The year after Chiho broke up with me from September 1990 until the summer of 1991, was the loneliest, most difficult and depressing time of my life. Looking back, I think I may have been suffering from situational depression, as I was never in a good mood and my only relief came from going out to karaoke bars, getting drunk and belting out tunes. However, one night in particular just took the cake as being my lowest point ever – a depth that I have not sunk to since.
Several months before this, I would sometimes meet Chiho for platonic dates – or at least, that was what I told her they were. The truth though, is that I was hoping that I could eventually win her over. Looking back, I cannot imagine what I was thinking: Chiho was clearly not interested in me on a romantic level, and I don’t think that the language barrier was the sole reason. Of course, it wasn’t – it either had everything to do with my being on the spectrum, or plain just not her type. It’s just that it took two or three weeks for her to figure out that I wasn’t what she was looking for in a boyfriend. I had tried on several occasions during these dates to make advances towards her and to otherwise convince her to get back together. She of course refused every time, much to my despair. However, I did continue to see her on these dates.
One place that she took me on one of these dates was a Japanese restaurant on the second floor of a building on Alberni Street in downtown Vancouver, in the heart of the tourist district. It doesn’t exist anymore, but it was in business for a very long time. It was one of the best Japanese restaurants in Vancouver and you could instantly sense this the moment you walked in and saw that the clientele was almost exclusively Japanese. It was one of the few restaurants that had a Robata grill that prepared the most delicious grilled mackerel and grilled asparagus wrapped in beef that you’ve ever tasted. This stuff literally melted in your mouth. It was manned by two senior sushi chefs who were still there 12 years later, when I went back once before Kay and I moved to New Brunswick. Chiho took me here because she said it was one of the best places to get sushi and she really enjoyed the true Japanese sushi: the stuff with cod roe on top, or eel, or sashimi. None of this California roll business with her – although this place did make great California roll.
Anyway, there was a waitress who worked there that I found strikingly beautiful and friendly. I was just getting to the point where I was beginning to accept that Chiho and I would never be more than friends and so I was beginning to look afield for other potential girlfriends. In retrospect, this was a stage of my life where being alone was terrifying to me and I was grasping at straws to avoid having to be alone in my own skin. Of course, I had no idea that I was on the spectrum at this time and people generally had no idea either – all they knew was that I was “weird”. So being alone between the ages of 19 and 20 was really, really painful for me because my perception, from watching what other people were doing and experiencing during this time was that I SHOULD have a girlfriend and other friends. I SHOULD have someplace to be after work on a Friday night. It was under the weight of those “shoulds” that my psyche collapsed into an abyss of depression.
After that first trip with Chiho to the restaurant, and that first time that I met Nanae, I kept going there for dinner and of course being served by her. She was always very friendly and always stopped to make conversation. This brings me to what is probably the most definitive trait of us Aspies: our mind blindness. It has many facets, but one of them is we often completely misinterpret the significance of human behavior and body language. Those of us who are trained to behave properly in social situations learn to look for appropriate cues to judge a situation, but our judgement is often completely off. In this situation, I completely failed to realize that Nanae was only being friendly towards me because it was part of her job to be. She had not given me any clear cut signals that she could be interested in seeing me outside work. However, one day she did tell me that she was having a birthday party at her apartment and invited me to come. She said for me to come around 10 at night (it was a Friday) and gave me her address. I had already made advances at her before this and was rebuffed, so I was naturally wondering if she had changed her mind. See? This is what I am talking about. We aspies are very black and white in our thinking. To me this invitation had to have a significance that went past a casual invite to a party and it never occurred to me that Nanae might have other reasons for inviting me there, but it would become apparent later.
I worked on my stamps that afternoon at home and then a good 3 hours before I was due to show up at Nanae’s place I took a shower and got dressed up in my best clothes. Then I headed downtown for dinner and a few drinks before 10. I was already on my way to getting drunk when 10 rolled around, but I could still pass for relatively sober. I went to the address in the West End (where many of the young Japanese girls who would visit Vancouver on their yearly sojourns would often live) and rang the downstairs buzzer. I was let in and made my way upstairs. Once there, I found her apartment and knocked on the door. Nanae greeted me with a smile and ushered me to sit at her kitchen table, where there were four or five other young Japanese people seated. I can’t fully remember the breakdown between males and females, for reasons that will soon become abundantly clear, but they were all drinking beer. Nanae offered me one, I think it was Heineken. The other people at the table were keen to talk to me as I drank and got more and more drunk. For much of the time they were passing around a camera and taking pictures of me. I was flattered by this attention, again completely failing to recognize that I was essentially their source of entertainment for the evening.
Around 11:30 the doorbell rang. I was in the chair closest to the door, so I got up to answer it. Much to my surprise, when I opened the door, it was Chiho, looking very dressed up and beautiful. Almost immediately I began to feel uncomfortable I still wanted her so badly, I thought. But I knew I couldn’t have her and I couldn’t have Nanae either. It seemed like I could never have anyone. So my mood began to descend into self-pity as I continued to drink with the others. The dynamic changed a bit once Chiho was there but I tried to act relatively normal. Shortly after Chiho sat down at the table, my 4th or 5th beer had run out and Nanae bought out a large bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. To this point, I was unaware of the expression: “Wine before beer in the clear. Beer before liquor, never been sicker”. I would learn about it first hand though in a big way. I accepted a glass and Nanae got four small porcelain sake cups out of a cupboard. She poured a cup for me to the brim and I drank it, much the way I was drinking my beer. I would drink four of those cups full of straight up Crown Royal before the night was out. I don’t know how much that was exactly, but I would guess now that each sake cup was probably a good half cup. So I drank 2 cups of Crown Royal – about 500 ml, or 16 ounces. Chiho had tried a couple of times to persuade me not to have more, but I just dismissed her concern and kept going.
Around 1:30 am, Nanae indicated it was time for everyone to leave. I stumbled out towards the bank of elevators. Chiho begged me to come with her to get a ride home, but I declined her offer, insisting that I would be fine on my own. I of course was starting to develop other ideas by now. One of the side effects to being drunk for me was that I did not want the party or evening to end. It was a horribly acute feeling that once started would not leave me alone until I passed out from the alcohol, or sheer exhaustion. Even in this falling-down-drunk state, I still felt that I had more in me and in my mind I still had at least another hour to grab another drink somewhere. Never mind that I had to be at work for 8:30 the following morning – I just wasn’t thinking clearly by this point.
I managed to stumble into Shenanigan’s on Robson St. , about a block away, and grab a drink before they closed and as they were ushering everybody out, I was finally beginning to accept the evening was well and truly over – a sinking realization. It was now long past the point where the last busses had stopped running, so I began the long walk up Robson Street, to Hastings Street, and then up Hastings toward Sperling Ave., where I rented a small basement suite. Hastings is the main east-west street that traverses the northernmost end of the city that is south of the North Shore (a large inlet, Burrard Inlet separates North Vancouver from Vancouver proper). The whole trip was probably between about 6 and 8km in total, but at that time of night it was a very long walk. I got as far as about a block and a half past Main St. heading east (about 1 km), when I began to notice all the street prostitutes posing provocatively. Slowly, but surely, my lust was awakened, and it grew with every step I took on the pavement. Unfortunately for me, I actually did happen to have money on me, so I was especially vulnerable. I can’t remember exactly where it happened along Hastings, but a very slender, dark haired girl approached me and offered me the “works” for $60. I accepted and followed her back to her place – a small, dilapidated house. Almost as soon as I entered the house everything went black.
The first thing I saw when I awoke was the long, thin trail of red, running along an arm. As I adjusted my eyesight to the immensely dingy lighting, I could see the girl crouching and hoisting her arm up by a long rubber hose held in place by her teeth, while she was injecting herself with a needle held in her other hand. Oh My God! I thought. “I just had sex with a drug addicted hooker”. I sat up and surveyed my surroundings – one of those dirty blue and white striped mattresses with the little pinstripes – like the kind you would see on beds from the 19th century; dirty walls and filth on the floors. I got up and put my pants on and said “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go”. The woman didn’t even look up as I calmly walked out of there, past two or three junkie guys who were standing in the main hall. As soon as I cleared the doorway, I ran. I ran to the nearest quiet place I could find, sat down and began sobbing at what I had just done. Even in my very drunken state, I knew, just knew that I couldn’t possibly sink any lower. To this day I still don’t know what I actually did with that prostitute: for all I know, it could have been nothing at all. It is 30-60 minutes of my life that I can never get back.
By now, it was 4 am. There was no point in going home, since I would have to get up and head out to work shortly after. So I walked to 420 West Pender St. where the Weeda Stamps was, where I worked – about 15 min away and once I got there, I headed to the back of the building. There was a graveled area by the back door, which was relatively clean. I buttoned my long, navy blue trench coat up all the way over my clothes and lay down on the gravel to try to get some sleep. I set my watch alarm to go off at 7:30, so that I would have some time to freshen up before work.
The next thing I knew my watch alarm went off and I awoke to the most acute pain in my abdomen and torso that I had ever experienced. I felt as if I had been kicked by hard boots while I was on the ground. I had an ear-splitting headache and a completely dry and pasty mouth. I wanted to die. I was sure that I must be dying. I couldn’t even imagine how I was going to get through the day. I shuffled off to the café next door and ordered a cup of black coffee to try and jolt my system into functioning at least somewhat normally. I lit a menthol cigarette. These two things were not helping me” toxins on top of toxins. But they made me feel better – at least for a minute while I attempted to muster up the strength to go into work. After I sat there for about half an hour, I went to the washroom to attempt to straighten up and at least look somewhat presentable. I could barely walk without groaning, but I went into work. Chris and Bev were by now, tired of seeing me hung over and this time Chris specifically told me that I needed to get a handle on this. I don’t know how I did it, but I did manage to get my work done and serve the customers throughout the day. All I wanted to do was go home and go to bed.
I eventually went home and stopped at the corner store along the way and picked up two large bottles of 7-up to ease my stomach. I also thought that drinking them would help with my hangover. I arrived home at about 6 pm on the Saturday and went straight to bed. I stayed there until the morning on Monday when it was time to go back to work. By Sunday evening the hangover began to subside, but it was easily the longest and worst hangover I have ever had in living memory and while I lay there in bed, my mind kept racing. All I could think of was how I needed to change things drastically, or I wouldn’t make it to 30. Little did I know that in only two months, I would meet the woman who was to become my first wife, and she would be my salvation from this pitiful existence that I led to this point.