“I get in at shortly after eight your time… come pick me up and then we will hangout for a couple of hours. It’d be good to see you, Henny.” I listened to his words as they slid in through the holes of my phone. I acknowledged what he had said and assured him that I would be at the airport to greet him. We hung up our phones and I rolled over and onto my back. It was at this moment that I began to feel every punishing aspect of just how hungover I really was. I closed my eyes and tried to take in a deep and meaningful breath, hoping that this would alleviate some of the burdensome toxin that now swam punitively throughout my body. To the contrary; all that transpired next was a desperate dash for the bathroom so that I could avoid vomiting on my bedroom floor.
After emptying myself through a series of violent lurches and gags, I pulled back from the toilet and sat with my back resting against the chilled bathroom wall. I peered down to my watch, looking to see how much time I had before Chris was due to arrive—four hours—I had four hours to sober up enough to get in my car, navigate along the constricted artery that is the 401, and find a place along the side of the airport where I could avoid paying for parking, all the while hoping to stay out of sightline of the roving security detail that pushes would be parkers from their selective spots.
And yes, you heard me right, it was 4 o’clock. That’s 16:00 hours… or, 4 P.M., depending on how you like to tell time. And I was just now waking from the intoxicated flogging of the night before. And had it not been for Chris’s phone call, I am not sure that I would have been awake at all. I’d been on a run of bad booze consumption as of late. The hours of my day were apportioned by way of open and closing times as opposed to that of any other marker in time. I guess it would be fair to state that I was in a bad way. I had just quit my job, left my 7-year relationship, drove across the country and was living in a room with a couch that doubled as my sleeping space. Yep, I had certainly taken a tumble-down Wrong Way Boulevard and was steadily careening for Rock Bottom Avenue—but that couldn’t happen until after Chris had left—so I pulled my aching body into the shower and turned the nozzle. Relentless beams of cold water began to fall atop of me. I hadn’t even removed my boxers yet. Perhaps I was closer to Rock Bottom than I had thought…
Chris was a good friend of mine. He was one of the first people that I had met and worked with upon my release from the army. He was a paramedic, too. We started in the same small-town ambulance service together. I would eventually leave and start working for the city. He would find a home with the fire services as a dual medic/firefighter. The times we got to see one another became less and less, but there were times where we would run into one another in the hallways of one hospital or another. Those times were always a welcomed reprieve from the stressors of frontline work. Chris always had a smartass comment to make or a humorous story to tell. It made our offload delays with patients that much more bearable.
I was in Toronto, and Chris remained in Edmonton. He was on furlough and had decided to embark on a once in a lifetime solo trip to the majestic mountain tops of Machu Picchu. He had a scheduled layover in Toronto, and knowing that this was now where I lived… or… existed, he demanded in a very Chris way that we hangout for a few hours before the departure of his next flight.
Truth be told, I was looking forward to seeing him, despite the weighted ailment of my hangover. He was always a good friend to me and had helped me through some tough times back west. The man was more like family to me than he was just a friend. In fact, when my breakup had initiated itself, he offered me a room in his house, rent free, just to help me out. The first night I spent there, he ordered two extra large pizzas, four bottles of pop and made sure to charge a second controller for the gaming console. He really had my back. Both on and off the ambulance. First hanging I ever attended to was with Chris—we saved that one—the kid lived.
Now, many years later, I was drunk and a country width away, trying to outrun my problems, and Chris was about to fly in just to try and make me feel better for a few hours before setting out on an adventure of his own. He could have likely used that downtime to sleep, but instead he asserted that we were to get together and was not taking no for an answer.
After lumbering around my shanty, I had managed to get dressed, finish the remnants of a warm beer found on the counter and make my way to the airport. Luckily for me, Chris arrived as scheduled and met with me before ever having any dealings with the parking lot Nazi’s!
“Damn good to see ya. Okay, lets find a place for a drink and some grub. But first, your place… I gotta take a creamy shit in your bathroom.”
“Oh, cool… you saved that for me, did ya?”
“Like steamy soft serve, baby.”
“Well… I just threw up… again!”
“Again… a little hungover, are we?”
“Nah. Not a little… a lot!”
“Well, lemme take a shit and then we’ll fix that with a beer or two.”
“10-4, brother. Let’s go.”
Driving with Chris in my car almost felt like we were back at work. Our banter flowed effortlessly and with hilarity. Although laughing made me want to puke, I was helpless against a chuckle or two with Chris around.
We made it to my place and Chris did in fact violate the porcelain sanctuary of my bathroom. It smelled like an expired hardboiled egg had farted in an outhouse… in August!
“Henny… I got something for ya…”
“Is it air freshener?” I jested.
Ha! Shut up! Hang on, lemme see where it is…” Chris said while rummaging through his carryon bag. He began grunting and mumbling to himself before shooting a bewildered stare up at me with his hand still planted in the opening of his bag.
“Fuck… I must have forgotten it.”
“What?” I asked as my brow descended with intrigue.
“I had gotten you a Fire shirt from our fire house… you asked for one a long time ago. But shit, I think I totally forgot it.”
“Ah, no worries, man. Thanks anyway!”
“Fuck. Okay, first beer is on me, Henny. Let’s go.
Chris and I made our way to a dingy old ale house on the upper-side of town, staying close to the airport. The inside was dim but thanks to some low-hanging chilly pepper lights, the bar was made easily visible. We took a up residency atop of two wobbly barstools and placed our order. There was a live band that played at a reasonable level in the far corner of the bar. They weren’t particularly good, from what I remember. But that just added to the overall appeal of this place. We sat and joked with one another and I listened as he explained to me all the things he was going to do while on his trip. It was during our second round that Chris even attempted to coax me into going with him. I told him I didn’t have the funds and he offered to pay my way. I will not lie and say that I was not tempted, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say yes.
As I was taking a generous sip from my bottle, a female voice broke in from behind me. I spun around to meet with it and investigate, but by the time I had turned around, she had already moved. She was standing to the right of Chris, her hand rested on his shoulder. She was smiling and looking at Chris without any intent of blinking, I swear. I could hear her flirt a little with him as she used the pads of her fingers to graze along Chris’s back. Her fingers traced along the lettering of his shirt that spelled “FIRE RESCUE”.
“So… tell me, blondie… are you really a fireman? Or do you just like the clothing?” She queried libidinously. Chris, not being one to embarrass easily, nor backdown from a challenge; flirtatious or otherwise, inflated his shoulders a little as he sat back in his stool. He was now grinning furtively.
“I dunno… Henny… am I a firefighter? Or do I just like the clothes…?” Chris said, now looking back at the would-be seductress. Her eyes had danced over to me for confirmation. I couldn’t help myself…
“Well… you know that song with the cop, the native guy and a construction worker?” I said.
“You mean the YMCA?” She replied.
“Yeah! That one. Well… Chris is in a cover band with three other gay guys—they are incredible!”
“OH, FUCK YOU, HENNY!” We both doubled over in laughter. He punched me playfully on my arm. Even the woman to Chris’s right let free a snicker.
“But no, seriously… are you a fireman?” She said as her laughter fell back into concentrated inquisition.
“Me…? Yeah. I’m a fireman. And a medic. I’m just in town for a short visit. Catching up with a buddy of mine… Henny. The best medic this side of the Rockies!” Chris pontificated while placing a comforting hand on my shoulder. He knew that I was not currently working as a medic. He knew that I had burned through all my sick time. Squandered away my vacation days and was now considered an administrative burden to the department. But none of that mattered to Chris. He knew it mattered to me though, so he made sure to offer kind reassurance that he knew me to be a better version of myself than I currently was. Chris’s way of showing me love.
The woman stayed for a few more moments, but when she realized that Chris was not all that interested, and seeing that I was the only other option, she retreated back to her table of onlooking friends. We were left alone for the remainder of our time there.
As I was mid-gulp, Chris looked at his phone and exclaimed; “Shit! We gotta go, Henny. Flight leaves in a couple hours.” I nodded and finished the remainder of my bottle. We paid and went to the car. The ride back to the airport was less jovial and more directive oriented. This, too, was reminiscent of our time on the ambulance. Sometimes after the bad ones, you just sit beside one another and say nothing while listening to the working wail of the engine.
I pulled up out-front and slid the gearshift into park. “Well… here we are, buddy. Enjoy your trip, take lots of photos and stay safe.” I said through booze stained breath.
“Oh, you know it. Hey… Henny…”
“Here…” Chris began wiggling in his seat. I didn’t know what he was doing at first, but it would reveal itself to be that he was removing his shirt. He now sat, pale and with dad-bod in the passenger seat. He extended his hand over to me. Crumpled within it, was his “FIRE RESCUE” shirt. My face fell into a confused crumple. “I forgot to bring you one… So, here… take mine. Seems to work on the ladies around here. Go snag yourself a good one.” Chris was quite literally giving me the shirt off his back.
I thanked him while he stood outside, retrieving another shirt to wear from his bag. He told me it was no problem and that he would see me again when he got back.
That was the last time I ever saw Chris…
A few years later, on a cold October day, Chris died by way of suicide in his home out west. The demons of life and the ghosts of the job had all caught up to Chris. He was in need of rescue, but no one knew it.
I reflect on our night together quite often. I was so focused on the drink back then, that immediately after Chris had left for his flight, I returned to a bar. He flew, I plummeted.
Had I known that that would be the last time I would ever see my brother, I would have done things so differently. For starters, I would have given him a hug. Told him I loved him and thanked him for being a good partner, a great friend and an amazing comrade.
I miss Chris. The world truly is a lesser place without him. He was not perfect nor squeaky clean. He was just a guy doing his best in a bent out of shape world. He chose to wear the shirt “RESCUE” and live by its creed. Dedicated his life to saving those in need… including me.
I don’t drink anymore. And I no longer work on the frontline. But if ever I close my eyes and think back on it, I begin to smell the diesel of an angry engine. I hear it roar and groan in my ears. And along with it, I can hear Chris clearing intersections for me. His booming surfer tone informing me that the coast is clear, hit the gas!
We did some good things together, he and I. There are people alive today because we were on shift with one another. But sadly, today, Chris is no longer alive in body. In spirit? Absolutely. I can still feel him around me when I sit still enough to reflect. And there is not a barstool in this world that does not bring back memories of that night together.
I don’t know what’s out there… I can’t tell you what happens when we close our eyes on that last day. All I do know, is that I miss my friend. And so, I often times like to pretend that those that I have loved and lost are somewhere serene and perfect. That they are happy and free from all that plagued them here. And with Chris specifically… I like to assume his is killing it as the firefighter in his heavenly YMCA tribute band dazzling the crowds in the clouds.
You can’t see it… but I am laughing right now! Because after typing what I just did… I can hear a surfer laden inflection saying: “OH, FUCK YOU, HENNY!” followed by a tap on my arm.
Chris, I love you, brother. Be well and be still. Thank you for your service. But mostly, thank you for your friendship.
Until we meet again, rest easy, dear brother.