Childhood was an interesting time for me. Stable and secure it was not. By the time the 90’s had come around, I had seen my family fracture and fragment into warring shards. Had my father removed from our home. I watched as my mother was stricken with disease, and moved from one province to the next only to turn around and come back again. And all of this before a full calendar year had completed itself. To say that I yearned for something more constant and reliable would be a drastic misrepresentation of my introspective strife.
I often found reprieve in the form of escapist entertainment. This could range from anything such as reading a good story, grazing the tapestry of comic book pages, through to watching a good action flick that had been truncated for cable TV. They would even dub over the bad words. Which I found to be rather amusing.
“You son of a ditch! I’m gonna muck you up!”
As the fashion trend of baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts took hold, so too did another cultural phenomenon—fresh from Japan—boys my age were transfixed to their convex television screens, feverishly digesting the visual splendor that was the technicolour ass-kickery of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers!
Something about that cheesy, overexaggerated, low-budget north American adaptation was mesmerizing. From the moment I laid eyes on those bright spandex uniforms, I was a fan. Jason, Zack, Billy, Kimberly and Trini; they all captivated my attention on post-school afternoons. Hell, my mom would even record them for me so that I never missed an episode.
Billy, the blue ranger; I always found myself empathizing and connecting with his character. A slightly awkward yet kind and sincere ranger. He was portrayed as the nerd of the group. The guy who didn’t really fit in. But he was also the guy that would do anything for anyone. He even had glasses like me. Made it even easier to transpose my likeness atop of his while sucking back a bowl of Alphagetti’s.
The other day I was sitting outside in our backyard, feeling the heat of the sun as it pored atop the hillsides and mountaintops. As the warmth saturated my skin, memories began to spill forward into consciousness. Things I hadn’t thought about in a very long time. You see, summer and its synonym of heat are historically trying times for me to navigate. A lot of my life’s painful moments take place beneath a cascading sun. As such, I have developed a, shall we say, misguided resentment toward that fiery orb that so looms above.
But, in recent years, and with the reformation that comes from sobriety and recovery, I have been carving out new memories beneath the sun, and choosing to think back on the fonder times of my early life. A difficult task at times, but a worthy undertaking nonetheless.
Whilst I was lazily flopped within a reclining lawn chair, I began to think back to another sunny day. A day much like the one I was sitting in now. I was younger. Much less beleaguered by the sun back then. But I still didn’t care for the heat. My mother was home, sick. She was battling through another round of cancer treatments, and thus our awaiting toilet beckoned to her every 45 minutes or so. Growing weary of hearing her gastrointestinal struggles bleed in through the walls, I fled to the outside. I had a small backpack with me. It was filled with plastic facsimiles of the red, blue, black, pink and yellow Power Rangers.
I didn’t venture outside with my toys too often for fear that I would be seen as a loser, or worse, a geek should someone witness me playing an all-out battle of good versus evil with my miniature Rangers. But when given the choice of having to listen to my poor mum heave her way through another afternoon, or risk being spotted outside—I took my chances—I could handle being mocked. I hated hearing my mum struggle. My ears hate my thinking about it. Even today.
That afternoon, something unusual transpired. I heard a voice slap against my ears. A voice of someone that was around my age—9, maybe 10—I didn’t see anyone at first, but the voice came again.
“Hey… you like the Power Rangers?”
“Uh… Yeah. Who’s there? Where are you?” Immediately after uttering my befuddled inquiry, a figure emerged, crashing in through some hedges near the fence I had been playing by.
“Hey. I’m Ryan. I like the red one!” The kid said through a smile that required a passport to traverse.
“Oh, yeah… he’s pretty cool. His name’s—”
“Jason. Yeah. I know. He’s awesome.” He said before I could finish. “Can I play?” He continued. Still smiling as though he was going to sell me something. But he never did. Sell me something, I mean. He just sat down and started playing alongside me. Unabashed and unphased by my presence, he just mimicked kicking and punching sounds through pursed lips. Just as I had been doing prior to his appearance. He seemingly cared little for who was or was not around. He was just living his best action-packed life. I was somewhat envious of his freedom. Geek, or, loser were words that did not exist within his colloquial repertoire.
His name was as he said, Ryan. And over the course of a summer, we became great friends. He would come over to my place and we would watch Power Rangers together. We even remarked about how one day, we were going to marry the Pink ranger, Kimberly. The logistics of how that would work didn’t enter the arena of conversation at that age, we just basked in the shared thought of it while ingesting the 25 minutes of non-stop action.
We would play outside until the streetlamps came on. And even after that, we’d have to get yelled at to head inside. I was always the blue ranger, and he was the red one. Well, until the green one came along! We fought imaginary evildoers day and night. Sleepovers were filled with zealous conversations about episodes that we would fabricate and wish upon. Ryan helped assuage the otherwise piteous summer days that year. And when the fall came and school was about to start back up, I faced a new trepidatious introspection. There I was, the night before the first day of school. Ryan and I had hung out all day for as long as we could, and had even agreed to walk to school together the following morning. And somewhere within that agreement, I blurted out how cool it would be to dress as the civilian versions of our favourite Power heroes. Meaning that I would not only wear something blue, but I would adorn my belt with a buckle that housed a craggy plastic face of a triceratops! Just as it was in the show. Their morphing powers were housed within a belt buckle. A replica buckle I had been fortunate enough to procure one summer day while at the mall with my mum. She had said I could have a toy for how good I had been. And without hesitation, when I saw that imitation morpher, I just had to have it! And on the last day of summer, for whatever reason, I had to go and make the stupid suggestion that he and I dress up like tv superheroes and wander the halls of a brand-new school year! Nothing bad could possibly happen…
I wanted so badly to call Ryan and take back the suggestion, but it was too late. I had already been told to “get to bed.” So there was no way of letting him know that I was having second thoughts. That night, I tossed and turned with fright. I worried that come morning, the kid I had spent the summer with would all of a sudden be too cool for me and in turn, instantly point and laugh at my selected attire. And that stupid, plastic morpher was already attached to my belt. I even had to get my older brother’s help to attach it, so there was no way for me to remove it either!
I peered through the darkened ambiance of my room, glaring at my chosen wardrobe for the morning. With each passing minute, each stitch, every wrinkle and imperfection began to look more and more unsightly and dare I say—geeky—I was screwed!
I barely slept a wink that night. I think it was my eyelids sliding over my dry eyes in a blink that woke the birds that morning. From out my window, I could see a crescent glow emerging from behind the mountain. Another sunny day. Too hot to wear a sweater, or something else baggy enough to warrant changing my outfit. I didn’t want to risk not wearing it for fear that perhaps Ryan was going to follow through on his part. I felt as if I were to show up outside in regular clothes and he was adhering to his part, he’d be mad at me. And I also worried that I was going to be the only one dumb enough to have taken what I said last evening seriously, and that when he catches sight of me, he’s going to laugh his ass off and voila, I become the laughing stock of grade 5. Fuck. What the hell was I gonna do?
In the midst of this rumination, I felt myself smile. Smile because I know what comes next…
I went outside, dressed in a vertical lined button down, sleeves rolled a quarter of the way. It was tucked into my khakis and there on display was my triumphant, limited edition Mighty Morphin Power Rangers morphin buckle. Its plastic edges gleamed in the ascending sunlight. I swear, an overhead plane would have been able to spot me on a clear day such as that one.
I shuffled nervously in place for several minutes, waiting for Ryan. As I was walking in place, I heard his voice callout from across the playground that rested near my house. An instant wave of relief bordering on excitement filled my urchin veins. Ryan had followed through. Not sure why I ever doubted him. He neared me, once again boasting that immeasurable smile. It was infectious. And soon, the corners of my lips began to curl upwards as well.
I walked to school and survived the first day. Just as I had survived the summer. And I did so, because of a kid named Ryan. A kid who gifted me something so much more than just friendship. He never knew it, but that summer, he saved me from a torrent of tears. He made me feel like a regular kid. A sensation that was all too foreign to me while growing up. He simply wandered up to me on that bright summer day, sat down and started playing alongside me. He didn’t care that my father was an abusive monster now absent from my life. He didn’t judge me when my lips were just a bit too heavy to force a smile on the days my mum was really bad. All summer he was just there, right beside me. Like a battle buddy. A true, power ranger.
Life, of course took us in different directions. We grew older and fell away from one another. Soon we just exchanged cordial head nods in the hallways of high school. And after that, well, for many years I never heard from Ryan, and nor he from me. Life had placed bustle and distance between us lads.
But, as many of you know, I recently moved back to my humble slice of the Canadian pie. And you know what…? Ryan lives less than 2 hours away! He even has a YouTube channel. We’ve reconnected and I am happy to report, that he still has that coast-to-coast smile. And it remains as infectious as it did all those years ago.
And that’s how I survived a hot Canadian summer in the 90’s—by meeting a kid named, Ryan. And the reason I am smiling here, now, on a hot afternoon all these years later—is because of a man. A man named, Ryan. A man I am proud to call friend. Brother… and of course, the green ranger!