Losing a Friend—Twice
February 6, 2011
I hadn’t heard a word from Jeff in a couple of weeks. This was an odd feeling because we were close friends and would usually call each other every other day; however, I was sure of the reason for this silence. Our last meeting ended with him storming off in a rage after having had an argument over a tiny issue. This, itself, was odd because we’d never had such heated arguments before, let alone something as insignificant as this: an old dust pan he thought was his. As the days went by, I began to realize this stand-off was silly.
I began reminiscing of all the good times and crazy weekends we shared over the years, appreciating that we went back a long way. One long-weekend, less than a year ago, stood out in my mind. Jeff and I, along with two other friends (brothers Cory and Tyler) drove to the Southern Okanagan for a vacation in scorching summer weather. Initially, I felt like an outsider. I was older than all of them; Tyler was only 19, Jeff and Cory were both 21 and I was the ripe old age of 25. Jeff bridged the age gap with his natural ability to create an atmosphere of fun and adventure. Age meant nothing to him as long as you made an effort to contribute to the festive spirit of the occasion. That meant you had to party!
So there we were, having the time of our lives in a rented Ski boat, taking turns tubing the warm waters of Osoyoos Lake when all of a sudden…
“Wipe out!” Tyler yelled, being the most cautious of group.
“Turn around, let’s go scoop him up.”
We circled the spot we thought Jeff had fallen in. The popular lake was crowded and we had to be careful, watching out for heavy boat traffic.
“Where is he?” I yelled over the roar of the boat engine.
There was no trace of him. We searched but found nothing. The two brothers and I began to worry.
“What if he got hit by another boat?” Tyler asked.
“He was wearing a life jacket so he should be floating around somewhere,” Cory said.
“Maybe another boat picked him up” I said, trying to make sense of the sudden turnaround of emotions that crushed us like a landslide.
We searched for him for what seemed like hours without any luck. We eventually returned to the marina and notified the Lake Police. They promptly took over, scouring the long lake that stretched across the US border. We were all dumfounded by the loss of our friend and couldn’t help but feel responsible if this day turned out tragic.
Imagine our relief and jubilation when Jeff was picked up in downtown Osoyoos later that day, still shirtless and carrying his life jacket. Immediately he began explaining his harrowing ordeal. He had yelled to us but watched helplessly as our boat roared past. Frightened of getting hit by other boaters, he gave up waiting to be rescued and swam ashore to the U.S. side of the lake. Managing to find the main highway, he walked north to the border station. Without his wallet or ID, Jeff somehow managed to convince the border guards with his sad story of lake abandonment. They must have pitied him for they were nice enough to let him through and even save him a ride into town.
That night was celebrated like no other, for we had good reason to; our good friend was okay and back with us. I’ll never forget that night and all the other adventures Jeff and I shared over the many years. I decided then that he could have the damn dust pan. I would call Jeff the next day and see if we could work things out. Heck! He might have forgotten what we were arguing about.
The next day, just as I arrived home from work, the phone rang. Thinking it might be Jeff, I quickly answered. Surprisingly, it was his ex-girlfriend. She sounded distraught.
“Marco! did you hear what happened to Jeff?”
“No I haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks, I was going to call him later tonight, why. . . Is something wrong? Hello!”
She paused for a moment and I began to wonder if she was still on the line.
“He’s missing and nobody has seen or heard from him since Saturday. Cory and Tyler are missing too!”
“What! What happened to them?!” I blurted out in shock.
“They went to Pitt Lake with Cory’s new boat and were drinking Saturday night. Around midnight they decided to take the boat out and... There is a big police search going on right now and it’s all over the TV news and papers!”
“They must have found something?” I said still shocked.
“They found the boat Sunday morning without the motor, a life jacket and a few empty beer cans but that’s all, nothing else,” she said almost crying.
“Do you think…?” I said, worried.
“I don’t know, no one knows anything,” she said, holding back tears.
“They disappeared Marco, I’m worried! What if they’ve all drowned?”
“They will turn up soon,” I said, trying to sound reassuring. “I’m sure they swam ashore and are wandering in the woods lost.”
I refused to believe what she told me that day. ”Jeff does that. He goes missing and then magically shows up again no worse than before,” trying to convince myself,” just like the Osoyoos incident.”
The days went by, then weeks and no word of any findings. I had to come to terms with the heart-breaking fact that Jeff was gone. I would never be able to make it right with him. Then, slowly, I began to realize that unless we’d had that big argument over nothing, most likely, there would have been another person on that boat that tragic night. I’m almost sure it would’ve been me!
It saddens me that the last time I saw Jeff we parted in anger. I miss him greatly as one of my closest friends that I’ve ever had the privilege to know. I choose to remember his quirky humor and mischievous ear-to-ear smile that made everyone laugh and feel at ease. His unique chuckle that would brighten the darkest of Vancouver’s rainy skys. I truly wished I could have made amends before he died but I can’t help wonder that maybe events, even small ones, happen for a reason.
– 1081 words