I wrote this three days ago and have hesitated to publish it because I know I come off sounding full of regrets and wishing that things were different – AGAIN. I’m going to publish it anyway because, I suppose, I need to own those feelings and let myself know that maybe it’s ok for me to feel that way.
In addition, it’s Friday night right now and we’re back in the hospital for the first time since early-June. Marshall has some sort of virus and has enough trouble breathing that he can’t stay asleep for more than a few minutes at a time. So, that means he’s going to spend some time back at Sick Kids to be monitored and to make sure it’s nothing more than a cold. Bridget’s there tonight, and then I take over tomorrow morning.
I met Pat when I was six years-old and a new student at the Catholic elementary school I attended in Scarborough, Ontario. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the start of a lifelong friendship. We’ve done a lot of stupid things together. If you’re bored, I wrote about one of those adventures in a newspaper a number of years ago.
I still remember being a fairly new student at the school, entering a class where many of the kids knew each other from their Kindergarten class the year before, and being nervous about meeting new people. Pat handed me a birthday party invitation some time halfway through the year – my first birthday party invite! I can still remember the party, the house, his black dog, and the fun we had that day.
I changed schools for my grade 7 year, but we still lived in the same neighbourhood, so there was still a lot of time spent together playing basketball or hanging out. That summer, to mark the end of an era at the same school, Pat, our friend Jerry, and I spent an entire night watching really bad movies and drinking our way through FORTY-EIGHT cans of orange and grape Crush. Unsurprisingly, Jerry spent the next morning vomiting streams of purple liquid.
Before you knew it, we were adults and living in different cities. I moved back to Toronto after a few years away, but we were never to live in the same neighbourhood again. Pat now lives in the west end of the city, and I live in the east. Toronto’s a big city, and with busy work lives and busy home lives, our get-togethers have grown progressively less frequent.
I last saw Pat on my birthday in September of last year. Bridget had organized a surprise for me at a Mystery Room, where I was met by a group of good friends. Afterwards, a few of us went out for a dinner of Korean BBQ. Bridget was four months pregnant then, and we were blissfully unaware of how different our lives were about to become. We parted that night with Pat and Christine the same way we always parted – with promises to get together again soon.
Marshall’s birth and the accompanying surprises have been like an episode of X-Files where time has been lost and all memory erased. It seems unbelievable that I have not seen Pat since that day over one year ago.
This past weekend, I wanted to change that, so I packed Marshy into the car and we made the quick drive out to the west end of the city for a visit. It’s been a while since I’ve had to introduce Marshall to someone who hasn’t seen him yet. I still get anxious when I’m out with him in the stroller, but I’m starting to have times when I forget that people might notice something’s different and stare. I had that briefly on Saturday, but soon it felt like old times again. Things were clearly different. I felt about ten years older than the last time I had sat in their living room. I was happy to see them, but I definitely felt a sadness as I thought of how different my life is now compared to what I thought it would be when we were teenagers.
I love Marshall with all of my heart. I wouldn’t change a thing now, mostly because wishing for that would be futile. That much needs to be made clear first of all, but when you’re young, and you’re in class with your third grade teacher, no one tells you how hard life might be. You believe that you can be anything and anyone you want to be – Prime Minister, an astronaut, a lawyer, a doctor, a professional basketball player (I’m still hopeful for that), a teacher – but no one tells you of the times when you’ll be sleepless, or desperate for a medical miracle, or you’ll wonder if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
I tell my students what my teachers told me thirty years ago – you really can be anything you want to be. I tell them that because everyone needs to dream and to have hope. Life would be too unbearable and crushingly daunting without dreams. In many ways, I do believe that they can be anything and anyone they want to be. I cling to that hope for them, much like I hoped for wild futures for myself when I was their age. But really, all I would really hope for if I could go back in time would be for an easy life of happiness.
I’m happy I took Marshall to see Pat. Marshall is starting to be a little fussy when strangers hold him, but when Pat sat him on his lap, Marshall was calm, looking up at this new person inquisitively. I left the visit feeling happier than when I arrived. It felt like old times, sort of, but with some complications and challenges thrown in. I think someone like Pat would have handled the changes we’ve had at home differently. He’s much more laid back, and I doubt he would have gone to the dark places I’ve been to mentally since Marshall’s birth. It was pretty neat to see Marshy in his arms. I felt like I was introducing Marshall to two people who will be in his life in the future, two more safe people he will be able to be himself around in case life ever gets too crazy, two people I’m sure he’ll be comfortable being around as he grows older.
Marshall’s still a few years away from school. When he finally takes his first steps into grade one, I hope he meets his version of Pat like I did thirty-three years ago.