Got word this morning that our friend Kris died.** A family friend, of sorts. Not many chapters in our lives overlapped, but a few did. He was older than me; enough to make a difference but not enough that he was old.*
His parents worked with mine and were friends with those in my parents’ circle. He mostly worked Up North but occasionally ended up in our neighbourhood for a few months at a time. In the winter of my grade 11 or 12 year he stayed in our basement while he worked at camp for a while, busy snowplowing and building things.
He laughed at me like you would a little sister.
“You!” He said once, incredulously. “You. A Teacher. You want to teach?” And he laughed long and hard and genuinely.
It made me laugh along because I knew where his astonishment came from. He was one of the few to witness my rants and frustrations all stemming from the system we know as school. Those winter evenings I would sit on the twirly office chair near our kitchen while supper was cleared away, procrastinating and vocalizing my opinions on the assignments at hand.
The word “stupid” was frequently uttered whilst I sat at the swirly chair.
Kris would observe from the lounge chair, converse with my family, and tell me to “quit your whining.” Sometimes he would genuinely offer helpful views (before shrugging off my arrogant retorts), but often it was he who was the Devil’s Advocate, stirring the pot, and keeping me on my feet. My arguments were generally pathetic in contrast to his matter-of-factness and I knew it. Once I was sufficiently riled and everyone else sufficiently amused, he would end the episodes by simply, repeatedly, telling me to “just do your homework.”
Not that he was ever a model student – and never claimed to be. He took pride (and amusement, I think) in his straight-up honesty and no BS attitude, and would gladly tell us of all the math classes he skipped or failed. Not because he wasn’t smart, mind you, he just didn’t care and got bored.
Maybe he didn’t fail. I don’t remember. He would indignantly interject here and tell me to get my story straight.
On second thought, I don’t think he failed.
He challenged me. Told me to learn to drive standard. Quit wussing out and just go do it. Practice. So what if I looked like a fool, there was only one way to learn: Do it.
He was gentle. Generous. He was smart. He smoked. He swore. (Respectfully, of course, when I was around at least.)
He wasn’t your typical role-model-in-a-box at first glance, but I looked up to him.
He like to snowboard. He liked to do things. He smelled like a workman – diesel, sawdust, smoke, grease, sweat and who knows what other combinations were ingrained in his clothes.
His clothes. His mom is going to have to go through his clothes. His boots. His snowboard.
He was a family friend, of sorts. He was a guest in our home, but more than that for he lived there too. He was a reason to make a more proper dinner and for all of us to show up to the table. He was another voice through the floorboards and another hand to stoke the fire and shovel the steps. He brought life to a dark living room when the lamp was left on for him to read a book or watch a movie late into the evenings.
He brought life.
He was alive.
He. lived. with. us.
I am reminded of death and I am reminded of life. The words we use in our everyday language hold so much meaning yet we skip it over in a sentence, a breath. Our lives are but a breath. Tomorrow is not promised.
He shared a table with us. And that changes things, means something.
And it will never be the same again.
*According to my math, he was 27.
I grieve for his family; recall
insignificant small memories, and look forward to seeing his insolent grin in heaven.
We’ll have some bickering to catch up on.
** (Edit: Written and posted at separate times. No longer an accurate statement.)