A Valediction Forbidding Mourning: Trent Hurry

Last weekend I learned that my ex-boyfriend, Trent Hurry, died of a heart ailment at the age of 44-and-a-half.  I was saddened by the news, though we hadn’t spoken in almost 20 years.  While I’m tempted to eulogize him, I’m not sure he would have wanted that.  He wouldn’t think it fair that I got the last word—something he always tried to do.  I think it is fair if I reminisce about him, however, since he was an occasional inspiration in my work.

As far as I know, I was Trent’s first boyfriend in Toronto.  We met in a bar called Chaps in March 1984, not long after he moved here from Prince Edward Island.  He said he was 21, though he later claimed to be 17 until I said I wouldn’t date anyone that young.  His favourite song then was “Send Me An Angel” and apparently he thought I fit the bill.  His name for me among his friends was “Mr. Suspenders,” as I always showed up on the dance floor wearing a tight T-shirt and suspenders.  He approached me one night and we went home together.

Trent had a brilliant mind and artistic interests and we hit it off instantly.  We were both young and randy and fell quickly and passionately in love.  I had just ended a disastrous relationship with a painter and thought I’d found a soul mate.  Trent probably thought so too.

Our relationship was doomed to be tumultuous, however.  As much as we loved one another there were qualities about the other we soon came to despise: as I saw it, Trent had a problem with honesty, while he saw me as judgmental.  On the other hand, there were things we genuinely admired about each another: he thought highly of my artistic talents (photography and composition then as well as writing); I was amazed by his people-skills and story-telling abilities.

Not long after we met, I moved temporarily into his one-room apartment on Sherbourne St.  Then on August 10th (don’t ask me why I remember these dates, I just do) we moved into apartment 2711 on the northwest corner of 40 Gerrard St. E.

We were happy there for a while.  Trent was attending U of T and I was busy being creative.  Some of my strongest early writing dates from there, including my third completed play, The Milkman at the Door, a dark Sam Shepard knock-off that I wrote while attending the Tarragon Theatre’s Young Playwrights Unit.  (I no longer have a copy of it, though it may still exist in the Tarragon archives.)  By then it was 1985 and our relationship had begun to disintegrate.  It showed in the writing.

The play’s theme is emotional abandonment.  The action centres on a young gay couple: the younger man is emotionally unstable and won’t leave the couple’s apartment, lying about it and inventing a fantasy life, while his emotionally rigid partner can’t accept the other’s subterfuge.  The young man becomes increasingly manipulative to the point of violence, while the older man closes off emotionally.

The play ends with the younger character relating a story that Trent once told me.  As a teenager he’d wanted his father to take him fishing.  He left a rowboat sitting on the front lawn without explanation, waiting for his father to ask him.  According to Trent, his father never did.  It was a sad story and, to me, indicative of Trent’s passive-aggressive nature, which I portrayed in the play.  If he disliked or resented the portrayal, he never told me.

After our break-up, I wrote Two Poems for Nelson Trent Hurry.  The first, Turn, is about the break-up itself and was one of my first published poems, while The One in the Mirror looks back on the early happy days of our relationship.  The latter has never been published until now.

I was heart-broken when Trent and I split up.  I’d thought he was the man I would spend my life with, but there was too much anger on both our parts to stay together.  I moved to Europe to pursue a modeling career, which became the basis for my first novel, A Cage of Bones.  While Trent isn’t in the book, his presence is there: near the end of the relationship between the main character, Warden, and his boyfriend, Joshua, the pair has an argument Trent and I once had.  Warden accuses Joshua of never having loved him—something Trent once wrongly accused me of during one of our final arguments.

When I returned from Europe, Trent had a new boyfriend.  Amicably, I helped him pack up the Gerrard St. apartment and we moved out.  We were both angry and hurt, however, though neither would admit it.  We didn’t speak for nearly three years.  Then one night in early ’88, I saw him in a bar called Colbys and made overtures to resume our friendship.

That night was memorable for another reason: Colbys was hosting an amateur strip contest with the winner to be decided by audience response.  There were a couple of serious contenders who might easily have won, except I challenged Trent to help make the least-likely person win: a pudgy, untalented young man who resented our yells and beer bottle-pounding efforts on his behalf.  Or at least he resented them till he was awarded the $150 prize money.

I later converted the incident to an amateur drag contest and used it as the basis for my short story, Queen for a Day, included in the anthology Bent on Writing, and later for my short film, My Heart Belongs To Daddy, which won several awards more than a decade later.

Trent and I stayed friends for a while after that.  I began to harbour hopes of rekindling the relationship, and told him so.  He resisted.  By summer he indicated that he wanted us to remain friends, though he was giving me mixed signals.  I accepted that he wasn’t clear about it and decided not to push the issue, though I’m no longer sure what he really wanted.  Perhaps it was another rowboat-on-the-lawn tactic.  In any case, I began to date another man, thinking the situation unlikely to change.

The man I dated was a morally appalling individual, though he had great sex appeal.  (Every gay man’s nightmare—an attractive, morally loose boyfriend.)  Even Trent admitted he found Steve attractive.  At the same time, he advised me that my new lover wasn’t a nice person and encouraged me to drop him more than once.  What Trent didn’t say was that he’d begun seeing Steve on the side too.

When I finally ended things with Steve, after five punishing months, he left me with the stunning knowledge that the man I considered my closest friend had been two-timing me with my boyfriend.  It stung, though I cared enough about Trent not to retaliate.  I called to let him know that I knew, but said if he wanted to continue the friendship we needed to talk about it.  He hung up on me.  I called a second time and he hung up again.  We never spoke after that.

Never one to pass up dramatic possibilities, I turned the incident into a short story entitled Queen of the Gypsies, recently accepted by an anthology edited by author Caro Soles, and now re-titled Don Juan and the Queen of the Gypsies.  It comes out next year.

Somehow, Trent’s spectre lingered with me over the years.  Last year I wrote a novel called Lake on the Mountain, with a gay father as the central character.  The character’s 14-year-old son Ked is much like the Trent I first met.  Trent was a good mimic and he could imitate a teenage boy convincingly.  Ked has all the rebellious instincts and is just as emotionally vulnerable, but without the wounded attitude Trent carried when I knew him.

More recently, in March, I penned a poem after dreaming I’d been with an ex-lover who had died.  I was quite upset about it at the time, I recall.  It’s probably the first rhymed poem I’ve written since I was a teenager.  Ironically, it’s called Intimations of Mortality.

Maybe Trent and I thought that one day we’d run into one another in a bar and resume chatting, or maybe he didn’t care.  In any case, it never happened.  I know Trent had a career in the film industry and I once saw him do a walk-on cameo, but I never tried to follow up on his life.  In 1998 he dated someone who worked as a television producer in the office next to mine, and he once waltzed through the room to visit his boyfriend, but he ducked out quickly without speaking to me.  I probably wouldn’t have spoken to him then either.

It took me a long time to forgive him—not for cheating on me, but for abandoning me and refusing to talk through the issue.  In fact, I think I only really got over it this year.  Since that time I’ve referred to him as “the one whose name I no longer speak.”  But only recently have I said it without rancor, because it no longer held any sway over me.

When my second novel came out last year, I wondered if he’d seen or read it and, if so, what he thought of it.  For some reason, it mattered to me.  I’m pretty sure he would have approved of The P-Town Murders.  It’s a fun romp.  When we were together, Trent always accused me of not knowing how to have fun.  I think this book would have shown him I’d learned that much, at least.



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