Sunday, January 23, 2005


When I was young, I had a friend named Greg.
Greg was more popular than I, at our catholic school, not
that he was great beauty
or a favoured child in the teacher's or nun's eyes.
catholic school tends to breed hellians, surpassed only
by the mennonites.
in our town, anyway.
but he was fun to be around
as long as he wasn't pissed at you
or f****-up on something.
Eventually, the older boys took him in as one of their own
he could fight, drink, spit, talk trash and women with the vulgarest of them
hiding that beautiful smile like a treasure
brought out of the safe on special occasions
to polish and share, for a bit.
When it came to basebal, he had game, but then,
I did too
and we shared a trophy
Softball, the summer cure for the lack of hockey in a small northern town.
There were things that I never saw in him, but someone did.

Pam was a babe.
could make a roomful of boys utterly silent and small
and she was Greg's girlfriend.
Gave hope to the rest of us, 'cause Greg was no prize
like any any of us were.
He was hardly ever in school, it seemed
but maybe he just hung out in places where I couldn't go
with people who wouldn't want me around
but they hung with my boy,
maybe because of pam, but he could charm most anybody, if he behaved himself.
For the presence of pam at your party, Greg was an acceptable risk.

I left the small town
went to a bigger small town and lost touch
went to the city for awhile, before returning.

My best friend told me that I never write, or visit.
"Hell, I'm here aren't I?"
Tom was in charge of the body shop, now,
and figuring to have his own, eventually.
Father finally dead, years of hardrock took his lungs and immunity
the company took his years and spirit,
boiled it down and alloyed to the gold.
Brother out of the army, driving taxi,
started a motorcycle club where half the members didn't have
bikes yet.
But, Mom still made the best pickled pumpkin I ever had,
Tom and I got sick on it, again, we ate so much.

"What's Greg up to?"
Tom kinda looked down at his guitar, made a few chord finger positions without playing a note and said:
"Pam went and dumped him after they'd been going out for nearly six years."
"That must have been the year after I left."
"Yeah... well, he just kinda followed her around in public, now and then, ya know.
Not all the time.
When he got a few beers in him, he'd call her up from the bar and plead with her to come talk to him.
I guess that he made her feel pretty uncomfortable. She finally got the O.P.P. to pay him a visit; warn 'im of, eh?
He'd still try to talk to her, if he 'just ran into her' in the street. You know this place, you can't spend three weeks in town without running into pretty much everyone. They couldn't really avoid each other, and Greg wasn't
trying too hard to keep outta her hair"

The story couldn't end well. I saw it in Tom's stare, trying to burn the strings of his guitar with his eyes. I waited and listened.

"Her new boyfriend got really pissed, and finally beat the crap outta Greg at the mall. That guy was a big, mean f****r; the ugliest cheapshot in the hockey league, ya know? I mean, Greg could go to the canvas with just about anybody in town, but with this guy he was way over 'is head with this guy. He got f****d over, badly, in front of a buncha ladies taking lunch together after mass... so everybody in town knew about before supper.
I guess that's when he lost it.
Not anything happened, right away, ya know. Weall just forgot about it, mostly. Some of the guys would rag on him, going on about how he got a beatdown, but Greg never took the bait.
In fact, it seemed like he was a changed kind of person: wasn't fighting anymore, stopped going to the bar (he was always at the bar), supposedly quit drinking all together. Someone told me that he had been doing drugs of some sort, but I never saw anything like that.
But, yeah... he did change."

"Anyway, pam goes home, alone, one night and finds Greg at her house...
He'd broken open the front door, wrote a note saying that ' it was all her fault '
and then blew his head off with a 12 gauge.
'Ate it.', they say."

Greg was gone.

What I can remember clearest is that smile;
colour fading on a cheap school photograph, nearly three decades old, now.
Our clothes still a ridiculous shadow of our parents' fashion sense; me in the front row, sweater vest over plaid polyester long-sleeved shirt. Cereal bowl haircut.
Greg is in the back row; long, unkempt hair and unbuttoned shirt. He's laughing at the camera.

It was one of the coldest winters that I remember; the winter of my return.
Some old lady, Ahnishnahbeh, froze on the edge of town. Plywood and tarpaper shack, no firewood and noone to go get some for her.
I guess that I was relatively comfortable, so the pain grew small, yet,
still comes around at certain moments.
Sometimes I get angry and curse Greg. I will always remember him, cheating me in a game of marbles,
then walking away with the older boys, laughing.
And remember how much I wanted to follow him.

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