Front Line, commentary by R William Standish at

Front Line

Front Line

written by: R William Standish


“It’s dark inside my skin, you promised to be my light.” This is the text message alert I sent myself today when I set my alarm on my phone. It is a promise I made to myself and I send an inspirational message or a reminder call to action, or sometimes just a thought prompt to myself each day. It is my self administered therapy. One thing that I keep consistent after I read my daily quote is a question, “What can I learn from you today.” This is my call to action and allows me to set the proper tone for the day, not like before. I used to leave my apartment in a neutral mood and allow the attitudes I meet to direct how I feel and then fight my way through the day.

It’s so fuckin stupid to let someone have that much of an effect on me.

I made a pledge to myself a lifetime ago that it has to stop, and this is how I deliver on that. I have never seen myself as much more than a work in progress, but the workers don’t show up every day and sometimes they’re late, and honestly, they never stay after quitting time. I realized I had a problem when I clued into one thing that was holding me back, I was negotiating with myself to find ways to convince myself that I had to go out, go to work and live. Anxiety and panic attacks take me prisoner and I was letting it get away from me.

Such a reflective epiphany; I am alone so the only one that is here to help me is me, the same person that was here yesterday, the only person that has always been here. How do I treat this person? Clarity comes at a price, understanding it, is one thing but taking the medicine of your own advice has two problems, the buy-in, evaluating if the patient is worth saving. Once you know you need to be saved only you can decide how. This greets my quiet morning breakfast, a simple strong coffee, and a bowl of cereal that I intend to force down for the sake of having at least something, not the coffee; I love coffee, I mean the cereal. The trick is deciding to approach the day given and convince my feet to take me there. My mind has become well versed in creating physical barriers that keep me inside this cave.

The taste of sour milk in stale cereal, fuck; not at all what I had in mind. But Christ, a very powerful prompt. Mental time travel actually. I haven’t thought about those days for a long time. The memory of sour milk takes me back to my childhood. It’s hard to decide if it’s better than the alternative, powdered milk; but both are triggers from the same gun that fires its rude awakening right down my throat. Now that I think about it, powdered milk has a hollow taste with a lasting residue to scrape against your teeth, so there is no clear winner here. Either way, it was the taste of hard times; real hard times, the only thing missing from this morning’s taste trigger was a distinct hint of smoke.

A disturbing cause for reflection. This trigger is enough to shut me down for days. Some places in your past are meant to be left behind, this time, the memory was one of those. No good came from it, sure lessons can be learned anywhere but no one chooses to learn the really bad ones, you wear them for life like the stench of decay that can’t die. Those are the memories we bury deep in our mental back yard until some fucking animal or child playing there trips over the exposed bones, there is no way to bury them deep enough, fuck I hate me, sometimes. Kill the patient but get the DNR signed first. HA

I have come to learn the value of quiet reflection; this is why we drink coffee right? Always spin it to the positive, quiet reflection is the product of bitter isolation and social withdrawal, there is a world of others living this moment right now like me, but fuck them I don’t care about them, I barely care about me. It would be easier if the enemy was someone I could punch but I am the enemy and want to punch myself but man can I punish myself and do it well. I can force myself to administer experiments and tests on myself and test the limits. How many days can you go without food and feed on your own vomit as you force yourself to keep down what little you sneak? Showering; forget it, how long can you stand to live in the erosion of your own skin? Real self-mutilation takes place inside and the wounds never really heal.

The seeds planted by others have helped this garden to grow. I am the fool that feeds it just enough to keep it alive.

Music; turn on the radio and start to administer my therapy. Self-help only works if you are looking for help. I think I finally am but need to find my approach, a real approach not an online assessment, and a quick solution. Reaching out in the past has shown me that very few people are really able to help. I have so much distrust of others I don’t believe in people that say they have gone through the same things, this sounds like a product on a shelf more than a real personal journey. It always feels like taking a prescription.

Before I can be saved I need to figure out who I am, or who I wish to be and is that worth the effort. Until I believe in myself no one’s advice or help will make a real difference. This is where I need to start.

Your life is your book to write, so how many chapters do you want to skip, and do you want to rush to the end? Only an idiot sprints through a marathon. I was that creature, and this became my habit. There are always lots of reasons to run, I have learned that the worst type is when you run but never leave, it’s a lack of self-commitment. Again, that’s the one the cuts from the inside and heals slowly.

The self sent morning texts do help and remind me that if you see a glass half empty or a glass half full, regardless, it is half. The rest is what you make it.

There is power in little details and washing your face or brushing your teeth can jumpstart a positive outlook. When I feel the onset of my enemy approaching I have to remind myself that even a small simple task completed is enough to defeat the panic sometimes. Any gesture I do for myself instantly gives value to me, it is the perfect instant click response we are all programmed to with every part of the outside world we lie to and hide from. Garbage it what we allow to decay and throw away, just wash and win is how it begins. I am trying this and selling myself to myself. Who knows if it will be the answers I need.

Sometimes I even talk about myself out loud in the third person so that I can separate me, from me, and care about how I feel. There are lots of ways to trick myself into giving a shit about myself, sometimes it works and sometimes not so much. But it did help me make a list of success strategies. So no matter what it is a start and I think this is what self-help is, finding a way to convince the toughest critic that they need your help. Yourself.

What is it like to live as an apology? I think it’s a lot of things.

Mostly it’s finding enough time to realize it and turn it into something worth living without needing to apologize for and sharing. I have to learn that sharing isn’t giving if it was then it would be called giving; simple can be that simple. I don’t know if I ever achieved even the easiest part of that. I think back to how I was built, what came together to give me that precious start. Sarcastically speaking.

That taste trigger, man; I remember times were very tough, simple wasn’t simple, the simple things are a struggle when simple supports don’t exist for you. The structure cannot exist without support, easy right?

Memories are the mind’s first weapon, we live to experience things, store the moments and results and this is what structure we should be relying on to build from, it’s there as a backup because most people only live to give advice and never see the real value in it, we bury our past and the game of hide and seek becomes one of forget and bury deep. Over time we lose ourselves because we see that person as a threat and can’t even trust ourselves for our own benefit, we facilitate our own demise.

These are all the thoughts that fight for center stage in my mind as I look in the mirror and expel the fuckin taste of a half-buried past.

I remember spending a birthday in a laundromat, having a bag of cheese popcorn, eating one-third of it, and saving the rest in case someone wanted some, in case there was a chance to share it with others, not realizing this was my birthday gift and the entire party. Times were hard. I remember more than I am brave enough to admit. The shovel has entered the sand. Yeah, I remember that and I remember not caring that my present was a small bag of popcorn, it didn’t matter, nothing was needed, I didn’t care, it never occurred to me to care, one day is like the rest until someone else gave it more meaning than I would have. I had no idea it was even my birthday and had no expectations of what that meant. I survived, I didn’t care, it must have killed my mother inside, this is what it means to live with your eyes wide shut. Wide-open and unaware of what you see.

My Mom was a quiet champion.

She never asked for a handout, as far as I ever knew, and never got one, as far as I ever saw, she never asked for a thank you and never got one either. I saw it, I didn’t understand it but I felt it. Things would have had to improve a lot to just be considered terrible. I remember a few things about my early days, okay maybe way more and for the longest time I felt that I had to be ashamed of my past, it was there to be buried, and was, deep; even now parts of it are hard to remember, or admit to. It formed the person I am embarrassed to be, so hating my beginning is easy.

I remember more than she would prefer me to, memories can be shared and some of those are her scars too. I remember a Christmas tree being a drawing on a wall and ornaments hanging from the ceiling. It was so crude, but I never thought badly about it. I never understood or saw it any other way. If you have nothing to compare it to, then it is perfect as it is.

I was experiencing things and emotions my mind had no way to process, the images I saw were not the same as the ones that existed in her eyes, she saw things through a filter of poverty and shortfalls, failures in the same big picture never to be viewed the same way. This is why the emotional scars don’t heal because time doesn’t allow you to return to fix what you never allow yourself to see as broken, plus moving on is a fresh bandage placed on it and never actually allow it to be repaired. It’s kind of messy inside someone’s honesty. Even messier in denial.

Tell a child they have potential and say nothing more, is hollow praise when they don’t understand what potential is or how it relates to expectation. The basis of understanding is never translated so the message may never be received or understood, the truth of potential is a denial of real confirmation of a person’s skill set, call it out for what it is and don’t present it with a wide brush and pretend it’s a compliment, most people never know what they are looking at as it is.

I remember playing hockey. It’s Canada and most of us play hockey. There were some great memories, at first, I didn’t understand the rules or positions, but liked it. Learning to skate was tough. It takes practice and an understanding of how to stand up and move, start, stop, and go backward, then do it with speed, learn how to use the edges of the thin blades. Everyone starts as an ankle burner and does the shuffle. I understand the mechanics of how to skate and how to be fast, but no one ever told me to use my knees in the process so it was all in the hips. I can take myself back there any time I need to run, even now. I remember it so well, I can go back and see myself, who I was before, it’s a chance to live it again, through a different filter but not able to change it, it’s a strange ability to reach back and experience it without touch, but I am able to take away knowledge, my own past tells me new stories all the time. Every memory has a downside. The ones that were part of it all are gone never now you stopped by.

Varsity Stadium and the Toronto Toro’s.

Dragging my equipment into the arena, every detail is still alive in my memory. Walking through the parking lot from the subway station, into the gate beneath the seats, the concrete pillars, the smells, even the color of the two-person wooden seats that lifted up with the black rot iron frames. Every detail still lives.

We would go and look for the dressing room, assignment, or the coach, he would always be looking for the key. Then I would go to the equipment room to get what I needed, it was like winning or losing a lottery, I was a goalie almost exclusively, I liked playing and wanted to play out as a center or on the wing at least sometimes and not always be just the goalie, it was a negotiation with the coach every game, not sure why, I think it was because I wasn’t a great skater, maybe I was or was getting better, not sure, I really don’t know. This was a time way before Tim-Bits hockey and soccer existed but was the same idea as I grew to learn.

The challenge for me was that there were times when I had different equipment and would have a right-handed catcher one time and the next game had a left-handed catcher, to me it never mattered I could play and catch pucks with either. I never realized that I was ambidextrous and never knew it was an advantage in sports like a switch hitter, I could write and draw and even paint not just play some sports from the left or right.

For me, that’s how hockey started. I think I was four or close to it, I actually got pretty good, and being ambidextrous was a huge advantage that would have served me well in any sport. There is no way to ever know what could have been, it would be the guess of a dreamer.

One moment, a lasting memory of something I can’t forget; a gesture. After one of my games, the team won and I played well, I got another shutout. I had a lot of those, I think I set a record for them in a single season. We were leaving and walking through the parking lot and three men approached me and started talking to me about hockey. I didn’t realize that my mom wasn’t with me. We moved over to one of the cars parked there, one of them opened the trunk of his car and took out a goaltenders stick. It was a real one, a Sherwood, it had Ken Dryden’s name on it, it was his stick.

These men were from the Montreal Canadians. I was so impressed, Ken Dryden was the best goalie there was, best ever in my mind, bigger than life. I was blown away and honored and very surprised. They had watched me play and told me that they had seen me before and will keep watching and never quit. This is why hockey is part of us the way it is because people like that and the NHL reaches out to us. My enthusiasm wasn’t initially shared, I guess three men and an open truck could send a strange message my mom couldn’t see in a dimly lit parking lot in a huge city.

So to my mom the champion, thank you. Not even one day was easy or without a struggle.

Over my ruined morning coffee, I catch myself talking out loud, yeah I am talking to myself, there’s no one here and it’s a habit from when I was growing up, I always did it for two reasons, because it made a huge problem smaller, by saying it out loud it instantly has scale, and talking it out loud makes it more real, and then I can see it for what it is and begin to break it down, my coping system a part of my success strategies, 9 and counting. It’s important for me to know what imprisons me with isolation, parole begins when you let yourself in, or out I guess.

Excuses are a disguise, so this is where I look first when I self analyze.

Anyway back to sour milk memories. I don’t like school, that’s to say I didn’t, not until College. I was barely average as a student, “just get a pass”, that was the pep talk, it wasn’t even a pep talk it was what was said to get me past a moment and keep me moving, but the only one I ever got, encouragement was never a part of my younger years growing up. There was no time to have help with homework and no real reason to care. From where I was sitting learning wasn’t important and had no use from where I lived.

The take away from day one was to keep your head down and survive, no understanding of how or why, and no support to feel enabled to have real goals and a way to achieve. It was like I was told without any words that I will be a ditch digger because someone has to be. I can see where it came from, my world was fast fry, simple ten-minute meals every part of what I saw was a rush to get through things. I never understood good times and how time would fly past the moments, in my life it had only one speed and it was shitty all the time. So school was an enemy and nothing about it embraced me, I had no idea how to approach it and accept whatever knowledge it had. Moving from place to place was how the chapters of my life turned the pages, it was that simple. Everything about my life was the reason I could never feel I had a place anywhere. From school supplies to my clothes, to my hair cut. The only place was out of place. This is the breading ground for rebellion. That seemed to be the easiest solution,

I had given up on me. The school didn’t represent me. Dotting eyes and crossing “T”’s meant nothing when the kids in my neighborhood are stealing and committing crimes to eat and live, I mean who gives a shit when compared to the real world and book lessons. No way the two worlds related to each other, fuck even I could figure that part out.

If we only hear what we want, then shouldn’t we be more aware of what we say? Could have been worse. I saw a lot of ways that worse happened on a daily basis. So I say that from experience not because it sounds so profound. So many times I saw that the truth was strange and harder to take than fiction so there’s no point to lie just to keep it interesting. The more I saw only told me I would need a bigger shovel and more places to bury the shit I witnessed.

School teaches more than the shit you learn from lesson plans and books. Classrooms are not the only venue. School is a way to find our place and put a value to our life, it’s a sorting factory that dictates learning through memorization based on outdated curriculum and standards. Experts call it an impressionable time but never explain why or more to the point, how to navigate and understand all of it. What does it really prepare us for? Where does it fail?

I’m instantly transported back to that time before the world gave out awards for participation or anything past 3rd place. Winning was a simple concept, a competition based on the finish not by standing on the start line. There was no political correctness overload applied to any misunderstanding or intentions. It’s a hard balance to offer special interest with an emerging progressive society. This is how it was and we are allowed to hate it and change it and we have. But in doing so I wonder if over acceptance became blurred by fake entitlement, maybe, our world has gone from exploration to click expectation. The planet is now so small.

Have we always had LGBTQ- just never an acronym for it? I really wonder when humanity would have recognized our need to express our gender preference and desire for same-sex relationships, and decided that it was against God, any God that we are an image of. I find it strange for societies to forbid it and historically it has been seen as evil, so that tells me it has a long and well-documented past, history can live under the carpets too. How can we overlook our exploration of gender preferences, it appears at our core.

Social influencers represent power by every post they puke up online, they are self-promoting and perpetuate self-indulgence and take center stage to find clickbait and headline chase for selfish gains. People that don’t even read the fine print give them likes and never see the message, no one cares. Swipe right-away and move on. Our online life is whatever we want whenever we want and is all the truth you are willing to tell. There you can lie and steal, create any identity, and we do, and even then we complain about others’ truths. Still, no one is happy.

Back then, when I was growing up finding things to be grateful for, good things, were in short supply. Dropped in the middle of a social war zone by the stream of circumstance makes for inescapable misery. We moved a lot. The anxiety of fitting in and the stress of constant change became the rhythm of my everyday.

I always assumed that the happiest and most successful people were discovered by their talents early, could be unless life disguises what your true talents are, or circumstances make identifying them near impossible. It may take decades to allow yourself to learn what they are and for the damage of ignorance and neglect be corrected, if time permits. I knew someone who told me that my greatness will find me, sometimes it takes longer, but that I will be unable to hide. Maybe she was right, maybe not, but I have a special love for her still and always will. Her words were inspiring but also the birth of hope, a flashlight I carry with me. It’s funny because of the impact she had however brief is something she will never know.

I taught myself to sow and repair rips in my jeans, the same ones we have paid extra for now. I would stay up late in secret to try to make them look as good as I could, I was good at making it worse, it took practice and the mistakes were just another reason to be single out, or bully someone. Embarrassment and pain taught me that we all get bullied, it’s learned and bullies were bullied too, we are born with a fear of loud noises and falling everything else is through experience and interaction. Kids could always tell when you had no money, they didn’t need labels, the social quality of disadvantage is the label. I would stay up late to fix them so I had something to wear the next day, even for clothes that don’t fit, I wear track pants underneath my jeans so they fit a little better.

This school was central to the area, sort of like a neutral territory surrounded by single-family residential homes, except for the north end. That was our end and resembled a military or prison-style complex bordered by a huge ravine and subway tracks. The school, dividing them from us. The North was more of a combat zone to be honest so fitting that it locked the way it did, each unit identical, and uniform, assisted living is what it is, the two sides didn’t mix well, go figure. The lessons of equality are learned here early and hurt.

Neighborhoods are the best schoolyards. This is where so much learning that takes place and the consequences are real, yeah the school of hard knocks is what it is often referred to as attended and taught by your peers and it is real. Cause and effect are instant, no waiting, instant failure, or win. The easiest way to learn, parents are virtual or invisible and their language goes unheard and advice and rules unheeded. Opportunities to really make a difference are lost, not just in the North, in all directions as I have been told. It’s funny but we all know that a parent’s control ends fast when a child walks out the door, we know it, they lived it so when did they forget it?

So after brushing my teeth for the second time, the panic attack is almost complete. I look composed on the outside and to anyone that didn’t know me I would appear completely normal, a little closed off and quiet but otherwise normal. Inside the story is different, I can feel the need to slide under my sheets and admit feat. I begin to consider the list of ailments that could be infectious as I stand here back to a time when I was in grade three, that taste trigger is at fault.

Like lightning some of the bad shit hits me, it escapes the fuckin burial site I made for it a lifetime ago. My feet are nailed to the floor as it comes for me, panic my only friend, here you come again.

Just walking out a door can be far from normal and a lesson learned the hard way, always keep your eyes open and wits about you. Then again if you do wrong to the right person your day can be ended. It’s amazing what normal can be and how blind to wrongdoing we become when you are so immersed in it. Waking up to the sounds of gunfire, stray bullets, fire alarms, general gang violence, drugs, theft, and destruction was a part of just how shit goes. A teen made the mistake of saying too much to the wrong person about money and names and that was it. He got two maybe three steps out his door, three quick shots, and his next move was his last, shot dead in his doorway. It wasn’t an everyday thing, it was just what could happen, and how strange it is to see it and realize that killing this guy actually to a small degree cut down on crime, his dead ass will no longer move product, steal, or rape.

Seriously the streets are vicious and heartless and it doesn’t matter if you believe it or not it kills on a daily basis. We all had a role to play, all the kids, teens all of us, the real young ones were lookouts and movers, teenagers were the front line and the older ones closer to the top, security and enforcement, the ones that pulled triggers and altered property and made sure everyone else did their shit. The top was impossible to see so I have no idea about any of that. Every colony has a structure. The North End had two major players and it was all about your address. It’s important to know what streets to cross and when. We learn to steal when we are left hungry and take extra to make trades or sell.

Violence was an everyday thing and could be set off by anything. Man don’t go to the other side of the North End if there isn’t a good reason to be there. I really started to wonder if anyone shook hands, then I learned we don’t’ there is a way to greet someone and that isn’t it. Otherwise, you can be met with a punch, knife, or a bullet. These are all too common. Everyone is a target and being with a big group of others only meant that you may not be a target at the moment unless the other group was bigger, or the violence will wait until you are on your own or the numbers favored the other side.

There was a story circulating before I ever lived there that the leader of the toughest gang was in the local Becker’s variety store and the owner gave him a hard time about shoplifting and forced him to leave, banning him from ever coming in. Later that night after the store was closed it magically blew up. Rumor or not, the truth has nothing to do with anything, the owners were killed and when the strip mall was rebuilt it had security cameras and bars on the doors and window, like a prison.

It got so bad, I mean it’s not like I was fighting to get in, and I had no hope of getting out. Even the cops had no desire to come here. Things had a way of being settled and it was harsh and final, sometimes walking to school meant stepping over the victims from the night before, debts unpaid, paid. It isn’t a joke, we never laughed about it as long as it was someone else it was okay or someone who ended up here by accident, whatever. It wasn’t romantic or spectacular, it was crime and fear and people died, the crimes are real. The police were easy targets, sure they had guns, ha so did the gangs; if they came, there was no way for them to go unnoticed or hide, in those days almost all the cars were marked and painted cancer-causing canary yellow, yeah seriously bright yellow.

Even at an early age, I saw the waste and stupidity of what we do to each other. If we steal something to have it stolen only to steal it back again, that’s stupid. If we hurt each other the outside doesn’t care, if we kill each other it solves more problems than it causes and opens up another space for the system to flush someone else. We are in a throw-away situation and I look at these older guys and maybe they see it and don’t care or maybe they are really that stupid.

Either way there is so much waste. Some guy parked his car in our lot and left it there. Over the course of the first-week parts started to be taken off, in no time the entire car was stripped of its interior, tires, engine everything. We used it to jump on and break all the glass and lights. It got tagged with spray paint and finally, after two months it was shot at as target practice. It was a Mustang, dark blue fastback 1965 I think. It was totally destroyed and eventually towed away. I think the owner was in jail and wanted to hide it there. Just a sad and stupid example of how this place destroys everything.

I realize that after all this time I am still standing looking past my own reflection in the mirror. A good panic attack is like that for me, a paralyzing trip through time travel. This time the trigger was the milk, but the attack was already loaded into the guns chambered by the struggles the world is facing on a daily basis. People would usually go back to their childhood with the idea of it being a time of protected innocence but in my case, it is a horror show that I thought was rotting in its place.

I find the strength to fill the sink with water and slash it on my face. Shaving is next. Time now finds its way to my conscious mind and becomes a reminder that I have to move my ass. I have to get it together, get dressed, and get out there. So many are counting on me doing my job, more than ever before. I have a uniform to put on, I need to find my brave face as well. I have been having increased panic attacks and anxiety past my ability to control.

As a front liner, a paramedic once the uniform is on I can never have a bad day, ever. I have to live in a world where the world greets me at its weakest and worst. After all, I have been through growing up I gravitated towards a career of servitude is no real surprise. I had no real idea of what that would mean and how bad it could get. I truly figured that I had become di-sensitized to the sights and sounds of every day. I hear the voices, last words confessed to me, and the blood that I wear every day.

By March 19th it escalated with the pandemic, now even our A game may never be good enough and the highest level of pressure found a new level. I am falling apart every day I have to go out there and look at so much uncertainty. It is great to see people coming together and coping with the COVID-19 threat but I read the tweets and see the news and honestly we all talk about it. In today’s world, there is no consistent message, just conspiracies, and blame, fake numbers, and profiling. Even here on the front line, there is barely any honesty.

We know what we have hands-on and anything more is a mystery that becomes a political platform. The pandemic is showing that there are things in life we can live without and things that are really not that important, the earth can slowly heal and it should be a lesson learned not a level of abuse we can take back against the environment.

I am not even sure what COVID-19 is and where it came from. Is it better to keep the conspiracy theorist out or let them have their say? What news isn’t fake, what feed is telling the truth. I find it all exhausting and impossible to deal with. I have spent my career facing the sadness of so many lives and it was more than I was ever able to process, there is such an unmeasured amount of PTSD in my world and the full effects are a fucking mystery, no one even knows what tolerance levels are for this. So each day is a tougher battle than the day before. It is so much to deal with. The front line is mainstream social media content and news footage unlike ever before, I don’t like the idea of performing for the 6 PM news, my uniform performs a job my body is having trouble completing. The public sees what that uniform represents, the person inside is in disguise and sometimes I am not brave. Sometimes I am not strong, sometimes I want to break down and cry and sometimes I am wrong. It is a uniform and identifies my abilities, inside it I am still a person, I am never allowed to let that show. So I bleed in private. a life worth living is never found when following a crowd, this is the face that looks back at me in the mirror as I prepare to leave at what point can the apologizing stop? I tell myself that I am sorry for never coming to my own defense, I was never my own best friend, I have to leave and do my job and suppress all of this

I bargain with myself and find a way to convince myself to put my uniform on and be strong for those who can’t and do all I can to make a difference in every life I touch. I can help save some and others will not have to die alone.

Fuck it’s late I have to go.


Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Latest posts by R William Standish (see all)
Series Navigation<< Testing A Twisted Theory4 People Isolating >>
This publication is part 23 of 27 in the series Covid-19 Files