DID YOU ever have a dream where you could change the world just by meeting someone? That certainly applies to me. When I was growing up, I always said to myself, "Hey, just because someone doesn't approve of your friends or lovers, it doesn't mean you have to drop them at their say-so." Sometimes, everything goes well with you and the friends you have. And if it turns out pitiful, you can always find someone new – new friends whom you can hope to trust and love, and see if that works out. And you wouldn't do this just so you can say, "You can't stop me." You'd do it so you can say, "I'm mature enough to make my own decisions."
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, you can't convince some people that you are mature. They treat you like an idiotic, brainless child, because they think they're always right when they argue against you. They put on an attitude when they speak their mind, an attitude that constantly makes you feel defeated. On January 13th, 1995, I turned twenty-five years old. I know I'm still a young adult, but I've felt like a meek and mild child.
My name is Hollie Springwood, and I was born in Canada. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta with my family, in a medium-sized house on Gladeview Crescent Southwest. My mother always said that I was the diva of the family, because I had the most beautiful blue eyes; straight, shiny hair that was the colour of chocolate; and skin that I kept flawless all my life. My parents, Matthew and Charlotte Springwood, were both born in raised in Canada. My mother grew up here in Alberta, and my father, in British Columbia. My brother, Jesse, who was four-and-a-half years younger than me, inherited his jet black hair from my father, and his light green eyes from my mother. His eyes turned a darker shade of green whenever he got angry. He believed himself to be a true Canadian, and was the only anti-American in our family. Mom and Dad never knew at all where he got his anti-Americanism, and they still don't to this day.
I guess this whole anti-Americanism thing started when I was fourteen and Jesse, ten. He made his change when he was in the fifth grade; that I'll never forget. He made some friends whom I believed came from, "the wrong side of the tracks," as those old people say. It all began one day in the middle of October, 1984. That day, Jesse suddenly announced at the dinner table that, "the bastard Americans are the root of all that is evil," as he strongly put it. He concluded that awful speech with the words, "I hate all Americans."
We were all shocked by what Jesse said to us, especially my parents. Mom and Dad had never brought us up to be like that. We didn't even know where he learned the word, "bastard" at his age. Sure, we were a Canadian family, but Jesse and I were never taught to hate any one group of people, whether those people were black, white, Native, Jewish, Asian, Hispanic – or even American. Even when we went to Sunday school, the teacher never taught us anything about whom to love and whom to hate. I kept hoping that this was a phase Jesse would someday outgrow. Every night, when I said my prayers before going to sleep, I'd ask God to look over Jesse, and guide him down the proper path – the path of peace, love and good will towards all men and women.
It never worked at all. By the time I had my fifteenth birthday, Jesse's attitude towards Americans had gotten much worse. I started talking to my family openly about falling in love and getting married. Jesse told me, flat out, "If you want to fall in love and marry, you'll do it with Canadian men only." What he didn't realise then was that my dream suitor was very good-looking and all muscular, and who treats me like I'm of a royal family. I'm not shallow; I just have this passion for biceps and a beefed-up chest (which, to my parents' delight, I keep strictly controlled; I don't get all giddy like a groupie around them.) Skinny guys with coke-bottled glasses and calculators, who spend hours reciting scientific theories, just don't do it for me. But I do want a man who will treat me really nice. That's the most important thing.
In the ninth, tenth and eleventh grades, I went out with at least six boys. Unfortunately, none of the relationships worked out because they weren't really my types. They were nerds, know-it-all's and perverts. There were some handsome, muscular jocks at my high school, but I noticed they all had reputations of mistreating girls.
As an example, a couple of my girlfriends, Lisa Majors and Carrie Stafford, were dating the most popular players on my high school football team. Lisa dated the quarterback, Rex Brentwood, while Carrie dated Jimmy Welder, one of the wide receivers. The whole time they dated, either one of the girls called me most nights, begging for comfort because her boyfriend stood her up for personal practice or something, or completely ignored her to watch a football game. Jimmy was the rougher one of the two. Sometimes, I would overhear him and Carrie screaming at each other in the hallways, or out on the school grounds. Other times, if Carrie was late and he saw me walking past their meeting place, he'd call me over and complain to me. Like what happened the day of our Christmas dance in 1986, he was waiting for Carrie in the parking lot, at the end of the day, and he saw me leaving the school his way.
"Hey, Hollie!" he called, and he motioned me to come here. I sighed and obeyed him.
"So, I see Carrie ain't with you," he said snidely.
"She said she was helping the decorating committee prepare for the dance tonight," I told him. "She told me to go on without her."
Jimmy rolled his eyes. "Always making excuses, that stupid girl. Don't she know she's making herself late?"
"Hey, I may not have signed up, but neither did you," I reminded him. "I'd like to see you make a contribution besides being the typical tough guy sports hero!"
"Who are you to tell me what to do?" he snapped. I backed away in shock. "Jesus, Hollie, would you go back in there and tell her to hurry up?"
I shot back, "Excuse me, master, but first of all, I don't know what the hell Carrie sees in you! Almost every time I see her with you, you're always yelling at her, pulling her hair, or doing God knows what to hurt her. You, and Rex with Lisa. Now, I may have no place telling her who to date, but I'll be damned if I'm going to hurry her up!"
Some minutes later, we saw Carrie and some others come out our way. Jimmy marched up to her like a drill sergeant and yelled, "There you are! You're late!" And before she could apologize, "I hate it when you're late!"
He was grabbing her hair and dragging her over to the fence where he stood and slammed her up against it. Before he could hit her, I stepped in to stop it, snatching Carrie away, and said, "Carrie doesn't feel like seeing you tonight! Can't you see she's worked so hard after school?" Then, with my arm around her, starting home, "I'm taking her home with me! Maybe invite over to dinner at my house. And maybe you should away from her for a while!"
One day, in March of 1987, I saw Jimmy fighting with one of our male friends who stood by Carrie as she told him she was breaking up with her. I can't remember what happened to our friend, but Jimmy was suspended for two weeks. Later, at the end of the day, I saw Rex tripping and beating on Lisa on the school grounds, pinning her up against a fence. A couple of students tried to break this up the brawl, but the gym teacher saw this and quickly stopped it. Rex was suspended for two weeks as well. Both were also kicked off the team.
I did my best to avoid the jocks. If they were anything like Rex and Jimmy, I wanted no involvement with them. No "dream man" was going to be physically abusive with me.
I put dating on hold during my graduating year. When I went to my guidance counsellor to discuss my future plans (I wanted to be a professional beautician), she told me to look into some colleges and universities in the United States, which offered courses in cosmetology. She recommended this just so I could, "expand my horizons." I thought that was a very good idea, not just because I could find out what things outside Canada were like, but because I could also try again at finding romance. My counsellor was very supportive of me.
But when I discussed this idea with my family, the only support I got was from my parents. Jesse's reaction was totally different.
"Hollie, do you mean to tell us that you're going to turn your back on your own country, and go to some place where nothing good holds for you?" he asked at dinner that day. He put on a pouty look. "Why?"
"Jesse, Miss Robinson said that moving to the United States would be very good for me," I replied. "She told me that I could expand my horizons if I left Canada."
"Fine, Hollie," Jesse said. "But couldn't you move to England, or perhaps Australia? The United States is the worst place to move to. The people there are arrogant, and the living conditions are terrible!"
"They have no overseas options," I said firmly.
Jesse glowered at me. "Please, Hollie!" he spat. "I don't see why you'd want to move to the United States. You do not want to become an American. I have a pretty good idea about what they're like. I know how ignorant they are. All they do is lie, cheat and steal from others just to prove themselves. They don't just do that to each other, but to other countries as well, including ours! Am I making any sense to you?!"
"Oh, give me a break!" I said in exasperation. "You don't really know that! You're just telling me this so you could stand up for this prideful country! And even you know that's just a bunch of baloney!"
I took a few deep breaths to keep from losing control, then looked over at my parents. They didn't look too pleased with our argument. In fact, they were really angry with the both of us. I think they were angrier with Jesse than with me, because I noticed both of them giving him the deadly looks. I looked over at him. He didn't even look intimidated, though I knew they looked like they wanted to hit him.
I had just about had it with Jesse, too. But I didn't want to make this argument any more complicated than it had to be. I remembered a lesson I learned when I took a religious study course in the eleventh grade. The lesson was about the seven deadly sins, and I knew that pride was one of those sins. I always thought that pride as a sin included having too much pride in your own country, but I never bothered to ask the teacher that. I tried to use that as a way to defend my argument.
I explained to him, "Jesse, when I took religious studies at school last year, I learned about the seven deadly sins. Did you know that pride is one of those sins? That's the main reason why I never take as much pride in this country as you do, Jesse. I believe that it's a sin to take too much pride in your own native country – or anything else for that matter."
"No, it doesn't, you brainless piece of snot!" he spat back at me. "Sinful pride does not include taking pride in your own country! And you know that damn well!"
That did it for me! I pounded my fist hard on the dining table and shouted, "There's nothing wrong with Americans! They're everyday, normal people just like you and me!"
Jesse shouted some explicit things at me, so explicit that I can't repeat them to you. He left the table infuriated, his plate half-empty.
My parents and I watched as he walked out of the dining room. Dad was very upset with him, and Mom was heartbroken and devastated. I felt like I was failing as his big sister. It took at least a half-hour before we could finish our meals.
During the first couple of months of 1988, my mother and I took Jesse to see many psychologists about his anti-Americanism. At that point, it had become a really big problem in our family. The psychologists couldn't find anything wrong with him, except maybe for his obnoxiousness. They told us that Jesse's problem was common among many Canadians. We didn't want to believe it. Of course, we never wanted to accuse any of them of being anti-American themselves; we didn't know any of their feelings towards Americans, and we felt it was too impolite to ask. However, there were times when Mom felt like preaching about love and acceptance of all people. But she'd always stop herself; maybe the doctors didn't read the Bible, or practice any kind of religion. And if some of them did, maybe they'd tell her that they couldn't find anything in the Bible that says, "all the world's people are your brothers and sisters."
At least this one doctor, Dr. Cuppleton, helped us a little bit. After he spoke with Jesse, he told us, "Jesse's behaviour seems somewhat normal, but I feel that he takes a little too much pride in this country. His anti-Americanism is something of an obsession with him, and as we all know, obsessions about anything are not healthy."
"Is there anything we can do?" Mom asked. "A lot of the other doctors told us to 'ride out' Jesse's behaviour. But we don't want to ride it out. We want Jesse back to his old loving self. His father and I never raised him like this."
"Mom, you should've raised Hollie and me like this–" Jesse interrupted, but I quickly shushed him.
"Well, I am no expert on politics or religion," Dr. Cuppleton said, "but if you want to change Jesse, I suggest you go to Toronto to see Dr. William Harris, my former classmate in college, and one of my very good friends. He has a background in religious studies, and he keeps up with current affairs in national and international politics. I'm confident that he can get through to Jesse."
He continued to be sassy about it. The weekend before we left, my parents helped me fill out applications for passports to the U.S. I'll never forget the fight that went on with Jesse that time. He was getting snacks from the kitchen cupboards when he looked over at the dining table. I think he thought Mom and Dad were paying taxes, while I was doing homework. But when he saw the application papers with the words, "Destination: United States; Purpose: attending college and finding employment," he glared directly at them.
"Please don't tell me you two are still encouraging this!" he snarled at Mom and Dad.
"Now, Jesse, try to understand that this is about your sister's future," Mom said rationally.
He showed them the paper he'd read. "This is Hollie's future! Applying for a passport just so she can study in a wasteland of arrogance and corruption! Mom, Dad, I should take this all over the neighbourhood as evidence that you are the worst parents."
I kept quiet and pulled my chair out, hoping to stay out of the argument. For once, it had nothing to do with me.
"Jesse Springwood, what the hell are you saying?!" Dad demanded.
"I'm saying that the anti-American parents in this neighbourhood – and you know where they live – already hate you for how you corrupt your children," he replied. He picked up the rest of the application papers. "If I were to tell them about these–"
"Quit sassing, Jesse!" Dad ordered. "You know bloody well that this goes in favour of everything we taught you two! Or in your case, tried to teach you! Now I don't care what those American-hating people say to your mother and me. We don't care what any anti-American people say. We are a family that loves and accepts everybody! Good parents install these kinds of values into their children."
Jesse tried to correct them, trying to be as rational as Mom. "Good parents teach their children about standing up and being proud for their home countries. They don't encourage them to be the next Benedict Arnold! You know Keith Nesbitt, my friend from homeroom? His parents are both in the military, and they told me Americans are so bad, we should declare war on them in the event of a Third World War. You think about that for a minute. What if you send Hollie to the States, and we have to fight a war with them over trade policy violations? They know a lot about that! She could be shipped back here and tried for treason. How would you feel with that on your heads?"
"Oh, stop it, Jesse," Mom lamented. "We all know that's not going to happen. Our relations with them may not be the greatest, but this family strives to change that. You know that if the rest of the world doesn't learn to be nice and friendly with the Americans, the whole world's future could be bleak. When you have children of your own, you'll understand."
"When I have children of my own," Jesse said, "I'm going to raise them so they have pride in this country, and I will teach them to hate Americans. If they say one word of praise about them, they will be spanked. Hard! And I'm not going to the United States after I graduate high school. You two can't make me! I'll die before I let them corrupt me with their questionable values and attitudes."
I'd never seen Mom leave her chair so fast. She slapped Jesse across his face and yelled, "How dare you speak to your father and me so spitefully! You'd better not act like that when we go to Toronto next week, or there will be hell for you when we get back! You won't be able to see your friends outside of school for the rest of the year, all summer, and all of next year! And we will be deciding your future for you. Do I make myself clear?"
I studied Jesse's face. Not a single tear was falling. He'd refused to cry or back down. But I noticed his tone had lowered. "Whatever you say, Mom," he said. "I'll go see if Keith is home." He left and went downstairs to call him, probably to tell him what an awful family we were.
Mom, Jesse and I spent a few days in Toronto on our spring break. When we went to see Dr. Harris, it was pretty much like some of the sessions we had back home. Mom explained how she and Dad had been bringing us up, how they believed it was important for everyone to love everyone, and that included Canadians loving Americans, and how Jesse's attitude towards it all was making them feel like they were failing as parents.
Dr. Harris sent Mom and me out while he and Jesse talked. It was almost half an hour, at least. When Dr. Harris called us back in, he explained Jesse's problem to us.
"I believe Jesse is basing his opinions on what he is hearing other people say, and reading what other Canadians nation-wide are writing in newspaper editorials and 'letters to the editor,'" he said. "I read them, too, and while some of these people are well-meaning, I'm personally shocked by some of their opinions. Much of them, mostly when talking about American government policy, are nothing more than personal attacks at the people, claiming that they all agree with these policies. I can't tell you how many times I've been tempted to write in to these newspapers and say that this is not the truth. These are ignorant, ugly opinions, and that is exactly what Jesse's attitude is about – ignorance. Little do these people understand that the Canadian government has disagreeable policies, too. What does this mean? The same people who put down Americans also state that Canada is as perfect as punch. Again, more ignorance coming from our country. I certainly don't think like this."
He addressed Jesse. "Jesse, you don't really know anything about what American people are like, so your opinions are completely irrelevant. As for the Bible, yes, it may have contradictions, but it's not 'packed with lies,' as you claim. I believe many of the things in there to be the truth, including that bit that says that all the world's people are your brothers and sisters. It says that because God is your father.
"If you want to be mad at the United States, I suggest you be mad at the government, not the people. There are a lot of policies in both the White House and the state senates that us Canadians don't agree with. Find out what it is about the United States that upsets you, then write a letter to whoever it may concern, suggesting ways to improve it. Don't attack or put down anyone in your letters. Maybe you're upset because some states that impose the death penalty use it unjustly. Or maybe you're concerned about the education system down there. Whatever it is, do some research, so you can back your claims up with evidence. And try to be positive as you tell them what it is that you want them to change. Also, try making some "pen pals" with some American people. Ask them what they think of U.S. policy. I'm sure they might agree with you. And there are a lot of Americans who are law-abiding citizens, who are good spouses and parents, who give a lot to their communities. It wouldn't hurt to check them out. You'll see that your perceptions of Americans as a whole are wrong." Jesse decided to take Dr. Harris' advice, and we thanked him.
But it quickly backfired. Jesse read up a lot on what the Americans were doing, and he tried writing to state senators and congress people suggesting changes. He either never got answers back, or, "smart-ass replies," as he put it, suggesting that they were better than us because we don't have their policies. Unfortunately, this put more tensions in fights between Jesse and me.
Whenever I brought up going to college in the United States, Jesse would yell hateful things at me. Or else, he'd call me a "backstabber" or a "traitor" in a curt reply. He'd even say these things when I wasn't talking about college. If he wanted to be nice, he'd tell me, "The United States don't know anything about us, and they don't care. You'd be better off here in Canada."
My last semester of high school was my busiest. Whenever I wasn't doing homework, I was busy researching all the good colleges and universities in Texas. (Some of my high school friends suggested that I go to Texas, because there were lots of good-looking men.) I chose all the schools that had good cosmetology courses. I typed out my résumé perfectly, and asked Dad to make copies of it at his work office.
I spent much of my free time searching, reading brochures, finding a suitable place to live, filling out applications, and sending them out with my résumé to the schools. I had to do all my work in my room with my door shut, so Jesse wouldn't know what I was up to. Luckily, he wasn't the type to come in without having me answer, or snoop through my belongings for whatever reason. So, when he knocked on the door for anything, whether it was to tell me dinner was ready, or to say that Mom or Dad wanted to see me, I'd tell him to wait a minute while I hid everything in my drawers. When I answered, he'd ask me what I was doing to make him wait.
"Just researching some colleges," I'd answer. "Not that it's really any of your business."
"All right," he'd reply, then say what he came to tell me. That, to me, was a good thing.
In mid-May, the reply letters started coming. (I got my passport two weeks later.) Even then, I'd have to read them in private, away from Jesse. Some of them were rejections, so I let Mom or Dad read them before throwing them away. But in early June, I received a letter from the Austin Community College. They had accepted me. Happily, I told both my parents, but not Jesse. I knew what he would do if he found out, and I was afraid of it.
And guess what happened? Eventually, he found out about me moving to Texas. When he confronted me about it, all he did was yell with his face up close to mine. He looked like a wannabe drill sergeant. I swear I almost went deaf. He never bothered to let me talk.
"Hollie, I can't believe you would do this kind of thing!" he yelled. "Why, Hollie, why?! Why would you do this to your country – our country, the very country that we were born and raised in?! And don't give me this whole 'expanding my horizons' bit!! Are you an American lover?! Is there something that you want to prove to me?! Why can't you go to the University of Calgary?! Or, maybe you could've chosen a college in Ontario, or Manitoba, or somewhere else like that! You want to know what the hell you are, Hollie?! You are a traitor and a backstabbing little troll!!"
He kept yelling at me until he almost lost his voice. When he started to feel it go, he left the room, stomping his feet. From that day on, Jesse never spoke to me. The only time we did talk again was on the day before I left, when we had yet another argument.
"I still can't believe that you're doing this to us, your family!" Jesse muttered spitefully at me.
"What's your problem?" I sneered. "You're acting as though I'm destroying the Springwood family."
"You are!" he whined. "You're breaking up this family just by moving to the United States!"
I sighed harshly and showed my teeth to him. I pointed my finger in his face. "Listen to me! Since when did you take control of this family?! It's you who's trying to break it up! I'm only trying to take control of my own life, all right?" I slammed my suitcase shut. "In case you haven't noticed, Jesse, I'm eighteen years old! I'm old enough to make my own decisions about my education and career path, and where I go to get it! You're only fourteen! You'll be starting high school in September! You are not mature enough to have your own say in the world!"
"That has nothing to do with it! We were born and raised in Canada, and you know that! You should be proud of that, like I am! You should be standing up for your native country, like I do!"
He noticed how angry he was making me, so he decided to speak softer. He took a deep breath and said more politely and rationally, "This is a beautiful country, full of clean air and fresh trees, and other things like that. All the United States has to offer is pollution, bulldozing and dirtiness. Which would you rather have?"
I rolled my eyes and bit my lip. "I'm sure it's nothing like that. You've never been to the States before, so how would you know that for sure?"
He folded his arms and tapped his foot, speaking more sternly this time. "Don't joke with me! Standing up for this country, in case you don't know, means going to college here in Canada. The fact that you're moving to the United States really says something about the Canadian pride you have! It says that you'd rather be an American!"
"I'm only moving to the States because I think it's the best move for me," I said for what seemed to be the hundred millionth time. "I'm only doing it so I could expand my horizons. I'm getting sick of telling you that, Jess! Everyone has to see different places, and experiment with different cultures at one point or another. I just can't stay here in Alberta all my life, or even in Canada."
Jesse cursed loudly and raised his hands at me. I forced myself to grab his arms and control them so he wouldn't strike at me. After a few moments of struggle, he released himself from my grip and narrowed his eyes at me.
"Don't you ever talk to me again, witch!" he spat. Then he went to his bedroom, slamming the door.
Finally, on July 20th, I flew out to Dallas, Texas from Calgary. That day, Jesse never even bothered to come out and say goodbye to me. He spent that whole day sulking in his bedroom, mainly because I, Hollie Springwood, was becoming an American citizen.
"I can't believe that I'm leaving Jesse without him saying, 'goodbye' or 'good luck' to me," I said to my parents as we were putting my suitcases in the car. "I can't believe he'd be this selfish."
"Don't worry, Hollie," Mom said. "This is the most important moment of your life. Jesse will kick himself for missing it, I'm sure."
"Yeah, it's his loss if he's not here to see you off," Dad added.
But I wasn't worried about Jesse not seeing me off for college. I only wondered if he would ever get over his anti-Americanism one day.