(Too long, didn’t read? It’s okay. My old friend Ramzi is running to raise money for his local Ottawa children’s hospital. Please help him out. It’s for a good cause.)
It’s funny how life works. I’m not the easiest person to get to know, I’m fairly moody, and don’t maintain relationships particularly well (Bridget – this should be my dating bio if we ever go our separate ways. Imagine the deluge of responses!). Generally, when one phase of my life ends and another begins, I just move on. It’s not that I don’t value friendships so much as I just don’t have the energy, time, or inclination to nurture them.
When I was in ninth grade, I tried out for the basketball team. I didn’t make the team. Frankly, I was stunned. The team was terrible. Our coach (I guess he wasn’t technically my coach for more than the three tryouts) was a former Olympic basketball player. Surely he could see my skill through the big glasses, floppy, unkempt hair, and short shorts that I sported each morning. I felt like I was walking into a room full of the castoffs from the Bad News Bears.
Since my dreams of becoming a pro basketball player disintegrated before my very eyes, my mornings would be free all fall and winter.***
“Come join the swim team,” suggested Ramzi. I looked at him like he was a lunatic. The swim team? Put on some unflattering spandex Speedos and swim around an unheated pool until I threw up? Yeah, sure. Why not?
Before the first swim meet I went to, where I stubbornly wore long surfer shorts and was thrown into a 400m freestyle race, Ramzi and I were standing around the foyer of our high school with another classmate, waiting for everyone else to get there so we could leave for our meet. Next to us stood a locker designated as the school Lost and Found area. Out of boredom and mischief, we rooted through the locker and pulled out a ladle – a fairly nondescript soup ladle. The ladle became our team symbol. The captain would have us kneel by the pool, and in a Monty Python-esque show of ridiculousness, he’d bless us with a ladleful of water before each meet. We would also scream out “L-L-L-L-L-L-L-LADLE! LADLE!” every few minutes during swim meets just to be equal parts obnoxious and amusing. It probably wasn’t so equal.
Eventually, we graduated from high school. By then, I was in my full surly mode, no idea what to do with my life, and I was probably pretty hard to be around. Ramzi moved away to go to school, I moved around to a few different schools, and we didn’t see each other for almost twenty years.
Until Marshall was born.
By 2015, I had been on and off Facebook for a while. Every few years, I’d delete my profile to hide from former students and old acquaintances. At some point, I came across a post of a friend where Ramzi left a comment. Recognizing the name and feeling nostalgic, I clicked through his profile info, happy to see a few photos of my old friend.
Around the same time, Marshall was born, and I went dark online for a few months while I avoided anyone I knew. I couldn’t figure out how to tell the world what was going on with our little boy. Finally, about two months after he was born, I started this blog because I was tired of hiding and delaying the inevitable. We were finally out of the hospital and for the first time since Februray 21, 2015, I could take a breath and assess the situation calmly.
Ramzi wrote to me soon afterwards. I remember sitting on my bed when his message popped up. As I write this, I’m getting emotional thinking about how much it meant to me. He shared his family’s own ordeals in neonatal intensive care with me and offered me encouragement, an attentive ear, and kindness. Twice, he met up with me when he was in town visiting family. Our situations were medically different, but there were so many similarities in our experiences that it was incredibly reassuring to hear how well things were turning out for his family. Maybe the light at the end of my tunnel was just that, and not an oncoming train.
In a few weeks, Ramzi is taking part in a 10km race to raise money for a children’s hospital in Ottawa. Money raised will go to a hospital that has helped Ramzi’s family and countless others. If you have been touched by this bit of writing, you’ve taken your child to a hospital, you have friends or relatives who access health care services frequently, or you just want to support my old friend, then please consider helping him reach his modest fundraising goal by clicking here and sending him whatever you can. The health care system in Canada is phenomenal. I have no doubt Ramzi and I would both be a million dollars in debt by now if we didn’t have access to our medical resources. Take a walk through any pediatric hospital, though, and you can see how much more can and needs to be done.
Thanks for your help.
***For anyone interested in even more tangentially-related facts that actually have little to do with Marshall and Apert syndrome, I ended up quitting swimming in grade 12 and instead played on what can only be described as a basketball kibbutz. Everyone made the team, our tallest player and centre stood barely six feet tall, we went 0-11, frequently lost by 50 or more points, and once scored a total of 8 points, a game in which our four leading scorers each had one bucket. I did not score a single point all year. I’m not sure why. This is made all more farcical considering I had by that point become a decent swimmer. If only I had paid more attention to either Mark Spitz or other Olympic swimmers who achieved fame, or perhaps parlayed our notoriety as the worst team in Toronto high school history by pitching the sports biopic idea to movie studios.
You want more details, you say? At least three of the members of our boys’ swim team became doctors. Ramzi is basically a genius who lived in Hawaii for a while and maintained his teenaged physique and athletic prowess. Another classmate became a lawyer. I, on the other hand, am sure that of all of the boys – MEN! – on that team, I have by far the largest board game collection in my basement.
Finally, at that first swim meet, the coach gave me the goal of finishing my 400m race in under 7:00 minutes. My time? 7:01. Eventually, I’d get down to under 5:00, but only after I ditched the surfer shorts and put in a few years of work.