Friday, June 10, 2011

A Hazy Shade of Winter

So there I was a year and a half ago, in February, 2010, lying drunk on the Halifax Commons, having fallen on some ice that I hadn't seen in the dark, angry as hell because I had spent the whole evening arguing with a good friend about nothing important (he eventually walked out on me, and even then I didn't really blame him - I was more angry at myself than him), and even angrier because I had landed hard and could already feel the pain shooting up my chest, despite the anesthetizing effect of the dozen or so beers I had consumed.

And then a thought hit me.

I should be dead.

Travel back in time...

It was a cold, clear night in late December, 1985, just after Christmas, and just before New Year's, and I was out driving around Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, with my oldest pal, Colin White. I was older than my years - when I had showed up that fall to register for my first year at Acadia University, I wore a suit and tie. The senior student who checked me into my residence, who introduced himself to me as "Dude", thought I was having a laugh, until my Mom told him that I was serious. I had never had a drink, and I had never kissed a girl. In the case of the former, I was still underage, my dad was a judge, and I didn't want to do anything that would embarrass him; in the case of the latter, it just hadn't been a priority. I was a Reach for the Top star, a straight-A high honours student, a member of my province's National Debating Championship team... I had "better" things to do.

18th birthday, January 1985

So, sure, I seemed like the "Perfect Kid", at least as far as any kid can be "perfect". But the outward appearance of maturity and responsibility belied a profound inner recklessness, born of arrogance. I chafed at the boundaries that I felt the mediocrity of my peers had placed on me, and like many kids before me, I felt I was indestructible. I hardly ever cracked a book at school, because I didn't have to - it all came so naturally to me. My rebellion wasn't flashy, writ in symbolic gestures that showed nothing more than a desire to conform to another system - any idiot can get their ear pierced. My rebellion was inward, and personal, in little ways that no-one saw, and many that no-one recognized.

For example, when you're on the negative side of a debate, all you really have to do is understand the opponents' position (i.e. their "plan"), and then prepare to argue against it. Pretty simple, and deadly dull. Thus, while everyone else was dancing and chatting each other up at the social events at the 1985 High School National Debating Championships in Montreal, I was sitting at a table writing counter-plans on napkins. What's a "counter-plan", you ask? Well, in short, when the team on the negative side of a proposition put forward a counter-plan, they didn't just argue against the affirmative side's plan - they proposed a plan of their own. In doing so, they also then took the burden of proof. It was definitely the harder thing to do, because it required more prep, and my partners thought I was nuts, and it probably cost me a few rankings points at the end of the day, but it was worth it all just to see the other side squirm when they suddenly saw their entire plan become moot, and they had to wing it. People would ask me why I liked counter-plans, and I never really told them the true reason: I did it because it was the only way that I could stay interested in it all, because it was something different, and because I could.

But I digress...

Not all of my rebellion was quite as... "academic" as constructing debating counter-plans - that just happens to be the one I still recall, and care to recount. It often went a lot further than that, in more dangerous ways. But no matter what I did, I had always emerged unscathed. As I said - I thought I was indestructible, and I was arrogant.

So there I was, on that cold and clear night in late December, 1985, in my Dad's Audi 6000, feeling like the King of the World. I gunned it past the speed limit, and headed for an intersection, and took the turn far too fast, and it was as if time had stopped. It didn't, of course, at least not in the real world, but for me, in that moment, it was like an out-of-body experience. I remember laughing and thinking two things - "cool" and "I can beat this".

And then we went over the hill, and I wasn't laughing anymore.

Time travel back even further...

When I was a kid, around eight, nine and ten, I can distinctly remember lying on the couch at home, on several occasions, reading a book, and then suddenly getting a feeling in the pit of my stomach like I was falling from a great height. I could actually feel the wind rushing around me as the velocity increased... and then it would stop.

It wasn't as if I was falling - it felt like I was really falling.

I've been falling ever since.

But I digress again...

Time travel back to 1985...

We were falling over the edge, and we were definitely going down the small hill, sideways and completely out of control, and I remember seeing the tree coming at my side of the car, and then...


My head jerked forward suddenly, just as a large branch of the tree smashed through the driver's side window and pushed itself past where my head had been just a second before.

Time travel forward to 2010...

Lying on the Commons, drunk, in pain, angry... and then it hit me, just as it had hit me almost every day since that crash in 1985.

I should be dead.

Somewhere, if there really are alternate universes, I am dead. Somewhere, that tree caught my temple as it crashed through the window.

But not in this reality.

Ever since has been a retreat from the arrogance of my youth. I'm still reckless, and I'm still selfish, and I'm still arrogant. But less so than I was. I'm not sure I'm a better man, but I like to think so. The one thing I am sure of is that I'm a different one than I would have been otherwise.

Because I should be dead... but I'm not. And that realization has made all the difference in the years since, and will continue to make the difference in the years to come.

I'm living on borrowed time, and I need to make it matter. If you Google my name, you'll find pages and pages about the things I've done since 1985. But if you Google the name "Gil Latter", you'll find one thing at the top of the search - the Gil Latter Memorial Award at Mt. Allison University, given in memory of a best friend of Colin and I who died on his way home one day from Sackville, New Brunswick to Dartmouth in a car accident.

I remember getting the phone call from Colin, telling me what had happened, like it was just yesterday. My first thought was a simple one - "damn it, no." After I hung up, I buried my head in my pillow. I wasn't crying - I still haven't cried. Rather, I just wanted to shut the world out, if only for a few moments, and the pillow was the closest thing I had. As I tried to breathe, another thought crowded its way into my mind - "it could have been me... and maybe it should have been me."

Every fall, I drive over to Gil's grave in Dartmouth with a book, sit down next to it, and read for a while. It's always cold, and dreary, but I never feel cold. I always feel warm, and I never feel like I'm alone.

In the end, I like to think that in the alternate universe, their Gil does the same for me. 

Paul Kimball


Dia Sobin (Araqinta) said...

Your thoughts seem to be taking some strange turns lately, eh, Paul?

I think I smell a screen-play here! ;-)

I've only seen one other movie about parallel lives - "Julia and Julia" - made in 1988 and starring Kathleen Turner, Gabriel Byrne and Sting. Critics gave it mixed reviews but I, personally, loved it... very romantic.

There's a wiki article here:

... and a trailer on YouTube:

Thanks for sharing.


Paul Kimball said...

Hi Dia,

I like "Julia and Julia". It was underrated, even as it was flawed.

More strange turns to come. ;-)


P.S. I am working on a number of screenplays in different capacities these days, so yes, there is definitely a relationship.