THE WAY WE WERE

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE -

the girls at Dal­housie El­e­men­tary pooled quar­ters to buy a Valen­tine’s Day mes­sage for our teach­ers, feel­ing slightly smug about what we knew would be a grander ges­ture than the boys would muster. I wrote the homage.

“Dear Mrs. Fast & Mrs. Turnock,” it reads. “Happy Valen­tine’s Day. Thanks for mak­ing Grade Six our favourite year and the best part is it’s not over yet!”

If I could tell my­self then what I now know about time, I wouldn’t have be­lieved me. I wouldn’t have be­lieved I’d read that clip­ping again when 23 years had gone by.

There is other de­bris, other flashes of hazy mem­ory. Two ride tick­ets from West Ed­mon­ton Mall, where we rode a roller-coaster and saw Donny Os­mond in the candy shop. My sis­ter was star-struck. I didn’t know who he was. She told me he was gor­geous and that was all I needed to know, which made sense enough to an 11-year-old.

Above this layer, there are ar­ti­facts from the time I be­gan to flail into adult­hood. That’s where I find the end of the thread of my best friend and I.

There are only glimpses of him at first, peek­ing out the edge of a Grade 12 photo snapped by some­one I don’t re­mem­ber, at an event I don’t re­call. Over time, he moves to the middle of the pic­tures, and the two of us be­come the sub­ject of the im­age. Fi­nally, there’s one of Josh curled up on a ratty couch, star­ing at my old dog.

Mem­ory flood. That was from our first apart­ment, on the ground floor of a Co­ry­don Av­enue du­plex with al­gae-green car­pet. We were 18 years old. That ratty couch, closer in colour to the con­tents of a di­a­per, was un­earthed from some­one’s base­ment. Be­cause we were broke. Be­cause I quit my mall job to pre­tend that I could be a writer.

We lived on Kraft Din­ner and chips that sum­mer. We had one bowl and one spoon and would take turns eat­ing, wash­ing the prized uten­sil af­ter the other. There are few other me­men­toes in the Mem­o­ries Box!! from this era, mostly pho­tos, be­cause ac­quir­ing things costs money. All we owned was a di­a­per couch, a dog and laugh­ter.

The friend­ship thread snakes up­ward, and tan­gles it­self through an­other layer. We are do­ing bet­ter, now. There is a cheque that Josh made out to him­self with my first cheque­book, for a joint ac­count I shared with an ex-part­ner I des­per­ately be­lieved I’d be with for­ever. “One-hun­dred-mil­lion dol­lars,” he wrote.

(I texted him a photo of this cheque when I found it, ex­press­ing tongue-in-cheek re­lief he never cashed it. “Yeah, good for YOU,” he re­sponded.)

The lay­ers are grow­ing richer. Now, there are clip­pings from my first staff work at the Free Press, when my head­shot was dom­i­nated by a crooked grin. There are thank-you cards from read­ers. There is a ticket to the 2009 Na­tional News­pa­per Awards in Ottawa, ta­ble 13, sand­wiched be­tween trin­kets from San Fran­cisco.

That trip was spe­cial. In the wake of a dev­as­tat­ing breakup, Josh de­cided to haul me to the coast. We eked our way there by train and then by rental car, driv­ing 12 hours through the Cas­cades in mid­night snow. When we got to San Fran­cisco, I opened up Twit­ter and saw peo­ple of­fer­ing me con­grat­u­la­tions for my NNA nom­i­na­tion.

That’s how I found out, and for the first time in my life I felt like I had made it. I curled up on a bed in a dank and win­dow­less $60 ho­tel room not far from the Em­bar­cadero, and cried. Josh was there to hug me, and grin, and I jumped around our ho­tel room and shouted that I’d never felt more alive.

That night, we tore a trail through the Cas­tro. We ate pizza on the street with peo­ple we would never see again but who, for at least 20 min­utes, were our best friends. Ex­cept for each other, but that went with­out say­ing. I kept a wadded-up brochure from a Har­vey Milk theme restau­rant so that I’d al­ways re­mem­ber.

The next day, we dragged our ach­ing bod­ies through the tourist des­ti­na­tions. There was a poet sit­ting at the cor­ner of Haight and Ash­bury with a type­writer, of­fer­ing po­ems for a $10 fee. It seemed a per­fectly San Fran­cisco thing to buy, so I gave him a theme: the poem is ti­tled “A Week in San Fran­cisco with My Best Friend.”

The poem is in the box, too, on a care­fully folded pa­per sheet. It closes with this: “We look out in­side a city that isn’t ours to­mor­row, but will be ours to­day.”

Af­ter that, the mem­ory lay­ers thin out quick. Things changed. We com­mu­ni­cate more of­ten, but leave fewer traces. We started tex­ting more, but stopped writ­ing notes. We stopped print­ing out pho­tos, stopped putting them in frames, started let­ting In­sta­gram and Face­book do the work of com­mem­o­rat­ing each time and ev­ery place.

So what do you do with things found in a box, things you once stuffed in purses and pock­ets and promised that they meant so much, you’d never for­get?

Maybe you sit down and write a news­pa­per col­umn. So at least you can clip it out, stash it in the box, and one day re­mem­ber that it was real enough to hold.

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