A man walks into a gay bar in the gay village, belatedly realizes he’s surrounded by fags, sucker punches one of them into a coma then casually saunters out.
If you’re waiting for a punch line here, don’t hold your breath. There’s nothing funny about this man’s decision to walk into that bar. There is only the sickening thud he left in his wake.
“I glanced over and saw a clenched fist. And the next thing I saw was Ritchie dropping like a board,” says Lindsay Wincherauk a few days after his friend Ritchie Dowrey was rushed to hospital with a severe brain injury.
“There was this sickening, hollow thud,” Wincherauk says.
“I felt like I was going to throw up. I felt ill. To tell you the truth, I’ve felt ill ever since.”
I don’t blame him. So do I.
It’s St Patrick’s Day and I’m standing at the counter in the Fountainhead Pub. Gregg Gillis, Dowrey’s pool partner, points out the empty spot at the corner of the bar where Dowrey should be standing.
They’ve been pool partners for years. They’ve improved together as players, argued over economics, and endlessly debated the merits of selling Gillis’ condo.
Dowrey’s laughter is contagious, Gillis says. “He laughed a lot about a lot of stuff.”
I notice the past tense. I don’t correct him.
As I write this, Dowrey lies in a hospital bed in critical condition. “He’s got massive brain damage,” Wincherauk says. “I guess the bottom line is, he’s not coming back.”
One minute Dowrey was enjoying an evening like any other among friends in a space that is supposed to be safe. A space that is supposed to be ours.
The next minute a powerful punch knocks him flying backwards, into a coma.
“I was the man who held his head when…” Gillis trails off, his voice catching.
He remembers the paramedics’ instructions to hold his friend’s head, to try to tilt it backwards, to try to open his mouth to check for blockages. Finally the paramedics arrived. “They cut open his favourite blue shirt,” Gillis says.
“I can’t sleep. I can see his face constantly. Feels like a loop— it’s looping through my eyes. I was holding his head,” he repeats.
“I just don’t understand it,” Wincherauk says. “I don’t understand how anybody in this day and age could be upset if someone touches your shoulder or bumps you on the street.”
It’s the hatred he simply can’t fathom. Neither can I.
“How can people not understand that we’re all connected?” Wincherauk asks me. “Even if you have a crappy upbringing, I don’t understand it. I think we’re supposed to be decent— consistent people and decent human beings.”
I don’t know what to tell him. I have no answers either. Only my own disbelief.
At least “what happened to him happened so fast. Before that, he was happy and enjoying his night,” Wincherauk says.
Sounds a little like a car crash, doesn’t it? One minute you’re fine, the next you’re flying unexpectedly through the air, your life suddenly cut short by a freak accident. Only this was no accident. This was malicious.
This was an act of violence.
In one of our spaces.
Against one of our own.
Wincherauk is right: it is unbelievable that in this day and age someone would dare venture into one of our spaces in our village, take offence to our presence and viciously lash out.
I don’t care what happened in the moment immediately prior to the punch. Maybe Dowrey bumped into the man who decked him. Maybe he brushed up against him. Maybe he even slapped his ass.
Nothing justifies what happened next.
I applaud Wincherauk for having the courage and the presence of mind to not only follow the man out of the bar but to ask him point-blank why he did it.
“He’s a faggot. He deserved it,” Wincherauk alleges the man replied. “He’s a faggot, he deserved it. I’m not a fag. The faggot touched me. He deserved it.”
I glance back at Dowrey’s empty spot at the counter. There’s a Canucks game on TV. He should be here. He never misses a game.
The fact that he’s lying in a coma instead is unforgivable.
And must be punished.
If this isn’t a hate crime I don’t know what is.