On the evening of Valentine’s Day, 2004 I attended an event that will be forever burned in my mind. Romantic? No. Touching, healing, and emotional? Yes, yes, and yes. It was a hockey game – Sens versus the Habs – and I went with my friend Dave.
(Let’s just say up front that I have never be overly enamoured with Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I hate love or vice versa. It’s more like that question that every kid asks their mom on Mother’s Day: Every day is Kid’s Day. To me every day is Love Day. Either way, I wasn’t dating anyone on this particular February 14th anyway, so like I say: I was at the game with a buddy.)
Dave was my downstairs neighbour. Our house had caught fire three weeks earlier. The two of us along with Dave’s partner Julia had escaped the inferno – and it was an inferno – in a harrowing early-morning adventure that landed him in the hospital with significant burns and temporarily blindness and left the three of us (and our pets) homeless. In place of material comforts we were left with little more than the clothes we were wearing (except Dave, who had run out of the flaming house naked) and significant mental trauma*.
But you know, it turned out we still had something else, and it was something infinitely more valuable than anything we lost. What we had was a remarkable circle of friends who instantly – and I mean instantly – rallied behind us with every possible kind of support. There were hugs, gifts, donations, places to stay, tears, a benefit concert, packages sent in the mail; it was just a never-ending string of kindness and caring and love and it was an incredible thing to be a part of. I honestly feel like we gained much more than we lost. Though I do wish I still had my pinball machine.
The evening that the fire happened – or was it the next night? Regardless, it was as soon as Dave got out of the hospital – we gathered at (another) Dave and Crystal’s house. I think Dave could mostly see already but his burns were still all wrapped up. Anyway, it was the first time that Dave, Julia and I had spoken to each other and were able to make sense of what actually happened. I was almost breathless – literally struggling to breath – as we recounted what flashing scenes we could remember of the 5am fiery panic and we struggled to piece it all together. But more importantly the apartment was chock-full of friends – good, solid friends – and every one of them was quietly falling over backwards to help salve our injured souls. I remember Jay Fewer giving me a hand-knit toque that I still wear every winter, and I think of him every time I put it on. Jay McConnery gave me a bunch of clothes, including a t-shirt that his late mother had given to him. Oh Jeebus…I gotta stop…I’m starting to cry.
To the point: at this gathering someone gave Dave and I their very own tickets to this hockey game hoping that a night out at the rink would help take our minds off of things for a few hours. And it did. By game night I was still pretty shell-shocked about the whole affair but Dave had lost much more than I had and he was down man, I mean down. But I recall Dave and I actually laughing and having a genuinely good time at the game. There were moments when things felt normal and real for the first time since the fire, and it really helped.
I feel bad not singling out the person who gave us the tickets, but I must admit that I can’t remember for certain**. But I’m not sure it really matters because one thing I do know is that every single friend of mine did whatever they could to help, and this ticket came from that herd and it did indeed help. A lot. Thank-you everyone.
The Senators won five to two.
*Which lingers. I still flinch every time I think of how I raced back up the stairs to my apartment to get my cat, who had run back into the house (I can’t imagine that he actually ran back into a burning building but then again, so did I). Though my apartment was full of smoke requiring me to crawl on my belly I didn’t realize that below the staircase I had been tromping up was a raging fire. Had that staircase given way you would be reading something else right now. I think of this more often than I think of kittens and/or rainbows.
**Though I wish I did remember. Next to a Leafs game, a Montreal visit is the most prized and hard-to-get ticket of the season in Ottawa so it was a hard gift to give, I’m sure. Saturday night game too.