Tomorrow will mark 27 months since I fired that fateful punch in the direction of my then-friend’s face, and since then I’ve reflected on the cause and significance of that event many times, both on this blog and in my head. And I feel the need to do so again today. But this will be the last time that I blog about it, barring any unforeseen miracles. Though I’ll probably reflect on this event many more times in my head, this is the end as far as this blog is concerned. Maybe I’ll make an anniversary post, but that’s it. The matters at hand have finally been put to rest, and so there is nothing further to reflect upon beyond what I’ve posted here.
But, since I want to make this the definitive reflection, I need to begin at the beginning:
***
It was April 20th, 2007, around noon Central Time. My classmates and I had just finished a musical performance for an elementary school in the town of Woodridge, Illinois. I was fairly high spirits, because it was time to go to Wrigley Field to watch a baseball game. We got off of our bus about half a kilometre away from the stadium, and the teacher began handing out tickets. I snagged a set of two for me and my friend Camilo.We walked to the stadium and took our seats about half an hour before the game was scheduled to start. It was chilly for late April. I immediately regretted not bringing a jacket.

And then I felt a poke on my right shoulder. Instinctively, I turned around to see who was demanding my attention. I saw two people sitting behind me, looking away. I turned my attention back to the field and to the conversation that I had been having with Camilo. The two persons behind me laughed.

Then Camilo felt a poke on his shoulder and turned around, with the same result.

The pokings continued in excess of half an hour. Refusing to give them the satisfaction of seeing me pissed off, I stopped turning around after the first poke. Inside, however, I was becoming furious.

I then felt the need to use to washroom. I did so, but instead of using the buddy system like we had been instructed, I went alone, leaving Camilo at the mercy of the two fiends.

I returned a few minutes later, still fuming. Seconds after I sat down, I felt another poke.

It was the top of the second inning, I remember clearly. I told myself that the next person to touch me was getting clobbered in the face.

And then Camilo tapped me on the side of my face. Not hard at all. I later found out that during the few minutes that I was away, the two demons had told Camilo that they would leave both of us alone if he hit me. Camilo, obviously not wanting to cause me any physical pain, had opted for a light tap. I barely felt it.

But I had been touched. And I reacted instantly, with zero thought process.

Technically, it wasn’t even a punch. Because he was sitting beside me, a direct punch would have been awkward, and would have hit him in the cheek as opposed to the nose. So instead I swung my arm around and drilled him with the side of my fist, right in the nose. I looked on in horror and awe as the blood poured from his nose. He spit blood out of his mouth as well.

And I became scared, then. It only took about five seconds for people to notice how badly he was bleeding and to ask me what the fuck I had done.

I knew perfectly well what I had done. There was easily enough blood coming out of Camilo’s nose to get me suspended from school for an extended period of time. Technically, it was also an assault. I knew that I could get in some serious trouble for this. So, fearful of the consequences, I began to plead self-defence. His light pat on my cheek was provokation enough for me to take a swing at him, or so I claimed.

And when the bleeding slowed down, and he was able to ask me why the fuck I just punched him in the face, I asked him why he had started it.

But the twenty or so eyewitnesses had not seen his slap, and so the crowd turned against me. As well they should have.

One person ordered me to go help him clean up. I realized that this was a good idea, since the dried blood on his face was pretty powerful evidence against me. Not that the twenty or so eyewitnesses wouldn’t have been enough to get me suspended.

Camilo had realized the same thing, and, probably due to how much of an asshole I was being, refused to wash away the evidence.

But for some reason he did so a little later, in the 5th inning. Probably because having dried blood on your face for an extended period of time is uncomfortable.

Anyhow, the game ended, and the Chicago trip continued. Things were awkward between me and Camilo right from the start. Obviously.

He refused to talk to me for the rest of the trip, and I didn’t blame him for this. But at the same time, I poked fun at the fact that he refused to talk to me in the blog that I wrote immediately after returning from the trip. I treated it like a joke.

And it was all a joke to me. I figured that he would be mad for a while, but eventually he would cool off, and we’d laugh about the incident later. That’s why I wasn’t sympathetic towards him afterwards. That’s why I accused him of provoking me as opposed to apologizing and helping him out. I figured that the immediate danger of getting suspended or worse was greater than the danger of losing him as a friend. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I went back to school the following week, I fully expected to be called down to the office to pay for my crimes. I mean, come on. I had punched someone in the face, and half of the grade had seen me do it. That sort of shit just doesn’t go unpunished. About a week later in history class, Camilo was called to go speak to the dean (A.K.A. the head disciplinarian), and I was sure that I was toast. But nothing came of the incident. And, though I jumped out of my seat every time a teacher used my name for the next month, nothing ever happened to me at all. As far as I know, no teacher was even made aware that I punched Camilo.

So, I got off scot-free in terms of discipline. That danger was averted.

But the other danger, the danger of losing him as a friend, came to fruition. He tried to avoid me after school, he refused to play our favourite video game on the computer, he moved his desk away from mine in history class… And still for a while I took it as a joke. “He’ll get over it eventually”, I figured.

Only he didn’t.

And it took a whole month for me to express any sort of remorse, and for me to even attempt an apology. Even then, I thought it would be a cakewalk. I figured that I would just waltz in, apologize, he would forgive me, and we’d be best friends again.

But it wasn’t that easy. I walked into the computer lab and he was there, checking a baseball pool. We had a short conversation. The blog I posted later was a dramatized version of what actually happened (because in those days I couldn’t be bothered to break character). Cutting out the superflulous bits, it went like this:

***

“What do you want?”, he said in a hostile tone.
 
Taken slightly aback by his tone, I nonetheless decided to continue.
 
“I just wanted to ask you something.” I replied. When he did not respond, I continued. “Why do you still hold this grudge against me? I don’t blame you or anything, because I did something incredibly stupid, and I am sorry for it, but can’t we just bury the hatchet?”
 
“I’m not holding any grudge.” he said.
 
“Clearly you are. Things between us were just fine until Wrigley Field. They haven’t been the same since.”
 
“Okay, so why does it matter to you?” He said, in an indifferent tone. He wasn’t even looking in my direction.
 
“Because, it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth if things between us aren’t fine because of something I did.” I responded.
 
“Who cares? You’ve got other friends.”
 
“Yes Kid, but-” He cut me off.
 
“Don’t call me Kid!” he said, with a small flash of anger in his voice.
 
“Alright…” I started, a little more than a little surprised at his response. “I have other friends, but I don’t want to lose a friendship over something stupid like this.”
 
“Well, maybe I don’t want to hang out with you anymore.” He said, using that same indifferent tone of voice.
 
I felt a sharp pain in my heart as he said that. A weak “Why not?” was all I could manage in reply. I was quickly losing my control of the situation.
 
“Because… you’re weird.” he said. “Other people have made me see it, and I didn’t before, but now I do.”
 
“Well, I don’t want to lose this friendship. That’s all I have to say.” And I walked away, feeling sick to my stomach.

***

That was when I realized that piecing together our friendship wouldn’t be easy, and that it might not even be possible. That was also the point where I began having nightmares about that day at Wrigley Field, which would haunt me for the better part of a year. That’s also the point when Camilo started scaring the shit out of me. For the rest of our high school careers, I wouldn’t even be able to even look at him without my heart rate spiking.

I remember one day near the end of grade eleven when I happened to be in the library after school, and he was there too. And I decided that I would talk to him. I waited with my heart pounding for half an hour for him to get out of his seat so that I could talk to him without him being distracted by a computer screen.

When I finally approached him, I asked if I could talk to him for a moment. His reply was “I have to go to music now.”

What scared the shit out of me here was his voice. He’s not known for talking all that much, so this was actually the first time that I had heard his voice in over a year. And it was deep. Scary deep. I wouldn’t have recognized it if he hadn’t been standing right in front of me.

His music excuse was a valid one; it was time for band rehearsal (though he still had plenty of time to talk if he was thus inclined). I had dropped music after grade ten, in no small part to the fact that I didn’t want to have to deal with sitting near him for an entire year. I would have been too scared.

***

That was the last time that I tried to apologize to him for over a year.

June 25th was my formal graduation, i.e. the last time that I would be seeing some of my classmates. And just as things were wrapping up, I saw Camilo near the doorway. Part of me wanted to turn around, walk away, and leave things as they were. But a larger part of me knew that this would be the last time that I would ever see him, and that I had to say something.

So I said “Hey.”

And he said “Hey.” In that deep voice that gives me the chills.

And I asked him where he was going for university.

He said “U of T.”

And I said “Look, I’m sorry for what happened back at Wrigley Field. I was really stupid, and I shouldn’t have done it.”

And he said “Don’t worry man, that was years ago.”

I said “It’s really a shame that we didn’t stay friends after that.”

And he said “Yeah, it is.”

And nothing else. Our silence completed the conversation for us, for in being silent we mutually agreed that although it was a shame that we didn’t remain friends, keeping it that way was for the best.

I wanted to say something else, but I didn’t think that he wanted me to.

I was waiting for him to say something else. Maybe he was waiting for me to say something else too.

And so we both remained silent, and will for the rest of our lives.

But is it for the best?

I’ve analyzed the events of Friday, April 20th, 2007 about a million times in my head. All the “what-ifs” circle around in my head endlessly.

What if, when the teacher was handing out tickets, we had grabbed the next pair? Then we wouldn’t have sat in front of those faggots, and I wouldn’t have punched him.

What if I hadn’t returned from the washroom so quickly? Then maybe I would have been a little calmer before facing them again.

What if I had obeyed the buddy system, and gone with Camilo to the bathroom? We could have discussed how to best deal with them.

Or, plain and simple, what if I hadn’t done it? What if I hadn’t terminated my best friendship on that day? What if me and Camilo were still best friends?

And honestly, I don’t know if I would be better off. Camilo was the embodiment of the 8:30-2:30 club. He was never in the school for more than a few minutes after classes ended. He rarely spoke to anyone besides me, and I rarely spoke to anybody besides him. That’s not a healthy way to go through high school, but I had no reason to change.

But with him gone, I was forced to change, lest I go friendless. Adapt or become extinct, right?

I owe Camilo a lot. My friends. My novel. The direction I’m taking in university. All of those were caused either directly or indirectly by Camilo.

With Camilo gone, I was generally alone. So, I began seeking out other people, and I began getting to know them better. I made many new friends. Everyone I met and became friends with in grade twelve is because of him. Joining the Cross Country team was another way that I thought I could make friends, and my decision to do so was largely due to Camilo.

I decided to write a novel because of him too. See, I felt as though no one in the school knew me, and I wanted to do something to be remembered by. The novel was started as a means to that end. The novel itself served a few other purposes as well – most importantly, the purpose of helping me to meet some of the younger students at my school. A lot of them couldn’t help themselves when they saw that nearly 200 page stack on my desk, and had to ask me what I was doing. More than one friendship was forged in that way. While I don’t want to give Camilo full credit for my relationships with the younger students (as Dan certainly played a large role in that too), I can’t deny that he was a factor.

Camilo is even responsible for the direction that I’m taking in my life. Remember how I mentioned that I dropped music after grade ten because he scared the shit out of me? Well, in place of music, I took history, and was taught by the brilliant Mr. Barry, the man who reignited my interest in history, and who inspired me to take history as my major in university. Had I not lost Camilo, I would probably be doing a major in one of the sciences, and be far less content.

All of that is because I lost Camilo. I seriously doubt that I would have done any of the above if we were still friends.

So, am I better off the way things turned out?

Yes.

It’s ironic how I gained so much joy in life from losing one of my best friends; how the biggest mistake of my life ended up changing me for the better.

***

And yet, I’m not exactly happy with the outcome, even if it has made me a better person. Because regardless of how things turned out, I still punched one of my best friends in the face. I still did a terrible, terrible thing. And I got away with it. That’s not right. That’s a huge violation of the First Law of Karma.

What’s up with that? Karma never lets me get away with anything. But it let me get away with this, the worst thing that I’ve ever done.

Oh, there are a few things that have happened to me that could be seen as retribution. Like when I had that surgery in March 2008, and afterwards my nose bled profusely for well over ten minutes. Somehow, I didn’t pass out. Though I did manage to fill a small tupperware with blood.

And those bad dreams that I had could have been caused by Karma too. But for the most part, I got off the hook.

But maybe the fact that, even though he’s gone, I can never forget what I did is its own punishment. Instead of giving me a quick slap in the face, maybe Karma has decided that letting me have the guilt of what I’ve done follow me eternally is a far better reward. Karma isn’t stupid, you know.

***

I’m a little sad now though. Writing this blog has brought to mind the many good times that we had.

I remember the first day that we became friends. And that’s a rare thing. I can’t remember much about the first day that I met most of my other friends. But with him, it’s fairly clear. It was music class, and we were in the gym, preparing to set up for a concert. And I remember being very interested in him from early on in the year. Camilo was such an interesting name, after all. And the fact that he was so terrible at playing the french horn was amusing. So, I decided that I would become friends with him. And I approached him during that music class and spoke with him. We discussed some hockey (he liked the Senators), some music (Guns ‘n Roses), and how awesome it would be to play a game of paintball in the gym.

When class was over, he couldn’t remember my name (I don’t blame him. Mike is a name that just melts into the crowd), so he just said “See ya later, clarinet dude!”

Obviously, I remembered his name. But nonetheless, I replied “See ya, french horn guy!”

Thus was a friendship forged.

And as luck would have it, he was so terrible at the french horn that the music teacher made a rare move, exempting him from the Christmas exam and allowing him to switch instruments. And he became a clarinetist. I remember how excited he was to tell me the news. And I remember how excited I was hearing the news. And we sat beside one another for all of grade nine music class and most of grade ten.

And on the first day of grade ten, he was the only person who actually seeked me out and said hello. I was roaming the halls, looking for people to say hello to (because no one knew me well enough to say hello to me), and he tapped me on the shoulder and said “hey!” And he looked genuinely happy to see me.

He always looked genuinely happy to see me. And I was always genuinely happy to see him. In a school that I hated, he was a rare bright spot. I spoke to other people, sure, but never as much as I spoke to him. And he almost never spoke to anyone besides me. When we were no longer friends, he almost never spoke at all.

Our favourite game to play on the computer was Slime Soccer. Every day at lunch we would go to the library and play for a good half hour. I once went on a 27 game winning streak, and when he finally broke that streak, he looked like he had won a million bucks. That was a good time.

And what about the walkathon? Our school decided that it would be a good idea to let us spend an entire school day walking around a 12km course through the city streets and nearby ravines. And he walked the entire route with me. All three and a half hours of it. We never ran out of things to talk about in those three and a half hours, either. He made that a very good day for me.

Yeah, we had some good times. And we never fought, except for that one time…

***

April 20th, 2007 is one of the three most significant days of my life thus far.

I’m sad about what happened that day. And I regret my actions. It was the biggest mistake that I’ve ever made.

But there is no denying that I am a better person because of what happened on that day.

I’m worried about Camilo though, because after the Wrigley Field incident, he didn’t seem to adapt as well as I did. I found new friends, but he didn’t seem to do the same. At the very least, I never saw him with other people. As I mentioned, I went over a year without even hearing him speak. But ever since our ties were severed, I never learned much about his life besides what I observed. For all I know, he’s written a novel too. I really hope that what happened that day changed him for the better like it did for me.

There is no denying that I owe Camilo a lot. I know that I won’t ever see him again, but I hope that wherever he is, whatever he’s doing, he’s happy.

He deserves it for all that he’s done for me.

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