I first met R when he was about 15. A little older than me, he was intimidating and strange. With his closely shorn bristly red hair and wide-eyed stare he looked like a young Johnny Rotten. His cousin was my best friend at the time and they came over to my basement to listen to music and drink some beer. When Devo came over my speakers R got up and danced in a manic swirl of movement, knees bent, arms swinging side to side like a new wave dance but with the energy and speed of a punk mosh pit.
He was quiet and awkward but trying to convey an image of strength and confidence. R had clearly been lifting weights and I imagined it might have been because he had sand kicked in his face once too often and had decided to do something about it. Over the next few years I would see R infrequently each time he would be a little wider and more menacing. He seemed to be very enthusiastic about guns, war and the action films of the time. He had relatives in the military so it was not surprising that he used to talk about rifles, knives, fighter planes and other military hardware even if it seemed a little bizarre to some.
I never got to know R very well and I hadn't seen him in 20 years. As a teenaged boy from Hamilton his dream was to be a member of the Airborne Regiment and he would occasionally and randomly belt out the following tune - the first verses at least. I never heard how the song ended.
I want to be an Airborne Ranger
Livin' a life of sex and danger
I said RANGER!
For the first time in decades Canadians are now involved in a war, and not just as peace-keepers. I guess all the gung-ho soldiers like R finally got what they must have been dreaming of all these years. Along with our involvement in the war in Afghanistan comes the occasional casualty reports on the evening news. My ears always perk up when these reports are aired and am relieved when I don't recognize the name of the dead soldier even though I feel for how their friends must feel when they hear their name on the news.
About a month ago there was a report of a Canadian soldier who was found shot dead in his barracks and his identity concealed. I wondered what story hid behind those headlines. Was it an accident, murder or suicide? A week later the dead soldier was identified as my friend R. Another week later the Military announced that it had in fact been a suicide.
Here is how that song ended:
Well C-130 rolling down the strip
Takin' off just like a rocket ship
Grab your weapon and grab your pack
clip the static line and it's out the back
Now if my chute don't open wide
I've got a second one by my side
If my secondary don't open true
Well look out ground 'cause I'm coming through
If I die in a combat zone
you can box me up and send me home
pin my metals upon my chest
And tell my momma I did my best!