Poor Gaston. I saw him pass by, through the window of the former Canular (a neighborhood bar on Mont-Royal Avenue, now a Plan B from another generation), one early evening. He offered up a strange and fleeting smile, having spotted me sitting inside at a table. Eight days later, in the middle of the night, he hung himself. How could I have guessed what Gaston’s enigmatic smile implied? It had lasted for only a brief moment. If I would have known, could I have done something? His unfortunate death reminded me of another. It occurred during the aids epidemic.
I learned that a friend of a friend, a gay man who loved classical music, had died of AIDS. I also heard that an American actor had fallen victim to it, as well as another artist—news of its far-reaching effect was all over the papers. But when it came to someone I knew, someone I had discussed Mahler with, that was something else. I had met him on Parc Avenue. He appeared worried. He didn’t seem to be motivated by the fact that he had become a co-owner of a bookstore. He hadn’t seen fit to mention his condition. Looking back, I could have asked questions. But I was in a hurry. It happens.
I relived the encounter, knowing that this time, he was slowly dying of AIDS. I saw myself conversing with him again, now knowing that he knew he was dying, and still, I remained ignorant of the fact, displaying an enthusiasm unrelated to the situation. The possibility of such a gap between our consciences saddened me. The meeting turned ugly. And yet, another death came to mind, one I felt even worse about.
I had first meet Pacheco (spelling uncertain), a vague friend from the delirious days of my secondary five (grade 11) days. We ran into each other twenty years later under the spell the idyllic beginnings of the August month, at the corner of Cherrier and St-Denis. I learned later in the following spring that Pacheco had died of brain cancer at the start of winter. While we were innocently chatting on that street corner, cancer cells had begun eating away at his brain. The retouched image (a photoshop of consciousness) of the encounter was unpleasant to recall. The discrepancy between consciousness and reality became horrifyingly objective. (It vaguely reminded me of something Virginia Woolf once said or was it a lecture I had heard on Tolstoy and Russian writers.)
An Instruction Manual perhaps?
A preacher would surely have made sense of such absurd situations. They promote the awareness of …, they generate the emancipation of …, they allow one to distance … all bullshit. I have a minimum reserve for the humour of the gods, or confronting human finitude, or challenged by the irony of probabilities. The fact remains that if the Lord’s ways are unfathomable, mine aren’t—so there, I felt abused.
In the Meantime;
Marie! My true love. I can see her standing there on a street corner. Her abundant, flowing black hair, caressing her back. I was about to hail her when a pain, of lucidity, froze me on the spot: Marie had died two years earlier. I had forgotten.
At the beginning of the summer, 2002, I finally came back to life after the removal of a double tumour—not cancerous. The tumour appeared at the beginning of January (Happy New Year). I come back to life after considering over a three-week-period, that it was cancerous. And since it went from a green pea to a big egg in three weeks, if it was, I was going to die one way or the other. No problem with Ernest Hemingway or Romain Gary option.
I had been told that Mary died on June 6, (her patron saint day) by her brother-in-law who I had run into by chance. Five months before her death, at the end of December, the strangeness of a dream had woken me up in the middle of the night—she was calling me to her bedside, dying of cancer. We had lost touch with each other a few years back. I had tried to contact her, but I hadn’t tried that hard. She had changed her address and phone number, like me. So, I had given up. A dream is so easy to discredit. Not to mention the pea that was growing insistently on the side of my throat. Maybe it was a message I was sending to myself, in Wiki-Freud format.
I’ll never see her again. This is what I realized on the street, staring at the back of the false Mary. Such a brutal realization made me grasp the essence of death. It is the, never again that makes death indigestible.
As I enter my sixties, I sometimes browse through the photos of the obituary column of a newspaper that’s hanging around in need of attention. I’m surprised to see that almost all these dead people are older than me. My father once told me, « you’re old when all the hockey players are younger than you are. « When it’s the stiffs, it’s okay.
When I think about it, I realize that many of those I once knew are now missing from my little life. Where did the women I loved, go? My teenage friends? My former colleagues from school or work? The older I get, the sadder the news: brain, testicular, colon or breast cancer; suicide, car accident, overdose; buried alive on a golf course in the South. Some have moved to England, California, France or Africa. I understand their disappearance, each in their own way—since I don’t like hospitals, golf or flying. As for the obituaries, a means to an end—the ability to track…