June hit me like a sucker punch to the wee purse that holds my odd shaped balls. I should have been settling into my third month in Saudi Arabia, preparing to sweat more than a 600 pound man in a sauna, but instead I was still in Edmonton. Still living with mom and dad. Still working in a plumbing warehouse working with people I would rather not have met, and still playing shitty golf and providing a spark to my football team.
The week after the drink fest in Vernon I missed our Friday night game and we struggled to a 1-0 win. Our next game was the Sunday, only 2 days after, and it was against the team we had beat for third place in provincials. Now, I only play indoor because it keeps me in shape and allows me to retain some semblance of touch on a soccer ball. The game is the bastard child of all the worst points of soccer and I would rather not play it. It suits my game because it is played at a frenetic pace; but the boards always work in the defender’s favor and I can only out sprint them for so long. Outdoors, there is no such thing. And somehow, even though we were playing the team that finished second to us and only lost twice all indoor (both times to us), I knew this was to be my day.
Ninety minutes and 4 goals later, the 5-1 score line flattered them beyond belief. Another 2 games followed the next week; another 4 goals total for me. We hadn’t dropped a single point all season posting 5 wins out of 5, and our goals for and against column was staggering. With another 4 games before the end of June, we could be so far ahead of the opposition at the halfway mark that we could coast the second half of the season.
I received a final job offer too. I was taken to lunch by the manager and sales manager of the plumbing company I worked for and they offered me a sales job. I’d get a car allowance, a base salary, and a commission scheme that could see me earning up to $80,000 a year. Yeah, it was a very good offer, but again, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. The final salary would probably have worked out to be around $40,000 per year and that was only after rushing through the other sales positions first to learn the products. At the end of the day though, I knew I wouldn’t be happy doing it.
On June 30, 2007, my new passport arrived. I immediately sent an email to the recruitment office in the UK and waited to hear from them. The next day I received word that instead of sending my passport back to the UK to get a visa and then have it shipped back to me (if it made it), I’d be traveling to London and staying for 4 nights while my visa was processed. The company would pay for the hotel while I waited for the visa. This way, everyone thought, was foolproof. My flight would leave July 8, nearly 6 full months after I signed my contract.
I played 4 more games before I left, we won all 4, and I notched another 9 goals, taking my total for the season to 19 in only 9 games (I would finish 2nd overall in the league [the other guy scored 21 in 18 games]). My team wound up losing 2 games the second half of the season but still finished first and qualified for provincials. They ended up winning the gold medal and kept mine for me, should I wish to return and pick it up. (I was presented it at Christmas 2009 when I went home.)
I played my final round of golf the weekend before I left, my final soccer game 2 days before I left. The day before I flew out I sold my golf clubs for some extra starting out money, and prepared my things for my new adventure. Due to the trans-Atlantic nature of my flight, my baggage allowance was double what it could have been so I went through both suitcases and made sure to remove all t-shirts that might be offensive in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, there was no room for my, “I’d rather be masturbating”, “I may not go down in history but I’ll go down on your sister”, and “I know the credit card is for emergencies but she was hot” t-shirts. There was also no room for all of my shoes (I like shoes – probably one of the reasons I always get asked if I’m gay), so I only took a couple of pairs. It pained me to leave them behind but man must adapt and overcome.
My whole family went to the airport with me – my mom and dad, my two sisters and their husbands, and my two nieces and solitary nephew. We had a meal in one of the restaurants and didn’t really say much. We could tell mom was bubbling over, just waiting for the water works to explode. I could put it off no longer – I checked my baggage, all within weight limits, and headed for security.
Mom wasn’t as bad as I thought or feared she would be. I’ve always been her favorite, and I’m not boasting, it’s the genuine truth. My sisters give me no end of abuse about it and rightfully so. I’m the only son, the last link to the family actually (but there’s never been any pressure to deliver – if you know what I mean), and as such I’ve always been treated differently than my sisters. Don’t get me wrong, my mom loves them both dearly, but where they would get $50 for a birthday, I’d get $100. I could do no wrong with her either. My dad’s reaction shocked me. He has always been a pillar, the archetypical father type. But at security, only minutes away from seeing his son get frisked by an overly zealous security officer, he was overcome with emotion. This move has made us closer, somehow, and it’s a shame it took something like this for both of us. Some things are very mysterious to me and how people react to changing situations will always puzzle me. Whatever it was, in both of us, we’re a lot more open with each other now and that is never a bad thing.
A few tears were shed (not by me because I’m a tough old penguin) and I actually made it through security without much hassle. I turned around one last time to wave goodbye to the clan and disappeared. Did we know it would be 2 and a half years before we saw each other again? No we didn’t. But I knew it would be at least a year. I had plans for my time in the Middle East. This wasn’t just some work experience trip for me. I was about to have access to parts of the world I would never have got to from Edmonton; and I was going to take advantage of them.
After signing the last remaining copy of my book in the bookstore on the other side of security (and then watching someone buy it after the sales girl put a “signed by author” sticker on the cover) I proceeded to wait for my flight to Heathrow. I was joined on my bench by some blonde girl (late 20s, cute, very talkative) who was behind me in the security queue. She noticed all the people crying when I was leaving and she wondered where I was going. I told her I was off to the Middle East. She asked if I was in the army. If I had a dollar for every time a girl had asked me that when they learned I was off to the Middle East I’d be buying a castle in Scotland. I said, no, I’m going to work in a private hospital in Saudi Arabia. Her eyes lit up, “are you a doctor?” Again, if I had a dollar for every time a girl asked if I was doctor when I said I’d be going to work in a hospital I’d have matching castles in Scotland. Now, a man of lesser moral fiber than I would have lied and said, “yes, I am a doctor, a single doctor”, and see just how many bedrooms that got me into. But I didn’t. I didn’t need to lie for that to happen. I’m so funny I hurt myself sometimes.
The flight to Heathrow was empty and uneventful. I didn’t sleep, as I can’t sleep on planes, and when we touched down and cleared customs in London, at roughly noon, my driver was waiting to take me to my hotel.