I used to have these fantasies about confronting the people in my past I’d felt had done me wrong. Those girls in junior high who showed up at the aerobics class my friend and I were teaching, just to mock us. The boy who cheated on me and broke my heart. The boss who called me a “useless bimbo” behind my back. And so on.
There’s a certain kind of powerless rage that comes from feeling you are a good person who has been mistreated. We’re the good guys, the underdogs, the victims. Over time, I have outgrown that mentality. It was liberating to shed that victim skin and I believed, naively perhaps, that my past and I had made peace.
Then I arrived in California and came to face to face with a woman who, over ten years ago, was one of the most mean-spirited bullies I have ever known.
To appreciate just how cold this person was, let me take you back to the days when I was an up-and-coming stunt performer in Vancouver.
The stunt business was not for the faint of heart, in all possible ways, and Vancouver might have been (and may still be), one of the toughest places to break into that world. All professional stunt performers are gutsy and tough, but Vancouver stunt people were also known for a high level of skill in many disciplines. Entering the scene with only a black belt in Karate, some dance training, and relative proficiency in a few other sports, I was woefully under-skilled. I was a nerd who’d lucked into a dream job and I had to get good fast.
You see, Vancouver stuntmen may have had high standards, but the stuntwomen? Oh, my friends, that was another level. You did not tread lightly into the domain of powerhouses Melissa Stubbs, Trish Schill, Marny Eng, and their ilk. There weren’t a lot of stuntwomen in Vancouver back then, but they were damn good at what they did, they were a tight group, and they had no time for wannabes.
I admired and feared those women. I wanted to be as good as they were. I longed for their respect. When Prez and I started dating, I panicked. I was terrified that they would mistake my genuine affection for an experienced, successful stuntman as an attempt to get in the club through the back door. Toronto, Los Angeles, those stunt communities were rife with nepotism, or at least that was the word on the street, and the Vancouver women went out of their way to make sure that didn’t happen in their ’hood. I witnessed more than one newbie—hired by a male stunt coordinator solely because he wanted to get into her pants—given a shoulder so cold it could freeze the sun.
In a few short years, I not only learned to ride a jetski in the surf, keep up with Prez on a dirtbike, slide my stunt car like James Rockford, and a host of other skills, I’d also made myself stone hard. I shucked empathy, softness, and kindness around other stunt people. I became the person I needed to be to do the job I wanted to do, and it paid off. Little by little, I got bigger, better gags on bigger, better shows. I was so close I could taste it.
Enter JS and BB. The former was a good buddy of Prez’s. They’d met doing stunts years earlier and had formed an instant friendship. The latter, BB, was his girlfriend and also a stunt performer/actress.
I didn’t know what to make of BB, she was the opposite of every stuntwoman I knew. Bubbly, effervescent, and overtly feminine, she represented everything I had conditioned myself not to be. On top of that, she was nice. I mean crazy nice. Crazy, giggly, unbelievably nice. It couldn’t be real. She was a unicorn. People like her did not exist in our business. It had to be an act. She had to have an agenda. A gold digger? Sleeping her way into a job? I didn’t know what her game was but I didn’t trust her.
It never occurred to me to give BB the benefit of the doubt, to take her at face value. In fact, had she just been another stuntwoman, I may have shunned her completely. Because she was JS’s girl, and JS was Prez’s good buddy, I tried to be friendly. But, honestly, I didn’t try very hard.
In my mind, I was completely justified. I was the good guy. I was a professional stuntwoman aiming for the A list, I had standards to uphold. And no matter how often or how hard she tried to befriend me, I kept my distance from BB. No matter how kind and nice and friendly she was, I refused to take the bait. And when Prez and I left the business, and the country, in 2003 I thought I would probably never see her again.
And I didn’t…until a few days ago.
JS, now living in the LA area and working as a stunt coordinator for some of the biggest names in Hollywood, gave Prez some work last year. It was a wonderful opportunity, for which Prez was very grateful, and he was equally happy to reconnect with his friend. So, since we were in the LA area with time to kill, it seemed only natural we should get together.
BB and JS are now married and living happily. They have a beautiful home, into which we were welcomed with open arms. BB, I saw, had not changed. She was just as full of giggly delight as I remembered. No, the one who had changed was me. For once, I actually dropped my guard and took the time to get to know her without my veil of prejudice. What I learned surprised me.
This woman I had so quickly judged as so much shallow fluff is actually smart, funny, determined, beautiful, and strong. She survived a childhood that would have turned most people into broken, bitter, hollow shells, and she did so without losing her sense of joy and wonder. That bubbly exterior is no act; she’s one of those rare heart-on-the-sleeve souls.
I realized what a huge mistake I had made all those years ago. I felt like a rat. I felt like the dirt beneath a rat. I felt like whatever is beneath the dirt beneath a rat. Then, it got worse.
On a long walk together, BB told me about the trouble she had gone through trying to work as a stuntwoman back east. She didn’t need to tell me how the other stunt people had hurt her, the pain of the memories were all over her always-guileless face. I wanted to lie to myself, convince myself that I had not contributed to her suffering, but I knew I had. Forced to look unflinchingly at my past self, I came face to face with one of the most mean-spirited bullies I had ever known: me. I was the bad guy in this story. Worse than many of the others, not because of my behaviour but because BB had actually liked me, been inspired by me, could recite pieces of advice I had offered her, verbatim, over a decade past.
What would it have cost me to return her friendship all those years ago? Nothing. Did it matter that she wasn’t exactly like me, that she didn’t do all the things I did? No. How would my career or reputation have suffered if I had simply been kind? Not at all.
I was the bad guy. Ouch.
Now what? Well, time travel has yet to be invented, which means I don’t get a do-over, so…
BB, this is my public apology. I was the villain; you were the kind-hearted hero who deserved to be treated much better than I treated you. I hope you’ll keep being who you are and will never let assholes like me change you. The world does not need more sarcasm and cynicism (which I have in spades), it needs more of the openness and love that you offer so freely. I’m sorry for every second that I made you feel unwelcome or unappreciated. I was a dummy, more concerned with fitting in than with being a decent human being. It was me who should have been asking you for advice; it was your respect I should have tried to be worthy of. You were the good guy in this story; you’ve earned your happy ending. I hope that you can forgive me. I hope that I will have a second chance to be the friend I should have been a long time ago.
Finally, thank you for the hospitality, generosity, and kindness you showed us during our visit. It was wonderful to see how your perseverance has paid off, and the life you and JS have built together. You should both take a moment to pat yourselves firmly on the back.
In the ten-plus years since I left the stunt world, I have learned a lot of hard lessons, but this one may be the most important. I know it is one I will never forget…