6 min

Remembering a rebel friend

A couple weeks back, a friend of mine was found dead in an apparent suicide. When I got the Facebook message, I went numb for a couple days. I don’t have a lot of experience with death — father, all four grandparents, a former business partner, one random motorcycle accident of a friend when I was in high school, that’s about it. At first I worried that I wasn’t feeling anything, but then some wise older friends assured me that grieving is something that happens in strange, organic, and ongoing ways.

I thought about this a great deal, and know that he would have wanted me to write something about his life. But rather than a community tribute with his photo, I am going to write about his “secret life.” Because although his journeys through the underworld are ultimately what caused him to die before the age of 30, and he was conflicted about some of it, he was proud of his rebel identity. I have changed some minor details to protect the privacy of his family, but I also know he wouldn’t care about people figuring out who I’m talking about. He’d like it. 

I’ll call him “Brandon” because that’s what he called his alter ego. As recently as a few months ago he would phone me and say “Hey Toddly, write this down… Brandon’s got a story for you..” and then he’d giggle and tell me about some wild adventure with a client. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to the beginning.

In late 1997 I was bartending at a club on Yonge St called Studio 619. A tall, thin, model gorgeous boy with big lips came in one night and while I don’t remember the details of our meeting, soon enough we became quite close. I had been escorting for more than a year, and discovered early in the friendship that Brandon was also in the sex business. “Not a hustler, Toddly, I’m upscale all the way… Exclusive!” he’d say. My best friend at the time was Randy, a 30-year-old bodybuilder from a small town who had just moved to Toronto and came out of the closet. The three of us formed this strange sort of bond — I think at one point there was some kissing and fondling and fooling around, but it quickly became evident that we were better off as a strange sort of misfit family. We would often spend the days and nights wandering around the Village and ended up sleeping sideways on my futon, Brandon in the middle, our arms around him. We were all into sobriety at the time.

One day we were walking up Church St and Brandon got a call on his cellphone. He started arguing with the caller, and then we overheard “You’re only 16!” from the earpiece. Brandon looked at us sheepishly, and said “Busted!” He was part of the generation of kids who came out young, and didn’t want to wait for adulthood to become part of the gay scene. We had a long talk with him, he assured us that he was mature enough to make decisions like working as an escort, and we trusted his judgement. It had never crossed my mind to feel bad for someone for being young, but I sympathized with his predicament — he was always scared he would be rejected if people found out his real age. He would tell people he was 20 or 21, to divert suspicion.

Time flew by quickly and soon enough Brandon was 19 and could stop being concerned with fake ID and scaring off clients. He had done some modelling as a teen and was obsessed with making it his career. But he had started dabbling with the drug ketamine (Special K) and soon enough he was always high. He got a few modelling gigs here and there, but he’d be moody or late or cause minor dramas, and like a lot of young people in the harsh world of selling beauty, he started to age young. He was by no means ugly, in fact, he was still well above average in the looks department, but the window of opportunity for him to be a famous runway model (which was his dream) was rapidly shrinking. This thought was one I kept to myself, but I remember seeing him at 23 and having the shocking revelation that it’s possible to worry about being past one’s prime at the age of 23.

Brandon was the king of adventure, and he was quite the entrepeneur, at least when it came to his escorting. When we met, I was charging $120 per hour and he gave me shit: “You’re well known, you’re still hot, you’ve got a big cock — $200 minimum Toddly!” he’d lecture me. I didn’t want to price myself out of the market, so I kept my prices where they were. But I always admired his ballsiness. We calculated that he was making between $150,000 and $200,000 per year at his peak.

He got into drug dealing for a while, and became one of many of the biggish small-time dealers in the scene. He used to come home from the clubs and count his money and realize that he must have dropped a couple hundred on the floor and then he’d laugh about it. He’d do crazy paranoid things like the time he thought the cops were watching him, so he hired movers, packed up everything and moved into a luxury apartment in Mississauga within two days. He had of course managed to decorate and furnish it within those two days, one of his uncanny talents.  His interior design skills were intense, and I encouraged him to go into that field. He could take an entire two-bedroom apartment and have it fully painted, proper artwork hung, and furnished within 48 hours. He didn’t own a measuring tape, so he would just go to the 24-hour Home Depot and start pulling stuff off the shelf. I don’t know where he learned to do this — it was just innate talent. He knew from a young age that it was important to build his credit and he was proud to be debt-free for the most part.

But it kept coming back to the Special K. He just loved that shit. He would say he had it under control, but he was always on it. We’d be driving in his car and he’d pour half a vial on the dashboard and snort it. He was a maniac, but a great driver. Somehow I was never scared to be a passenger, no matter how high he was. It’s a weird drug, I did my fair share of it back in the day, but I always knew it to be the kind of drug you’d do to complement other drugs. I didn’t know anybody who embraced it as fully as Brandon, who made it their daily reality.

Brandon never got bitter. That’s the main reason I’m writing this. He is one of those rare people, especially in the club/drug scene, who stayed pure. From the first day I met him, he was always trying to spread joy. He had an odd network of friends — girls from his high school, ex-boyfriends, old guys who started out as sugar daddies and then became junkies, me — and he was loyal to all of us. He tried to be good to his clients, and he had a fair amount of regulars. But I stopped hanging around with him a few years ago, when he got to that heart-breaking point most drug addicts reach: when they can’t hang around with “normal” people any more. He was fully immersed in his drug culture, painfully beyond denial. I’d been through a lot with him — I drove him to detox, I picked him up from rehab, but he always relapsed. I know that he was hurting, I know that part of him was ashamed that he couldn’t kick the habit, but he would still keep in touch. He told me he wanted his story to be part of my next book, which will be called “Us Whores.” He emailed me passages that he thought should be included: diary entries, rambling essays, funny client stories. I’m going to dig them off my collection of old hard drives.

He called me a week before he died, to tell me he loved me and he was proud of me. I didn’t find the call unusual, random calls from Brandon were the norm. Apparently he called a lot of his friends in his final days, which confirms for me that his death was intentional (because of the way it happened, it is possible it was an accident). He said he was going to come down to my club and say hi really soon. That was the last I heard from him.

Brandon, you were an important part of the underworld. You touched a lot of souls. Your spirit will be missed.

I love you too.

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