I attended Saint Frederick Collegiate Vocational Institute from September 2018 to June 2020.
It was a high school and middle school in the small city of Romanborough, in southern Ontario.
I attended for grade ten and eleven.
These are the memories I have of the people I met there before the incident happened.
In my first term of grade ten, I took English, science, civics/careers and art.
Right from the beginning I could tell it was a pretty progressive school. There was the pride flag flying right outside the main entrance below the national flag. There was an LGBT-exclusive support group on the second floor. In the art room, one entire side of the wall was coated in the pride colours. There were some posters plastered across the school for an elective course, ‘Indigenous genocide in film’. There was also this big mural on the wall, in the hall I passed through on my way to civics class. It was a painting of the globe, with multiracial hands all wearing pride-coloured bracelets touching it, with words like, ‘love’, ‘peace’ and ‘acceptance’ all floating around it. That was just what I saw at first glance.
In English class, the first book we read was To Kill a Mockingbird, which was obviously about historical racism, so I guess that also added to it. It was also in English class that I met Kayla, the girl who sat next to me. We got along well enough from the start, and I think she figured I was smart because I always scored well on all the little quizzes we often did. She had some kind of bipolar disorder or something similar – I can’t remember exactly what – and she was on medical marijuana for it. When weed was legalised in October that year, I joked to her about how she no longer needed medical permission to smoke. She laughed at that and said it was true. Except it wasn’t technically true because we were still underage. But I guess it still made sense just as a joke.
I already had something of a group of friends on the first day. My long-time best friend Jocelyn – who had been going to this school two years before me – introduced me to the friends she had made along the way: Katelyn – whom I had already met a couple times – Patrick, her gay best friend who was the most stereotypically gay dude I have ever met – and Alex, who was nonbinary but didn’t mind being called a she, and was always drawing something in her sketchbook.
They were all decent enough, but I really did want to expand my base a bit. I did not identify as LGBT and it was difficult relating to the new woke mentality Joce and the others had all taken on. Jocelyn herself was bisexual and had a thing for labelling anyone she didn’t like as some form of bigot. One time I ran into this kid named Noah and some of his buddies in cafeteria; we mused to each other about how shitty the food they served us was, and we ended up getting each other’s Instagram accounts. When I told Joce about this, she went off at me about how Noah was a racist and a homophobe and I shouldn’t talk to him, even though she couldn’t provide any concrete proof that he was a bigot when I asked her to.
That just made me want to get to know Noah and his crew even more.
It wasn’t as hard as I thought, because as it turned out, Noah and some of his friends were already in my science class, and I would always see them all get together during dismissal and head off to lunch as a group. One day I decided to just drop all pretenses and head off with them. I found them get together in the hall right outside the library, and I decided to just approach them and see what was up. I had already talked to Noah a couple times and he seemed cool enough, so I didn’t feel too terrified about asking to sit with him. Surprisingly enough he said yes, and the others seemed not to have a problem with it either. I ended up next to Noah and his seemingly best friend, Tyler. I got to talking with Tyler, and we ended up showing each other funny memes we had found on Reddit. The group convo eventually turned into discussing what dictators we would revive from the dead if given the chance. I made some joke about using Lenin’s blood to turn Tim Hortons coffee communist red, and that made Tyler spit out his drink in a fit of laughter. So, I felt down with the crew pretty quickly.
In class though, I wasn’t as much of a social butterfly. I just came in, did my work, answered the teacher if I felt confident about it, and moved on to the next one. Unless I was sitting near a friend, I was otherwise dead silent. Art class in particular was difficult. To my pleasant disappointment, it was almost entirely female, and the projects we did didn’t exactly pique my interest. Lots of stuff involving knitting and beads and just generally what I felt to be girly crap. I did sit across from this one other guy though; although we didn’t speak to each other for a while, I felt that there was a mutual understanding between us that this place sucked.
Eventually though, the guy across from me did begin to speak. In October 2018, the teacher’s unions weren’t getting along with the Conservative government in Ontario, and they were threatening to strike. We all got these little forms one Friday saying we might not have school on Monday because of it. We had a major art project due that Monday and I wasn’t finished it, and from observing the other guy in class I could tell he wasn’t either. I joked to him about how this would give us an excuse to slack off over the weekend, and he ended about laughing and joking along.
Turns out his name was Norman, and somewhere down the line I learned that he had Asperger's, which was why he didn’t talk much unless prompted to. But over time we learned that we had a pretty similar, deep-seated edgy sense of humour, and we would joke to each other about pretty terrible things when we felt that no one else was paying attention. He kind of became my new outlet for some of the frustrations I had about my life in general for the next few months, because he quite literally was not offended or even phased by anything I said around him.
My favourite class undoubtedly was science. I wasn’t even a huge fan of science and it wasn’t my strongest subject, but I loved the teacher I had, Mrs. Grant. She had the kind of no-nonsense, tough-loving attitude I admired, especially in women. She never tried to coddle us on anything like the other teachers did, and she genuinely seemed to care about getting all of us to succeed in life. She wanted us to be organised, disciplined young pupils and there was something quite endearing about that. I always handed my homework in on time for her, and I never tried to question or challenge her on anything. She was also a lesbian, as I learned from the occasional mentions she made of her wife. But she never made her sexuality into anything more than it was – a trivial aspect of her character – and I respected that.
Halloween was a turning point for my life at Saint Frederick. There was this one kid I knew in English class named SJ, and I could’ve sworn he was gay with how effeminate and flamboyant he was. But we had sort of talked to each other in class and for whatever reason, he personally invited me to this Halloween get-together at a place called Smiggy’s downtown. I had been to Smiggy’s before and it was a pretty cool place. You could choose from a wide assortment of video games and consoles to play with one of the two TVs downstairs, but you had to buy a drink before you did. They also sold some anime merch and they had a TV on the ground floor that was always playing an anime with subtitles.
I was still generally an introvert who wasn’t used to large crowds, but I guess I just wanted to be polite, so I agreed to SJ’s offer before I even really knew what it entailed. But I pushed myself to do it. At around 7:00pm I headed out – homework not done – and made it over to Smiggy’s, about a fifteen-minute walk from my home. I didn’t have an actual costume, so I just threw on a yellow sweatshirt and black pants and pretended I was Jerry from Bee Movie, as a funny little meme.
When I got to Smiggy’s, I realised it was a lot less of a party and more of just a get-together. The couches in on the ground level were filled up with people talking and watching the anime Psycho Pass, and some others were trying on some of the anime shirts. I bought an orange Fanta and set about trying to find where SJ and some of his friends were; they all seemed to be downstairs. As I was heading for the stairs, I bumped into this guy in some kind of demon costume. I jokingly called him handsome, and he called me a ‘gayfag’ in return. So, there were also some less than progressive goers of Saint Frederick, it seemed.
What probably didn’t help his response, though, was that I had chosen to record everything I was seeing. I never considered myself a filmmaker, but whenever I found something interesting happening before me, I would always take out my phone and try to record it. I felt this Halloween get-together was significant enough to fit that criterion, so I had just been recording the whole room for a couple of minutes at that point. The demon guy probably didn’t like that I had focused my camera right on him as I called him handsome, so that could’ve motivated the ‘gayfag’ response.
I took a break from recording as I went downstairs, and sure enough, SJ and some of his friends were down there in front of the larger TV. They weren’t playing any games, just sitting on the couches, chatting and having their drinks. SJ got up and greeted me the second he saw me come down, and that did make me feel a bit better after having just been called a gayfag. He asked what I was, and I said was Jerry from Bee Movie, and that made him and the others laugh. He then had me actually sit down with the gang, and although I didn’t say much the whole time, I felt at peace. I hardly knew anyone beside Jocelyn just a couple months ago and I felt like I was starting to get the hang of things already.
Turns out, he wasn’t gay at all. He sat next to his girlfriend the whole time and they were pretty touchy with each other. That was a bit of a revelation to see.
Eventually the group got up to leave, and I went with them. When we did go upstairs, there was some kind of Super Smash Bros tournament going on between two guys in evil scientist costumes, so I got out my phone to record it. When one of them won the match, the other guy literally threw his controller on the ground in anger, and the owner came over and scolded him for it. I caught the whole thing on camera, and when I finished recording, some dude in a vampire costume came up to me said, “You’re the guy who was recording everything before, right?”
I simply said, “Yeah that’s me.”
He nodded and said, “I think I know you! I walk by you at your locker almost every day.”
“Oh, cool.” I told him my name.
“Cool! I’m Terrance. What are you, anyways?”
“I’m Jerry from Bee Movie. Got the yellow and black and all that.”
That made Terrance laugh. “Alright man. Well, have a good night!”
“Yeah. You too.”
The next day at school, Terrance walked by my locker and reached out for a high-five. I gave one back. That was pretty much a daily routine for us from then on.