Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I'm reading an old biography of French-Canadian hockey great Guy (rhymes with 'bee') Lafleur that I picked up at the Blue Parrot bookshop inTakadanababa, in Tokyo, and only a few pages into the life of the legendary sporting icon I learn that Lafleur chose the number ten for his childhood jersey almost by accident, and I suddenly, almost startlingly have a memory of myself, playing soccer, choosing the number of my shirt, age six or seven, and then deciding on the number ten precisely because it was Lafleur's number, the one he made famous. ("World famous all across Canada," as Mordecai Richler wryly noted, in another context.) I seem to see my old yellow soccer shirt with the white number 'ten' stencilled on the back. Something I hadn't thought about for years. Probably decades.

Was I a Lafleur fan back in the day? I can hardly recall. His career was winding down as my life was cranking up. But I do, I do, I do somehow remember choosing that soccer jersey because it was Guy's number, or somebody telling me that it was Guy's number, and therefore good, therefore valid, therefore significant, and as a Canadian kid, I knew that Guy was the man, the dude who was Gretzky before Gretzky. (And was Maurice Richard after Richard was finished being Richard, too.) I remember Guy as one of the last players allowed to not hear a helmet, during his final stint with the New York Rangers, after playing for decades in Quebec with the Canadiens and the Nordiques. The crowd chanting 'Guy, Guy, Guy' during his final game, his blonde hair whipped by the indoor arena's wind looking oddly out of place amongst a sea of high-tech helmets.

And here, sitting in Japan, far from home, reading a book about hockey, I remember all the games I played, year after year, winter after winter, from age seven to fifteen. House league hockey. Pay your fine and play your games. Talent optional. (It certainly was with me, anyways. Not good enough by far for the travelling teams that made their way to Welland and Niagara Falls, Port Colborne and Fort Erie.) All those weekday morning practices, up at five, the air chill and the morning dark and the day stretching out before us. (How blunt and bracing an arena is at such an early hour!) How sweet, too, the sensation of blades on ice, the skates on our feet tugging us this way and that, almost against our will. All those Saturday and Sunday morning games. My parents waiting with a Coke after the win or the loss. Being a defenceman meant I could sit back, and watch the action up ahead, and daydream about what I would do later in the day. What movies I would watch at the Pen or the Lincoln Mall. Learning, at age twelve, how to body-check, how to brace oneself when giving or taking a hit. Having my kneepad slip while trying to deflect an opponent's shot, the slapshot slapping directly into my knee. The only time I lay on the ice, unable to get up. Remembing, too, my final games, during my second year of high school, and how I actually played a game of hockey the day before an indoor 800 metre race at York University (where I would run many more races as a student five years later). Other runners incredulous that I would do such a thing, risk such an injury. Me, gradually realizing that if running were to be a focus, then hockey would have to be left behind. Not such a loss, at the time, as I was giving up my mediocre career as a weekend hockey player for a shot at a halfway decent running career.

How many times have I been on skates since I was fifteen? Twice, I think. Only twice. I rarely miss it. I almost never think about it. But there are times, like tonight, reading about Guy Lafleur, and his childhood in small-town Quebec, when my own life is thrust into another's narrative.

The singularity of our existence comes into play. We started there, and now we are here, and let us look at what was in between, and dare to recall that which has stayed dormant.There was a time when I played hockey once a week for years and years and years. There was a time, too, when I had to decide what number I wanted-- and I chose, for me, the number ten. Because it was Guy's number.

I remember that.

I didn'r realize until about twenty minutes ago that I did, but now I do.

My six-year old self made a decision, and my thirty-two year old self has somehow reclaimed its essence, or attempted to.

We forget so much of our lives. Daily life so often strips us down, laughs at our nakedness, leaving inside of us only the fierce and noble moments that somehow, rigidly, remain intact between the walls of our memories. But there are other times, too, the quiet moments of childhood that pass by unnoticed, that all too often get lost in the annual lurch for school supplies and the accelerating mad dash towards the driver's license.

And yet the number ten has so slyly managed to slip through the cracks of my mind. Shining white against a yellow jersey.

Guy's number.

I remember that.