Monday, November 25, 1996 — Remembering The Walking

Jane Siberry‘s music can only be described as eccentric. Last Saturday I uncovered tapes I hadn’t touched since I’ve moved to my North End digs, one of which being Siberry’s The Walking (and Constantly) (mp3, 5.6MB, 6:16). I’m playing it again now as I’m writing this, and it brings me back 9 years when I was merely 22 — to a story that I look back with a great deal of nostalgia.

At this time of year in 1987, I was gearing up for final exams after my first academic term in Halifax — a gruelling term that included a course overload and endless intellectual stimulation in the Great Bob Lake’s Mass Comm class. My roommate at the time was a tremendously handsome hunk who worked in a big hotel in Halifax and was orginally from a village some 20 minutes from my hometown.

One day, Roommate got a call from an officer of The (Real) Majesty’s Armed Forced, who was stationed in British Columbia and also happened to be one of Roommate’s recent tricks. He was calling to say that he was taking advantage of a cheap flight through the armed forces — something like ten bucks to cross the whole bloody country — to pay Roommate another visit.

Roommate was working the evening the officer arrived. However, since I would be home to study for my Mass Comm exam, I would be there to let him in. Roommate gave me a note to give the officer, which essentially told him to make himself at home.

Roommate had given me a brief physical description of the officer so that I would know who and what to expect. However, no description could have prepared me adequately. When he arrived and I opened the door to let him in the apartment, my heart instantly moved from my chest cavity to my throat. There stood a collossal and painfully handsome man in uniform, with a killer smile, a soothing deep voice and whose handshake could break bones.

He entered; we sat in the living room and chatted as best as two total strangers can chat. Being a student of engineering, he took an immediate interest in the fact I was studying for exams and asked what I was studying. After a 30-minute conversation that could in no way be described as small talk, I gave him Roommate’s note, along with the towel on which he had left the note. And I showed him to the washroom and instructed him not mind me while he waited for Roommate’s return from work.

The officer proceeded to a much-need shower given that he had just crossed the country in uncomfortable quarters, and I returned to studying in the living room. What followed is a memory from which I’ll probably never recover, namely seeing him exit the washroom, clad only with white briefs, as he walked over to Roommate’s room. I just happened to look up at the very moment and …err …how shall I say this, dear gentle readers… Well let me put it this way: It didn’t take a prolonged stare for me to conclude that this collossal officer had characteristics that liken him to a goddamn horse — something Roommate surreptitiously confirmed to me, unprompted, a day or two later.

In the days that followed, the officer’s presence electrified the air in our humble abode. He and I had many good talks during his stay, which unfortunately bored Roommate for the most part. But the duo also spent a lot of time in the non-common areas of the apartment, which suited me fine since I did have to study. However, one thing was becoming clear to me as well as Roommate: As far as a meeting of minds, the officer and I were getting along like a house on fire, but on the more superficial fronts, the officer was interested in Roommate’s Greek-god qualities.

Occasionally Roommate would emerge from his room and come to find me where I was studying. He would shake his head before finally confiding in me. Yes, he also liked the officer well enough; who couldn’t?! But he quickly became uneasy with two things: the fact that the officer was already applying pressure to get him to move to some suburban house in B.C., and the fact that he …err …oh how to say this delicately… The fact that the officer had on several occasions in the last few days managed to bring Roommate to say, “You want to do *what* with *WHAT*?!”

In both cases, it was simply too much.

Things were already starting to fall apart. I could recognize that the officer was expecting too much and too soon from Roommate, but at the same time I thought Roommate a fool not to let himself be swept away by such a totally handsome gentleman whose intellect I had quickly come to admire and respect. (Remember as well that I was only 22 at the time and still very green in matters of romance.) Then early on the fourth morning after the officer’s arrival, as I was getting ready to go write my infamous Mass Comm exam, I found the officer sleeping on the living room sofa. And this time my heart sank to the pit of my belly.

When I came back home after my exam, the apartment was deserted; Roommate was at work and, clearly, the officer had taken off with his belongings …except that he had forgotten his Jane Siberry cassette. Half jokingly I thought to myself, “If Roommate didn’t want him, then why the hell didn’t he give me a good reference?!” Mere seconds after the joking thought crossed my mind, Roommate called from work, audibly dejected but feeling he had made the right choice.

Shortly afterwards, it was the officer’s turn to call. He was wondering if he could swing by the apartment to pick up his Jane Siberry tape. It was a downright awful December afternoon — wet snow and rain falling in torrents — but he walked over anyway.

He arrived cold and wet. I offered him a cup of tea and a chance to dry off his clothes while I dubbed the said cassette for myself. He stayed a bit more than an hour, or as long as he thought it safe to stay before Roommate’s return from work. Seeing such a collossal hunk so heartbroken was most disarming.

The last image I have of the officer was to see him from my 13th-floor balcony window, walking along Brunswick Street in the slush and rain as I listened to his Jane Siberry cassette I had just dubbed. He returned to B.C. that night, and I resumed my studying for exams even though I was filled with regrets for Roommate, the officer, and myself.

2003 — I have no idea what has become of Roommate or the officer.

Memories of One Who Writes A Lot

I woke up around 2:00 a.m. last night and was unable to get back to sleep. On my mind were some of the long e-mail narratives I wrote to my dear friend Lonestar in Tennessee back in 1996. Unfortunately, we hardly write anymore — not because of a chill in our friendship but simply because our respective lives have become so hectic.

I’m one of those oddballs who saves all his e-mail messages, whether they’re outgoing or incoming, and I have some dating back to 1994 when I first started using e-mail. Never an orthodox letter writer, I simply switched from long, hand-written letters I would write friends over several days, to long e-mail messages that would be as descriptive, narrative, reflective, humorous. Those I sent Lonestar were very newsy, but also they would allow me to indulge in storytelling — simple, real-life stories as they had unfolded and somehow had struck a chord in me, taught me something. I guess I blogged well before blogs existed.

Last night I ended up reading messages between Lonestar and me from the summer and fall of 1996. This was the time when my father underwent two big operations (6 heart bypasses in the first, and the removal of half a lung in the second due to complications with the first). Simultaneously, back in Halifax, I had agreed to take on a roommate who was dying of I don’t know how many AIDS-related complications.

It was painful to read through those accounts last night. I had forgotten the intensity and urgency of that prose. So I’m glad that I wrote down those thoughts and, moreover, that I still have them. After going over them more than six years later, I’m amazed that I didn’t just crawl under a rock and disappear forever.

In case you’re wondering… My father is still alive and relatively fine; 1996 was only the first of 5 years of illness. The roommate died on Dec. 1, 1996, by which point he hadn’t been my roommate for a bit more than 2 months. We mused that, given how he was always big on theatrics, he must have chosen that date to make a statement.