There was smoke in the air when I found out that you died. Thick like fog settles in the morning, but yellow and acidic so it hurt to breath. Swimming and collecting in the unevenness of the earth, every blade of grass, stump or tree. Every building and street lamp and parked car was an obstacle to be set upon by the smoke. It was a series of grey days.
It felt forbidding from the start. Like an omen. I don't really believe in omens but when I heard that you had died I felt like a premonition had been realized. The premonition of hundreds of acres of burning forest. I'm sure the firefighters or the people with rural homes would not understand, the people whose lives were wrapped up in the reality of the flames, but for the last several days as the fire had burned I had been thinking not of them but of you.
You who were an artist of a thousand office doodles. Line drawings in pen that collected over every page of your notebook. Mostly the faces of the people around you lost in thought, the lines of our furrowed brows. You drew all of our faces.
You who were accomplished in your work and valued innovation and never stopped making. Who never stopped talking. Who had a million things to say.
You who loved and gave and attended every outing, including the karaoke ones, and who never packed a lunch. Neither of us did, so we got lunch together and it was a reliable kind of trip talking Game of Thrones and spoilers and SciFi.
You who loved your family with all your heart and wrote on Facebook while you were sick only that you missed your dog. I know he misses you.
Several weeks prior I had taken a photo of your empty desk. Something about it bathed in the light of our offices only window, the chair pushed out from the monitor, sitting empty in the middle of the cubicle. I remember how much it stung when a new staff member took your chair. It was the nicest chair. You were the only one who cared enough to do the Ergonomic Assessment. All she had to do was say, can I have that? And she took it and replaced it with a chair that was not your chair. We had all been saying "Let it wait till he comes back, he'll be back soon". Eventually it dawned on us that you would not be returning, but none of us who knew you could take the chair.
I heard that in certain parts of the city ash fell from the sky like snowflakes. It drifted in through office windows and people drove around in 30 degree heat with their windows rolled up tight to keep the death out. I was on the LRT train when I got the call and I remember how the smoke seemed to push against the glass, trying to get in the cracks. Particles of trees in British Columbia and the North West Territories carried all the way to Central Edmonton on a breeze.
It comforts me a little that the day you passed is a day all Edmontonians can remember. Not just those whose lives you touched, but all of us. Remember when the ash rained and the smog stung and the highrise condos were mired in haze? Remember that? Ah yes, July 2014, I remember well.
A series of grey days.
It's taken me these months to put the words in my head to paper, and as life would have it the month I finally do, this month of October, is Brain Tumour Awareness Month. I would encourage everyone to donate even a small amount to research and to the betterment of the lives of those who suffer from brain tumours. You can do so through the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.
City of Edmonton photos from the Edmonton Journal.