By Falon Malec
I remember when we met. I was a broker for a local insurance office making calls to follow up on missed payments. After a few years in the industry, I was used to clients missing payments and had established a prejudice towards those who don’t pay. How hard is it to be an adult, really?
I remember calling him a few times to try to collect the missed amount before his policy cancelled, getting more frustrated that yet another client was going to affect my stats and ultimately my bonus in a few months. At one point I called his mom and left a message on her cell asking her to have him call me.
I remember when he finally called the office. He sounded lost and haunted on the phone. Years of frustrations echoed in his voice. Yet, there was something else there too. The cry of a lonely heart perhaps. Although, at the time I wasn’t sure what it was. I just remember feeling pulled in by his voice. I wanted to meet this man. My client.
I remember how frustrated he was when he explained why he was struggling to pay his bills. How he needed his car to get his daughter to school and visit with his son. He had been in the Canadian Military and was injured in Afghanistan when an IED went off and took his left leg. The government who promised to support its veterans for their service had failed to keep its promise and he was no longer receiving his cheques for his injuries. I told him I would make sure he kept his insurance in place so he could visit his kids. Promising to call him with the solution, we hung up.
I remember when he came in to the office with his ex-wife. The disappointment I felt when I thought she was still his wife rang deep. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t relieved to learn they were now just great friends. She was there to help him get things sorted and understand what we put in place to save his account. After explaining that the vice president of the company agreed to have the brokerage pay off his policy until he could repay the balance, he was speechless. No one had ever fought for him before. He was so grateful he asked to take me to dinner as a thank you. Initially I declined. Several times in fact. I had already been burned in the past for mixing work with pleasure and was not interested in a repeat performance. He was persistent though. It was important to him that he thank me.
I remember when he told me his story over appetizers in a pub on the North side of the city. He had been on deployment for only twenty-six days when he stepped on the bomb that threw him forty-something feet through the air, severing his left leg from his body and scarring his other. A wild dog ran off with his foot while he applied his own tourniquet to a leg he described as a lump of wet spaghetti. Shipped off to Germany for surgery he was placed into a drug induced coma filled with nightmarish dreams that still haunted him long after he woke. His body returned to his pregnant wife and family, but his soul was lost in a sort of limbo, unable to return to his life among the living. He was still angry that his days of service were cut so short after four long years of training and preparation.
I remember his eyes the most. They were beautiful, deep pools of dark amber that not only bared his soul, but pierced through all your layers and masks and forced you to bare yours as well. You couldn’t hide yourself from him no matter how hard you tried. Easily drowning in his warmth you became a pool of emotions yourself. His eyes were kind, soft, and loving. They also betrayed him; allowing you to see a glimpse of what haunted him. He was a truly beautiful soul.
I remember when we started dating and he invited me over to meet his family. He had caught pink eye from his kids and it wasn’t clearing up, so I stopped to pick up some eye drops for him. Because he always cracked jokes about his missing leg making him a pirate, I also picked up an eye patch. He wore the eye patch most of that day and made everyone laugh to the point of tears. His family was so welcoming and accepting of me, it felt like I was coming home after a long time away.
I remember when things started getting more serious and he spent most of his time at my place. We were, for all intents and purposes, living together. It wasn’t done intentionally, it just went that way and it was wonderful. He was still struggling with his injuries so he was home with my dog through the day and I often came home to a beautiful dinner complete with candles and wine. He tidied the house, did the dishes, and held me close at night. He would watch Dirty Dancing with me and let me paint his toenails. We would play cards and do shots of vodka while sharing stories about our past lives before finding each other. Cuddling on the couch, he watched his sports and I read stories on my phone. Our sex life was absolutely incredible, always reaching heights of pleasure that rivaled Mount Everest, I’m sure. Things were going perfectly. I was happy.
I remember the day everything fell apart and the demons of war caught up to him. From what I have been told, and what I had seen since, they were recurring visitors who would come and wreak havoc on his life and those in it. It was my twenty-eighth birthday. It started out wonderfully. He kissed me good morning and wished me happy birthday before he went to take his daughter to school and spend the morning with his son. A plan was made to go for lunch and celebrate my day. When he picked me up at noon, we went to a pub in St. Albert for a meal and a few drinks before we headed back to my place for what was meant to be a quiet afternoon together. It was grey and raining all day; a warning of sorts perhaps. After we got home he decided he wanted to pick up something to drink and headed back out. When he returned he didn’t just have his vodka. While I had dabbled with some drugs in the past, I wasn’t interested in doing so now and left him to partake on his own. It wasn’t long before he started to spiral down the dark rabbit hole. A place I had never been and didn’t know how to navigate. I was scared and quite lost on how to handle the demons that were beginning to consume him.
I remember going to bed alone every night afterwards while he drank himself to sleep on the couch watching his war movies and documentaries. I was hurt, angry, and confused. I had no idea what to do because I didn’t know the man who was sleeping downstairs and I didn’t know how to reach the man I knew him to be. I was ill prepared for this battle, not understanding what was happening or why and completely incapable of saving him. When I came home from work a few days later to find my house open and littered with vodka bottles, a bag of pot spilled on my couch and my dog sitting in the middle of it all, I ended things in a knee jerk reaction. I wish now that I had a better understanding of what was happening and had known that this was not another asshole man showing his true colors. I wish I’d been able to see that this was a man suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and what he needed was someone to help him stand strong.
I remember when I learned the truth about what had occurred and how badly he struggled. He told me he was sorry that it happened the way it did and that I’d had to see him that way. I agreed to remain friends and be there for support. It was hard. There were a lot of ups and downs and it was painful to watch, even from the distance I set for myself. My heart broke for him every day.
I remember the day I realized I loved him and always had. I was visiting my family for the summer in Ontario, watching a movie with my mom. Curled up on the couch, we watched Country Strong with Garret Hedlund. I watched as he sang “Give in to me” to Leighton Meester and it hit me like a bullet to the chest. Garrets eyes were so similar to his. Listening to this song I saw an image of him and I, singing this song to each other. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I was so afraid to allow anyone in for so long and somehow he not only made his way through the walls I built, he did so without my realizing it. I would eventually tell him how I felt . . . I would . . . but thought it best I wait until he overcame these demons so I didn’t add more conflict to his life.
I remember the day we lost him. I had just flown home for the Christmas holidays after a week of running around like crazy trying to catch up with work and finalize a car purchase. He had invited me to join him and the family for dinner but I told him we would have to reschedule because I was too busy with work. He was disappointed but as always, he understood and wished me safe travels. I had been home only a few days into the trip when I woke up to a text message he’d sent me around 3am to tell me I was “a good person and will succeed past my own expectations” and that he loved me. The photos that preceded that text still haunt me to this day as they showed some of the pain he had been suffering prior. Pain I wasn’t aware he was in and had I known of, would have postponed my trip to help him heal. I had tried to call and text him that morning with no response. I knew the answer without being told. Something really bad happened.
I remember standing in my mom’s kitchen making a coffee when his mom called to tell me he died that morning. Although I somehow already knew, hearing it out loud knocked the wind from my chest and took my legs out from under me. Crumpled on the floor I struggled to find words. Words of condolences for the woman who gave birth to the man we would be burying. Words of apology and love. I couldn’t get the words out. I couldn’t tell this amazing woman what I knew she needed to hear. My brain and mouth were no longer connected. We said goodbye and folded in on myself on the kitchen floor sobbing until I couldn’t breath, couldn’t move, and couldn’t produce anymore tears.
I remember the memorial service held shortly afterwards in the new year. Walking in alone to a room full of strangers, friends and family I had never met, all there to say their goodbyes. Some crying, some laughing over a shared story about something wild and crazy he did in the past. I headed to the back of the room where he waited, surrounded by his mom, brother, ex-wife, aunts and his brothers in arms. My heart hit the floor for a moment when I saw his brother. I forgot how much they looked alike. It hurt and my whole body vibrated as I approached him and the family. When his mom’s boyfriend hugged me and told me they always hoped we’d get back together, I broke. I broke from the realization that I never told him I loved him. He was gone and he was never going to know that he was the one I wanted. The one I loved. He had no idea.
I remember standing beside him as he laid peacefully under the quilt made by local women to honor him. Tears poured down my face as I told him how much I loved him and apologized for not being there when he needed me. Apologized for not knowing he needed me. Apologized for not telling him I loved him sooner and for keeping that from him when he needed to hear it most. I tucked a letter I’d written under his quilt so that it would be cremated with him. A letter that said all the things I should have said when he was alive. I only hoped that somehow, if the letters on that piece of paper burned with his mortal body, they would reach his soul and he would know just how much I loved him and was going to miss him. I kissed him goodbye one last time and left him to join the living.
I remember the service at the legion afterwards. I met his mom at the door and hugged her tight. She was happy to have me there. She introduced me to one of his friends, a Sargent still in the military. I would later find out that he served with him and had been in Afghanistan with him just days before the explosion that took his leg and ultimately, took his life. Back then he had made a joke to “watch where you step” when they parted as he was sent off for his next deployment. The Sargent is tortured by this moment still to this day. The service was full of beautiful memories and videos about his life. His friends and family celebrated his life with a passion and love that honored his memory perfectly. I was so overwhelmed by the emotions flooding the room that I had to leave early. I was drowning and couldn’t breathe. He was really gone.
I remember the days, months, and years that followed. I had bought a house a few months after the memorial service and struggled to leave the apartment that was full of memories of us. The front step where he used to smoke his cigarettes. The dining room where we ate our meals together. The kitchen where I could picture him cooking and doing dishes. The bedroom where we made love and held each other as we slept. I was about to begin a new chapter but I didn’t want to turn the page without him. I spent a lot of time crumpled and tear soaked; wishing I would die myself so that I could find him on the other side. Every night for a year, I slept with his sweater in my arms or under my pillow when I tried to date someone new. The second year it hung on my bedpost beside me as I slept. It still hangs on the hooks on my wall to watch over me each night. And it will likely be there for many more years to come.
I remember when his mom started to clear out his things and say her own goodbyes, trying to find her peace. When she went to sell his treadmill, I bought it. Not because I knew I would use it, but because it was his and because he had been fighting so hard to learn how to run on his prosthetic that I needed it. I thought maybe it would allow me to feel closer to him. Many times after his mom dropped it off and I’d set it up, I would lay on its track and let the guilt and agony wash over me. I would lay there and cry until I was exhausted. He wasn’t supposed to be gone. He was supposed to be here, fighting to live so I could love him for the rest of my life.
I remember the day I was told the results of his autopsy were inconclusive. Ultimately, his heart gave out from the weight of the burdens he carried, from the medications he had been prescribed for pain and depression and to cure the endless amount of infections he would get from the wounds in his leg that would repeatedly tear open with his prosthetic or from a fall or stumble when the prosthetic failed to support him properly. The relief in knowing he was taken from us rather than believing he left us helped. A little. But I was angry. Angry that the heart that gave so openly, freely and unselfishly betrayed him and cut his life short. It robbed him of the chance to overcome the demons that tortured him and take back his life. It just wasn’t fair.
I remember him every day, every month, every year. I remember him in March, the anniversary of when we met. In April when we made it official and became a couple. I remember him all summer when the sun warms my skin and I remember the heat of his skin on mine. I remember him in October when it is his birthday and I celebrate his existence on this earth. I remember him today, on the day of Remembrance and honor the sacrifices he made and all he lost for the country that didn’t know him or deserve him. I will remember him in December on the anniversary of his death and wish I could turn back the clock and make it for that last dinner. And I will remember him in the new year when I carry his memory with me into the future to ensure he is never forgotten.
I will remember you and carry you with me always, Cpl. Kurtis Gaucher.
I love you, Lefty . . . my pirate; Captain of my ship.
I miss you, today and everyday.
R.I.P. Lion Heart.