at the top of the bridge and the officer cautiously shone his bright flashlight onto the frozen ice below. Fearing to see the worst John held his breath. 100 meters below where they stood was the outline of Bill’s crumpled body lying in a broken heap on the dark cold ice.
With his spirit broken John tried to pick the shattered pieces of his life back up but somehow this time it just wasn’t there. Depressed and in emotional pain himself John was placed on antidepressants not understanding then that he was actually suffering from post-traumatic stress due to all the physical and emotional blows in his lifetime which he now clearly realizes.
Feeling worse and out of body on the prescribed medications John had enough fighting spirit left in him to flush all the meds, sell all the possessions he had acquired over the last few years along with his home and business and travel west to Vancouver in hopes of starting a new life for himself and his wife Shirley.
John’s entrepreneurial spirit seemed to have been rekindled as he soon set about buying a nice home in North Vancouver and starting up a new Classic car business. However things didn’t go as well as he had planned. Not only did the constant grey skies dampen John’s spirits but the ominous black clouds loomed heavy over the BC economy as well. Eventually within a few short years everything John had worked so hard for all his life was now gone and with it his marriage and all his hopes and dreams…Weary of climbing the ladder only to be cruelly knocked down once too often really hit John hard this time.
By the spring of 1988 John was now trying to pick up the shattered pieces of his life once again and in amongst the ruins he somehow found me….
This is the beginnings of our journey together and the groundwork of our quest was now set….