Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – December 7, 2004
Tonight – 33 Years Ago
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – December 7, 2004 – Thirty-three years ago tonight, I was sitting in my dorm room at Renison College, at the University of Waterloo. I was in my fourth year of university, soon to spring forth onto an unsuspecting world, clutching my newly minted four year Arts degree in History and English. I had decided against accepting the scholarship for my Masters that one of my professors wanted me to take – I wanted some living experience!
I had two major research papers due by the 15th of the month and I didn’t feel like working on either one. You know that feeling!
I was wearing a green, velour sweat suit and my waist length hair was piled up on top of my head with a pencil stuck through it. My radio was playing and I had a glass of sherry sitting on my desk. I was supposed to drive to Owen Sound the next day to visit my parents, because I was leaving on the 18th to spend Christmas in Florida with a friend. I was behind in my research, and feeling all the associated guilt and pressure that procrastination brings. I didn’t feel like doing anything.
About nine-thirty there was a knock on my door. I was a Resident Don and thought that one of the gals on my floor probably needed something. I hesitated a moment, not really wanting to answer it, but the knock was repeated. I got up and walked over to the door. My brother Mike was standing there, bundled up against the cold in his tan, sheep skin coat, with his ever-present smile easily in place.
He came in, hugged me and sat down. I gave him a glass of sherry and we chatted about everything and nothing. I was going to borrow his car the next day to drive up and see my parents and we discussed that, and the fact that it would be my first Christmas away from home and family. Mike looked at me fondly and told me how proud he was of me. He said, “You’re just such a jet setter – I know you’re going to have a great life”.
He left my room about ten-thirty and was on his way to drop in and visit my brother Eric and his wife Jeannie. They lived in an apartment about a mile away. I stood outside my room and watched him walk down the long corridor to the outside door. When he reached the end of the hall he turned around and called out to me, “I love you”. I waved goodbye – the door closed and he was gone.
Mike went off to visit my other brother and I frittered away the rest of the evening, thinking about historical research, but definitely not doing it. The next morning I called my mother to tell her that I wouldn’t be coming up to visit for a few more days because I still had work to do on my papers. Consequently I didn’t borrow Mike’s car, and when he dropped by the parking lot the next night, it was sitting there waiting. He must have assumed that my plans had changed and unbeknownst to me, he made a last minute decision to drive to Owen Sound himself, leaving about seven o’clock in the evening. He never made it home.
My father called me about eleven- thirty the next night to tell me that Mike had been killed by a drunk driver, and that Eric, Jeannie and I needed to come home. It was a surreal moment – frozen forever in time. I knew the curve he’d been killed on, and for years I imagined that last drive. Mike sitting casually in his car – the radio playing – the heater keeping the cold December night at bay.
I wondered if he even saw the other car in his lane as he rounded the curve. Did he know it was on his side of the road? Did he have any time to react. How loud was the crash? What was his last thought? Did it hurt to die such a violent death? Why hadn’t I done my research on time so his car would have been gone when he happened by the parking lot? What kind of a God let this happen?
Mike was a fine person with sound values and the warmest heart of anyone I have ever known. He had a good soul. His path in life was a short one, but he touched a lot of people as he walked upon it. He was, and always will be, greatly missed by me. I remember his smile so clearly when he turned around at the end of the hallway to tell me he loved me. His next stop, on what probably seemed like an uneventful night was to drop in to visit Eric and Jeannie.
Did he have a premonition? Did he know subconsciously that he was going to die the next night? Was he saying good-bye? I’ll never know the answers to these questions in this lifetime. After he was gone, the memory of his evening visit with me was a gift that I held on to, and one that I still treasure.
Mike has never aged – his face is young and fair – his hair still soft and light brown – tousled and falling over his forehead, his frame tall and lean, his smile easy, the collar of his sheepskin coat still turned up against the cold of that December night so many years ago. His fate a pact between he and God.
If you learn nothing from the story of a loss such as this one, let it be to never let a day end where a cruel word hangs unkindly between you and a loved one. None of us ever knows what the next twenty-four hours will bring. Life can change from laughter to tears as you draw a breath. Give your best to those you love. Take the best from each day and cherish it – only ever passing along the love.
2014 – And all these years later I can still see Mike at the end of the hall saying “I love you” …