I’m wearing my hair long these days. I’d been keeping it between chin and shoulder length for many years now, but I decided to let it grow very long again. Today I was able to tie it into knot for the first time in ages and it had an unexpected effect; it made me a little sad. It made me sad because it reminded me of a dear old friend.

When I was in high school, people often admired my hair which was dark, curly and very long; almost down to my butt. It’s still dark and curly, but it’s shot through with a lot more grey these days and I tend spend more time admiring my daughter’s beautiful wavy chestnut hair than my own.

Math in high school was never my forte. So in Grade 11 I was pleased to find that a buddy of mine was in the same class; at least it wouldn’t be boring! Martin was originally from Poland and had, what we girls privately admitted, a fairly sexy accent. He was tall and a little gangly, but cute, nice, smart and funny. He was the guy that we all loved, but would never date. I’m sure he heard, far too many times, “I like you too much to go out with you because you’re such a good friend”.

Martin sat behind me in that class, and would often play with my hair. He would get irate when I would pull it up and tie it in a bun to get it out of my face. I always thought it was because the wall of hair provided a bigger screen between him and the math teacher, but he protested otherwise. Moments after I pulled it up, he would tug it down and tell me “you’re too pretty to look like an old grandmother. I don’t like that!” We would go through this routine several times and occasionally Mr. Mau would intervene with some acerbic comment about keeping ones hands to oneself…

girls and martin in banff

With two of my girlfriends and Martin at our friend's family cabin

Martin remained part of our group of friends until university, where, as so often happens, people change, meet new people, and ultimately grow apart. Over the years I found out through the grapevine that he moved to the US and later got married, but he remained a very sweet memory to me and I always thought that I’d see him again.

One Saturday morning I was indulging in my extremely morbid habit of reading the obituaries in the paper. I was stopped in my tracks by Martin’s photo. I lost my breath when I read his name. I cried when I read the dates. I sobbed when I read the circumstances. And then I got on the phone and called three other girlfriends who had known and loved him and we cried some more, totally in shock.

We attended his funeral a few days later. We never knew he was sick, we never knew he had come home to get treatment for the aggressive colorectal cancer that took five months to claim him a mere 3 months before his 27th birthday. It was a gut wrenching day. We lost a friend, we lost a tie to our carefree youth, we lost a memory. In some ways, we had lost him years before when we grew apart, but it didn’t make it any easier to lose him for the second time, so young.

So today I tied my hair up in a bun and thought of Martin.

July 5, 2011