While there, we drove around old haunts—always a fun time—including the neighborhood where we lived when we first moved to Canada in 1969. That included the ex-houses of friends I haven’t seen in decades, including that of Steve Sprung, who was my best friend in grades 3 and 4 (as they say in Canada—always “grade 3”, not “third grade”!). After grade 4, we moved across town, and while we remained good friends and had sleepovers once in a while, we didn’t move in the same circles, or go to the same Senior Public (“middle”, in U.S.-speak) or high schools, so we didn’t see each other that often. I suppose in this modren era, we’d’ve emailed and IMed and Facebooked, but this was the 1970s!
Steve’s uncle worked at the University of Waterloo, in the same department where I worked from 1980–1986. Sometime in late 1981 or early 1982, someone—I forget who—told me that Steve had died. I asked his uncle, and he said yes, that Steve was driving in the countryside alone, on a sunny day, and lost control of his car. No sign of alcohol or drugs: just a mysterious, sad accident.
A few years later—obviously before I left K-W in 1986—I was in a store and ran across Steve’s dad. He recognized me and said, “You’re Philip, right?” I confirmed that, and, realizing who he was, managed to mumble something about being sorry to have heard about Steve’s death. I remember that he kind of stared at me and didn’t say anything else. I filed that in the “incomprehensible but clearly not meaning to be nasty” file and (almost) forgot about it.
Until this past weekend, when it suddenly surfaced in my brain, and I realized that I know exactly what he was thinking: “Why are you standing there, while my son is dead?”
I looked him up on the web: he passed on in 2002, and is buried next to Steve—in the same cemetery where we spread my parents’ ashes. I know that there was nothing I could have said to him then, or now, that would have helped; I’m just glad that I had the presence of mind to have acknowledged his loss.