In Memoriam: Simon Bertrand

I had a friend in high school, named Simon Bertrand, who died a few weeks ago. He was a sometimes rebellious, quarrelsome, sticklish kind of guy when he got his back up about things that didn’t make sense to him, but he was quite intelligent, and he tried very hard to fit in with the rest of us misfits, which couldn’t have been easy on anyone.We weren’t always very good to Simon, because he was actually a little less well off than some of us. He also had a darling mother, whom he used to have a difficult relationship with. She only ever saw the good in him, and for that, I’m thankful.

Simon died of cancer. He also had, over the years, developed a drug problem. I won’t elaborate on either point.  Those two facts aren’t mutually exclusive, but they aren’t everything you need to know about Simon.

Simon used to collect comics in pairs, so he could have one reading copy and one collector’s copy. His mother told me he eventually sold them back to Tom Laing, who was good enough to take them when Simon needed the money.

Simon also loved role playing games, which was a big part of the reason he was hanging out with us. He wasn’t a brilliant player, but he was fun to play with, so long as he didn’t get picke don too much or too often.

Simon also liked classic rock music, which was something he had in common with most of us. When Simon lived in the same building with me back in the mid 90s, he loaned me his copy of Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell, which I hadn’t been able to pick up, owing to something called poverty.

Simon also had a crush on the same girl I did in high school. She was pretty, and pretty neat, and I don’t think she ever believed either of us cared for her that much. I still remember the sleepover, during the stormy night when everyone else was supposedly asleep, and she and Simon were talking in the faint light of the early morning sky. I was jealous, but I was also hopeful, because he was really a good guy, and it would have been an interesting match. Maybe she could have kept him together. Maybe he wouldn’t have drifted from our circle the way he did. Maybe…

I went to Simon’s Celebration of Life gathering that happened a few blocks away from my apartment. It was just yesterday, and I felt really weird about it, and still do, not because I didn’t care or feel anything for Simon’s passing, but because it had been so long, and Simon had managed to drift so far away from our circle of friends, and I just wasn’t entirely sure I had any right to be there.

In a very real way, I feel as if I failed Simon. See, that’s probably totally wrong, but I do actually think that Simon drifted into the life he did, which most probably helped to make him unhealthy. There is no proof of that, but I’m sure the bad stuff he fell into (even if only for a time) probably did affect his situation.

As I mentioned earlier, a few years after high school, Simon and I found ourselves living one floor apart from one another for a few years. He actually got apartment five, which I had originally been earmarked to move into, until my first superintendant (Michelle Esqueda? It’s been a long time.) decided to move me into apartment ten, which was slightly prettier, thanks to some wall trim that the previous tenants had left up.These days, a nice lesbian couple live in apartment ten with two rambunctious boxers, and apartment five has recently been vacated by Gary, a nice Christian gentleman who is moving into a retirement home.

I visited Simon a few times while he lived in apartment five, but even then, I could tell he was starting to spend time with a crowd that I couldn’t tolerate, and he never came up to visit me, as far as I can recall, though I probably failed to invite him, as well. And that’s where I failed him. I wouldn’t have done him a lick of good if I had tried to follow him down the rabbit hole, but I also didn’t try very hard to stop him from going down there himself.

A few years ago, Simon got back in touch with me, at first through Facebook (my Mom had found and added him), and then he contacted me via phone to discuss a business plan he had. He wanted to get into the food waste business, but I told him frankly I had no expertise, nor any inclination, and so that avenue of conversation ended.

A little while later, maybe a year ago, I heard that Simon wasn’t doing so good. I got a call from Mom on that. My sister quietly confirmed it, in that ineffable way that hospital staff have of learning about one another’s ill family members and such. It’s a small city. So what did I do? I waited. I did talk with Simon via Facebook message now and then, discussing getting together for dinner and a chat, but it didn’t actually happen until Mom forced the issue several months ago by inviting Simon up to visit her, and inviting me to join them.

We had our reunion, and it was nice, and we got together once more a few months back, after it was pretty clear that Simon was not going to live a great length of time. He was in good spirits, and he still looked pretty good. He hadn’t gone in for his final series of treatments yet. I recently saw a series of photographs from shortly before he died, and I can honestly say he looked like he’d aged twenty years.

Simon was a friend I could sit up until three or four in the morning talking to about the craziest shit that came into my head, and he never called me on it. We just talked and talked until the wee hours of the morning, and then he walked home, and we went to school or slept in because it was summer, and got up and did it all again a few days later. We were close. Not the closest, but we were close. How we drifted apart is a mystery to me, really. How he fell by the wayside and I drifted by with hardly a scrape is another.

I don’t know that it would have made any difference if I had stayed closer to him, tried to talk him out of spending time with the people he fell in with. I have no way of knowing if it wouldn’t have eventually dragged me down with him. I can see that my life of growing up with that element stopped me from falling in with the wrong crowd, because I already knew what happens to people who fall by the wayside, having seen it first hand. But I still should have been there for him. Somehow, I should have gotten through to him. Because really, what use are all these fucking words if you can’t use them to save someone from themselves?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Simon lately. Too little too late, really, but I really did want to reconnect with him, before the end, there. He couldn’t bring himself to reach out to me anymore. I guess I’d failed him too many times. He knew he couldn’t rely on me to be there for him when things got real.

We were close. Just not close enough for me to save him. And then he got sick. And then he died. And I’m getting old and fat and bald and tired and wondering what it’s all for. I don’t believe in an afterlife anymore, so I don’t believe I’ll ever meet Simon again. I won’t ever get to tell him I’m sorry for failing him, and he won’t be able to tell me to shut up and forget about it.

For all of his faults, Simon was a brother, and a friend, and a part of our circle. He left too soon. He left years too soon, but he’s gone for good, now, and that’s a sign that things are changing forever. The rest of the circle has slowly but surely been trying to pull itself back together, but there are years and miles and hurts between us that haven’t all healed, and it hasn’t been easy. Not even Simon’s passing has managed to reforge the circle, really. Dawn McKechnie is busy in Mississauga, Scott Mitchell is busy in Burlington, and Big Dave Bedard is up on the mountain with his ultra Christian wife and their ultra Christian life, and hasn’t been in touch in a long time. Derrick Rose and I still talk, but not like we used to. Rodney Brazeau and I still plot to sell LinkWorlds to the world at large, though we bicker as often as not about how to do it. Richard Miller is married with dogs and his life as a diabetic and a pest control specialist, and invites over once ever few moths to sing karaoke and drink with him and Rod and Scott Hickman, who is a corrections officer for wayward teens. Ian Cowley and Robert Janosevic were sort of peripheral to the circle, and never quite gelled with the group. There was a girl named Tami Jordan who also didn’t quite fit in. Trina Bilyj left Derrick Rose, and Sue Cormier left Scott Mitchell, and we haven’t really talked with either of them since then. And despite our best efforts, no one else really wanted to be part of the circle.

And Simon is gone now. One less of us. I hope it’s a long time before another of us goes. I need time to finish reconnecting with them, to repair the damage and end this story better that it’s been over the last decade or two. So much left to do. And Simon will never get to see any of it. I gave him a copy of one of my albums. I never asked him what he thought of it. Too little, too late.

Time to stop babbling. Thank you for reading. Here’s some music, to commemorate my friend’s passing, but more importantly, to commemorate his life.

Pink Floyd – Keep Talking


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