Core Connections: A Story About Blake

When I think about the simple goodness that is in all of us, I think about Blake. When I think about what is at the core of who we are and what connects us, I think about Blake. When I wonder about how we can ever manage to get along and show love to those so different from us, I think about Blake.

I guess you could say I think about him a lot. Now, let me tell you about Blake.

I grew up in a very small town. For those of you who have this shared experience, you know what it means. From a tender young age, you are arranged with a small number of children who you end up spending the next 13 years of your life with. Such was my life in a small prairie town, something I bemoaned everyday within it as much as I celebrate it now that I am without. In a school with little more than a hundred children total, those dozen or so you spend everyday with become confidants, nemeses, brothers, and sisters, out of necessity and proximity: if you don’t make friends, you simply don’t have friends, so you learn to befriend everyone. Everyone is in the same boat – our commonalities in many ways were limited to the fact that we happened to be born into the same small town, and we tried our best to find common ground. Some of us were more successful than others.

Blake was always a wild child. Always slightly smaller than the rest of his peers, what he may have lacked in height back then he made up for with pure fire. Even at age 5 it was clear this boy was going to be an untamable spirit.

As we grew, Blake and I didn’t always see eye to eye. Indeed, I recall holding him by the neck of his shirt against the locker and screaming at him. Can’t remember what about. Likely something ridiculous. We were almost complete opposites. I was what you might call a poetic oaf. The brooding type. Read too much Keats, listened to too many Smiths albums, writing shitty poetry about boys that didn’t like me. Blake somewhat struggled academically, though even I could see he was an absolute genius when it came to machines. The kid could rip apart and rebuild anything. Get him in a shop with tools and a broken thing, he’d fix it. Get him in a physics class and ask him to complete an equation based on the fixes he just made on the shop floor, he’d probably just pull down his pants and fart on your text book.

While he didn’t necessarily fit in to the “traditional school setting” (and that’s a rant for another time), a few things were very clear about Blake. He was a mechanical genius, he could fart on command, and he likely had the biggest heart of anyone I grew up with. He could be such a bastard shit sometimes (what 16 year old isn’t an asshole on a regular basis?), but beneath it all was a human who had genuine love and interest in those around him. It was the most core and noticeable thing about him.

My favourite (of so many) Blake moments, the one that strikes me again and again, happened some afternoon in grade 11 or 12 as I was sitting in the hallway, pouring ridiculous teenage hormone-infused verse into a black Hilroy coil bound notebook. Blake approached me and sat next to me.

“Whatcha doin Sheena?” his voice rang in that cadence that only Blake had.

“Oh, nothing,” I replied, closing the book and hiding my awkward shame. “Just writing some stuff.

“What are you writing?” he asked

Shrugging, a barrage of awkward guttural sputtering noises escaped my mouth before I could finally muster “Oh, you know, just some poems and stories and stuff, it’s dumb really.”

Blake cocked his head inquisitively. “You really like writing, huh? You’ve always been so good at it! Like, even when we were just kids.”

“Ya, I do,” sheepishly responding, almost embarrassed. Writing poetry was geeky. It wasn’t cool like fixing an engine or shooting a deer or punching a kid who wrote poetry.

“You know, that’s really cool, Sheena!” Blake chimed, “It’s like… how you are with words and stuff, I am with engines and tractors and stuff!

Wow. I looked up at him. “Ya. Ya, Blake, that’s exactly it!”

In this moment, though perhaps lacking in deeper profundity, gave me great insight into the human spirit. That moment enlightens me to this day

If we can strip apart our differences, we can communicate to connect. And if we can connect to one another, we can create bonds that are stronger than any differences. Keep it simple, and you can keep it true. 

I was two months pregnant when I got the news. I was already showing, and nervous about the idea of being forced into revealing news of my own.

On September 27th, 2008, Blake was killed in a motorcycle accident. It had been a few years since I had seen him, but it struck me as though I had been told in that hallway years before.

My grade 12 class, the once-13-now-12 of us gathered, along with hoards of others from the community, to say goodbye to Blake. We laughed and cried together. To our bond that was 13 years strong, we now had to add the painful fact that far too soon and every time we gather from now on, we would always be one less. We had no more in common now than we did when we parted ways after grade 12, albeit for this person we all had shared our lives with in different ways as we grew together (and apart); from small dirty-faced children to adults who were now teachers and truckers, engineers and farmers, nurses and Medieval English majors who were two months pregnant.

And Blake’s giant heart would be proud of us all. Because that’s just the way he was. I imagine introducing him to my kids, talking about my job, my passion for the community, and of course, my desire to write. To these things, I imagine his response, “That’s so fucking sweet, Sheens. You love words like I love my Harley!”

I think about him every fall. And I think about him on his birthday (four days after my own son, who in utero attended his wake.) And I think about him when I hear an AC/DC song. And I think about him when I see a young guy on a motorcycle. And I think about him when I hear a great dirty limerick (so few and far between these days.) And I think about him when, in my daily life, I am challenged to connect with someone so very different than myself, remembering that years ago, a kid who just as easily could have stolen my notebook and flashed me his ass, took the time to sit down, listen, and make the connection.

For that, and for Blake, I am eternally grateful.