friends

Ode To A Friend

I’m constantly wondering, why is it that I have such amazing friends? It’s enough sometimes to give a guy a complex. I understand that our experience is relative, therefore I should assume that it’s my perception which casts this light on the people around me. That said, goddamn I have great friends and today I’d like to sing the praise of one in particular.

This particular friend is an old one. I believe we met in grade one. We were natural enemies at first, just as so many boys are with their later best friends. After some ridiculous altercation wherein he called me names and I pulled his hair we decided, on those grounds, we were fit to be life-long brothers. The following years were filled with an idyllic kind of growth which can only be found in the island communities off the west-coast of Canada.

Vancouver Island

Where our paths took an unusual turn was around the time were both reaching the completion of our first decade on this blue dot called earth. His family for work reasons left for Japan. Bonded as we were at the hip, to lose such a great friend came as a great shock. Adding to this shock was the place he was going. Japan to an adult mind carries with it mystical connotations, to a child’s you might as well say you’re going to another planet. Thus my interest in the place I now live was born.

Planet

The poor guy, or lucky, depending on how you look at it, was dropped into a Japanese elementary school as soon as he arrived. He had no training in the language. He was given no special treatment for his lack of its understanding. His life became the very definition of sink or swim. After a few years he came back to Canada and we were reunited again. He with an amazing understanding of a challenging foreign language. Me with a studied interest in where he had gone.

I discussed with him the dream that had grown in his absence: to live in Japan by teaching English one day. He supported the idea whole-heartedly. Also he shared with me his new interest in architecture. It felt like we could both see the future. He would become a successful architect, and I, a teacher thriving in a different fascinating culture. The powers that be, naturally, had something else in mind for the both of us.

paths

I fell in love. Hard. The kind of love utterly pure for its ignorance. Love untainted by discovering the cost of losing it. And for a time it was good: three years to be precise. Although the final year of the relationship suffered a sharp decline which forecasted its eventual end. In those years my dream to travel abroad was given up gladly. Love doesn’t care where it lives.

My friend on the other hand moved back to Japan to study architecture at the university of Kyoto. He’d worked his ass off to earn a full ride scholarship. This scholarship is given out to a handful of people by the Japanese government. Did I mention my friend is smart? So while I got fat, foolishly lazy content in the idea that true-love is infinitely patient, my friend laid down the tracks for a glorious future.

My relationship ended and I was left wondering, what the hell I should do? I’m, as my dad likes to say, a god-cursed arts student. I have a degree in history, which although interesting, is hard to apply in a job market which rewards understanding of the material world. For that reason I drifted from job to job for a couple of years. I’m lucky to have met more amazing friends and people who inspired me. Grateful as I was to meet these people, one of which I directly credit for making me realize I could write, I still didn’t know what to do. Cliché as it may sound, I’d forgotten my dream.

shattered

My friend reminded me. He reminded me about my dream to live abroad. My life came into focus immediately. I would come over to Japan. No matter what I had to do to make it a reality, I would. Strangely, I see in retrospect much as I thought the interview process was grueling and difficult, all that success required of me was an effort. But that’s a different story.

My friend gave me a direction and for that I will always be eternally grateful. It is an incredible gift that we as friends have the power to draw out the dormant potential we can see in the ones we care for. This is not some tired idealist phrase: you can change someone’s life for the better. And having learned this lesson from my friend, I will try to do the same for others until the day I die.

reflection

I felt reborn having come to Japan. Each day I woke up had purpose and excitement. I was living my life the way I believe we all should: with an awareness that each breath we draw carries a certain magic. I could not have been happier. That was, until my friend was diagnosed with cancer.

The news was especially staggering for the life he had led leading up to the diagnosis. There are certain people who are diagnosed and, cruel as it sounds, it makes a certain sense. If you live your life in excess when cancer comes to call it’s not always surprising. My friend is not one of these people. He was a young, healthy, non-smoker, active individual. No one could believe it.

The type of cancer he was diagnosed with was terminal. He would have to face dying. I know the world is filled with amazing people, and perhaps some of them would handle this news well, but none with the unique grace that my friend did. I know for certain he faced despair and under its weight he never gave in. He did the treatments. He watched his health fade. He made peace with death.

flatline

Then, a miracle. The Dr had mis-diagnosed his cancer. It went from being a terminal to case to one with a potentially positive outcome. My friend fought hard. His health came back. He recovered. I have rarely been so happy in my entire life. And I learned from him another lesson. Until something comes to pass its outcome is never certain. Good or bad.

I’m relieved to say that after the chemo and treatments his recovery was complete and since that dark time he has been doing extraordinarily well. He hasn’t however continued to pursue architecture. Nope, instead he and his brother have founded an international tech company which is rapidly on its way to being a massive success.

earth-rising-sun-desktop-background

The G7 summit was recently held in Japan and my friend was establishing offices there around the time of the event. It just so happened as well that the Canadian government, while at the event, were looking for new tech companies to invest in. My friend’s company’s meteoric rise earned him newly elected Canadian prime-minister Justin Trudeau’s attention and he was invited to a dinner whereat he received a grant for his business. I tell you I can’t believe it. Some people just don’t know when to give up.

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When You Bleed You’re Beautiful

Approach and state your name

Did you come here to fight

Did you come here to blame

This road is not yours this house is not mine

You’re building castles in the sand this time

I’m so tired of drawing lines

We can, can fly above them

They’ll not matter when you see them far away

One more argument you bought and sold

I’m sorry to be the one who tells you, baby, when you bleed you’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, be there, fade away, say my name, let me know

Appear, what twists and takes all your fears

Knock, knocking you, get up fall down

That familiar feel of crumbling ground

I know you’re tired of endings and beginnings

Life’s long lists of what ifs and letting gos

Just remember when we bleed we’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, let me go, be there, fade away, let me know

Not the First Nor the Last

March Roundup Contest Entry 2015

Prompt: In 250 words or fewer, pick a quote from a published author or book and write about it.

————

“Sometimes you have to do what’s wrong in order to do what’s right.”

Peter F. Hamilton, The Dreaming Void

———————–

“Hey, I’m so glad to see you.” My tone is a manic mix of light-hearted optimism and inconsolable fear.

I grip one hand with the other to stop the shaking. There is nothing I can do about my head. It irritates me endlessly. Whenever I’m stressed, there’s a slight vibration in my neck. I’m sure I’m not the only one who notices it.

She steps through the door and looks at me with hollow eyes. “Let’s sit down,” she says.

“Sure, of course.” I signal to my room. No roommate anymore and no more furniture leaves the place almost empty, just a bed and memories.

We both sit and I begin. I am a bursting fountain-head of cliché: “I love you. We can work. I’m begging you. You’re my soul-mate”. I’ve made it harder for her. In the end I hurt her more.

But her words are absolution: “I don’t. No we can’t. I don’t care. You’re not mine.”

Inside, whatever dignity I had is swept away. Grief strips me. I am nothing. Outside, my shell persists. Discontent with leaving any scrap behind, I negotiate my pride: trade reality for one last illusion. When she’s walking to the door, I’m almost optimistic. Maybe there’s a chance. Maybe it’s not over. Maybe when I leaned in for that last kiss before she left, those lips weren’t dead.

Forgive Me

Forgive me if I’ve forgotten what we argued for

We washed up here without our fear left it on the shore

It’s in each other’s arms we’re guilty wanting more

Like an old photograph you hold in your hands

Timeless till the waves melt what seemed like solid sand

Let me wake from just one more dream
Where the sun is rising and the light touches everything
An unending ending is it so much to ask
When all our time descending falls through an hour-glass

If I am no more than a blink of an eye let me fall a million ways let me feel before I die

All those friends who’ve come and gone loved ones whose memories may persist

Aren’t we all just the same leaving folded at the wrists

So please

Forgive what I am forgive what I am not forgive that I’m forgetting what should not have been forgot

Let me wake from just one more dream
Where the sun is rising and the light touches everything
An unending ending is it so much to ask
When all our time descending falls through an hour-glass

Chapter.5 Getting High

Daniel sat cross-legged with Lincoln’s head in his lap, back against the fridge, looking out through the kitchen window at the grey skies of the morning. The dog dozed in and out of consciousness, occasionally stirring from sleep to fix him with its thoughtful eyes. He took his time petting the animal’s head, enjoying the softness of the fine fur under his fingers.

“No walk today?” Kate asked, coming down the stairs.

“Not today.” Daniel never stopped looking out the window.

Kate went to the fridge and dug out two brown paper bags: their lunches, prepared by their mother the night before. “You don’t want to forget this.” She extended the bag to Daniel. “You keep forgetting it and taking mine when you’re hungry. I can’t afford the calories.” she patted her stomach, “I’m wasting away, look at me.” Daniel continued to stare out the window and her slight smile died. She placed the bag next to him. “Just please put it in your bag.”

Sighing, Daniel stood up. “Thanks, Kate.” Unzipping his bag, he stowed away the lunch for later.

“You won’t forget what you promised today?” Kate’s smile returned, hopeful, imploring.

“No way, Kate,” said Daniel ruefully, putting his arm around her and squeezing as they left the house. “Never.”

————-

Daniel caught himself looking at the empty desks of Thommy and Dean. He shouldn’t care. Why do I care? He scratched absentmindedly at a scab on his temple. The beating from weeks earlier still left its mark. Feeling a tap on his left shoulder Daniel turned. It was Milton.

“We still on today?” Milton asked.

“Yeah, for sure, man.”

“Nice.” Milton leaned back, balancing on the back two legs of his chair.

“What’s the plan, the usual?”

“What’s the plan everyday, Pinky? I try and take over the world.” Milton winked.

Daniel laughed. “Sounds good, Brain.”

The two boys exited the school together. Classes were boring as usual, but now that Daniel talked and joked with Milton through most of them, time passed quickly. As they approached the maple tree at the exit to the school, Milton started to lag behind. “You forget something?” said Daniel.

“Nope, just figure it’s your choice.” Milton took a pack of cigarettes out from the front pouch of his bag. After tapping it on the back of his hand he pulled one of its long cylinders from the packaging and placed it in his mouth.

“What?” Daniel stopped, confused. “What’s my choice?”

A lighter materialized in Milton’s hands. He lit his smoke and shrugged. “Everything,” he said between puffs of smoke, “just take your time.”

Daniel almost lost his footing as Kate collided with his lower half, hugging him around the waist.

“You ready?” Kate held tightly while looking up at him.

“Ready? Goddammit.” Daniel hated being confused. “Ready for what?”

Kate released him and stepped back. “You promised that today we’d walk together.” Kate’s expression was suspicious. “Daniel… I’ve been asking you for weeks. I asked you this morning. You promised. You forgot?”

“I didn’t forget!” Daniel answered angrily, loathing himself for forgetting. “I just forgot I had to do something today after school, Kate, otherwise I would, for sure.”

Kate looked for a moment like she wanted to hit him, but the frustration passed from her face leaving only a demoralized girl. “I see… well, tomorrow right. We’ll walk together tomorrow then?” She wouldn’t look at him, only the ground.

“Yeah, for sure. You know I will. Today is just a weird day. I totally forgot what I had to do.” He hugged her and kissed her head. He felt nothing: no connection.

“Okay, I’ll find Sandy. I don’t think she’s left yet.” Kate shuffled away leaving Daniel standing by himself. Why couldn’t she just hate me? It’d be so much easier.

“So you’ve got it right?” Urgency crept into Daniel’s voice.

“My good man, when have I ever not? I just wanted to go to a new place today.”

“A new place, why? What’s wrong with the park?”

Milton feigned a hurt expression. “Well pardon me for liking a little ambiance.” In an exaggerated girlish voice he continued, “I swear it’s like you just don’t care about us doing anything special together anymore.”

“Oh fuck off.” Daniel shoved Milton, feeling stupid for appearing needy. “So where’s this new place?”

“All in good time, my man, we aren’t far now.”

Much as he didn’t want to show it, Daniel was disappointed. He loved the park. Milton had introduced him to afternoons spent doing nothing more than wandering within its green borders. Walking on its paths where no one could see him, he felt a rare kind of peace. All he needed to do was step off the set trails and walk for a few feet then suddenly the city and all its constructs were gone: no businesses, schools or any other institution of memory reminding you of your place within, insisting on it.

“You want one?” Milton was lighting another cigarette.

“No, I’m alright. I don’t smoke.”

Milton made a sound. “Picky picky, bit of a double standard you got there.”

“That’s different,” Daniel defended.

“Suit yourself.” Milton took a long drag making overly contented sounds, like a restaurant patron who wanted everyone to know how expensive their dinner was.

“We gonna arrive soon?” Daniel tried to steer the conversation.

“You don’t recognize where we are… I thought you might?” Milton flicked the half smoked cigarette to the street and ground its smoldering ember with the heel of his shoe.

“Oh shit,” said Daniel, seeing the large structure rearing up in front of him. Lost in visions of the park he’d mentally pruned his awareness to a few feet in front of him.

“Yeah, pretty cool eh? I figured for what I got rolled up for us today we ought to head somewhere special. What do you think?”

“Of the church?” Daniel sputtered, “it’s cool, but there’s no way in. I’ve been by here dozens of times. The place is locked down.”

“Oh is it?” Milton gave a crooked smile. “Wait till you see, man. I know a way in and at the top is a view you wouldn’t believe. Come on. Let’s go.” Milton led them down the 7-Eleven’s alley adjacent to the church. Reaching a cross in the alleys they took a right which would led them behind the church.

“I’m telling you, it’s just a fence. I’ve been back here. You don’t think I wanted to climb up that construction work before?” Milton did not seem like he was listening. As they continued on their path his features tightened with intense concentration. “Even if you want to climb it, there’s razor wire at the top. I don’t care how good the view is, I’m not getting my wrists slit over it.”

“Would you shut-up,” Milton hissed. “I’m trying to focus.”

“Yeah sure… sorry.” Daniel quieted, not so much out of respect for his friend’s wishes, but surprise. Since they’d started to hang out Milton may have joked around with him, but never had he been rude.

“I’m looking for something. It was here the other day.” The boys walked next to the fence behind the church and Milton walked with his hand brushing the links. After a few more feet his eyes which had become slits popped open. “Ah yes, found it.” He smiled in satisfaction and gripped the fence.

“Found what?” asked Daniel.

“The door to Narnia. You’re lucky though—I’m not a satyr with pedophilic tendencies.” Daniel’s face told just how far the reference had sailed over his head. “Oh come on.” Milton waited a while longer for Daniel’s revelation. “Nothing—oh forget it, check this out.” Milton pulled a square section of the fence up and outwards. Someone had cut the fence with wire cutters and made an effort to conceal the opening.

Daniel’s eyes widened. “Would you look at that. This has been here for long?”

“Nope, I’ve come by often and it’s never been here. It was just the other day by chance I spotted it. Whoever made it had left it slightly ajar so I could tell it was there. Can’t be much older than a couple days, lucky us eh?” Milton hunched down and started to crawl through the open space, but Daniel grabbed at the back of his shirt.

“Hold on a second, aren’t you a little worried by that? I’ve met one of the weirdos who runs this place. What if they did this on purpose to catch people sneaking onto the grounds?”

Milton flopped over onto his back-side and sat on the other side of the fence. “Am I worried—if a church cut a hole in its fence—to catch teenagers who want to sneak into their non active construction site. No, Daniel, I’m not. That’s ridiculous.”

Daniel was already down on his knees crawling through the hole before Milton could finish. “Just seems suspicious,” he grumbled. Milton had a way of making Daniel feel many times younger than the two years that separated them.

Up and up they climbed, higher and higher, at first easily. The beginning levels of construction which Daniel had observed all those weeks ago with his sister were well established. Two-by-fours of wood laid across interlocked shells of rectangular girders all positioned against the side of the church provided comfortable walkways. Blue tarps shielded them from the wind. Steel ladders fastened at different intervals along each section allowed them to continue ascending. It was after the seventh or eighth that climbing became more difficult. Whatever they were doing to the side of the church, the work crews had only progressed up so far. The sections above the established areas were incomplete. Sometimes only half a level’s floor boards were put in place, and as they progressed further, sometimes one. It did not prevent them from reaching their destination: as high as they could go.

From above Daniel’s head on the ladder came Milton’s whistle. “Oh man, wait until you see this.”

“I’m sure it looks a hell of a lot better than your ass,” said Daniel, shielding his eyes from the falling flakes of particulate that Milton knocked loose from above.

“You love it.” Milton shook his buttocks.

The ladder rocked unsteadily, knocking even more rust flakes and wood dust into Daniel’s eyes. Suddenly it let out a groan and shifted positions, screeching as it scraped along the top bar that connected it to the next section. The boys’ banter abruptly ended in dead silence. After enough time passed to assure them they would not die, the two laughed nervously.

“Maybe I should just climb?” Milton joked.

“Maybe,” Daniel responded through clenched teeth, still hugging the ladder. Much good that it would have done him: if it fell, he’d have fallen with it. Shaken and elated by an energy that comes after a close call, the boys clambered up the last rungs of the ladder. They took a seat with their backs against the church on a single two-by-four that comprised the uppermost level.

“We did it!” Sitting next to Daniel, Milton raised a hand for a high-five. Daniel just looked at it. “You’re right, not that kind of moment.” He let the arm fall to his side. They sat silent and took in the city that stretched out before them.

It had rained earlier and now an unseasonal late day sun heated the air around them, evaporating the moisture. Sitting as high as they were the steam rose up to just below their dangling feet. Skyscrapers and radio towers poked out at various heights from the blanket. Their metal trim still beaded with condensation reflected back the light, glittering like gold-veined mountaintops. Looking out from their vantage point, Daniel mused, almost worth dying for—almost.

Daniel relaxed. He pulled the smoke deep into his lungs, then with another short inhalation deeper still. Holding it there he relished the feeling slowly diffusing throughout his physical extremities and mind. Bringing them to a singular center of focus and sensation. Or maybe feel was the wrong word. He enjoyed more what it stopped him from feeling: guilt, anger, frustration, in all their infinite forms. He blew out the long plume of smoke, thick and heavy. It drifted downwards, joining the swirling vapor below.

“You gonna pass that, you greedy bastard?” Milton made a gesture.

Daniel paused with the joint halfway between himself and Milton’s outstretched hand. “What’s your family like?” he asked. Since becoming friends they’d reached an unspoken consensus on discussing personal matters: they didn’t. It was enough that they liked each other, had common interests. But some compulsion in Daniel asked the question. He did not know why.

Milton sat thinking for a moment before he answered. “What, like brothers and sisters? I don’t have any.”

“Sure, but what about your mom and dad, what’s that like?”

Milton pushed out air, bulging his cheeks. “Typical I guess. They’re separated. I never met my mom. The way I remember my dad talking about her… I think he just didn’t like women. I hate him. He booted me out of the house early enough that I don’t remember much, just how angry he always was. I live in a foster home now.”

“That’s typical?” Daniel rubbed his eyes then patted his arms. The sun was beginning to set.

Finishing another rip on the joint, Milton passed it back. “In this world … I think so.”

“If you were so young, what ended up happening to you?”

“Oh stupid shit, typical again. I got into trouble and sent to a sort of detention center for rebellious children. Pretty brutal place, if I’m being honest.”

“Sounds like Hell.” Daniel was sympathetic.

Milton shook his head vehemently. “Not really, you learn pretty fast what it takes to survive in a place like that.”

“Which is?”

Milton pointed at his head. “That’s all, man. That’s all.”

Daniel laughed. “Oh yeah? Well I think you might be the exception, not the rule. Most kids aren’t like that.” He shook his head. “Man, I thought living with my dad was bad. Don’t know how I would handle something like that.”

“And you never will.” Milton’s voice hardened. “Can we talk about something else?” Milton looked at Daniel with an ironic smile. “You trying to depress me? Cuz you’re succeeding. That shit’s fucking depressing.”

“No, course not.” Daniel put up his hands in surrender. “Don’t even know why I asked.”

“Thank you…” Milton gazed out over the city. Minutes passed. “I scored us something special, if you want to see?”

Glad to be clear of the darker subject of family, annoyed he’d even brought it up, Daniel endorsed the distraction. “Yeah sure, what is it?” When Milton pulled from his backpack the increasingly worn pack of cigarettes, Daniel’s enthusiasm disappeared. “Dude, you know I don’t sm-”

Milton put up a hand. “Wait … please.” Popping open the pack he tapped it on his palm until four nondescript round pills bounced out. “Good things to those who wait, my friend.” Pinching one between his thumb and middle finger he raised it up in front of his eye, like a jeweler enjoying the beauty of a diamond.

“What’s it called?” Daniel asked curiously.

“My man, it does not matter so much what it’s called, but what it does. You’re asking the wrong question.”

“So what’s it do then?”

“Any of that depressing shit we just talked about, have one of these babies and it all goes bye-bye.”

Milton stretched out his hand. Daniel put out his own to catch the pill as Milton dropped it. Examining it revealed nothing exceptional. It could have been an aspirin.

“So?” said Milton.

“So what?” returned Daniel.

“You gonna try it or what? They’re free.”

“What’s it called? I want to know what it’s called.”

“Well it’s pretty new so it has a couple names, but the guys at school were saying it treats you like a fine lady. So, everybody just started calling it Lucy.

“That’s weird.” Daniel’s stomach did a back-flip. He handed it back to a surprised Milton. “I don’t want it.”

Milton looked at Daniel with a flat smile and raised inquiring brows. “Your choice, man, your choice.” Milton threw back his head and popped two.

I’d Rather Be Nowhere

All The Bright Places Contest Entry 2015

#BrightPlaces

The bright place that has most inspired me in life is paradoxically many yet one: with the people I love.

————

“They’re at it again.”

“Like clockwork eh?”

I tip my beer and smile. “Like clockwork. Come, join me for the show. It’s about to begin.”

Devon is sitting at his desk surrounded by mountains of high-end recording equipment. Taking a drag from his cigarette he ambles over the to the windowsill and takes a seat next to me on its generous ledge. Our view from his luxurious second story downtown apartment in Vancouver grants us a perfect vantage point from which to watch the city’s nighttime animals tear each other apart.

“The brightly coloured fat one looks about ready to pounce.” Smoke trails behind my hand as I gesture at two members of the inebriated nightlife.

“Think he’ll win?” says Devon.

“Only because he’s to drunk to know he’s already lost,” I laugh, pausing to take a swig of my beer. The fight is swift and fierce, and as with most real violence—lacking skill and over quickly. “Damn it.” I stub out my cigarette. “Bright colours in the wild usually indicate danger.”

Devon nods slowly. “So we gonna finish this tonight?”

“Of course.” I jump up. “Where are we?”

“The first verse,” Devon chuckles while taking his seat again and putting on one ear of his studio headphones.

I slap him on the shoulder. “We’re gonna change the world right?”

 

Sprawled on the leather sofa Lloyd steeples his fingers. “And why are they afraid of the rain?”

“It’s acid rain,” I answer quickly.

“And it’s acidic, why?”

“Because we destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Late day light pours through the slatted blinds of the studio apartment, brightening the opposite wall’s red to a crimson glow. A half eaten loaf of bread, (Lloyd’s baking) sits between us, along with a wisely chosen cheap bottle of red, (Lloyd’s purchasing). I break off a hunk of the fennel encrusted herbaceous loaf before leaning back in my weathered leather computer chair.

“The new society of course doesn’t know that,” I add while munching on the bread.

“I see, and you’re thinking they evolve a religion around this?” Lloyd leans forward to pour out the last four fingers of wine in our two glasses. He gives the empty bottle a rueful look before returning it to the table.

“That’s right, now keep going,” I say with a grin. “With your questions it writes itself.”

 

We both lie silent. A tangle of tired limbs and restive smiles. From the window I can hear the breeze. It blows just so, rustling the leaves and vines on trees nearby. Amidst strands of raven black hair, nestling my nose into the honey brown of Cristina’s exposed neck, I make contented sounds. I can feel her smiling. From upstairs the clatter of cookware and pleasant muffled chatter just barely reaches our ears. We’ll return to the mainland soon. The vacation at my old friend’s home draws to a close. I think of the days and all we have done: wonderful meals enjoyed together by those in attendance, fishing, wake-boarding. Cristina got up her first time out, That’s rare, I think. She rolls over to face me, her foreign dark eyes sparkling.

“Why are you laughing?” she demands playfully in the accented tone I’ve grown to love.

“Because … I’m happy.”