The title is melodramatic, I realize this, but it’s true. I’ve done bad things, had worse things done to me, and had nights that were a lot harder to deal with at the time, but this is the night I always come back to. It’s the night that I feel worst about, and the night I regard as my biggest failure. I had the chance to prevent the world from getting a bit worse, but instead I did nothing.
I wish I could remember more of it, but since I didn’t think much about it at the time, the date, year, and exact participants have faded from memory, taking many of the details with them. I remember the place; I remember the yellow Bad Brains t-shirt; I remember the chill autumn air; I remember things starting with a laugh; I remember yelling; I remember being yelled at; I remember being exasperated and giving up. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve realized how poorly I feel about it.
That was the night that I failed myself, and failed to stick up for what I knew, and still know, to be right. It was the night where I gave someone a pass when the most definitely did not deserve it. Because I didn’t do what I knew to be right, someone got beat up and robbed. I’m not sure to what extent he was beaten, honestly I don’t want to know. The ringleader of the whole thing is a sociopath at the best of times, what he was capable of when drunken violence was running the show and there was nobody to stop him is not something I want to think about.
It was fall, and for some reason there was a matinee at the Horseshoe in the Exchange district in Winnipeg, long since replaced by a Giant Tiger. The bands had all finished, we were hanging around, drinking cheap beer, smoking cigarettes, and making fun of the ravers that had started to show up for the night’s electro-disco-dance party.
The man who would become my best friend in the coming years had wandered off and hadn’t been seen in a while, and the group had decided it was time to go. Off I went in search of him, after grabbing another beer for the road I walked into the bathroom. Walking in I saw a set of feet, and a pair of knees in the gap between the freshly cleaned floor and the bottom of the stall door. I walked into the adjacent stall, hopped up on the toilet and looked down to find one of the aforementioned ravers going down on my friend. Cool, he’s getting a BJ, we’ll be off soon. I laughed, pissed and walked out.
“He’s getting head in the bathroom.” I told the group with a laugh and proceeded to drink my beer while killing time.
“Who’s giving him head?”
“I dunno, some raver dude.”
Mixed laughter, a few jeers, and one silent stare. The silent stare slowly turned into a face rife with disgust, before erupting into a homophobic rant about how fucked up that was and how that couldn’t happen. Storming into the bathroom he kicked open the door and began yelling.
Things blur, nothing physical happened but we ended up leaving, and I was really glad to be out of there. Nothing much was said, we bought a case of beer and headed back to a nearby friend’s apartment.
After a few beers, the homophobic rants started again, how could you let that happen, what did he do to you, why didn’t you get someone to help? A brutal tirade insisting that what happened must’ve been because the raver tricked our friend into it. Not once did I, or anyone else, say anything along the lines of maybe our friend was happy to be getting head from some raver boy in the bathroom. I did tell him to shut up, drop it, ignore it, who gives a shit, so what he got a blow job from a guy, and for a while that did quiet him down.
The conversation ebbed and flowed, other things were spoken about: records, girls, the approaching winter, and more records. Sullen and angry, the instigator sat there, ignoring all conversation and occasionally piping in to ask some angry question about how anyone could have allowed that horrible thing to happen, how could any man let another man go down on them and the like. Things devolved from there, the vitriol becoming more and more focused on violence and retribution for this slight to our friend’s honour.
Eventually conversation about other topics ceased, and the group dropped quiet as the hatred ripened. The other reluctant voices stopped responding, my voice was ignored, and talk turned to going and getting him back. Once this line of reason started, I protested, told everyone how fucked up it was, told them they were being idiots, screamed a bit about how this was a fucked up thing to do, and then gave up, sat down, and told them I’d have no part of it. The instigator grabbed my hat for a disguise, and they made for the door.
Four of us stayed while three left: The instigator, the recipient and the person whose apartment it was.
Drunken and angry was the way we all were back then, but it was always directed at people who’d attacked us. It wasn’t ever directed at someone who’d done nothing to harm us. There were no insults hurled at us, no bottles tossed, no pushing, just two people getting down in the bathroom. This was complete unprovoked, reprehensible, hatred and prejudice fueled violence, and I couldn’t understand how it was happening.
After a tense twenty minutes at the apartment, filled with awkward talking about how fucked up the situation was, and a million cigarettes smoked, the door opened and in walked the three with a man’s wallet and watch, laughing victoriously. They’d kicked the shit out of the dirty faggot that had made a mess of everything, and put things back to right.
After a few more admonishments about the gravity of their actions, the matter was dropped, and the night went on.
I’d like to say that I left, that I never spoke to the instigator after that night, but regretfully, I did. I stayed awkward friends with him for a few more years, things were much more strained, and he never forgot how I stood up for the piece of garbage human being he hated so much for giving our friend a blow job. Lots of insults about how I must be gay were tossed at me by him over the next years, but the matter was hushed and nobody really ever spoke about it again.
I’ve replayed the night over in my head hundreds of times: what could I have done differently; why did I say anything at the beginning; why didn’t I smash a bottle over the instigators head and show that that kind of thing wasn’t acceptable? It’s the last one that I don’t understand not happening. Over the years I’d fight him several times, over things that mattered much much less, like taking a photograph of him when he wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t afraid of punching someone when the situation warranted it, and this situation surely warranted it. But sadly, when it really mattered, I didn’t actually stick to my principles, and for years after didn’t do anything to rectify that lapse.
The depth of how much this has weighed on me didn’t really sink in until a year or two ago, when I realized how much I regretted not stopping things before we left the bar. Sure, I said some things I hoped would prevent anything from happening, but when it came down to it, that night, I did nothing. Or at least not enough.
In the years after that, we beat up neo-nazi skinheads, other people that had gone out gay bashing, men that had done bad things to ladies that we knew, people that stole from bands and got into a hundred other fights that I feel no remorse for. We never talked about the night, the instigator threw around a hundred threats, nobody could ever tell anyone what happened in the bathroom, nobody could say anything about the horror that happened in the club. In the end everyone stayed silent, but his threats had nothing to do with why I never talked about it. I was too scared about the secret getting out to want to say anything to anyone. Not the secret of what happened in the bathroom, but what happened afterwards.
Two of them knew what they were doing was wrong; I knew that not acting was wrong. It’s been said by better men than I that in order for evil to triumph all that is required is that good people sit back and do nothing. That night was the clearest example of that I’ve ever experienced. It is a dark spot of sorrow that sticks out against all the other shitty things I’ve done, all the other things I’ve felt bad for, still feel bad for. It’s my biggest regret, and something I very much doubt I’ll ever forgive myself for.